The robot's insides exploded as it was crushed by the weapon. It had been defeated, but its attacker kept on hitting, trying to turn every piece of metal into dust. The training room was filled with destroyed war machines, lying pathetically around their only opponent.
After landing her final blow, Catra threw her stick to the floor. She paused a few seconds to catch her breath, then headed towards the gym. Since there were no more robots to train with, she would lash out at the heavy bags. She still had so much energy built up, she thought her body would blow up like the bots.
As she pushed the door open, she realized that she had bruises on her arm. She hadn't even noticed how hard she'd strained her body. It didn't matter. She focused on the physical pain, clenching her arm until she could see blood.
"You shouldn't do that, you know."
Catra jolted and turned around, ready to attack her opponent. She relaxed just a little bit when she recognized Lonnie.
"What are you doing up so late? We're leaving in three hours."
"I could ask you the same, Commander."
A soothing feeling ran through her muscles as she heard the honorific. Not once had her ex-co-cadet used it ironically since Catra had been promoted. She appreciated that. She couldn't have imagined that what she would enjoy the most about her rise was the calm respect of one of her old rivals.
"I need to be ready for tomorrow, that's all," said Catra as she put her focus on the heavy bag in front of her, punching it like it was her mortal enemy.
"I think the mess you left in the training room is proof enough that you're ready."
"Well I'm the Second-in-Command, I'll be the judge of that."
"Right." Lonnie sat down on the bench next to the heavy bag, allowing her to get a better view of her superior. "What do you picture when you punch the bag?"
"What?" Catra stopped, raising her brows in surprise.
"We all have a mental image when we train. What's yours?"
Catra gulped. She didn't really have one tonight. Usually she was picturing the princesses, or...Adora. More precisely, defeating Adora. She had always had a long term goal, something to feed on. Tonight, a thick fog seemed to be clouding her mind. Physical exhaustion didn't clear things, even if she didn't feel it. She pictured nothing on the heavy bag. If she focused hard, she could perceive what was ahead of her. The battle. Octavia. Then nothing.
"You know Commander, taking a break, especially when something big has happened, is the best way to get back on the horse."
"Yeah right, I'll ask Hordak to give me the day off tomorrow, I'm sure he'll be delighted."
Lonnie ignored her reply. "It starts with sitting on a chair and talking."
"I have nothing to say."
"If you kept repeating that to Adora for all these years, it's no wonder she eventually took it seriously."
"You need to go back to sleep if you don't want to lose an eye, cadet." Catra hissed, but Lonnie didn't bother protecting herself. She knew the feline. She was triggered but wouldn't attack her.
"I hated her, too, you know, when she left. We all hated her, except for Kyle maybe, because there's nobody he could hate. But now that she's dead…"
"Shut up!" Catra's claws ripped the heavy bag's leather. She was shaking. Her tired mind wandered in her memories. She was back in the prison, the last time she saw Adora. She wanted to stop herself from saying such terrible things to her. She wanted to open the cage and hug her. She wanted to nuzzle in her neck, smell her scent, kiss the skin behind her ear.
"Commander…Commander. Catra!" she snapped out of her trance. "You need to mourn, Catra."
She didn't answer. No more fights, no more teasing, no more talking. She couldn't do any of that anymore. Adora was gone. "I didn't want that..." Lonnie grabbed her hand, pulling her on the bench. Catra let her. She didn't want to look so vulnerable. She had tried so hard all day long to keep the gates closed. It only took Lonnie a few minutes to break through them.
"Why did I capture her?" Catra bit her lip at the sound of that hoarse voice she had when she was emotional. She hated it. Lonnie threw an arm around her shoulder. "Why…"
"She was our enemy."
"Was she?" Catra's fists were so tightened her claws were hurting her palms. "I don't even know anymore!"
"It's normal. She wasn't just some enemy. She used to be our friend. Your best friend."
"And I killed her."
"No, you didn't. Hordak did."
"No, no, I brought her in, I wanted her to see my victory, I wanted her to fail to protect her friends… And in the end it was me… I failed."
Catra's eyes stared at nothing in the air. She blinked as she realized that her reflection was staring back at her in a mirror. What a great image, Hordak's second-in-command, the terror of Etheria, looking like a zombie with dark circles under her puffy eyes. One year ago, the same Catra was laughing with her best friend after a good training day. A less respected Catra, to be sure. Bullied, hated by Shadow Weaver, petty about being second best after her most important person. But somehow happy.
What would she become now? What next? She was on top, or almost on top. She had everything she wanted, except for that one thing she would never have again. She thought that she had lost Adora when she left her to become She-Ra. It was only now that she realized Adora had still been a very big part of her life, even far away in Bright Moon, even on a different side of the war. She had been there, in her mind, in her plans, in her dreams. They were always linked.
How humiliating to think that despite cutting her best friend out of her life, their bond had only changed in shape but not in intensity. How unnerving to think that she hadn't been able to do things for herself, to take her own path as Catra, and not as Adora's former best friend, or Adora's arch enemy.
And how devastating to only acknowledge that now that she was dead.
"Now you need to sleep." Catra had forgotten Lonnie's presence. "You need to rest, then lead the battle, then mourn. Step by step. And not alone."
Catra nodded as she wiped her eyes. "First I need to go see someone." She walked towards the exit but stopped for a second. "Thank you, Lonnie."
"No problem. You're a far better Shadow Weaver, you know."
Catra cringed. Lonnie didn't mean it that way, but it was not a compliment to her ears at all.
"Move your ass, Shadow Weaver."
"You were quick to get me out of the pit."
"Oh but I can let you rot in there, if you insist." Catra's words were sharper than usual. She had some spite to let out. She dragged her old commander back to her usual cell.
"No thank you. So what now Catra? Have you come to blame Adora's death on me?"
Catra only glared at her through the bars. After everything she'd achieved, Shadow Weaver was still mocking her. Despising her. She didn't even fear her.
"I have warned you."
"I know, and guess what, your warning didn't make any difference at all," Catra spat. "How the hell did you know Hordak wouldn't listen to me?"
"I've been working for him since you were a little kitten. What do you think? I was his Second, then Octavia took some of my work, then he replaced us both with you. Lord Hordak doesn't like his right hands to become too powerful. He wanted to put you back in your place."
"So he killed Adora just for that?!"
"If he saw her as a nuisance, yes. He had plans for her since she was a baby. She disappointed him."
Catra raised a brow. This was the first time Shadow Weaver had ever mentioned Adora's childhood that way. "Why did Hordak have plans for a baby? For that baby?"
Shadow Weaver didn't answer. Catra groaned.
"You're hiding things from me."
"I thought you didn't care for my mind tricks."
"Oh this isn't one of them. Your silence says more truth than you realize."
"Then good luck deciphering it."
"Come on, you owe me that!"
"I...owe you...NOTHING." Shadow Weaver pounced so fast that Catra jolted back, even though the bars separated them. "You killed Adora. Deal with it by yourself."
"...why did you love her so much?"
"You really did, in your sick twisted way. And you hated me as hard as you loved her. That's something I can never understand…"
"It doesn't matter anymore."
Catra crouched on the floor, wrapping her tail around herself. She felt a weird feeling of proximity with her old mother figure, despite the hatred they both held for each other.
"Did you know that she would become She-Ra when she was a baby?"
"Will you stop bothering me? If Lord Hordak learns I told you…"
"So you're really hiding something. What was so important about Adora that Hordak wanted her in his ranks? He couldn't know she'd be She-Ra, or he would have killed her…"
"Stop talking when he can hear us because of your stupid cameras!" Shadow weaver rose and gripped the bars of her cell.
"I monitor the cameras, and he will see what I want."
"You foolish child, you never learn, do you?! This is why I hate you."
"Oh really?" Catra stood up to her, glaring at her mask. "Is that all? You're sure you don't also hate me because I took your spot? Humiliated you? Broke your powers? Ruined your future? ...killed Adora?" Catra's eyes burnt with rage as she said those words. Oh, how she wanted Shadow Weaver to suffer. If she could make her feel half the pain she was bearing right now, she'd considered herself blessed.
"Since you really want to know…" the sorceress grasped Catra's top, pulling her face to her level. "I hate you the most because of your race…"
"My race?" Catra didn't expect that.
"All my miseries started because of that filthy queen who convinced Mystacor to ban me…"
A black aura erupted from her hands, running up Catra's skin. She shivered. Her power was not completely dead. She tried to escape, but Shadow Weaver's hold was too strong.
"The Queen of the Magicats… You look so much like her… I only wish I could have killed her myself."
She locked her hand around Catra's neck, who widened her eyes. Her old childhood nightmares came back in an instant as she felt this pure hatred coming from the woman. Shadow Weaver wanted to hurt her, like she had done so many times before. Catra was frozen with terror, hypnotized by the darkness. She was choking. The shadows were slowly blurring her mind.
She had to move, she had to do something. She couldn't let her keep the control. She planted her claw in Shadow Weaver's arm. The spell broke in a second.
"You're crazier than I thought," Catra panted, rubbing her neck.
"You wanted to know the truth. There it is."
"You told me nothing useful."
"You don't know anything about yourself, Catra. You were so lost in your childish self-pity and ego that you didn't look at the big picture. You got blinded by the recognition your master granted you. And now because of you, and you only, you lost the only person who ever cared about you. How could you believe you'd be more than a tool to Lord Hordak?"
"I shouldn't have come to you."
"That's right. You don't need me to see how pathetic you are."
Catra hurried away from her, away from the prison. She was exhausted, and terrified of Shadow Weaver even if she tried to hide it. Old pains from bruises the cruel woman had given her when she was a kid came back to taunt her body. When she arrived in her private room, she collapsed, leaning on the toilet seat, and threw up.
The night was peaceful at Brightmoon. Only in appearances though. A palpable tension lingered on the walls, as dawn was approaching. The soldiers on night duty were more awake than usual, paying attention to any movement coming from the Whispering Woods.
The enchanted forest had become a no man's land with two trenches on each side. One for the Horde, one for the Rebellion. The Princesses hadn't been able to fix the woods, that was why it had quickly become a battlefield. Recently the Horde had managed to push Brightmoon's trench back towards the castle. It would be a piece of cake for them to break through it in the morning.
In Glimmer's "secret weapon stash" room, Bow and Adora were training under the bored gaze of Swift Wind, the talking unicorn.
"You're slacking off, Adora," Swift Wind said as he yawned.
"Easy for you to say, you weren't tazed into unconsciousness today."
"I'm sorry again Adora…" Bow lowered his shield. Adora took advantage of that to land another attack. "Hey, seriously, I said I'm sorry!"
"Who's slacking off now, Swift Wind?"
Bow asked for a truce when Adora tackled him down to the floor, taking a well deserved break.
"I can't feel tired, it's weird."
"Me neither. Too much stress."
"Look, Swift Wind is snoring."
"Adora? How do you feel by the way?"
She knew what he was talking about, but didn't want to bring that topic up. "I'm fine. Anxious about the strategy, because I still think Glimmer was a bit too optimistic about us winning…"
"Are you kidding? Your power is huge, and we're all together now. We definitely have a shot."
Bow kept his last discussion with Glimmer to himself. They couldn't let more people know that Hordak might already be aware of their secret weapon. There was also no need to make their secret weapon more insecure than she already was.
"Yeah I'm with Bow on that. It's gonna be just fine! But you dodged the question," said Swift Wind as he peeked an eye open.
"I don't want to think about it guys. Tomorrow we end this war. Then we'll think."
"Alright." They stayed silent for a few minutes, rocked by the sounds of the birds chirping.
"You know that whatever you decide to do, Glimmer and I will support you Adora."
"And me as well, as long as you help me free all the horses."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Adora huffed.
"Right…" Bow smirked. He wanted to tease Adora more, but it might not be a good idea to talk about Catra's ambivalence before the big battle. They would have all the time in the world when it was all over.
"You're very optimistic Bow, I always appreciated that in you. Always positive…" Adora sighed.
"We need positivity! We need to see the bright side of things and hope for the best!"
"Things are not always that simple. If they were, Catra would be by my side right now."
"Yeah, I wish she had followed you from the beginning."
"I don't." Her friends looked at her in surprise. "I can't say I like how it all ended, but...clearly she would have still been miserable if she had followed me. Probably less than now, sure, but she needs something she has to find by herself."
"She looks like the kind of person who needs a big burn out to figure things out." Swift Wind nodded.
"Alright but...I would have preferred if she hadn't frozen the Whispering Woods for that…" Bow laughed. Thank the First Ones Glimmer wasn't here, she would have been outraged to see them talk so lightly about that subject.
"She is so powerful…" Admiration rang in Adora's words. She seemed lost in her thoughts. "She doesn't even realize how strong she is and always was. I mean, she's not strong the way she thinks. I realized it only recently. She has this passion in her, this energy that can move mountains. And because of everything that happened, she turned it into rage. That's also where she's so vulnerable."
"Do you want us to leave you alone with your mental projection of Catra?"
Swift Wind cackled, and added "no but seriously, she kidnapped you, and nearly got you killed."
"She tried to protect her until the end. Kyle and I had to fight Scorpia to reach Adora, that wasn't child's play..." grunted Bow. He saw from the corner of his eye that Adora was smiling.
"Did you hear from Kyle by the way?" she asked.
"No." Bow answered sadly. He felt guilty for leaving their ally at the Fright Zone, but Kyle had insisted that it was better for them to have a spy in the base. What he truly meant though, was that he wasn't ready to leave his whole life behind quite yet. "I hope he's okay. I'm scared he got discovered."
"If he did, it'd be bad for us. Hordak might already know everything."
"No way, he's super sly, I'm sure he's just been busy."
Suddenly the door burst open revealing Glimmer, looking pale and grave. "It's 4 AM. It's time."
Bright Moon's guards were yelling through the castle,"It's time! Get yourselves ready! They can arrive at any moment!"
Perched on the castle's walls, Perfuma was counting the number of onion bulb bombs she had created. "Already?! One hundred and twelve, one hundred and thirteen…"
"Keep your position for the moment, I will send you the order when you can attack Plumeria." Frosta told her troops via a com-diamond, as she was pacing in the hall.
In their room, Mermista and Seahawk cheered and chugged a shot of vodka. "For Salineas."
"Let's finish this…" Netossa fixed Spinnerella's armor.
"Let's show them how it's done..." Queen Angella slammed her fists on the battlefield board.
"It's time." Octavia banged on the doors of the soldiers' dorms. A thunderous sound resonated everywhere in the building. Humans, hybrids, robots, everyone was perfectly synchronized. A chant started in the ranks as they opened the gates, driving the tanks out onto the fields.
The Horde is might
The Horde is right
Can you hear our wrath?
Victory is ours...
Hidden in the reef of Salineas, the ships of Force Captain Leech were waiting for the exact time to attack the sea gate. "In three, two, one…"
"It's time, hahahahaha." Entrapta laughed hysterically as she welcomed Scorpia in the lab. She had never been more excited for an experiment. "I still haven't seen Catra, will she come say goodbye?"
"Are you ready to go, my Second-in-Command?" Hordak asked as he descended the stairs of his throne.
"More than ever, my Lord…" Catra bowed, making sure to avoid his gaze. "It's time."