Her eyes were not the sea green of the lake. These eyes were electric. Acid green. Brighter than any toxin I've created.
She rose out of the water as if she'd done this a million times. As if she's already died and awoken in a strange lake under the earth and it was the most normal thing in the world.
Rai nodded and said, "Priestess Addis," respectfully. I stared. Ember bowed his head and moved on.
She sat there in the shallow water, a lazy smile on her face. It took her a moment before she looked up at us, and of course, she immediately noticed my wet face.
"Why are you crying? Aren't you glad I'm alive?" She was smirking now, and the freckles on her cheeks move with her lopsided lips, still stained with some green lipstick.
I hated her immediately.
The sand crunched behind us. Vahni put a heavy hand on my shoulder. "I don't know what just happened there, but don't interfere with what Ember's doing."
Rai's quiet voice came from beside me, "If you could excuse us, Priestess, we need to get a new recruit ready for initiation."
Instead of answering, Addis threw a contemptuous look at Ember, starting his ritual again with a new Nightwing, "I suppose he won't allow me to help with the reviving."
"No, Priestess, I'm afraid it's best to let the healers do their work," Rai continued patiently.
"Ha!" Addis rolled her eyes, "Healer? Is that what you're categorizing him as now?"
I simmered in anger silently. It's amazing how much hate one human being can contain. Mostly irrational hate, yes, but this woman has not given me a single reason to like her yet.
"And I assume he would be presiding over the initiations as well? You do know he's only highly ranked in name?" The smile had disappeared, and now Addis wore a look of displeasure as she squeezed water out of her damp mass of curls.
Rai ground her teeth, "We know."
"Allow me to perform the ceremony. At least I could speak the words."
Rai's gaze had shifted from Addis to the space above her head. "You don't need to speak them."
"I insist." There was that smile again. That poisonous smile.
Vahni's voice suddenly punctured the conversation, her smile just as friendly,"Please, Priestess, this ceremony means a lot to me. I hope you understand."
"Yes, of course," Addis nodded in exaggerated show of understanding, "And what about that new girl?"
"Rai's sponsoring her. I'm sure they'd want me to say the words." Vahni folded her arms and stared down at Addis, still sitting in the shallow water. Addis turned to me and reached up a dripping hand.
"Nielle Addis. And you, new girl?"
"Lara." I gripped her hand and pulled her out of the water. She was surprisingly light, and a significant couple of inches shorter than me.
"Welcome to Nightwing."
Rai's ceremony was a private one. Once the revived Nightwing members had gotten up, they were all instructed to pile back into the minivan as I waited for Rai, Vahni, and Ember behind the curtain of vines.
Behind me, there were the fading echoes of cheery conversation. Ahead of me, only a few words reached me. Though the entire proceeding felt like ages, it couldn't have been more than just a few minutes.
Ember came out first, looking exhausted. I caught a glimpse of Rai still kneeling in the water, before Vahni came into view.
"I think I owe you some more explanations," she said.
"Lovely, that's exactly what I needed to hear." I wondered if I could even remember all the information I've gathered in the past 48 hours. It was a lot to take in, and a lot to explain to Supernova.
"Here's the thing." Vahni leaned against the carved cave wall, "There's a reason it's called sponsoring."
"Am I getting paid?" I tried to lift my face into a smile, but it wasn't working.
"Nightwing isn't very open to strange newcomers. Some are sought out for a reason, others are sponsored by members. We're letting you in because Rai trusts you, and there is a price for that, for both of you."
"Wait," I suddenly felt a wave of panic, "I'm not going to have to leave a piece of my soul in the Oasis, am I?"
"Not until you become a fully-fledged member," Vahni let out a little laugh.
"Yes, she just did that. What you do now is you make a pact with Rai, which means a pact with Nightwing."
"A binding oath?"
"Yes," Her face suddenly grew dark, and she leaned in.
Her eyes were fiery and menacing, "If you're trying double-cross us, if you're trying to sabotage us, or spy on us and then run away, Rai is going to pay for that. And I'll make sure you do too."
I decided that I was going to be much more wary of Vahni from now on. She turned and went back to the Oasis, and I followed her.
My ceremony was a simple one. Rai and I knelt in the water, eyes closed, our hands gripping each other's wrists. Vahni stood over us, cupped palms full of water and sand.
Rai repeated the words Vahni spoke. I repeated the words Vahni spoke. They were old words, old like the carved runes on the cave walls outside. But I knew what I was saying. I was swearing a sacred oath to Nightwing in this sacred place, if I failed, Rai would pay the price for trusting me. We were both swearing our loyalty.
Vahni said the last words, a chant that sounded very final. Water and silky sand poured down my face, a soft but cold cascade. I was digging myself deeper and deeper into this mess.
And then, as one, we all rose up from the water, like thousands who've taken the oath before us. I opened my eyes.
Welcome to Nightwing, I suppose.