“We should really find a place to land before they see us!”

“I’m working on it…” Danny replied, teeth worrying at his bottom lip.

The sun was coming up fast over the horizon; already the young inventor could see guards coming out of the depths of the castle.  What were they going to do?  What did they want with his dad?!  He couldn’t just drive away, but… but–!

Suddenly, Vlad’s warm hand grasped his shoulder.  “Daniel.”

Danny turned to look at the older man – and felt his breath catch at how close he was.  Warmth coursed through his veins, repelling even the morning chill and reassuring his nerves, as Vlad looked him in the eyes.  “We can’t do your father any good by getting captured,” he was saying.

The gentleman pointed just over the ridge.  “There’s a town down there.  We can land there and find out more information.  Please…”

“Yes… yes, of course,” Danny agreed, sighing softly.  He looked back at the castle once more, before steering the car away from the castle and towards town.

But they had not gone completely unnoticed.

~*~

Youngblood watched the car fly by through his spy glass as it disappeared into the town below, before quickly snapping it closed and rushing back into the castle.  “They’re here!  They’re here!”

Kitty looked up from where she was once again straightening Johnny’s outfit, fussing over a blood red coat that seemed to match her own sequined gown.  “Who’s here?” she demanded.

“The humans with the flying car!”

“HUMANS?!”  she shrieked, nearly knocking the crown off of Johnny’s head as he too sat up in alarm.  “Here?!”

“They flew down towards the the village!”  Youngblood said excitedly.  “They must be here to rescue the inventor!  And, they have the CAR!”

Johnny stood up.  “Well don’t just stand there, send the army!”

Kitty joined her husband.  “AND CALL OUT THE HUMAN CATCHER!”

A harsh whistle rang out through the courtyard.  In the distance, the gates of Vulgaria opened to release a torrent of ghostly horses galloping out onto the road.  Laughter echoed from the driver of a dark iron box on wheels, pulled by a team of skeletal monsters…

The baroness smiled and hugged her husband’s arm.  “They’ll be in the village in a couple minutes~” she purred.  She gave Johnny a big smooch.  “Soon it’ll ALL be over…”

~*~*~

Chitty’s landing was a bit rougher then Danny expected, but he couldn’t help but watch in awe as the propeller and wings once more retracted back into the frame of the car.  They rolled down a little dirt road for a ways before the young inventor finally found a small alcove under a bridge to park the motorcar.  It was out of sight from both the main road and the village, a decent enough hiding spot.

“Well done, daddy!”  Danielle cheered.  “You’re fantastic!”

“He certainly is~”  Vlad commented with a smile, catching Danny off guard.  The young man flushed and sputtered, before brushing the comment off.

“Yes well… thank you.”  He stepped out of the motorcar, a determined expression crossing his face.  “Now you two stay hidden here, I’m going to see if I can’t find a way into that blasted castle!”

Danielle popped up, her lip protruted in outrage.  “Daddy!!”

Danny floundered, but attempted to hold his ground.  “Little ghost, you’ll be safer here with Vladimir–”

The older gentleman raised his brows at the inventor, already getting out of the car.  “Then she’ll definitely be better off coming with us, don’t you agree?” Vlad asked.  The little girl giggled and held her arms out for him; the silver-haired man smiled and picked her up out of the car, holding her easily in one arm.  “After all, I’m certainly not staying while you go off into a strange country all alone.”

Danny blinked at him in surprise, then sighed as he took off his driving gloves and stashed them in the car.  “Oh, I suppose you’re right.  It would be best to stay together… Alright, come along then!”

Danny took his daughter’s hand when she held it out to him, and soon the trio were setting off down the little dirt road and into the village.  They passed a farmer just as they entered the village, but when Danny tried to ask him about the castle, he – oddly pale for a working man – just looked at them in an uneasy fashion and moved along quickly.  The young inventor frowned but carried on, leading them deeper and deeper into the village.  However, the further in they went, the more and more Danny and Vlad found themselves under the keen eyes of the villagers, making them terribly uneasy.

“Wh-what… what are they staring at?”  Danny asked in a low voice, unconsciously pressing closer to Vlad’s larger form.

The older man wrapped a protective arm around him, glancing around warily at their audience.  “I don’t know…” he whispered.  “…But haven’t you noticed?”

“What?” Danny murmured.

Vlad’s arm squeezed around him tightly, and his breath just barely brushed his ear.  “…Their feet…”

The young inventor blinked – then he looked down, and his eyes went wide.

None of the villager’s feet touched the ground.

Danny swallowed and slowly looked up at their faces.  Now that he was searching for it, he could see something was off about these people; in the corner of his eyes, they seemed to disappear, and they were the slightest bit translucent in the sunlight, glowing the faintest of greens…

“Ghosts.”

Suddenly, a blaring horn nearly made the trio leap out of their skins.  

Vlad, Danny, and Danielle spun as the ghosts around them yelped, closed up their wares, and fled the courtyard.  “W-What is that?!” the little girl cried.

“Cavalry horn,” Vlad hissed.  

“What?!”

He steered the little family to the side.  “C’mon, we have to find a place to hide!”

“But where can we hide?”  Danny despaired, watching as the ghostly villagers barred their doors and windows.  There was no place to go!

Suddenly, a pale blue hand shot out of a nearby shop, and grasped Danny’s wrist.  He startled, yelping slightly in shock as the hand pulled him inside, Vlad and Danielle pulled in after him.  The door was slammed shut immediately and the room was plunged into darkness.

“You, young one, are VERY far from home…”

Danny blinked as candles lit all around him, causing him to stumbled back into Vlad and his daughter.  “W-who…?”

The words died on his tongue as his wide eyes landed on the ghost before them.  A tall, blue skinned male ghost smiled down at him from under a purple hooded cloak.  He seemed just a bit older then Vlad, and surprisingly more corporeal than any of the ghosts they had yet encountered.  He had long white hair braided over one shoulder and the most mesmerizing red eyes…

But that smile… Danny would know that smile anywhere.  “C-Clockwork…?”

“Hello again, young one~”  Clockwork greeted, voice deep and warm with affection.  “It’s been a awhile, hasn’t it?”

“Very!”  Danny cried, running forward to hug the older ghost.  Clockwork had been his dearest friend before he vanished, and the young man had greatly missed him.  The ghost was cool to the touch, but felt real enough as he too wrapped his arms around Danny and nearly lifted him right off the floor, chuckling.  

“You’ve gone and lost weight again, haven’t you?  Silly boy~”  he set him back down and focused his attention on the other two humans.  “Ahh, this must be little Danielle.  She sure has grown~”

His red eyes flicked up to Vlad’s, smile widening a tad.  “Well well, Lord Masters… what a surprise~  What ARE you three doing here~?”

Vlad stared at Clockwork.  “You… You were the clock and toy maker!  But you… died!”

The ghost chortled as he floated across the room and crouched, pulling up his rug.  “Indeed.  I loved my work too much to just leave it alone, so I came here.  But that is a story for another time…”

Clockwork opened a trapdoor beneath the rug.  “Here.  Get inside~”

“But why?”  Danny asked, even as he obeyed.  Even though he didn’t understand what was happening, he would always trust the man, now ghost, before him.  “Clockwork, what’s happening?”

“The soldiers will be here any minute, so it would be best for you hide,” the ghost explained, waving them down.  “No humans are allowed in Vulgaria.”

“Not allowed?  Why?”

“You can blame the baroness.  She HATES humans.  They remind her of the life she and the baron had before they died.  Not a happy memory, you might say.  She is using a terrible coping mechanism.”

Clockwork ushered Danny and Danielle down the stairs, but stopped Vlad before he could follow.  “Be sure not to make a sound,”  the ghost advised softly, locking gazes with the human.  “They sent the human catcher.  He is someone you very much do NOT want to meet… especially with young Daniel and Danielle.”

Vlad swallowed.  “He sounds like a nasty customer.”

“Dan Phantom is no one to be trifled with.  Now hurry.”

The man nodded and hurried down into the cellar, brows furrowed.  “Dan, Danny, Daniel, Danielle… goodness gracious, it’s only a matter of time before I mix someone up…!” he muttered.  Clockwork closed the door after him.

~*~

Outside, the horses of the Vulgarian cavalry collected in the courtyard.  Hooves clattered against the stone, whinnies and mutters of ghostly soldiers filling the air.  No one liked coming out here… except for one of them.

Black leather boots hit the cobblestones of the courtyard, a deep chuckle echoing off the stone houses.  “Oooh… I smell little humans~”

A black cape swished around a tall and powerful figure as he moved, walking around the courtyard slowly.  His skin was a pale mint tone, like a frostbitten green, that stood out starkly against his entire black leather ensemble.  His hair was white and pulled back into a low ponytail, yet it moved and curled in the air on its own, much like a flame.  His eyes were red and glowing with wicked glee as he walked, heels clicking against the stone…

“Ah…  THERE.”

The human catcher, known as Dan Phantom, suddenly whirled around and pointed to one shop in particular.  The toy shop.  

“I believe, captain, that we’ve got them~” Dan smirked.

Youngblood hoisted his sword aloft.  “Aye!  Quick, break down the door!!”

But before the soldiers could even get off their horses… the door opened with a soft creak.

Red eyes glimmered out.  “Now, we can’t have that, can we?” Clockwork murmured good-naturedly, but with a hidden malice.  “What is it, pray tell, that I can help you with?”

Dan grinned wickedly, fangs glinting in the midday light.  “Ahh, hello again, Clockwork~”  he purred, stepping in close to the other ghosts personal space.  “Don’t you look dapper as always.”

Red eyes glinted hungrily.  “Step aside, toy maker… I’m here on business today~”

“I do believe it is in my rights to deny such a request.”

“Not today, it’s not~”

With a snap of his fingers, the soldiers were pushing the doors open, forcing Clockwork back inside the shop.  He huffed and moved away, turning his back on Dan as he walked around the shop.  The larger ghost breathed in slowly, grinning.

“Oh yes, I can SMELL them.  There are humans here~”

Clockwork gave him a disinterested look.  “Very well, search if you must,” the old ghost sighed, waving his hand.  “But be quick.  I still have to finish Baroness Kitty’s order for the baron’s birthday tomorrow.”

Dan sneered in response at the other ghosts back, but didn’t say a word.  He searched the shop, becoming aggravated that the humans he could smell could just not be FOUND.  Just when he was moving to once more approach the toy maker, his heel clicked across hollow wood.  He stopped.

TAP TAP TAP…

“Hmm… interesting~”

The ghost bent down and swiped the rug off the floor, grinning at the sight of a trap door.  “Captain, search the cellar.  Leave no stone unturned.”

“Aye aye!”  Youngblood saluted.  “You heard the man, hop to it!”

Dan stepped away as the trap door was thrown open and the soldiers descended below the shop, once more turning to grin at Clockwork’s back.  He sauntered over, pressing uncomfortably close to the other ghost.  “What do you think will happen to you, hmm~?  If I find you’ve been harboring humans, the baron and baroness will be SO displeased… but perhaps I can keep them from just locking you away…”

“I owe you nothing, Dan.  I will take no favors from you.”

The slightly taller ghost smirked.  “We’ll see.”

“Sir!” Youngblood called from the stairs.  “The cellar is empty!”

Dan whirled around, outraged.  “What?!  Move ASIDE, you FOOLS!”

The large ghost quickly descended the stairs, raising a green glowing hand to light his way.  The smell was strong here, but Dan could see there were also many pieces of stored furniture and supplies here, all from Clockwork’s days from being alive.  He couldn’t have been mistaken… could he?

But no matter where he searched, he couldn’t find a trace of any humans.  There were many unfinished toys down there however; including puppets, moving trains, and nearly lifelike large dolls…

Finally, Dan left the cellar with a snort, clearly put off at not finding the humans.  He cast Clockwork a suspicious eye, sneering.  “Clear the courtyard.  They must have gotten away…”

“Aye aye, sir!”

The soldiers quickly emptied the shop as Dan stared down at a smug looking toy maker.  “I know you’re hiding them.  Why, I have no idea.  But I WILL find them, and when I prove to the baroness your treachery, you will have no choice but to plead to me to save you from her wrath~”

“The day I beg to you,” Clockwork deadpanned, “is the day I breathe again.”

Dan snorted in dark amusement as a few soldiers laughed at their exchange, and with a swish of his cape, left the shop.  Clockwork sighed as the door slammed shut, running a hand through his white hair.  Dan was a handsome and powerful ghost here in Vulgaria, but he was also a pain in Clockwork’s corporeal rear end…

He phased through the floor silently, stepping into the cellar without a sound, watching as Vlad helped Danny clean off the doll makeup he had put on in a hurry to help hide themselves from the catcher.  “You three did well.  He’s gone.”

Danny startled at his sudden appearance, but nodded in thanks, looking relieved.  “Thank goodness for that, he was quite unnerving–”

BEEP BEEP!!

Danielle ran to the little window looking out onto the street, gasping in shock.  “Oh no, they have Chitty!”

“What?!”

Danny and Vlad rushed to the window beside her, watching in dismay as Chitty was wheeled into the courtyard surrounded by the baron’s cheering soldiers.  Youngblood sat perched behind the wheel, grinning proudly down at the soldiers.  “Take this car to the castle!”

The soldiers cheered, horns blaring once more in victory.

“Daddy, they’re taking Chitty!”  Danielle cried, watching as their motorcar was pulled along by a couple horses and wheeled out of the courtyard.  “You can’t let them take Chitty away!”

“Oh Vlad…”  Danny murmured fretfully, pressing into his side in distress  “What are we going to do now?”

Vlad huffed.  “Well I’m not going to just stand here!” he snapped.  “I’m going up to that castle!”

He squeezed Danny’s shoulders and started back up the stairs, only to have Clockwork grab his arm.  “Are you mad?” the toymaker snapped.  “You’ll be captured in an instant.”

“Not if you help me, right?”

“Masters…”  Clockwork said slowly.  “Take my advice.  Take young Daniel and his daughter, and get OUT of Vulgaria.”

“Oh, but we CAN’T!”  Danny cried, stepping closer.  “They took my father, Jack!  He’s up there, somewhere in that castle!  And how on earth are we going to get home without the car…?”

“There has to be someway up into that castle.”  Vlad snapped, eyes meeting Clockworks.  “You must know of a way.”

“I’m just a simple toy and clock maker.”

Clockwork chuckled, smirking.  “Of COURSE I know a way.”

The ghost moved towards the stairs once more, raising his hood as he ascended up into the shop.  “Well?”  he called.  “Are you coming?”

Danny took Vlad’s arm.  “Wait, I’m coming with you!”

“No, Daniel,”  Vlad scolded gently, taking his hand in his.  He guided the young man back over to his daughter, smiling reassuringly at them both.  “You need to stay together, where you will be safe.  I’ll be back soon, I promise.”

Danny placed a hand on the man’s cheek, looking conflicted, but reluctantly accepting.  “Be careful…”

Vlad sighed – eyes searching the young inventor’s – and then he kissed him softy on the cheek.  “You too…” he murmured.

With that, he turned, following Clockwork up the steps.  Danny heard the door above slam shut, and he sat down beside his daughter with a sigh.  It was going to be a long wait…

Nearly half an hour had passed, and Danielle had abandoned the toys around her, instead sitting in her father’s lap as her stomach gurgled in agitation.  “Daddy…”  she whimpered.  “I’m so hungry…”

“I know baby, but there’s no food here…”

Danielle only whimpered again, her stomach beginning to hurt.  She hadn’t eaten in over a day.  Danny brushed his hand through her hair, distressed by her pain and ignoring the fact that he too was starving.  “Oh, little ghost…  Alright, I MUST find you something to eat.”

He gently set her down on the ground and stood up, snatching up a basket and tying a shawl around his head and face.  “Now, you must promise me not to move a muscle while I’m gone, you hear me?  You stay right here until I or Vlad return, am I clear?”

“Yes, Daddy!”  Danielle chirped, happy at the prospect of food soon.  Danny smiled down at her sweet face, leaning forward to kiss the top of her head, before climbing up the stairs.  He was careful and quiet when he left, making sure to once more bolt the door behind him as he stepped out into the quiet courtyard.  It was unnerving how silent it was…

Still, he straightened his back and moved cautiously forward.  Perhaps he could find some apples or wild berries nearby…

Danny jogged quickly out of the village, moving as quietly as he could…

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