Sequel to Checkmate and 'My Last Lesson from you'. Rated T.
One year after the Disasteroid event, Vlad Masters is merely a fading memory in Danny Fenton's mind. The Almost-seventeen-year-old superhero appears to have the perfect life. And with his ever-growing experience with his ghostly abilities, his job as protector of Amity Park seems to be getting easier and easier. Now that everyone knows his secret, he has the support of not just his sister and friends, but that of his parents and of his 'many' fans. Even school seems like paradise, with his ever increasing popularity and grades.
Still, as the saying may go, 'one person's paradise is another's nightmare...'
With old pressures gone, new ones surge in this famous hero's life. But they will be the last thing on his mind when the reappearance of his arch-enemy triggers a set of happenings that frees the darkest part of both hybrids. As Danny's 'perfect' life begins to unravel, will he be able to search inside himself for a certain forgotten bond formed a year-and-a-half ago? Or, will the rise of a certain evil self only drive him further away from the man he once sought to save? But in this final game, it's all hands in for the fight to save Time and Existence. In the Endgame, there is no stalemate, for it is equivalent to losing. Sacrifices will have to be made and all the pieces will need to come together, for in the end, there can only be one Master.
*gasps* Can it be? It is! The start of Endgame! Man, time flies! Just to tell you now, if you have not read 'My Last Lesson from you', you might want to read that first or you're gonna get lost eventually. If you have not read Checkmate, you will be totally lost. Go read that one first. Anyways, here's the prologue. Yes, it is relevant to the rest of the story, so I hope you like trips down memory lane! Haha! Vlad muse? Will you do the honors.
Vlad muse: *smirks* Naturally. *clear throats* Ladies and Gentleman and children of all ages, I present to you, the sequel to Checkmate. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Danny Phantom, but this plot and the OCs are my own.
Twenty two years in the past…
The Ghost Zone has always been a mysterious and dangerous place, volatile as it was vast, and yet connecting everything within it much like the universe connects all galaxies in existence. Doors and portals that led to different Realms and even time periods have also littered the green abyss as long as any ghost's memory existed. Other phenomenon regarded as strange elsewhere had been the norm here, like the Ghost Zone's own lurking worm holes which would suddenly appear and suck in unsuspecting passersby and relocate them to areas unknown, even when the worm holes could easily transport them back to where they had been originally before the worm hole would move on.
Anything that could be imagined was real within this cold and dark world, which included the various creatures residing within it.
As unpredictable and menacing as the Ghost Zone could be, its changes were gradual and slow. It was much like the human world's mountains and canyons. They were constantly changing, but it would take thousands of years for these changes to be big enough to be noticed. Still, like the ever-moving oceans, the ghostly cold abyss also drifted, and its landmarks traveled within the invisible pull of its Energy Novas.
And even the things that were beyond the imagination existed in this shadowy place.
However, there was one place in the Ghost Zone very few had ever ventured. One place that even the ghostly inhabitants knew better than to trespass. Then again, very few knew how to even get into this place.
So, as far as the ghosts were concerned, this single place in the Ghost Zone did not even exist. All that connected this place to the outlying green abyss was a single portal located in the Forbidden Region of the Ghost Zone.
There was one thing, though, that made 'this place' so unique. Unlike anything anywhere on the plant, it existed outside of time.
This place was known as the Realm Beyond Time.
It housed a unique group of creatures that were rumored to be a separate species. Some called them the guardians and protectors of Existence; others believed them to be angels of the Supreme Creator sent to care for the balance of life. Still others thought they merely governed over Time.
But most knew them as simply 'spirits'. And they did share one thing in common:
They all existed outside of Time.
Most spirits were indeed guardians. They held unique powers that helped them do their specific duties since the beginning of the universe.
Bound by their own vows and laws, they were seldom seen outside of their timeless realm. In fact, there had been only one true recorded event where these mysterious spirits had been caught intervening with the timeline directly.
The incident of the Ghost King's reign of terror was a story all the Ghost Zone inhabitants knew. And they all knew that it had been a unique group of spirits who had put an end to that nightmare.
That had been centuries ago, and no spirit had ever been seen since then. But now, the birth of a new species—one belonging to two worlds—was about to change all that everyone knew about spirits.
But… it was also about to change all that spirits knew about the natural balance of life and existence…
And it would be one single spirit that would set in motion this new course in Time…
Clockwork watched through his Time Orb a newer timeline that had come into existence. Well, it had come into existence more than two decades ago, so to most, it would not be that new. But to the Master of Time, this new life was only a child. And like he did with the birth of any new being—whether ghost or human—he always scanned its timeline, reviewing it for any significant happenings. For the most part, each new creation's timeline was of no importance to Time as a whole. It came and went.
Clockwork would look at any given being's timeline once, and move on to the next, never again reviewing the individual timeline, unless something altered it.
However, every few hundred years or so, a new timeline that would be created would capture the Time Master's attention. And on very rare occurrences, he would interfere, tweaking something to fix or alter that timeline, usually for the greater good. He was also not above destroying an entire timeline; but only when left with no other choice. Those occurrences were even rarer.
But for over two decades now, he had been watching this particular timeline. It was of a human young man. Clockwork still remembered when he first looked upon this new life. For the first time in his existence, he had been… surprised.
But the more the time spirit dived into this timeline and sought the different turns it could and could not take and all that it would affect, Clockwork had been more than surprised.
Clockwork had been greatly captivated by it.
Then again, how many times in existence did one witness the creation of a new species which would alter the entire Time Stream?
Since then, the Master of Time had been closely watching this life, still trying to decide what would be the best approach in dealing with what was coming—for it would need his intervention.
He had considered… preventing all together the birth of this new… species, but the outcome had been troubling. The effect it had on Time and Existence had been too catastrophic. So, the idea was quickly dismissed.
For some time, Clockwork let things move as fate had predestined it. He waited and watched. And it was not until this new life was changed—reborn into its destined fate—that the Master of Time finally decided what to do.
Unfortunately, his supposed superiors now knew of this newest 'threat' to Time and Existence, too. And in their short-sightedness, they had their own black-and-white opinion on how to deal with this… unique being.
"Clockwork," the head Observant and his counselor called as they appeared in his Clock Tower.
The time spirit sighed tiredly, but turned to face the two other spirits and replied in a monotone voice, "Yes?"
"We have come to discuss an issue of great importance! In fact, it could be the biggest threat we have seen since the reign of Pariah Dark!" the two exclaimed.
Clockwork resisted the urge to roll his eyes. His employers could certainly exaggerate things. But he supposed that, for once, they were right to some extent…
"So, you have all seen it at last?" he questioned calmly.
"Yes, and we are very upset you did not tell us of this beforehand!" the Observant Leader said.
But then the Observant Counselor added, "He must perish, Clockwork. A creature of such unnatural creation can only bring about destruction and threat to the Time Stream."
Clockwork looked at them for a moment before asking, "Why are you both so certain that his… creation is unnatural? Have you considered that a higher power is at hand? That perhaps… he is destined to exist?"
But before the Observants could answer, Clockwork turned away from them and waved his staff at his Time Orb. In an instant, the viewing orb swirled and transformed into a visual image…
"I'm telling you, Jack, it won't work!" a skinny and lanky young man with blue eyes and black hair protested. His voice was scratchy and almost high-pitched, betraying his youth. He couldn't be older than his early twenties.
But then another young man, this one well-framed and with a studier voice, quickly yet good-naturedly objected, "Bogus, V-man! It totally will! This proto-portal is guaranteed to bust open the walls into the Ghost Zone dimension!"
The third and final person in the lab was a red-headed young woman, and despite her wearing a lab coat like her two male friends, she was well-dressed to fit the eighties style. But she said nothing and just smiled at her two companions.
As the thin young man continued to skeptically study the proto-portal, he was oblivious to the fact that Jack and the young woman had stepped away to their other workbench.
But as Jack picked up a remote, the red-head picked up some papers on the table and quickly looked over them. Almost instantly, she noticed something was wrong and she didn't hesitate to voice it, "Jack, these calculations aren't right…"
But the large-framed young man was too excited with the prospect of the success of their latest invention, and impulsively pressed the activation button on the control, yelling, "Bonzaii!"
The other young man jolted with his friend's sudden exclamation; but before he could move his face away from the proto-portal, a green light began to swirl within the portal. And the young man was frozen in place as he watched it swirl faster and faster, until…
The green energy exploded out of the portal, consuming the man's entire face with ghostly fire.
"AHH! Bogus!" he cried out in both pain and shock, while his two friends' eyes widened in horror.
The portal suddenly shorted out, leaving a dreaded silence in the room.
And while the thin young man gripped at his face, as he panted from pain and fear, his two friends could only stare back, frozen in place.
But when he finally turned around and lowered his hands, Jack and the young woman were unable to suppress a gasp of fear.
The blue-eyed, black-haired young man had been completely disfigured. His hair had been turned snow white and his blue eyes glowed with a ghostly hue. But the worst of it was the pulsing and glowing blemishes distorting his once untarnished face.
As if the thin young man could see in his friends' eyes their unspoken words, he quickly grabbed his face again. And feeling more than seeing his disfigurement, on top of the utter terror with which his friends stared at him, a sense of fear, anguish, and panic overtook his being.
Before his friends could stop him, he ran out of the lab room…
"Vlad!" his friends yelled after him, but he never heard it.
Clockwork let the image fade from his viewing glass before turning to face his employers and calmly asking, "So, you want me to eliminate Vlad Masters—the first half-ghost in existence?"
"His kind must not exist," the Observant Leader replied seriously. "We have seen the destruction that will come of it—not only from him, but worse, of the one to come…"
"He must be eliminated," the Counselor stressed. "It is the only way."
Clockwork raised an eyebrow. "There is always more than one way."
The Observants looked at each other before the leader tentatively asked, "What do you suggest, Clockwork?"
The Time Master sighed, as if explaining anything to his employers was a strenuous task. Still, he turned from them and brought up an alternate timeline. His voice was as even as always when he then spoke up, "Eliminating the first half-ghost would assure that the next one does not exist. As you can see, a small alternation to the current timeline would assure that this accident would kill him instead of turning him half-ghost. In turn, his friends would blame themselves for his demise and push away forever from their passion of ghosts. Their son, the next half-ghost, would exist; but without his parents' passion, he will not become half-ghost… He will be destined to be a normal human boy…"
As the alternate timeline faded from the Viewing Orb, the Observants looked at each other again. And confirming silently that they now believed all the more that this 'Vlad Masters' should be eliminated, they quickly looked back at Clockwork and nodded. "You see? It is for the best. Eliminate him, Clockwork."
"As I said, this is not the only solution to this matter," Clockwork replied, a hint of annoyance in his voice this time.
The Observant Leader's single eye narrowed in a mixture of his own irritation and confusion. "What other choice could there be, Clockwork? If you do not wish to eliminate him, then what? Prevent the accident all together?"
"No," Clockwork answered right away. "I have also seen that path, and preventing the accident would bring about drastic changes to the entire Time Stream. The boy would not even exist, for his mother would end up marrying Vlad Masters. And that is only one of the alterations. It cannot even be considered."
"Then tell us what you suggest," the Observant Leader commanded impatiently.
Just the smallest hint of a smirk touched the Time Masters lips as he replied causally, "I suggest letting the Time Stream follow its natural course but with a little…. assistance."
"Assistance?" they asked simultaneously, both confused. They didn't understand that at all. Since when did Clockwork need 'assistance'? That is what he meant… was it not?
"Yes," Clockwork answered. "Assistance…" He turned from them and raised his staff back to his Viewing Orb. He brought up an image and pointed at it, as he simply added, "Her."
The Observants' eyes widened as they stared at the image of a teenager girl with pale blue eyes and curly brown hair. She was scowling at a younger Vlad Masters. If one looked closely, however, the two physically resembled each other…
"His sister?" the two Observants abruptly exclaimed, but then added even more baffled, "B-But she no longer exists! She passed away many years ago from the Time Stream!"
"Correct," Clockwork agreed, turning to face them again. "That is why I am relying all this information to you both, instead of acting on my own—as I prefer. However…, I cannot bring anyone back."
"And neither can we!" the Observant Leader quickly said, sounding more upset by the second.
"I know that, too," the Time Master answered as calm as ever.
The Observants shared a look again before the leader shook his head and said, "Clockwork, what you are proposing is madness! It goes beyond what can be considered acceptable or moral! You know we do not interfere in the timeline— "
"Yes, you make me do it for you," the Time Master interrupted coolly.
"Yes, but even for you, this would be crossing the line," the Observant Leader did not hesitate to retort. "You might be permitted to interfere, but we know you cannot do so directly, let alone something of the magnitude you are contemplating. It goes beyond any spirit's vows!"
Clockwork did not even bother to correct the Observant leader's last statement, and just let them finish their rant. They would figure it out if he waited long enough…
"Indeed!" the Counselor quickly interjected. "And we need not repeat how we do not have that kind of power. His sister does not exist in either the Ghost Realm or the Human Realm. Therefore, the only spirits with the power to perform such an impossible feat as it would be to return her to Existence would be the…"
But the Counselor's words died off as he and his leader saw an expectant smile grow on Clockwork's face.
The leader instantly knew exactly what the time spirit was thinking, and as his eye went wide, he blurted out, "No! Absolutely not! We will not summon them for something so mad!"
"The Ancients would not even constant to such a thing!" the Counselor continued. "Or, have you forgotten one of the Ancients is the Spirit of Order?"
Clockwork's smile melded into an irritated frown. "Believe me. I have not forgotten. However, Serenity is only one of the Ancients. Much like your race, they work as a group—a council. Not to mention, she is not the Ancient Leader. Horris is."
"Clockwork," the Observant Leader said in a grave voice. "Even if we could summon them to simply hear your bizarre request, you know full well they do not interfere unless they are left with no other alternative! You have more chance of an Observant interfering before any Ancient would!"
"And we have vowed not to interfere at all, which means it is impossible for an Ancient to do so!" the Counselor finished.
Clockwork sighed irritably. "Yes, I am well aware of all this. But you forget one crucial detail: because Vlad's sister is no longer of either the ghost or human realm, then she no longer exists in the Time Stream. Therefore, her returning will not affect it."
"What? How would it not affect it, Clockwork? She would be brought back into the Time Stream!" the Observants argued.
"Not if she's brought back as a spirit—as one of us!" the Time Master didn't hesitate to answer. But when his employers gasped and clearly looked about to argue all over again, Clockwork lost his patience. His eyes narrowed in anger as he quickly said, "I am not asking you for this—I am telling you. You want me to continue to do your dirty work? Then, summon the Ancients. You do not have to agree with any of this. I will talk to them, and I will assume all responsibilities for whatever happens. And only if they deny my request, will I eliminate Vlad Masters as you two want."
The Observants looked at each other, now knowing Clockwork was not going to change his mind about this. But still sure that the Ancients would refuse the time spirit's request, they decided to play things his way for now.
"Very well," the Observant Leader agreed at last, though there was displeasure in his voice. "We will summon the Ancients and inform them that you request their audience. However, when they decline your mad idea, then we want no further argument. You will eliminate Vlad Masters, Clockwork."
And before the time spirit could say anything, the two vanished. But with their disappearance, Clockwork turned back to his Viewing Orb and brought up the image of Vlad Masters. He was now alone in a hospital room, staring in shock at his 'missing' hand.
"So it begins…," Clockwork muttered with a secretive smile.
27 years in the past…
The skinny fifteen-year-old Vlad Masters sighed as he attempted to ignore the familiar voice calling his name. His maroon dress shirt and khaki pants school uniform hung loosely on him all too obviously revealing that he had not hit his growth spurt yet.
"Vlad! I know you can hear me! Stop ignoring me!"
The boy rolled his blue eyes in annoyance, but finally relented. He ignored the amused looks on his two male friends with whom he was talking until now. He said his good-byes and turned towards the angry voice.
He didn't even have to go to her; she had already come to him.
Still, before she could say anything to him, Vlad crossed his arms and coolly said, "Viviane, I'm really not in the mood for one of your lectures."
The girl was Vlad's fraternal twin sister. She had the same blue eyes as her brother, but instead of the straight black hair, she had curly brown hair. She stood about three inches taller than him; so when she placed her hand on her hips and glared at Vlad, she clearly meant business.
"Yes, well, maybe you should have thought about that before acting so uncivilized!" she snapped back.
The irritation on Vlad's face melded into an amused smiled. He found his sister's attempts to look intimidating always amusing. Really, how could you take someone with a plaid skirt and cute curls framing her face seriously?
"You're really over exaggerating this, dear sister," he answered with a small chuckle, crossing his own arms.
"Don't 'dear sister' me!" she snapped back, "And stop laughing! This isn't funny, Vladimir!"
Vlad instantly scowled at the name; but right then, he caught sight of someone familiar walking towards them and he quickly perked up. "Hold that thought!" he abruptly said before darting past his sister and meeting the other girl halfway.
Viviane sighed loudly and turned around in time to see her brother greet the other girl with a quick kiss on the lips. She rolled his eyes at him before she slowly made her way over to the obviously involved couple.
But when the other girl saw her approaching, she pulled away from Vlad, much to his dissatisfaction.
"Hey, Annie," she greeted her best friend.
"Hi, Stephanie," Viviane replied back with a small smile before she shot a glare at Vlad.
Stephanie quickly noticed the tension between the two siblings and smirked, "Is this about what happened at lunch?"
"Yes!" Vlad suddenly exclaimed. "So, could you please tell your friend to stop grilling me about it? It's totally bogus! It wasn't even my fault!"
"I have a name you know!" Viviane snapped.
"Fine!" Vlad answered, rolling his eyes. "Stephanie, could you please tell Viviane to stop being such a square?"
"I'll stop being a square, Vladimir, when you grow a brain!" Viviane retorted.
"Stop calling me that!" Vlad protested.
"Then stop calling me 'Viviane'! You know I don't like it!" she fought back.
Vlad glared. "Yeah, well, that's why—"
"Hey!" Stephanie exclaimed, getting the squabbling siblings' attention. "Time out, okay?"
The two silenced, but still crossed their arms and scowled at each other.
Stephanie sighed before looking over at her best friend. "Annie, Vlad has a point. That wasn't his fault. That other guy started it. Vlad just finished it. Plus, that bully kinda deserved it…"
Annie's eyes widened and she quickly protested, "What? You're defending him? You're supposed to be my best friend, remember?"
"So? She's my girlfriend," Vlad quickly replied cheekily. "That's higher in the scale of 'who to defend if…' Uh… It's just higher," he said with a smirk.
"Anyways," Annie all but growled out. "That's not the point! The point is you shouldn't encourage him when he does something wrong, Stephanie!"
"Alright," Stephanie conceded, raising her hands in surrender. "Just remember that your mom won't be too happy if you come home without a twin brother."
"And you're still on his side," Viviane scowled.
"I have to be, Annie," Stephanie answered with a small amused smile. "We all know who wins in these little quarrels you two have; I'm just trying to keep poor Vlad alive," she teased.
Vlad just grinned and nodded. "And I need all the help I can get."
"In more ways than one," Annie answered, narrowing her eyes at her brother again.
Stephanie burst into laughter, but then said, "You know, I'm going to leave while I still can. "I'll see you tomorrow, Annie. And, Vlad…" Stephanie gave him a quick peck and smiled. "See you tomorrow."
Vlad smirked. "If I'm not at school tomorrow I'm sure you'll know why," he whispered at his girlfriend with amusement.
Stephanie laughed, while Viviane rolled her eyes, but still waved at her friend, "Bye, Steph."
Once alone, the two siblings turned and began to walk towards the street. They lived a few blocks from the school. But instead of taking the walkways, they usually cut through a small gathering of trees across the street and got home faster.
"Vlad" Annie spoke up, her angry look melding into a troubled one. "No more jokes, okay? I'm being serious. You really need to control your temper, or it's going to get you in trouble someday."
"Annie, I just punched him once!" he answered, exasperated. "Besides," he added, his eyes narrowing in anger, "—he deserved it. He shouldn't have insulted you!"
"Vlad, they're just words; plus, he just said all that to make you mad," she said, hearing the fall leaves crunching under their feet as they entered the small forest.
"And it worked," Vlad replied through clenched teeth. But when he saw how upset his sister looked, he sighed in surrender. "Alright," he mumbled. "I'll control my temper. Happy now?" he grumbled the last part.
Viviane instantly grinned before giving her sibling a sudden kiss on his cheek. "Yes, loads happier now!"
Vlad rolled his eyes, yet there was a warm smile on his face.
But then his sister raised an eyebrow and said a bit more seriously, "You do realize Father's going to be very upset with you when he finds out about this, right?"
But Vlad didn't seem to think much of it, and he shrugged as he stuffed his hands in his pocket and absently kicked up some leaves in front of him. "I'm sure I'll figure something out. Besides, all I got was a Saturday morning detention."
But knowing what her brother meant by 'figure something out', she smirked and said, "I doubt you'll be able to talk yourself out of this one, dear brother. You might have a way with words, but Father doesn't fall for that when it has to do with school and you getting into trouble."
Vlad smirked. "Then, I believe that means we'll have to stay in for a week or so."
"We? Speak for yourself. I'm not the one getting grounded," she answered dryly.
"Yeah, but I don't think you have the heart to leave me to suffer my punishment all alone, being the goody-goody and responsible and caring sister that you are…," he mocked playfully.
Surprisingly, Annie agreed. "You're totally right. I could do no such thing…" She suddenly smirked evilly as she added, "Good thing Mother will be there with you. I'm sure she'll love having you around the house to help her with chores…" She laughed and took off into a sudden sprint through the trees.
Vlad groaned before he took off after her. "Annie! Wait! You can't leave me alone with Mother! She'll make me wear one of her pink aprons and bake pies! I don't even like pie!" he protested.
"Nope. Sorry. You're on your own!" she answered, grinning back at him.
"Come on, Vlad! Don't tell me I'm also faster than you!" she teased back.
Vlad's eyes quickly narrowed as he picked up speed and yelled, "You might be taller but you're definitely not faster!"
He soon caught up with his sister, and she stopped running. As the two caught their breath, Vlad added, "And for your information, that's just temporary. We're still growing!"
Viviane giggled and mocked, "Keep telling yourself that, little brother."
"I will, mother dear," he mocked back, before pulling one of her brown curls.
"Ow!" she yelped, and pushed him. But since he had been bending forward to catch his breath, he stumbled with the force and fell on his butt.
"Oh, you're getting it now!" Vlad threatened as he quickly got to his feet.
Annie squeaked before she took off running once again, her brother hot on her trail…
However, the image of the happy siblings suddenly froze before it just as quickly faded into a mass of swirling green energy….
Clockwork turned from the scene he had displayed on his Time Viewing Orb and looked at his current audience.
The Observant Leader and his Counselor had returned. At first, the two one-eyed spirits glanced at each other, secretly sure of what would happen next. But then their eyes drifted over to the seven other spirits that had also appeared in the Clock Tower and had also watched the images on the Viewing Orb. They wore purple robes with hoods that covered their faces. All that could be seen of them from within their cloaks were their red pupil-less eyes and green skeletal hands….
The Ancients remained quiet for a moment, clearly taking in the scene they had just witnessed.
"Well," Horris finally said after a moment's silence. "She seems noble enough. And she seems to have a powerful influence on her sibling. They shared a very close bond… I can see why you wish to bring her back, Clockwork. Nevertheless, the fact still remains that such an action goes against what can be considered moral."
"A timeline that has been eliminated from existence by the higher power which we serve should stay gone," another male Ancient agreed.
"And let us not forget that such a request goes against the natural order," a female said this time.
Clockwork frowned at the last Ancient who had spoken and answered, "Obviously, Serenity, the Time Stream has willingly moved outside of the 'natural order' by creating a creature that is both human and ghost. I believe then that the solution would have to also be outside the natural order."
Horris sighed from within his hood before looking at the Spirit of Order, and remarking, "He makes a valid point, Serenity."
"Nevertheless, it will bring about chaos. I will not agree to this," she said in a calm yet cool voice.
"Regardless of the affects to Time and Order," another female Ancient spoke up, "What makes you think we will go outside our own vows just for your request, Time Master? How is this matter so pertinent that it needs our interfering?"
"Because I have seen Vlad Plasmius' timeline," Clockwork answered calmly. "And regardless of what path it takes, his existence will not just affect the ghost and human realm, but the spirit one as well—this realm. It will affect all existence. The creation of this half-ghost—and the one to come—will affect the Time Stream so drastically that preventing their existence would be as damaging as allowing their timelines to go without intervention. Viviane Masters' presence is crucial to her brother's timeline because without her intervention, it could very well mean the end of Time and Existence. Not to mention, the time will come when I will need Viviane Masters in order to deal with not just Vlad Plasmius, but also the next half-ghost."
Clockwork paused for effect as he looked at all his audience before finishing, "I can assure you that the significance of all this goes beyond what we saw with Pariah Dark. That is why it is necessary for you all to consider and grant my request."
The Ancients looked at one another, but then Horris asked, "And what is your plan with her if we bring her back? Will she be returned into the timeline?"
"I ask that she be brought back as a spirit," Clockwork answered. "I ask… you make her into a guardian—one of us."
The Ancients gasped. Even Serenity tensed with the suggestion. But it was Horris who quickly asked, "Why?"
This time, Clockwork smirked secretly and retorted, "Why not? She would be bound by our own vows and morals. In that way, you can be sure her interference will not be disorderly or reckless. I need her close to her sibling once again, and as his guardian, she will have the power and means to do so without his knowing. Lastly, I will further assure you that if you grant my request, I will take full responsibility of the girl and of anything she does."
The Ancients once more looked at one another. Clockwork knew they were communicating telepathically with each other this time, so he patiently waited.
The Observants, however, looked a bit nervous. They were starting to doubt their certainty of the Ancients rejecting Clockwork's request.
Horris suddenly looked over to the Observants. "Justeco? Konsilisto? Have you two nothing to say to this regard? The Observant Council does have dominion over the amount of interference permitted in the Time Stream."
The two Observants glanced at each other, but then Justeco, the Observant Leader, replied, "Our sight of the Time Stream is limited, therefore, we have yet to see as far as Clockwork has seen. However, we are wary of Clockwork's wish to bring back into Existence this creature's sister. We simply prefer to eliminate him, thus further preventing the creation of the second like him."
Horris regarded the swirling green orb in silent contemplation. However, he then closed his eyes for some reason and remained quiet for another moment as he made an unusual connection. It was only after that when he said, "Who are we to deny the existence of these new beings when their creation has already been predestined?"
He opened his eyes just as suddenly and said, "No. We will not eliminate them. We will at least allow them to live their life as they choose. Should they ever be a threat to Time, Order, and Existence, then such a sentence will be placed upon them."
Horris looked back at Clockwork and said, "Very well, Clockwork. Your request will be granted. However, I want you to know that although you present a justifiable and compelling argument, the true reason we will do as you ask is because we trust you. You have been given the guardianship over the Time Stream, and we know you would not do anything to jeopardize your cause. We understand that your request is because you have seen what is to come and have decided this is what is best for Time, Order, and Existence. However, should you prove to be wrong, let it be known now that it is you who will answer to that whom we serve."
"As I said, I will take full responsibility," Clockwork replied.
"I still do not agree," Serenity then spoke up, her voice collected but still cold. "However, I will respect the order of the Ancient council and do as I am commanded. But now you mark my words, Clockwork," she said with a calm authority. "If this abomination to the natural order brings about chaos or breaks her vows in any way, I, the Spirit of Order, will be the one who sees to her destruction."
"If I permit it, that is," Clockwork replied, his eyes narrowing just a bit.
"Enough," Horris quickly reprimanded the two spirits. "There is no need for threats. We have been created to work in harmony, especially the Spirit of Time and the Spirit of Order," he stressed, giving Clockwork and Serenity stern looks.
Clockwork remained expressionless this time, while Serenity bowed submissively at her leader, though when she looked back up, she smirked calmly at Clockwork.
Horris nodded. "Very well, then. For now, we shall reserve judgment on these… half-ghosts, and grant the Time Master's request. Ancients? Are you all in accord to the words I have been handed with authority?"
Horris stretched out his hand, and the other Ancients moved to form a circle. All but Serenity then stretched out their green bony hands, as if they were a team of football players getting ready to break back into formation after a quick timeout. The difference, however, was that their hands did not touch.
Serenity sighed, knowing she was outvoted. "As I said, I will do as the council dictates," she repeated calmly and stretched out her own bony hand.
In an instant, a golden glowing circle formed in between the seven Ancients hands. And knowing what was about to happen, Clockwork and the Observants floated back, as an unseen wind began to pick up within the Clock Tower.
"From the powers vested to us from the One above, we call from the heavens Viviane Masters… Return to the realm of Existence once more," they chanted in another speech.
The ring suddenly fired a gold beam upwards, which penetrated but didn't damage the ceiling. However, as quickly as the beam shot out, it just as quickly returned, but it was now white. The Ancients floated back when the white beam slammed in front of their circle before it rapidly swelled and spread outward.
The wind continued to pick up, but it now concentrated around the white light, creating a sort of vortex. Suddenly, the light expanded in all directions, like the blinding flash of a strobe light.
The light and wind abruptly vanished in the next instant… leaving behind a young girl dressed in a glittering white dress…
She was sitting on her knees, head bowed and face hidden by a mess of brown curls. At first, she appeared to be a life-size praying porcelain doll. However, she suddenly took in a soft breath of air. She was alive—at least, in some sense.
Slowly, her head lifted, revealing a set of confused and curious blue eyes. She quietly scanned her bizarre surroundings; but when she finally noticed the creatures around her, staring calmly back at her, she whispered in awe, "If I was still alive, I would surely say I'm dreaming…"
"Viviane Masters," Clockwork called, and the Ancients parted away to allow the time spirit to float closer to the girl.
Viviane quickly turned her head to the voice, and seeing the owner of it approaching her, she nervously got to her feet. Like silk, her dress fell into place, even as she took a nervous step back.
"Do not be afraid. We will not harm you," Clockwork gently said as he paused in his approach.
"Who…? Who are you… all?" she asked timidly, her eyes darting around the room.
"I am Clockwork, Master of time," Clockwork replied before gesturing to those around him and adding, "These are the Ancients. And they, the Observants. We are spirits—guardians of all that exists. But you might know us as… angels."
Viviane's eyes lit up in understanding, but then she frowned and further asked, "And…I am where?"
"You are in a place known as the Realm Beyond Time," Clockwork explained. "It resides within the Ghost Zone; but unlike anywhere else, the spirit realm resides outside of Time. All spirits exist outside of the Time Stream. But for me, time moves forward and backwards and—"
Clockwork paused when he saw the girl just staring back at him in pure confusion. He sighed and muttered, "I will explain later."
Horris blinked, as if he had not understood what Clockwork had been ranting about, either. But then he shook his head and spoke up, "For now, it is important that you understand why you have been brought back."
Viviane's eyes widened in surprise and she quickly repeated, "Brought back?"
"Yes," Justeco confirmed, and when the girl looked at him, he added, "You are now in Existence once more."
"Well, that explains why everything looks…different," she muttered, not sure how to describe the odd place she was at.
"There is someone who you might be interested in hearing about….," Clockwork suddenly said before aiming his staff at his Time Viewing Orb. In an instant, Vlad could be seen on the screen. He was unhappily sitting on a hospital bed as the nurse checked his vitals.
Viviane's eyebrows creased and she slowly walked towards the Viewing Orb. She stared thoughtfully at the young man on the screen before she noticed his eyes—his blue eyes just like hers.
Her eyes widened in instant recognition as she lifted her hand to the image, which blurred slightly with her touch. "He… He's my brother…," she whispered with sudden warmth in her voice. But seeing his disfigured face and ghostly white hair, she turned to Clockwork and asked fearfully, "What happened to him?"
"You have been brought back at Clockwork's request," Horris spoke up, purposely ignoring her question. "He wants you to be your brother's guardian. His keeper when necessary."
But suddenly feeling something was strange about all this, Viviane frowned. "I do not understand. Why would my brother need a guardian? Yes, my brother is special. But surely, one being within all creation cannot be significant enough that he needs to be closely watched and requires his own guardian."
"You are right," Justeco answered. "No guardian spirit has ever been sent to watch over a single being within time. However, your brother is the beginning of a species of beings within the Time Stream. Half-human. Half-ghost. Creatures with powers beyond our comprehension, and a threat to Time and Existence themselves."
Viviane's eyes widened again, but then a smile broke across her face. "Wait. Are you calling Vlad dangerous?" She suddenly started laughing. "You cannot be serious!"
"Oh, they are serious," Clockwork replied soberly. "And they deem your brother dangerous enough that they have asked me to eliminate him."
Viviane instantly stopped laughing and she gasped. "What? You can't do that!" she suddenly exclaimed before glaring at the Observants. "I just met you two and I already do not like you!"
"Which is why we will work well together," Clockwork thought to himself, but stayed quiet as the girl jumped into a rant.
"Vlad's harmless! Yes, he has a temper sometimes, but most of the time he would just pout until he got over it! He wouldn't purposely hurt anyone, let alone turn 'evil' enough to destroy all Existence or whatever it is you all believe he'll do! I mean, look at him!" she said loudly, pointing at the image still on the Viewing orb. "Does it look like he could hurt anything? He's obviously scared and hurt!"
"Viviane," Clockwork called, and the girl turned her now angry eyes at him.
"No, Clockwork!" she yelled as tears swelled in her eyes. "It isn't fair! They can't hurt my brother! You can't hurt my brother! He's good! I know it!"
"Is this the sort of unstable spirit you wish to be responsible for this new creature, Clockwork?" The Spirit of Order suddenly asked with a frown.
"He's name is Vlad!" Viviane snapped defensively at the female spirit, clearly too upset to care who anyone was anymore.
"A spirit with human emotions," Serenity remarked, her frown growing. "No, this cannot be. Horris, please, we must send her back. This has been a mistake."
"No, she stays," Clockwork quickly interjected, sounding a bit angry now. But looking back at Viviane, he added, "You must calm down. I understand you are angry. However, if I asked the Ancients to bring you back, it is to avoid such a drastic action against your brother. If you accept to become his guardian, you will become a—"
"—ghost?" Viviane interrupted fearfully. She knew from her past life that humans that died and didn't cross over became ghosts, forced to haunt the living and obsessed with their unfinished business. She couldn't imagine such a sad existence.
"A spirit, Viviane," Clockwork corrected her. "As I said, ghosts exist within the time stream, we do not. Viviane Masters can no longer exist within time, for destiny has erased her from it a long time ago. However, as a spirit, you can exist. As your brother's guardian, you can and will exist, if you accept the responsibility of watching over the first half-ghost in existence.
The girl sighed. "I still don't understand. Why does he need a guardian?" She shook her head and asked in further confusion, "How does someone become half-ghost anyways?"
"All your questions will be answered once you answer ours first," Horris answered. "Do you accept?"
Viviane turned her eyes to the image of her brother and smiled lovingly at it, "I would do anything for him…." But then she regarded the spirits with a serious frown, forcing herself to think clearly about this before adding, "But if you are asking me to choose, if you are giving me the option to decline, then it's because there is more than what you have told me. If I agree and become a spirit and Vlad's guardian, what's next? What's the catch?"
"Well, I see she is as clever as her sibling, Clockwork," Justeco remarked.
Viviane shot the Observants an angry look, not having forgotten these creatures wanted to simply kill her brother!
But before she could say anything to the one-eyed cretins, Horris spoke up and answered, "You are correct. There are conditions and vows which you must follow. You see, once a spirit is bound to a guardianship, it is for all eternity—or until you complete your purpose. Furthermore, because you were summoned at Clockwork's request, you will serve under him. You will not interfere or do anything unless he orders it of you. And most importantly, your brother can never know of your existence—of who you are. If you, Viviane Masters, ever interfere or reveal yourself to him, you will be sent back. You must never break your vows as a spirit."
"Keep in mind, too, that Clockwork works for us," Justeco suddenly spoke up. "That means that if we ever command Clockwork to eliminate your brother in the future, you cannot interfere. A spirit, you see, serves the greater good. Protecting Existence takes priority over our individual roles and guardianships. So, those are also vows you must uphold if you accept this."
"What if I refuse?" she voiced quietly.
"You will return to the Great Beyond as before," Horris answered this time.
"I would strongly consider it," Serenity then said, a small smile on her face. "It would be wiser, in fact. Why put yourself through such emotional instability? This will only bring you suffering, child, because in the end, all you will be able to do is watch your brother—watch him turn into what the Observants believe. Watch him fail and lose himself to evil. Watch and do nothing. So you see, we would understand if you decline," Serenity finished calmly.
Viviane looked fearfully at Serenity before looking back at the Viewing Orbstill showing her brother. She was quiet for a moment before whispering, "I promised him I would always be with him… I broke my word…"
"No," Clockwork quickly said, moving closer to the girl. "You have not broken your word. It is because you are still with him—within him—that I know you are the right person to be his guardian. Your bond with him is still there. But that will soon begin to change unless you return to him in a more tangible way. You might have to watch in secret, but as long as you are close, he will never truly be able to let go of the goodness in his heart even when it seems consumed by darkness."
Viviane nodded. "Then I will keep his light alive… I accept. I will not let my brother lose himself."
Horris nodded back and raised his hand at the girl. "Then, a sprit you will be, and your power shall come from the very bond within your heart… and now your core."
"Let it be so," the other Ancients chanted and also raised their hands at the girl.
Viviane gasped as a red smoke seeped out of their bony hands and began to engulf her. Her body soon began to glow with a bright white aura and her blue eyes turned red. But just as the crimson color engulfed her very pupils, a power wrapped around her mind and newly formed core and consumed her with pain.
The girl screamed as she dropped to her knees and gripped her head. Images, voices and feelings that were not her own flashed through her mind in a matter of seconds. By the time it was over, she was panting and shaking, overwhelmed by what she suddenly knew.
She didn't even notice the red hooded cloak that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and covered her form.
The Ancients finally lowered their hands, and stared at the quivering younger spirit for a moment. But it was Horris who turned his eyes to Clockwork, and broke the silence. "Our work is done. You can take over from here, Clockwork."
"Yes, thank you," the Time Master replied with a small smile.
Horris nodded before he and the other Ancients vanished within puffs of red smoke.
Silence once again shrouded the Clock Tower, but Viviane's sudden sobbing quickly put an end to it.
"I'm aware that it is a lot to take in," Clockwork said, the slightest hint of pity in his voice. "But now you know everything, and so can truly understand why I asked them to bring you back."
"I-I don't understand," Viviane replied through her crying. "I can hear his every thought. I can see what he sees… I can feel how he feels. How? Why?"
"You have always possessed a unique bond with your brother," Clockwork answered. "And that has now become your power. You posses the ability to control and manipulate not just your own bond, but the bond between others. You can create… and even destroy them. I can assure you that your powers will be of great importance with more than just your guardianship towards your brother."
Viviane forced herself to calm down. But as her red eyes dimmed to blue again, she was able to focus her mind on what was going on once more. She shook her head as a feeling lingered and painfully clenched at her core.
"He's so sad," she whispered.
"It will be easier to bear your tangible bond with your brother once you grow accustomed to it," Justeco suddenly intervened. "For now, remember you are in Clockwork's charge. However, we will be keeping our eye on you, too. Do not break your vows, Viviane Masters, for the consequences of such an action will surely be dire."
Viviane floated to her feet and just soberly nodded.
The Observants glanced at Clockwork, and said, "We will be watching closely." And with that, they vanished.
Once they were gone, Clockwork turned his calm gaze on Viviane, "Come with me, Viviane. You have acquired a lot of information through your brother, but… there are many more things you must know before you can fully understand your tasks… and soon… your role."
"Role?" she repeated, confused.
A small smirk curled the Time Master's lips. "Tell me, Viviane Masters, how good are your acting skills?"
One year later…
Sitting alone at a secluded outside area of the hospital, Vlad grumbled angrily to himself. He was so sick of being stuck in the hospital! A year! He had been here a year, and they still did not know what was wrong with him! They still had found no cure for his ecto-acne—or, as the doctors classified it, 'radiation poisoning'.
"If only they knew the truth," Vlad muttered spitefully, glaring at a tweeting bird perched at a nearby tree.
He supposed it was better that way. If they knew the acne wasn't the only thing that had resulted from the accident, he would be shipped off to a government facility and turned into a lab rat. That scared him more than he dared to admit.
He was still troubled by the discovery of his… ghost half. It had not emerged right away, though. It had taken a couple of months—which had been the worse months so far—for his body to get well enough to slowly accept the ecto-energy now also flowing through his veins. Being a scientist with no means of testing it, Vlad could only theorize that the ecto-acne was the result of his body rejecting his ghost powers to some extent. But slowly and painfully, his body seemed to be adapting to his ghost half...
Or, he hoped.
The doctors were certainly baffled by the fact that his body temperature was low—lower than anything they had ever recorded on a human being. Fortunately, the change wasn't so drastic that they were alarmed—just baffled. What had alarmed them, however, was when his temperature seemingly out of nowhere would sky rocket to the point that they believed he had a high fever. And yet, he felt just fine—well, as fine as anyone with ecto-acne could feel, anyways. He had no idea what the temperature fluxes were. But when his temperature did rise, he could feel the energy under his finger tips more than usual.
Oddly, it was comforting. He didn't understand why, either.
Aside from that, there were no other signs of abnormality in his body. Or, Vlad concluded that the human tests simply could not detect them. Again, he was more than grateful for that.
And yet, even with the awakening of his ghost half several months ago now, his ecto-acne had not gotten any better. He was still experiencing the side-effects, too. At times, it felt like someone had thrown acid on his face and the pain was so unbearable even morphine only barely curbed it. Other times, he weakened so drastically that he would faint and then sleep days on end, as if in a small coma. And then other times, he would grow sick and be unable to hold anything in.
He had always been a thin boy, but now, he looked like he belonged in a grave. He supposed the worst of it all was not knowing if he was going to live through this or not. He had tried to stay hopeful, but after a year of ups and downs, he was at his end.
It was why he was thankful when he had discovered something significant only two months ago.
It seemed his powers were growing stronger, and although he was still having 'accidents', he now knew how to command his body to morph into his ghost half. But not wanting to be discovered, he had been going off as of late to secluded areas like this one to practice controlling his powers. He just knew it was absolutely essential he gain some control or his luck was going to run out and he would be discovered. To make matters worse, though, it was hard to get time alone in a hospital, so 'practices' were short and irregular.
But what he had found was that the longer he stayed in ghost form, the better he felt. In fact, not too long ago, he had felt the beginning of a pain episode flare, and instead of letting the doctors know, he had gone out and morphed.
The pain left instantly.
It left him to conclude that his body wasn't rejecting his ghost powers after all. So, whatever it was rejecting was something else. Perhaps it was the radiation that he received from the blast of ectoplasmic energy. Maddie had said that the calculations were not correct, so he was sure that idiot Jack, did not properly set up everything.
Vlad's eyes suddenly turned red, but his pupils were still visible, at the thought of his 'best friend'.
Jack and Maddie were still trying to visit him, but Vlad had ordered the hospital staff to deny their entrance. He was too angry at Jack to see him right now. And, really, who could blame him? He was still in the hospital for his rash and careless actions!
Vlad had always scolded Jack for his lack of restraint. He had told the oaf not to be so impulsive because he would end up hurting himself or someone else eventually. But Jack never listened, and look what happened! He was now paying for Jack's thoughtlessness.
As for Maddie, it wasn't that he was angry at her. He just… felt ashamed to be seen so disfigured and bony like he was. He was a mere shadow of himself now. He couldn't let the girl he was in love with see what… a monster Jack had turned him into.
But Maddie, being as thoughtful and sweet as she was, had had the foresight of writing to him. Her letters certainly raised his spirits when he would receive them. Of course, she insisted to let her and Jack visit, but Vlad would just not answer and write her back about other things instead. She also kept insisting that Jack felt bad for what he had done and that he was very sorry. She really was pleading for him to forgive Jack, especially as of late…
Vlad had to admit on days he felt 'better', he considered it. And perhaps, if he got out of the hospital soon, he would. But for now, he just didn't even want to look at Jack.
Still, Maddie's letters were healing. But lately, they were not coming as often as before, and Vlad had this… feeling there was something she was not telling him. Of course, he had no way of knowing. What really scared Vlad, though, was that he would never be able to tell Maddie how he felt—or worse, have her fall in love with someone else!
Just before the accident, he had been summoning the courage to tell her how he felt. In fact, he had talked to Jack and even asked him for advice. Of course, Vlad had not told him he was talking about Maddie; or else Jack, being as impulsive as he was, would have ended up telling her before he was ready. And that would have only ended up embarrassing Vlad in front of Maddie.
But at least Jack had been pretty encouraging, and that had been enough to give Vlad that extra confidence to just ask Maddie out.
But he never got the chance.
That same day, his horrible accident had happened. Now, he didn't even dare to because of how gruesome he looked. After all, who would want to be with him as he was now, especially someone as beautiful as Maddie?
But if anything kept him fighting to survive and get better, it was his determination of one day telling Maddie how he felt. He would tell her even if it was the last thing he did!
Vlad's eyes turned blue again as he sigh longingly. However, his thoughts on Maddie triggered his thoughts of one of his most recent… troubles.
It was beyond comprehension, but… someone from his past was back. And not just anyone, but… his sister's best friend and his ex-girlfriend:
Vlad had no idea how she found out about what happened to him, but a week ago she had shown up in his hospital room!
He had been so shocked that he could only stare at her for a whole minute, as if he was staring at a ghost. And he might as well have been! Not because she looked bad. Quite the opposite. She had blossomed into a beautiful woman, but when he had left Florida, he had buried her along with all his memories of his childhood!
For some reason, having her see him like this was worse than if Maddie would, and Vlad had instantly asked her to leave. She had refused because she didn't understand why. In fact, she never did understand why Vlad had abruptly stopped talking and seeing her back then, either.
But Vlad wasn't about to explain it. That was fine. It was better for her to think him a jerk so that she would stay away.
Yet, for some even stranger reason, it was not as easy to drive her away as it had been seven years ago.
In fact, he was hiding out here because Stephanie had asked to see him again. And since he was tired of telling the nurses 'no', he had ran off. Hopefully, she would get the hint and leave.
But Vlad was sure Stephanie would continue to insist. He really didn't get why, either!
"Stubborn as always," Vlad muttered, crossing his arms with a huff. But then looking around and seeing no one around, he jumped off the four-foot decorative stone wall he had been sitting on. He nervously checked his surroundings one more time, before closing his eyes and letting a pair of white rings wash over him.
He smiled as he touched his face and felt no bumps. It was one good thing about his ghost half. For some reason, the ecto-acne did not appear. He also liked the fact that his hair returned to its normal black color. Of course, it was pretty shaggy now since he had been in the hospital; and it was longer than he had ever kept it, though not long enough for him to tie it back or anything.
He briefly inspected his hands and frowned at the strange color of his skin. When he had first discovered his ghost half, his skin had been normal expect it looked rarely pale. But as of late, his skin was turning a whitish grey color, almost a deathly blue. It certainly was strange…. And somewhat alarming.
He sure hoped it didn't mean his body was dying!
But he felt the same as before, so maybe he was jumping to morbid conclusions. His clothing was the same, though he did not get it at all. He was wearing all white. Like a hazmat suit. The only contrast he had to his all white outfit was his black belt. Even his boots were white!
What was weird about it was that he had no idea where the outfit had come from; but all he could conclude was that it melded somehow from the white lab coat he had been wearing the day of the accident. He supposed he preferred this than his ghostly clothes melding from the green-and-gold shirt he had had under the lab coat! He briefly wondered if there was a way to alter his wardrobe, but then dismissed the thought. He couldn't even stop his hand from going intangible half of the time; so, his 'look' was the least of his concerns right now.
Vlad sighed before concentrating. He smiled a bit when he managed to create green energy in his hands. But as he began to study it, a frown melded back on his face.
"How ironic is it that I became what I did not believe in?" he asked bitterly.
It was the truth. He had never believed in ghosts, so even when Jack had convinced him to get into this paranormal stuff, he had been skeptical. Honestly, the main reason he had agreed to take up Spectral Biomechanics as a minor was so he could spend more time with his best friend and his crush.
This was what he got for letting Jack influence him.
Now, he wasn't even sure if he would even finish his major! He had to withdraw from school because of the ecto-acne. And he had already wasted a year! He could have been a junior by now! Still, he didn't know how, but he was going to finish his major!
Seeing the energy in his hand wavering from his lack of focus, Vlad sighed again and dispelled it. He looked up at the sky and bit his lip nervously. He supposed he should practice one of his most newly learned abilities:
But he wasn't exactly fond of extreme heights or roller-coaster type stunts; so learning he had the freedom of flight wasn't as thrilling for him as most guys his age…
Still, it was freedom nonetheless…
Taking a breath, he turned invisible and flew into the sky. He yelped when he wobbled a bit in the air, but quickly stabilized himself and took off. He flew close to hospital's area, glancing down at the people walking around the nearby shops and food places with not a care in the world.
It only made Vlad more bitter.
He shook his head and decided he was done with the flight. He landed back down to the same secluded area of the hospital and decided to just walk around instead. However, just as he landed, a bright light behind him startled him.
He gasped and whirled around, but then froze at what he saw a couple of feet from him…
A green swirling mass of energy.
Suddenly, he shivered as an odd feeling gripped something within his ghostly body. He didn't understand it, but his logic was telling him to run away—that this thing was dangerous. And yet… another part of him was drawn to this swirling mass—as if he belonged to it.
Somehow, the latter feeling grew stronger until he could no longer ignore it. As if in a trance, Vlad slowly walked towards the swirling energy and reached out and touched it.
He shivered again with another kind of rush. It was ice cold, but it sent this pleasant tingle through his body—almost like a high dose of morphine would.
"Is it possible?" he whispered as he watched his hand vanish within the swirling energy and instantly recalling all of Jack's theories…
Was this the very thing that they had been working on making? Could this be an actual… ghost portal?
It appeared to be.
And yet, he still couldn't believe it. It was beyond his mind's imagination that an actual ghostly gateway was right in front of him, let alone that it led to an actual 'ghost world'. But then, if this wasn't real; if ghosts didn't exist, then he wouldn't be possible, either. And yet, here he was… a human ghost hybrid of some sort. Or, that's what he had concluded he had been turned into…
Vlad swallowed a fearful lump in his throat before his eyes narrowed with determination. "There's only one way to find out the truth…" He took a breath, closed his eyes, and walked into the portal before his logic could stop him.
The weird feeling inside his ghost heart increased ten-fold when he appeared on the other side of the gateway. In fact, it was so overwhelming, he gasped and snapped his eyes open, only to jolt in alarm.
His jaw dropped as he stared at the ghostly green surroundings with swirling clouds of energy and floating masses of land and purple doors.
"I can't believe it… Jack was right! The ghost world is real!" he whispered in dread and awe.
Suddenly, a shapeless specter appeared from nowhere and flew past him. Vlad gasped in fear and jolted back—or, more like floated back. He blinked when he realized he was indeed floating without any thought. Could it be this place had no gravity?
The scientist in the young man curiously looked around, catching sight of a few more shape-less ghosts floating around without direction. However, as he began to see some of them getting too close for comfort, his fear returned and he floated back, deciding he had enough adventure for now and just wanted to get back to what he knew.
But when he felt nothing when he moved to where the portal had been, his eyes widened in alarm and he whirled around. The portal was gone!
"What? No way!" he whined in dread. For a moment, he just stood there, like a lost child hoping someone would find him. But it soon sank in that he was now stranded and alone in this strange new place. And it was very possible that no one would ever find him. He had no other choice but to find a way out himself.
With an aggravated sigh, he picked a random direction and flew forward. He passed by several glowing doors and he began to wonder what they were. Could they be actual doors? That would mean there was something behind them… Maybe a way out?
Vlad instantly slowed down and observed the doors around him. He had no idea which one to pick, or if he should pick one at all. What if it took him somewhere worse?
"As if! I can't be any more lost than I am now," Vlad grumbled. He rolled his eyes and just picked the closest door.
Still, he squeezed his eyes closed as he opened the door. He waited a few seconds, and when nothing happened, he opened one eye to peek into the open door.
His eyes instantly opened all the way when he saw what seemed like a normal house inside. If it wasn't for the fact that everything was glowing, he would have thought it was a typical human home.
"Hello?" he asked, rapping on the open door and waiting to see if someone answered. After all, he didn't want to just barge into someone's home.
But there was no answer.
Nervously, Vlad slowly floated in, and stepped into a living room. "H-Hello?" he called again as he looked around. The house looked something out of Victorian times. There were countless of immaculate and real-like porcelain dolls and decors. There was an assortment of them, in fact. Some looked like normal humans—girls, boys, women, even men. Others were of strange creatures he did not recognize. But they were everywhere.
Finally, Vlad stopped at a fireplace. It was burning, but its flames were dark and green and gave off a chilling glow.
Vlad frowned when he spied an odd porcelain doll on the mantle. Unlike the rest, it was unadorned and even had no face on it at first… then suddenly, it began to change. As if there was some unseen painter at work, the doll slowly began taking form… white clothes began to appear on its little body, then black hair…
"Hello there, young man."
Vlad jolted in alarm and whirled around. He tensed when he saw an old lady in a Victorian dress smiling sweetly at him.
"Oh, I didn't mean to startle you. Please, make yourself at home," she offered, gesturing to a nearby chair.
Now more than just nervous, Vlad struggled to get his voice to work. "I… I-I'm ss-orry to barge i-in . I'm just a bit—a bit… l-l-lost and—"
"Oh, are you now?" she interrupted, a sympathetic look melding on her old face. "Poor dearie. Well, then, no need to be shy. I'll help you find your way home."
"You… will?" Vlad asked warily.
"But, of course!" she answered, floating closer with that same sweet smile. "You're such a pretty little thing. I could not possibly leave you as you are. Now, come on, have a seat and we shall get you all fixed up!"
When the woman ghost grinned, Vlad's eyes widened when he saw sharp little teeth inside her mouth. Now, he was scared.
"I-I appreciate the o-offer," he quickly said, moving around the furniture and towards the door, purposely avoiding going anywhere near her. "I really d-do, but I'll just f-find my own w-way…"
"Now, that's not very nice," she said, her face falling into a frown. She raised a hand over to the doll on the mantle and showed it to Vlad. "I am not finished sculpting you."
Vlad's eyes widened when he saw an exact copy of himself but in the form of a porcelain doll.
"You'll look so beautiful on my mantle. Well, once I perfect you… Just a few more touches… Then all it will need is your… soul."
The woman grinned evilly. And seeing the young man pale, she asked, "What's wrong? Do you want to stay lost forever? I will perfect your beauty and you can be happy here with me and my… pets."
Vlad gasped when the old ghost woman's green eyes turned blood red and just as suddenly the porcelain dolls came to life. They reached out to him, crying out for help.
It was all the half-ghost could take.
With a cry of fear, he turned tail and shot straight towards the door. But seeing that it was closed, he gathered energy in his hand and fired at it, busting it open. Ignoring the evil cackling closing in behind him, he shot out like a bullet and fled in a panic. He didn't know how long it was until he finally stopped at a small forested island, plopped down at the foot of one of its trees, and fell against it.
He breathed hard for a moment before passing his hand through his black hair and muttering, "I need to get out of this horrible place."
Calming enough to regain rational thought, Vlad looked around and was relieved to see there were no ghost in sight and that the trees provided him with good cover. He stood and raked his fingers through his hair again. But this time, his fear melded into anger a he growled, "This is just great! Just when I thought things couldn't get worse in my life, now I'm stranded in some radical ghost world with evil creatures trying to kill me! This is so unfair! I mean, honestly, is a way out too much to—"
Everything froze in a flash of light, including the ranting Vlad Masters. Just as suddenly, Clockwork, in his child form, appeared in a spin of a clock hand and floated over to the frozen young ghost.
He smirked at the hybrid's pouting face before turning back to three ghosts he had brought with him. They were huge eight-feet tall caveman. But they were frozen in time, too.
Clockwork was about to change that.
Turning into his old form, he floated back over to them as he pulled out three time medallions. He easily levitated them on the creatures, and they instantly came to life.
"Ugh…," they said dumbly as they looked around at their surroundings and then each other.
"It's alright. I brought you here," Clockwork informed them, getting each of their attention.
The caveman seemed to recognize the time spirit, but there was an unsure wary look in their eyes as they stared quietly back at him.
"Do you see that young man right there?" Clockwork suddenly asked, pointing his staff towards the frozen Vlad.
The ghost cavemen slowly nodded.
"He is new to these parts, and my employers consider him a threat…. If you three could…welcome him for us," Clockwork said with an evil smile.
The cavemen seemed to perk up and quickly nodded as they raised their wooden mallets.
"Good," Clockwork replied with a knowing smirk. After all, he knew this wouldn't be the first time he would pull off this sort of stunt.
"Time in," Clockwork commanded before vanishing in a turn of a clock.
"—ask?" Vlad finished with a stomp of his feet.
However, his temper tantrum was quickly forgotten when he heard growling in front of him.
His eyes darted upwards, and he took a fearful step back as he saw three monster-size cavemen slowly approaching him, their mallets lifted with evil intent.
"Food!" the cavemen chorused evilly.
"Food?" Vlad squeaked before dodging the wooden mallet that came at him.
The half-ghost quickly summoned ecto-energy in his hands and fired at one of the ghosts, hitting it on its shoulder.
The caveman ghost cried out in pain, and Vlad smiled in triumph. But his victory was cut short because at the next instant, one of the other two caveman threw their mallet at him so quickly he couldn't dodge it.
The large wooden mallet slammed into his stomach, and further threw him back into a tree. Vlad groaned in pain, feeling his body quickly weakening. But he had no time to worry about that or recover for that matter, because the cavemen suddenly let out a battle cry and came at him again.
Vlad pushed his tired body off the ground and flew up. However, one of the caveman quickly appeared above him from nowhere and clobbered him back into the ground.
"Ahh!" he screamed in the next instant when the three ghosts surrounded him. He covered his head as their mallets came down at him, only for them to hit a green barrier. Vlad gasped, realizing he had somehow created it. But it didn't really matter because the cavemen continued to pound on it, and it began to crack under the blows.
Thinking fast, Vlad gathered energy in his hand just before the shield shattered. He fired the energy at the nearest caveman, but it just used its mallet to absorb the energy.
"Wait, no!" Vlad cried out as one of them grabbed him by the neck and raised him up face-to-face. The others gathered around, licking their chops.
"You make tasty snack, pipsqueak!" one of them said with a deep yet slurred tone of voice.
"Yes, yum, yum!" the others agreed in glee.
Vlad panicked when the other two each grabbed one of his arms, as if they were going to rip him apart! He quickly used whatever energy he had left and kicked the one holding him by the neck in the shin as hard as he could.
"Ow!" it yelped, but then with a growl, the caveman threw Vlad into the closest tree with such force that the man's body broke it in half.
It was all the inexperienced half-ghost could take. With a low moan, he suddenly passed out. And with all his energy spent, his ghost form faded away, even when he was still in the Ghost Zone.
But the cavemen were started by two white rings that had appeared and then turned their prey into a new prey. They looked at each other for a moment, but then shrugged and advanced on the helpless man, their stomachs grumbling with the prospect of their easy snack.
But the moment they raised their mallets at Vlad, an angry and firm voice commanded, "That is quite enough!"
The cavemen looked back and found a small female ghost with red eyes and a gold frilly dress floating a few yards from them. With the curly brown hair, she looked barely in her teens.
Oddly, it was Viviane, but she looked nothing like herself. Her blue skin was a great contrast to the human ivory color she had had when she had been brought back.
But before the three ghosts could decide how to react to the intruder, the girl ghost extended her hand at them. Her eyes turned a brighter red as she sternly added, "It's time for you three to go back where you belong."
The medallions around their necks then instantly lit up with a red hue before they were levitated off the monster ghosts. In an instant, the cavemen vanished and returned to their time period.
"Clockwork, you really are drastic at times," Viviane muttered as the medallions landed on her outstretched hand. But she then shook her head and pocketed the medallions.
Her eyebrows creased as she turned her focus on the unconscious young man. With a small sigh, she approached him. She already felt the tears gathering in her eyes, but forced herself to focus, even as she knelt beside her still brother and looked upon him for the first time since she died…
"I suppose I can't call you 'little brother' anymore, huh?" she whispered tenderly, though there was a sad smile on her lips.
She carefully lifted a blue hand towards her human brother's white hair and raked it away from his face. She bit her lip at how gruesome his face looked, and asked almost bitterly, "Why you?"
But, suddenly, Vlad groaned, and Viviane quickly retracted her hand when she realized he was waking up.
Even before his eyes opened, Vlad felt the throbbing headache behind his skull. He groaned again and blinked his eyes into clarity. However, when he saw red eyes staring back at him, he freaked out.
"AHH!" The young man screamed as he did an impression of a crab and franticly backed away from the girl ghost.
Viviane cringed, realizing she shouldn't have been so close to him when he just got beat up by three ghosts with red eyes.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to startle you!" she quickly said with an apologetic look.
Vlad just stared back with wide fearful eyes, not knowing what to do. But when the girl smiled warmly at him, the man struggled back to his feet and backed away even more, stuttering out, "L-Leave me a-alone!"
Viviane slowly floated to her own feet, and raised her hands in a pacifying gesture. "No, don't flee. It's alright. I will not harm you."
But Vlad didn't trust in her words at all. After all, that's what that old lady had said and had then tried to turn him into a doll!
Viviane sighed and lowered her hands. "I'll leave you alone if you want, but I just want to make sure you're alright. You suffered some pretty nastily blows from those other ghosts…"
Vlad blinked when he finally realized that the three cavemen ghosts were gone. He relaxed a bit and looked around before looking back at the girl ghost and guardedly asking, "Where did they go?"
She smiled warmly again. "They went home. Do not fret. They will not harm you again."
Vlad's eyebrows rose up in surprise, but then he frowned. "Wait… Sooo you saved me?" he asked slowly.
The girl shrugged. "You looked like you could use a hand; so I extended one."
She smirked, and Vlad frowned even more, his eyes more questioning this time, even when he was still confused. There was something familiar about this ghost girl…
"I must ask," she suddenly spoke up again, approaching him slowly. "What's a human doing in the Ghost Zone?"
Vlad tensed with her movement but stayed where he was this time. However, registering her question, he looked down at himself and was surprised to see he had turned human.
"I'm not sure…," he muttered. He focused back on the ghost and further said, "I found this green vortex and I kind of walked inside it and it got me here. Now, I can't find a way out!"
The girl giggled. "Oh really? Tsk. You should know better than to let your curiosity get the better of you," she teased.
"I should?" he asked quizzically, her words making him feel like she knew him.
"Of course… It's a universal rule," she replied with a smirk.
"Oh…," he voiced lamely.
"So, what's your name?" she then questioned with a smile.
"…Vlad," he replied, still with some wariness.
"Vlad, huh? Well, it's nice to meet you, Vlad. I'm—" The girl paused when she realized she couldn't give him her actual name. Vlad raised an eyebrow at her strange silence, but before he could ask what was wrong, she smiled brightly and with a playful curtsy, she quickly said, "Niane. My name is Niane."
Vlad smiled a bit at her attitude. She was such an odd ghost, but in a sweet-and-cute-kind of way. "It's nice to meet you, too. And…thanks for saving me," he added sincerely.
She giggled again. "Well, I couldn't let you get turned into a pancake, now could I?"
Vlad nodded shyly but then bit his lip and looked around, not knowing what else to say. But then, he curiously asked, "So, this ghost world is your home?"
"Yes, the Ghost Zone is my home, just like it's the home of an infinity of other ghosts," she replied. "Those doors you see everywhere are ghosts' domains. You surely do not want to go barging in any of them. Most ghosts don't take kindly to it."
Vlad blushed, and Niane suppressed a knowing smirk. She continued causally, "Some doors, though, have direct links to other realms. But it's more usual to see portals leading to other places. Some even have a direct link to the living world."
Vlad frowned. "But I have not seen any more portals. And I definitely do not want to look through all these doors. How will I know which leads me home?"
She smiled. "Well, after being here for so long you acquire such knowledge."
"So… you can tell me?" he asked, hopeful.
"I can show you, Vlad," she answered warmly.
"Really? Oh, that would be stupendous!" Immensely relieved with the prospect of getting out of this horrible place, Vlad quickly turned ghost again.
Viviane's eyes widened slightly, but with a tilt of her head, she said, "That's… fascinating."
Vlad smiled sheepishly. "Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm part-ghost. A hybrid—I think."
The girl raised an eyebrow. "You mean, you are half-human and half-ghost. I have never heard of such a thing. How is that so?" she asked, feigning ignorance.
Vlad looked away and timidly answered, "Well, I'm not entirely sure… I had an accident."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Niane answered sympathetically. But with a small smile, she added, "But it could not be so bad. After all, you have acquired unique abilities. You're very special now."
Vlad scoffed. "Yeah, I'm a freak. How is that any good?" he asked bitterly.
The girl frowned. "You shouldn't call yourself that. You're nothing of the sort. What you are is unique. You have a gift that any being could only dream about. Vlad, you belong to two worlds now. Imagine all the things you are capable of… I'm sure you could do so much good with what you have been given."
Vlad looked thoughtful before muttering, "I suppose…" But not wanting to talk about his misfortune anymore, he shook his head and asked, "So where is this door?"
"Follow me," Niane replied before she flew off the island.
Vlad quickly followed after her, and moving up alongside of her, he raised a questioning eyebrow. "I don't understand. Why are you going out of your way to help me?"
"Not all ghosts are evil, Vlad," she answered with a smile. But then she shrugged and added, "And I happened to be in the area. So, why not?"
They flew only a few more yards before stopping in front of a single purple door with the initials 'CW' engraved on it.
"Ah, here we go," Niane said and opened the door, revealing a green swirling vortex inside. But it then soon transformed into an aerial view of the hospital at which Vlad had been.
Vlad's eyebrows creased. "Strange. That's where I came from. How did—?"
"Then, this is your exit," Niane interrupted calmly.
Vlad nodded, dropping his question and just glad he could go back to the world he knew. And yet, he hesitated to leave. "Um…," he said, looking down at his twirling fingers. "It was nice meeting you… And thank you," he finished, looking back at her with a smile.
An almost loving smile curled Niane's lips, and with a nod, she just as warmly replied, "You're welcome."
Vlad frowned with confusion and curiosity. Why did her smile look so familiar?
"Well! You best be off!" Niane suddenly said, and gently coaxed him towards the door. "And a last word of advice: if you ever find yourself in here again and in trouble, simply turn human."
"How come?" he asked quizzically.
"Because in the Ghost Zone humans are the ghosts," she answered with a wink.
"Wait. You mean humans cannot be harmed in here? We're…untouchable?" he asked, baffled.
The girl nodded. "See? Your condition isn't all bad…"
A real smile curled the young man's lips this time, and he nodded. "Thanks again… Niane."
And with that, the half-ghost flew into the door and disappeared.
Niane closed the door behind him, and just as quickly, it vanished from existence. And yet, she smiled warmly at where the door once was as she replied, "You're quite welcome… my brother."
The ghost girl sighed before she turned and flew off. As she did, she pulled out three medallions and shook her head at them. She was going to have to have a word with their owner.
Then again, for now, she lived with said owner, so she needed to head that way anyways. After flying on a bit she crossed the hidden barrier in the Forbidden Region. She continued past the Observants' lair until she finally reached Clockwork's tower.
She arrived at Clockwork's tower in time to hear they had company…
"Clockwork, you placed her in the Time Stream?" Justeco exclaimed.
"Yes, I did," the time spirit replied, his eyes on his staff as he calmly turned the clock key on it.
"But she is breaking her vows! She is not to interfere with him!" Konsilisto quickly pointed out.
Clockwork did nothing to hide the smug smirk on his face as he replied, "Those 'vows and rules' apply to Viviane. And as you can clearly see," Clockwork pointed his staff at the floating ghost girl in entrance way, "— that is not her."
Niane suppressed a giggle, and just kept quiet.
The Observants regarded her with their large disproving eyes. And at taking in her physical change, they finally understood and looked back at Clockwork with even more displeasure.
"You think that because you have placed her into the Time Stream as a ghost, it will change anything?"
"No, It will change everything," Clockwork assured them. "I have given her the ability to shift in-and-out of the timeline—to be a spirit and a ghost at will—for the very specific reason of completing the tasks you have given me with the current half-ghost and the one to come. And furthermore, you two agreed that if the Ancients accepted to bring back Viviane , you would let me do things my way."
"Yes, but you never said anything about placing her into the timeline as a ghost or otherwise!" Konsilisto protested.
"You never asked," Clockwork answered innocently, his form turning to that of a mischievous child.
"You tricked us into agreeing to something that goes against all our laws!" Justeco accused him.
"Gosh, you two complain too much, did you know that?" Viviane suddenly said with a loud sigh.
She quickly regretted saying anything because the Observants immediately rounded on her. "Viviane! You are placing yourself in hot water! One wrong move from you could alter the Time Stream permanently!"
"Yes, I am aware of what's at stake," Viviane replied with slight annoyance. But then she smirked and added, "And by the way, you can call me 'Niane' from now on."
"What we call you should be the least of your concerns!" the Observant counselor scolded. "This is a serious matter, Viviane. A single wrong interference from you could very well mean the end of Existence!"
"That is a bit over the top even for you, Konsilisto," Clockwork said dryly. "And have you both forgotten how I have said countless of times how I would take full responsibility for Viviane and what she does within the Time Stream? Well, I will and I am. That being said, it's time for you both to observe the door."
The Observants single eyes narrowed and they intoned together, "It is pointless to argue with you, Clockwork. In the end, you will do things as you want. So be it, then. But let us repeat to you now what we have told you countless of times: if Time or Existence is jeopardize it will be your fault, Clockwork."
The Observants vanished, and Niane quickly turned her worried eyes to Clockwork. "Are you sure about this? What the Observants said—"
"I told you," Clockwork interrupted. "They only see one possible outcome. I see them all. I know this is the correct path. So, do not worry… Everything is as it should be."
Viviane nodded and replied, "I trust you, Clockwork."
"And I you," he answered right back with a knowing smile. However, it then melded into a smirk as he then asked, "So, 'Niane'… is it?"
The ghost girl giggled before red smoke seeped around her, changing her blue skin, red eyes, and gold dress back into white skin, blue eyes, and a hooded red cloak.
"What can I say?" she replied with her own smirk. "Even in the afterlife I do not like my name. I saw an opportunity to change it, so I took it. And, well, Vlad used to call me 'Annie'… It's close enough."
Clockwork just smiled calmly at her. He might not be able to see 'Viviane' in the timeline, but he could now see 'Niane's' timeline very easily…
Not getting his look, Niane just cleared her throat and floated over to a rack. She hung the three medallions that had once been on the ghost cavemen as she said, "I did as you requested. Although…" She turned and looked at him with a disapproving frown. "I think you over did it with the cavemen."
Clockwork chuckled. "I knew he would not be too hurt. And it was the best way for him to meet... Niane. He now holds a great deal of respect and appreciation for 'her'—as I wanted. It would make our next step much easier…"
Viviane smiled. "Yes… And I am happy I finally got to see and talk to him in person. He's so different now, and yet, I still see my brother in him…"
Clockwork smiled warmly, but then turned his attention to his Viewing Orb and brought up several images. "Eventually, I would like Niane to take a more permanent place in your brother's life. But we must wait until the time is right… For now, we will watch the Time Stream flow down its meant path."
Something came up on the Viewing Orb, and Niane saddened. "But must this be the course of Vlad's time line?"
"An individual timeline moves as the person chooses. We cannot interfere with his choices, only present them to him. But remember this, Niane: there is always light at the end of the tunnel... It just takes the right person to find it."
An image of a young boy with green eyes and white hair suddenly appeared in the Viewing orb, and Viviane smiled fondly at him as she added hopefully "Or, it takes the right person to light it…"
Don't forget the chat tomorrow! Hope you liked it! Ta!