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The Warning

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Danny had just sat at his desk, early for once, when a gnarled hand grabbed him by the ankle and phased him through the floor. He whirled around. “Listen, I have a test today; can it wait ‘til aft…” he trailed off, staring at the ghost that had yanked him into the basement.

The ghost stared back with one giant eyeball. “Daniel,” they began.

“Always the formal name with you guys,” Danny muttered. “Yeah? What’s up? You need a character witness or something?” He pointed up towards his classroom. “I’m kinda busy right now.”

The Observant—funny, there was only one here. Usually they traveled in groups. The Observant wrung their hands and glanced around nervously. “No. Daniel, we must warn you. Reality is in danger once again.”

His eyes widened. “What? Did someone bring the gauntlet back somehow?”

“No.” They glanced up, then pinned Danny with a grave look. “This entire timeline is at risk. Everything in the present, all of the future, and the total sum of history. I know we’ve had our disagreements, but I implore you to take this seriously.” They looked at the ground, then back up. “Clockwork plans to rewrite this timeline from the very beginning, erasing everything we know in the process. Erasing everyone’s very existence.”

Danny’s eyebrows shot up, and he frowned. “He wouldn’t do that,” he said. “He’s supposed to preserve the timeline.”

The Observant tugged at a stray thread on their sleeve. “He approached us with the idea an hour ago. He wants to use you to get the Ring of Rage and the Crown of Fire. He’s going to use them to amplify his power and start everything over from scratch. He seems to think that he can make it better than it is now. He’s quite set on the idea.”

“He usually has a good reason for stuff,” Danny argued. “Are you sure this isn’t the best option?”

“Does it matter!? If we let him proceed, none of us will ever exist. Facsimiles of us might form, but this iteration of you and everyone you know will be erased completely; wiped from the record. If there is to be a new Daniel, which is a big ‘if,’ he will not be you. He will be an entirely separate person. You will be, for all intents and purposes, dead and destroyed. Permanently. No human or ghost would survive this.”

The bell for class rang. Danny glanced up and bit his lip. “That—okay. As far as I know, that tracks alright. But did he say why? This just doesn’t sound like him.”

The Observant looked right and left, giving the visual effect of shaking their head. “He seemed convinced that the timeline isn’t worth the trouble of maintaining anymore. He said there were just too many potential—how to describe it—corrupt futures. What’s more, we can’t even confirm or deny that claim; our view of the most likely future has simply… gone blank.” They threw their hands up. “The future was fine yesterday, but the moment Clockwork announced his intentions, we became blind to it. Even the past is starting to look fuzzy!”

Danny roughly ran a hand through his hair. “I just—why would he—”

“Daniel,” they intoned. “We’ve known him much, much longer than you have. He’s rather more detached than he puts on. At times he can become… impulsive. And this wouldn’t be the first time he’s set up a deadly plot just to arrange the chess pieces in a particular way. He’s counting on your trust in him for his plan to succeed. He’s going to ask you for the Ring of Rage and the Crown of Fire. You have a legal right to them since you helped defeat Pariah Dark, and he can’t wield them without permission from one of the rightful owners.”

“Wait, what? We didn’t need permission to use them.”

“You didn’t have special restrictions put on your artifact use following the shattering of the Ghost Zone landmass.” They crossed their arms.

Danny floated up to eye level with them. “The what now!? I thought it was always floating islands.” He pulled at his hair and groaned. “If this is true, then Clockwork was only—that whole thing with the explosion and all—”

“He orchestrated it,” they said flatly. “It wouldn’t have even happened in the first place if he hadn’t instigated it. We didn’t realize until later. It was all a show, Daniel. He doesn’t really care about you personally, or your future. His plan makes that undeniable.”

He gave them a warning glare. “I can’t just take you on your word.”

They put a palm up. “We don’t expect you to. But be cautious, Daniel. We cannot see how this may go. We can only advise.” They locked eye with him. “Do not allow Clockwork to use the Ghost King’s artifacts.”

They abruptly shoved him back upstairs into his desk. Danny stammered out an implausible story about a basement ghost to the stunned classroom. He bent his head to hide his red face and tried to find where they were in his textbook.

He couldn’t wait for the school day to be over. Apparently he had to save all of reality. Again.