"Vlad," said Maddie.
"Maddie," purred Vlad. "What brings you here today?"
Maddie repressed the desire to curl her lip. "I am informing you that we're exhuming Phantom's body, following the activities of the unidentified cultists last night."
"Oh, but, Maddie, only family members can do that. And unless you and Phantom are suddenly family members…"
"Don't give me that," said Maddie. "I. Know."
Vlad's expression soured. "Yes. Quite," he said flatly. "I am aware. However, unless you want to make your relationship with the boy public, there's nothing I can do about the law."
Maddie, having anticipated this, slammed a piece of paper down on the desk. "You won't have to," she said. "The law is very much on my side for this one. Municipal Ordinance 10776. Investigative professionals registered with the city can request that any grave be exhumed."
(Investigative professionals here meaning ghost hunters. Not everyone had the kind of open-mindedness as the average Amity Parker, and although a ordinance against summoning ghosts could be laughed off, things like this tended to be taken a little more seriously.)
"Request," stressed Vlad. "Requests, by their nature, are not automatically granted."
"Maybe," said Maddie. "But when word gets around about the cultists, and it will, people will start asking why we aren't investigating."
"Is there even anything to investigate?" asked Vlad, putting on his fake innocent act again. "Goodness, I thought the cultists left the memorial intact and undisturbed. Are you saying I was misinformed? Or has something happened to poor Daniel? I'm sorry, to Phantom? It really is fascinating that they both have the same first name."
They glared at each other over the mayoral desk.
"If I have to," said Maddie, "I can always reveal you."
"And I'll deny everything, or reveal Phantom."
"Not your ghost half," said Maddie. "Your continued sexual harassment. There might not be enough of it to get you arrested, but there's certainly enough for some interesting headlines."
(She could also just wait for the police to get a warrant from a judge, but figuring out how to word it without saying anything about ghosts, cultists, or other things that would make outsiders overly curious took time.)
"I would. Jack would be upset, but if it's for Danny, I think he'll get over it."
"Very well," said Vlad, who looked like he'd swallowed a full box of spiders. "I will approve your request."
"Thank you," said Maddie. "I–" Her phone went off. Relishing the chance to be rude to Vlad, she answered it. "Hello?"
"Kidnapped?" Maddie Fenton repeated again. "How?"
"Er," said Collins, drumming his fingers on the wheel of his car. This was not the best place to have this conversation, but there weren't a lot of better options, so… "The normal way, I suppose. Someone broke into the house and took him."
"That's something we're investigating." Jack Fenton had been found passed out near the front door, and was one of the reasons they'd been called in. Apparently, bright orange hazmat was visible. Who would have thought.
"But," said Maddie, "you think Danny's okay?"
'Okay' was probably an overstatement. An overstatement at best. They hadn't found any major organs or limbs strewn around the house, but there were signs of a struggle, and kidnapping victims were, as a rule, never okay.
Also… Collins made the decision to not mention the bloody backpack. Some things mothers (and potential suspects) were better off not knowing. He was fairly certain it wasn't Danny's blood on the bag, anyway. He almost felt bad for whoever kidnapped him.
Whoever those people were, he doubted they were aware of even a tenth of what Danny did for Amity Park.
"At this point, he is most likely still…" he hesitated slightly before the next word, "alive." He wasn't convinced anything could kill Danny. The kid seemed invulnerable, for all intents and purposes, and even as a human, he could do incredible things.
Maddie made a strangled noise on the other side of the line.
"We'd like you to come down to the station," continued Collins. "Keep your phone on and with you. It's possible you'll be contacted for ransom." Possible, but highly unlikely. The Fentons were well-off, but not to this degree.
"I don't have time," said Maddie. "I have to look."
"You aren't ghost hunters. It's almost certainly a ghost that took him."
"There's reason to believe that is not the case. Mrs. Fenton. Maddie. It's possible that you saw or heard something important before you left or earlier this week."
Maddie was quiet on the other side of the line. "You think I had something to do with this?" she asked, a thread of danger running through her words.
"Not as such, no. This is just– this is just procedure. We need to look into everyone. We're talking to Jack, too."
"Is that why you think it was humans who did this?"
Again, the reason for that was more the bloodied bag, but, again, he wasn't talking about that. "Go to the station and you can ask him yourself."
"Are you not at the station?"
Crap, what had he said to make her think that? "That's–"
"You're still at Fentonworks, aren't you?"
"No?" said Collins.
Maddie hung up on him.
Great. She was on her way and she'd be on the warpath. He hit redial.
"Hello?" said Maddie, in a way that told him that she hadn't looked at the caller ID and that she was considering what he'd said about ransoms.
"Look, Maddie, I know you were going up to see if you could get permission to exhume the body. Could we– If you go to the station, we can get that started right away. We have the equipment ready to go, the medical examiner is ready. Everything is ready."
"This is a crime scene, Maddie. You can't be here."
"It's my house. And my son."
"I know, I know. We care about Danny, too. But he's not here. You can't help him here."
There was quiet on the other side of the line.
"So," said Paterson. "You went to the door and… what, again?"
"I already told him," said Jack, who was sitting on the back of an ambulance, getting poked and prodded by an EMT. "Can't he tell you?"
"Sure," said Paterson, glancing sideways at McGee, "but can you run me through it again? For reference? Sometimes, we remember things better the second time around."
"I went to the door, and started feeling dizzy, but I opened it up - I shouldn't have done that. Should have realized that something was wrong. I opened it up, and there was this duffel bag there."
"Do you remember anything about the duffel bag?"
"It was taped over in weird places. Patched. Uh. It might have been blue? Or green? But after I saw it, I just passed out. I don't know what it was about it that made me pass out."
"Oxygen deprivation," said the EMT.
"Right, you said I wasn't breathing before, so–"
"Which was caused by oxygen deprivation. You show all the signs. Whoever it was that did this must have released a huge amount of nitrogen or something similar into the area immediately in front of your door."
"I didn't feel like I couldn't breathe, though."
"You wouldn't. Our reflex to breathe is triggered by the presence of carbon dioxide, not the absence of oxygen. Without rescue breaths, you would have died of asphyxiation."
"That's a thing?" asked Paterson, scrunching her nose.
"Yeah," said Jack. "You can't really work as a scientist without at least hearing about it."
"People have died from it before," said the EMT. "You're probably going to be fine, you were found fast, but you still need to go to the hospital."
"But I need to find Danny."
"They wouldn't have stuck around," said Paterson. "We've already got everyone looking for Danny. Amber Alert and everything."
"Do you think they did the same thing to Danny? The nitrogen thing?"
"It would have been in the house, yeah," said the EMT.
"Okay," said Paterson, "so we should look for someone who bought a whole lot of nitrogen tanks or something? What do people even use those for?"
The EMT shrugged. "Science, I guess. You ready to go, Mr. Fenton?"
"Alright," said Jack.
"Hey, wait," said McGee, "I'm not done yet–"
"Then you can come talk to him at the hospital," said the EMT. "George! Come over and help me!"
The EMTs packed Jack into the ambulance and drove away.
McGee stared after it, tapping his foot. "Do you think these kidnappers were able to revive Danny, or are we going to be looking for a corpse?"
"Don't say things like that," said Paterson. She'd already seen Danny's corpse once, after all, she didn't need to see it again. "It's bad luck."
Danny woke slowly. He felt unpleasantly bruised, for one, and for another, the last thing he remembered was getting kidnapped, which was generally not a precursor to happy fun times.
He peeled open eyes that felt disgustingly bloodshot, and looked around. There wasn't much to see. The room he was in was small, clean, and bare, and he was lying down on a bed. Someone had even tucked him in.
Creepy. Not that kidnapping wasn't creepy in and of itself, but this was especially creepy.
He struggled to sit up, and discovered that he'd been wrapped in a kind of improvised straitjacket. Several layers of blankets were wrapped around him and held in place by belts. He strained against them, but unfortunately whatever the cult from the other night had done was still holding strong. No powers for him, not even a little bit.
And Danny didn't even know why these people had taken him.
His legs were still free, so, with a little extra maneuvering, he got up and walked around the room. The one door didn't even have a handle.
He was stuck.
His mouth suddenly even drier than it had been, he swallowed. He was stuck. Trapped. Hadn't even figured his way out of this frankly embarrassing 'straightjacket.'
The door opened, and Danny stumbled back, overbalancing and thumping into the wall. Severa masked figures walked in.
"Oh, he's perfect!"
They came in, crowding him.
"Back off!" Danny kicked out, but he was at a bad angle, and the first of the mask-wearers was able to get close enough that Danny couldn't do anything other than try to bite, which didn't really work if the person you were trying to bite was holding your face.
"Just perfect." They tilted Danny's head this way and that, and Danny couldn't pull away. "Age, of course, is important, but appearance, too. I hadn't realized…" They fell to muttering.
Danny's eyes flicked from mask to mask. They were plain white plastic with the eyes blacked out with some kind of fabric. Simple, but effective. Danny didn't know who these people were.
"Yes, our sponsor was right. You'll do perfectly. Perfectly." They patted Danny's cheek.
"Sponsor?" Danny didn't want to interact with these people at all, but he needed information.
"I know you must be so frightened. We would have tried a more peaceful way, but those ghost hunters… They would never see reason."
The other mask-wearers shifted, grumbling.
"The number of times they have assaulted our lord– No, no, we had to get you somewhere safe. After all, you are to be the host for our lord, Phantom."
He stared at the masked person, uncomprehending as they waxed poetic about Phantom's - his - virtues. Many of which Danny didn't have.
"... honor, to be chosen, and an honor, too, to be here to witness. But, of course, you've asked after our sponsor. He asked to meet with you." They ran their hand through Danny's hair, which was just. Bad. "Yes. We have followed his word for some time, and he has never led us wrong, you know."
Danny didn't know. And he didn't want to meet this 'sponsor' they were talking about.
"He'll be coming soon," said the masked person. "You'll talk, and then… then we prepare."
The masked people filed out of the room and closed the door behind them. Danny futilely tried to open the door, in case they hadn't closed it properly. Frustrated, he sat down on the bed.
Another cult. A different one, too, if he knew anything about cults, which was not a sentence he'd have expected to say before he became a half ghost. Worse, not only was it another cult, it was another Phantom cult. What part of his behavior as Phantom made people think he wanted cults?
Superman didn't have to deal with this.
Superman was fictional.
Maybe he could use the walls or the edge of the cot to shift the belts around, and from there he could use the buckles to… pick the nonexistent lock on the door. Right. Not likely. Maybe he could do something to - no, the hinges were on the outside. At least, he could use them as a weapon, probably? Maybe–
Danny's ghost sense went off, and he tensed. He wasn't ready for a fight, but he was ready to be a pain, assuming this ghost was involved, and make a plea for escape, if they weren't.
A ghost phased through the door.
"Hello, little badger."