The first thought I had when I woke up was: How did I manage to fall asleep in a van full of corpses?
I looked to my left. The sky was gone. A rocky surface pressed up against my window.
The second thought: Underground. I'm underground in a minivan full of corpses.
I looked to my right. Ember sat on the floor between the seats, and shifted his molten eyes towards me.
The third thought: Shit, I'm on a self-assigned mission to infiltrate and spy on Nightwing, and now I'm underground in a minivan full of corpses and Nightwing members. What have I done with my life? What did I do to get to this point?
I jerked myself up from my seat, "Where are we?"
"We're at the initiation spot," said Vahni, her voice quiet.
Thank you Vahni, for finally answering a question directly.
"Headquarters?" I ask.
"In a sense." she answered.
She continued, "The initiation spot is more of a headquarters in spirit, there's no authority figures there. Actual headquarters is a different story."
"A story that you can tell me?"
"Holy mother of- Can't you just wait a few hours?"
"Keep your voice down," Rai's voice came from the far right, a low murmur.
"How did we get here?" I said in a theatrical whisper. Vahni snorted.
"Ember has some tricks up his sleeve. It's why we brought him along." She turned in her seat in front of me and winked at the two of us. Ember blinked both of his eyes back. Rai groaned quietly.
"Are we ready to go now?" Rai opened her door, and the noise echoed in the huge chamber beyond it.
I finally noticed how deafeningly quiet it was. No wind rushing past us, no sound of the highway beneath. Just a heavy, still atmosphere pressing down.
We all crawled through Rai's door. I didn't look at the bodies strapped into the seats, didn't think about how many could've fit into the trunk. I just focused on getting my feet down onto the rocky surface and tried to get used to the rough sensation under my boots.
Vahni led the way, while Ember stayed behind and opened the large sliding door of the van, sending loud rattles through the cavern. I could hear him unbuckling seat belts.
As the rest of us moved forward, the cavern slowly got brighter. Our steps echoed, light rippled across the cave walls, and finally, we approached an entrance.
The walls were no longer rough, but carved into smooth shapes and faces and runes I didn't understand. Torchlight flickered across the stone, and I could feel words trying to take form in my mind, but the knowledge was just out of reach. Now, only a curtain of greenery separated us from our destination.
Vahni swept aside the vines, and I held my breath.
It was an underground lake, bathed in a soft sea-green light of the crystals that surrounded. It's shallows glowed with bioluminescent algae, and beyond that, there seemed to be no limit to its size or its depth. Just darkness on the other end. The other side.
The sound of our boots crunching into white sand sounded like the steps of giants. Vahni and Rai stayed in revered silence for a while, and then they both moved forward to dip their fingers into the water and murmur a few words.
I realized this place was sacred.
Would Supernova trample this place to the ground, even if I told them not to? Would they use the weapons I made to bring down the stone ceiling and bury something held dear by our supposed enemy? Every second, I feel like there is more to the attack than I thought. More to Nightwing than I expected.
The vines rustled behind me and I whipped around. It was Ember, glowing eyes and umber skin contrasting sharply against the green. Floating behind him were a line of bodies. I counted one...five...eight. Eight bodies in a perfect little row. Something rose up in my throat. I couldn't tell if it's bile or just anger.
Vahni stood up and moved towards me. "What's wrong?" My expression must have changed.
"Are you going to start explaining now?" I tried my best to keep my voice level.
"Yes." Her voice was firm as we watched the bodies float towards the lake's shore. We watched them arrange themselves in a neat little line at the shore.
I gave her a little cough to indicate to move on.
"When you join Nightwing, you leave something behind with us. You leave it here, at our Oasis." The bodies settled into the sand, slipped down until the water just barely covered their faces. "I suppose it's both a good thing and a bad thing. You lose something, but you get a second chance at life if you need it."
"What? This isn't explaining anything." She's kneeling slightly to be at eye level with me, and the patronizing act was fueling my anger. I clenched my fists. "Stop being vague and tell me."
I was losing my tact, losing my temper. I felt like an interrogator now, and Vahni finally turned to face me. She narrowed her eyes and got right up to my face. For the first time since I've met her, I felt fear.
"We leave a piece of our soul here, so that we will never truly die."
I choked on nothing and jerked my head back so fast I became dizzy. Vahni's face blurred, the lake blurred. Memories started to resurface but I instinctively pushed them down.
I bent over and sucked a breath of air back into my lungs. Vahni patted me on the back. "Most people don't get the information this fast," she said, "It's difficult to take in. Sorry I tried to scare you."
She didn't sound too sorry, and I watched two drops of saltwater drip off my cheeks. This was more than I bargained for, I thought as I tried to find the two darkened spots on the sand. I imagine the little pieces of souls, dots of bioluminescent algae in the water. After generations of Nightwing members...
Rai's quiet voice echoed towards us. "Ember's starting."
Waves lapped over the faces of the corpses, coating their faces in ghostly light, leaving bits of glowing algae in their hair. Ember knelt over the neat row of bodies with cupped hands full of water and sand. There was silence as he concentrated.
"This is wrong," The words lept to my throat. This isn't how things are supposed to be.
"Lara," Rai warned, "Don't interrupt." This was dark magic. You can't bring people back. You don't tamper with the other side.
"Stop it, stop doing that." The words kept pouring out of my mouth, "This is wrong. This isn't-" What am I doing? I walked towards Ember, watching him silently pour water and sand over someone's face.
"Stop!" Somehow, my voice felt more muted when I yelled. I reached out to move his arm away from that still face. I remembered a white hand stained with old blood rising from the earth. I remembered the white unseeing eyes of someone who was meant to be dead. White face and peeling white skin stained and streaked with dark brown blood that was not theirs. The dead are not meant to be tampered with.
Rai's cold fingers closed over my wrist and I heard someone scream.
"Lara!" Rai spun me around and grabbed my shoulders, "It's not necromancy."
My face was wet. Water lapped up my boots. I could feel the coldness through the leather.
"They're not even dead," Rai shakes me, "They can't die, they're tethered here. Vahni told you about their souls..."
I focused on the coldness to ground myself. Someone was speaking from far away. I can't find the bottom of the lake, but I tried to.
If they aren't dead, what are they?
"In limbo," Rai responded, "With their bodies healed and a piece of them in the Oasis, they can come back."
Oh, I said that out loud, didn't I? That was my voice.
"Yes, you did. Get a grip, Lara," Rai's shaking me again, and she's slightly more in focus now, "We are saving people. We're giving people a second chance to LIVE. What the hell does Supernova do?"
The lake was falling away again.
There had been a boy. I had forgotten his name, but the memory from years ago was still seared into my mind. It had only been one small step, but I watched him die because of one tiny, stupid mistake. My first taste of death in Supernova. The guild didn't feel as safe after you've watched the teeth of a metal trap close around your teammate.
A second chance.
Beside me, in the glowing water, a pair of bright green eyes opened.