The Line

By Someone with Time on Their Hands

Summary: Plasmius should never have crossed it.

Dead. All of them. Casper High had gone the way of Hiroshima and taken every living thing in and near its campus with it. The billboard had gone first, bending and melting until the cheery Go Casper Ravens!, had oozed into black gibberish. The trees, shrubbery and football field went next. The school gardener would only know the sight of charring grass and flaming tree leaves. Just before the hit, Mr. and Mrs. Fenton had arrived on the scene, citing an enormous ectoplasmic reading in the RV as they took a shortcut to the grocery store. They were halway through the front doors, images of Jazz and Danny dancing in their head, when the pink light consumed them. Mercifully a great deal of the building's brick and mortar collapsing took out the majority of the staff and students inside with crushed skulls and torsos. Others merely cooked red and broiled to death. Any stragglers perished with the remains of the school. The whole thing became an ash parking lot in two seconds of hot, rosy energy.

Plasmius would later convince himself that at least half of it was Daniel's fault. Certainly, the boy had riled him to the point of creating such an excessive blast, and certainly the boy could've chosen a better place to float rather than over his high school roof and flashing that ridiculous DP symbol like a bullseye. Absolutely the teen could've held his shield up longer, at least long enough to take the brunt and save his peers and parents inside. But no, his shield had disintegrated, he'd passed through the bright meteor of energy and allowed the thing to demolish Casper High. So really, it was more like Daniel could take on three quarters of the blame. Not that that mattered to the news copters that had been lurking stealthily above the clouds and the news vans hiding even better in the shadows of the surrounding buildings' shadows. They were vultures when it came to new footage of Danny Phantom and rabid vultures when it came to fighting his archenemy, Vlad Plasmius alias the Wisconsin Ghost. Naturally they had the entire fight on film, giving video proof that it was Vlad who lobbed the undead bomb at the school, that Daniel had tried in earnest to hold it back and failed for all his struggle. The boy was an instant martyr and Plasmius could see no way to spin it in his favor for the moment.

But media manipulation shot out the window when he recognized the charred silver and green of the Fenton RV lying on its side outside the blast zone. Instant comprehension flew up and punched him in the sky. Maddie. The woman's name seemed to cut all rational thought off as he vanished in a pink swirl, leaving the younger halfa alone in the clouds but for the copters. Hours later Vlad Masters would be sitting in his tattered arm chair in the center of a grand living room that looked like it had been visited by a dozen bulls with their horns on fire. The cracked plasma TV would be the only light in the massive black cavern and all the news channels were replaying the event he'd just lived. Some reporter would spew something about Danny Phantom, his recurring foe Plasmius—this last they all seemed to spit or choke out—and then cut to the footage. On the bird's eye view Vlad ignored his battle with Daniel and watched in the corner as the RV-sized tank halted outside the school. Watched as a massive orange shape and a voluptuous blue figure jumped out and sped inside the building. Watched as the pink glow hit… Then he flipped the channel to a different reporter talking about the victims.

Finally he watched footage of Daniel himself, still black and white as he wandered through the excuse for debris that was left behind. Not for the first time Vlad took in how rail thin the boy was for all his fights and training. The muscle had grown but he still looked so much like the scrawny child he'd first batted around in his castle two years ago. Now he looked even younger if not more ragged on screen. He staggered as he walked, didn't turn his head or move his lips as if he didn't know the paparazzi was trying suffocate him, and his eyes were something to behold. They bugged comically from his sockets, instant shadows pooling under them as he rolled his line of sight in every direction but the cameras'. He never blinked. Finally the boy came to a stop and picked something up. Vlad could practically smell the news crews wetting themselves from excitement. Daniel had picked up a ring, the metal still glowing with fading heat. The gem at its top was chipped but the millionaire mayor recognized it: Jack Fenton's class ring. Had the buffoon always kept it on him or given it to his son to give to his sweetheart? Vlad knew he'd been sentimental enough for either to apply.

The Daniel on his TV cut through the respectfully somber patter of, "Danny Phantom any comment?" by finally looking up. Vlad would never admit it, but for a split second he feared the boy's "scary eyes," as for that moment they looked like their gaze was shooting through the cameras, out the screen and straight through his skull. The paparazzi went understandably mute. Daniel threw them a bone.

"I made a promise to them, Plasmius. I'm going to keep it. But I'm making a new one to you." Vlad watched the ring disappear into the young man's fist, saw the green of his eyes flare with blistering hate he thought only he was capable of. Daniel dipped his head an inch and the cameras' views noticeably retreated. "It will hurt." The boy's eyes blazed like neon before he either teleported or turned invisible at light speed. His eyes left an after image in the air like a GO sign on a traffic light. The reporters' yammering restarted appropriately. Has the spite between Phantom and Plasmius renewed/taken on a new edge? Was Danny Phantom a student at Casper High in life, making it a target for Plasmius? What could the ghost boy's vengeance mean for them and the murderous Wisconsin Ghost? Stay tuned to find out. Vlad turned the TV off and phased down to the lab. He double checked the ghost portal's locks and surveyed the weapon inventory. Had anyone been there to watch this in action Vlad would let them know he wasn't too worried. If Daniel could "make it hurt" or defeat him in battle period, the boy would've done it by now. The most he had to be concerned about now was making sure his identity remained under wraps (this was legitimate worry, considering Daniel had nothing to lose now) and to give Madeline Fenton the most beautiful funeral he could devise. He supposed Jack, Jasmine and the rest of his enemy's peers deserved a pomped burial as well. It would be something for the news vultures to snack on anyway.

Mayor Masters made it so within the first week of the month. Neither Daniel Fenton nor Danny Phantom attended the service. In fact, all but Mayor Masters and the majority of the Ghost Zone even knew the boy was still alive. No bodies were found at the incinerated remains of Casper High, the boy wasn't at home sick or out playing hooky with friends—the parents of the latter sobbed as they wished the alternative was an option again. Danny was just gone, assumed dead until further notice though a sparse, hopeful few hoped he'd just run off, joining in with the herd of parents in denial. Vlad believed this too, though the question of where he'd run to remained an enigma. Not that it would matter to him by the end of the month. Perhaps it would've turned out differently for the man if he'd bothered to skim over his book collection, specifically the shelf dedicated to the paranormal. Even more specifically, he should have noticed the absence of his treasured Ghost Zone Paedia. The black, purple and green volume had been missing since the day of the incident, but between his grief over Mrs. Fenton and fitting in his lengthening reach for power, Vlad wasn't bothered with it.

This was what would kill him.

Thirty days later it was April fifth, sun shining in a blue sky and spring green starting to bud. Birds chirped as they flew through the empty space where Casper High once stood, some perching on the new ironwork coming up. Others landed on the stone memorial where hundreds of teenagers, staff and the parents Fenton had their names engraved in the mineral. Little children had gathered Easter eggs earlier, several solemnly as they gathered them and nibbled chocolate rabbits without big brothers and sisters watching. The shopping mall was virtually empty ditto half the movie theater. Floody Waters was nearly naked but for a few parents, senior citizens and their youngsters of choice. The city was eerily quiet without the nigh-constant babble of its adolescents. Vlad Masters stared out his massive office window as he pondered this, his paperwork for the day already marked with his illegible squiggle of a signature.

There hadn't been a single ghost attack since that day. Some speculated that it was part of Danny Phantom's revenge, going after Plasmius' supposed brood. The pessimists still claimed the ghost boy used his 'villains' for dirty work and had called them on and off at will. Vlad would be tempted to stir that pot more if not for the sheer tininess of that demographic. His personal theory ran that Daniel had vanished into the portal and closed it behind him for whatever purpose. It was one reason his own portal's alarm had been synched up with his cellphone should any white-haired visitors try sneaking in. Still, Vlad's second theory was that the boy had been taken care of inside the Zone before he could even start his roaring rampage of revenge. Pity for him then. Suddenly the air turned icy and a thread of terror twined around his stomach before drawing it into a hard knot. "Fright Knight."

In the window's reflection he saw the watery image of his trump card fading into view behind him. The fiery plume flickered, the green bulbs of his eyes flared and the source of the man's instantaneous fear, the Soul Shredder, shined the same deadly gleam it had shined since it first started slicing. The Fright Knight sheathed it for a moment to bow. "My liege," he murmured in the alien rumble he called a voice. The spirit returned to his full stature, still seeming to tower over the halfa despite their equal height. Vlad marched behind his desk and flopped into his armchair.

"To what do I owe the visit?" Fright Knight unsheathed his sword and rested the edge against his gauntlet.

"The ghost child has been missing ever since your…misfortune concerning his companions and family. I have yet to come across any of their souls, up to and including the lady in blue you desired." Vlad threw the specter a look crossing between an order to shut up and a thank you for trying. Fright Knight dipped his head. "There were rumors in the Ghost Zone that Phantom was seeking them out, perhaps in some last ditch attempt to hold off on whatever vengeance he has in store for you. He was as unsuccessful as I."

"Any word on what this supposed reprisal will entail?" The armored ghoul shook his head.

"None would say. There has been no information as to where he went, if he has been vanquished or if he's simply gone into exile." Vlad furrowed his brow and folded his hands under his chin.

"You're certain."

The knight planted the tip of his sword in the floor like a cane. He drummed his fingers around the handle. "If anyone knew, I assure you I'd know. On that note, do you know where the Paedia is?"

"Pardon?" A tingle of honest concern sprouted in the man's mind.

"The Ghost Zone Paedia you had me purloin from the Ghostwriter's estate. Infinite knowledge of the spectral plane's artifacts, spells and so forth? That Paedia?"

"Watch your tongue, knight." Vlad's eyes flashed red a moment before confessing, "But no, I've had my hands full since then. I haven't looked through it since last month honestly."

"Then I believe the tome might not be on your shelf at all. I believe the ghost child may have taken the Paedia and used it as you did."

"What do you mean?" Fright Knight went on, armored fingers strangling the Shredder's handle.

"Using his exile to practice the process you did to wring the remainder of your powers from your 'spectral evolution' as the book puts it. Those whirlwinds and shadow copies were the last of your arsenal, weren't they?"

"How do you--?" Something was wrong. Something was dreadfully wrong with the ghost's superfluous knowledge, with the sharpening edge of spite in his voice. The lights dimmed into a sickly green in time with the blanket of clouds that had swirled in to block the sun. The knight's violet plume roared and the Shredder seemed to pulse hungrily.

"After two decades of supernatural growth those were the only tricks left outside of pettily tormenting a trio of adolescents with your stolen position as mayor. I hope you enjoyed all of it while it lasted," the Soul Shredder raised like a guillotine and Masters shifted to Plasmius in a black blink, "my liege!" As the green blade swung down Vlad had time to wonder a million things at once—why the betrayal, why does he know, why the scorn, why the darkness, why, why, why—and then the razor edge plunged in. Red eyes grew into bewildered globes as the length of the sword disappeared into the Fright Knight's middle, the noise of pierced metal sounding like the slow snipping of two scissor blades. The ghoul's eyes didn't wince or widen. He twisted the Shredder once, twice, three times. Then for the first time Vlad Plasmius could recall, the Fright Knight bared his teeth in the shadowed wall that was his face. They weren't jagged or needle pointed as one would expect of such a monster, but simple straight white teeth. These were shown between unseen, curled back lips, as though he'd caught a whiff of something noxious.

That's when the white rings split his torso above the blade.

There was a solid halt in the oldest halfa's mind as his knight was suddenly replaced by Danny Phantom with the Soul Shredder through his gut and the Fright Knight's blazing helmet on his head. The latter was removed quietly as Daniel gripped the burning plume and plucked the headgear off, balancing it on his palm. Next the Soul Shredder came out like Excalibur from the stone and was once again planted in the expensive carpet. He never took his eyes off Vlad. "You know he took the longest to perfect? I mean you and the rest of the guys in the zone I've dealt with more times than I can count, but Fright Knight," the boy shook his head, "I've fought him once, twice? But if I was able to pull him off in front of you," his voice fell behind the knight's baritone, "my liege, then I think I'm good with just about anyone. Incidentally, these are all that's left of him." The teen shook the helmet and sword to illustrate this before chucking the helmet away and resting the blade's tip in one hand. "It was a favor for you in the end—he turned on you right before the finishing blow, gave some line about switching allegiances or something. There's just no employee loyalty anymore is there?"

Vlad only heard the boy with half an ear. Most of him was just trying to sort through the plethora of new realities being forced into him.

One, Daniel was back.

Two, Daniel could shapeshift.

Three, Daniel had apparently slain the Fright Knight.

Four, Daniel had just gutted himself with the Soul Shredder and was still standing before him.

Daniel began to twist said Shredder in his hands like a length of tin foil before giving it a tug at both ends. It cracked and tore in half. Disintegrated.

Five, Daniel had used the Paedia.

"I know what you're thinking: why didn't he just swing it through my head? There's a pretty elaborate rant I could go into about how you don't know real fear yet, it would be too good for you, or some nonsense like that. But point blank, I know I'm more creative than that thing and I don't want to put the last thirty days to waste." The young man didn't show even a hint of a smile, nor a trace of snark. His tone was dead.

There was still a chance to defuse this. He had to think of Maddie. He had to bring her apparition up between them, share some semi-bonding moment and strike while the boy was contemplating. Vlad put on his best concerned face and began, "Daniel, I don't know what you've been up to—how you've been…coping. Of course I had to go through the detached motions of the figurehead, giving speeches and memorials and all those trivial necessities when I know I'm the reason Maddie and those poor children are dead. I admit that fully and don't—can't—blink without seeing your mother's face glaring down at me." This much was true and he didn't need to fake the crack in his voice as he mentioned her. Daniel was stone-faced. He needed to lay it on thicker. "All of it, all this pointless fighting, this inane rivalry with a mere child has led to an accidental genocide and it's put all my lunacy," he had to bite the back of his tongue on that one, a single red eye watching as his shadow clones seeped out of the walls, "into perspective. It's shown me what a fool I've been--."

"Ha!" It was a single hysteric bark that jumped from the superhero's throat and it finally turned the corners of his mouth up. But was like no smile Plasmius had ever seen. The thing looked more like an inverted scream than a grin. Still, the teen chuckled like a boy-next-door from Hell as the shadows reached toward him…and shrieked in agony. Danny Phantom lit up like a bug zapper as tendrils of electricity sprang out and strangled the shadows, burning them into nonexistence. Vlad felt the hairs under his white suit rise. The lightning vanished after the shadows, the boy's non-grin going with them. "It's like you're reading from his script. If the next words out of your mouth are, 'they went so quickly, they felt no pain,' I'll know this whole thing is a set up by Clockwork." He seemed to pause and glance around as if waiting for the Master of Time to pop out of a wall and affirm this. The boy had snapped. Sometime between Casper High and this moment Daniel had lost his mind to the frenzy of his grief. "No? Then I guess you and the decent Vlad were just saving that line in case I ever lost all my loved ones." A shrug. "Not that that matters anymore. Next to nothing matters anymore, except the promises. I swore I wouldn't turn into him. Not permanently anyway; I'll just be trying on his skin. And you are going to hurt, Plasmius. Worse than you can imagine."

The non-grin returned and a deluded shine stole over the boy's eyes. "Here's hoping it'll be caught on film again. I may want to replay it on the weekends." An awful pit was stewing in the older halfa's stomach. A shaking, panicked, cowering pit that was sending sirens up into his brain that despite the still-emaciated figure of the teen, despite every winning battle against the boy in the past, the one Daniel was about to wage now was going to be unwinnable. Painful. Worse than painful. Pride built on innumerable won battles against the child muffled the warnings. So the boy was stronger. So he'd actually gone and "killed" a ghost. He was still Vlad Plasmius and while he had his own brawn to boast, his brain was still lightyears ahead of his young enemy. Plasmius stood at his full height with his arms crossed.

"I meant every word, Daniel," he stifled his own laugh, "but if it's some angst-driven stress relief fight you want, that's fine. It's only natural to place the blame solely on me and none upon your inability to hold your defense." Daniel nodded accommodatingly to all of this.

In a static voice he sighed, "I've outright skipped the self-depreciation stage, so save your energy. Not all the lectures and chess metaphors in the world are going to prevent it. You will die today, Vlad. That's all that--." He was cut off by a starburst of pink energy erupting in his face. The blow shot his head back and Vlad heard the fleshy crack of his neck whipping back to his shoulder blades. The black and white figure held its posture for half a second before the neck snapped back up, sans head. Vlad tasted the chicken alfredo he'd had for lunch crawling back up to his tongue. The alfredo nearly finished the journey to his lips when he saw the boy's head grow back. Bone, inhuman flesh and glowing skin bubbled up out of the stump of his neck. The eyes filled in their sockets like balloons as a new tongue blossomed and touched reformed teeth. The hair came last and there was Danny Phantom, utterly nonplussed by the gossamer film of slime coating him to the chin. He plucked a string of it from his ear and waved his hand as if to say ta-da, next he'd pull a rabbit out of his hat. "You were right to get the Paedia when you did, Plasmius. Even I didn't know I had half the things I did waiting inside me. Personally, I think it's because I got a full body blast and you just got a headshot. Again, it doesn't matter considering you're plasma anyway, but it's good to have a feasible reason behind one's slaughter." Daniel nodded to himself in agreement.

Vlad retracted his previous statement. The boy wasn't merely hysteric. He was as clinically insane as he'd constantly deemed the older halfa. "You won't beat, let alone kill me Daniel. As it's been made so painfully obvious, you need your accomplices to have any hope of beating me, trump cards or no. Name one instance where you've won without the aid of your sidekicks or some toy of your father's. I can't seem to recall one." He felt his confidence nurture itself in his chest as he spoke. Stating these facts aloud was like medicine. Daniel looked shocked, his green eyes growing into aghast globes. He went so far as to slap a scandalized hand over the symbol on his chest.

"What are you talking about, cheesehead?" His tone had jumped a few octaves to a parody of his usual timbre. "I'd never kill you. I wouldn't even exorcise a ghost like Fright Knight, deserving or otherwise. Danny Phantom doesn't kill." Plasmius was surprised when he didn't raise his hand in the Boy Scout salute. The surprise left when the teen manifested an ectoplasmic halo over his head. He then twirled the solid hoop around his finger and a mimic of his young hero smirk stretched under his nose. "He never will." Daniel pinched the halo between his hands and his face warped. His smirk stretched into a long, curling grin that bared fangs that hadn't been there a second ago. Green eyes bled red and darkened in deep sockets. The rest happened in a flash of white rings. It was another shapeshifting trick of course; the thing now at eye level with him wasn't the real Daniel, but… But how could Daniel even imagine such a form?

He'd grown to match Plasmius in height, but dwarfed him in muscle. The simple black and white had shifted into sharp points in the design of the suit, gloves and boots. He'd even donned a ragged replica of Plasmius' own cape. But it was everything above the collar that had the man worried. His skin had paled to a corpse blue-green, his ears pricked up to points and his hair had erupted into a plume of white fire that reached down his back. The new black gloves snapped the halo and the pieces went up in vapor. "That's where I come in." That voice didn't belong to even a copy of Daniel. It was a baritone fused with giddy contempt for the older man, a distortion of Vlad's accustomed drawl. "That said…" Three blocks away from Mayor Masters' office a dog looked up and barked while the neighboring cluster of cats hissed. The white, black and red shape careening through the sky above them wasn't well-liked among the Amity Park fauna. The dog and cats promptly muted and scurried into their cardboard boxes when the new black, white and burning figure flew after the first shape appeared. This one was new. Worse.

A million supernovas were going off in his chest where the blast had struck. Vlad was surprised there wasn't a crater there. Surprise evaporated in the arrival of fresh pain in his jaw and teeth as a gloved rock rammed up into his chin and catapulted him into the clouds. He felt his fangs scrunch and lock over each other. Vlad howled through his teeth and wrenched his jaws apart. One fang and three flat teeth tumbled out of his mouth. "That little--!" He stumbled to find an appropriate snack food to call the boy in lieu of the words his mother had ordered him never to use. Luckily he was saved the troubled when a neon green noose snapped around his throat. The man made a noise like a choking frog before being swung down into a brick wall. Loose teeth rattled and something went crickt at the base of his neck. Whatever Daniel had brought out of him ahead of schedule, it had given him the equivalent of ectoplasmic steroids. He had to start talking. Distract him with something, anything, "It seems you've gotten better with your upper body at least. Has anything above the neck gotten stronger?" The distorted Daniel appeared before him, mouth curled to one side in an infuriating smirk that, again, Vlad thought only he had been capable of.

"Do you really think I'd have to be smarter than you by this point?" Plasmius knew better than to push the subject and intangibly drifted into the building. The young couple in the apartment shrieked appropriately and rushed to the exit. Plasmius flew to block the door causing the pair to yelp again before his hands locked around their throats. This time Daniel appeared by seeping through a window as a green fog, the vapor swirling up and solidifying into his new form. Showing off. The manchild cocked a brow at the new scene and deadpanned, "What do you think you're doing?" Better, better so much better. Plasmius spared him his own smirk and squeezed the humans' necks a little tighter. The woman squeaked like a rodent.

"I think I'm giving you a wake-up call Daniel, or whatever you're calling yourself in that comic book getup. I think I'm reminding you that there is still a substantial amount of innocent lives in Amity Park for us to turn into collateral damage, unless you hop off whatever pedestal you assume you're on." His hands glowed a venomous magenta around the civilians' throats and they began to weep onto his gloves. Daniel frowned and squinted at his nemesis as if Plasmius had suddenly started speaking Chinese.

"Wait, you…" That's right boy, remember you're infernal hero complex, realize that you're not some vengeance-swearing wanton-destroying wannabe monster and--. "Ha-ha-haa! You still think I'm him!? You honestly believe I'm that-that-that imbecilic Mom's apple pie and thou shalt not kill kid? And here I thought all your jokes amounted to was cheap shots at Jack Fenton. But, if you're senile pulp of a brain needs convincing I'm happy to oblige." Daniel held up two fingers that twinkled green at their tips before firing twin bars of light at the couple's heads. Vlad jerked his hands away at the electric zap and watched in detached horror as the man and woman paralyzed, eyes gaping in glassy sockets. They hovered in place for two seconds before Daniel cut off the beams and the pair collapsed. Neither moved or opened their eyes. Dead. Dead. Daniel...had just murdered two civilians in cold blood when Vlad was certain—one hundred percent positive even—that the boy could've rescued them. His mind had to sound out the fact just to take it in: Daniel. Just. Murdered.

"You just…"

"Murdered, killed, executed and/or exterminated two human beings that had done me no harm and didn't need to die? Why yes, yes I did. I would try for the rest of the complex, but this is our special time together." Plasmius felt a hand clamp over his head and squeeze. He had time to see a doppelganger of his foe sneering down at him before he was hurled headfirst out the wall like a football. To describe the rest of the ordeal strictly through Vlad Plasmius' eyes would lessen the effect. That was what the paparazzi was for. The call to cameras was immediate for two reasons. The first dozen or so bystanders with cells had called because Vlad "Murdered Hundreds of Innocent Children" Plasmius was seen flying/hurdling through the sky again. Was he there for more terrorizing? To call out Danny Phantom? Nobody knew, hence the 911 calls and the subsequent alerting of the news crews. The second reason, the one that triggered at least thirty more phone calls in the vicinity, was the arrival of the mystery specter later to be dubbed "Dark Phantom."

This new ghost sported the color scheme of Phantom and Plasmius, enough to power to smack around the villainous Plasmius and seemed to be out for the Dracula lookalike's blood. That alone was enough to excite the media, but it was the mention of the insignia that really lit the fire under their butts. The new ghost was sporting Danny Phantom's crest and upon examining the close ups of the footage, had nearly the same face. When Dark Phantom followed Plasmius into the apartment complex it provided the perfect lull in action for the reporters on the ground and in the air to start rapid fire theorizing. Could this new ghost be a relation of Danny Phantom's? His brother or a father? What if the entire feud was a family affair? Could Plasmius have sired Danny Phantom and the newcomer? Was this an ancient vendetta that stretched back centuries that was simply coming to a head? Where had this new face been hiding all this time? Why had he waited until now to attack? Questions, questions and more questions filled the airwaves from channel 2 to channel 30 until Vlad Plasmius was fired out of the brick wall he'd just phased through.

Most of the crews yammered quietly enough to let any ensuing sounds of battle or insulting quips between the dead men reach the mics. But the banter gave way to warnings of "higher get higher" and "into the alleys get under something," as Plasmius began to spin one of his tornadoes to life. The suction had just started when the newcomer flew like a shot through the hot wind and clamped onto Plasmius' shoulders. He froze the dark-haired ghost in place, disintegrating the twister. The newscasters got as far as their celebratory intros, "It seems the new Phantom as halted Plasmius in his tracks, The stranger has Plasmius pinned, and Looks like Plasmius has bitten off more than he can chew," before the game changed. The cheeriness lingered for an extra second as Dark Phantom froze Plasmius' limbs. The child killer shrilled his pain through jagged teeth while his arm turned translucent ice blue. Then whiter, more brittle, the new Phantom's grin stretching to Grinch proportions over his dead face.

It sounded like hollow glass shattering. The color inside the falling flesh shards looked like frozen red wine. Bits of Plasmius' arms still sparkled minutely on the newcomer's clenched fists. It took Plasmius an extra second before the agony registered in his brain and he screamed. That same scream woke the news crews out of their own shock, their glazed eyes still marveling at the flapping white thing that had just lost a quarter of its body. "Is it through your head yet, Plasmius?" Plasmius failed to answer with the white boot rammed into his ribs. The kick sent the unarmed ghost shooting through the air, cameras on and above ground struggling to keep him in view. The new Phantom stopped his course with a quick teleport and an ecto blast to the face. A speck of bone showed in Plasmius' cheek and a patch of black hair had sizzled away. "You don't have any more pawns," Dark Phantom's eyes and hand blazed green as he seemed to grip something invisible and swing his arm in a hard arc. Plasmius took on his own green hue and appeared to fling himself into a nearby water tower and out the other side. The new ghost manifested behind him. "Any more unfair advantages," the black glove disappeared inside the mangled ghost's back. An instant later Plasmius was howling on camera, his remaining flesh bubbling and smoking that omnipresent green, legs kicking spastically as the rest of him flailed like a worm on a hook.

The stink of it reached the news copters and the cameraman of channel 5 and the news girl of channel 7 gagged in unison. Finally the stranger removed his hand and caught the smoking specter by his collar. All of Amity Park and most of the United States saw from the scene or the TV how Plasmius' blue skin had charred and scarred to a burnt azure with most of the white singed in spots. The murderer's mouth lolled open in stupid panting breaths before tightening with the fist around his Adam's apple. The microphones barely picked up the new Phantom's whisper, "Any more mercy." The newcomer's gripping hand went intangible and the semi-transparency spread over the remains of Plasmius' form.

"What are you doi--?" His question died in the soft wet ripping of his skin dropping from his body like an onion peel. It landed on top of Amity News NOW van and draped over the windshield, liquid red oozing onto the wipers. The reporters inside squealed as the channel 5 cameraman and channel 7 news girl vomited in their copters. Plasmius couldn't even manage a scream this time. Only a string of falsetto frog croaks escaped the raw meat of his lips.

"You crossed the line Plasmius. Waking up Pariah Dark for junk jewelry? Fine. Live out your chess metaphors and flaunt your experience in front of the amateurs? That was just peachy. But cremating Danny's family and friends like so much ash from a cigarette? Well," he chuckled, "that was the straw that broke the ghost boy's brain."

"D-Daniel thaaa-thaahaaat…"


Vlad gargled on something and continued, "thah was…was an accident…I-I'd never…"

"Never try to murder a man, abscond with his wife, rob the wealthy, or try to kill a child in hopes of creating a better brain dead spawn of your own? No, I'm sure deliberate genocide is far beneath you. But just in case it was, let me assure you this is an accident too." Vlad Plasmius took the impact of the ghostly wail head on and shot down through the asphalt a foot from the Amity News NOW van. The vehicle in question and all its brethren burned rubber away from the expanding supernatural shriek, ditto the onlookers with cars. Windows, glasses, televisions and handheld games cracked as the streets rippled like stone carpets. Ears would still ring for days afterward. The new ghost vanished when the wail ended, not a single camera—the lenses were in pieces anyway—would see the final blow. Down in the sewers Plasmius lay prone and peeled on his back as the sludge of Amity Park's excrement pooled on one side of him. He could feel the black rings finally flickering from his torso. He could only pray his arms and skin would still be in place when he became Mayor Masters. There was an electronic whine above him. Suddenly the mutilated man was staring up into the glowing eye of a Fenton thermos.

What used to be Daniel was glaring down at him, his spare hand cupping the thermos' cap. "Enjoy your trip inside, Vlad. It'll be your only one." Sickening realization flashed in the millionaire's head just as the black rings burst from his middle and separated.

"No! Daniel y-you couldn't you—you'll be just like me! Yes, you'll be just like me only--!"

"Worse? Of course I am." He smiled serenely and his irises blinked green. Daniel's voice surged back for a split second, "But I won't be." The thermos fired.

"No! NoDanielyoucan'tdon'tyouCAN'T--!!!" But he was vacuumed into the canister feet first, Vlad Masters still spreading from his stomach onward. Not a second after Phantom clapped the lid on he heard an enormous meaty noise from within the chrome. He was reminded of the time his father had taken him fishing to Lake Eerie and had accidentally gotten the just-add-water roast chicken in his tiny lunch pail wet. The flesh of the bird had nearly blown the tin box apart with its mass, but the Fenton thermos was infinitely more durable. A red line still dribbled from the lid's lip. It was thumbed away. Dark Phantom rose out of his crater and wasn't surprised to see the copters circling and the news vans cautiously coasting back. He held out the Fenton thermos and shook it for the cameras to see.

"Behold, canned Plasmius! There's a cozy little corner of the Ghost Zone I know he'll look perfect in. Oh, and when Mr. Danny "no I don't believe in maiming my enemies" Phantom finally breaks away and makes his way back here to save this guy's carcass," he shook the thermos again, "tell him I said he's welcome." Dark Phantom promptly broke into a lunatic cackle before disappearing in a flap of his cape. The murky excuse for an overcast sky dissipated and the couple in the now-ventilated apartment awoke queasily from the effects of the sleep ray.

A time later found Phantom hovering in the Ghost Zone, waiting for the cluster of spirits to realize he was there. The whole gang was there from Box Ghost, to Skulker, to Spectra and all the way through the list of giant red-eyed B list ghosts he'd encountered since Vlad Masters first took over Amity Park. He let them talk amongst themselves for a few minutes—was it really Danny Phantom? Some relative? No way, the ghost child was a halfa he couldn't have any undead relations! A new talisman?—before he politely interjected. To be fair, he barely took in a breath, it was practically a ghostly whisper. All the same they went reeling, conversation at an end. They saw who'd come to visit and the fight or flight question pinged on in every face. "Don't bother running or trying some vain attempt at bringing the new and improved Psycho Phantom down. I'm not here to fight." As expected Skulker drifted to the head of the herd, eyes narrowed at the creature formerly known as his prey.

"Then what are you here for ghost chi--," Dark Phantom raised a brow, "…Phantom?"

"To teach." He reached into his abdomen and pulled two infamous tokens from his bowels. In own hand was an accursed Fenton thermos, and in the other… The gathered spirits gaped at the Fright Knight's helmet as Dark Phantom twirled it on a fingertip. "I had to stop by Vlad's office to pick this little visual aid up. The Soul Shredder would've been better but I went and destroyed it and the Paedia. I've been thinking about doing the same to a number of other dangerous articles in here," he shrugged, "but that can wait." He tossed the helmet into Skulker's hands. "Lesson one, the official story is that you," he addressed the Ghost Zone's greatest hunter, "vanquished the Fright Knight and destroyed the Shredder out of, I don't know, his weapon being unsportsmanlike to your prey or what have you. That's what all of you will answer whenever questioned about the knight, whether by another ghost, a human or a Guy in White. Are we clear?" They were. "Lesson two, none of you can be employed by Vlad Plasmius nor Masters ever again." He unscrewed the canister and something like tomato juice mixed with chili poured out in a massive trail. "Unless one can be employed by inanimate tissue. In which case grab a job application."

He waited for the bout of nausea to subside. Considering his audience it was a short wait. "Lesson three, I was just a particularly vicious ally of Danny Phantom who was outraged by the story he told me of Plasmius demolishing his friends and family. I then muscled you all into keeping Danny busy in here while I went to eviscerate Plasmius against his wishes. I then vanished into the deepest reaches of the Ghost Zone with the canned Plasmius. Is this also clear?" As crystal. "Very good. Now for the most important one. Lesson four," white rings split from his middle and revealed the narrow stick of a superhero they'd fought for the past two years. He smiled boyishly at them, all wide-eyed and plucky. "Relax okay? It's not like I could do any real damage to you guys. After all, I'm just Danny Phantom. I don't know how to shapeshift, or regenerate, or explode with energy, or use my intangibility for horrific utilities, or create ectoplasmic objects out of thin air, or possess the inanimate and I definitely don't know how to boil the ectoplasm in a ghost until they erode from the inside out. Ha! I don't even have my driver's license yet. After I come out of hiding in the shade of the slums, get resituated at home and I've gotten through my mourning we can get back to business. It won't be fun having you guys beat me around while I struggle to put a stop to your dastardly plots of the week, but I'll manage.

"Heck, I may even hone my current powers and learn new ones! Just a couple months ago I got ice powers out of nowhere. Just now I figured out how to make ghost portals. Well, I've got to get back to Amity Park and pray I'm not too late to save Plasmius, after which Danny Fenton will reveal he's traumatized but alive. I honestly look forward to our future battles. They'll really help me cope so long as not a single human being, cat, dog, mouse or any other thing with a heartbeat dies in the process." He grinned into a rictus. "'Kay?" They were 'kay.

"Phantom," Ember spoke up beside her significant other, "why bother with all this?" The boy paused beside his new portal with his back to them. His head wrenched around on his shoulders, eyes red and a split tongue lashing as he explained:

"Because I promised." His eyes flared lethally and the ectoplasm around the group flexed like the raised hackles on a dog. The tongue retracted and the green eyes returned before Danny Phantom vanished back into the real world. The ghosts dissipated in a cloud of murmurs concerning their enemy's sanity and lack thereof as the anticipated events unfolded.

Danny Phantom tore his way into Amity Park, begging the surrounding civilians that he wasn't too late, that Dark Phantom hadn't been through, that Plasmius, monster though he was, was still okay. The public and news crews answered gently that he was indeed too late and that they had copious footage to prove it. His face fell in self-loathing on at least a dozen cameras with a single sound clip of a choking "I didn't want this I told him I didn't want this, second time I couldn't stop it" before letting himself melt through the ground. Various pop psychologists would be brought on the news channels to discuss their grief theories concerning the ghost boy. His supporters young and old chatted online about their sympathy for the boy, how much of a burden the lone soul had taken. For all this the parents of the lost teenagers rejoiced over Danny Phantom's mysterious, brutal benefactor, Dark Phantom. A day later Danny Fenton was found by Damon Gray roaming the streets of Elmerton. He'd been red around the eyes, bedraggled, emaciated and still in the clothes he'd worn on Casper High's D-Day.

The boy quietly explained that he'd snuck out of Casper High minutes before the explosion, wanting to see Danny Phantom in action. He shakily admitted to speaking with the dead boy a few times regardless of his parents' profession. By the time the blast struck he'd seen his parents run into the building and knew there'd be nothing waiting for him at home, in his friends' homes…anywhere. He'd stayed on the fringe streets and avoided the public ever since. Danny Fenton would later become Danny Foley, the sole adolescent of Amity Park.

In the realm of the dead Skulker mounted Fright Knight's helmet above his fireplace. A nondescript river of red pulp was slurped up by an emerald behemoth of a dog named Cujo. Official stories of Danny Phantom's affiliation with "Dark Phantom" spread through the purple doors and around the landmarks of the Zone. Warnings were made pertaining to the murder count in Amity Park and how it should remain nonexistent. Forever.

Far away in one of the darkest, oldest corners of the Ghost Zone clocks ticked away as they had before, during and after this event in the parade. Ancient red eyes glanced over the frozen events of the past, present and multiple futures. They skimmed over young Danny's first meeting with his sinister future self. They analyzed the cold blankness of the boy's face as he stole the Paedia and trained ruthlessly in the abandoned tributaries of the Zone. They marveled at his first transformation into the mimic of his future, at his slaughtering the Master of Fear with his bare hands. They gleamed proudly as he sliced himself with the Soul Shredder and didn't wince in shock when he realized his greatest fear was done and gone. They glazed indifferently as he mangled and ultimately murdered his archenemy. They glinted up with a smirk as he threatened his rogues gallery into submission. At last they crinkled up with a grim blue grin at the two futures on display above him.

On the left was a world where a young man hung from a nylon rope on a rafter, the vertebrae in his neck having snapped instantly whilst Vlad Masters marched solemnly to presidency and from there to dictatorship once he'd found a way to rule the world via supernatural legions.

On the right was the world moving on today, one where Danny Phantom continued to "stumble" upon new gifts, where the ghosts were cautious not to come within spitting distance of a bystander and where an adult Danny Phantom would rule his game peacefully and amiably…until gutsier specters like Walker or a Freakshow-woken Pariah Dark stirred the pot. Which they would. On both occasions Danny Phantom would be knocked out from behind by the enigmatic Dark Phantom and retaliation slaughter would ensue. Clockwork sighed at the less-than-perfect situation as he had and would at a hundred other atrocities from assassinations to cremated children done for centuries back and beyond. Still, he smiled at the beaten thermos that managed to ping back and forth on its stand now and then. "I knew you'd be good for something."

Author's Note: Because, warped as I've made it, Danny deserves some flipping revenge after what I did to him in "New Father." Happy Belated Easter!