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Death and Taxes

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2:23pm, and Danny was in hell. An unseasonable heatwave was rolling through the town, and contrary to his hopes, his ice powers only made him feel the heat all the more. Add to that an afternoon English lesson with a sub who had a voice even more monotonous than Mr Lancer’s, and he was fighting tooth and nail to stay even slightly conscious. That wasn’t to say that the rest of the class wasn’t - the last time he’d surveyed the room, he’d noted at least three people dozing happily, and as such he felt very impressed with himself for being so alert in comparison.

Suddenly there was a chill on the back of his head, and he felt something heavy around his neck. Danny blinked sluggishly, and yelped when he finally noticed the massive eyeball floating in front of him; so surprised was he that he toppled backwards, and was saved from a nasty bruise only by a purple-robed ghost’s perfect reflexes.

Now the correct way up and mostly awake, he asked the intruders the only pertinent question he could think of: “What did I do now?”

“Nothing,” replied a voice from beside him. “Not recently, at any rate.”

The Observant frowned loudly from across the desk. Apparently they disapproved of any words that came out of Clockwork’s mouth, not just when he refused to kill a fourteen-year-old boy. Who knew. “We are here to inform you that you will be required in Clockwork’s Tower two days hence, at 1pm sharp.”

“But that’s Thursday, and I have school,” Danny protested. He wasn’t sure what he was protesting, but as it was an Observant making the request, there was probably good reason to. That, and he’d take long Shakespeare monologues over long rules and regulations monologues any day of the week.

The eyeball ghost frowned louder. “This matter is rather more important than school,” it said, condescension dripping off every syllable like tar.

“Well, you haven’t told me what it is yet, so how am I to judge?” demanded the halfa, crossing his arms like the petulant teenager he was.

“Your coronation, Daniel,” said Clockwork, and Danny knew the ghost well enough to hear the immense amusement in his tone.

The halfa scowled. “My coronation.”

“Yes,” repeated the Master of Time, a grin tugging at his lips, “your coronation. My liege.”

“Why.”

“You defeated Pariah Dark, the previous occupant of the throne to the Ghost Zone, in single combat. Thus the title of Ghost King is passed to you,” said the Observant stiltedly.

“But that was like, ages ago. A year and- and something.”

“Exactly one year, eight months and twelve days,” supplied Clockwork helpfully.

“Yeah, that. Ages ago. I mean, I would’ve understood if today was my birthday - like, coming of age and all that. Wait, is it my birthday?” asked Danny, fearing for his sanity. “Clockwork, please tell me it’s not my birthday already. I’m not ready to be seventeen yet.”

“It’s not your birthday.”

“Thank god. In which case, why are you telling me this now?”

“Paperwork.”

“...Paperwork?”

“Paperwork,” Clockwork confirmed sadly. “You'd think you could escape it by dying, but no, there it is, in the afterlife as well. You might think that you hate paperwork now, but you don’t, Daniel. Not until you’ve been doing it for more than five thousand years.”

Danny shuddered. Five thousand years of paperwork. It was a testament to Clockwork’s character that he hadn’t snapped. But, then again, he’d had to have gotten that scar somehow…

“So everything is in order, then,” snapped the Observant suddenly, “and we will be seeing you Thursday at one o’clock. Sharp.

“Wait, wait, wait!” cried the halfa. “I never agreed to this!”

“There is nothing to agree upon. You do not have a choice in this matter,” hissed the eyeball. “Sir.

“Clockwork, tell him he’s wrong.”

“I’m female!”

“Okay, Clockwork, tell her she’s wrong.”

“She’s not wrong, Daniel.”

“There, see!” Danny stuck his tongue out at the Observant, but quickly retracted it when his friend’s words finally sunk in. “Wait, what?”

“Look, Daniel, I didn’t suffer through a year and eight months of otherwise unnecessary paperwork for nothing. You’re the Ghost King now. No backsies.

“Fuck.”

 

Chapter Text

This throne was not comfy at all, in Danny’s opinion. It was probably the most uncomfortable chair he’d ever had the misfortune of parking his butt on. Even the extra cushion he’d nabbed from his new bedroom didn’t seem to help. He frowned and, in a fit of pique, rolled onto his back, legs resting vertically against the back of the throne, and crossed his arms.

“Daniel, stop that.”

Danny remained staring at the ceiling.

“Daniel, you are the reigning monarch. Please act like it.”

Not a muscle was moved. Clockwork sighed heavily, rubbing his forehead.

My liege , might I suggest you adopt a more regal pose? Please?

“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Danny said brightly, floating into a more normal sitting position. The grin on his face was an evil one, borne of too many years spent being bossed around by figures of authority. And now that he was the ultimate figure of authority… The coronation ceremony had ended mere hours ago, and already Clockwork was regretting this decision. Yes, all futures in which the young halfa became King were bright, but...was it really worth it? Really? [1]

“Hey, Clockwork,” said the boy-king, who was suddenly upside-down again. He seemed to revert to this arrangement every time Clockwork looked away for more than ten seconds, and it was beginning to grate on his nerves. “Can I go yet?”

“No.”

“But why ?” whined Danny, sprawling out his arms in exasperation. They didn’t even reach the edge of the throne - the crown and ring might resize to fit, but the seat did not. Sure, they could get a new one, but that would rob Clockwork of the one and only amusement he had found in this situation: that of seeing such a tiny ghost perched on the edge of the seat, like a baby in a grown-up’s chair. The king’s current behaviour was only contributing to the effect, and the older ghost was hard pressed not to laugh, if only to keep from crying.

“I explained why three hours ago. You can’t leave until the paperwork is done.”

“And when will that be?”

“Every moment spent bothering me is a moment more sitting on the throne.”

“Well, that’s not very specific,” moaned Danny.

“I am the Master of Time, Daniel. Ambiguity is my forte.” Clockwork sighed. “If you want to help, you can start signing those documents,” he said, gesturing to a stack of papers several inches thick. Some pages glowed gently, and Danny could’ve sworn he could hear monastic chanting emanating from the pile.

“Why does it-?”

“-purr? Nobody knows. Even I don’t know.”

Danny raised a be-ring-ed finger in protest, but cut himself off before he’d even started. “I was going to say it sounded more like a tiny choir, but now that you mention it I can hear purring too.” He frowned. “I’ve seen a lot of freaky things, but I think this is the freakiest. If I touch it, will it bite me?”

“As long as you’re wearing matching socks and you haven’t consumed cabbage in the last six and a half days, you should be fine.”

“Wh- No, actually, you know what? Never mind. I’m touching it anyway.” He did. Nothing happened, although tomorrow he would wonder why he had a small temporary tattoo in the shape of a duck on the bottom of his foot. [2]

He looked at the piece of paper he’d grabbed, let out a little whine of fear and slumped to the floor. “What does this even mean?

Clockwork snorted in exasperation, and motioned for Danny to hand him the sheet. He squinted at it with a professional eye. “It’s a demand, sorry, a request for funding for Sepulcher Heights’ new leisure centre. I’d advise you reject it, they swindled three pools and a sports stadium out of the last new monarch, and it blew about thirty percent of that year’s budget. Philistines.”

Danny just stared at his mentor in awe. It had taken the ghost less than ten seconds to decipher the nightmarish officialese, translate it, and summarise the supplicants’ recent history, and with a dash of mockery thrown in. Surely even for the Master of Time, that was impressive. A calculating look passed over the young king’s face. “Clockwork, would you consid-?”

“No, Daniel, I will not do all your paperwork.”

“Ple-!”

“No.”

“Bu-!”

No. You’ll need to learn anyway; the human world has no lack of paperwork, and at least there nobody’s liable to assassinate you or start a war if you let it sit too long.” Clockwork thought about this for a moment. “Well. Most people.”

Most? ” Danny asked.

“Most,” Clockwork affirmed sagely. “Please be prompt in sending your charitable donations, it’ll save me a lot of headaches in the future.”

There were a few moments of blessed silence, pierced only by the scritch-scritch-scritch of the old ghost’s pen on paper. And then Danny picked the next sheet out of the pile.

“Hey, Clockwork, what’s a ‘carte blanche’?”

He sighed, almost inaudibly. “Context?”

“This guy wants one. Someone called Mauldugrgor the Devourer, Grand Vizier of the Realms of...Sir Hymn?”

“Cerhym. Hard c, emphasis on the ‘rhy’. Don’t say yes.”

“...The Realms of Crime. Yeah, I don’t think I’d wanna give him anything, except maybe life, uh, afterlife, imprisonment.”

Clockwork frowned. “I should hope not. Lady Mauldugrgor is a staunch supporter of your ascension to the throne, and has always been a good friend. I suspect this letter was not, in fact, sent by her - she has no small number of enemies.”

Danny nodded thoughtfully, and got back to reading.

“What is a ‘vesbirr dus’ and why does it need a permit?”

“Well, it’s a little like a- oh, just find a dictionary.”

“I did. I found you.”

Clockwork sighed. It was quickly becoming a habit. “Look, Daniel, do you want to go home or not? You do. So let me get on with the paperwork that will let you out of here. Why not go find Augafel, get her to explain the intricacies of vesbirr dus licensing. She’s good at that.”

“Augafel?”

“The Observant.”

“Oh. They have names?”

Clockwork sighed again. This was going to be a long Thursday afternoon.

Chapter Text

“What am I signing these for anyway?”

“Well, the top one, in essence, will allow you access to the throne room.”

“Don’t I already have access to that though?”

“As a citizen, yes. As King, no. But signing that page will unlock that power for you.”

Danny thought about this for a moment, and grinned. “So...does this mean I’m head of the monarch-key?”

Clockwork narrowed his blood red eyes and hissed, “So help me, Daniel, one more pun and I will prevent you from being born, timelines be damned.”

“Geez, touchy. You need a better sense of humour. It’d be about time.”

Clockwork threw his hands in air in complete exasperation. “That’s it. I’m done. Your parents will never meet.”