Chapter 14: Fool Me Once Shame on You, Fool me twice...

"Ah Daniel, so nice of you to join us."

I stood, transfixed in a momentary state of shock and confusion before something in my mind registered.


Before I could even pull myself together long enough to speak, I felt someone push me forward with a violent jerk, forcing my hands behind my back and holding them in place with an agonizingly strong grip. Simultaneously, a different pair of hands wrapped a cold, metal belt around my waist, locking it into place. Immediately, I felt an electrocuting sensation shoot through my body; I gave a grunt as my energy levels plummeted. I would've fallen to the ground if there hadn't been someone holding my hands tightly behind my back. Feeling light-headed, I looked down at the floor to try to lessen my vertigo; it didn't take me long to notice that I was in my regular clothes. The electrocution had involuntarily forced me back into my human half.

I heard a snap of fingers, quickly followed by a burst of light in the cavern. My attention snapped back to my surroundings instantly. I let out a gasp when I saw what surrounded me.

I was standing at the beginning of a high and narrow bridge, about the width of a thirty-centimeter ruler. Like the rest of the cave, it was made of jagged rock that looked like it might crumble at any moment. At least a hundred meters below the bridge, there was a oversized pit of boiling lava. Around me, there stood several bulky, burly ghosts. I caught a glance of the ghost who was holding my hands together behind my back. He growled at me when I made eye contact, though not without flashing me a smirk.

Then, looking in front of me, I saw the most terrifying thing of all.

Plasmius was floating near the end of the bridge, standing next to a large glass case that contained a small rock, about the size of one's palm. The Jade Stone.

"Daniel, I hope you don't mind the rough welcome," the older ghost said casually, as if we were talking about the weather. "I do believe it was necessary, however."

Struggling against my captor's grip, I growled, "What's going on, Vlad?"

None of this made any sense. Why was Vlad here? I mean, obviously, he'd seen the Stone, which is why he was being all obsessive and trying to gain control of it, just like Clockwork had said. But how did he get here? I thought he'd been attacked or something; that's the way it looked back at the camp. Why did he have guards here, holding me captive?

Then an upsetting thought hit me; a thought that was confirmed by Vlad's following words.

"I sincerely hope that I didn't scare you too much with that scene at the campsite. It was simply necessary procedure."

I felt my anger grow inside me as everything clicked, like a puzzle piece that had just fallen into place and completed the sick, twisted picture. A flame lit up in the pit of my stomach, the heat swelling up and engulfing my insides. My eyes narrowed.

"You tricked me. You manipulated me, Plasmius."

He gave a light laugh as he floated to the ground. "Ah, you've always been quite the drama queen, boy."

I growled. How could I have not seen it? Vlad had already seen the Stone before bringing me here. All that time he was pretending he didn't know how to get through Meredith Cliffs, he was pretending to rough it out in the caverns; he'd already been here. That must have been why he was in such a hurry to leave Amity before the Observants found us…since he'd already seen the stone, he was already hooked on the idea of possessing it. The thought of losing it was too much for him. Then he'd set up the scene at the campsite to lead me here.

"Well you aren't going to control me anymore, Vladimir," I glowered. He stiffened slightly at my use of his full name; it wasn't something I did often. But he soon returned to his previous calm composure, his face breaking out into a large, sadistic grin. The very same grin he'd held on his way back to the mansion from the hospital almost two weeks ago.

"Hm, can't I?" He teleported himself from the far end to the bridge to the end on which I was standing. Standing barely three inches away from me, he took my chin in his hand and brought his face closer to mine. I could feel his breathing on my face as my heart beat at an incredible pace. I swallowed, but tried to hide my discomfort. Staring him straight in the eyes, my look was daring and determined. I couldn't let him know he was getting to me; that was what he wanted. I had to show him I wasn't scared of him- even though I was absolutely terrified.

"Listen, child," he said threateningly, his voice as low and quiet as it could be while still invoking the very essence of trepidation into me, "I've worked for this Stone for years, but I still can't get that pebble without you; the prophecy says that 'one will execute'. That one, Daniel, is you. And you're about to execute a very important task."

"I'm not getting that stone for you, Plasmius."

With a small smirk, he let go of my chin. He turned to the guards standing behind me and made a small gesture. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by the ghost creeps.

"I don't think you realize, child, that we are standing over a pit of blistering volcanic emission. You have no ghost powers due to that Specter Deflector around your waist and I have a hundred guards at my command. The moment I order them to push you off this narrow bridge, you'll be a…oh what's the word you kids use today?" he said, feigning to be in deep thought before looking up at me with a malicious glint in his eyes. "Ah, that's right. A goner." Then, with a wicked smile, he added, "It seems, boy, that you've been outsmarted. You've got no way out."

I could feel my chest heaving up and down as sweat ran down my back, dampening my shirt…he was right. I had no way out. The only thing I could do was to get him the Stone, unless I wanted to be soaking in magma in the next few seconds.

Tauntingly, the hybrid resumed speech. "What'll it be, boy? The stone, or your life?"

I shut my eyes tightly. "Vlad, you don't want to do this."

With a sneer, he responded, "On the contrary, Daniel. This is precisely what I want to do. And I should warn you, that long road trip with you has made me quite impatient and irritable. If you don't make a decision soon, I'm liable to make one for you."

My breathing tense, I stared into Vlad's eyes, unable to answer. He waited for a few seconds, but then, becoming impatient, he let out an irritated huff. He snapped his fingers, and the guard who was holding my hands promptly tightened his grip on my wrists. Still holding onto me, he roughly shoved me towards the edge of the bridge. I swallowed as I was forced to look down at the pit of doom before me. My feet were so close to the edge that all I needed to fall in was a small nudge. Then, for the first time since I'd entered the cave, the guard's grip on my hands loosened, prompting me to yell,

"Okay! I'll do it! Just don't let go!"

From the corner of my eye, I saw Vlad smile smugly. He nodded to the guard behind me, who tightened his hold on me and swung me back to where were standing before, far from the edge of the bridge.

Letting out a breath, I felt the ghost let go of my wrists, which were now both sore and red. I rubbed my wrist with my other hand. Clenching my teeth, I stepped forward, heading for the stone. Carefully I made my way across the narrow piece of rock.

"Now, take off the glass case and give me the stone," Vlad said greedily as I approached the gem. "Don't even think of running off with it- I've got hundreds of other guards posted around this cave."

I scowled at his remark before turning my attention back to my task. Slowly, I reached out my hands and placed them on the cold, glass case. Gently, I lifted it up and set it on the ground next to me.

Then, turning my attention back to the stand in front of me, I took it all in. Only once the glass cover had been removed did I realize the magnificence and the remarkable beauty of the Stone.

It was ten thousand times more brilliant than it had been in the picture I'd seen. The stone was small, but it's translucent glow was enough to light the entire cave, once the glass had been removed. It was smooth and glassy, giving it an almost fragile appearance. Carefully and with bated breath, I picked it up, letting it sit in my hand for a moment. It was weightless, but somehow the energy vibrating off it had managed to give it some sort of depth.

The small stone glowed while sitting in the palm of my hand. I'd half expected the cave to collapse when I took the gem out of its case…you know, the typical cave trap scenario. But nothing had happened- the grotto had remained perfectly still and silent.

Vaguely, I wondered how the stone worked. Did it need to be activated with a certain phrase or something? Obviously just holding it wasn't enough to change the Ghost Zone's appearance because it was in my hand and nothing had happened. I was shaken out of my thoughts as the cave darkened and I felt a pair of hands grab me from behind.

The stone was snatched out of my hands as I heard Vlad's ominous voice echo against the cave walls."Tie him up, boys."

I felt a blow on my head before I crumbled to the ground, blacking out completely.

It's short, I know, but here it is nonetheless :D Anyways, this is the last chapter I had written before I'd posted the story, which means it may be awhile between updates in the future. Just a heads up for you guys...

Anyways, you know the drill- leave me a review ;D