I am so, so sorry for the unexpected wait.
Things have been hectic, BUT the good news is that I have an entire week off from school and work coming up. So I'll be getting a lot of writing done then. Perhaps even getting out the next chapter of this story, but I refuse to make promises anymore for fear that I won't be able to keep them.
Anyway, in case you don't remember the story too well, here's a quick recap!
The story picked up after Phantom Planet, with Danny in college at 19 years old. He woke up one morning, not only 14 years old again and in the past, but in the timeline created in The Ultimate Enemy. He tried to get Clockwork's help, but the Master of Time is MIA. To make matters worse, Dark Dan is on the loose in this timeline, and Danny just knows that his older, evil self is trying to ensure his existence through Danny. So far Dark Dan has attacked Vlad, and it's possible that he may think he succeeded in killing him (why Dark Dan would try to kill Vlad will be revealed later). Danny showed up in time to save Vlad, and he explained almost everything. As far as Vlad knows, Danny is just 14-year-old Danny, having just lost his friends and family, and that this older ghost is from the future. He does not know that Danny is from a future alternate timeline, and he does not know that Dark Dan is a culmination of Danny's ghost half and his own.
We left off with Vlad offering his help in defeating Dan.
Here we go!
"So… how are we gonna do this?"
Vlad attempted to answer, but he let out a long yawn first, his jaw cracking as he did so. He was exhausted. An inconsistent sleep schedule combined with the events of today had really drained him, but as he often told himself, he was nothing if not resilient.
"Well," he began, stretching out his legs for a second before pushing himself away from the wall and standing up. He dusted some powdered plaster from his pants and suggested, "We should probably attempt to find your future counterpart before he realizes that you're here and comes after us. It would do best to have the element of surprise on our side."
He began walking away, down the hallway, without sparing Danny another glance. "Come," he said, gesturing with his hand. "You can use my computer to try finding out where he went."
Sadly, the only thing in this building that could actuallyaccess the internet was Vlad's extremely outdated and agonizingly slow computer, despite the fact that he had heaps of money at his disposal to buy a better one. And Danny was certain that it was not because he was just used to his own laptop from five years into the future. This computer was a piece of junk, 2005 or not.
So it had already been a long, boring, fruitless hour, and Danny had spent the entire time busily searching the internet, looking for any unusual news reports.
… And he was about three seconds from chucking the entire desktop out the window.
He was still sitting there, scrolling through pages upon pages of different news websites from all over the world—or at least, trying to—when he heard the door behind him creak open.
"Anything?" came Vlad's voice as he shut the door behind him.
"Zip," Danny responded, and he had to fight back a yawn. His eyes were beginning to hurt. He leaned back in the chair and elaborated, "Not a single ghost attack anywhere, which really shouldn't be the case. There should at least be a Box Ghost sighting in Amity or… something. But other than the media spotting 'Inviso-Bill' fighting the 'Wisconsin Ghost' earlier—"
"Yes, I still have the bruises from that, by the way—"
"—there's nothing," Danny finished off his sentence, ignoring the interruption but for a roll of his eyes. "No ghost attacks, no mysterious shifts in power to anyone who might have been overshadowed, no nothing. There hasn't even been so much as a natural disaster anywhere in the last two hours."
Vlad didn't respond, since he had probably expected the search to come up empty anyway, and Danny turned around to shoot him a look. The older halfa was holding two mugs of coffee, but Danny ignored that and asked, "You're sure he didn't say anything to you about what his plans were, Plasmius? I mean, villains tend to get pretty mouthy when they're coming up on top in a fight. I would know."
God knows you never used to shut up, he thought, but he resisted the urge to say it out loud.
"I'm afraid the answer to that question has not changed, my boy. He only specified that he was looking for you, and since you weren't here at the time I doubt he has reason to think you are now."
"Yeah, I guess," Danny grumbled, turning back to the screen with a disappointed sigh.
He expected Plasmius to tell him whether or not he had finished what he was doing—that is, looking through his underground lab for anything that might help them track down a ghost—but instead he placed a steaming mug down on the desk beside the keyboard, a mug that smelled of very, very strong coffee.
"Now, I know you probably won't like it, but you will most likely need…" he began to explain, but he trailed off as Danny grabbed a hold of the mug without taking his eyes away from the computer screen and began to chug it down, gulp after gulp, until he had finished the entire mug in one swig.
He placed the cup back down on the table, uttered a breathless, "Thanks," and shook his head to shake the grogginess away as he resumed scrolling through pages of news reports. That was really strong coffee—Black? Ah, who cares, it was good, he thought—and Danny wondered what brand it might have been. He could certainly use that in the future. Literally.
"… the energy," Vlad finished his earlier sentence after a moment's pause, distractedly tapping his fingers against his own barely touched mug, and Danny glanced back at his old archenemy just in time to see Vlad casting him a wary look before shaking his head in amusement.
Danny turned back to the computer screen.
After a minute or so of silence, he finally asked, "Did you find what you needed in the lab?"
"No, I'm afraid not," Vlad sighed. "I had been working on plans for a ghost-tracking device a few months ago, but I should have put more effort into the project, I suppose. The blueprints were flawed to the point of uselessness."
"Yeah, well, I'm not making much progress either," Danny grumbled. He sat back and added with more than a little irritation in his voice, "And by the way, your computer reeks."
Vlad shrugged. "I don't use the internet very much. What did you expect?"
"I expect my multi-billionaire archenemy with state-of-the-art lab technology in his basement to at least have a computer that's not straight out of the nineties, Plasmius."
"The nineties were five years ago, Daniel."
"Yeah? Well, that's twenty in computer years."
Vlad let out a little chuckle and sipped at his coffee. He shook his head, looking down at the cream swirling around in his drink for a moment.
"You remind me of your mother sometimes, you know."
It was said so quietly that Danny suspected that Vlad might not have meant to say it out loud. Nonetheless, he did, and Danny didn't say anything at first. He paused, but then he turned a bit and leaned his arm on the back of his chair to raise an eyebrow at Plasmius.
Vlad nodded silently, almost imperceptibly. He was still looking down at his drink, his eyes unfocused. He chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment in thought, but then seconds later he cleared his throat, took another swig of his coffee, and suddenly it was as if he hadn't said anything at all.
"Well," he said with an unaffected smirk, no longer staring down at his drink. He was looking at Danny now with the same haughty look he always carried, not a trace of pensiveness in his expression that had been there only moments ago. "Just came in to see how the search was coming along. I'm going to go see how many of my ghost weapons haven't been demolished yet, and probably try to contact Skulker and find out if there have been any sightings of your doppelganger in the Ghost Zone. You let me know if you find anything, hmm?"
But he had already risen his mug in a half-hearted salute, turned on his heel, and had begun to leave; Danny really had no time to object.
"Yeah," Danny answered quietly with a slow nod, watching Vlad's back as he retreated out of the room. "Yeah, I will."
Vlad phased through the door rather than taking the time to open it, and for a while after he was gone Danny stayed as he was, brow furrowed, his arm still over the back of his seat. He glanced down at the floor, thinking, but ultimately he decided to leave it alone. He shook his head and returned to his search.
… His boring, uneventful, fruitless search.
Deep in the Ghost Zone, hundreds of miles away from any portal into the real world, where there had once been ghostly plants growing from the ground and ghosts milling about, there was now just scorched dirt. Floating islands were reduced to smoldering clusters of rock. The charred ground stretched out as far as the eye could see, that is, it would have if there had been any eyes around to see it. As it was the only living (or since this was the Ghost Zone, pseudo-living) creatures around were a few blackened leafless trees that spread their gnarled roots into the cracked ground, but even most of these had been ripped up from the dirt, either torn apart or otherwise simply upturned and left to rot.
Usually, even in the absence of its inhabitants, the Ghost Zone emitted a sort of eerie sound, a backdrop of white noise that set most humans on edge the moment they left the real world. But now, deafening silence dropped down like a thick fog, almost as if the Ghost Zone itself had decided to abandon the area altogether.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a ringing.
The ringing was soft, but it pierced through the silence like a flashlight through the dark.
And in fact, the source of the ringing was lighting up, as well. The ringing came from a small cell phone, lighting up and ringing on and on.
There was a pile of what looked to be metal scraps on the ground, although some of the larger remains hinted that the metal had once been part of a mechanical suit of sorts. The still ringing cell phone was strapped to a metal bandolier, and that bandolier was still attached around what might have been the torso of that mechanical suit before the rest of its parts had been ripped off.
Ring, ring, ring…
Ring, ring, ring…
Ring, ring, ring…
"Hello. You have reached: 'Skulker! The Ghost Zone's greatest hun—!' Please leave a message at the tone. To leave a call back number, press 9."
"Skulker, I happen to recall buying you this cell phone so that I could reach you whenever I needed to, not so that you could ignore my calls," came the irritated voice of the caller, and his sentence was cut off by a quiet yawn before he continued. "I have reason to believe that there might be a serious threat loose in the Ghost Zone, and I need to know if you have any information about it."
It seemed as if the caller might hang up, but then he spoke again, almost as an afterthought, "In the meantime, stay alert, Skulker." His voice was less irritated now, though still not pleased. "And be careful, for your own sake. Call me back."
There was silence again.
The silence persisted for several seconds, and then, slowly at first, the ground began to rumble as though from a small earthquake.
And in the distance, a long and drawn out wail echoed through the Ghost Zone.
Danny was kicking himself.
He had thought for sure that those police officers had confiscated the Fenton Boo-merang when they had combed through his parents' lab for evidence. He had been sure of it. Otherwise, it would have still been in the lab, right? If the Boo-merang wasn't in the lab where it always was, then logic said that someone must have taken it, and Danny had naturally assumed that it had been those two police officers. (And, of course, it had occurred to him that if that were case, he could just break into the police station and take the Boo-merang back, but that was a no go—each and every government-run building in Amity Park had had its walls reinforced with ghost shielding and ghost detectors installed after the whole Pariah Dark incident.)
He had thought that the Boo-merang was no longer an option.
"God, I'm an idiot," he mumbled to himself.
Someone had taken the Fenton Boo-merang out of the lab, but it had not occurred to Danny until a few hours into his internet search that it hadn't been the police.
It had been himself.
Danny was unsure why his fourteen-year-old self would have chosen to take the Boo-merang, but he had a few ideas. Revenge for his family was one. Sentiment was another.
Either way, he had just finished rifling through his duffel bag and opening every pocket, kneeling down in the closet of that bedroom he had woken up in this morning, and there it was. Jazz's headband was still tied around the Boo-merang, holding the small note that had saved his and everyone's lives all those years ago tied against it.
He grabbed the note and pulled it out, still holding the Boo-merang in one hand as he unfolded the little piece of paper and read it over. It was exactly as he remembered it.
"Danny, go to Wisconsin, and you'll find what you need there. Good luck."
Well, he was certainly going to need that, he thought with dismay. He couldn't help but grin a bit at Jazz's attempt at discreetness, though. Did she really think he wouldn't recognize her handwriting, or at least the headband that she wore literally every day? Even five years later she still wore that thing all the time.
He chuckled to himself and stuffed the note into his pocket as he stood up, and he gave the Fenton Boo-merang a quick once-over. It looked to be more or less untouched, but just to be sure…
"Find Danny Phantom," he spoke to the little device, and he tossed it across the bedroom.
Having been prepared for it, he hastily ducked down when the Boo-merang spun around 180 degrees and began speeding toward his head. He dodged the Boo-merang and then turned on his heel to face it, and he reached out his hand and projected a small ghost shield surrounding the little device. Then, slowly, he brought it toward him so that it wouldn't give him a near-concussion like it usually did.
He released his hold on the ghost shield, letting the Boo-merang fall into his hand, and he gave the device a little smile. So it worked. He frowned, though, noting that the little red light bulb on the Boo-merang's underside was blinking. The battery was dying, but that didn't really matter all that much. He wouldn't need it for long.
After a few moments thinking it over, he decided to leave Jazz's headband tied to it. Who knows? Maybe it'll be good luck, he thought, and he tucked the Boo-merang into his pocket and made his way out the door.
As much as he wanted to just take the Boo-merang, find his evil older self, and get all of this over with… Well, he was still fairly certain that he wouldn't be able to do it on his own, loathe as he was to admit it.
"Plasmius?" he called down the hallway as he stepped out of the room.
He had no idea where the older halfa had run off to, so he let out a slow breath and focused on his ghost sense. It was always harder to sense a person's ghost half if they weren't actually using it—after all, if that weren't the case, he would have known that Plasmius was half ghost the moment he met the guy, and the same went for Danielle.
Nonetheless, once he had honed his ghost sense enough, he found that a person's ghost half was difficult to sense, but not impossible.
Bingo, he thought. Plasmius was definitely not in his ghost form, but he was close by. He was on the floor above Danny… probably a few rooms over? Danny shrugged, transformed, and flew up through the ceiling. He would find out.
"Earth to fruit loop!" he called as he touched down on the carpet in a new hallway. He glanced down the hall to his left, and then to his right. This hallway was decorated with a ton of pictures from Packers' games, each and every one of them signed by some player or another.
He made his way down the hallway to his right, poking his head intangibly through each door as he passed them. He found the theater, which was empty, and a sitting room, which was also empty. The next door he tried wound up leading to a broom closet, which was—of course—empty.
It was not until he tried the fourth door that Danny finally found him.
"Hey, Plasmius, I—" he began as he stepped through the door, but he stopped himself, wincing a bit when he suddenly realized how loud he was talking.
Because Plasmius, although he was sitting at a desk and did not look very comfortable at all, was asleep.
Vlad must have fallen asleep without meaning to do so. He had his arms folded on the desk in front of him, his face buried into the crook of his elbow so that only his hair was visible, and his shoulders and back were moving up and down with every long, steady breath.
For Danny, given that his feet never had to touch the floor as he walked, crossing the room without making another sound was a fairly easy task. He approached on Vlad's left, being careful not to get too close to the older half ghost, but there were tons of papers spread out all over the desk that piqued Danny's interest; papers that were half obscured by Vlad's arms, but still.
Danny looked over the desk. There were two framed pictures propped up on the desk, much less than most people had adorning their studies but much more than Danny had expected of his archenemy. One of the photos was of Plasmius, maybe around ten or so years younger, having his picture taken with—and Danny had to fight the urge to laugh—literally the entire Packers team. Danny wondered if this was taken before or after Plasmius had tried and failed to buy the team, but by the look on his face in the photo, it was probably before. He looked happy; well, Danny corrected himself, as happy as Vlad ever got.
The other picture he recognized. It was the photo of his parents with Plasmius, before he actually was Plasmius, back when they were in college.
Danny quickly chose not to dwell on that picture, nor did he dwell on why Plasmius had decided to dig it up from wherever it had been to display it on his desk. Instead Danny looked down at the papers again, and after giving Vlad a cursory glance to be sure that he was still asleep, the teenager shifted one of the papers to get a better look at it.
What he saw probably should have been expected, but it sent a cold shiver through his spine nonetheless.
"The Last Will and Testament of Mr. Jack and Mrs. Madeline Fenton" headed the top of the paper, and although that cold shiver had traveled down his back and settled to leave an unpleasant weight in his gut, Danny found himself reading over it. Mostly it comprised of paragraphs and paragraphs of legal material, worded so densely that all Danny could really do was skim. The paper was not stapled to any others, but given that the last sentence at the bottom of the page was unfinished, this must not have been the only page. The rest of his parents' will was elsewhere; if Danny had to guess, probably somewhere between Vlad's arms and the desk, more than likely being drooled on at that point.
He looked over the rest of the desk, chewing the inside of his cheek, and his gaze stopped at a single piece of paper half wedged underneath Vlad's right arm, on the far side of the desk. His eyes widened in surprise, eyebrows raised.
There was only a bit of the paper visible, but it was more than enough. Adoption papers, he realized. He might have let out a low whistle if he wasn't worried about rousing Plasmius from his sleep.
Wow, he thought, and there really was not a better way to put it. What was there to say? This was Vlad Plasmius, the guy who tried to kill his dad, the guy who nearly doomed all of Amity Park on multiple occasions by releasing powerful ghosts he couldn't control, the guy who tried to melt Danielle into goop, the guy who nearly got Sam burned at the stake in Salem… This was the guy who had rarely ever showed a speck of decency in all the time Danny had known him.
In one timeline Vlad spent the vast majority of his time plotting to kill or blackmail or threaten Danny, and here Vlad was trying to adopt him in this one.
But then again, it shouldn't have been all that surprising. Hadn't that been what Plasmius said, back when Danny had been thrown into the future? That they're deaths made him realize what a fool he'd been…?
Danny's brow creased as he found himself looking at that photo again, the photo with his parents and Vlad grinning at the camera, twenty years younger and innocent and just plain ignorant to everything that would happen to them in such a short time. He frowned, noticing that from the way Plasmius was sitting, he had probably been looking at that photo just before sleep had taken him.
Figures, Danny thought to himself, sending a half-hearted, scolding glare at the back of Vlad's head. You wait until they die before you start acting like a decent human being. I wish I could say I'm surprised.
He sighed, though. He shouldn't be mad at Plasmius. It was Vlad's stupid fault that he had alienated himself from his only two friends all those years ago, sure, but it wasn't his fault that they died. And Danny forced himself to concede that Vlad really couldn't be blamed for missing them, or for trying to make whatever amends he could.
Because while Danny was willing to go along with all of this and fight his older self until he managed to find a way back to his own timeline, he was still rather stubbornly refusing to believe that his timeline was real. He had a home. He had his parents and his sister. He had Tucker, and maybe even Sam. Heck, even Mr. Lancer could be reached with a quick e-mail. He also had Danielle, and he had his friends at college.
Danny was anything but alone. And whatever was happening in this timeline just was not real, not to him.
But he could not say the same for Plasmius.
Sorry, cheese-head, he thought. I can't change what's already happened in this timeline, but… Well, maybe I can change what hasn't happened yet.
That much was true. Vlad might have had to live in a world where the only friends he'd ever had were gone, but that did not mean he had to live in a world that was in ruins. He did not have to live in the demolished world the Danny's evil doppelganger planned on creating.
It was then that, in the middle of Danny's train of thought, Plasmius shifted, rolling his shoulders and moving one of his arms out from under his head.
Danny jolted, and maybe it was instinct, but within seconds he was invisible, silently watching Plasmius with wide eyes. When it became clear that the older halfa was, in fact, waking up, Danny dropped down through the floor without a sound.
The Box Ghost was not happy. He wouldn't have been under many circumstances; after all, one could only be so content after having been locked up in Walker's prison for over a week. But he was more than unhappy. He was frightened. Something was happening, somewhere in the prison where he couldn't see, and it was something bad.
Skulker was supposed to be in the cafeteria but was nowhere to be found, and strangely, Ember seemed more worried about that than about whatever was happening in the prison.
There was a sound coming from somewhere else in the prison, and Ember looked in the direction from which it came. So did all of Walker's guards, she noticed.
It was a scream, but not any scream she recognized. A few moments later, the floors began to shake, and she stumbled for a bit before she found her footing again and stared wide-eyed down one of the hallways that branched out from the cafeteria. The guards were beginning to fall into action now, a few of them floating down the corridor to find out what the source of all that racket was.
Ember really, really wished she still had her guitar, and for not the first time she cursed Walker for confiscating it.
The shaking continued on, and even after the scream died down the rumbling persisted for a few seconds.
When the ground settled, she watched the last few guards leave the cafeteria, and she followed after them without a second thought. As she jogged down the hall, she heard the unmistakable sound of the electrically charged bars on every cell in the prison dying down.
"WARNING: PRISON CELL SECURITY BREACH. ALL CELLS ARE OPEN. ALL GUARDS REPORT TO STATIONS," came a mechanical voice over the intercom.
It was no use. Ghostly prisoners were spilling out of their cells and flooding the hallways by the dozens, far too many to be stopped by Walker's guards, and in any case, the guards all seemed far more preoccupied with finding what had caused the breakout in the first place than with rounding up the already escaped prisoners.
The crowd of prisoners was heading for the front gates of the prison, where there was just a courtyard and a fence that stood between them and the open Ghost Zone.
It was not a coincidence that this was also where the guards were headed to find the source of that scream.
The crowds of ghosts, prisoner and guard alike, burst through the front gates of the prison and began to fill up the courtyard. All of them—or at least, all of the prisoners—would have simply flown straight up and out of the courtyard, into the open space of the Ghost Zone, if not for the glowing green ectoplasmic shield encasing the area and blocking their paths.
"Hey!" Johnny 13 shouted over the collective voices of the rest of the ghosts. "What gives?"
There, hovering above the prisoners and the guards, was a ghost.
Before it occurred to any of them that this new ghost looked just like a ten-years-older version of the half ghost kid, or at least before any of them could point it out to anyone else (because Ember sure as hell noticed right awway—she would recognize that punk anywhere), the ghost tossed something down into the crowd.
The object he tossed was round and white, and it wasn't until the object hit the ground that they realized what it was.
It was Walker's hat.
"Let me make one thing clear," the ghost spoke, and his voice was deep and chilling and resonated through the area in a way that the ghost kid's voice never could. Ember found herself wondering if maybe his resemblance to the ghost kid was a trick. "This prison no longer belongs to Walker."
He lowered himself down into the courtyard, slowly, until his boots touched the ground and he was facing the entire crowd with his hands clasped calmly behind his back.
His mouth split into a wide, fanged grin as he regarded them all like a predator.
"Allow me to introduce you all to your new leader and employer," he told them. "Me."
What came next might have been described as a prison riot, or it might have been described as a defiant outcry of the ghostly prisoners faced with a new, possibly conquerable warden. But what it really was, what really happened when the ghosts all cried out and collectively charged at this new enemy that was the only thing standing between them and freedom…
Well, it was probably better described as a massacre.
Vlad tucked his head further down, rubbing his eyes across his forearm drowsily as he came back into consciousness. He let out a slow yawn. It was tempting, for a split second, to keep his eyes closed and drift on back to sleep.
Instead, his mind came back to reality a second later, and he lifted his head, looking around the room with widened eyes and occasionally blinking hard to dispel the leftover grogginess. What time was it?
He pulled back his sleeve and checked his watch. Only an hour, then, he thought. Not too long, but he really would have rather not fallen asleep at all. He glanced over at the phone, sitting on the desk, just to his right.
No new messages.
Vlad frowned. He reached for the phone, hesitated for a moment with his hand hovering over it, and then pulled it off the receiver.
There was no need to dial a number; he pressed the redial button and waited.
Ring, ring, ring…
Ring, ring, ring…
Ring, ring, ring…
"Hello. You have—"
Vlad hung up, perhaps a bit more forcefully than necessary. He drummed his fingers over the desk, staring at the phone. Butter biscuits.
He ran his hands over his face, trying in vain to stifle the worry climbing up his gut, and forced himself not to think about it. Skulker had simply misplaced that cell phone; it certainly wouldn't have been the first time. Vlad could find another one of his ghostly allies, and soon he would have eyes and ears in the Ghost Zone regardless.
He took a slow breath, allowing his face to remain in his hands. The vultures, the ecto-puses, even the blasted Dairy King—they were all nowhere to be seen. There had not been even a blip of ghostly energy in the entire castle since the attack, save for himself and Daniel. But that was fine. At least one of them would return soon, he was sure of it.
… Well, he was fairly sure, anyway.
He jumped, lifting his head out of his hands and looking at the door. "Ah, yes, Daniel," he answered, and he hastily gathered up the mess of papers scattered across his desk into a single, neat pile. "Come in."
The boy opened the door slowly, poking his head in.
"Any luck?" Vlad asked, allowing himself a small bit of hope, and he folded his hands on the desk in front of him.
That certainly got his attention, and he straightened in his seat. "Is that so?"
Daniel came into the room and, grinning, pulled something out of his back pocket. At first, Vlad thought that it was some sort of device that was shaped like a boomerang, but then he realized rather quickly that he was wrong. It was not a device shaped like a boomerang; it was a boomerang.
"And," he began, "what exactly do you plan to do with that…?"
The teen tossed the boomerang into the air and caught it. "Do you know what this is, Plasmius?"
Vlad raised an eyebrow at him.
"It's the Fenton Boo-merang," he quickly explained. "My parents made it."
Vlad blinked, and then he asked incredulously, "And they named it the 'Boo-merang?'"
"Oh, you're one to talk. Should I bring up the Plasmius Maximus? It literally sounds like the name of a butt muscle, dude."
Vlad gave the boy a glare, but there was no venom behind the look. Even he had to admit it was a bit of silly name. Without addressing the jab, though, he asked, "Are you going to tell me what that actually does?"
Again the boy tossed the boomerang in the air and caught it. "What it does is track ghosts, Plasmius. And it's good at it, too. I've never met a ghost this thing couldn't track down."
"You've got to be kidding."
Vlad stood up, keeping his hands on the desk. "You're telling me that that thing"—he pointed at the boomerang—"can track down any ghost? Any ghost at all? That boomerang is the size of my forearm, and the only technology I can see on it is a small light bulb. That doesn't sound very state-of-the-art, Daniel."
"Well, trust me, it canfind him," Daniel insisted. "I've used it plenty of times before."
Vlad was still unconvinced, and he didn't bother to hide his uncertainty.
Daniel stared at him for all of three seconds before he groaned in annoyance and rolled his eyes. "Alright, fine. Don't trust me. I can show you," he offered. "Go somewhere."
"Go somewhere," Daniel repeated. "Anywhere you want. Teleport. Just not, like, the other side of the world or something. I don't feel like flying that far."
"Why on Earth would I do that?"
"Because I'm going to track you down with this," Daniel explained, holding the boomerang up. He looked at Vlad for a moment, and when he refused to budge, Daniel whined, "Just do it, would you? Humor me."
Vlad regarded the boy for a second, but then he rolled his eyes.
He let out an annoyed huff and transformed into his ghost half in a flash of black light.
"You have five minutes, Daniel," he warned the boy, and then he pulled the bottom corner of his cape up and over his head, disappearing into thin air.
He reappeared about five miles away from the castle, in the middle of the woods. This should do, he figured, and these woods stretched on for thousands of acres. There was no way Daniel was going to find him here unless that boomerang actually did what Daniel claimed it could do.
In the meantime, he leaned his back against a tree, crossing his arms over his chest as he waited.
It really was a nice day out, not a cloud in the sky, and warm for this time of year. He leaned his head back against the tree and gazed up at it. Despite the lack of clouds, something—nothing specific, just a hunch—told him that there was a storm coming.
Still, he was content to look up at the cloudless sky while it lasted.
His heightened senses picked up a faint sound in the distance, and he cocked his head to the side, listening. Whatever it was, it was beeping.
And it was coming closer.
He stepped away from the tree and looked in the direction from which he presumed the sound was coming, narrowing his eyes and shading them with one hand.
Well, that settles that, I suppose, he thought to himself as he caught sight of the silver boomerang spinning through the air. It was coming straight for him, and he had to admit he was a bit impressed. What had that been, two minutes? Not even?
He could see Daniel flying speedily behind it, his arms stretched out in front of him as he flew.
The boomerang was still coming for him, and it wasn't slowing down—
No sooner had that thought passed his mind than did the boomerang come within inches of colliding with his forehead. Vlad let out a startled shout and hastily ducked, and the boomerang sailed past him.
Daniel touched down on the ground, already laughing, presumably at Vlad's shout, and he glared at the teenager.
"Alright, alright, so it works," he conceded. "But we still need to—FUDGE BUCKETS!"
A searing pain erupted in the back of his head, and he doubled over, his hands rushing to cover it. "OW! What in the—?!"
He whipped around to face whatever had just attacked him, only to find the boomerang sitting innocently in the dirt below him. He immediately put two and two together and turned again, sending a pointed glare at Daniel and growling under his breath, ready to tear the teen a new one.
Daniel was laughing still, and in fact he was laughing so hard now that there were tears forming in his eyes, and he had wrapped his arms around his stomach and bent over. "Oh man, that was…" he barely managed to choke out. "That was great! Your—your face!"
And just like that, the words that were coming up his throat hit his Adam's apple and died at the tip of his tongue.
After all, with first the Nasty Burger explosion and now this evil ghost on the loose, apparently hell bent on killing him and doing God-knows-what to Daniel… well, in any case, this was definitely the first time he had seen a genuine laugh from Daniel in weeks, so he decided to let it go.
He relinquished his ghost half and continued rubbing at the back of his head, grumbling to himself as he reached down and picked up the boomerang.
"As I was saying," he continued. The irritation was still clear in his voice, and although Daniel was still chuckling a bit, he had calmed down enough to listen. "We now have a way to find that ghost, but we still need a course of action. Is he aware of this device?"
"Huh? Oh, well, yeah," Daniel answered. "I think so, anyway. Maybe."
"How helpful," Vlad droned with a roll of his eyes.
"Well, I don't know! I mean, if he remembers the Boo-merang from when he was still, you know, me, then yeah. He knows about it, but he might not remember it. He doesn't really seem to give a crap about anything from when he was human."
"Then we shall assume that he does know about this device, and at the very least that he will recognize it when he sees it," Vlad decided. "Now. Does he have any weaknesses?"
"Er… uh… No," Daniel admitted, albeit reluctantly. He held up his hands in a helpless shrug. "At least none that I've noticed."
Vlad's brow furrowed and he crossed his arms over his chest, still holding the boomerang, and he asked, "How did you defeat him the first time, then? You must have uncovered something that we can use against him. Think."
Daniel shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you, Plasmius," he responded. "The last time, I just… took him by surprise. I came at him with everything I had: the Ghost Gauntlets, the Specter Deflector, the—"
"The what?!" Vlad asked, incredulously. "You mean to tell me that you put that—that belt on him, and he could still keep up the fight?"
The teenager bit his lip and nodded. "And even then I still had to catch him by surprise. You know how he sort of screamed and took out half your house? Yeah, well… I did that. And he didn't see it coming, so that helped."
Now that caught Vlad's attention. His eyes widened a bit and he looked the boy over. "You can do that?"
The boy only nodded.
"That sort of energy expulsion has costs, Daniel. And you don't experience any side effects?" Vlad asked, falling automatically into a logical series of questions. "Light-headedness? Dizziness? Faint—"
"I lose my ghost half," the boy interrupted. "Temporarily, anyway, I can't use my ghost powers after that. It drains me, but he was down for the count after I used it last time, so I just sucked him up into the thermos and it was over with. It didn't really make a difference that I couldn't use my ghost powers anymore."
"Oh, and you might wanna know that he can bust out of a Fenton thermos, too," he added. "So yeah, the thermos is out."
"Wonderful," Vlad sighed, but aside from shaking his head in dismay he decided to forget it and get down to business. "Alright, so you know not to use that scream until—"
"Wail," Daniel corrected.
"Wail, not scream," he explained. "That's what I call it, a ghostly wail."
Vlad blinked, staring at Daniel, but then he shook his head to avoid commenting on the boy's choice of name; they had already covered that they were both guilty of that on occasion. "Well," he continued, "you know not to use it unless as a last resort. We can't have you suddenly powerless in the middle of a fight."
Daniel nodded, "Makes sense."
"In any case," began Vlad, and he shot a grin at the boy. "I think we have everything we need to send that ghost to… well, wherever ghosts go after they die."
"Really?" he asked, and Daniel was looking at him skeptically. "You seriously think we have a shot?"
It was Vlad's turn to toss the boomerang into the air and catch it. "My boy, I think we have more than a 'shot,'" he said. "Meet me in the lab, will you?"
With that, he disappeared in a puff of red smoke.
End Chapter 5