EPISODE 52—BACK TO BACK
Danny yawned and slammed a hand down on his alarm clock. It was time to get up for school again… He hadn't gotten a decent amount of sleep last night, due to the unexpected arrival of Johnny 13 and his shadow. True, Danny had beaten them fairly quickly—he had the advantage, since Johnny wasn't familiar with the fact that Danny had gained ice abilities. And true, he might have deserved it, since the night before was totally ghost-free, and he actually had time to study for Lancer's pointless Shakespeare quiz! But still, the encounter last night cut into his precious beauty rest as usual, and now he was dragging his feet along the ground to the bathroom—
He stopped short and groaned at the ceiling as a burst of cold, blue breath erupted out of him, followed by the familiar feeling, a small chill that resonated through his body from his head to his feet. What was it this time? Ember? Skulker? The Box Ghost? …No, if it were the Box Ghost, he would have already heard a "Beware!"
He ran to his bedroom window and tried to focus his eyes, his eyelids still a little crusty. He squinted, and against the dark background, he could make out the form of a small ghost leaning against his own arms in the air, floating lazily backwards past Fenton Works. He wasn't much bigger than Youngblood.
So as not to wake his folks, Danny whispered his normal catchphrase instead of shouting it: "I'm going ghost!" He jumped out of his open window, and the usual band of light appeared at his waist and streaked down both ends of his body, turning him into the ghost kid known as Danny Phantom.
He flew up to the new ghost and stayed level by his side. Danny was a little surprised to note that this ghost appeared to be sleeping while floating down the streets. He was about to say something when the eyes opened.
They had floated into a patch of sunlight from the sun that was now beginning to reach over the buildings of Amity Park. When the sun struck the young ghost's eyes, he opened them, looked over to his side and spotted Danny. Silently, but in a flash, the ghost was standing in midair, but still floating backwards, a wary eye on Danny.
"Um… Hi," Danny said, not knowing how to start a friendly conversation with a ghost; he'd never tried. Usually, the ghost showed up with ghost rays blasting, trying to knock Danny out of the sky. This was the first ghost he'd seen that was waiting for him to start the conversation.
"Hello," the young ghost said. His voice was the high voice of a prepubescent boy; he certainly didn't seem like a threat.
"I'm Danny." He extended a hand. "Danny Phantom."
The ghost stared at Danny's hand without taking it, but he slowed to a stop and nodded. "The Halfa."
"Wow." It'd been a long time since any ghost had called him the Halfa. "I mean, yes. Half a human, half a ghost."
"I was wondering if I'd ever see you," the ghost said. "My name is Wardback."
"Wardback?" Danny said. It was a strange name… it definitely didn't seem to be a fitting name for any little kid. The boy had a messy mane of black hair, and cold, red eyes. His face was very round, a perfect circle, yet he didn't have the usual charming boyish features of dimples and a wide smile, freckles or sparkling eyes. But he certainly didn't look incredibly dangerous… Looks could be deceiving, though.
"Yes, that is my name," said Wardback. He smiled stiffly. "I share a certain similarity with you, Phantom." He straightened out his arms, and a gray disk appeared at his waist and spread across his body in both directions—just like when Danny transformed. In a second, Wardback's transformation had swept across his entire body, and he had taken on a human form that was entirely different. He had a pasty face and extremely blond hair, with cheeks that looked like every aunt and grandma would have pinched. His eyes were big, round, and hazel, and all traces of severity were gone from his expression. He continued to lazily float in the air.
"You're… You're a half-ghost, too?" Danny said, gaping.
"Hard to say," Wardback said, leaning back and picking under his fingernails. "It's been thousands of years since I gained consciousness as I am now. I don't quite remember what I was before, but I know I can turn myself into a perfect image of a human being."
"Thousands of years?" Danny asked, frowning. "Forgive me, but you look like you're… well, younger than me, definitely…"
"I don't know exactly how old I am right now," Wardback said. "But I assure you, my current youth has no bearing on my age." The thin gray disk appeared again and swept across his body, turning him back into the grim-faced ghost Danny had espied from his window.
"What do you mean?"
"I can determine in which direction I age," Wardback said. "My ghostly power is almost boundless. I am the ghost of direction. I specialize in turning things backwards. If I begin to grow too old for my liking, I simply age backwards… if someone points a ridiculous thermos at me… I would wave my hand and it would face backwards from where it was intended to go, and it would suck in the user instead…" His brow lowered.
Danny felt a chill go down his spine that wasn't from his ghost sense. Was this kid threatening him?
But Wardback smiled. "Not that you would do that. I assume you'd never suck a ghost into your thermos without first getting to know them."
"Unless they're not interested in getting to know me," Danny agreed.
Wardback turned around so that his back was to Danny, and then suddenly flew backwards until he was just behind Danny. Danny turned around to see Wardback a few inches from his face.
"I am interested in you," Wardback cooed softly. "Can we chat?"
Danny felt his face go red. "You're… interested in me?"
"You might hold an answer as to where I came from."
Danny nodded. "Well… I have to get ready for school and I shouldn't be out here too long… but would you like to meet me behind this house tonight at 9?" It had to be late, so that no one would see them; but it also had to be before Danny's curfew at 10.
Wardback nodded back. "Then tonight we shall meet for a conversation on the nature of our ghostly halves." He folded his arms and legs and floated lazily backwards the way he came; he winked at Danny as he left.
Tucker looked overjoyed when Danny broke the news to them, but Sam looked nervous.
"Another half-ghost?" Tucker said, almost a little too loud. "That's awesome!"
"Awesome?" Sam asked. "Tucker, this could be a problem. What if this ghost goes on the loose? Didn't you hear what Danny said about the thermos?"
"I'm sure that Danny could kick his butt in a second," Tucker said. "Come on. Right, Danny?"
Danny stared at them for a moment before answering. "I don't know. I'm not sure exactly how powerful this kid is. But… I don't think he's a threat. Not all ghosts are evil. I'm walking proof of that."
"Right," Sam said. "We'll add Wardback to the list of benevolent ghosts we've encountered—oh, look! If we don't include you, that doubles the list. You and Frostbite."
"Hey, and Clockwork," Danny argued.
"Clockwork is neutral. He doesn't count."
"Well, I get the same knowledgeable air from Wardback as I got from Clockwork," Danny said. "I think Wardback is neutral, too."
"But compare how many evil ghosts we've seen—countless—to the good ones!"
"Just 'cause he's a ghost doesn't make him evil," Tucker said. "That's racist, Sam."
"It's not racist, it's preparing for the most likely possibility!" Sam shouted. "I think Danny should take some stuff with him."
"Relax!" Danny said. "If he's evil, I'm sure I can take him." He didn't actually know if that was true, but he wasn't worried because he was confident that Wardback wasn't evil.
"That's what I like to hear!" Tucker said.
"You know what I like to hear?" came a voice from behind them.
They turned around to see the hulking form of Dash Baxter above them, holding up their Shakespeare quiz from the day before with a large 57 written on it in red. "When I fail a quiz, I like to hear the terrified squeals of a nerd in pain to take my mind off of it!"
Danny sighed as Dash grabbed the front of his shirt and held him up with a fist cocked on the other arm. The fist swung towards Danny's head—and then suddenly, Dash was facing the other way and he wasn't holding Danny anymore. His rage-contorted face became one of shock as he toppled over and landed on the disgusting cafeteria floor.
Tucker and Sam exchanged glances, and Dash leaped up from the ground and shouted, running the other way and bursting through the doors at the end of the cafeteria, holding his nose.
Danny sat back down and Sam hissed at him. "What were you thinking? What if somebody saw something?"
Danny shrugged. "I don't even know what I saw."
Tucker stared. "That wasn't you?"
On the other side of the table, the air flickered, and then a form came into view. Bright and messy blond hair, big round hazel eyes and high, colored cheeks on a pasty face.
The three of them almost leaped back. Danny recovered the fastest. "Wardback?"
Sam's eyes widened, and Tucker broke into an open-mouthed grin. "So this is Wardback?" they both said at the same time.
"I turned him backwards," Wardback explained. He laughed. "It wasn't difficult. Now, before anyone notices me, I must be off…" He turned invisible again, but it was impossible to tell if he was still there or not.
"Danny?" Sam asked. "Why isn't your ghost sense going off?"
Danny was thinking the same thing. "Maybe it's because Wardback is in human form?"
"I don't like this," Sam said. "That if for some reason we needed to find him, we couldn't use your ghost sense or the thermos."
"And how long was he listening?" Tucker said. "I'm excited to have met him, but was he spying on you?"
"Probably to see if you two were going to convince me to try to capture him," Danny said. "I hope he saw the part where I asserted that he wasn't evil."
"I don't know about this, Danny."
"Well, I do," Danny said. "I made a promise! And I'm positive he means me no harm, or anyone else in the city. He looks like he's just content to let things pass by while he lazily floats across towns. When have we seen everything going backwards? It seems like he hadn't used his powers until that bout with Dash."
"I'm still worried," Sam said.
"Worried about what?" came yet another voice from behind them.
"Oh, hey, Jazz," Danny said, turning around. "Worried about… um… what grade we got on the Shakespeare quiz."
"So you're sure it wasn't about ghosts?" Jazz said.
"Why would you think that?"
"Well, you certainly seem to worry about that a lot more than you worry about school lately," Jazz said.
Almost on cue, Mr. Lancer popped over to the table. "Ah, Mr. Fenton. I've been looking for you, on account of your Shakespeare quiz. Since we're going to the library for the guest speaker today instead of going to class, I figured I would hand these back during lunch rather than during the assembly, so you won't be distracted from the speaker… and also, I wanted to personally talk to you about your grade." He slammed a paper down onto the table in front of Danny.
Jazz's eyes narrowed, and Danny sighed and slumped his shoulders.
"What's that look for, Mr. Fenton?" Mr. Lancer said softly, and lifted up a hand, revealing a 66. Danny groaned and put a hand under his chin.
Mr. Lancer looked down at the paper again. "Oh—I apologize." He reached down and turned the quiz upside-down to reveal what he actually had gotten—a 99.
Danny seized his quiz violently and let out an exhilarated laugh. "I GOT A 99?"
"The highest grade in the class," Mr. Lancer said. "I only took off one point because in your analysis of 'Hamlet,' you spelled the word 'ghost' wrong."
Danny barely bit back a snort of laughter.
"An honest mistake, I'm sure, but I need to stick with my spelling policy. At any rate, Mr. Fenton, I'm not surprised. I know you're capable of this work. But I'm disappointed that I don't get to see it more often. I want you to put this sort of effort into everything. And if you can do that, you will soar through the skies."
"I already soar through the skies," Danny muttered. "That's why I don't have time to study."
"And whether you have to get your sister to oversee your studying habits, or seal yourself in a room away from distractions, or mutter arguments with yourself, you really should keep up this work," Mr. Lancer said. "That quiz was a large percentage of your grade so far, so your class average right now has risen to a B. If you work hard until the end of the quarter, you could absolutely scrape an A minus. It won't be easy, and you'll probably only barely able to scrape it, but you can do it. I believe in you, Daniel. I'm a teacher. The greatest thing in the world for a teacher is for him to bring out the best in a student. Our next Shakespeare quiz will be on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' I want to see that again." He pointed to the 99. "And Daniel… If you have one of those lives where things always seem to come up last-minute—" Danny looked over at Sam and Tucker and Jazz. "—then you should study early." He nodded. "It's not due until a week from Monday, but I suggest reading it during any free time you have, even starting today. If I see you doing nothing in Study Hall today, I'll take points off in advance." He smiled. "Have a good day." He placed a 92 in front of Sam and an 80 in front of Tucker.
"Mr. Lancer is right, Danny," Jazz said. "You're a smart guy! Being a smart fighter isn't enough. One day you're going to need to channel your talents somewhere else to get a degree and then a job!"
"Or, I could phase into banks… and—"
"I'm just kidding! Relax!" Danny laughed. "They'd probably have ghost shields in the future, anyway."
Jazz put her hands on her hips in the traditional disapproving big-sister-pose. "That better not be your reasoning why."
"It's not," Danny said. "Relax, will you? I'll try to study, but, you know. It's just hard sometimes. You wouldn't really understand unless… well, unless you had these powers."
"I understand better than you think," Jazz said, still frowning, and she turned to leave.
Danny looked at Tucker and Sam. "Does she have ghost powers?"
It was 8:59. Danny floated silently, waiting. Any moment now, maybe Wardback would show up. Or maybe he wouldn't. Maybe Sam had scared him away with all her talk of making sure they had some way of capturing him.
But from what he knew of Wardback, it seemed like the ghostly kid wouldn't have been worried about that. He gave the impression that he had extreme confidence in himself.
Danny's wristwatch turned to 9:00; at that exact moment, a gust of wind picked up behind him, and Wardback himself floated contently backwards past Danny and halted twenty feet or so away.
"Danny Phantom," Wardback said. "The Halfa. Did you know that was my nickname until I left the Ghost Zone?"
"No, I didn't," Danny said. "When did you leave the Ghost Zone?"
"Thousands of years ago."
"When did you go in?" Danny asked.
"I woke up in the Ghost Zone with little memory," Wardback said. "And even what little memory I had left me after these thousands of years. But sometimes I think that I may have been the first to connect our world to the Ghost Zone."
"The very first?" Danny asked. This would be incredible.
"I've gone over it many times in my head," Wardback said. "I appeared in the Ghost Zone. Mostly there were animals. Very few self-aware ghosts; fewer who spoke my language. Or perhaps I did not explore far enough to find too many. I found a few, though. Pandora. Hotep-Ra. Clockwork."
Danny smiled widely at the mention of Clockwork. How long had the ghost of time been alive? It must have been eons… He listened further as Wardback continued. "But each time I displayed my ability to turn into a human, they were amazed. They had never seen anything like me before. Never seen a human. And then, while I was there, random portals to Earth began to manifest inside the Ghost Zone. I believe I may have triggered their appearance. It would make sense, that the master of the backwards would be able to create portals to and from the backwards dimension of our world."
Wardback held up a hand, and eerie laughter emanated from behind Danny. He looked around and saw a ghost portal opening up behind him; the green energy let loose a blast of light as an Ectopus burst forth from the portal, snickered, and flew away.
"Hey!" Danny shouted. "What are you doing? I need to catch those things; they cause trouble wherever they go and one of these days they're going to hurt innocent people!"
Wardback waved a hand in the air. "Flooding causes damage to many homes every day but you do not attack the water."
Danny groaned. "You can't attack the water. The difference is, I CAN do something about these guys! And they don't have a reason for doing it other than that they enjoy it! They can't be allowed to get enjoyment from peoples' suffering!"
"You are a noble ghost, Danny Phantom," Wardback said. "But I do not entirely care for your moral outburst. It is just a part of nature, and besides, don't you think adding a few backwards elements makes the world more interesting?" He smirked.
"Wait!" Danny yelled. "Have you been letting ghosts into our world?"
"On occasion, I admit I have done so," Wardback said. "But never on purpose. I don't try to, but I don't really care if it happens."
Danny's glare loosened a little bit, but he maintained it mostly. "Please. You shouldn't allow ghosts to terrorize our town!"
"DON'T WORRY; WE DON'T!"
Danny looked back and flew out of the way as a blast of ecto-energy shot from his father's gun, pointing out the window directly at them. The ray zipped across the night sky, lighting up the side of Fenton Works, until it ended directly on Wardback's chest. Wardback spun in the air and fell sideways down to the ground with a thud.
"NOOO!" Danny shouted. "DON'T SHOOT HIM—YOU'LL PROVOKE HIM!"
"Then I'll just have to shoot you, too!" Jack Fenton yelled, firing another ray; Danny's body contorted around it to avoid contact, and then he swooped down to help Wardback, avoiding another shot from Maddie as she popped up in the window next to him.
"Wardback!" Danny yelled. "I'm so sorry about my parents—"
"YOUR PARENTS?" Wardback bellowed, bursting off the ground and hovering over Danny, staring fiercely down. "YOU SET ME UP?"
"What?" Danny shouted. "No! No, I didn't—"
"LIAR! YOU ASKED ME TO COME HERE AT 9:00 AND THEN YOU COORDINATED AN ATTACK WITH THEM. DO YOU THINK I AM AN IDIOT?"
"No! I swear, I didn't!"
Another blast of energy missed Wardback's face by an inch. He held up a hand, and the next blast from Jack's ray gun flew from the wrong end of the gun into the house and blew a hole through the opposite side.
Jack stared at his gun, which was now facing backwards. "I didn't think I was THAT bad of a shot…"
Wardback flew into the air and turned around. A blast of light erupted from his back and slammed into Danny; his body started contorting wildly and he felt pain everywhere.
"FOR YOUR PUNISHMENT, PHANTOM, I WILL TURN YOUR ENTIRE WORLD BACKWARDS!"
The ground crumbled away, and Danny fell, spinning out of control, screaming, until with a crash, he landed on his bed, which collapsed under the force of the impact. He stood up, breathing heavily, as Jazz popped into his room.
"Danny? What on earth?"
Danny looked around. "Jazz! Did you see that?"
Jazz frowned. "I just got here."
Danny pointed at the ceiling, which he was amazed to see was intact. "But—but—the ghost—"
Jazz bit her lip. "Oh… Were you playing ghost fighter in here?" She smiled softly, but Danny could tell that she was uneasy. "I'm sorry to have interrupted. You're… sure you're okay? Everything's all right upstairs?"
Danny stared at her, something unsettling his mind. "Wait. How did you get in here if the door is closed?"
Jazz looked like she was about to give a friendly laugh as she said, "Not everyone needs to use the door, Danny." But then her face fell, looking as though she'd just said something wrong, and she turned away, grimacing. "But I'll use the door if it makes you feel better." She opened the door and walked out.
"What the heck?" Danny said, and then he ran to his window. "Wardback!" But he shielded his eyes as the sun hit his face. "What? The sun? But it was dark out…"
I WILL TURN YOUR ENTIRE WORLD BACKWARDS…
What had just happened?
The worst crossed Danny's mind. He struck a stance and called, "I'M GOING GHOST!"
And nothing happened.
Danny clutched his hair and screamed. "THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING!"
When he turned around, both his parents were there. "Honey?" his mom said softly. "What's the matter? You were screaming."
"The—The ghost!" Danny cried without thinking. "Wardback!"
"A ghost?" Jack cried, and he ran to the wall.
Danny's heart leapt up to his throat and then exploded as Jack's head turned intangible and he stuck it out the wall, looked left and right, and then pulled his head back in. "None that I can see! Well… apart from myself and your mother."
Maddie looked very concernedly at Danny's face, which had turned completely white. She put her hands on his shoulders. "Now, honey, I know it must be really very hard, being the only person in the world without ghost powers, but I want to be sure you're okay. You're not losing it, are you?"
Danny gasped and screamed, "THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD WITHOUT GHOST POWERS?"
"Don't think of it like that!" Jack said, bounding over. "Your lack of powers makes you unique! Why, you're the only person in the world who can pass through a ghost shield!"
"And no ghost would ever attack you because you're not a threat to anyone!" Maddie said, clasping her hands. "Doesn't that make you feel better?"
Danny didn't have time to respond with a resounding NO, because someone else screamed, "I AM THE BOX GHOST!"
The Box Ghost rose from the floor with his arms high. "BEWARE!"
Jazz phased through the floor behind the Box Ghost and landed in a ninja-like pose. "Mom! Dad! Let's do this!"
Jack Fenton pounded a fist into his hand, and a thin black disk spread across his body, morphing him into the ghost that Danny had seen once before, when he altered the timeline and accidentally made his own father half-ghost. He looked like a thicker Vlad Plasmius, except with a sporting smile on his face.
Maddie followed half a second after Jack, widening her stance and pummeling her fist into the floor. Rather than a disk, a spiraling strand of black swept over her body like a rapidly coiling snake, and where it left, her teal jumpsuit turned blood-red. The coiling black loop split into four as it passed across her head, other arm, and legs; the black part of her suits became white and her hair became bright green.
Jazz finished the process. She stamped a foot on the ground, and instead of a black disk or a strand, it looked like red dye was being poured from her feet and running up her legs. Where it reached her black shirt, it turned into a stream of white and continued upward. Her hair whipped as if a strong breeze was blowing, and strand by strand, it flowed into a bright green, like her mother.
Danny gawked at his family as they set to work beating the overalls off of the Box Ghost. They punched and pummeled and blasted energy until he flew through the roof, shouting, "I AM BEWARING! I AM BEWARING!"
The three Fentons transformed back into their human forms, and they all looked at Danny with looks of concern, as he was shaking in shock. Jazz took his hand. "Come on, little brother. I'll fly you to school."
It was true. All around school, the students were phasing their hands through their lockers instead of opening them, and people were flying through the halls through one another to get to their classes. Paulina was leading a cheer outside the school when they arrived—but it was seven Paulinas, six of them in a human pyramid with another Paulina doing a dance with the cheer.
"Hey!" Danny shouted. "I have to ask her how to do that."
He ran over to his locker, near which Sam and Tucker were already gathered. They smiled when they saw him. Tucker laughed at Danny's intensely freaked-out expression. "Hey there, buddy. You look like you've seen a couple hundred ghosts!"
"You don't remember either?" Danny moaned.
"Remember what?" Sam asked.
"The ghost of things backwards. Wardback! He came and screwed everything up. You guys don't remember me talking to you about it yesterday?"
"Are you all right?"
"I'M COMPLETELY SANE!" Danny screamed. "WHY DOES EVERYBODY KEEP ASKING ME IF I'M ALL RIGHT?"
He looked around to see everyone staring at him, and he put a palm over his face. "I swear, I'm sane. Nothing should be like this. In the real universe, I'm the only one of us with ghost powers! Don't you guys remember the accident in the lab?"
"In the Ghost Portal when it was being built?" Sam asked. "Of course I remember. That's what took away your ghost powers by accident!"
"That's what… what?" Danny shouted.
"Calm down, Danny," Tucker said. "What were you saying before? The ghost of things that are backwards?"
"Yes!" Danny said. "Wardback. I was talking to him when my parents attacked him, and he accused me of setting up an ambush. He changed the entire world around so I'm the only person WITHOUT ghost powers!"
"Let me get this straight," Tucker said. "You thought that… you were the only person in the world with ghost powers?"
"I didn't THINK it!" Danny shouted. "I—wait. Vlad Masters! The mayor. Is he half ghost too? He was already half ghost—did that change?"
"Vlad Masters?" Sam said. "I don't know that name. But everyone's half ghost by birth."
"Vlad never came to Amity Park?" Danny said, bewildered.
Danny turned around to see Dash standing above him, and due to habit he tightened in preparation for an impact. But Dash looked just as concerned as Danny's friends or parents.
"Fenton… are you all right?" Dash asked, scratching his head.
"You're not gonna… shove me into a locker?" Danny squeaked.
"Shove you into a locker?" Dash gasped. "What kind of jerkwad would pick on the only kid in the school without ghost powers? What makes you think I would do that?"
"You used to do it all the time," Danny muttered.
"But then you got defenseless," Dash said. "I mean… No offense."
Sam and Tucker looked at each other. "We gotta get to class," Tucker said. "Come on, Danny." They turned and flew away down the hall.
"Yeah, me too, Fenton, but I'll catch you later," Dash said. "You sure you're okay?"
"Why do you—" Danny cut himself off as he stared down the hall. "The—WARDBACK!"
Wardback was floating slowly down the other end of the hall, rubbing his head. For some reason, he was floating forwards this time. Dash looked down and caught sight of him, too. "What's that little kid doing here?"
"Dash! That's—" Danny thought quickly. He couldn't say exactly what happened, or Dash would think he was crazy. He thought of something else that was still true, but that Dash would understand. "That's the kid who took away my powers!"
"What?" Dash shouted. He bolted right next to Danny, then grabbed him under the arms and jettisoned down the hall to where Wardback was floating. They turned down the other wing to see Wardback still floating slowly. Dash dropped Danny and leaned back, thrusting his arms forward for an intense energy blast that slammed into Wardback from behind and sent him careening into the wall at the other end.
As if the world was a movie displayed with a bad projector, the entire atmosphere flickered briefly when Dash's blast made contact, and again when Wardback slapped into the wall. Danny stared up into the ceiling. "If we can beat him… It looks like everything will go back to normal!"
Dash landed and pointed an angry finger at Wardback. "Hey! Did you take away this kid's ghost powers!" He stomped the ground. "Admittedly, I shove kids into lockers and I blast them in the back, but no one has the right to do what you did! Give Fenton back his ghost abilities!"
Wardback slowly staggered into a standing position and he glared down the hallway. "He had what was coming to him. He set up an ambush on me."
"What?" Dash said, looking at Danny.
"That's not true!" Danny screamed, running up next to Dash. "If you had listened to me outside Fenton Works yesterday, I would have told you that! My parents' attack had nothing to do with me!"
"Liar!" Wardback shouted, and snarled. He slammed the air in front of him with an open palm, and Danny and Dash spun around backwards so hard that they smacked into each other and slammed into the walls behind them.
Dash stood and spun his arms in a windmill. In a winding path from his arms into Wardback, the earth below the floor of the hallway erupted and when it reached Wardback, its impact launched the child ghost through the ceiling. Everything went black for a good two seconds, and then returned as Dash grabbed Danny and flew through the hole in the ceiling.
"How did you do that thing with the ground?" Danny shouted.
"Everyone has an element as a half-ghost," Dash yelled back. "Mine's earth. Yours was ice, remember?"
"Oh, I remember," Danny said.
Wardback was standing on the ceiling, his eyes and muscles bulging. Behind him, a portal was expanding above the school.
"He's going to try to escape into the Ghost Zone!" Danny yelped.
Wardback laughed, and jumped into the air. With a sudden kick, a form that was all too familiar popped out of the Ghost Zone portal and flew backwards into the air behind Danny and Dash.
"Who has dragged me from my hunting grounds?" Skulker bellowed.
"See the skinny boy behind the dumb jock?" Wardback announced, pointing a finger at Danny. "He is the only human in the world without a side that is half-ghost!"
Skulker stroked his chin. "Hm. The only full human in the world." He grinned evilly. "An excellent prize. To whom do I owe my gratitude?" He turned, just in time to see Wardback back-flip through the closing portal. The world violently flickered again until the portal closed. "Ah, well. I'll thank him later… after I mount your head on my trophy wall, human child!"
"Danny!" came a yell from Sam as she and Tucker phased through the ceiling.
"We heard a ruckus and… Who is that?" Tucker gawked.
"Skulker," Danny said. "A hunter ghost. He's after me!"
Sam and Tucker struck poses, each of them turning into their ghost alter-egos. Sam's outfit was still black, but it had splotches of green instead of purple. Tucker's outfit was a hot pink shirt and shoes with yellow shorts and a baby blue beret. "Stupid unchangeable ghost outfit," he muttered.
Dash grabbed Danny. "We'll go through your parents' Ghost Portal," he said, flying into the air towards Danny's house. "But I don't know how we can find him in the entire Ghost Zone."
"Oh, I think I know how," Danny said.
"Our teachers will understand," Dash said. "It's not like we need to learn much when everyone can fly and shoot energy from their hands."
"Why are you being so nice to me, anyway?" Danny asked.
"Well, 'cause you're my tutor," Dash said. "You're the top kid in our class 'cause you don't have ghost fighting to drag you down."
"Well, that's good to have known," Danny said. "If I didn't have ghost powers, I wouldn't have a life, either."
"Thanks for helping me on that Shakespeare quiz," Dash said. "I got an 85 on it, by the way. I don't know how I would have done without you!"
"You would have gotten a 57," Danny said.
"Geez, you did that fast!" Dash said. "You're crazy good at math, too."
They phased through the ground in front of Danny's house, directly to the lab where Jack Fenton was working. Danny ran up to his father and tapped him on the shoulder. "Dad?"
"What? Whoozat?" Jack Fenton yelled and leaped up with the Fenton Crammer. "Oh. Danny! Shouldn't you be in school?"
"Sorry, Dad. Ghost troubles."
"Well, then of course you need to leave school a little early if it's about ghosts!" Jack yelled.
"Yeah, I know," Danny said. "Dad… Do you still have the… the Boooomerang?"
"The Boooomerang?" Jack belted. "Of course I do. It's in the vault!" He phased through the ground and rose back up with a metallic, gray and green boomerang.
"How would you program this to find a specific ghost?" Danny asked hopefully, bouncing on his knees.
"Well, you would have needed it to track him previously, otherwise it wouldn't know what to look for," Jack said.
"Well… How about powers? Can you make it track a ghost with a certain power?"
"If you gave me a couple years, I might," Jack said. "There's a lot of ghosts out there, you know."
Danny thought for a moment with his chin in his hand. "Oh!" he said, snapping his fingers. "What about age? Maybe Wardback might be the oldest ghost in the Ghost Zone."
"Sorry," Jack said. "I'd need more time to upgrade it."
"More…" Danny gasped. "That's IT!"
"Wow," Dash breathed as he carried Danny through the Ghost Zone. "I've never been here before. How do you know where you're going?"
"I've… been around," Danny said as he fixed a small tracking device inside the Boooomerang. "I still can't believe Dad said this thing runs on self-generating power."
"Yeah, but only when in the Ghost Zone," Dash reminded him. "It takes its energy from just being in the ghostly dimension."
"But the point is, it'll run infinitely in the Ghost Zone," Danny said. "Which is perfect for what I've got planned for Wardback. Man, is he gonna be surprised!"
"You still haven't explained to me what you want me to—whoa."
They'd flown into Clockwork's lair. A giant grandfather clock shape stood as the center tower, with castle turrets shaped like cogs jetting out awkwardly at different heights on the side. More cogs, but only partially showing, stood vertically around the base of the castle with its large double-doors. The castle seemed to be ancient, since the stone comprising it was discolored and cracked in places. But there wasn't a sun in the Ghost Zone. What had discolored the rocks?
"We need to find Clockwork," Danny said. "He's helped me before. Maybe he'll help again."
"I thought all ghosts from the Ghost Zone were bad," Dash said, still using his childlike voice of awe as they drifted down to the double-doors.
"You may come in up here," called a voice.
Danny and Dash looked up to see the face of the clock swing open. Clockwork was floating behind it, smiling at them; Danny and Dash ascended and landed inside Clockwork's time management room. There were strange portals leading to different times, a wall full of medallions shaped like cogs with the letters "CW" adorning them, and Grim Reaper statues on the wall holding scythes.
"This is really cool but really freaky," Dash said as the ancient ghost before them turned into a middle-aged man, and then into a small child even younger than Wardback.
"Clockwork," Danny said. "You may not remember me, but—" He stopped as Clockwork raised an eyebrow. "Sorry. That was stupid. Of course you remember me. Your lair exists outside of time, doesn't it."
"Indeed," Clockwork said, turning again into an old man; his voice remained unchanged. "And what an interesting twist the parade of your timeline has just taken."
"You probably know this, because, well, you know everything," Danny said. "But it was caused by Wardback. I need your help. Would you… help me?"
"I'm afraid you're going to get spoiled, Daniel, if you keep coming to me for help," Clockwork said, turning into a middle-aged man ghost again. "You're cheating a little bit. Don't you remember what happened the last time you cheated?"
Danny went red, and his eyes drifted to a doorway which led to a little room where there lay, on a small table, a dented Fenton Thermos.
"Fenton doesn't cheat," Dash said defensively. "He gets good grades because he's invested in his schoolwork. What else can distract him from his lack of ghost powers?"
"This one," Clockwork said, smiling. He again became a small child. "This one you've brought. How interesting."
"How interesting, what?" Danny asked, raising a brow.
"He's going to play a big role in your parade," Clockwork said, winking. "Whether or not you fix this."
"Dash is?" Danny frowned. "That sounds like the nightmare I had last week. But… have you made a decision?"
"I've decided to help you one more time," Clockwork said. "Because I like you." He transformed into an old man. "And because I don't like this Wardback character. He is an ancient ghost with immense power, like me. Unlike me, his mind has remained that of a child, and so he still does not understand how to use his power wisely. And I assume that if I did not intervene, the Observants would task me with fixing it anyway." His smile drooped a little as he turned back into a child. "They like to cheat, too."
"Thank you, Clockwork," Danny said. "I already know how I'm going to do this. Can you direct me back to the first time you met Wardback?"
Clockwork nodded and smiled as he became an old man with a genuinely warm smile. He handed them two medallions. "Feel free to go whenever you'd like."
Danny laughed at the subtle pun. "Come on, Dash," he said. Dash picked him up once again as they both put on the medallions and then turned to fly into the portal that was emerging behind them.
When they came out on the other side, they were in Clockwork's lair again, but something was different—the stones were uniformly colored, instead of some of them being discolored. Clockwork was not in his time room, but they heard his voice downstairs.
"You're the centerpiece of a very interesting twist in the events of the world."
"I am? Me?" The voice sounded much younger, but Danny could still tell that it was Wardback's.
"Yes. And that is why I have been expecting you. You may come up to see my wares, if you so please," Clockwork said.
"Wow. Thank you!"
Danny stood with the Boooomerang at the ready, and kept an eye on where the stairs ended. He heard a few steps and then silence, as if Wardback had momentarily forgotten how to fly, as happened sometimes to Danny when he first got his powers.
"Ah, hello, gentlemen," Clockwork said as he floated into the room in the form of an adult man. "Did you have a nice time on your trip?"
"Who're you talking to, Clockwork?" said Wardback as he thrashed his way through the air into the room.
"If you're the master of backwards, you should have seen this coming thousands of years back!" Danny growled, and whipped the Boooomerang at Wardback's chest.
It struck Wardback moderately hard, and he rubbed the spot of impact. "Ow—You attacked me!" he said, sounding genuinely hurt. "You meanies!" He picked up the Boooomerang, and chucked it back at Danny, who simply smiled.
The Boooomerang halted in midair, and flew back at Wardback. He pointed a hand at it, and it flew backwards again, but turned around again and chased him. Wardback yelped and flew out the clock face window, which opened for him. He fell for a moment until he struggled his way back into flight and zoomed away from the device that was tracking him. Just about when he had almost disappeared, he let out a cry and swiped the air in front of him. Danny could faintly see a portal burst into existence, which Wardback passed through just as it closed. The Boooomerang changed trajectory and flew in circles for a few moments before wandering aimlessly off to the side in a randomly winding path.
"Well, we got his ecto-signature locked," Dash said, flying out the window to watch the Boooomerang go. "But how do we get it back now?"
"We don't," Danny said. "We return to our own time. And we let the Boooomerang float around in the Ghost Zone for the thousands of years that it takes for Wardback to come back to the Ghost Zone for the first time… When he tries to escape from us!"
"Wow!" Dash said. "You ARE a genius, Fenton! That's crazy!"
"Well… I got the idea from a real genius," Danny said, remembering the note that Jazz had attached to the Boooomerang in the epidemic with his evil self. "Come on, let's go back to the present so we can track the stupidly named thing." He took off Dash's medallion with one hand and his with the other; they returned to the present time just outside of Clockwork's lair again.
Dash returned the medallions quickly while Danny activated the device that indicated the direction of the tracker, which was inside the Boooomerang. He pumped his fist as a grid showed up with a clear marking as to where the device was—and it appeared to be moving quickly in a straight line.
"All right!" Danny said. "Follow my lead. Go back towards the direction that we came from."
"That's bad grammar, Fenton," Dash said. "You taught me that yesterday. It's supposed to be 'the direction from which we came.'"
Danny groaned. "Well, whatever direction it is grammar-wise, just go that way!"
"Can do, buddy," Dash grinned, giving a thumbs-up.
"This is so weird."
"I said, go!"
"Right-o!" Dash called, and sped off into the distance.
"Nudge your direction a little to the right. No—to the right, Dash!"
"How close are we?" Dash yelled.
Wardback's violent shout came from in front of them as he skidded to a stop in midair, panting heavily. "I left you behind without a trace just fifteen minutes ago!"
The Boooomerang smacked into the back of his head. He snarled and spun around, smacking the machine away; it once again activated and returned to him again. He held out a hand to deflect it and sent it spiraling far backwards, but it returned again. "And how has this thing found me? What is this foul device you've sent upon me?"
"You'd just get angrier if you knew how hilarious its name was," Danny said, watching him deflect it again.
"Stop this thing!" he roared. "Or I shall—"
"Or you shall what?" Danny said as Wardback continued to deflect the machine. "I've been paying attention. I've watched you use your powers. You're still concentrating hard on keeping this backwards world intact. You're still channeling a ton of your strength into it, aren't you?"
Wardback said nothing but huffed angrily through his nose with a hand behind him, keeping the Boooomerang at bay.
"You can't use too much of your power at once, or you'll lose control of the backwards world," Danny said. "Maybe even short yourself out for a while. So while you're keeping this backwards timeline alive, you're much less of a threat. You fled to the Ghost Zone to recover from that fight. But you found yourself chased by a tracking device that I sent to hunt you thousands of years ago, with Clockwork's help!"
"Cheater," Wardback grumbled, breathing deeply.
"Now there's nowhere you can rest," Danny said. Strictly speaking, that wasn't true—if Wardback allowed the Boooomerang to hit him, it would stop chasing him; and if he fled to the human world, eventually the Boooomerang would run out of power. But he saw no reason to disclose this information. "There's nowhere you can go where that thing won't find you—and I can track it." He held up the tracking device in his hand. "So change everything back to the way it was, or else."
"Or else what?" Wardback sneered. "I've got enough power to run from you. And to keep this thing at bay. I can keep it up. Wardback surrenders to no one, and he never turns back."
"I was planning on you saying that," Danny said. "Now, Dash."
Dash picked up Danny and chucked him at Wardback. Wardback deflected Danny backwards, but the distraction caused the Boooomerang to strike Wardback once again. That was all the diversion Danny needed for Dash to throw him again, this time flying right up to Wardback; Danny hooked the Specter Deflector around Wardback's waist.
A shock that looked quite painful blasted through Wardback's body, and he let out a scream. As if their surroundings were made of glass, the world around them shattered and fell sparkling to the ground, fading away. What remained looked exactly like before in the Ghost Zone at least, but Danny had a feeling that the human world had gone back to the way it was supposed to be. Dash was gone, but there was only one way to be absolutely sure.
Danny's fist curled as the familiar white disk appeared at his waist and spread across his body. He was Danny Phantom once again.
The Specter Deflector had disappeared—after all, it was the version from the backwards universe. So had the Boooomerang. Danny floated in front of the shaking and fuming young ghost.
"You're going to leave me alone now," Danny said. "I promise, I never organized an attack on you. I'm disappointed that we didn't get to be friends."
"Friends?" Wardback laughed. "What do I need friends for? Friends come and go. I see them go all the time. Only humans have that strange kind of emotional connection, but unfortunately humans do not last forever." He looked up at Danny, who was shocked to see that Wardback was actually softly smiling, despite the pain he must be in. "I didn't intend it to be a challenge, I intended it to be a punishment. But in the end, this challenge gave me the most exciting time I've seen in all my thousands of years." He rose up until he was level with Danny again, folded one leg over the other, and floated backwards into the Ghost Zone once again. "Good luck moving forwards, Halfa."
Danny nodded. "Goodbye." He turned around and flew back out the Fenton portal, phased through the ceiling, and landed in class just in time for second period to start.
Sam put a hand over her heart when she saw Danny walk up to his locker. "Oh, thank God, Danny," she said. "We were seriously freaked out about you!"
"We thought Wardback had done something to ya," Tucker said. "Where were you?"
"Um… I overslept," Danny said. "Long night last night talking with Wardback."
"Find out anything interesting?" Sam asked.
"I reinforced that not all ghosts are evil," Danny said, smiling. "Some are just misunderstood."
A few seconds later, as Danny was putting things in his locker, he suddenly found himself jammed in his locker with the books he was extracting. A hand slammed the locker door behind him, and Dash yelled, "You're late for your daily nerd-whaling, Fentardy!"
"That's back to normal, too," Danny sighed inside his locker.