"Is everyone okay?!"
"I don't see Zane!"
"All of your parents are going to kill me –"
Lloyd took a few deep breaths to calm his racing heart. The mudslide had come without warning – though Wu had told them it was dangerous, with all the melting snow on the mountaintop, which was why he had insisted on sending Garmadon with them. They were supposed to investigate the strange weather patterns, but they hadn't found anything, and now Lloyd was freezing cold, covered in mud, and he could only see two of his friends in the trees that hadn't been knocked down.
"Luhloyd! Are you alright?!"
Lloyd looked up at his dad, who was hanging from a tree with his upper two arms and holding Lloyd with the lower set. "Yeah," he said, "I'm fine. Do you see – do you see –"
"The Fire and Water Ninjas are over there," Garmadon said. "I don't see Lightning Ninja, but I heard him, so he's probably fine."
Lloyd twisted around and spotted Jay a few trees away. "Cole and Zane –"
"Ice Ninja is a –" Garmadon caught himself before calling Zane a robot. "– not a biological human, so he's probably fine. Y'know, if he's waterproof."
"We gotta look for him!" Kai shouted, and Lloyd looked over just in time to see him jump into the mud with enough force to submerge him. Nya and Jay screamed in unison.
"Okay, kids, don't be stupid!" Garmadon placed Lloyd on a branch and scuttled down the tree. "Kai, get out of there."
Kai clawed his way to the surface with a gasp. "It's freezing!"
"It's melted snow, of course it's freezing! Get out of there before you catch hypothermia and die!"
"What about Cole?!" Jay yelled. "We need to find him and Zane! We need to find them now!"
Lloyd shivered and jumped down to a rock sticking out. It shifted with his weight, settling deeper into the mud – had the mudslide been powerful enough to move boulders? "It might've, um, pushed them down the hill! We need to start looking!"
Fifteen minute went by and they didn't find Cole or Zane. Lloyd and Kai shivered uncontrollably, crouching on a tree trunk together and using a long branch to try and feel any bodies mired in the mud. Garmadon put a hand on Lloyd's shoulder. "Luhloyd, you need to go home."
"No!" Lloyd yelled. "We need to find them!"
"Jay and I'll keep looking," Nya called from her position. "Kai, you two need to get somewhere warm."
"I'm the – the – the Fire Ninja!" Kai grit his teeth. He sounded like he was going to cry. "I can't freeze! I'm fine!"
Garmadon shook his head. "You are absolutely not fine! You might be a ninja, but you're still human."
"Five more minutes," Lloyd said. "Please, Dad."
"I see something!" Jay shouted. They all looked up and in the direction he pointed. Under the mud, something was shifting, and Lloyd felt a spark of hope when a hand reached out and grabbed a branch.
"It's Zane!" Nya jumped from solid spot to solid spot among the debris until she was at the hand. "Zane, I got you, buddy –"
She grabbed his hand and managed to get his head above the mud. Zane was completely caked in it, and as he pulled himself out the rest of the way, Lloyd saw he was dragging something behind him. The muddy shape was unrecognizable at first – Lloyd felt his heart jump into his throat when he realized who it was.
"Oh no," Jay whimpered.
"Alright," Garmadon said. "Nobody panic. We need to get to solid ground now. Ice Ninja, what's your status?"
"I might need to be put in rice," Zane said, his voice distorted.
"We'll handle that back home. Let's go!"
Zane didn't let go of Cole until they reached a part of the forest untouched by the mudslide. Kai melted the snow on the ground and they lay down Cole and gathered around him. Garmadon bent over, hesitated, and put a hand on Cole's neck to check his pulse.
"Dad," said Lloyd.
"Everyone, don't panic –"
"Dad," Lloyd said again, raising his voice. "You told me once, that back when you had an undead army, you knew when people were still alive, or – or when they couldn't be saved."
"But he's fine, right?" Jay said, his voice shaking. "Cole's fine, right?!"
Lloyd swallowed. "Don't lie to us, Dad."
"Yeah," said Garmadon. "Um. I have some bad news."
Lloyd's stomach dropped. He stared down at Cole's body and thought – I change my mind, Dad. You can lie to us, Dad. Please be lying to us right now.
"No," Kai croaked. "No, no, no, no –"
"We have to try!" Jay shouted, and he shoved Garmadon out of the way to lean over Cole's body. "I'm the Lightning Ninja, right?! C'mon, bro, c'mon –"
He pressed his hands to Cole's chest and shocked him. The body twitched, but nothing else happened. Jay did it again, and again, and again – Kai was definitely crying, Lloyd saw, his arms wrapped around himself as he shivered and sobbed. Lloyd didn't know he was crying too until he felt himself sob, covering his mouth as tears fell down his cheeks. He looked up at his dad, desperate for comfort.
Garmadon's expression had changed. He looked at Jay, then back to Cole, his brow furrowed. "Hang on," he said. "Now, don't get your hopes up, but there might be something I can do."
"You just said he was dead!" Nya screamed.
"Well, he is, yeah – but you don't get an undead army without knowing some necromancy!"
"Not helping, Dad!" Lloyd said loudly. "I don't want you turning my friend into a zombie!"
"I'm not going to turn him into a zombie, where'd you – okay, I know where you got that idea, actually. But no. He only just died! I can bring him back to life!"
Jay stopped shocking Cole's body and looked up. "Can you really?"
Garmadon took a deep breath. "Like I said, don't get your hopes up. It might not work."
"Do it!" Kai shouted. "You gotta try!"
Something didn't feel right. Lloyd looked up at his dad, at his nervous expression, his posture held without any of the confidence Lloyd was used to seeing. "Are you sure, Dad?" he said.
"No," said Garmadon. "The chances of this working are very slim. The chances of this working the way you want it to are even slimmer. Are you kids absolutely sure you want me to do this?"
"Yes!" Nya, Kai, and Jay yelled in unison.
"Please," Zane added.
Garmadon looked to Lloyd. Without exchanging words, Lloyd realized that the decision fell to him. If he told his dad no, don't do it…
"Do it," he said. "I can't…" Lloyd sniffed, shivered, and wiped his nose. "I can't lose one of my friends."
"Okay," Garmadon said. "Okay. Kids, stand back. Don't want any of your souls getting caught up in dark magic."
Lloyd thought about Cole's soul – but right now, anything was better than Cole being dead. It wasn't like fates worse than death actually existed, right?
Garmadon stood over Cole's body and clasped all four of his hands together. Softly, he whispered in a language that made Lloyd's hair stand on end – not a human language, because Lloyd was pretty sure most humans couldn't make those noises, hissing voices layered on top of each other. For a long few moments, it was just Garmadon whispering and the ninja afraid to say a word in case something went wrong.
Then Cole's body started to glow.
Lloyd couldn't suppress a gasp. Kai grabbed Nya's hand. Jay and Zane stared with wide eyes. All five of them watched as Cole's body was surrounded in a gentle green light.
Garmadon stopped chanting and said, "Oh boy, that color's not good."
"What?!" Jay yelped.
Cole's body continued glowing. Garmadon frowned. "Yeah," he said, "green's not a good color for souls. I, uh, might've messed something up."
"You messed something up," Lloyd repeated. Nya clapped a hand to her mouth.
"What do we do?" Zane asked. "Will he be all right?"
Garmadon sucked in air through his teeth. "Well, eventually? Yes, 'cause I'm gonna fix this. Now, we're gonna need to take the body, and –"
He reached for Cole's body and a transparent green hand shot out and grabbed his arm.
Garmadon shrieked and yanked his arm away. A figure was pulled out of Cole's body and sent flying through the forest, phasing through a tree as the ninja watched in horror. There was a soft thud, and what was unmistakably Cole's voice yelling, "Ow!"
"Cole?!" Kai cried. He scrambled to his feet and ran down the slope. After a glance at where Cole's body still lay, Nya followed. Zane tried to stand, but his joints creaked, and Jay had to grab him before he fell over. Lloyd stood up to follow Kai and Nya, but Garmadon grabbed his shoulder.
"Careful, Luhloyd," his father said. "I don't know what to expect from… whoever came back."
"Whoever?" Lloyd echoed. "It might not be Cole?"
"I mean, it's probably Cole, but…" Garmadon grimaced. "It's best to exercise caution around cursed ghosts."
Lloyd pulled away from his grip and stumbled down to where Kai and Nya stood.
Cole sat in the snow staring at his hands. His entire body, ninja uniform included, was partially transparent and tinted green. Lloyd stopped a few feet behind Kai and Nya, shivering. He heard Jay and Zane approaching behind him.
"Cole?" Kai said, his voice pitched high in worry. "Cole, buddy, are you okay?"
Cole looked up, his eyes wide. "What happened to me?" he said. "I couldn't breathe, and then…"
Neither Kai or Nya had an answer for him. Lloyd stepped forward, nudging past Kai to crouch down at Cole's side. "Um," he said, "my dad…"
Cole turned to him. "What did he do?" he asked, his voice quiet.
Lloyd took a deep breath. "You – you weren't breathing, and he said… he said he could fix things, and… bring you back."
"So I died?" Cole said. "I'm a ghost?
Behind them, Zane cleared his throat. "I'm sorry," he said. "It took me too long to find you, after the mudslide. I'm sorry, I – I – I –"
He continued repeating "I" as his voicebox glitched. Jay yelped and managed to catch him as he fell over. "He'll be fine!" he said quickly. "Um, I can do the repairs, I think! Or his dad? I don't really know –"
"Alright, everyone, clear a path!" Garmadon shouted. "Let me see him!"
Cole got to his feet as Garmadon approached him. "You did this?" he asked.
"Look, kid," Garmadon said, "I wasn't the one who killed you, that was the mudslide's fault." He crossed both sets of arms. "What I tried to do was get your soul back in your body and heal you up a bit so you wouldn't be dead, but it looks like your body was too damaged for my healing abilities to work, so I ended up bringing back your ghost. Assuming you are Cole. Are you Cole?"
Cole quickly nodded. "Excellent," Garmadon said. "Now, obviously we're going to fix this so you're alive and not a ghost anymore, but for now, here are some things you should know." Garmadon tapped his foot. "Rule number one, don't touch water. Water destroys ghosts, so Nya, be careful with your powers. Rule number two –"
Nya burst into tears and moved to hug Cole. She passed right through him and tripped, landing in a heap on the ground. His sister crying was all it took for Kai's tears to start up again, and Lloyd's chest heaved with his own sobs.
Cole watched them and frowned. "It's okay, everyone," he said. "Really. I mean, yeah, this is messed up, but I'm still here, and that's…" He hesitated. "Better than I was."
Lloyd sniffed and wiped his eyes. "How do we bring him back?" he asked Garmadon. "You said we could."
"Right," said Garmadon. "First, we need to make sure his body stays intact, because he needs to go back in that. Not right now!" he snapped when Cole took a step forward. "It'll take more than just possessing a corpse to bring you back to life. Second… wait, did I tell you all the ghost rules?"
"Dad!" Lloyd shouted.
"Right, right." Garmadon frowned and put a hand on his chin. "There's only one person in all of Ninjago who's successfully brought someone back to life," he said, "so we're gonna pay him a visit. But before we do any of that, we're gonna head back to my brother's place, 'cause Kai and Luhloyd still have hypothermia, and Zane needs repairs. Everyone good with that?"
He looked around at the group. Cole took a deep breath. "Okay," he said. "Yeah. Let's go back to Sensei."
"Great!" Garmadon grinned, showing all his teeth. "Now, who wants to carry the body?"
They made Garmadon do it.