The first rays of sunlight hit the dead branches of the Whispering Woods. Life had ceased to inhabit the place for a while now. A dreadful silence resonated in the grey area, that was only broken occasionally by the soldiers rolling shifts in the trenches.
Today, even the guards held their breath. Tension filled the air, as everyone waited for the storm to break. In the distance, the Horde's tanks were advancing fast, crushing every remaining root in the way.
Hordak was perched on the biggest tank, dominating the scene of war around him, not caring one bit about personal safety.
"My Lord, there's a call for you." A soldier from the tank handed him a com-tablet. A dragonish face was waiting on the screen, looking anxious.
"Force Captain Leech, what news do you bring?"
"Salineas has fallen, my Lord… Much faster than I had planned. The sea gate didn't last ten minutes. We fought against a mere hundred soldiers, but no princesses. The castle and the whole city were empty. They knew, my Lord."
"Did you get the runestone?" Hordak asked, unfazed.
"Yes, I sent it to Entrapta."
"Perfect. Settle your army there, Force Captain, and be ready to be of assistance if I need it."
Hordak ended the conversation. He rubbed his chin for a second, then faced the tablet again. "Call Plumeria." This time a half-lion looking beast soldier appeared on the screen. "Force Captain Grizzlor, how are things going over there?"
"There's been nothing to report since I arrived, my Lord. The city is empty, the runestone is working fine, and our men have already started to raise our robots' barrier."
"Good. Change the disposition of the barrier though. Protect Plumeria, make sure the base is unbreakable. And be prepared for an attack."
"It'll be done."
"Lord Hordak!" the ruler glanced up. On her tank, Catra was pointing ahead of her. "We'll be there in a few minutes!"
"Good," he smirked. "Salineas is ours, Commander. Now it's Bright Moon's turn."
With Catra on his left, Octavia on his right, the tanks at the front and the robots on the sides, Hordak made an explosive entrance into no man's land. The guards of Bright Moon sent the alarm, then retreated when Entrapta's improved cannons started throwing fireballs. They were no match for the Evil Horde.
"My Queen! They're here!"
"And Salineas has been attacked!"
Angella clenched her fists. "Alright. Everybody in position! And be careful. Now that they know we've anticipated their attacks, they can change their strategy at any moment."
She stepped onto the bridge leading to the moonstone, where she would activate its shield, but first stopped to nod at Glimmer from afar. She was standing still in the first row of their little army, looking much more of an adult than Angella would have wanted for a girl of her age.
She sighed. Hopefully, her only child could soon be the careless teenager she always should have been.
Glimmer raised a thumb up to her mother. She looked around her. Mermista and Frosta stood on the shore of the lake, ready to use their water and ice magic. Behind them, Seahawk was leading Mermista's crews on their ships, planning to throw handmade bombs that the shanty singer would set on fire -instead of the ships themselves…
Bow and Perfuma were on the walls of the castle with archers and Plumeria's citizens, all holding magic arrows or bulb bombs in their hands. Finally Netossa and Spinnerella led the troops with Glimmer. The only missing princess was Adora. She would make an entrance when the Horde was fully engaged in combat.
The trench guards ran out of the Whispering Woods, followed closely by the Horde bots. Glimmer raised her father's staff. "For the rebellion!"
The archers launched their arrows on the first row of bots. Explosions made the ground shake, decimating a third of the Horde's tech. The rest started to shoot laser bullets as the tanks and foot soldiers arrived in the valley. The army was huge. More and more machines were appearing from every direction. If the rebellion didn't act fast, they would soon surround the castle.
Angella synchronized her energy with the moonstone, calling all her inner strength to raise a magical wall around the castle. Spinnerella and Mermista both sent offensive water and wind waves to repulse the tanks and bots. Glimmer teleported so fast from tank to tank that only a flash of glitter was visible before they blew up. From her spot Perfuma was creating some magical branches that paralyzed the foot soldiers and immobilized the tech.
For a while, the rebellion seemed to be resisting the assault. At least until the leading trio arrived: Catra, already jumping up the cliff to command the catapult team on top; Octavia, marching against the main rebel troops to pierce through their ranks... and Hordak. Angella shivered when she made eye contact with him. She hadn't seen the man since the battle in which she'd lost her husband.
The ruler looked up to her and smirked. Angella gulped. She had to focus on protecting the moonstone. She couldn't let herself be disturbed by the screams of her troops, falling to Octavia's wrath. Or pay too much attention to the feline commander pulverizing Mermista's ships from the cliff. Or think of Glimmer who was so close to facing Hordak…
"Queen Angella! We just got some news from Snow Kingdom's captain, they're facing major difficulties in Plumeria…"
The queen shot a glance at the young princess who was fighting with Mermista. Frosta was definitely not in a position to make a decision… "Tell them to retreat if they can't take Plumeria, we can't have too many losses for nothing!"
She barely had the time to answer the soldier, when she suddenly felt drained of energy. She dropped to her knees and looked up. The moonstone's light was more feeble than she'd ever seen. She heard a general gasp coming from the ground. All the princesses were down, and the magical barrier had fallen. Fireballs hit the towers, while Horde soldiers rushed into the protected zone and began attempting to break into the castle. Plumeria's citizens dropped their bombs on them, creating a heavy fog around the castle.
"What did he do this time?" Angella whimpered as she glared at her mortal enemy. Hordak was holding a strange device in his hand. "Now would be a great time for She-Ra to come."
"Aaaah!" Glimmer screamed. She'd lost her powers while she was blinking. She fell on the rough metal of a tank, hearing a crack in her back. As she tried to pull herself together and find her staff, she got swept up by the hair. She cried again, raising her hands to make the thing let go.
"You're just a harmless little girl without your powers, aren't you?" A dark snicker made a shiver run down her spine. Blue face, one good eye, tentacle hair.
"Let me down!"
"Already? But we're having fun, aren't we?" Octavia licked her lips. "I think I'm going to make you my personal prisoner. That'll teach you for-"
"Octavia," Hordak snarled. "Keep your focus. The princess is irrelevant now. Kill her and move on. You have things to do."
"Yes, my Lord."
Octavia threw Glimmer on the ground. When she opened her eyes, she saw the gun aimed at her head. She wouldn't even have time to yell for help.
A loud bang shook the tank and made her ears whistle, as a terrible smell filled her nose. "Quick, Glimmer, we need to get back to the castle!" Bow's voice was at her left. She felt arms wrapping beneath her own, dragging her away from the main battlefield. Smoke and a horrible onion flavor lingered everywhere around her. She couldn't see.
"Are you alright?" That was Perfuma on her right. They had come down all the way from the castle's walls to pick her up. "My onion bulb bombs will cover us for a while, but we need to hurry!"
Soon they reached their mass of main troops. Bow and Perfuma made Glimmer sit down behind a rock. "Get some rest here, Glim. We're gonna help the soldiers."
"Wait, my staff!"
"We'll find it, don't worry!"
Glimmer risked a peek from behind the rock. There was still smoke here and there, but she could see most of the Horde forces. Hordak was still standing on his tank, invincible, untouchable. He hadn't fought personally yet. And Octavia…was gone. Where was she?
"Frosta get behind me!" Mermista tried to shield her, but she felt so weak she fell back on her hands. "Seahawk, we need your fire now!" She shouted. Twenty bots were aiming at them. Frosta hugged Mermista as they braced themselves.
"Whenever you need, Princess! Let's go, my crew! Aaaadventuuure!"
The remaining ships destroyed the closest robots. The princesses took it as their cue to retreat in Seahawk's direction. The ships were easy targets but they would be a little bit safer there. They were ten seconds away when they heard the crew scream and saw them all jump into the instant later, a huge flaming rock crushed the boat.
"Seahawk!" Mermista called. She didn't see him jump. She attempted to extinguish the fire, but her power was completely gone. A new rock fell right next to her. She looked up over her shoulder. Catra was standing on top of the cliff, surrounded by their new catapult machinery. How had the Horde lifted it up there?
The Second-in-Command frightened Mermista. More than usual. She wasn't smirking like in their previous fights, a glint of delight in her eyes as she witnessed her own power. Today she looked stone cold. No expression betrayed her thoughts. Her outfit belt was adorned by grenades, giving her an even more dreadful aura. What had happened to her?
"Princess! Are you hurt?" Mermista groaned but then smiled in relief when she saw Seahawk swim towards her, all disheveled - both hair and moustache. "What should we do now?"
"...I don't know." She looked over at Frosta, who for the first time really seemed to be an eleven year old kid. Their ships were destroyed, they had no powers, and a murderous feline warrior had their lives in her hands.
Catra raised her arm for the new rock launching, but this time she pointed at the castle. The ships and the princesses on the lake were harmless now. "Aim at the wall, we need to stop their smelly bomb defense. Try not to touch the moonstone, we need it uncracked."
As she finished giving the order though, she froze on the spot. A shiny figure had just appeared in the sky above the castle, mounted on a flying horse: long blond hair blowing in the wind, sword raised and pointed at Hordak, a hateful rictus on her face. She fired.
A loud detonation sent everyone to their knees. Hordak's tank was nothing but metal pieces now, but the ruler was not lying amongst them. Catra didn't care. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
"Commander! The Princess of the sea has gotten her power back, look! What should we do?"
It seemed the power of the sword had given the runestones some fuel again, even if it was a bit weak. For a second Catra stared blankly at Mermista, who was once again swiping at the bots with water, immediately taking advantage of that reversal of force balance.
"I…" Catra looked again at She-Ra. As their eyes met, a dozen feelings fought in her heart, threatening to make it explode in her chest. Surprise, relief, anger and pain were the ones she could recognize. She-Ra's eyes only conveyed sadness, Catra assumed. She mouthed her name, lowering her sword.
Then Hordak appeared out of nowhere in the sky and hit She-Ra full force, making her fall from the horse.
The fall was long. Adora crossed her arms in front of her face and folded her legs, bracing herself for the impact. She hit the water, sinking fast into the depths of the lake. Something seemed to whirl underneath her though, and in a few seconds she was propelled out of the water.
"Adora! Are you okay?" Mermista was rushing towards her. Adora coughed. She wondered for a moment where she was. Then she saw him. He was flying. But not like Angella or Swift Wind. More like the drawings of the First Ones' rockets she saw in the temple.
"Mermista get away from here!"
Adora raised her sword, but Hordak was too fast. He threw an arm at her. It was abnormally massive. It sent her flying despite being in the lake. Adora rolled onto the shore. She grabbed her sword and steadied her legs. Hordak landed a few meters away from her. His arm had indeed changed. It was now a sort of big cylinder… Pointed at her. Like a big canon.
Adora gasped and jumped just in time when he fired. He laughed. What was up with this guy?!
"What a great entrance you made, She-Ra. Too bad you're only strong in appearance."
His arm changed again, turning into a rocket launcher. Adora had no time. She transformed her sword into a shield. The rockets made a mess around her. Her shoulder took a hit, but the power of She-Ra protected her for now.
"You failed to kill me in the Fright Zone. You'll fail to kill me today," she smirked. "Your whole plan failed."
Hordak stayed impassive. "My plan failed? I don't think so. It's going exactly as I foresaw the moment I realized you had escaped yesterday."
Adora would have expressed her surprise if she had had the time, but Hordak had closed the space between them in an instant, turning his arm now into two swords. Good, Adora preferred close combat.
"Did you really think that your little friends could have just barged in and out of the Fright Zone with a prisoner like you unnoticed?"
"If that's the case," Adora punched his guts, "why did you come here today anyway? We knew your plan."
"To defeat you all at once." He grabbed her top, launched himself in the air and slammed Adora against the cliff. "Whether you're here or not, I will win, Adora. The rebellion is doomed..."
"I won't let you." Adora snarled. As she said those words, she felt her energy match with the sword. The diamond on the weapon grew brighter and warmer. She could feel the moonstone's power regenerate too. If she had been able to look into the distance, she would have seen the Princesses' power increase, and the Horde soldiers back up in retreat.
"You think your little sword trick will work every time?" Hordak let go of her. She fell from the cliff, but planted her weapon in the rock which made her landing smoother. "You're not the only one who can control the runestones now…"
Hordak stood over her holding a clicking device. He rolled a button and pressed another one. The energy she had felt earlier immediately died out, but oddly enough the moonstone seemed to shine brighter than usual, like it was siphoning all their magic. It was radiating so hard, Adora could see Angella scream underneath. Suddenly an extraordinary purple ray erupted from the stone…and destroyed the top tower of the castle.
"No…" Adora widened her eyes at the disaster. It was all falling apart. People were running out of the castle in panic. All civilians… "NO!"
She jumped on the cliff, propelling herself high in the air, and hit Hordak in the face. She wouldn't let him use the runestone against them. Not now, not ever. They fought again, sword against sword. Adora had a slight advantage, but he still seemed to be playing a game somehow.
"Had I known you'd become the She-Ra… I would have killed you when you were a baby."
She must not listen to him. He was just like Shadow Weaver.
"Yeah you should have killed me when you could, because now, I'm taking you OUT." She raged as she threw her sword. But he had changed his arm again into a canon. BANG.
Adora fell on her back. "You're right and yet… We are running after the same thing, Adora, even if you don't know it yet…"
She tried to get up, but he put a foot on her chest, pressing her against the ground.
"Light Hope didn't tell you anything at all, did she?"
Adora stared into his eyes for real this time. She searched for a trace of malice, but she couldn't tell if he was just trying to distract her.
"Where do you think all my tech comes from? Why is the Horde alone mastering it? Why are all the princesses and their subjects so...weak? And why wasn't there a She-Ra for a thousand years, then out of nowhere, here you are?"
"I… I know enough about that, and I don't need more to know that you should be defeated!"
Hordak punched her. The metal broke her nose. "Tssk, children and their ignorance. You can't win a war if you don't know your opponents Adora. And if you don't even know yourself… You'd better stay home." He smirked.
"Then tell me, since you're so eager!" she yelled. Meanwhile, she was checking the battlefield out of the corner of her eye. She could see Bow discreetly making his way towards them.
"Think for yourself a little. Where do the First Ones come from?"
"Light Hope said they were travellers who came from… Eternia."
Bow armed an arrow. But now Adora actually wanted to hear what Hordak had to say.
"Exactly. So do we."
"Queen Angella! Please answer me! Are you alright?"
She opened her eyes. Her head was dizzy and her ears were ringing. What had happened? When she fully emerged from her slumber, she realized that her feet were not on the ground.
"Swift Wind! What- What is-"
"Thank the First Ones! You passed out when the moonstone fired!"
The moonstone. "No…" Angella's face broke when she saw the horror underneath the flying horse. Her castle was on fire. Rocks wouldn't stop falling. The bulb bombs had all exploded with the impact, creating even more damage. Civilians were running for their life, with Netossa, Frosta, Mermista and Seahawk trying to protect them from both the castle and the Horde.
Glimmer was fighting on the front with the remainder of her magic, but she could see her losing strength.
"What should we do my Queen?"
She tried to use her own wings, but her body was exhausted. She fell back on Swift Wind's back.
"First of all…" she shook her head. Think fast, think rational. "Let's go tell Netossa to lead the civilians in the direction of Plumeria. They can find Frosta's and Mermista's soldiers over there."
Yes, that was a good decision. First limit the damage. And not worry. It would not be like last time… Glimmer was strong. She was by Spinnerella and Perfuma's side. They would not let her die like her father.
Bow breathed in. He had to be focused. A little mistake, and he would hit Adora instead of Hordak. He breathed out. He was about to fire, when he got tackled from behind. He elbowed his attacker.
"Are you crazy?! "
Bow stopped wiggling when he recognized the voice. "Kyle?! What are you doing, let go of me!"
"Only if you don't shoot Hordak."
"I need to save Adora!"
"You're gonna get yourself killed!" Kyle let go, then dragged Bow behind a broken dead tree.
"In case you didn't notice, this is war! I can get myself killed at any moment!"
"Yeah okay, but this is suicidal, Hordak is way too powerful, look!"
They peeked out from behind the tree. Adora was still immobilized under the Horde ruler's foot. However they looked like they were...talking.
"Your friend can take him, but you can't Bow. Trust me." Kyle put a hand on his shoulder. "On the other hand, the princesses over there could use your help, especially Glimmer."
"Glimmer?! No way, she's resting..." He spun around. His best friend was back in the battle, hitting the most soldiers that she could, but she was hurt… He could see it. Perfuma and Spinnerella were also struggling, and the rebel soldiers were falling under the tank hits.
"You should give this back to her." Kyle handed him Glimmer's staff. "I snatched it from my tank's captain."
"Wow, now you steal from your own boss…" Bow laughed a little as he took it. Kyle gave him a feeble smile.
"I need to get back there or they'll notice I'm gone. Don't be reckless Bow, we are not princesses!"
Bow looked at Glimmer, then back at Adora. He had to make a choice, but he couldn't… His breath was accelerating. This wasn't how it was all supposed to happen. Why couldn't he help both? He had to do something, he had to snap out of it.
He shook his head and rushed towards the front battle. Glimmer needed her staff.
"And so are you Adora."
"That is a lie."
Hordak grinned. He was truly enjoying himself. He pressed his foot more forcefully into Adora's armor, making her lose her breath for a second.
"Why would I make such a blatant lie Adora? You and I were both sent here by accident, almost twenty years ago… The connection between Etheria and Eternia has been broken for over a thousand years, but somehow it got restored for a short while, and here we are. You, me, and the Horde. Most of the old soldiers came from our home planet as well."
Adora had forgotten about the battle around them. She could only remember that flashback she had several times when she discovered the sword of She-Ra, and when she met Light Hope. Stars… She saw stars. Madame Razz mentioned them as well. Could it be true? Could they both be from outer space?
"If I had figured that out, I wouldn't be here, kid. However…" he took his foot off of her. Adora immediately rolled away from him. She raised her fists, but waited. She couldn't help it, she had to listen.
"However I have a good idea of how to restore the connection. How to finally contact Eternia. Wouldn't you want that as well? Don't you want to know your roots? To meet your family? ...your brother?"
She lowered her fists. Something told her he was telling the truth… At least a part of it.
Glimmer yelped. A dead soldier had fallen on her back. It was still hurt from earlier. She barely had the time to push the body away before another soldier charged her. She blocked the attack with her arms, glitter flying around her. She recognized her opponent, it was one of Adora's old teammates, the buff girl.
She was strong. Glimmer was forced to take a few steps back. If only she had her staff… The other princesses were as busy as her, fighting or helping people, and she was sure she saw her mother riding Swift Wind. Where were Bow and Adora? She could use a little She-Ra boost…
This cadet was starting to annoy her. She seemed to hold a grudge against her, as she had been harassing her since the beginning of the battle. Take this, thought Glimmer, as she threw a glitter fist into her stomach. The cadet snarled, about to retaliate, but she stopped at the last second. Glimmer frowned but didn't have much more time to think it through. A bullet lodged in her back.
"Why would you tell me this now Hordak?"
Adora and her old boss were tracing a circle as they paced slowly on the shore.
"Because I just thought… Why fight? Why not join our forces to conquer the runestones and bring our link with Eternia back?"
"You waited until now, in the middle of a battle, to ask me for a truce?" Adora raised a brow. He wasn't making any sense.
"You defected. You became She-Ra. I was in my right mind to mistrust you. But you seem loyal to your new allegiance, which makes me think that maybe...we could all work together…"
"And that includes killing people who disagree with you."
"...the fight for the greater good demands many sacrifices, Adora."
Adora huffed. "Something tells me that my family on Eternia were not good friends with you, am I right?"
"On the contrary, I took you in as a baby. Abandoning you would have been more logical if I had been on bad terms with them."
"...you're a bad liar, Hordak." Adora hissed. "And it doesn't change anything. You killed people, destroyed families and kingdoms. I'll never join you, I'll fight you even if I have to die for it!"
With her last words she pounced, feeling a flow of energy coming from the sword. Hordak raised his sword arm, barely blocking the attack.
"So be it, Adora. If I were you though, I would focus on saving my friends rather than taking me down for now." He smirked as he glanced behind them. Adora followed his line of sight and gasped.
A hundred soldiers from both sides lay in the valley, dead or dying. Angella was back at the moonstone, trying to raise a protection charm. The remaining troops and the princesses were now cornered by bots. They all looked distressed and exhausted... And behind the princesses, she could see one of Netossa's nets, protecting a group of her friends. Swift Wind was there, his horn spreading light. He had learned how to heal that way a few months ago. Somebody had been hurt.
Adora tossed Hordak away from her, and started to run. She could distinguish Bow standing next to Swift Wind from here, with Glimmer's staff in his hands… Glimmer?!
"Adora." Hordak was calling her again, but she would deal with him later. She could save them. The power of She-Ra would work now that the princesses were all together. They would bring back the rainbow wave, they would chase the Horde away. "Don't you want to say goodbye to your old friend?"
She stopped in her tracks and spun herself around. Hordak had his arms back to normal, crossed on his chest. He looked up to the cliff. Once again she followed his gaze. Once again what she saw made her want to cry.
Octavia was holding Catra. By the neck. In mid air. On top of the cliff.
Catra was half unconscious, struggling to get some air, clenching the tentacles.
"Now, now, Adora. I'm going to make it simple for you," said Hordak. "Surrender, or she dies."