"So, what exactly are we looking for?" I asked, my eyes roaming the nearly infinite, empty expanse of the Ghost Zone.
"Any clue as to who let Pariah out," Dad replied, "and best guess says that our pool of suspects is small."
"Where do we start?"
Dad pulled up to a stop. "I...don't know," he said.
"Can I spitball here?" Phantom asked from the thermos.
"Go ahead," I replied. "We don't know where to start."
"Ask the ghost who knows everything."
I glanced at my Dad, but I couldn't help but think that Phantom was making sense. Too much sense. "I can't believe I'm saying this," Dad said, "but we're listening to the psychopath in the thermos."
Dad turned and flew toward the edge of the Ghost Zone, a region I recognized from before, when I had followed Ember here, rather than my dad.
The castle was still in ruins, which struck me as a little odd for a guy who literally had all the time in the world to rebuild his home. We landed in the foyer, and I glanced down at the thermos in my hands moment. The entire castle seemed as deserted as the rest of the Ghost Zone. "Okay, Phantom," I said. "Where's our ghost?"
"You mean he's not here?" Phantom asked. I twisted the cap off the thermos, and Phantom shot out. He looked around a good three or four times before turning to face us. "Well, where is the sneaky little bastard?"
"Hell if I know," I said.
Dad gave me a look, and I took a step back. "Where do we start now?" Dad asked, folding his arms across his chest. I walked between the two, toward the screen at the front of the room. The screen was blank, and when I tapped it, it appeared solid. That's not gonna work, I thought, turning back toward Dad and Phantom.
"Dad, the last time the ghosts cleared out of the Ghost Zone, did it have anything to do with Pariah Dark?" I asked.
"Everything," he replied.
"Where was his main headquarters?"
"Demi, where are you going with this?"
"The scene of the crime."
A giant castle stood on a stairwell on a rock that could've dwarfed it if it weren't so freakish-looking. The front facade looked like the face of a skull, and it seemed that the drawbridge dominated it. We landed on the rock, a good twenty feet from the drawbridge. I took a few steps forward and gave the Keep a once-over. "Where's this so-called Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep?" I asked.
"Throne room, second floor," Phantom said. "The true question is how you're going to get in there."
"Humans are ghosts in the Ghost Zone."
Dad shifted into human form and said, "Phantom, stay out here and don't cause any trouble. We're going in." Phantom looked around, shrugged, followed us across the rock to the stairwell leading to the castle. Phantom leaned against the stairwell, and Dad and I walked up the stairwell.
I stared up at the skull-face as we approached, and the lead ball forming in my stomach grew heavier and heavier with each step I took. I glanced back down the stairwell at Phantom, and then I looked back up at my destination. Pariah's Keep, Dad had called it when he introduced it to me. If ever there were a more imposing structure, I've never heard of it.
Dad passed through the door effortlessly. I stepped closer toward it and reached out, wondering if this situation would make passing through walls any more difficult than it already was for me. My hand passed through the door easily, and I walked through the door, albeit a little reluctantly.
The room beyond was deserted save the two of us, and I rushed up so that I was closer to my dad. We walked across the room to another door, which I passed through without hesitation. Another stairwell lay beyond. "On three, we're flying up," Dad said. "One, two, three." Dad shot up the stairwell. I jumped, and I found myself drifting up the stairwell behind my dad.
After dodging axes from the ceiling and other medieval weapons from other places, I reached the top landing, only a few seconds behind Dad. "Nice job for a first try," he said.
"Uh, thanks, I think," I replied.
We passed through the door into a room with two walls lined with skeletons and pumpkins. Spikes shot out of the walls, and they closed in on us. "Go," Dad said, and we rushed across the room.
As the walls continued to close in, the room seemed to get longer. It reminded me of the odd nightmare I would get in which I couldn't run fast enough and felt like I had lead feet. The instant I had the chance, I dove through the door, rolling clumsily into the room beyond. "Demi, are you okay?" Dad asked, reaching down to help me up. I nodded and looked around at the room.
"Where exactly are we?"
"If I remember this right, we're in Pariah's throne room. That giant thing in the back is the Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep."
I stared at the sarcophagus, whose lid was wide open. "We're just looking around for clues, right?"
"Yes, just clues."
I walked toward the Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep and studied the floor around it. "Whoever was here must've been scared out of his wits. He left his key."
"Key?" Dad walked over to where I was standing, staring at the large key on the floor next to the sarcophagus. "Now this is getting more and more familiar by the second."
"Was there a key involved last time?"
"It's not the key, because there's always a key. It's the person using it. The last time, Vlad Plasmius was the one to unlock Pariah, and he fled the scene, too."
"Similar M.O., similar suspects."
"Exactly, but last I checked, Vlad was a space nomad."
"Unless he taught himself how to make ghost portals, like you sometimes do."
"So he found his way here for another bid for power."
"Possibly, but how would that work?"
Dad stared at the sarcophagus for a long moment. "He already has the Crown of Fire, and Pariah still has the Ring of Rage. Both of those ghosts are going to try to reunite the two objects, and though I don't know how well Plasmius can handle it, I know Pariah's bad news regardless of whether he has the objects or not."
"Not quite sure I know what those are."
"Basically they're two artifacts from the Ghost Zone that give the wearer unlimited power, but only very powerful ghosts can control them."
Dad picked up the key and studied it. "So what we have so far is someone, likely to gain more power, unlocked the Sarcophagus, was scared out of his wits by Pariah, left the key, and fled to parts unknown."
"Yeah, and for suspects we have Vlad Plasmius and that's about it."
"You two, intruders, halt."
Dad and I turned simultaneously to face the Fright Knight, pointing his sword directly at us. This one, I was sure, was real. He stepped forward, sword still drawn and at the ready. "You, girl with the visions. What are you doing here?"
"Leaving," I said, glancing around him to the door. "That's okay, isn't it, since we're intruders?"
"All intruders will be dealt with by me," a voice from behind the Fright Knight said. The Fright Knight turned and bowed to the enormous figure in the shadows. Dad stepped forward and shifted into ghost form. I backed up against the nearest wall, positioning myelf right next to the Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep. "You say this girl has visions?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"She doesn't look like much."
"She is but a fledgling, my lord."
I swallowed and backed up even further against the wall. Dad stepped between the two ghosts and myself, and I glanced at the window. Okay, I thought, this is it. I shot toward the window, passing through effortlessly, and made my way around to the front.
The rock was covered in skeletons, all closing in on Phantom, who was pressed against the wall and struggling to hold up a ghost shield against the barrage of bones and weapons from all eras. I shifted into ghost form and fired ecto-blasts at the skeletons. I dropped so that I was level with Phantom. "I see you could use an assist," I said.
"How many of these things are there?"
"Okay, Dad's still up there with Pariah and his good buddy the Fright Knight, who, apparently, has been spying on me via statues." I threw up a ghost shield. "That begs the question: who's been putting the statues around the Ghost Zone, and why do we detect them as ghosts?"
"You're gonna have to catch me up on that."
"On my signal, we're going up. We have to get my dad and get out of here. This situation is already bad enough as it is. Now." I pulled the shield upward, and Phantom drifted up the wall, keeping pace.
Half-way up the wall, I heard the window shatter, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my dad tumble end over end into the expanse known as the Ghost Zone. "Change of plans," I said, dropping the shield. "Fly, Phantom, as fast as you can."
"Anywhere you can find asylum." Phantom shot off into the Ghost Zone, and I flew toward my dad. "You okay?" I asked when I caught up with him. He nodded, and I looked over my shoulder at the Keep. "I told Phantom to go wherever he could get refuge, and I think we should, too."
Pariah flew out of the keep, right toward us. "Go," Dad said.
"We're going together," I replied. "That, or we're staying together."
"No, Demi, it's too dangerous."
Pariah fired a blast, and I caught it, sending it back at him. "Life's dangerous. I thought we covered this when Phantom attacked me."
"Demi, this guy's worse."
"You can't protect me forever."
"But I can try."
Pariah closed in, firing another blast. I threw up a shield, and the energy shot out through the Ghost Zone. "Well, Dad, what do we do?"
"If me coming with you is the only way to get you out of here, then we're getting out of here."
I launched myself over my shield and flew in a randomly selected direction, glancing over my shoulder to see my dad following close behind.