If there was one thing Skulker made sure to know and know well, it was his preys routines. That was one thing he loved about the young halfa, his routine was easy but the fun came from just how frequently it got royally messed up. But it always had the same base structure, ‘ghost attacks, exchange witty banter, kick ghost butt, go home’. In fact it was so much of a routine that the boy could explain it to someone with practiced ease. Then there was mornings of ruffling up sleep tousled hair, shoving minty paste around his mouth and consuming food. Fifty-fifty chance of his parents devices doing something to or around him. Followed by schooling and skipping doing that for some ghost fight or another. Spending an obscene amount of time with his friends, bantering with the hunter girl, and the night patrol. There was, of course, some much more basic aspects to the boys routine. Though sleep was one thing that Phantom just seemed to shove where ever it would fit at random. And something about today just rang all the hunter bells inside Skulker. He just knew today was going to be one of the weird ones. The ones where he always learned the most.
That turned out to be quite the understatement. Because there are other unchanging facts about the whelps routines.
He gets beat up by bullies, sometimes fights back mildly. Why that was, had to be some imperceptible good guy thing. But not today, in all Skulker’s time he had never once seen the whelp, in his human skin, punch the Dash child.
Phantom always smiled at his friends, their backs turned or not. Not today, if they weren’t looking he was glaring or smirking in a way that was honestly impressively malicious.
That sister of his always made sure he got to school eventually. Not today, today she was completely missing.
He always ate his lunch hurriedly but still with enjoyment. Not today, he was lazy about it, uncaring. It didn’t even seem like he tasted the food at all.
But again, another thing Skulker knew about Phantom’s routine was that things often became incredibly strange. But here’s the thing, that was always preempted by either his parents' awful weaponry or some other ghost interfering. He’d always go back to ‘normal’ afterwards. But ever since last night the kid had been off, for no reason. So Skulker kept his distance and watched as things went from weird and off to deeply concerning.
See normally, Phantom never did more than beat ghosts around a little, sometimes taking out his aggression problem on them, but never anything serious. Especially against that fool, The Box Ghost. Not today, which is honestly the most concerning thing yet. Skulker almost felt bad for The Box Ghost. The whelp looked like he was actively trying to destroy and hurt him, for no reason other than to inflict pain. It was, dare he say, incredibly disturbing.
But the most concerning thing of all, was Phantom noticed him. Worse than that, Phantom didn’t care. Phantom never noticed Skulker’s studying of him, never. Skulker went out of his way to make sure he got around and stayed out of the range of the boys' ghost sense. The whelp, while paranoid, wasn’t exactly observant. And Skulker’s sure the ghost child’s sense hadn’t gone off, yet the halfa was acting like he always knew Skulker followed him around and had just decided to make that fact clear. What really unnerved Skulker was that the boy would occasionally lock eyes with him and grin. That is not how Phantom ever reacts to seeing any of his ‘enemy’ ghosts, especially not the mighty hunter Skulker.
So to say the whelps normal routine of behaviour was off, was an understatement.
Watching as the boy takes his silly little human test while grinning maliciously, why the powerful halfa even bothered with human things he’ll never fully understand. Only for the sister to sneak up with weapons, which is more than a little odd. She was decidedly not a ghost hunter or one of the whelps little sidekicks. Only for her to seemingly get electrocuted, pass out and get dragged off by an invisible force. Making Skulker quite pleased with himself over staying the Hell away. He knew Phantom couldn’t duplicate, so that wasn’t the boys doing. So it was something following him maybe, potentially influencing his behaviour. Something similar has happened to the boy multiple times after all.
Skulker can’t help but raise an eyebrow, somewhat amused, at how damn aggressively the whelp hands in his paper. Then pulling a face overhearing the kid using ‘is that a problem?’ as a threat...at a human. Phantom never even threatened human hunters, none the less his own, arguably weak and pathetic, teacher. In fact he seemed quite fond of this teacher, normally. Yet here he was threatening the human and walking off like the proudest thing in the world.
Then even stranger is he’s grinning maliciously around his own family as they go to meet this teacher. Obviously the teacher is not impressed with the whelp. Yet Phantom seems happy about that, seems to eagerly be looking forward to it. Which is yet another thing that is off. The whelp hates getting in trouble, he hates letting people down. He should be absolutely miserable, a little paranoid, and maybe slightly angry. Not grinning full of pride and taking long confident steps towards his unimpressed teacher. While his shocked parents follow behind.
Skulker actually pauses and gapes a bit as the teacher flat out claims Phantom cheated and the little whelp doesn’t even deny it. He seems tickled green actually. Phantom never cheats, especially not on something mundane or schooling. The whelp won’t even use his ghostly strength to do better in gym. He might trick his opponents but he never outright cheats. Never. That is so severely outside of the halfas norm that it is jarring. And then he’s proud even giddy, over being caught. Like he cheated purely so he would be caught. That mental line makes absolutely no sense when dealing with Phantom.
Regardless of being heroes or villains, no ghost wanted to get caught for anything. Phantom included. This was downright wrong, not just off.
The sidekicks showing up and talking about things exploding only seems to make the halfa grin crueller. Like the prospect of everyone getting blown up and dying pleased him. Again, this is incredibly wrong.
Then the sister shows back up with a battle suit, which does look decently impressive, and Phantom finally gives a more normal behaviour; shock. But it’s angry almost malicious shock, which he never has and definitely never aims at a human. Phantom’s anger is the annoyed frustrated kind. Not the red hot or ice cold, ‘I want to make something bleed’, kind.
Watching as the sister blasts him with some beam, peeling off his skin, and NOPE! JUST NOPE! Skulker is not touching whatever is going on here or whatever Phantom just turned into. He doesn’t need to be anywhere near that. He actively doesn’t want to be. He can see and feel from here that that thing is powerful, malicious, cold, and not just bad but evil. And he thought Plasmius could be cruel, disturbing and rather evil sometimes. That man was evil in a manipulative calculating way, this ghost was evil in a destructive and Pariah-like way. And Skulker’s instincts are telling him that Pariah is kinder than this ghost, which is highly concerning. When Pariah had awoken, all the little warning bells in him had gone off but this creature was sending them off so harshly that it almost felt like he would break on the spot. He desperately wanted to flee but he was rooted in the spot. Not just out of abject horror but interest. This ghost looked remarkably like Phantom, colour pallet wise.
Skulker manages to take a step back, firmly stunned at the strange ghost laughing and leaping into the sky, changing the damn weather for no reason, and shouting that he is Phantom. The same Phantom as always, which is wrong. Clearly and loudly outing himself as a halfa. Which is the very opposite of one of the key aspects of the whelps routines. He’ll do near anything to keep his secret. Not today, today someone who claims and looks to be him, is shouting it for the world to hear purely to bathe in their shock. But all this gives Skulker a better look and while he could write off the black and white colour scheme as coincidence, he couldn’t do the same to Phantom’s infamous DP symbol. Whatever’s happened to his prey he definitely does not like. He’s not stupid enough to hunt that.
Skulker manages to genuinely back away some as, definitely evil, Phantom straps his own family and friends onto what his sidekicks basically said was a highly explosive bomb.
“Not until it’s time for you to be blown everywhere”.
Making Skulker realise what, exactly, this ghost was trying to do. It was actively trying to murder them, blow them to bits, kill off the people Phantom cared about most. This was every single level of wrong. On such an intrinsic level.
Skulker knew, it was obvious if you paid any attention, that his preys obsession was protection. Especially of his family and friends. No ghost ever went directly and so extremely against their own obsession. Everything in their very beings would scream against that, would destroy themselves first. For a ghost to go against it gladly, eagerly, and revel in it? That just wasn’t even possible. Just the idea made Skulker’s insides want to revolt.
Which meant that this Phantom’s obsession must be different. His obsession must have changed. But that, ghosts can’t do that either. For that, something at the very core and essence of a ghost had to have changed. Ghosts didn’t change after they formed, not in such a base way. But Phantom was a halfa. Half-formed. Skulker goes wide-eyed and really looks this evil Phantom over. He was more ghostly...This Phantom wasn’t a halfa. This Phantom had fully died. Somehow that makes Skulker recoil even more. That, the whelp, his favourite prey, not being a halfa was utterly revolting.
Watching and shaking slightly, as evil Phantom just lets the sister punch through him and spins his head around. Clearly his routine of not dodging is intact, but that isn’t currently comforting. Seeing as that confirms this is indeed Phantom further. While messed up Phantom assaults his own sister in a show of extreme dramatic flare. Duplicates, really? Just to remove a helmet and gag her? Now that’s just excessive. The whelp always had a taste for flair and dramatics but this was excessive, and was seemingly being done just to revel in others' fear. Grinning and laughing over the screaming, fear and hopelessness in their faces. Which was explicitly not something Phantom does.
Blinking as normal Phantom comes flying out of the sky and starts doing his routine, it’s honestly like a drink of cool ectoplasm to Skulker. Prey doing as prey’s supposed to be doing. But this is still different, more desperate. Normal Phantom is doing everything he can from the looks of it. But he’s firmly getting his ass kicked, brutally. Messed up Phantom isn’t even trying, he’s playing, batting around prey. Even when he gets thrown into an explosion and set on fire, he just walks through the flames like they weren’t even there. Can this psychotic Phantom even be injured?
Here’s another thing about Phantom’s routine, Phantom never gets his ass genuinely kicked. He might be on the losing side for a bit or struggling, but he’s never so plainly outmatched. This ghost, this messed up Phantom could easily kill normal Phantom but he’s not. There’s still the ever-present Phantom ‘witty banter’, from both of them. Which is jarring. Especially because the two have, very clearly, different brands of ‘witty banter’. Messed up evil Phantom is mocking, cruel, egotistical, and full of sneers. Normal Phantom tries to be funny, belittles, and masks his own fear. A level of which Skulker has never seen in the boy before.
Then Skulker blinks, remembering what messed up Phantom had said near-instantly to normal Phantom.
“You don’t get it. I’m still here, I still exist. That means you still turn into me”
Skulker’s brain shorts at that, this monster was what his Phantom, his prey, was supposed to become? How? Why? Phantom would never want this...no wonder normal Phantom, young Phantom?, was fighting against this future thing so hard. Skulker was used to weird around this kid, but fighting his own future was something else.
But that makes Skulker stop. The only reason monster Phantom was just tossing around normal Phantom was because he couldn’t kill him. This monster Phantom’s goal was literally to kill his own family and friends. There is no way this Phantom wasn’t a mass murderer then. No one like Phantom starts with their own family. Blinking, them dying...his future self killing them...that’s probably what causes him to become this. Skulker, if he survives this night, is never even considering seriously harming the halfas close ones ever again. Any trap is not worth his prey becoming this thing.
Skulker nearly flees as the, not just messed up but a damn monster, Phantom just keeps mocking and sneering at the human skinned Phantom. After he functionally pulverised normal Phantom. There’s fire everywhere, people are screaming, the air’s thick with the scent of blood, there’s no way no ones died, and normal Phantom is on his hands and knees. Battered to near nothing and this thing, this monster, doesn’t even look phased. He’s relaxed, amused, laughing. This is a level of chaos and destruction Skulker has never seen done by a single lone ghost before. And all without any power-ups, sneak attacks, items or even putting in effort beyond being unnecessarily dramatic. Skulker is goddamn screwed. He’s been following this thing, and the monster knew it. This monster Phantom could and would swallow him whole and crunch him to bits just for the show of it. Just because he could and he’d barely bat an eye at doing it.
Skulker slumps to sit on the ground, not because he couldn’t make his suit flee but because there wasn’t any point. Fleeing from Pariah had been a fool's game, fleeing from this was just suicide and asking to be destroyed more painfully.
And then normal Phantom screams or wails or shrieks or something. Whatever it is, it is utterly horrifying and destroys a building. And that’s normal Phantom doing that while clearly on the verge of collapse. Skulker is not okay with this. He knew the whelp held back, but this was a little much. And seeing monster Phantom get up from that, only looking annoyed and slightly surprised doesn’t make Skulker feel better. Skulker couldn’t have sustained such a blow. And monster Phantom could probably do that too, and was drastically and brutally stronger than normal Phantom. Which only means that this beast could easily wipe out entire cities with one attack.
Skulker can’t help but grin at normal Phantom besting and capturing the monster Phantom. Even if Skulker’s well aware he was only able to do so because the monster Phantom had to hold back.
But even Skulker freezes as the halfas family and friends perish anyway.
“You’re too late to save them”
The thing, the monster, knew his younger self was going to fail. He was just beating his younger self up....for fun. “What makes you think you can change my past?”. What indeed.
Skulker can’t even bring himself to blink or take note of the weight around his neck, as everything just freezes, like someone pushed pause on a tv show. The whelps family, friends...and teacher, suspended and safe in the air. While some strange child ghost appears next to Phantom. But then is suddenly an adult ghost.
“I see the parade from above. All the twists and turns it might, or might not, take”.
“You knew all of this was going to happen, all of it”.
Now Skulker blinks, he’s no intellect but that sounded like universal knowledge and future sight. Looking around slightly, this strange ghost, It did this. Stopped everything. Looking the ghost over closer, covered in clock imagery. It stopped time. What sort of ghost had such power? And to see the future as well.
He then gapes as this ghost smiles and winks at Phantom. Showing the whelp affection. This ghost was one of the young halfas allies...and It could control time. Stopped something that seemed completely unavoidable and hopeless as if it was nothing. Skulker almost preferred the idea of being destroyed over knowing this.
Watching as this ghost apparently sends Phantom back in time to stop all of this from ever occurring. Before looking to Skulker with a slight frown but a twinkle in Its eye. It knew he was here too. Of course It did, It was probably watching all this the same as he had. It...It knew all of this would happen, how it would end. Yet let it happen to...teach the whelp a lesson? Was this ghost Phantom’s mentor?
That thought manages to break some of Skulker’s shock making him smirk slightly, Vlad would be furious.
Which is when the ghost suddenly appears next to Skulker, making him jerk away and squint at the ghost.
“Who, what, are you?”.
“I would be known best to mortals as Father Time. Though I have been called many things. You may know me best as the Norns”, It gives a slight smile, “mortals insist on labelling me with their genders in interesting ways”.
Skulker watches as they change from old to child. The three Norns, past, present and future indeed. “Are you even a Ghost?”.
“That is one Daniel has never asked and you’d be wise to not ask that which you do not want the answer to”.
Skulker looks away and over at the frozen in time destruction, “why”, he doesn’t doubt this ‘ghost’ knows exactly what he means.
Looking away from Skulker, “the truly powerful have plenty of lessons to learn. All best taught with time”.
Skulker doesn’t miss the pun, and that is oddly grounding. It was the whelps mentor and It was like Phantom.
Skulker looks at his chest then, noticing the medallion. He doesn’t need to be told that this is the only reason he’s not frozen along with everything else. But he doesn’t dare touch it or question what they symbol means. Instead, “why me?”.
“My interference only goes so far. Should you wish to never see this-”, gesturing with Its staff at the destruction, “-again. I have a job for you”.
Skulker looks at the ‘ghosts’ adult face, finding it unreadable, “what is it?”.
It smiles then but doesn’t turn to him, “you work close to Vladimir. You will find blueprints in the future. You will choose to either ignore them or destroy them. My request is simply that you choose the later”.
Skulker nods slightly, “I will but what does he have to do with this?”.
The ‘ghost’ frowns, “Vladimir always wanted to corrupt Daniel, make him follow in his footsteps. There is little he would not do”.
Skulker stares realising what this ‘ghost’ is implying. This was Vlad’s fault. And it was, at least somewhat, intentional. And honestly, that tracked. Vlad was a mad man and just like the whelp, Skulker knew his routines well. “That makes sense. He’s a decent employer but a dangerous man”. Dangerous and powerful, not just physically either.
“Such is the way of all the hybrids. They all pose a threat to the survival of the worlds. Both with and without them. The avoidance of one cataclysmic event always sends the world down the path to another. Vladimir the catalyst, Daniel the inhibitor. Destruction and existence warring it out amongst mortal men”.
Skulker stares, incredibly confused. It seemed to be implying the two halfas were gods or something. It was incredibly odd. But odd fit in exactly with Phantom. “Why are you telling me all this?”.
“Because you won’t remember any of it”.
“But you asked me to do this job for you. I will need to remember it surely”.
“Hardly. Simply by the act of agreeing to do it, you set in motion the choice to do it. You will bear no recollection of today’s events or of me”, turning to Skulker with that twinkling in Its eye. Which Skulker recognise as something like mischief. Which, considering this creature's power, doesn’t bode well. Skulker follows Its movements as It floats to be in front of him, “to answer your earlier questionings of just what future Daniel did. You are indeed correct in your musing on him being a mass murderer. And not just of humans. The worlds fell to him, all destroyed under his fist and fang. Vladimir’s ghost half the first to fall, devoured and consumed. Daniel’s human half the second, disembowelled and decapitated. You only need imagine the rest”.
Skulker can only stare in shock. Monster had been too nice a word.
While the ‘ghost’ continues, “Daniel has seen and will remember exactly what his future self did. He will always be aware of what he’s capable of becoming. You will not. But I’ll tell you this now, so you may understand in the now. Why this was a lesson needed”, pausing to float close to Skulker’s face, which is honestly rather menacing even if It’s in child form now, “Daniel’s initial reaction to seeing his future self destroying Amity Park and obliterating an entire army was, ‘what a cool power’”.
Skulker doesn’t even need to ask to know this power was that wail thing. Which he can do with never ever hearing again.
Skulker looks down at his chest as the ‘ghost’ removes the medallion and suddenly-
Skulker’s got no clue how the whelp is just standing up now when he’d been sitting one second ago. But watching the boy talk about how he’s not a cheater and leaving to sit on the steps feels oddly comforting and extremely relieving; and Skulker’s chalking up that feeling to his hunter instincts.
Watching as his prey mingles with the sister and goes through the regular motions of his routine. This has been the strangest disruption of the whelps routine yet. Still having no clue what caused the odd behaviour and for it to suddenly disappear. But hearing the whelp yell, “guess who’s back and better than ever!”. Leaves Skulker pretty sure the Phantom he’s been following today wasn’t actually Phantom.
He watches for a while longer, feeling the need to reassure himself that his preys back to regular habits, before deciding to pay his employer a visit. It has been a while, even if his gut inexplicably knots up at the thought of the older halfa.
“Assist in separation, consume in desperation”