"Box Lunch is on your files.
What. The. Heck. Amberly and I went through the same motions of looking at each other with confused faces.
"Where's the pun again?" Amb asked. I shook my head.
"I have no idea … do you have any idea who 'CW' is?" Amberly took her turn at shaking her head. I continued, "What's more, whoever this is writes even creepier letters than Dark and whoever this vampire guy is. How'd they know that I have files on ghosts, and that I wouldn't think that Box Lunch is on them? Whoever it is either knows me even better than I know myself, or can see the future. Either way, highly creepy."
"Well, I guess that the only thing to do now is to look through the ghost files … yet again." I grudgingly turned to the laptop and opened the ghost files.
Even though it was already past dinner time and getting well into dark when the whole thing started, Amberly went in and out of the house several times during the night.
The first time she came back was at 8:06 after she finished going out and checking up on Brian and getting communication devices to everyone that channeled back to our house so Leah could operate everything smoothly. She found me still in the living room, speaking useless threats to my computer. She shoved me over a bit so she could look at it. "Still nothing?" I shook my head.
"I've looked through this for the past two hours, and I've found NOTHING. Nothing! I can't even find a hint of a romance between the Box Ghost and the Lunch Lady."
"Do you think … maybe the file that said 'Do not open'?"
Again I shook my head. "No, that's Technus. He has another file on here with his profile - if I open it up he'll be set loose on the internet, which is the LAST thing that I want to have happen."
She took control of the mouse and went to the main menu, skimming through that. After going through that she went back up to the top and pointed to a file there. "Alternate Dimension … have you looked through there?"
I laughed. "Are you kidding? First of all, that file is absolutely GIGANTIC. I've never wanted to look through that monstrosity. Secondly, it's about an alternate dimension. Why the heck should I even care about an alternate dimension? I mean, I know that there's portals everywhere to the Ghost Zone, which I suppose could be considered a different dimension, but it's still part of this timeline or whatever, so alternate realities are believable, I suppose, but how the heck would I get to one? I don't know, therefore, why should I care? … Oh."
During my rant Amberly opened up the file and found Box Lunch's file within seconds. "I guess the creep was right … you do have Box Lunch on your files."
I shoved my way back in front of the computer, grabbing the mouse out of her hand. I read through Box Lunch's file, not finding anything extremely informative or helpful to my current situation. I slumped back in my seat and sighed. "Why does any of this matter? Unless Box Lunch is in on it, which I highly doubt, this is worthless to me. If anything, I'm just more confused … if Box Lunch isn't supposed to be a part of this dimension, then why was she here?"
Amberly rolled her eyes. "Even though this 'CW' is a creep, they're obviously onto something. If you say that you haven't looked through these files, then they're probably trying to get you to look through them. Telling you Box Lunch is there is probably only a hint. And, who knows about her – maybe some things are just meant to be, no matter what timeline or dimension you're in. I'm going to go out again on patrol – you stay here and look for anything that'll help."
She got up and went out the door. I tried to stop her and tell her that I was supposed to be the one giving orders, but she was gone before I could even fit in a word. I muttered only half-meaningful threats against her under my breath for leaving me to go through at least another couple of hours of computer files while she went out and stretched her legs.
The second time Amberly came back was at 9:37 after going on patrol for a little bit. She found me staring blankly at the computer screen. She waved her hand in front of my face and I looked slowly up at her. Her facial features softened up and she asked what was wrong, commenting on my pale face. Finding that my voice had left me, I simply pointed to the computer. She looked at the picture of the ghost on the screen and furrowed her eyebrows together.
"Is that CW?" she asked.
I shook my head and hoarsely said, "I found CW half an hour ago. It stands for Clockwork. It was hard to find his profile because he exists out of time, and therefore his profile belongs in neither the alternate dimension file nor the real world folders."
"Oookay … well then who is that? Hold on a sec … he has blue fire for hair and vampire teeth. Is this the other ghost Box Lunch was talking about?"
"Who is he?" she asked again.
I couldn't say his name the first couple of times I tried to get it out. I'm not going to deny it, I was scared. If it were either just him or just Pariah Dark the situation would have been bad enough, but with these two working together …
"Travis, who is he?" Amberly repeated a third time, panic edging into her voice.
"His … his name is Dan Phantom." I leaned back on the sofa. "Dan Phantom …"
Amberly was very visibly confused. "I've never heard of him. Is he really that bad?"
I nodded. "Amberly … I don't think there's a chance of winning. I think … I think we're all gonna die."
Amberly took the computer and read through his profile. When she was done she stood up without a word, looked at me, looked back towards the kitchen where Mom and Dad were making phone calls and sorting through stacks of documents they got from the Ghost Defense Department, and looked out the window. She calmly walked over to the door, opened it up, and stepped outside. Just before she closed the door she looked back at me. There was fear in her eyes that I'm sure reflected my own.
When she shut the door Mom called to me from the dining table asking me who left.
"Amberly … she needed to get some fresh air. She'll be back, don't worry."
The third time Amberly came back I was gone.
I didn't care that it was midnight and that the ghost zone was empty except for my two greatest enemies and their goons, I needed to see Clockwork. According to his profile he was an ally, though not necessarily a willing or even helpful one. However, he played a key role in defeating Dan Phantom the first time, so I assumed that he'd help again.
I have to admit, my reasons for visiting weren't entirely rational. I was angry – Dan Phantom was supposed to be trapped in a Thermos underneath Clockwork's care, so if Dan was free then it was his fault for not taking better care of the Thermos and for not re-capturing him.
I was so blinded by my anger and so caught up in looking at the map to see how fast I could get to Clockwork's place that I literally flew into someone. Immediately I went on my guard and held up two glowing green fists.
When I saw who it was, however, I lowered them, confused.
My best friend was floating in front of me, wearing some sort of strange suit. It was really bulky and didn't look like he could move very well in it.
"Toby, what are you doing here? Where have you been? Have you been avoiding us? What are you wearing? Don't you know that the ghost zone is extremely dangerous? Listen, there's something going on that you really need to know about …"
He answered me by slamming his fist into my gut.
Toby had punched me hard enough that not only did I lose all the air in my lungs, but I flew back several dozen feet. Recollecting myself as quickly as possible, I slowed down and took a couple of deep breaths and looked up, only to get a foot to the face. This time, I didn't even have recovery time before Toby was behind me, shoving me forward and into a rock. He was fast. Whatever it was he was wearing, it made him like some sort of Superman. I can't remember how long he was beating me up for – I took several blows to the head – but finally after I was too beat up to even move without pain shooting through my body he grabbed the front of my suit and held me really close to his face.
I half expected him to have malice in his eyes, or maybe even different colored eyes, indicating that a ghost was controlling him. Instead, there was fear. Pure fear.
"Travis … help me …" he said quietly, as if someone were overhearing us.
Before I could respond, he suddenly winced in pain and threw me to the side.
It took him a moment to recover from … whatever it was that caused him pain, so I turned invisible and intangible and started floating further away from him. When I was sure that I was at a safe distance, I called out to him, "Toby … what's going on?"
Toby took a few deep breaths and said to my general direction, "I'm sorry, Travis. If I don't hurt you, they'll hurt me. I'm sorry …" With that, an eyepiece not unlike the one that Skulker used to try and find me in our first battle popped up, and all of the sudden Toby was not just looking in my general direction, but he was actually looking at me. I flew to the side a bit and double checked that I was still invisible. I was, but his eyes were still following me.
'What the …' I started thinking, surprised that he was able to see me, but I couldn't finish my thought as Toby started coming after me again.
Ditching the invisibility (but still staying intangible), I watched him come closer and closer …
And was slammed back into another floating island.
Suddenly I started losing hope – if that suit could hurt me when I was intangible, I had no idea how to get out of this situation. I didn't want to hurt my friend, but it started looking like I had to.
Not taking the chance of giving it a second thought, I held up a hand and blasted Toby with an ectoplasmic beam. I thought that it would surprise him and give me an opportunity to get away or immobilize him, but instead he caught the beam and shot it back at me. I set up a shield – the strongest one I could – and was able to avoid getting hurt, but I could actually physically feel the beam hit the shield. Normally the only effect setting up a shield had on me was that it drained a little bit of my energy, but whatever Toby did in sending the beam back to me, it was stronger and it felt like I was taking a punch. Not as bad as Toby had been punching me, granted, but it still took a toll on my body.
At least the shield was holding up – Toby started attacking it, but I was able to hold it up, at least for a little while. While he was attacking, I took the opportunity to talk to him.
"Toby, why are you doing this? What happened to you?"
"I'm sorry Travis, I really am." He slammed against the shield. "But I can't help it! I was forced into this suit and then they put a chip into my arm that hurts me whenever I don't attack you." He slammed again. "I wish I could stop, but if I do they could kill me."
"Who? Who's doing this to you?" I asked, but I was already sure I knew the answer.
"Pariah Dark and Dan Phantom." He took a different approach and started shooting at the shield with a gun stored in the left sleeve of the suit. "I was so stupid … they found me and told me all these things about how they could help me and be my friend, but they just wanted to use me! They started to turn me against you, and now I regret it."
My shield was weakening and I was getting exhausted.
"I can help you, Toby. Maybe I can phase through your arm and get the chip or something. We have to stop it right now, because there's something much bigger going on than you and me. Please, there's got to be something."
"I'm sorry, I really wish there was something that we could do, but the suit's ghost-proof. They've thought of everything." With that, he kicked one final time at my shield, weakening me enough so I could no longer hold it up.
"I really am sorry." Toby repeated quietly while he aimed a charging cannon right in the center of my forehead. I was too weak to do anything, but close my eyes and hope that my family could fight on their own …
"Time out." Suddenly something cold, hard, and heavy was hanging around my neck. I looked back up at Toby … who was not moving. Not even blinking. In fact, nothing was moving, not any of the smaller floating islands or doors that usually moved at least a little bit, nothing.
I looked down at the thing around my neck, curious as to what it was. It was a medallion with the letters CW on it, which meant …
"Hello, Travis." I turned around quickly and saw Clockwork floating behind me. It was so weird seeing him change from a child to an adult to a very old person all within a matter of a minute. There had been an animation of it on his file, but to see it happen in person was extremely unnerving.
"Clockwork … wha … who …" I searched for the right words but couldn't find them for a few moments. He looked at me, already knowing the questions I was trying to ask but allowing me to stumble over my words clumsily. Finally I found a question to ask …
"Why the hell didn't you come sooner? He was killing me and you wait until actual gunpoint to save me?"
"I am the master of time, not a hero. That's your job, which you can't do very well if you're dead, can you?"
"Yeah, well, it's easier if I'm also in one piece, which would be a stretch to say is true at the moment."
"You'll get better."
"How do you know?"
Clockwork gave me a pointed look. Not only was I regressing into bitterness a little bit due to the extreme pain and fatigue from my fight with Toby, but he knew the future anyway, so he was actually telling me that I would, in fact, get better.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Sorry. I guess. It's just that …"
"You're bitter that your friend was manipulated into attacking you by two evil ghosts, one which should have been under my care. I know."
"Well, yeah, and …"
"They're planning on attacking the human world any moment now and you have no idea how to stop them. I know."
I opened my mouth again to continue, but the look on Clockwork's face stopped me, telling me that he already knew everything. I clenched my jaw. Even if I was in a good mood I doubted that I would like this guy.
"So are you going to tell me, oh all-knowing Clockwork, what I've missed?"
He nodded. "I can do better than that, even. Come."
He waved his staff around in the air and suddenly we were in what I assumed was his lair. I seriously doubted any sane person or ghost would have that many clocks everywhere. I heard a gasp to my left – Toby wasn't frozen anymore. He was saying quietly but in a panicked voice, "No, no … Travis, go away, I don't want to hurt you any more, go away before the pain begins, go away before I have to hurt you again, I'll have to, otherwise they're going to hurt me, please …"
Clockwork cleared his throat. Toby jumped in surprise and turned quickly to face the ghost. Clockwork drew in a deep breath and said, "You'll be fine here. My lair exists outside of any specific time period, so the only way Dark and Phantom can control the suit is to actually enter my lair … which will not be happening."
Toby breathed out slowly, relived. He turned back to me and said, "Travis, I'm so sorry, it's just that … everything … there's so much …"
I nodded and said, "I know. There's a lot that we have to tell each other, but for now you look exhausted. Clockwork, is there a place he can go to get some sleep?" Clockwork nodded and pointed to a doorway on the other side of the room. I helped Toby over to the door and made sure he was okay as he collapsed onto a pile of cushions.
I walked back over to Clockwork, who was now floating in front of a big … viewing glass or portal or … I couldn't think of an appropriate word to describe it. He gave me a sidelong glance and said, "Your friend's been through a lot. Look."
I watched on the screen, seeing Toby on patrol. It was during the day and he was by himself, but that didn't mean anything – it could have been any given day. Then I noticed a bright green figure walk up to him – Cujo. I was confused.
"Clockwork, this was a long time ago … like …"
"Three months, one week, two days, three hours and twenty-seven minutes ago. I know."
I was silent for the next bit of what happened to Toby. When Cujo dragged him into the ghost zone he went almost straight for the castle, though I doubt that it was on purpose. Knowing Cujo, he was probably just happy to have what he thought was someone to play fetch with. Once he got to the doors of the castle, however, something instinctive stopped him. He dropped Toby and ran away whimpering. Toby was relatively unscathed, albeit a little shaken up, and went into the castle. His adventure with the trap walls was exactly like mine and Amberly's, though he was able to figure out on his own that he could step through solid objects.
Once he was on the other side, he was greeted by Dan Phantom. He immediately grabbed a thermos in one hand and a weapon in the other, but Phantom just laughed and innocently put his hands up. The gesture caught Toby off guard and he asked Phantom what he was doing. Phantom led him through this bull story about how he was a good ghost and how he was friends to both humans and ghosts alike. He managed to coax Toby to put his weapons away, and then said, "You know, Toby, I've seen you in the human world and what you're doing with your friend Travis to defend your town. I have to say, your talents are quite impressive – even more impressive than your friends'. He just seems to be holding his own because he has all those ghost powers. You'd be even better than he is if you had ghost powers, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, pu-leeze. Like anyone would fall for that." I rolled my eyes and scoffed. "Toby knows how much I hated being half-dead."
"Did he?" Clockwork asked. "You really didn't listen to your friend much, did you?"
"What do you mean?" I racked my brain as hard as I could, but I couldn't think of anything that Toby had ever said that had implied that he was jealous or anything. Or … was there? I thought about it some more. That day - both before and after Toby was captured – he did say some things I thought were rather … off.
I kept watching what had happened between my best friend and my enemy. Toby weakly nodded and said, "You know, Travis doesn't realize just how lucky he is. He can do all of this cool stuff and he's still messing up once in a while. Like the other day, he accidentally turned intangible and fell right through the floor into the basement. If I had those kinds of powers, I would have started practice on them right away so I could have complete control over them."
"See, now THAT'S the kind of attitude that we need our heroes to have around here. You know what? I bet I can help. I know someone who's had a lot of experience with technology, and I bet he can get together the resources to make a … oh, I don't know … suit of some sort that can let you have that kind of power. What do you say?" I had to admit, for looking so scary Dan was manipulative enough to even get me to look past that blue skin for a moment.
Toby thought about it for a moment, obviously having second thoughts about trusting a ghost, but he agreed. "So … who's this ghost?"
"Before you meet him, I have to warn you … you probably won't like who it is at first, but I can assure you that he has changed for the better. And even if he hasn't and, oh, I don't know, has ulterior motives for becoming our ally, I'm keeping a close eye on him."
My friend nodded and shrugged. "Well, you seem pretty cool, so … I guess a friend of yours is a friend of mine."
Dan chuckled a very evil chuckle and put his hand on Toby's shoulder. "Follow me, then."
Dan led Toby into another room to meet – surprise, surprise – Pariah Dark. At first Toby reacted violently, knowing exactly who it was and the threat that Dark was, but Dan reminded him of what he told him, which calmed him down a little. They all talked a little bit about this suit that the two would get for Toby, and then Dan made Toby promise that he wouldn't tell anybody, wouldn't even hint at the meeting they had. A loud noise was heard and Dan told Toby that it was probably me and Amberly triggering the trap walls, and encouraged him to come meet us. Just as Toby was walking out the door, Dan informed my friend that he would keep in touch.
The next few things Clockwork had me watch was different letters being sent to Toby, a couple of face-to-face meetings, and finally him running away to the ghost zone on the Monday after we went to Vlad's mansion.
All of the sudden a whole lot of things mad sense – Toby's strange behavior, the subtle hints dropped in the second and third letters the villains sent to me, how they knew so much.
I rubbed my eyes, tired both physically from the fight and now mentally from having to take in so much information.
"So Toby got into the suit and didn't realize until it was too late that they were using him to destroy me. Talk about psychological warfare. He's going to have to go to therapy for months."
"Don't worry, he'll only be going for a couple of weeks." Clockwork offered in his authoritative, 'I know everything that will happen way.' However, I noticed that he hesitated at the end just a little, as if he was going to say something else. I arched my eyebrow, prompting him to continue.
He did – "Assuming, of course, that there will be a place to go to therapy."
I was confused. "I thought you know everything."
"Yes and no. I know everything that will but also could happen. There are multiple futures for you and your friends and the entire world at this point, depending on the actions taken by you and your friends and allies."
"Can't you just … I dunno, change something to make everything turn out okay? Alter something in the past? Make it so that the Fright Night never got the key, or that a certain someone couldn't get out of a certain thermos?" I was starting to raise my voice in frustration at this point.
"I am the master of time, yes, but it is not up to me on how humans and ghosts alike decide to go about their destiny. I cannot force people to make the right decision, nor do I wish to constantly take people to go back and fix their mistakes – with choices come consequences, good or bad, and they are not mine to deal with."
"Everything you do you choose to do …" I said quietly to myself, finding myself quoting my teacher again. Every time that phrase came back to haunt me it took on a different meaning.
"Exactly. Now, you have a big battle in front of you. I suggest that you rest before you face it. Though I cannot play the good Samaritan and do a lot for you, I can offer you a moment's rest while you can still take it." Even though Clockwork was being uncharacteristically nice he still had a very grave look on his face. He knew more than anyone about the battle that was to come, and he knew all of the possible outcomes. I hated to think about it, but apparently enough of them were bad enough that Clockwork was actually acting like a friend to me … that was a bad sign.
I don't remember where I went to sleep, or if I even made it to a decent place to crash, but the next thing I knew I was slowly waking up with a terrible headache.
"What … what happened?" I managed to croak out.
"Dude … after your fight with Toby and Clockwork catching you up on everything you pretty much crashed. You've been out for four days."
I shot straight up. "Four days?!"
The figure that greeted me as I woke up laughed. "Nah, just messing with you. It's only been a few hours, but dang … I can see why Tucker thought that was so funny. Your reaction … that was just too good to pass up."
I stared at the person standing in front of me.
And my mind blew up.
Woo-hoo! The moment that everyone's been waiting for!
Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed – they're what keeps me going! I'm sorry to have to say, though, that I haven't even started on the next chapter, so I have no idea when I'll be able to get it up, especially with several midterms going on this week. FEAR NOT! I know exactly what I am going to write, I just need to find the time to write it.
And so, with that, I bid you goodbye (until the next chapter)!