AUTHOR'S NOTES: Hey guys. Miss me?
Now admittedly, this story DID take A LOT longer to write than I wanted it to, but hopefully, for those of you who I've kept waiting EXTREMELY unfairly, I hope this will turn out to be worth the wait. Personally, despite the length of the writing process, I for one am quite pleased with how things turned out.
Now, for those of you who HAVEN'T read my stories yet, well, you're no doubt going to have a lot of questions as to what, exactly, is going on here. Well, let me assure you that this all makes perfect sense, but only if you start at the beginning. So that said, here is my current list of stories that you need to get caught up with us...
Facing the Future
Strength in Numbers
Trial by Fire
Hearts and Minds
A Family Thing
Laws of Attraction
What She Wants
Well, that's my usual spiel. So without any further ado, please feel free to enjoy the show...
Danny Phantom: Two for One
"Scanning video feed, 'walkertest'."
At the chipper female voice's command a series of multiple screens popped up, profiling Walker's invasion of Amity Park several weeks ago. All the scenes played through at high speed, from Walker slamming Danny into the hood of a parked car to Danny pummeling Walker with his fists encased in ice.
"Scanning video feed, 'aragontest'."
Once more, another series of screens emerged, revealing video feeds of Prince Aragon's occupation of Amity Park not long after. Footage of that encounter was sparse, by comparison to the Walker footage. But it revealed several key moments…including the moment where Dora Mattingly turned Danny and Sam into dragons to fight a supercharged Aragon.
"I fail to see the point in going over these drone feeds again and again," the Maddie hologram declared, floating before the screens. "Surely, the master can't possibly consider the target to be any kind of threat by what THIS data indicates. I mean, look at him. Without his friends, he's nothing."
"That is hardly the point…!" a second Maddie hologram argued, appearing beside the first. "Honestly, were you just programmed yesterday?"
"You KNOW I was!" The first Maddie hologram responded, drawing a heavy sigh from the second.
"Master Vlad isn't worried about what THIS Danny Phantom is capable of," the second hologram explained, calling up an image of Danny before switching the screen to another image of an enraged Danny, with blazing green eyes, a green aura and hair like white flames. "It's THIS Danny Phantom that's the problem. This is the only record we have of him exhibiting this transformation, only two months ago. Beyond it, we know nothing…aside that it affords him remarkable surges in strength, speed and power."
"That's the purpose of reviewing these recordings. Until we can discover how this transformation is triggered and what its limits are…assuming it even HAS any…we can't determine how much of a threat he poses now."
"Oh, no no no no no, my dear…Entirely wrong attitude," a voice sounded from behind, causing the Maddie holograms to turn towards a pair of blood-red eyes lingering in the shadows before Vlad Plasmius stepped into view with his usual confident air. "While I admit that young Daniel's…upgrade…initially came as a most unexpected surprise in our last encounter, where you see a THREAT, I see an OPPORTUNITY. One that will see me turn this new ability to MY advantage."
"Unfortunately, the issue still remains of how this transformation is triggered," The second Maddie hologram reported. "The encounter with Walker yielded no pertinent data and the Aragon footage is…incomplete…at best. Most of the drones we dispatched stopped transmitting after he transformed the city and it took time to put new ones in place. What this means is, unfortunately, we are currently no closer to finding the missing element which causes this transformation to occur."
While the second hologram was speaking, however, Vlad viewed the footage on the monitors intently. And while the data didn't appear to reveal anything he didn't already know, he found his gaze focusing on the climax of each battle…the footage of Danny and Sam being helped break out of Walker's prison by the Fentons and the rest of Team Phantom…the footage of Jazz and Tucker grabbing Aragon's amulet while he was in dragon form so Danielle, Valerie and Wulf could cut it off. And at that moment, the words of the first Maddie hologram cut through his brain in a flash of light…
"…Without his friends, he's nothing…"
"Hmmm," Vlad mused with a sinister grin as he put the feeds on pause, watching the image of Danny and Sam covering Team Phantom's escape from Walker's prison and the image of Team Phantom standing over a de-powered and defeated Aragon. "What if the 'missing element' we're looking for…isn't something that's NOT there…but something that SHOULDN'T be?"
It was a brand new day in Amity Park as Tucker's former secretary, Tanya, found herself walking into City Hall with an entirely different agenda. Heading towards the Mayor's office, she couldn't help but feel a sense of anticipation at the events to come. But that eagerness was partially muffled at the sight of the sour-faced, elderly woman who sat behind what was once her desk.
"Do you have an appointment?" the new secretary asked sternly.
"I have an appointment for nine o'clock," Tanya replied simply.
"No one enters the Mayor's office without an appointment," the secretary noted, with no change in her expression.
"Well, then, it's a good thing I've got one now, isn't it?" Tanya answered, becoming slightly annoyed.
With that, the secretary simply motioned her hand to the door and Tanya walked past. But as she opened the door, she couldn't help but notice that the elderly woman never once took her eyes off her, all the while, holding the same emotionless expression.
"…Wow…," Tanya mouthed under her breath as she closed the door, not even turning back towards the office as she began to speak. "Okay, not to mark my old territory or anything, but we have GOT to talk to that agency about getting a new secretary down here. If you're going to be a servant of the people, you should look at least SOMEWHAT approachable. And you're not going to pull off that effect with that gargoyle perched outside."
As Tanya finally turned around, however, she noticed that Tucker was not the only one to hear her words. While Tucker remained seated behind his desk, Danny, Sam, Jazz and Valerie all sitting in a row in front of it.
"We're not even working together yet and ALREADY, you're making staffing choices behind my back?" Tanya remarked, half-jokingly.
"No!" Tucker protested before calming himself down. "No…it's just…this is our first official campaign meeting and I'm still kinda nervous about this…I just need all the emotional support I can get, okay?"
"Okay," Tanya said with a shrug before leafing through one of the file folders she was carrying with her. "But it sounds to me like you need some POLITICAL support…especially if THIS is how you're planning to start your campaign."
Pulling out a piece of paper, Tanya revealed Tucker's initial plan for a campaign poster. And it wasn't hard for everyone else to see what she was talking about. What they saw was a photograph of Tucker, in his Mayor clothes, seated on the shoulders of his robot, happily flashing peace signs with his hands. Danny and Sam, meanwhile, stood at the feet of the robot, neither of them looking particularly impressed. Sam was leaning against the robot's leg, rolling her eyes in annoyance, while Danny could only put his hand over his eyes and shake his head. And underneath the photo, in bold red letters, read the following…
CONTINUING AMITY PARK
TOWARDS A GLORIOUS ERA
OF VICTORY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
"What?" Tucker replied with a shrug while Danny and the others could only groan and shake their heads.
"This is what it was like to work with him during your Student Council election last year, wasn't it?" Tanya inquired with a deadpan expression.
"Oh yah," Danny answered while Sam simply nodded.
"Sir, the point of a campaign is for people to see you as a serious candidate," Tanya answered. "Does an image like THIS scream 'Serious Candidate', to you?"
"Well, it's just a prototype. It's going to get cleaned up," Tucker protested, tossing a dirty look in Danny and Sam's direction. "For one thing, THEY won't be in it."
"That's hardly the point," Tanya argued. "Look, you hired me because you wanted my help to convince people to vote for you. If this is the platform you're going to base your campaign on…I'm pretty sure I wouldn't even be able to convince your PARENTS to vote for you."
"Aw, come on, Tanya. I put a lot of work into that," Tucker continued to object. "There has to be SOMETHING there worth salvaging."
"Well, I…DO like the 'Vote Tucker Foley' part," Tanya responded with a shrug as she looked over the page one more time.
"Oh yeah, we thought THAT part was just super," Sam noted sarcastically, while Danny added a mocking "thumbs up", much to Tucker's annoyance.
"Okay, listen. No one is saying you can't campaign about the things you care about," Tanya remarked, cutting off the conversation as she noticed Tucker beginning to feel a little dejected. "But it's not enough for just YOU to care about something. You have to make THEM care. You have to show everyone how it's going to improve their homes, their jobs, their lives. You have to show them that this is something worth doing and that YOU'RE the guy who can make it happen. Do you get what I'm saying?"
"Yeah…yeah, I think I do," Tucker answered, conceding Tanya's point.
"Okay," Tanya replied, rummaging through her files again. "Now I've got a meeting in a little while and it's too early to be focusing on posters right now, anyway. So we'll table this for now and come back to it later. There are a couple of other things we need to run through while I'm here. So let's focus on those for right now."
"Oof! That was NOT easy," Tucker groaned, shaking his head as he walked down the street with Danny and the others to get some fresh air after the meeting.
"Well Tucker, this is why you hired her for your campaign, remember?" Sam responded, walking hand-in-hand with Danny. "You KNEW she wasn't going to pull any punches and you knew that was EXACTLY what you needed if you were going to win."
"Yeah, I get it," Tucker agreed with a heavy sigh. "But if that's a sign of what the next two months are gonna be like, I'd almost rather be in the middle of a ghost att-AAAAAAACK!"
Tucker's thought was cut off into a flailing scream as a laser blast slammed into the street, sending him flying backward, along with Danny and Sam. As Danny and Sam sat up while Tucker struggled to get his bearings, the entire group looked up to see Skulker rocketing overhead in his new SkulkTech armor, a sinister grin across his face.
"I'm guessing this one's on ME, right?" Tucker asked dryly.
Danny and Sam merely answered by nodding their heads in unison, both tossing the same unimpressed frown in Tucker's direction. But a moment later, they were both flipping to their feet, transforming into their ghost forms as Valerie triggered her armor.
"This better be good, Skulker!" Danny shouted in aggravation.
"What COULD be better?" Skulker responded smugly. "Finally getting an opportunity to test out all the gifts this upgraded armor has given me? Even after weeks, I still don't know what half these devices do…"
"…For example, it was only very recently that I discovered…this."
At that moment, Skulker threw his arm outward and his armored hand instantly flew off at the wrist, bursting towards Danny and the others. But no one could have predicted what came next, as the jet-powered hand weaved around every one else until it reached Danny, grabbing him by his uniform. And Danny could do nothing more than let out a confused yelp as Skulker's hand lifted him into the sky and rocketed him off towards the horizon.
"Danny?!" Jazz exclaimed, immediately taking off on foot to follow.
But Skulker had other ideas as compartments popped open from his shoulders, sending a volley of small missiles firing in Jazz's direction. Gasping in shock, Sam immediately threw herself between Jazz and the coming onslaught, throwing out a stone wall of ghost ray energy for Skulkers rockets to slam into, successfully protecting them both.
"Oooooo…THAT was a no-no," Sam hissed, glaring up at Skulker through her transparent construct.
Skulker, meanwhile, merely smirked at his quarry below, showing that he was quite prepared to defend himself as his mechanical tentacles emerged from his back, having replaced the ones Sam destroyed in their last encounter. Valerie, however, was by no means intimidated as she produced her arm cannon and fired in Skulker's direction. But Skulker easily dodged her attack and flew off, laughing down the street, with Sam, Tucker and Valerie in hot pursuit.
At the same time, Danny was still flailing helplessly in the grip of Skulker's rocket hand, being carried through the sky to parts unknown. But just then, Skulker's hand released its grip, dropping Danny to the ground and sending him bouncing along the street as it continued on its way.
"O…kay…," Danny uttered in a daze as he struggled to his feet, dusting himself off and trying to get his bearings. "Not quite sure what THAT was in aid of."
"Oh, I don't know," an all-too familiar voice caught Danny's attention as he whirled around to see Vlad Plasmius standing half a block away. "I'd say it aided ME quite splendidly."
"You…so you've got Skulker in your back pocket again," Danny worked out as he took a defensive stance, preparing for the battle he was sure was coming. "What do you want from me THIS time, Plasmius?"
"Typical teenage arrogance…once again, you think it's all about you," Vlad declared smugly. "I didn't arrange this meeting because I want ANYTHING from YOU…"
Before Danny could figure out the meaning behind Vlad's cryptic announcement, the two Maddie holograms in Vlad's new secret lab sent out an automated signal to a drone that was flying overhead. A moment later, the drone released its payload of a familiar small black cube which dropped at Danny's feet. And once again, before Danny could react, he found himself boxed in as the cube grew around him and encased him again. What happened next was purely academic as a surge of electricity ripped through Danny's body, undoing his transformation and rendering him unconscious. But as Danny began to fade, the final words he heard Vlad speak as he strode towards him made him even more confused.
"…What I want…is to see the REAL Danny Phantom."
With that, Vlad hoisted the cube up onto his shoulder and prepared to take his leave. But at that moment, Jazz came running onto the scene.
"Danny!" she shouted, getting Vlad's attention.
"Well…I see Skulker didn't provide the total distraction I was hoping for," Vlad remarked, his free hand blazing with ecto-energy. "Not that it matters. You're hardly in any position to stop what's about to happen now, my dear."
Before Jazz could respond, Vlad threw out his hand, creating a blinding flash of light with his ecto-energy. By the time Jazz's eyes adjusted and she could see again, both Vlad and Danny were long gone.
"Oh, this is bad. This is very, very bad," Jazz uttered worriedly, her heart racing in dread as she ran off to find the others.
Farther away and getting farther by the second, the battle with Skulker continued to rage as Sam and Valerie kept after him, with Tucker trying to keep up as best he could. Sam and Valerie were letting loose with everything they had. But Skulker continued to deftly dodge or counter every single one of Valerie's projectile attacks, while also managing to stay just out of reach of Sam's Ghost Ray Constructs, making them both that much angrier. At the same time, Tucker was having his own frustrations as all of his attempts to hack into Skulker's armor and shut him down were being met with failure.
"Aw, come on! What's the deal! This was a piece of cake the last time!" Tucker complained as he rapped repeatedly on the screen of his tablet, not realizing that the cause of his success in their last encounter was because Technus had allowed him access.
"Oh, that's it! Time for the big guns!" Valerie shouted as half a dozen compartments burst open on her rocket sled, sending a barrage of missiles in Skulker's direction. "No way he can dodge all THIS!"
Unfortunately for Valerie, he didn't have to. Pressing a button inside a compartment on his arm that was labeled, "Magno-Repulsors", Skulker sent an explosion of repelling magnetic energy ripping out from his armor. The blast scrambled the targeting sensors of Valerie's missiles, sending the entire salvo rocketing right backs towards her.
"Look out!" Sam exclaimed as she flew in front of Valerie, throwing out her arm and sending a wave of Ghostly Flame ripping through the air.
Sam's flames were lucky enough to shield them both from Valerie's missiles, causing them to explode on impact. But it also provided the distraction Skulker needed as a bombardment of his own missiles came bursting through the smoke kicked up from the explosions, bearing down on Sam and Valerie before either one of them even had a chance to blink.
"No!" Tucker cried out helplessly.
Sam and Valerie could only gasp in shock, having no time to react to Skulker's assault. But just then, a bolt of Electrified Ghost Ray energy shot through the air, shorting out Skulker's missiles and causing them to fall harmlessly to the ground.
"What?!" Skulker shouted angrily. But at that instant, a second Electrified Ghost Ray blast struck him hard in the chest, overloading his armor and dropping him out of the sky as well.
Instantly, Sam and the others darted their eyes over in the direction the shots had come. What greeted their eyes was the smoking barrel of an old west six-shooter, the firm jaw, the spiked back blue hair and the leather top coat of the mysterious "G", who was off to the side, sitting on his motorcycle.
"You?" Sam exclaimed, recognizing him immediately.
"You know him?" Tucker blurted out in surprise.
"Not really. He's the guy who bailed out Danielle at her school a few weeks back," Sam answered, not taking her eyes of their enigmatic rescuer. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same about you," G answered firmly. "I mean, come on. You guys have been doing this for a while now. You're gonna tell me you don't know a distraction when you see one?"
While everyone else was standing dumbfounded, trying to make sense of G's statement, Skulker was already shaking off the effects of G's attack, forcing himself upright and producing a laser cannon from a compartment in his wrist as he struggled to lift his arm. But G was clearly quicker on the draw, whirling around and hitting Skulker with another Electrified Ghost Ray Blast from his gun.
But as the electrical jolt ripped through Skulker's armor, it not only stunned Skulker, himself, it sent a power surge through his armor's circuitry, spontaneously activating his jet pack. And Skulker could only cry out helplessly as he was sent blasting off to parts unknown.
"He's getting away!" Valerie exclaimed, turning around to give chase. But her pursuit was halted as G fired another Ghost Ray blast directly in front of her.
"You want a piece of me?!" Valerie shouted angrily, spiraling back towards G and preparing to fire with her own arsenal.
"What did I just say?!" G hollered back at her. "Know the fight! HE'S not the one you want! He was just supposed to make you THINK that he was! Think about it! The running, the playing defense, the keeping you just at arm's length…It was all meant to keep you focused completely ON HIM!"
"But…if he's the distraction…what's REALLY going on?" Sam asked.
"I don't know! But am I the only one who's noticed that you seem to be down a man?!" G responded harshly, leading Sam, Tucker and Valerie to only one conclusion.
"DANNY!" they all blurted out together.
"Guys!" Jazz's voice sounded off behind them as everyone turned to see her stumbling up the street, completely out of breath. "Danny…Trouble…Taken…Vlad…!"
"VLAD!" Sam shouted as she and the others flew past Jazz in the direction she came. "Jazz, quick! Where did you see them last?!"
"Unh…I'm sorry…but…would someone mind…giving me a lift…?" Jazz panted, bracing herself on her knees as she tried desperately to catch her breath. "…I'm not doing that again…"
The spot where Danny was taken was just as empty as when Jazz had left it, the moment everyone arrived. Frantically, eyes darted everywhere, searching for any clues as to what direction he might have been taken in. But sadly, it looked as though Vlad had made a clean getaway.
"Well, this is an older neighborhood. No security cameras," Tucker observed as he scanned the structure of each surrounding building. "But even if there were, the flash Vlad used to blind Jazz could have just as easily knocked them out of whack, too."
"Well, we can't just give up! We've got to find him!" Valerie responded urgently.
"Oh, please don't say this was my fault…," Jazz muttered, worriedly, under her breath, "If we'd just gone and told him…"
"Told him what?" Sam asked, catching Jazz off guard as she turned around to see that they were standing right next to each other.
"Uh…well…," Jazz stammered, fumbling nervously with her fingers. "You, uh…you know that fight we had with Walker a couple of months back? Well…Mom and Dad and I…we found out how he got to earth. Turns out…he had this, uh…portable…ghost portal…that we're pretty sure had been made by…well…Vlad…"
"What?!" Sam yelled in shock. "You knew he was lurking around out there and you didn't think this was worth mentioning!"
"Mention WHAT?! We didn't KNOW anything!" Jazz argued defensively. "And we CERTAINLY didn't imagine THIS! We just didn't want to freak Danny out if it turned out to be nothing!"
"Really?! How's that working out right now?!" Sam shouted angrily.
"Alright, break it up! We don't have time for this!" Tucker interrupted, throwing a "break clean" hand chop in between Sam and Jazz. "Sam, we already know you and Danny have got some weird connection that lets you track each other. Do you think you can do that now?"
"We're not done!" Sam scowled at Jazz with an accusing finger.
With that, Sam turned away and tried to center herself so she could concentrate on trying to sense Danny's location. But while Sam was trying to calm herself, Jazz could only hang her head, her emotions a mixture of panic and regret.
Danny groaned as he slowly came to, trying to shake himself out of his daze. But as he became more aware of his surroundings, he soon found himself preferring the bliss of unconsciousness. Looking around, he found himself clamped down to a metal table in what had become an all-too familiar looking lab, with Vlad standing triumphantly beside him and two Maddie Holograms standing dutifully off to the side.
"Sleep well?" Vlad mocked, unable to keep from smirking at Danny's attempts to free himself.
"What do you want THIS time, Plasmius?!" Danny demanded, despite being unable to break free, or transform.
"From YOU? Nothing," Vlad answered plainly. "I already told you, I want to see the REAL Danny Phantom."
"What are you talking about?" Danny argued, still trying to wriggle himself free.
"Oh please, Daniel, it's far too late to try and play dumb," Vlad responded. "Certainly not after our last encounter those short months ago, when you introduced me to…HIM."
With a simple nod, Vlad signaled to the Maddie Holograms to activate a nearby monitor. And when the image appeared onscreen, Danny's eyes grew wider then they ever had before. What he saw was himself, in the augmented state, surrounded by the rubble of Vlad's lab from months ago. But the blazing eyes, green spectral aura and deathly glare all paled in comparison to the sight of his hair, which had turned to white flames…just like Dark Danny. And at that moment, Danny's breathing was reduced to ragged gasps.
"You've never seen yourself in this state, have you? This must be something very new," Vlad observed taking note of Danny's terrified reaction. "When I think of how long I was trying to bring you around to my way of thinking. How little did I know that all that time, a little me was inside of you all along."
"I mean, just LOOK at him," Vlad announced in awe, marveling up at the screen. "Raw power…pure instinct…simply taking whatever he wants and allowing nothing to stand in his way. Now THIS is a Danny Phantom I can get behind…and MANIPULATE."
"…no…," Danny could only utter in fright, completely deaf to Vlad's words as his eyes remained glued to the screen.
"At first I thought that perhaps rage was the catalyst that spurred this transformation, but that was far too simple an explanation. After all, if all it took was making an emotionally unstable adolescent boy angry, we would have seen THIS a long time ago," Vlad continued. "So the only other explanation that made any sense was to put you in a situation that was so desperate…so dire…that HE would have no choice but to claw his way out."
"But if my theory was correct, then how best to prove it?" Vlad went on. "My initial attempt was manipulating Walker into attacking Amity Park with all of his guards, but his forces proved to be insufficient. I then aimed higher, hoping that Aragon, given sufficient power through the Scepter of Fey, would be enough to incite you. But I was, again, frustrated by failure."
"It was only recently, I began to speculate that the answer eluded me because of one simple reason," Vlad explained. "In every situation, you had your friends and family there to help you, keeping you calm and giving you a sense of control. So the only logical thing to do was to take them out of the equation. A task Skulker was aptly suited to perform."
"So now…it's just YOU…and ME," Vlad concluded, looking Danny square in the eyes before flashing a familiar metallic band in front of his face, one of the dream bands he constructed from Nocturne's dream helmets. "And with this handy dandy little device…I'm sure you remember it…we're going to see just how much mental stress you can endure before your…'better half'…decides to make an appearance."
"I don't know about you…but I'm VERY excited to witness the results."
"Vlad…don't…you have to listen to me!" Danny blurted out, his voice rising to a full-blown panic. "You can't do this!"
"'Do it'? I see you're still a little slow to pick up, Daniel," Vlad replied in amusement as the entire lab began to disappear into a dark mist, along with himself. "It's already being done."
"What?! Vlad, wait!" Danny shouted as he realized he was already trapped in a dream state. "You have to stop this! You don't know what you're doing! You don't know what he's capable of! VLAAAAAAD!"
Out in the waking world, Danny was still strapped to a metal table in Vlad's lab, unconscious, but squirming and groaning uncomfortably. Vlad, meanwhile, simply stood over him, a grin of sinister anticipation crossing his face as he uttered two simple, yet utterly dreadful, words to the Maddie Holograms…
Back on the streets of Amity Park, Sam was still concentrating her hardest to locate any sense of Danny, while the others remained gathered around in concern. But with each passing moment, her chances of locating him were looking increasingly grim. But just then, Sam's eyes instantly popped open.
"That way!" she exclaimed, pointing south before flying off at top speed.
"Wait, hold up!" Valerie shouted after her, taking off on her rocket sled.
"Hey!" Tucker shouted after them both as he and Jazz were left standing on the curb. "Oh, that's great! That's JUST great! NOW what do we do?!"
Just then, the sharp roar of an engine cut through the air, causing Tucker and Jazz to whirl around just as a pair of motorcycle helmets were flung into their hands. Looking across the street, they saw G waiting for them on his motorcycle, which was now mysteriously outfitted with a sidecar that was nowhere to be seen before.
"You coming?" G called over, indicating that he had no intention of waiting around forever.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Tucker headed for G's motorcycle, intent on following Sam and Valerie. But before he got more than two steps, he felt Jazz's hand on his shoulder, causing him to turn towards her worried expression.
"Tucker, seriously," she uttered the guilt in her voice clearly apparent. "On a scale of one to 10…how bad did I just screw up?"
"Assuming we get Danny back? Mm…I'd give it about a 4.5," Tucker replied with a shrug before looking at his watch. "Come on, you know we've screwed up A LOT worse than this. Like if we don't get back here by 4:00 for my next appointment with Tanya…I don't even want to THINK about how bad I'm gonna hear it from HER."
With that, Tucker trotted off to G's bike to begin the chase. Jazz, at first, wasn't quite sure what to make of Tucker's answer. On the surface, it seemed flip and dismissive, not giving the situation the seriousness it deserved. On the other hand, if Tucker had enough confidence in their track record against Vlad to make jokes, Jazz should at least show as much faith in their chances to rescue Danny. So she slipped the helmet on over her head and ran towards the motorcycle.
The bustle of the Amity Park Police Station could be heard, even from behind the closed doors, as Tanya sat, cross-legged, across the empty desk of the Police Chief, Arnold Davis. Calmly and patiently waiting for her meeting with him to start, she continued glancing around the room, her eyes finally settling on the Chief's name, stamped across the office plaque on his desk.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Davis announced, finally walking into the office and closing the door behind him. "Being Chief of Police keeps you pretty busy after all. Not much time to indulge meetings on a whim."
"Not a problem. Someone was kind enough to bring me a cup of coffee while I was waiting," Tanya replied, ignoring the condescension she detected in Davis' voice as she revealed the coffee cup and platter in her hands.
"So what can I do for you, Miss…?" Davis began to ask.
"You can just call me Tanya," Tanya answered. "And mostly I'm just here to confirm a rumor I've heard. Word is that you're planning to announce your retirement at the end of the week."
"Even if I was…and that's not an admission," Davis replied curtly, "What business is that of yours?"
"To be honest, none whatsoever," Tanya responded with a shrug. "But if you don't mind, I hope you'll allow me a moment to explain to you why I think that would be a bad idea."
"Oh really?" Davis mocked, with a hollow chuckle. "Well then, by all means. Why not let someone who has absolutely NO experience in law enforcement explain to ME why it would be a mistake to allow a decorated Chief of Police to decide when would be the best time for HIM to retire."
So far, Davis had been arrogant and dismissive throughout the entire conversation, making it fairly clear how little anything Tanya had to say meant to him. Tanya, however, remained unmoved, maintaining her calm as she looked him straight in the eyes and offered up her answer, simple and direct…
"Because Tucker Foley is going to win this election in two months and you're not."
For the first time since he walked into the meeting, Davis appeared to have finally been caught off guard, looking at Tanya with a slightly wide-eyed hint of surprise. Tanya, meanwhile, showed no change in her expression until she paused to take a sip of her coffee and a sour look crossed her face.
"Uuch…You know, you guys REALLY need to clean your coffee machines," she noted, setting the cup and platter off to the side before turning her attention back to Davis. "Seriously, though, I've seen the moves you've been making over the last week since the election was called. I know you've been putting feelers out there…looking for endorsements, sponsors…I'm pretty sure you're planning to work your election bid into your retirement announcement. But I'm here to tell you right now it's not going to get you anywhere."
"Don't get me wrong. From what I've seen since I started working at City Hall, I think you're been an incredible Police Chief. I think your name recognition would definitely net you some early momentum in the campaign," Tanya went on. "But the qualities that make you more than capable of being Chief of Police aren't going to transfer over to the Mayor's Office. And it won't take long for the voters to realize that."
"At least I'm a GROWN UP," Davis argued defensively. "Of all the ridiculous…a 15-year-old running this town? It's like a bad sit-com."
"Well, if being legal age is the only measuring stick a mayor should be held to, then we're REALLY in trouble," Tanya debated.
"You have NO idea," Davis muttered, his aggravation clearly apparent. "As a Chief of Police, I'm a laughing stock. First that Vlad nut and now some snot-nosed kid running things…? Do you have any idea how humiliating it is when I'm meeting with other Police Chiefs, listening to them talking and snickering behind my back?"
"And you think those voices are going to be silenced by letting just ANYONE get the job?" Tanya shot back. "Have you SEEN the list of people that have signed on since the election was called? This campaign is ALREADY turning into a three-ring circus. Every clown in a bad suit is crawling out of the woodwork because they're all thinking the exact same thing you're thinking…that this is going to be an easy win."
"Have you honestly taken a look at some of the people who want to run in this thing?" Tanya went on, "We've got a guy who wants to be mayor because he thinks this town has to SECEDE FROM THE UNION. Or what about Richard Townsend, Gwendolyn Reynolds' little 'Society Page' find? Could you picture him and all his 'Trust Fund Friends' buying his way to a win and then holding Town Meetings from his Yacht Club? What do you think your peers are going to say THEN, when they're seeing THAT image in the paper?"
"Look…everyone else might think you're laughable. Me? I think you've been PHENOMENAL," Tanya continued, taking a moment to let her passions subside and return to a calm state. "You, the Police Department, the Fire Department, the hospitals, the EMTs, the City Council…you all held this city together with scotch tape and binder twine while that idiot, Masters, tried to turn it into his own personal shrine to himself. Just IMAGINE what you would be capable of if you had someone in the Mayor's Office who could actually DO the job. Well, you've got that, HERE…NOW. Are you REALLY just going to turn your back on that?"
"…Look, I get why you came here," Davis responded, the tone in his voice showing that Tanya's words had at least taken SOME effect, "But you have to understand, the Amity Park PD doesn't vote as a single mind. Even IF you convinced me to endorse your guy and even IF I offered it, that doesn't mean that anyone ELSE in the Department will."
"All he needs is ONE high-profile guy…ONE guy, that's all…who's willing to stand in front of everyone and say that they're going to stick with him…that they're not going to give up on him," Tanya answered before rising from her seat in preparing to leave. "I'm just asking you to think about it, that's all."
"Hey," Davis called over, stopping Tanya as she reached the door. "Why are YOU sticking with him? What's in it for you?"
Tanya didn't respond at first, her back still to Davis as her hand was just inches from the doorknob. But as she finally turned to answer him, Davis noticed a confident smile coming across her face.
"He's one of the good guys, Chief," She answered as she opened the door. "But you put the right people behind him…and you watch him be GREAT…"
"…THAT'S what's in it for me."
With that, Tanya turned back around and walked out of the office. And as she closed the door behind her, Chief of Police, Arnold Davis, found himself giving their meeting far more consideration that he originally thought he was going to, before he walked in.
Elsewhere, Danny was still strapped down to a table in Vlad's lab, being subjected to the endless nightmares being fed to him through the Dream Band Vlad had placed on him. While Danny groaned and fidgeted uncomfortably, Vlad had no way of knowing what he was seeing in his dreams. But as he eyed Danny's reactions intently, with the Maddie Holograms observing vital readings, such minor thoughts could not have possibly been of any less concern to him.
"Subject's stress levels are increasing strongly, Love Muffin," the first Hologram reported.
"Excellent. Keep the pressure on," Vlad responded before leaning in close to Danny. "Come on, show yourself. I know you're in there somewhere."
"…dream…it's just a dream…just a…AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!" Danny could be heard murmuring sleepily before his eyes snapped open and he began screaming uncontrollably.
"Subject's stressed levels and heart rate have spiked dangerously, Pure Heart," the second Hologram announced over Danny's cries. "Suggest terminating the experiment."
"No! Keep going!" Vlad shouted back, feeling that Danny's reaction had to mean some kind of breakthrough. "We're close! I can FEEL it!"
Danny's screams could continue on for several more second that felt like an eternity. But then, is suddenly and mysteriously as he'd started, Danny stopped yelling and closed his eyes once again.
"Report!" Vlad demanded, whirling around to the Maddie Holograms. "What happened?!"
"Unknown, Sugar Snap. Experiment is still in progress, but Subject's stress levels and vitals have all mysteriously returned to a state of equilibrium," The first Maddie Hologram replied, causing Vlad to turn back towards Danny with a hint of awe.
"This could BE something," he uttered, feeling his anticipation building. "Continue monitoring."
"VLAD, STOP IT!" Danny cried out, his eyes shut tight and his hands over his ears, trying desperately to shut out the sensory barrage of horrors Vlad was bombarding him with.
Just then, he noticed that all the noises and voices had vanished. Only silence remained. Daring to open one eye, Danny then noticed that the swirling chaos that had surrounded him had disappeared as well. And he was now standing in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a dense black fog.
"Wh…where AM I?" Danny thought out loud, looking around in confusion.
"Well, well, well," an eerie, yet somehow, strangely familiar, voice sounded off from behind him. "Look who's decided to go out slumming."
"Who said that?!" Danny called out into the darkness as he whirled around in the direction the voice had come. "Who's there?!"
"You don't recognize me," the voice remarked, coming from behind Danny once again. "That might actually have hurt my feelings if I hadn't stopped being surprised at this point."
"What are you talking about? Who ARE you?!" Danny protested as his eyes darted in all directions, looking for any sign of his mysterious stalker. Just then, a pair of glowing green eyes cut through the darkness, staring straight into Danny's eyes and seeming to seeming to look right into his soul.
"Did you think it was just a coincidence?" The voice replied mockingly. "All those close calls and last minute saves. When your Ghostly Wail came to you when it did, did you really think YOU did that?"
"What…?" Danny asked, completely bewildered.
"How about when you fired a Ghost Ray for the first time…or when your freezing powers surfaced…powers you never even imagined you had?" the voice continued as the eyes began to move in closer. "Who do you think GAVE those to you?"
"Wait…what…?" Danny blurted out, still confused.
"Or how about the time you tried to throw it all away?!" the voice rose to a shout as the eyes inched ever closer. "After that, when your enemies were about to blast you to smithereens, who do you think came to your rescue? Who do you think was the reason you're even standing here right now?"
"Wait a minute…" Danny murmured, beginning to put the pieces together inside his mind.
"And even then, did you ever once thank me for it? No," the voice went on with a tone of contempt as a glowing green form began to surround its eyes. "In fact, even after all this time, it never even occurred to you to ask the question…"
"…what REALLY happens when you combine a human with a GHOST?"
At that moment, the ghostly figure emerged from the gloom. And as the sight of the glowing green blob of ectoplasm, shaped exactly like Danny Phantom, met his gaze, Danny realized immediately at that moment, just who it was he was facing.
"You…" Danny uttered under his breath, his eyes widening in shock. "It's you…"
"Have I got your attention, yet?" Danny's ghost half asked angrily.
"But…what's going on?" Danny thought out loud, still somewhat perplexed. "I don't get it."
"If your family was here, they'd probably say something lame, like, 'The sum total of your memories and experiences may have been combined with the ghostly properties of your ecto-contamination to create an independent consciousness'," Ghost Danny explained. "But I think we both know the truth is so much simpler than that. I'm just everything you keep buried…everything you want to hide from the world…that is, until you need to use it for something."
"So…all my power upgrades…that other transformation…that was all you?" Danny deduced, becoming more astounded by the moment.
"All those moments when you weakened or didn't pay attention…all those times I was able to claw my way out," Ghost Danny replied. "Of course, you always just managed to shove me back down again."
"I don't believe it…Vlad was right," Danny whispered in amazement before shaking his head and remembering where he was. "But we don't have time for this now. Vlad's got us trapped in this freaky dream world. We've got to figure out a way to wake up."
"And what a surprise, here you are asking for my help because it's CONVENIENT," Ghost Danny complained. "And THEN what?"
"Huh?" Danny asked, his confusion returning.
"I said, 'THEN-WHAT'?" Ghost Danny answered angrily. "Say you win. You wake up and get to go back to your nice, happy little life and what happens to ME? I get to stay here, trapped in this dark little corner in the back of your head…until you FEEL like letting me out?"
"Did you EVER think of me as anything more than just a TOOL for you to use…or a TOY for you play with?" Ghost Danny continued, his rage growing by the second. "You know, that is until I didn't make your life EASIER anymore. And what did you do THEN? You just tried to throw me away like trash…like I never meant ANYTHING!"
"Well, the way I see it," Ghost Danny concluded, his eyes glowing brighter and his fists blazing with ecto-energy as he gazed into Danny's eyes, "the only dead weight that needs to get dropped around here…is YOU!"
"WHOA!" Danny just barely jumping out of the way as Ghost Danny launched a full power Ghost Ray blast in his direction. "What was THAT about?!"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm running the show NOW! I think I've proved that I can do the job A LOT better than YOU can," Ghost Danny announced before launching another pair of Ghost Rays in Danny's direction.
Out in the waking world, Vlad's eyes widened in welcome surprise as Danny spontaneously transformed into his ghost form. But a second later, a second GREEN transformation ring surrounded Danny's body, slowly splitting apart to reveal Danny's second transformation underneath.
"Yes," Vlad whispered triumphantly as his voice rose to a yell. "It's working…IT'S WORKING!"
Back inside Danny's mind, all Danny could do was run as his ghost half continued attacking him with endless streams of Ghost Ray energy. While Danny had managed to stay ahead of Ghost Danny's attacks, he knew, deep down that he was only delaying the inevitable.
"This is nuts! How am I supposed to fight back if HE'S the one with all the super powers?!" Danny complained over the sounds of the onslaught before a light bulb suddenly went off in his head. "Wait a minute…if this is a dream world…then maybe I can…WHOA!"
Unfortunately, Danny didn't get to finish this thought as he tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his face. And sensing victory just seconds away, Ghost Danny could only laugh wildly.
"Try and dodge THIS!" he cackled, putting everything he had into his final attack, intent on blasting Danny to atoms.
"Pleaseletmeberightaboutthispleaseletmeberightaboutthispleaseletmeberightaboutthis…," Danny uttered to himself as he shut his eyes tight.
Having no time to test his idea out, Danny could only throw out his hands, concentrating as hard as he could to make something happen. And luckily for Danny, something did. Because before Ghost Danny's blast could reach him, it struck a glowing force field that mysteriously appeared around Danny and exploded harmlessly into nothing.
"WHAT?!" Ghost Danny shouted in shock and anger.
"Huh…cool. You'd almost think I actually KNEW what I was doing," Danny remarked in relief before concentrating again. And within seconds, his body burst into a blinding light, only to have him emerge seconds later, wearing the armor of GHOST BOY, his avatar from the video game, "Doomed".
"Okay," he announced, producing two laser pistols as he responded to Ghost Danny's scowling face with a confident smirk. "NOW, we've got us a party."
Out in the waking world, Sam and the others were still charging to Danny's rescue. It didn't take long for Jazz, Tucker and G to catch up to Sam and Valerie's head start. But Sam was far too focused on holding on to Danny's location that she was hardly flying at her top speed.
"We've got to be getting close," she announced to the others. "I'm starting to pick up on what Danny's feeling now."
"Is he okay? He's not in danger, is he?" Tucker called back over the roar of G's motorcycle.
"I can't tell. It's still kind of fuzzy," Sam answered, "It…almost feels like he's in the middle of a fight."
"Then we'd better not chance it! Let's floor it, people!" Valerie responded, picking up speed along with the others.
"Excuse me," Jazz inquired, from behind G, getting his attention by gently tapping on his shoulder. "I know we haven't been formally introduced or anything, but I'm just curious. That whole, 'being able to feel each other' thing that they can do…do you know, exactly, how they're doing that?"
"I'm not really sure. It isn't an ability I possess," G answered simply as they rode on. "But if it's what I think it is…even if I DID have that ability, I'm not sure I could explain it in a way that would make any sense to you."
Inside Vlad's lab, Vlad continued eagerly awaiting the results of his experiment. Danny was still in a state of mid-morph towards his altered form, but the green rings that signaled the transformation seemed to be almost immobilized, splitting further apart, then coming closer together.
"Secondary transformation appears to be in a state of flux, my one and only," one of the two Maddie Holograms reported, as they both continued monitoring Danny's readings intently. "Transformation at 53 percent…55 percent…48 percent…52 percent…"
"It would appear young Daniel is still doing everything he can to stave off the change," Vlad observed before a confident smirk crossed his face. "But then, how much longer can he hold out? He's only human."
Inside Danny's mind, the battle with his ghost half was well underway, as both sides continued trading blasts back and forth, with neither giving an inch. Using his dream state to his advantage may have given Danny the tools he needed to fight back, but it still didn't offer him a clear advantage. Only the one who had the stronger will was going to emerge victorious in this contest.
"Would you knock it off, already?!" Danny shouted after dodging a pair of Ghost Danny's blasts while tossing a volley of his own. "We don't have time for this!"
"Stop saying 'we'!" Ghost Danny argued, pressing his attack. "It's not going to be 'we' for much longer!"
"Come on, who are you kidding?!" Danny replied, still trying to talk his way out of the situation as the fight went on. "We both know you don't want this!"
"Stop talking like you know me! You don't know anything about me!" Ghost Danny hollered, blasting Danny's laser pistols out of his hands.
Another pair of Ghost Rays sent Danny flying through the air and landing flat on his back. Sensing his victory, Ghost Danny charged in for the final blow. But Danny Fenton wouldn't be undone quite so easily as Ghost Danny was stopped in his tracks by another blinding flash of light. As the light faded, Danny became visible once again, only this time, safely encased within the confines of the Fenton RV. And now it was Ghost Danny's turn to go flying as Danny let him have it with everything the RV's arsenal had to bear.
"Oh I don't huh?!" Danny yelled back as Ghost Danny struggled to pick himself up. "Then why did you bother helping me all those times when I needed it?! You had plenty of chances to let me twist in the wind, but you didn't!"
"That's because anything that happened to YOU, happened to ME! What CHOICE did I have but to fight for you?!" Ghost Danny objected as he whirled around, his eyes blazing with anger.
Sensing Ghost Danny's attack, Danny once again unleashed a barrage of weaponry from the Fenton RV. But Ghost Danny wouldn't fall for the same trick twice as he surged ahead, dodging every missile and laser at top speed before reaching the RV and tearing through the windshield and firing inside. Within seconds, the Fenton RV filled to capacity with searing Ghost Ray energy and exploded, throwing Danny clear by the blast and sending him bouncing and rolling along the ground to a stop.
"But now that we're in here…now I can fight for ME!" Ghost Danny bellowed in victory as Danny lay motionless on the ground. "And with YOU gone, all that's going to be LEFT is me! No more of you ignoring me! No more of you using me! No more of you trying to erase me…!"
"Transformation at 78 percent and rising, Lamb Chop," the second Maddie hologram reported as Danny's transformation inside Vlad's lab appeared to be nearly complete.
"Yes," Vlad shuddered in anticipation. "We're so close…don't stop now."
"What?" Ghost Danny uttered in surprise, not only at the fact that Danny was still able to speak, but that he would say any such thing.
"I said…'You're right'," Danny groaned as he struggled to get to his feet, still not turning to face his ghost half. "Everything you said, it was all true. I DID take you for granted. And I DID treat you like a burden. I never bothered to try and find out where my powers came from. I never even THOUGHT about it. I always just went with it. I didn't give you the respect you deserved. I get that now. And believe it or not…I'm sorry…"
"…But you know what? There's something YOU don't get, either. I didn't even get it MYSELF until just now."
At that moment, Danny whirled around as a familiar device appeared in his hand, encasing him in the armor of the Fenton Peeler. And before Ghost Danny could react, Danny fired his weapon. The blast washed over Ghost Danny like an unending tide, doing as it was designed and peeling away his ghostly form to reveal Danny Phantom underneath. But Danny kept firing and Ghost Danny could only cry out as yet one more layer was ripped away.
After seconds that felt like an eternity, the attack stopped and Ghost Danny opened his eyes. But when he looked down at his body, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was only after he looked back at where Danny had been standing that he saw a mirror standing in his place. And when he looked at the mirror's reflection, that was when the reality hit home as he saw Danny Fenton's face staring back at him.
"Take a look," the reflection of Danny spoke, "You may want to talk like you're someone else, but at the end of the day, this is still who you are."
"Oh please, this is your best shot? Some pathetic, 'we're the same' line?" Ghost Danny shouted at the animated mirror.
"Why not? You said you were built on me, remember?" Danny replied from inside the mirror. "That just makes us two sides of the same coin, right. That's why trying to get rid of you that time didn't work. How could I get rid of a part of myself? We NEED each other."
"Come on out of that mirror and I'll SHOW you just how much I need you, you…!" Ghost Danny started to protest.
"Still a little slow on the uptake, aren't you?" Danny interrupted. "You know, you may have my memories, but you haven't learned from them. Because if you had, you'd remember what I never forgot…"
"…without me…you won't be 'you' anymore."
Just then, a sick, twisted grin splashed across the face of Danny's reflection as his eyes turned blood red. His body grew and bulged as his skin turned blue and his hair turned to white flames. And to ghost Danny's shock, what was once the reflection of Danny Fenton staring him back in the mirror was now the terrifying image of Dark Danny looming over him.
"YOU'LL BE ME!" Dark Danny bellowed, cackling with laughter as he smashed out of the mirror and tromped toward Ghost Danny.
Instinctively, Ghost Danny threw out his hands to fire a pair of Ghost Rays, but realized too late that he was still in the form of Danny Fenton. And with no time to change, all Ghost Danny could do was hold up his arms defensively and shut his eyes tight as Dark Danny slashed at him with a venomous snarl…!
It would be several more seconds Before Ghost Danny would open his eyes, realizing that nothing had happened. But when he DID open his eyes, he was in for yet another shock as he found himself inside the body of Dark Danny. But when he tried to do any more, the body refused to respond. It was as if he had no control over it at all.
"And the worst part is, you won't even realize it's happening," Danny's voice could be heard echoing through the darkness. "Then what do you think happens after that?"
Just then, Dark Danny whirled around to see a parade of mirrors in front of him. A second later, an image began to appear in one of the reflective surfaces, revealing Tucker and Valerie, regarding him with friendly smiles.
"Hey Dude, what's up?" Tucker greeted, flashing a quick "peace" sign.
But Dark Danny simply growled in disgust, his fists blazing with ecto-energy. And with Ghost Danny trapped inside, he found himself helpless as Dark Danny raised his arms.
"What are you doing?! DON'T!" Ghost Danny cried out in shock as Dark Danny fired, shattering the mirror with his Ghost Rays and leaving Ghost Danny completely stunned.
"Go ahead. Lie to me," Danny's voice again echoed from the shadows as another image began to appear in a second mirror. "Tell me you don't care."
"Look, Danny's home!" Danielle announced happily as she emerged in the glass alongside Jazz, Jack and Maddie, all flashing loving, joyful grins.
"No, wait!" Ghost Danny shouted helplessly as Dark Danny surged forward with a wild yell, reducing the mirror to shards and splinters with a single swipe of his hand.
"Tell me it doesn't matter," Danny's voice continued to taunt as one more image appeared in yet a third mirror.
"…no…" Ghost Danny shuddered in pure terror as he saw the reflection that awaited him next.
"Tell me you're willing to give it all up," Danny's voice sounded again, as it was Sam who would appear inside the mirror's reflection.
"You're the love of my life, Danny Fenton," Sam uttered from behind the glass, her eyes welling up and her lips curled in a smile that showed nothing but pure, unrelenting joy.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Ghost Danny screamed as Dark Danny roared and charged ahead, smashing his fist through the reflection of Sam's face and destroying the mirror with a ghost ray blast which bathed the entire area in a blinding flash of light.
"Transformation at 32 percent and dropping, Cuddle Bug," the first Maddie Hologram reported as Danny's alternate transformation appeared to be almost undone.
"I have eyes, blast it!" Vlad shouted at her before turning back around and looming over Danny's sleeping form. "Don't you do this to me, boy. I've come too far to let you take this from me now."
Inside the dreamscape, Ghost Danny was now free from the prison of Dark Danny, back in the body of his human form. But as he found himself on his knees, surrounded by the shards of broken glass that represented his family and friends…even his one true love…he was, in no way, free from his grief. All he could do was stare out at the destruction laid out in front of him and wallow in his guilt.
"No…no no no no no…," he groaned, hanging his head sorrowfully.
Just then, one more mirror appeared right in front of Ghost Danny, catching his attention and causing him to look up. Inside the mirror, the reflection of Danny had returned. And his own somber expression told the whole story, revealing that what Ghost Danny had just experience was a fear that Danny, himself, had long been living with.
"Have I got your attention, yet?" he asked plainly, while Ghost Danny could only look up at him with pained eyes.
"…I just don't want to go away again…," Ghost Danny pleaded weakly.
"You don't HAVE to," Danny replied. "I already told you, we're two sides of the same coin. Maybe it's time we started acting like it,"
"So what do you say?" Danny added, holding out his hand with a welcome grin. "Want to come see how the other half lives?"
At first, Ghost Danny wasn't sure what to think, only pensively starting to raise his hand to accept Danny's offer. But after several agonizing seconds and before he could talk himself out of it, he found himself reaching into the mirror, grabbing Danny's hand and holding it tightly.
"It worked…IT WORKED!" Vlad shouted to the rooftops, jumping for joy and clicking his heels as Danny laid out before him, now completely in his alternate ghost form. "Now the REAL fun begins. Unlock the restraints."
"Vlad Darling, are you absolutely sure that's a good idea?" the first Maddie Hologram inquired uneasily. "Given the clearly unstable nature of this form…might it not be best if we…?"
"…All the more reason that we not be seen approaching from a position of hostility. It will only cause him to react with aggression," Vlad interrupted. "Besides, if he does get out of control, it will be no difficult task to put him under again."
Uncertain, but obedient, the Maddie Holograms did as they were told and released Danny from his bonds while Vlad remotely deactivated the dream band. A few moments later, Danny would open his flashing green eyes and sit up, slowly looking around the room.
"Greetings," Vlad announced his presence, trying to disguise as much of his nervousness as he could as Danny turned to face him. "Just out of curiosity, do you…recognize me?"
Danny didn't respond to Vlad's question. He merely stared blankly with a pair of blinks.
"So far, so good," Vlad muttered under his breath as his confidence grew and he began to speak more boldly. "Well, you may not know me, but I've LONG been an admirer of YOURS. I think your power is nothing short of phenomenal. But just imagine what you could be capable of if you had the proper guidance…guidance that I, of course, am willing to provide."
"Side by side, there's no limit to what the two of us would be able to achieve. Stick with me and I promise, anything and everything you want will be yours," Vlad continued to push, even going so far as to hold out his hand. "And who knows? Given enough time…you might even begin to think of me as…Father."
Again, Danny offered up no reply. He simply stared at Vlad's outstretched hand with the same blank expression.
"Can you…even understand me?" Vlad asked, fearing that this new form may have left Danny too mentally stunted to contemplate or reason.
Just then, Danny's face looked up at Vlad with a dark frown. A second later, a burst of ecto-energy from Danny's ghostly aura caused Vlad's dream band to explode off his ear. And before the Maddie Holograms could react, Danny whirled around, firing a pair of Freezing Ghost Rays from his eyes that encased their control panel in ice, deactivating them both.
Acting quickly, Vlad lunged forward while Danny was turned away from him, Trying to plant a second Dream Band that he'd had hidden in his other hand. But without even turning around, Danny's hand shot up and grabbed Vlad's wrist, holding on so tightly that Vlad couldn't break free and surrounding his entire hand in a ball of ice. A second later, Danny would finally turn back around, staring Vlad dead in the eye.
"Sorry Vlad. Mindless, Brain-Dead Danny isn't here today," he announced with a smirk, pulling Vlad in close, face to face. "And you already got me what I want."
"Oh Fluffernutters," Vlad groaned as Danny smiled wide and pulled back an eager, blazing fist.
Outside, Sam and the others had just arrived at an abandoned, privately-owned warehouse two towns over. Confident that this was the place Vlad had taken Danny, they all readied themselves to move in.
"Alright, this is it," Valerie declared, "Everybody ready? Let's go…!"
"Wait!" Sam called out, her eyes widening in shock.
"Sam, what is it? What's wrong?" Tucker immediately asked as everyone's attention immediately turned towards Sam, who was frozen in place.
"I'm-not-sure," Sam replied as she stared out into space, her voice just as stunned as her expression.
Just then, Vlad's body came smashing through the wall in front of the group and hurtling past them down the street. Before Sam and the others could make any sense of what that meant, Danny would emerge from the dust wafting out of the hole in the wall, still in his altered form.
"Oh…now that's REALLY not good," Jazz remarked, as everyone remembered all-too well what happens when Danny was in that state.
Just then, Danny heard her words and turned his sights to Sam and the others, who had no idea what was coming next. But when he actually smiled at them, they had even LESS of an idea what to expect.
"Oh, hi guys," Danny called over with a playful wave, "Just give a minute, okay? This won't take long."
With that, Danny burst down the street, taking off with such speed he kicked up a small force wave that everyone felt slam into them. But Sam and the others were too perplexed by what Danny's sudden cheerful demeanor to really notice. Everyone, that is, except G, who simply stared off in the direction Danny had gone with a grim expression.
"Okay…what just happened?" Valerie exclaimed, simply saying what everyone else was thinking.
Just then, the roar of G's motorcycle caught everyone's attention. As they turned around, they already saw him riding off at top speed in Danny's direction.
"Hey, where is HE going?" Tucker blurted out, causing everyone else to start off after him.
Farther away, Danny had caught up with Vlad and was already continuing the fight by plowing his fist across Vlad's cheek, knocking him back. Desperate for control, Vlad split himself into four clones, hoping to overwhelm Danny with sheer numbers. But before Vlad could even think to attack, Danny split into two, himself, and came in from both sides, slamming all four clones together and causing them to merge back into one Vlad. Danny would then combine himself and follow up with a roundhouse kick that sent Vlad flying through the wall of another abandoned building.
"Pfff! Same tired old tricks! Don't you have anything NEW?!" Danny taunted.
Danny would get his answer as Vlad launched a sphere of Ghost Ray energy out of the hole in the wall. Danny was quick to act as he slammed his ecto-charged fists into the blast and actually ripped it in two, causing it to explode in the street on either side of him. But the blast was merely a distraction for allowing Vlad to get in close, as he flew towards Danny at top speed, sending a screaming punch directly at his head. Luckily, though Danny was initially caught by surprise, his increased speed and reflexes allowed him to easily counter the attack, slamming his fist square into Vlad's with crushing force.
The force kicked up by the collision of the two powers sent both Danny and Vlad flying back to either side of the street. Vlad crashed into the wall of the building he'd just emerged from while Danny collided with a pile of uncollected garbage that was still lying on the sidewalk. But despite the demeaning position Danny found himself in, he still couldn't help from suddenly laughing in amusement.
"Well, that's certainly an interesting reaction," Vlad remarked as he struggled to pick himself up. "Mind letting ME in on the joke?"
"The joke IS you," Danny chuckled, plucking a banana peel off his arm before snapping to his feet and dusting himself off. "Come on, all this time you've been ragging on my dad for being a screw-up, but look at YOUR track record. Has any one of your schemes ever ACTUALLY worked? Even now, you tried to turn me into some kind of attack dog and all you managed to do was make me better."
"But for how much longer?" Vlad taunted, even though his voice still held a hint of contempt as he pointed as the wisps of vapor emerging from Danny's shoulder. "It seems you have to pay if you want to play in that form. How many seconds do you think you have left before your body gives out?"
Danny regarded his shoulder with a blank expression. But his confidence seemed unshaken as he turned back to Vlad with a smirk.
"Then I guess it's time I stopped playing with you and got serious," he replied as he took a defensive stance and readied himself, waving Vlad over to start the next round. "Think you can handle it?"
Angered by Danny's insolence, Vlad ignored his weakened state and charged in to attack. But as Danny prepared to strike back, a bolt of electrified Ghost Ray energy struck Vlad in the side, sending him bouncing along the street before rolling to a stop. Danny found himself surprised as well as he turned to see that G had arrived on the scene, just a few feet away.
"Huh…I have been waiting WAY too long to do that," G remarked with an amused chuckled before dismounting his motorcycle and stepping in between Danny and Vlad, "Relax kiddo, I've got this."
"So…you fancy yourself the boy's protector, do you," Vlad remarked as he picked himself up, feeling more confident that any time he spent fighting this newcomer would certainly run out whatever time Danny still had left in his advanced state. "You should pick your opponents more carefully."
"Oh please. You can barely keep up with HIS True Ghost Form…," G replied, nodding his head over his shoulder in Danny's direction.
Just then, to both Danny and Vlad's shock, an all-too familiar green ring appeared around G, splitting apart and revealing a new transformation. Within seconds, his Ghostly aura became electrified and his body emerged coated in an sparking, crystalline substance. It covered his forearms, shoulders, elbows knees and calves, almost like armor. It even formed around his gun, making it look larger and more powerful. But the most striking form was around his head, as it took the shape of a motorcycle helmet, shaped like a giant skull.
"…You think you can handle MINE?"
Incensed that someone new had shown up with Danny's ability, Vlad let loose with a searing stream of Ghost Ray energy. But G remained unfazed as he lifted his powered-up six-shooter, the chamber within spinning wildly. And with a single pull of the trigger, he unleashed a rapid-fire barrage of electrified ghost Ray bolts, tearing through Vlad's Ghost Ray like paper and striking him repeatedly, stunning him to the ground.
"Oh, and for the record…I picked you VERY carefully," G continued, with his gun still trained on Vlad. "In fact, I picked you a long time ago."
"Well…that's certainly cryptic…but interesting…," Vlad groaned as his body still spasmed with electric shocks. "…And just who ARE you, exactly…?"
"I'm your Ghost of Christmas Past!" G shouted as he prepared to fire again.
However, Vlad wasn't about to give G the satisfaction of another attack as his body disappeared in the middle of the street, revealing itself to be nothing more than a clone. He must have split himself off as a distraction to escape after Danny kicked him into the building before. Running over to the spot where the clone had vanished and looking out at the nearby rooftops, G's aggravation was clearly apparent. But he soon had to admit that he had more pressing concern and growled as he swallowed his anger.
"Next time, Old Man," he muttered, reverting to his previous ghost form and holstering his weapon before turning his attention back to Danny. "And you! You need to change back RIGHT NOW!"
"Relax, everything's cool," Danny replied, twirling around slowly. "See? I'm fine."
"No, you only THINK you're fine," G argued. "Trust me, you need to change back."
"Oh alright," Danny protested as he reverted back. "But I really don't see what the problem i…!"
Danny never even got the chance to finish his thought as his legs buckled and he fell to his knees. All of his muscles felt like they were on fire. He was desperately gulping air and his heart was pounding as if he'd just run 10 miles. In fact, he was so exhausted that he couldn't even maintain his normal ghost form, reverting back to his human state. G, meanwhile, wasn't the least bit surprised at the sudden change in Danny's physical health as he simply nodded in response.
"Told you," he remarked soberly before pulling a bottle of water out of his coat and handing it to Danny. "Here. Trust me, it'll help."
Danny needed no encouragement to pop open the bottle and start gulping back every drop he could. G, meanwhile, simply sat down on the curb beside him to make sure the worst was over.
"Aw man," Danny rasped, still trying to catch his breath. "I feel like…What HAPPENED to me?"
"Pretty obvious at this point, don't you think?" G answered. "I think you figured it out when you heard me say the words, 'True Ghost Form'. You already know what I'm talking about, right?"
"So…when I change like that…," Danny deduced, "…You're saying that I become…"
"…One hundred percent pure, home-grown, bonafide ghost. Gives you access to everything you have," G explained, finishing Danny's thought. "The problem is, at the end of the day, you're STILL just a HALF ghost. There's only so much of it your human body can take. So you have to learn to pace yourself. I know you feel like a million bucks and it doesn't seem like anything can hurt you. But if you can't feel pain, your body can't tell you that anything's wrong. If I hadn't shown up at that last second, well…he probably would've pushed you over the edge just by BREATHING on you."
"Okay, good safety tip," Danny agreed, suddenly feeling quite foolish for believing he was so invincible before.
"Well, your friends should be able to look after you from here," G noted, patting Danny on the shoulder before standing up to leave. "I'd better get going."
"Hey, wait a minute!" Danny called over to G as he walked away. "I kinda feel like I'm getting short-changed here. You still haven't told me anything about who YOU are."
"Let's just say I know what it feels like to live on both sides of the track, too," G answered as he hopped on his motorcycle. "Besides, it's not like you're never gonna see me again."
And with that, G roared off, with Danny in no shape to go after him. Not that he could afford to, however. He had family and friends to wait for.
"Danny!" Sam yelled as she flew towards him, with the others close behind.
"Hey guys!" Danny greeted, still sitting on the sidewalk. "I'm over here! I…Mmmph!"
Danny didn't even get a chance to finish his thought as Sam slid in, grabbed his face and pressed her lips to his in a long, firm kiss. Tucker, Jazz and Valerie merely rolled their eyes and looked away as the moment played out. Not that Sam would have cared if anyone watched. Danny was the only priority at the moment as she held the kiss longer and longer before finally breaking away and planting quick, firm pecks on his lips and cheeks.
"Danny, are you alright?" she asked desperately as she threw her arms around Danny's neck and hugged him tightly.
"Sam, relax. It's okay," Danny responded, managing to pull away just enough to press his forehead against hers and look into her eyes with a warm smile. "Trust me. It's okay."
"Danny…I've never seen you DO that before," Jazz uttered in awe, recalling what they all just witnessed. "I mean, every time you've gone into that transformation, you've ended up being…But this time…How did you figure out how to control it?"
"I didn't," Danny answered with a shrug. "I guess you could say…I just made peace with myself, that's all."
"Oh…," was all Jazz could say in reply as she and Valerie merely shrugged at each other, neither one of them having any idea what Danny's response meant.
"Yeah, but you're looking a little frayed around the edges, Dude," Tucker noted. "Are you sure you're gonna be good to fly."
"Yeah, don't worry about it," Danny answered dismissively. "I just need a few more minutes."
"Good…because I think our ride just ditched us," Tucker remarked at the absence of G, whose departure had left Team Phantom with even MORE questions than answers.
A couple of days later found Danny and the others more or less where they came in…all sitting around Tucker's desk in the Mayor's Office. Sam, however, was still dubious about Danny's claims that he was alright. The emergence of this "True Ghost Form" was still so new to everyone that no matter how many times Danny tried to assure her, she couldn't stop herself from asking.
"Danny, are you sure you're alri…Mmmmph!" Sam's question was cut off as Danny snapped in and placed a long, tender kiss on her lips, causing Sam to reach up and tug on his shirt. Another soft peck followed as Danny pressed his forehead to hers.
"There. Now…are you going to stop asking now?" he responded jokingly, looking into Sam's eyes.
"Mmmm…not if you going to start answering like THAT," Sam answered with a tender grin before nuzzling against Danny's nose and adding a few gentle pecks of her own.
"Oh, would you two get a broom closet already?" Valerie complained.
"Let them get it out of their systems, Valerie," Tucker replied, tapping on his tablet. "Tanya's gonna be here any minute. Besides, maybe it'll get Sam off Jazz's back about the whole Vlad thing."
"She didn't TELL anybody!" Sam continued to complain while Jazz sat in silence. "I mean, come on. There are some things you just don't keep secret!"
"Oh really?" Danny argued. "Anything you're planning to tell YOUR parents anytime soon, 'Miss Tasma'?"
"…Shut up," Sam sulked in response after a brief pause, even though she couldn't help but smile as Danny placed a few soft kisses along her cheek. "Ooooooohhhh alright, she's off the hook!"
"Thank you," Jazz acknowledged, feeling as though she finally had the right to speak in public again.
Just then, Tanya walked in the office. Closing the door behind her, she once again turned around so no one would see the freaked out look on her face.
"We have SO got to get rid of that secretary," She shuddered under her breath before turning to the matter at hand. "So…anyone keeping up on current events?"
Pulling the morning paper from the stack in her arms, Tanya tossed it onto Tucker's desk. On the front page, the bold typing revealed a single ray of sunshine that just might have spelled hope for Tucker's campaign.
STAND BY YOUR MAYOR!
AMITY PARK TOP COP QUASHES RETIREMENT RUMORS,
PLEDGES SUPPORT TO FOLEY AS POLITICAL OPPOSITION GROWS
"No way…You got his endorsement?!" Tucker exclaimed as Tanya merely grinned and shrugged in response. "Well, this is GREAT! See, THIS is why I hired you! So…what happens now? Where do we go from here?"
"Right now, nowhere," Tanya answered. "We're still going to have meetings and come up with strategies. But at this moment, we're going to put the actual campaigning on hold."
"Are you sure about that? Because that doesn't sound right to me," Tucker responded with some confusion. "I mean, we've got momentum now. Shouldn't we be running with this?"
"Getting an endorsement from the Chief of Police DOES give us a lot of momentum. But you have to understand, with the number of people we've got crawling out of the woodwork for this election, you're just not going to have the stamina to take on all comers. You're going to have to let them spend a couple of weeks, knocking EACH OTHER out," Tanya explained. "Right now, the best thing you can do for your campaign is let everyone see you doing your job. Because the more all those other guys look like just a bunch of lunatics who want to take over the asylum, the more YOU'RE going to look like the guy who actually BELONGS here."
"Okay, I guess that makes sense, when you put it that way," Tucker replied with a shrug.
"Well, I'm SO glad it meets with your approval," Tanya joked before tossing a confident grin in Tucker's direction. "Hey…trust me, okay? We're gonna WIN this thing."
Picking up on Tanya's assurance, Tucker continued on with the meeting as planned. But as he and Tanya were discussing strategies, Jazz found herself oddly uncomfortable.
"Hey," she whispered over to Danny, Sam and Valerie. "Is it just me, or does anyone else get the feeling that we've forgotten something?"
Danny and the others found themselves looking at each other for a moment, then staring off into space thoughtfully. Until Jazz had mentioned it, it never even occurred to them. But now that they were thinking about it, it seemed as though there truly was something they'd forgotten to take care of. If only they could remember what it was…
The wreckage of Vlad's lab was little more than a darkened husk when a single beam of light flashed through the room. Scanning every area intently, Skulker floated around, looking for anything he might be able to salvage for his recent trouble. Vlad may have neglected to pay him for his services in his latest scheme. But when it came to someone like Vlad, he could always be counted on to have one thing on the surface…and two more hidden beneath it.
"Hmmm, not much left," he observed, assessing the damage. "Still, there must be SOMETHING here that a hunter of my talents can make use of."
Continuing his search, Skulker's had happened to brush up against a wall and trigger a nearby power switch, bringing the entire lab to life. And among the powered up devices were the two Maddie Holograms, who were back online, now that the console Danny had frozen was thawed out.
"Ecto signature that does NOT belong to our Beloved Vlad has been detected!" the first Hologram declared.
"Security protocols are now in effect!" The second Hologram announced.
At the Hologram's command, steel walls came down from the ceiling completely sealing off the lab. Anti-ghost lasers burst forth from dozens of compartments all throughout the facility. And as Skulker found himself lit up by dozens of targeting lasers, only one thought could escape his lips at that moment…
"Oh, butter tarts."