I'm not going to give you the play-by-play of our conversation. Most of it was just my sister and I summarizing everything we've already told you in this memoir, and you don't need to hear a summary of what you've already read.
Danni and I had done a good job of anticipating the emotional difficulty of relating this whole messed-up story to our father, but we'd completely forgotten to spaz about the intellectual problems. It wasn't that Pariah was an idiot- quite the opposite, in fact. He was just as smart as Jazz or Clockwork. The problem was that he'd grown up in an era before the discovery of DNA, much less the advent of assisted reproductive technologies. For him, children came from their mothers' wombs, not blood samples and test tubes.
He was a good listener, though, suppressing the urge to ask every question he thought of and only requesting clarification for the most pressing issues like who the Guys in White were. Danni and I knew that he was still confused, so we tried to give details about modern life and culture that wouldn't overwhelm the story. I'm still not entirely sure he understood everything, though, especially about me basically being a lab rat. That's probably a good thing.
When we were finally finished, he waited for a long, long moment before asking, "Why did you free me? Powerful as you are, you still risked a great deal for one who has only caused you harm." He nodded at me, acknowledging our first meeting. "There are many who would say that, despite the soul merge, I do not deserve a second chance."
"Everyone deserves a second chance," I told him. "Giving you that second chance… no offense, but it had nothing to do with our blood relationship. It wasn't right that you were trapped inside your own body like that." I thought of Dan. Had part of him rebelled against the monstrous whole? I doubted it, but I'd never know for certain. Perhaps if Ammut hadn't eaten him, I would have separated him to figure it out… but it was too late now.
Actually, since Ammut had eaten him, he probably hadn't had anything good left in that twisted black husk he called a heart.
"We would have done it for anyone, even our worst enemy," Danni continued, not meeting his eye. "Danny's right. It was the right thing to do, so we had to do it." She shrugged helplessly. "That you're our father is just an added bonus."
He stared at us, stretching out time almost as effectively as Clockwork could. Then, unexpectedly, he began to laugh. It was a warm, rich laugh: not particularly deep, but filled with delight in pleasant surprises, friendly and comforting. It made me want to laugh too, though I didn't know why.
"Are you attempting to apologize for having the right motivations?" he asked, eye sparkling with mirth. "You should not have helped me merely because of our blood tie. Familial relationships are important, but they must never be allowed to endanger the entire Ghost Zone. You had the right reasons, which is just as important as making the right decision." He smiled, the same Golden Age smile that had once united the entire immense kingdom. "I am proud of you… daughter, son." He hesitated a bit on the last words, still not sure what to make about that but willing to give it a try.
I blinked away tears, tears that startled me as much as his words. It had been a long, long time since someone looked at me with parental pride and said he was proud of me.
To hide my embarrassment (though my red face doubtless gave me away), I asked, "What now?"
Way to ruin the mood, Fenton-Phantom. His face fell. Danni elbowed me.
"I do not know," he admitted. "I need time, both to learn what has occurred in my sleep and to heal from Djall's… influence." His shoulders tightened. "And then I wish to give reparation to those who suffered in the War of Power. Perhaps I am not entirely responsible, but 'twas still my power that caused their hardship. After that, who knows? If the people reject me, I shall abdicate my throne. I have no wish to become a tyrant, not again." His face remained impassive, but he turned, hiding his remaining eye.
I grimaced. Yes, that made sense, but… "But who will rule the Ghost Zone then? Obviously not the Council. They don't deserve it, not after keeping you imprisoned like that. And the Ghost Zone needs someone or some group to unite it. I'm no politician, but even I know that."
"Which of you is my heir?"
Ah, crud, not this again. Dora was bad enough. "We wouldn't be good candidates," I told him honestly. "For one thing, we don't have any experience. For another, we're half-human. For yet another, we're Djall's kids too."
It was the first time I'd admitted that out loud, and boy did it hurt. I liked this man in front of me. I did not like Djall. End of story.
He turned back to me, surprised. "What do you mean?"
It was my turn to look away. "Well, the books I've read say that the blood used in the Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep came from the creepy soul merge thing- not in those words, of course. They say the Observants won it in 'various excursions.'"
He raised an eyebrow. "Is that truly what they say?" he wondered incredulously.
He shook his head, not impressed with modern educational standards. "It was common knowledge during my reign," he explained. "I was planning to make a weapon that was truly good, something that could only be used in the defense of the people."
"Too bad you didn't succeed," lamented Danni.
A wry smile flashed across his face, but he remained silent, not letting us in on the joke. Then his smile widened fractionally and he asked, "Who is to say that I did not succeed?"
"But if you'd already made a weapon-"
"Two of them, child," he corrected.
"-two weapons, why was there so much left over? The Sarcophagus wasn't exactly tiny, and I have no idea how much Corporal C-29 managed to steal."
"Because they were not made until long after the Sarcophagus was closed."
Danni's eyes bugged out. Mine grew to the same size, if not larger. "You mean- us? Me and Danny?" she gasped.
A weapon that was truly good, that could only be used in defense of the people…. It was nicer than "Public Enemy Number 1," and a lot nicer than "Djall's brat."
But bringing up Djall had been tactless. Pariah's face had clouded again. He was hurt, badly hurt, both in body and in spirit. Like he'd said, he needed to heal. But then and there, he wanted to take his mind off of things. Jazz would probably say that suppression wasn't helpful, but I wasn't Jazz. I couldn't see anyone suffering without wanting to alleviate the pain immediately. I lacked the patience to heal minds.
And so I took his mind off things by asking Danni, "What should we do?" My eyes flickered over to our father before meeting her gaze. She inclined her head ever so slightly. She understood. Operation: Distraction Time was a go.
"I don't know." She shrugged. "I think we should tell the people closest to us what happened today."
"Even Frostbite and Pyrrha?"
"Even Frostbite and Pyrrha."
"That sounds painful."
"I'll go with you then. You're such a baby." She glanced at Pariah, who was watching us with just enough interest to banish his melancholy. "We should tell everyone before the wedding, though. If we can't get in touch with Wulf by then, we'll at least have to find him before the year and a day is up."
"And Dora needs an update." My brain had jumped into overdrive, filling me with plans. "And I wonder if Ammut would like playing with Cujo?"
Danni laughed. "That would be adorable. We'll have to ask. I just hope the Frostbite and Pyrrha still let us into their wedding. They're getting married next month," she explained, turning her attention to Pariah, "and the wedding is going to unite their kingdoms, so it's kind of a big deal."
"Pyrrha, King Atesh's daughter, and Frostbite, Queen Mirka's son?" He looked shocked. "When I last saw him, he was naught but a fluffball."
"He still is," Danni assured him.
Mission accomplished: he was so intrigued by this tidbit that all his sorrow was set aside, at least for the moment. I had no illusions that it would stay that way, but it was good enough for now.
"How in this world and the one before did that happen?" he wondered. "In my time, their peoples loathed each other."
"Danni and I locked them in a closet together," I explained. "They came out a few hours later to sign a marriage contract."
And miracle of miracles, he laughed. Apparently, my methods of matchmaking were hilarious enough to override millennia of slavery- for now. "Tell me more."
I knew that this was a rare moment, that most of his next few weeks or months or even years would be filled with pain and hurt and mental demons. I knew that Danni and I would hurt too, that this new relationship would cause us a world of difficulty. I knew that this information could alienate us from our friends, our second family, make them fear or loathe us.
But I also knew that my family was strong, me and Danni and doubtless our father too. I knew that my sister finally had a parent who might not exactly love her now, but who might in the future. I knew that we'd saved an innocent man from a fate worse than death and, in doing so, planted the seeds for a new Golden Age, brighter and better than the one before.
It would be a long, hard, and twisty road… but perhaps we could make this work after all.
Mirka is another word for yeti. Atesh means "fire." Not very original, I know, but they work.
It is complete! Soon (dunno when) it shall have a sequel. I've already started the first chapter. I hope you like the sequel, "Legacy of Lies," as much as I do. In the meantime, thank you for reading, enjoying, and reviewing. I couldn't have done this without you.