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Knocking on closed doors, when you should be kicking down

Chapter Text

“Danny.”

“Valerie?”

“Still have old the number I see…so uhm...how’s it going?” she asked, chuckling a bit awkward into the phone, as people tend to do when they get back in contact with people they haven’t talked with for years and suddenly have nothing to say.

The sound of her voice in the other end of the phone was a reminder of the good times they had shared in that long-lost summer as children…but mostly he felt cold. Her call had taken him by surprise.

And not a good one. Some memories were better left forgotten, and he shuddered as the old memories caught up with him. He had to close his eyes, as they overwhelmed him.

It was all coming back to him now. The memory of a cold hand running its nails down his chin and a baritone voice full of sweet promises. There was only one reason for her to call him after so many years.

“We haven’t spoken for years,” he replied emotionless, dreading the reason for her call and that her answer was to try and postpone it.

“I-I know, wanted to hear how you were doing and –”

“You said you’d only use the number if it happened again.”

He clenched his teeth, by the inner sight of a smile of fangs and red eyes…Little badger…

The sound of whimpering emerged in the background and she shushed it quietly, before returning to the phone, “Danny, please – you’re right, I shouldn’t have called –”

“It’s been ten years, Val,” he continued and buried his face in his hand, old terrors and long forgotten memories of that haunted summer returning from his subconscious, “no one calls after ten years just to hear how people is doing.”

She fell silent, knowing just as well as he, that even if she ended the call, he would know why she had called and what that would mean to him. The silence stretched on to the painful for them both.

Both of them waiting for her to either build up the courage to finally tell him what he already knew and play her part of their old agreement – or simply end it and let him find what she knew for himself. It all came down to the same anyway.

They both knew he would go and keep his end to the old promise – a promise they had made as children and now would have to stand by as adults.

“There’s a child gone missing back in Amity Park.”

He opened his eyes and swallowed before speaking into the phone, “where?”

“Danny, you don’t have to do this,” she begged, apparently on the edge of tears, “it doesn’t have to mean it’s returned, or that the curse is still going on. The kid could have disappeared for all other reasons than that.”

“Valerie –”

“We were just kids, Danny – kids fucking around and making stupid promises to one another. And even if it is that thing coming back to life, this doesn’t mean that you’ll have to face that again – it doesn’t have to mean you have to risk your life. You’ll die if you go back there!”

He knew that. Just as he knew she was the bravest person he had ever known. Despite her frightened tone and pleas to make him stay out of it, he knew how much courage and loyalty it had taken her to call him tonight.

That despite the fact that she had moved out of that town, she still kept in touch with her father back at that place, to know if the curse would ever return.

He knew she would have told him she would join him if it weren’t for the obvious. The little thing she hadn’t said, but he could tell from the sound of a baby monitor in the background.

Valerie had a child, she couldn’t put her baby at risk – the curse would take it if she returned to that place with him. He would never have allowed her to go with him either and neither would she if it had been the other way around.

The inner picture of the fierce Valerie Gray standing beside him with rain running down in streams through her soaked hair and blood from scratches on her face and arms mixing with the water, returned to him for the first time in years.

A crystal-clear image of her dark lips and lean arms. How she had looked at him with wild black locks and fearful eyes. Blood of her enemy coating her hands.

Coating her soul.

Other children would have died or abandoned him in her position that day, but she had done the impossible.

She had saved his life. Now he had to save someone else’s.

He had to end what he’d started.

“Where?”

She made no sound, but he knew she was crying for him, “the girl went missing two days ago on the hill. She went missing in the Green Palace.”

Chapter Text

Danny had always had the naïve hope he would never return.

It was the typical kind of hope humans held to themselves, when they had no other choice than to believe in the best and move on, even though all logic said things could never return to normalcy.

For the same reasons, Danny had always known deep down that this day would come – but he’d also had hopes it wouldn’t.

So very human, he thought to himself and took one last look at the little village station, before leaving the trains behind him and walked into the border of the village’s center.

Amity Park was in many ways what a traditional American would call a “town in progress”.

Meaning it had changed radically since the 80’s and become one of those trendy villages, whose young residents wanted to leave as soon as possible for the actually big cities, while the rest believed themselves and their village to be the new modern hotspot of their time.

As if making a few buildings in midtown more futuristic and putting up some more fancy cafés with brunch menus, would be the secret cheat-code to seem less backwater town like and more attractive on the real estate market.

But apparently Amity wasn’t progressive enough for a Whole Foods Marked, but big enough for a Taco Bell. Had anyone asked the elderly, they would have scoffed and said this village wasn’t what it used to be.

Too many darn hipsters and hippies.

“I can’t stand those vandals – going around and acting like they own the place,” the elderly man at the 7-eleven scowled and Danny tried not to roll his eyes, as he found his wallet.

“Sorry to hear, Sir, now about that bus ticket?”

The man mumbled on about young people being selfish and bad for the village reputation, while Danny payed for his ticket and bag of salt and vinegar chips. He left again to pull up his red hoodie, as the sky broke with heavy drops and walked the marked route to the next destination.

To Danny the place was just as creepy as the first time he’d visited.

You couldn’t exactly put a finger on it, but if you took a second to stand still and observe, maybe you find that the weather seemed a little more grey and rainy than normal. That no matter season or timer, the village seemed to be in an eternal loop of cold dark nights and wet grey days.

Other’s would maybe raise an eyebrow upon the fact, that all the trees in town was more or less dying, despite the soil seeming thick and muddy enough for good agriculture.

Flowers, grass and the fancy park the village association had worked to make a friendly outdoor sanctuary, all of it was brown and colorless, despite the attempt to make the playground and benches seem inviting with pastel shades.

The only thing that seems to thrive in this place was the old woods around town and its old twisted trees. But if you, like Danny, had stayed for a time and come to know Amity Park on terms of good and bad, you would have probably notice them to.

The bats.

Danny eyed one of the old hollow trees by the bus stop out of his eyes and the little creatures hiding in the dead three’s trunk stared back without blinking.

Danny narrowed his eyes as one of them stared back at him with a red gleam in its eyes, its little mouth opening to a toothy smile of little fangs and unspoken promises.

“This ends now,” Danny muttered in their direction, not breaking the eye contact and a kid in a yellow raincoat next to him looked up in curiosity.

“What does, mister?”

Danny, who had been lost in his own world of dark thoughts and preparedness for what he had come to do, blinked a bit perplexed and tried waving the kid of.

“Nothing, don’t talk to strangers – it’s dangerous.”

“Oh, but you look like such a nice young man,” the granny holding the kid’s hand smiled and turned to Danny, clearly showing that she wanted to chat while waiting for the bus to arrive, with or without his willingness to collaborate, “you’re going to the other end of town, my friend? First time visiting our village?”

Danny inhaled slowly and put up his most friendly expression he could muster at the moment, “something like that and no, not my first time visiting.”

“Oh, how nice. Hmm, you don’t seem like someone from Amity Park, though. Here to visit some friends? Your parents? Grandparents perhaps?” she continued, while Danny prayed for the bus to arrive and give him an excuse to end this useless conversation.

“I’m visiting Granny and grandpa!” the kid added, eager to join the conversation and pulled out a cheap plastic flute with hopelessly fake feathers and caricatured leather strips, “I got this at the Indian museum. It’s a buffalo whistle.”

Danny cringed a bit by the cultural inaccuracy and tried to be on his best behavior, “that’s nice…”

“Maybe you’re here to stay?” the granny continued, as if the kid hadn’t even talked and Danny looked down the road to make sure the bus hadn’t passed him by or something.

“I guess. I’m here for a rented room. It will probably be my last, I guess…”

“Oh, you young people, always so hasty,” she chuckled, didn’t seem to have caught the severity of Danny’s tone – that, or she was simply ignoring it for the sake of politeness.

Neither way, Danny didn’t care. He doubted he would ever see her again. Same for the kid.

“Listen, it’s not to be rude, but –”

“Some of the people from the town hall had feared that the commotion about the missing girl would cause people to stop moving here, but it’s nice to see that’s not the case.”

“Yeah,” Danny retorted slowly, “how nice for them.”

Luckily for Danny and his growing annoyance, he wouldn’t have to endure the old woman much longer, as her bus pulled up to park at the curb and Danny watched them silently as they moved to the opening door.

“Hey, kid,” Danny called, and the boy turned his head in the door, “don’t talk to strangers, no matter how nice they seem.”

The boy gave him a thumb up in childish play and Danny stared after the bus, as his own pulled in behind it and took its spot by the curb.

Danny sent the bats one last scowl before getting one and showed his drenched bus ticket to the driver. Finally, on the bus and alone with his own company in a window seat, Danny watched the houses passed him by and tried not to let the shadows beneath tree and roof get to him.

He flipped the bird at the world outside the window, as the bats abandoned the shade to inform his coming.

How he hated this place.

The trip was short, and Danny praised himself lucky that the estate agency wasn’t far from the station, as soaked people tend to smell in a badly heated bus.

Back out in the rain and free to breathe again, Danny walked down the street to the building and pulled down his hoodie to greet the balding man at the front desk.

“Morning – I’m here to receive the keys to my rented apartment,” Danny informed to skip all formalities and pushed his printed papers and ID onto the desk, “hey, I’m here to talk to a Mr. Lancer.”

“That would be me,” the middle-aged man at the desk said and Danny nodded as he recognized the man’s voice from the phone.

“I’m Danny Fenton, all has been paid in advance. Key, please.”

“Mr. Fenton,” Mr. Lancer nodded, put down his book ‘Chicken soup for the soul’ and checked his computer to match the paper information, “yes, yes, I remember your call. Okay, you wanted to rent the last apartment on the hill, that seems in order. I see all is payed and ready to become official…well…mostly…”

The balding man squirmed a bit, before leaning it for more secretive talk, despite them being the only two in the room, “listen, I wouldn’t have rented you that place if it wasn’t for the money payed in advance, but…”

“I know a child has gone missing there,” Danny interrupted calmly, having somewhat expected this, “and I know there’s an investigation going on at the mansion’s ground floor. I’m aware that the place is going into a quarantine in two weeks to have the surroundings examined for tracks and that I have to be out by then. It’s not a problem and as you said, I have already paid for it.”

The out of shape estate agent frowned, clearly conflicted about what to do and scratched his head. Danny was clearly up to date with the apartment’s condition and the mansion’s situation, but the estate wasn’t normally allowed to rent out to crime scenes.

But on the other hand, Danny had already paid – and paid an outrageous amount for the small attic flat. Something the estate normally never did either…but he had a pension that could use the extra money.

Lancer had tried to talk the young man out of it on the phone, but Danny hadn’t allowed them to refuse his offer. The man was still a bit shocked by just how aggressive this young man had bargained to get the flat and the following offer of extra money to be payed up front if needed.

To be fair, Lancer could work with that, no one would have to know he had been given a handsome tip – plus, Danny had only rented the apartment for one weeks and would be out in time for the police to expand their investigation.

How much could happen in such a short time? The young man was harmless, and his papers clean as a winter morning. He would be out of his hair soon enough, he assured himself.

“Alright,” Lancer finally relented and pulled out a drawer to get the key and its matching papers, “this is the key and spare – you will have to sign here and here to fulfill the deal, and here’s the number should you have questions about your temporary stay.”

“Thank you,” Danny said and made ready to leave, when the man stopped him.

“Listen, if the police ask you anything, you have been living there for three weeks, okay? I’m doing you a solid here, son. If you want to stay this will have to be our little secret.”

“Got it,” Danny assented and went to leave, before turning back to the man, “oh, is there any motorcycle dealers around here?”

Half an hour later, Danny left the shop two streets down with a secondhand motorbike and a lighter credit card. He ignored the pouring rain still, as he pulled it near the curb and put on his new helmed.

A vibration in his pocket made him aware that someone was trying to call him and Danny pulled his phone out to see the display.

Jazz.

Danny exhaled slowly, braised himself before putting earbuds in and accepted the call. More than one voice in his head telling him not to – avoid all distractions. Avoid all reasons to turn back.

“Danny, on time you picked up the phone – I have been calling all morning!”

Danny rolled his eyes by his sister’s insulted tone and forced himself not to bite of her head, as he drove down the street, “been busy. I can’t exactly drive and talk at the same time – plus the other’s a sleep in the back.”

She sighed in the other end, like she always did when she believed him to be extra thickheaded and acting like an unstable teen, despite him having past his 25th birthday five months ago, “fine, but please be better at taking my calls next time, okay? How’s Sam and Tucker?”

Danny felt his throat tighten, but even to his surprise, his voice stayed the same without wavering and he concentrated on the road ahead, “oh you know, Tucker has been trying all the road diners and made himself sick from burger poisoning and Sam can’t wait till we get out of the heat and reach some upstate territory. Apparently, goths don’t sweat, they simmer.”

He forced out a chuckle and tried to keep up the act, fake and hollow as it was. His lies seemed to have passed his sister’s sensors as she turned from sour to cheery on a whim.

“I can imagine – remember to wear sunscreen and stay in the shade, little brother. You three might think a road trip is no big deal and pure fun, but it’s important to be prepared for all weathers. I trust that you packed meticulously?”

Danny send the side mirror a glace to find his half-collapsed duffel bag on his back and returned his eyes to the rain running down his helmed visor.

“Sam says you should stop bugging me and really, you worry too much. I can take care of myself, Jazz.”

“I don’t doubt you think so, Danny. But as your elder sister and psychiatrist –”

“You’re not my psy–”

“ – I can’t stress enough how careful you’ve to be. There’s a lot of dangerous types roaming roads at night and lone country stretches should never be taken to lightly, don’t do something stupid.”

“Don’t worry –” Danny replied as he slowed down the bike to a stop by the side of the road, before a driveway.

An old discolored sign, working it’s hardest to stay a muddy green, greeted him a meter in and he stood of to pull the bike the rest of the way “– I’m not a stupid little boy anymore.”

He ended the call before she could reply and packed the phone and earbuds away. More urgent things than his sister trying to mother him was at stake and Danny sent the sign a last look, before he gave the bike a good push and started rolling it up to the mansion on the hill.

Behind him, the sign swung a bit from the hard drops of water. Its old letters slowly turning from black to grey in the harsh environment.

‘Green palace apartments’

 

Ten years ago…

“Now, what do ya say,” Jack Fenton grinned as the RV parked before the large dilapidated mansion on the hill, “now that’s what I call a haunted house!”

Danny stepped outside the car after his mother and sister and offered the place one bored glance before returning his attention to his gameboy.

“Oh, Jack, it’s perfect,” his mother replied happily and went to stand by her husband in awe of the old green building.

His sister, Jazz, scrunched her nose a bit and crossed her arms, “there better be a library somewhere down town, or I’m adding neglect of child’s freely access to stimuli to the journal.”

Danny rolled his eyes. His sister seemed to have gotten the stupid idea that the “trauma journal” she had worked out since she was six, was going to mean anything to their parents.

Danny could easily tell the sixteen-year-old to save the energy. Some stupid journal was never going to make their parents stop hunting ghost for a living.

Personally, he just ignored them. It had always seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. That way, everyone could equally ignore each other in simple symbiosis and make the best of it. An old pact he had made with them…without their knowledge that is.

As long as his mother ordered takeout and stayed out of the kitchen, everyone would get to eat when they wanted. And as long as they kept their ghost hunting and creepy studies in their section of the house, Danny could hang out in his room or the Nasty Burger with his friends.

A plan that was flawless and for all’s benefit – except from one little thing.

“This place sucks,” Danny groaned as his gameboy ran out of battery, “listen I get you want to study this dump and catch a ghost, but why do I have to be here!? It’s summer, I should be out with my friends right now – not to mention watching that meteor shower I’ve told you about for months!”

“And I should be attending my studies and school preparations!” Jazz added angrily and hoisted up her luggage, before dropping one on accident and revealing it to be stuffed with heavy books, “I can’t live out my last teen years in a place like this!”

“Now, now, kids,” their mother replied lightly, “this is a great opportunity for me and your father. Don’t be selfish, I’m sure you two can have a lovely summer right here in Amity and get use to the local high school when it starts up in September. This place has all you two teens need.”

“Oh yeah,” Danny replied sarcastically, “the town was really up to date. All those Nasty Burgers and arcades was really hard to miss. I’m sure there’s even two clones of my best friends hiding under one of these rocks. Maybe they’ll listen and actually care.”

He kicked a rock just to emphasize and his mother sighed tiredly, “like it or not, but this is how it’s going to work out. Your father and I will take care of the luggage in the RV, while we wait for the moving truck to find its way here and you two will find yourself a room and be nice about it. Deal?”

She didn’t give them a chance to take the deal or not and just pushed them towards the mansion’s porch, before joining her husband by the RV.

“So unfair,” Jazz grumbled before dragging her heavy luggage up the stairs to the porch.

Danny was to bitter to reply and simply walked in with his own backpack and tripod.

As he was a lot lighter packed than his older sister, he reached the sections of bedrooms first and went up the stairs to take the lone room on the left. The room was furthest away from the grand bedroom and would give him some privacy.

“Not fair either!” Jazz yelled after him, but Danny ignored her and slammed the door to keep her complains out.

She was the oldest and as she was lucky enough to be moving out in one and a half year, she could sleep next to their parents and their father’s snoring – she wasn’t the real victim after all. He didn’t even bother to try and unpack and just placed his stuff in a corner.

The old telescope and tripod would be useless now, that he didn’t have a high spot to place it and if the weather kept up this gloomy overcast, he could kiss that meteor shower goodbye and good riddance.

“Ugh,” he sighed before throwing himself on top of the lone bed in the empty room.

A bit of dust rose by the collision and joined the rest of the particles in the air. Other than a sneeze Danny couldn’t really care. This was all just a horrible nightmare he had to wake up from and the sooner the better.

He soon got tired of his gloomy state – that kinda activity was for Sam anyway – and got up to set up his computer and screen.

Just one problem it seemed. There was no internet socket for him to draw a cable.

Outside the window, he could hear his mother scold his father for having brought ten pounds of fudge and unpacking the RV to set up the lab and kitchen. He ignored them for the time being and continued to search for just anything looking like a wall plate to fit his cable.

Still without luck, he finally bit the sour apple and went downstairs again.

He was careful not to let his sister know he was leaving his room but given the sound of books and tomes being placed around next door, he doubted she would have cared to stop him anyway and he went downstairs unharmed, before walking down the hall and into the kitchen.

His mother was currently storing food in the cabins and he reminded himself to ask her to buy a box of cereal for him later.

“Mom, there’s no internet socket in my room.”

“A what, sweetie?” she asked absentminded, as she continued to pull out bags of chips and prepared meals from her boxes, “could you be a dear and hand me that icebox over there?”

Danny sighed before doing as he was told and watched with distaste as she pulled out samples and test tubes, with what she claimed was ectoplasm and chemical tests meant for ghost weapons.

“Internet socket,” he repeated slowly, “I. Need. A. Socket. To. Go. On. The. Net.”

“No need to be a brat, Danny,” she corrected and turned to him to get the last box on the kitchen table, “go bother your father, I’m busy and as far as I know he’s the one in charge of that stuff. He’s in the study on the opposite side of the hall.”

“Fine,” Danny muttered and went to the packed study where his father’s whistling could be heard.

“Dad, I need you to help me find an internet socket or maybe draw a cable – just something please,” Danny said and sent the room a glance.

Computers, wires and antennas pointing in all directions had taken up all surfaces. Danny stepped around what looked like an empty box with the words “fragile – might explode” on the side and ducked to go under the low hanging plastic hoses with unknown green and blue liquors flowing through.

“Dad?” he repeated and tapped his father on the shoulder to get his attention.

“Hmm? Oh, Danny, my boy – come see what your old father have built!” Jack Fenton exclaimed excited and dragged his son down to see the construction on the folding table he had brought in from the RV’s trunk, “this is going to make history once it’s been in action.”

“Uhmm…” Danny said and tried to figure out the function of the weird looking gizmo, “because its’ a nice tie pin?”

His father just laughed and patted Danny’s back, believing his son was joking. Danny just frowned and tried not to be smashed between the table and his father’s bear-strength pats.

“Oh, jokes aside – no, my boy, it’s the Fenton team-tracker!”

“The what?” Danny asked, and his father picked up the pin to stick it onto Danny’s shirt with a grin.

“A tracker – it will help you and your ghost hunting team to stay in touch even if one is in the ghost world. With this,” he lifted what looked like a remote, “you can find your teammates exact position by out-filter the ghost noise and invisible barriers. I got mine on me and you can have this one.”

“Yeah, sure, sure,” Danny replied none interested and placed the gizmo back on the table, “can I use one of these wall plates? I need to get on the internet to get in touch with Sam and Tucker – and check out the weather prognose. If I’m lucky it will clear up tonight and I can still get to see the meteor shower through my telescope.”

He frowned by his father’s blank stare and crossed his arms, “something you promised to do with me this summer – remember?”

His father just chuckled and ruffled his hair, “oh, Danny don’t be silly. Your mother and I are here to work – to catch ghosts! We need the wall plates to keep all our computers and programs to run smoothly without you kids filling our working space with your computers to. I’ll promise I’ll call a guy to come set up a wall plate and draw some cable just for you kids when everything has settled down. We’re going to make our first surveillance tonight, come join us – you might catch some experience for your future as a ghost hunter.”

“Uh, actually, Dad?” Danny began and scratched his arm, “I want to be an astronaut.”

His father didn’t seem to have heard him, “well, if you do want to hunt ghosts, there are a few things you need to learn.”

Danny tuned him out like he was used to and gave up on getting his internet. His father was still babbling about ghosts as Danny left and went back to his room.

“I hate my life,” he muttered and pulled over the covers to sulk in silence.

Behind the old sofa in the living room, a light scratching sounded quietly from a little door behind the wallpaper.

 

The sound of the key turning in the lock wasn’t exactly smoot and turning it even less.

Danny put some more muscle into it and wished himself lucky that it didn’t break, as he entered the place that was going to be his home for the next weeks.

The attic room seemed to be a new addition to the already divided mansion and when Danny opened the door to step inside, it couldn’t be a secret to no one that this apartment was the smallest of the mansion and the small half of the original attic of the ground floor apartment.

He took a second to try and find the old hatch leading down to the hallway to the bedrooms below him and found that the estate had blocked it with new floorboard and tried to tidy up the attic by giving it a sink with a makeshift shower and toilet behind a plastic curtain.

Danny rolled his eyes and threw the duffel bag on the bed along with the helmed. As far as he was concerned, the placed hadn’t change since his last visit ten years ago, other than this new apartment/flat/attic room and of course…the police tape on the mansion’s front door.

By pretending to have difficulties of deciding where to park his bike, Danny had taken a look through the ground floor windows and concluded that the family of the missing child had left the apartment to the investigation. Meaning it was empty now for the time being.

There wasn’t much to for him to unpack, but he could get his laptop out and pulled out a plastic box from the bag to place for safe keeping beneath the bed.

There was no use for the black box’s content before tonight and he would rather not get caught having it on him, as it would only raise questions.

Questions that probably would leave the authorities to give his parents a call and make them realize their son hadn’t only disappointed them – but also stolen something from them.

The sound of the rain reached him faintly through the ceiling and he turned his back on the grey window to take a seat on the edge of the bed. Felt the new mattress adjust to his weight and groan a bit.

It was disturbingly quiet and he wondered what it would have been like if the neighbor pair downstairs was still one happy family of three and not crying in some hotel room, because of a missing child.

With the quiet, the feeling of melancholy followed suit and Danny fell back into the memories of his childhood and what part this place had played in it.

Before the phone call, he had pushed it all back to some dark forgotten part of his conscious and forced himself to move on, but now that the preparations and the travel had come to an end, he was left with waiting and his thoughts.

He had been so focused on reaching this place that he hadn’t had time to think of anything else and in the deps of his mind, he knew he had kept himself busy on purpose, to keep himself from reflecting on the consequences of coming here.

If he did this…there would be no turning back.

Danny closed his eyes, tried confronting himself with the fact that he was here to put an end to his nightmares and waited to see if the panic – the overwhelming NEED to leave and run would come.

If he had lost his courage to do this.

An unrest in his stomach and vibration in his cold fingers finally arrived, but his mind and body seemed separated upon this decision. Danny could feel his body prepare for flight, feel how it needed him to leave this zone of danger and find safety – but in his head, he was still sharp.

Still fearless and ready to do whatever it took. This had to be done and he was the only one who could.

He was the only one who could put this child’s soul to rest.

…all I need is a yes and you can stay here, with me. Forever

Despite the cold temperature, a drop of sweat rolled down his spine and Danny forced himself to breath normally. He wasn’t a child anymore, he wouldn’t have that kinda power of him anymore.

And speaking of power.

Danny sent the phone a glance and set it to charge in the room’s only socket, while he unpacked what he needed.

An old misplaced cuckoo clock above the door struck four and Danny decided he might as well use the rest of the sparse daylight, to get the last preparations in check before tonight and went outside.

The rain had mostly stopped, but the roof and sickly-looking trees around the mansion was still dripping with fresh drops and he took the metal staircase down.

Just like the attic, he noted that it to, was a new installation, as its metal and white paintwork was new and fresh compared to the old attic apartment on the other side of the mansion.

Old memories of the people who had lived here in his childhood, returned with all their bad and good qualities, and Danny turned his back on the mansion to follow the path down the hill.

Unknown to him, a man in a tan coat was watching him from his car down the driveway. He adjusted his matching fedora to get a better look at Danny and made a note on his notepad.

‘New suspect.’

‘Male, Age – 20’s, Caucasian, black hair, normal build (although very lithe) pretty boy appearance.’

‘Not local, arrival day presumed: this date/sunday (transport: motorcycle).’

‘Was seen spying on crime scene 15:30 – check out estate to investigate moving info.’

‘Intentions? – Unknown.’

‘(Investigate further)’

Chapter Text

Ten years ago…

‘Clip’

Danny sighed again and gave the stone an extra kick with the tip of his shoe. Watched it jump ahead of the path behind the mansion. The first morning in the new house had been what you could expect.

The kitchen was far from homely with all the boxes taking up space and he hadn’t been able to get his favorite cereal, as his mother hadn’t been able to find out which box she’d placed the fruitloops in.

The morning already spoiled by the stale toast on his plate, was ruined even further by his older sister and her strange ideas.

When their father had refused to take her into town to visit the library, because of the equipment he still needed to unpack, Jazz too seemed to have grown bored and had decided to do what she always did.

Make life harder for Danny.

He had barely left his place by the small kitchen table, before his sister had spoken up about how Danny needed to examine his surrounding and get used to a non-electronic situation, by finding meaning in the real world.

Danny had of course just wanted to ignore her and her stupid studies – go to his room and munch on chips while reading one of his comics.

But nooo. His mother had taken his sister’s side as always and agreed that Danny needed to be a boy and explore the mansion’s area – as if he was some dog needing to take himself for a walk.

Back on the forest path behind the mansion, all his aggressions were fueled even more just thinking about his sister.

Danny clenched his teeth and kicked the stone again, getting an outlet for his annoyance and make something hurt even if it was just a dead lifeless stone.

‘Clup’

He stared it down before given it another kick and continued that way further down the hill, as the stone fell down the natural road and deeper into the forest lying around the mansion’s ground.

“No internet,” Danny muttered bitter and kicked the stone again, “no privacy, no peace.”

‘Clip’

“No friends,” he whispered angrily and hit the stone harder, “no meteor show, no arcade, no Nasty Burger, no fun, no summer…”

The stone hit a stack of collapsed boulders on the path’s side and Danny made an effort to pick the stone up and throw it against them, “no nothing!”

The stone hit the boulders before falling down between them and Danny jumped in surprise as a high-pitched cry followed. Something black and spiky jumped up from behind the boulders and Danny yelped, as he fell and landed on his butt.

“Rawr, Rawr!” the black bird screeched and folded its black wings back in.

He stared in surprise at the creature, and it in return tilted its head to watch Danny with curious eyes.

Danny calmed down from his semi heart attack and his scared expression change to that of a scowl, “oh, go to hell.”

The bird just responded with its call and strutted back, as Danny got back on his feet and dusted his sore behind of. Now all wet and muddy from the ground.

“I hope you’re happy now, stupid bird,” he mumbled and was answered with another “Rawr!”

Danny went to leave again, but then noticed that the bird was following him and stopped to look at it with a frown. The bird – raven? Crow? – jumped back as he tried to shoo it away and immediately went to follow him again, when he took another step.

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” he asked it, irritated to be approached by nature like this, when he wanted to be alone and sulk, “I don’t have anything for you to eat, go find a worm yourself or whatever stupid crows eat.”

The bird almost seemed insulted, which was a weird expression for a bird and he watched as it took off to fly over him and further down the path.

Without nothing else to do and with the bird as the only interesting thing for miles, Danny just shrugged and walked after it to see what he might find.

 

The sound of the wet rock hitting the old cluster of moss covered boulders, rung in Danny’s ears and he stared ahead of them to watch the stone land of fall.

The place hadn’t change much in the last ten years and he almost expected to see a lone raven fly above him.

“Clockwork?”

There was no “Rawr!” in response, nor any sign of those dark wings, almost blue in their deeps.

He called again, only to get silence as an answer and he continued down the path to the well, hoping – no, begging – to hear that old beloved sound of a bird he had once called his friend and comrade.

He soon reached the clearing at the end and stepped up to the ring of mushrooms that always formed around the old well.

He removed the leather glove with a frown and brushed the soft mud away. Felt how the lid of dark wood had almost become soft from rot and as he pressed his hands against it. Had no doubt that one single step could break it apart and reveal its lone dark deeps.

He straightened up to watch the sky once more and felt the cold wind run through his black wild tresses like blunt nails. No shadow of black was to find for miles and Danny turned to walk around the well.

An old crocked tree soon turned up and Danny kneeled down to interrogate some old planks lying below it.

It was unclear whenever they had been pulled down from the tree as an act of malice, or if time simply had ruined what human hands hadn’t been there to sustain and repair.

Nether the less, he hoped for the last of those two. Valerie would had been crushed to see her beloved hideout in such shape and know that Fort Gray was history.

He knew he was…

 

Ten years ago…

“Hey come back here!” Danny called after the bird and scowled as it just landed in a tree above him.

It uttered a sound as if it was mocking him and Danny didn’t like it on bit. It was bad enough he had spent the last ten minutes following this stupid bird, but now he looked stupid to for believing it would actually lead him to anything!

He scowled at the bird and stuck his hands in his pockets, before walking past the clearing it had lead him to. He kicked a few mushrooms away and continued to stomp ahead in anger, when a voice made him startled and he jumped around in surprise.

“Stop! You’re going to fall right through, you idiot!”

The voice had come from a girl on the forest ground above him and he couldn’t help but stare. She was surprisingly developed for a girl her age and if it hadn’t been for the slight acne and style of dressing, Danny could have taken for a lot older than himself.

He then frowned a bit by her expensive taste in raincoat and could already tell from the real gold earrings, that this girl could easily fit into what his – now old – high school called “The A-list”.

Danny had had his sheer of bulling by those and didn’t expect much from girls hanging around quarterbacks and rich boys with too much money to spend.

He had once had a crush on such a girl and experienced enough heartbreak to wanna take another chance with such airheaded shallow bitches. Sam was right, even in hellholes like this; society remained in all its ugly facets.

Even with this in mind, he had to take a second to keep himself in check, as she turned out to be incredible pretty up close and came down the hillside with her bike in tow.

Her brown, almost glowing skin, seemed warm in these cold surroundings and the way her dark locks was held back by her yellow hairband, made her face more open and those big green eyes shine like jewels in the gloomy grey afternoon.

She frowned at him, threw her bike on the ground, before marching up to him without any means of stopping and pushed him back. Something he hadn’t been prepared for and almost hit the muddy ground again with a yelp.

“What the fuck!?” he uttered angry, but she just pointed to the ground and pushed some of the thick mud aside with her matching yellow rain boots.

Revealing a round wood lid.

“See? It’s a well – it’s dangerous, you could have fallen right through it, had you taken one more step. Kids aren’t even allowed down here, that’s how dangerous it is.”

Danny stared down at the now revealed lid off the well and recovered from the surprise with a scowl in the girl’s direction, “oh, yeah? But if kids aren’t aloud, then what are you doing here?”

She scoffed with a mocking smirk and planted a hand on her hip with a proud expression, “my dad is the chief down at the station, so I can do what I want. Also, this is where I come to get to my lookout.”

“Your what?” Danny asked and almost bit his own tongue, as the girl grabbed him to follow.

“You wanna see it? It’s just down the trees, it’s cool, I promise.”

Danny wasn’t so sure but followed along anyway – a bit scared and shocked by the strength this girl seemed to possess. He watched with some cautions how she picked up her dirty bike and barely took notice of the mud smearing on her raincoat, before signaling for him to follow her.

He followed next to her and gave the well behind them one last look, before gazing up the old tree. The bird was nowhere to be seen and he shrugged, as he followed her into the smaller path in between the trees.

“You must be pretty new to dare come down here,” she continued and ducked under a low hanging branch with Danny following suit, “everyone knows not to get near that well – my granny says it’s cursed and so deep, that if you fall down and look up, you will see stars during the day.”

“Not possible,” Danny noted, but forgot all about lecturing her about celestial possibilities, when a big crooked tree turned up ahead, “whoa.”

“Right?” she grinned and parked her bike against the trunk to pull a robe.

Danny stepped back as a rope ladder fell down from the big treehouse and watched as this strange girl, looking like a snob, but acting like a nerd, began to climb the ladder to the most awesome treehouse Danny had ever seen.

He followed her in childish awe, forgetting all about internet and teen-tantrums, for the sake of this childhood wonder and almost felt twelve again as he sat foot in her hideout.

“This is so cool,” he whispered, as the treehouse turned out to be both big and comfortable, and he stared out the side to watch the incredible view of what seemed to be most of the woods surrounding them and part of the town down the road.

“This is Fort Gray,” the girl smiled by his praise and suddenly uttered a sound of happiness, as the bird from before landed on the treehouse’s railing with a loud “Rawr! Rawr!”

“Clockwork!”

“You know that thing?” Danny asked confused and watched in semi jealousy as she pulled out some crackers from her raincoat and started feeding the big bird like it was nothing.

He hadn’t exactly grasped just how big it was before now that it was a few inches from his face. Neither the large scar running across its left eye, like a battle scar.

She nodded, again proudly, and stroked the black wings, almost blue, “I do, he’s my little mascot. My raven buddy. He lives here and comes around to get crackers. Sometimes he even leaves little dead things on my windowsill – which is totally cross, but pretty sweet I guess. I call him Clockwork, because he almost always shows up on the hour – like an old cuckoo clock.”

Danny listened without interrupting and couldn’t help but watch this weird girl and her wild pet.

It strangely reminded him of that time was seven and had kept a stray dog behind the house. He had fed the dog in secret and payed with it at night to keep it from his family.

He had even named it Cujo and trained it to come when he whistled, before his parents found out and had it removed. Told him to stay away from animals on the street. They could have rabies, they said.

Some teens might think her weird for hanging out in a tree house and showing of a raven to a complete stranger, but Danny understood.

He could recognize a lonely person when he saw one. Guess it took one to know one.

“So, what do you do up here, other than rubbing it in the other teen’s faces that they can’t come up or pet your raven?” he asked, partly curious and partly just wanting to know more about her.

She was the most interesting thing he had encountered all day and he could really use a friend his age before the high school’s team of bullies opened hunting season on nerds.

“Watching, hunting,” she said all secretive and handed Danny a cracker to make him get in on the whole feed-the-giant-bird thingy.

“Hunting what?” Danny asked, having some vague memory of his sister telling him Amity Falls had no dangerous wildlife.

She shrugged, “you wouldn’t get it. Only people who have been touched by it knows what’s out there. You’ll just think I’m crazy like the rest.”

Danny rose an eyebrow and then scoffed, “my parents hunts ghosts for a living. I’m pretty sure it can’t be crazier than what’s going on in my living room right now.”

She widened her eyes and seem to watch him for a second, maybe to make sure he wasn’t screwing with her, before nodding with an attitude, “maybe you’ll get it then – okay, I watch that house when I’m up here.”

She pointed to the south and Danny squinted with hand over his eyes, before blinking in confusion when all he found was the Green Palace in that direction.

“You mean the Green Palace? I live there now.”

“What!?” she exclaimed in horror and had the raven ‘Clockwork’ almost fall of the railing in shock.

The raven shook its head in annoyance by the high-pitched tone and flew away. The girl, on the other hand, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook them for good measure.

“No! No! You can’t live there, kid! My uncle was killed in there, that place is haunted! All the kids who goes in there dies!”

“Okay?” Danny retorted, freaked out by her change of behavior, “and you know that how…?”

“It’s a conspiracy!” she continued in all matter of seriousness, “there’s a monster living there, it preys on children and make them vanish forever – everybody knows, but no one talks about it!”

“Uhmm, if you say so,” Danny just said, not liking the crazy look in her eyes or freakishly strong grip, and removed her hands with slow caution, before crawling backwards to get to the hatch leading down.

“That’s uhm…bad, I guess. I think I heard my mother call, better get back before it gets dark – bye!”

“Don’t believe me!?” she yelled down after him and had him speed up his retreat even further, “then screw you, don’t come creeping back when shit goes down and the curse takes you to! You hear me! You’re dead! DEAD!!!”

Danny walked as fast as he could to get back to the clearing and as soon as her shouting fell back to simple background noise, he sighed in relief and placed his hands back into the pockets.

Began walking back to the apparently “haunted house” and shook his head in annoyance.

“Crazy bitch.”

 

The rotten plank of the tree house fell back on the ground with the others, as Danny dumped it back to the ground and rose with a sigh.

Now that Fort Gray was gone and nothing but rotten planks on the forest floor, the world seemed a bit less bright and a lot darker.

He flipped up the collar of his jacket and sent the old tree one last look, before he turned back to walk the lone windy path leading back to the place of horrors.

He pitied his past self that he hadn’t listened to Valerie and taken her warning seriously, but even he knew no fourteen-year-old would have listened to such talk – he had been force-fed such talk from his parents for years and developed a need to ignore all that was paranormal talk, in order to stay sane and somewhat happy around them.

Not that believing them would have made them more of a family, but perhaps it could have prepared him from what was to come.

For the Other Father.

You know I love you…

Danny shuddered and blamed it on the wind. The muddy path back to the mansion was a lot shorter than he remembered, but that could be due to the sense of distance and exaggeration that made children make things bigger than they was in reality.

Danny made a wry smile of that and wondered if other things would seem less dangerous, long, scary or just hard to him than before.

One thing was for sure. The magic of the world surrounding him had been lost with childhood. Only the rot was left. He kicked a stone for good old times sake and called for the raven again.

He never got an answer.

The old mansion build on lies and broken promises, soon turned up ahead and Danny watched how some of the windows to the basement and top apartment had light in them.

The windows on the ground floor apartment was still dark and shielded with police tape, still a testament to the crime that had been committed there and the sorrow the parents must feel in this second.

Danny scrunched his eyes, before walking for his lonely attic apartment. He was ready to round the house corner to take the first step on the metal stairs, when a blinding light landed on his face and made him shut his eyes in pain.

“Stop right there.”

Danny held up a hand to protect his eyes and blinked a couple of times to find that the light was actually headlights of a car and the owner had moved to stand right in front of him.

“Can I help you or something?” Danny asked without trying to hide his annoyance and the silhouette got close enough for Danny to understand that it was a tall man in a tan coat and…was that a fedora? Really?

“You can help me by telling me what you’re doing at this crime scene,” the gruff voice with a hint of southern accent growled and Danny’s eyes had gotten used enough to the light for him to see the last details.

The guy apparently believed himself to live in some film noir setting or something, or he just had a habit of dressing in his grandpa’s suits.

The man was paler than most, but up here not many got sun, so that wasn’t that unusual, and neither was the pale, almost transparent blond hair.

But something about him could seem that he wasn’t your averaged Amity Park guy and when Danny caught a glimpse of a gun by the man’s side, he decided that this wasn’t a situation he wanted to be part of for long.

“Why? You’re a cop or something,” Danny replied coldly and the man narrowed his grey eyes at him.

“I’m the one asking the questions here, punk and yes, I’m the investigator on these grounds – and I’m only asking one more time: what are you doing on this crime scene?”

Danny scoffed at the police badge the man flashed in his face, a simple detective apparently from the badge to tell. This guy had nothing on him.

“I live here – see? This is called a key and this key fits the apartment upstairs. I’ve rented the place a few weeks back, the same way as everyone else here have. If you don’t believe me go check the estate down town.”

“I’ve already checked up on you,” the man scowled and moved a little closer than Danny liked, “and I know you’ve just moved in. Something that could seem a tad suspicious, taken that you have no connection to this place or family for miles. No reason to be here and no reason to rent an apartment this close to a lock down at this place of all things. A child has been kidnapped without a trace – you know anything about this, Danny James Fenton?”

Danny frowned by the full name and had the feeling this man would be nothing but trouble to him. He recalled how to proceed this and smirked to the detective’s annoyance.

“Oh? Well, no, I don’t know anything about that. I’m just here on vacation – so unless you have a warrant or any reason to arrest me based on anything better than this, I’m going to say nighty night now and go up to my legally rented place and slam the door in your ugly face. How is that for an answer?”

The man didn’t answer, instead he grabbed Danny by the collar and simply started forcing him back to the hood of his car.

“Hey! You got no right to – aw! What the fuck, dude!?” Danny yelled, as he was forced to bend over the hood and had his hands cuffed behind his back.

“You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. That is the rules, now get in.”

“Hey! Stop!” Danny barked, but was pressed into the backseat nevertheless and seethed with anger, as the officer took the front seat and started the drive into town.

Danny caught his eyes in the mirror and scowled, “you have nothing on me that justify this – you might as well just let me go now.”

Good thing I didn’t unpack the black box, Danny thought in his quiet mind. This could have gone ugly if he had brought it along.

“I have plenty of reasons to take you in,” the man grunted self-righteous and returned his gaze to the rain hitting his windshield with a sense of serenity, “you and I are going to have a long talk down at the station. A good long talk.”

Danny clenched his teeth, but then remembered an important detail about Amity Park’s police station.

“Hey, just a curios question – the chief of the place shouldn’t by some chance still be named Damon Gray?”

The officer frowned, “he is, why?”

Danny smirked and leaned back into the seat, now the epitome of calm and collected.

“No reason.”

 

Ten years ago…

The dinner table at the mansion was a long old hard wood furniture currently standing in the mansion’s biggest room and dining hall with access to the traditional Victorian kitchen juts behind to swing doors.

But despite such luxury and extravaganza in a mansion that had suffered lightly neglect for a little 158 years and had its grand rooms separated by sloppy brick work to make up more apartments – the dining hall was now reduced to simple storage for ghost hunting technology.

That is if the Fenton household had ever known what a family dinner was. Danny poked his microwaved dinner with his fork and ignored the silence in the cold kitchen and dining room.

Two rooms that otherwise normally would be filled with heat and activity. Maybe even the scent of homemade goods.

The distant sound of his father working in the study reached him faintly with its small shouts and rustle of machines, while the upper floor where his sister was reading, remained just as silent as the rest of the place.

Danny remembered faintly that they had used to eat together at holidays, but when he tried to recall a scene, he honest couldn’t for his life.

The grey peas and mushy meat coated in a fat sauce seemed to turn more uneatable by the second and he pushed the nauseating dish away in distaste.

Not really hungry anyway.

The day had been awfully slow and after the strange encounter with that raven girl yesterday, Danny was feeling a bit down and a bit offended.

What the fuck did she know about curses and haunted houses anyway? He was living with ghost scientist, who had a license for spook hunting and they claimed everything was haunted nowhere they went.

She was probably right; this place was haunted – haunted by shittyness! Danny frowned and decided he might as well just haunt this place as well.

He began stumping his way through the house without a purpose, just angry motivations, then decided to check out the apartment for the sake of simple getting to know the dump, and ended up in the living room without a reason.

The room seemed to be pretty old school, with its fireplace, bay window facing the driveway and old dusty furniture.

A light humming made him walk to one of the forts of boxes and push the nearest aside. The back of his mother appeared and Danny stepped into the group of boxes to check out her newest whims.

Apparently, endless green containers were the theme this time.

“You guys wants some more container with your green jelly?” he asked sarcastic, as his mother pulled out one sample of green goo after another from the boxes – filling up every surface.

“Don’t be a smart mouth,” his mother warned lightly, but otherwise ignored his existence, “it’s not charming and help me hook these up with the tube over there – the one with the, yes that one.”

Danny rolled his eyes, as he complied with his mother’s wishes and began counting the glass container in silence, “isn’t this a little too much goo, even for you and dad?”

“Ectoplasm, not goo,” his mom corrected calmly, still not looking at him, “and yes, we do, we will need all we can get to draw out the ghosts of this place – and be careful with that one, honey, these samples weren’t cheap. Only two ways to get it –”

“Yeah, yeah,” Danny droned, having heard this thousands of times before, “you can only get ectoplasm from ghosts itself or from a possessed medium.”

“As I said,” she continued as if Danny hadn’t interrupted, “real mediums are hard to get by these days. Not many people will risk losing their body to a ghost’s control and die of a young age from the ecto-poisoning. However, when your father and I catch the ghost of this house, we won’t need to buy it from that sweet Arizona college student anymore. Poor girl could need a rest.”

His mother continued to talk about the health damage of being a medium and Danny decided to leave her to her gory talk – and continued to explore in the lack of better.

He stopped to glace at an antic painting above the fireplace. Raised an unimpressed brow by the motive of a little blond boy in stiff old clothing, looking sad over his cheap newspaper hat.

A far more cheering sight was the picture frame resting on the center of the mantelpiece and Danny had to guess it was his mother, who had placed it there.

He stared at the happy family picture of him, Jazz and his parents in front of their old house and sighed deeply, while his mother was still ranting about death behind him.

Danny rolled his eyes by their forced smiles in the picture, turned to leave the room and then stopped as his eyes had caught sight of little light behind the sofa stuffed with ghost hunter electronics.

Unlike his parent’s stuff, this light was red, not a ghostly green. Was it a warning beacon from one of the inventions? Curious and needy of stimuli, Danny moved towards it, before bowing down to look under the sofa… and blinked when a little key revealed itself.

It was clearly an antique by the looks of it and made of heavy iron, but the most unusual was the fact that the end of the key was equipped with what looked like an expensive red stone. It wasn’t cut like a gemstone, just round and smooth to the touch.

Danny could have sworn that it had been shining with a red hue just a few seconds ago, but that could just be the light from the windows reflecting in the gems surface. Danny didn’t think much about gems and turned the key over in his hand.

He was ready to rise and leave with his treasure, when his eyes registered the misshaped pattern in the wallpaper in front of him and he remained seated. Ran a hand over the lines and found a hole fitting a key of a certain size.

Danny finally came to a conclusion.

There was a little door behind the wallpaper. And he had a key.

Danny knew it was probably damaging something that wasn’t his, but he found some feeling of righteousness in his own boredom and ignored the feeling of guilt, as he ran the blade of his Swiss army knife along the lines of the door.

Looking back at the fort of boxes, he made sure his mother wasn’t watching him and made the final cut. He looked at the key for a second, before pressing it inside the keyhole and bit his lip, as it fit perfectly without a sound and turned.

Danny turned to check if his mother was still busy with her back to him and when her absentmindedness was confirmed, he pressed his nails into the edge of the little door and pulled to open it wide.

The dusty smell of mold reached him first and his expecting expression turned to that of defeat, when the other side of the little door turned out to be nothing by bricks.

Danny facepalmed. He had hit the mansion’s outer wall, what had he expected?

A second room!?

He patted the bricks just to be sure they couldn’t be opened, like some cool escape way out to the garden and then accepted his defeat. He didn’t bother locking the door after him, just shut it and stuffed the key into his pocket.

What a waste of time!

With one last look at the miserable place that would be his home till college, Danny pulled himself together with enough energy to go upstairs and closed the door to his room with a tired sigh.

The room was still mostly bare, but he had given it some effort and placed his space sheets on the bed and the telescope by the window, while they waited for the moving truck to get there and drop of their last furniture.

His cloths were mostly in the chest by the end of the bed and some of his more personally artifacts left on the desk with the old chair. Most of the room’s furniture was stuff the previously owner had left in the room and it could work for Danny ‘till his stuff got settled.

Danny pulled himself into bed without a care for tooth brushing or taking of his jeans and send his stationary and computer screen a longing gaze.

Still no cable or way to get internet. Still no optional way to get in touch with his friends, without using the phone down stairs and have his family pry on his conversation. Maybe the local library would have a computer he could open up a chat on?

Danny sighed and picked up the picture frame on his bedside table. Stared at the two teens waving back to him in a frozen happy moment. Tucker and Sam grinned back at him from the photo and Danny returned it with a weak smile.

He missed them.

He wished he was with them and placed the little antique key beside their picture.

He went to bed with thoughts of his old home and fell into the sleep of the abandoned.

Downstairs, the last of the Fentons went to each bedroom and went to settle for the night. With that, the darkness engulfed the last of the mansion and the last waken soul fell into a deep sleep.

But not all remained sleeping in the dark. No sound was heard in the living room, as a green light began to grow and form the lines of a square on the wall behind the sofa. The little door opened slowly and allowed the light to fell through.

It was time to come out to play.

 

Amity Park’s police station was exactly as you could expect from a village with big dreams.

A small police station and even smaller police force.

A young woman chewing electric blue bubblegum and folding paper planes, greeted them at the front, as the first. When she saw Danny in handcuffs led by the officer, she rolled her eyes and leaned forward to stop the officer with a sarcastic remark.

“Walker, seriously? Was this the best you could come up with on such short notice?”

“Mind your own business, Miss. McLain,” Walker sneered and pushed past her desk with a look of annoyance in the direction of her blue extensions, heavy eyeliner and Rock-N-Roll t-shirt.

She sighed by this and pressed the button to the intercom, with an apologetic look in Danny’s direction, “Chief Gray, Walker’s got another one for you.”

Danny just shrugged as an answer and allowed Walker to drag him in for the desired effect. The rest of the station was small and simple as well.

Only three working desk stations could be spotted before the door with the plate “Chief Damon Gray” finished it all at the end of the place and the smell of doughnuts made it all complete.

Two officers looked up from their chairs and just like the woman out front, they seemed busier with their phones and edible pastries, than actually police work.

Unlike Walker, both of them had the demeanor of locals, actual uniforms and the down-to-earth feel the cop restraining Danny was missing. Alone by the rolling of their eyes, was enough to tell Danny, that Walker wasn’t one of them.

Walker ignored them and forced Danny down into a chair by the last available table. From the looks of it, this was Officer Walker’s permanent working station.

“Not again,” the one of the officers with an eyepatch groaned lowly from his desk – his desk tag stating ‘Officer Bullet’ – and the other just shook his dark bearded head.

“Does that guy never get tired?” officer 'Wulf' scoffed with a deep voice.

Walker ignored them both openly and took the chair by the desk to sit in front of Danny with a stern scowl.

“Where were you Friday the 30 at the time of 19:01?” he asked and held a notepad ready.

Danny just shrug, “working at my job, I guess? You can call my boss if you like, but aren’t I allowed an attorney or something before you get to question me? No? A good cop to balance you then?”

Officer Wulf sneakered and Walker sent him a side-glance that could kill, “this isn’t a joke.”

“But it’s beginning to look like one,” Danny replied confident as the door to the chief’s office opened and a pepper and salt haired Damon Gray stepped out with a tired expression.

“Alright,” he called to get their attention, “Ember just told me Walker brought in another suspect and –”

He stopped midsentence as Danny stood up from his chair, despite Walker’s attempts to keep him seated.

Danny waved with a goofy smile and handcuffs, “hey, Mr. Gray. Long time no see.”

“Danny?” Chief Gray utter, surprised, but soon happily and he hurried over to greet him with a big smile beneath the big mustache, “what a surprise, how are you? When did you get back to us so soon, my boy?”

Walker looked perplexed from one to another and stood up in confusion over the unexpected reunion, “you know this punk, chief?”

“Know him?” Gray laughed and placed a good willed arm around the still grinning Danny, “Danny here is practical part of the family, he used to play with my daughter when they were kids and even saved her from falling down that well in the woods.”

The chief’s happy demeanor soon changed, as he took notice of the handcuffs and he raised a bushy eyebrow, “now, what is this? Walker…don’t tell me this is your new suspect?”

“Actually, he is,” Walker replied stern and reestablished his collected expression, “and I have good reasons to believe Mr. Fenton here could be a new lead in the investigation of the missing Thornwood girl.”

The officers behind them both rolled their eyes (collected they could roll tree), while the chief’s frown only deepened by the second, “and what do you build this suspicions on exactly?”

Actual police work,” Walker replied and sent the two officer’s a cold gaze, that clearly stated what he thought of their work, “Mr. Fenton here claims that he has been living at the crime scene for weeks, but I have been watching the Green Palace ever since Danielle Thornwood’s disappearance and kept track of all the people coming there. Even more, it seems overly suspicious that someone should chose to rent an apartment now, when the police have warned of a lookdown of the establishment. Mr. Fenton here has no logical reason to be here – he has no connection to this place or –”

“Now wait a second,” Gray warned with a raised hand to stop Walker’s running mouth, “that’s hardly a reason to arrest Danny here and he has connection to this place. Danny used to live here with his family. In the Green Palace nonetheless.”

That seemed to have slipped Walker and his careful investigation work. Danny rolled his eyes. Walker seemed lost for a second, before returning with his notepad.

“But, chief! What about his claims of having stayed here for weeks? He barely arrived today. I can proof that he’s lying, I got a confession from Mr. Lancer down at the estate center. He confessed that Mr. Fenton had wanted to stay at the Palace specifically and even paid a large sum of money for –”

“Mr. Lancer?” officer Bullet behind them noted and scoffed, “now why did you have to bother him all of a sudden? Don’t you know he had his third pacemaker replaced barely a week ago?”

“Yeah, way to go Mr. big city cop,” Officer Wulf joined and Gray shook his head.

“Walker, I’ve already told you – we don’t threaten children and old people –”

“He’s barely fifty,” Walker corrected.

“ – don’t talk back to your superior,” the chief scowled and had Walker shut up instantly, “this is a serious accusation to take Mr. Fenton here as a suspect for a crime that was permitted weeks before his arrival. You said so yourself, Danny here has barely arrived to our small town, before today. Now, we all know that Mr. Lancer is an old fool, who rents apartments out under illegal circumstances, but he’s an old man of this town and has helped out more people, than hurt. The fact that Mr. Fenton here has rented at the Green Place is only logical, taken that the local hotel is getting renovated and no other place rents out to students.”

Danny just nodded, “there really was no other place and I had some good memories there. A good place to get away from the city and study before my next semester. It’s a shame with the little girl, though. There’s really no clue to where she may have gone?”

“Afraid not,” the chief retorted and lifted the cap to comb back his graying hair, “but we still haven’t scoured the woods yet and there’s still the possibility she’s with her uncle and aunt in Chicago. We have to wait for the local authority to check it out. In the meantime, could someone please get Danny here out of these cuffs?”

“But, chief!” Walker protested and was ignored.

“No more buts, Mr. Walker. I can personally vouch for young Danny here and if you know what’s best, you’ll let him be and stop bringing in suspects without actual proof. This isn’t Texas. It’s not how it’s done here.”

Danny tried his best not to be smug about it as Walker opened the cuffs. Truth was, he felt some pity for the idiot, but he couldn’t help himself from serving the officer a smirk on the way out, as Chief Gray led him to the door.

“Come, now, Danny. I’ll take you out for something to eat, you look like you need it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Gray,” Danny replied polite as they reached the parking lot and the officer’s car, “but I have some work I need to finish tonight on my computer and you have already done more than enough for me.”

“Nonsense,” the man smiled and started the car, “you saved my little girl, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, my boy. At least allow me to bring you some dinner home then?”

“Alright,” Danny relented and tried to suppress the guilt of this entire conversation.

The only reason the man believed Danny had saved his daughter back then ten years ago, was because both Danny and Valerie had found it best to tell him the story that way. In reality, both Valerie and Danny knew that it was more the other way around.

Still, Danny had more to win from exploiting the man’s kindness for the sake of his task, than telling him the truth.

“I talked with Valerie just the other day,” Danny said to keep conversation going and saw the man lighten up by the mention of his daughter, “congratulation on being a grandfather, by the way.”

“Thank you,” he chimed, probably believing that Danny and his daughter was still in touch, “she and her husband has done me the honor of naming the little rascal after me. I couldn’t be prouder of her, she has been calling a lot lately to hear how I’m doing and about work. They send me pictures of the baby every week. I’m going to go visit them as soon as this case is closed.”

“Sounds nice,” Danny replied and took notice of Valerie’s interest in her father’s work. The stuff she had informed him about the missing kid must’ve been obtained through her father’s clueless goodwill.

They continued to small talk down through the rainy street, as they reached one of the town’s fast-food chain. Danny insisted on paying with money he didn’t have, but Mr. Gray wouldn’t have nothing of it and ordered him the biggest menu they had.

They continued to talk about the old days and Danny promised to stop by one of these days without the intention to do so, as he left the car and ran through the rain to his attic apartment.

He sighed in relief, now alone again and he dumped the paper bag of food on the room’s only chair, before he kicked of his boots and sat down on the bed with face buried in hands.

Outside the darkness grew in power and Danny checked the cuckoo clock above the door to make sure of the time. He was still early and had some time to spare. The smell of the greasy food felt suddenly nauseating to him and he pushed it further away to think clearly.

Unwanted memories and thoughts returning now that he had nothing but his own brain to keep him company.

Don’t do something stupid, Fenton.

He looked over at his phone, almost expecting his sister to call him and shook his head. He didn’t know how long he could keep lying to her, but the knowledge that it was for her own good kept him going.

If she knew he was at the Green Palace… he had no doubt she would come running and that was the last thing he needed right now with the task ahead.

Better to lie to her and make her believe he was still dating Sam Manson and hanging out with Tucker Foley.

Better for everyone to believe he was still working at the campus coffee-shop and studying for his last semester.

Better for everyone to believe he was at some stupid road trip with friends, than out here risking his life for the sake of another child’s soul.

Better for everyone. All except himself.

He shook his head, couldn’t get sentimental now or begin to doubt. He had to do this, or else no one would.

“Get it together Fenton,” he whispered and rolled over the mattress to find a better position.

He sat the phone to wake him before midnight and allow himself to close his tired eyes. He would need all the rest and strength he could get before he went down to face him.

To face the other father.

Chapter Text

“But what does he want from me?” Danny asked confused and the raven sent him a glance.

“He wants a child, of course, something that isn’t him – or maybe he just wants to eat you,” Clockwork chuckled and made Danny frown, as the raven sent him a grin, “how do you taste?”

Danny opened up his eyes with cold sweat soaking the mattress beneath him. The room was laced in darkness and for a second, he feared he was back.

Back in the dark room behind the mirror.

But then the alarm made his phone light up and he turned it off with shaking fingers. He had to heat up this place if he didn’t want to catch a cold. It was exactly half an hour till midnight and Danny knew he didn’t had much time.

The rest of the Green Palace seemed to be a sleep and Danny had no problem sneaking down the metal stair without being heard or noticed. As before, the door to the ground floor apartment was sealed shut with police tape and Danny looked around for a better option.

Even if he cut the tape carefully to make sure no one would notice and taped it back up, there was still the lock he didn’t had the key to and he didn’t need the police to be at his back a second time.

Instead, he moved around the mansion ‘till he reached the back and picked out one of the smaller windows fitting his size.

A small round window ended up being his choice and he pushed an old stump of tree against the house wall to reach it. He looked around too make sure he was still alone and took of his jacket to wrap it around his fist.

He counted silently to ten to build up the courage and held his breath, as he punched it through the window.

To his surprise and slight shock, the window didn’t break, but the window frame moved to slam wide open. Danny was fast enough to grab it before it could hit the wall inside a second time and he released his shaking breath, his heart hammering like crazy.

When no one came rushing to check out the commotion, Danny climbed up and pushed himself through the open window. He swore as he fell face first down into the bathtub and hurried to get out and back on his feet.

The mud he had dragged in was removed from the tiles and his shoes with a small towel hanging by the sink and he made sure to stuff it in is jacket pockets, in order to hide the evidence of an intruder.

The light of his phone broke through the dark and Danny frowned by the strange familiarity he felt by seeing the place again.

Something told him he wouldn’t even need the light as he began to walk, that’s how well he knew the apartment. He kept the light on nevertheless and moved from the great bathroom and into the hallway.

Even though it was a new family living in the apartment and ten years since his last visit, nothing seemed to have changed much and the Thornwood family even seemed to have kept most of the old Victorian furniture.

Danny sent the sliding doors to the living room a look and walked down the hallway. Took a peak up the grand staircase, knowing that his old room laid just ahead and moved past the door to the study.

He continued down the old creaky hallway and stepped over the fold in the old red carped out of instinct. Recalling how he had used to stumble over it in the past. The kitchen and dining hall turned up ahead and Danny took a quick round. Made sure he was truly alone.

When all possibilities of hiding policemen and family members of missing kid was confirmed nonexistent, Danny finally turned to walk down the hallway and go to the place he had dreaded for so long.

To the living room.

The room of the little door.

HOW DARE YOU DISOBEY YOUR FATHER!?

The hands ready to open the sliding doors drove back like he had been burned. The old fear and memories came creeping back and Danny had to take a mental break to breath in and out a few times.

There was no sound to be heard other than his own and the house suddenly felt too big, too old and too strange.

His mouth dried out and no matter how much he swallowed, the lump threatening to strangle him wouldn’t budge and he rubbed his throat in panic.

The need to run, to hid – to leave – was suddenly to overwhelming and Danny looked around for an easy escape, when his eyes landed on a little frame on the wall.

It was a child’s drawing. A little hand of blue paint carefully framed and hung for everyone to see and behold the art of a little kid.

‘6 years’ it said, and Danny stared at in in the dark, before he lifted his own gloved hand to touch the glass pane. The little hand could easily be three times in his own and he pressed his palm against the little imprint made by an innocent child.

A child now lost to the other world and devoured by evil.

“The codger,” the three ghost children whispered in haunted voices and the girl with the black pigtails and crocket teeth hid her face behind her tiny hands, “he spied on our lives through the little eye on the key…”

“And saw that we weren't happy,” the last boy, an Afro-American kid in a shirt and grey pullover, ended with hunched head, “so he lured us away with treasures. And treats.”

“And games to play,” the blond boy added, “gave all that we asked.”

“Yet we still wanted more.”

“So we let him cut our throats and we smiled through the pain…”

Anger replaced his fear and the lump that had threatened to strangle him, disappeared in a sour taste and clenched teeth.

“I’ll bring you peace,” he whispered and removed his hand from the frame.

The doors creaked ominously at his intrusion and Danny stared down the point in the dark where he knew the little door awaited him. The hexagon shaped room was silent, and Danny walked in with no means of leaving again before he’d finished what he’d come for.

The sofa, new and heavy looking, was pushed aside without much care and Danny knelt down to grab the side of the door.

It didn’t yield an inch, but he hadn’t expected it to either. He had locked it himself after all and the key disposed of.

How the little girl had been brought to the other world, he didn’t know, but he knew damn well that his arrival here hadn’t gone unnoticed and as the drama queen the other father was, he wouldn’t have to wait long before he invited Danny back.

The content of the black plastic box pressed against his lower back and Danny adjusted it to be more secure against the hem of his jeans.

Now he just had to wait.

And so, he did. Danny didn’t leave the door one second with his eyes and sat down before it to wait in silence. The dark still surrounded him, but Danny had no care for the darkness of this world, only the shades living on the other side.

The display of the phone read; 11:45.

 

Ten years ago…

Something was tickling his nose.

Danny scrunched his nose, not ready to get up just yet and tried to drift back to sleep. The feeling of something soft scratching his chin, made his frown deepen and he tried to wave it away with a grunt.

A little squeak like that of a mouse replied to the push and Danny’s eyes opened instantly. Two very big and very round red eyes stared into his and Danny moved back in reflex.

“What the – ?”

The owner of the big eyes uttered another squeak and ran over the bed and down the floor.

If Danny hadn’t been awake before, he was definitely now, and he hurried to sit up. His first though was rats, but for some reason his mind wouldn’t accept that explanation – something about the color had been of?

The darkness didn’t help either and he hurried with clumsy fingers to turn on the lamp on his nightstand. Danny stopped with a hand on the light switch, as another light source lit up the room.

The key on the bed table glowed with a red light streaming out of the gem and Danny picked it up with wonder.

What did it mean?

The squeaking sound returned, and Danny listened in confusion. He couldn’t seem to get anything to make sense tonight and turned on the lamp. The light lit up the room in a soft yellow light and Danny turned to face the thing that had awakened him.

Two small creatures looked up at him from the floor and Danny rose his eyebrows as he came to realize what they were.

Bats.

The tiniest he had ever seen and both of them covered in soft green fur, matching their small leather wings.

Not knowing what to do with them, Danny remained in his bed and held the staring contest with the little animals. One of them moved a fluffy ear and the other tilted its head like a puppy.

The motion made something in Danny’s way of regarding them change from creepy to…cute.

The memory of the puppy he had lost made him take another look at the little bats and the sudden desire to pick them up, touch their fur and press them to his chin, took hold of him and he moved an inch.

He had barely moved before the little bats ran for the door and Danny hurried to turn of the light, before he took up the chase down the stairs. The little bats set of from the top stair and he followed them down to the hallway.

Looking back at him they almost seemed to wait up for him and flew in through the half open door to the living room. Danny almost tripped over the fold in the carpet, as he ran down the hallway and jumped in through the sliding doors to land on the floor.

The two bats squeaked at him like happy mice and slipped behind the corner of the sofa.

Danny crawled across the floor with a grin and moved past the sofa. The little door was ajar.

“Got you!” Danny grinned, expecting the two bats to sit against the bricks, but as soon as he ripped open the door, his jaw fell to his chest.

The red bricks were gone, instead, a tunnel of glowing green light and shining veins stretched into the unknown. Danny blinked as a warm wind blew back his wild black tresses and he picked up his jaw to try and understand how it was possible.

Was this a dream?

An echo of a bat screech made him forget all about wondering and he gave the living room a last look, before a smile bloomed upon his face and he crawled in.

Lost in awe and childish wonder, Danny crawled through the magical tunnel and felt how the air turned warmer, the scent sweeter and the light softer around him. Everything seemed so magical and he grinned in expectations of what would await him on the other side.

He reached it before he knew it and sat up to push open the door at the end. Not unlike the one he had just crawled through. The smile on his pale face fainted a bit as he crawled out and found to his surprise…that he was back in the living room.

“But…” Danny said and turned around to check the little door.

It looked exactly as the one he had just crawled through and the teen frowned as he looked around to solve this puzzle. A bit disappointed he had to admit, but mostly disturbed.

Everything seemed the same as the place he had just left, but as he explored the room, something would seem that some things…had changed.

“Weird,” Danny uttered in front of the painting above the fireplace.

Unlike his home, this fireplace was lit and heating up the living room with a dark pink flame – and more so, the painting above it had changed from a sad blond boy with a puny newspaper hat, to a happy boy with a big flamboyant pirate hat.

Complete with colorful ostrich feathers and gold buckles. Danny’s eyes went to the family picture on the mantelpiece and he had to look one more time to make sure it wasn’t the fire playing a trick on him.

All of them smiling, just as the picture in the room he had just left, but unlike the picture he knew and remembered to have posed in…his own smile wasn’t forced in this picture.

He could almost believe himself to be happy in this family picture.

“This is so strange,” Danny continued and then stopped as a masculine humming reached him.

Danny followed it without knowing what to expect and reached the front door. Back at his place, he remembered how the weather had been all aspects of grey and heavenly overcast – but here, the night sky laid open with shining stars and the Milky Way stretched like a river above him.

The night warm and friendly. Not the shadow of a raincloud in sight. Danny stared up with open mouth and turned around himself to get it all a few times, before he reached the source of the deep humming.

A man stood with his back to him, dressed in an orange hazmat suit and hair dark with grey temples. A giant telescope, much bigger and advance than Danny’s own and possible any telescope made by man was currently being used by the man.

Even with his back to Danny, he could see the man was using it like he had never done anything else in his life.

“Dad?” Danny asked, confused and curious about what his father was doing with the delicate instrument in the middle of the night.

The teen stopped mid step towards his father, as the big man turned around and smiled at him. It was his father, alright, but where his eyes should have been, two red lights stared back at Danny.

“Oh, there you are, just in time for the meteor shower.”

Jack Fenton continued to smile at him and Danny recovered from the surprise and took a step back in distrust.

“You’re not my real dad. My dad doesn’t have lig…uhm…”

Then man crocked an eyebrow in humor and parroted him, “lig-light? Don’t be so silly, Daniel – I’m your Other Father. The best one who is.”

Danny didn’t know what to say about that and stared a bit, as his supposing ‘Other’ dad gestured for him to watch through the end of the telescope.

“Don’t be shy, Daniel. See? They’re here,” his other father singsonged and Danny looked up to see long lines of light stretch upon the night sky.

Danny had waited for this for months and planned this night only to have it ruined by overcast and bothersome moving, but even with the chance of seeing the sky phenomenon with an instrument like this, he couldn’t help but hesitate.

“Uhm… maybe later. W-where’s mom?”

The other father didn’t seem the least angry or disappointed by Danny’s refusal of watching the meteor shower and simply smiled with a pleasant voice on a normal sound level, so unlike his own loudly father, “you mean you ‘other’ mother? She’s in the kitchen – go on, dinner is almost ready. Can’t you smell it?”

Danny could. He had never smelled it around his own home, but knew what it meant and what it stood for.

Home cooking.

With the astronomy enthusiast claiming to be related to Danny laid behind him, Danny moved back to the house in a cautiously speed and followed the smell of all his favorite dishes.

Not knowing what to think or believe.

Maddie Fenton was, as the other father had said, in the kitchen. But Danny wasn’t so sure this was the same woman he called mother. Unlike the woman who had raised him, this Maddie Fenton was stylish beyond her beauty and acted out the housewife role to perfection.

Danny watched her for a second in the door, before he moved into her domain. She turned around with a pie in her hands and greeted him with eyes of red soft light and a delighted motherly smile.

“Well if it isn’t my little pumpkin,” she mused, as she kissed the crown of his hair, before he could move and stuck a cookie in his mouth, “go tell your sister to join the table. The chicken is ready to be served.”

Danny just bite down on the cookie, still lost at words and then hummed in surprising appreciation, as the cookie turned out to be exactly as the ones his own mother had used to make back when she had time.

The woman – other mother? – just chuckled at his antics and shooed him gently in the direction of the hallway. Danny glanced back, trying to recall if his own mother had ever felt at home in a kitchen like that before and went into the hall in direction of the stairs to his sister’s room.

Only…this couldn’t possibly be his sister’s room.

Danny opened the door next to his and looked around with awe – ran his hand across its long shelves before anyone could stop him.

Videogames of all types and rate of violence, was stacked on the shelves like books and a large screen showed that his favorite game “DOOM” was set on standby.

Danny took place in one of the two gamer-chairs and leaned back into the comfy seat. A controller was placed on the coffee table in front of him and he looked from it to the screen. It was set for a two-player game.

“This is heaven,” he whispered and jumped when the chair beside him suddenly turned and his sister grinned at him, “Jazz!?”

She waved at him with her own controller, making Danny stared from her to the game and he scratched his neck in uncertainty, “you…uhmmm look different.”

Different would be an exaggeration. Just like the other parents, other Jazz was equipped with red eyes of light and just like other mother and her housewife getup, she had changed her wardrobe.

Danny hadn't seen his sister out of her blue mom jeans and black shirt for years – but now she seemed to have returned to her more childish side and put on a pink t-shirt with a pair of tome-boy overalls.

She waved her controller again, apparently asking him if he wanted to play a game, but Danny wasn’t sure about anything and was still trying his best not to freak out, “uhmm, there’s dinner – they told me to get you?”

She smiled, still strangely mute and simply stood to follow him, instead of telling him not to order her around or remind him that he was to younger child, who was supposed to follow her.

Danny didn’t know what to think of this place…but he found it oddly…nice.

Family mealtime had never been an establish or appreciated tradition in the Fenton household.

Danny couldn’t for his life remember the last time all four of them had even been seated around the same table at the same time and maybe that was the reason he now felt strangely out of place.

Instead of takeout or microwave food, the long table was set with a golden chicken in center and joined by several bowls of well-cooked vegetables, chips and additions to the meal.

Instead of a lonely kitchen table, or greasy booth at the local Nasty Burger joint in company of two teens auguring about when and when not to be vegetarian, Danny found himself seated at the end of the table with his family around him.

Well…not ‘his’ family. His ‘other’ family. All of them politer, better mannered and far better behaved than his own loud, snoopy and annoying relatives, who never seemed able to be in the same room for more than a single minute, without making it a problem.

His other father told a funny story, while his other mother laughed without shame and sent the chicken down to Danny. Next to him, his other sister helped him to something to drink and Danny was shocked to find that he could get a kiwi and fudge smoothie at the table.

“You’re strangely…quiet,” Danny noted about his other sister and the girl giggled, as Danny’s other father went up behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders with a smile.

“I thought you would like her more that way. More listening and less demanding, hmm?”

“Yeah,” Danny agreed, knowing that it wasn’t nice to think about one’s siblings like that, but he couldn’t deny that this Jazz was far more tolerable, than the one he had grown up with.

Both his other parents and sister stood up to stand around him and Danny frowned when other Jazz blinded him with her hands.

“Hey, wha –” he stopped as she removed them and revealed his plate had been replaced with a chocolate cake.

Icing and little candles shining softly on the galaxy styled fondant decorated the cake, like something he had always wanted on his birthday. He watched in silence, as white frosting appeared out of nowhere, spelled words on top of it, and Danny read them out loud as he looked up at them.

“Welcome home?”

“We have been waiting for you, Daniel,” the other father explained, “to come live with us and be happy.”

Danny looked from him to the cake and tried to consider how wild this was. They had been waiting for him? To join them and ditch his old family?

Guilted by the fact he was even considering it made Danny rise from the table and he pushed himself out of their midst, “listen I…it sounds amazing, but I have to go back to my other family.”

“But we are your other family,” the other father insisted.

Danny winced a bit by that tongue slip and tried to put up a smile, “I know, I just meant my first family…how can I even have an ‘other family’? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Of course, it does,” the other father laughed heartily, “everyone has one. But don’t worry, little badger, we’re not forcing you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

That was a relief and Danny relaxed a bit now that he knew he wasn’t caged or something like that. Which was a pretty strange thing to fear, taken that these…people had been nothing but nice to him.

Now more comfortable with the whole situation, Danny couldn’t help but yawn and his other father smiled in understanding and led him to his room with the gentle exhortation that growing boys needed their sleep.

Danny followed willingly and stopped in the doorframe of his room to take it in. Just like the rest of this place, his room was so much better than his own and he admired the open sky above him through a glass dome and the telescope from the yard now placed in the center of his room.

A soft blue color decorated the walls, along as posters of NASA and his favorite bands. Even the bed looked soft to the touch and the mattress lured him closer with its thick star patterned cover.

“Hey, Danny! Over here, man!” came it from the nightstand and Danny lighted up in a wide grin and jumped across the bed to get to the picture of his two best friends.

“Tucker! Sam! I can’t believe it, it’s almost as like you’re here,” he grinned and they gleamed back at him with red lights for eyes, “I can’t wait till college and we’ll get back together. Or maybe you two could come here?”

“But we’re already here,” Sam said and shook her head with a found smile.

Danny was taken a bit back by that and looked up as his other father lifted the covers for him. Danny felt the tiredness come over him and he yawned again. He could use some serious sleep.

“See you again, little badger,” the other father whispered as Danny laid down and he closed his eyes in content.

He woke up the next morning to a great disappointment. He was back in his own boring room. In his own grey boring life. The little key on his nightstand had turned lifeless again.

Had it all been a dream?

 

Danny stared ahead. Waited on the minute.

23:59

His eyes turned back from the phone to the little door and he weighted his options. If it didn’t open…

He frowned. Part of him had believed the door to be useless after he threw the key down the well, but how else had the little girl gotten into the other world? Were there other ways to that hellhole?

Danny’s speculations and counting of options stopped, as soft green light began lighting up the lines of the door. Danny hurried to shift from sitting, to rest of his knees and stared as the light illuminated the old keyhole.

The old lock sounded like a fired cannon in the quiet dark house and Danny crawled back in caution as the door clicked open and swung wide.

A green tunnel unfolded on the other side of the door and a luring light pulsated like veins in the tissue of the portal. Danny frowned and remembered how the portal had changed from magical to grey on his last visit to the other father’s world.

How the loss of children souls and life-force had made the wonder and life leave the place, leave it exposed for what it really was.

A carnivore’s dark cave.

No warm breeze was trying to lure him closer and no cute bats waved for him to come with them. Still the tunnel looked as magical as ever and seemed to have its magic intact.

All of it only confirmed Danny’s assumptions and made his last unrealistic hope die out.

The girl was dead. Her soul was now the magic sustaining the other world.

“Damn you,” Danny muttered and the portal seemed to taunt him as it glowed.

He glared into its treacherous deeps and grabbed the frame of the small door. It had fit him as a fourteen-year-old, but he had the feeling it was going to become incredible narrow for him now – and that was if he didn’t get stuck.

He looked back one last time, not knowing if this would be the last time he saw the living world and began to squeeze through the door.

To his luck, his body wasn’t that big or heavy, that he couldn’t snake through the frame and he patted his own shoulder for inheriting his mother’s genes.

Had he had his father’s hopeless metabolism or build, he would have been stuck and left to wait for someone to find him the next morning after some serious shouting for help.

Luckily for him, that wasn’t the case and Danny crawled through the tunnel with ease, as the portal seemed to adjust to his body and the only other obstacle on his way to the other world, turned out to be the second door frame.

Danny pushed open the little door and moved to get out with some work. He made sure to leave the little door wide behind him and rose to take in his surroundings.

The other living room.

Having just walked through the house in the living world, Danny knew that most of the furniture had been moved or replaced by the Thornwood family and the walls decorated with new paintings and pictures.

But as he looked around, he found that the other world hadn’t mirrored the living world in a better light. The furniture and paintings hanging on the walls, wasn’t that of the living room on the other side.

This living room was the one Danny had visited for the first time ten years ago.

This was his other world.

His eyes turned to the fireplace and as he’d expected, the little boy smiling with his pirate hat was where Danny had left it.

All the furniture was the original Victorian kind and outside the bay window, he could see the detailed night sky he had wanted and had been granted by the other father.

The old frame with the picture of his family on the mantelpiece was missing, but Danny had been the one to bring it back to the real world, so it was only logical that was missing now.

Danny nodded, understood what this meant.

He had been waiting for him.

Welcome home...

A faint humming made Danny’s head snap to the left and he stared at the doors standing slightly ajar. The sound of Jack Fenton’s deep humming came from there and Danny took a deep breath before leaving the room and the only passage home.

The strength of the humming and its sweet lullaby grew as he stepped out into the hallway and he gave it a brief glance to note that it too was just as his first visit.

It angered Danny in more ways than he could explain and he scowled as he followed the sound to the master of this world.

Don’t be afraid, Danny encouraged himself as he walked down the hallway and reached the door to the study, you’ve outsmarted him before. You can do it again.

The fear that had begun to pool in his stomach was forced into something else, as Danny reminded himself why he was here, why this place was still magical and what that thing on the other side of the door had done to him.

The substance in his guts boiled with the desired effect and Danny pushed open the door with enough power to make it slam on its hinges and probably make a dent in the wall.

Just as the rest of the house, the study was an old reestablish memory of the wonder home Danny had been lured into with promises and false smiles back when he was a mere teen, but one things were painfully missing.

Except for a lone mahogany desk and bookshelves, the room was empty. The humming and its source…gone.

It took Danny’s brain a second to understand that nothing was going to happen and he looked around in utter confusion. Where was he? No other father appeared out of nowhere and no sounds of lullabies returned.

What the hell?

He looked around for a second, went around the desk and tried to make sense of the room. He was more than 100% sure the sound had come from here. Was he going crazy? Imagining things. Or…

Was the other father hiding from him?

“But why would he –” Danny started, but then stopped himself.

Yes. Why indeed? His own thoughts chuckled with someone else’s voice and Danny backed and hit the desk with his back. His eyes widening and his own heart hammered like a bird trying to escape his chest in fright.

There was only one reason he would do this to Danny.

Danny staggered back into the hallway with beating heart. Not ready for this.

Not ready for another game.

“Come out here and face me, coward!” he yelled and ran through the hallway to open every door he could get his hands on, “this isn’t a game! I’m not playing around with you, get out here and fight me!”

No voice answered him and no one came to face him. Danny suddenly felt as if the house was trying to smother him and all the shadows looked to him as if they were growing. Becoming deeper and reaching towards him with hungry fingers.

“Clockwork,” Danny whispered and ran down the hallway – he needed help and that fast.

Danny continued to run till he ended up at the front door and he turned the nob to run outside where he knew he couldn’t so easily be caged and help could be found if he was lucky – only to realize the door wouldn’t open.

“Fuck,” Danny muttered and tried slamming his shoulder against the wood, but the door didn’t move an inch and around him, the windows seemed to darken.

Danny felt the cold sweat collect on his temples and he stepped back from the door and the windows dripping with darkness. Grabbed the weapon behind his back with sweaty fingers.

“Oh no,” he whispered and turned 180 degrees to lock eyes with the sliding doors to the living room.

The little door.

His only way out.

The floorboards groaned from friction as Danny sat into a sprint and he ignored the rest of the noises in his fight to get to the living room.

He didn’t bother opening the sliding doors al the way with any kind of care and simply forced his way in and slide down the floor on his knees to get through the little door.

He was barely an inch from it, before it suddenly shut with a slam in his face and Danny fell back in shock. He was caged.

“Going so soon? You’re not even going to greet your father, hmm?”

Danny swallowed, felt old nausea and fear creep under his skin by the sound of that voice behind him. He took a deep breath and finally turned his head with slow caution.

Felt his mouth dry out and his tongue stick to his palate. In the chair next to the sofa and coffee table, was a brutish build man in a crisp orange hazmat suit, currently poring a cup of tea.

His face was that of peaceful benevolence and the wrinkles made by his friendly smile reach the spot where eyes should have been. Instead, two red lights shone like fireflies in his sockets and he nodded towards the sofa next to his chair.

“Come join me, son. I have been waiting for you."

Chapter Text

Danny rose slowly.

Not because his knees were sore from gliding across the floor for the hopes of getting to the now closed door, or to try and restore some dignity after his panic inflicted flight – but because the instinct of prey in his unconsciousness, warned him not of move too fast in the company of a predator.

One wrong move could invite him to make a chase and Danny knew he wouldn’t stand a chance.

Still, his prey instincts were overshadowed by his stubborn human tendencies a second later and he scowled at the Codger in the chair. Not one to accept being called “son” by anyone else than his own blood father.

You’re not my real dad. My dad doesn’t have lig…uhm…

“You’re – ” Danny stopped himself, not willing to fall back into that old rant he had used as a child – it hadn’t worked back then and he doubt it would help him much now. If anything, it would probably be best not to anger the other father and have him lose his temper.

Again.

“Just turn back to your own form,” Danny sighed, “stop fooling around, fruitloop.”

The copy of his father hummed as if considering it and then shrugged with a sense of class Danny’s own father had never possessed – and never would.

“Very well.”

Danny had been prepared to face the other father’s last and monstrous form – believing that this was a final showdown between them, that would bring them to their worst. But instead, the other father slowly shrunk.

The huge build Jack Fenton had gained from partly heavy boned genes and partly a love for fudge, melted away to reveal a much slimmer and lithe silhouette. The dark hair with the grey temples, grew shoulder long and combed itself back into a neat silver ponytail.

The square face, if not square jaw, turned long with growing facial hair and the features gained an aristocratic form.

The orange hazmat suit vanished as well, turning pitch black and a tailored inky suit looking straight out of an Armani shop now clad the middle-aged gentleman in the chair.

A red bolo tie completed it all and the crisp looking gentleman watched Danny expectantly with awaiting red light for eyes.

Danny had to admit he was a bit taken back. He recognized vaguely this form, as being the face the other father had taken after Danny had first demanded to return home and defied him by not being polite.

The form had horrified Danny back then, the sudden change from his father to a complete stranger had been simply disturbing.

But back then the stranger’s body had been impossible tall and twisted with either anger or evil, making him a minefield to be around and nightmare to behold.

The man facing Danny in the chair on the other hand? He was what one could only take as a pleasant version of that form – strangely human in comparison and somewhat harmless?

Danny swallowed a bit as this new gentleman in the chair smirked at him and crossed his legs in an elegant fashion…Danny didn’t want to, but had to admit he was actually kinda hot. He had no idea how he hadn’t been able to tell back then, but damn.

The other father/stranger chuckled with a smirk, “my, my. Someone seems to prefer this form for a change. A lot based from your face.”

Danny sobered up instantly. It was strange to hear the stranger talked with a new – and probably his own voice instead of his father’s. It reminded Danny that nothing was as it seemed, and he regarded the forty-looking silver fox with caution.

The mistrust to said creature returned full on and made him scowl, “don’t kidding yourself.”

“You to seem to have changed a bit yourself,” the Codger continue, as if Danny hadn’t just sneered at him, “look at you. All grown up and handsome.”

“Stop playing,” Danny warned and made a stance, “tell me your true name, demon.”

The other father’s smirk widened in a silent warning and he tilted his head in a mocking manner, “and why exactly would I do that? You haven’t earned the right to know my name and really, I see no reason to tell you. It’s not like my true name can be used against me or be of any other use to you for other propose than simple formalities. And honestly – demon? What a simple assumption. I see your rude nature haven’t changed the slightest, little badger.”

The other father leaned forward with a devilish grin and Danny caught on to what this was about. He wanted Danny to play formal with him. Danny wasn’t much for play pretend, but taken the circumstances, he might not have a choice.

If he wanted this to remain a peaceful conversation and not a chase through a world made by the Codger – and for the Codger… then Danny would have to play along on the old rules.

The rules of civility.

“Rude or not,” Danny began slowly, trying to sound as reasonable as possible and changed his body language to seem less threatening, “formalities are formalities. You know my name, but still you keep yours to yourself. That’s very rude of a host.”

The Codger seemed to actually consider his words this time and then smiled, “touché, indeed – how very rude of me, then let me properly introduce myself this time. My name is Vlad, but you can keep calling me father if you like, it’s such a lovely title.”

“I’ll pass,” Danny replied a bit harsh and eyed the cup that had been pushed towards him across the table, “and I’m not here for tea…Vlad. I’m here for the girl.”

“Now don’t be like that,” Vlad scolded lightly and took a sip of his own cup, before looking around as if dissatisfied, “hmmm, now the rest doesn’t match, one second.”

Danny jumped in surprise as the carpet was pulled from right under him and he stumbled before getting caught by the sofa, now looking brand new and with fresh new padding.

Danny moved to sit upright and watched how the rest of the living room had changed from old furniture and memories matching his teenhood – to an older and much fresher looking décor.

A classic design that could easily have matched the home of a gentleman from the 1800, with its dark rich woodwork, crystal chandeliers and formal touch.

Massive bookshelves filled with heavy tomes and hunting trophies on the wall, made the new surroundings and th lacquered tree ornaments shone in compete with the gold and green wallpaper.

“Oh, the old glory,” Vlad sighed in his own suave voice and admired his own doing with a sense of pride, “I could never stand the way the new owners would tear down the original style for something much more mundane. Such a shame, more tea? You look well, my boy, much healthier now than back when you first arrived at my home. However, the attire could use a tailor, but it’s no problem in my realm – how’s the study working out? I take that you went to college, yes?”

Danny sent the Codger a foul look, as he tried his best to get the now floating teacup out of his face. Danny won the fight by smacking the porcelain cup out of his face and watched it fly to the other end of the room.

“Don’t act as if you care, I’m not your son or anything like that, never was. You just lured me here to cut my throat and take my soul – don’t pretend anything else.”

Vlad sighed like he was disappointed in Danny’s manners and poured himself some more tea, “Daniel, you know I love you –”

You have a funny way of showing that….

“No you don’t,” Danny droned and remembered having had this conversation already, “and really I don’t care – I’m only here for the girl. Where is her soul?”

Vlad acted as if he hadn’t heard him and continued on undisturbed, “ – how is your dear sister by the way? Surely making a name of herself and being the wonderchild of the family. She always was the one to steal the little attention your parents could spare, wasn’t she?”

Danny gritted his teeth, “stop it.”

“ – or those so called ‘friends’ of yours, hmm? Are they still around these days? They never really seemed to be of any kind of support while you spend time here and if I have to guess, something tells me they weren’t of much help after either.”

Danny had a snarky reply ready on his tongue, but something held him back. A sudden shame had made him silent and he fought to find the right words to say.

In the meantime, Vlad seemed to have made his own conclusions and suddenly regarded Danny with a twisted pity in his red eyes, “oh my, I see. I can always recognize a broken heart when I see one. Did she reject your feelings?”

Danny digged his fingers into the padding of the sofa’s armrest, his voice a warning, “that’s none of your business.”

Vlad didn’t seem to care and continued on, “or maybe she had feeling for you to, but couldn’t keep up the interest? That must have brought some tension to that happy little triad. I wonder what role your best friend acted in all this?”

“Shut up,” Danny sneered, but instead of getting angry, Vlad’s fun only increased.

“Maybe he even swept in to be the one to comfort her? The best friend she could still turn to and in a weak moment…even fall for?”

“Shut up!” Danny growled and stood to get out of the little intimate sphere Vlad had created, “just stop it – I’m not here to have tea and cookies!”

“Then tell me, Daniel,” Vlad asked charmingly and suddenly rose from the chair to tower over Danny, moving close enough to whisper in his ear, “why have you returned? Enlighten me, hmm?”

Danny ignored the discomfort of having his private space invaded and stood tall, as he faced the Codger called ‘Vlad’, formerly ‘Other father’, “like you don’t know!”

“Maybe I don’t,” Vlad teased and walked around him with a calm expression, “or maybe I do. But I like you to tell me what you believe you’re here to achieve.”

Danny wasn’t going to let him get to him and clenched his fists, “to save the Thornwood girl and end you once and for all.”

Vlad’s crocket smirk vapored like dew in the sun and he raised an unimpressed eyebrow, as he clasped his hands behind his back and continued to walk around Danny, “oh, don’t flatten yourself, my boy, I think we both know that’s not the case. The Thornwood girl disappeared weeks ago, giving you more than enough time to come to her rescue – if you really had cared for that child, you would have return the minute the dear Mrs. Gray had informed you of the missing child. Now tell me, why have you really returned to me?”

The fact that Vlad knew about Valerie’s call and that kind of information outside his reach, had Danny freeze on the second. The rest of him was conflicted on how to respond to this.

It was true, Danny could have taken a plane to Amity Park the second after he had ended the call with Valerie – and still had the small hope of saving the kid before Vlad got her to sacrifice her soul – and by that becoming his next meal. But Danny hadn’t.

He had sat in the dark of his apartment for three days, relived his old nightmares while this child had walked deeper into Vlad’s dark trap.

Straying further away from the light every day, every hour, every minute, second and moment, as Danny had wasted the precious time on planning, making calls, making up lies and packing his single bag.

A rational part of him had held him back. Said he couldn’t just go to Amity right away. He had to get an alibi for being in Amity as a first, had to cook up a story his sister would believe, while he returned to that place.

Told him that it was important to find a way to get residents in the Green Palace, rather than a hotel in Amity, because it would be too difficult to break into the little door else. Told himself that he had to make a plan. Be smart about this.

But even if Danny wanted to, he couldn’t deny the smaller more cynical part of him, that had whispering to him right after the end of the call.

That even if he had taken the first plane, gotten the earliest bus and run the rest of the way there by foot – broken though the police tape and probably presented investigators, and even had the luck to make them let him though and into the little door…

He would have been too late anyway.

So the only question remained – why had he come? He wanted to say he had come for heroic reasons, but as he had sacrificed this child, that would only be lying to himself.

It was true when he said he was here to end the curse, truth that he wouldn’t leave till he had reclaimed the little girl’s soul…

But Vlad already knew this and had still made the question. Meaning he didn’t really believe Danny and in some way, Danny didn’t even believe what he had just said either.

Was he really just here to redo the past? To end what he had believed himself to have finished ten years ago? To save future children from doing the same mistakes as himself?

Mostly – NO, defiantly, he couldn’t begin to fall back into Vlad’s claws. He couldn’t believe his lies, shouldn’t listen to his silver tongue and start doubting himself.

Danny had come here to save a soul and end this monster. That was his story and he’ll be damned if he didn’t stick to it!

“You heard me,” Danny said stubbornly, “I want her soul and I want you gone. End of it.”

Vlad just scoffed at him, clearly not convinced, “well you can continue to believe that, but the truth can’t be silenced so easily, Daniel. I know you, I see the dreams and hopes in your heart and they are not what they seem – you don’t really know why you’re here, but you want to know and so do I.”

“I don’t know what ya talking about –”

Danny flinched as Vlad grabbed his shoulder from behind and grinned down at him, suddenly turned from serious to mischievous, “and that is why I want you to stay around. Discovers yourself, Daniel. Use that brilliant mind of yours and find out for yourself. I think you find that the reason you’ve returned isn’t as noble as you think they are.”

Danny had barely opened his mouth, before Vlad had turned him and now stood in front of him again. The crazy twisting and turning was making him dizzy and made his fight or flight instincts go havoc, as he couldn’t keep his back free or predict Vlad’s movements.

“I’m not staying around for any of that or you,” Danny scowled as he turned around to find Vlad again and ended up finding him right next to himself.

Jumped back as their noses had almost touched.

Vlad just smirked at his expense, “don’t take it too personally, my boy, I just want to get to know you as a person again. You’ve become such a fine young man. I can’t wait to learn all about this new Daniel you’ve become – in fact, I can’t wait to show you just everything I’ve become.”

Danny didn’t like the sound of that and took another step back just to be sure, “you’re not listening. I’m not here to stay.”

“Oh, I’m aware,” Vlad chuckled and moved back into Danny’s personal space just to show he could and smiled darkly by Danny’s retreat, before following him slowly, “you’re only here to look for that poor little Thornwood girl. Such a lonely, sad and utterly boring child. Not like you, oh no, this one was just as empty minded as the televisions shows she wanted to watch all day. What have the world come to?”

Danny’s back hit the wall and he tried not to let it show, as he glared up into the monster’s red eyes, “just tell me where her soul is and let’s be done with this. I know that’s why you brought me here, you can’t help it, you want to play that stupid game again.”

A glimpse of something else shone in those red lights and Vlad leaned back to tap his sharp cheekbone, “actually, on the contrary, I want to play another game, my boy.”

“What?” Danny uttered surprised and watched after Vlad, as the strange creature moved to sit back on the chair and return to his abandoned cup of tea.

It’s quite simple, really,” he began solemnly and snapped his fingers to make Danny’s broken cup fix itself and return to the younger male, “you see, my powers are fouled by children’s souls and to keep new children coming, I have used these powers to lure them into my domain with wonders and treats. However, after some resent change, I am now settle for life. The rules have changed and since you have grown out of my age range of taste, I was thinking of playing a new game, with a new set of rules. All for you.”

Danny eyed the cup trying to jump into his hand with hostility. Vlad nodded towards the seat on the sofa, expecting him to take it with an awaiting expression. Danny couldn’t help but frown, “settled for live” had an ominous sound to it – what did he mean by that?

That he didn’t needed any more children to feast on? Or that this last kid was the last for him to collect?

None of it made any sense to Danny and having seen first handed what happened when Vlad didn’t had any souls to live off, made all this even more suspect. Children’s soul was the Codger’s only sours of magic, without it, his world and body just fell apart – how could he not need souls anymore?

How could he be settled for life!?

Danny had no idea and asking Vlad directly never gave any answers. But it wasn’t important right now anyway – he could think of that after he’d saved the child’s soul.

It’s probably just another lie to make me question everything, he thought in his quiet mind and it made him calm down a nudge. Of course, classic other father.

Danny took the seat slowly and after a second, he accepted the cup, but didn’t drink from it, “what kind of game?”

Vlad smiled, clearly pleased with himself, “eager, are we? Well, I know you want to cut my world of to the living and you know I want your company in here rather than some mindless brat’s, so here’s the rules.”

Danny watched Vlad collect his finger and felt the old feeling of forebodes run a cold finger down his spine. A new game was at risk.

“Each day I will leave you to search for my end on your own,” Vlad began and tapped a finger one at a time, “I won’t follow you and I won’t stop you, but when the moon rises and the night falls, you will return here to live with me and see my wonders till the sun rises in the east.”

Danny thought about it, tried his best to catch any signs of traps, unsaid rules or loopholes, “how can I trust that you won’t spy on me and try to stop me? What keeps you from just caging me in your world and keep me here? Why should I trust that you will just let me leave after the sun rises?”

Vlad seemed to have expected that reply and chuckled with an older man’s depths of humor, “oh, Daniel, your distrust is hurting me, but I see why you might be concerned. Then consider this, for the sake of the game and the satisfaction of seeing you calm in my presence, I will give you exactly one week to find your answer –”

“A week!?” Danny exclaimed, not ready for such a short deadline.

Vlad wagged his finger at him, “nothing less and nothing more. In a span of seven days, I will not harm you, I will not follow you and I won’t stop you from doing what you’ve come for. If you succeed by the end of the seventh day, I will return the girl to you and let you leave this world that is my home.”

Danny felt his fear return and asked what he had to know, but didn’t want to, “…and If I don’t succeed?”

Little red eyes lighted up the ceiling, where hundreds of small bats were hanging from their feet. Their little greedy eyes seemed to suck all other light sources from this world to them, but the biggest and brightest of all the red eyes, was the pair watching him with a wicked smirk from the dark.

“Then you will let me cut your pale delicate neck and stay with me. Forever.”

Forever…

Danny swallowed. There it was, the final judgment he had expected, but didn’t hoped for. Some would say this was a better fate than death, but they were wrong. So very wrong. Staying here forever, becoming part of the Codger’s realm…was so much worse than death.

Death would be a release, a merciful way out of this nightmare and eternal fear that had weighted him down for years. Death meant he had finally escaped this other world.

Death was natural, it was peaceful – Danny should know, he had helped three haunted souls leave this evil place and as they had walked into the arms of death, they had pitied him for staying behind. Not the other way around.

So Danny had reasons to fear for himself. Reasons to fear getting trapped in this world, with this monster. Forever.

He closed his eyes. The echo of three little voices ringing in his mind like little bells.

“Don't remember our names,” they uttered quietly in unison and the smallest, a little timed blond boy with freckles and a pirate hat, drifted closer and hugged his own thin arms in sorrow, “but I 'member my true daddy.”

The memory of the three lost children opened up another tear in his soul. Somewhere in this place, a little girl had been tricked into having her little throat slashed like a pig at the slaughterhouse and come to understand the cruelty of the world.

Somewhere abandoned and alone, a ghost was huddling in sorrow after the loss of soul and body. If she had been lucky, Vlad had cut her fast and had he been merciful, he hadn’t eaten her small body in the little ghost girl’s presence.

Danny had let her down for weeks and he would always be ashamed of it, but done was done and he had arrived. He had to do this. He had to make things right.

He had to try.

“Fine,” Danny uttered and stood up to his full high to seal his fate, “It’s a deal – but first, you have to give me a clue. That’s the rules, remember?”

The dark atmosphere of the living room vapored just as fast as it had appeared, and Vlad’s evil smile was replaced with a playful smirk in the returning light.

He leaned back into the cushions like a businessperson sealing a promising contract and nodded tractable, “always so cunning, that hasn’t changed. Well then, I shall give you a clue.”

The monster in disguise rose to meet Danny on the floor and moved behind him, making him stiffen. Vlad ignored his hostility and began to speak, with hands on the young man’s shoulders and lips by his ear.

“In each of your visits, I will speak a single clue, a lead or a riddle. All gifts just for you.”

Danny could feel himself lose control of his temper. This was just like the clue from back then they last met all over again – and Danny knew for certain, that this wasn’t the same kind of game.

“That makes no sens–,” Danny argued, as he turned around to scowl at him, only to find that Vlad was gone, “ – aaaaand he’s gone…should have seen that coming.”

Without Vlad’s presence in the room, the place seemed to have lost some of its shadows and Danny shuddered by the feeling of having moved into deep water. To deep.

There was no sign of bats hanging from the ceiling now and neither of the furniture of teacups moved now that their master was absent.

That is, if he wasn’t just pretending to be and actually watching Danny.

Get it together, Fenton, Danny reminded himself and moved to the sliding doors leading to the rest of the house,you’re a grownup now, he has no real power over you.

That belief was put to shame, when the sliding doors didn’t budge an inch and Danny had to struggle with them for ten minutes before he finally admitted to himself that he couldn’t get them up till Vlad wanted it.

“Fine, he still has some power,” Danny mumbled quietly with his forehead pressed against the sliding door.

The sound of a lock clicking open and the creaking of old hinges, made Danny turn around. A soft green light fell from the little door at the other end of the room and Danny nodded as he came to understand.

He had overstayed his welcome.

 

Ten years ago…

Danny laid impatience in bed.

The dream had occupied most of his mind that day and a part of him knew for certain that it had been more than just the imagination of his brain. The other father, world and even night sky in the other world had simply been to…wild for him to have simply made it up.

It hadn’t felt like a real dream either. Danny’s dreams were mostly obscure in the morning or too vague for him to even remember afterwards.

But this dream had been different, not only because he could still remember every single detail now hours after, but because he had been too full to even eat breakfast – this dream had been real.

Of course, a part of him had wanted to share this with his parents, but they had barely had time to even look at him all day, so he had changed his mind and come to the conclusion, that this dream was his to keep for now. They probably wouldn’t believe him anyway.

Danny had spent most of the day trying to figure out how he felt about it all himself. Did he really want to find this place and return? He didn’t entirely know – don’t get him wrong, the other world had been amazing, but a small part of him had also been creeped out a bit.

Was that normal?

Danny had read a big deal of adventure and superhero comics and he guessed all those heroes in his comics had felt like him at first. The new and strange was exciting and tempting, but also a bit weird?

Don’t worry, little badger, we’re not forcing you to do anything you’re not comfortable with…

Danny had nodded slightly to himself while the men from the moving company had set up his room, the other father had indeed given him a choice. Danny could return if he wanted, no stress, no one was forced here.

And to be honest…Danny really, really, really wanted to go back.

So much, that he had left a couple of berries on the floor in his room, to try and attract the little bats once again. And he didn’t have to wait for long.

Danny had barely heard the sound of his father’s snore or seen the last light turn of, before the sound of little claws skirted across his floor along with sweet little squeaks of joy.

Danny had turned around in bed and once again found himself face to face with the little bats, the three of them picking up the barriers with glee.

They all jumped by his movement and began to run out the door, but Danny had expected this and jump out of bed, fully dressed and with the key safe in pocket.

The little green bats had led him directly back to the little door in the living room and Danny didn’t hesitate this time to crawl through the magical tunnel.

The golden veins and glowing green light made him smile wide and his eyes widened, as he got to the door and pushed it open.

The clean and comfy version of his own living room was such a nice contrast, that Danny couldn’t help but admire it for a second. No blinking and oozing machines stood in the way, no risk of breaking a green container or tube was in his space and everything seemed so…normal.

Danny couldn’t get enough.

The smell of something sweet made him go to the kitchen and he found himself get a bit shy, as he found the other mother cocking by the stove again, along with his other father reading the newspaper by the kitchen table.

His other sister was sitting beside him, playing on a Gameboy and unlike his real sister, she seemed to love it.

“Hey…” Danny greeted slowly and took a step into the room.

The rest of the other family immediate lighted up by his appearance and moved their attention solely to him alone.

“Oh, pumpkin, you’re just in time for breakfast,” the other mother smiled and flipped a pancake in the air, “thank you for the berries, what a nice thought. We love blueberry pancakes.”

“Uhm – you’re welcome,” Danny smiled shyly and took the chair the other father had pulled out for him, “thanks, uhm, I think this is yours by the way.”

The other father looked down at the key Danny handed him and chuckled, as he closed Danny’s hand around it. Danny couldn’t help but notice how nice the man’s hands felt.

“Keep it, Daniel. If the door get locked in any way, you are going to need this key. We wouldn’t want you to have trouble returning to your other home, now would we?”

“I guess not,” Danny agreed and scratched his neck, his insecurity soon gone, as other Jazz moved to sit beside him with a childish grin and dig into the stack of pancakes the other mother began to serve them.

Danny giggled at Jazz’s appetite – so unlike her stuck-up manners back home and began on his own sack of perfect golden blueberry pancakes with whipped cream and freshly cut strawberries. It tasted too good to be a dream and Danny accepted that all of it was real.

Even if it was too amazing to be true. He watched as his other parents talked about normal subjects and laughed when Jazz made a mask out of one of her pancakes.

Danny was strangely flattered when they went to ask him about his interest and began to plan family activities for the future based on them.

When the other father began to talk about going to the beach to watch the stars, Danny had to excuse himself to get a moment alone and found himself shaking. Like it had all been too much for his body to handle.

Danny cursed himself. Finally, something nice was happening to him and then he couldn’t handle it!? What was wrong with him!?

“Oh, there you are, my boy.”

Danny hurried to put up a smile, as he turned to find the other father and Jazz in the door to his room. Both of them were smiling, not looking displeased with him one bit.

“How about you two kids have some fun, while your mother and I clean up, hmm?” the other father began and pulled the smiling other Jazz out before him, “the neighbors are simply waiting with eager to finally meet you.”

“The neighbors?” Danny asked confused – why the hell did those originals want to see him?

The other father must have read his thoughts or dawned his own conclusions from Danny’s face, as he wagged a finger in front of Danny with a light smile, “ah, ah, ah – remember, this is the ‘other’ neighbors. They are better, just like everything else.”

Danny couldn’t argue with that and got an excited face from other Jazz, as she ran for the front door. Danny moved around the other father to follow her out, but was stopped, as the man pulled him in for a hug.

Danny expected it to be a suffocating bearhug, but when it turned out to be…well, normal? He relaxed and returned it awkwardly. It wasn’t that it wasn’t nice and all, but Danny couldn’t really understand why the man was showing this sudden affection.

That was until the man himself spoke up.

“I understand all this can feel overwhelming, but that doesn’t change the fact that you deserve every ounce of it, my boy.”

Danny blinked, the sudden need to cry coming creeping. He didn’t know what to answer to all this, but the other father didn’t seem to expect any answers from him. He just continued to hug Danny, even past the timespan his own parents would have spent on such affection.

But Danny didn’t care, he held on for a bit longer and when he finally let go, it was because he wanted to, not because he had been pushed away and called clingy.

When he caught up with his other sister and took her awaiting hand, Danny wasn’t only excited to find out what waited in the other apartments, he was actually feeling good about himself for once.

 

The way back to his own world turned out to be easier now that he had some idea of how to snake through the small tunnel and the sight of the little door leading back to freedom, seemed to motivate him more than when he had headed for the other way around.

The sound of rain against windowpanes and the smell of dust welcomed him as he crawled through the little doorframe.

The apartment was still held in silent darkness and after having spent time in a well-lighted living room, Danny had to wait a minute for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and he listened to the silence with only the sound of his own breath as company.

But even as he couldn’t see, he wasted no time closing the little door behind him and secured that he wasn’t being followed.

When no sound of little leather wings or claws reached him from the little door and the light behind it died out, Danny pushed the sofa back to hide it and went back the same way he had come.

Now back through the bathroom window and out in the rain, Danny pulled up his jacket collar and hoodie to hide his face and crept up the metal stairs to his attic apartment without a word.

He stiffed a bit as he dropped the key to the door and hurried to bow down to pick them back up before they fell down between the holes in the metal. He stopped when he found that he couldn’t pick them up.

His hands where shaking too much.

What’s wrong, Danny? Don’t you want to play?

“Stop it,” he muttered stubbornly, but neither his demands or brave faced could change the fact that his entire body was shaking by now.

Tears began to fall without his control and Danny sobbed in the rain, letting the heavy drops mix with the tears on his face. A sudden loss of breath made him gasp for air and he pressed his hand against his mouth to stop the gasps from waking the neighbors.

His shaking hands gripping the metal railing tight enough to make the metal creak and a sting in his chest made him whimper.

He continued to try and silence his own emotions and keep it low, without even register the fact that the rain was to heavy and loud for anything else to be heard.

The shaking got worse and Danny crunched down in pain, without having any sign of wounds. Crushing fear, relief, guilt and anger – all of it a nauseating brew stewing in his guts.

With a few sobs shaking his frame, Danny covered his face while the rain soaked his cloths and chilled him to the bone.

“I’m alive,” he reminded himself with shaking voice and hands pressed to his eyes, “I’m safe.”

But even he knew that was a lie.

Danny wasn’t safe, wasn’t even close to be. He had a week before the door to the other world closed for good and he lost his soul. A week to do the impossible and try and safe a little girl he had sacrificed to a monster like some scapegoat.

An action that made him both a hypocrite for claiming that he was here to safe her and an even bigger monster than Vlad for leaving her to him without even trying to lift a finger.

He had already lost this game, they both knew that and he rocked on his heels with face hidden in hands.

The sound of a feathered wing made Danny freeze and he lifted his face in hope.

“Clockwork?”

But there was no raven. Not a single bird in sight. The night continued to be filled with rain and its drumming against the metal stairs ran through the dark like a troubled heartbeat. Danny stared out into it, feeling more lost than ever.

He wished the old raven were with him and could tell him what to do. Clockwork would know how to defeat the Codger, he would know where to search for the little girl.

“He would tell me I’m pathetic,” Danny whispered and felt a faint smile of shame creep in on his face.

The raven would tell him to get up and use his brain. Put it to work instead of crying over nothing and do what he gotta do. Do the right thing.

The thick mud and rainwater drenched the doormat in the attic apartment instantly. Danny didn’t as much as take his boots of, as he just walked right in and closed the door behind him.

Pulled out the ecto-gun from the hem of his jeans and just held it in his hands for moral support. The faint sound of rain hitting the roof above him, became the calming background atmosphere to his thoughts and he began pacing the floor as he put his brain to work.

A week. Seven days. 168 hours.

He could work with that. Last time he’d only had one night and still made it in time.

He could do this.

“I just have to find a way to end him,” Danny voiced and stopped in front of the bare wall opposite the mattress.

Danny ran a hand over the surface and tried scratching it with a nail. When it crumbled under his finger, he nodded and returned to the bed and his duffle bag.

With the ecto-gun back safe and unused in the black box under the bed, Danny could return to matter of mind instead of hand.

The next hour was a session of intense work, as Danny unpacked the paper and newspaper clips from his bag and began to attach them to the wall with multicolored tacks in order after date, clue, lead and person.

A map over Amity Park, old photographs and red strings of yarn made the next layer and Danny picked up a pen to highlight names, dates and words he believed to be leading to something. When he had finished, he took a few steps back and rechecked that everything was in order.

He had no picture of the other father, but a quick sketch of a blank face with two red lights for eyes would do, as he didn’t exactly know the Codger’s real face or identity.

Danny wrote the names “Vlad?”, “other father” and “Codger” on a sticky-note and attached to it with a red string.

Same thing with the Estate picture of the Green Palace. Another sticky-note beside it listed words like “158 year old mansion”, “the living room”, “he mentioned it’s ‘old glory – used to live there?’” and “the little door”.

From the Palace picture and sticky-note, a photo taken by his phone of the old well had been attached with a string – and below that an old magazine sketch of a raven.

The name “Clockwork” and “native American?” below the bird.

Danny nodded and moved his focus to the three other persons of interest. The three ghost children.

An old faded picture of two dark-skinned twins looked up from the photograph and the boy to the left had been circled with a red pen, as well at the old key in a chain he wore around the neck.

Danny would recognize that key anywhere and picked up a red pen to color the grey gemstone at its end. The names “The Gray Twins – Damian and Damon Gray” was written above them and the year of Damian’s disappearance “1960”.

Next to the photo of the Gray’s was a sketch Danny had made some time ago of a little boy matching a photo of the painting down in the living room.

The oil painting showing a little blond boy with a paper hat, freckles and dressed in a fancy sailor suit.

“10 years, maybe younger”, “the boy from the living room painting”, “date of death?”

The two other ghost children hadn’t been able to recall their names either or had anyone still living to remember them, but Danny had tried to pen down every single detail he could recall about them and put it into order.

The “pigtail girl” had been drawn to the best of Danny’s abilities and he adjusted the sticky-note attached to it. The notes; “must have died around 12”, “pioneer clothes”, “date of death?” listed on the yellow paper.

Danny recalled how the blond boy had been the only one of the kids to still hold some memory. He had claimed he didn’t remembered his name, but he did remember his real father.

The memory of the little boy still pained Danny till no end. Danny looked at the three children he had helped to escape the other world, knew there probably was very little he could actually learn about them and use to end Vlad.

But to be fair, they could still prove to be a leading clue to how the Codger worked his magic and his eyes moved to the last – and newest person of interest.

The headline of Amity Times still looking fresh, ‘Girl gone missing in lower town Amity’.

Danny looked down to write the last sticky-note and placed it above the newspaper clip.

“12 years”, “went missing because of me?”, “disappearing/death date, 01.09.2018”.

With the first step of his investigation complete, Danny sighed as he took a seat at the edge of his bed.

The attic had been heated up after he’d turned on the radiator, but the cold feeling of having been drenched by the rain was still an issue.

He continued to stare at the wall, as he undressed and discarded the wet clothes on the floor.

The bedsheets felt cold against his bare skin, but Danny was soon too tired to care and when he finally closed his eyes, it was with the other father’s words in mind.

I can’t wait to show you just everything I’ve become

Chapter Text

DAY 1

“Clockwork!”

The echo of Danny’s voice sounded through the woods and returned to him in an almost hauntingly fashion. The fog of the early morning didn’t help either on that picture, but Danny wasn’t one to get scared easily and continued to call for the old raven.

There had been no sign of the bird and Danny was beginning to fear Clockwork might be in the other world.

He hadn’t had the chance to find out yet, as Vlad hadn’t allowed him to leave the Green Palace back at their “reunion” last night, but that may be that he didn’t want Danny to talk with the raven.

Danny still didn’t know what was between the two supernatural creatures, but from the small bits of information he had picked up doing the summer ten years ago, something would seem that Clockwork and “Vlad” knew one another on more than just vague basis.

It’s a game we play,” Clockwork entrusted him with a secretive voice, “he doesn’t like that I can come and go as I pleases, but that’s how it is. Oh, how he despises it.”

“No shit,” Danny muttered to himself and looked around the trees, “Clockwork!”

Still no raven and Danny were beginning to get tires of searching. Deep down he knew it was stupid.

The typical lifespan of a raven was typical 10-15 years and even as Danny had met the creature exactly ten years ago…the raven had already been old at that time.

But on the other – and most important hand – Clockwork hadn’t been an ordinary raven. He had been a magical talking raven (at least in the other world) and that had to count for something.

Danny continued to keep his hopes up, but the longer he searched, the more logical it seemed that he wouldn’t be able to find Clockwork in this world.

In this world, raven couldn’t talk or live long lives. However, there was a place they probably could, and Danny hadn’t searched it completely. He returned to the palace with head deep into the preparation for tonight and feet on autopilot.

I won’t follow you and I won’t stop you, but when the moon rises and the night falls, you will return here to live with me and see my wonders till the sun rises in the east…

“So far, he’d kept up his part of the deal,” Danny reminded himself, but stayed cautious still.

The Codger wasn’t one to risk losing, but if he kept up following the rules, then so would Danny. In his own way of course.

Vlad might expect him to come tonight and keep him company like there was nothing between them, but Danny had better thing to do in the other world, than entertain some crazy creature feasting on innocent children.

If Danny were lucky, he wouldn’t have to risk too much searching for Clockwork without Vlad’s notice and if he was extra lucky, he could get unnoticed to the old mirror at the end of the hallway and find the ghost of the Thornwood girl on the other side.

Vlad/other father/ the Codger seemed to Danny like a predator of habit. There was a huge chance he had left the ghost girl to rot in the exact same place he had abandoned the other three ghost children and left Danny to think of his actions.

A shiver ran down his spine by the memory of the room behind the mirror and Danny sighed as he checked the sky for dark wings for the hundred time that day.

He soon reached the Green Palace and was ready to go up and pack what we would need for the coming night’s return to the other world, when he found two people poking his motorbike.

“Hey! Hands of,” Danny warned and had the two of them turn in his direction.

“Eh, sorry about that, dude, we were just admiring your ride,” the male, a young biker with leatherjacket and greasy yellow locks, apologized sheepish with a goofy grin.

The other, a likewise young woman with wild red locks, gave Danny a shameless look over and began to smile with her own rustic charm, “yeah, sorry about that. It’s not every day we come across an amateur Aston Martin V12 Motor. It’s yours?”

“It is,” Danny said, now friendlier that he knew they hadn’t been out to steal or ruin his motorbike, “and I guess that one is yours?”

He pointed to the motorbike leaning against the stair railing to the basement apartment and the guy nodded with a sense of pride, “yep, she’s ours – build her myself. Nice to meet ya by the way. Not every day we meet another biker out on these parts of the country. I’m Johnny.”

“And I’m Kitty,” the woman greeted as Danny shook their hands, “you’re living here?”

“Yeah, I just moved into the new attic apartment,” Danny replied offhanded, “name’s Danny by the way.”

They continued to talk a while, as Johnny showed a great interest in Danny’s bike and Kitty in flirting with him on a vague level. Johnny didn’t seem to mind or notice, but Danny did and tried his best not to get her hopes up.

She was an attractive girl, had to give her that, but the whole cherry-bomb style consisting of short leather skirt, purple lip-gloss and fishnet tights, wasn’t really his type.

No one had really been his type since…

Danny shook his head, didn’t feel like thinking about it right now. He had to ask them to repeat, as he had lost the last part of the small chat and Johnny patted his back.

“I said, come down for a beer. I promise they’re cold.”

Danny was going to refuse, but Kitty seemed to sense it beforehand and pushed him to the stairs leading down to the basement apartment before he could open his mouth, “c’mon, dude. Don’t be a killjoy.”

“Fine,” Danny relented, “but I can’t stay for long, I have some work on my laptop I need to do today.”

It was a lie of course, but Danny wasn’t going to be the nutcase, who admitted he was on an impossible deadline with only seven days to solve a curse and safe a missing child’s soul from eternal suffering.

It was already close to noon on his first day and so far, he had gained nothing. If he continued to waste time, he would end up regretting it for the rest of eternity.

“So, what brings ya to the Green Palace?” Johnny asked from the kitchenette and Kitty pushed him down into an old leather sofa.

“Oh, I just need some fresh air,” Danny replied as he looked around, the old memories of the last time he had been down here overwhelming him, “I once lived her before as a child. Did you guys get to meet the previous renters of this apartment?”

“Not really,” Kitty shrugged and sat down beside with, a little closer than necessary, “the apartment was empty when we moved in. Why? Where they cool folks?”

“What folks, babe?” Johnny asked, as he returned from the kitchen with the alcohol in hand.

“The people living here before us,” Kitty informed him and moved a bit away from Danny, “Danny says he knew them.”

“Really?” Johnny asked and sat down on the only other chair, without a care for the sound of strained springs, “sorry to say this, but when we got here, this was empty due to their demise. How where they like? We found some old actor stuff when we moved in, maybe it was theirs?”

“Yep, that’s probably theirs,” Danny replied and allowed his eyes to roam the apartment, “it was an old pair called Miss. Spectra and Bertrand. Spectra had been an actress back in her days, while Bertrand had been an opera singer. I remember they showed me a lot of their old records, costumes and posters from when they were famous on Broadway. They were old nutcases really, but nice in their own way. They even stuffed most of the cellar with plants and flowerpots, like some makeshift greenhouse. Called them their darlings.”

“Weird,” Kitty said and Danny just shrugged.

“It’s pretty strange being back and find that they’re gone. Just like most things around here. Hey, you guys have been living here for a while, right? Any of you having any clue to what happened to that little Thornwood girl?”

They didn’t, but Danny hadn’t really expected them to. He had just asked for good measure and held all doors open for clues.

Danny continued to play the polite game of small chat with the couple and learned that they had been living here for two years, for the sake of new environment, but planned on going back to Portland now that the police was closing the palace down to break up the floor in search for the missing girl.

Danny waited till he had finished his beer, before breaking up to leave. Kitty insisted that he’d stayed for dinner, but Danny had better things to do and reminded them that he had work he needed to take care of.

He was ready to walk up the stairs when Johnny asked him to wait and returned with a box in hand.

“I found this when we moved in and forgot all about throwing it out. It’s probably worthless, but ya might as well take it, mate. Know what I’m saying?”

Danny just nodded and brought back the box to his own apartment.

It turned out to be one of Miss. Spectra’s old jewelry boxes, but instead of necklaces, earrings and fake gemstones, the box contained minerals in all colors and forms.

Danny picked one of them up in nostalgia and cut himself some of the red string he had left from the work at the wall.

“A stone with a hole in the middle?” Danny asked confused, as he accepted the white stone and Bertrand wagged his finger at his impertinence.

“Not just any stone and it’s a mineral, boy. There’s a difference. And this stone is different to.”

“Why?” Danny continued and tried looking through it for the sake of examine it.

Bertrand made a serious expression, “it will help you, it can show you what’s hidden.”

“What? That’s just nonsense, Bertrand,” Miss. Spectra intervened and crossed her bony arms, “the stone shows what is lost.”

“No, dear – hidden.”

“Lost!”

Danny tuned them out as they continued to discuss the purpose of the stone and tried turning it in his hand. It didn’t look like much.

Just a white mineral with a hole in the middle. How was that ever going to help him find his family?

Danny turned the mineral over in his hand and pulled the string through the hole. He tried looking through it like he had done as a teen and put it away behind the collar of his t-shirt again.

The weight and smooth surface of the stone feeling soothing against his chest.

The old pair had both been right. The mineral could reveal both what was lost and hidden. Hopefully, it wouldn’t let him down tonight when he returned to the other world.

He gave the box one last glance, before he pushed it to the side and returned to inspect his work on the wall. There had to be something – some lead he could use in the living world.

Not every answer could possibly be in the other world.

 

Ten years ago…

“Whoa,” Danny voiced in awe as Jazz lead him down the stairs to the Green Palace’s basement apartment and revealed that the plant-filled cellar had been transformed into a theater.

Jazz continued to smile at him without words and stopped beside him, as a giant living plant blocked the way. It lighted them in the face with a flashlight, like some guard and held out a leaf.

As if expecting them to give it something.

Danny just stared, but other Jazz seemed to know what it wanted and handed the giant Venus flytrap two tickets to the show.

The plant nodded strangely human-like and showed them the way down the rows with its flashlight. Jumping ahead with pot, dirt and all.

Danny followed other Jazz with her hand in his, while staring at the many different plants and growths sitting on the red velvet theater seats. All of them twisted and tangled to look like people and their flower heads resembling odd faces.

Braided roots and rods imitating legs and ending in pots as feet.

Jazz pulled him down to sit beside her on the front row and Danny leaned back to stare up at the scene. Not knowing what to expect.

The conductor of the orchestra pit, a five feet sunflower, tapped its baton once to gain the pit’s attention and then began to swing it around.

The orchestra of plants and flowerpots began to produce real classical music and Danny leaned forward in the seat, as the curtains lifted and old Mr. Bertrand appeared in a classic safari hunter costume.

He lifted his white Pith helmet to the audience and the plants clapped along with Jazz and Danny. The applaud sounding strangely like rain in a forest.

Mr. Bertrand’s big mustache curled up to signal he had taken a deep breath and Danny was taken back as the man began to sing opera.

Danny had never liked that particular kind of music, mostly because he had no idea what they were singing – but Bertrand used his walking stick diligently, as he walked around the scene like a real safari hunter and sang in plain English.

Explaining how man would prove their worth and bravery by exploring the unknown and defeat any obstacle.

Scene effects, like moving bushes and lianas of wood, moved around the scene behind him and a smiling sun glided across the scene’s sky on a stick.

Animal head’s and eyes was made with paper and lights between the dark part of the scene and Mr. Bertrand jumped and defended himself with his stick while singing and filling the theater with his strong tenor.

“And as man is the master of the wild, I shall travel that troublesome mile!” Bertrand finished with a raised stick and the music finished in a loud bang.

Danny applauded with the rest of the plants and Jazz, as Bertrand bowed for them and had the curtains return to hide the scene.

The orchestra changed to a different style of music and Danny grabbed Jazz’s arms in outrage when the curtains parted to reveal Miss. Spectra.

Alone on the scene on top of an Inca pyramid, dressed in nothing but a feather bikini top, Inca crown and long loincloth.

“Oh my god – she’s practical naked!”

The old lady seemed to be anything but ashamed of showing her bony hips and flat chest to the audience and moved down the pyramid’s stairs, while discreet roots moved the big feathers and fake torches on her way down.

Unlike Bertrand, Spectra sang on a normal level and moved her hips in what would have been an attractive fashion, had she been 40 years younger.

Despite her nakedness, Danny began to have fun watching her perform and snorted when she began to sing about being the queen of the jungle and the greatest predator of man.

The last didn’t seem to sit right with Bertrand, as he peaked out from the side of the screen with a scowl and had Spectra yelped, as he made the backstage plants change the scene again to his hunter theme.

“But no jungle creature is match for my riffle and no old feline invincible for my bullets!” he sang and was immediately pushed of the scene by Spectra, who wanted to finish her act.

“What’s that? Is that a picnic hunter I hear?”

“More like the seams of your old rag I fear!” Bertrand sang and tried hiding her behind one of the big feathers to get the spotlight all to himself.

“I’ll have you roosted on my spear!” she sang and stepped on one of the roots by mistake, making the backstage plant panic and pull all its roots to it.

Both Spectra and Bertrand yelped, as the scene fell apart and made their act collapse.

Spectra grabbed her head in panic, when the swinging sun disk took her crown with it, leaving her bald and Bertrand cursed, as one of the lianas caught him by the foot and pull him up to hang upside down.

Both Danny and Jazz made noises of empathy, as the last scenery fell apart and the heavy curtains was drawn.

“Gezz,” Danny winced and Jazz shrugged with that smile of hers.

They both turned silence as the entire theater was laid in darkness and a tension building drum began to ring. Two spotlights turned on in a flash and began to light around as if searching for a target to focus on.

The curtains parted and both teens tensed in excitement, as the spotlights found a rope stretched across the scene’s top. Two plant arms hurried to tie a fragile looking net below it and then pulled back as the stars emerged.

“Are you ready to walk the line, Penelope?” Bertrand yelled scornfully from his platform on the right side of the scene, as Miss. Spectra walked out on the left side of the scene.

“Oh, break a leg, you old fart!”

Jazz covered her eyes with a grin and Danny snickered, as he tried to pull them down for her to get the exciting part.

“Dang, I can’t watch either,” Danny whispered and covered his own eyes as they began to step out on each side of the rope.

Danny then lost his jaw completely, when both Spectra and Bertrand moved back to take a leap for it, but before they could run out and fall to their deaths, both of them pulled down a sipper from the back of their heads.

Like skin suits, their aged bodies were torn off and, in their place stood now two young actors in shining costumes.

The now young and redheaded Spectra moved forward with the power of an acrobat and ran across the rope in a tight red dress. Bertrand likewise, was now young with oiled chestnut hair and a mustache curling at the ends.

Likewise, he ran across the rope in a sparkling white soldier uniform. Both made it three jumps across the rope without falling and the two was now barely a hand apart.

Danny feared they might run into one another, but then Bertrand drove a decorated saber and cut the rope second before they met on the middle.

Danny stood up in shock, but both actors was unharmed, as they had both grabbed each end of the rope and each other’s free hand.

Both smiled brightly with red eyes in the spotlight, as they had ended up balancing against each other’s feet in a perfect V, like two circus acrobats.

The rows exploded with applause and Danny clapped the loudest, as he had never seen anything like it. Both Spectra and Bertrand smiled in the spotlight and then let go of their rope to drop to the net.

Despite its fragile look, the net held and both actors began to make incredible jumps, as if it had been a trampoline.

Danny grinned and applaud with the audience, but then gasped as a root lifted him from the ground by the leg and threw him up on the scene.

Danny cried out, as he was sure he would crash and die, but two sets of arms caught him in the last second and he laughed, as Spectra and Bertrand kept jumping and making summersaults in the air.

Both of them while throwing him around like he weighted nothing. Danny’s heart skipped a beat, as he was thrown high up in the air. Like on cue, the net fell apart and both actors landed on the scene.

The polished floorboard was coming right back at him and Danny tried desperately to find something to grab unto, when Spectra jumped on top of Bertrand’s shoulders and caught Danny to make him stand on her own shoulders.

Danny flapped his arms to regain balance and stood with beating heart on the two actors. Realizing he was alright, Danny smiled breathlessly to the audience, that was now applauding for him as well.

Jazz whistled at him and plucked a rose from her neighbor plant to throw at him. Danny caught it and waved back in a shy manner.

He had never really felt good standing on a scene before now.

 

The ground floor apartment laid dark and silent.

The sound of his feet against the old floorboards was surprisingly quiet and Danny placed his muddy boots on an old newspaper next to the little door.

It was late, but not quiet midnight and Danny wasn’t going to crawl through before he had to. So instead, he turned his back on the little door and went to explore the apartment.

The vague impression of the Thornwoods being rich, was confirmed, as Danny walked from room to room with his flashlight.

The family seemed to have a deep care for modern art and Danny gave the fruit basked a brief glance in the kitchen, wondering what just half those expensive and tropical fruits were, before moving up the stairs.

The grand bedroom turned out to be just as monochrome and styled as the rest of the place, while the small bedroom seemed like an entire other world.

Danny felt a stick of sadness by the sight of the little bed and posters of cartoons. Strangely enough, the owner of the room had glowing stars on the ceiling and a love for blue, just like Danny and he eyed the NASA t-shirt laying innocently on the floor.

The guilt of having been part of the girl’s death grew stronger the more he found they had in comment and he had to remind himself that he was here to help, not to do her wrong. Or more wrong.

He forced the shame to rest for now and continued to search for clues, as he roamed through her stuff and finally left, when nothing useful came up.

No key.

He returned to the living room and eyed the picture of the sad boy above the fireplace for the hundred time.

Despite the entire place showing signs of renovation and most of the old furniture had been discarded, this painting had remained, and Danny had a suspicion why.

His assumption was proved right, when he tried to move the painting and found that it wouldn’t move an inch.

Glued to the wall. Maybe even bolted.

Danny scratched it and found that it wasn’t a replica, the pain was real and could be ruined by a nail. He moved closer and held up the flashlight to examine the painting.

Stood on toes and tried pushing the canvas from the frame to find what he hoped would be there.

His struggles were rewarded, when the flashlight caught a glimpse of letters beneath the tight fastened frame. Danny pushed the canvas an inch more and mumbled his discovery. He jumped down again and wrote it on his hand with a pen.

‘1936’

Danny looked from the painting again and estimated that the ghost boy he remembered didn’t seem older than his painting, “musta vanished in 1936 or maybe a little later.”

It wasn’t much, but it was a discovery Danny could use. 1936, that meant the Codger had been haunting this house for at least 81 years. Maybe even longer – the little pigtail ghost with the pioneer dress was defiantly older than this boy.

But just how old? How long had the Codger been here?

Before the Palace or after?

Danny needed to know if he wanted to get to the bottom of just who the Codger was and more importantly – what he was. Where he had come from.

Vlad had made fun of him for assuming he was a demon, but Danny had never heard of a creature like him before. And that meant a lot when you had ghost/monster hunters for parents.

Those two had believed in just any supernatural creature and raised their children to do so to – not that they had. Jazz had always viewed their parents work as a waste of time and Danny hadn’t really taken them seriously.

That is, until he met the Codger.

Now Danny to would believe in anything.

And if he had learned anything, it was that you had to know what you were hunting if you wished to kill it. There were rules to everything and all supernatural phenomenon had their own.

If he could just crack what Vlad was, he could end him for certain.

The buzz of his phone brought Danny out of his murderous conjectures and he pulled it out to see who was calling at this hour.

Incoming call – Jazz

Danny groaned, wasn’t in the mood for it, but knowing just how persistent his bossy sister could be, he took it anyway and put up a voice of fake glee.

“Jazz, hey.”

“Don’t you ‘hey’ me,” she scorned and Danny rolled his eyes, “I have been trying to call you for hours! Why do you ever take your phone!?”

Danny closed his eyes tiredly, maybe it’s because you always treat me like a child and try to control every step of my existence, “I got sunburned and tried sleeping it off. I’m just getting up now.”

He stared ahead as she sighed on the other side of the phone. Probably disappointed in him for not wearing sunscreen or something lame. He checked the time and sat down next to the little door to wait.

It was almost midnight.

“Danny, please – I warned you about the sun,” she sighed and Danny looked out the window where the drops of rain ran down in long strides.

“Yep, awfully sunburned. I think I might go back to sleep now. Sam is driving while I go lay in the back.”

“Fine,” she relented and Danny believed himself of the hook until, “then give me Sam’s number so I can call her to keep track of you. I can send you some recipes on homemade after-sun if you can’t find any in the shops.”

“I’m fine,” Danny replied, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

“Danny, give me her number, or Tucker’s for that sake just – ”

“I’m fine,” Danny repeated, but this time without a window for discussion.

Jazz was silent on the other end for a second and Danny took away her chance to start an argument by simply ending the call. He turned the phone of to, just for good measure and allowed the back of his head to fall back against the wall with a tired sigh.

“I’m sorry, Jazz.”

He continued to rest like this for a time as the minutes went by and when the light of the door finally emerged, he put back on his boots and crawled through without a word.

The wonder of the tunnel was magical as ever, but Danny had no taste for it and simply crawled through with a blank expression.

He had no idea what “making me company” meant in detail, but it sounded oddly enough like Vlad wanted to hang out with him.

Danny rolled his eyes and guessed he would just have to endure until he found a way to check out the mirror or the outside of the palace. Either way, his mission was to find either Clockwork or the ghost girl. Either one would do.

“Either one would do,” he echoed as he reached the little door and pushed it open.

Chapter Text

The light in the other world, was as always provided by electric light and not natural daylight.

As Danny stood there in the other world’s living room and watched how the unusual bright moon shone through the windows, he couldn’t recall it ever having been day in the other world.

But taken that he’d only ever come here at night, his own limitation might be to blame.

Still, Danny couldn’t help but wonder why the master of this world would simply followed the natural course of night and daytime, instead of just breaking the laws of nature. He did with everything else and could just make it sunny if he wanted.

Why follow the laws of the real world? Unless…some of the real world’s rules couldn’t be bend even down here?

Danny shook his head, asking himself why he was wasting his time with stuff like this and snuck up to the sliding doors.

He had expected Vlad to be waiting for him here in the living room, but by having no unwanted welcome committee, Danny guessed this was his chance. He opened one of the doors as silent as possible and checked if the hallway was free.

It was, no other father in sight.

Danny took a deep breath and opened the doors enough for himself to get through, before closing them again carefully.

Danny still didn’t know the nature of the other father’s ways to spy on him but taken that Vlad hadn’t come to get him by now, something would seem that Vlad’s power to follow Danny’s every move and know his exact position in the house, was limited to that of a normal person in his own world.

If Danny didn’t make any loud noises or drew attention to himself in any way, he could search for the girl unnoticed and get ahead of the game.

Danny pressed himself up against a grandfather clock and tried to make a quick decision.

Mirror or outdoor? Clockwork or girl? Raven or ghost?

The mirror, in which he and the other ghost children had been held captive, was down the long hallway and furthest from his current position. But on the bright side, the mirror was also the most likely place in the house for Vlad to have caught the missing girl’s ghost and possible soul.

But then again, front door closet to him was probably the least risky of those two. If Danny walked down the hallway, the chances of Vlad hearing Danny and come looking for him was a bit too big to Danny’s likening.

If Vlad caught him red-handed by the mirror, Danny would have no other choice of hiding than in the dark room behind the mirror – and that was a no go.

One, because Danny would need Vlad’s help to get out again, since it was a one-way mirror and Vlad might just decide to keep him there.

And two, if the Thornwood girl was in there and Vlad found Danny before he could get her out, Vlad would definitely hide her in a better, if not impossible place and Danny would have wasted his chance to get her without the monster’s notice.

Danny looked back at the front door, knew that if he went outside he could actually hide out there and stay unnoticed longer if Vlad was in the house.

Finding Clockwork might be less important than saving the girl, but unlike the girl, the raven could help him save both her and find her soul.

If Vlad showed up, Clockwork could just easily go to the real world and be out of danger, while the ghost girl couldn’t actually leave this world before Danny found the knife that had killed her and contained her soul.

It was settled then. He would search for Clockwork tonight.

With such logical assumption, Danny snuck down to open the front door and let out a sigh of relief, as the door opened without any revealing sounds that could alarm either Vlad or any other creatures under his control.

He hurried to open the door completely and get through, high on luck and adrenaline, before suddenly realizing he had forgotten to consider one important factor in his plan.

The other father could be outside.

“Shit,” Danny mimed by the sight of the other father standing with his back to him in the driveway and turned around with the hope that the Codger hadn’t seen him and return to the house.

But there was no fooling around the master of the other world.

“Daniel. How nice of you to show up.”

The word “FUCK!” repeated itself in Danny’s mind over and over again, as he slowly turned back to the sight of Vlad standing at the entrance to the garden with a calm expression and hands casually in his high-waisted slack pockets.

“Sorry I’m late, didn’t wanna be here,” Danny replied sarcastic to hide his vexation and scowled, as it only made the other smile.

“Oh, don’t be like that, my boy,” Vlad replied and gestured for him to get closer, “come, walk with me.”

Danny wasn’t much for it but decided to humor the other in order to make some progress. If he played this right, Danny could use his own submission, as a cover to look for the raven while Vlad could be invested in his own talking.

If he remembered correctly, the Codger just loved talking about himself and if Danny just remembered to nod and hum at the right times, Vlad could pretty much keep himself distracted.

Vlad seemed pleased by Danny’s willingness to follow his orders and planted a firm hand on his shoulder with a smirk.

A chill ran down Danny’s spine as the monster leaned in to whisper in his ear, “good boy.”

Danny gritted his teeth, but continued to behave, as he bowed his head to let his bangs cover his eyes. Searched the trees and bushed for any sign of dark wings.

The raven had never really shown himself when the other father was around, but the raven might throw Danny a bone to show he was around. So far, Danny couldn’t spot any sort of birds and bite his lip. Clockwork where are you?

Vlad began talking, something about the garden being made in his honor, but Danny couldn’t care less and fixed his eyes on the long trunk in the driveway.

Recalled vaguely that he had once seen Clockwork use the hollow trunk as a portal to the real world back when he was a teen.

He had unconsciously tried to walk towards it, when Vlad’s hand on his shoulder turned to an iron grip and pulled Danny in the direction of the garden instead. Danny was a bit shocked by the power behind it and reminded himself not to sell himself short.

He couldn’t let Vlad know he was looking for the raven.

“ – don’t you think?” Vlad asked and sent him a glance with those red lights of his.

Danny tried his best not to reveal he hadn’t been listening and put up a blank expression, “I…guess.”

Vlad shook his head and the hand on Danny’s shoulder moved to rest on his back, “absentmindedly, are we? Do I bore you, Daniel?”

Danny felt a bit of fear by that warning tone hidden beneath honey and hurried to make up for it, “no, it’s just…uhm – why are you telling me all this stuff?”

At least he hoped Vlad had been talking about some “stuff”. He recalled something about the garden and the house, but as he hadn’t paid him any attention he couldn’t exactly tell where the conversation had gone.

Vlad, on the other hand, seemed humored by Danny’s question and pulled him closer to Danny’s great unease, the hand getting lower, “why, don’t you know it’s important to widen one’s horizon and get to know the world you live in?”

“I don’t live here,” Danny scowled, but Vlad ignored him and his attempt to get out of his grasp.

His hand now dangerously low on his back and if Danny didn’t so something soon, Vlad would find the content of the back box stuck in the hem of Danny’s jeans. Danny acted without thinking and twisted like he was listening to the monster now.

The hand now on his hip.

Vlad just smiled and looked down at Danny with a raised brow, “besides, my dear boy, this is my home, my world, and I want you to get to know it well. Do you remember the first time you visit my world?”

“Only in my nightmares,” Danny droned sarcastic and felt the blunt nails dig into his side in a silent warning.

His body pressed up against Vlad’s…

“If I remember correctly, there was a meteor shower that night,” Vlad said with a melancholic tone in his silky voice and then smiled like the memory was dear to him, “someone was a little too shy to watch it through the telescope, but no worry – this is my world after all. I could call one forth again, if you wish. Do you still have an interest in the celestial bodies, Daniel?”

“I do,” Danny replied pointy, not in favor of the stickiness this entire conversation was making him feel and the strange intimate way Vlad was holding him, “but that’s subordinate. Some cheap magic trick isn’t going to make me stay or forget why I’m here in the first place.”

Vlad chuckled lightly, the vibration running from his chest to Danny’s entire body, “noting is subordinate when it comes to you. Nothing ever is. The change of a human being is just as fleeting as the weather, but some things never change, some things will always be part of us, no matter what we do. Like that fierce spirit of yours. That cold fire that draws the eye like the sharp reflection of ice. That’s what makes you special, my boy.”

Danny didn’t know how to respond to that or if he even should. He knew he couldn’t trust a single world coming out of that mouth, but for a second even he could believe that Vlad actually had meant what he’d just said.

That he actually found Danny interesting.

But that was just another lie. No one ever found Danny interesting, no one saw something special in him or found the need to separate him from the mass. He was just a normal guy, had always been.

An averaged C-student, with normal tendencies and normal problems – like being overshadowed by his talented sister and overlooked by his passionate parents.

Nothing had really changed, other than him being older and having separated himself from people he had learned was toxic to his mental health and heart.

He was just plain, normal and nothing out of the ordinary.

Well, his interest in space and stars was a bit weird, even he had to admit that – but everyone had a weird thing about them and dreaming of becoming an astronaut was just his thing, even though it would never be.

The only thing special about him was actually his experience from this world. The only thing making him stand out was the things he had done in the other world. Vlad was the sole interesting thing about Danny.

How sad.

Unknown to Danny, the other father watched him out of the corner of his red eye and made his own conclusions from the changing expressions on the other’s face.

Clearly not liking what he saw, but he allowed it to go for now and returned to his light tone, “I see that you’ve met the new renters of the Green Palace’s lower apartment. They are awfully young, but I suppose that’s how the time is these days.”

Danny’s attention snapped back like a rubber band and he stopped instantly, forcing Vlad to do so to, as he still held Danny with an iron grip.

“And how do you know that?” Danny sneered with narrowed eyes, making Vlad smile innocently.

“My dear boy, I’m not entirely sure what you’re implying?”

“Of course, you do!” Danny scowled and wrestled out of his hold, “you spied on me, saw me visit Kitty and Johnny – how did you do it? I don’t have the key on me, don’t carry around one of your eyes. So how do you do it? Is it the bats!?”

That just made the innocent smile change to that of taunting, “oh I have my methods, I believe you will come to see that a lot of things have changed in the ten years you were out there. You will come to understand.”

Danny couldn’t help but shuddered as the other laughed quietly to himself. Vlad began walking again, the grip on Danny now more loose, but still persistent.

Danny followed along after a second of hesitation, not sure if he even wanted to know where this was leading.

Vlad continued to talk, but Danny had mostly tuned him out – not because he was searching for Clockwork in secret, but because his brain couldn’t let go of the monster’s ominous claims.

A lot had change – but what? What had changed about the Codger?

When Danny looked at him, there was no visible change, other than the renewed show of magic power – but that was a result of having fed on a child’s soul and nothing new.

The only other thing to notice was the strange charming form the Codger claimed to be “his”. To be him as in “Vlad’s” form. But Danny couldn’t trust that, just as he couldn’t trust the creature’s praises and weird claims.

Danny had seen the pure form of the other father, had seen the monster beneath.

This silver haired gentleman besides him was just another lie, with his charm and handsome face. Danny had seen it twisted and stretched back when he was a child and no alternation could fool him now.

There was nothing “changed” or “new” about the Codger’s condition. He had fed on a child and regained his magic, nothing else and nothing more. He was just screwing around with Danny, trying to frighten him with his creepiness and make him wary.

Make him focus on the wrong things and lead him astray of what was important.

Danny felt the anger return and sent the other father a scowl. He probably believed Danny would fail. That he would lose the game. That he would stay here and serve as a ghostly slave.

Vlad didn’t seem to have noticed his change of emotion and continued to talk undisturbed, “but enough about the palace, let’s talk about you. How is your fami–”

“You know what!?” Danny hurried to interrupt and twisted out of the hold with annoyance, “how about you tell me about your family? Huh, how about that for a change?”

A darker tone appeared in the red eyes, but just as Danny prepared for the anger of the other father, the eyes had changed back to a calm red and the subtle arrogance of Vlad’s smile returned.

“My family? Hmm, why not?” he wondered out loud and locked his hands behind his back, “I’m afraid I’m the only living member of my family these days, but there’s no need for condolences. I couldn’t stand any of them. I’m quite happy to be rid of them, frankly speaking.”

“Well at least you didn’t kill them,” Danny replied with rolled eyes and received a light chuckle from the other.

“Of course not, but I did help my father on the way down. He was a nuisance and even more so as he tried to climb out of the grave I had made for him. Had to pushed him back in to make sure he stayed that way.”

Danny just stared at him and Vlad’s smile stretched a bit, “metaphorically, of course.”

“How the fuck does that make it any better!?”

“Language, little badger,” Vlad replied calmly and continued his strolling, “rebelling against my father by following my own intuitions was a way to undermine his vision of the future. Losing the grip he thought he had on me made him age fast, made him old. The grave coming before time. But I did push him in a second time, when I sold his companies for money and ruined him. So, as you can see, it was all metaphorically – but that doesn’t change the fact that I did become the bane of his existence.”

Danny sent the smug monster a glance, tried to figure if this was truth or not. Was Vlad really trying to tell him that he had once…been a human?

“He deserved it, of course,” Vlad continued with a holier-than-though attitude, “I traveled as I pleased after that and made my experiences. Even came in contact with supernatural discoveries and came across the lead to travel here after an encounter with a fairy.”

Vlad stroked his silver goatee in thought and mumbled absent to himself, “hmm, I might still have it preserved somewhere – would you like to see?”

“No!” Danny all but shouted in disgust and hoped to the almighty, that Vlad was just cracking a joke and not sincerely keeping some jar with a dead fairy in it, “that’s horrible – what is wrong with you!?”

“Is that really a way to talk to your host?” Vlad asked arrogantly and Danny shook his head.

Could already hear how the past was sneaking up on them in this old pattern of conversation – and he wanted nothing of it.

“I’m not doing this,” he sighed and went to leave, “I’m going home.”

Vlad snapped his head to him, “that’s against the rules of our game. You have to stay here till daybreak.”

“Then I’ll go to sleep the time of, whatever,” Danny called behind him and headed for the palace to find a place to sleep. He had barely turned the nob of the front door, before Vlad opened the door wide from the inside. Blocking the way in.

“No!” Vlad stated stubbornly as Danny jumped back in surprise, shocked to find him behind the door.

Danny scowled, “what’s your deal? I’ve kept you company and now I’m tired of it – let me in.”

“You have to play the game,” Vlad insisted with a warning tone and Danny lost it.

“NO! I don’t have to – you spied on me and bend the rules to your own selfish wishes – you said you wouldn’t watch me and you did! I can leave now and that would still make us even. You brought this on yourself.”

“You want to end the game?”

Danny paled by the sight of Vlad’s eyes turned a deep red and the bared teeth. A pair of fangs suddenly appeared and the darkness fell like a curtain around them. Danny took another step back in panic and his eyes widened in fear. Afraid that this might be it.

This might be the mistake that would jeopardize everything.

The mistake that would kill him.

Vlad reached for the human. Could smell the blood flowing in his veins and the fat holding his muscles in place. Despite having moved on from childhood, the grown adolescent was still young, sweet in scent and oh so tempting.

Despite no longer suffering from hunger and the need for new magical sources, this human was still a desirable meal. A living soul just ready to be ripped from its material body and serve his purpose.

The young man might have lost his innocents, the one magical source Vlad’s magic thrived on, but even now Daniel’s life-force was speaking to him like a siren’s call.

Vlad could see the fear in those blue eyes, taste the pulse riding his heart. Hear the breath of life in those lungs. The boy was desirable, a real treat, even attractive as a young adult and still so beautiful to him.

The humiliation of having lost to him ten years ago and suffered a crushing defeat for the hands of a mere child, was still unbearable to him. Him! A being beyond the child’s knowledge and power.

An entity of pure magic and insight this human could barely comprehend.

Punishment was do and his life would be a small prize for the suffering he had caused Vlad. No human was his equal, no one!

And yet….

Vlad felt his fire cool, the claws forming on his hand slowly grown back. His fangs and temper following suit on their own.

Yet…the boy had still defeated him. Still outsmarted him. How? How had such a simple being come to challenge him in such a way – and in his own realm of all places? What had this human come to mean?

He reminds me of myself. He has potential. He is a kindred spirit. He is my true opposite.

Why would he put up with this grown boy? Allow him to spot him and make demands? Play his games and walk his ground, even though the human was nothing but a nuisance and threat to his creation?

He beat me. The one that got away. Escaped me. The one that’s always on my mind. The one.

Vlad knew why, had known form the second this child had returned to him ten years ago for the sake of challenging him to a game of the ghost children’s souls and his family. Known deep down that this was a special child.

Marked by my essence. My possession. Mine.

A special person so unlike the others. He had reminded Vlad of something essential, something he hadn’t felt for years and neglected to feel at all.

The loss and need of company.

Yes, the company of an equal soul.

The solace of sharing existence with another being. Vlad felt his rage die down and his form return to calmness. The hand stretched towards the human now soft and firm again.

Saw how the fear and alertness in that pale face lessened and those blue eyes changed to confusion.

And the human had his rights to be confused. Vlad was the master of this game after all. He was the one in control and with that – the one to win at the end.

Daniel would come to know this as well.

He was Vlad’s rightful possession after all. He had been ever since he opened the little door.

“Do you?” Vlad asked quietly, he voice now returned to the softness of a candle flame, unlike the blaze of hellfire from before.

Danny stared up at him. He was still in a protecting stance, where one hand had been raised to protect him from the claw Vlad’s had reached for him, while the other was still locked on his back.

“…w…w-what?” Danny asked, his voice still laced with alertness and his body stiff with caution.

“Do you still wish to end the game?” Vlad repeated and turned the outstretched hand over for it to offer his palm instead of nails, “but know that if you do, you will have to leave here without the girl or an end to my reign.”

Danny was now utterly baffled, but collected himself and straightened slowly, “I still want to play. But you still broke the rules.”

The smirk returned, “and you want to go to bed, I guess we can call that even, hmm?”

Danny’s eyes shifted from the monster in disguise to the offering hand and he slowly came to a decision, “fine. Now let me pass.”

“With pleasure. Now let me lead you to your room.”

Danny stared, but Vlad kept his offering hand in place without a compromise and Danny sighed before given in and took it. Best to keep the monster happy after all. Vlad seemed pleased and turned to lead him to the stairs.

Danny watched him carefully and removed the shaking hand from behind his back. Having clutched the ecto-gun in the hem of his jeans.

His hands were still shaking, but he acted as nothing and Vlad was kind enough not to comment on it, as he led him to the room upstairs. The room Danny had once called his own for a summer.

He had expected the interior of the room to be just like when he visited the place back as a teen, but nothing was ever that simple in the other world. Danny only had to take one look to know this was the epitome of his dream bedroom and rolled his eyes.

How the fuck could he know Danny wanted that kind of furniture?

Danny didn’t comment on any of it and tried to get his hand out of Vlad’s.

But Vlad didn’t let go.

Danny opened his mouth to tell the other to release him, but something about the way the other father looked down at him, had Danny lost at words. Those red eyes were watching him intensely and somehow Vlad had ended up standing close to him.

Very close.

Danny blinked, felt the heat of the other and something…else. Unspoken things suddenly leaving the air pregnant between them and Danny licked his lips uncertain.

He couldn’t tell, with the red light filling the entire eye, but he had the feeling Vlad was watching his tongue and Danny felt a light shiver run down his spine, as Vlad’s thumb brushed the back of Danny’s hand.

The moment seemed to stretch for hours, but then Vlad let go and it was over. Had lasted a few seconds and to some extinct never happened.

Vlad went to close the door after him. Acting as the good host who wanted to give Danny privacy to “sleep”.

Danny was going to ignore him, when a question suddenly came to mind.

“I’ll promise not to try and end the game again, if you answer me one question truthfully,” Danny said and hoped to god that Vlad would just do that for once in his immortal life.

Vlad seemed to think about it and then nodded like a true gentleman, “all for you, little badger.”

Danny ignored the nickname part, “how did you manage to lure the girl to her death without magic? You had no child souls to keep up the illusions of a perfect world. You had nothing but your true monster form and decayed room to show for. How did you make her come here willingly and chose to stay?”

“Illusions are the least of my powers, Daniel,” Vlad smiled self-absorbed, “a strong will to survive can overcome the most impossible of obstacles and I can be very resourceful when slim time calls for it.”

That was without doubt the vaguest answer Danny had ever received, but Vlad had already grabbed the door with sign of leaving.

“Sweet dreams,” the Codger singsonged and Danny opened his mouth to sneer something rude, but the door was already closed, and he was alone.

Danny waited a second before trying the door. Locked. The window no better.

Danny scowled. He really had no other choice than to actually go to sleep and he cursed the other father for being so god damn annoying.

When we woke up the next morning, he was back in the attic apartment with the ecto-gun still safe under his pillow. He was still no closer to figure out how to end Vlad or to find the girl.

He had wasted yet another night.

 

Ten years ago…

“But it’s real, mom,” Danny insisted over the humming sound of the ecto-seeker his parents were testing in the kitchen, “you were all there, but different. Better even – everything was better. Even the neighbors were better.”

“Red lights for eyes, huh?” Jazz noted with that grown up tone Danny knew all too well.

She was diagnosing him again.

Danny did his best to ignore her and focused on his parents, as they both took a break from working on the invention filling the kitchen table, “it was all behind the little door in the living room. The little bats led me through it again last night.”

“Danny,” his mother sighed with a hint of irritation, but kept up the calm surface, “I’ve already told you not to open up that door. It’s bad enough that you cut the wallpaper, but now you’re letting vermin in to? Those animals leave excrement all over the house and if they bite one of us, we’ll have to get vaccine for rabies.”

“They don’t have rabies,” Danny scowled, deeply offended she could judge his little friends like that, but his mother genuine didn’t seem to take his word for valid.

Something neither she or his father ever seemed do and it was all starting to become all too clear for him, now that he had another life to compare this one with. Honestly, he couldn’t even remember why he had opened his mouth at all.

It wasn’t like they would believe him anyway.

To them, his experience in the other world was nothing but a child’s fantasy and imaginary dream of a hormonal teen, not able to handle the sudden pressure of reality. Or whatever Jazz was gonna say.

He already regretted even telling them about the other world and the other father. The other Jack Fenton had been nothing but kind and interested in Danny and his person.

The other mother had acted like a real mom and made him dinner, while Maddie Fenton had told him to call for his own take out.

The other Jazz had acted like the teen she actually was and played videogames with him, while real world Jazz still tried to treat him like a child and act like an adult.

His other family had cared about him. They listened when he spoke and they took his words for valid.

He guessed the only reason he had actually told his own family anything about the other world, was to see if they would be sad to lose him, should he make a choice.

The other father hadn’t asked him to, but Danny was starting to like the idea of staying in one place instead of two.

“Would you guys even notice if I stayed in the other world?” Danny asked out of morbid curiosity and his father snorted.

“Don’t be such a downer, Danny. There’s no other world, only your crazy dreams.”

“It’s actually easy to understand,” Jazz added know-it-all from behind her tome on psychology, “Danny is trying to get your attention by comparing us to the ideal family in his imagined mirror world, because all his needs are taken care of it that place. You guys have neglected his childhood for so long, his step into teenhood has mixed his normal unstable head, with an even more angered suppressed mindset. All because none of you pay him any attention or take care of his basic human needs.”

“Hey!” Danny frowned in annoyance, “I’m not needy! It’s real, Jazz.”

“Shh, it’s okay,” she hurried to interrupt him with a finger on his lip and a protecting arm around him, “it’s okay, it’s not your fault your parents don’t show the care you’re expected to receive at such a delicate stat of your puberty.”

Danny scowled at her, as she continued to pet him like a dog and pushed her of him, “whatever – I’m going out to explore or whatever. That’s what you guys wanted, right? To be closer to nature and stuff instead of sitting behind a computer and talk with my friends.”

His father just waved after him with his back to the door, “have a good time, son. Say hi to that girlfriend and her blackbird for us.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Danny shouted and slammed the door after him, as he walked furiously down the driveway, “and it’s a raven – jezz!”

Jazz opened the kitchen window a second after to shout after him in return.

“Admitting that you have a need for attention, is the first step to healing, little brother!”

Danny just pulled up his hood and tried to act like he was adopted.

He might as well be.

Chapter Text

DAY 2

The experience that was the little local diner near the park, was what you could expect from a place like Amity Park.

Small, sweet smelling and filled with old people.

Danny eyed his coffee mug, waited for the black liquid to cool enough for him to drink and do something about his tired head.

The outdated music in the radio from the kitchen created the mood, while the quiet sounds of the rest of the few patrons around him, emerged as they worked their way through their dinner.

Danny felt his stomach growl in hunger, as he glanced over to the nearest man and his plate of meatloaf and chips. The man was like the rest of the people of the diner, clearly a local and had probably dined here every single day of his life.

He had seen two cafes and a single coffeeshop on his way down the old city center, but the people they attracted seemed to be the young and trendy – not the mundane everyday workers like here.

Danny had only taken one look at the prices outside those places, to know that this was where he was going to eat from now on.

That is, if he had any money.

Danny’s stomach growled more intensely, and Danny took a sip of his coffee. Winced when the bitter taste arrived after the heat and made his taste buds demand something sweet.

Lucky for him, the diner offered free sugar packages and powder cream on the plastic tables. Something Danny didn’t hesitate to make use of. The greasy clock above the door showed 17:45.

Danny felt the annoyance return. Couldn’t believe he had wasted yet another day.

He had started the day with good intention, as he had woken up in his own place and set out to the town after ten.

Without Clockwork or confidence in the exact place of the ghost girl’s hiding spot or soul, Danny had decided to try his luck in the town to see if he could find any help or clues to the Codger’s origins there.

Danny had tried to be open minded, work from a logical angle and ask even the unlikeliest of people, but without any result.

It seemed that no matter where he went, the people of Amity would either turn stupid or none-cooperative if you mentioned words as “curse”, “missing children” and “Green Palace”.

Especially if you mentioned all of them in the same sentence.

Danny had tried to press one or two to open up, but every time it had ended in awkward situations and Danny had been forced to leave without further progress.

He suspected that most of town knew about the curse – or some aspect of it and just pretended like nothing. Danny didn’t know why he was so surprised, humans were just like that after all.

They feared what they couldn’t understand and ignored what they couldn’t comprehend. It was safer to turn a blind eye and act like nothing, than to go look for answer one might not want the answers to.

Danny could understand that, but never approve.

He had to end this curse, had to do something. Doing nothing only meant the pile of children bones would grow. Their souls filling a never-ending hungry void always looking for new innocence to feast upon.

“More coffee?”

Danny looked up to the sight of the waitress with the name tag ‘Desiree’ and shook his head, he had to get going, “no, thanks.”

“If you say so,” she shrugged, dried her hands in her apron and moved on to the next table.

But not before filling his mug with a wink when he looked up at the clock.

Danny looked after her, couldn’t help but notice she was an attractive woman, with her glowing teint, long black hair and large bust.

She could be all from Danny’s age and ten years older, but overall, a guy like him would be mad not to try his luck with a beauty like her – something he definitely wasn’t going to, but not because of her.

But because of him.

Danny sent her a smile of appreciation but didn’t put more into it than that. It would be a lie to say he didn’t find her good looking, but her appearance reminded him to much of a certain A-lister he had once admired in high school.

She had been a shallow bitch with a complete lack of brain and empathy for anyone than herself, but that hadn’t stopped Danny or any other boy from drooling every time she crossed the school yard.

Sam had always rolled her eyes at him and Tucker for falling for something so hollow and now that Danny was older and had moved on from his previously interests, he too would cringe every time he recalled his clueless teenage years.

But of course, all this had nothing to do with the waitress and Danny was old enough to look pass personal turmoil and just appreciate other people’s kindness.

Appreciating people for who they are, not who they reminded him of. The waitress had shown him a kindness very few of this town seem to have in them to offer a stranger and that was something his day had needed.

He sighed before taking a sip and added some more sugar – something the waitress had left for him as well, now that he looked down at the table.

Danny would have left a tip if he could, but all he had left was already spent on his new bike and this single cup of coffee.

The fast food Gray had bought him had already been consumed the day before and the bag of chips he had bought his first day on the train station had been his breakfast. He was official out of food and options.

He was more likely to die of starvation before Vlad got him and the irony made him grunt with morbid humor.

“Any luck on your detective work, son?”

Danny stiffened, then recognized the southern accent and scowled before turning around to the both behind him.

“Better than you and I don’t even get payed for it, Walker.”

That made the pale blond man’s smirk turn to a frown, “that’s Officer Walker to you, punk.”

Danny rolled his eyes, not in the mood to deal with this asshole, “whatever, I was leaving anyway.”

He had barely reached for his jacket and moved past the man’s table, before the detective grabbed him and pushed him back into his seat.

Walker took the free seat opposite him with a grin, that was probably supposed to be benevolent, but everything but, “I don’t think so, Fenton, you and I have some things to discuss.”

“Like what?” Danny droned unimpressed, “how stupid you look in that fedora?”

A little nerve jumped below the man’s right eye, but he seemed to believe that he was the grownup in this conversation and allowed Danny to have his rude comment.

Walker straightened himself like the patient adult, who was ready to ignore a silly child’s wimps in order to level with them for a second.

“Not exactly, I’m more interested in how your day went. It seems you have been out asking a lot of questions around town.”

Danny wasn’t going to answer that, but Walker hadn’t expected him to either.

“Let me guess, as soon as you mentioned the Green Palace, they all closed as oysters and acted like they knew nothing,” Walker added with a knowing glance and Danny pursed his lips, still not talking, “yes, I know that look of frustration. I met the exact same wall of ignorance when I first started investigating the case, you might as well stop trying the locals. No one in this backwater village is going to talk.”

Danny rolled his eyes, “if you say so.”

“Well I say so,” the officer continued with a stern tone and tapped the table between them with his index finger, “but both you and I know that there’s something wrong with that place, that there’s a reason two families with children have moved out of the

Palace out one family member less. That none of those children have ever been found again and it’s all connected somehow.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Danny rejected stubbornly.

The last thing he needed was a nagging police officer to stick his nose into Danny’s affairs and fall into the void Danny was treading with care. (it even rhymes, what were the odds?)

Walker would only be in the way and Danny didn’t have time to let him in on anything or lead him astray. He just needed to do what he had to do – alone.

Walker didn’t seem happy with his lack of will to cooperate with him but hid it behind a mask and continued to coax him into a beneficial conversation.

“Of course, you do – ever since the building was put back on the estate marked, you’ve the only child to walk out of there alive.”

Danny decided it was time to cut this crap, “I don’t have time for this, good day.”

Walker scowled as he rose to leave, but grabbed Danny by the arm as he tried to walk pass the man’s seat.

“We don’t have to be enemies, you and I,” Walker tried with a wry smile, “I could help you, give you some material only an officer has access to and in return, you could give me some intel. We could help one another.”

Danny ripped his arm to him without looking at the officer, “you can’t help me. No one can – just get of me already.”

Walker didn’t yell or call after him as he left the diner, but Danny could feel his eyes follow him out and he pulled up the collar of his jacket to both shield himself from the heavy rain and spying eyes.

The drive back to the palace was long and muddy as predicted and Danny found himself get a little tunnel sight, as he drove the usual road.

Enough to almost run over a bounce of teens walking in the middle of the road.

Danny thanked his fast reflex that he’d turned the bike at the last moment and only splattered the flock with mud and not the blood that was bound to have followed, if he had crashed into them.

A group of goths, all of them dressed in black and almost becoming one with the dark road, scowled at him and went to continued walking into the trees and Danny watched them with a sceptic expression behind the visor.

Really? The goths were hanging out in the woods now?

Danny shook his head but couldn’t help from looking for a girl with purple eyes in their midst.

But there was no chance of meeting someone like Sam Manson in a place like this and Danny’s eyes lingered for a time with the leader of the group.

A skinhead in a black coat. He reminded Danny of a self-proclaimed ringleader he had once met.

A ringleader of a bat circus…

The tall neighbor looked down at Danny from the metal stairs leading to his attic apartment, “Dan! Child, listen!”

Danny scowled at the wrong pronounce of his name and looked up without much patience. He had hoped this conversation was over, but apparently, the man had one last thing to say.

Mr. Showenhower pointed down at him in a dramatic fashion and spoke with a stern tone, “my little bats have a message for you, they says: ‘Danny – don’t go through the little door’.”

Danny just gave the old looney a thumbs up, “mm’kay.”

He turned his back to the Palace in search for Valerie; with Mr. Showhenhower’s mumbling follow him on the way.

“Strange thing to warn a kid about. And they can’t even get his name right.”

Danny had scowled and went on his way inside. He liked the other Mr. Showenhower a great deal more. The ringleader in the other world was amazing and his bats even more so.

Here he was just a strange looking man, only an apartment away from being a hobo.

Danny couldn’t wait to go back tonight.

The now older and wiser Danny left the group to their questionable venture into the woods and went to his rented room.

The rest of the ride to the Palace was pestered by the thoughts of a certain goth and Danny had a hard time deciding whenever this was better than thinking about Walker, and his talk about Danny being the only left survivor of the Palace.

Both of those trains of thoughts unwanted and making him unease. He simply had better things to use his last week on earth on.

“Hey, you’re the new guy, right?”

Danny had barely parked the bike and turned his head to address the girl by the metal stairs to what had once been Mr. Showenhower’s attic apartment.

Well “girl” was maybe to stretch it a bit. The woman was clearly a bit older than him, but her punk rock attire and blue extensions clearly stated a wish to break with all that was “adult” and “grown-up”.

“Danny,” he greeted like a good citizen and went to shake her hand – something she accepted, but not without a role of her heavy lined eyes and Danny couldn’t help but find that strangely familiar, “hey…haven’t we met before?”

“Wow, Kitty didn’t exaggerate, you’re super polite,” she mused and got closer to inspect his face, “hmmm, I guess, there’s something about you – Oh! I know, you’re that guy Walker dragged into the station last night.”

The little puzzle pieces connected and Danny remembered. She had been the person at the desk of the station – the one Walker had sent a disapproval look after dragging Danny in.

“Yeah, didn’t end well for him,” Danny chuckled and she grinned in return, not seeming to like the officer one bit either.

“That jerk got what he deserved,” she noted and dropped her cigarette to step on it with her plateau shoe, “Johnny and Kitty mentioned you’re new here.”

Danny nodded, “yeah, just taking a break from college before the next semester starts up again. You live in…?”

“The big attic apartment – hey listen, if that little attic room over there gets to cramped, you can always come listen to us and hang out.”

“Listen to what?” Danny asked, trying to figure out if this woman was someone he could use in his investigation and should get to know better, or simply a waste of time.

His answer seemed to push a nerve with the woman, “oh my god, Johnny hasn’t told you about our band? We’re like all the people of Amity Park talks about these days! So much for fame. I’m Ember by the way.”

“Danny,” he replied, figured that it was a fake name and the ‘fame’ being imaginary after spending the entire day around Amity, but just rolled with it, “what kinda band are we talking about?”

She placed her hands on her hips with a sense of pride, “me and the boys are ‘Skulltech 9.9’ – the next punk rock band that’s gonna shake the world. If you’ve heard our memo, you would know – come meet the guys, they’re upstairs practicing.”

Danny wasn’t much for this, but he supposed talking to the neighbors was better than hiding in his apartment till midnight – and he suppose he might as well ask them about the missing girl now he was at it.

Maybe the people living at the Palace knew something the townspeople didn’t.

“Why not,” Danny shrugged and followed her up, trying his best not to look at her leather clad ass, “so are you guys all living here as roommates or…”

“I fuck them both, if that’s what you’re trying to ask,” she snorted with a look over her shoulder, challenging him to criticize her choice of living.

“Okay, cool,” he hurried to say and followed her up to the metal platform before the door.

The sound of heavy metal music seeped out the door to the apartment and Danny rose an eyebrow, as the volume of the music sky rocked after she unceremoniously ripping the door wide with a yell, “LOOK ALIVE, DICKSTICKS – WE GOT COMPANY!”

The heavy metal beat stopped on the second and two men playing drum and keyboard, both clearly competing on who could wear most black leather and piercings, looked up in fright.

“Fuck, the cops are back!” the most lean and slender of the two gasped and ran to the kitchen with his long matrix coat and shoulder long electric-white hair waving after him.

While the first went to hide behind the counter, the heavier build guy, looking like some sort of bodybuilder slash gang member, threw his drumsticks at them per instinct and ran for the window.

“No, just the newcomer from the opposite attic, the small closet next door the estate center cut out of our apartment,” Ember droned and popped the cap of the first beer at hand with a roll of her eyes, clearly embarrassed by the two’s antics, “Danny’s the one with the bike downstairs.”

Danny took this as his que and stepped inside with a casual gesture, “sup.”

The sight of Danny, obviously not a cop or governmental authority-looking, seemed to make both of the men relax again and Mister matrix came out from his hideout, “cool, so you’re the new biker, ay?”

“Guilty,” Danny confessed and moved further into the punk lair and whistled by the dark deco of posters representing all metal bands ever to grace the earth since invention, “I’ve heard you guys are in a band? Nice playing there before.”

“Not just any band – Skulltech 9.9,” the hunk of a man by the drums informed with a serious tone and wiped his neon-green hair matching his goatee out of his brute face, “Skull, because death is our muse and Tech, because it’s the future. Plus, it’s the only thing Nicholai can play.”

“Not true!”

“True,” Ember mumbled down into her beer and went to sit on the drummer’s muscular lap, “so, Danny, you like metal?”

Danny just shrugged as he took a seat in one of the duct taped couches, “I listen to Dumpty Humpty when I get the chance.”

“Soft shit,” the drummer scowled and reached for his phone, “here, I’ll send you a link to our demo – that’s legit. Name’s Skulker by the way.”

“No, it’s not,” Ember mumbled into her beer, the voice going through better, now that it was empty.

“Says you, Kemberly,” Skulker replied with an eyeroll and had her blush in shame.

“Don’t call me that!”

Nicolai winced and turned to Danny in a lighter tone, trying his best to tune out the two bickering with his own loud aussi accent, “so what are you doing in a place like this. Looking for a loner spot?”

“I guess,” Danny admitted and decided it was time for him to make use of these three, “but I guess I came to the wrong place. Everything seems to be on the other end after that Thornwood girls vanished. Any of you got to know her before that?”

That got the two hot heads to forget about fighting and turned to him to join in.

“Not exactly,” Ember replied and ran a black nailed fingertip around the rim of her beer, “I sometimes saw her leave the front door with her parents, but other than that – can’t really say, baby pop. Even they guys down at the station is begging to think this is a cold case. The parents are calling in every day to see if we have found anything, but…if you ask me, she’s probably dead.”

“Shy kid,” Skulker added, “could sometimes hear her watch cartoon on the TV, when we took a break after practicing. Now there’s just dead silent down there, pretty creepy.”

“Protective parents,” Nicolai said and then frowned, “it’s always those who gets their kids abducted.”

“Now ya just repeating what that crazy detective said,” Skulker scowled and Danny looked up.

“Detective?”

Skulker groaned, “just some asshat down from the station going around asking weird questions and suspecting everyone. He keeps bugging Ember, even though she has worked down there longer than he has. He keeps coming here asking weird questions and thinking he’s some big shot cop. He’s been trying to find the girl for weeks.”

“True, but right now he seems like the only one, who’s giving a shit about her,” Ember added, almost sounding as if she was protective of the officer, “he’s a dick, but at least he’s still working like she’s alive. That still counts for something.”

Her words seemed to make the others a bit ashamed and everyone fell into silence. Everyone seemed to think their own.

Danny frowned, began to understand that Walker might not be such an idiot after all. The man just simply wanted to find the girl.

Danny could respect him for that – but still couldn’t let him in on his knowledge.

 

Ten years ago…

“Have fun, there will be dinner when you return,” the other father smiled and placed an arm around the other mother, as other Jazz and Danny ran out the door.

“But where are we going?” Danny asked without worry, trusting that the other sister would only have good intentions with him.

Jazz, mute and smiling, gestured for him to be patient and lead him around the mansion. Danny admired the incredible night sky above them and lost his jaw, as something looking like a red crystal ball came floating out of nowhere.

The red ball with the flashing light in its mid, took a little turn around them, but stayed high enough for them to be unable to jump and catch it.

Danny’s smile became as wide as other Jazz’s, as they followed the strange phenomena and ran up the metal stairs to the attic apartment.

Knowing that this apartment belonged to Mr. Showenhower in the real world, Danny couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

Other Jazz seemed to sense his excitement and didn’t waste a second, as she pulled him into the apartment. Danny looked around with wide eyes, amazed.

In the real world, Mr. Showenhower’s attic apartment had seem small, dirty and grey – or at least that’s what Danny had gotten as a brief impression, taken that he had only peaked inside for a second, before the scarecrow-like man had slammed the door to prevent Danny from spying any further.

Not that it had been Danny’s intention.

His first encounter with the man had been the morning Danny had almost tripped out the door, due to the stack of small packages outside his front door.

After finding the name ‘Mr. Frederich Isak Showenhower’ on all of it, Danny just figured the mailman had made a wrong delivery and being the good neighbor Danny was, he had gone up to make sure the man got his rightful mail.

To Danny’s defense, the door had opened by itself after he’d knocked and he’d only peaked inside to see if the man was home.

Nothing else.

But of course, miss fortune was never on Danny’s good side in this world and Showenhower had snuck up behind him and slammed the door, accusing Danny of being a little nasty pepping tom.

Danny had of course denied and handed over the mail, something that had made the middle-aged man forget everything about his anger at Danny and made him a lot more cheerful.

Danny had even found the man a bit charming, as he had explained his daily work of training bats to become great circus performers. But that sharm had only lasted until the bald man had opened the little packages to fish out little mice.

Living breathing mice.

Danny didn’t find any mice in this other worldly version of Mr. Showenhower’s apartment – instead, the sad man-cave junk-room of the real world, had been transformed into an entrance. An entrance to a circus.

The red crystal ball floated peaceful ahead and ascended down into the hole in the roof of a little black and white striped circus tent in the back of the apartment.

Danny grinned at the magical festival lights and carnival music lining the way to the tent and ran past the stalls with skull candy and blood red candyfloss.

Air dancers shaped as pale skeletons and screaming ghosts of paper moved above and around him, and Danny couldn’t help but love it all.

“Sam would have loved this,” Danny noted, enchanted by the creepiness of the place and could easily see his friends running around in a circus like this.

He grinned as other Jazz picked up a pair of fangs made of sweet jelly and mimicked a vampire – something Danny did her after and they grinned as they began to poke each other with cotton candy.

They both peaked up, as Mr. Showenhower’s voice suddenly sounded from the small entrance to the tent and ran to get in there.

In there, the red ball was hanging in midair over the center of the tent and Mr. Showenhower was nowhere to be seen – only heard.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, ghouls and freaks, outcasts and goths – I, Freakshow, the ring leader of Circus Gothica, am introducing my astonishing...stupendous and amazing...dancing bat circus!”

“What the?” Danny mumbled in mild outrage and laugher, as the crystal ball lighted up in a spectacular red glint and then fell – only to become a cloud of dark smoke before it would hit the floor.

Little green bats flew out of the smoke and Danny gawked in awe, as the small swarm reformed and made a formation spelling his name.

“It’s the little bats who brought me here,” Danny whispered excited to other Jazz, she smiled and nodded eagerly, before handing him a piece of cotton candy sticking to her shirt.

A little band of bats jumped and danced on tiny feet around the sand and above them, more bats flew around, throwing small red balls to one another, acting as acrobats and circus performers.

Danny laughed by their little antics and Jazz applauded along with him. The little bats squeaking and doing tricks to get their fully attention.

The bats then broke their formation and acts to fly around in patterns, almost resembling that of synchronized swimmers and Danny watched, as they moved to the eerie music – although impressively catchy eerie music.

The smoke covering the floor in a thick misty carpet was then swirled up like a vortex, by the swarm of bats and the smoke collected into a tall thin form.

The bats left their air formation to assemble around the smoke, covering it all with their little bodies and wings.

In the next second, all the bats parted and where the smoke had been, Freakshow now stood.

Unlike the real-world Mr. Showenhower, this man was neither sleazy, reeking of alcohol nor dressed in the petty rags only an outdated goth in his forties could pick out from a drift shop.

Freakshow was still tall, bald and had a nose like a crow, but the blood red ringleader uniform with matching tall hat and proud pose, made him both dramatic and scary to behold.

The red lights for eyes shone with youth and Danny applaud with other Jazz, as the man bowed and smiled wide for his audience.

“That was amazing!” Danny grinned and the ringleader tipped his hat.

“Well thank you – not all beings understand the beauty of the night creatures, but you certainly do, Danny. And now for my last trick!”

The man then took up a T pose and Danny watched as all the little bats hurried to fly up under the man’s long tailcoat, sleeves and pockets – disappearing into his cloths as if they had never been there in the first place.

The last bat landed on Freakshow’s staff, where a red crystal ball made the head and the man took of his tall hat, to have the bat fly up and land on his head.

By placing the top hat back in place, the last bat had left the scene and the amazing Freakshow bid them all a charming goodnight, before disappearing in a cloud of black smoke.

They left the mini circus with wide smiles as Jazz led Danny back to the front of the house, now just in time for dinner.

Even though both of them had stuffed themselves with cotton candy and other sweets, Danny was a bit surprised to find that he didn’t feel full at all and looked forward for the next meal.

The other mother greeted them in the kitchen smelling of all Danny’s favorite dishes and she kissed his forehead with a mother’s affection.

“Go tell your father that the food is on the table,” the other mother informed him with a smile and charming Arkansas accent.

Danny couldn’t help but adore her as she stood there in a housewife dress and frilly apron, but just like his own mother in the real world, he couldn’t help but keep some distance to her.

“You mean my ‘other’ father?” he asked unsure, feeling like the two worlds sometimes had a hard time mixing thing together.

“Your ‘better’ father,” other Maddie corrected and shut Danny’s next line with a piece of kiwi.

Danny was going to protest, but tasting just how good this kiwi was, he just hummed in glee and allowed the other mother to push him in the direction of the door, while other Jazz stayed in the kitchen to help their mother.

Danny had barely turned his back to them, before other Jazz’s smile withering to that of worry. A face that was soon corrected by the woman in the house, who signaled for the girl to smile wide.

There was no room for frowns in this household.

Chapter Text

The night was silent.

The quiet darkness of the ground floor apartment continued to be undisturbed, by all but him.

Danny wanted to keep it that way to the best of his abilities and did his last nightly visit after, with the bathroom window, shoes dried with a towel he had brought and silent walk through the apartment.

Just as the night before, he met no other living beings – but now that he was aware of the neighbors and their style of living, he could faintly hear the biker couple watch TV below him and hear the band practice above him.

He had never been one for socializing, as he had always been shy of nature and distrusting of others – or at least he had learned to be.

With only two friends throughout preschool and his high school years, Danny had long since come to understand that he would never be a social butterfly or enjoy the life of an outgoing person.

To be frank, he and his friends had been the losers of Casper High and something could seem that he couldn’t even hold on to losers anymore. Not that he pitied himself, far from it.

It was safer to be alone.

You see, nothing has changed. You will go home. You will be bored. You will be ignored. No one will listen to you, really listen to you. You are too clever and too quiet for them to understand. But I do. I always will.

“Get out of my head,” Danny mumbled and Vlad’s silver voice vanished again.

But not the echo. Soon another voice took its place.

This is too weird for me, man…maybe we should just stop here, you know?

Danny frowned, his eyes scrunching together, as if outer motions could keep the past from going on repeating itself in his head. He didn’t need this right now, didn’t want their words to haunt him now that he had to be his outmost and face the other father.

Didn’t need the people he had trusted the most to ever direct their anger of hurt feelings at him like this. Never like this…

Danny, stop it, how could you do this to us and take advantage of us like that? You’ve fucking ruin everything – why can’t you just make a choice and get it over with!? Why would you do this to me – to him!? What is wrong with you!?

Danny swallowed, had a hard time breathing without sounding like he was on the edge of tears. Tears he didn’t have and wouldn’t shed. It was too late for heartaches like these.

That ship had sailed.

His father had always said only wusses cried, but Danny knew his father was wrong about a lot of things and Danny dried his moist eyes without feeling ashamed.

The tears had done him no good, but the anger gave him the needed push and he moved on to walk silently down the corridor.

He had to check something.

Unlike the other world, the real Green Palace didn’t have a mirror at the end of the ground floor’s corridor – at least not anymore and when he reached the end of the hall, he didn’t find a new on hung up by the Thornwoods either.

Only a modern coat stand greeted him at the end and Danny pushed it aside to examine the end wall with a pocketknife.

Only to find nothing.

There was no full-length mirror hidden in the wall or wallpaper. No secret door or sign of magic. Only a brick wall covered in the same old boring wallpaper and now repainted white as everything else in the Thornwood people’s boring possession.

The other father smiled secretive, "mirrors are never to be trusted. That one used to be inside a wardrobe."

Danny sighed and put back the coat stand to cover up the cut he had made in the wallpaper and paint. Returned to the living room to find the little door locked and dark, but now he knew it was only a formality. It would come back to life at midnight.

Come back to life with the magic that once had been the innocent soul of a little lonely girl.

“Fuck them all,” Danny whispered to himself in the dark, “I don’t need any of them.”

That was a lie of course.

But a lie he needed to believe right now.

 

Ten years ago…

Returning to the other world for the third night, Danny was smiling wide and went through the little door with.

“I’m home!” Danny called and waited a second to listen.

When no one answered, Danny just shrugged and walked through the living room and into the kitchen as the first.

He didn’t find his other father reading the newspaper, his sister playing a Gameboy or mother in the midst of cocking – instead he found the kitchen table covered in presents.

Danny grinned at the sight of colorful wrapped packages and sweets presented on elevated plates. A letter with his name on made Danny open that as the first and he read the cursive with a piece of cake too munch on.

‘Daniel, your mother and I thought you could use some new cloths, so we went ahead and did some shopping for you. We hope you like it. Sincerely your loving family.’

Danny blinked and had a feeling he knew what would be in the first box. He didn’t know how they could possibly know, but Danny had always wanted a new pair of red converses.

Not that there was anything wrong with the one he were currently wearing, he had just always wanted a pair of bright red.

The rest of the presents turned out to be a soft black sweater with stars connected to form known constellations and a new pair of jeans – all of it fitting and comfy against his skin.

Danny left the mansion dressed in his new outfit to greet yet another perfect starlit night and looked up with a content smile. Feeling like all his worries had been left behind. He couldn’t help it; this world was simply perfect.

“Rawr!”

Danny turned to the great old log in the Palace’s driveway and found a large raven resting on it, it’s black feather’s shining almost electric blue in the light of the clear full moon.

Danny walked up to it without hesitation, “oh, yeah, if there’s other neighbors, there must be another Valerie somewhere. Wanna take me there, other raven?”

The raven shook its head, “there is no ‘other’ raven, child. Not in this world or another. Only I.”

Danny almost jumped out of his skin by the sudden lisping baritone the raven let out and stare in horror at the bird. Its dark eyes – not red light, he realized – followed Danny’s every move with a deep patience and waited for him to find his voice again.

“But…” Danny began, utterly confused and tried to get his head around this strange new phenomenon, “if you’re not from the other world…then you’re the raven from my back yard? But… you talk? How is that even possible!?”

The raven let out a chuckle like an old man and the little hairs on Danny’s neck rose in response. The bird seemed to sense his unease and ruffled its feathers, before addressing him again.

“Many things are possible and this is one of them, care to know more? Or am I just a stupid crow who should go find himself a worm?”

Danny felt his cheeks go red by the serving of his own words and hurried to make up for it, “uhm…sorry about that. That was mean of me, I didn’t mean to insult you. Really.”

The apology seemed to soften something in the raven’s eyes and it jumped a bit closer to the boy, “apology accepted, child.”

“Name’s Danny,” he corrected it and gave the raven a look over, tried to estimate if this really was Valerie’s bird of not, “and you’re Clockwork – right?”

The bird almost seemed surprised by the addressing, “Introductions? Fine. I am Kesegowaase Kangee.”

Danny tried his best to do that after, but had to give up, as it was too much of a tongue twister for a white boy like him, “how about I just call you Clockwork?”

The raven almost seemed to petty him, “if you wish, it was a name the girl gave me out of affection after all. Apparently, she believes my visits to her realm can be set after a timer.”

“Wait – so you come here all the time?” Danny asked confused and the raven walked across the log with a sense of elegance.

“You could say that, I have my comings and goings on these cursed grounds,” Clockwork explained and suddenly disappeared behind one of the log’s stumps of branches, only to reappear behind another.

“It’s a game we play,” Clockwork entrusted him with a secretive voice, “he doesn’t like that I can come and go as I pleases, but that’s how it is. Oh, how he despises it.”

Danny blinked by the raven’s hateful tone, “you mean, the other father?”

“He’s no father,” the raven noted with a stern tone and Danny frown.

“What do ya mean? The other father is awesome!”

The raven took off with dark wings, only to land on the railing to in front of the mansion and be in height with Danny.

It shook its head with dismay and spoke with a grim voice, “oh foolish child, you think this world is a dream come true. But you’re wrong. Just ask the other sister.”

“Jazz?” Danny asked and felt annoyance rise the more the raven talked, “she’s mute and what the hell do you know? You’re just a bird.”

The raven turned its back on him with a tired sigh, “that I am, a bird of dark words and change. Not to be trusted, not to be loved. But love has followed you here, poor child. The girl without voice weeps for you in this very moment.”

Danny blinked, what the hell was that crazy bird talking about? Why would other Jazz be crying? That made no sense whatsoever. He was going to give the stupid bird a piece of his mind, when it suddenly tensed and looked straight ahead.

“What?” Danny sighed, but was immediately shushed by the raven.

“Quiet, I heard something right over…” the big bird took off with almost silent wings and Danny gazed after it with a scowl.

Almost melting into the shadows, the raven flew over the roof and out of the boy’s sight.

“Idiot,” Danny mumbled annoyed and looked up as the other father and Jazz turned the corner of the mansion with a telescope in tow.

“Oh, Daniel my boy, we were just looking for you,” the pleasant man greeted and Danny walked to them with a smile.

“Thanks for the cloths and sweets. I love it.”

That made the other father’s smile widen and he sat down the telescope by the door with a gentleness the real Jack Fenton could never do after, “how delightful, let’s show you to your mother.”

Other Jazz grabbed his hand with a grin and Danny searched her face for any sign of…well anything and found none.

“Okay,” Danny replied and gave the outside one last look over his shoulder, before following his other family inside.

 

Danny’s knees scraped the ground of the tunnel, as he crawled through and finally entered through the little door.

Standing up, Danny took in his surroundings with hostility and deemed that he had arrived yet again without a problem. He scanned the room for a second but didn’t find any sign of Vlad.

The creature seemed to be elsewhere and Danny allowed himself to draw a needed breath of relief. No matter how much he spent outside of the other father’s reach and how old he got – the monster continued to make a coward of him.

It angered him to no end, but the anger was the last he needed at the moment and Danny decided to take a chance and sneak out to do what he should have done the other night before.

Go to the mirror.

The memory of the little hidden room behind it made him shudder and he held his breath as he peaked outside the living room.

The Codger was apparently occupied elsewhere, as everything seemed quiet and at peace – but you couldn’t trust anything in here.

Just as Danny, the other father knew all too well that he would go through the little door exactly at midnight and the Codger would be an idiot not to know what Danny would try to achieve in his world.

Danny knew he might be setting himself up for a trap by going for the mirror, but he had no other clue and the possibility of finding the little girl behind it was too big for him to let it pass. He had to know and that soon.

He only had five days left.

The corridor through the ground floor continued to be quiet and abandoned, but the uncertainty of the Codger’s exact position kept him from going straight ahead.

He moved from door to door, shadow to shadow and kept all his senses open for the smallest sound or indicator of incoming company.

The ecto-gun pushed against his lower back made him feel a bit better and he secured it was still safe in the hem of his jeans. Ready to be drawn and serve him as a last choice, should everything else fail him.

He stole a quick glance around a corner, as he took the last turn before the dead end of the corridor. A sudden sound of stacked porcelain made him freeze and Danny hurried to push up against the wall.

The door next to him leading to the dining room had light beneath the door and the sounds of something like plates being set on a table, followed with a calm humming.

The humming seemed to get closer and Danny recognized it with a frightened lump in his throat. Vlad was in the dining room next door. Danny looked from the door to the turn of the corridor.

He couldn’t see the end of it or the mirror, but he knew he only had to take two steps to get down there.

Could he do it without being caught?

The sound of the lullaby intensified, and Danny knew he couldn’t stand here forever. He would have to move sooner or later, as the other father would finish setting the table and surely come looking for him.

The corridor was the fastest way to the little door after all. Danny considered going back and around the dining room.

Wait in the kitchen for the monster to leave for the living room and giving him the open window to run through the dining room to get to the corridor and down the turn to the mirror.

It would be a big detour and the chances of getting caught almost the same as waiting here.

But did he really have a choice?

If he was caught here, he had no choice but to dance after Vlad’s flute – and who knew how long that would take? He could end up spending all night trying to get away from Vlad and still not get closer to the mirror without suspicion or consequences.

And the risk of Vlad getting wind of it and moving the kid…the stakes was too high.

He had to go past the door now.

Danny closed his eyes, listened.

The rustling of plates, glass and utricles.

The lullaby, steps, humming baritone.

More steps, closer steps, his own heartbeat, loafers against polished floor, then carpet.

The humming moving to the other side of the dining room.

The steps going in the direction of the kitchen…

Danny opened his eyes and stepped past the door to get down the corridor.

The floorboard creaked.

He froze and heard the humming stop. Silence followed and Danny forgot to breath.

“Daniel?”

He ran.

 

Ten years ago…

The dinner was just as perfect as the dinner before and Danny had simply come to the conclusion that everything was just better in the other world. The food, the house, the neighbors. But most of all his family.

“Someone was hungry,” the other mother noted with a sense of pride, as she took his cleaned plate and Danny smiled as she kissed his temple.

“He’s a growing boy, they got appetite, especially if the cook has talent,” the other father noted and had his wife blush, before she cleaned the rest of the table with other Jazz’s help.

Danny had tried to offer his assistance the other day before, but none of them seemed to want him to do any kind of chores or work in the house. It had made him feel like a guest at first, but now he didn’t pay it any mind.

They all seemed to want him to enjoy himself – so why not just lean back for a change?

“What do you think is for dessert? Chocolate cake?” Danny asked his other sister, as she returned from the kitchen and expected her to smile and nod as always, but instead she seemed…worried.

“What?” Danny asked confused and she opened her mouth with a scared expression, before the other father caught her sight behind Danny’s field of vison and shook his head with a stern expression.

Other Jazz shut her mouth instantly and put up a weak smile for Danny to behold.

Danny frowned and turned around in the chair to look at the other father for an explanation, but he was just one big smile and turned everyone’s attention to the other mother, as she returned from the kitchen with a present in her hands.

“Tell me something, Daniel,” the other father began and had Danny turn to him, while the other mother sat down with the present on the table, “do you like it here? In the other world?”

“Of course,” Danny replied without hesitation, meaning it with all his heart, “I love it here! This place is amazing and you guys…you’re so much better.”

That made all of them smile, even Jazz, although still with a hint of sorrow.

“Well,” the other father continued patiently, “you could stay here forever if you wish.”

“Really?” Danny asked, his doubts of leaving his old world pushed to the back of his mind – had been for a couple of days now, “you mean it?”

“Of course, we’ll watch the stars every night, your sister will play with you and go see new wonders, and your mother will make all your favorite dishes for you every day,” the other father explained euthanistic, picking up the little present and placed it before the boy, “we’ll be a real family and you will never have to leave ever again.”

Danny felt the happiness take hold of him, almost smother him and as they all smiled at him with such affection, he could only embrace it. The other father gestured for him to open the present and Danny did so without hesitation.

And then… frowned.

He had expected some kind of toy, maybe a new game – or even key…but all he found was a little silver knife presented on a napkin.

“It’s fastest to cut the vein in the neck,” the other father explained, “but if you prefer one long cut across the skin that’s fine to.”

“So sharp it will only hurt a second, hon,” the other mother added and was send a warning look from her husband.

Danny felt his pulse rise, cold fear running down his spine and make him frozen in place. What were they trying to say?

“I...is it a joke?” Danny asked with a nervous giggle and the other father just smiled, “but...”

Danny felt his throat tighten. Were they for real? They wanted him to – what? Cut his own throat!?

The other father placed a fatherly hand on his shoulder, “just one little cut, and it will all be worth it –”

“No way!” Danny cried and pushed the present from him in outrage, as he jumped up from the chair, “what the hell are you saying!? That I have to die – to bleed out!? No!”

“Language, Daniel,” the other father scolded him with a light frown and moved to stand beside him, trying to sooth him and his fears, “and we will need a ‘yes’, for you to stay. You need to become one with us, to leave your other world behind in order to stay here.”

“No fucking way!” Danny yelled and moved to get out of their reach, “there’s no way I’m going to kill myself like that – that’s sick!”

“I told you he was too old, he’s not going to do it freely,” the other mother whispered into her husband’s ear and he responded by sending her a gaze that could kill – and probably would, as fast as she moved to stand in the corner with head lowered in fright.

Other Jazz hurried to hide behind her skirt, the red eyes wide and body shaking like a leaf.

The proud, upstanding Jazz he had grown up with was nowhere to be found in this frightened copy of his bossy sister and his strongminded mother was nothing but a timed thing to weak to even talk back.

The creepy display had Danny see everything in a new light and he stared up at the other father, caution making him take another step back, as the copy of his father tried to move to him with a smile.

Something that didn’t seem to humor the red eyed Jack Fenton, but he hid it well, making Danny even more afraid of him and his perfect white smile.

“Now, now, let’s not fight like this,” the man cooed smoothly, “you’re a bright intelligent boy, Daniel. Surely you must understand that for things to become better, we always have to sacrifice the old. You wanted to stay, remember? All I need is a yes and you can stay here, with me. Forever.”

“I, I, I,” Danny stammered, trying to find a way out of this nightmare, “I’m actually super tired – yep, I need to go to bed. Really sleepy.”

“To bed?” the other father asked with a frown deepening, despite the friendly tone, “without dessert?”

“Yes!” Danny hurried to reply and faked a yawn, “I’m full and got a lot of things to decide – if I slept on it, I’m sure I’m going to make the right decision.”

That seemed to do better with the big man and his frown lessened, for a fatherly expression to take its place, “alright, let’s get you to bed then and –”

“You really don’t have to,” Danny added a little stronger than intended and moved backwards towards the corridor in direction of the stairs, “it’s pretty silly for a teen to be tucked in anyway and I’m just gonna, uhm…see you tomorrow, okay?”

Danny didn’t wait for an answer and simply backed out of the dining room and into the corridor.

As soon as he was out of their sight, he turned on his heels and ran up the stairs. He didn’t stop till he’d reached his room and slammed the door shut with hammering heart, as he leaned up against it.

The frame with the moving picture of other Sam and Tucker, turned to him and they seemed to mock him.

“Yo, dude, where’s your second wide smile?” other Tucker asked with a grin to wide to be natural and dragged a finger across his own throat for empathize.

Sam crossed her arms with a raised brow, “don’t you wanna stay? Be a little bit interesting for once?”

“Fuck you,” Danny sneered and threw his new all-star convers after the frame, making it crash to the floor with the picture landing downside.

With their voices muted, Danny hurried to grab the few bigger furniture of the room and pushed them to the door, blocking it in case someone should force an entry.

“Should have listened to Clockwork,” he muttered angry and closed the curtains to the eternal full moon and starlight, “I’m so stupid, stupid Fenturd – fuck! No fucking way I’m gonna stay here and bleed out like some pig for the slaughterhouse. Over my dead body.”

With the room as secured as it could be, Danny threw of the second shoe and jumped into bed. Tried his best and desperate to find a comfortable position as crept under the sheet. Searched for sleep with fear still lingering in his bones and thoughts.

He pressed his shaking hands to his bony chest and tried not to cry.

It would all be over when he woke up. He would be back in the real world, with his real family and safe from all this. The other father couldn’t get him there, he would be safe, he would be alive. He would still have his body and neck intact.

He would go home and be satisfied with the world, please let him escape. Please let him survive the night.

“Please, please, please,” Danny repeated over and over again with tears pressing behind his eyes and forced himself to wait for a slow and restless sleep.

But somethings should seem…the nightmare had only just begun.

Chapter Text

Danny opened his eyes and stepped past the door to get down the corridor.

The floorboard creaked.

He froze and heard the humming stop. Silence followed, and Danny forgot to breath.

“Daniel?”

He ran.

Danny had never been good at sports, but he had always had it in him to run like the wind when the situation needed it of him.

Years of bullying just did that to you. You either ran or got to be an A-lister’s punching bag – but of course, if he got caught now…the result would probably pale compared to the hits of Dash Baxter’s fists.

The run down the corridor to the mirror at the end, had probably taken him half the time now, than it would have taken him as a small teen – but back then Danny had been thin and scrawny.

Now he had long legs and the body of a swimmer to make that extra mile. He couldn’t hear if the Codger was right behind him or not, but at this rate he focused on getting to the end of the corridor, instead of any possible entity following him there.

If it came to a fight in the end – so be it.

The final turn came right up and Danny threw himself forward to reach the end and stopped right in front of the mirror.

Except… the mirror was gone.

Danny stared without his eyes making any meaning of it all and he had to pat the naked end-wall, just to make sure his own eyes weren’t lying to him. Danny swallowed, came to realize the defeat.

The mirror was gone. And so was the little room behind it.

“Looking for something?”

Danny didn’t turn, wasn’t quite ready to face the owner of that smug voice and possible even smugger face.

There could be no question why Danny was standing here, and he would have to be an utter idiot, if he for a second believed Vlad didn’t know what Danny had been looking for. The monster had been ahead of him once again.

“You removed the mirror,” Danny noted without any emotion showing, trying his best to make it sound like a simple observation, “strange. I thought it was part of your world, but maybe you didn’t need it anymore.”

Danny turned to find Vlad smirking at him with his hands in his pockets, his voice just as civil as Danny’s, “well, that mirror has some bad memories to it, wouldn’t you agree? I might have changed everything back to its glory days, but that doesn’t mean I will have to bring back the unwanted elements as well, now does it, Daniel?”

Danny didn’t reply, simply regarded the monster dress as a gentleman and tried to figure out his current mood.

He hadn’t attacked Danny as he had feared but taken that the monster had removed the mirror and the child, Danny’s spurt down here had been no threat to the Codger at all. Was this all a joke to him or was he simply playing with Danny again?

Vlad smiled secretive, probably knowing what was going through his head right now, “my, Daniel, did you miss it by chance? I will gladly bring it back if you insist but remember – mirrors are never to be trusted.”

“I know,” Danny replied coldly, “you showed me first handed, remember?”

“Indeed, but let’s not dwell on such mistakes of the past,” Vlad said and moved up to him.

Danny held his breath as Vlad brushed his shoulder with a light hand and correcting his wrinkled collar. Getting to close to Danny’s liking.

Vlad ignored his tense body language and smiled down at him with lidded eyes – a strange sight for a creature with glowing eyes, “but we could focus on the present and make the best of it, don’t you agree? I’ve prepared dinner. I know you’re hungry.”

“And how do you know that?” Danny asked with a scowl, taking a step away from his prying hands – had Vlad been spying on him again?

A sound like a dying whale, rang down the corridor and Danny’s ears turned bright red, as he realized it was his stomach.

Vlad simply smirked, knew he wouldn’t have to elaborate now and walked back towards the dining room, “as I said, dinner is ready.”

Danny stared after him with hatred and sent the empty wall a second glace. Vlad had turned the corner, out of sight and Danny patted the end wall.

An idea made him fish out the white mineral from under his shirt and he lifted it to his right eye.

Looking through the hole of the stone, the world revealed itself to be a dull dark mass of nothing. The true colors of the other world’s magic – nothing but empty illusion.

Back when he had first received such a stone, Danny had thought nothing of it, as it had just been a stone in his world. But in here, something would seem the old people of the basement apartment had been on to something.

Looking through the hole in the stone, Danny had been able to find the hidden knives of the three little ghosts looking and found what was lost in the illusions.

Unlike the rest of the dark mass that made up this world, the silver knives that had taken the lives of the children and kept their souls bound to the place, had lighted up with a warm light. A beacon in the dark.

But as he looked through this stone and stared right at the wall, he found nothing but black nothingness. No little light of living breathing soul-matter or lead to where the bound soul of the Thornwood girl was hidden.

He lowered the stone with a sigh and hid it away beneath his shirt again – recalling how the other father had reacted last time he had discovered such am item in Danny’s possession.

Vlad returned from the corner of the corridor and turned to address him, but Danny paid him no interest and moved past him towards the dining hall.

Vlad followed him with a light headshake and only added to Danny’s anger by holding the door for him, as they reached the dining hall.

But his anger for the other was almost instantly replaced with confusion as he stepped into the dining room and found it lit with gentle pink flames.

Soft candlelight lighted up the room with a soft warm glow and atmospheric music from some unknown source whispered in his ears.

The decorated table was set with gold and silver in the long room, and Danny had a hard time figuring out what kind of new diabolic scheme this was related to.

If it wasn’t for the deal, he knew Vlad couldn’t break due to some unknown rules of his being, Danny would had guessed this was all a trap with poison involved.

What better place to serve flesh dissolving wine, than silver plates, five-star meal and a red tablecloth?

When he had eaten in this room as a teen, the place had been fancy to – but this fancy?

Danny eyed the other, had the feeling that Vlad probably wanted everything to seem upper class and luxurious, but wasn’t this whole setup not a bit too much? And what’s with the black roses on the table?

Danny continued to be clueless, as he sat down and he stared a bit at the lone stack of plates in front of him. Eyed the Codger as he took a seat next to him, but with no visible plates in sight.

“You still don’t eat?” Danny asked matter-of-factly and had the other steep his fingers with a calm expression.

“You know I don’t, Daniel.”

Oh, I know, Danny thought darkly and recalled how all meals in this house had been him eating while the rest of the other family had simply talked or watched him from their filled, but untouched plates of food.

None of them ever eating anything – and still he had never found it strange until the night he was handed the present. The little knife…

No scratch that, Danny had seen him eat once, “well, at least that means no ‘other’ relative is on the menu tonight.”

That made Vlad chuckle despite Danny’s cold tone and Danny watched with withheld breath as the monster lifted the serving bells. Revealing normal – yet expensive looking food beneath.

No hair, no visible human bones or that disgusting pink blood looking and smelling like sweet strawberry jam. Just human food.

With nothing but coffee and a single beer in his system since yesterday, Danny’s stomach began to move impatient again by the sight of the feast and the delicious scents from the five different silver dishes.

Make no mistake, Danny still didn’t trust this creature to even prepare his cereal, but right now he was hungry enough to eat just anything. And since the other would gain nothing from poising him….

“Just give me whatever,” Danny said and handed his plate to the Codger.

Vlad just smiled and ignored the rudeness of his guest, probably just pleased by the fact that Danny hadn’t rejected his dinner invitation.

“Glazed ham?” the monster asked and gestured for the other dishes like a good host, “lamb in mint sauce? Sweet potatoes or peas? Wine or beer? Maybe champagne? Or would you like dessert as your starter?”

“Just whatever,” Danny replied and picked a beer from the silver cooler, “stop pestering me with all these questions and just serve me what you got, fruitloop.”

Vlad wagged his finger at him in good humor, “no can’t do, my boy. I want to know what you prefer these days, what do you dream of, Daniel? What do you desire most in this world of all?”

“Nothing,” Danny said coldly, not one for playing his games, “I just want you gone.”

“Hmm, hard time opening up to an old friend?” Vlad teased and continued before Danny could deny any friendship between them, “well, if your deepest desires is too secret, then tell me about your hobbies, Daniel. What do you engage yourself in these days? Any partners?”

That last part threw Danny of a bit and he had to take a second not to yell at the monster, “It’s really none of your concern, but since you probably already know from all your spying –”

“Oh, spying is such a nasty term, Daniel. Think of it as research.”

“Fine,” Danny scowled, not liking the other’s drawling one bit, “all your ‘research’ has probably already told you that I was studying to get a career in astronomy and on a free time basis, I had a job in a campus coffeeshop. Other than that, I ride a motorcycle and go to rock concerts. There – happy now?”

“Immensely,” Vlad responded with a hint of something sounding like complacency or maybe just satisfaction and placed the now full plate before Danny.

Either way, the intimate setting and honey dripping tone was freaking Danny out, and he drained the last of his beer, before digging in to his food, “anyway, what’s with all these creepy questions? Why do you care what I do and don’t?”

Vlad just chuckled at that and – to Danny’s confusion, served himself a glass of wine, “why shouldn’t I? You’re the most fascinating thing that has ever graced my world since myself, it’s only natural that I would take an interest in you, my boy. You’re special, an exception, a real treat.

Danny felt goosebumps by the last bit, the almost wanton tone making his mind twist in confusion and he tried his best to sound unmoved, “I’m not a boy anymore.”

Vlad’s red eyes fixated on him and Danny felt a bit naked in their merciless light. The sudden thought, that the monster was roaming his body with his eye, made Danny frown and the Codger nodded slowly.

“No, you’re not. You’re too old to play my son…”

“When why do you still want me here?” Danny asked, the second beer in his system making him bolder than wise, “you only feast on children souls and you’ve already told me you don’t need that anymore to sustain yourself – so why me? I have nothing to give you.”

“On the contrary,” the Codger replied silky smooth and seemed to have gotten impossible closer, as he leaned forward to pour a glass of wine for Danny, “you have so much to give and maybe even receive…”

Danny blinked, “what do you mean?”

Vlad didn’t answer, instead he just smiled and looked down at the glass he had just served him. Danny glanced at the almost blood red wine and back at the monster – then understood.

If he wanted answers, he had to play civil again. Danny took the glass slowly and lifted it to his lips.

He had once read that you could tell if a drink was poisoned just by allowing the tip of your tongue to taste the liquor before the rest. The tip of the tongue was the part that detected bitterness in food and since most poisons was bitter…

To his relief, he found no bitter taste and allowed himself to take an actual sip. That seemed to please Vlad and he leaned closer, “tell me. Daniel…have you come any closer to discover what I am?”

He hadn’t, but he wasn’t going to tell him just that, better to keep him in the dark.

“I know enough,” Danny faked with even more fake bravura and had the other chuckle.

“Do you now? Well then, there’s no need for me to just spill the details then, now do I?” the monster mused and had Danny scowl in annoyance, “oh don’t look so glum, Daniel.”

“Then stop playing around with me, you might not be so smug when I win again,” Danny replied, letting some of his own anger turn to that of confidence and cut his roast beef with more force than necessary.

He had beaten the monster before after all. He could do it again.

“Really?” Vlad asked lightly, “even after having wasted two days already?”

That made Danny glare in anger and he planted a firm hand over his glass, when Vlad was about to refill it.

Vlad frowned, but didn’t comment as he place the bottle back on the table, “there’s no need to take defeat so hard, Daniel. I’m sure you find something, learn from history if you want, open a library book – that would be good for you, I can assure.”

Danny just rolled his eyes and Vlad shook his head, “there really is no need for such antics. But I will tell you this, you’re correct when you say that I have no need for your soul. Your soul in beyond the innocents of a child and therefor useless for the type of magic that provides me with power. And as you said, even more so useless, now that I am beyond the need for souls – but you do have something that still peaks my interest…”

“What?”

Vlad lifted his glass as for a toast and Danny sighed and took another sip.

Vlad smiled and continued, “your incredible talent to be ever so charming and distracting.”

That made Danny stop for a second – was he fucking with him now? “what?”

“Is it so hard to believe you’re special to me – or just anyone?” Vlad asked offhandedly and Danny pushed that jab aside for the sake of the actual point of the conversation.

“So, what are you saying?” Danny spluttered unfazed, “that you have missed me!? That you like me being a stick in your wheel? What are you – lonely or something? Is that what you’re trying to tell me!?”

“Is that really so hard to believe?” Vlad drawled and had at some point gotten even closer than before, “try picture it for a second. Nothing would be impossible in my world; no wonder would be you denied – you want to travel the stars? Done. You want to ride your bike without end? Done. You want company that actually takes a genuine interest in you? Someone who understand and respects you, someone who doesn’t make empty promises and feed you lies?”

Danny leaned back with wide eyes as Vlad leaned closer. His burning eyes, redder than ever and almost shining with the power of a burning star.

“I could give you all that and much more,” Vlad whispered and planted a gentle hand on his arm and Danny swallowed with a thin voice.

“Or you could just get a cat, fruitloop.”

Vlad ignored that and leaned closer, the heat of his body making Danny forget how to breathe as they mere inches from each other now, “in my world you would be a prince, free of pain and suffering. Eternal and finally at peace. I would never turn my back on you, Daniel. Your parents might have disowned you for admiring both sexes, but down here, nothing is limited –”

That did it.

Danny stood and pushed the hand of him.

Without a word, he left the dining room and took the direct route to his room. As soon as he reached the door, he locked it firmly and took of his shoes without a word.

Words had always been worthless anyway and right now he had no wish to talk with anyone ever again.

He knew he had behaved childless, but the fact that his parents had disowned him as their son after he came out as bi to them, was private and still a sour spot that didn’t needed to be ripped open again.

He laid down and stared into the dark, waited for sleep to come and wished himself back to his own world. Waited for the numbness to return and make him forget – but there was no running from your own mind, when memories were persistent.

For parents that hadn’t cared much for their son’s wellbeing or upbringing, his parents had turned out to be incredible attentive when it had come to his sexuality.

His mother had broken down in tears when he’d insisted that this wasn’t just a phase, that he knew this wasn’t just something that would change again, like a brief interest or hobby of the week.

His father, on the other hand, had been the angry one. Danny had never seen his father angry before and it had shocked him to see his father scowl at him and call him a fag.

Danny had called Jazz after that and she had helped him move his few belongings.

Unfortunate, she hadn’t been able to take him in. Something about not being able to let a third-party live at her dorm room, or rules like that.

Danny knew he probably shouldn’t have taking his anger out on her, but he had just been 17. No one should go through that at 17.

He had just been a grown boy and now he was a homeless grown boy. Sam had taken him in with some lie to her parents about it being a sleepover – a sleepover that lasted till college.

Danny scrunched his eyes, didn’t want to think any further and forced his mind to think of other things.

Like that fact that Vlad apparently could drink stuff now. Danny had now seen him drink tea and wine, but was that enough proof that the Codger had evolved?

That he didn’t need children’s souls to survive anymore?

Danny didn’t know, all he knew was that he had to figure it out. He had to kill him, put an end to it, hunger for children or not. He wasn’t going to rot down here.

He wasn’t.

 

Vlad remained seated at the table. Waited and listened.

When the sound of calm breath and a light snore reached him, he left the table and walked up the stairs with silent steps.

He placed his hand against the door before trying to open it – recalling how the human had once tried to keep him out by barricading himself with furniture.

Not that it would keep him out, but it would wake Daniel, if he began working the room to his advantage. When he sensed no hindrance, he unlocked the door with a move of his hand and walked in.

Still in complete silence.

He found the human sleeping in the bed as expected and smiled in his own secret way.

The mattress didn’t dip as he sat down, but the human must have sensed him anyway, as he turned in bed to face him. Vlad stared at him, took in the movement of the sleeping body and how the wild black hair had laid to rest on the pillow.

If the human was beautiful in his awaken state, he was even more so asleep.

Vlad laid his hand on the inky tresses and began to comb them gently, massage Daniel’s scalp and take in the feeling of another living being.

Yes, he wanted this, this company. Daniel might think himself clever and in control, but Vlad already knew how it would all play out and looked forward to it. By the end of this week, the human would come to accept him and choose this to. Choose him.

Vlad was certain of it. Daniel was going to be his.

Forever.

 

Ten years ago…

He woke with the feeling of being too warm.

The covers were covering his head and the warm sweater seemed to be the cause of his sweaty chest, but despite the discomfort, Danny smiled.

He pulled the covers of to once again could greet his own old bed and boring room. The freedom of his own normal, plain and stupid reality, where everything was as it should be and not a trap in disguise.

Only to fret.

The room was not the one of his world. He was still in the other world.

This was not good.

“Fuck,” he whispered and listened to the mansion with withheld breath.

Tried to find signs of intruders or steps telling on where the other father and his goons could possibly be.

When he found nothing, he left the bed after securing that the picture of other Sam and Tucker was still silenced and began to remove the barricade of furniture blocking the bed.

Then he snuck out take the stairs down.

The mansion seemed too quiet for his taste and he looked around for any sign of red-eyed family doublegangers.

The faint sound of running water made him look in the direction of the kitchen and he followed the sound to find the other mother standing with her back to him by the kitchen sink.

Despite his real mother’s often greasy and dusty work with ghost hunting and handling of ghost weapons, that often leaked strange liquids and gasses, his mother always seemed groomed.

Her red bob never had a hair out of place even after being flattened beneath the tight hood of her blue hazmat suit.

She was always presentable even after workouts or doing experiments with googles on for hours, her makeup was always spot on and without smudges.

The other mother had taken that to a whole other level, with her pressed dresses and spotless apron, something Danny had felt was more appropriate than his mother’s old worn hazmat suit…

But nothing about the other mother standing with her back to him now, seemed appropriate.

Her hair was tussled like a bird’s nest and her head strangely hanging to the side, as if the neck couldn’t carry its weight. Her posture was hunched over the sink and from the sound to judge she was peeling apples.

He had no idea what she was cooking now, but with all the flour stains and other stuff caking her dirty apron, he guessed it was a pie.

Danny felt weird seeing her like this, but knew she wasn’t his own mom and he shouldn’t treat her as such.

“Where is he?” he asked sternly, taking a bold stand on the kitchen floor.

The other mother hunched even further down the sink, as if Danny’s question had just tapped her for even more of her precious energy, “oh, you’re up. Hungry? I made…uhm…”

Danny eyed the raw dough next to her and the other mother scratcher her messy hair.

Digging her red nails into her scalp a lot deeper than seemed healthy and Danny made a face, as she withdrew her nails to show hair and very pink blood collected under them.

“I want to go home,” Danny tried again, but less bold, “I want to leave – to my own world. The real one.”

“Then you’ll have to take it with the man of the house,” other mother noted indifferent and kept peeling apples in the sink with her back to him, “maybe he’ll treat you better than her. You being his son and all.”

That made Danny blink, “wait what? What do you mean ‘treat better’? Where’s Jazz?”

“Oh, her? She just couldn’t keep up the role, poor thing,” she added lifeless, slowly turning to him and made Danny step back in horror, as her face lighted up with half of it bashed in by the shape of a fist.

“Unlike me, she just can’t take a proper beating,” she grinned and bit one of her peeled apples with half her jaw hanging loose, making the juice and pink blood stain her already red apron.

Danny backed right into the small kitchen table and toppled a chair, in his flight from the kitchen. He kept running and ripped open the doors to the living room hard enough to make the tree slam each socket.

Right now, all he wanted was to simply run for the little door and even though there was something off with the lightning of the room, Danny didn’t hesitate and ran towards it.

Only for one of the room’s bookcases to be pushed in front of it. Two red light shining next to it in the dark.

The other father.

Danny stared and stepped back. The sparse light of the room began to move and light up the darker parts of it. One of the shadows withdrew to reveal the other father and his hand left the side of the bookcase, without taking his red eyes of Danny.

He smiled and patted the bookcase, like a good dog or servant, before taking a seat in the room’s head chair.

“Daniel, you look as if you were in a terrible rush, come sit down with me.”

Danny would prefer not to, but something in those two red eyes, made him too scared to refuse and he sat down cautiously in the sofa, as far as possible from the man.

“Want a piece of apple-pie?” the other father asked with a smile and cut himself a piece of the pie on the coffee table with a huge knife, “your mother made it herself.”

Danny had to cover his mouth with a hand not to gag, as the filling of the pie was revealed to be a mix of apples, auburn hair and teeth. Pink goo keeping it all together.

The other father didn’t seem bothered by the taste the least and ate it all, before cutting himself another piece.

“I-I,” Danny stammered and digged his nails into the cushion of his seat, “I want to go home – I want to leave. Right now!”

That didn’t seem to sit right with the man wearing his father’s face and he frowned, before using a napkin to clean his lips and stared at Danny with a stern tone, “that’s no way of speaking to your father.”

Danny stared back with shaking anger, couldn’t believe this…this…this creature!

How could this thing ever have believed himself to take Jack Fenton’s place like that? Danny’s father would never force him to cut his own throat. His father had never hit his mother or sister, unlike this monster.

Danny father was a good man, who had his flaws and bad sides – but when it came to family, he would never raise a hand to harm them. Never.

“You’re not my father,” Danny stated caustic and rose to leave, “you’re not worthy of that title.”

A nerve jumped under the creature’s left eye, “how dare you? Apologies this instant!”

Danny crossed his arms. Over his dead body.

That only angered the fake Jack Fenton even more and he rose as well, his tone turning low and dangerous, “I’ll count to tree. One.”

Danny held his ground, but then widened his eyes, as the man’s body began to grow.

“Two.”

Danny’s hand fell down his sides, as he could only stare at the transformation with open mouth. The fat and heavy build of his father melted away, like wax of a candle.

The man’s body turned slender, the shoulders broader and hair hard silver. A silver goatee and sharp cheekbones replaced the square jaw and the orange hazmat suit crumbled away to an inky sharp suit.

The ghoul looking businessman kept growing impossible tall, leaving Danny to become lost in the tall and thin man’s shadow.

“Three!” the other father sneered and grabbed Danny by the neck with a large, but slender claw-like hand.

“No! Stop!” Danny croaked, as the air was squeezed out of him and he fought with nails, kicks and twists to get out of the stranger’s hold.

But nothing seemed to touch the man, as he started dragging of with Danny.

Danny did the best he could to fight, but in the end, he was just a boy and was merciless dragged down the hall and corridor, until they reached the mirror at the end.

Danny was unceremoniously thrown thought it, but instead of breaking like a normal mirror, the surface turned intangible and Danny landed hard on the cold ground behind it. Realizing that he was in a little secret room behind the mirror.

The other father was still half through the liquid like mirror and stared Danny down with anger.

“Maybe some time alone can cool that foolish head of yours. I’ll let you out when you’ve started appreciate what this family has done for you and come to love me again.”

“What!?” Danny sputtered in outrage and launched forward to get out, but the other father simply pulled back and vanished back to the other side of the mirror.

When Danny tried to follow, he was met with a hard surface.

“No!” he screamed and patted the mirror’s surface in panic and confusion, “No! No! NO!”

Danny kept hammering on the mirror, trying his best to come up with a plan and some daring way to escape. But to no use.

After what felt like hours of hammering and screaming, Danny finally gave in and fell down to end on his knees, forehead resting against the cold hard surface of a mirror, he couldn’t see through.

“Fuck.”

A sudden sound of whimpering behind him, made him turn around and he stared into the dark damp room. Dark forms and shapes beginning to form and revealing broken furniture. Amongst them and bed.

A bed with three lumps cowering under a wet sheet.

The whimpering grew louder, as he rose to step closer to the bed and Danny felt a sting of fear, as he pinched a corner of the sheet and pulled it of gently.

Three little heads of glowing mist peaked out, as soon as their cover was taken from them and the three small forms, cowered together in fear by the sight of him.

Their small intangible bodies shaking and hugging together for possible warmth or safety. Danny stared, came to understand he was face to face with the meaning of his real parent’s life and work.

Ghosts.

“Who are you?” Danny asked in fear and stepped back as the three mist-like figures rose from the old rusty bed, to float freely in the air.

A dent filled with an unknown liquor had made the entire mattress soaked and the rest of the room seemed just as miserable as the three figure’s expressions.

“Don't remember our names,” they uttered quietly in unison and the smallest, a little timed blond boy with freckles and a pirate hat, drifted closer and hugged his own thin arms in sorrow, “but I remember my true daddy.”

Danny looked from him to the other two and realized they were children as well.

Two boys and a little girl, all of them dress in cloths he had only ever seen in movies and all of them with glowing lights streaming out from their eyes and large cuts across their little throats.

Somewhat knowing that they wouldn’t hurt him, Danny moved closer, “but…why are you all here?”

“The Codger,” the three ghost children whispered in haunted voices and the girl with the black pigtails and crocket teeth hid her face behind her tiny hands, “he spied on our lives through the little eye on the key…”

“And saw that we weren't happy,” the last boy, an Afro-American kid in a shirt and grey pullover, ended with hunched head, “so he lured us away with treasures. And treats.”

“And games to play,” the blond boy added, “gave all that we asked.”

“Yet we still wanted more.”

“So, we let him cut our throats and we smiled through the pain…”, the blond boy whispered and flew through Danny, making mist form a wound across Danny’s throat for a second, before the mist drifted again.

“We endured it all for the sake of longing,” the children whispered, lines forming on their fragile necks.

“A place where I could breath and Walk, play and eat out of my sick bed,” the blond boy sighed.

“A home where my newborn little brother didn’t cry every night and took up all of my parents’ attention,” the girl added with shame.

“A world where I didn’t have to live up to expectations and could play all day with my twin brother,” the dark boy whispered, his hollow voice fading like their translucent bodies.

Danny shook frightful and rubbed the skin of his neck to make sure he wasn’t bleeding or damaged as well.

The three ghosts hugged one another with equal tear stripes upon their frozen faces and talked as one, as they drifted back to the bed.

“He said that he loved us and cared for us, but he grew tired of us. He locked us here and ate our corpses.”

Danny swallowed a lump, felt their tears and story relate to his own. Their horrible faiths painting out the future of his own. If he didn’t get out, he too would soon lose all.

“I’m sorry,” he uttered, and they lowered their heads.

“Our souls now run his world and we are lost,” the small girl sighed with a thin voice and drifted closer, “beware. If you don’t escape, yours will soon join them and fill his hunger for a time.”

“I…” Danny looked down, then took a decision, “isn’t there a way to help you? Get your souls back?”

That seemed to make them hesitate and the Afro-American boy turned to him, “beat him in his own game, perhaps. If you win you could leave and our souls return to the real world.”

The little ghost boy with the pirate hat turned as well, new tears running down his round freckled face, “please, sir. Find our souls, help us back. Free us and let us find peace.”

Danny nodded and leaned against the mirror, “I’ll try.”

Two hands suddenly grabbed him across the chest and mouth, and Danny screamed into the hand, as he was pulled backwards and out the mirror.

To say he fought like a wild animal to get free, was an understatement. Danny fought with all he was worth to get out of those hands and was ready to punch in the face of his abductor, when his senses returned by the sight of his other sister.

“Jazz!?” Danny whispered in surprise and let go of her shirt, a bit shock to see her again and even more shocked by the state of her face.

Just like the other mother, other Jazz’s had been punished by the Codger, but where he had beaten in the face of his wife, Jazz’s mouth had been stamped into a big painful smile, with nothing but an office stapler.

Any possible blood had been wiped away, but there was still traces of tears on her face and Danny felt phantom pain just by looking at it.

Mute as she was, she couldn’t even utter a whimper, while he tried his best to pry the metal out of her face with the dull blade of his pocket knife.

Well, more a multitool than an actual knife, as Danny only used it for the sake of tighten the screws on the tripod to his telescope.

“I’m so sorry, Jazz,” Danny whispered quietly to his other sister, as he had removed the last pin from her face and tried to remove the new pink blood running from her damaged cheeks.

But she simply pushed his hands away, not in anger, but to pull him up to his feet and gesture for him to follow her. Danny trusted her without question and hurried after her, as she ran for the living room.

“Daniel? Is that you?”

Both teens looked towards the stairs in fear and Danny paled by the sound of steps coming down, “Daniel! I swear – if you disobey me again!”

Jazz grabbed his hand and they abandoned all thoughts of being quiet, as they just ran for their lives. They had barely reached the sliding doors, when the Codger showed up in the corridor. Outraged and taller than ever.

“You little rat –” he sneered, burning eyes fixed on other Jazz, when the other mother tackled him from the kitchen door, making him stumble and hit the corridor wall.

The other mother pulled his ponytail, trying her best to hold him back and fought to keep him on the floor.

“Get him out of here!” she yelled at her daughter and other Jazz did so, pulling Danny through the doors and across the room to the little door.

Danny hurried with butterfingers to get the key out of his pocket and into the keyhole, finally opening it and barely recognize that the magic of the tunnel had vanished and left a dusty version filled with cobweb behind.

“What are you waiting for? C'mon!” Danny yelled panicked, when other Jazz didn’t follow him in.

She shook her head and then showed him her hands, making him aware, that they had turned gooey and thick like a plastic glove full of something looking like pink marmalade.

Grabbing the door to slam it behind him, her right hand burst and covered the side of the door in sweet smelling slime.

Danny gawked, but his attempt to open the door again, was stopped as she simply used her swelling shoulder to push the door shut. Her teeth clenching as she used her weight to prevent Danny’s attempt to open it again.

“Jazz, NO!” he yelled, banging his hands against the door and then froze, when the faint sound of the Codger crept through the door.

With all hopes of saving other Jazz lost, Danny had no other choice but to accepting that she couldn’t have followed him anyway and began crawling back through the tunnel to his own world.

The constant fear of a claw grabbing his ankle and pulling him back with the promise of cutting his throat, made Danny’s body put everything into reaching home and his breath grew labored in fear of failing his escape.

The tunnel jumped and felt like dirty cloth beneath his hands and he gasped as dust and web kept getting into his mouth.

The little door seemed too far away and when he finally reached to push it, his mind was poising itself with the fear of it being closed or opening up to another trap.

But all his fear was put to shame, as the door opened easily, and Danny fell though, making a summersault on the way out and landing hard on the old carpet.

Danny stared up at the ceiling, heart hammering like it was trying to get out of his bony chest and his body shaking from adrenalin.

Remembering that he wasn’t safe just yet, he pulled himself up, slammed the little door and locked it with no intention of never using the key ever again. Despite that, he placed it back in his pocket and rose to leave the living room.

“I’m back!” he called down the corridor with labored breath, assured that they must have noted his absent, as he had spent all night and most of the day in the other world, “real mom!? Actual dad? Talking Jazz!?”

He received no answer, but then figured that they might be out looking for him – his optimism having no end.

He went into the dining room, found that none of the machines in there had been turned off and continued to the kitchen.

The old place was empty to, but to his glee, either his mother or father had bought tai food and Danny rushed to the little boxes and opened it with hopes of getting something to eat, only to scrunch his nose in disgust.

The noodles had turned grey and the smell made it clear that it was spoiled – and had been for some time.

“Oh no,” Danny whispered and ran through the house to find them. But to no use.

They were gone.

 

DAY 3

“Danny?”

“Hey Jazz,” he whispered into the phone, his voice never breaking the silence of the early morning and keeping him in a safe spot of illusion, as he sat alone in the corner of his attic room in the dark.

Something had woken him up and if he hadn’t known any better, he would have said it was the old cuckoo clock over the door. He had had some dream about Clockwork screaming at him, but then the sound had turned into the ringing of a clock bell.

He had no idea why that had been such a scare, but nevertheless, he had been awake in cold sweat and the ringing of a clock in his ears. He had sat in bed, the memories of yesterday still tightening his chest in painful knots.

“You sound…of,” Jazz noted, and Danny smiled without any glee and experienced mix feeling – part of him had hoped she wouldn’t notice the raw edge of his voice…. The other part had begged for her to noticed – that yes, something was utterly of.

“I know, I guess I just…” he rubbed his swelled eyes and had to take a moment to figure out what he wanted to say, “I guess I just needed to talk with one of the few people on this planet that still cares if I live or not.”

He knew he sounded pathetic, stupid even – maybe even suicidal. But he didn’t really care at the moment, he just needed to hear another voice right now. Needed to hear the sound of her.

“Oh, Danny,” she whispered, for once not schooling him, but sounding worried, “please don’t say that, you know it’s not true…what’s wrong? You know you can tell me everything.”

“I know,” he sighed, staring straight ahead and watched as the grey morning light began to creep into the room, “I just got myself a little drunk and emotional last night. Caught in a conversation about things I wasn’t really ready to talk about, ya know. Now I feel like shit and needed to talk to someone who would listen no matter how stupid I sound. I guess you really are my psychiatrist after all.”

He had some vague idea of her smiling into the phone and the sound of her amused tone confirmed his suspicion, “told ya – and good to hear you opened up, even if it’s because of booze. It’s important to face our own inner conflict and work them out in a healthy fashion. I’m proud of you, Danny – what was the topic that had you so worked up?”

Danny massaged his temple, a headache coming up, “our parents.”

That made her quiet for a moment, unsaid things filling the space between them.

He recalled how she had raised her voice at them the day he had come out to their parents.

Danny had called her after they’d thrown him out with two hastily packed bags and waited a few hours for her to pick him up on the curb outside their childhood home.

She had placed him firmly in her car, before she had walked inside and yelled at his parents – something he had never experienced her ever do before.

She had always been displeased with their parents, scolded them about their missing care for family value and insulted their work without compassion. But never actually screamed at them or broken a tear, not even as a teen.

He had listened to the raised voices from the car, heard how his father had roared at Jazz and his mother cried without an end. They had been loud, and it had been scary to witness…but not as scary as Jazz.

Apparently, she had always known he was bi.

“Do you still see them?” he asked quietly, curios if they still held contact to her after the day she had called them monsters and cursed them loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear.

“Once in a while,” she replied offhanded, but her casually tone was deceived by the little space of time, she had used to weight her words, “it’s mostly just Christmas and their birthdays, they’re still hunting and studying supernatural phenomena. Not in the same scale as before, but…they seem alright. We could visit them together this Christmas, if you want to?”

He scoffed drily, “the one time of year when they do nothing but quarrel? No thanks – besides, if they had wanted to see their disappointment of a kid, they would had voiced that by now. It’s been 7 years, Jazz.”

“I know…but maybe if you just called them and showed them that you still –”

“I don’t miss them,” he explained as plain as he could through a phone, without sounding mean, “it might have been some time since they threw me out, but that doesn’t change what they said. I know I’m not perfect, but what they did was cruel. Do you really expect me to be the one to extend a hand to them?”

He felt the anger burn in his chest and the grip around the phone made the plastic creek, “they should be the ones begging for my forgiveness – not the other way around!”

“Danny, you’re misunderstanding,” she hurried to clarify, always the peacemaker and voice of reason, “of course you shouldn’t be the one to apologies for anything, you haven’t done anything wrong – but you have to consider that maybe they haven’t taken contact, because they’re afraid – or maybe even ashamed to talk to you after all this.”

“I really doubt that,” he said coldly, not one to believe them to have the guts to swallow their pride and accept – or even admit that they were wrong.

They were just like that. To blind to see further than their own arrogant noses and too stupid to imagine what their actions did to others than themselves.

A realization that had first reached him after they had screwed him over. It was really stupid, really.

Before he came out to them, he had always known he’s parents was…absentminded when it came to how they treated others, but as a good kid and loyal son, he had looked the other way and just accepted things happening around him.

He should have known that the reason his parents didn’t had any friends or associates, wasn’t due to their lack of time for social spare time – but because no one wanted to stick around for selfish people without any human skills, what so ever.

Even Danny’s own friends had preferred not to get to close to his parents and invited him to hang out with them at their place or outside his house, rather than Fenton Works.

They had always ended up hanging out in the park, the Nasty Burger joint or the mall’s internet café, without him ever pondering about it or asking question as to why.

He had been blind to it, but the years away from his parents had made him recall the small details the mind of a naive child would miss in the long run.

His friends’ parents had always been watching him with mixed feeling – Sam’s parents had openly despised him for being a Fenton, while Tucker’s parents had treated him kindly, but never really wanted to see their son in the Fenton house.

Jazz, on the other hand, seemed to have been less oblivious to the standard of their home, as Danny had come to realize something about his social sister. She had never brought any friends home after school.

In the end he had been forced to see things for what they were and come to accept that his parents were awful…just awful.

Funny how you had to be the one wronged, to understand that your own parents’ love wasn’t unconditional.

“Anyway, none of it really matters,” he muttered and pulled his long legs to his chest, “I don’t miss them or need them in my life anymore. I’m not angry at you for seeing them or whatever, I just needed to get this of my chest and stop being angry about them.”

She sighed, probably thinking he was being stubborn for not allowing her to sit them all down in a parents-child therapy session and make them talk about their feeling till they all broke down crying and hugged it out. The mere image made him feel like vomiting.

“Danny, I know you’re angry – and you have all the rights to be,” she hurried to add, “but sometimes I just wish…I wish you would stop seeking isolation as a solution to your problems.”

“I’m not alone,” he noted, for a second fearing she had called him out on his bullshit about being on a road-trip with friends, “I have Tucker and Sam. And you occasionally.”

He waited for her to either tell him she knew he was lying or play pretend, but her tone seemed to be leaning towards a third option, “you’re right. There are other ways of being whole than with family relations. How are they doing by the way? Are you in California yet?”

He closed his eyes, glad that the lie was still intact, “not yet, we’re having a bit trouble finding the right route at the moment.”

“Okay – hey maybe I could help you if you gave me either Sam or Tucker’s numb-”

“Jazz,” he groaned and tried his best not to bite her head off, “why do you keep doing that?”

“Do what?”

“Try to get their number, they don’t want to and it’s like you don’t want to take a hint. They’re my friends, not the Fenton friends. If they were they would have given out their number to you, dad, and mom a long time ago – but they didn’t. They don’t want to talk to you, they barely know you!”

She sighed in annoyance, “fine, be like that, your stubborn mule. Get yourself drunk and spill your emotions to them and let me pick up the pieces, why don’t you?”

Her sarcasm made him feel guilty for using her as a psychological wastebasket and he decided to make up for it, by opening up a bit, “it wasn’t them that made me open up, it was…”

Danny tried to come up with a term for Vlad that wasn’t going to alert “stranger danger” in her ears and dragged a hand down his tired face.

“…someone I’ve meet down the road.”

“A stranger, huh?” she said, and Danny could suddenly hear all the gears in her head turning, “this stranger wouldn’t possible be both tall, dark and handsome, now, would he?”

Danny blinked, this conversation going in a direction he hadn’t seen coming, “don’t be gross, he’s just an older guy who’s tagged along on our trip. I can’t stand him, but he has a way with words.”

“So you don’t like him, but you accept his company, is that it?” she asked, taken on that therapy voice that Danny loathed so much – she was analyzing him again.

Danny rolled his eyes, “it’s not like I want to, he’s just…it’s complicated. But stop thinking too much into it, he thinks I’m beneath him and probably even stupid – he even told me to go open a book once in a wh…”

Danny froze, something coming to mind. The library, the local library – why haven’t he thought about that sooner?

“I need to run now, talk to you later,” he dismissed and ended the call.

He turned the cellphone off before she could call him again and he hurried to get up and grab his laptop.

According to the Amity Park library’s website, they wouldn’t open before 10:00, but he could write down the leads he had to follow up on in the meantime. He dressed and sent the phone a look.

In his quiet mind, he knew he was being cruel and a coward for not telling her the truth. Maybe even evil for keeping her in the dark, but he couldn’t find the energy to feel guilty about it. Jazz was a strong person with friends and family to help her go on.

If he didn’t return…at least she wouldn’t be alone.

He watched the morning sun rise behind the overcast sky outside the window, as he pulled out paper to take notes on and wished himself any other place than this.

He had five days left.

 

Ten years ago…

“Amity Park police station, how can I help you?”

Danny pressed the phone closer to his chin, his hands still hadn’t stopped shaking, “uhmm, my family is missing. They’ve been uhmmm…”

Danny felt like an idiot. Why had he called the police again? To tell the truth, he hadn’t really been thinking, he had just picked up the phone in panic and made the call.

Now that he was talking with another human being and his head had caught up with him…he understood just how silly this was going to end.

“Could you repeat that, kid?” the officer offered, and Danny took a deep breath.

“It’s nothing, uhm, just a prank call, hehe…” Danny pressed his head into the wall in shame.

how stupid was he? You could get in trouble for prank calling the police, what the fuck, Fenton?

The officer sighed tiredly, and Danny bowed his head by the sharpness of his voice, “kid, I get that you teens can get bored, but this is a line meant for actual emergencies. I’m gonna let you get off with a warning if you hang up now and never waste the station’s time like this. Do you understand?”

Danny nodded, then remembered the man couldn’t see and stammered, “ye-yes.”

He hung up and slid down the wall to burry his face in his hands.

Calling the police was useless. But then what? Danny didn’t know, had tried his best to stay rational.

His next instinct lead him to search for his family in places that made sense and convince himself that the other father couldn’t have taken them.

Excuses and stupid assumptions of where his family could have gone kept him going but in the end, Danny found no sign of them.

It all just seemed to cruel – and cruelty was not the thing he needed right now. So, he went to his neighbors for comfort like a little child.

“I’m sorry to hear that, hon,” Miss. Spectra cooed, as she served him a plate of cookies, looking as if they had problems deciding between becoming dirt or stone.

Danny took one anyway out of politeness and just nodded, “you guys haven’t seen them? The car is still in the driveway…”

“Yes, very mysterious,” Bertrand added as he returned from the open kitchen with a tray of tea on his walker and began to serve Danny a fragile porcelain cup, “well, if they don’t return before 48 hours you will have to inform the police, dear.”

“No – a private detective,” Spectra corrected, and Bertrand rolled his eyes.

“Don’t listen to her, she’s just as dumb as her hair is fake – now, drink some tea and let me read your fortune.”

“My what?” Danny asked and took a bite of his cookie – only to suppress a gag and look for a place to spit it out again.

“Your fortune,” Bertrand repeated and pressed the cup to Danny’s face, “drink it and let some water remain at the bottom with the leaves.”

Bertrand bowed down to get a fortuneteller’s hat for the purpose and Danny spit out his cookie, now that the man wasn’t looking.

He blinked as the cookie piece stock to the plant next to him and hurried to act as nothing, as Bertrand turned back to him. Danny did as he was told and drank his bitter earl grey. Then handed back the little cup to the old man.

Mr. Bertrand put on some reading glasses that made his eyes grow three sizes and rotated the cup twice. He then changed his voice to a dramatic deep tone and stared intensely into the cup.

“Uhhh, Daniel, oh no, Daniel. This is no good, no good indeed.”

“Why?” Danny asked and ignored the ‘Daniel’ part.

“A great evil is upon you, child –”

“I’m fourteen.”

“ – hush. A great evil, a dangerous being that wants you harm.”

Miss. Spectra took the cup out of his hands and rolled her eyes, “oh, don’t be so dramatic, there’s no evil here, only the promise of Dan here meeting a tall handsome beast.”

“A what!?” Danny screeched utterly disturbed and forgot to correct the ‘Dan’ part.

Bertrand snatched the cup back with a scowl, “No, no, a great evil – he needs something to keep of harm. And I have just the thing!”

Spectra tried feeding Danny yet another cookie, while Bertrand began roaming through their stash of shining boxes and other cheap relics.

The little man made a sound of victory, as he returned with a little box and Danny stuffed his cooking down into the dirt of the big cactus next to him and leaned forward to see.

“I have just what you need,” Bertrand repeated and opened the box to reveal a treasure of shining stones, minerals and other look-alikes, “here you go, sonny. This will keep you safe.”

“A stone with a hole in the middle?” Danny asked confused, as he accepted the white stone and Bertrand wagged his finger at his impertinence.

“Not just any stone and it’s a mineral, boy. There’s a difference. And this stone is different to.”

“How?” Danny continued and tried looking through it for the sake of examine it.

Bertrand made a serious expression, “it will help you, it can show you what’s hidden.”

“What? That’s just nonsense, Bertrand,” Miss. Spectra intervened and crossed her bony arms, “the stone show what is lost.”

“No, dear – hidden.”

“Lost!”

“Hidden!”

Danny sighed and decided he had wasted enough time already. They were still arguing as he left, and he continued around the mansion to get to his own front porch, when a box came falling down and hit his head.

“Hey!?” Danny whined and rubbed his soar head, before picking up the box, and discovered that he had been hit by one of Mr. Showenhower’s deliveries of mailed mice.

“Yes, pick that up, good boy, such a good lad, now bring it up here,” the scarecrow look-alike man yelled down to him from the metal stairs and Danny scowled, but did it anyway.

“I think you killed the mice with that fall,” Danny said as he handed the packaged back with some resentment.

The man ignored his disgust and shook the box in his face with a grin of yellow teeth, “this isn’t mice, you little rascal, this is the silk I need for making top hats to my little minions.”

“You mean the bats?” Danny asked and tried not to compare the real world Freakshow, with the one of the other world – he would prefer people with actual eyes over any wonder, even if they reeked of cheap vodka.

“Of course!” the man replied with an offensive glare, “my little goons need proper dressing if they want to perform with style – my next act will be a disappearing act, right now all they do is vanishing and not returning.”

Danny bit his lip as the man made a hysteric laughter, like he had just told the joke of the century, “I’m just gonna leave now…”

“Oh, one more thing, before you perish,” the man added as Danny took the first step down the metal stairs, “some little lady came asking for you. Very sweet looking if you ask me, but far too bright colored cloths for my taste – although the raven was a nice accessory.”

That made Danny brighten like a sun out of clouds. Of course, Valerie would believe him, she would know what to do!

Danny didn’t waste any time as he ran for the path behind the Green Palace and sprinted down the hill to the well.

He jumped over the lid of the well without any means of stopping and reached Fort Gray soon after with hammering heart and shallow breath.

“Val-cough-erie!” he called and tried to get some more needed air after the sprint.

She peaked over the railing of the treehouse immediately and lightened up by the sight of him, “hey, you came – haven’t seen you in ages, come to tell me you believe me now?”

“YES!”

That made the smug smile leave her face and she threw down the ladder without a word.

Danny climbed up to her and grabbed her shoulders with wide eyes, “you were right – you were so right, you have no idea. There’s little door you go through and everything is just better. Like EVERYTHING. Your room is better, the neighbors are better – even your family is a dream come true. And I fell for it, I fell for the monster’s illusion, I was this close to staying with him, but then…”

Danny had to breath, the horror of it all overwhelming him and finally talking with someone about it made emotions he hadn’t had time to sort out suddenly came rushing back with full power.

He covered his mouth with frightened eyes, suddenly feeling like vomiting.

“The-they…he said…the price for staying was cutting my own throat,” he stammered and had Valerie swallow, “he needed me to do it willingly of him to cut my throat – to get my soul. When I wouldn’t…I almost didn’t get away. I saw the kids who lost their lives in there.”

“Kids?” she asked with wide eyes and Danny nodded.

“Three ghosts caught in a dark room. A little pioneer girl, a boy with a pirate hat and a dark-skinned little boy in a grey pullover. They were all so miserable, only ghosts…they were in pain, Val.”

“Did one of them look like this?” she asked, and Danny looked up to see with an old photograph.

An open box behind here seemed to have been its hiding place before.

Danny dried his damp eyes with the edge of his sleeve and took the picture. It was an old photo, with two boys looking into the camera in front of what looked like the Green Palace.

The boys looked to be almost identical and twins, if Danny didn’t mistake. He recognized the boy to the left and the chain with an old key around his neck made it even more clear.

Danny felt the edge of the very same key in his pocket. There was no mistake.

“That’s the ghost in the pullover,” Danny noted and pointed to the boy, “who is he?”

“My uncle,” Valerie explained quietly, “my father’s twin brother, Damien Gray. He disappeared after they moved into that place. My grandfather says he was abducted, but they never received a ransom.”

Danny looked from her to the photo again and tried to imagine what it must have been like for her father to lose his sibling like that. A note in cursive had been written in ink at the corner of the photo.

Damien and Damon. 1960.

“I’m sorry,” Danny said, and she nodded.

“I’ve never met him, but my father insist that it was the house that took him. They moved out soon after and he never sat foot there again, but he kept telling all who would listen that the house had taken his brother. He forbit me ever to go in there.

Now I know for sure that it’s all true.”

Danny looked down, his own sorrow catching up with him, “I can’t find my family.”

She turned her head to him, “oh fuck.”

Danny could only nod, the tears returning, “it’s my punishment, I deserve it. I did this to them. I chose the monster over them. I wished them gone.”

“No, Danny, that not true,” she hurried to defend and took his face in her hands, force him to look at her, “you can’t blame yourself for what that monster has done. You’re a stupid teen and that’s okay. We do stupid things, Danny, like… like wishing for better stuff and yelling at people when the internet is down for a minute. We fight over silly things, wish we were adopted and yes, sometimes we wish our families gone – but that’s okay, you hear me!? It’s all okay to wish for things, we wish because we know it won’t happen in real life and when you then lose your mother to a traffic accident and think it’s your fault for wishing her harm when she didn’t buy you that purse, it’s just…”

She had to stop and dry her own eyes and find her voice again, “just don’t blame yourself. Blaming yourself won’t get them back.”

“Your mom?” Danny asked quietly and she looked away.

More tears fell from her eyes and Danny pulled her in before his awkward teen mind could prevent him from taking that step. She hugged him back without protest and just cried into his shoulder.

Danny stared up into the overcast sky and prayed for a solution.

He needed a miracle.

Chapter Text

“Yep, that’s a library.”

Danny pulled back his soaked hood and gave the library a look over. It was pretty stationary, almost traditional as a normal building of its standard could be.

Even if you didn’t read the large metal plate with the words “Amity Park Library” only one look at the place would convince you of its function.

Danny was going to continue his venture into the land of knowledge, when a line in Latin beneath the broad door caught his eyes.

“Disco Inferno?” he asked with a twitch of his nose, was this a joke?

He shook his head and walked in, already knowing that this was going to consume a lot of his precious time – time he didn’t exactly had that much of, even though he had more than half of his precious days left before his life would change for good.

Either for good or for bad.

The hunch about going here was already beginning to spin his head with ideas on how this could help him to find out more about the Codger and Danny recalled Vlad’s voice taunting him.

There’s no need to take defeat so hard, Daniel. I’m sure you find something, learn from history if you want, open a library book – that would be good for you, I can assure…

“Stupid fruitloop,” he grumbled and ignored the fact that he was tracking mud into the place’s clean carpet.

Last nights visit to the other world was still a mystery to Danny. Not only because of Vlad’s strange behavior, but his…un-fatherly behavior.

Why was the monster acting like that? Why the roses and candlelight – why that…form?

Danny scoffed, no answers coming to mind, other than the old Codger was playing a new set of mind games with him. It made sense if you thought about it.

When Danny had wanted his family’s attention, Vlad had taken form after them and appealed to him with the things a lonely kid could wish for.

Now that all that was mostly behind Danny and he knew what hid behind that sugarcoated facade, the monster would have to appeal to his new needs and to Danny’s great dismay…Vlad had.

He made a grimace – it wasn’t like he wanted to be attracted to older gentlemen, even he knew that was a cliché when it came to father issues.

Why did he have to be such a freak? Why couldn’t he just like people his own age and start a healthy relationship?

Why don’t you ask Tucker and Sam? His own poisonous mind asked him, and Danny took a deep breath before ignoring the place’s coat hanger station and walked right into the old history section.

Long rows of shelves filled with books lined the room, while a reading area was positioned in the back with those old green lamps posted by all the reading tables. A grand portrait hanging like a centerpiece at the end and Danny looked up at it.

Only to stop up and stare.

“No way…” he whispered and stepped up to the end wall of the hall, his sky-blue eyes never leaving the large portrait.

It was a large half body portrait painted in dark almost reddish color scheme, that only made the man’s dark eyes and pale complexion stand out even more.

Matching the formality of the dark suit and pioneer hat of black leather, the man’s poise was proud and face that of an aristocrat.

Despite looking to be around his 40s with shoulder long silver hair and mature goatee, the man gave no hint of winkles or other signs of age and stared down from the hard-painted canvas with a pompous expression.

Danny blinked and wasted no time, as he turned 180 on his heels and surprised the librarian by the only desk of the history section, “who is that!?”

The poor man came down from his mild shook and adjusted his small oval glasses, that had turned a bit crooked after Danny’s ambush, before looking in the direction of Danny’s pointing finger.

“Oh that?” the librarian, who’s name according to his desk sign was; ‘Andrew’, said and smiled, “that’s the town founder and leader of the first settles in this area. Sir Vladimir Masters. Are you looking for material on a paper or – ”

“Are you shitting me!?” Danny yelled, not caring for social tact or the worried face the librarian was making at him.

Vlad was a human – or had once been one.

The impact of that mind blow was literally killing him and the fact that he could just have waltzed down here and pretty much found out about the man already two days ago, was too embarrassing to even comprehend.

Had Vlad wanted him to know? To discover Vlad was a town historical figure? To go fucking open a book and study the self-absorbed smart ass!? What was the freaking size of that fruitloop’s ego!?

“Are you alright?” Andrew asked with some hesitation, like he expected Danny to explode a second time in his face and Danny cooled down as he discovered he had drawn every eye of the place to him with his whining.

“I’m fine – yes just writing a paper, basic paper. Just sent me to the nearest book about this Masters creep and I’ll get out of your hair,” Danny replied spiteful and had Andrew frown an inch more, before pointing to the nearest shelf.

Danny ignored the man’s glance as he headed to the section and picked out the most obvious titles he could find.

Amity Park history – early settlement and modern progress.

Records of Amity Park.

Amity Park (1800-1900)

The history of a village

Danny rolled his eyes at the few eyes still lingering on him with either confusion or annoyance and took a seat at one of the old study escritoires.

The antic turned out to be steadier than it looked and he turned on the old lamp of green glass to have some light in the slight dark corner of the history section.

A part of his old teen brains was whining on about this being like homework, but Danny ignored that and went through the pages – searching intensely for the name of a certain Vladimir Masters.

As he went through the tomes, he found that the founder of the city was a popular topic in the history of Amity, although not much was known about him in the end.

Danny wrote down as he went on a notepad he had brought and tried to piece the information of the books together to a simple picture.

When he closed the last book and began sorting the notes, he began to get an idea about just who the Codger was – or had been.

Sir Vladimir Masters – sometimes just sir Masters – had been a man of many talents, a list including, politician, inventor, writer, business man and traveler.

In his 30s he decided to leave Europe for the new world and lead some of Minnesota’s earliest settlers to north America in the 19th century, after the France fur traders had opened the land for them back in the 17th century.

Masters followers had been mostly lumberjacks and pelt hunters with their family in tow and the people soon begun to cut down the woods and hunt in order to build up a lumber industry and community.

Sir Masters became the man behind this booming business and won the town election as the mayor in 1858 with a landslide voting.

The settlement was a success, despite that the selected land of Amity Park was constantly plagued by the local native tribes. Many fights and conflicts had taken some of the settler’s lives, but mostly the natives.

The fights lasted until 1900, when the native Americans had left the land to go north, to avoid the new shipment of settlers arriving soon after…

Danny bite down on the end of the pen and then made a circle around the year 1858. He knew from the information he had gather beforehand about the Green Palace, that the place was 158 years old – which meant it’d been built in 1859.

Vlad must have built the place after becoming mayor, coming to think of it, the place could easily fit into some 1800 gentleman’s fancy home and after having witnessed the way Vlad had refurnished the place after taking his real form, there was a big chance Vlad hadn’t only built the place, but lived there when he was still alive.

The idea of Vlad once being a human was still strange to Danny, but the small puzzle pieces was beginning to fit. Only question now was…how did Vlad go from being a human – to that?

Danny’s eyes returned to his notes and he came to realize something was missing.

Exactly when did Vlad stop be a human?

Funny enough – or strange? – none of the books informed of the man’s death or further faith after the election and Danny couldn’t help but find it weird that such an important person could simply vanish from the history like that.

Had something happened since the history of the town wouldn’t write about it? Danny turned the pages and searched through the books a second time.

But to no use. He was beginning to become restless, when his attention returned to the front desk where the cute – cut that out Fenton – helpful librarian was writing on his computer with a focused gaze set on the screen.

“Excuse me?”

Andrew looked up and smiled as soon as he saw it was Danny, “oh it’s you again, did you find what you needed?”

“Actually,” Danny began and tried his best to ignore how sweet Andrew was looking as he smiled at him, “I’m not sure if I’m just missing something, but how come none of the books about the town mentions Vlad Masters death? Did he leave Amity after 1859 or something? I mean… isn’t it a bit weird?”

Andrew's face lighted up and Danny was startled enough to jump, as the librarian rose to level with him, with an exciting expression, “It’s super weird! I have been wondering the exact same thing – you have no idea.”

Danny was a bit disturbed by the other’s excitement, but stayed on his best behavior, “oh, okay – good to know I’m not the only one then. So… have you by chances discovered why?”

“It’s a mystery,” Andrew revealed with jazz hands and a dramatic whisper, “I’m actually the town’s unofficial historian and I tell you – this town is full of unsolved cases, but none as dark and unsure as the one about Masters’ final breath. I have been doing some work during the years and that mystery is my latest project. Come on, I have some stuff you might want to see.”

The guy was a bit to jolly to be anything but creepy, but Danny couldn’t be a chooser when it came to get the answers – and from whom they were offered – so he followed nonetheless. Intrigued to what the guy might have of information in the back.

Hopefully something Danny could use to solve the mystery that was the human Vlad.

His hopes were turned to that of confusion and then annoyance, when Andrew lead him to the back of the Library – well more a broom closet to store books and racist full-sized cutout of a Native American chief, with the large nose, feathers headdress and everything – and pulled out a stack of papers from the highest shelf.

Dragging down the dust with it.

“The sacred ground of the Santee Dakota,” Danny read out loud with a raised brow, the title not saying him anything.

“It’s the untold story of this town,” Andrew explained passionate, “the land we stand on – this place is built on old Sioux soil, a place that used to be a holy ground of sacrifice.”

“As in human sacrifice?” Danny asked with some unease and received a look from the other.

“Don’t be racist, a place of sacrifice doesn’t equal bloodshed and gory Hollywood scenes with bond beauties being cut open by evil natives jumping to drums. The Santee tribe of this place used to come here and sacrifice personal thing, things of meaning and experience magic power.”

That caught Danny’s attention, but he had to admit he was skeptical – what had all this to do with his case?

“What kinda magic?” Danny asked and had Andrew make a pause in his rant about the life of native Americans.

“The magic of health, healing and power in battle,” Andrew explained and placed the book in Danny’s hands, making him bend his knees unwillingly by the weight, “the power of pleasing Wakan Tanka; the great mystery, through sun dance and later ghost dance. It’s about trading with the spirits. By sacrificing your own pain, you could help your tribe to prosper.”

Danny was a bit bummed out by hearing that and once again had to remind himself that he shouldn’t get his hopes up like that. Of course, Andrew didn’t believe in magic or knew anything about the Codger.

Andrew was a normal person. He wasn’t cursed like Danny.

“And all this has something to do with Masters’ disappearance because…?” Danny dragged out to speed this disappointment up a bit and wanted nothing but to end this whole fiasco, in order to search answers somewhere else.

“Because,” Andrew dragged out likewise, but apparently not hearing Danny’s sarcastic tone, “it was Vlad Masters’ venture into the center of this sacred land, that unleashed the final hunt on the Santee tribe. He walked out to offer the local tribe a peaceful dividing of land, but never returned. The cavalry arrived after hearing about it and slaughtered most of the tribe and other tribes in the area. But like most genocides made by the US’s land greed, this was never official documented. I had to find it in Masters’ own journal, all the pages where he mentions the preparation for this venture is in my book and the new mayor notes about the incident after. It’s really fascinating.”

Danny’s hands grabbed a bit firmer around the uncovered book and he had to push his excitement down with a normal expression, “that’s quite the discovery, Masters’ own journal you said?”

“Oh yes,” Andrew continued, not catching on to the light tone of the internally scream inside Danny’s head, “I’m still looking for a publisher who will bring my book to the marked, but so far the local college press has turned me down – as soon as I’ve had some more feedback on the subject I’m thinking about taking it to a publisher out of town. I did the same thing with the papers I wrote in ghost writer style for the neighbor stat’s weekly newspaper, but this book is about this town, so maybe I should just try again?”

“I could read it and give you my opinion,” Danny offered, already stuffing the book in his backpack, “it’s really no trouble, it would probably only take me a week or something.”

Andrew blinked surprised as the book vanished from his sight faster than a single sunray in Amity. Danny was for a moment worried, that the guy would tell him no and ask for the book back – but Andrew did no such thing.

He simply lighted up with gratitude and thanked Danny more than the young man knew he deserved.

With an exchange of information, they parted, and Danny ventured back into the rain.

 

Ten years ago…

The sleep of the innocent and heartbroken was rudely disturbed by the swift touch of something scented with pines and Danny scrunched his nose in his sleep. Tried to brush of whatever was tickling his face.

The disturbance returned a second later and Danny opened his eyes reluctantly.

Two small, but dark eyes looked deep into his own and by the sight of the scar running across the left, had Danny’s shock change to that of surprise.

“Clockwork?” he whispered and sat up, making the large rave jump back a bit to keep his balance on the boy’s lap.

Valerie mumbled something in her sleep and Danny looked up from the air mattress he was sleeping on. Watched as she turned on her own bed and returned to deep sleep.

After he had poured his heart out to the girl in the tree house and she, in return, had let him in on her family secret, she had insisted om him going home with her – not liking the idea of Danny sleeping in a cursed house all alone.

Especially a cursed house that had spirited his entire family away.

Danny had been too emotionally wrecked to decline her offer and walked her home in the dark. Mr. Gray, widower and apparently the local head of police, hadn’t seemed to mind his daughter bringing home a stranger at such a late hour.

Rather the opposite.

Danny suspicion about Valerie being a lonely child, was proved right by the warmth her father was showing after Valerie presented Danny as her friend.

The man had planted him at the table and insisted on getting to know Danny in good spirit, something that had taken Danny a great deal by surprise.

Normally, his friend’s parents didn’t show any interest in him, especially if they knew he was a Fenton kid.

None of the teens mentioned that Danny family was missing, as they had talked on the way to her house and found it best not to mention it to Valerie’s father.

There was still a chance it wasn’t the curse that had taken his family and Dany would give it one more day before alerting the authority.

After dinner, Valerie’s father made an air mattress ready for Danny in Valerie’s room and wished them good night before returning to the station for late work.

Danny didn’t remember falling asleep, but the raven on his lap was prove that he had.

Clockwork looked from the sleeping Valerie to Danny and then jumped from his lap to the closed door. Tapping its beak on it. As if it wanted Danny to open it for it.

Danny stood up with some confusion. The raven had clearly got in here through the open window, so why did it want to get through the door now?

Clockwork jumped back for him to open the door and then jumped through and landed on the carpet in the dark hallway. Then turned back to him with awaiting eyes.

"You want me to follow?” he whispered, and the raven nodded.

Danny took one last look at Valerie, before he followed the raven through the house quietly as possible. He closed the front door as soundless as possible and left the Gray home with the raven on his shoulder.

The night air was cold enough to clear his head of any traces of tiredness and the long walk back to the Palace would have been a creepy experience, if it hadn’t been for the large bird on his shoulder.

Despite not being the most talkative creature in the real world, Clockwork’s presence was enough to make Danny feel in trusting company and the raven send him a protective glance, as they returned to the front yard of the Green Palace.

The raven left he’s shoulder as soon as Danny opened the door and he followed it into the place with some hesitation, “Mom? Dad?”

Danny looked down in surprise, as a large beak tugged the jeans of his left leg and watched how the raven began jumping in the direction of the hall. Turning its head as to see if he was following.

“What is it?” Danny asked, not sure if he really wanted to know and followed slowly, as the raven began jumping further down the hall.

For a split second, he was afraid the raven was leading him back to the little door, but then it passed the sliding doors and jumped further down the hallway, without any means of stopping for any of the doors.

The large mirror at the dead end of the hall turned up ahead and Danny was going to ask the raven why he had brought Danny down here, when he’s blue eyes caught something moving around in the mirror.

The reflection of pink flames danced in it, Danny’s own reflection nowhere to be seen. And then another reflection stepped up to the mirror.

“…mom?” Danny whispered in utter disbelieve, as the shadowy silhouette of his mother stared back at him through the mirror.

Danny turned around, thinking he would find her behind him, but only the dark empty hallway greeted him. No flames either to be found. Only in the mirror. He gawked as both his father and sister joined his frightened mother.

All of them calling out for him without a sound, all of them pale and scared in the sea of pink flames.

Danny’s first instinct was to reach through the mirror and he soon panic, as the hard surface stopped him from reaching them.

“But…how? How did you –?” he asked, neither of them being able to explain it to him, just trying to get out.

Jazz started breathed on the glass and Danny stepped back with shaking shoulders, as her finger spelled out HELP US on the mirror’s center.

She didn’t break eye contact with him, even as their parents began to hammer on the glass in fear, as their form began to vanish in the flames, like dew.

“NO WAIT!” Danny yelled and smashed his flat hands against the mirror as well, “wait – don’t leave me!”

Their lips moved without sound and he’s mother started crying, while his had moved on from hammering, to slamming his broad shoulder against the mirror.

Their reflection became fainter and fainter and Danny couldn’t help but cry out for them and give in to the hopelessness.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he cried and moved back to copy his father’s shoulder attempts, “I didn’t mean to replace you! I didn’t want this – not like this!”

Clockwork shrieked and flapped his dark wings in distress, as Danny’s attempts to break through had the mirror began to tear large cracks across the glass. The teen cried out, as the glass shattered, and a hundred pieces rained down on him.

Only the naked backside and a few large shards of glass remained of the giant old mirror on the wall.

The raven jumped back to the hunched over teen, avoiding the glass scattered on the floor and ended up beside him. Danny sobbed into his hands, the fear of what had become of his family filling him with dread. But mostly regret.

This was all his fault. He had been the one to wish them gone. The one who had opened the little door and unleash this horror.

To wish for another family.

“It’s all my fault,” Danny sobbed into his hands, his eyes wide and body shaking, “If I had let him take me…they wouldn’t still be here.”

Clockwork didn’t respond, but Danny hadn’t expected him to. The raven simply let him be in his sorrow and watched over him in silence, as the young boy worked his way through the loss of his family.

Back in the kitchen, Danny searched the cabins and found some crackers for the raven on the table. Clockwork took the offering gladly and Danny sat down to watch the large bird pick up the treat.

“They’re in there, aren’t they?” he asked quietly, and the raven stopped eating to look at him with a calm, if not un-bird-ly expression.

Danny nodded as if the raven had given him a reply, “he took them. The Codger wants me to choose to stay for their safety.”

The raven continued to watch him and nodded silently.

Danny felt a pressure behind his eyes and forced himself not to cry, “I have to go back there, don’t I?”

The raven didn’t nod, but Danny knew it was the only way. He had to go back there and face the other father.

He had to go back, he had to safe them.

 

“Shit”, Danny mumbled as he flipped through the book.

The atmosphere in the little greasy dinner hadn’t changed must, despite it being almost closing time and Danny sipped his cooling cup of coffee with some regret.

The lack of money for nourishment had forced him to be creative and when he had crossed a new street from his way back from the library and found a little dusty pawnshop, he had taken a chance.

Lucky for him, the owner hadn’t been difficult or asked much questions, and even though Danny knew his watch was worth more than a few soaked bucks, beggars couldn’t be choosers and he had parted with his 18th birthday gift from Jazz with money enough for another day.

But where money had stopped being short, his patience was only increasing the further into Andrew’s book he got.

So far, the book had been mostly about the life of the old Santee Dakota tribe of Amity and different sources of their history and existence around the village area.

Danny gave a series of archeologic finds a brief look over, before flipping again and sighed when the next page had even more pictures of some stone wall carved with old native American figures.

“I don’t care,” Danny sighed and flipped back to the index to try and find when Vlad’s journal began and jumped to that page.

As Andrew had mentioned, only bits of the journal were used in the book and only the parts that evolved around his mention of the Santee tribe.

Which wasn’t much.

Danny skimmed the cursive letters, hoping for something about magic or leads to how he died/transformed to a child eating monster, but the more he read, the more he came to realize, that Vlad wasn’t going to write something like that in an official journal meant for future generations to read.

All Vlad mentioned up to the final date of his disappearance, was how the town was prospering and how the pioneers had been forced to deal with the local natives, when the lumberjacks had come to close to yet a new holy tree.

Danny drowned the last of his cold coffee to help himself from falling asleep in boredom and tried not to get to bummed out by all the political talk.

Why did the fruitloop have to be so boring?

“Just die already or whatever,” Danny groaned quietly as he soon reached the last page of the journal before the next mayor took over…and stopped.

“Why go alone?” Danny whispered as he read Masters’ notes about going to meet the Santee tribe on his own, despite the rest of the town trying to change his mind and make him bring some strong-armed men with him.

Danny didn’t get it and read the last sentence over again, something about it making him furrow his brows.

'By the time of 17:00 today, my departure to the wild, in which I sought to encounter a civil peace treaty with the wild men and their current head of the tribe – the current decreased chief’s only still living son (Septimus septimus) – will hopefully, for the sake of my people and the American land expansion, become a success and reduce the attacks of the wild locals…'

Danny’s eyes sought down to Andrew's comments on the journal and pulled out his notepad to take notes.

‘Septimus Septimus’, as Masters’ call the chief’s son, is the Latin name of a “seventh son of a seventh son”. In western pagan folklore, such a child was believed to possess powers of healing or other magic powers. In a few mentions of American origins found in “Kendall's Travels through the Northern Parts of the United States, in the year 1807–1808”, a seventh son of a seventh son is here a child capable of telling what lies beneath the earth (in a mining context, as mining had become important at that time), while in Guaraní mythology from south America saw such a child as a Luison, Luisõ or Lobison – a curse in which the child has potential of becoming a werewolf/shapeshifter.

In Masters’ use of the term, I am more willing to conclude that he is actually referring to the birth circumstances of the chief’s only living son, as the new Mayor; Cambell’s journal mentions, how the Santee tribe accused the pioneers of having kidnapped the seventh born chief son after Masters’ disappearance. The conflict between the tribe and town ended with the cavalry’s arrival two week after and took down the last of the local Santee population. The report of the local authorities counted and paid for the scalps of twenty-five women, child and elderly men.'

Danny bit down of the head of the pen in thought, trying to sort out if this was important or not.

Andrew’s book continued to guess if there was a connection between the chief’s son and Masters’ own disappearance and tried to come up with some logical ideas.

Danny couldn’t help but believe that those two was connected somehow and stuffed the note back in his bag.

It would get a spot of his wall as soon as he reached the attic apartment and hopefully, it would make sense next to the rest of the notes on his wall.

He continued to read, as his phone suddenly buzzed, and he took without thinking, “hello?”

“DANNY, WHAT THE H!?

Danny winced as his sister’s voice pretty much punctured his ear drum and held the phone a bit away from his face, “Jazz? What’s wrong with you?”

That was apparently the wrong thing to ask and her voice reached a new octave, “what’s wrong with me!? What’s wrong with YOU!? How could you lie to me like that!?”

Danny swallowed. Oh no.

“Jazz, I I-um, it’s not like that,” he tried hopelessly, but she didn’t take it.

“I called Tucker and Sam – that’s right! I found their number on an old group chat you sent me a year ago and guess what, they said you weren’t with them in California! That you guys haven’t talked for weeks!”

Danny didn’t response, didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even get mad at her for digging that old group chat up and call them without his knowledge to ask about him.

The teen Danny would have thrown a fit…but adult Danny knew she was only trying to look out for him. Trying to have his back, even when he didn’t want her to.

Even when he hadn’t known he had needed it.

“I’m so sorry, Jazz,” Danny whispered quietly to his other sister, as he had removed the last pin from her face and tried to remove the new pink blood from her damaged cheeks.

“I’m sorry for lying to you.”

That seemed to have taken the angry air out of her and to be fair – this was probably the first time he had told those words to his own sister.

“I…” she lost words and they sat in silence for a second, before her voice reached him again, this time more caring, ““just…talk to me, Danny. What happened?”

I happened, Danny thought without a sound and closed his eyes. Couldn’t keep out the memories anymore. Couldn’t help himself from remember and return to the day that seemed so long ago and still not far enough for him to heal completely.

Yes…they hadn’t talked in weeks. It was a long story…

They had been a bit younger, all of them back again after Danny had finally settled after his parent’s rejection. Sam had helped him with money and Tucker had been there as moral support and keep them together even through college.

They had all decided to get together in the same apartment even after him and Sam had become an item. In many ways, it had been just like in high school when they had been friends for life, the only change, was the fact that they all lived together now.

Most people would think three was a crowd, but not them…at least not to begin with.

A lot of things had change since high school and just as Danny had come out to them about him being bi, Sam had started drinking more openly and Tucker hadn’t tried to hide he was relaxing with pot.

None of it had been a problem, if it hadn’t been for Danny.

Danny and his stupid feeling.

He had known Tucker far longer than Sam and even though he loved Sam…there was something between him and Tucker, that Danny had never had the guts to get to the bottom of.

After Danny had come clean with his attraction to both men and women, Tucker hadn’t exactly treated him differently or anything – but he had become more intrusive. At least in Danny head.

It was the little things and Danny couldn’t help having or developing the feelings he had. He just loved them both so much.

They had been there for him always and just as his relationship with Sam felt like a friendship, the same way he felt for Tucker…Danny had begun to fantasize about staying with them like this for the rest of his life.

But of course, how to tell them he wanted to be with them both? Danny wasn’t even sure if Tucker really was implying anything or if Sam liked Tucker like that.

Danny had ended up going around with his bottled-up feelings for a time, trying to drown it all in his studies and keeps things to himself – when the day suddenly came without a warning.

They had all been drunk and maybe a bit high, all celebrating surviving their last midterm exam, when Sam had joked about a threesome and Danny had been stupid enough to say yes.

The morning after had been the worst in Danny’s memory. Even Vlad’s terrors or his parent’s rejection hadn’t hurt like this.

Tucker and Sam had sobered up and turned shameful. Full of regret and with no one but themselves to blame, they seem to have unanimously found him to be the one to have planned it all.

“This is too weird for me, man…maybe we should just stop here, you know?” Tucker said quietly, tugged the blanket around himself closer, like he was some rape victim and watched Danny with unreadable eyes, “it’s like, I respect that you might have some preferences, but… could you maybe respect mine?”

“But,” Danny responded hurtful, “it was you guys idea, I thought –”

Sam pushed him away from Tucker with mascara ruining down her angry face, “Danny, stop it, how could you do this to us and take advantage of us like that? You’ve fucking ruin everything – why can’t you just make a choice and get it over with!? Why would you do this to me!? What is wrong with you!?”

What was wrong with him? Danny had been asking himself that a lot. In the end, they had decided never to talk about it again and then they had decided never to talk to him again. Brush it all under the carpet like dirt. Their dirty secret.

He had received a message in class, in which Sam explained how both she and Tucker would be out on a road trip – time enough for him to pack his thing and move out.

Danny had been crushed. Hurt by just how easy they had seemed to send him out of their lives and dismiss the many years of trust and friendship they shared. Then the anger had out flushed the self-hatred.

Something that had led him to isolate himself in a dark empty apartment.

But then Valerie had called him.

And he had known it was time to return.

“I guess,” Danny responded slowly, trying his best to put it as simple as possible, “that we just weren’t as good friends as I thought we were.”

“Oh, Danny,” she whispered, clearly hurt on his behalf and he praised himself lucky that older sister wasn’t the one to take pity on people, “where are you now? Still in Wisconsin?”

“No, I’m…well, I’ve moved to the University’s dorm and out of the apartment,” Danny replied, already cooking up a new lie that would keep his sister at bay and possible safety, “I just need some time to settle down and be alone. It wasn’t my intention to lie to you, I just…I just needed some time to think, I guess.”

“Understandable,” she said and had Danny relax again, “so I suppose the only thing you didn’t made up, was your mysterious guy?”

Danny was going to give her right, but in lack of a better lie, he just went with it, “no he’s real and annoying. He’s my new roommate at the dorm, I can’t stand him.”

“Is it that bad? I remember you told me he was a bit older, but surely the two of you could get along if you worked out your differences. Tell me about him – what’s his name?”

“Vlad,” Danny just said, no use coming up with a new name for him, now that he was part of Danny’s new making-it-up-as-I-go story and really, it wasn’t like she had ever met – or would ever meet the Codger and see through his bullshit, “yeah, he’s a bit older than me and all that. He thinks he’s so much better than everyone, just because he’s rich and has a lot of experience or something. He keeps calling me ‘little badger’, so I call him ‘fruitloop’ to even it out.”

That made her smile into the phone, “sounds like you’re having a tough time, little brother. Is he a litter-bug and drags home girls in the middle of the night to?”

Danny couldn’t for his life imagine Vlad being anything like that, if anything Vlad was almost the exact opposite – but how to explain to his sister just how awful Vlad was, without mentioning the whole monster thing?

Not to mention the guy hadn’t been a human since the 1800 hundred and preferred child souls with his merlot.

Should he even tell her about Vlad? Danny knew she couldn’t possibly get the guy’s number or find out about him, as Vlad couldn’t be traced over the internet or any phone.

Other than Danny, only few people had ever heard or met him and survived, so maybe there wouldn’t be any harm in taking about him with his sister? To be fair, Danny could need a listening ear to all the frustration he was carrying around.

“No, not really,” Danny began slowly, “he’s more of the super tidy kinda guy – and I mean real tidy. His part of the room looks like some antique shop and he’s closet has nothing but pressed tailored suits and three-pieces in it. He’s so creepy I don’t even know how to describe it. He talks like he’s trying to sell me something and keeps telling me what to do. He even insists on cooking for me, probably because he thinks I can’t take care of myself or even spend money right. He’s such a stalker and tries his best to get into my head!”

“Like when he made you talk about mom and dad?” she offered, and Danny ignored the fact that he could hear her pen write on a notepad.

“Yeah, he keeps asking into my personal life and stuff like that – it’s so annoying and every time I think I have him figured out, he does the exact opposite of what I think he’ll do. It’s so frustrating, it’s all just one big game to him. That and I can’t find Clockwork or the little –”

“Clockwork?” she asked confused and Danny could have bit his own tongue of.

“That’s uhmm,” he tried to stall, while his brain worked to find a logical answer, “my watch…the one you gave me for my 18th birthday. I just call it my clockwork, because…that’s just the slang at the college?”

She didn’t say anything for a few seconds, but then continued even more puzzled, “he took your watch?”

“Well, actually, I’m not sure if he has it or it has just… I don’t know…”

“’Cause that’s a pretty harsh assumption to make about a guy that pays you that much attention,” she schooled him and had Danny utterly lost, before she continued in a musing tone, “is he hot?”

“What!?” Danny gawked and couldn’t believe his sister was asking him such a profane question, “didn’t you get what I just said? He’s stalking me, he’s creepy!”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she singsonged, “and he’s older? Experienced and takes care of you? Sounds like quite the catch if you ask me.”

“You’re dead to me,” he whispered and had her laughing.

“Sorry, I’m just messing with you – but he does sound like he has an interest in you, maybe you’re just misjudging him?”

“Not for a minute,” Danny responded with a cold voice, but soon thawed, “you’ll knew what I was talking about if you ever met him. I just want him out of my life really.”

“Well, I would love to come visit you and see him for myself, but taken that you need some time to yourself, I’ll just wait for you to come see me instead.”

That had him smile a bit, “thanks, Jazz.”

“No problem and try behave, even if you don’t like Vlad. He still sounds like a nice guy in my ears. Give it a try and if you ever feel like three is better than two – give me a call, okay?”

“Well if anyone can change my mind, it’s you,” he admitted, but knew deep in his heart that he could never ask her to come back to Amity Park.

She ended the call with some last admonitions and for the first time in a long run, Danny actually felt like everything could work out and go his way.

“Don’t you know it wrong to lie to your sister?”

Danny didn’t even bother to look up and almost groaned for a solid minute, “Walker.”

The policeman smirked and took a seat opposite of Danny, much to his annoyance, “isn’t it time to act honestly with someone, kid?”

“Haven’t the academy taught you not to pry on other’s private conversations?” Danny drawled with a scowl, “rude much?”

Walker ignored him and turned Andrew’s book around with a gloved finger for himself to see, “making research on the old Indians, Danny?”

“None of ya business,” Danny responded coldly and stole the book back to hide in his back, “and the right term is Native American by the way.”

The man ignored him, “you see, I have made my own little research –”

“Don’t care.”

“ – the old records of the station’s call transcripts tell me a certain boy once called the station late at night. Claiming his family had went missing. Just as that poor little girl who disappeared a few weeks ago –”

“Your point is?” Danny interrupted without any intention of keeping up manners with this guy, “why should that be anything special? A bet a lot of people have made late night calls to the station about stupid stuff and I don’t see any of them being stalked by a nosy cop. Anyway, it was just a prank call. My family never vanished.”

Walker dropped the last of his forced patience, as he slammed a fist on the plastic table – making more than one diner patron look up in shock.

“What makes you so special?” Walker scowled through gritted teeth, “why is it that you have been the only child since the damn place was reopened, to have lived through childhood?”

Danny didn’t like where this was heading and grabbed his backpack as discreet as possible, ready to bail any second, “unless you arrest me and make an actual case this time, I have nothing to say to you.”

“You know something, don’t you?” Walker insisted and poked the table with a finger, “something in that house made you make that call. Made you and your family move again barely after a month of moving in – something happened and made your parents give up that place. Something you’re afraid to tell, something that has scared you ever since.”

Danny rose without meeting his steel eyes, “I’m leaving, don’t follow me or I’ll call Mr. Gray.”

“Wait,” Walker insisted and rose as well, now smiling – something that looked painful for him, “I could help you, with your knowledge and my resources, we could solve this case and put an end to the child abductions. You want to help that little girl, now don’t you?”

“I’m just a college student, visiting my child home for the summer,” Danny replied flatly and had Walker take up his signature scowl again.

“Fine,” the man said and acted like it was no big deal, “but at least take my card. You can call me when you get tired of playing on your own and want the exclusive police rapport I’ve got my hands on. By the look of that book, I guess you’ll find it pretty interesting.”

Danny was indeed interested, but having outsmarted a luring monster as a child, made you more than immune to a desperate man’s honey, as a fully-grown adult.

He took the card without reading any of it and turned to leave the man and his puny bargain strategies.

“See you around, Walker,” Danny dismissed, as he left a tip on the table and walked out into the evening rain.

Chapter Text

Ten years ago…

Willingly going back to the other world, was probably the bravest – but also the stupidest thing Danny Fenton had ever sat himself up to.

Danny had never really taken an interest in his parent’s profession and passion – but with a mother, who forces you to train karate and a father, who’s mouth never stood still with babbling about hunting spooks, Danny had a pretty solid idea of not to go naked into battle.

His hastily filled a backpack with all the equipment he was going to bring with him; rope, small first-aid kit, the black and white hazmat suit he had never worn but was giving when he turned fourteen and his mother’s ecto-staff.

Danny had never used a staff before, but his parents had taught both him and his sister how to use firearms (some parent taught their kids how to ride a bike, his parents had their own ideas – lucky for him) and since this was for his family’s survival and this really wasn’t the time to ask for permission, Danny broke the first rule of the house and took one of the charged ecto-guns from his parents work bench.

And just for precaution sake and to cover up all possibilities, Danny dipped his pocketknife blade into one of the containers with green ectoplasm labeled ‘lethal weapon use only’.

Clockwork watched him with patience from the door to Danny’s room, as the teen changed into the suit and packed for the return to the other world. Danny believed himself to be ready and set to leave but was then stopped by the raven.

“What?” Danny asked confused and watched the bird fly over to his nightstand.

Clockwork picked up something small and jumped over to dump it into Danny’s palm.

It was the white mineral Mr. Bertrand and Spectra had given him. Danny looked through the hole in the middle and turned it in the light of the lamp.

“Show what is hidden and lost, huh?” Danny wondered out loud and took both theirs and the raven’s word for it.

An old shoelace secured the stone around his neck and as he hid it under his collar, he stuffed the key to the little door into his suit pocket. With the backpack on his back, weapons by is hip and mind set on success, he was finally ready.

The raven jumped onto Danny’s shoulder as they took the stairs down and Danny felt a bit odd as he walked down in his getup and a raven on his shoulder.

If anyone saw him, they would probably think he was dressed up as a future wizard warrior or something. An alarming sound coming from the study made Danny freeze instantly and both he and the raven shared a glance.

That had sounded like an electronic warning signal.

Danny seriously hoped that something hadn’t gone unstable without his parent’s supervision and went in there to take took a look around.

The smart thing would be to make sure something didn’t blow up the Green Palace, while he was caught in the other world.

His father’s large machines, projects and tubes of unknown green fluids filled most of the place and Danny went around the large wooden dining table to try and locate the source of the warning noise.

The sound led Danny to the table in the center and he recognized the device instantly. It was the Fenton Team-Tracker. The gadget disguised as a tiepin his father had been so proud about.

The tiepin was nowhere to be found, but the blinking remote was still here.

Danny picked it up with some care and stared at the little gadget’s display with some hope. His father had said it could keep a team split between the human and ghost world in contact.

Like an emergency beacon between two worlds.

“Please work,” Danny muttered and tapped the screen, “please tell me put on the pin.”

A green screen lighted up and the words; “Fenton 1, located”“ blinked insistently.

Danny lifted the small gadget in front of him and began following the line to the little red dot on the screen representing his father’s position. He soon came to a halt and lifted his gaze.

The little door.

Clockwork flew of his shoulder and jumped to the door. Sending Danny an encouragingly look. Danny stuffed his hand into the suit pocket and pulled out the key with the red jewelry.

The light emitting from the gemstone almost staring into his soul like the eyes of the other father.

“Ready to face me?“ It almost seemed to mock him, and Danny gritted his teeth.

The key turned in the lock with a loud screech and both teen and raven stared into its dusty, cobweb filled internal, with hostility before finally beginning the way back to the other world.

 

Danny stopped in front of the little door and pulled out the ecto-gun from the hiding place, that was the hem of his jeans.

Charging the gun, the green ecto-plasma filling the tube on top of the barrel, injecting the fluid into its slot and the wheezing sound made him know the gun was ready to fire.

It was strange really, before Vlad…Danny had never really believed in ghosts. Paranormal believes, studies of the unknown and ghost hunting – that was all something he had rejected in life as part of the world view his parents stood for.

Danny never wanted to take up his parent’s profession, never wanted to be a ghost hunter himself. He had wanted to be an astronaut.

His parents hadn’t cared.

He had wanted their recognition and love.

His parents had thrown him out of their lives.

Until a few weeks before, Danny had believed his own and the Fenton’s lives to be separated till his death – but here he was, hunting a ghost and using one of their stolen guns.

After getting the call from Valerie and Danny began preparing for him return to Amity, he had been more than aware, that he couldn’t possible fight Vlad without an ecto-gun.

The invention had no use on humans, but as Danny had discovered back when he had fought the other father…Vlad wasn’t a human.

Even though he wasn’t sure if Vlad was really a ghost or not, he had experienced that ecto-fueled weapons was more than capable of hurting him.

He had been left with no other choice than to bring one, now that he planned to take the monster down – or die trying.

Would they find out? He doubted it.

His parents were just obvious that way. When they had kicked him out, they hadn’t even been right enough in their heads to take the house key from him. Danny had just stored it away, not knowing what to do with it – until now.

The gun had been one of their priced weapons, all polished and placed on display in the living room of all things.

They would probably not suspect him of stealing it, or any of the other stuff – neither he or Jazz had ever taken an interest in ghost hunting, so why blame the kids, who never wanted any of it?

For all he knew, the gun had never even been in any real battle. In reality the gadgets and weapon his parents had produced over the years were nothing better than trinkets in the lab, than actually used.

The closest his parents had ever been to actual see a ghost, was in this very house. And did they even remember? Of course not.

The Codger hadn’t wanted that kinda attention after his fall.

But for some reason he wanted Danny’s.

The little door lighted up with magical light and Danny bowed down to see it open wide for him. He returned the ecto-gun to its hiding spot in the hem of his jeans and began to crawl through.

 

Ten years ago…

Danny peaked out, afraid to already be face to face with the Codger, but all he found was a dark room.

No other father in sight.

Clockwork jumped out after him and nipped the feathers of his wings like a person adjusted a wrinkled shirt, “seems like you will have to come to him.”

Danny didn’t reply and stood up to walk up to living room’s sliding doors. Clockwork followed him out the doors, after Danny had secured no one was hiding in the corridor and the bird jumped on top of Danny’s shoulder.

Kept scouting as the adolescent continued to sneak down the corridor of the apartment.

As no one stopped them or did anything to lead Danny astray, the teen soon reached the front door and had the raven set of his shoulder to fly ahead, as Danny began running as fast as he could.

Danny continued to run, till he was sure he had left the Green Palace behind and returned to a walking speed, before pulling out the Fenton Team-Tracker with a relieved sigh.

“And what, if I may ask, are you up to now?” Clockwork asked intrigued as he returned to rest on Danny’s shoulder.

“I’m going to find my family,” Danny answered, as he kept his attention on the gadget and followed the line to the red dot that would lead him to his father, “and when I find them, I’ll bring them back and have them help me save those ghost children. They’re ghost hunter, sure they know what to do.”

“I am afraid it is not that simple, Danny,” Clockwork insisted calmly and had Danny look up with a scowl.

“Shhh,” Danny just said and kept his eyes on the goal.

The shade of the trees soon falling over him. The raven sighed deeply.

“Child. It won’t work.”

Danny was going to tell the bird a thing or two, when the land around him suddenly had him blink in confusion, “hey – what’s up with this place?”

The woods around Danny was far from what he remembered from his own world – something that confused him a great deal.

He knew this world was magical transformed to look better than home…but then why was all the trees looking as if they were melting?

Danny reached a hand to the nearest tree and made a sound of disgust when his hand met a jam like consistence and not the hard tree bark, he had expected. Threads of pink goo hung from the tree to his hand and Danny hurried to brush it off.

The teen continued to watch as the world around him became more and more gooey.

It soon dwelled on him that the further away from the Green Palace he walked, the less solid everything became, and he tried his best not to get near the sloppy forms, that had once been trees and bushes.

The strange slime dripping everywhere made Danny feel queasy, as it reminded him of the same pink material he had seen run from the other Jazz and mother’s wounds.

The sweet smell that reminded him of the fluids his parents called ectoplasm.

The joke of a forest soon ceased, and Danny watched with growing concern, how darkness began to fill the world.

It was as if Danny was caught in some giant backdrop, where dark vastness was the foundation – and had it not been for the Team-Trackers promise of finding his family, Danny would have turned back by now.

“What the?” Danny whispered, more and more confused, as the dark was slowly refilled with the gooey vegetation again and the further he walked, the more substance the world seemed to get, until the world was back to normal and he was back where he had started.

The driveway to the Green Palace.

“But,” Danny whispered, deeply puzzled and came to a halt, “how can you walk away from something and then come towards it?”

Clockwork flew off his shoulder, landed on the giant log in the drive through to level with Danny and shook his dark head, “as I said, it is not that simple. Just look at your machine.”

Danny lowered his gaze and found that the line to his father still pointed ahead – leading him straight back to the Green Palace.

Clockwork just nodded at Danny’s crestfallen expression, “it’s a neat thing, but of no purpose as of now. The Codger won’t just allow you to walk in here and find your family. They will continue to stay hidden and out of sight, till he wished for them to be found – or you get close enough to trick him into revealing them. As long as they are part of his realm, they will be under his rules and not yours.”

“But then…what do I do?” Danny asked as he stuffed the gadget back into his pocket and crossed his arms in surrender.

“You will have to trick him into thinking you are here for his benefit, that he is going to win, even if he gives you a chance,” Clockwork explained and turned to watch the mansion, “propose a game. He won’t be able to say no to a challenge, he is all too competitive. Full of himself if you want. He just loves a challenge.”

“A game, huh?” Danny repeated and scratched his neck, unsure and a bit scared, “I’ll try.”

That had the raven smile and Clockwork turned back to him, “I know you will, you are a good boy, Danny. It is the goodness and innocence of your heart that will help you break this curse, just as it was the same thing that led the Codger to hunger for you.”

“But what does he want from me?” Danny asked confused and the raven sent him a glance.

“He wants a child, of course, something that isn’t him – or maybe he just wants to eat you,” Clockwork chuckled and made Danny frown, “how do you taste?”

Danny frowned by that and the raven sent him one last grin, before flying off. Danny watched after the raven, wished that the bird could have stayed a bit longer, but knew that he had to do this on his own.

If the other father saw him with the raven, he would know something was up.

The adolescent took one large intake of air and released it slowly, building up his courage, “c’mon Fenton, don’t be a coward. Do it for them.”

With that attitude and his ecto-weapons strapped tightly to his hips, Danny walked up to the front door of the Green Palace and finally walked in.

The immediate sound of a masculine humming made Danny’s stomach turn, but he kept walking towards it and found himself getting close to the kitchen.

The smell of bacon, egg and freshly pressed orange juice, did nothing to lighten the nauseating feeling in his stomach, but Danny knew he had to take this head one if he wanted to go home and went in.

“Welcome back, Daniel,” the other father greeted from the stove with a smile, filled with fangs and shining red eyes, “take a seat, breakfast will be served shortly.”

Danny had prepared a brave speech but being face to face again with the other father in such a strange setting, had his tongue dry out.

Danny just stood there in the middle of the kitchen, watching with concern, as the other father just continued to cook his breakfast.

The monster’s form hadn’t change, he was still tall and slender like a ghoul. His tall skinny form dressed formally in a crisp suit and the white hair held back in a neat ponytail. Even the shoes were polished.

“Go on,” the Codger insisted overly friendly and nodded in the direction of the kitchen table, “don’t be rude, little badger.”

That had Danny’s anger return, but he did as he was told and took a seat at the table, where a plate and utensils had been placed already.

Tried to find the right way to get his way, while watching the strange creature work like some stay-at-home dad. Like this was just a normal evening, something completely random – and not a hostage situation.

The unnaturally artificially of it all had the teen on edge. This was the perfect chance for him to lure the other father into a scheme, like Clockwork had advised, but Danny couldn’t stand it.

How could that monster just pretend like nothing had happened? Was he really that obvious to the horror he represented and just how twisted this whole situation was?

“Are they alive?” Danny asked, not knowing he had asked the question, till it had left his mouth and broken the silence.

The Codger stayed with his back to him and continued cooking, like Danny’s words hadn’t been of more emotional content, than wanting to know how the weather was.

“Of course,” the other father replied lightly with that smooth suave voice of his, “they’re far too old for my taste and to be frank, my boy – what kind of father would I be to settle with some puny humans over you?”

“You’re no father,” Danny scowled, “fathers don’t leave their children to die in a mirror.”

The other father turned his head a bit, smiled secretive, "mirrors are never to be trusted. That one used to be inside a wardrobe."

“Where are they?” Danny pressed on and the Codger flipped the omelet like this was just a civil conversation.

“Maybe I know, maybe I don’t – maybe they forgot all about you and went to the next haunted house, while your sister got a scholarship to some wonderchild college.”

“They’re not like that, even if you want me to believe it,” Danny answered through clenched teeth and had the other smile.

“It will be better for both of us, if you didn’t misbehave like this, Daniel,” the other father continued while cooking, “you see, nothing has changed. You will go home. You will be bored. You will be ignored. No one will listen to you, really listen to you. You are too clever and too quiet for them to understand. But I do. I always will.

Danny had a biting remark ready on his tongue, but then shook his head.

"Don’t get carried away, Fenton," he whispered to himself and put up a more nonchalant front, “say, how come you don’t have a key?”

“Only one key,” the Codger answered careless, before freezing like that was prohibit knowledge and acted like he hadn’t just said to much, “I don’t need one, this is my world remember?”

The monster chuckled and Danny stared down into his plate, having the feeling the monster was lying. If Danny could find his family and get them through the little door…maybe, he could lock the Codger out with the key?

Danny swallowed, remembered he first had to trick the Codger with a game. His only chance was to turn the other father’s mood and take advantage of it – even if it was against everything he felt.

“You will have to trick him into thinking you are here for his benefit, that he is going to win, even if he gives you a chance…

“Hey,” Danny addressed the monster and watched the other’s back for clues of his thoughts, “how would you like to – let’s say...play a game?”

The other father froze again.

Danny widened his eyes, but the moment was so subtle, that if he hadn’t been watching the other father like a hawk, he might had missed it, as the monster recovered a second after, as if nothing had happened and just hummed, “a game?”

“Yeah, you like games, don’t you?” Danny continued, “a challenge, maybe?”

“Oh, I so do like a challenge,” the other father replied and turned with the hot pan to serve the egg and bacon on the plate in front of Danny, before leaning in to whisper in the teen’s ear, “and I so do like to be the challenger.”

Danny tried to suppress the shiver that ran down his spine and act like nothing, “when how about you and I play a little game? If I can find all the ghost children’s knives, you’ll give me my family back.”

The other father stared at him for a second, before a cunning smirk spread across his face, “and if I win?”

Danny felt cold sweat run down his back, but held up the brave face nevertheless, “then you get to cut my throat with your silver knife. I will be your son and stay with you…forever.”

The red eyes shone with delight and the monster chuckled, “now how could I possible say no to that? But let’s keep it interesting, hmm? You will have to find all the knives before the moon vanish. That’s only fair, won’t you agree?”

Danny didn’t, but saw his point and played along, “then you have to give me a clue.”

“Alright,” the other father replied and walked behind Danny to cover his eyes, “in each of three wonders I've made just for you, a ghost's knife is lost, hidden and unseen, in plain sight.”

Danny was relieved when the other father released him a second after, but then gasped, as he found the other father holding the key with a smirk, “hey! Give it back!”

The Codger easily lifted the key over Danny’s head and tsked teasingly at the adolescent, “now, now, don’t be such a spoil sport, Daniel. I will keep on to this for the sake of this little game. Can’t have you get cold feet and suddenly leave, now can we?”

Danny scowled and then stared wit raised brows and open mouth, as the Codger was extra enough to swallow the entire key right in front of him. Danny had no words and forced himself to stay calm.

“Oooookay…and my family?”

The Codger just smirked and crossed his arms. Apparently, the freebees had reached their limit.

“Fine,” Danny scowled and pushed his plate away to think, “so when do –”

Danny stopped taking, realized he was alone. The other father had left without a sound and Danny looked out through the window, to find that the game had started. An eclipse was slowly shadowing the moon.

“Wonders…” Danny mumbled, “what did he mean by wonders?”

He returned his eyes to the moon; painfully aware he was wasting precious time. But then the sound of happy tunes caught his ear.

As a trained gamer with more than a couple of videogames finishes with a high score in his past, Danny could recognize the sound a pixilated game anywhere. That sound could only come from one place.

Other Jazz’s room.

Danny swallowed loudly. Last time he had seen his other sister, she had been…. falling apart. Literally.

The pink substance that seemed to make up the Codger’s world, was flowing in her body as well as everything else and the sweet-smelling substance had been falling apart beneath her skin. Danny had thought her gone…but now that sound…

“Other Jazz?” he asked hesitantly, as he walked to the room.

Walked up the dark stairs with some hesitation and feeling of forebodes. He reached the top of the stairs with timed steps and looked to his other sister’s door.

The sight that awaited him, made him jump back with a cry and almost fall back down the stairs.

A corps was hanging on the door to his sister’s room – and not just any corps, but the lifeless and flat body of his other mother. Danny covered his mouth out of shock and the need to vomit.

Like a plastic bag, the body had been punctured and the residues of the pink slime, that made up this other world as well as the other family, was still dripping from all the slash wounds.

Leaving only the skin and soaked cloths to remind him this had once been the other Maddie Fenton.

The empty sockets, where red lights once had seen was now empty and the office stapler holding the thing that had once been a better copy of his mother to the door, didn’t even stir, as he moved to it to check for a plus.

His hands shaking and his breath withheld. He had no idea what to do, but he had to make sure if she was still somewhat alive.

Maybe he could still save her…

Danny gasped, as the corps fell to the floor by his touch and splattered all over the place. Leaving only the soaked housewife dress intact in the puddle.

The shock had Danny forget how to breath, but the hopelessness soon turned to anger, and Danny turned back to the direction of the kitchen, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“YOU FUCKING MONSTER! I’M NOT SCARED!!!”

The door to his older sister’s room, creaked open by that and Danny shivered – he was definitely scared.

A shifting light of red, blue and yellow streamed out from the corners of the door and Danny snuck a glanced through the narrow crack.

Apart from the ceiling light blinking and showering the room in party light and the arcade machines along the walls flashing their games, there was no sight of his other sister.

Moving closer, Danny found that the only sound was coming from the many pixel figures and avatars from the screens.

Cute or macho robot voices calling out their slogans and blinked with their color schemes to get potential players to take a chance on them.

“Jazz?” Danny repeated and opened the door wider to take a large step over the other mother puddle and get inside.

The big screen at the end wall of the room came to life and showed him the start display of “Doom“. The words telling him to join as first player, the second player already taken.

Danny eyed the consoles lying on the gamer chairs – no second player was in sight to have accepted that position or controllers.

“Jazz?” Danny asked and froze as the door slammed shut behind him.

““I’M sOrRy,”“ a twisted voice droned, and Danny turned back to the screen, as he recognized the sound of his older sister – although her voices was changed in an artificial computer manner.

The screens glitched and a head appeared on the TV, the horrible stitched and stapled face of his other sister moaned at him in what could only be unbearable pain.

Her red eyes blinking out of pace and the crocked stitched jaws opened and closed with pink goo oozing between her broken teeth and making the stitches stretch to the brim with slime running down her face.

““FoRgIvE mE, lItTlE bRoThEr,”“ she groaned, and Danny widened his eyes, as red veins spread across the room and infected all the electronics.

Wires of every type and console, slashed out after the teen and Danny jumped for his life, as he pulled out the ecto-staff to fend of the wires trying to restrain his limbs.

The monster version of his other sister kept apologizing, as more wires broke out of the walls and tore the machines up like plastic bags to get in on the chase.

Danny cried out when one of the wires tripped him and another snatched the staff from the spot he had dropped it. Breaking it to pieces.

““ThE kNiFe!”“ the screen screamed while Danny tried to break free of the wire around his ankle and yelped, as he was lifted up in the air.

The motion almost made him lose the stone around his neck and he grabbed the string, before it could fall to the ground.

A glimpse of something odd gave him the insane idea to look through the hole in the stone and the sight almost made him forget how to breath.

The blinking lights and strong colors of the world had been erased, only a dark world of shapes and shadows remained. Danny kept staring through the stone, confused by the sight and then gasped.

A shiny light in the shape of a knife shone from the opposite side of the room and when he removed the stone form his eyes, he came to understand what it meant.

The ghost knife was in the game slot of the x-box beneath the tv.

““TaKe It!”“ she screamed, as they whole screen glitzed again and Danny’s eyes caught the word ““self-destruction”“ writing in warning red, before the entire tv shut down.

The wires stopped moving immediately and Danny cried out, as he was released to fall down head first and landed on his back.

A ton of dead wires landed on top of him and Danny pushed them out of his face with a pained groan and glanced up at the dark Tv. His pulse just rose back to a threatening rate, when the words ““power back up in 5 seconds”“ lighted up.

The countdown was already at ““4”“ and one of the wires began twitching again. Danny hurried to get up and fought to get out of the tangled wires and down to the x-box, while more and more wires began to move and slowly regained function.

““3”.

His broken staff was nowhere to be seen and Danny pulled out his ecto-gun instead. Shot a green ecto-blast at the nearest wire, before it could attempt to trip him.

““2”.

He finally grabbed the x-box and hit the eject-button to get the ghost knife. Gritted his teeth at his sudden case of butterfingers and shaking hands.

““1”.

“Work your stupid piece of garbage!” he cried and hammered the x-box into the corner of the table, making broken plastic shards and metal parts crack like an egg.

““0”.

The Tv blinked and Danny shot the inner electronics of the x-box in panic, as every single wire rose to get him.

The puny leftovers of the gaming devise were shattered in a couple of smoking parts and the other mother’s apple peeling knife flew out and rolled across the floor.

The wires changed direction to get to it, instead of Danny, but the teen had seen that coming and ran to glide across the polished floor.

He shot at the wires with the best precision he could muster while in a sliding movement and finally locked his gloved fingers around the smooth cold steel.

He covered his face, expecting wires to try and slash him again, but instead, he was showered in a wave of warm slime. Danny opened his blue eyes to find himself in a dark room, covered in the pink goo.

“Ewww,” he groaned and rose on shaking legs.

Looking around, he found that everything had been turned to a waste dark nothingness and he sent a glance to the place the tv had been.

They had tried to save him. Both of them. Jazz had gone as far as to fight back the Codger, even if it meant killing herself.

Danny swallowed a lump and staggered out into the hallway again.

Behind him, the door slammed shut and turned back. He doubted he could ever open it again. Danny hurried back the stairs and stopped.

One of the grand windows showed him the moon, a third part of it now covered by the eclipse and he knew he couldn’t remain here. He had to find the rest of the ghost knives, if he wanted the real Maddie and Jazz Fenton back.

““Thank you,”“ a little girly voice whispered, and Danny looked down at the peeling knife.

Recognizing the fleeting reflection of a face belonging to the little ghost girl with the pigtails and crocket teeth, ““please be swift, or the curse will win.”

“I will,” Danny promised, now understanding what the riddle had been all about.

Wonders.

Other Jazz’s gaming room.

The theater of Bertrand and Spectra.

The circus of Freakshow.

The gifts that had made him blind to the horrors of this place and cast the real world aside.

And now it was time to pay the price of such wishes…

 

Danny opened the little door an inch and peaked out without a sound.

The living room of the other world was laid in a soft darkness and he took a second to listen, before crawling out.

The hexagon shaped living room greeted him with no warmth, despite the pink flames in the fireplace and the lid candles scattered around the room.

Danny sent them a confused look, but soon paid them no mind, as he moved through the room with silent steps.

The hopes of finding Clockwork was beginning to seem like an impossible task in Danny’s mind and with the deadline soon coming up, he decided to go with plan B – finding the ghost knife of the Thornwood girl.

He stopped by the sliding doors, turned so that he had the doors against his back and looked out into the room, before pulling out the stone around his neck.

As he looked through it, he found nothing but darkness and moving around the room made no difference.

The ghost knife wasn’t in the living room.

Danny crossed the room of in his mental check list and hid the stone back behind his collar, before moving out to investigate the kitchen.

With no other father lurking in the corridor and no funny sounds coming from the kitchen, Danny snuck inside and closed the door silently behind him. Took in the sight of the quiet kitchen and pulled out his stone.

Again, the sight through the hole was nothing but dark shadows and forms without any light hiding among it. Danny frown deepened as he moved to the dining room.

The lack of Vlad’s person made Danny wary, but if the Codger was nowhere in sight, there wasn’t much Danny could do about it.

All he could do was take advantage of it and try locating the knife before Vlad made his dramatic entrance and did his best to whisk Danny away to some horrible conversation leading nowhere.

The young man shook his head and entered the study, to take a look around through his stone. He had some idea that Vlad would hide the girl’s soul somewhere in the apartment – close, yet well hidden away and cleverly placed out of sight.

The stone gave Danny a great advantage, but so far all he had found was nothing. A big dark nothing.

“Fucking nothing,” he muttered when neither the study, grand bedroom, bathroom, his room, the master bedroom, Jazz’s room, nor the hallway showed him any sign of either ghost girl, or her soul concentrated in a silver knife.

Walking through the house without Vlad’s constant bugging presence, felt strangely…. wrong.

Danny had stopped sneaking around after half an hour of searching for the ghost knife of the Thornwood girl and just searched the place in his own pace.

Even though the décor and appearance of the mansion was unfamiliar to him, he had no problem finding his way to the rooms and check them out with the help of the white stone around his neck.

He had walked around for what felt like hours, but probably wasn’t more than a couple of minutes, when he returned to the hallway and had to conclude three things.

1. The knife had to be in either the basement, attic apartment or outside. 2. Same thing had to be the case of Clockwork and the ghost of the girl. 3. The fact that Vlad still hadn’t shown himself couldn’t possibly be a good sign.

The last part was creeping Danny out and he couldn’t help but glance over his own shoulder every three seconds. The apartment even seemed bare without its master in it and Danny was starting to getting paranoid.

Was Vlad playing a game with him?

The Codger had to know Danny was searching for the ghost and her knife. How could he not? That was literary the point of this seven-day challenge of theirs!

Danny dragged a hand down his face, tired of not knowing anything – what was the monster planning? Was he changing the hiding place of the ghost and knife every time Danny checked a room?

It was already the night before the fourth day and he didn’t feel one step closer to get to the bottom of anything.

Danny looked out the nearest window, the hairs on his neck suddenly rising. Vlad still hadn’t shown himself and knowing the monster, he had probably planned this.

Had given Danny a chance to search the apartment, only to wait for him to give up and walk right outside like a fly going straight for the web.

Danny swallowed, but knew he had to go outside to check the rest of the mansion.

What horrors would await him out there under the fake night sky?

 

Ten years ago…

Danny moved around the mansion, eyeing the entrance to the basement apartment.

Just as the other day, when he had visited the place to enjoy the magical theater transformation of other Spectra and Bertrand’s dusty apartment, the door was decorated like a grand classical front of an opera house.

Blinking lights and colorful bulbs beaked him closer to the stairs leading down and Danny made his decent with some hostility. Took one step at a time, like every one of them could be his last.

The door opened without any visible force and Danny grabbed his ecto-gun a bit tighter. Kept the hand on his hip, as he slowly walked into the dark.

Dark curtains greeted him, and Danny pushed it to the side to peek into the theater. When neither sound or any sign of movement met the eye, Danny took a leap of faith and walked past the curtain.

He tried to get his night vision to function, as he walked further into the dark and stopped with a winching breath, as hit boot hit something metallic.

A little light blinked faintly, and Danny watched through narrow eyes, as the flashlight on the floor rolled back to his boot.

He picked it up reluctantly, looked it over and glanced into the dark in search for the giant Venus flytrap, that had used it previously. A sound like something dragging itself across the rug made Danny freeze and he pointed the flashlight forward.

Slowly and with cautious steps, he went past the entrance and began to walk down the rows of empty seats. There was no sign of the plants anywhere and he lighted around in search for any sign of leaf or green roots.

With all his senses on alert and eyes searched for the smallest of movement, he suddenly caught the glimpse of a root in the light of his flashlight and pointed it slowly upwards.

A web of spiked roots covered the ceiling. Deadly looking plants and fanged flowers heads in all the schemes of poisonous flora, greeted him from the ceiling of the theater and he swallowed in fear.

Realizing he wouldn’t have a snowballs chance in hell, if they all decided to drop down on him now.

The sleeping plants began to stir in the spotlight of his flashlight and Danny hurried to turn it off, when the Venus flytrap hissed at him – apparently disturbed by the light.

He hurried to turn the flashlight downwards even though it was off and let out a sigh of relief, as the plants fell back into their slumber. Danny quickly decided to walk backwards and get out, as slowly as possible.

The plan suddenly changed when a huge spotlight, unrelated to his own equipment, suddenly lighted up the scene in a sharp cone of light.

In the cone of light, a rosebud the size of a minivan had been revealed. The obscure bud stood proudly in the middle on the scene, blood red and giving out a strong perfume – almost too strong to breath.

Danny had shielded his eyes and slowly glanced upwards with a worried glance. But it seemed that the plants would continue to slumber, as long as the light wasn’t pointed directly at them.

Feeling better about the situation, but still considering it an obvious trap, he strapped the flashlight to his belt and drew the ecto-gun instead.

Charging it without a word.

The giant rosebud continued to be still, as he walked up onto the scene and Danny clenched his teeth, as he walked around it – observed how the harsh light made some parts of the rosebud transparent and revealed the silhouette of two bodies resting in a close hug.

One long and slim, one short and broad. Danny pointed the gun for a close headshot and used the other hand to pull out the stone.

Looking through the hole, he found that a knife was indeed hiding inside the rosebud and he frowned, when he came to realize it was held by two set of shadowy hands.

With the constant foreboding of having his hand cut of any second, he took a sharp inhale – and then pressed his hand past the first layer of perfumed rose petals and reached for the ghost knife.

What he pulled out, was as feared, two young and strangely colored hands – both of them clutching around the handle of a long knife, with tight braided fingers.

Danny stared at the pink and green hand with a bad feeling yelling through his brain like a siren. If he didn’t know any better, he could almost believe they were made of scented wax.

He forced his attention towards the ghost knife to get his spinning head under control and let the white stone return to its spot behind his suit collar.

Like the previous knife, disguised in plain sight like an apple peeling knife, this knife turned out to be the decorated saber Bertrand had used to cut the rope in their acrobat act.

Danny felt success replace fear, as he wasted no further time and grabbed the handle of the gold and ruby saber.

And hell broke loose.

““THIEVE!!!”“ two faces of sharp teeth and glowing red eyes screamed, as they crashed through the petals and send Danny back over.

He cried out as he fell down the stage and unto the floor with beating heart. Their launch at him had given him the scare of his life and the nightmare was far from over.

The fall and harsh landing on his back, made Danny hiving for air in a world of pain and he only widened his eyes further, as he came to understand his hand was still locked around the handle of the saber.

But so was the horrifying pink and green hands of plant Spectra and Bertrand. Their hands stretched like gum, with no visible joints or bones in them. The rest of them crawled out of the rose bud to follow their hands.

Their young faces and mysterious demeanor twisted into a horror show of screaming faces and entwined limbs.

Spectra’s body of pink petals and thorns ripped both of them free from the rosebud, while Bertrand’s toxic green body, launched its hand out to get a second grip on the saber.

Danny forced his body to corporate with his will and began crawling backwards, kicking his legs against the floor, to get as much distance between him and the two, while fighting a tough battle to keep the saber.

Both of their twisted and morbidly stretched hands trying to rip the saber from his hands.

““GIVE IT BACK; YOU LITTLE FREAK!!”“ Spectra screamed along with Bertrand and helped her partner in drama drag their bodies over the edge of the stage and down to Danny.

The teen’s heart was hammering hard enough for him to taste blood and he staggered to hit feet, to try and wrestle the saber out of their hands, while moving backwards and out of reaching range.

The two monsters weren’t going to make it easy for him and tried to shake his hands off with their combined strength. Danny held on to dear life – begging for a solution to fall down into his lap.

His eyes sought for the ecto-gun and found it out of reach, lying useless where he had dropped it on the stage. Spectra launched her free hand for his leg but missed and rattled his belt instead.

The flashlight swung against his thigh in the belt and turned itself on, as the button hit his hip. Giving Danny an idea.

Danny gave Bertrand’s green face a kick with his boot, ripped the flashlight free of his belt and pointed its light upwards, as to light up as much of the damn ceiling as he could.

The plants screeched at him and clearly wanted nothing but to be left alone, but Danny had a plan and he would damn if they didn’t follow it to the end.

When he swung the light around for a second time like a mad Landing Signal Officer, the mutated plants reached their last straw and let go of the ceiling.

Danny timed it and threw the still lit flashlight after Spectra and Bertrand, while making a jump for the safety under the nearest row of seats. The plants followed the source of light and landed on top of the two screaming monsters.

Getting slammed by a ton of heavy roots and giant plants finally made the two release their grip on the saber and Danny pressed it to his chest.

He had won.

The theater crumbled into darkness and the place fell silence. Danny rose slowly with ragged breath. Rose to the sight of a big black nothingness – nothing but him, the ecto-gun and stairs leading back to the outside.

He stared at the spot the strange flower/wax monsters of Spectra and Bertrand had been just seconds ago and found nothing but crumpled shadows.

““You did it,”“ a small boy’s voice whispered from the saber and Danny exchange a quick glance with a little freckled boy, with blond hair and a pirate hat in the saber’s polish edge, ““now be clever, Sir. Even if you win, he’ll never let you go!”

“O-okay…” Danny replied with a small voice, still a bit shaken.

Not wanting to stay any longer, he collected his gun, strapped the saber to his back and ran for the door back to the rest of the other world.

Danny south out the moon to check out the time and found that the eclipse had passed the mid of the moon – and still closing in on an alarming rate.

“I’m almost out of time,” he whispered and turned to the last wonder.

The apartment and circus of Mr. Showenhower.

 

The front door was heavy and probably made of some expensive wood from a golden age of some lumber resolution Danny wouldn’t know shit about.

Meaning he wasn’t really filled with guilt, as he pushed it open with his dirty boot to search for any obstacles outside its frame.

With a Vlad-less sight ahead, Danny stepped outside with a firm hand behind his back, ready to grab the ecto-gun and went to examine the other apartments.

He first went to Ember, Skulker and Nikolai's flat and found to his confusion, that there no longer were metal stairs leading up to it.

With a quick check on the opposite side of the place, he came to understand that neither his or there’s apartment existed anymore.

The Green palace had been returned to its former prime – the walls had never been built to separate the palace and make more apartments, and even the basement apartment had been returned to just that. A basement.

Danny had gone down the stairs and just stared at the rows of wine he found staged on shelves down there. Checked with the stone, only to find nothing and went back upstairs to see if he could get to the attic from the inside.

He didn’t remember seeing a hatch leading up to the attic anywhere in the mansion, but maybe he could get up on the roof and get down through one of the windows?

Danny bit his lip and stared up at the palace with hands on his hips in thought, as he planned his next step.

Next step turned out to be up to others, and Danny lifted a quick hand to shield his eyes, as two blinding lights followed by the roar of a machine appeared from around the mansion’s corner and then right at Danny.

The hand not shielding his eyes went straight to the ecto-gun at his back, but before he could draw it and take out the sours of the incoming light, the lights stopped barely a meter from him and was turned away from his face.

“Wazup, Danny?”

Danny blinked in mild surprise and then scowled.

On a roaring Harvey Davidson painted in old school Evel Knievel style with no less than five exhaustion pipes on each side, was no other than the other Johnny and Kitty.

Obviously the other version of biker pair he had met briefly in the real world’s basement apartment.

Both of them were perfect copies of his neighbors – except from the red light that had replaced their eyes and their flashy Daredevil motorcycle outfits, complete with a deep cleavage for Kitty, white spandex jumpsuit, star-line deco and American flag capes.

“Just get lost already,” Danny sighed and removed his hand from the ecto-gun, “he just made you to come bugging me and forget about my search for the knife. I’m not falling for any new wonders, just leave me alone.”

None of them stopped beaming at him despite his rude tone and Kitty even went as far, as to wink at him, “aw, c’mon, hone – you wouldn’t wanna miss the big party, right?”

“Yeah, dude,” other Johnny elaborated with his strange surfer accent, “you wouldn’t wanna be a sucker, know what I’m saying?”

“I really don’t,” Danny deadpanned, fully knowing that Vlad was just trying to lead him astray, “and I’m seriously gonna leave now.”

“Not so fast, handsome,” Kitty whispered and locked her arms around his neck in an embrace from behind, “no need to play hard to get. Just get on the bike over there and let’s have a good time.”

“I’m really not into this,” Danny sighed and was ready to just throw her of, when she let go herself and jumped on to other Johnny’s bike.

Pressed up behind him with a sweet smile in Danny’s direction. She blinked at him as Johnny started the engine and then held out a red string to wave teasingly in front of him.

Danny patted his collarbone per reflex and found that the stone was gone.

“Hey, stop!” he yelled, but other Johnny had already started the motorcycle and left Danny in a cloud of dust.

Danny cursed them and hurried to look back at the mansion. A motorcycle fresh from the fabric stood tempting and leaning up against the mansion.

Danny knew it was a trap but did as Kitty had suggested and grabbed the motorcycle to chase the couple. He ignored the shiny machines luxurious purring and how ridicules expensive the custom-made bike felt under him, as he turned it on.

Yep, diffidently a trap set by Vlad.

Neither way, he set of to chase them with a faint hope that the magical bike would assist, rather than trick him in some horrible way and followed the pair out into the forest.

Trap or not, he need that stone and couldn’t risk losing it now that both his and a little ghost’s future was part of the game.

Danny scowled as blinking light and random arrow, saying cheesy stuff like ““loop ahead”, “stunt is life” and “daredevil!”, blinked from their spots hanging from trees and bushes around the road.

Danny wasn’t going to play along with any of this and drove of the road to take a shortcut through a smaller forest path.

The pair and their bike soon turned up a head, as Danny pushed the bike to its outmost to catch up to them and turned back onto the road to get up behind them.

The pair both turned their heads a bit more than human possible to look back at him with wide smiling faces and Kitty lifted a signt saying; “10/10”.

Danny made a grimace – it was like Vlad wasn’t even trying to make good human copies anymore!

“Ready to turn this up a notch!?” Johnny yelled over the motor noise and made his bike roar for emphasize.

“If you mean turn, as in turning back my stone – then I’m in!” Danny yelled back and scowled, as they just grinned and Johnny lifted the front wheel to take the lead.

“I fucking hate this place,” Danny muttered angry and pressed his bike to follow them deeper into the forest.

He had the expectation, that it would soon thin out and show the limits of Vlad’s world, like back when Danny tried to find his father with the Fenton Team-Tracker as a kid – but after a couple of minutes, he came to realize…that something had change.

The forest went on. And on.

I can’t wait to show you just everything I’ve become…

Danny stared in horror at the continuous scenery. But how? Danny didn’t understand.

Vlad wasn’t supposed to make a world bigger than just the wishes of a child – how could the monster suddenly make up a whole forest other than just the ground around the Green Palace? His powers weren’t supposed to reach this far.

One child’s soul shouldn’t have provided this much power – it just wasn’t possible!

I believe you will come to see that a lot of things have changed in the ten years you were out there. You will come to understand…

Danny couldn’t stand it, the forest wasn’t thinning and when it finally did, it was just the clearing coming up on his right.

The steep path leading down to the well and the old tree where Valerie’s treehouse had used to be, stretched down before him and Danny shook his head in denial.

Having lost sight of Kitty and Johnny a couple of minutes ago, Danny stopped the bike to look down the path and try to comprehend what he was seeing.

Far down the steep landscape, Danny could get a faint glimpse in the dark of the clearing lower down.

If he even strained his eyes, he could even tell himself he could see the group of boulders on the path down to the well. Beyond the path, the dark horizon stretched on and so did the forest.

Becoming endless woods of dark and unknown possibilities.

The land of night and moon wasn’t stopping by any borders and knowing his nightmares of the other world…Danny had already crossed the border of the land Vlad had made for him teen years ago.

On this very spot he was treading with his bike, the land should have just brought him back to the Green palace – not continued beyond and beyond and beyond, like a real place. Like the real world

No child soul should have been able to feed this world such powers.

But then…what had?

“Don’t get lost, get wild, whoo!” Kitty laughed at him, as they milled past him on their bike in high speed and continued to laugh and howl, as they left him behind.

Danny coughed in the cloud of dirt they had left him in once again and started the bike again. He sent the open land one last glance, before forcing himself to leave it for later perturbation and drove after them.

He still needed that stone.

The two lovebirds howled in excitement as he chased them into the deeper part of the forest and Danny made a surprised cry, as the couple had made a hard turn through the opening of two trees and brought them back on an establish forest road, wide enough for a bike to drive.

The jump from raw forest to hard road, almost had Danny crash, but his experience with his own bike, made him straighten up in time to stop the wobbling bike underneath him from overturning.

“Give it back!” Danny yelled at Kitty, as he had steered the bike up besides theirs and pressed them up against the natural forest hedge.

If he pressed on, their bike would hit the side of a tree and definitely crash – not that it was his intention, but he would do something rash, if they didn’t hand the stone over soon.

Kitty giggled at him and grabbed a bit tighter around Johnny, as he pushed the brakes on the bike. Danny hadn’t seen that coming and hurried to turn away from them, in fear of getting dragged backwards.

He tried to see if they had stopped completely in the side mirror, but it would seem that the brake had only been for fun, as they had drove back into the forest and of the road.

He couldn’t see them in the dark, but from the sound of their bike to estimate, they were driving somewhere just on his right.

Danny couldn’t tell what their deal was. If they had wanted to deliver the stone to Vlad, they could have just done so. No, this didn’t seem like it – it smelled more of a distraction.

Danny nodded to himself, it was probably it. Vlad knew Danny had searched the house for ghost and knife and was closer to finding out the hiding place of the Thornwood girl’s ghost.

Keeping Danny distracted and away from investigating was more effective, than trying to occupy Danny with Vlad’s own company.

Danny hadn’t exactly acted well on being forced to socialize with Vlad alone for these few days and Vlad probably knew he couldn’t keep Danny in the dark with tea and dinner forever.

The monster was probably moving the ghost and her knife back to the mansion, while Danny was busy fooling around in the damned woods. Confusing him and driving him around like an elephant in a manege. It made Danny nuts.

He had to outsmart the monster somehow, find a way to make Vlad reveal the ghost and her knife’s position, without knowing he had said too much.

For all Danny knew, Vlad could just pretend to rearrange the spot of the ghost and knife. With a world this sizable, they could still be outside – really just anywhere.

“For Fuck sake!” Danny winced and ducked on his bike, as Kitty and Johnny came crashing over an escarpment leading down back to the road and jumped right over him.

Their bike wobbled for a second but straighten up again and had the two laughed like wild children. Danny scowled, he had had it with these two.

If they didn’t care for their own lives, then neither would he – and after all, they were just copies of real people made of pink goo.

He speeded up like before and drove up beside them. But instead of talking, he made a quick move to grab Kitty and pull her of the bike. Broken and possible dead, she would be easier to loot for the stone.

But apparently, she had gotten the same idea and grabbed him before he could reach her. With a grip stronger than any normal chick her weight class should be able to possess, she pulled him straight of his bike and up behind her.

Danny knew there couldn’t possibly be enough space for all three of them on the saddle, but after some time to deal with the shock of getting dragged out of his seat in high speed and had gotten his heart to slow down, he simply came to accept, that the magic of the other world had made the bike long enough for an extra seat.

He grabbed Kitty for safety and looked back to see his bike crash against a tree and explode.

“The more the merrier!” Johnny laughed, and Danny sent his sidemirror a look that could kill, before pulling the stone of Kitty.

She didn’t even seem to mind and just laughed at his angry scowl.

Johnny traded Danny’s sour glare for another venture into the woods and Danny hurried to grab harder unto Kitty, to stay on the machine, as its driver took up speed, like the devil was on their tail.

Without a solid road to stabilize the Harvey Davidson, the bike jumped like crazy and Danny cried out along with Kitty, as they the ride took dangerous twists and turns through the trees and crocked underbrush.

Feeling like he was stuck on a rollercoaster without seatbelt or security, the fear suddenly washed away and became replaced by something else.

Excitement.

Danny couldn’t help it. He had always loved bone-wrecking and adrenaline-adding attractions.

With his inner speed freak only growing with the years and his dream of being an astronaut, Danny had always south out the opportunity to feel like a member of a spaceship.

As a kid, he had gone to space camp every summer till his parents found it too expensive and childish for a twelve-year-old.

Something that had crushed him, as his favorite time of year had been to ride the space simulators and imagine he was actually launched into space and beyond.

As had grown and gotten into his teen years, Danny had replaced the simulators with the wild rides, at the yearly occasions of the Warf and circus at his hometown.

The next level had been to learn how to ride a motorcycle and even then, Danny could never get it fast or wild enough. He had a need he knew was dangerous, but in situations like these…he couldn’t help but laugh.

Branches and twigs swapped past them, as the bike broke through the woods and Danny widened his eyes with wonder, as a giant loop turned up ahead. And Johnny wasn’t showing any means of stopping, as he went right for it.

“Wait – ughaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” Danny half yelled in panic, half laughed in excitement, as the bike started to drive up the ramp and slowly, but steady turned more vertical.

Knowing that no law of nature could possible keep him in the saddle and that death was eminent, Danny pressed his face into Kitty’s hair and screamed on top of his lungs.

The bike soon turned straight upwards and Danny was pressed back over and forced to look. And then they turned upside down.

As all of them was screaming with joy, Danny realized he wasn’t going to die – Vlad would never had made them try to kill him like this, what was he even thinking!? – and finally took in the euphoria without any hesitation.

The three loops and stomach twisting turns, had them all screaming like kids and Danny couldn’t help but feel like a careless teen again.

The last loop turned out to be a free fall through the air and Danny lost his breath for a second, as time seemed to stay still, while he was hanging in the air – gravity releasing him for a second.

All around him, the stars shone and twinkled in a perfect picture of endless possibilities of space.

The tree tops of the forest just a dark dense rug beneath him.

Danny felt weightless amongst the stars and he found himself reaching out for the milky way, a childish idea of catching the north star suddenly emerging and making him forget the rest of the world.

But then gravity returned tenfold and Danny’s stomach made a happy summersault. Falling with the ground coming rushing towards them like a Monday morning, had the stars stretched like silver lines and Danny grabbed the bike out of fear.

“Hold on!” Johnny yelled against the wind and pressed a button on the side of the motorcycle.

Danny almost fell over Kitty’s shoulder, as the sudden impact of a parachute unfolding above them, made him fall forward with a hard jerk.

He shook his head to get his nerves under control and looked down, to see them fall slowly towards the backyard of the Green Palace.

He was a bit sad that it was already over and sighed with closed eyes.

Only to open them again, as the incoming noise of hundred voices and a guitar solo called for his attention.

Danny looked down again and blinked in surprise, as he, in his after rush of adrenaline, totally had overlooked the concert going on in the backyard.

“What the hell?” he asked breathless and had both Kitty and Johnny grin with shining red eyes.

“Told you we were heading for a party! Now go get it started!” Kitty exclaimed with a push and sent Danny of the bike.

Having been anything but prepared, Danny cried out as he fell like a stone and expected to hit the hard ground any second.

Having made a prayer to none in particular, his words was somehow answered, and a sea of arms caught him before he could hit the ground.

Danny opened his eyes to find himself crowd surfing and they cheered like they had just caught their idol.

“Put me down!” Danny protested, but none of the party people would listen and handed him over to the next stream of people – making Danny get closer to the stage.

The living sea turned him to a standing position and pushed him on to the stage, making him stagger a second from the power behind the push.

A hand caught his before he could fall forward, and Danny looked up to find another familiar face.

“E-Ember!?”

Of course, this was just yet another copy of the real-world Ember, as her eyes as well had been replaced with red lights.

Unlike the real-world Ember, the other Ember had embraced every aspect of the punk rock aesthetics and grinned at him with neon blue ponytail, eyeliner sharp enough to cut a finger and a tight 80’s outfit with all the skulls and leather any respectable parents could condemn.

Behind her other Skulker and Nicolai was present to, with what looked like their instruments, just ten times more professional and cooler looking.

Nicholai made a shrilling scream into the mic by his laser light keyboard and dunked his head to make the long platin mullet whip around, while fog billowed out of his silver cape.

Beside him, a robot version of Skulker hit the drums like a madman and grinned with metal teeth, reflecting the green flames coming out his chin and head like an imitation of the real world Skulker’s colored hair.

All of them slammed their instruments to start the into to their number and Ember started the lead melody with a loud strum of her guitar.

Danny recognized the song as the number the trio had practiced through the door of their attic flat and if Danny had liked it back then, he was pretty much sold by now.

Ember jumped to the edge of the scene in her skull plateau boots and stuck out her tongue, as she turned up the difficulty of her guitar play.

Her sweet husky voice filling the air, as she finally started the song to the scream of the crowd.

“It was, it was September, Wind blow, the dead leaves fall. To you, I did surrender, Two weeks you didn't call.”

Danny had been to a couple of concerts – mostly with Tucker and Sam and mostly to see the band “Dumpty Humpty” – but it was clear that the ‘Skulltech 9.9’ band was the superior rock artists here.

The crowd look as if they were going to tear this party apart with raw wildness and the band played like it was their final moment. Danny couldn’t help but getting a little freaked out by the crowd, though.

What he had first thought to be glowsticks, turned out to be glowing red eyes and all of them stared wide and shining up at him, hungry for music. Hungry for more.

Some would say they had saved some money by not needing glowsticks or lighters with those shining eyes of theirs, but the sight of so many glowing red eyes still made his skin crawl a bit.

He supposed he would never really get used to the sight of those eyes. The rest of the light show was provided by the lasers of Nicolai’s keyboard and fog machines behind Skulker and his drum set.

Danny looked for a way to get down the stage and tried to move discreetly to the side. Apparently, Ember wasn’t going to let him be a wallflower and pulled him back in, before pressing a bass guitar into his hands.

“But…I’m not that trained,” Dany protested unsure, but got no chance to back out, as Ember continued to sing and watch him with anticipation.

Danny played out of peer pressure, as the rest of the crowd was calling his name and demanded him play.

He couldn’t remember when he last played the instrument, but when he had been younger, Danny had taken the lessons up wholehearted, as it was the only thing except from fishing that he could actually bond over with his dad.

Jack Fenton had only had very little spared time for anything non-ghost related, but when he had showed an interest in Danny, the teen hadn’t been the one to say no.

Beggars couldn’t be chooser and learning about his father’s band in college and bond over some tunes, was something an attention hungry kid could use.

Danny wouldn’t say he was good at playing, but he could do the basics and somehow, that seemed to be enough for the other world’s crowd.

Other Ember pressed her back up against his and grinned as she sang, making Danny lean up against her to and after having heard it a few times…he couldn’t help himself from singing along on the chorus.

“Ohh Ember, you will remember. Ember, one thing remains, Ohh Ember, so warm and tender, You will remember my name. YEAH!!”

The crowd continued to scream his name and Danny thawed a bit, maybe even relaxed. When was the last time he had been enjoying himself like this?

He couldn’t remember.

And he couldn’t really care at the moment.

The song soon ended, and Danny found himself get carried away, as he smashed the guitar onto the stage like a real rock star. The crowd screamed in happiness and Danny dried the sweat of his forehead with a breathless laughter.

The grinning and jumping crowd began to yell in unison for an encore. The band started up again and Danny made ready to take a second crowd surf, when he suddenly saw him.

A smile too calm and collected for any rock concert audience, was standing in the midst of the front crowd. The red eyes, darker and more alive than the rest, watching him with interest.

Danny stared back and the Codger’s smile turned into a smirk, before he turned and walked out of the crowd.

None of them jumped into his direction or stood long enough to be in his way and like the biblical Moses, Vlad walked through the see of people without a hindrance.

Danny’s senses slowly returned to him as he lost sight of the other father and he blinked like someone who had just awakened from a dream.

What was he doing?

Danny shook his head; how could he have let himself get carried away like this? He was supposed to find the ghost knife and its ghost – not fooling around and wasting time!

How much time had he wasted? He didn’t know, couldn’t tell, but something inside him clearly said hours. Danny moved away from the band, the music getting to loud for him and the beat felt as if it was shaking his bones.

The sea of spectators before him twisted and jumped like before, but right now he couldn’t for his life imagine why he would trust this crowd to catch him.

Now wide-awake and aware of his surroundings, the crowd had turned from being a bunch of red eyed party animals…to a living sea of hungry mouths, claws and burning eyes.

He continued to step back, keeping an eye on both the crowd and band, before turning and running out the backstage.

The anger of having fallen for such an obvious distraction fabricated by the other father, ate him up as he ran to the front door of the Green palace. Danny didn’t even try to be silent about entering the mansion, as he closed the door with a hard bang.

He had a monster to confront.

 

Ten years ago…

The iron stairs to the attic apartment was still decorated with little black and white skeleton flags of paper.

Danny scowled at the gothic circus decorations and felt only contempt.

He didn’t know what was awaiting him at the top, but with the rest of the twisted wonders so far, he could tell with certainty, that it wouldn’t be anything pleasant.

He sent the two ghost knives strapped to his back and hip a glance and mentally pep talked himself into being brave. So far, he had survived the two wonders. This one would be the last before he could return to Vlad and get his family back.

He lifted his head in awareness, when the little red ball from his first visit sudden came drifting over the rooftop and slowly, made its way to the door of other Mr. Showenhower.

Danny began climbing the stairs without thinking and stopped to watch the ball and it’s red pulsing light disappear through the little round window above the door, as it mysteriously opened by itself.

“That level of creepiness is just unnecessary,” Danny mumbled sardonically and walked up to open the door.

Inside, he found the place abandoned.

The carnival stands that had been lid with lights and delicious scents, were now dark and the candy gone. The lights had all dimed or seemed to be cut from power, only thing still in function, was the quiet tune of the carnival music.

It was almost too quiet to hear, but still the same – even though Danny had the feeling it had turned darker and less fun in tone somehow. The lightbulb above him blinked like some electric fuse was burning out and Danny made a grimace.

Not enjoying the gothic circus theme anymore – not one bit.

He slowly made it to the tent and walked up to the opening, trying his best to ignore the punctured skeleton shaped air dancers, who had all turned to stare at him with dark empty sockets, now lying flat on the floor at the gate to the black and white tent.

He almost wished they had red lights instead.

Almost.

The sudden sound of something flapping made him look up and he gasped, when something looking like a bundle of rages crawled across the ceiling in great speed.

The “thing” dashed down behind one of the dark food stands and then creeped across the floor, before stopping to unfold and loom over Danny, like some threatening shadow.

Now in the sparse light, he came to understand he was being confronted with no other than Mr. Showenhower. Or at least the cloths of him.

The man’s face and long crow like nose was hidden beneath his tall crooked hat, pulled so low that his high collar seemed to be melting into it.

“Hello, my little circus freak,” Freakshow’s dramatic drawl greeted with an insane laughter and Danny winced in a mix of fear and unease.

The man moved his limbs like he had to many joints in his arms and legs, and Danny watched with some distress, as the other Mr. Showenhower suddenly held out his staff like some magician and pulled the red crystal ball from the wood, to reveal it had been the handle of a knife hidden in the staff all along.

“Looking for this?” he asked darkly, and Danny stepped forward to see for himself with the stone ready in hand.

The stone did not disappoint. The darkness lighted up by the sight of the crystal ball knife and Danny could already taste victory, as he reached for it.

“Yeah, it is, thank –”

He had barely reached for it, before the other Freakshow pulled it back with lightning speed and back-bend to crawl on all four, before scuttling back like some horror show monster.

Danny watched with increasing goosebumps, as the jointless thing retrieved to the shadows and out of sight. Only his voice still reaching Danny.

“What’s wrong, Danny? Don’t you want to play?” Freakshow asked with a mocking voice of pity, “you really believe winning the game is worth it?”

Danny ignored him and scanned the room with the stone, trying to relocate the knife and followed the voice, as it had begun to turn distorted.

“What is waiting for you in your boring real-world life, anyhow?” Freakshow continued, “NOTHING! Why not remain in the shadows with us? Live the exciting life under the full moon sky and seek the abnormal? The world of the hidden and hideous? Just a small cut, a show of blood for something mysterious – something forbidden…”

Danny turned as he caught a glimpse of light through the stone and found the man hanging upside-down from his ankles, his hat now right in front of Danny’s pale face.

“…he loves you, don’t you know? You, his price winning son,” he added and had Danny frown.

The man responded by falling flat on the floor and then slithered into the circus tent. Danny sighed and followed without much choice.

On the other side of the striped tent door, he found Freakshow perched on a pile of tiny bones and Danny had to cover his mouth and nose, not to vomit at the smell of rot.

By closer inspection, the bones turned out to belong to mice.

A whole pile of them…

“Would it really be so bad to choose his other world?” Freakshow asked sincerely and Danny stretched his lips to a thin line, as he watched through the stone again and found that the knife was hiding under his crocked hat.

“It would, but I guess there’s no use explaining it to ya,” Danny replied without much empathy, as he slowly reached upwards and crawled up the bone pile, “you’re all just made of him – I’m not.”

The hat shook, as the circus leader laughed quietly, “everything in here is made of him, every last drop…and now…even you…”

Danny frowned as the laughter turned to a long heavy sigh. And then…nothing.

Like a balloon, the body collapsed and slowly fell towards the teen. Danny’s throat tightened as caught the collapsed body and he hurried to lift the hat of the collar to reach for his price – and check on the man of course.

Only to scream in shock.

A green bat, almost bald and with claws and teeth the size of razor blades, screeched at him and scratched Danny’s chin, before flying over his head with the crystal ball knife in its claws.

The rest of the flat ringleader uniform came to life in a swarm of bats and Danny covered his head, as they all leaped at him from the uniform and tried to get a turn at his face.

Danny took to the floor for cover and turned to see the bat with the knife fly for the open door.

“Fuck NO!” Danny yelled in anger and shot upwards with his ecto-gun.

Three bats covered the wall with pink goo and the rest scattered to get out of clear shot.

Danny took the opening as a head start and ran for the leader bat, with drawn gun and no plan whatsoever. The rest of the bat didn’t stay down for long and lounged for him from all sides, to help their fellow leader to get out with the knife.

Danny shot at random and tried his best to cover his face from the slashing claws and hungry fangs. Two bats stretched a string with carnival flags in front of his boots and Danny tripped, fell flat on his face, the gun flying out of his hand.

The leader bat laughed in a high-pitched voice and Danny followed a desperate idea and threw his stone after the beast, as he ran forward.

Only to watch it miss and fly out of the door…and out in the night.

“FUCKING HELL!!!” Danny screamed, as he saw all hope disappear with that bat and made a desperate jump for it.

His jump brought him close enough for his fingertips to barely brushed the ghost knife, but then gravity grabbed his body and reminded him where he was.

Out over the railing of the metal stair.

The fall brought him to land on one of the short bushes around the mansion and the impact punched the little air he had left from screaming out of his lungs and left him dry-heaving.

Above him, the bats made a choir of screaky giggles and disappeared in all direction, to leave him with his misery.

With some air back in his system and a back that was literally killing him, Danny slowly sat up and reached for his stone to scan the area and find the bat.

Only to find nothing around his neck and remember what he had done.

He hastily patted the ground, sought with some barely contained desperation for his beloved stone and then became aware of the moon. There was almost no light left, the eclipse was almost complete.

“I failed…” he realized and stopped searching for a stone he would never find.

It was over. He had lost.

Waiting for the monster to end the game, Danny hunched in defeat on the ground and tried to be brave for his soon coming death. All he could hope for, was that the Codger would be merciful and cut him quickly.

Knowing the Codger…he probably wouldn’t.

A sudden ‘bump’ beside him, made Danny look up and the sight of a dead bat with the red ball knife besides it, had him speechless.

A black raven withdrawal its claws from a nasty gash in the dead bat’s side and nudged the knife closer to the teen.

“I think you might have lost this,” Clockwork noted calmly and cleaned his wing nonchalant, “you really should be more observant, Danny.”

“Thank you,” Danny just said, more grateful than he had ever been in his life before and looked up to see the eclipse cease its advance.

A thin slice of the full moon remained, and Danny had the feeling that everything was going to go his way now. He placed his pale hand on the knife and the eclipse came to a full stop.

A reflection of a dark-skinned boy with grey eyes, greeted him in the reflection of the knife and the ghost of Damien Gray smiled at him, before he vanished completely.

Danny reminded himself to tell this to Valerie later, as he picked it up to strap it to his belt.

The second the knife lost connection with the ground, dark tendrils began to spread out from the spot and infest the ground.

Danny stood up as the darkness began to eat its way through every straw of grass, pebbles of stone and speck of dirt.

Clockwork set of and flew of in a sudden hurry. Danny was going to ask who had put a scare in him with a grin, when he realized the ground was beginning to tremble.

The darkness spread to the horizon and didn’t stop, as it rose vertically and ate up the night sky.

The stars and moon vanished one by one, like canvas under a flame and Danny’s eyes widened, as the world simply vanished, and the empty void made the dark ground under his feet smelt into dark nothing.

“He can’t sustain this world without the power of souls!” Clockwork cried over Danny and dropped the lost ecto-gun into the hands of the teen, “get inside, before it’s too late!”

The melting world began to drip down in large drops and Danny yelped to get out of the hit zone, as he zigzagged for his life to get to the porch of the Green Palace.

With ecto-gun and knife in each hand, the teen fought to run with every step getting him deeper and deeper into the goo, that had turned to the consistence of quicksand.

The raven used its claws and beak to get the handle of the front door open and watched with concern, as the teen threw himself onto the porch and crawled like a wounded soldier to the door.

Behind them, the last consistence of the black world curled into a tsunami wave of blackness and rolled towards the mansion with every intension of drowning all in its wake.

Danny wasn’t ready to die just yet and shot the black strings of goo trying to pull him back into the sea of death, as he grabbed the door frame and pulled himself in with every last muscle in his body.

Finally, on the carpet, Danny turned around to face the wave and kicked the door shut with both his legs.

The impact of the wave hit the mansion like an earthquake, but the door stayed in place and so did the Green Palace. Danny remained lying for a second. The shaken teen slowly regained his breath and tried to collect himself again.

The silence of the place hit his eardrums like a wall and Danny sat up with the raven silent beside him.

The dark hallway leading further into the apartment was just as quiet as the rest of the place and Danny took a second to understand what the loss of children souls had done to the Codger’s world.

The warmth and coziness of the mansion was gone and had been replaced with long shadows, cobwebs, and unease.

Outside the windows, nothing but darkness reigned and gone was the feeling of home.

“Come,” Clockwork said and broke the silence, “the Codger awaits and so does your family.”

Danny sent the dark hallway a long gaze and strapped the ghost knife to his belt but kept the ecto-gun in hand. The other sought to the Fenton Team-Tracker and Danny watched the little red dot lead him ahead.

“Fenton 1, located”

To the living room.

Chapter Text

Ten years ago…

He found the other father in the living room.

Danny had from the second he’d taken a step into the apartment, felt the very essence of being on cursed ground.

But now that he stood in the frame of the sliding door’s shadow and the border of the Codger’s last retreat, he understood that the rest of the place had only been a fraction of what the monster’s den had to offer.

The living room was nothing but shadows, even with the low light of pink embers burning in the fireplace, he couldn’t see the walls or the furniture.

Nothing but dark contours and lurking threats seeming everywhere and nowhere at all. The sparse light the fireplace had to offer, drew Danny closer and he stopped, as a dark hunched figure slowly moved in front of it.

The flames illuminating the figure dimly. Danny stared and his eyes followed the hunched mass’s painful breathing, the way it’s chest and back rose and fell with every heaving breath.

The way the figure seemed to have problems even keeping itself together.

Clockwork jumped unto Danny’s shoulder and tried to blend in with his black hair, as Danny took another step inside. The room lighted a notch, as a dark red fire came to live in the fireplace and cast its blood red hue over the scene.

Danny stepped back a bit, as the figure unfolded and turned out to be two massive leather wings.

The Codger rose slowly, his skin now pale, almost blue and the hair dark as the night with a single grey line running through the middle, until it divided by the curled black horns.

The monster turned to face him in his monstrous yet puny state. His voice hoarse and low.

“So, you have returned to me,” the Codger sighed and pushed a wayward lock of black hair out of his blue face with an elegant move.

Danny eyed the black claws growing out of those blue slender fingers. Made a mental note to stay out of their reach.

Despite The monster’s obvious pain, the Codger seemed collected and he scowled at the raven, “and you have brought vermin with you, I see.”

Danny held up a hand to shield Clockwork, “I’ve brought a friend with me.”

His bravado made the Codger smile and Danny’s eyes fixated on the fangs poking out from those blue lips.

The Codger slowly walked closer to Danny and the adolescent forced himself to stand his ground, even if everything in himself screamed at him to run.

“You know I love you,” the other father said, almost sadly, as he lifted a hand to Danny’s face, making the teen flinch in reflex, as the clawed like hand brushed his chin surprisingly gentle.

The Codger then bopped his nose with a smirk, “hmm.”

“You have a funny way of showing that,” Danny replied with a scowl and the Codger returned to the fireplace with a deep chuckle.

“So, tell me, boy, where are they?” the other father began and ran his claws across the mantelpiece, carving long lines in the stone and made Danny’s ears hurt, “the ghost knives you so assiduously insisted on collecting.”

Danny pursed his lips and turned a bit for the Codger to see the knives in his belt and backstrap. The red eyes immediately glowed with a deep hot fire and Dany hurried to step back, as the monster tried to rip them right of him.

“Hol-hold on!” Danny protested, “we haven’t finished the game, amiright?”

The Codger’s irritation melted to that of aloofness and he clasped his claws and wings behind his back, like it was nothing, “no, I suppose you are right, Daniel. You still need to find your old family – how quaint.”

The monster turned his head with a fanged smirk and lifted his hands for Danny to see a white object turning around his index claw, “too bad you don’t have this little thing to help you, now isn’t it?”

Danny’s stomach fell as he recognized his white stone and tried his best not to let it show, as it was crushed to powder in the monster’s palm.

The Codger threw the white powder into the fire and smirked like the smug prick he was, while Danny tried to find out what to do next.

Clockwork poked his chin and nodded down to the Fenton team-tracker by his hip. Danny looked up to make sure the other father wasn’t watching him and slowly lifted the device to check out the living room.

Danny’s eyes turned to the little door and that got him an idea.

“I already know where you’ve hidden them,” Danny began and had the other father turn to look at him with some awareness, “they’re behind the little door, duh – you’re really not that hard to figure out ya know.”

His taunting didn't seem to make the other father falter the least, as he only chuckled and moved to the little door with a winning smirk, “oh, am I?”

Danny looked down at the device, as soon as the other father had his back turned and hurried to read it.

The red line pointed to the mantelpiece and Clockwork jumped of his shoulder to investigate and poked the family photo with his beak. Danny lifted the device and came to understand the photo was his father’s position.

As if on que, the photo turned from being an illuminating pane of pink flame’s reflected by the flames in the fireplace, to perfectly clear and showing movements.

His parent and sister looked back at him with tears, trying their best to reach him from beyond the glass pane.

“I found you,” Danny whispered, relived beyond measuring and reached for the frame.

The sound of metal again teeth, made Danny stop and turn. The other father coughed and pulled out the key from his mouth.

Turned to Danny with a dangerous smirk.

Danny acted as nothing and even smiled, “go on, they’re right behind it, we both know it, fruitloop.”

The other father just shook his head with mocking pity and placed the key in the lock to turn it, “oh, how wrong you are, my boy and after all that work you did to get this far – what a shame. But don’t be sad…”

He opened the little door to show Danny it was empty and straightened up with a silver knife ready at hand, “…I promise to be swift.”

“Swift THIS!” Danny yelled and grabbed the raven.

Clockwork clearly hadn’t seen that one coming and screeched surprised, as Danny threw him head first at the Codger. The monster seemed to be just as astonish, as he reacted too late and received two pair of sharp claws directly to his face.

“ARRGGGGHHHH, MY EYES!” he screamed, as the raven put in everything to damage his sight and soon made pink blood run down the face of the other father.

Danny didn’t waste this golden – if not improvised – opportunity and stuffed the photo into his hazmat suit pocket, before sprinting towards the little door.

He dodged the stumbling Codger, but wasn’t fast enough to dodge the leather wing slamming directly into his midsection and was sent crashing to the other end of the living room.

“YOU LITTLE RAT!” the monster screamed and threw the raven of him, sending Clockwork crashing against the little door, where the raven picked itself up to escape through, “HOW DARE YOU DISOBEY YOUR FATHER!?”

Danny looked around in terror, as all the light vanish on a second and fireplace lit up with roaring flames.

Hundreds of red eyed bats came to live, hanging from the ceiling and hissing in anger. Danny froze in fear, the Codger was now on all four and with the blazing fire outlining his body, the monster resembled that of a huge monstrous bat.

The beast roared and jumped to hang on the opposite wall with eyes blinded by pink blood.

“Butter biscuits! Where are you!?” he roared and turned his head from side to side, as if listening after Danny, “you little selfish brat, you are going to regret the day you disobeyed me!”

The monster bared his fangs and Danny pushed himself against the wall to have his back covered.

The sound of his steps had the Codger’s head snap in his direction with a mad grin and the monster jumped of the wall to catch him along with all the bats of the ceiling.

Danny’s first move – thank you mom and dad for this training – was to draw his ecto-gun and he shoot while making a barrel roll to his left.

The blinded monster was hit one the shoulder with a roar and hit the wall, while his bats turned in the air and set after Danny.

Danny ran and dodged for his life, shooting anything that got too close and turned sharply to make a shortcut across the living room to the little door.

The Codger responded by the sound and threw out a wing to stop Danny.

The teen wasn’t going to be taken by surprise twice and threw himself down to glide across the floor. Sliding across the floor, he went down under the wing unharmed and continued down the floor.

He threw the ecto-gun at the bats trying to scratch his face and found the key on the floor, as he glided past it.

Still not believing his own dumb luck, Danny hurried to get up and ran the last step to the door.

“NO!” the monster screamed and jumped at Danny, making the adolescent simply grab the frame of the little door and sling himself inside.

He had barely turned over to close the door, when the Codger grabbed the side of the little door and began to pull it open with force.

“FUCK NO!” Danny yelled and put all his strength into pulling the door back, as he pressed his feet against the door frame.

He knew he wasn’t a match for the monster strength and the Codger’s crazy grin told him that he too knew, but what none of them had accounted for, was the sudden appearance of three ghost children vaporing out like mist from the knives to help Danny.

“Please shut it, shut it,” Danny begged as they worked to close the door together, inch by inch and pulled it closer to themselves.

The Codger screamed in desperation, but with the ghosts on his side, Danny finally pulled the little door shut – but not before crushing one of the monster’s finger in the process.

Danny yelled in disgust as the door closed and had the monster scream in pain on the other side. With shaking hands, Danny brushed away the clawed finger on his lap and pulled out the key.

He felt the ghosts return to their knives and he locked the door shut with a relived sigh.

He had barely closed it before a hard slam on its other side had Danny fall back over and he didn’t look back, as he hurried to crawl to the other side of the black tunnel.

“DON’T LEAVE ME! DON’T LEAVE ME! DON’T LEAVE ME!!!” the haunting voice screamed in pain behind him and Danny moved with the growing fear of being dragged back into this hell with hammering heart, almost too strong to keep in his chest.

“I WILL DIE WITHOUT YOU!!!” the other father screamed, making the tunnel shake and Danny stumbled on all four, falling around and sweating in fear.

He looked back for a second – his eyes widening.

The little door to the other world was catching up with him, as if the length of the tunnel was shrinking and Danny threw himself forward to grab the handle of the little door before him.

The Codger’s scream grew louder and louder in his head, as he pushed the door open and finally got through.

Danny turned to see the other door coming right at him and pushed the door shut with a turned key.

The impact of the two doors colliding had the entire manor shake like it was going to collapse and Danny caught the little key, as if flew out of its lock and went over his head.

Danny continued to watch the door, waiting for something to happen. But when nothing did, he slowly sat up and grabbed his chest to wait for it to calm down.

The silence around him was almost too much, but pretty much for the first time in his life, Danny was glad to see so many ghost invention and boxes of ectoplasmic containers around him.

Which reminded him.

Danny pulled out the frame of his pocket and sat op in shock, when he found the glass cracked and the picture of his family unmoving.

His heart was already speeding up again, when the sound of the front door and jiggling of keys suddenly ran through the apartment.

When his name was called, Danny got up and blinked rapidly, as his mother, father and sister walked into the living room in a casual manner.

“You…you’re alright,” Danny stammered and received a weird look from his older sister.

“Jezz, Danny, we go out to get groceries and you act like we have been gone for years, stop being so clingy.”

Danny felt tears of joy form in the edges of his eyes and dried his eyes with his sleeves, still smiling despite his sister’s comment, “yeah, right, I’m just…”

“Hey look at this,” Jack exclaimed and turned Danny for the rest to see, “Danny is wearing the hazmat suit – he’s ready to become a ghost hunter like his old man!”

“Yell on the inside, hon,” his mother corrected and frowned at Danny, “and Danny, what have you been doing? Look at this, the glass is cracked. Let me see your hands, are you bleeding anywhere?”

Danny didn’t protest as she took the frame out of his hands and went to discuss how hard parenting was with his father, he didn’t even stop smiling as Jazz continued to watch him with confusion.

“Is that…a knife collection?” she asked puzzled, “you know you can get hurt, right? Where did you even find those?”

Danny took her by surprise again, as he didn’t answer and just hugged her.

She blinked perplex, but finally hugged him back in the best awkward sibling hug style and looked after him with some concern, as Danny ran off.

The rest of the afternoon continued like this with his sister watching him with worry and parents either congratulating him on finally becoming a visible ghost hunter-trainee, or voicing how nice it was to finally see him smiling for once.

The highlight of the night suddenly came out of nowhere, when his parents announced that they had made enough tests and sightings to know this house didn’t had an ounce of ghost activity in it.

Meaning they were moving back to Minnesota at the end of the month.

Both teens had a hard time controlling their excitement and feeling bad for their parent’s, as the Fenton couple seemed really bummed out and complained about their wasted time on this Green Palace project.

When Danny was ready to go to bed that night, his father turned out to have a surprise in the shape of a long internet cable.

Danny helped him connect it to the tangle of wires in the living room and set up his computer in a spot just for him by the room’s one armchair.

He returned to his bed with a smile that night and lifted his pillow to make sure the ghost knives was still safe and secure.

The three types of knives would be uncomfortable to sleep on, but knowing his sister and her obnoxious way of caring, this was the safest place for him to keep them, till he found a way to set the ghost children’s souls free.

The thoughts of being able to see his friends again by the end of the month and call them up on a chat as soon as tomorrow, had Danny stay up for a time, but at the end, sleep found him and he closed his tired eyes.

And then the children found him…

 

Danny couldn’t tell it was a dream at first, but it soon dawned upon him, that unless he had returned to the other world in his sleep and that the place had magically transformed into a world of soft blinding light – and somehow kicked out the other father entirely...

…then this had to be the realest dream of all time.

As he became aware that this was maybe more than just a dream, three figures emerge from the light, each of them finally solid and looking as alive, as the day they had first set foot into the mansion.

“You did it, Danny!” the little boy with the pirate hat beamed and shared a cheerful face with the other two, “we can’t thank you enough.”

“It was nothing,” Dany joked and scratched his neck with a fond smile, “I’m just glad it’s all over, you know?”

That made all three stop the celebration to share a worried glance, before Damien Gray flew closer to Danny, making a sorrowful face, “it is over, just…not for you.”

That made something feeling like a fist form in Danny’s guts, “wait what? What do ya mean ‘not for me’?”

“Beware!” the girl with the dark pigtails exclaimed and used her tiny hands for emphasis, “you are in great danger, the Codger still has you in sight.”

That didn’t make any sense to the teen, “but – I locked the door and everything!”

“It’s the key,” Damian explained, “as long as it in this house, the other father will find it and open the door again.”

“But…” Danny protested and tried his best to get his head around this nightmare.

“The key,” the pirate kid echoed, “it is the key to the other world and the key must be removed from the source. Only then can the little door be truly locked from the side of the living.”

“Hold unto the key for your life,” pigtail warned gravely.

Danny patted his pockets and panicked as he didn’t find it, before remembering that this was a dream and the key was safe in his jeans on the chair in his room.

But even with that safety, Danny’s world had turned unsure once again and the danger returned to lure around him. The sudden pressure of dread keeping his lungs from fully draw air.

Would he ever be free?

“It is not that bad, Danny,” Damien assured with a soft voice and embraced him along with the others.

“You are still alive.”

“You still have time…”

 

Danny woke with the pressure growing and found no other than Clockwork weighting on his chest.

Staring right at him with knowing black eyes.

The teen allowed his head to fall back over again and closed his eyes for a sec, too truly appreciate the fact that he wasn’t back in the other world, “I want this to be over.”

The raven ignored his melodrama and jumped unto Danny’s pillow, before nipping at it.

Danny sat up and lifted the pillow, only to gasp and stare. The three ghost knives were gone.

Only rusted scraps of something that could once had been called metal was left behind and Danny hurried to get out of bed to get to his jeans. Clockwork watched him, as Danny pulled out the key and turned it in his hands.

The red stone seemed more sinister than ever and as he stared into its red depths, he suddenly felt as if it was the other father’s very eye that stared back.

The raven crocked its dark head as if asking the teen a question, one that couldn’t promise anything but apprehension.

Danny returned the raven’s heavy stare and closed his hand around the key, “I have to get this key far away from the door. I need to end this.”

The raven jumped to land on his jeans, tried to keep him from taking them with a sharp beak.

Danny shooed the raven away and pulled the jeans from right under it. The raven emitted a sound Danny choose to ignore and hurried to dress.

The raven nipped at his feet, but nothing could stop Danny now and the raven stare at him with a glance of sorrow, even after Danny had put one his jeans and left the room.

Clockwork flew to the open window and watched the human from the windowsill, hoping for the best for him, but knew that the sparse light in the night wouldn’t shield him any better than a leaf in the wind.

The raven took of then – but not to leave the child for good.

But to find help.

In the living room downstairs, the cracking of old wood grew evermore persistent and the seeping puddle of pink ectoplasm began to grow on the living room floor.

The peak of something black and blue began to scratch its way out under the little door and bend the corner of the wood completely.

The clawed finger, now free and in the outside world as the first part of the being behind the door for centuries, dissolved completely in its own pool of pink sap and became nothing but pure ectoplasm.

The pool laid quiet for a second and then assembled. The structure of bones rose from the sap, a skull of a dog-sized creature moaning in its transformation, before growing flesh and organs.

Wide wings of veins grew out of the creatures back and the rest of the pool flowed into the being and covered the naked body in layers of skin, before lastly growing the right amount of fur.

The large bat bared its fangs and shook its head, as it stretched the large bluish wings. The dark fur turned from spiked to smooth on a second and the four limbs moved to try out the newly formed body.

The darkness of the living room was disturbed, as the ghost bat opened its two red eyes. Releasing a red light from the sockets and took in the living world with all its burning need for satisfaction.

Daniel.

The bat took off and flew through the nearest window, some forgetful soul had left open during the day.

The darkness of the night graced the nightmarish creature and the mere perversion of this being presence of this world, seemed to make the shadows grow deeper and the old trees wither.

The bats of the forest watched this larger and far more dangerous kin with hostility, as they hid in the shadows and hoped not to become its prey.

The ghost bat took no notice of them, his only prey was still ahead and needed to be brought back to his lair. Back to his world, where the child’s innocent soul would sustain the void and keep him company in the world of his will.

As it was meant to be. He had marked the child after all. The human belonged to him.

Unaware of this and the threat coming his way, Danny walked down the path behind the Green Palace in his jeans, pajamas shirt and red converse.

The night had suddenly turned from cold to bone chilling and he shuddered, wishing he had brought a jacket or something warm.

He had expected Clockwork to follow him, but there was no sight of the large bird, making Danny to conclude this was a thing he would have to do on his own.

Danny comforted himself that he only had to toss a key down a well and then he could move on from all this.

Something sounding fairly simple in his own ears and simple was all he could ask for after all he had been through. Danny just wanted all this to be over and throwing the key into the well seemed like the best idea.

That way it would be far away from the door. No one would ever find it again.

He began to hum a tune unconsciously, not noticing that it was the exact same melody that had been hummed to him by a certain person from another world.

Humming and cold, Danny slowly walked down the last stretch of the path between the group of boulders and continued down to the well.

Behind him a shadow glided through the silent wind and red eyes found their desired target.

Danny remained obvious to all this and hurried up a bit, as the well turned up ahead. He couldn’t wait to be over with this and return to his warm bed.

The thought of soon having this place behind him was enough to keep him from shivering like a cold mess and he bowed down to pull back the rotten lid of the old well.

The ghost bat had slowly crept closer after landing in one of the old trees. Its focus remaining solely on the human child – at least, that was until said child suddenly used a branch to open up lid of the well and pulled out the key from his pocket.

The bat widened its red eyes. The key! NO! Not when Daniel was on this side of the door!

Danny cried out by the shock of having something large slam into his back and the collision send him falling head first into the muddy ground, making him drop the key.

He barely had a second to recover, before the abuser grabbed his collar from behind and began to pull him across the ground, choking him in the attempt.

Danny gasped for breath, pulled again, as he twisted in desperation to see who was trying to take him and almost choked again by the sight.

A blue skinned bat the size of a golden retriever, clad in black fur and fangs like razor blades, had bit unto his pajamas shirt, tearing the fabric in the process and proceeded to drag him along.

Danny wasn’t stupid enough to even pretend this wasn’t the other father in some strange new form – or at least some minion shape in his image and grabbed the nearest wing to get the monstrous bat of him.

“Fuck-ach! S-stop! Let Ugh go!” he screamed and struggled to get free, but the other father bat seemed more than resisting to the teen’s hits and grabbed Danny’s neck with the long claw of its left wing.

The sudden realization that he didn’t have the key, made Danny look around in the mud, until a glimpse of glowing red made him aware, that the bat had it.

Holding it between the claws of its right foot. The teen knew he couldn’t let the bat take the key – and moreover, bring Danny back to the door.

Meaning all he had to do to stop this madness, was to get the key and throw it down the open well. If the bat tried to catch it, Danny could just seal the well again – right!?

He couldn’t waste time pounding about it and pushed off with his feet to get his hands around the bat’s neck.

The bat turned out to be stronger than him and Danny was slammed back on his back, now with the bat’s fangs an inch from his face and starring right into its burning red eyes.

The claw on its free foot locked around his neck and tightening every second.

Did you honestly believe you could defeat me, child? That you ever had a chance of escaping!? You belong to ME! the Codger’s voice resounded in Danny’s head and had the teen widening his blue eyes in fear, I own you, boy – I’ve made my mark on your very essence. On your very soul.

“P-please stop,” Danny begged as he pulled at the claws to get air – the voice of the Codger booming through his head like a deadly wave and leaving him with nothing but fear.

Give in, Daniel, the red eyes demanded and had the human below cower in pure fear, return to the other world – to me. You will never find love in this world, no acceptance, fulfillment or rest from my realm. Without me, this life had nothing to offer you but sorrow, longing and death!

Rain began to fall around them, and Danny felt tears run down his cheeks, as the monster worked his way deeper and deeper into his head like a poisonous drill.

Tightening its grip till the outlines of Danny’s sight began to darken. The teen grabbed the bat’s black fur in a weak attempt to push the beast of him, “yo-you’re lying…”

You know I love –

The res t of the know sentence was cut short, as the bat’s head was hit with a thick stick.

A direct hit that sent the beast rolling of the shaking teen. Danny gasped for the welcoming breath of cold air and dry heaved like a fish on land.

The teen blinked through the tears, as he was grabbed by gentle hands and looked up to find a yellow figure reaching down for him.

Danny grabbed the hand for support and stood, his darkened senses coming back to tell him, that Valerie Gray had just saved him with the help of a rotten stick.

He had been saved by a girl – and he fucking loved it!

“Shit, did it bite you!? Are you okay!?” Valerie asked in honest concern and had Danny cough with gratitude.

“You’re my hero, how did you – ” the question was answered when a mass of shining beak and sharp dark feathers shot right past them to attack the bat, just in time to distract the recovering monster.

“What is that thing!?” Valerie uttered in horror, as Danny threw them both down to their knees and began to dig in the mud like crazy.

“It’s the monster that eats the children of the palace – or bat he has possessed, doesn’t matter, just help me find the key to the little door!” Danny hurried to explain through his hoarse throat and digged around to find the dropped key.

Valerie didn’t question that logic and digged her own hands into the mud, while Clockwork and the bat had taken to the air above them to fight a match to the death in the heavy rain.

The possibility of finding the key seemed to get further and further away from the teens, as the seconds stretched and both of them had been covered in mud and soaked by the rain.

The night turned into a sea of light, as a lightning bolt cut the sky in half and Danny’s eyes caught the reflection of red.

“Val! Your boot!” Danny yelled with a hoarse voice over the thunder and had the girl look back on her yellow rainboot.

The key shone like a drop of blood between her fingers, as her slender hand locked around it and lifted it with triumph.

Only to have a raven and giant bat land on top of her.

Danny threw himself into the fight and joined the battle for the key with teeth, nails, claws, fangs and beaks – adding something extra as he drew his pocket knife.

Clockwork was the first to drop out of the fight, flapping around with a twisted wing and seeking cover.

The rest of the fighters went into a human versus abomination, as they rolled around in the mud, only the lightning guiding them around the open well and preventing them from just falling right in.

Danny had lost his knife at some point and turned to use his fists, to the best of his ability – probably making his mother and her karate training proud, had she been there to witness this.

They finally got a turn for their advantage, when Valerie got an arm around the bat’s neck and threw both of them back over.

The key fell out of the bat’s claws and Danny jumped after it before the bat could get out of the girl’s grip.

Danny’s hand brushed the head of the key, before the mud under him broke under his weight and sent him sliding down with the rest of the water and mudflow.

Right into the well.

“Danny, no!” Valerie screamed and let go of the bat to rush to his rescue but was then forced down by the monster and held down – her angry face suddenly turning to that of horror, as the bat grabbed her head and turned it to make her stared into its deep red eyes.

“Let her alone! Stop it!” Danny yelled, as he fought to keep his upper body over the edge of the well, while searching frantic for a something to grip with his shoes.

The smooth stone of the well and the thick mud crumbling under his fingers worked against that strategy and Danny glided further down.

Only his arms locked on the well’s edge keeping him from falling completely.

Valerie couldn’t break the stare of the monster and the girl was shaking now in paralyzed fear. Tears running down her dirty cheeks and body shaking from whatever horrors the other father was filling her mind with.

Danny could only watch and know time was running out, as he feared for both his life and his friend’s sanity.

The bat continued to torment Valerie despite Danny’s threats and pleas – soon making the girl shake like she was having a stroke and lose the ability to even beg it to stop.

The bat’s stare was sudden broken, as the wounded raven had returned to defend his favorite human.

The raven had digged its beak into the neck of the bat and made the beast step away from the girl in an attempt to get the raven of it.

Clockwork let go to get away, but wasn’t fast enough, as the bat caught it with a claw. The bat glared the raven down with a glance of disgust and sent the raven to the ground with a blow of its leather wing.

The absence of the Codger’s voice made Valerie stir and she slowly sat up with dirt and tears coloring her face – her eyes widening as Clockwork landed broken and still before her.

Her crumbling mind wakening to yet another nightmare.

“No!” Valerie cried out and moved to shield the bird from further harm, as the monster went to finish the bird of, baring her back for the bat in the attempt to protect Clockwork.

The stone and old tree carving into Danny’s arms made blood mix with the muddy water running down around him in streams and Danny felt cold.

His arms had slowly gone numb and the muscles sore. He had to help them, he had to get up and stop the other father!

The last feeling in his arms slowly disappeared and he did a desperate attempt to reach out for solid ground or to grasp – and lost his grip.

The pull of gravity forced him directly down to a cold wet grave and Danny scrunched his eyes tight together, when a long wing-claw grabbed the front of his ruined pajamas and pulled him face to face with the monster bat.

Done testing my patience? Cause if you haven’t seen enough, I won’t hesitate to show you what happens when children cross me, my boy, the other father’s voice threatened with calmness laced in a dangerous tone and held Danny out where he couldn’t stop a fall if the bat let go, comply or watch your friend pay the price.

Valerie looked up from her protective hug and stared as the bat threatened to drop Danny into the well.

Clockwork laid still in her arms, but even in the cold rain soaking them both to the bone, she could still feel his heart beat. He would make it, but not if they stayed out here.

Danny held unto the bats wing for dear life and his eyes darted between Valerie and the bat.

What now?

What options did he have left?

He knew deep down that he had only one option, but that didn’t mean he liked it – but then again, he knew he couldn’t risk her getting killed because of him.

He had to stop making everyone pay for his mistakes. He had to stop dragging others down with him. Even if it meant hell for him, he couldn’t bare knowing others had suffered because of him.

He had to do the right thing…

He had to.

“Please…don’t hurt her,” Danny pleaded and stopped struggling, stopped fighting at all, “I’ll go with you, just…leave her alone. I’ll be your obedient son and do as you say, just don’t hurt her.”

The bat seemed pleased to see the teen beg and lifted Danny out of the well to kneel before it, something Danny did without a fight.

Valerie watched as the bat picked up the key from the mud and swallowed it whole – now out of their hands. Danny clenched his fists in the mud and then loosened them to lay useless in his lap.

Do it for them, he reminded himself.

“Hnnnggg,” Danny winced, as the ghost bat pushed him unto the ground and forced his head up with a claw around his neck, its red eyes burning into his.

You want me to spare the brat? Fine. For your readiness, my boy, I’ll allow her to live. The raven on the other hand…

Valerie bared her teeth by the sight of the bat tormenting her friend and suddenly found a glimpse of something shining in the dirt.

Pick him up and break his useless neck.

“Fuck you!” Valerie roared and planted the pocket knives’ blade directly into the neck of the bat.

Danny gasped and crawled backwards and away from the creature, as the knife sticking out of its neck had sent the monstrous bat into an uncontrollable fit of cramps.

The bat didn’t scream or roar, instead, a gurgling sound emitted from its throat and it continued to stagger like it wasn’t in control of its own body.

Pink goo began to ooze out of the creature’s natural openings, melting it from the inside and leave the pink bones exposed by the collapsing fur and flesh.

Danny was completely phased by this sight – Valerie on the other hand, was still high on adrenaline and the hard-burning power of spite.

With one last shout, she planted a forceful kick directly into the beast decomposing chest to finish the job.

The blow made the final force holding the beast’s ecto-skeleton together break apart and they all watched, as the grumbling form of the ghost bat fell back over

Its rotting body breaking into thousand dissolving pieces and in the center of it all, the key was shining like a bloody star. Falling along with the rest of the body that once been a bat.

Right down into the darkness of the old well.

 

Danny walked inside and closed the front door to the mansion with a scowl.

The walk back from the grand trap Vlad had set to distract him in the garden, had felt like he was making some sort of walk-of-shame – as if that term could even begin to describe just how angry he felt.

No, Danny was beyond angry, he was PISSED.

“Get the fuck out here and face me, you fruitloop!” Danny yelled without trying to be the least tactful or mannered in any way, as he marched up the hallway, “I’m not gonna run around searching for you – come out or I’ll go to bed and ignore you for the rest of the night!”

The anger had him kick doors open.

Vlad had tricked him, taken advantage of Danny’s soft spots without so much as a warning.

And then, just to finish it off with an extra notch, like that selfish bastard loved so much – he had thrown it all back in Danny’s face like a cold bucket of water, by showing up in the middle of the distraction.

Smirking, not even having to say it with more than a mocking smile, ‘cause they both knew he had tricked Danny on the lowest, but nonetheless showed the human just how easy he had been to take advantage of.

‘Dirty’ was probably the word describing what Danny felt right now.

He had a very simple task – a job so simple it only consisted of finding one simple object and then he would win this stupid game. A game that, not to forget, would secure him a pulse by the end of the week.

All he had to do was staying focused on finding a ghost knife and get the hell outta here, simple as pie, but still something he had been too dumb to get to the bottom of even three days in.

And then what, with such a burden already weighting him down, did Danny do? What did he do!?

Wasted an entire night on having fun.

At this rate Danny couldn’t tell who he was most incensed with.

Vlad for tempting him with an obvious trap, or himself for having jumped right into it with both legs.

If he’d had time travel powers and been able to tell his past self this was a trap Danny was going to fall for, he doubted that the Danny from the start of the week would have believed even an ounce of it.

Where had his iron will gone? His motivation to outsmart this place’s cheap magic and bring an end to it? His experience with not falling for winders? His need to do the right thing?

His common fucking sense!?

“Oh my, what a temper – and here I was under the impression that you were enjoying yourself, Daniel,” Vlad responded calmly into his ears, making it burn with his warm breath.

Danny wasn’t even going to turn around to face the monster, instead, Danny clenched his right fist and fired his elbow back to give the monster a hit that would surely take out the air of his lungs – if not his big ego.

But his elbow found nothing, and Danny was left to seethe alone in the hallway. Vlad nowhere to be found.

He pursed his lips into a firm line, when a soft light streamed down the stairs and led him to Vlad’s next location.

The Codger awaited him ever so charming in the master bedroom.

The bedroom, also known as the grand bedroom, had been the bedroom of his parents ten years ago and now it was the abandoned bedroom of the Thornwoods back in the real world.

Danny had actually never been inside the real-world version of this room, as he had respected his parent’s privacy as a teen – not to mention that Danny hadn’t felt one bit motivated to snoop around in stuff his teen self probably wouldn’t want to know about his parent’s.

He had checked this room out like the rest of this place in Vlad’s world, to make sure neither ghost girl or knife was hidden in here and after the stone had revealed nothing, Danny hadn’t really sticked around to take a good look at this particular room.

But telling from the décor, he already knew that this was how Vlad had used to live in it, not his parent’s.

The wine-red sheets of the canopy bed weren’t exactly something he could imagine anyone, but Vlad enjoy sleeping in and in the soft light of a single lamp, he found the other father with his back to him.

Starring out the large window to observe the party goers down at the concert in the garden, his hands clamps on his back and frame illuminated by the multi colored lights outside.

The monster turned slightly as Danny stepped into the bedroom and smirked in his own smug way.

His holier-than-thou pose clearly stated that whatever issue Danny had brought into this room, wasn’t going to affect him more than if he had been a father facing a toddler’s daily hissy fit.

“Well don’t be shy, Daniel,” he soothed with a chuckled, as Danny remained standing in the middle of the room, “come watch the festive with me, I won’t bite.”

Tonight, Vlad seemed to have felt a change of wardrobe and had dressed himself in a fitting three-piece suit with a red tie, rather than that plain black suit and weird bolo tie he seemed to prefer.

Danny didn’t know what kinda occasion Vlad felt needed such a change of suit, but it was the least of Danny’s cares. Right now, he just wanted to make a statement.

So he did – and pulled his ecto-gun.

Vlad didn’t show any shock or wrath per say by being threatened by a gun but having been witness to all scales of the monster’s emotionally telltale signs, Danny felt a deep satisfaction by finding a stiffness in the other father’s posture.

Danny felt a stretch in the corner of his lips.

He had angered the monster.

Good.

Danny bared his own teeth as a response. Knew that Vlad recognized the design of the gun, remembered the pain of its ecto-based shots.

But most important, Danny could easily read the other’s body language and tell he had taken Vlad by surprise by bringing a gun here.

Danny didn’t feel the least bad about it. It was time for Vlad to remember this was a fight between adults.

Time for the monster to remember that Danny might be a human, but a human who had defeated him before as a mere child.

“How dare you use you dirty magic on me,” Danny scowled and watched as Vlad slowly turned towards him, his fully attention now on Danny, “making your goons a loophole like you did last time. Making them put up hollow dreams and wonders – you think you can keep playing dirty and still call this an even game!?”

Vlad’s face remained an unreadable expression as Danny sneered, but at the end of Danny’s rant, something seemed to take Vlad by surprise, and he blinked. And then laughed.

“What the fuck is so funny?” Danny scowled and kept the monster at gunpoint, as Vlad moved to lean on the windowsill.

“Oh, Daniel, you never stop to amuse me,” Vlad chuckled and dried a tear from his red eye, “I’m not playing by the rules? I’m not keeping this game even? My dear, you have been the one to cheat from the start, while I have only been leveling the score.”

Danny frowned, not getting it and raised the gun, as Vlad moved to get closer, “what are ya talking about, you cheater?”

“Must I really explain everything to you?” Vlad asked like he was bored and had Danny raise the gun more firmly, “alright, then let me take you back to memory-lane ten years ago. As you might remember, I did use copies of the humans living and acting in your proximity for the sake of creating wonders to your likening. To show you how every aspect of your world could be better in mine.”

“You made them to lure me in for you to slaughter me,” Danny corrected with an angry tone.

“Perhaps, but then you so wrongly claimed that I used them, as I use them now, to cheat. Making a loophole in the game to my advantage,” Vlad continued and sent Danny a raised brow, “but are you sure I was the one to cheat, Daniel? After all, I never hid the fact or number of my servants from you, they were always in plain sight for you to see. Unlike that feathered vermin you associated with. He was never part of this game – and yet, you made him so. As you placed him on your side as your little helper, I simply found it fair for me to turn my creations from actors to helpers. Making it fair.”

Now it was Danny’s turn to be caught napping and he opened and closed his mouth, not knowing how to defend himself. Strangely enough…Vlad was right?

“But this time is different,” Danny hurried to say and collected himself with gun still on point, “you used your goons to distract me, while Clockwork is missing from the game.”

“And who’s fault might that be?” Vlad asked with a dark chuckle and Danny felt dread crush his chest.

“Where is he?” Danny asked slowly, ready to fire if the answer proved his worst fears right, “what did you do to him!?”

Vlad simply sighed and turned his back on Danny to return to his pose in front of the window, “he isn’t here, Daniel. That bird hasn’t showed himself in ten years and this might sound cruel in your ears, my boy, but he wasn’t anything special. He was just an animal.”

Danny’s same assumptions that Clockwork might have passed away of old age seemed to add up, but you couldn’t trust the other father. Couldn’t trust anything coming out of his mouth.

“He wasn’t just a raven, he was better than you,” Danny defended with clenched teeth, “you don’t know anything about him.”

“On the contrary,” Vlad replied with a calmness contrasting Danny’s anger, “I know he isn’t in this world, but yours. You won’t find him here, just as you won’t find any sign of the girl until you have succeeded in your part of the game. So please, stop wasting our time with meaningless searches. You are here to give me company, enjoy my wonders. That was the rules, as you might recall.”

Danny cursed in silence. Dammit.

He had hoped that Vlad hadn’t notice his search for the ghost and her knife, but it seemed that the play pretend was over.

The terms of the game crushing Danny’s self-righteousness and leaving him bitter.

Each day I will leave you to search for my end on your own. I won’t follow you and I won’t stop you, but when the moon rises and the night falls, you will return here to live with me and see my wonders till the sun rises in the east.

He had been the one to cheat, it seemed. Even though Danny wasn’t going to admit it out loud, they both knew he was in the wrong. Part of the rules had been that Vlad could make wonders to. He had let his anger run of with him it seemed.

Danny lowered the gun, not knowing what to do with it now. He really needed Clockwork to guide him.

“Oh, don’t beat yourself up about something so trivial,” Vlad assured, as the better sportsman he believed himself to be and hid his triumph well, as Danny disarmed himself slowly, “water under the bridge, really, but this entire conversation hasn’t been entirely wasted – in fact it has revealed a very interesting change of your character, my dear.”

Danny sent him a nasty glare over the “dear” part, but decided to let the fucker indulge him, “and what would that be, cheesehead?”

Vlad beaconed for him with a finger to come closer to the window and Danny rolled his eyes, before doing so like an annoyed teenager.

Vlad smiled by Danny’s cooperative manner and returned to his observation of the party downstairs, “Daniel, have you ever encountered the saying; ’the sad thing about betrayal is that it never comes from an enemy?’”

“Sure,” Danny droned, still not following and scowled, as the other chuckled.

“Well, this is where it gets interesting, you see, when you were still enjoying yourself down there and still in a carefree spirit –”

“Blinded by your dirty devil magic,” Danny corrected coldly.

Vlad shook his head lightly, “blinded by the beauty of my wonders, perhaps, but when you stood on that scene and found my presence in the crowd. I believe you felt something – the same thing that brought you to confront me here in such a wrath. What I found in those bright eyes of yours was so much more than just your usual anger. No, you felt betrayed.”

Danny nodded, but then froze, “wait, what are you –”

“Do you feel betrayed by my actions, Daniel?” Vlad continued mercilessly and turned to Danny with shining red eyes, deeper than ever before, “did I betray you tonight?”

“This isn’t –” Danny tried to defend to stop whatever was happening here, as Vlad suddenly had him caught up against the window with eyes too deep for Danny to escape their hunger.

“Do you remember when I asked you about your true reasons to come here, Daniel?” the low baritone pressed on and had Danny a bit dizzy – and scared, “to return to me?”

“Step back,” Danny replied flatly and pressed his gun against Vlad’s chin, with what he hoped was a threatening expression, “I came here to kill you, remember? I know things about you, you used to be human, you used to be the mayor of this town. I know things about you now and just like ten years ago you’re going to lose, but this time you won’t stick around after I win.”

A low chuckle made Vlad’s broad chest vibrate against Danny’s and told him that the Codger didn’t believe him one second, “do you now? How fascinating, then please enlighten me how I came to be immortal again, it is such a lovely story and I would love to hear it spill from your sweet ripe lips.”

The last part had Danny shaking and he tried his best to keep his breath under control, as Vlad lifted a hand to brush Danny’s cheek.

The fact that the Codger was looming over him with his height and caging him with his arms to didn’t help that much either on Danny’s state of mind.

He opened his mouth to say something clever, but his mind wouldn’t cooperate, and neither would his tongue, as Vlad’s red lights kept staring into his without a chance of escaping.

“I thought so,” Vlad purred, as Danny couldn’t find anything to say and just put all his focus into keeping the gun in control, “although I must admit I’m a bit disappointed. Last time we played a little game, you made such great progress in just one night. Now it has already been…what? Three days and you’re still not closer to win than before.”

That had Danny boil with rage, and he pressed the gun upwards, making Vlad’s chin risen, as the human’s voice turned etched, “don’t test me, monster. You might feel safe for now but mark my words – I will save the girl and you will lose.

Vlad stared down at him from the edge of his nose and suddenly pressed down on the gun, making their faces inches from touching, “and what if I could assure you victory tonight?”

That caught Danny by surprise and his second of inattentiveness was enough for the Codger to slam the gun out of his hands.

Danny yelped and tried to regain it, but Vlad just pressed him back up against the window and secured Danny’s hands above his head with one hand, while the other took a grip on his face.

“No need to fight this, all I am proposing is an easy way out,” Vlad uttered in a voice on the border to huskiness and Danny tried his best to repress the things that voice did to him.

He tried to get free, but it didn’t take long for Danny to accept that he was locked in place and that his gun was three meters from him on the floor.

“Fine,” Danny jeered and returned the unbroken scowl, “just tell me what your fucking proposal is and get to the part where I tell you to suck a bat.”

The hand on his jaw slowly became softer and Danny closed his right eyes, as Vlad’s thumb began to caress his face.

“Consider this,” Vlad suggested and got to close for Danny’s comfort, “I could end this game and bring forth the girl. With your supervision, we could bring her back to the real world and see her go free. In return you will return with me to the other world. Take the final step to embrace this world and become mine.”

“But then I’ll end up here for eternity,” Danny pointed out.

“And the girl wont.”

Danny’s eyes darted from the key to the monster.

What Vlad was saying…Danny knew that the chances of him winning and then getting out of here alive with the girl on tow was slim. Ever since Valerie had called him, he had prepared for death.

Vlad was a sore loser, he would never let Danny go, even if he succeeded – all Danny had been able to bet on, was the chance to distract the Codger long enough to get the girls soul out of this world and then die with the monster in this hell hole.

Danny wasn’t an innocent child – his soul couldn’t keep this place alive. The second the girl left this place; this world would collapse with a starved Vlad in it – and of course, Danny himself.

Dead and stranded with him, if not murdered by an angry monster.

Danny was lucky enough to survive last time, but what was the odds he could do that twice? He had spent many hours asking himself if he was willing to sacrifice himself for a child and in his heart, he had always known that he would.

If he had found a way to kill the Codger back when he was a teen, this girl wouldn’t be dead now.

Danny had promised to end this should a child ever fall victim to the other father again and he wasn’t going back on that promise. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he did.

The girl’s death was his burden to bear.

Danny frowned. Taking this offer would safe him a lot of time – and a lot of the child’s further suffering before he could set her free. That is, if he won.

Even though Danny trusted himself to win this game, there was still the possibility of losing. And losing meant he would die for nothing and the curse would continue.

If he failed, the girl would continue to be a ghost battery of this place and all hope would be lost. But if Danny took this offer, the chances of losing would be gone and the girl would be free.

That is, if he trusted the other father to be sincere when he said the girl could leave.

Letting her leave would mean starving to death for Vlad, unless another child came waltzing into the apartment before Vlad starved out completely and was willing to freely give her/his soul up to Vlad, without any wonders or honey to sweeten the deal for them.

Danny doubted any child would look at monster-Vlad and feel like spending the afterlife in his company, or find his world better than their own, when the other world was at its lowest and most dangerous.

No, Vlad needed children souls to keep this place a wonderland and his own being alive.

The only reason he would let the girl’s soul go, was if he was hiding something. Some other way of sustaining his other world, than that of children souls.

Danny had suspected something like that for the past three days. Vlad’s little hints of having changed somehow, the expansion of his world despite only having one soul in stock and now this offer of giving up his last innocent soul for Danny’s spoiled one.

Vlad was driving on some new juice – but what?

“Of course, you don’t have to take the offer right away,” Vlad added with a sweet edge to his deep voice, that made Danny swallow and press against the window to try and get a little space, “but I think we both know it would be the best option for you, Daniel. You showed such happiness tonight, something you haven’t felt in a long time, something I could grant you every second of your life for the rest of eternity.”

Danny opened his mouth to deny it, but Vlad wouldn’t allow it and pressed closer, his free hand running its thumb across Danny’s lower lip ever so slowly and their chests pressed tight together, “this place could be your playground, no dream would go unreached and no hope ever let down. You could be the prince of my paradise, nothing would ever be you denied, and no wish would go undone.”

“I-I was happy in my world,” Danny finally voiced and closed his eyes to remain focused.

“Maybe for a time,” Vlad whispered, his body heat seeping into Danny cloth, skin and blood, “but you’re different, Daniel. They all found out in one way and another, but instead of embracing your light, they tried to crush it and banish it from the world. Tried to smother your cold brilliant flame.”

Danny shuddered, feeling a bit lightheaded and to warm with all this contact. Not to say the little voice in his head that kept telling him that Vlad was too good an opportunity to pass by.

Danny blamed it on his still persisting teen brain and forced himself to cool down with reason. The betrayed of his body wasn’t going to get his brain and Danny forced himself to stay focused.

“I need, uhm, some time to think,” Danny finally forced out and Vlad smiled lightly, the hand brushing away a stray hair from Danny’s face with a gentleness so unlike a monster.

“Of course,” Vlad replied and let him go, “oh, and for you.”

Danny stared down at the key in the monster’s hand and watched him with some distrust before taking it.

Here in his own hand, he suddenly found that the key looked damage. Bits of the metal was missing or ruined by rust and the old shine had faded.

The red gemstone had cracked into an unrecognizable shape and without its red hue, it was just a grey stone.

Danny’s mind raced with questions. How had Vlad gotten his claws on the key? It was supposed to be in the well…

“I have no need for it anymore,” Vlad added offhanded, as if the key held no worth to him, “just as the rest of my world, the door is mine to lock and close now. This little thing has lost its purpose – but do keep it as a gift or burn it if you like. It might even be the key to secrets.”

Danny watched as Vlad returned to stare out the window and the human hurried to pick up his gun. Danny licked his lips without knowing and moved to the door walking backwards, still facing the other.

Vlad simply ignored him and first addressed him again, as Danny was about to leave.

“Think of my offer, Daniel. I will come for an answer when the time is right.”

Danny found that fucking creepy, if not ominous and tried to read the other’s demeanor but couldn’t tell if Vlad meant on the seventh day or before.

All in all, Danny decided to get the hell outta there and went to his bedroom. With the door closed behind him, he exhaled slowly and closed his eyes to clear his mind.

That…. hadn’t gone as he’d expected. That had gone out of hand sooooo fast!

“Shit,” he mumbled to himself and leaned against the door, trying to collect his thoughts without luck.

There was no way he was going to take that offer, no fucking way. Vlad was planning something, and Danny needed to know what, had to dig deeper and reveal his secret to power.

If only Clockwork were here, Danny could ask him and…probably get some vague answers at best – but still.

Danny frowned, Vlad had said the raven was in Danny’s world and for some reason the human couldn’t help but believe that. He didn’t know, but for some reason he had the feeling that the Codger would have offered Danny a bargain for the raven if Clockwork had been in the other world. That Danny would have to pay something to get him back. But Vlad hadn’t, so it could only mean he really didn’t have Clockwork.

But…. then why hadn’t Clockwork approached him then?

Danny’s chest tightened, he didn’t want to believe that the raven had passed away, but so far it seemed like the only reasonable option. What a depressing thought.

The sad thing about betrayal is that it never comes from an enemy.

Danny stared ahead. What was Vlad trying to say? – that he wasn’t Danny’s enemy, because Danny had felt betrayed by him?

What a load.

What did some old saying even have to say about them? Nothing! Danny and Vlad were playing a GAME (disturbing one or not, with death for the loser and a child’s corps in the deal for the winner), Vlad had betrayed the rules of the game, not Danny.

…well, Danny had perhaps taken it a bit too far by calling Vlad a cheater when the monster had pointed out that wasn’t the case, BUT STILL!

Anyway, just because Danny had felt betrayed, didn’t mean that they had stopped being enemies – they were fighting to the death of all thing.

If they of all people weren’t enemies, then no one were. Danny nodded to himself, yeah, their status as enemies hadn’t changed. Not. At. All.

And even more important matters; how the hell had Vlad gotten the key?

Danny turned in his hand, studied it suspiciously. He and Valerie had sent it down into the well. A place out of the Green Palace’s reach and the other father’s range.

Without it, the door should have remained closed, but as so many things had already proved – Vlad had found a way.

The Thornwood girl had gone through the little door without it, unless she had fallen into the well, survived the fall and water- then dived for the key and returned without a scratch to figure out where to stick it in.

Which was very unlikely.

No, Danny though quietly as he looked the key over in his hand, Vlad had found a way to open the door without a key and then gotten one of his bats to bring it up from the well.

Danny had no idea how shallow or deep the water in the well were, but it was possible he had sent some of his bats to get it.

I can’t wait to show you just everything I’ve become.

Danny shuddered, what had happened to the other father?

The human covered his face in his hands, too much coming rolling back from the last twenty minutes. He still couldn’t believe how the Codger had turned things around so sudden.

Danny had been the one with the upper hand, he had been the one with the other at gunpoint. And still – something like that happened.

Danny hugged himself, the process of thoughts leaving him a bit cold. Jazz’s words of Vlad courting him and the monster’s actions suddenly fit too perfect. Danny wondered if he had been clueless all this time, blind to the things actually going on.

Or maybe…

Danny scowled, maybe this was just another trick. The Codger had pretended to care about him ten years ago to get his soul – he might as well be playing with Danny now to get something new. But what?

Danny’s soul wasn’t innocent, not like a child’s, it wouldn’t have any magic – but Vlad wanted it anyway…maybe for something else than the other world’s sustainment? Revenge maybe?

Or maybe it was to keep Danny under his control and eliminate the threat he was posing to Vlad’s further terror regime?

Danny personally didn’t find that logical, but maybe? He did come here to kill the monster. That made him a threat to the Codger and since Danny believed he could end this curse, so did Vlad?

Danny’s frown deepened. This needed some serious research and better leads.

And speaking of leads.

You can call me when you get tired of playing on your own and want the exclusive police rapport I’ve got my hands on. By the look of that book, I guess you’ll find it pretty interesting.

Danny sought into his back pocket and pulled out a wrinkled business card. The little black letters leaving a hard print on the pure white cardboard.

S. Walker – Detective - A.P. P.D.

Danny nodded to himself. It was worth a shot.

Chapter Text

DAY 4

”Yo this is Amity Park police station, what can I help you with?” Ember’s voice droned through the phone, along with the sound of chewing loudly and popping gum bubbles.

Apparently being the secretary working at the front desk of a local police station wasn’t the most exiting job in a village like Amity.

But what could you expect from a small town where the normal news was mostly about rescues of cats in trees and teens stealing garden gnomes for kicks?

“Hey, Ember, it’s me Danny.”

“Danny?” she asked surprised and from the sound to judge, popping one of her bubble gum bobbles in her own face, “ack! Shit my extensions!”

“Is this a bad time?” Danny asked and walked a half circle in his attic room, walking from the crime wall to the window and back again, “use peanut butter or some olive oil by the way.”

“Peanut? For what?” she asked confused and Danny rearranged one of his drawings on the crime wall.

“For your hair, you cover the gum with oil and let it sit for a minute, then remove the gum with a toothbrush,” Danny explained and sat down on the edge of the bed, “I had a friend who used to pop a lot of liquorish gum and get it stuck in her bangs. Trust me it works.”

Ember left the phone to hunt for oil and Danny listened to the low sounds of drawers being pulled out and slammed shut again. He suspected she had left to go to the stations mini kitchen or something and waited patient for her to return.

“Dang, that actually worked, thanks man,” she suddenly said, as she returned to her seat and Danny scratched his head.

“No problem, uhm, listen I sorta need a favor…”

She scoffed drily into the phone, but didn’t sound offended, “fine, one back scratch for another, what can I do for you, babypop?”

“Well the thing is… have you seen Walker run around with an exclusive police rapport on him recently? Maybe he has talked about it or something?”

Ember sounded a bit confused, “exclusive police rapport? You mean as in an old fungus smelling report he may or may not have made me hunt down, with unpaid overtime and forced me down the basement to flip through the old archive, with huge ass spiders and enough layers of dust-bunnies to choke a toddler? Why you ask?”

Danny took a deep breath of air, “I need you to give me a copy of the report.”

She was silent for a time and Danny feared for a second that she had gone to rat him out, but then she finally spoke, “Danny, I’m gonna keep it real with you. Unless you have a connection to the case of the report – meaning that its information is related to either you personally, a relative of yours or you have some lawful rights to it, then you can’t even look at it from a mile away. This report was filed as an arrest report down in the archive. I couldn’t even get you a copy even if I wanted to. I could get fired for even consider it.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked,” Danny apologized, having known from the start that this was a bad idea, but of course he had gone talked himself in to try anyway, “of course you can’t go around show stuff like that, just forget I ever asked.” “Danny…why do you need that report?”

He stared ahead and he found nothing – yet still something.

The little attic window leading to the outside was striped like a tiger with raindrops and laid out a grey silent mass of water patterns on the floor.

Just as the world outside, this room, apartments and mansion held no more life, or hope, than the faint memory of sunlight.

Danny couldn’t recall how it had felt like being completely dry, feeling warmth without the chilling sensation of humidity sticking to your skin like a disease or just content.

How real light had felt on his skin or given more life than artificial.

What it had felt like not feeling watched in your sleep and breath without the knowledge that every single second would bringing you closer to a final second, where death was the likeliest of outcomes and eternal pain was a promise.

What it had felt like to be safe.

“I need it to stop the curse that eats children wandering into the Green Palace and drained the life of this town,” Danny replied emotionless.

The silence on the other side easily challenged the previously in length and Danny was beginning to wonder if she had ended the call, when she whistled quietly, “that’s fucking ominous, dude – hey are you high or something? Cause you gotta share that shit, it sounds wild.”

“Again, sorry I bothered you,” Danny repeated honestly and went to end the call.

A commotion in the other end of the phone made him hang on for a second and he recognized Walker’s voice.

It was low, but apparently, he was yelling at Ember about something sounding like coffee. Something the young woman didn’t seem that willing to go make him.

“Go fuck yourself, I’m not your personal waitress!”

“Just do it, or you can say goodbye to your lunch break. These reports don’t write themselves.”

Danny frowned and cleared his voice, “I should probably hang up now.”

“Hey-hey wait up, dude,” she insisted now that Walker had moved on, “okay, again I really can’t get you a copy of that report, but maybe you and I can figure something out if you answer this question honestly.”

“Yeah?”

“How much do you think it would piss Walker of, if he lost that report?”

“Tremendously,” Danny answered, not noticing he had picked up Vlad’s way of speaking.

“Well then,” Ember grinned down into the phone, “if you promise to bring the report back by my place, then I might have an idea where that report is going to be by lunch.”

 

Ember did not disappoint.

Danny had barely been hiding out back by the local diner, before a familiar car rolled into the grey parking lot at exactly 12:00 sharp.

The black car and its driver made an entrance in best film noir style, with the rain running down Walker’s fedora and a cigarette falling from his hand to be crushed beneath his heel.

The detective stuffed his hands into his long waist coat with one last gaze of melancholy and went into the establishment. Probably to go get what Danny could only assume was a coffee as black as his soul – or some other 1940th emo crap.

Why did everyone around him have to be such drama queens?

Danny didn’t spill his short window of time to pounder further about his luck in life and snuck up behind the first car to get to the detective’s.

Inside, Walker was obvious to Danny’s schemes and took a seat by the desk before lifting a hand to let the sweet waitress know he was ready to order.

Danny snuck from car to car and finally made it to Walker’s vehicle without the man’s notice.

The man in the diner had been served his coffee and Danny estimated how much time he would have to run on before someone on the street would notice him with his suspicious looking tool.

The slim-jim was hard to hide on you, but the long flat police tool could open car doors without the need for a key.

Normally, the only people who owned a tool like this was criminals of some profession – but with Ember in on the plan, she had simply taken it from the stations tool selection and brought it over to his apartment under the cover of being on her early break.

Just like the report, she needed it back before anyone began suspect her ass and Danny wasn’t one to look the gift-punk in the mouth.

He moved to the door of the passenger seat and put his two fingers on the window like Ember had instructed.

If he was to do this right without leaving any sighs of break in, he would have to find the right spot by pulling back the rubber strip on the window and insert the slim-jim into the tight gab.

Danny raised his eyes to make sure Walker still had his back to the parking lot and felt a bit of cold sweat run down his back.

If he got caught…

Focus, Fenton, Danny reminded himself and lowered his eyes back to his current task. The tool slipped down the gab with some work and he stopped pressing when the slim-jim met the resistance of the inner door.

Danny bit down on his lower lip, as he began to search for the bottom of the pin on the other side of the glass.

Ember had warned him about the delicate wires below the pin and how one easily could end up messing up and causing visible damage by tangling them.

If he screwed up this part, not only would the door remain closed – Walker wouldn’t be able to open it either and notice the tampering.

Danny had been smart enough to wear gloves, but if Walker had a valid reason to get the rest of the station to examine the car, they might find some DNA.

How he had no clue, but you always read or heard about criminals getting busted because of stuff like skin or spit particles staying behind on the crime scene.

He knew he was probably just being paranoid, but closed his mouth anyway. Couldn’t have Walker bust him because he had vapored on the car window.

That would be super embarrassing.

He returned his attention to Walker and found the man eating now. Good, that meant he would be staying a bit longer, giving Danny that much more time to be delicate about this.

Danny suddenly froze, as one of the old patrons of the diner walked out the door and headed for the cars.

It was too late for Danny to pull out the slim-jim and so he left it in and threw himself down on the ground. Rolled under the car and stayed in the cold mud with a disgusted face.

The sound of heavy steps got closer and Danny held his breath. One could hope the man would get in a car a few spots away from Walker’s and not notice the suspicious tool sticking out of the window, but Danny were never that lucky.

The steps continued to walk a brisk pace towards Walker’s car and Danny began to freeze in the cold mud but remained still. When had his life come to this?

The steps stopped right in front of him and Danny could already taste the copper on his tongue by the sight of boots.

There was no way he was going to get out of this in one piece and when the sound of the man bending down on the ground followed as the next, Danny just closed his eyes. He might as well play dead.

“A dollar? Huh.” Danny opened his eyes and stared at the boots and hand. The man had picked up a stray dollar from the ground just next to Danny’s face and then went on with a merry whistle.

Danny was more surprised than actually relieved and then patted his own pocket.

Did my own food money just save me?

Danny sighed in annoyance, the dropped money might have saved him a lot of trouble, but losing money was never something to be thankful for.

But he guessed it was a cheap price for spending the night in a station cell and he waited till the man had removed himself completely, before moving out from under the car again.

A quick glance to the diner informed Danny that he had wasted a lot of time, as Walker had finished his meal and was about ready to move on after he’d taken the last sip pf his coffee.

The slim-jim had become a bit difficult to handle, as the rain had made its rubber handle slippery and Danny’s hide and seek adventure in the cold mud wasn’t helping that much either.

His hands were dirty and shaking by now. The pressure of failing rising like icy tides.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Walker finish his coffee and lift a hand to indicate he was ready to pay his bill. Danny took a hasty decision and drew in a deep breath – then pulled the tool up under what he hoped was the pin.

knowing that this would either be a complete failure or success, he closed his eyes and made a prayer.

“Click!”

The pin popped up like a troll in a box and Danny thanked whatever higher power, that had seen fit to hear his prayer.

With no time to spare, he opened the door and grabbed the stack of folders on the passenger seat.

Not knowing exactly how this police report Walker had bragged about looked like, he just followed his instinct and tried not to leave any mud from his cloves on the white papers.

A black shape drew Danny’s eyes to the dark briefcase on the floor of the passenger seat and he hurried to click it open. A thick, if not old looking report with gray mold spots, immediately attracted his attention and Danny opened it.

Dirty gloves be damned.

An old mugshot of a native American woman, assured Danny that this was the report and he tugged it into under his jacket and zipped it back up.

With only seconds to spare, he closed the briefcase and placed it back in its exact spot, before tidying up the papers on the passenger seat.

With the slim-jim pulled back out of the window, Danny pushed down the pin and slammed the door. And that with nothing but a single moment to spare. Danny had barely thrown himself behind the neighbor car, before a recognizable set of footsteps walked up to the car and unlocked it with a key.

Danny remained hunched up against the car, as Walker’s car braked out of the tight spot and left the place.

Danny hugged the slim-jim tool to his chest. The report under his jacket cracking.

Even as he’d reached the apartment and locked the door, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

 

Ten years ago…

The blow made the final force holding the beast’s ecto-skeleton together break apart and they all watched, as the grumbling form of the ghost bat fell back over.

Its rotting body breaking into thousand dissolving pieces and in the center of it all, the key was shining like a bloody star. Falling along with the rest of the body that once been a bat.

Right down into the darkness of the old well.

Danny remained frozen with a wide stare, still couldn’t believe Valerie had just stabbed and dropkicked his worst nightmare into the well.

The shattering gooey corps of the bat kept falling and both teens moved closer to watch its continuous drop down into the darkness.

A glimpse of the key shining in the sparse light of the lightning, before it to disappeared into the darkness of the old well. When the sound of impact finally came, both teens had stood and the rain had stopped.

None of the two spoke as they looked at one another and then went to grab the heavy lid together. Valerie looked at Danny with an uncertain glance.

As if to ask him if this was finally over then. That if they sealed this tomb, would the monster then finally be defeated?

Danny returned her gaze, looked deep into the gaze of those green eyes that was no other than fierce Valerie Gray.

The proud girl standing beside him with rain running down in streams through her soaked hair and blood from scratches on her face and arms mixing with the water. Even in the rain, there was still some of the monster’s pink blood on her hands.

She had never been more beautiful – and so he nodded.

With a heavy push, the old lid of dark wood closed the well and both felt a bit light by the sight. Felt like they had become a bit older in the process.

A pale light slowly stretched the shadows of the old trees and Danny raised his gaze to see the heavy clouds that had ruled Amity Park for so long, slowly dissolve and let out the moon light.

The distant thunder stopped and the cold seemed to lose its power. None of them could say for sure if the monster’s death had caused this, but both of them in each mind could agree that it had been some time since they’d seen the stars.

A sudden pair of headlights suddenly breached the tree lines and both teens turned to face the incoming car. Without thinking about it, both grabbed the other’s hand.

“Valerie!” Mr. Gray shouted, as he got out of his police car and Danny froze – suddenly remembering that they were two teens alone in the woods.

“Just let me speak,” Valerie assured, saving him the trouble and smiled sheepish at her father, as he came running with an umbrella and blankets, “hey…dad.”

“Oh my god, I was so worried when both of you were out of bed!” he schooled, but sounded more frightened than actually angry, “what the hell happened here – and why are you both bleeding!?”

Danny suddenly became much aware of the state of them both.

Danny's pajamas had been ripped to a brown rag, while Valerie was in nothing but a thin tank top and shorts. Both of them was soaked to the bone and in a dire need of a bath.

Cakes of mud making their hair stand in all directions, not to mention the stripes of tears lining Valerie’s face. The hunt for the knife in the mud had left their nails bloody and broken, while Danny’s underarm was skinned and filled with splinters.

The scratches covering most of their bodies would be harder to explain, not to mention the bruises around Danny’s neck.

“I went to see Danny, got lost in the dark and fell in the well,” Valerie lied without hesitation and had both her father and Danny stare at her in surprise.

Valerie just nodded, with a guilty face, “if Danny hadn’t found me, I would have fallen right in.”

“Oh my god,” Mr. Gray voiced in shock and turned to Danny, “but why were you out in the storm!?”

Danny’s eyes darted around for help and suddenly found Clockwork on the ground, “to bring Valerie’s raven back to her!”

Danny hurried to pick it up with outmost care, the raven was strangely limb in his hands and Danny tried his best not to hurt him, “I found him outside my window, I think a cat got to him – so I wanted to bring him home to Valerie to see if she could help him.”

Valerie nodded, making Danny copy her and look up at Mr. Gray with what he hoped was a guilty expression.

The man seemed speechless at their explanation and just let out a deep sigh, “let’s get in the car and out of this storm.”

Both teens complied with this and continued to hold hands back to the Gray house.

Valerie took Clockwork of Danny’s hands and went inside, while Mr. Gray drove Danny home.

Alone with the teen, Mr. Gray finally spoke and thanked Danny for saving his daughter’s life.

Knowing it was an utter lie, Danny didn’t play too much into it and thought in his own mind, that Valerie was in for a lector as soon as her father returned home.

Danny couldn’t deny he was relived and not to mention thankful she had come up with the story – but that didn’t mean he liked the idea of her taken the blame.

Maddie and Jack Fenton were, on the other hand, more than ready to school him, as he returned home in a police car in the middle of the night.

Not having known he had snuck out and wandered right into the storm, it would have been an understatement to say they were angry with him.

Danny payed the price for this by being grounded and came to experience a whole new level of pampering from his sister.

Danny didn’t mind, as it gave him an excuse to keep an eye on the little door and confirm its inoperative state, but to Jazz, grounding a teen for more than a week would be a war crime, and so Danny could look forward to getting outside again in a few days.

Danny hoped that this would be the final of the curse and that he would finally be free.

But most of all, he hoped Clockwork would live.

 

With a bath in the sink and some instant noodles in his stomach, Danny finally got to the main attraction of his afternoon – the exclusive police rapport.

At first glance, it didn’t look like much to him. It was an old thing with even older typing machine front and a fading cover, that had probably been blue at some point, before age and water had discolored the wrinkled paper and turned it black with mold.

The first page informed him it had been filed in the years of 1960.

Same year Mr. Gray’s brother was taken, only a week after, Danny noted with a frown.

Inside, the photograph of the native American woman had aged a bit as well, but it was still clear enough to show a middle-aged woman with black braids and a flower-patterned shirt in detail.

Taken that this was a mugshot, Danny could pretty much figure that this was an arrest case.

He put the photo aside and continued to on the yellow paper, its black letters smudged in some places, but readable.

“Lyda Parker,” Danny read outloud, “arrested for arson and attempt on destructing of a crime scene.”

Danny continued to read, trying to discover why Walker had linked this case to The Green Palace and possible Danny, when the name of said “town history monument” finally showed.

‘The home of Amity Park’s founder.’

Danny frowned and pulled out his laptop.

After some light searching of Amity park’s own local history website and some comparing of it to the history books on the village, it would seem that the village had kept the Green Palace as a part time historical museum for a period.

The village had allowing people to live there, if they managed the place on behalf of the town in return. The museum slash mansion had changed into an apartment complex at some time in the 80’s and its museum moved to the local library.

Danny would have to check that out at some time. That was probably why Vlad’s portrait was hanging in the library and not the master bedroom or somewhere else in the mansion.

Danny read the rest of the arrest and tried to understand the woman’s case to the best of his ability.

Apparently, Lyda Parker had trespassed the Green Palace around midnight and tried to set fire to the place with a... Danny had to read it again, “burning sage stick?”

He had absolutely no idea what that was and had to look it up on his laptop.

What he found was even more confusing.

According to the internet, a burning sage stick, was a bundle of rolled sage leaves or other herbs, some ancient practice – native Americans included – would use to burn like incense to accomplish following things: cleansing/purify a place, clear or help relieve the symptoms of some breathing conditions, connect one with the spiritual realm in religious practice and/or help dispel negative energy.

Danny rubbed his eyes in tired confusion, while all of this was very informative, none of it explained the woman’s action. If she had wanted to burn down the Green Palace, then why hadn’t she just brought petrol and some matches?

Unless…

Danny flipped the page and groaned in dismay.

Lyda Parker had dismissed all claims of arson and plead Not guilty. In the short, if not racist note taken by the policeman writing the arrest report, Lyda had claimed she had tried to help the people living in the mansion.

In an attempt to help the soul of the lost child get return to this world, she had been trying to cleanse the land with the burning sage.

After a vision she and some of her family had shared, she had come to try help the missing boy and try locating a powerful caged spirit living somewhere nearby the mansion.

And if possible, try warning the family not to let their other son spend his summer in the mansion. According to Lyda, the caged spirit held the teaching on how to cure the sacred land and how to save the missing boy.

Danny nodded as he found the name of the missing boy. Damien Gray. Age 12.

A side note informed Danny that several other members of Lydia’s family had been arrested afterwards, all of them being charged as accomplices in the arson attempt.

Danny didn’t have to read more into it to know that this woman had been arrested and served a sentence on racist accusations.

Somehow, she and her family had received some vision of the curse the other father had placed on the Green Palace – if not entire town and tried to break it.

No one had seemed to understand that the sage was a means to help, not to burn down the mansion.

She had even tried to warn the people in the mansion not to stay there with their son – Val’s father – and they had repaid her with imprisonment.

Danny knew he couldn’t possible do anything about this and instead tried to focus on the things he could learn from this.

“Caged spirit,” he mumbled, what spirit?

Maybe she meant Vlad? But somehow Danny had the feeling she would have used the term ‘evil spirit’, if it had been about the other father.

But if the caged spirit wasn’t the other father or one of the children…then who? The spirit seemed to know what was going on and even better – how to break the curse.

Or so Danny hoped. All she stated was that the spirit knew how to ‘cure the sacred land’, but that had to mean breaking the curse – right?

Danny frowned and tapped the paper with a finger, “vision…”

A sudden realization made him look to the nightstand and he grabbed the book on it.

Andrew’s unfinished book had mentioned something about visions in one of the chapters and Danny flipped through it to get to the desired page.

His memory didn’t fail him, but all the book told him was the names of rituals granting vision and not how to perform them.

Danny checked the cuckoo clock over the door to make sure the library was still open and packed his backpack with what he needed.

Twenty minutes later, he drove into the Amity Park library’s parking lot and found a dry spot for his motorcycle, before running indoor and out of the pouring rain.

The welcoming inscription; Disco Inferno greeted him from over the doors and Danny jumped inside to avoid the heavy drops collecting and spilling down the doorframe.

The library seemed mostly abandoned, but Danny had to remind himself it was getting late and almost time for closing. He went to the right section and crossed his fingers that Andrew would still be at his desk, a dream that turned out to come true.

The librarian was still sitting at his desk, typing away on his computer and minding his own business, when Danny bumped into his desk in his hurry.

“What the!? Oh, Danny it’s you,” he grinned in surprise and caught the stack of books that had almost fallen down the desk, “I wasn’t expecting someone this late, it’s almost six.”

“I know,” Danny said and pulled out the book The sacred ground of the Santee Dakota, “but I needed to talk with you.”

“About my book?” Andrew asked with a giddy expression and looked expectedly up at Danny.

“Uhhh…sure,” Danny replied, not one to ruin the guy’s day and pulled a chair to the desk, “it’s about that chapter on rituals. You mention a lot of ways for the Santee Dakota provokes visions –”

“Gained,” Andrew corrected, but allowed Danny to continue.

“Yeah, gained visions and such, but I can’t find anything about how they did it,” Danny explained and pulled out the police report from his backpack, “this report says a woman and her family had a vision about a spirit caged in Amity and tried to cleanse the plot of the Green Palace with a burning sage. Do you have any idea how they got that vision? Any ritual they might have performed to gain it?”

Andrew had been listening in the same manner as a teacher trying to understand the math problem his students might find troublesome.

But the second Danny had pulled out the report and had it laid out on the desk, the man’s eyes started to shine like if he had come down with a fever.

“Danny…” he began slowly and pulled the report closer with outmost case, as if it had been an ancient artifact, “is this… this the case of Lyda Parker from 1960?”

Danny lifted an eyebrow, “yeah, but how did you –”

Andrew grabbed the report and began to flip through it with eager, not taking his eyes of it for a second, “I have been trying to find this story for over five years – it’s supposed to be a myth. The Amity Park police had it completely submerged, as if it hadn’t happened or didn’t exist. This is a deep town secret, Danny, the authorities had this story and the happenings of the Parker family completely covered up. I have been trying for years to dig any copy up to make it part of my book’s analyses of the brutal treatment of the Santee tribe, but never been able to find a trace of it – where did you even find this!?”

“In the diner,” Danny lied, not one to rat Ember out or admit he’d just stole it from a policer, “I was going to deliver it back to the station, but then I read it and thought of your book – so about that vision she had?”

“Vision?” Andrew repeated, still not completely down from his high, “oh, yeah, okay, uhmm, well since the case was closed and then hidden away, I can’t really tell how the Parker family got that vision, but the Santee as well as other tribes could use some variety of rituals to receive visions. My guess is that they either gained the vision from Sun Dance or a Smoke Hut ritual – or maybe they just had a dream. Who knows?”

Danny sulked, he couldn’t count on getting a dream himself – he was neither a native or very spiritual – and time was running out. (Only three days left!)

So far this lead could be important and if he could get in contact with this spirit, he was pretty much 90 % sure it could tell him how to defeat Vlad. It was too good to give up on.

He had to get a vision – by provoking one.

“Tell me about them,” Danny encourage, “that Sand Dance and Mist Hut ritual.”

“Sun dance and Smoke Hut,” Andrew corrected and put the report down for a second, “well, they’re both very old but common rituals practices among the native Americans. Well, Sun Dance was documented far later than the Smoke Hut ritual, but it’s hard to know. Both was made illegal by the U.S government in 1882, since it was believed to be dangerous religious practices and a hindrance to civilization. The native Americans didn’t have a religion as such, but the first settlers were missionaries and damned the ceremonies and rituals as the Devil’s work.”

Danny frowned, “so the knowhow of the rituals was lost?”

“Oh no,” Andrew said calmly, “people just had to perform rituals in secret instead. Of course, some things get lost over time, but other things got invented in the absence of the open practices. Like the Ghost Dance. Of course, that ritual ended after Wounded Knee in 1890. A massacre most people seem to overlook in the history of America.”

Danny agreed, but time was at the essence, “and the two rituals you mentioned?”

That pulled Andrew out of his sad thoughts and back to the presence, “hmm? Oh, right, Danny do you mind me asking…why are you so interested in all this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing to finally meet someone as devoted to the Santee Dakota’s history as myself, but you just don’t seem like the type study history…”

Danny just smiled to hide his lying face, “I’m writing a thesis about the Santee tribe for my bachelor's degree in history.”

Andrew seemed to buy it, even if it couldn’t have been further from the truth. In reality Danny had been studying astronomy, but all that was behind him now.

He doubted he would ever get to go back there and finish the semester. Graduation seemed like a far of dream, like a distant memory already lost to him. It seemed so long ago by now…

“ – Sun Dance isn’t a ritual you should try out yourself, I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you’re looking to experience a ritual for your paper, you could ask a group of native Americans to let you observe a Smoke Hut ritual. I have observed a few and even recorded it one time, it’s really fascinating.”

“And what do they do exactly?” Danny hurried to aske, as he snapped out of his thought and made ready to take notes under the table on his phone.

“Oh, it’s simple, it’s a ritual best practiced in a special tipi with a smoke hole to let out the smoke or a lodge made of leather and structure of branches. The leader of the ceremonies trains for many years to learn the song and prayers used during the ritual. He’s the one to secure the ritual doesn’t get out of hand and becomes dangerous. As an example, if stones are used for the sweating, it’s important not to use river rocks and only dried sorts without any air pockets in them. Else they could crack and explode in people’s face. The construction of the hut or tipi is equally of important. If it isn’t made from natural materials the rituals won’t work and if it isn’t built right, people could suffocate from smoke poisoning.”

Danny noted that with some exclamations marks and nodded to everything.

He continued to take notes, when both of them was reminded of the time, as a second librarian walked up to them.

“Excuse me but we’re closing now,” she said with a sweet voice and brushed a stray lock of blond hair out of her pale face, “Oh, wait am I interrupting something? Please don’t tell me it’s something I wouldn’t want to know about again.”

Andrew hurried to lean over the police report to cover it up as discreet as possible with a smile, “no, no, just me and my friend Danny here discussing some of my work, you have a good night now, Dorathea – cute necklace by the way, brings out your eyes.”

She looked down at her blue dress shirt, where a gold necklaces spelled “dragon queen” on her collarbone and she returned his smile a bit charmed, “uhm, thanks, I’ll leave the alarm of for you before I go, goodnight you two.”

They watched her leave and Andrew sighed, his smile replaced with a sad expression, “I keep getting her into trouble, she’s always covering up for me like this. Doesn’t help that her jerk of a brother knows. He sits in the City Council and tries his best to cut the library’s workplace down to one single seat. He’s probably going to get her fired so she can go back to be his personal maiden in that abusive house he calls home.”

That seemed like a story Danny wasn’t going to walk further into and he faked a yawn.

Andrew seemed to remember it was late and checked his wristwatch, “well she’s right as always, it’s time to close before the night guard locks the doors.”

Danny didn’t mind, he had all what he needed and began to pack. Andrew suddenly stopped him, as Danny was about to take the report.

“Hey, how about I make a copy before you hand that back to the police?”

“Make it two,” Danny smirked and both grinned like little boys about to do something naughty, as they walked to the copy machine.

 

It was getting dark as Danny returned to his apartment.

Back inside and away from prying eyes, Danny went to stand by his bed and look at the materials he had assembled for the ritual on his way home.

The gathered stuff mostly consisted of large collections of leather he had cut of the old sofas down at the recycling center – it was completely legal if no one was there to stop you or notice the hole in the fence he had cut.

For the structure of the lodge, he had made some last-minute shopping down at the town’s Home Depot and bought himself a saw, a stapler, nails and a hammer.

On the drive home, he had estimated the best place to build the hut would be by the well, as it was a secluded place only few would go down.

He could be left alone there, especially at this time a day. All he needed now was to get his crap down there, cut down some branches for a structure and cover it with the leather.

The rocks meant for the fire had proved to be more difficult to find, as everything outside was either moist or soaked by the endless cascades of rain. Making it difficult to look at a rock and figure out if it was suitable for this kinda ritual or not.

Danny had ended resorting to the box of fake minerals and colored stone Mr. Bertrand and Miss. Spectra had left in Kitty and Johnny’s apartment. Inhaling smoke from that collection would surely make him ill, but it was the only dry rocks around.

The drawing he had made from memory of Andrew’s explanation on how to build the hut was safe in his pocket and now all he needed to do was carry all this out in real life.

He nodded pleased with himself, “I am soooo gonna die from smoke poisoning.”

Despite the constant overcast and the early darkness setting, Danny could still see outside and move around without flashlight, as he packed up the stuff on his motorcycle.

He had no idea how long it was going to take for him to receive some form of vision or get in contact with this caged spirit, but as long as he got back before midnight, he should be fine.

“That is if I don’t die from suffocation or something lame,” he muttered to himself with gallows humor.

“You’re going camping with your parents or something dreadful?” Ember asked behind him and Danny looked up, before placing himself in a discreet position that would cover most of his packing.

“Just need to deliver some stuff for a friend downtown,” he lied and hurried to take her mind of his business, “and speaking of stuff, here you go. Delivered as promised.”

Ember grinned at the sight of the report and slim-jim tool, “aw this is gonna piss Walker of big time when I sneak it back unto his desk. I still can’t believe you just did that. You’re a wildcard, you know that, right?”

Danny just shrugged and thought of the copy he had hidden under his mattress. She could never know.

“Ready to move yet, dude?” she suddenly asked, and Danny blinked confused, making her elaborate with a raised bow, “hello? For when the police take over the place for ground investigation?”

“Oohhhh…” Danny replied lamely and scratched his neck awkwardly, “totally forgot about that, yeah…no…I don’t know, I don’t have that much to pack anyway. When will they be here?”

She made him aware of the mailbox with a thumb and Danny walked to it, only to return with a letter warning him about the coming moving day.

“So, what are ya guys gonna do until the investigation ends?” Danny asked curiously and nodded towards her, Skulker and Nicolai’s apartment.

She lighted a cigarette without much worry, “we’re not coming back, dipstick. When the police crack opens the Green Palace, we’ll be in Portland. Nicolai has this college friend who needs a new band to hang out with. He tried to go solo with the name Nocturn but it flunked and he wanna try some tunes out with us.”

“Sounds neat,” Danny had to admit.

“I can’t wait to leave this shithole,” she sighed in longing and crushed the cigarette with her bootheel, “anyway, see you around, baby-pop.”

Danny waited for her to slam the door before he drove away.

The path down to the well proved to take almost no time by motorcycle and he smiled, as he found enough branches to build a decent hut.

The rain had stopped a little while ago, but the lack of water seemed to have been compensated by wind and Danny frowned. Making a fire would prove troublesome at this rate.

With the leather “blankets” covering the branch construction he had put together and fastened it with a stapler, Danny could soon stanch the things he needed inside his makeshift “smoke Hut” and turn his attention on making a fire.

According to Andrew, the fire was essential for the ceremony – and also for making hot stones, Danny guessed.

He knew he probably should put more soul or at least higher belief into this, but having lived most of his life with atheist parents only putting their faith in their machines measuring the possibility of afterlife, and with an older sister always explaining him how the chemicals in the mind was the cause of all impression…well, Danny had always had a hard time connecting with higher power.

Let alone believe in anything.

He tried his best to shield the little fire pit with his body, as he tried to get the paper and logs he had stolen from the stack in the Place’s shed. It was the only dry tree around and he doubted that the Tornwood family would miss it at the moment.

The only thing they could possible miss was their deceased daughter. Even if they didn’t know she was already dead.

Danny stared into the puny fire he had produced and tried not to dwell too much on the little ghost still captured in the other world. Tried not to think too much of how she might be lost, alone and caged somewhere dark and cold.

Alone and isolated, facing an eternity of living and still not living at all.

Knowing that her body had been consumed by a monster and –

“I can save her,” Danny reminded himself in an attempt to escape the hell hole his mind seemed to make him dive right into, “I can still save her soul.”

He couldn’t lose focus now, he had a ritual to perform. He had a spirit to contact, yes, he had a mission and with it one step closer to save her.

He just had to keep his cool and get this over with.

Danny took a deep breath and opened the box of stones. He sorted out some of the minerals showing layers and turned the box over to dump the rest on the fire without much grace. Now he just had to wait for them to get hot enough for his steam show.

Danny made sure the fire was stable and turned to the hut to make sure the hole in the middle of it was dug deep enough.

The bottle of water laid ready for him to pour was waiting next to the little shovel he had found in the shed. He hoped no one would notice he had broken the lock…

As for the ritual part, Danny had followed the notes and dressed in some lose comfortable cloths. He couldn’t do much about the song, prayers or music, but by the power of the internet, he had found a recording of it on YouTube.

He knew it was cheap, but at least he hoped it would be good enough for the spirit.

It probably wouldn’t, but he really needed the spirits help. To say it lightly, he was downright desperate.

Danny had never really been the outdoor type, with an exception of the few times his father had gone fishing with him.

Had his father been more of a camper, Danny would surely have known more about how to keep a campfire going – something that could have helped him a whole lot right now.

So far, the fire had more of less died out in the harsh wind and less than half of the stones were more or less lukewarm.

At this rate, he would never get to make the steam he needed and with a glance at the time, he didn’t have that much to spill before midnight.

“Oh, fuck me like a free beef at Denny’s,” he muttered and went inside the Hut to get the shovel.

Even while knowing this would probably kill him, if not damage him for life, Danny shoveled up the scorched logs and stones in the fire pit and carried them into the smoke hut.

The hole meant for the warm stones, became the new firepit and he hurried to pick up the rest of the stones outside and start up the fire again.

With the shelter and protection of the hut’s leather walls, the fire soon began to thrive, and Danny stood to open a hale at the top of the hut, to let out the smoke.

Despite the hole above him, Danny’s eyes soon began to water, and he hurried to tend to the stones. Making sure they all got hot and equally warmth. Outside, the wind kept raging and try to chill the human through the small “door” opening in the hut, but the heat of the small space, fire and insisting smoke, had Danny’s jacket stick to his back with sweat and he took it off to be in his loose attire.

With a few clicks of his phone, the sound of native American songs and deep manly voiced began chanting in a language lost on Danny’s ears.

The sound soon calmed his nerves and Danny placed himself in a lotus position, tried his best to be open for whatever spiritual stuff was going around Amity and removed the cap of the water bottle.

As soon as the water hit the hot stones hiding between the logs, a high-pitched hissing followed, and a soft explosion of white and black smoke filled the hut.

Danny coughed like his lounges was trying to expel themselves from his body and scrunched his watering eyes. It stung and he wheezed with a burning sensation began running like sharp nails down his throat.

Trying to work on the situation, instead of abandoning it all and run for fresh air, he poured some more water on the stones and tried to smother as many embers at he could.

It continued to suck, and he pulled up the shirt to covers his mouth and nose, while doing his best to force the pit from being a dying fire, to actual steaming rocks.

The wind outside howled and rustled the hut, but the heavy leather and branches held their ground and kept him covered.

The chanting on the phone began to replay and it suited him fine, as the fire finally began to give more grey steam, than black smoke.

His eyes still ran like floods, making it hard to see and his chest burning like it had been skinned and coated with chili. But having some improvement on the stone situation made him calm and he leaned back to listen.

He had absolutely no idea what was chanted and whispered, but as he closed his eyes to listen and began to breathe in the steam/smoke… the less importance it seemed to hold.

He just had to calm down and get in touch with this spirit. Just let it all come to him and be open for whatever.

Yeah something like that.

Danny soon got bored with his meditation and stared into the pit with puffy eyes. His blue eyes were slowly drawn to the colorful stones of all kinds and sizes.

Most of them had turned black from the flames and some of them had even cracked despite his careful sorting, revealing the stones precious inside to the beholder.

Danny felt a sudden childish need to pick them up and admire them closely, to run the tips of his finger along the shiny lines and curved of the minerals.

a crisp smell like newly produced sparkles and sweet incense filled his nostrils and Danny's lounges expanded in relaxation, now that something other than harsh smoke was getting into his system.

Danny sighed and closed his eyes to chill for a second. Despite the much-appreciated change of scent, the shift made his head begin to spin and he felt drunk. And not the good kind of drunk.

More like the point where you know you should change to water and endure your friends calling you boring, to escape the hangover that was meant to follow if you continued with the cheap vodka.

"Shit..." he whispered and tried to get the scented smoke out of his face with a waving hand.

The scent disappeared and he returned his hands to his lap, feeling heavy in his bones, his line of breath slowing. The warmth of the stones had all his sore muscles relax from shaking in the cold wind and the spinning in his head continued to increase.

Danny knew this was bad and that he should stop, but some part of him was too comfy to start over. To...sedated.

His hands slid down his thighs, felling heavy as lead and he felt the back of his hand grace a hard object hidden inside the fabric of his jeans.

The hand sought out the object by itself and Danny blinked impossible slow, as he looked down at the piece of old metal in his palm.

The key.

Your gifts sucks, Danny thought to himself, as if Vlad could read his mind and he turned the key with what felt like thick woolen fingers. The feeling in his limbs mostly dulled by now.

Should he be alarmed?

"Why give it to me?" Danny asked the key and half expected the dead stone to light up with red and tell him something cleaver in the Codger's suave voice.

He didn’t even blink, as Vlad's voice began echoing in his head.

Just as the rest of my world, the door is mine to lock and close now. This little thing has lost its purpose – but do keep it as a gift or burn it if you like. It might even be the key to secrets.

Danny nodded, that’s right, Vlad did say that. Smock fruitloop.

Danny snickered by his own joke about the monster being as loopy as colorful cereal and coughed, more stones cracking in the pit.

…burn it if you like. It might even be the key to secrets…

“Burn it if you like…” Danny uttered with shaking breath, what could go wrong?

His hand felt lumpy as he flicked his wrist and threw the key into the pit. The metal danced on the stones for a second, before falling to a still positing among the minerals.

The cool metal remained its rusty color, before a red hue slowly began to creep in on the metal, turning it red hot and wavering in the heat.

Danny stopped breathing, as the metal began to melt like butter. The key flatted, its form stretching and vapor in the fire. The stone suddenly lightened like a bleeding wound and golden cracks ran from the sides with course for the stones center.

Danny gasped as the stone suddenly exploded. Little fragments of smoldering gemstone flying everywhere and landing all over the hut.

Danny hurried to smack the burning pieces around him to kill the possible fires they could ignite and missed the rest of the key’s transformation.

The melted metal dripped and vapored like nothing more than ice, the black slinters of gemstone curling like paper and crumbling into nothing.

The key was gone, but with a vengeance. Danny looked up to see the smoke turning black like tar. He opened his mouth to utter a curse, but by doing so, he inhaled the smoke.

His body shook under a new fit of coughs and he grabbed his sore chest to massage out the knot that seemed to have formed under his ribcage.

He gasped for some air and swallowed a second mouthful of the smoke. The rudely made smoke-pit began to sway before his eyes and he used his free hand to remove the tears.

A new fit grabbed his chest like an iron fist squeezing his lungs and this time, Danny coughed so hard his entire body cramped, feeling as if it was trying to turn itself inside out. He kept telling himself to endure it, that it would end any second now – that the smoke would turn back grey again, but then his lungs began to burn, and the flesh felt as if it was going to cough itself up through his throat.

Danny’s mind went into panic and he followed the call for air. Moving to the opening in the hut seemed like such an easy task, but he had barely moved before the entire world tipped three times and he landed on the ground.

Blood was pounding in his ears like a ritual drum and shaking him with nausea, the cover of sweat and grim on his body suddenly running with cold drops of ice.

Danny blinked his swelling eyes to focus, fought his best to make the world still, but the blurred vision kept him from moving freely.

The dizziness making his arms collapse under him and he lost all feeling with his legs, as the last bit of air in the hot atmosphere ran out.

He tried to call for help, but only a hoarsely croaking sound escaped his lips. The blood drumming in his ears banged through Danny’s sore head, then his body and continued to resonance through his limbs and into his bones.

The chanting of native voices took over the senses and flowed with the rush of his blood. Danny’s eyes widened with dilated pupils, the opening to the tent miles away from him now.

The rhythm of the drum and heartbeat increased, the world stretched so far, before coming back and leading his eyes into his own head, flash, skull and brain tissue.

Danny tried screaming but found no air to form the right sounds.

His chest pains made him wish for death and the burning of his lounges spread to his skin, a burning blistering sensation making him scream without a sound.

He had to get out, he would die if he didn’t. His last attempt to get out of the hut’s opening was a stretched hand and as he failed, Danny’s sight turned to speed up and continued out of his eyes again and out the tent.

So far out and so fast it was as if he was flying through the woods.

But if he did, he would leave his body behind.

He had to get out – all of him. He had to get out…he had to

…he was…

 

…thirsty. He was so thirsty.

But taking water would mean breaking the fasting and risk losing connection with the spirit world.

And so, the boy would risk anger the spirits and the ceremony would be in vain – his sacrifice would be in vain.

The woods around him had turned silent, had been for most of the day. Far of, or maybe close?

He could hear his family and tribe sing for him, the women pray with hoarse voices and the medicine-man’s drum sending its rhythm through the forest.

The drum uttered the pain, that the boy’s own mouth wasn’t allowed to speak. He couldn’t show weakness in the eyes of the great spirit.

No sound should leave him. His tribe depended on it and so he remained silent and walked with the sun.

No other sound graced him in return, not even the sweet call of the birds living among the clearing. He didn’t know if it was because the spirits were present or due to the white men’s doings.

The white-faced people had come with great boats and long axes some generations before the boy’s own birth, but their thirst for the land hadn’t even begun to settle.

Animal pelts and tall trees were their desires – for what no one seemed to know. The incomers had taken far more than they could possible need.

Skinning a deer for the sake of tipis and clothmaking was obvious. So was the need for wood, every man needed that for fire and tools.

But cutting down hundred trees and skinning thousands of critters a week?

What was the white people thinking?

Kesegowaase Kangee didn’t know, his father would, but the big man had left them to join his brothers in the next world.

Now he was the man of his family and protector of his tribe. Most of the men had fallen or left with their women and children for safer land.

Kangee couldn’t blame them for wishing safety for their own, but he and the rest of the tribe could blame them for leaving their people.

Leaving this sacred land. The truce after the last fight had been to more benefit for the white men than them and Kangee knew it wouldn’t last.

That’s why he had called the grey and withered medicine-man to take his request.

Kangee was the only man of youth left of his tribe and as his father’s only living son, he had a last plan to save them all.

A personal sacrifice. Sun dance.

His mother had smeared her cheeks with ash to show her sorrow, but even as a woman of her status, she knew she had no saying in this and took it upon herself to find the needed tree for the ceremony.

He knew from the stories that a ritual this powerful would require a year to prepare, but his tribe was facing its greatest test now and winter was only a couple of moons away.

Time was at its essence.

Just as so many men before him, Kangee began to fast while the tribe prepared for the dance. Denying himself food and water would send him closer to the spirit world and sharpen his senses.

Leave him open for the world beyond. Kangee had been sitting in the open air for three days, enduring rain as well as cold, when his mother and the medicine-man had finally come for him to begin the dance.

She and the other maidens of the tribe had gone to the chosen three to cut of its branches in their elaborated dresses, making sure that the tree was smooth and flexible enough for its purpose.

In lack of warriors, it had been the elderly and barely men, who had gone to the tree at sunrise to conduct the next phase.

With weapons and a single riffle, they had cried their battle cries and attacked the tree like they would have done with a noble enemy and cut it down.

The sun-pole had then been erected in the holy clearing and had they had time to prepare, a proper lodge of bison and deer hide would have been built around it, but he would have to do without.

In lack of such, the tribe had planted the pole by the holy well instead. It’s healing power of water and connection to the spirit world would provide him with protection, when he didn’t have the sun to dance by at night.

Despite it all, Kangee had been proud to be bought before the pole and greeted the well and then the bison head fastened with strong throngs to the top crotch of the sun-pole.

With the head facing the setting sun, the order of the great spirit and world was in balance. The head would lead him to the spirits and the pole would connect him with the heaven and earth.

Knowing what he was doing for them, his mother and tribe had prayed and singed for him, as he was brought before the pole.

The elders had brought forth the old eagle feather to be tied to the string connected with the top of the sun-pole.

The eagle’s presence would help Kangee stay on the path to the spirit world and with its medicine powers, the eagle would assure him a safe travel, if not help him heal after the ritual.

Some of the women and his mother had feared that the hasty made ceremony would anger the spirits and insisted that Kangee brought the totem of his own spirit animal with him, to help the eagle bring him safely back to them.

The medicine-man had agreed on this and so the raven feather had been tied beside the eagle feather.

With two great protectors such as this, there was no way he could lose his path.

The medicine-man had danced and sang the song of his father’s father’s father, as the women had stuffed the bison head with grass and flowers.

Kangee had been weakened from the fasting, but stood tall in the eyes of his tribe, as he was painted and began dancing to the elder’s drums and voices.

Only once in his life before had he witnessed such a holy ceremony and sung for his elder brother’s.

At the time he had reached an age of thirteen and became a man, he had witnessed his father sacrifice for his people along with the rest of Kangee’s brothers.

None of their sacrifices had been great enough, they had all known this after they’d collected the corpses of their fathers, son and brothers after the battle with the white-faced men.

His would have to surpass all the other’s. He owed it to his tribe.

He owed this to his people.

The dance had come to an end as the medicine-man had picked up the two strings attached to the sun-poles top and bound the rawhide thongs to the ends.

Blood had run from Kangee’s chest as the thongs had been pegged through the skin and connected him to the bend pole.

He had kept his tongue and swallowed his groans, as the medicine-man had let go and the pole had pulled back on the strings like a fisherman’s rod.

The bison head had danced and shown Kangee the way, as both of them began rotating with the setting sun.

The feathers had shone in the red light like dipped in blood and his tribe’s voices had taken new highs to help him find the steps into the spirit world, as he had stared into the setting sunset.

And so, he had leaned back against the strings connecting the piercings to the pole and walked with the sun.

Now on the second day, most colors had begun to change, and his body shake from the need of water. He had taken what the rain had given him, as it was a gift from the nature and not man, but by now he felt weak.

The thongs stretching the skin of his ches,t had turned numb and the blood dry. His tribe had return to the camp nearby, as it was custom to leave him with the dance, but he would spot the medicine-man now and then in between the trees.

Waiting to see if Kangee should die or succeed – collapse to death or tear free of the thongs. The man would be the first to know and ask Kangee of his journey and what the spirits had given him in return for his sacrifice.

Kangee himself hoped for a vision of the future, or even better, the power to defeat the white strangers.

A sound of steps in the forest floor made Kangee stirrer and the strings creak.

The sun had set hours ago and that meant the medicine-man would be asleep in his tent.

But then who had come to the holy grove?

Moving his head to the left, Kangee’s head exploded in pain and he blinked with a silent groan. More blood ran from his chest, as the skin stretched.

The woods were dancing before his eyes and clouds of multicolored mist vapored from the ground like the heat of a fire. The shadows in the bright moonlight seemed to sharp for his dark eyes and Kangee raised his voice.

“Who are you, spirit?”

His voice had barely any strength back and by now it was barely a strident whisper.

A dark figure walked into the grove and Kangee tried to stand up from his leaning position, but his legs seemed to have locked themselves and he gasped from the sting of the thongs.

The figure came closer, its shadow stretching long and thin across the grown.

“What is your name?” Kangee tried again, his voice returning to a bit of its normal strength.

The spirit didn’t answer, its body only coming closer without hurry or hostility. Kangee blinked and then frowned his sweat-caked brows. It was a man.

“How precious, hoping for a sign from your little spirits? How quaint,” the man said and Kangee blinked in confusion – not understanding a word.

The man was speaking the white tongue and as he stepped up to Kangee, the boy recognized the man. It was the chief of the white men, the one they called Mas-ters.

The one his father had walk out of the camp to kill and returned as a holed corpse.

Kangee tried to get up and fight, but Ma-sters grabbed the strings and pulled with a calm face. The boy cried out from the pain and one of the thongs ripped from his chest with a large piece of his skin.

With all his weight left on the other string, the other thongs snapped as well and Kangee was torn of and fell to the ground.

His chest running with blood from the two ripped piercings and he gasped in tearful pain.

The blood looked black in the moonlight.

Mas-ters stared down at him with cold eyes matching the sky and watched the young man’s weak attempt to grab the knife in his soft leather belt.

Kangee screamed as the white man’s heeled boot stomped his hand and made three fingers break like dry twigs. Blinded by his suffering, Kangee grabbed his broken hand and pressed it to his chest with a gasp.

He yelped as the man grabbed him by the long black braids and began to drag him across the ground and away from the sun-pole.

“NO!” Kangee screamed in horror, tried his best to get free, but failed miserable in his weak condition.

He had to finish the ceremony, he had to finish the dance and meet with the spirits. If he didn’t, his spirit could end up getting lost – or worse; trapped, unable to reach the land beyond and join his father and fathers before him.

If he didn’t finish the dance, then how was his sacrifice going to give the tribe a sign from the great spirit!?

If he died now, then all would be in vain!

Kangee screamed in rage and tried to bite the white man’s leg, but all he got was a fist to the face and he bite his tongue as he was dumped unceremoniously back on the ground.

The white man seized both of Kangee’s hands and legs and tied them with rope, which made the adolescents burn with shame and anger.

The boy blinked through the pain of his broken nose and saw the man open a leather bag and place objects on the ground.

Looking past the white man, Kangee found that he had been thrown beside the holy well. The quiet sound of its echoing water reaching his sore head.

Was the man mad!?

No outsider was allowed near the well without a proper cleansing and the right rituals!

Kangee himself had only been allowed this close because of the Sun dance – how dared this man pollute the center of the holy land!?

“I will kill you for this!” Kangee snared with blood bobbling from his nose and tried to get up, but his body refused to obey, and cold sweat broke out on his skin.

Left him gasping for air.

The man they called Mas-ters continued to ignore him as he placed the objects – wax candles, now he had time to look closer – around them in a circle with the well as the center.

The white man continued to place candles of different colors around them, as well as drawing a circle in the ground with a bag of powder Kangee didn’t recognize.

Mas-ters ignored him and then returned to his bag to pull out a jar of glass and a knife made of a precious metal.

The man caught the shaking boy staring and smiled with a hunger in his eyes fit for an owl, “it’s silver, very clean and fitting for a moonlight scene, wouldn’t you agree? Hmm, you seem confused, did your father ever teach you any proper words, boy?”

Kangee just growled, not liking the way the man spoke to him. It sounded as a mockery. Disrespectful and arrogant.

Mas-ters just chuckled like it was funny to him and placed the jar and knife by the edge of the well, “I had hoped that the loss of fightable men in your little tribe would be enough to lure you into making the ritual, but this soon? No, no, I was of that understanding that it took at least a year to conduct something like this – imagine the sudden hast I had to make in order to get to you before it was over. Or maybe I was falsely informed? With the torture your older brother went through, one should believe he of all savages would speak the truth. Well, what does it matter? I got hold of you nevertheless before the ritual was to an end and your journey from child to man was completed.”

Kangee just sneered, this babbling fool not worth his words and the sneer only turned to that of a snarl, as the white man placed a knee on his chest to hold him down.

He stopped with wide brown eyes, as the man held the knife to his face. Kangee scrunched his eyes in fear as the cold blade was pressed to his left eyebrow, but instead of pressing it into the eye, the man made a shallow cut across his scrunched eye.

The boy opened his eye and blinked the blood away. The gasped.

Kangee stared in confusion laced with horror, as the man began to chant in a new tongue and held the knife over the well.

The blood on the metal shining like a dark curse on the blade and as the knife tipped, a dark drop collected and fell from the edge.

And into the well.

The boy stared as the blood fell into the darkness and listened, as an almost deafening sound of the drop disturb the surface of the water.

The entire forest seemed to hold its breath, even as Kangee had to take air and he stared up at the chanting white man with a single question.

“What have you done?”

Mas-ters didn’t seem to speak anymore of his tongue, more than Kangee did his, but the man still seemed to have understood the question from the way he had asked.

“There is a power in this well, in this land. Power you and your people have worshipped for centuries, but never been strong enough to take. It is said that this well have connection to the other side, maybe even death. That death will demand a sacrifice and in return it will fulfill a wish. A wish that will finally bring me to my destiny. I have seen the world, seen wonders and horror beyond your simple mind, child. And after many years of searching, I believe I have finally found it. The power of immortality.”

“Kangee!”

Both he and Mas-ters looked up to find the medicine-man standing at the foot of the clearing.

The old man was grey and brittle, but with a war cry and drawn knife, the old man revealed the warrior side of his youth, that all the children of the tribe had been told stories about.

The stories of great hunting skills and fights that had left them with gleaming eyes around the fire.

The white man hurried to reach for a weapon under his own coat, but with a kick in the shine from Kangee, Mas-ters got distracted for a slip second and then the old man was over him.

The two men rolled through the leaves and Kangee hurried to roll back to the sun-pole in hopes of finding his lost knife.

The silver knife could have been an option, but just by looking at it and the way the white man had used it to pour blood into the holy well, had Kangee fearing it might be a cursed object.

Kangee suddenly stopped as his head and shoulder met an invisible barrier. He cursed in confusion and put up his bound hands against the invisible forcefield in disbelieve.

What was this witchcraft?

His eyes looked down and found the powder circle Mas-ters had made few minutes before and with a touch of his hand, he found that the silver powder had burned right into the earth.

The sound of struggle and hand-to-hand combat made the boy hammer his fists against the barrier and he rolled over to try and kick it down with his bound feet, but to no use.

His struggle to get to freedom was put to a breathless halt, as a gunshot filled the night with its deadly sound and Kangee turned his head slowly.

By the feet of the white man, the old medicine-man lied gasping and pressed his hands to his stomach. A flower of black had ruined the skin vest his wife had made for him last winter and the old man stopped breathing.

The flintlock in Mas-ters hand was still smoking and the bloodied and dirtied man found Kangee’s eyes with a deep hungry leer.

Kangee would have screamed for help if he had been closer to his senses, but all he could think of in his weakened mind was to get out, before Mas-ters got to him.

Grass and dirt bit into his wounded chest, but Kangee had only eyes for the powder circle’s invisible barrier and began biting the robes in lack of better.

The sound of heavy footsteps walking up to him in a threatening pace.

“No, no, NO!” the boy screamed in panic, as Mas-ters grabbed him and his entire head was pulled back and away from the powder border.

Screaming was an unspeakable thing for a man to do outside of war cries, calls and rituals, but Kangee screamed nevertheless and fought for his life, as he was dragged back to the well and his awaiting death.

He wincing as his head hit the glass jar and Kangee widened his brown eyes in fear, as he came eye to eye with the content of the thick substance trapped behind the glass.

A small woman with shrunken blue skin, long purple hair and four arms, stared back at the boy with hollow black sockets where eyes should have been.

The sight of the jar’s horror had Kangee distracted long enough for Mas-ters to find his knife and place it back on his bared throat.

With Kangee in check, Mas-ters’ eyes turned to the jar, the cold eyes staring into the empty sockets of the little woman.

Then he began to whisper to it in the same tongue as his chant.

The sound made Kangee's neck hair stand and goosebumps spread across his body. He couldn't put his finger on what kind of language Mas-ters was speaking, but if he had been eager to leave this cursed ring before, he was beyond reason now.

The boy stiffed with terror as a second voice joined the night. The source of the small voice seemed incorporeal to the boy, until the empty sockets of the little winged woman in the jar suddenly lit up with a green light.

And as Mas-ters stared into them, his to turned green and bright as torches.

Kangee shook with fear by the sight of them and closed his eyes, as the powder ring began to shine with a ghoulish light.

The echo of the well turned to a roar and had Kangee’s eyes stayed open, he would have found that the well had lit up with light as well.

But Kangee kept his eyes closed, the biting of the blade against his throat and the chanting of witch tongues, made him certain of one thing.

He was going to die.

The words of his deathsong began to spill from his chapped lips and Kangee poured out his heart to let the world know he was ready to leave it and join his ancestors.

He felt sorrow by the knowledge of losing his mother and consolation of soon seeing his father and brothers. The chanting around him slowly tuned out in favor of his own and Kangee felt content with his fate.

But then Mas-ters’ chanting was suddenly interrupted, and the white man cursed in anger.

Kangee opened his eyes to find the old Madicin-man locking his arms around Mas-ters’ neck and the boy barely had time to close his eyes, when the jar felt from Mas-ters’ hand and hit Kangee’s forehead.

The pain had the boy blackout for a second and as his world came back to him, so did the confusion of a concussion.

"Child…"

Kangee turned his head in awe and found the little purple-headed woman staring at him now. The little woman's eyes starred into his with a swirling green light illuminating her head’s four arms and he couldn’t look away.

The green light speaking to him.

A list of commands as sweet as honey filled his damaged head and Kangee acted without thinking, as he followed her orders blindly.

With a struggle to pry of the old man, Mas-ter didn't notice as the spellbound Kangee pressed a finger into his own chest wound and reached up to draw a new symbol with blood on the white man's chest.

The little woman's words began to form on Kangee's tongue and without knowing the meaning; he spoke them with a tranquil calmness that wasn't his own.

With a final blow to the medicine-man's head, Mas-ters had ended the fight and, in his haste to get his way, returned his attention to Kangee.

The silver blade once again on his throat. Too eager to get his wish, Mas-ters didn’t even seem to register that Kangee had joined in on the chanting.

The boy suddenly felt a final kick of power, as the white man pushed him out over the well and drew the blade across his throat. A gab of cool pain sized Kangee’s body, the warmth of his own blood heating his chest and neck like boiling water.

He gasped for breath he couldn't keep and formed the last word of the fairy’s bidding with a rasping sound, as he pressed his bloody hand to Masters' chest.

"Croatoan"

A laughing death rattle made the fairy’s swilling green eyes turn red and like a wildfire, so did the light of their eyes, the powder and the well.

Mas-ters’ green eyes widened in disbelieve and a scream of boundless pain left him, as the symbol on his chest lit up with black and carved itself into the man's jacket, body and very soul.

His eyes turning bright red. Kangee felt nothing as his final seconds blackened his sight and he closed the red orbs that had once been honey brown like those of his mother.

The hand on Mas-ters' chest locked into a fist and with the full weight of a lifeless adolescent, Masters realized his mistake too late and lost his balance.

Kangee's body hit the bottom of the well like a boneless doll, while Mas-ters, in an attempt to grab the sides of the well, felt in a summersault and broke his neck on the well's cobblestone walls.

The jar with the fairy, now silent and dead, fell faster then the two and sank to the bottom of the well.

The splashes of the two bodies echoes through the woods and the red light of the well shone ominous in the night. But as the bodies sank and the water slowly began to still, the darkness once again fell over the place.

For a long time, all was silent.

For a long time, all was still.

The water returned to its calm reflection and the dark water was once again untouched.

When the tribe came to find Kangee and the medicine-man the next morning, they found only the elder's corps. A bloody wound on his stomach and fatal blow to the temple.

Around him, the remains of an empty leather bag and burned down wax candles was the only lead for the tribe to make sense of.

Recognizing the wax and gun wound as the sinister nature of the white men, the tribe demanded Kangee back from the people of the village and in return, the settlers told them to give up their mayor.

When none of these demands was met, the yearlong fight between native and settlers ended in a bloody showdown, as the cavalry arrived.

As the sound of the tribe’s scream traveled across the woods, a disturbance in the well was made.

A raven, black as night and silent as the moon, rose from the well and took off to the woods.

Forever caught behind the land’s natural borders and forever guarding the well he had come to know fully.

And in the darkness of the well’s depths, two red eyes opened with a burning hunger.

Chapter Text

Blue eyes, the color of a perfect summer sky, opened wide in shock with enlarged blood veins working overtime to restore a healthy sight.

The primitive hut made out of branches, cheap leather and a lot of optimism, had been torn off the ground with the wind. Cold harsh air rushed over Danny’s body and made his mouth opened wide like a newborn infant.

Icy oxygen rushed through his lounges and tears ran down his cheeks in pain. The firepit was smothered in an instant by the power of the wind and Danny rolled over to empty his stomach in the dirt.

Streams of half consumed noodles and stomach acid splashed unto the ground under him and he felt like dying. Felt like carving his insides out.

Black particles of ash and soot had mixed with his spit and Danny dry-heaved to clean out his system. Pink spots danced before his eyes and he turned away in disgust from his own pink looking vomit.

Wondering if his eyes had gone fucked by the smoke poisoning or something.

His puffy red eyes followed the tumbling hut for a second, but the leather tent was long gone with the wind. No use trying to clean this place up after himself. Not that he would have anyway.

He had no idea how long he had been unconscious, but taken that it was dark as fuck and he felt like he had been burned alive, he could only guess a few couple of minutes or so.

Danny knew this had been dangerous, but right now he didn’t have the luxury of crying over this near-death experience. His head felt as if it was going to crush itself.

All he had to know was that he had gotten what he’d work for and that he was alive. A nauseating coughing fit made his body shake and Danny spit out the sweet tasting spit that had collected in his mouth.

The wind howled as he stood on shaking legs and Danny had to lean against a tree for some time to get the world to stop spinning and blackening at the edges.

Living with ghost scientists had made Danny catch a few diseases before, but never in his life had he been as sick as he was now.

Or as weak. Leaving the long-gone hut and cold firepit behind him, Danny collected his phone and jacket, as he staggered to his motorcycle. Then proceeded to drag it and himself back to the Green palace with a body acting drunk, but feeling ill.

Being exposed to the wind in nothing but light sweaty clothing made his body tremble and he wanted nothing more than a warmth bath.

The way back felt like hours in his tired mind and Danny parked the bike by the metal stairs, before walking up to his own shitty little attic flat.

Down at the ground, the wind knocked over his motorcycle. Danny didn’t notice and just staged up the metal stairs.

Having forgotten to warm up the place before he left, Danny’s trembling state only worsened, as he took of his smoke-reeking cloths and discarded them in the trashcan.

He knew he was leaving a dozen of black fingerprints, but couldn’t motivate himself to care, as he dragged his numb body to the makeshift shower and turned on the hot water in the sink.

It felt like an eternity before steam filled the small bath areal and Danny took in the blessing of warm running water with a heavy-from-the-bottom-of-my-heart sigh.

The drain soon turned black from dirt, ash, soot and vomit, the loss of which left Danny red and clean like he had never been out.

He ran a hand through his black tresses with a long sigh and opened his red eyes to stare at nothing in particular.

Only, things in his head kept staring back at him now.

“Kesegowaase Kangee,” he uttered slowly, “Clockwork…”

The mystery of the Codger had been revealed by Danny’s little trip to the past, but what he hadn’t bargained for was the truth about the raven.

Just as Vlad, Clockwork had been human once – had a life, a family and possible dreams. In reality, he had been the first victim of the other father and the only, next to Danny, to have ever survived it.

If you could even call it survival.

Had Clockwork known who he was after he woke up as a bird? Had he been fully conscious and known what the well had done to him? What it had done to Vlad?

Danny didn’t know, he only knew now that Clockwork was hundreds of years old and therefor couldn’t have died of old age.

Meaning he was still out there. But where?

From what Danny had understood, the well’s wishes made it impossible for the one it was granted to leave Amity. Or had the fairy just tricked them that way?

There were so many possibilities, so many questions…Vlad had cost an entire tribe of innocent people their lives alone with his disappearance and ripped Clockwork from his family in the during.

Danny recalled the passage in Andrew’s book. The tribe had gone to war with the settlers, because they believed they had taken the boy.

The chief’s last son and leader of the Santee tribe of Amity.

Danny scrunched his itchy eyes. The despair, anger and fear he had relived through Clockwork, still resting in Danny’s heart as if it had been his own and he suddenly felt like weeping for the mother and tribe he had failed.

So many feeling – not his own, but so alike it almost scared him – kept rushing through him and Danny had to press a hand to his mouth to stop the sudden whimper.

He dragged a hand down the sink’s mirror to try to remind himself of who he was, but all he got was a second shock by the sight that stared back at him with bloodshot eyes.

Part of his hair had turned white.

His first thought was that some ash had got in it, but that idea was easily let down as he tried to rinse it with soap.

It had to be white paint then, but as he ran a hand through it, he found no sign of stiffness and if he closed his eyes, it felt no different from its usual uncombed hair.

All of it was wishful thinking of course, but better than any alternative he could think of. He raised a shaking hand, grabbed the stark white lock running down the center of his hair, and tugged.

All he got was a shot of pain and he slowly let go, his brain working to come up with a reasonable explanation.

It was his own hair all right, but when the fuck had it decided to go white on him!? He was only 25 for god’s sake!

But then what?

Danny stared back at his own misted reflection with frowned brows. He had never actual met or heard of anyone changing hair color like this, but everybody knew the old urban legend.

That if a person got scared out of their mind, their hair would turn white like snow.

Danny didn’t believe a word of it, but here he was – white stripe through his black hair and caught up in a ghost story. It hadn’t even been his own fear – it had been Clockwork’s experience, not Danny’s!

He had just…seen it all through another person’s eye, that was all. He hadn’t been…well it wasn’t as if…he had been in any danger…

I almost died.

His throat tightened and Danny stared ahead in cold realization. He had almost died in that Smoke Hut. If it hadn’t been for the sudden wind to rip it away and let in air, he would have –

Danny buckled over and threw up in the sink.

He kept letting out until there was no more and when he had no more waste to get rid of, he collapsed to the tiled flor and cried his eyes out like a little child.

A wave of panic-attacks made him dry-heave for air, and he griped his chest with shaking hands, none of his limbs wanting to stop shaking, as he tried to get it together under the running shower.

All this while one single question kept running repeatedly like a loop in his head.

Why am I so afraid?

“Why?” Danny finally found a voice to let out, “why am I like this?”

No one answered and Danny had never felt more alone than in this moment. The determination he had brought to this place from his life outside of Amity, was now nowhere to be found.

He had been so strong, so ready to die for this noble cause that he had set himself up to.

Hadn’t he told himself over and over again that the chances of him getting out of here was close to none existing? That this was the final fight he had come to take, in order to stop the other father, even if it would cost his own life – or freedom?

Danny shook his head, couldn’t believe himself. Was this who he really was? A coward unable to carry out what he had started? Did he even want to do the right thing anymore!?

I think you find that the reason you’ve returned isn’t as noble as you think they are.

“Shut up,” Danny muttered weakly, “shut up, shut up, shut up.”

No, he might not be so keen on dying as he’d thought he’d been, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have it in him to do the right thing. He still had a ghost to find and save from Vlad’s curse.

He still had to find a way to end Vlad and be done with this place.

He had to. He had to make all of this come true somehow.

The echo of the fairy’s laughter returned and the words that had tricked Clockwork into making this curse a reality, came back to haunt him now that his mind had begun to clear.

“Fucking fairy,” Danny spat, as he recalled her little demonic laughter.

He had no idea how or where Vlad had gotten her, but it was clear she had wanted revenge for what he had done to her and seen Clockwork as her means to punish the man.

Make the boy tell a wish to the well, that would overrule Vlad’s and exploit Kangee’s wish to protect his people.

Vlad had wished for the lands power to grand him mortality. Kangee had wished for the power to protect people from Vlad.

The fairy’s tricks had done the rest, by making Vlad immortal in his own little world and Clockwork a raven capable of warning the children Vlad needed to eat in order to stay immortal.

Danny opened his damaged eyes and coughed with lounges threatening to tear apart. The bitterness of one important thing making him groan in annoyance.

He still didn’t know how to stop Vlad.

Somewhere else in the palace, someone else turned on the shower and Danny stared down at the tiles without moving, as the water turned cold.

He first moved when the water felt like icy needles and grabbed a towel from the duffle bag without a care for the water he was dripping all over the floor.

The heat he’d turn on would deal with that in a few minutes or so.

He had barely tied the towel around his hips and grabbed a second time for his hair, before his phone began buzzing on the table and he groaned the longest he had done in his life, before taking the goddamn call.

“What?”

“WHY IS A POLICE OFFICER FROM AMITY PARK ASKING ME ABOUT YOU!?” Jazz’s all but scream into the phone and Danny dropped it in shock.

He hurried to pick it back up and pressed it to his ear with a nervous fake laughter, “a-a what?”

“Don’t play fucking stupid with me, Daniel James Fenton!”

Danny closed his mouth shut. Oh shit, she’s using my full name and everything, he thought and hurried to come up with some decent explanation, “I can explain.”

“No you can’t! And I’m tired of your lies! First you tell me you’re on a road trip with your friends, then you tell me you’re at the university dormitory and now I have to learn from an officer that you’re in Amity Park!? And not just anywhere – but in the Green fucking Palace!”

“Are you finished?” he asked with a scowl.

“No! Not only are you back in that place that made you turn silent and distant the rest of your teenage years, you’re also living in it even though it’s currently a place of investigation on a child disappearance. You’re one of the suspects, for crying out loud – what the hell could you have to say for yourself? I am so ready to hear what you have to tell this time. Go on make my day!”

He pressed the phone to his chest and took one big breath of air, before returning it to his ear.

“Fine, you got me. It’s true, I’m in Amity Park. I went back here after all that with Tucker and Sam to clear my head, because…well, I don’t know, maybe because I thought I would find Valerie Gray here –”

“That girl you used to hang out with?” Jazz asked drily, but her tone revealed he had made her intrigued and he continued with the sad sob story of long-lost love.

It seemed to be just the thing to please Jazz Fenton’s noisy mind. Women.

“Yeah, she’s going to visit her father here back in Amity and we decided to meet up for old times’ sake. And since I was in town and the hotel was under construction, the Green Palace was the only place with a vacant room. They didn’t tell me there was an investigation, I first found out the night after, as that officer you just talked with placed me in handcuffs and dragged me to the station.”

“What!? Just like that?” she asked surprisingly, and Danny hummed.

“I know right? He just saw me move in and arrested me right away. Well, the chief at the station is Valerie’s dad, so he told this officer Walker to stop harassing me and explained to him how I couldn’t have taken that missing girl, since I’ve just arrived and knew nothing about it before today. It was pretty embarrassing for Walker. I guess that’s why he’s stalking me now.”

“He’s what now!?” she asked even more shocked and he imagined her placing a hand over her mouth in concern, “Danny…I…I want to believe you this time. I really do. I know for sure that this Walker guy is real from the call made, to question me about you. And I know you couldn’t possibly make all this up, but… I…I just don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“If you don’t believe me to be innocent –” he said and stopped her before she could interrupt, “– you can just call chief Damion Gray and get the story from him. I’m sure he would have a thing or two to tell Walker if he knew he’s still investigating me. As for everything else, I’m sorry, Jazz. I just didn’t want to worry you.”

“Danny,” she sighed, “I understand that you’re going through a hard time, after whatever you’re-not-ready-to-talk-to-me about what happened between you, Sam and Tucker…but can’t you at least just try to be honest with me? Can’t you just tell me things as they are and not some made-up scenario that won’t make me worried? Just tell me the truth and I’ll listen without interfering – I promise.”

Danny thought hard and long about it, before he decided to open his mouth again, “I came back to Amity Park because Valerie called me, and I needed a place to be after Sam and Tucker threw me out of the apartment. But also…”

Because I had to face the other father and safe a deceased child’s soul from eternal suffering.

“– because a part of me needed to come back here, Jazz. I spent the last of my childhood here and…I don’t know, maybe what I’m looking for is the acceptance I couldn’t get at home. It’s the only childhood home I still can visit. Does that make any sense?”

“I guess,” she admitted and the sound of little cogs running in her bright head could almost be heard in the other way of the phone, “and if it’s okay for me to ask – how does Vlad fit into all this? Or was he just a lie to?”

He started talking before he could even come up with a new lie, “I met him at the Green Palace. He’s my neighbor downstairs, so technical not my roommate, but with these walls, it’s pretty close. I mostly see him when he’s home after dark and he keep insisting on having me over for company. He’s just as creepy as I told you the first time, no change there.”

“Ah,” she noted objective, “and did you find your watch, or ‘Clockwork’, as you kids call it? Was he really the one to take it?”

Danny ran the towel over his wild black tresses and sighed deeply, “no, I’ve must have lost it somewhere by myself, I’m still looking day and night. I –”

A coughing fit rushed through his chest and made Danny clutch the phone tight, as he coughed into his hand.

He could hear Jazz call for him in worry and not wanting to raise any alarms with her, he tried his best to stop himself and took a deep breath of air.

“Sorry, sorry – tried to uhm clean under the bed and…well you know dust bunnies,” he lied with tight throat and stared into his palm.

It was sprinkled with blood.

“That didn’t – Danny are you alright?”

“I’m awesome,” he lied through his teeth and went to the sink to wash his hand with some haste, “It’s nothing, please don’t make a fuzz about this and since you got me to talk for…like… a whole five minutes without end, how about you tell me something about your day?”

That didn’t seem to sit right with her, but she told him about her day anyway and Danny pretended to listen with the right amounts of “hmmm” and “okay?”, as he tried to wash of all evidence of blood.

She kept talking as he ran a shaking hand through his damp hair and turned his eyes to the mirror to examine the white stripe again.

The white line still a shock to him every time he got to a reflection.

“ – but if you’re getting sick, I don’t want you to be alone out there. How about I just come see you?”

Danny rolled his eyes in annoyance, as she somehow had turned the conversation around to bite him again, “Jazz, you’re a therapist with straight A’s, is it really rocket science to get the hint that I just want some space? That I could need to be alone after what happened between me and my friends?”

She sighed in equal impatience and her tone turned thorny, “and does alone time mean you, or you alone with Vlad the hot older neighbor?”

“I’m not even gonna act like you just said that.”

“Oh please, as if your fixation on older silver foxes is such a big secret.”

He was going to ask how she knew Vlad’s hair were silver, but stopped as that only proved her point, “whatever you think is going on between me and Vlad is only in your own head. And as if you should be the one to talk with your weird obsession with tragic basement musicians.”

“I told you about Phantom of the opera in confidence!” she gasped and had Danny shake his head.

“And I don’t remember sharing my secret stash of magazines with you, so beat it Jazz and stop making up stuff. I’m not meeting up with Vlad because I want to, but because he’s a whiny loner. He keeps trying to get me up against a corner and touch me. He has zero understanding of personal space.”

“Oh my god, you’re so clueless!” Jazz all but yelled and had Danny stop with a hand on the sink.

“Not following?”

“I know you’re not,” she snapped and then sighed to calm her own tone to a more reasonable one, “Danny I know you don’t think I know what’s going on in your life –”

“You really don’t,” he droned, and she ignored him.

“ – but I do, okay? I do. I can almost always feel it when something is going on with you and this time, I think you’re troubled. And I think you’re looking for something you’re not even ready to open your eyes to yourself, because – as always – you don’t believe you deserve it.”

He was going to say that wasn’t true, but she didn’t give him the chance.

“You think people can’t understand or love you because of what our parents did and now that you broke up with Sam and Tucker, you believe it even less so. You keep alienate yourself from me and leave me in the dark, because I’m not the kind of acceptance you need right now, and I understand. I know deep down that you know I accept you and that you always will have me on your side – and even though it hurts, I understand that I’m not what you need right now, even if I want to be. What you need, Danny, is the acceptance only love can give you. Vlad is trying to offer you that and I believe you should give him a chance.”

Danny blinked once, then twice and turned back to the mirror with utter disbelieve, “give him a chance!?”

“Would it be so hard?” she asked with a silent plea, “he likes you, if all you have told me is true, then he’s wild about you. The whole cooking for you, seeking your company, asking into you, circling around you every time he gets – Danny you don’t have to be a genius to see this. And I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it yourself, but the only people you ever tell me such details about, is your crushes.”

Danny was speechless, but not because she was right, it was because of the mirror reflection.

Vlad Masters was watching him from the other side of the room.

“Jazz, I will have to call you back,” he replied with a calm voice and ended the call.

He slowly lowered the phone and didn’t even notice how the hand on the edge of the sink had tightened its grip hard enough to make the knuckles turn bone white.

 

Ten years ago…

“I don’t remember it ever being sunny in Amity Park.”

Danny stared out the edge of the treehouse’s railing with feet dangling out and turned his head to look at the girl next to him.

It had been three days since the fight by the well and from where they sat, the lid of the well looked as if it was going to stay put.

No melted bat monster had returned from its deeps and no voices had called Danny back to the little door in the living room.

The bats who seemed to have been lurking in every shadow of town, had vanished into the thin air and the fog along with them.

And now the sun had returned to shine through the grey sky.

“I’m going to miss it,” he said, even though he really wouldn’t.

Danny had hated this place from the first day he arrived till the last second of summer and don’t even get him started on almost getting murdered and enslaved by a ghost.

It had helped with the new internet connection his father had set up for him, but mostly, this place had been crap.

No, he wasn’t going to miss this place. But he was going to miss Valerie Gray.

“When do you leave?” she asked, as if she had read his mind and Danny shrugged.

“In about a week, I think. They just said end of the month and I have to return to high school, so they have to keep on schedule.”

She nodded. This had never been a secret really and they both looked up as a dark shadow came flying down towards them – or maybe ‘tumbling’ would have been a better choice of words.

Having healed his broken wing with Valerie’s intense care and the local vet’s interest in preserving wildlife, Clockwork had made it out of the monster fight and back into the sky.

With some minor problems of aching bones and missing feathers, of course. But none of the two teens seemed to give a damn, as long as he could still get excited over the crackers they brought him.

“Did he really talk in the other world?” Valerie asked with a giggle, as the raven went to rest in Danny’s lap after a healthy feeding of animal crackers.

“Yeah and he said you fart in your sleep,” Danny joked and got a hit on his shoulder in return.

The teens pushed each other with giggles, as the slow warm day dried the wood of the treehouse and slowly, they returned to their relaxed observing of the forest in each other’s company.

Danny leaned back on his palm to enjoy the change of the weather, “you’re gonna go to the Amity high?”

“That’s the plan,” she admitted as she petted the raven’s head, her expression suddenly turning from calm to unreadable, “you really believe it’s over?”

Danny opened his eyes, the air turning colder, or maybe it was just him. He put up a crocket smile to assure her everything was fine, but he too had been having his own doubts.

What if it really wasn’t over?

“Of course, it is, why wouldn’t it be?” he asked instead, maybe hoping she could put some words on the fears he couldn’t voice.

She pulled her legs to her chest with a shrug and petted the back of the raven, “I don’t know, Danny. It all just felt a little too easy, ya know? I have this feeling…I don’t know.”

Clockwork lifted his head, his eyes aware and clear. Both teens blinked in surprise as the large bird took off and reached for the sky. Danny’s lap turned cold without the raven’s heat to warm it.

“Can I call you?”

Danny turned his head with a snap, the raven forgotten by those words, “huh?”

She rolled her eyes with a faint smile, “to tell you if the other father comes back, your dork. I’m going to stay here till college, so if something happens it would be neat to have you come back and help me.”

Danny blushed in embarrassment – of course that’s why she had wanted his number, what else?

“Sure, I was going to give it to you anyway. You know, to keep in touch and stuff and call you in case I’m in the state or something,” he said to play it of in a natural way, but the way she was smiling told him that he wasn’t kidding anyone.

“I’m going to miss you to,” she said for them both and rose to leave, as the sun had begun to set, and it was time to go each way for yet another day.

Danny stood to follow, when something he had been meaning to ask came to mind, “wait, Val, I’ve gotta ask you something.”

She stopped with her hands on the hatch and stared up at him with open green eyes, “yeah?”

Danny stuffed his hands into his pockets, the cold suddenly getting worse, “what did the other father say to you…when he held you down by the well?”

She held his eyes with a long stare, both of them recalling how the blue monster bat had locked her down on the cold ground and stared into her soul with his cursed red eyes.

Danny knew the Codger had spoken to her, told her something horrible for only her to hear, like he had done to Danny.

He knew she might never tell him, but he didn’t want her to walk alone with whatever horrors had been whispered into her mind that night.

Even as he held his own to himself.

Valerie didn’t break her stare, only her hands revealed her feelings, as they grabbed harder around the wood beneath them, “he told me that he would take my firstborn. That no matter where or when, he would find me and rip my child from my hands and eat it in the dark, if I ever got in his way again. I saw him do it. I smelled the blood. But it’s okay.”

“How is that okay?” Danny asked with a small voice.

She smiled without humor, “because as you said, he’s dead so I got nothing to fear.”

Danny felt good about that, but the words still left his mouth with uncertainty, “and if he’s not?”

Her smile faltered and they looked at each over for what felt like a long time. The possibility almost threatening to crush them.

“Then we’ll come back and just end him one last time,” Valerie offered and showed him her hand, “deal?”

“Deal,” Danny agreed and shook her hand.

None of them old enough to actually realize the consequences of this innocent promise. But every curse had its time and today wasn’t the day.

Valerie grinned at him, “we’ll be okay, Danny. Now come on, let’s get home before dark, I’m freezing like hell.”

Danny watched her as she turned from him to climb down the rope ladder, his eyes never really leaving her, even after only the top of her head was left.

“We’re okay,” he muttered to himself, “it’s over.”

Oh god let it be over.

 

“How are you here?”

Danny’s voice almost seemed to make an echo, but that could only be in his own head.

The attic flat didn’t have room for it. And yet, the flat wasn’t supposed to house someone like the Codger either – but here he was. Vlad Masters in the flesh and very much in Danny’s world.

The monster put up a pleasant expression, “I believe the right way to ask would be ‘why are you here?’, simple phrasing really, my boy. And to answer your question, I believe you will be able to answer that yourself after you’ve simply looked up.”

Danny’s eyes followed the direction of the other father’s pointing finger and he blinked as he found the old cuckoo clock above the door. It had long since past midnight. He had missed his trip to the other world.

“No, I mean…” Danny tried again and grabbed his hair in perplexing, “how are you here!?

“I was worried,” Vlad simply stated and walked up to the human, before Danny could get to protest.

The human backed away on reflex, as the Codger advanced on him and Vlad raised a hand to touch Danny hair with wonder, “my, my, what a color.”

“Don’t touch me,” Danny scowled as he grabbed the hand by the wrist before it could reach him, “answer me, how did you get out of your own world and into mine!?”

Vlad let his hand fall and annoyed Danny further with a humored chuckle, “with that color, you resemble a badger more than ever. Now don’t give me that look, Daniel, you have to admit youre new hair style has a great resembles with the animal. And as for why I am here? I’ve already told you, things have change for me, I’m more capable than ever. Now, did it hurt when your hair –”

“STOP TOUCHING MY HAIR!” Danny yelled in embarrassment from having a grown man so indulged in his appurtenance and stepped away, “and stop being so fucking vague! What has changed? How have you changed – how is this even possible, you’re supposed to be bound to your world!?”

“So many questions,” Vlad sighed and placed his hands in his pockets instead, “you might as well yell into the well with all the answers you’re seeking, my boy. Even better, jump into it.”

Vlad didn’t take back the space Danny had created between them and shifted his focus from Danny’s hair to eyes – which made Danny relax for a bit – and then proceeded to run his red eyes down the human’s body.

Danny was going to ask him what he meant by the well, when he suddenly realized with a blush why the other was staring…Danny was only wearing a towel.

Instinct told Danny that he had to cover himself up soon, or Vlad would make a move, but as he looked up to find a shirt or just something, all he found was Vlad handing him a bathrobe.

Danny had no idea where the monster had gotten it, but knowing that Vlad had powers in his own, why not in the real world where he now walked like he owned it as well?

The human would rather not be accepting gifts from the other, but the robe seemed harmless, even soft and with no better to use, he took it hesitantly.

As expected, it was warm and made from a black material, with embroider initials on the chest.

Danny rolled his eyes as he put in on, “D.M, let me guess? Daniel Masters?”

“You’re welcome, little badger,” Vlad retorted with a smirk and adjusted the collar of the robe, before Danny smack his hands away, “I know you have many questions and even though it’s against the rules that I’m present in your world, I took the liberty to visit you. I believe it’s only sufficient since you broke your part and stayed away. I’ll say it makes us even again, won’t you agree?”

Danny knew it did, but choose not to voice it, “I saw you die.”

Vlad’s red eyes raised to stare into his and the hands held the bathrobe collar in a tight grip, before turning gentle again and play it of as nothing, “that can’t have been a very pleasant experience. But that does explain the hair…”

Danny swallowed, wondering just how many seconds it would take for him to dive under the bed, get his ecto-gun and fire it, “I know what you did to Kangee.”

“Who?” Vlad asked sincerely – or so it seemed to Danny.

“The chief’s seventh son, the child you murdered to get your powers,” Danny continued and felt the old anger return to him with waves of reminding of who he was dealing with.

Why he couldn’t trust this monster. Why he couldn’t let Vlad get to him.

He was a monster no matter what.

“I see,” Vlad replied lightly and continued to adjust the shoulders of the bathrobe even though it laid snuck on the human, “I hope you understand I never wanted the boy to suffer like that. The fairy was the one to curse the child along with me.”

“That doesn’t change anything,” Danny scowled, and a fanged smile formed on the other’s face.

“No, I suppose not. But that’s a thing of the past, we are part of the present and I have a proposal I have come to gain an answer to.”

Danny wasn’t sure what the other was talking about, but then remembered with a lump in his throat.

The deal. Danny for the girl.

“I…I haven’t had enough time to think about it,” Danny hurried to say and put up a hand on Vlad’s chest to stop him from getting any closer with robe adjusting hands.

In his defense, he hadn’t really had that much time now he thought about it.

Wasn’t it like yesterday Vlad had offered him to let the girl’s soul go in exchange for Danny’s eternal company? Eternal company…

Danny swallowed and looked down to avoid Vlad’s intense gaze. The monster’s hands came to rest on his shoulders with an unnatural warmth, had had Danny relax despite his unease.

He wanted to tell himself that Vlad was just toying with him. That it was all just a big scheme to make him trust the monster and doubt his wish to end him, but Danny knew in his guts that Vlad didn’t have to pretend when it came to his pursuits.

The monster wasn’t one to hide his desires.

Danny could almost hear his sister’s voice yell “clueless!” at him. With Vlad’s presence this close and with the deal on the table, Danny had no other choice than to finally accept what he had tried to ignore since Vlad first allowed him back into his world.

He had always believed Vlad wanted him because he needed his soul – it had been the case when he had been a child. But now…for some reason, he had believed Vlad only wanted him because of revengeful reasons.

Taking Danny’s freedom and capture him in the other world for Vlad to control, had always seemed like the only reason for the monster to lure back him here. Or to take Danny out and kill any attempt to end Vlad’s reign. But now…

What you need, Danny, is the acceptance only love can give you. Vlad is trying to offer you that and I believe you should give him a chance.

Danny closed his eyes, didn’t want to be in this situation or have a mind pulling at him to make a decision and be done with his twisted feelings.

Could he even trust himself to make the right decision?

He knew what Vlad wanted, but the questions were…what did Danny want?

“I need some more time,” Danny continued with the monster’s eyes laying heavy on him.

The sudden buzz of the phone on the sink, made Danny turn his head in surprise. Even from here, he could read ‘Jazz’ on the screen. She was probably pissed that he had ended the call in the middle of her speech.

Should he take it?

He ignored the other’s stare and licked his lips in uncertainty.

Danny moved to take it, but the hands on his shoulder’s only tightened and kept him in place.

“Let go,” Danny said in a calm voice and tried to push past Vlad – don’t look at him, it will only confuse you, Fenton – but all it did was making the Codger lower the hands from Danny’s shoulder to his arms.

Vlad’s warm steadfast hands pulling him closer with a sudden pull. Danny protested and tried to get out of the other’s arms, but Vlad just looked down at him with those red calm eyes.

“Daniel, it doesn’t have to be like this,” Vlad explained him just as calm and Danny shuttered from the silky tone in the other’s voice, “I can save you from all this.”

“Save me from what!?” Danny scowled and did the mistake of raising his eyes – and immediately found himself caught like a deer in the headlight by those red fiery eyes.

“This dull existence,” Vlad added with a caring expression, his hands began to roam, “this continuing loss of will to please everyone around you. To endure those, who’ve harmed you. What I’m offering you isn’t just a switch of places for you and the child – it’s a way out. I can give you so much more than this would could ever offer you. A safe haven for you to breathe in and finally be free – an escape.”

Danny swallowed and tried not to let himself get fooled by the monster’s silver tongue. To not let himself fall short. You couldn’t trust the other father, the Codger was a liar, death clad in golden dreams and wonders.

And yet, a part of Danny wanted to trust him.

“I can’t trust you,” Danny whispered and closed his eyes, as those warm hands moved to frame his face in caring embrace.

“Trust yourself, Daniel,” Vlad offered and had Danny open his eyes to find the other close enough for their noses to touch, “follow that instinct inside you that lead you here in the first place. You didn’t have to come here, you didn’t have to safe that child, but you made a choice and followed that beautiful mind that have helped you survive this cruel world for so long. I know how you feel about me, lovely boy. I could be the one to set you free, you know I can. I know your deepest desires; I know you ache for it.”

Danny’s eyes widened, denial ready on his tongue, but Vlad shushed him with a finger on his lips, “shhh, no lies, we’re far beyond that. I’ll remain true, if you do the same in return.”

Danny blinked and felt caught in a web he couldn’t fight his way out of no matter how much he tried.

His senses seemed dulled, his mind static and all he could think of was the way the other watched him with such passion.

It made him sick, it made him angry.

It made him want more.

“I know what you want from me now,” Danny said with steadfast tone, he had known for some time, but Jazz’s words had made him certain.

Vlad caressed his face with slow movements, his thumb running over Danny’s lower lip, “does it frighten you?”

Danny shook his head, “no, it’s just…these feeling is human, something that is no longer part of you. You’ve lost all that in the well, I saw it.”

Vlad watched him with a growing smile, fangs peeking out like dangerous pearls, “there are desires that run far beyond human nature, Daniel.”

“I know you need children to survive,” Danny frowned and remembered the ghost children’s faint voices, “what you’ve done, what you did to those children – how could you ever expect me to look past that, when I know you would have left me to rot with the rest the second you got tired of me? When I know you’re nothing but a monster?”

“Would you deny it?” Vlad challenged him with a growing smile, his warm hands grabbing Danny close enough to hurt him, but stayed on the edge, as Vlad pressed Danny to step backwards, “the side of you that wants to see me differently? That part of you that keeps drawing you back to me? You could have left this place, Daniel, left it all behind and never thought twice about the long-lost time of your childhood. But you kept waiting for me to move again, for me to give you an excuse to return to this place. Return back to me.”

Danny felt sweat run down his spine and the cover of the bathrobe, kept feeling thinner and less protective, the closer Vlad got with his demanding eyes and hungry smile.

Knowing what the monster wanted from him now, Danny couldn’t help but find himself ridicules.

It had all been right in front of him.

He wants a child, of course, something that isn’t him – or maybe he just wants to eat you? Clockwork chuckled and changed into Jazz’s voice, He does sound like he has an interest in you, maybe you’re just misjudging him?

You know I love you… Vlad’s voice whispered in his mind and Danny clenched his teeth, as his back was pressed up against the wall beside his bed.

”I thought you wanted a son,” Danny asked in a last attempt to stop the inevitable and he pressed his hands against the others chest as a last defense, but Vlad just shook his head with a low chuckle.

“I have never been the fatherly figure, I see that now,” he confided the shaking human and made Danny hold his breath, as their faces drew closer, “but I still want your company, Daniel, I still care for you. I see a lot of myself in you, in the qualities you show others and those you keep to yourself. I still want you, but this time I wish to be more than a caretaker. I wish to be so much more….”

Danny’s hands clenched into the expensive fabric and winkled the other’s suit, as Vlad pressed his burning lips down on his.

Danny lost his breath by the sudden surge of heat that ran through him like scolding blood and with the scent of smoke, man and something animalistic, Danny stopped struggling.

And instead embracing.

Danny knew he should try and stop it, even fight Vlad if necessary, but a part of him wanted to find out what waited at the other side of this and curiosity won.

Fighting Vlad was exhausting in so many ways and the rest of the world had never rewarded Danny for fighting against him either.

Why not just take a chance?

His acceptance of the other’s desires had the other’s advances grow and Vlad pushing him up against the wall without mercy.

The monster’s warm body made Danny shiver and he didn’t resist, as strong hands grabbed his wrist to lock them over his head.

Pressing his hard pelvis against Danny’s had the human moan and deepened the kiss. Opened his mouth for Vlad’s tongue.

Danny inhaled his scent and spread his legs in natural response. Something the monster took advantage of and grabbed his thigh to lift him up against the wall.

Danny felt Vlad’s hard member through the slacks and whimpered into the monster’s mouth by the heat forming in his abdomen.

Shutting off from everything and anything, Danny let go of all alarm signs and just took what was offered.

He could feel Vlad smirk into the kiss, but didn’t care, he hadn’t felt this alive since he was a teen and just as now Vlad had been the one to offer this state of life.

Did it feel wrong in every way?

Of course – did he care, as Vlad broke the kiss to bite his neck and make Danny cry out with pleasure?

Leave a hot brand of kisses and bites up his neck, while groping his ass and leave bruises on his wrists with a tightening hand?

Reclaiming Danny’s gasping mouth and sending hundreds of heated sparks through his body like the fourth of July?

No. He honestly didn’t.

“Vlad,” Danny whispered without thinking and felt the monster shutter with satisfaction against him.

He couldn’t exactly tell when and how, but at some point, Vlad must have moved him from the wall to land on the bed and even if he had cared, Danny simply ignored it.

Danny let it all go as he locked his arms around the other’s neck to lead those lips back to his and take him far far away from all his troubles.

Danny couldn’t help but whimper as Vlad’s tongue began to explore and his weight press down on Danny, making his body act in ways it hadn’t since that night he’s shared a bed with Tucker and Sam.

Recalling his former friends and how that had ended, made Danny turn distracted and sensing the human was having doubts, Vlad ripped the front of the bathrobe open and ran his hand down the exposed skin.

Moving dangerously close to the part below Danny’s stomach.

That diffidently made Danny focus on the monster again and he opened his mouth in a silent moan, a pleasurable shiver ran down his spine.

Having the human exactly where he wanted him, Vlad took it slow and devoted his entire attention on making the human his and only his.

Sensing the predatorily possessiveness Vlad was exuded, Danny’s mind went off with something dark and forbidden he’d never believed himself to long for.

The fear of becoming prey for the predator, Danny soon went from being passive to responsive and kissed Vlad back with a feverous need.

Vlad immediately replied this with a pleased grow in return. The vibration reaching Danny through the monster’s chest.

He shook as Vlad’s right hand moved south and got closer and closer to the spot between Danny’s legs.

It’s slow maddening pace making the human almost ready to beg for it.

Vlad was counting on it.

“Be mine,” the Codger whispered into Danny’s ear and the young man closed his eyes with heated breath, “a yes is all I need.”

So many fears, hopes and possibilities ran through Danny’s head at once and half of them were drowned in pleasure almost instantly. He wanted all this, but the fear had never left him. He hadn’t forgotten who was touching him.

Keeping a clear mind seemed impossible though and Danny wanted to do the right thing. Make the right decision.

He had to do what was right for the girl.

“Say it,” Vlad whispered, with a hint of demand and spread Danny’s legs.

“I –”

“RAWR!!!!!!!”

Danny’s attention went flying over the edge, as the little attic flat was filled with the scream of a raven.

A black raven jumped from the doors of the cuckoo clock above the door and called out the hour with a penetrating sound.

Danny sat up with wide eyes, “Clockwork!?”

The raven responded kept moving in and out of the doors. Its blank glass eyes staring out blindly and the wings flapping mechanical with dust falling of the old mat feathers in small clouds.

Vlad took in the human’s shocked expression with a chuckle, a sound that soon turned to sadistic laughter, as Danny covered his mouth with horror.

“No,” he gasped and pushed the monster of him to get away from the awful sight, making only Vlad’s cruel laugher grow.

Danny shook his head, but the reality couldn’t be denied. He pressed his hands firmer to his mouth. He felt like vomiting, he felt like screaming. He felt like running.

Clockwork was dead. Gutted and stuffed like an animal.

When Danny finally came to his senses, Vlad was gone.

He was – and for the first time – truly and utterly alone in this nightmare.

 

DAY 5

The storm of yesterday had settled and a new day took its place with a gray morning light, that barely had the strength to shine through the heavy layers of rain clouds and soup-like fog.

Danny didn’t really care for the weather, didn’t really care for anything at the moment.

All he had in him was the still lingering emptiness the discovery of Clockwork’s maltreated corpse had left on him as a unsealing wound.

One might say it seemed cruel of him to not shed a single tear for the cursed bird, but Danny didn’t have any tears in him left and all he seemed to have to offer was his silent care.

After Vlad had left him with the remains of the old raven, Danny had slowly recovered from the shock and removed the cuckoo clock from the wall with shaking hands.

Close up, the stuffed corps illustrated even heavier the fact that Clockwork had been dead for some time and that the end hadn’t been peaceful.

The beak had cracks; essential feathers were missing. Both legs were distorted, not to mention discolored and some of the bones seemed lose.

The stuffing work had been done rudely and without a care for the raven’s dignity. One of the glass eyes hadn’t even been pushed all the way into the empty socket and stood out from the head, like it had popped.

Both wings had been stitched without pattern or patience and all in all, the result looked more like baby’s first stuffing job, than the wise raven who had once helped Danny through hell.

Getting Clockwork out of the clock had been a mess and all Danny had been able to decide on, was wrap the light corps in a t-shirt and go down the path behind the house. Silent and alone.

He was probably wasting time, time he could have used to dig up more up about Vlad or find clues to how to defeat him, but all Danny did was putting one foot before the other.

He passed the boulders, recalling how he had met Clockwork there for the first time by hitting him with a rock. He hadn’t even been sorry about it.

God, he had been such a brat.

The light bundle in his arms had no clever remarks for that or ever would it again.

Danny would have given his right arm just to hear the raven mock him one more time, as he walked the last stretched to the well with a growing numbness in his fingers, from the cruel morning cold.

He passed the well without a glance and stopped by the old tree that had once been the place of Valerie’s treehouse.

And long before that, the sun-pole’s position.

“Between worlds, sky and earth,” Danny muttered, recalling some of Kangee’s thoughts and lifted down the shovel from his shoulder, he had taken from the Green Palace’s garden shed.

Digging proved to be an easy task with the moist mud and daily rain making the soil soft as cake.

Something Danny took with a stern face and silent determination.

Ember had stumbled into him when he’d left the palace and she had lifted a hand to greet him before leaving for work at the station, but apparently something about him had made her stop and stare.

If she had believed the bundle in his arm to be something criminal, she hadn’t said anything and just watched him leave with a worried frown.

Or maybe she was just shocked by his hair.

Who knew these days?

Danny knew he probably should worry more about what people around him thought and said, but right now he just wanted to burry a friend and be alone in his sorrow.

The hole didn’t get as deep as he could have wanted, but the shovel wasn’t sharp enough to cut the web of roots running through the soil and neither did he wish to harm the already dying trees around the grave.

Danny had never been to that many funerals and he hadn’t even given it a thought if Santee Dakota people had a special form of burial for their own.

Did they even burry their people? Burn them? Lay them out for the nature to become one with it?

Danny really didn’t know and looked down at the bundle.

Was it a disaster to be buried this close to the well? Was he breaking some Santee rule by putting Clockwork to rest like this and ruin his chances of finding peace?

Danny couldn’t know for certain and decided Clockwork could curse him if he wanted to – one more curse would be the same to Danny – and placed the bundle in the hole.

“I’m sorry I’m this useless,” Danny apologized and swallowed as he began to fill the grave with wet dark soil.

Soon erasing any sign that there had ever been a grave to begin with.

There was nothing more to do on the matter, but Danny remained seated still.

Tears would have been appropriated at this moment, but they never came.

He didn’t know what kind of person it made him, but apparently not the kind of person to cry at a dear friend’s funeral.

Or the kind of person to remember who the enemy was and spread his legs for the first and best offer handed to him. The shame of how easy he had been in the Codger’s hands, made him clench his fists and he threw the shovel to hell.

He felt like screaming and slammed the wet ground with a fist. The young man didn’t even stir as the action had a splash of cold muddy water splash right back at him.

To him it was just yet another wakeup call to just how pathetic he was.

Did he even want to defeat Vlad anymore?

Right now, he couldn’t say he did. But Danny didn’t really feel like doing anything anymore. The numbness wasn’t just a thing of his fingers and skin, but a part of his guts now.

Something rotten and lifeless seemed to have made itself at home inside of him and Danny tried to remember when it had started but couldn’t.

Vlad was a monster, but he was right when he said Danny had lost the love for this world.

The will to stay alive was there, but more on auto, than a living and willing need for Danny’s part.

He wasn’t suicidal, never had been, but the reasons to go on had at some point turned into a joke even he couldn’t remember the punchline to.

The truth was, that Danny had turned cold.

The world was the same, the people in it alive and the possibilities right at hand, but something kept him from wanting to take part of it.

Clockwork’s death hadn’t been the final straw of it all, just another milestone that had made him aware of just how much he had lost.

The loss of childhood was a strange thing. Danny couldn’t tell exactly when he had grown out of innocence and easy dreams, but it must have been some time right after he’d left Amity.

Had he woken up one day to realize he had grown out of the boy and crept into the adolescent?

No.

But along the way he had felt different, different in a way that seemed to annoy most people around him and go over the head of his friends.

People said growing up was hard and being a teenager even harder, but Danny wasn’t sure if he had walked the same path as his peers, the way Jazz had explained it with cleaver terms.

He remembered having felt old in skin too young for it to be his own. Something that had made him take a secret distance to everyone and seek something else.

And that something had made him go out searching for things he couldn’t put a word on, made him restless and hungry for a desire of no name.

Being renounced by his parents had just been another milestone, the tears of his mother and anger of his father a part of what made Danny accept love wasn’t an everlasting thing.

That not all who declared themselves trustworthy, could keep that promise in changing times.

People changed and some grew, where other shrunk and revealed new faces.

Danny had believed his friendship with Sam Manson and Tucker Foley to be a constant evolving thing, able to withstand anything, but apparently, they had all had different ideas of where boundaries and possibilities were drawn.

He didn’t hate them for leaving him like his parents had, their absence had just added to the numbness inside him, that seemed to have become part of him without his knowledge.

A numbness that had brought him back to this place, maybe even the same place it had first taken hold of him.

Blaming Vlad for all Danny’s errors was easy, but never really rewarding in the long run.

Danny could call himself cursed all he wanted but believing Vlad had been the one to isolate him and make him lose the people he had held dear, was a childish worldview.

Vlad might be the source of all evil in Amity Park, but Danny’s life? That was all on him.

“All on me,” Danny spoke out loud and took a deep breath.

Now what?

Danny stared down at the grave and tried to make up a scenario in which the raven could still give him cryptic advises.

If he closed his eyes, he might even tell himself he could hear the voice of the deceased bird.

…I know you will, you are a good boy, Danny. It is the goodness and innocent of your heart that will help you break this curse, just as it was that part of you that led the Codger to hunger for you….

The long-lost praise sounded almost ridicules now. Danny was far from innocent now and the “goodness of his heart”, as the raven had called it, hadn’t helped Danny so far.

All his heart had proved was that Danny was young and easy to lead astray with sweet promises spoken by heated lips. If his heart truly belonged to the monster, then Danny couldn’t let it led him down the path ahead.

Three days, Danny reminded himself, he still had three days left to safe the last innocent thing connecting Danny to this place.

In the dark, an innocent and small girl with a scared soul still counted on him to lead her back to the light.

If Danny couldn’t go on for his own sake, then at least he could help her out before he lost the will to fight.

Would it be enough? Three days?

Danny doubted it deep down, but he had to try, even if he didn’t feel closer to discovering how to end Vlad, than to figure out the hiding spot of the girls’ ghost knife.

He might as well take Vlad’s advice and jump in the well with all his questions…

The well.

Danny turned his head slowly, his eyes finding the old lid of the well. Thoughts began to run wild, but he shook his head in dismissal – No, that was a crazy idea.

Or was it?

He stood up with some hesitation and ignored the cakes of mud hanging from his knee and legs.

The well hadn’t changed much from the last time he’d taken a look at it and he kicked the lid experimentally. It didn’t go of, but the resistance wasn’t more than one could lift it off with his bare hands.

The wood was so soft that his boot had made a mark on the lid and revealed some of the light wood just beneath the surface.

Danny frowned and started to lift.

The real trouble was to make the mud let go and after some kick and brushing aside with a thick branch, the soil let go of the lid and Danny threw it aside.

The dark old well greeted him with the ripe smell of brackish water. Little cakes of mud fell drown and Danny listened for a second, but it took almost an eternity before the sound of water splashing reached him.

Everyone knows not to get near that well – my granny says it’s cursed and so deep, that if you fall down and look up, you will see stars during the day.

“You don’t say, Val,” Danny sighed and picked out his phone to check the well with its flashlight.

The cobblestone that made up the sides of the well reflected the light with its shining wet surfaces and cast long bulgy shadows around their neighbor stones.

There was nothing unusual to see, no indicator that this well was magical – or ever had been, but he had seen it through Clockwork’s eyes neither the less, so looks could fool.

“You got to be the least enchanting wishing well ever,” Danny muttered and tried not to breath to much of the rotten stench coming up from its deps.

Danny tried lighting down into the well, but he might as well have tried filling a bathtub with a spoon.

The light was absorbed by the darkness of the well and didn’t even reach more than a few stone down and –

Danny stopped moving his phone. A figure had been in the light just a second ago and he tried relocating it again. The top of something got caught in the light again and Danny squatted to try and get closer with the light.

Now closer, he could light more of the figure up and he blinked as the top of an engraved eagle came into the light. Not knowing what to think of this, Danny lighted the stone around it and found other carved figures and shapes.

Most of them resembling animals and other figures he didn’t know the meaning of, some of them just lines connecting and twisting in a pattern unknown to Danny’s knowledge.

But I’ve seen these before, Danny thought with a frown – but where?

He tried getting more, but from this position he could only light up the top of the carvings and he stood with a frown.

Just where had he seen these pattern and figures again? His frustration only grew as he beat himself up to remember and when he finally did, he deadpanned – of course! Andrew’s book.

The pictures of a walls covered in engravings and old figures of the Santee tribe, came back to mind, but something could seem it hadn’t been a wall after all.

It had been the inner surface of the well.

The case of the well seemed to become more and more mysterious the further into Vlad’s past Danny moved.

One thing Danny couldn’t really get his head around, was why Vlad was out there haunting the Green Palace and not the well.

The green Palace might have been the monster’s home before he died, but it was the well that had cursed him.

Ten years ago, Vlad hadn’t even been able to get near the well. The Green Palace was the border, except for whatever bat-magic he had used to send that huge blue bat-persona after Danny when he’d try to throw the key down the well.

How could you fall down the well and then wake up to pester a whole other place? What was the logic in that?

A connection maybe? Some kind of portal running from the well to the mansion? An unknown reason only Vlad knew? An underground tunnel running beneath the earth?

Danny stood up and turn of the flashlight with a determinate nod.

Time to take his investigation to the well. But first – a trip to the local library.

 

‘Disco Inferno’ greeted Danny above the door of the public building with its same nonsense as always and he hurried to get indoor and out of the rain with a tear flowing cough.

His coughing was getting worse and the last thing Danny needed was to be long enough out in the rain to catch a cold.

Getting sick was far from part of his plans and he sent a glare in the direction of Vlad’s portrait, as he hurried to get to the right desk and locate his favorite librarian.

Who wasn’t there.

Danny walked around the desk a few times and checked the shelves for any sign of him, but it didn’t seem like the man was around.

Danny tapped his feet impatient, not knowing what to do and coughed into his sleeve, making a couple of people look up in the silence.

“Might want to quit the cigarettes,” an elderly man advised him like it was funny and Danny just laughed it off and went to search elsewhere for Andrew.

It took Danny some time to understand why he couldn’t find Andrew or even the slightest shadow of a librarian, as he ended up checking his phone and came to realize it was lunch hour.

Andrew would either be out eating or with his colleagues in some closed part of the library, only staff was allowed to enter.

Danny decided he should just come back to the desk in an hour and get something to eat himself.

He was out the door and turning the corner to the parking lot behind the building, for a quick shortcut back to the diner he had taking a liking to.

Danny’s mind was already busy trying to remember how much money he had left, when suddenly found himself becoming witness to a fight.

It took Danny a second to understand it was two strangely well-dressed people fighting between two equally nice cars and even a second longer to understand it was a fight between a woman and a man.

Danny stopped being a spectator the third second, as his brain came to understand two important factors of this fight.

1 – the woman was the librarian Andrew worried about and 2 – this wasn’t a fair fight.

The man was beating her up with a grip in her long blond hair. Her face was bleeding.

“Hey asshole,” Danny interrupted and slammed his fist right into the surprised face of the guy, as he looked up to see who dared get between him and his victim.

Dorathea cried out, as the man fell back into the slim Farai. With his hand still locked in her hair, he had pulled her after him in the fall and she sobbed with bleeding lip and nose, as Danny hurried to help her.

She hurried to back away the second she gained her freedom with a few strands of hair less and moved out of his way.

Danny concentrated on the man, now that she was free and grabbed the collar of the Armani jacket brute to slam him up against the car a second time.

The suit barred his teeth and bloody nose at Danny in wrath and started wrestle Danny to get free. Danny wasn’t going to let him get the space to punch him back and hammered a knee into the man’s crutch.

The blow missed and hit the man’s stomach instead, making him loose his breath and fall over with a groan.

Danny believed it to be over for a second and then yelped, as the guy grabbed his leg and took his balance away.

Hitting the pavement head first took a number on Danny’s head and he hurried to roll over before the suit could stomp on him.

The guy’s messy blond hair was flying wildly around, as he tried his outmost to hit Danny with a kick and cried out like a wounded animal, the second Danny got the chance to send a boot heel into the other’s unprotected crutch.

“FUCK!” the suit groaned in shrill pain, grabbing his junk and Danny used the distraction to get back on his feet.

Despite the pain, the man got back in the fight to dodge Danny’s punch, blogged the next and headbutted Danny in the temple.

White lightning sparkled like fourth of July behind Danny’s eyes and he bit his tongue with a wet crunching sound.

A blow to the solar plexus had Danny hunch over and his lungs pulled in air for a new set of body wreaking coughs.

Danny fought to get his precious air back, but his body wasn’t in the mood to cooperate and the suit took advance of Danny’s handicap.

Beating down on Danny’s bared back with a fist and elbow, made Danny grab the man’s hips for support and he lost connection with the pavement, as he was thrown down to kiss it for the second time.

Danny barely felt like he had been put on the ground, before the other had climbed on top of him and started using Danny’s head as a punch bag.

It all sent Danny back to his oh so beloved high school halls, where bullies had used him for the same practice. Especially the bulkiest of bullies – Dash Baxter.

What a tool, the entire shed in one bastard.

Being treated to black eyes and bruises all year hadn’t made Danny immune to a good ol’ beating, but it had hardened him all the way to graduation.

He could take a punch; his head was thick like that.

The man seemed to have caught up with that much and Danny drew in a much-needed gulp of air, now that his face wasn’t being smacked like there was no tomorrow.

But the air got stuck in his throat immediately, as the guy locked his hands around it and started to squeeze.

Danny hadn’t seen a strangulation coming and panicked blindly, grabbing the other’s hands to get them of, instead of trying to fight him off.

Danny had tried it a couple of times before, but it had mostly been for scare or just a few seconds, never with the means of killing. Dash had just been like that – but other than Vlad, no one had ever really made a real attempt to murder Danny.

His lungs burned by the denial of air, sending Danny back into the Smoke hut’s darkness and forced him even further down the panic drain.

A vortex of fear he couldn’t escape, no matter how much he tried.

The guy above him grinned like some cartoonish madman. His pointy chin and sunken eyes lighting up with a murderous leer and Danny felt his eyes burn with pressure.

The edges and details jumping before him and began fading like dark static, as the shadows began to emerge into Danny’s sight.

Everything hurt, everything was burning. He had to get up, had to get away.

Had to…had to get air…no air, had to – get air, get air, Get Air, GET AIR GET AIR AIR AIRAIR!

The hollow sound of a brick meting a skull rang through the air and the man fell over Danny like a limb doll.

Out cold.

Dorathea stood with the brick still secure in a shaking hand and stare down at Danny with wide eyes.

Apparently a little stunned by her own doing, before she got hold of herself and hurried to help Danny up.

The police arrived a few minutes later.

Dorathea had been the one to call them while Danny fought and both of them was now waiting. Silent and sore, they sat side by side at the curb with matching bruises and tissues up their noses to stop the bleeding.

Both watching the show, as the attacker was being questioned by Chief Gray and two of his officers.

Walker being the one to act crowd control and keep spectators of the scene, as a couple of citizens from the street and library had decided to check out the latest commotion of their small village.

Danny rubbed his temple slowly to get some of the tension out and concluded he was going to have an extra head there in the morning if not before.

Dorathea adjusted her ruined shirt in a pathetic attempt to fix it and cleared her throat awkwardly, “thank you for standing up for me…I feel like we’ve met before?”

“You saw me help Andrew with his book the other day, the name’s Danny by the way,” he replied and leaned his head back to try and stop the blood running from his nose.

“Oh, yes, that sounds right, although,” she sent him a strange look, “the hair made me a bit confused.”

“I had a middle age crisis,” Danny said drily and gave up on his nose, if it dripped on his jacket, it would hardly matter with all the dirt and stains it was currently covered in already.

Danny wasn’t really in the mood for small talk with this woman, but she seemed like the type who needed to fill the silence with some trivial and he guessed it wouldn’t hurt.

“Listen, you wouldn’t happen to know when Andrew get here? I have to talk to him about a chapter in his book.”

Dorathea sighed a bit dramatic, “I’m afraid he won’t come in today, he’s out of town to see his twin brother Randi. He’s from out of state, so Andrew took some time off to see him.”

Well that was putting one thick stick in Danny’s wheel and he pursed his damaged lips, “and he’ll be back when exactly?”

“Sunday,” she informed, and Danny cursed under his breath.

Sunday was the seventh day. He couldn’t wait that long, “shit, uhm do you have his number or something I could try? The only one I have is the one for his desk – it’s kinda urgent.”

“Uh, one sec, my phone…” she found it in the little handbag matching her designer dress and made a sound of distress by the cracked dark screen, “oh, no. I must have fallen on it or something.”

Danny rubbed his bruised forehead with a frustrated grunt and pulled of his own backpack to make sure Andrew’s book hadn’t been damaged during the fight as well.

It didn’t seem like it and Danny opened it to the chapter containing the few pictures of the well’s engravings.

Andrew hadn’t written that much about what the figures or drawings meant, as much as to what the practice meant to the Santee Culture and it frustrated Danny to no end.

“It’s an interesting field,” Dorathea commented, eager to keep up the conversation and tapped one of the pictures with manicured nail, “I remember when Andrew had to use climbing equipment to get down into that hole. I think he originally wanted to photograph the entire thing, but he’s no good with physical activities and of course there was the whole danger factor. I don’t believe that hole has ever been measured by a professional. Who knows how deep it goes?”

Danny hummed, a foolish idea already forming in his head – “auch!”

She hurried to stop her armature examination of his split eyebrow and smiled awkwardly, “I’m sorry, here you are saving me from my brother like some knight in shining armor and I can’t even help you get in touch with Andrew. I have to be the most useless person in this town.”

“Your what!?” Danny noted with outrage, said person yelling and huffing something about getting his lawyer to the three police officers restraining him with handcuffs.

The resembles between Dorathea and her brother was almost nonexistent, except for the blond hair maybe.

But where she was a bombshell of a beach blond babe, he was a ghoulish looking man, tall and thin like death himself and with a grim face matching the grayish blond lock reaching his shoulders.

She might as well be the damsel princess of a fairytale and he the dark lord from a grim castle.

He seemed to recall Andrew saying something about Dorathea’s brother harassing her, but this was way out of line.

This was downright crazy – what if Danny hadn’t decided to take a shortcut and just left the other way around the building?

“I’m sorry your brother is such a monster,” Danny said, and she blinked perplex.

“Well, he can be ruthless and…well he loses his temper easily – but, uhm, I wouldn’t call him a monster per say…”

Danny send her a worried glance, but despite the tussled hair, bruises and ruined shirt…she was surprisingly collected and didn’t seem the least emotional about the whole affair. Almost the opposite.

“Uhh, Dorathea –”

“Please, just call me Dora,” she corrected him softly and Danny nodded with raised brows, taking high notice of her all too calm response to the situation.

“If you say so – listen, not to be nosy, but does this happen…regularly or something?”

She seemed almost ashamed by the question, as if it was her fault for being attacked by her brother in an isolated parking lot, “I shouldn’t speak ill of my family like this, but yes. It has been a problem, but not since I moved out of his house. Well, our house. We continued to live there as part of the will our parents left us.”

As miserable as she looked, Danny almost felt like putting an arm around her – but he knew from Jazz that very few victims of trauma felt comfortable by being touched that intimately by a stranger (good intentions or not), “does Andrew know about this?”

She lighted up almost instantly by the sounds of the name, “he does, he was the one to help me move out in the first place. My brother would have none of it, since it would make it impossible for him to keep track of my part of the inheritance our parents left behind.”

“So, what changed? You know, since he attracted you and all?”

“I bought a car,” she stated plainly, and Danny followed her line of sight to the semi-fancy car parked next to the Farai her brother owned.

It wasn’t as expensive as her brother’s, but Danny guessed any visible sign of her spending her own money could have triggered her brother. What a selfish bastard.

“Dora,” Danny said with a stern voice and she looked at him with a timid expression, “I’m gonna keep it real with you, since you seem like a smart woman who could need to hear this – your brother is the scum of the earth and had he been a dog, he would have been put down years ago. He’s not gonna change and protecting him like this isn’t gonna change anything either. You’re a good person and you don’t deserve any of this – ever.”

She swallowed, her eyes suddenly tearing up and she helped herself to a tissue in her bag. Danny remained silent, gave her space to blow her nose and dry her eyes.

“I know, oh god I know,” she confessed with a small sob and tried making her hair look more presentable with shaking hands, “Andrew tells me this constantly and before I met him, I was just so…I…I’m so afraid all the time. Some part of me still hopes that my brother will realize what’s he doing is wrong and I used to wait for that moment, but now that I’ve moved out and I’ve made distance between us, all I see now is a cruel person. I can’t even remember the last time I really thought of him as my brother.”

She apologized and grabbed a new tissue, her makeup more ruined than ever, but Danny wasn’t shallow enough to care about that.

He felt a deep concern for this woman and the pain she’d had to suffer.

A sting of shame hit him, as he recalled how he’d ignored his sister call last night and this morning as well.

Should he call her?

A black car rolled up to the scene and Dora rose with a sniff, “I’m sorry, it’s my lawyer, I have to talk with him, one second.”

Danny stood spectator, as Dora was pulled aside by her lawyer and her brother started yelling at them.

Chief Gray didn’t seem to wanna have any more trouble with the guy and had the boys take him away. Danny snickered as the guy was pressed down into a police car, but soon sobered up as he came to realize he was next.

He didn’t really have time for all this. Giving his statement at the station could easily take hours and Danny wasn’t going to waste any more time on this.

As he sneaked of to blend in with the crowd and make his get-away, two pair of eyes followed him as he left.

One grey pair and one red.

Chapter Text

The outdoor hobby shop of Amity Park had to be the lousiest shop Danny had yet to make himself present in.

Not only had the shop been almost impossible to find, it wasn’t even marked on Google maps or any good at making itself visible from the street.

The only reason Danny even knew where to look for it, was due to his search for information the second day he had arrived at Amity.

Having walked from door to door, Danny had walked into the shop, thinking it was a drift store from the outside and found himself crammed into a tight space of outdoor merchandise outdated at least three centuries ago.

The old man at the disk had been just as helpful about the curse as anyone else in this shit town and as Danny’s return was announced by the little bell above the door, the owner seemed to remember Danny all right and put up a grumpy scowl.

“You again? I’ve already told you; I don’t know anything about that house.”

“I’m here for climbing equipment,” Danny replied drily and received a suspicious glare in return from the old bushy man.

“You don’t look like no climber to me,” the man said and gave Danny’s combat boots, hoody and leather jacket a disapproving look.

“And neither do you,” Danny returned just as degrading and nodded towards the elderly man’s beer belly barely hidden behind a discolored angler sweater, “and now that we have that establish, maybe we can both play our part? I am here to buy, and you are here to sell. I’ll take what you have and then we can both go our separate ways in peace. How does that sound?”

The man just grunted, and Danny ignored him and walked to the nearest pile of climbing looking equipment.

A little open door not visible from the desk, made Danny aware the store was also part gun shop and he eyed the bear traps for a second, before continuing his roaming. The man at the desk mumbled something under his breath and leaned back in his chair with a fishing magazine.

Despite the magazine, the elderly continued to watch Danny out the corner of his eye. Not knowing if the man was expecting him to shoplift or give up and ask for assistance with the equipment, Danny continued to ignore him and take what he needed.

If the man had hoped for Danny to fulfil one of the two expectations and make a fool of himself, he was in for a disappointment.

Danny had taking wall climbing up one summer in a sports center and had the basic knowledge of how to select and handle the gear.

Not having something clever to say, the man just grunted the prize and Danny paid in cash just as curtly.

Having laid that farce behind him with a roll of his eyes, Danny walked back out to his motorcycle and drove back to the well.

The silent atmosphere greeted him was like that of an old friend, the silent treatment that you knew wasn’t meant to be indifferent, but pleasant.

Danny went to the unmarked grave as the first and laid down a small bouquet of wild flowers he had found on the way. There wasn’t much to find and not knowing much about flora, Danny had a slight idea some of it might just be weed.

He was pretty sure Clockwork would have appreciated the thought, real flowers or not and that seemed good enough.

The grave didn’t seem as presentable as it could have been, but the flowers help on it and Danny paid his respect for a few seconds – and then went to work.

Having only done this a few times – and never alone or outside of a straight wall with plastic grips! – Danny couldn’t help but feel a bit queasy about his upcoming endeavor.

But now was not the time to back out.

“That ship has sailed,” Danny reminded himself and tried to imagine Vlad’s face when Danny saved the ghost girl and ended the curse in a just, yet cool way.

That didn’t really help, but it took some of the edge of and Danny bound his rope to the nearest tree of reliable size.

The gear was old and none of the metal gates or descenders were up to date, but Danny had faith in the ‘old but gold’ theory and put on his helmet.

The little flashlight on his head seemed bright enough and Danny repeated the safety checklist over and over again, as he began to secure the gear around his hips.

Rig your rappel. Is the rope properly threaded through the anchors? Check.

Is your rope correctly threaded through your rappel device? Check.

Is the locking carabiner connecting your device to your harness locked properly? Check.

And so on.

The butterflies in his stomach was giving him a rough time and Danny took a deep breath as he walked backward to the well – waited for his lungs to stop trying to turn its own insides out with a series of wet coughs – and stepped of the well’s edge.

The suck of gravity had Danny’s insides jump and he scrunched his eyes together, as the rope would come to show its durance. Hold or break?

Danny opened an eye; fund he was hanging in the well with tight rope and that everything was working as it should. He could lean back safely and planted his boots on the well’s side.

“So far so good,” he reminded himself and listened to the strange echo the well responded in return.

Planting both his feet firmly at the stones, Danny began to give himself more rope and descend into the darkness. Only his headlight breaking the tight darkness.

Above him, the opening of the well loomed like a grey plate and Danny forced himself to focus on the stones. Not the way up or down.

The top of the engravings he had discovered a few hours ago, began to turn up again and Danny gave himself enough rope to hang in front of the first row of figures.

Danny had read up on the chapter in Andrew’s book and nodded to himself, as the information on paper began to show on the walls.

‘The Santee well, is estimated to be secured in a construction of three layers of cobblestone and was first documented by fur hunters in 17th century (see figure 24). The well’s round opening and wood frame is a building technique was very common at that time, but what isn’t common, is that the well has a much earlier shape, build by hand. This hand dug well is far older and by the local historians believed to be the original well build by the Santee tribe of Amity (see figure 25). The well has never been fully examine, but it is common knowledge, that the water flowing in the well is shifting with the seasons and gets its water from an underground stream. The water is freshwater, but due to the lack of maintenance and local agricultural contamination of its water pocket, the water is undrinkable. It is my opinion that the well has functioned as a ritual object until around the late 1800, due to the date of the last engravings and later on been used as a regular well by the pioneers after the last Santee Dakota tribe left the area.’

Danny adjusted his headlight a bit and placed a hand on the round walls to turn a bit around. A string of engravings told some sort of story, but Danny had to admit he was just as clueless as before.

Building up the courage to look down, Danny tried to spot the water below him, but even with the headlight pointing straight down, the darkness was persistent.

Danny cursed and decided to move lower. The rope creaked loudly, and Danny tried his best to ignore it and focus on the task ahead.

To be brutally honest, Danny didn’t exactly know what he was trying to accomplish with this. Some part of him had some vague idea there was something to be found here and the rest of him just didn’t want to let any end go unsolved.

Even if there was nothing to find down here, he could still cross it of his list of things to check up on and he could move on to the next lead with a clear conscious.

In the best sort of scenarios, he would find a big carving of how to kill the Codger/evil spirit and take a photo of it with his phone. It was unlikely that he would find something like that, but you could always dream.

More complicated engravings began to form on the now smooth walls and Danny watch with interest as the cobblestone stopped, and ancient handmade wall decorated with strange signs and drawings began.

They seemed a lot deeper in their carvings than the ones on the cobblestones and Danny followed a drawing of a man with a bird above him. Danny went down a bit further and looked up to find the opening of the well now the size of a dime.

Danny wondered if there really was something to the saying, that you could only see the night sky from the bottom of the well and looked down.

The bottom of the well was still nowhere to be seen and Danny wondered just how deep this hole was and lowered himself further down, when a sudden pull of the entire gear made Danny freeze.

A knot had formed on his rope.

Danny bit his lip. The knot had somehow formed without his attention and was now pressing against his metal pully. Keeping him from going both up and down.

This setback was bugging Danny more than worrying and he pointed his headlight down to fix it. Just by looking at it, Danny guessed it was just a loop knot and not a regular knot. Meaning he could just pull, and it would open like a bow.

Right?

Danny took a change and tugged it slowly. The knot began to grow smaller and he felt the gear return to regular weight balance.

Slowly, slowly, he pulled, and he remained as unmoving as possible, as to make sure nothing could go wrong. The knot finally came undone and Danny relaxed and let go of the rope.

And fell.

Danny yelped in surprise as he was turned upside down and waved his arms around to try and grip something with a surge of panic.

He felt his fingers scrape the stones as the light flickered around and as he swung back over a second time, his head hit something hard and the lights went out.

 

The police station of Amity Park had two cells, one for long time residence and one for nightly visitors.

Walker had never seen the first cell used, but the other was a whole other story. Being a small idyllic village with a fairly low crime rate, the cell was mostly used for drunks, who needed to sleep of their problems after a long night.

And if not them, then it was some teen who needed a time out after getting caught vandalizing town property.

For the day, it was the cell they kept Mr. Aragon in, until his lawyer caught a flight and made it back from vacation.

Walker found it all mediocre and remembered his work back in Texas. Back there the police force had been something to be proud of and Walker had been a validated part of a team.

In Amity though? He felt just as useful as a sweater in July.

If his mother hadn’t fallen Ill and needed him to take over her house and her medical care – when she at rare times was even let out of the hospital – he could still have been making a difference back in the south.

The only difference he was making here was the difference of someone staring straight at a locked cell or to the side.

He sighed and continued to fill out paper work, when a cake crumble hit his forehead and he looked up with a murderous glare in the direction of officer Wulf. Said person acted as nothing and Bullet did little to hide his own smirk.

But Walker wasn’t going to let them get of that easily.

“If you two are done playing classroom brats, then you might tell me what’s so funny?” he sneered and sent Bullet a cold scowl.

Bullet removed his smirk instantly and seemed ashamed for a second. Walker had little pity for him.

At Walker’s first day, he and Bullet had been paired up to take care of a minor shoplifter down at the local marked and where Bullet made ready to let the kid go as always, Walker had placed the kid in the cell to think about his actions until his parents came to pick him up with a fee.

The cell seemed to have put a scare in the kid and since then, the shoplifting had stopped.

Bullet had seemed to respect him back then and maybe even feared him a bit, but that only lasted till the morning that Esperanto speaking freak to Wulf had returned from vacation.

Then Bullet had teamed back up with his pal and just watched as Wulf had started to poke every single nerve Walker owned.

Just like now.

“So how much trouble did you get in this time, amigo?” Wulf asked nonchalant and had Bullet back on track with a cunning grin, “you know, next time you freak out and make everyone search for your stuff, maybe just look at the mess on your own table, got it?”

“The file was stolen from me,” Walker insisted with a glare, “someone took it from my car and placed it on my desk again without my knowledge. And I know who did it –”

“Danny Fenton,” both of them sighed in unison with three eyes rolling.

“Just because he’s staying at the crime scene and left before we could get his statement today, doesn’t’ mean he’s the culprit of all your problems,” Bullet schooled him with a scratch of his stubbed chin, “anyway, my guess is that all those underground water pockets under the Green Palace is the actual blame for the Thornwood girl’s disappearance. Definitely not looking forward to lifting her bloated body out of there.”

That was my first theory to begin with, you moron, Walker thought bitterly and got a nudge from Wulf’s elbow.

“Hey, try and relax a bit, would you? All the residence of the Palace will be out by Monday and we can finally search the underground and close this case. Plus, that Fenton guy will be out and move back to where he came from – most of your problems solved by Monday.”

Walker turned to keep an eye on Aragon in the cell and retorted with a growl, “Fenton stole my file, I got marks on my car to prove it. The only way he could have smuggled it back on my desk, is with an accomplice. I suspect Miss. McLain.”

“What is it with you and suspecting everyone you don’t like?” Bullet asked with a raised bow and had Walker open his mouth to remind him that, if that was true, both of them would be on that list as well – when the glimpse of a shadow running across the ceiling had him blinking in surprise.

Walker turned in his chair to follow the direction of the thing and found nothing. Only Mr. Aragon sulking in his cell.

Walker stared a few second to see if it would come back, but when nothing happened, he turned back to the others to continue the discussion.

In the cell, Aragon was drumming his long slender fingers on the cell’s metal bench, staring into the wall with a deep glare. Plotting his next move to torment his sister for getting him into trouble.

On the ceiling, a shadow merge with the cell’s corners and two red eyes opened with burning intensity.

The Codger watched the cell’s inhibitor from the shadows with cold disgust.

This human had laid hands on Daniel and that would not go unpunished.

He turned his head to make sure the police officers were still deep in discussion and took form in front of the unsuspecting human.

Aragon widened his blue eyes, as the corner of the cell suddenly pooled with darkness and a tall man stepped out.

The human’s shock was replaced with horror, as the two red eyes opened with ominous glee and his scream was smother by a hand pressed down over his mouth.

The Codger opened his mouth to reveal fangs and the human’s gaged, as pink goo began to fill his mouth. Aragon’s muffled scream had the monster grin and he watched as the human fought to get his hands of him.

The grip on his jaw tightened, the goo clocking Aragon’s throat, lungs and mouth. The human shook in pain and the fingers spasmed, as pink tears began to run from his bulging eyes.

The Codger continued to stare into them, as those blue eyes rolled backwards and the strength of the tight grip broke Aragon’s jaw with a snap.

The sound had Bullet look up and he dropped his cup of coffee by the sight.

Wulf and Walker yelped by the splash of hot coffee and complained in annoyance, but all they got was a shaking finger pointing to the cells. Walker frowned by the other’s pale face and turned to see what was so shocking.

Aragon was writhing with pain on the cell floor.

Wulf and Walker rushed to the cell like they had been kicked by an unknown force. Wulf hurried to pull out his chain of keys and Walker grabbed the first-aid kit on the wall.

Both of them called into the cell that they were on their way and Walker lost his cool and snapped at Wulf to work faster, as he kept using the wrong key.

They both barged in the second the door was opened, and Walker cried out in shock, when his foot slipped on something and he fell into the end wall of the cell.

Wulf hurried to the spasming body, while Walker sat up with aching backside and then wide eyes, as he came to understand he had stepped and slipped in a human jaw.

The death rattle of Aragon made Walker sit up, but his attention was then dawned to the other corner of the cell.

In the strange darkness that filled it, the face of a man raised his gaze to glance into Walker’s grey eyes with burning orbs of red. The strange gentleman smiled with the teeth of an animal and waved goodbye.

His hand red with blood.

Walker blinked, and the man disappeared in the shadow.

“La malbeno estas sur ni,” Wulf whispered, and Walker turned to see the big beaded man stare at the same spot with wide eyes full of fear.

Back in the station, Chief Gray opened his office door with a laud slam. Demanding to know why everyone was yelling.

Ember was the last to move from her desk to find out what had caused the commotion and joined the chief in the door to the cell.

None of the assembled spoke a word.

With eyes and tongue hanging from flesh like a pink tie, Mr. Aragon’s body was a horror show to behold.

Walker checked the man’s pulse one last time and pulled back in shock, as the tongue moved, and more blood sprayed out of the deep hole that was the man’s ripped throat.

Ember turned to the nearest wastebasket to empty her stomach and Wulf made a cross over his chest. The silence getting heavier by the second.

“What happened?” Gray asked with a thin voice and turned to the three officers.

Neither of them seemed to know what to say and Bullet cleared his throat, not knowing where to put himself, “I looked up and saw Mr. Aragon…uhmmm lying on the floor. He was attacked by a…thing.”

“A thing?” Gray asked distraught, “what do you mean with that!? Speak up, man!”

“I think Bullet’s just shocked, chief,” Wulf helped and placed a hand on his buddy’s shoulder, “there’s no one else in the cell, so Mr. Aragon must have done this to himself. How I…don’t know. Jes.”

“What did you see?” the chief asked Walker and the officer looked to the two others.

The thing…

No, it couldn’t have been. It had just been a trick on the eye, nothing more. It was impossible for a human to disappear like that, he was just seeing things – he was tired, that was all.

They all were. Bullet brain had just made something up to save him from the sight of Aragon breaking of his own jaw and Wulf…hadn’t said anything he could understand.

But he had looked frightened. They both did. It couldn’t have been…

Been what?

Walker just shook his head, no clear answer coming out of his mouth. Couldn’t voice what wasn’t real – what couldn’t be. He was just in shock, had just stepped on a human jaw.

“You can’t just pull your own jaw of,” Ember reasoned and had Bullet snap.

“It’s the curse,” Bullet whispered, his eye wide and fearful, “it’s the curse! It’s because the investigation will rip open the mansion’s foundation – it’s come for us!”

“Stop it!” Wulf insisted and shook the panicking officer in a frantic tone, “Ĉesu paroli pri ĝi!”

“What curse?” Ember asked, clearly confused and just as frightened as the two.

Walker turned to his superior to ask the Chief to stop the panic and hand them orders instead. But Walker found himself speechless by the sight of his chief. Damon Gray’s face had paled, and his eyes were fixed on the corps without a sound.

“…Chief?” Walker asked slowly and the older man covered his face with his large hands and sat down in the nearest chair.

“What curse!?” Ember insisted loudly and Walker took one look at the scene and felt sick, “what are you talking about, what does this have to do with the Green Palace!?”

Walker swallowed, had a bad feeling about this. A feeling that lead him to rise up and walk out of the station. He vaguely heard someone yell after him, but the need to be elsewhere pushed him forward and Walker jump into his car and open his phone.

A few taps on the screen gave him results and Walker started the car to follow the phone’s navigation.

It was illegal of course and highly immoral, but Walker had little time for ridicules rules like this and followed the signal of the tracker he had placed under the hood of Danny Fenton’s motorcycle.

The signal lead him to the open clearing behind the Green Palace and Walker speeded up. He just knew this was connected somehow.

He just knew it.

 

Cold. He was so cold.

Danny opened his eyes, the pattern of water moving before his eyes. He was alive and floated above a circle of dark water. His own body reflecting in it like a jet mirror.

Danny lifted his pale hands to find the rope holding him up but found nothing. He was free and at the same time not.

Looking up Danny found nothing but dark walls and above him, a circle no bigger than his thumbnail. It was lit with stars and the silver moon shone in the middle.

It was beautiful, the same way a dark horse could be breathtaking.

Enchanting, yet scary.

“Am I dreaming?” Danny asked with an echo running up the walls of the well and felt his dark hair float around his head, as if he was under water, “… am I dead?”

The water below him lit up like a crystal lake and Danny stared with wonder, as the darkness was banished by green light.

The engravings of the well lit up with luminescent green and Danny took in a shaking breath, as the figures began to move and come to life.

“You are not part of the dead, Danny. You are in the spirit world.”

Danny lowered his eyes to find a young boy floating in front of him.

His eyes replaced with two green orbs and skin the tone of light blue. The long black hair had turned white and the braids moved weightless to frame the round face.

The boy’s cloths had turned purple and the ritual markings and paint had lit up with a luminescent green, making him match the walls and the well’s strange magic.

Danny knew him and as he found the mark of a raven on his chest, he couldn’t help but smile.

“Clockwork.”

The boy smiled in return, his front teeth poking out with a boyish charm, “hello, Danny. I have been waiting for you.”

“You died,” Danny noted, feeling strangely calm despite the situation, “I saw Vlad kill you in the vision and then…I found your body in the cuckoo clock…”

“I became too sure of myself,” Clockwork explained with a regretful expression and placed a hand on the wall, “I believed the time to be right for the end of the curse, but in my eager, I threw away everything. I have been waiting here ever since. Waited for you to learn.”

“Learn what?” Danny asked.

Clockwork returned his gaze with a sorrowful face and opened his mouth with an exhale.

White smoke, the same sweet smell as the one Danny had been breathing in the Smoke hut, spilled from Clockwork’s mouth and filled the well like a dense fog.

 

Danny opened his eyes to find himself remaining floating in a vast darkness.

A large raven flew past him at a great speed and he watched as it hurried upwards and out of this place.

Below him, two red eyes opened wide and a gasping mouth took in air. Vlad Masters, drenched and pale like a corpse, sat up and pattered his cloths. The rich stitching and delicate textile ruined by dirt and water.

A pattern of blood on his chest still visible on his white shirt. His hat was long gone, and he found that his leather boots had been lost as well.

Visible confused and utterly shaken, Vlad stood and stopped as his hand found a wall beside him.

His mind razing with a couple of questions and suspicions, he began to walk and stopped again as he found an opposite wall. And so, he continued till he found all four walls and stopped at the first.

Just like everything else, it was made of a dark solid mass and he pressed his hands against it. Then tried to push it with his shoulders.

It didn’t budge, and he moved to follow just how tall the walls were.

Examine and exploring the darkness for what felt like hours, the man finally stopped. In the darkness, the now immortal man, found that he was caught.

Caught in a dark box, no bigger than servants closed and fell to his knees in realization.

He had gained immortality. But at a great cost.

This was to be his eternal tomb.

“No!” he yelled and hammered his fists into the dark ground, “no!”

The man cried out in anger and slowly came to his senses as his hand hit a jar.

Picking it up, the man’s confusion turned to wraith and he bared his teeth at the jar’s content.

“You,” he sneered at the dead fairy in the jar, “you have cost me my destiny!”

Throwing the jar away, the man stubbled back as the collision with the wall made the jar break into thousands of pieces and soiling the dark space with liquid combined with the broken parts of the dead fairy.

Vlad coughed in disgust of the stench and stared at the mess.

“Damn you,” he whispered and picked up the broken torso of the magical creature, “may you break and reassemble for the rest of eternity!”

The second the words had left his lips, the pieces jumped from their scattered positions and Vlad gasped, as the jar reassembled itself again in his hands. Like it had never been broken.

Before he could truly marvel at this wonder, the jar exploded once again, only to reassemble a second time.

“Stop!” Vlad demanded, as it was to explode a third time and the jar froze on the ground.

Starring at it, the former man waited for a second to make sure it wouldn’t shatter in his face again and picked it up, “come back to life”.

Nothing happened, and the fairy remained lifeless and cold in the jar. Vlad tried again with different words and phrases, but nothing happened, and he huffed in annoyance.

His arms getting tired.

“If only I had a table to place you on –” barely had he spoken the words before a small decorated table came into existence and Vlad swallowed in awe.

And then nodded.

Before long, the dark tomb began to change and all the necessity a gentleman of his status could need for comfort had reshaped the room.

Vlad sat down on the bed to behold his new living and bedroom, feeling utterly pleased with himself, despite the situation.

But it wasn’t long before a new limitation had Vlad walk in circles.

Food and water.

Having already wished for a grand meal and the finest of wine, tea and whiskey, spices and tobacco, Vlad soon found that none of it could satisfy the growing hunger in his stomach.

All the finest dished and collations couldn’t fill his hunger and neither wine, nor water could satisfy his thirst.

The hunger was close to drive him mad and without the slightest knowledge of time, Vlad summoned a clock, only to find it had stopped in time.

This existence was truly outside of the world he had lost, and Vlad cried out in misery.

Danny watched him from his place high above and felt the distress vaporing from the monster trapped beneath.

Felt how days of hunger finally drove the immortal to the edge and the former man bit into his own flesh.

Danny didn’t wish to see anymore but found that he couldn’t look away.

He stared in shaking awe, as the skin, fingers and bloody meat of the human was ripped from bones and veins, the feast of humanity devoured by the very being it had served, until there was nothing left but a slumbering corps, barely bones and nerve keeping the thing together.

But then, Vlad began to change.

Pools of pink goo began to glaze the bare bones and form new muscles, new limbs and skin.

As he had sacrificed his own mortal flesh, the void repaid the immortal with a new body.

A blue skinned creature, with leather wings and hair dark as the void itself, the Codger rose with bared fangs and listened to the darkness he had become one with.

The monster listened and found that the other world he had become one with, was cut off, but connected with the living world.

Listening, he found that humans had moved in on the land whose power now was his to control.

Placing his hands on the dark wall, the monster followed strings of water leading back to the nearest humans and he moved the black room with it.

Opened his red eyes to find his position was now beneath the lavish home, he had built in his human life.

The Codger moved slowly to the mirror he had conjured on the wall many days before and pressed his hand to it.

And pressed through.

Like a time-lapse, the Codger watched as a hallway grew out of the darkness before him, doors and new rooms emerging out of nothing and the well-known sight of his old home standing before him like he had never left it.

Behind him, the mirror remained hidden in the wardrobe and the Codger left it all to walk outside.

In the light of the full moon, the monster continued his slow walk and soon reached the limit to his ground.

The monster had never been good at limitations and returned to his home with a deep frown. If the outside couldn’t be eternal, he would simply make his own way back to the living world.

The well grew out of the darkness before him and the monster reached for its lid, only to find it sealed by magic.

“As long as I remain, you shall never see the light of day again.”

The monster raised his red eyes and found a raven sitting in a tree above him, “I recognize your voice.”

“And I recognize yours,” the raven retorted and nodded towards the well, “as the gatekeeper of yours and the world of the living, I deny you entrance.”

The monster snapped his fingers, waited eagerly for the raven to fall dead, but nothing happened, and the monster frowned, suddenly understanding the obvious, “you wished to become immortal.”

“I wished to save my world from monster like you,” the raven answered coldly, “the fairy you tortured and kept alive with dark magic twisted both our wishes. You became immortal and I, your warden. Both of us now caught in this other world. And before anyone outside change that, we shall both remain here, never to find peace.”

“We shall see,” the monster replied and returned to his home.

As he listened to the world of the living, he soon caught the smell of innocents and his mouth began to water. A little door formed before him and a key with a few drops of his own blood sent through it.

Now he just had to wait and watch the child.

And waiting he didn’t have to for long.

Danny believed it all to be over, when the smoke once again engulfed him, and a new scene took place below him.

This time, the grand mansion the Codger had built had crumbled down to one single living room and the magic of this world was lost.

A hunched figure, very much alike the other father, but starved and thin with bones showing through the blue skin, sat hunched by the little door.

Breathing like every breath was a struggle and every movement was one closer to his last.

The red eyes were staring ahead, and the Codger whispered in-between his breath. Danny held his own as his ears caught the one single name running from the monster’s lips repeatedly like a prayer.

“Daniel…come back…Daniel…”

“The boy won’t return,” a calm voice spoke, and the raven landed one the dark ground a few jumps from the defeated monster, “he has won his freedom and your claim to him is lost.”

The monster growled and bared his fangs with anger, “he is mine, I marked him and feed him my own life force. He will return to me.”

The raven shook its head with a soothing voice, “your reign here is over, you don’t have the power to last another day. The boy won and you have lost your last string to the living world.”

“No,” the monster protested and staggered towards raven, a pool of pink slime dragging after him like a bloody trail, “he will return to me, he can’t live without me!”

The raven didn’t as much as move, only pity in his eyes for the creature now crawling on the ground and using his wings to pull forward like a battered bat.

The monster came to a stop, as his body gave in and he collapsed before the raven. More ectoplasm running from his body and staining the darkness.

“I can’t live without the boy,” the monster uttered slowly, every word causing him more pain than the first and the raven moved closer.

“Life was beyond you the very second you offered my blood to the well,” Clockwork lectured and changed his tone to a more soothing one, “what is done is done and it is time to leave this world and join the dead. It is time to let go.”

The monster rasped in anger and lifted his head with hatred in his red eyes, “I am immortal!”

“As long as you had innocent souls to sacrifice, yes,” the raven admitted and lifted his head with a stern tone, “but now your terror has come to an end. Your time here is in the past and it is time to move with the present. Your future is beyond.”

“Without power, my future is an illusion,” the monster dreaded and closed his tired eyes, “I made this tomb my kingdom and now it has fallen to claim my soul.”

“Do not fear,” Clockwork consoled and took pity on the fallen monster, “your crimes are many, but the path to the next world will be the same for us both. I will walk with you.”

“Even as I was the cause of your death?” the Codger asked and opened his lidded eyes with a groan, “how noble of you.”

Clockwork just smiled at the sarcasm, “we have fought for so long and been together in this curse, but just as I promised you back then, I will promise you now – peace is at hand. You just have to accept my help.”

“Peace…” the Codger whispered, hope blooming in his hoarse voice, “offered by my nemesis. What a fitting end.”

Clockwork nodded at the other’s accept and began to sing his death song.

Lines of blue light began to form on the ground and make cracks through the darkness, like a life-giving stream running through dry land.

The old forgotten words ran from the raven with the quiet drum of his ancestors, a calming song for the path of the dead.

The monster listened and digged his claws into the ground where his own ectoplasm had drenched the darkness. Watched the raven with a silent intensity.

Danny suddenly realized what was going to happen and yelled to warn Clockwork, but the raven didn’t hear him and saw the danger too late.

Having saved his strength, the monster had waited for the raven to lose his guards and come close enough for the monster to strike.

The clawed digit on the wing lifted silently and as Clockwork closed his eyes to sing the last past of his death song, the Codger’s wing shot forward with the speed of a scorpion’s tail and impaled the raven’s chest.

Clockwork had barely a second to let out his last breath, before the monster drew him into his awaiting claws and buried his teeth in the raven’s bleeding chest.

The green ectoplasm ran from the monster’s chin and he ate with the desperation only starvation could justify.

Danny felt sick and watched as the raven’s magic filled the monster with new energy and gave him back the magic he had lost.

The darkness resigned as the mansion grew back from its shadows and the body of the Codger transformed back into the alluring form of the other father.

The monster’s roaring laughter followed the magic waves rebuilding the other world and the old borders moved to infinity.

As the magic reached the well, the old seals of blue, burned up with pink and the barrier the old raven had guarded to keep the monster out of the living world, vanished and connected the living world to the monster’s.

The Codger was free, no chains left to hold him.

 

Danny waited for the smoke to withdrew and found himself face to face again with the ghostly form of Clockwork.

Danny blinked, as the child now had become a man before him. Clockwork looked the same but was now in the prime of a life he had never lived.

“I guess this explains how he can come and go as he pleases now,” Danny said and sighed in defeat, “and why he doesn’t need kids to live anymore.”

Adult Clockwork nodded sadly, “this is all my fault, the balance has been wrecked and I have no more power to stop him.”

“But…” Danny protested and raised his arms to point at…well…everything, “you’re here and you can help me! If we worked together like we did last time, we could end him for good!”

But Clockwork just shook his head, “I am afraid I cannot help you this time, Danny. I have saved this last echo of my powers to wait for you. With my magic gone, only my will to stay keeps me here with my grave.”

Danny watched with confusion as Clockwork dipped a finger in the crystal green water below them and it became transparent.

A skeleton, small and brittle rested on the bottom of the well and Danny swallowed. The boned was slowly cracking and turning to dust.

“I am only here for a little time, before I will have to let go of your world,” Clockwork explained and watched his own bones with sadness, “that is why we don’t have much time. It is up to you to stop the Codger and you alone.”

“But how?” Danny asked with a desperate edge, “I have searched for the girl and her knife everywhere, but there’s not a clue to follow, she doesn’t even turn up when I look through the stone. And don’t even get me started on how to kill Vlad. I know all about his past and how he became a monster, but it says nothing about how to end him, just how he became. I don’t know what to do, how do I end this curse!?”

Clockwork frowned and gestured to the well they were floating in, “the power that keeps the Codger alive is tied to the power of this well. It was a sacred gateway to the spirit world for me and my accentors, a place to worship and connect with the spirits. Before Vlad Masters, this well had only known prayers and calls for the wisdom of the spirits, but as he sacrificed my innocent soul and blood to it and tied it with the use of the fairy, he had brought with him from his own world, he tainted the well’s magic.”

The green lights of the well turned to that of dark pink and Danny swallowed by the sudden shadows and dread filling the well.

“It was once a sacred land, but with the fairy’s curse and Masters’ hunger constant feeding on its power, this land has become cursed. Scared it permanently. A scar so deep and infested, that I doubt it could ever heal. And now that he has the full power of the well, there will be no end to his hunger for the world. Free from the bounds of innocent sacrifices, the Codger is free to roam the world and kill anyone who stands in his way of ruling.”

The pink turned back to green and Danny watched the other with dying hope, “but, isn’t there a way? There has to be, right?”

Clockwork looked up with green eyes. Eyes so alike Vlad’s, but where Vlad’s were shining with power, Clockwork’s were shining with compassion in the cold night.

“There is a way,” the old spirit admitted and frowned like in doubt, “but it will not come without a prize.”

“I’ll do anything,” Danny promised without hesitation and leaned forward with eager, “what is it? Tell me.”

Clockwork smiled by his clear eager to help, but it soon turned to that of sorrow, “another sacrifice. To end the Codger’s wish to use the well’s power as his own, one will have to close the well’s connection with the spirit world with one last wish. One last blood sacrifice to bury the monster’s world for good.”

Danny’s shoulders sank, his eager replaced with disappointment, “oh…so to cage and starve Vlad to death in his own world…I will have to kill someone to wish the well closed forever…” Clockwork nodded, “one last innocent soul to end it all.”

“Does it have to be innocent blood?” Danny asked, not really knowing why – all this talk about sacrifice was making him lightheaded, but the question seemed important somehow.

Did he really have to kill a child to end Vlad?

“It has to be an innocent’s blood, Danny,” Clockwork warned and placed a winkled hand on his shoulder, long white bead now growing from the ghost’s jaw and making him old as time, “anything else will only be a secondary wish, just as my own when I became a gatekeeper. My wish couldn’t overrule the Codger’s, only supplement it.”

“But…” Danny protested, not understanding, “you were a child, you were innocent, your wish should have overruled Vlad’s…right?”

“I’m afraid not, I lost my innocence when I gave myself over to the fairy’s revenge. I did her bidding and fulfilled the curse when I painted the seal on the Codger’s chest and spoke the word of death. I took half the well’s power and used it for my own purpose. I became no better than the monster I came to share a grave with.”

“You’re nothing like him,” Danny stated firmly and had the old spirit before him smile with wrinkled eyes.

“And that is why I believe in you, Danny,” Clockwork entrusted and grew smaller and thinner as the time went, “you will do what is right and save what is lost. It is the goodness of your heart that lead you here and will lead you to where you belong. No matter what you may choose. You might not be the innocent child I once put my faith in, but you have become the man I can put my trust in.”

Danny felt a pressure on his heart and spoke what he had feared to even think for so long, “and if I fail?”

“Failing is part of life, Danny,” Clockwork ensure him with a light tone, “it is part of human nature to try and fall – but also to rise up and try again. Many children have failed before you, but they never gave up and neither did you. You could have stayed away and let curse be curse, but you didn’t. You came back and you tried your best, even after you found yourself lost. People learn from their mistake, but only you came back to face those mistakes, knowing that you might fail.”

Danny wasn’t convinced and the old man took his hands with knowing eyes, “doubt will lead you nowhere, child. Doubt is what the Codger plans for and what he thrives from. If you dream and let go, he will only fill your head with empty promises and lure you to his arms. That is what he hopes for, don’t let it control you.”

Danny looked down, recalled just how close he had been to give himself over to Vlad, if Clockwork hadn’t woken him up, “you once said that it was the goodness and innocence of my heart, that led the Codger to hunger for me…but now that I’m no longer innocent, why does he still want me? What makes me so special? I don’t understand.”

Clockwork pursed his wrinkled lips, a certain look in his eyes watching Danny with some hesitation, “the Codger is a creature driven by hunger, his desires is just as much as a mystery to me as it is to you. But I believe his defeat at your hands never left him, even after he took my power away and gained the full power of the well. You were the one child that got away, the one thing he couldn’t possess and as you lost your innocents and grew to become a man, you should have become worthless to his schemes, but you didn’t. He kept the thought of you for all those years and I believe his obsession grew into…something different.”

Danny frowned, he had known this in a way, but hearing it from the spirit’s own mouth made it so much more real, “he’d always told me he’d loved me. As a father and now…”

“As a lover,” Clockwork finished for him and Danny looked away, “he loves you, Danny, he wouldn’t have lured you back here and left you unharmed, if he hadn’t. If there is anything to trust in the Codger’s heart, it is his love for you. Twisted as it might be.”

Danny closed his eyes, the bitter reality leaving him cold, but part of him still wanted to believe it.

It was true: the other father loved him. But he loved Danny as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold.

Vlad’s love for Danny was just as much as an obsession, as the need for his soul to live on had been a need ten years back.

Vlad might believe his love for Danny was true, but it was just a desire, a hunger to match the rest of the things that drove the Codger to act as he did.

The anger of being lured into just another web of twisted feeling and lies made Danny bare his teeth, “but what proof do I have that it’s not just another trap? A new lie to lure my soul from me? I can’t trust anything and even you can’t know for certain.”

The skin laid thin on the elder’s face and a bony blue finger pointed towards Danny, “you already have all the proof you need, you have always known. After all, that part of him have always cared for you beyond his need for your soul. Even if it was just unconscious at that time.”

Danny didn’t understand, until the puzzle finally felt into place in his mind.

“Clockwork,” Danny started, unsaid things and unwanted truths weighting him down, “if everything in the other world is part of the Codger, then why did the other Jazz and mother help me to escape him?”

The spirit watched him with watchful eyes and lifted a brittle bony hand to rest it on Danny’s head with a gentle motion, “because even monsters can love, Danny. But you already knew that.”

Danny looked down. Felt the weight of the water return its pressure on his body and took in the chilling feeling of being consumed by cold dark water.

He already knew. In a way, he had always known that part of Vlad held feeling for him.

You know I love you…

The old ghosts face turned distorted in the dark and Danny swallowed thickly, as the green light died out around and the bones beneath them crushed to nothing.

“Goodbye, Kesegowaase Kangee.”

An echo with the edge of a smile followed him into the darkness, “farewell, Danny Fenton. Good luck.”

 

Pain. Everything hurt.

The sudden force of warm air being pressed down into his lungs and the rapid pressure on his chest, made Danny slam his eyes wide open and he turned his head with a gag.

Walker sighed in relive above him as Danny emptied his stomach and lungs from water. Threw up the well water that had infected his system and unto the ground.

The smell was horrible, but Danny was alive.

“Oh god, I thought you were a goner,” Walker sighed in great relief with a hand over his heart and ran a hand through his light hair, “what the hell were you doing down in that well!?”

Danny couldn’t answer even if he wanted to and kept vomiting water with running eyes, the smell and taste making him shake in disgust.

Feeling some pity for him, Walker patterned his back and uttered some incomprehensible world of comfort.

Looking uncomfortable the whole time, like he had no idea what he was doing, and he hurried to clear his throat and take up the bad cop faced up again, the second Danny could breathe again.

“Don’t get up, I’m gonna call an ambulance and then we’re going to talk about your solo trust fall into that hole, sonny.”

“No time,” Danny coughed with a voice more fitting for a strangled crow, than a human, “I gotta go, It’s already dark.”

“Slow down there,” Walker protested with a raised bow and pressed Danny down on his back again, “what’s the hurry? Somewhere to be?”

“What time is it,” Danny manage to utter, and the officer checked his wristwatch.

“23:30. Why? What’s happening?”

But Danny didn’t have time to talk and had already moved out of the officer’s reach, the second Walker had turned his attention to his clock.

“Hey!” Walker warned and watched with outrage, as the young man staggered to get the climbing robe and gear of him, only to turn to his motorcycle.

“You are not driving in your condition!” Walker warned and stood up to grab Danny’s elbow, “as an officer of the law I forbid it. It is against the rules!”

“Let go,” Danny sneered and dropped the motorcycle as his body decided he had more to vomit.

Walker moved away with a curse and stared in absolute horror, as Danny fell down on all four and let out a stream of pink vomit.

“Jesus Christ!” Walker uttered and tried not to throw up himself, as the sweet smell filled the air, “that’s it, you’re coming with me to the hospital.”

Danny ignored him as he coughed up the last mouthful of vomit and dried his mouth with his sleeve, feeling lightheaded and weak enough to be toppled by a gentle breeze, “I’m fine…”

“You’re anything but fine,” Walker bit him of and pulled out his phone, “this is crazy, what the hell is wrong with you!? First I’m seeing a silver haired man in a shadow and now this!?”

“You’ve met Vlad?” Danny slurred unfocused and began to work on lifting his motorcycle again.

Walker stopped his work on the phone and stared at Danny, “what was that?”

“Oh, wouldn’t you want to know,” Danny babbled and giggled by his own dirty joke.

He was feeling strangely drunk, but not like ‘nice’ drunk. More like ‘he could call his exes’ drunk and he swayed limbless, as the officer grabbed him by the shoulders with wide eyes.

“I’ll give you five seconds to open your dam mouth and tell what the hell is going on here.”

“I don’t take lightly to threats,” Danny blinked unfocused and then closed his eyes to narrow cracks, “you called my sister and told on me, what kinda asshole does that? What are you? Twelve?”

Walker didn’t have the audacity to look ashamed, “you stole my file and made me look like a fucking joke – calling your sister was the least I could do.”

“Good motive, still a dick-move,” Danny scoffed and moved his arms weakly to get his motorcycle back up, “bet you called my parents to, ‘cause that would be classic you.”

Walker suddenly changed to that of a…maybe not pitiful expression, but something else and Danny suddenly felt exposed, “you did. Didn’t you?”

Walker opened his mouth, but then closed it and let go of Danny.

Instead, he picked up the motorcycle and took a deep breath with a stern voice, “listen, if I carry this for you and make sure you get to the Green Palace, you will tell me all I want to know and go with me to the hospital. Deal?”

Danny only got half of that and just held up an O.K. sign, “whatever you say, captain fedora.”

Walker looked as if he was counting to ten on the inside and began to pull the motorcycle, “you know of the silver haired man I mentioned before? Yes or no?”

“Yeah, I know Vlad. Long aristocratic face, smirk like a bad sitcom villain and eyes like dying suns,” Danny admitted, his sight of line jumping and getting more cloudy for every step he took, the nausea growing from his lungs and stomach to the rest of his body, “he’s an ever bigger jerk than you, so you got that going for you.”

Walker ignored the last, “who is he? I need to know where and how I can find him.”

If the person he had seen in the corner of that cell was real, Walker needed to find him. The man was a murderer. He couldn’t have a murderer on the loose. It was against the rules.

Danny couldn’t help but laugh at that and ended up coughing his lungs up again, “he’s the founder. The fucking curse of this place.”

“What founder?”

“The founder of the village,” Danny stated like it was obvious and thought of Vlad’s stupid face between his legs, “fucking fruitloop, becoming the mayor of this place wasn’t enough for him, nooooo he had to eat children to. Probably gonna eat me in another way.”

“What are you blabbering about?” Walker asked, getting impatient with all these cryptic answers, “where can I find him? He’s under arrest.”

“He’s behind the little door,” Danny muttered and felt like lying down, the world was rolling too much for him to keep his balance, “and I never blabber, that’s my father’s thing. I bet he wouldn’t even call me his son over the phone.”

Walker frowned, recalling how the Fentons had sounded cold the second he had asked into their son, but then changed to that of worry, as he had mentioned Danny being part of an investigation.

“Should I call your sister, Danny?” he asked instead, she had been the one to sound most upset when she found out he was an officer asking about Danny background.

Danny had to stop, as a new coughing hit tore through his sweating body.

Fighting a lost fight to get his body back under control and Walker wondered if the kid still had water in his lungs with that kind of nasty coughing. Or worse.

Danny took a shaking breath and moved on like nothing had happened and Walker shook his head before following.

“Danny I can’t drag you down to the station in your condition, but I need you to tell me where this Vlad is. He has committed a crime and he need to be stopped.”

“Crime as in eating another kid?” Danny just asked lightly, and Walker stopped.

“What? Is this a joke to you?”

The swaying young man just stared at him with a straight face and Walker frowned deeply, “are you telling me this Vlad is connected to the disappearance of the little Miss. Thornwood?”

Danny just scoffed and walked ahead, “her and all the little children. Ugh I need a bath…fuck, my head…”

“What children!?” Walker demanded to know and pulled the motorcycle out in front of Danny, making him bump into it and almost fall.

“What children?” he repeated, and Danny had had enough and exploded in his face.

“ALL THE FUCKING MISSING CHILDREN OF THE GREEN PALACE,” he yelled and grabbed his hair in annoyance, “god, you’re so fucking dense – it’s the fucking curse. Vlad is the monster living behind the little door and when a child moves in to the palace, he lures them with sweets and games and shit. Offers them a better version of their life and then waits until they’re to blind to do anything but please him. Then he…he…”

Danny felt the tears form in his eyes and he clenched his teeth, remembering how his own dream life had come tumbling down by one single wrapped present on a dinner table.

A sob tearing through his small voice.

“…then he pulls out a silver knife and cut their throats like stupid sheep. He doesn’t even have to do it anymore, but he took her anyway, just to make me come back here and I didn’t know what to do. I don’t want to be like this, I don’t want to live like this.”

Walker just stared at the weeping man and then sighed in annoyance, “kid, that’s insane. Curse? Silver knives? That’s just the brackish water in your system talking. Listen – listen.”

Danny gasped as a hand shook his shoulder and Walker forced him to look at him, “there’s no supernatural thing going on here, no one is eating kids. In 1965 there was an excavation after some workers had tried to change some pipes under the Palace. It turned into a police research when a skeleton turned up. It was the remains of some kid who disappeared back in the 1930’s. Some boy who vanished just like the other kids I believe you’re talking about. Not many knows this, because the story wasn’t that interesting at the time, but found the case of the skeleton in an old police file. Apparently, there’s a network of natural water channels running from the hill’s underground to this well and I believe the missing girl might have gone caught in one of them. There’s a high possibility that all those missing children have been playing around the Palace’s ground, fallen into hidden sinkholes in the forest and gotten into the fresh water system. The channels under the ground are natural water gates with a lot of pressure, that could have sucked a child under the house in an air pocket to die. Sometimes the most likely answer is the solution to an unlikely problem.”

Danny stared at the man in confusion, a rush of questions making him focus for a second, “but…if you don’t believe the curse…then why did you follow me and interrogate me and…”

Walker sighed and rubbed his brows with scrunched eyes, “when the case first developed, the chief started acting weird and immediately handled it as a crime of kidnapping. Maybe even murder. He was strangely vague and when the town’s people avoided all questions about the Palace, I thought there might be more to this case than the usual. And then you showed up out of the blue, acting all suspicious. I dugged around, found that strange things had happened around both the case of the Gray boy, you and the Thornwood girl.”

Walker rubbed his face tiredly, “I look through some transcriptions of emergencies call the station had received over the years and found your name. You had called in when you’ve lived her and reported your family missing and it all fit, but you were never abducted, so I thought you might have some intel if it was something else than the water network. I thought I could get you to confess something or someone if I played you up to it but… now it just seems so silly. I should have known you were harmless the second I found out your parents were certificated ghost hunters.”

Danny listened in silence.

He should probably be grateful the police man had worked himself of his back, but part of Danny couldn’t take this with a smile and simply walk away.

He nodded slowly to the man’s words, understanding more than ever why things could never truly change.

“You’re all the same,” Danny noted with a small voice, but it still made Walker look up with surprise, “you, Chief Gray, this town. You all know this place is fucked but you just look the other way.”

“Danny –” Walker tried to reason, but Danny wasn’t going to be dismissed that easily.

“You’re a coward. You saw the monster, but you don’t do anything because it isn’t convenient for you and it’s not real as long as you don’t understand it. But here’s a news flash for you, neither me or those children understood it either, but we still suffered – and we still died.”

Walker swallowed. He couldn’t even make himself stop the other, as Danny pushed him aside and walked the last stretched to the Palace on his own.

Staggering like every step was enough to make him faint from exhaustion.

“This is ridicules,” Walker scoffed and pushed the motorcycle after Danny, before parking it against the nearest wall, “you’re sick and doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Sit down and try to relax while I call that ambulance.”

Danny just continued up the metal stairs without looking back, cold sweat begging to run from his temples as he worked his way up the stairs, “keep telling yourself that, I have things to do – like helping that girl no one else seems to give a shit about.”

Walker scowled and walked after him with thick sarcasm, “yes, because you have all the right answer, don’t you?”

Danny hurried to open his front door before the other could get to him and yelled down the stairs, “of course I do! I was the child none of your fucking freshwater pockets could hold!”

The door slammed in the officer’s face and Danny leaned against it with all his weight.

He listened with hammering heart and shaking legs as the man commanded him to open the door.

Commands soon turned to reasoning and when Danny remained silent and slowly slid down the door in exhaustion, only echoes of threats reached his ears.

Danny kept listened to the door, the sound of his own labored breath making him unsure whenever Walker was still outside or not.

Fever-like heat howling in his ears made him stay hunched by the door and wait for peace.

He closed his eyes for a second. Only to jolt awake a second later and discovered that everything had turned dark.

Like waking from a sudden dream, Danny found the other side of the door silent and he stared out into the dark.

Couldn’t quite figure how long he had sat like this or if he had actually slept. His head felt like it was trying to grow through his skull, and he scrunched his eyes in pain.

The pressure behind them almost making him faint. His eyes told him vapor was rising from his cloths, but his mind failed to register it as a problem, and he focused on the sore parts of his broken body.

Every muscle feeling to sensitive and his veins to heavy.

Tired and cold, he moved to the bed and failed to even acknowledge he was still drenched to the bone from the dirty water of the well.

Shaking fingers grabbed the sheet with all the strength he could muster, his mind telling him he could lose the grasp of the soft material if he didn’t put all his concentration on it.

More stumbling than anything else, the shaking Danny fell into bed and took in every inhale and breath with a grain of dizziness.

His head was throbbing, his limbs felt numb and he couldn’t see clear.

In Danny’s fever haze, he suddenly realized that he should be by the little door. He turned with a groan to check the time on the old cuckoo clock, remembered it was ruined, then looked to his phone on the table and found that it was out of battery.

With no sense of time, Danny felt dizzy beyond measure, but then reassured himself that he would get up in a minute. He just needed a moment to get his strength back.

He would surely get up and going in a second. No problem.

Content with that thought, Danny finally closed his eyes and fell back into a coma-like state. Vapor waving of his pale form in the cold attic apartment and his lips slowly turning pale.

The sheets and pillow already drenched.

 

The hour stuck midnight.

The bed har turned cold and damp, the rain outside the window now the duet to Danny’s shaking breath. Mind and body had long since gone each way, as a dream kept Danny’s mind occupied, leaving his body to fight and shake in the biting cold.

The fever only rising.

Danny’s shuddering breath suddenly turned to a sigh in relief, as a warmth began to spread across his back.

In his dream, he was slowly being consumed by dark waters, but he felt no fear, as it offered a much-needed heat and he embraced it as it embraced him.

Soon his legs and arms stopped shaking and the numbness in his limbs gave in, a soothing feeling of content filling muscles and bone.

I’m falling, dream Danny noted, but did nothing to stop it, I’ll be safe beneath the tides.

The dark tides continued their slow engulfing of his body and ran up his thighs, chest and neck with the smoothness of living silk.

In the rising heat, Danny let out one last breath of cold and felt the liquid darkness run over his head. Had it been a nightmare, Danny would surely have panicked, but he felt no harm, no fear and no need for escape.

Only warmth, only content.

He was finally safe.

A smooth surface emerged beneath his fingertips and assuming he had reached the bottom of the ocean, Danny remained in his lying position.

Eyes closed and mind unchanged. Wanted nothing else than to sleep forever.

He was finally where he wanted to be.

The smoothness of the material beneath him continued to give way to his body and Danny sighed, as the soft ground finally stopped moving and he was laid to rest.

The ground was impossible soft and hugging his body like a cloud. The feeling beneath his fingers remained solid now and he closed a sleepy hand around the material.

Some part of him came to conclude that it was indeed silk he was resting on.

Maybe they've finally buried me in a silk padded coffin, his dream conscious joked with dry gallows humor.

The feel of the silk continued to sooth him and Danny slowly opened his eyes, feeling distant to what he saw and where he was.

The flames of the many candles didn’t pull him out of his dream state of calmness and neither did the dark red color of the flames. To red to be real fire and too intense to be this calm.

But it did little to alert him. They were warmth, they were safe.

He was safe.

“You know I love you.”

“You have a funny way of showing that,” Danny whispered, the response coming naturally.

No alarm or rage could reach Danny, and in this dream, he felt no fear of that voice.

He was as besides himself as you could be in a dream, a passive spectator to his oven self. Awake in a dream without ever being awake.

“If you only knew the beauty which awaits you, Daniel,” the disembodied voice continued, and Danny leaned his head back, as warm hands began to run up his legs, arms and hips in a slow pace, “If you only knew how lovely are the realms which lie beyond your world.”

Reaching his knees, the hands began to spread his legs, burning fingertips marking every inch of him and rough palms keeping him in place. Danny shuddered and part of him accepted that he was naked.

With a light burning grip, the hands held him down with a gentle force and Danny did nothing to fight it.

It was just a dream after all…

“Would you keep yourself locked in a dark box when all the beauties of the universe await you on the outside?” the suave voice asked with words like dripping honey.

Rich and tempting, sweet in the sense that burns the tongue like a lover’s bruise. Danny tasted copper in the back if his throat and digged his fingers into the dark silk.

Grabbing the fabric till his knuckles turned snow white.

“Let me show you what my world has to offer,” the deep voice uttered with all the wrong intentions and intensified his touch in all the right ways, “let me show you my love for you.”

Danny drew in on last breath, before lips sealed them and stole the air away from him.

Hands, hands everywhere.

Every nerve in his system was being lit up like fire and teeth bit onto his lower lip, making him moan and twist with pleasure.

Nails digged in to the soft inner part of his thigh and caressed the soft flesh with slow agitating strokes.

An erection pressed against his own and Danny threw his head back over in a silent scream, the burning lips and facial hair taking advantage of his exposed neck.

Biting the skin, sucking the sensitive spot behind his ear and the dangerous anticipation of needle-sharp fangs poking the skin any second.

A heat formed like a hard knot in Danny’s abdomen and the heat kept building in sweet agony, as the hands teased, caressed and fondle around his most sensitive areas.

Had he been able to beg, Danny would have been screaming to the heaven by now.

The lips taking his with loving force was stealing the very air of his lungs and Danny knew he would have been unconscious by now had he needed to draw in air in this dream.

Instead he was left to the constant edge of gasping for relief, as a hot tongue ran over his flushed lower lip and sending lightning through his body.

Pressing his brain to a lost place, far from the mindset of lust and his most basic desires took over his every sense. The need to feel more, have more and never let it go.

In the dark, he opened his blurry eyes to find the flames of the candles dancing and the darkness moving like disturbed water.

The broad frame of his lover moving above him, making the red glow dance across defined muscles. A forked tongue ran up his collarbone, leaving a hot line of fire in its wake and the flames danced with anticipation.

Spreading his legs even further, Danny saw a fanged smile spread on the illuminated face.

A dark silhouette against the burning light, a dark figure taking up Danny’s entire field of vision and still growing like Danny’s need to touch him.

To feel this being of raw power and pleasure.

As if the many hands knew, they released Danny from their grip and his shaking hands sought up to feel the face above him.

Looming over him, red eyes opened to explore him, and Danny widened his eyes by the fire in those orbs. A burning light with the same intensity as a forest fire and gentleness of warming coal.

Eating him up as ice to close to the flames.

Danny’s hand had barely reached the other’s chin, before it was caught by a much bigger hand and stopped.

But instead of forcing Danny’s hand back down, the glow played in those fangs and slowly, ever so slowly, Danny’s hand was led to the other’s lips.

A soft kiss pressed to the exposed wrist.

Danny shuttered by the heat, a feeling compared to that of burning ice and moaned, as that forked tongue took in his sensitive fingertips.

His lover soon sucked on his fingers and Danny’s head pressed back over with a deep inhale, his entire body shaking with need.

A deep chuckle sounded from the looming man and Danny uttered a shaking plea, feeling the vibration through his entire being.

The red eyes continued to take him in, as the fingers was coated, and Danny locked his free hand around the others neck. Drawing their faces close enough for his lover to reclaim his lips.

Still with his hand in grasp, the man guided Danny’s hand down his own chest, across his stomach, hips and erected member, down to his rear and began stroking Danny’s own fingers against his entrance.

Danny shuttered against the other’s lips and his length throbbed as his lover pressed one of Danny’s own fingers in.

Danny got the hint and began to finger himself, much to the other’s delight and moved too slowly leave bites, kisses and hickeys down Danny’s neck, collarbone, chest, abs, stomach, and –

“Ahhhh!” Danny cried and arched as those lips took in his whole length.

His lover reminded him to still work his finger with a press on Danny’s hand and he did as he was told, his own mind a shamble lost at coherent words or thoughts.

An approving hum made vibrations go right to the heat in Danny’s groin and he grasped the other’s hair in desperation. Feeling close, but not wanting any of it to end.

He needed this. More than anything.

The soft strands of hair between his fingers made Danny think of silver and in the red glow, they shone like edges of knives.

The forked tongue played with the length of his member and Danny tried closing his legs out of reflex – the sensation making his nerves go haywire – but the other couldn’t allow him to backout and placed his burning hands on Danny’s thighs.

Keeping them wide open for his assaults.

Danny was shaking and felt the sweat run down his body, the display of the silver clad head moving between his legs, too unreal for him to even believe this was a dream anymore.

Those red eyes found his and Danny felt more than naked under their sight.

More than exposed or displayed. Played or fooled. More than observed…

Like he was being worshipped.

The realization made him loose his breath and he tried to crawl back, as the other began crawling back up.

A strong hand on Danny’s shoulder stopped the weak escape attempt with an iron grip and the fanged smile caught reflection of fire from the flames.

“Mine,” Vlad purred with dark words.

Danny shook his head, but in his dream, he was weak and his mind always five miles behind the rest of him.

The urges to fight had first come to mind, after Vlad pressed his hips against his rear and settled between his legs.

The feeling of Vlad’s hard long member rubbing against his entrance and balls.

Danny felt himself being pressed down into the silk again and tried in vain to close his legs, as the tip of the length was pressed into him.

The saliva made the rest of the head go in and Danny whimpered, as his entrance began to stretch, and a sting of pain followed.

His attention was deluded, by the broad hand gripping his member and Danny cried out, as the strokes threw him back into a daze of pleasure.

Vlad’s lips found his, making Danny’s attempt to deny him any further, vanish like snow in July and the taste of his own precum left a tone of salt on his tongue, but also something sweet.

The sweetness made Danny think of the color pink and he grabbed those wide shoulders for support, as one last thrust pressed Vlad’s length to the base.

The following thrust made Danny cry out and Vlad continued to trust into him with rising vigor.

Pain had his legs shake and he felt the monster’s length thrust in and pressed against his stomach without mercy.

Then the pace soon spread a line of pleasure through Danny’s system and he moaned loudly, not caring for anything but that movement inside of him.

The sweetness vaporing in the air along with his untamed moans, had Danny gasp for air and Vlad’s sweet nonsense in his ear mixed with the smell of sex.

The taste of sweetness running through his veins, spreading through his skin and leaving Danny consumed with the intensity pink liquor spilling from his own lips.

Vlad’s goatee tickled against his chin and Danny pulled him closer, felt their chests press up against each other and bring them impossible close, as the monster’s length kept trusting inside him and speeded up.

Danny clung to him felt as if this would never end. That they would never part. Had become one.

The maddening pace build up and Vlad’s touch, breath, sweat and eyes blurred into one sensation. One sense, that overtook Danny’s entire mind.

…. there are desires that run far beyond human nature, Daniel… you could have left this place, Daniel, left it all behind and never thought twice about the long-lost time of your childhood. But you kept waiting for me to move again, for me to give you an excuse to return to this place. Return back to me.

Pink tears ran down Danny’s eyes, dripping onto the silk. Dark stain, for even darker feeling.

He felt a sadness run through him, the doubt of his own intentions overshadowing all aspects of good means. Saving the little girl seemed meaningless, returning back to the world of men even more so.

Had he really expected this to be like the first game? That the other father would underestimate him a second time and not be prepared for him?

Vlad wanted him here, knew what he needed. He always knew what the heart longed for, knew of the deepest desires of even the most stubborn hearts.

Danny had longed for love. The love that only a lover could give.

With no will to deny it, Danny could finally admit to himself that this was the world he belonged in. This was the only way he could live. Could die.

He gasped for breath, feeling like he was drowning in his own blood.

Drowning in the pink goo that had replaced it.

…you’re different, Daniel. They all found out in one way and another, and instead of embracing your light, they tried to crush it and banish it from the world. Tried to smother your cold brilliant flame.

The black veil of sorrow filled him to the point of tears and Danny closed his eyes. Fears and hopelessness filling his lounges and trembling down his spine. I don’t want to go home.

He couldn’t, he would never find love there.

“I just wanted to be accepted,” he choked, and his raw confession was met with a caressing hand on his cheek.

Those red eyes drowning with compassion, with understanding, “then just say yes.”

Danny lost his breath at the feeling of a cold blade against his throat. The biting edge feeling more real than anything, as Vlad had stop moving all together.

Holding him down with burning eyes.

The fear of death rang through Danny’s mind like cold water, leave him frozen and more focused than before.

The seconds ticking by, the edge ever so sharp.

“I can’t,” Danny whispered and grabbed Vlad’s hand with desperation, “please, no, I –”

“You can’t stay otherwise,” Vlad responded, and Danny felt the hand move the edge closer with fright, “you’re mine, Daniel. I claimed you, you belong with me. You know it’s true.”

“I need to choose that willingly,” Danny corrected with a whisper, the edge stopping its course and he closed his eyes, “you can’t hold me till I choose you to.”

“Or until you lose the game,” Vlad reminded him with a biting smirk and swallowed.

Danny’s fingers found the blade and he wrapped his fingers around the blade to remove it. Vlad let him do it and Danny closed his fist around the silver knife, felt how the blade bite into his soft flesh.

“It’s a game we play,” Danny whispered, more to himself than Vlad, “and you can’t afford to lose.”

Danny knew the truth now. Saw it all so crystal clear. Nothing could remain in the dark, nothing could grow in that perfect world of the other father.

The void was no companion and the hunger no relief.

“I saw you fall,” Danny uttered, “you were lost and alone in a dark room. A dark empty box.”

Vlad’s eyes turned hard like rubies and Danny lifted his free hand to caress the dead man’s cheek, trace the hard line of his jaw and hungry lips, “I know you never cared for others, didn’t care for feelings or love. You’ve always got what you wanted without ever thinking of what it might do to those around you. And the second the word hurt you, you shied away from it. Wanted nothing to do with it and become strong enough for it to never happen again. Immortal to the world no matter the cost. But in that dark empty box you realized something, something only this curse could open your eyes for…”

Pink tears streamed down his eyes and Danny allowed Vlad to place his own hand over his.

Held it close to the man’s face and keep it there forever.

“I know,” Danny said with raw voice and felt his own heart bleed and blend with Vlad’s pink blood, “they wanted a life for you that you couldn’t fit and when you couldn’t bear to lie anymore, they gave up on you. And in return you gave up on them. You turned cold and stopped caring, you found meaning in empty things and hurt others, hurt those who didn’t deserve it and some who did.”

Drops of red fire began to drip from those cursed eyes and Danny felt the heat of the flames run down his hand, drip down and land on his cheeks.

Felt them spill the untold story of the man the Codger had once been in life, before his dreams turned red with blood.

“We think a broken heart is the worst that can happen to us,” Danny confessed in a quit tone, “so we hide away where no one can hurt us and we’re in control. Right into a black box. A box of isolation, a box of self-loathing and hatred. A box that slowly eats you alive, consumed you and leave you with nothing but eternal hunger. At first when it’s too late you realize – you pay the prize.”

Vlad closed his eyes, without the supernatural light, his face was that of a human. Despite having stayed the same age for centuries, in that moment, Vlad Masters was just an old broken man.

“You paid it with loneliness,” Danny whispered, Vlad’s opened to share a single truth with his and Danny had never felt so cold, so paper thin, so raw, “just like I did.”

The grip on his hand turned to the almost hurtful, Vlad’s expression lined with plea as he leaned in, “we don’t have to be alone, take the deal. Use the knife.”

“I know you love me...” Danny retorted, traced the man’s strong brow with a fingertip and then returned the intensity of those burning eyes with cold determination, “but I’ll never choose death for the sake of pleasing a monster like you.”

Vlad’s eyes widened, and Danny felt the wrath in that clenched jaw. He had angered the other father. As the dead man bared his fangs, Danny closed his eyes and let him do what he intended.

Let him be the monster with blood on his hands.

Danny didn’t need to open his eyes to know the silver strands was changing to the color of jet black, or that the skin had taken a blue tone.

The shadow of those great leather wings spread as dark clouds behind his eyelids and Danny didn’t fight as those clawed hands turned him over to lay on his stomach in anger.

The monster’s length slammed into Danny, making him groan from a mix of pain and pleasure. Making him scream out, as the trusts turned to that of hard heat inside of him and pressed against his stomach with more power than he could take.

The force slammed Danny deep into the silk and he clenched his fist into the fabric and the biting knife. Spreading blood all over the place.

The monster kept him down with a hand on Danny’s neck and forced every thrust to be harder than the first.

Danny gasped for breath, as the orgasm came rushing for every movement.

Held onto the knife and simple words that was his last protection against death.

I have to choose it myself. Only I can choose death.

The monster growled into his ear, his wrath showing in the brutal force in which he took Danny’s body, held in blind possession and forced them together in a world of heat.

The next trust sent Danny over the edge and he came against the silk, feeling the monster follow suit and fill him with another kind of heat. The dark silk beneath him began to swallow him and Danny gave in.

Fell back into the darkness.

But words still echoing in his quiet mind.

“You will be mine.”

Chapter Text

The beer can in his hand felt cold.

Danny had never been the beer type of guy, but today he had bought himself a six-pack and drank his third, as he stared at the crime wall. What a day.

His last.

He had expected to wake up in a cold and wet bed. The last he remembered had been dragging himself home from the well with the annoying officer hanging over his head.

Danny had been weak, sick to the bone and drenched from dirty water. The bed should have been at least damp.

Only it wasn’t.

He had woken up, fresh and healthy with a dry warm feeling. Even dry and clean cloths. His shoes neatly placed by the door and his phone on the table. Fully charged.

At first, he had believed he’d somehow sleepwalked, maybe even stood up to improve himself and his situation and washed the cloths…and then stood up again to put the dry cloths back on…

Yeah, he didn’t buy it either.

That hadn’t been a dream, no matter how much he’d liked it to be.

The little wrapped present below his pillow had been the final drop to fill the cup of acceptance and Danny had unwrapped the little silver knife without feeling much.

It was a beautiful thing. Pure polish silver and braided artwork. Almost too fancy to be used on a puny sacrifice like him.

But the knife hadn’t been the cause to make him go into town and return to drown his head in booze.

The date had. Curious of just how long he had slept, Danny had unlocked his phone only to stare in disbelieve.

According to his phone he had reached the midday of the last day of the game. Dismissing it as a mistake, a glitch with his old phone, he had opened up his laptop and found the same date.

There hadn’t been a way to go around it. Danny had slept 48 hours.

It was the final day. At midnight, he would have to end Vlad and save the girl…

Or…

The alternative had let him to the store and the rest was history. Danny opened another beer and felt the precious minutes tick by.

Running out as sand between his fingers. Running out of options.

It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to end Vlad.

…another sacrifice. To end the Codger’s wish to use the well’s power as his own, one will have to close the well’s connection with the spirit world with one last wish. One last blood sacrifice to bury the monster’s world for good…

Danny ran a frustrated hand through his hair, the white strand still there and a reminder of the time he had spent with Clockwork. Innocent blood.

Danny stared down into the dark content of the can.

Could he even do it?

He took a second to make up an imaginary scenario in his head. Just for a second, nothing serious or binding.

Let’s imagine he went out and found a kid and then brought them to the well. That he pulled them to the edge and drove a silver knife. Would he even be able to do it?

Danny stared down at the knife in his lap. He had a silver knife alright…but what about the rest? In the vision, Vlad had used candles, a pickled fairy and some kinda ghost sand to keep the child near the well.

Danny didn’t even know where to get stuff like that or if it was even required. Not to mention the thing about Clockwork being in the middle of a sun dance.

Did it matter to the ritual? Or had it just been important to Vlad, because the Sun dance would had made Clockwork a man and ended his innocent childhood?

Did he need to hook the child to a pole and starve them until they collapsed, and then drag them by the hair to draw his knife and –

Danny buried his face in hand.

He would never be able to do it. Vlad had probably always known. The game had never been in Danny’s favor, he had just been stupid enough to set himself up to fail. What an idiot he was.

But then what? his mind insisted, you’re just gonna give up like that?

Danny swallowed.

He could still take the deal. He could still give his life for the girl’s freedom and set her free. Then nothing would have been in vain.

Vlad would just have won.

A look at his phone told him he had already been sitting here for two hours, something incredulous to him as he hadn’t felt time go by the same way.

The rest of the palace was silent. Everyone at work or somewhere else. Living their normal regular lives. None of them cursed or with an evil ghost keeping them awake at night. No lost child’s soul haunting their every waking moment.

Must be nice.

Danny drank to that and listened as a phone went off somewhere downstairs. Listened to the shrieking sound of a phone ringing through the palace. Unanswered and unwanted in the silence.

Danny wondered if it was a phone down in the empty apartment. His suspicions were deemed correct as a voicemail followed faintly through the floor.

“You’ve called the Thornwood family!” three voices chimed with glee and Danny listened with growing intensity, as the voice of the daughter continued, “mom and dad are too busy to come to the phone and I’m not talking to strangers.”

The happy laughter of her parents before the kid continued, “so if you wanna be buddies or wanna reach my parents, leave a message after the tone. Bye bye!”

Danny stared ahead without a sound. The echo of the girl’s voice still hanging in the tissue of his mind like needles. She would never get to laugh with her parents again.

The buzz of his phone made him turn his head slowly, the display lighting up and remind him of the five missing calls from his sister. She had sent him a message. Only seven words.

‘You know I think you’re great, right?’ - Jazz

Danny stared at the display, could even hear her confess those words, even though she had never spoken them to him before.

His perfect sister. His perfect busy, nosy, irritating, a-grade, wonderchild, know-it-all, advanced-college-scholarship-given perfectionist.

The woman who had it all and still took the time of to care about his miserable existence, even after he’d bit her head of a hundred time and spat her love back in her open face.

Danny took a long deep breath.

Jasmine Fenton thought he was great.

The can crumbled under his clenching fist. He felt the old need for change emerge like an unbreakable wave. The old need to give up and wait for the invisible lost – the new need to take action replacing it with a vengeance.

Danny stood. What would Jazz tell him to do? Clockwork? No, what would Danny do?

….I like you to tell me what you believe you’re here to achieve.

….To save the Thornwood girl.

The beer can hit the floor and its content was still spilling all over the floor. The sound drowned out by the charging of the ecto-gun. A sound that rung like a cannonball through the silence and promised action.

He didn’t look back as the door slammed shut. Danny took the metal stair five steps at a time and jumped down on the ground.

He ditched the helmet without a thought as he jumped onto his motorcycle, the gun now hidden in the hem of his jeans on his back.

He didn’t have a plan, but a feeling of what he needed to do pushed him forward like an invisible hand and as he rode back to town, thoughts assembled and anger turned to determination.

A thing he had lost and now was found.

The knife jumped as a sharp reminder of the consequences of failure in his backpack and Danny speeded up. He only had a few hours left before sundown.

The old man of the outdoor hobby shop jumped in his seat behind the desk, as the door was slammed open and Danny stormed in.

Recognizing Danny as the annoying know-it-all slash nosy brat, the man just scowled and returned to his old fishing magazine.

Danny wasted no time and walked straight for the little open door to the small gun store department. Ignoring the guns and rifles for a second, Danny picked up the beartrap he had notice last time he’d visited. The sudden change of gear had the man forget all about his magazine and he hurried to follow Danny to the gunship part.

The man had a biting remark ready on his lips, when Danny surprised him by slamming a dozen items down on the new counter.

Cash already in hand.

The man stared down at the pile between them. Looked slowly from Danny to the giant metal beartrap, associated chain and steel pegs, five fully filled jerry-cans and crowbar.

The elderly man seemed to have forgotten what he’d wanted to say and just stared at the purchases. The beer belly under the discolored angler sweater drawing in a long breath.

”I will have to ask you a questions out of legal reasons,” the man began and eyed Danny with some hesitation, “is this for hunting? Cause to me you don’t look like a hunter, son.”

Danny just returned the man’s scowl with an unmoving voice, “you sure about that?”

The man wetted his lips, “we both know it’s not hunting season. So if you want this, you better answer me honestly, sonny. What are you going to use this for?”

Danny place the money on the counter, looking the man straight in the eye without regret, “I’m going to end the curse of the Green Palace and kill the child-eating spirit that lives in it.”

The shop owner didn’t even comment on that. Instead he simply took the money after a long second and pulled an old wooden box out from under his desk to fill with Danny’s purchases.

The box full, the shop keeper pushed it across the counter and the cursed human took it just as silent. Danny thought it would be it and went to leave, but then the man tipped his old cap.

A glance of respect following Danny out the door.

Leaving the box strapped to his motorcycle, Danny walked into the Library, nodding to the words above the door and went straight for the desk at the history section.

Andrew was packing his bag for the day when Danny gave the man a shock by slamming the book on the desk.

“Holy shit, Danny, you scared me,” Andrew uttered and then took notice of the serious look in the other’s eyes, “Danny?”

“The chief’s son was killed by Vlad Masters,” Danny stated and flipped to the chapter before poking at the part, “Masters thought the well could grant him a wish if he sacrificed the seventh son of a seventh son before he came of age and failed when the boy fought back. You can find the boy’s remains at the bottom of the well.”

Andrew just stare at him. His glassed had fallen a bit down and he pushed the back up slowly, his voice skeptical, “and how do you know –”

“I took a look down and fell in,” Danny simply explained and closed the book again, “Vlad masters only came to America to find that well. He’s no mayor, or hero or upstanding mailer between the native and settlers. There’s probably some of his stuff down in that well next to the remains.”

Andrew listened, but it was quite a mouthful and he seemed to struggle with his belief in Danny’s statement, “okay, but if that’s your discovery, when where is Masters’ remains? In the well?”

“Below the Green Palace, I believe,” Danny shrugged and closed the book, pushed it to the other, “apparently there’s some water channels under the hill connected to the well. You can ask officer Walker all about it. He might just find the remains when he and the rest of the station opens up the ground under the mansion. Here’s your book by the way.”

“I’ll check that out…” the poor man responded and stared down at his work, “so any other comments?”

“Yeah,” Danny said, “stop dancing around what you feel for Dora and just ask her out already. She doesn’t need someone to tell her how to live her life, or how to fight her battles. Just someone to show her that she’s not alone.”

If Andrew had been shocked before, he was totally lost by now, “I…Danny. How did you…?”

“Just trust me on this one,” Danny interrupted and threw his backpack back over his shoulder and turned to leave, but then stopped, “and one last thing, there’s been something bugging me about those words above the library door.”

Disco inferno?” Andrew asked, and Danny nodded.

“Yeah, why do you have the title of an old disco number above the door?”

The man just shook his head slowly, more confused than ever, “it’s just the founder or town’s motto. It’s Latin. It means ‘I learn through the means of hell’.”

Danny chewed on that for a second and then nodded before leaving, “classic Vlad. Really fitting, pretentious as fuck though.”

The ride back to the Palace took more time than usual, as Danny had to slow down the speed due to the increasing darkness.

It was still a few hours till nightfall, but his preparations were far from finished and he still had a few trips left before he could take the last step and jump into the lion’s den.

He drove up the driveway to the Green Palace, only to find the road blocked by two moving trucks. Jumping of his motorcycle, Danny steered past them and pulled the motorcycle to lean on the mansion wall.

A couple of workers busy carrying boxes from the apartments to the waiting trucks and Danny found a waving Ember sitting by the metal stairs.

“Hey, baby-pop, ready for moving day?”

Danny put down the wooden box and sat down beside her, “they’re really going to tear down the Palace, aren’t they?”

She nodded and popped a blue bubblegum bobble, “yep. The boys are out buying snacks for the trip. We’re finally going to Portland and become the next big thing.”

“And Kitty and Johnny?” Danny asked, not seeing them anywhere.

“They already left, the only reason their moving truck hasn’t left the place, is because ours is blocking them,” she sent his hair a grin and tussled the white line through his raven hair, “I like the new look. You look crazy. So, what is Mr. Crazy planning? Going back to college and all that?”

Danny pushed her hand away with a light expression, “I’m going somewhere, alright. But college is over for me.”

“So home then?” she concluded and blew another bubble.

“No,” Danny responded calmly and popped the bubble with a finger, “I’m disowned by my parents. Hey Ember…if you had one last day on earth, what would you do with it?”

She snapped the gum of her face with a quick tongue and tapped her chin in thought, “probably have Skulker and Nikolai fuck my brain out on a fancy hotel with two bottle of champagne and a kilo cocaine. Why? You’re gonna blow your head of as soon as I leave?”

Danny just smiled, “tell the guys I wish you luck in Portland.”

He left her to return to his apartment, feeling her eyes burn in his back the way up the stairs.

He placed the box on the floor and went to the makeshift desk by the window. Waited with a piece of paper and pen, till the last worker had moved the last box and listened as the last truck left the driveway.

Danny leaned back to read the letter again and guess it was the best he could do.

He knew calling Jazz would be better, but he had no time to explain everything to her over the phone. Plus, if everything went well, she would never have to know what had happened here anyway.

But if he failed…these four pages letter would have to do.

Danny tried not to thing to much about it, as he sealed the letter in an envelope went out to the empty drive way.

He took a second to watch the scenery of the woods and mansion, as he slowly walked down the road and brought the letter with him down to the mailbox. Placed it in the box matching his apartment number.

Then dialed Valerie Gray.

“Valerie,” he greeted as soon as the phone connected, “I don’t have much time, I need you to do one last thing for me.”

“Danny?” she uttered, by the sound of it she had been asleep just a moment before, “oh god, I thought I was never going to hear from you again. Did you find her? The girl?”

“I’m close,” Danny informed her, “I’m going in there to bring her home or die trying –”

“No! Danny!”

“I’ve made up my mind,” Danny retorted and kept his tone neutral, “the game is already started and if I lose…I…”

Danny took a second to collect himself, “if I vanish, I need you to tell my sister to look in my mailbox. I’ve left a letter there to explain everything and…just tell her I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with her, I just. I have to follow this to the end.”

He could hear her breath in the other end, and he swallowed as she spoke with regret, “I should have gone with you.”

“No,” Danny insisted, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

“I should have gone back to face him with you. I let my fears of losing my baby get in the way and left you to face it alone. How could I be so selfish?”

“Listen to me,” Danny insisted and clenched his teeth, “listen! This was always my curse; he would have taken your baby the second you showed up here to help me. He can leave his own world now, Valerie. Do you hear me? He would have taken your child like he promised ten years ago. I don’t have much to lose, unlike you and I’m not letting you or anyone die for someone like me. Do you understand?”

“Danny you don’t have to die like this,” she protested, and Danny nodded with a sense of madness growing in the back of his head.

“Then wish me luck.”

He left the phone with the letter and closed the box. If he survived, he could always come back to fetch it and burn the letter. If he didn’t…well.

Dead men didn’t need phones.

He heard it ring from inside the steel box but continued back to the palace, without ever looking back.

He still had some things to do. He still had a plan after all.

A plan that didn’t run as smoothly as he could have hoped, but it was his only plan. The minutes and hours soon hours ticking by as he worked to make everything ready for his descent into the other world.

Danny had barely finished the last of his preparations with less than an hour before midnight, when an important detail struck him, and he hurried to leave the Green palace.

With course for the well, Danny ran as fast as he could and stumbled through the darkness.

Missing the flashlight of his phone dearly. He knew his climbing gear would still be by the well and in his stupidity, he had assumed it would still be hanging down inside the well.

His plan was far from bulletproof, but he wanted to keep all his options open and one of them was escaping through the well. But to get up from the other world, one would need a robe in this one.

The details of the night Walker had pulled him up was still a bit fussy, but in the middle of preparation, it had suddenly dawned on Danny, that the gear might have been pulled up with him.

Nothing was hanging down to help him up, should he need it.

It was a big mistake to forget this detail and he ran down the path, hoping to outrun time and still get back to reach the little door, before Vlad decided to come get him.

Danny stopped in surprise by the sight of a cone of flashlight, but it was already too late. The owner had heard him and now pointed it to him.

“What the hell are you doing here!?” Walker asked in his usual anger and Danny shielded his eyes.

“Getting my gear, what the hell are you doing here!?” Danny spat back, the stress making him just as angry, “it’s the middle of the fucking night!”

Walker lifted a bundle of red flags in his hand with a scowl, “marking the area for the land investigation, this well is part of the water canals running under the hill. How the hell are you up and going already? You were ready for a hospitalization just yesterday.”

Danny tried to play it cool, “uhm, good genes?”

Walker scowled, a sudden scrutinizing look in his eyes making Danny take a slow step backwards, “the lockdown was hours ago. Why are you still – ?”

Danny ran.

Behind him, he could hear Walker order him to stop, but Danny didn’t have the time.

He had to get back; the climbing gear be damned. His heart started hammering even harder as he came to realize Walker had taking up pursuit. No, no, oh fuck, oh damn!

This was not part of the plan! This could ruin everything!

Danny rounded the path’s connection to the Palace’s ground and hurried to the metal stairs. If he could lock Walker out, it would buy him some time.

“Stop! In the name of the Law, stop!” Walker yelled behind him and that to close for Danny’s comfort.

The sound of Walker following him up the metal stairs had Danny jump for his door and he turned the lock in time to see the handle wiggle from Walker’s attempt to get in.

Danny stepped back, the officer’s banging and kicking at the door hammering through the little apartment.

“Open this fucking door, Danny!” Walker ordered and Danny hurried to the bed to get the things he needed.

“You need a restraining order, fuckhead!” Danny yelled back as he opened his backpack and emptied the ghost hunting gear from the black box under the bed into the bagpack.

“Not with the lockdown!” Walker warned him, and everything fell silent, until… “I’m giving you till three to open the door or I will break it down. 1…”

Danny widened his baby blue eyes and grabbed the crowbar on the floor. Hammered the metal head into the floorboards and broke the first wooden plank.

“2…”

More cheap floorboards followed, and the handle of the covered-up attic hatch appeared.

“3!!!!” Walker roared and slammed his shoulder against the door.

The door held, but the frame had cracked dangerously, and Danny fought with desperation in his veins to get the last floorboard up.

Walker cried out as he slammed his shoulder against the door a second time and heard the frame splinter. A giant dent in the door made him move back and with a hard kick, the door flew off its hinges.

Finally in, Walker took one look around before realizing the kid had escape him again. An open hatch in a hole of broken floorboards grinned up at him and he looked down to find the dark apartment below him.

The chase far from over.

Danny gasped as the sound of the officer following him down reached his ears.

Danny couldn’t waste time turning on any of the light and ignored the stuff he ended up pushing on the floor as he raced for the living room.

Picking up the kid’s route by the sound of breaking and falling things, Walker soon caught up with the other and saw Danny pull two sliding doors apart.

With no breath left to order Danny to stop, Walker just ran shoulder first against the closed doors and then got all the air knocked out of him, as Danny had pushed a table up against the now broken sliding doors.

Making Walker tumble over it, like a stupid tree in the forest.

Danny looked up from the other side of the little door frame and hurried to grab the handle and slam it shut behind him.

“Stop!” Walker groaned without air to spare and saw the strange little door close, its light dying out.

Getting up from the floor and ignoring all his sore spots, Walker rushed to the little door. But when he pulled it open to arrest the other, the green light and delinquent was gone.

The little door lead to nothing but a solid brick wall.

 

Danny crawled for his life.

It wasn’t that Walker had any change of catching him with the magic controlling who was welcome and wasn’t – but without a phone Danny couldn’t tell the time and the chances of Vlad waiting for him on the other side was as big a threat as ever.

The jerry cane he was pulling along sloshed and kept changing its weight in his hand, but with on last pull, Danny reached the little door and thanked god he was soon to escape the harsh smell of gasoline.

He more punched than opened the little door and wiggled out with labored breath.

Deep red flames lighted up the other living room with a sparse glow, but the only light Danny cared for was those of two red globs. When he didn’t find them, he stuck the crowbar in his backpack and changed to the ecto-gun.

Loading the gun and securing that the vials of extra ectoplasmic batteries was still intact in his bag.

Satisfied, Danny tried to run though his hastily – if not suicidal plan – once again and hid the jerrycan behind the sofa.

The plan ran like a hasty stream through his head as Danny went to lean up against the sliding doors.

“Okay,” Danny inhaled, it was simple really.

Find Vlad.

Tell him Danny knew how to end him.

Fool Vlad into telling him where the girl.

Shoot Vlad to get a head start.

Get girl and knife.

Get to little door.

Survive.

Danny knew there was an unsaid end to all this, but finally ending Vlad with a sacrifice would have to wait till Danny figured out how to do it without killing a fricking child.

All that mattered was getting the ghost of the girl back to freedom and get the hell outta here alive.

God plan. Best plan. Nice thinking Fenton, surely nothing could go wrong with such sharp thinking and planning ahead!

Danny sighed, not trusting his plan to work, but trusted the fact that it was his only plan.

If it went wrong, he would just have to improvise.

“Show time,” Danny exhaled and walked out, gun now hidden in the hem under his red hoodie.

The roaring silence didn’t stick right with him, but Vlad was a sucker for dramatic entrances, so Danny expected he would soon be given a lead where to find the drama queen.

Both of them knew time was up.

It was time to meet and end the game.

The tall grandfather clock sent out a soft chime, as the two hands hit midnight. Danny felt the pressure in the thicken with the dying echo of the clock.

“Vlad,” Danny uttered in the silence and saw a pink light appear down the corridor.

Danny turned his head and followed the pulsing glow to the stairs leading up. Both kitchen and study on both his sides was dark, but at the top of the stairs, the door to the master bedroom was ajar.

The pink hue streaming out from it like a deep-sea fish’s alluring beacon.

Danny slowly took the stair one step at the time, fearing the worst, hoping for nothing.

Playing his part like a hypnotized moth going for the flame.

There were no groaning old floorboards to alert Danny’s coming, neither any sound of his steps, as the green carpet muffled his boots…but somehow, he knew Vlad had heard him.

He could feel those eyes on him, the monster’s claws reach for his back and wings slowly expand to jump him. Pin him to the floor and take what he wanted.

Danny followed how the pink hue moved in the darkness, how the light seemed alive and awaiting his arrival impatient.

Danny held his own breath as his hand raised to the door handle and as he pushed the door open, the light seemed to flow with him and leave the staircase behind him. Now there was only him and the light.

The only room in the dark.

The black box.

It was a candle. The flame swaying softly with a deep magenta intensity.

Danny slowly moved towards it, the rest of the room laid in darkness, as the flame only managed to enlighten a small circle around itself.

A few moments ago, it had been strong enough to beacon him here from the ground floor, but all it had now was its small flame.

Danny could feel the heat emitting from it, sense the power hiding in the illusion of tranquility.

Lifting his hand gently towards the candle, the flame seemed to grow with his presence and slowly, more of the room began to show in the flame’s glow.

Danny swallowed as the large bed appeared.

A dark wood canopy construction. Velvet red silk, almost black in the darkness. As more of the room was revealed, the many unlit candles stepped out of the dark and reconstructed the scene Danny had found in his dream.

The large window to the back of the mansion was nothing but a black mirror and if Danny closed his eyes, he could feel those hands brush his skin with deep heated strokes.

Vlad’s hands.

You know I love you…

“You have a funny way of showing love,” Danny spoke into the darkness and turned to face the two red eyes watching him from the dark corner.

“But it is my love nevertheless,” the Codger replied with honesty and stepped out of the shadows.

Unlike last time they’d ended a game, Vlad showed no signs of distress. His human form was as neat as ever and his red eyes filled with life.

The life of Clockwork had granted the monster all the power of the other world. He would never have to starve again.

“So here we are,” Vlad began and moved towards the young man with calculated steps.

Steps making Danny move away in the same circle pattern, his eyes never leaving the other, “the time is up, Vlad. It’s time to let the little ghost go.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” Vlad smirked with a wagging finger, “that was the agreement of my deal, my boy. A deal you didn’t take. Now we’re left with the terms of the game.”

Danny tried not to let his frustration show.

He still had no idea where the girl was and if Vlad didn’t spill it before Danny had to admit he had failed that part of the game; his entire plan would collapse.

A show of fangs had Danny clench his own teeth, the feeling that Vlad somehow knew all this was making him nervous.

“I know all about you now,” Danny informed, the monster’s smirk only growing.

“Enlighted me, love.”

Danny wasn’t going to let the monster get to him and kept up the circling pattern of steps, “I know you travelled to America to gain immortality. That you caught a fairy, tortured her until she told you about the wishing well. The same well the Santee tribe had guarded for generations as a holy gate to the spirit world.”

“I’m impressed,” Vlad stated with hands clasped behind his back, his eyes following Danny with the intensity of a hawk, “but that doesn’t explain how to end me, now does it?”

“I wasn’t finished,” Danny scowled, “I know you used your money and influence to travel here with a large group of settlers. Manipulated them all into making you their mayor and have them spy on the Santee tribe for you. You needed the perfect child to sacrifice and when you learned of the chief’s son, the seventh son of a seventh son, you knew it had to be him.”

“A rare magical birth,” Vlad admitted with a pleased expression, “and just the right age for the taking.”

“You had to get him before he finished the ritual and could call himself a man. So you set out to get him while he was still just an innocent child and dragged him to the well to fulfill the dark ritual that would give you immortality.”

“And I did,” Vlad reminded him, but Danny shook his head.

“No, you didn’t get immortality, you gained a sort of immortality. The ritual backfired on you when the fairy used her last magic to take revenge on you. She fooled Kangee into making his own wish and take half of the well’s magic for himself. Tricked him into cursing you both with an eternal prison, where you would fight forever. Kangee became the gatekeeper of the real world, while you were caught down in the land between life and death.”

The smirk on Vlad’s face still hadn’t withered and Danny felt a drip of sweat roll down his spine, as they continued to circle each other.

One of them would have to make a move at some point – but for now, Danny would gain himself time to think with talk.

“His spirit form kept him alive,” Danny continued, “as a raven in the real world, he could sustain himself, but you were in the world of death and slowly starving the more of the well’s magic you used. Soon you grew desperate and eat your own human form. It made you part of your world rather than its prisoner. You realized sacrifices was the key to unlock magic, so you lured the child of the house down with cheap promises and magic tricks.”

Vlad chuckled with a dark glee, “there’s no shame in granting wishes for those who hunger for it, Daniel. Even you can’t deny my world was your own far superior. And you all loved my gifts.”

“You lured children to their deaths,” Danny reminded him, felt the anger turn up the temperature in the dark room, “you made them pay for your lies with their freedom and lives, and as you had no more use for them, you threw them away to rot as magic batteries, keeping you alive and well fed. Kangee tried to stop you, but I was the first person to listen to him and succeeding in taking a stand against you.”

Danny stopped and took a stand, the ecto-gun pressing against his back reminding him to be brave, “when I left your world with the souls of the children, you had nothing. You said it yourself, you would die without me. And you would, but then Kangee took pity of you.”

“That was his mistake,” Vlad replied shameless and moved closer, now that Danny had stopped moving.

“Maybe,” Danny said, his heart beating faster for every inch Vlad reduced between them, “but when you killed and devoured him, you gained the other half of the well’s power and the immortality you had always wanted. You can walk both worlds now, live without child sacrifices and drain as much power of this land as you want without any consequences…”

Vlad was almost at him and Danny’s hand slowly crept behind his back, “but despite all that work to become immortal, you’re still able to die.”

Danny’s pulse rose as the tall man and monster now towered over him, his burning eyes holding Danny’s in an iron grip, “say it.”

“Tell me where the girl’s knife is,” Danny insisted with his own heartbeat hammering through his ears, “tell me where you’re hiding her!”

The quiet laughter the human received in return, had his guts clench in fright.

The sudden hand around Danny’s neck making the human cry out and he seized Vlad’s suit in reflex.

Vlad lifted Danny to bring them eye to burning eye, their noses almost touching, “precious boy, the child has been right in front of you this whole time. You fought so hard to find her only to admit you’ve lost to my face. And that means you’ve just lost the game.”

Danny kicked his hanging legs and felt the air slowly being taking from him as Vlad added pressure to the hand. Only one last idea popping into mind and it made Danny giggle like an idiot.

“So was the bedroom just a coincident or are you gonna fuck my brains out now that you’ve won?”

Vlad didn’t flush or anything, but Danny’s cocky words still seemed to have taken him by surprise, as he released Danny with a perplexed expression.

The moment of lowered guards was all Danny needed and he drew his gun.

The shot hid the unsuspecting monster right in the solar plexus and Vlad was thrown back to the opposite wall by the impact of the ectoplasmic shot.

Danny bolted the room, not gonna stick around to find out just how much damaged he’d done – or just how much shit was gonna hit the fan when Vlad got back up.

Slowly rising back up with a wound the size of a football in his chest, the now tousled figure of Vlad Masters planted a pink coated hand on the wall for support and opened his red eyes.

Eyes blazing with fury and he exhaled a cloud of pink mist from his nostrils.

Swallowing the pink blood in his mouth, the man’s lips parted into a canine’s grin of fangs. The living tint discolored into blue and the lose silver strands died black.

The monster’s chuckle grew into that of a mad laughter, as large leather wings tore through the tailored suit.

“Oh, Daniel,” the Codger sneered with a mad man’s glee, the wound already sealing up and only leaving a large stain on his suit behind, “must you play right into my hand every time?”

 

“ – and I tell you! Bring down the entire station here now, the kid is up to something!”

“This is ridiculous, Walker,” chief Gray yawned into Walker’s ear and the distressed officer lost his patient with his superior.

“You’re ridiculous!” Walker yelled into the phone, “I’m telling you, I caught Danny Fenton trespassing and enter the Thornwood apartment with a fucking crowbar – he even ran from an officer and now he’s hiding somewhere on the premises! He’s up to something and the fact that you can ignore the description of the crime scene I’ve just painted out for you, makes it clearer than ever you lack simple judgement!”

The silence on the other side had Walker standing angry and flustered in the middle of the living room.

His mind screaming that this was it – this was the moment he was going to be fired and his carrier stained forever, but he honestly couldn’t care. He’d had it with the Amity police force.

He was done!

“Now you listen to me,” Gray started in a calm, yet threatening tone that made Walker feel like a kid caught stealing in a liquor store, “I’m going to send Wulf down to the Palace and then I’m going to the airport to pick up my daughter. And then and first then will I come down to take a look. But –”

Walker felt a drop of sweat run down his temple by that one word.

“ – if I get down there with the rest of the station and there is nothing to find and I find out you’ve harmed Danny without legal reason. Then you and I am going to have a talk about your future in this state.”

Walker blinked as the connection was ended and he lowered the phone to hang useless by his side.

The unfairness of the entire situation was driving him mad, but – as he reminded himself – this could still work out.

The kid might still be hiding, somehow having tricked him with that little door – but that didn’t change the evidence left behind.

Walker pulled out his phone and began to take pictures of the living room’s current state. Listing all the different rules and laws that had been broken by the kid in his head.

Tampering with a crime scene was a severe violation of several laws and since Danny hadn’t worn gloves, it would all be specked with his finger prints and possible sweat and spit.

Walker didn’t touch a thing, as it was procedure to keep the scene intact till the technicians arrived and bowed down to photographe the open beartrap in front of the little door.

Walker still couldn’t believe he had avoided it as he had when he’d ran to rip open the small door and made sure to get a good shot at the steel pegs keeping the trap into place.

The pegs had been hammered straight into the floor and carpet – but the beartrap wasn’t the most outrageous of it all. Oh no.

It was the motorcycle.

Walker recognized it as Danny’s own and took a series of pictures of it from its hiding position behind the white sofa.

The stench of gasoline had filled the entire room and Walker followed the trail of the liquid leading from the little door to the motorcycle’s engine.

The lid to the fuel tank had been removed and a line of gasoline had been splattered from it to the little door.

Walker had his head twist with theories of what madness had made the kid set up a homemade bomb like this.

Leaving the living room for now, Walker went back to the attic hatch at the right end of the corridor on the second floor and took as many pictures as he needed.

The hatch seemed to have been sealed with wallpaper when the attic became apartments and covered with floorboards on top.

Walker was curious as to how Danny had known about it and wondered if the hatch had been uncovered back when he’d lived her ten years ago.

No matter what, it was still extreme damage to the property and Walker shook his head as he went up to see what else the crazy kid was hiding.

Walker hadn’t really had a good look at anything when he’d made his forced entry, but now that he was back in the small attic apartment, he had to ask himself just how he could have missed the crime wall on the end wall.

Lost at words, Walker stepped up to the wall and tried to get head and tail out of the complicated web of red lines, sketches and newspaper clips.

He took a series of pictures, but soon began to read. Before long Walker had to sit down and make some distance to the grand conspiracy playing out before him.

The kid really believed in the whole ghost eating children story. And apparently Indian boys turning into ravens…

Walker didn’t really know what to think of all this and looked down from his seat on the bed, as his foot hit a black box.

Pulling out the box, Walker placed in on his lap with curiosity. The black plastic pointed to the professional side and the “F” symbol on the lid made him even more worried.

Why did he have the feeling he was going to find some kinda weapon inside it?

The box, already open, turned out to be empty, with the exception of one strange cylinder-shaped tube of glass.

The designed dents in the black foam, made it clear there had been a gun shaped object in this box – or at least that it was designed to hold on.

Five little dents told him that there had been more of those strange tubes and he picked up the one left behind. It was cracked, maybe from some impact or accident.

The content of the tube had leaked int the foam and Walker frowned as green goo coated his finger. The smell only made his forehead more wrinkled.

It smelled strangely…sweet.

 

“Right in front of me this whole time – right in front of me this whole time – right in front of me this whole time!”

Danny continued to repeat the same sentence over and over again, as he ran through the house.

Hoping – no. BEGGING that it would make sense and suddenly reveal the answer to him.

What had Vlad meant!? Was the girl in some photo just like his parents had been? Was there some photo frame or other object hiding the girl that he hadn’t paid attention to?

But none of it made sense! He had scanned this entire place with his stone and found NOTHING! No sign of a little ghost shining like a silver beacon in the dark, no knife lighting up and leading him to a hideout.

Danny raced past the kitchen and tried to make his head think faster by hitting it.

Think Danny think! Ten years ago, the ghost knives had been placed in obvious places, places Vlad had introduced him to as a gift.

Spectra and Bertrand’s theater. Freakshows circus. Jazz’s game room…

Danny’s eyes widened and he kicked the front door open. Gifts! Of course!

“Kitty! Johnny!” Danny yelled and ran around the Palace to get to their basement apartment.

Reaching the stairs down to their home, Danny found their motorcycle parked besides it, but no better neighbors. No waiting on them, Danny started examining the machine and brought out his stone from under his collar.

Looking through the white stone, he found so little light shining in the waste darkness and he kicked the motorcycle in frustration.

Running down the stairs to the wine cellar, Danny tried to get in, but found that the door was locked. He tried kicking it a couple of times and even fired at it, but the door held, and no red eye neighbors came to let him in.

“Okay, so maybe the Kitty/Johnny race wasn’t the right gift,” Danny speculated and ran around the mansion again, “then maybe the ’Skulltech 9.9’ concert was!”

Out of breath but happy to have reached the other side of the mansion in no time, Danny turned the last corner and ran to the big scene. Only to find it just as abandoned.

“No, no, NO!” Danny yelled in frustration and pulled out his stone.

No matter how much he wanted it, no light revealed itself to him and Danny was beginning to wonder if the stupid stone even worked. He called for Ember and the rest of the band, but none of them came and Danny ran to their apartment instead.

“Fuck I forgot!” Danny sighed and smacked a hand to his forehead.

The metal stairs leading up to the attic apartments was gone and without a ladder, he had slim to chance of getting up there.

The lack of Vlad lackeys was beginning to unnerve Danny a great deal and he couldn’t help but feel like Vlad’s claw would grab him out of nowhere any second now.

But now what!?

“Right in front of me from the start,” Danny pondered as he sat down for a second to catch his breath, “right in front of me…”

“Having a hard time, dipstick?”

Danny looked up to find himself surrounded. The members of ‘Skullteck 9.9’ all grinned down at him from his position on the grass.

“You shouldn’t have tried and cheated when you’ve already lost the game,” other Nikolai reminded him with a large grin, “that’s just sad.”

“Come on, whelp,” other Skulker grinned and his robot teeth scoured against each other with a shrieking sound, “the other father is waiting. And he doesn’t like waiting very much.”

Danny sighed and stood, “fine, but as a good friend of mine once said – Fuck you!”

Everyone screams as Danny threw the tube of concentrated ectoplasm at the ground and had the content explode everywhere.

Running for his life yet again, Danny laid the howling doublegangers behind and ran back to the basement apartment to take one of the motorcycles.

If he could lay some distance between himself and the palace, perhaps he could get some time to think and figure it all out.

But it seemed all the neighbors had come out to play.

Kitty and Johnny was already sitting waiting for him on the motorcycle.

“Wanna go for a ride, sweetie?” Kitty asked with a flirting wink and Danny didn’t slow down as he came right at them.

“Not so fast, dude –” other Johnny started with a biker chain swinging in hand and had the grin permanently fixed on his face, as Danny just pulled the gun and shot him between the eyes.

“Oh my God, Johnny!” other Kitty cried in shock and screamed in surprise, when Danny pushed her of the bike without a care.

“You’re not my type,” Danny informed her calmly and drove off without even looking back at her.

Danny could finally relax, as he drove into the woods and tried to refresh his memory one more time.

In each of your visits, I will speak a single clue, a lead or a riddle. All gifts just for you…

“That’s not it,” Danny sighed, “that’s all about me finding out how to end him. Not the girl…then what is?”

…precious boy, the child has been right in front of you this whole time.

“In what way? As what!?” Danny asked in frustration, not getting it at all, “what have I overlooked?”

Apparently, a whole lot, as a giant robot claw came out of nowhere and almost grabbed his motorcycle. Danny almost crashed by the nasty surprise and hurried to stir the bike back into balance.

Looking in the rear-view mirror, Danny almost wished he hadn’t.

The half-melted and badly burned members of ‘Skulltech 9.9’ had somehow transformed themselves and their stage into a giant robot – breathing fire of all things.

Danny watched those large green and blue flames with drops of nervous sweat running down his temple and pushed the bike to the limit.

Like hell he was going to fight that!

“Get back here, babypop!” Ember laughed behind him and Danny screamed like a little girl, as the motorcycle was lifted from the ground.

“Gotcha,” Skulker’s robotic voice grinned and Danny lost his breath as the motorcycle was lifted to the robot’s large red eye.

Danny could see his own frightened face in the reflection and did something crazy.

He jumped onto the robot.

“Catch him!” Nikolai yelled and the robot claw threw the motorcycle away, in favor of reaching for Danny.

Danny crawled on top of the robot’s shoulder, the shifting movements of the giant was enough to make him sick and he fought a tough battle to keep his balance.

Avoiding the claw, Danny looked around for a way down and ducked as the second arm tried to grab him.

“Come back here, whelp!” Skulker raged and turned around to try and throw Danny of, “no one messing with the other world’s greatest hunter!”

Danny felt his stomach made a summersault as he planned his next move and jumped down into the nearest treetop.

The branches weren’t strong enough to hold Danny and so he fell down into the stronger branches and had the air knocked out of him, before he finally landed on the forest floor.

The twigs and branches had felt like whips against his skin and other than an aching body, Danny could feel the burn from a few hundred starches all over his face and arms.

The meeting with the solid branches had knocked the air out of his lounges and all Danny could do was dry heave in agony against the ground, while watching the robot jump around out of the corner of his eye.

Apparently, they hadn’t discovered his escape and Danny tried getting up with a shaking hand.

“NO!” Skulker yelled in outrage and the robot began to pull trees up from the ground in search for the disappearing human, “no one gets away from me!”

Danny kept his mouth shut, as he began limping away in the shelter of the bushes and make his way back to the Palace.

“This world’s greatest hunter, ha!” Ember mocked icily, “you can’t even find the remote-control back home.”

“Fuck you!”

Danny just shook his head as they began to fight amongst themselves and made his merry way back to the path towards the Palace.

The outside seemed too dangerous to be with all the doublegangers and inside Vlad was surely waiting for him to come back on sorry knees.

So where could he go to think?

His own room? Danny shook his head and grabbed his sore side, feeling nauseated all of a sudden. His own room didn’t have a lock and Vlad would look for him there, if Danny tried to hide.

What Danny needed was a secure place he could wait in till he’d figured out the puzzle and still could escape from should Vlad try and corner him.

“I wanna go home,” Danny groaned and then stopped.

Home. A sudden feeling that he had overlooked something made him frown.

It was right on his tongue. Something important. Something…right in front of him…

“Die!”

Danny ducked in the last second and stared in horror as other Kitty, now black and shadow like, tried to knock his head in with a large steel wrench, “you killed him! You stole his motorcycle!”

Danny hurried to move away and kept moving in order to keep a distance and pulled out his gun

Only to realize he had dropped it when he’d fell through the three, “fuck.”

Distracted, the next hit almost got him and Kitty screamed in frustration and just jumped him with bared nails and blunt teeth.

Danny pulled one of the tubes in desperation and slammed it against her head in lack of better weapon.

The glass splintered and cut his hand, but the damage was little next to Kitty’s. Danny stared up in horror, as the ectoplasm made her skin burned away and dripped with pink goo.

She screamed in pain on top of him and Danny laid frozen, as her entire head began to melt, and her body expand like a popsicle melting in the sun.

Before Danny could close his mouth, the body of other Kitty burst and collapsed in a puddle of pink slime.

Danny laid still with shaking breath, spat out the pink goo in his mouth and slowly sat up. The slime sticking to him and his cloths with a sick sweet odor.

Danny rose with care, his feet shaking and making him stumble.

It took him a few too many seconds to realize, it wasn’t him who could stand right, but the ground that was shaking.

Looking up with wide blue eyes, Danny’s heart skipped a beat by the sight of the robot coming thundering through the woods.

Heading for him.

“Fuck! Fuck me!” Danny gasped and ran to the front door in eager to get to safety – Vlad be damned!

Danny had barely grabbed the door to slam it in, when the robot hand came crushing through.

The impact slamming both door and Danny in. Landing far down the hall with splinters of wood falling all around him Danny lifted his sore head, to see the robot extend its hand to reach him.

Danny cried out in fear and began to crawl backward. The arms kept getting closer and Danny threw a large piece of wood at it, before getting up like bambi on ice and ran up the stairs to the bedrooms.

Running for his own bedroom, Danny had barely gotten a hold of the handle, before he had to make a barrel-roll out of the way.

The robot arm broke the door to his room and by the sound, getting stuck in the large telescope inside.

Danny took this as his chance and ran towards what had once been his sister’s bedroom. Finding it locked, Danny ran in a little circle of panic and the looked up without thinking.

The hatch to the attic looked down at him.

Danny blinked, realizing this was the thing his brain had tried to remind him of seconds before Kitty had attacked him.

Home.

Somehow Danny’s own feet had led him here and Danny wasn’t one for looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Grabbing the string to unlock the hatch, he jumped back as the folding stairs fell down and climbed up.

The robot arm was out of his room, but Danny had already pulled the stairs back up and slammed the hatch.

Pressing his ear against the floor. He could hear the robot arm trash around some more, but so far it didn’t seem to have any intention of going up.

Danny sat up with a sigh of relief and turned to the dark room.

Having forgotten all about the fact that the palace had an attic after he’d found no metal stairs leading up on each side of the mansion,

Danny had all forgotten about searching his own apartment.

But of course, in the other world where the mansion was designed like it had been back when human Vlad had lived in it, the attic didn’t have any apartments, which meant no stairs and no wall separating the attic into two.

Picking up his stone from the string around his neck, Danny looked through it and groaned in defeat. Still no light.

“And here I thought ‘right in front of you’ meant in my own apartment,” Danny sighed and stood up, “what a waste of time!”

“Hello?”

Danny stopped his pacing and looked towards the other end of the attic. Someone had just called out to him from the dark.

A child’s voice. And more importantly, a little girl’s voice.

Walking closer, Danny pushed a couple of old boxes and junk aside and soon had to shield his eyes a bit. In the other end of the attic, a little Tv was running in the dark and playing what looked like an old cartoon.

A little girl was sitting in front of it and Danny returned her wide look of confusion.

“You’re not my other daddy,” she noted and stood up with a little frown, “who are you?”

Danny swallowed. The little girl looked to be around twelve and blew a strand of dark hair out of her round face and stared him down (well up) with baby blue eyes.

Despite the boyish red beanie, red shorts and blue hoodie, this was diffidently a little girl and more importantly –

“Are you Danielle Thornwood?” Danny asked and the girl nodded curtly, “I’m Danny.”

“Call me Dani,” she replied, and Danny had to take a second to understand all this.

Why was she still alive?

“You’ve…” Danny looked around and noted the old crumbled paper and buckets with different fast-food chain brands on them, “have you been hiding up here?”

She shook her little head, making the ponytail dance, “nah, other Daddy told me to stay here. He’s been busy with other things, but he gave me this Tv with all my favorite cartoons and brought me all the fast food I could eat, so I guess it’s okay. He said I could go home when my parents get back from their vacation.”

Danny just stared at her.

Vlad had planted her here…with entertainment and food…all this time.

None of it made any sense to Danny and that fact that the kid was still alive, simply made it all so much stranger.

His stone had worked just fine all this time. It just hadn’t shown him anything, because the girl was neither a ghost nor her soul attacked to the knife that took her life.

She had been in front of him all this time. He had just been looking for a ghost. Not a living child.

“Why?” Danny asked and the girl seemed confused by his question.

“Why they went on vacation?”

“No,” Danny corrected and tried to find out just what he wanted to say, “never mind, come on, let’s get you back to your parents.”

Dani jumped back and out of his reach, “but other daddy said to stay here.”

“He’s not your other dad,” Danny tried as he moved to get her and she moved away from him again, “he’s a monster pretending to be something looking like your dad – but he’s not and he’s going to kill us, so get back here!”

“I don’t know you!” she yelled back and hid behind the Tv, “get out of my room or I’ll scream for help!”

“No please don’t!” Danny warned, but the girl started screaming anyway and Danny stepped back in fear as two red eyes opened in the dark.

“Daniel, how nice of you to join us,” Vlad grinned and Dani stared up at the blue monster with open mouth.

“Dani,” Danny tried, but the girl was frozen in place and he knew he had slim chances of getting her before Vlad.

“Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?” Vlad teased the little girl with a large smirk of fangs and leaned down to her with his face changing to that of Mr. Thornwood, “haven’t your poor daddy taught you anything?”

“Get back!” Danny cried and threw a tube of ectoplasm between the girl and the monster.

Vlad avoided it with ease, but Danny took the moment to grab Dani by the collar and hurried to the hatch.

Vlad laughed, not the least bother by the fumes from the exploded glass cylinder and jumped to hang from the ceiling.

Crawling towards them like a bat.

“It's going to take more than your little plasma ect-toys to escape this time, Daniel,” he mocked, and Danny didn’t waste time with the folding stairs and just jumped down with Dani in his arms.

Striking a landing on his already hurting leg and with Dani’s extra weight on top, Danny fell to his knees with a gasp and Dani clung to him with wide eyes watching the monster coming down after them.

Danny got up with cold sweat running down his temple and wanted nothing more than to throw Dani of him as his ribs throbbing in pain, but held on to her as he ran for safety.

Taking five steps at a time down the stairs made shit go faster, but Vlad was right behind them and Danny made a sharp turn to get to the sliding doors, when the monster jumped down the stairs and tried to block his way.

Danny cried out as the clawed hand launched for his neck and sliced the hoodie like paper.

Vlad jumped at them, but Danny was fast with a roll to the side and ran towards the living room.

Pulling them open and slamming the shut might have been the smoothest movement Danny had ever performed, but his need to throw up from the air rushing through his body, made Dani jump of him with worry.

“You’re bleeding,” she whispered, but he didn’t have time to take a good look at it as he pulled his belt of to strap the two door handles together and prevent them from opening.

Danny ripped the sleeve of his damaged hoodie to bind a temporary pressure gaze around his neck without a word.

Dani followed suit as he began to barricade the door with furniture, both of them working as one to survive this mess.

Danny pulled out the crowbar from his bag, a determined expression on his face.

Dani watch with concern, as tried to open the little door and he began to tear the locked door open with force.

 

Outside the living room, Vlad had reached the sliding doors and tried open them manually.

When he felt the hindrance, he simply pulled them clean of and with one swipe of his hand, the blocking furniture was thrown aside and splintered against the wall.

The red eyes scanned the room and then festered at the little door. It was wide open, a crowbar abandoned in front of it.

The green tunnel bathing the dark room in a ghastly green hue and the Codger narrowed his eyes.

The monster didn’t hesitate and had the little door widening with magic to fit his size, before flying through.

Behind the sofa, Danny had clasped a hand down on Dani’s mouth and listened as Vlad left the other world.

First when then the sound of leather wings was gone, did Danny grab the jerry can he had left earlier, empty the rest of it into the now wide door and lit a match.

 

Waiting outside the palace. Walker tapped his fingers on the car’s steering wheel with impatience and checked the digital clock again.

Wulf was late and Walker wasn’t going to go out searched for Danny on his own. It was already late, and the kid had a head start to get away with.

Already too big a head start.

As the company had stopped the water and heat already at the lockdown hours ago, Walker had no desire to stay in the cold and dark Palace and returned to wait in his own car.

Getting used to the dark by now, Walker’s attention was suddenly caught by a green light coming from one of the windows in the mansion.

Standing out of the car, Walker walked towards the window to the living room.

And what he saw had him almost pull his gun.

A green light streamed out from a door suddenly martializing in the spot where the little door in the wall had been just a few seconds ago.

And out of the door jumped a demon straight from a nightmare.

The blue and dark entity looked around in the dark with blazing red eyes and took a step inside the living room.

Walker jumped as the beartrap slammed around the monster’s leg and said monster howled in pain.

Walker knew he should probably call somebody, but all he could do was staring at the trashing monster and the sudden red and yellow light coming out of the door.

A tongue of fire ran out of the door and past the demon. Said thing looked up with wide red eyes, as the tongue continued to the sofa and – as Walker bolted – right down into the motorcycle’s fuel tank.

The explosion blasted in an inferno of fire and a rain of glass blasted out the windows to the living room.

Walker had fallen from the shock, hitting the ground and turned around to stare at the chaos.

A police car parked with squealing tires beside him and officer Wulf stepped out to stare with him at the fire.

Wulf grabbed the walkie talkie in his car to call for firemen, but Walker could only stand up to stare at the mansion’s destruction.

The fire had spread to the rest of the place in a matter of seconds and thick dark smoke rolled of old fragile windows cracking one by one.

The smoke turning the sky pitch black and menacing.

“What happened!?” Wulf yelled at him and Walker didn’t know where to start.

“He blew the place up,” was all the man could muster, “that’s against the law…”

“Where is he now!?” Wulf demanded and Walker was going to tell he didn’t have a clue, when his guts told him otherwise.

“Stay here, I know where Danny might be,” Walker said and ran towards the path behind the palace.

The kid had been down by the well earlier for some reason and Walker wanted to know what those reasons were.

Chapter Text

The sound of his own feet drowned in the roar of fire.

The second that match had fallen from Danny’s hand and lit the first drop of gasoline, Danny had pulled Dani unto his back and sprinted out of there.

The seconds ticked by like precious drops of life, as he ran down the corridor and out the ruined door.

The explosion behind him had him stumble for a second, but he regained his balance with sheer willpower and continued to run with the screaming girl holding on to dear life on his back.

Her legs added pressure on his ribs and Danny felt like fainting, but forced himself through it, as they crossed the trees and went down the forest path.

Dani turned her head with frightful eyes, as this man brought her further into the forest and the fire spreading from the mansion and onto the ground.

The sky soon on fire and the flames reflected in her eyes.

Danny fought for air, as he saw the other world burn around him and soon caught up with them on the steep way down.

He had expected the mansion in the real world to burn and maybe the other world’s palace – but all of the other world!?

Cursing his own foolishness, Danny stretched those long legs and tried to outrun the fire.

The clearing of the well was close enough for him to see it and little Dani gasped into his ear, as the fire tried to cut them off to the well.

Danny jumped and felt the heat bit his skin and eyes. But all of it was over in a second as they jumped through and he fell besides the well. Dani fell of him and landed on top of the old lid.

Danny barely had time to warn her before the lid broke under her weigh and she fell through. Not thinking, just acting, Danny jumped in after her and felt the darkness consume him.

Then the hard and cold embrace of water.

 

Danny…

Valerie didn’t break her stare, only her hands revealed her feelings, as they grabbed harder around the wood beneath them, “he told me that he would take my firstborn. That no matter where or when, he would find me and rip my child from my hands and eat it in the dark, if I ever got in his way again. I saw him do it. I smelled the blood. But it’s okay.”

“How is that okay?” Danny asked with a small voice.

She smiled without humor, “because as you said, he’s dead so I got nothing to fear.”

Danny felt good about that, but the words still left his mouth with uncertainty, “and if he’s not?”

Her smile faltered and they looked at each over for what felt like a long time. The possibility almost threatening to crush them.

“Then we’ll come back and just end him one last time,” Valerie offered and showed him her hand, “deal?”

“Deal,” Danny agreed and shook her hand.

None of them old enough to actually realize the consequences of this innocent promise. But every curse had its time and today wasn’t the day.

Valerie grinned at him, “we’ll be okay, Danny. Now come on, let’s get home before dark, I’m freezing like hell.”

Danny watched her as she turned from him to climb down the rope ladder, his eyes never really leaving her, even after only the top of her head was left.

“We’re okay,” he muttered to himself, “it’s over.”

Danny help me!

 

Danny opened his eyes and saw only darkness.

Then a kick to his shoulder made him drift weightlessly and he looked up in the cool darkness that surrounded him.

It was a small blue converse shoe. Falling down slowly and as he watch, down into the dark nothingness below him.

Another kick to the head, let him know the owner was above him. Dani was floated just a few feet above his head and she was kicking for life, her head somewhere over a mirroring surface.

Water, Danny realized and felt his chest burn.

Air.

The second he broke out of the water, the safe silent coolness, was replaced with a gasping series of screams and choking sounds from the girl and splashing of water.

Danny wrapped an arm around her to help her stay above water and raised his free hand to grab a little inroad in the smooth stone wall around them.

Danny looked up to find a small circle of the night sky above them and instinctively knew they were back in the real world. He had made it. He had brought them back home.

The plan had worked.

“Hold on, I’ll get us outta here,” Danny calmed the girl and turned around in the water to find the rope.

Only to find none.

Danny kicked the wall’s stone side and slammed his fist against it again and again. He had cut short of this part because of Walker.

If the man hadn’t been there, Danny could have lowered some of his climbing gear down into the well and had it prepared for this part.

But you forgot about that part and waited till last to fix your mistake, his own mind reminded him acidic and Danny pressed his head to the cold wet wall.

If only he hadn’t forgotten about it and done it as the last thing. Then he could have been down by the well before Walker and they wouldn’t be stuck now.

Danny spit out a gulp of water as they almost went back under water and pushed Dani to hang onto the wall.

Getting of some weight, Danny took off his backpack and looked down into its soaked inner to find what was weighting him down.

A broken tube of ectoplasm was all he could find, and he was ready to let it fall to the bottom, when a glimpse of silver caught his eye.

The silver knife.

Danny pulled it out and let go of the backpack. Ignored it as it sank and swam over to hang beside Dani.

Both of them treading water with shaking breaths and fingers digging into the stone walls for life.

“What now?” Dani asked and Danny didn’t have the heart to tell her he didn’t have a plan.

“We… we just wait a bit,” Danny offered in his most grownup voice and hoped she bought it.

She did, but not before she moved closer to him and stayed close to his warmth and possible protection. Danny bite his lip, hoping for a miracle to help them out of this mess, despite having learned the opposite from experience.

The silver knife felt cold in his fist and the ripped sleeve bound around his neck, made it hard to breath, but he managed.

What now?

A sudden series of bubbles emerged from the water and a red light lit up from the bottom of the well. Danny inhaled and hugged Dani closer. She to have noticed seen it and both of them knew what that meant.

The Codger had come to take them back.

Danny looked around for any means of help and stared up into the little circle that was freedom, “HELP! SOMEONE HELP US!”

Dani started calling along with him and continued as Danny felt the options getting less and less. He had to do something, he had to stop Vlad from bringing them back. He had to find a way!

They had to get out of this well and into the real world and then…and then…

Danny swallowed. Then what?

What stopped Vlad from just following them up the well? If they even could get up in time? What did it matter if they made it when Vlad wasn’t limited to go whenever he wanted?

Where could they be safe? A hospital? A police officer station? Outside of Amity? A Plane to another state?

What stopped Vlad from following?

Vlad could just get up after them without problem, he was strong enough to pull them back and no one who saw it would be taken seriously.

Danny closed his eyes as the red light came closer.

When it all came down to it, there was no escape, was there? He opened his tired eyes again and looked down at the yelling girl.

She still believed they had a chance, trusted that he could protect her, when he couldn’t even protect himself.

Trusted him even though he was the sole reason she was here in the first place.

Danny was tired of denying it. Vlad hadn’t needed an innocent soul since he’d killed Clockwork and got the well’s powers to himself. She was useless to the monster. He hadn’t needed the girl for any other purpose than to luring Danny back.

Danny was the reason she was here.

Danny was the reason she was going to die.

And die they would. Danny felt the weight of the silver knife in his hand and clenched his fist around it.

And now that he has the full power of the well, there will be no end to his hunger for the world. Free from the bounds of innocent sacrifices, the Codger is free to roam the world and kill anyone who stands in his way of ruling the earth…

…but, isn’t there a way? There has to be, right?

No. Danny didn’t want to think of it, but Clockwork’s words still branded his mind with its message.

There is a way, but it will not come without a prize.

I’ll do anything…

No, he couldn’t – it was wrong! She was just a child!

Another sacrifice. To end the Codger’s wish to use the well’s power as his own, one will have to close the well’s connection with the spirit world with one last wish. One last blood sacrifice to bury the monster’s world for good…. One last innocent soul to end it all.

Danny bite his lip, feeling the inevitable acts come together and drive him closer to a final end. He couldn’t do this, this was a child, not some pig from the farm.

Danielle was a child the world had wronged – who was he to wrong her even further!?

Does it have to be innocent blood?

It has to be an innocent’s blood, Danny. Anything else will only be a secondary wish, just as my own when I became a gatekeeper. My wish couldn’t overrule the Codger’s, only supplement it…

The taste of copper and bile rose in the back of his throat.

If he didn’t do this…he couldn’t even begin to think of what it would cost the world if he didn’t. If he didn’t stop him, Vlad wouldn’t stop till he’d devoured the rest of the world in his search for power.

Vlad believed himself to have a destiny as some god. If he wasn’t stopped, people would pay the prize.

Danny looked down at the unsuspecting girl.

Was it wrong to take one life if it saved the many? Even if he didn’t cut her throat, Vlad would still kill her for knowing too much and Danny would die with her. The secret to Vlad’s defeat die out with him.

If he didn’t, their deaths would be for nothing and more deaths would follow. More people would die, more land turn barren and the future die with the one person, who wasn’t tough enough to make a hard choice and do the right thing.

“Do the right thing,” Danny whispered, and Dani clung to him with tears in her big eyes.

“I wanna go home,” she sobbed, and Danny laid a hand around her, the knife hiding under his sleeve.

“You will,” he retorted slowly and felt like her pulse beat with his own.

I will never be able to live with myself after this, he thought in his quiet mind, but neither will Vlad – and that will be all worth it.

The knife slowly unraveled from its hiding and Danny guided it to her exposed throat.

She wouldn’t even see it coming, pressing her face against his chest as she did. She wouldn’t even feel a thing if he did it quickly. The numbness of the cold water would sedate her enough and the sacrifice would be over in no time.

She wouldn’t have to suffer.

Danny saw his own hand lead the blade to the exposed vein in her pale throat. Vlad surely didn’t believe him to be capable of doing it.

Danny could only win the game and put a final end to the monster, if he did this.

The Codger must have thought himself sure of his own victory – believed Danny was an otter fool to even accept the terms of the game, without even knowing what he was setting himself up to.

Danny wasn’t a killer. He was just a simple man with simple hopes and dreams. Danny had dreamed as a kid to go to space. He liked greasy burgers and computer games. He liked looking at the starts and read nerdy stuff about NASA.

Danny would never hurt another person like this, never dream of hurting a child.

And Vlad knew all this.

So why did he want him so badly? Why was Danny so fucking special to him, that he would play out some stupid game, just to make Danny agree to be his to do with should he lose?

Why did it even matter if Danny lost or not, surely Vlad could just take what he wanted?

Why was he so obsessed with having Danny wanting him to?

Why had he wasted time luring Danny back, when the entire fucking world was his to take!?

Why lure him back with this kid!

Danny’s eyesight went blurry and he felt the hot tears run down his chilled cheeks. Felt the frustration, stress and misery shake his body and leave him spilling with sorrow.

Danny just wanted to be accepted by others. He just wanted to be hold by another person, knowing that he was loved and cared for without doubt. He didn’t want to kill this child and be someone he wasn’t.

He wanted to do what was right, but just how far was he willing to go to fulfill such moral obligations?

Was it because he felt he owed it to himself? Was doing the right thing a part of him or just part of who he wanted to be? Was it because his own righteousness was the last part of himself, he still liked about the person he’d grown up to be?

Because…without it…then he would just be the man no one could love?

Dani looked up at the weeping man holding her close to his chest and Danny returned her uncertain stare. The pale face, the raven black tresses and baby blue eyes.

The more he looked at her, the more he recognized himself in her features. They were so alike it made his heart break and as she pressed her scared face to his chest…

Danny could almost believe he was holding his own child self.

Holding all the fears and childish hopes he had been holding onto as a teen.

The things no child should go through and have to carry alone.

A burden so heavy he had to store it aware in his mind and act like it had never happen, in order to function in a world where the worst that could happen wasn’t the return of a child-eating monster, but the fact that your sexuality made you a deviant unwanted by loved ones.

Danny’s tears mixed with her wet hair and he cried for her. For his past self and the innocence that was lost with this horrible place.

All the things he could never get back and never fight for again.

He could see it now, the eternal insanity. The should have, could have, would have. The past, the present, the things he couldn’t do over. The second those claws would lock around his ankles and pulled them back under, nothing would end.

Only the beginning of suffering was waiting for him. The girl would drown and leave this nightmare. Something he could find some solace in, but still know was his fault.

If Danny really had come to end the curse and wished to stop Vlad’s reign, this was the moment…but the truth was…

Vlad was right. Danny would never be able to do it. Danny was weak, alone and a mess. All he wanted was to return to the embrace that was the monster’s love and he probably deserved it.

So, what are you saying? That you have missed me!? That you like me being a stick in your wheel? What are you – lonely or something? Is that what you’re trying to tell me!?

Is that really so hard to believe? …in my world you would be a prince, free of pain and suffering. Eternal and finally at peace. I would never turn my back on you, Daniel.

“I’m so sorry,” Danny said and opened his hand to let the silver knife sink back into the water and out of his hands, “this is all my fault…”

It blinked one last time below the dark waters, before it to disappeared into the darkness. The chances of ever stopping the Codger gone with his selfish decision. Danny closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.

He had doomed them all.

“DANNY!”

Both looked up in shock to see the night sky being blocked by a head. Danny couldn’t believe it and smiled for the first time in his life by the sight of officer Walker.

“We’re down here! I have Danielle Thornwood!” Danny yelled back and felt Dani grab him harder out of excitement, “there’s some climbing gear next to you! Throw it down and help us up!”

“Stay put!” Walker called back and disappeared for a second or two, before rope and harness came tumbling down and slammed a few times against the well’s inner walls, “is any of you hurt!? Can you hang on to the rope!?”

“Danny got cut by the monster!” Dani yelled and Danny waved her of without much concern.

“It’s just a scratch, we can hang on!” Danny clarified, but now that he was reminded of it, it began to burn and Danny felt pain from speaking.

He acted as nothing for Dani’s sake and helped her strapped herself in with the only harness on the rope. He was strong enough to hang on without safety and tried to ignore the pain exploding like knives in his right side.

He had the feeling he might have bent a few ribs, but it would have to wait till he was back up…

The knowledge that getting rescued from the well wasn’t the same as escaping for real, still nagged at his mind and Danny looked down to find the red light getting close.

The unescapable idea of death made it harder for Danny to breath and he pulled at the makeshift bandage around his neck. Only to find it sticky with blood.

A sweet smell made Danny slowly reach his hand to the part of the bandage that was supposed to ad pressure to the wound and pulled his hand back to find it caged with pink blood.

Despite the darkness, it was visible to the eye and the sweet scent drifted from it and made him feel like vomiting. Large clumps of pink goo mixed with the red blood coated his fingers and Danny didn’t understand.

Why was this coming out of his body? This was Vlad’s blood, the stuff he made his world out of, why was it inside of Danny?

The sudden memory of his own vomit being specked with pink made him widen his eyes and he almost didn’t register Walker’s pull on the rope.

Holding on tight, Danny saw the night sky getting closer, but his mind was already drifting far away.

He didn’t understand, what was happening to him?

Danny smelled his hand again, just knowing this was somehow familiar. Like Christmas familiar or something homely. Something reminding you of childhood.

He had just assumed it was because of Vlad’s use of it to create a home for Danny when he was a kid, but now he wasn’t so sure.

The smell suddenly seemed to come from Dani as well, but all she was coated in was fast-food grease, brackish water and some green ecto-strains from when he’d thrown that tube of ectoplasm between her and –

Danny lost his power to breath and just stared at the green stains of ectoplasmic goo hanging from her cloths.

The sweet smell of childhood. His mother’s and father’s lab. The scent of his mother’s gloves. Her voice in the living room….

Ectoplasm… we will need all we can get to draw out the ghosts of this place – and be careful with that one, honey, these samples weren’t cheap. Only two ways to get it –

Yeah, yeah, you can only get ectoplasm from ghosts itself or from a possessed medium.

Possessed.

Danny felt the answers revealing themselves to him like a complicated puzzle solved with a logical twist. He had been possessed. Not by a ghost, but a ghostly world…

The visits to the other world…

The little ghost children…

The vision of Clockwork’s death…

The dream of Clockwork’s ghost revealing the truth…

All these different contacts with the ghost world had left ectoplasm injected into his body and left it to spread inside him.

For ten years.

Danny had crossed over to the world of ghosts. He had allowed ghosts to take control of his body. His body had reacted slowly, but steady to the ectoplasm filling his blood, veins and muscles.

Danny had allowed himself to act as a medium for ghosts.

…real mediums are hard to get by these days. Not many people will risk losing their body to a ghost’s control and die of a young age from the ecto-poisoning. However, when your father and I catch the ghost of this house, we won’t need to buy it from that sweet Arizona college student anymore. Poor girl could need a rest…

Danny felt sick to the heart and now he knew why. The ectoplasm was slowly killing him. He hadn’t just spent time in ghost domains and given himself over. He had been eating from the ghost world as well.

Vlad had personally been feeding him disguised ectoplasm.

He couldn’t help but worry for Dani. She had spent three weeks in Vlad’s world – but apparently only eaten food from her own world. Danny recalled the empty boxes and paper from the real world fast-food chains – so maybe she could be saved?

He really hoped so, but it still opened up for a lot of questions. Like – why would Vlad go such lengths to bring her food? Why not just make some out of his own ectoplasm like he had with Danny and all the other children?

The last exchange between the dying Codger and raven suddenly came back to Danny like a slap across the cheek.

He is mine, I marked him and feed him my own life force. He will return to me…he will return to me, he can’t live without me!

Danny was going to die; the only way Danny could survive was if he agreed to let Vlad slit his throat and become his immortal slave. Vlad had planned for Danny’s return in order to keep him forever.

Death was coming for Danny and Vlad wanted him back before that.

Did you honestly believe you could defeat me, child? That you ever had a chance of escaping!? You belong to ME! I own you, boy – I’ve made my mark on your very essence. On your very soul.

Vlad could have gotten Danny back from the living world.

But in order to make him take the knife willingly, Vlad had to make Danny come back to his world, in order to make a game and agree to sign a ghostly contract willingly, should he lose this game he was doomed to lose from the start.

Dani had just been a means to get him back and face Vlad with the knowledge he could die and still take that chance.

Vlad had even tried temping him with Danny’s life for the girls. Hoped Danny would speed up the process and not try and make a run for it like now.

He had planned all this…just to get Danny back.

In his crazy state of mind, Danny had to admit that was the furthers anyone had ever gone to get his attention.

It was evil, yet oddly romantic. Danny just knew the ectoplasm had gotten to his brain now and looked up to find the end of the well only a few meters away.

He can’t live without me!

Danny knew it was true. In a few weeks, months or years, Danny would die of the poisoning – if Vlad didn’t get him first.

So, what was left to do? Take his own life, like he had thought of when Tucker and Sam left him? When his parents disowned him?

You’re gonna blow your head of as soon as I leave?

What else was left for him? Let Vlad catch him and keep him as a slave while he took over the real world? Stand mindless by and know he was the cause of all this?

It has to be an innocent’s blood, Danny. Anything else will only be a secondary wish, just as my own when I became a gatekeeper. My wish couldn’t overrule the Codger’s, only supplement it…

A secondary wish…

Danny smelled his own blood. Smelled the tainted drops running through his own veins and letting poison free in his system. Smelled that loss of humanity.

He was everything but innocent. Hadn’t been for years as that hard-black box had grown around him and made him cold to this world. All that was left of him was the need to do the right thing.

He suddenly understood.

Danny couldn’t help but smile through the pain. The funny thing was…

This was what Vlad had wanted all along.

In the face of death, Danny saw it all so clear. Saw it all and couldn’t help but find himself so utterly clueless.

The little game had been to lead him here the entire time.

The game was simple really…

Each day I will leave you to search for my end on your own. I won’t follow you and I won’t stop you, but when the moon rises and the night falls, you will return here to live with me and see my wonders till the sun rises in the east.

The clue…

In each of your visits, I will speak a single clue, a lead or a riddle. All gifts just for you.

Vlad had led him all the way. As he had promised, every night had led him to a new destination.

Andrew’s book on the Santee people, that contained the information on the seventh son…

I’m sure you find something, learn from history if you want, open a library book – that would be good for you, I can assure.

The key he had thrown into the fire to gain the vision of the sacrifice…

Just as the rest of my world, the door is mine to lock and close now. This little thing has lost its purpose – but do keep it as a gift or burn it if you like. It might even be the key to secrets.

The jump into the well where Kangee had revealed how to become a gatekeeper…

So many questions, you might as well yell into the well with all the answers you’re seeking, my boy. Even better, jump into it.

Vlad wanted him to take Clockwork’s place and Danny nodded faintly.

He could still save them all and keep Vlad from hurting more people. He could still fix the mess he started and make a difference. He had brought the girl home like he promised. And now he knew how to make sure it stayed that way.

He had to do this.

He wanted this.

“Take my hand,” Walker called down and Danny pushed Dani up to get the man’s arms.

While the officer hurried to get Dani out of the harness and safely away from the well, Danny began to undo the makeshift bandage around his neck and felt the sleeve stick to the wound, as he peeled it off with a painful sigh.

The loss of pressure made the infested blood pump freely again and Danny felt his head getting lighter as blood started to stream down his neck and color his red hoodie black.

“Danny!” Walker gasped and threw himself flat besides the well to grab him by the shoulders.

Danny stared up at the officer with glazed eyes, bluer than any sky and formed a small smile, “you can’t save me. I was marked since the day I walked into that place.”

Walker clenched his teeth, as he tried to pull him up now that Danny had let go of the rope, “no! Stop it, kid. I saw the monster die in the flames, it’s all over. Your trap worked; the curse is over!”

Danny listened to the water beneath him and could tell that it was time.

“Not yet, but maybe one day it will,” Danny whispered and saw the edge of darkness creep in on his sight, “I’ll choose to do my part. I’ll wish…I wish to protect you all from him.”

Walker cried out in shock, as Danny lifted his arm and fell out of the hoodie.

The young man’s face calm and without regret, as he fell down into the well’s dark void. Dani stood frozen beside the officer as the body hit the water, the echo running through them like thunder.

Walker’s mind was already planning how to get down there, when two red eyes opened besides the young man’s head.

Walker watch in fear, as those blue claws slowly wrapped around the human’s chest and began to drag him down.

Walker pulled out his phone to call for more backup, but to no use.

Neither Daniel James Fenton nor his remains were ever found.

 

In the darkness, two bodies breathed like one.

The young man’s heart had almost given up by the loss of blood and the monster that was once Vlad Masters, watched as the blood slowly colored the water around him.

The monster stood waist deep in the dark waters of his dead world and held the dying human’s face above the water, with a soft hand below his back.

Danny’s pale face remained unmoving, as Vlad dipped a finger into the young man’s wound and began to paint an old ancient symbol on his own naked chest.

Words even older than the symbol, spilled from Vlad’s lips and he closed his eyes as his own magic began to illuminate the blood in the water.

Pink light laid everything in an eerie hue and Vlad saw the other’s eyes light up with red behind the eyelids and dark lashes.

Vlad continued to chant even as he felt the power began to twist and divided in his immortal core. The power he had taken from the raven separated itself from his part and dripped from him and into the human.

One drop at a time.

If he succeeds, Vlad would never get to walk the earth again. Never escape the hunger that had driven him to seek out innocent souls. Never get to leave his own world and rule the humans like he had wished for all those years ago.

But it would all be worth it.

What was all the power in the world, compared to the touch of a loving kindred spirit? Even if he had to wait for Daniel to love him back, he was certain of his own victory.

Daniel would come to enjoy his company in time.

Vlad would make sure of that and sealed the fait by cutting the dying man’s throat with the silver knife.

"Croatoan."

Danny opened his red eyes and mouth with a small weak gasp and shook as the blood ran fully free from his neck. The calm monster by his side, gently took the shaking hand and pressed it against his own painted chest.

The symbol of Vlad’s chest lit up with a burning pink light and Vlad took it all in, as the symbol changed from pink to green.

The color spread through Danny’s hand and his blood soon lit up with an intense toxic green, before spreading its new type of ectoplasm to the water.

Vlad’s red eyes followed the change and caressed the lovely face, as the skin turned from pale to tanned and the white strand of hair spread to the rest of the black hair.

“You know I love you,” Vlad whispered and bowed down.

Danny stared ahead with his new green eyes and felt the light kiss pressed against his forehead.

A certain knowledge of all around him and the world above him, made Danny know he was no longer among the living an neither the dead.

He was to protect those he loved and those to come.

He was to guard the gate of the two worlds.

The cries of a young woman in distress let him know he needed to be elsewhere.

The pale body transformed, and Vlad watched with a small smile, as the beautiful boy was no more, and a pure white snow owl took off and up the well.

Vlad waited till the owl had left his world, before turning towards the work of building it up again from scratch. It would take some time, but he looked forward to having the opportunity to reform his world from new. Daniel would return.

Immortals could never stay away from others for too long.

 

Jazz Fenton took the first plane.

The flight would take an hour, but she didn’t care as long as she made it to Amity Park today.

The phone call had wakened her up and being fed up with work and rescheduled appointments, Jazz had taken the call, thinking it was one of her clients who needed a last-minute advice or emergency meeting.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for new therapy appointments today.”

“Miss. Jazz Fenton?” a masculine voice had asked, and the severity had her sit up and fully awake on the second.

“Uhmmm, yes?” she replied, already feeling something bad was up.

The voice continued without mercy, “Miss. Fenton, I’m afraid I have some bad news about your younger brother, Daniel Fenton. Have you two been in contact lately?”

Jazz had felt the blood leave her face. Danny.

“Y-yes, I talked to him just yesterday. He was fine and – please, is Danny in any trouble? Can I talk to him?”

There had been a short pause, only a few seconds of hesitation. But it was enough to have her breath stop.

“Miss. Fenton, your brother went missing a few hours ago after a fire accident. We would like you to answers some questions about your brother and help us find him.”

“Fire accident,” Jazz mumbled, as she stared out the plane window, “oh, Danny why didn’t you take my calls?”

Behind her, a young African American woman raised her green eyes. The words making her aware she might not be the only one on her way to Amity Park.

Her white shirt, cold jewelry and well-kept short curly hair, made it clear to everyone she should have been on first class, but what most people didn’t know about Valerie Gray, was that she wasn’t afraid to ruin a manicure or break a sweat.

Valerie would take monkey class if that was the fastest way to help a friend.

“Excuse me,” Valerie said and the redhead in front of her turned her head in surprise.

Despite the amber red page and aqua blue eyes, Valerie could still sense the resembles. She looked nothing like Danny, but something about the round head and pretty face made her nothing but certain.

“Are you Jazz Fenton? Danny’s sister?”

They left the plane together an hour later and shared a cap. Paying the driver extra, Valerie made sure the cap took the directly to the Green Palace – or at last till they were stopped by a police barricade.

Jazz stood out with wide eyes and fearful expression. Valerie followed her with a determinate demeanor, her eyes already seeking the mailboxes lined by the driveway.

She didn’t stop Jazz, as the woman ran towards the barricade and had two police officers stop her from entering.

Valerie used that distraction to move behind on of the cars and open the mailboxes after turn.

When she found the letter with the name ‘Jazz’ written in a girly cursive that made the corner of her lips twitch, she hurried to push it into her hand bag and stopped as the phone turned up under.

She took it as well for good measurement and sneaked back over to the screaming Jazz, who the two policemen had a hard time holding back.

“You don’t understand, my brother is up there!”

“Miss. This is a crime scene; we can’t let you in.”

“She’s with me,” Valerie informed, and the two policemen looked up at her, their faces changing as both of them recognized their chief’s daughter.

“We’ll call him in a second,” Wulf promised, and Valerie placed a supporting hand on Jazz’s shaking shoulder, while the officer called their chief over the radio.

“I don’t understand what’s happening,” Jazz said with worry turning her voice raw, “why did he come back here? What does he have to do with any of this? And why would he lie about visiting you when you’re arrive for the first time in years now!?”

Valerie had all the answers to these questions, but now wasn’t the time to give the distressed sister a letter from her brother, talking about monsters and curses.

She would wait till everything had died down and Jazz was in a less delicate state.

In one of the trees nearby, an owl watched in silence.

Followed them with calm green eyes, as the head of the town’s police department came down to greet the daughter, he was supposed to pick up had things been normal.

They hugged and Jazz was introduced. Something the older man said, made the young redhead cover her mouth with her hands and tears flowed down her cheeks.

The owl took off and soon reach the still smoldering ruin that had once been the Green Palace.

Firemen had spent a couple of hours trying to kill the fire and save as much of the mansion as possible. But despite their hard work, only a dark skeleton or scorched wood remained, and the place was forever changed.

By an ambulance, a little girl was wrapped in towels and fuzzed over by her parents.

None of them understanding or believing the story she was telling, just happy to have their only child back safely in their arms.

The medic pulled one of the parents aside to inform that the child had a strange parasite in her blood and would need a blood transfusion at the hospital.

Something that was encourage by the parents. They just wanted their daughter to be safe and sound.

A few feet from the happy trio, a blond officer in a trench coat and fedora, watch with a melancholic expression as they parents kissed their daughter for the tenth times.

Glad that the victim was saved and devastated, that he hadn’t been able to save the hero.

He had already explained how Danny had fallen down into the well, but none of them had been able to find the body and it would be hours before a team of specialist could get here and dive for it.

With all the streams of water beneath the hill, they might never find any trace of Daniel Fenton.

Finally reaching the hill and seeing the burned mansion for themselves, Jazz’s tears didn’t seem to reach, an end and Valerie’s worries was confirmed.

Walker saw them and walked over to his boss. As the station’s detective, he was obligated to ask the relative of the diseased and possible arsonist a few questions, but all he got was slap across the cheek from the angry Jazz Fenton.

The owl watched with a knot of pain forming in his small chest.

He wanted to tell them everything would be okay, but in this world, he had no voice. Only eyes to watch.

Eyes to watch those he had left behind try to get to an understanding and find out why one young man had done as he’d done.

His eyes were suddenly met by another pair and Valerie Gray stared at the snow owl standing out as pure snow in the old trees. The owl smiled and something in her eyes told him she knew.

“Maybe we can all talk this over down at the diner,” Valerie suggested, and Walker seemed grateful for the woman’s intuition and let her take hold of the shaking Jazz Fenton.

“Some coffee and a warm place to be would help.”

Jazz didn’t seem to like it but followed them back to town anyway. Valerie send the owl one last glance and smiled with a hand around the phone in her back.

The owl watched them leave. Knowing she had read the message he had written on the phones display.

‘You were the one that got away, Val.’

 

The Green Palace was never rebuilt.

For the first few decades, the village, soon town and soon to be small city, the town hall allowed the scorched ground to remain a ruin. Excuses was made and explanations of cost was brought up as the reason not to rebuilt anything.

The elderly of Amity park and their children knew why the ruin was not to be touched and people in their quiet mind was hoping for the curse to be over now that that crazy kid had burned down the hell house and saved the last victim.

The next generation knew better than to go up the hill, as Dani Thornwood didn’t keep her story to herself, but gladly shared it with anyone who wanted to hear a scary story in the school’s boiler room after dark.

The ruin had with the years been taken back by the growing forest and the village saw an explosive growth of grass and flowers fill the village, where there had been no hopes for it for years.

The great colonies of bats dwindled a few months after the mansion’s fall and the first summer in man’s memory graced the little northern town that year.

The ruin was now just a clearing surrounded by old trees, a silent place with a bumpy ground of moss and vines was the only testament that ever been there.

A few old beams and fungus infested rising from all the green like strange crops.

But the place’s history didn’t end there.

As the next generation grew up, many began to ask question as to why they weren’t allowed near the place and as the ones who still remembered was getting too old to be taken serious or long dead, the children grew up to adults.

The ones who stayed in Amity married new folk from outside town and with the growing population, the equal growing town soon looked to the hill for expansion.

And despite some of the elder’s warnings, the construction of an apartment building was put to work and the future began.

And so, an apartments complex stood new and ready for people in the place where the Green palace had once ruled. Most of the apartment had young couples and a few loners moving in, but one pair stood out as a trio.

A snow owl watched their moving truck and the small boy stepping out of the car.

The kid was clearly not happy to be there, but helping his parents move the first set of boxes, nonetheless.

The owl shuddered and pecked at its wing, before taking of.

The bird made a loop and turned to fly past a tree. But had anyone watched it, they would have been surprised to see it didn’t reappear on the other side of the tree’s trunk.

Entering the other world, the owl continued his flight above the trees and soon found a copy of the real-world apartment complex standing tall and menacing.

It would soon be dressed in some cheap trick lights or illusion to make it seem better than the one in the real world and the owl landed in front of the front door.

The white feathers falling of the bird like snow and reform into a young man in a green hoodie and old jeans.

His hair white and eyes a brilliant toxic green, the old cut on his throat invisible. He didn’t hesitate to enter the building and walk to the one apartment that would be the home of the lone family of the complex.

Feeling the presence of the Codger, the gatekeeper turned to the apartment’s staircase and found the monster, once known as Vlad Masters, kneeling beside a small door built under the stairs.

In the real world it was just a small storeroom. But in the other, it was now a gate.

“You’re planning on eating the boy.”

The Codger smiled and stood up, admiring his own handywork with a calm voice, “nothing get past you, now does it, Daniel?”

“I’m going to warn him,” Danny warned, and Vlad turned to him with knowing red eyes.

“You will try, but I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he teased and pulled the smaller male to his chest with a hand lifting Danny’s pale face to stare into his, “I have my ways to make a child stay.”

“We’ll see about that,” Danny scowled and moved to get out of his arms, but Vlad wasn’t letting him leave this easy.

Pressed up against the wall, Danny sighed by their bodies pressed together in a meeting of cold and hot. Vlad kissed his neck and Danny turned his head to allow him access.

He had tried to stay away at first, but you could only be alone for so long before the longing for company made him return.

Vlad had been patient and let him come and go as he pleased. Watch him leave when their differences had made Danny storm out of his world and then waited for the gatekeeper to grow tired of the isolation.

Danny had repeated this pattern for years, only the shortens of his retreat to the human world and their intimacy changing the way of their relationship.

Long nights in Vlad’s bed would always end with Danny condemning it all and fly back to the human world.

The days it took him to long for the others company getting fewer every time. Danny didn’t want the feelings between them, but neither could deny the need they shared.

Danny needed Vlad. Vlad needed him even more.

“I’ll fight you all the way,” Danny whispered, as Vlad spread his legs and bite into his neck, “you know I will.”

Vlad chuckled against the other’s pale neck and stared into his eyes with burning hunger, “you believe you can keep me caged down here in my dead world forever?”

Danny knew the monster would starve if he didn’t get the human’s soul, that the man he loved would always be the Codger, the child-eater, the curse that plagued this land.

He knew they would one day have to settle this and leave this world. That if he kept fighting Vlad and succeeded in helping the kid or kids to come, they would one day die, when Vlad’s power ran out and the curse would end.

“I give my life to it,” Danny whispered, and Vlad just smiled that smile of his.

Their shared doom and eternal fight sealed with a kiss.