Adora wondered how she could have ever thought the Fright Zone was "home". It was all so dark, cold, unwelcoming. Of course spending three days in a cell wasn't the best representation of her past life there, but there had been a time when she believed the Horde was treating their prisoners with respect. What a fool she had been… She sighed. She would have to resign herself to that kind of life from now on. The Horde was close to winning. After one year of war against the awakened She-Ra, Princess of Power, Lord Hordak had finally managed to capture her, taking away the only hope of the Princess Alliance.
Things had changed in a year. The Horde's weapons had gotten more powerful with time, thanks to Entrapta, as the Alliance had learned recently. The Black Garnet was so powerful it drained the Princesses' powers everyday. Their last true defense was the power of She-Ra, AKA Adora, uniting the group and giving them strength.
Oh, how jubilated Commander Catra had been the day she captured her enemy, her former best friend… Adora groaned as she leaned on her injured shoulder. Catra had never been one to go easy on her attacks. And ever since that day in the ruins, that fateful day where she decided to let go of Adora forever, she attacked her with all her strength every time they crossed blades. And each time it felt more and more difficult for Adora to retaliate.
She sighed again as she remembered their last encounter, the day before.
"Hey Adora." The teasing voice echoed on the walls of her cell. Adora's first reflex would have been to look at the feline commander, but she wouldn't give her that pleasure. She spun her body on the cell bench to face the wall.
"Aw… You still don't wanna talk, I see. Never mind, I just wanted to tell you the news. We're going to attack Bright Moon very soon…" Her tone was poisoned by hatred and malice. What had she become? Adora didn't recognize her Catra anymore. "I would love you to witness our victory, so I asked Lord Hordak to activate the wall screens of your cell. How great is that?"
Adora didn't answer. Ever since she'd been locked up, she had given Catra nothing but the silent treatment. She knew it annoyed her deep down, even if Catra wasn't one to show her weakness. At least not anymore. "Oh well, I would have expected a thank you at least, that'll be your last chance to actually see your friends. Not that they'll be able to see you though. But it's better than nothing, right?"
Catra snickered then left the jail, as she saw that she wouldn't get any new answer from her prisoner. Adora's tears fell when the door closed. Tears for her friends that she eventually couldn't protect, tears for Etheria, her failure to save it, tears for Catra…
"It's not like you to give up."
Adora didn't react right away.
"Are you really going to let that stupid child do whatever she pleases?"
"I don't wanna talk to you, Shadow Weaver."
"If you hadn't left the Horde, none of this would have happened."
Adora pursed her lips. Never answer. This was just her mind tricks.
"I should have gotten rid of that brat when she was still a kitten."
"Stop it." Adora snarled.
"How can you still have feelings for her, after everything she's done?"
"I don't have feelings for her."
"Don't pretend, child. I can hear you when you sleep."
"Once again, shut up Shadow Weaver!" Adora said as she rose from the bench. She looked through the bars of her cell, glaring at the masked face on the other side. "Catra made bad decisions because of me. She still wants to prove she's better than me, and hurt me for what I did."
"Oh, I think you overestimate her interest in you. She clearly stated that she wanted power for herself and crushing the rebellion is her way to reach it. She's unredeemable now."
"No. I can still feel anger coming from her. She's not over this yet." Adora squinted her eyes, "I don't understand why you still hate her though. She did everything you wanted for me. She rose further in the Horde ranks than any of your other wards…"
"I don't hate her." Adora raised her brows so hard she thought she would tear them from her forehead. "She did everything I planned."
"Excuse me?" It was hard to interpret Shadow Weaver's mind when she kept her mask on her face all the time. Her voice was also strangely calm. Adora had never seen her like this before.
"Dear Adora… Why do you think I kept pushing her against you all the time?"
"I- I don't get it."
"You are She-Ra. I've known it, all along, ever since I found you in the Whispering Woods. Your crib was abandoned right next to the sword… It was only a matter of time before the sword found you again. I couldn't let you become the Horde's greatest threat like that."
"What do you mean?" Adora said, her voice trembling.
"I did my best to make you want to become a Force Captain, the perfect Horde soldier. But the sword would find you on the battlefield eventually… I needed to give the Horde its best chance to defeat you if it happened… Catra."
"...you're lying. This is a mind trick again. I don't want to listen to you anymore."
"Every time I punished her when I favored you… Every time I called her a nuisance or told her I'd kill her if she pulled you down, I created a little more of the Catra you now know."
"She had the perfect mindset for this. She doesn't care about justice like you do. She only takes care of herself and her loved ones."
"All she needed to unleash her true potential...was a little betrayal from her most loved one."
Adora smashed her hands against her ears. It was nothing but a mind trick… Shadow Weaver won nothing from this situation, she couldn't have molded Catra intentionally... However if it was real, it meant that it had all been her fault since the beginning, so then maybe… Just maybe, Catra would reconsider her position, right? This idea was seducing…
"Spit your venom somewhere else, Shadow Weaver." A hiss accompanied the voice of the newcomer who slammed the door open. "The guard tells me prisoners are screaming, and here I find you, torturing your special princess."
"Do not speak to me like that, Catra, or-"
"Or what? You're never getting out of this cell Shadow Weaver. Not as long as I command for Lord Hordak." A smirk tucked her lips in delight.
"Catra," Adora said, clenching the bars of her cell, "Shadow Weaver made you who you are, but you don't have to follow the path she influenced you to take. You'd only be doing her a favor."
Catra pounced, landing an inch away from her. Only the metal bars separated them, and Adora could feel her warmth. She missed her hugs so much. "Who do you think I am, a puppet?" she hissed. "I don't know what kind of crap she told you, but I'm making my own decisions, no influence whatsoever. And I take the responsibility for my own actions, Adora... unlike you."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"You heard me. Don't try to put the blame all on Shadow Weaver. She took her part in that mess for sure, but you leaving? That's on you, Adora."
"I'm sorry you're still mad about that."
"You really understand nothing… I thank you every day for leaving." Catra smirked. "I'm truly free without you around. You and Shadow Weaver… You were the ones holding me down."
"So that's your ideal, your goal in life... Destruction." Adora whispered, trying not to sound angry. "And then what? Once the rebellion is dead, once you've captured all the free people, once you've ruined the planet and taken over everything?"
"Lord Hordak has plans for the future of Etheria."
"You're just a pawn."
"Shut up!" Catra tried to scratch her, but Adora dodged the claws in time.
"It's true though. You have no true ideals. You just want to assert your dominance as much as you can."
"Well at least, I'm doing it right." Catra glared. "I just can't wait to see the look on all your Princesses' faces when we win, and when they realize you won't come to save them. Talk about a hero..."
Adora lost her spirit there. Catra was unfortunately right. She had failed.
"Aw, don't cry, Princess, save the tears for later when your little best friends join you in your cell."
Catra started to laugh again, when the screen on the wall lit up, revealing Hordak's skeleton face. "Lord Hordak!" Catra kneeled.
"Commander Catra. You need to join me and Chief Force Captain Octavia for the preparations of the final battle. Don't waste any more time with the prisoner. She's of no use to us any longer."
"No. We're getting rid of her today."
Catra and Adora both froze on the spot. "But my Lord, she's a precious hostage, the rebellion-"
"The rebellion has hope as long as She-Ra is alive. They still have the sword, they think they can get out of this. We need to crush that last wall."
"But- I- My whole plan was based on her being a hostage." Catra hid her hands behind her back. Adora could see them shake from where she was.
"Really? ...in that case, come up right away. I can't wait to hear about that plan."
"Of course, my Lord." Catra bowed, breathing out in relief as the screen switched off.
Catra glanced behind her back. Adora's face didn't carry any hope or pain like usual when she was looking at her. Gratefulness. It had been a while since Catra had seen that one. It irritated her. Adora had no reason to be grateful to her.
"I didn't do it for you, once again. I only do things for my sake. Now excuse me, ladies, I'm awaited at the big chief's headquarters."
As she was walking away, she heard Shadow Weaver cackle ominously. "Are you going insane, old lady?"
"You're so naive, it's incredible."
"You act so tough and almighty now, but you have zero experience working for Lord Hordak." Catra lost her composure for a second, then brushed it off.
"I'm not in the mood to listen to your mind tricks today."
"Do you really think that Lord Hordak's interested in your plan right now?"
Catra punched the wall. "Enough, you know what?" she snatched the key from the guard's belt, unlocked Shadow Weaver's cell, and dragged the feeble woman out. "You're going in the pit."
"Like it'll change anything."
"Stop talking." Catra closed the jail's door behind her, and led her old motherly figure through the corridors of the building, until she reached a special door, the door to the darkest cell in the Fright Zone, meant to deprive the prisoners of all light and hope until they've learned their lesson. "You're gonna regret opening your mouth today. Have fun, I'll get you out tomorrow if I don't forget about you."
"If it makes you feel good." Shadow Weaver walked on her own towards the dark cell. "You were right you know. We are more alike than I thought."
"Yeah right. Get your pathetic ass in."
"We were both left out by our most precious girl. And today we'll both lose her for good."
Catra slammed the door with a scream of rage. She ran back to Adora's cell department, locked the door herself, then put the key in her pocket. That wasn't enough though. She stared at one of the wall screens. "Call Scorpia."
"Hi Commander! You forgot to come celebrate Entrapta's success at empowering the black garnet. That's a shame, I made a great cake and-"
"Yeah sorry, listen Scorpia, I need you to come down to the prison department and guard She-Ra's cell, okay? Don't let anyone come in until I say so."
"Oh, sure, okay boss!"
"Perfect. Now you, guard, go do your business somewhere else, you're not assigned here anymore." The guard left, puzzled. That would be enough. Catra breathed in and out. She was in control. Nobody would stand in her way. Now all she needed was to find a plan for Hordak.
Catra busted into the reunion room. She loved making an entrance more and more nowadays. Chief Octavia rolled her only eye but didn't make any comment. Catra had clearly become Lord Hordak's new favorite strategist in barely a year, to Octavia's great distress. How this child had managed to usurp her role as second in command in half the time she had done was a mystery. But she needed to be careful if she wanted to keep her current position.
"Commander Catra, be seated. We were discussing my troops' organization for tomorrow."
"Of course Lord Hordak, but please let me first tell you about my idea regarding the hostage-"
"We already have a plan, Commander."
"It's not changing anything major, She-Ra would be used only as bait to distract her Princesses friends or make them surrender…"
"We don't need to distract them, Entrapta's experiment is already a success. We are going to beat them in a mere day, and sending them She-Ra's head on a plate before the battle tomorrow will be enough to crush their spirit."
"Lord Hordak, with all due respect, it'll only fuel their anger…"
"That's enough. I'm starting to think that you take a great interest in She-Ra's life, Commander."
Catra held Hordak's empty stare. How was she going to get out of this? She was beginning to panic inside. Octavia was smirking next to Hordak, of course she would enjoy seeing her in trouble.
"Chief Octavia?" Two guards appeared on a screen behind them. "Your orders have been executed. She-Ra is dead."
Catra's heart stopped.
"Perfect. Send the head to Bright Moon, with my compliments."
"Um…we can't, we already incinerated the body in the purging chambers...as we always do…"
"What?! I never ordered you to do that. Octavia, explain yourself."
Catra didn't wait to hear her colleague's explanation. She ran out of the room, jumped from stair to stair. It couldn't be. It was a mistake, a frame up. Adora was still in her cell, protected by Scorpia. When she reached the jail department, she saw Scorpia, lying unconscious on the floor. Her body was still jerking with spams from the Horde's tazers.
"Scorpia! Wake up!" Catra shook her, but the Force Captain could barely groan in her slumber. Catra pushed the door open. The lock had been forced. "No…"
Adora's cell was empty. No trace of her was left behind. "No!" Catra ran again, this time in the direction of the purging chambers, the same ones where she once helped Adora and her friends escape, and where they left Entrapta for dead in the Fright Zone. She must have survived, she had to have… She was She-Ra damn it!
"Call Entrapta!" she yelled at a screen when she got in front of the metal doors.
"Catra! Right when I was going to send you a note! I made an interesting discovery about-"
"No time! Can you unlock all of the purging chambers now?"
"At the same time? No problem, but why?"
"Just do it!"
A second later, a long corridor leading to the dusty land stood ahead of her. Empty.
"No…" Catra whimpered. "Entrapta you survived in these last year, right?"
"Barely. Emily opened up and put me inside of her. She saved me."
"NO!" Catra ran as fast as she could, checking every corner of every chamber, until her feet landed on the ground outside. "ADORA!"
She dropped on her knees. Her vision was blurred by the tears. When had she started crying? She couldn't recall. Somebody screamed her nemesis' name again. Maybe it was her own voice, she didn't know anymore.
"Commander…" Two big pincers wrapped around her shaking body. Catra cried even harder, but didn't push them away. "Lord Hordak is calling for you. For the battle, you know?"
"Yeah. I can tell him you're sick if you want."
"No… No need, Scorpia. I'm fine."
Catra wiped her eyes. She had to look composed, Hordak couldn't see her look so weak… But what was the point?
"I just- I need a minute..."
"What was that horrible sound?!"
"Adora get back underneath the blanket, we're not out of the Horde's vision yet! If they spot us…"
"What does it change Glimmer? Even disguised we still look suspicious leaving the Horde just before the battle."
"It's not a reason, Bow. We can't risk them seeing her no matter what. Nobody can know she's alive."
Adora sighed as she looked one last time towards the Fright Zone. It was already far, but she was almost sure she could see a red dot in front of the Fright Zone's buildings. A red dot that was screaming like it was just hurt to death.