She was alive. Adora was alive. That was the only thought that Catra's confused brain could form at the moment. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she saw the giant warrior fight against Hordak.
How was it possible? She had seen her being thrown into the purging chambers on the tapes! It couldn't have been a fake, Entrapta would have noticed!
"Commander!" Catra grabbed her head in her hands. She was in the middle of a war, paralyzed by her own emotions. But what the hell was happening?! A few hours earlier, she was talking with Lonnie about mourning. Now her arch enemy was fighting on a fucking flying horse and she didn't know how to process it all.
"Commander, what are your orders?"
She needed to talk to her. She needed to punch her for making her so sad and confused. She needed to see the true Adora, not She-Ra. And touch her. Touch her face to be sure she was real.
"You look thrilled to see your prisoner alive, Commander."
Catra froze at the sound of that voice. She suppressed a hiss as she turned around to face her. "What do you want Octavia?"
The Force Captain was standing amongst the catapult team, looking suspiciously ecstatic. The soldiers on her sides appeared to be...uncomfortable.
"Well you seem unable to lead your team properly right now, so I thought I might take it from here," she said as she took a few slow steps towards Catra.
"And who do you think you are exactly to decide that?" Catra's claws unsheathed by instinct.
"...you don't know? It was covered in Force Captain Orientation, you should have come." Octavia pretended to be surprised. She stopped a few inches away from Catra. "I'm the new Second-in-Command of course!"
Her tentacles swished in the air. Catra leapt, avoiding them at the last second. She landed on Octavia's back, making her stumble. She scratched her face and jumped away from her.
"What kind of crap are you pulling Octavia?" she asked and avoided a slap again. She had to be careful. The Force Captain's true advantage resided in those tentacles, each of which could suck the life out of her.
"What do you think, idiot… Lord Hordak doesn't trust you anymore."
"...bullshit." Catra swiped at Octavia's torso, leaving a big mark on the blue skin. Octavia roared, and grasped Catra's leg with one of her tentacles as she was in the air. She smashed her on the ground. Catra instantly felt Octavia's power starting to drain her. She kicked hard between the Force Captain's legs, which made her yelp and loosen her grip. As Catra wriggled free, Octavia pulled out her gun and fired until it was empty. Catra danced between the bullets, jumping from rocks to machines. She hid behind one of the catapults to catch her breath.
"Did you really think Lord Hordak wouldn't notice how crazy obsessed you've been about Adora? It was obvious you would value her life more than his will." Octavia snickered. She borrowed a soldier's gun and silently notified the team to corner Catra from behind. "Okay, I have to admit, I played my role in convincing him… You only confirmed my position."
Catra tightened her fists. She knew it. Octavia had been plotting behind her back all this time.
"Poor little Catra… Even on top, you can't help being so weak." Her team tiptoed around the machine. "The Horde needs a commander that won't let herself be dragged on a leash by her feewings."
They pounced out of the shadows, raising their guns. But instead of Catra, they found only a small device. Round, the size of an apple. "Grenade!"
Laughter rose above the smoke. Octavia elbowed her way past the soldiers as they screamed in pain, making her way through the disaster zone. Then she gasped as she was punched in the stomach. She glared through the smoke with her only eye. She couldn't see anything, but could hear the little snicker on her right. She lashed her tentacles out, but only hit the fog. Suddenly something tugged on her collar, and sent her flying in the air. She landed on her back, immediately immobilized by something heavy.
"You thought you could take my place like that?!" Catra punched her face. Octavia tried to retaliate, but Catra had expertly stuck her arms beneath her back, blocked her legs with her own, and held a firm grip on the Captain's murderous hair. "I'm gonna make you pay for your treason!"
"You don't get it, do you?" Octavia spat out a tooth. "Lord Hordak doesn't want you anymore, Catra." She watched with delight as Catra's face paled. "We knew Adora was alive, kitty…"
"Stop lying!" she jammed her elbow on Octavia's throat, strong enough to make her heart race, but not so much that she couldn't still talk.
"I'm not. We never found the body or the guards who were ordered to kill her. Guards who didn't even follow the warrant. Didn't you think that was odd? Oh no that's right…" Octavia's tentacles wrapped around Catra's arms all the way up to her neck. "You were too busy crying for her."
Catra's claws sank into the flesh, but Octavia didn't even react to the pain. She squeezed her neck harder, and reversed their positions, now topping Catra. The feline was squirming in panic, trying to throw off her hold, kicking in the air, but to no avail. Octavia's magic was already working. In a desperate attempt to gain some time, Catra let out a few raspy sounds. Octavia let her hold loosen for a few seconds.
"Why… Why did he...keep me around...then?"
Octavia jerked her head backwards when she laughed. In a swift move Catra reached down towards her belt.
"You don't kill the bait before you catch the fish, kitty…"
Catra grabbed the little apple sized device on her belt.
"I'm the bait for…?"
She hooked her finger in the loop. She unlocked it. Ten-nine-eight-
"Adora, of course."
Catra waved the grenade in front of her face, a dark aura glowing in her eyes. Octavia's eye widened. She let go of her, and ran faster than Catra chasing a mouse.
Catra threw it as hard as she could in Octavia's direction. She curled in a ball as the explosion rocked the cliff. Her back was on fire, she could feel the agonizing pain scorching her body. She rolled on her back to extinguish the sparks then took a look around her. Most of her team had left the cliff. The rest were too injured to move... Move. Catra had to move. She couldn't see Octavia. She hoped she was down.
She had to go see Adora. She was fighting Hordak. She'd better not die this time.
Catra dragged her body through the smokey air, coughing here and there. Octavia's magic had ruined her stamina. She finally reached the edge of the cliff, where she could see the battle unfold. The princesses were cornered in front of the castle's destroyed bridge, barely protected by a magic net. They were losing.
And Adora… She was fighting in close combat with Hordak, yelling things at him. Adora…
"Where do you think you're going?"
Catra squealed. The tentacles lifted her by the neck. She was gasping for some air. She could barely touch the floor with her toes. Life was leaving her. Below, she could distinguish Hordak smirking up at her. That bastard. Her ears were whistling.
Adora was looking at her. She was wearing a look Catra had only seen once before. The time when Catra had cut ties and left Adora to fall to her death.
"Aww, she seems so devastated," said Octavia behind her back. "Are you happy Catra? You'll die knowing you finally got back to your girlfriend!"
Adora was looking back and forth between her and the princesses. Something was happening, but Catra felt too weak to think it through. Adora's shoulders slumped in defeat it seemed. She lowered her sword.
"Now that you...baited her good…" Catra choked on her words. "You can...at least...face me when…you kill me."
"You know what, you're right, this way the last memory you'll get from Etheria is my face."
Octavia spun Catra around. It allowed her to get a little more air for a second. She stared into this evil eye. This face she hated so much. Oh, how they'd hated each other for so long… The Horde had been so good at dividing the kids they were training.
Octavia cackled in delight. She had never been happier in her life. Catra's mind started to blank. Soon she would faint and never wake up.
Catra's claw cut the air. Octavia's eye fell to the ground. She shrieked.
The inhuman sound echoed across the valley. Angella saw the feline commander fall from the cliff, barely making it to the ground in one piece.
Poor child. Betrayed by the very people she was serving. If Angella hadn't held a grudge against Catra, she could almost have felt sad for her. Adora on the other hand… Angella had watched her hesitate between two sides. The queen could easily guess what had happened. It was just like Hordak to blackmail his opponent.
Catra or the rebellion.
And Adora had lowered her sword.
"Is everything alright, Queen Angella?"
Swift Wind landed next to her.
"Yes. How is Glimmer?"
"I controlled the bleeding. She's gonna be fine with some more She-Ra healing and some rest. We need to win this quick…" Anxiety broke his voice.
A rumble attracted their attention on their left. Frosta had gathered the last remnants of her strength to raise a thick ice wall in the middle of the battlefield, between the Horde and all of the rebellion. It circled the castle, and stood high enough to protect them from the catapult, but it wouldn't hold for long given the state of her power.
Angella breathed out. She gave the child a silent thank you as she saw her pass out in Mermista's arms. The snow princess' desperate act would give them a bit of time to think of a strategy. However, when she analyzed their situation at the moment, desperation overwhelmed her, as she couldn't think of a good enough solution to survive this battle.
"Swift Wind, bring Adora back to the Princesses. We need She-Ra, right now…"
"But she's still fighting Hordak!"
"We need to get our power boost, and he knows that, he's been keeping her busy while we lose strength."
"I got it, I'll bring her back."
"One more thing, when you can," Angella added hesitantly. The horse's ears raised. "We need to capture Catra."
"...preferably alive," Angella shot an annoyed glance at Adora. "We can't let Hordak keep her."
"I'll explain later. Please, I can't hold on for very much longer, and neither can this wall… Go."
Angella shook her head as the horse flew away. She looked up at the weak moonstone. For now, she had to keep it active for the princesses. For Glimmer. She would think of Adora's little mistake later. First, protect her people.
"Catra!" Adora took a few steps towards her ex-best friend, but got hit by a canon attack from Hordak. The ruler paused and rubbed his chin as he contemplated the ice wall that had just erupted from the ground. He had to take command of his troops since Octavia was now useless. He stared at Catra, who was slowly recovering from Octavia's magic. He also had to decide what to do with her now...
Before She-Ra could snap out of his attack, he quickly walked towards Catra and tried to grab her by the hair. At the last second she seized his forearm as she glared at him.
"Nuh-uh!" Catra pounced on him, "you think I'm going to let you play with me like that?! How could you do this to me?!"
"Well, soldiers like you have an expiration date..." Hordak smirked as he caught her arm before she could scratch him. He tossed her against a rock.
She raged. "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have made all of this progress! I got you Plumeria!"
"You've been useful to me. But you are not essential, and yesterday you proved that you couldn't let go of the past."
"Catra!" Adora called, as if on cue. She ignored her and rushed towards Hordak again.
"What do you intend to do now, Catra? Join the rebellion?"
"How about I take the lead of the Horde instead?"
"You?" He crossed his canon arms against his chest. Catra bounced on them and reached his face. He groaned as the claws marked his skin. "You can't even kill your worst enemy. How can you take over the world by yourself? You are not fit for leadership Catra."
Adora joined the fight. She shoved Hordak before he could blast Catra.
"This is my fight, Adora, go away!"
The feline jumped on Adora's shoulders and used them as a trampoline. She armed her claws, ready to give Hordak the scratch of his life, but then she felt swept up into the air. She wiggled, looking up to see what was carrying her.
"Horse?! What the hell?"
"It'f Fwift Wind, fank you vewy mutf." The flying horse was holding her with his teeth.
"That's a stupid name!" Catra planted her claws in his snout. Swift Wind dropped her, neighing in pain.
Adora, who was still fighting Hordak, wondered what on Etheria was her winged companion doing. He was chasing Catra again, but the feline wouldn't let herself be caught that easily.
"I've wasted enough time with the both of you." Adora jolted as she heard the words. Hordak wasn't smirking anymore. He was annoyed. Very annoyed. He pushed Adora away from him, turned his body into a First-Ones-kind of rocket again, and launched himself at an incredible speed towards Catra. He caught her before Swift Wind.
"No!" Adora yelled.
Swift Wind landed next to her, "Um, sorry to interfere, but we need you right now-"
She jumped on his back, "Follow him, Swifty!"
The ruler of the Horde flew to the area in front of the rebels on the other side of the ice wall. Immediately he had to dodge arrows and bulb bombs, but he soon steadied himself out of reach, high above the battlefield, a wiggling Catra locked between his tech arms. He stared at Angella, then She-Ra beneath him.
"Angella, you want my Second-in-command, right?" He shouted. The queen glared at him.
"See Catra," he whispered in her ear. "The rebellion really wants you in their ranks...or more likely behind their bars." He snickered.
"Then, dear Angella," he shouted again as he pushed the mask down on his commander's eyes. "I shall give you Catra."
He took a little golden stone out of his pocket, and inserted it on the left eye-hole of Catra's mask.
"Go wild," he said before dropping her.
A powerful shock wave shook all of Etheria. Or at least, that's what it seemed like to Adora, who almost fell off of Swift Wind. She saw Catra fall. She heard her scream during her fall. She saw her spasm. And just as she was about to crash into the middle of the rebellion camp, she saw her change. Her body grew, stretching her clothes. Her arms and limbs thickened. Her fangs grew longer and her face turned animalistic… A roar emitted from the little rebellion crowd, dominating the screams.
The beast was insanely strong. Tail swipes sent soldiers crashing into walls. Netossa and Perfuma couldn't trap the animal with nets or branches, and it seemed magic didn't have much of an effect on it. Its strength and agility were monstrous. Catra kept charging the masses of soldiers attacking her, as well as princesses.
"Hurry up, Swift Wind!" Adora pressed the talking horse. Angella had given up on the moonstone and was flying to her daughter as well.
Meanwhile, the Horde was aggressively bombing the ice wall. Deep cracks were threatening to shatter their last protection.
Adora jumped off of Swift Wind's rump, catching Spinnerella, who had been thrown through the air toward her, before she landed.
"Get away from my princess!" Seahawk screamed as a paw bigger than a human's head slashed in the direction of Mermista, who was still holding Frosta.
"Catra, stop!" Adora exclaimed. The beast's head snapped at the sound of her voice. She could see the blue eye through the mask. An angry, insane, bloodshot eye. Was Catra herself still behind that mask?
Bow fired an arrow into her furry flank. Catra roared in pain. The soldiers added their own arrows while all of the princesses and the queen sent a magical attack at the same time.
"No!" Adora pushed aside a few soldiers to make her way to Catra. Her eyes widened when she saw Catra charge blindly. Adora braced herself. She took the hit full force, tried to stop her, but there was too much momentum and they rolled over on each other. Catra quickly stood and ran in the direction of the wall, with Adora clinging to her back, trying to stop her.
"Catra, calm down!" She gasped when she saw the wall coming closer to her at an alarming speed. Catra was going to crash against it. Adora raised her sword and sent a powerful blast. It fragilized the ice, but not enough to pierce through it.
Adora turned her sword into a shield, put it in front of Catra's head, and closed her eyes. She heard Glimmer scream her name behind them.
She lost hold of the beast's flanks at the impact. Catra had exploded the ice. Such brute force in one body…
When she opened her eyes, she could see Catra on top of her, her claws ready to destroy her face. Adora breathed in, and changed her appearance back to her usual self. "Catra, it's me!"
The paw stopped mid air. A glint of lucidity shone in Catra's blue eye. For a second, Adora thought she could fix this entire mess. For a second, she thought she saw her old friend behind the mask, the girl who had meant everything to her, and who would continue to mean the world. But then some Horde bullets planted in Catra's back. She roared, then ran away, disappearing into the Whispering Woods within a few seconds.
Adora stood up groggily. She had to find her. She had to save her, even if Catra had told her multiple times that she didn't need saving. She didn't care.
"Adora! Watch out!" Bow called in distress. Adora looked around, but wasn't fast enough. She got blasted by a tank...as Adora, not She-Ra.
"I think we're going beast hunting as a celebration for our victory tonight," Hordak snickered at her. Adora, who was lying on her back, gritted her teeth. She ached so much, and for the first time she realized what She-Ra had been protecting her from. It was like being crushed by a mountain. Her heart was beating loud in her chest, trying to cope with the pain.
The Horde foot soldiers took advantage of the hole in the ice to invade the rebellion's temporary safe space. Brightmoon's forces, exhausted, had to fight again. But Hordak raised a hand at his troops. They held back, fingers on their triggers.
"Now Queen Angella," she could hear Hordak begin. "If I were you, I'd surrender promptly. You don't want to lose more people for nothing."
Not again… Adora thought. She was lying on the ground on the wrong side of the wall, helpless, tears rolling down her cheeks. Hurt, defeated. Too weak to reach her sword and transform. Why did she keep failing to protect the people she cared about?
Catra hurt. She didn't know what was happening. She only knew pain. However her body moved easily, like it weighed nothing. She could jump higher, run faster. Each time her paws touched the ground, it hurt. But she kept running. She didn't know where to go. She didn't understand what had happened to her. She didn't remember why she was running.
She just knew she had to get away from something. She roared at animals blocking her way. They scattered in fear. Catra was stronger now. She must have looked terrifying, but inside she was the one who was scared.
She jumped on a tree and stopped abruptly. She felt something. It was calling her. What was it? The attraction was strong. It soothed her pain. She needed to go there.
She left the tree and ran faster. Her heart lifted with hope as the thing became closer. It had to be good. Catra needed it. The pain had to stop.
"Oh! Hello, there."
Catra stood on her guard, tail and ears up, claws unsheathed. The thing was a person. Or the thing was on the person, she didn't know.
"My, my, you look terrible, Katriska. Are you looking for Mara, dear?"
Angella had to admit it. She had once again underestimated her enemy. With or without She-Ra, Hordak was still crushing the Alliance, ten years after their last battle. And this time, surrendering meant losing everything else that he hadn't taken the first time. Her kingdom, her daughter, her people, and her friends.
She squeezed Glimmer's shoulder one last time before she took flight. If she had to surrender, it would be with the dignity of a queen. Hordak was waiting, fidgeting his murderous device as a reminder that he also had a last resort weapon if the rebellion didn't cooperate. If it hadn't been for Entrapta…the battle might have ended differently, the queen thought bitterly.
She was about to speak, when suddenly the sky blackened. Everybody looked up to the dark clouds above them, which were spiraling in an ominous way.
"What on Etheria is-"
Angella couldn't finish her sentence. Lightning struck the Horde's tanks on the other side of the wall, violently setting the ground on fire. Soldiers screamed and scattered, and Hordak hurried back to them. An odd chant floated in the air, resonating louder despite the storm's rumble.
"No way…" Angella startled. People with long robes had just appeared, forming a large circle around Brightmoon, arms raised in the air, chanting to the skies' apocalypse. Some were on the cliff, others on the destroyed boats. Some were standing at the entrance of the Whispering Woods, including one that looked very familiar to Angella.
The sorceress gave a warm smile to her sister-in-law, then focused again on her spell. Hordak didn't waste time waiting for another lightning strike. He shot at a warlock with his arm cannon, and missed him by an inch. The spell faded a little because of the disruption.
"Rebels!" Angella shouted at her friends. "We must help Mystacor's sorcerers. Let's protect them from the Horde's attack!"
Soldiers and princesses all clamored in unison. The unexpected help had raised their hopes again. They joined the Mystacor forces just in time, as the Horde robots had started to attack them more effectively. A few sorceresses had been wounded, but wouldn't stop casting their spell.
"Glimmer, what are you doing?" Angella asked accusingly to her daughter who was trying to leave the camp. "You're still wounded, you need to rest!"
"I need to check on Adora, don't worry, I won't fight."
Glimmer didn't wait to hear her mother protest. She hurried with Bow at her side towards the shore, where Adora had been blasted to. They widened their eyes in horror. Adora was shaking on her knees, as she attempted to stand up.
The duo arrived just in time to wrap an arm around her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Adora! You need to turn into She-Ra. She can heal you, at least partly!"
"You're bleeding, hurry up and change!"
"I'm sorry I failed you all…"
"Will you stop that?!" Glimmer raged. It made Adora look up at her in surprise. "It's not like you to be giving up Adora, what's happened to you? Ever since you got abducted, you've been acting like a loser!"
A furrowed brow transformed Adora's expression. She pursed her lips. Glimmer took that as an excellent sign.
"The battle is not over Adora, now we've got my auntie helping us, but if you feel like too much of a loser to give us a hand, of course you can watch our victory from the sidelines."
Bow winked at Glimmer. Now she had woken her up. Adora nudged past them, raised her sword, and screamed the legendary words.
"For the honor of Grayskull!"
Glimmer sighed in relief as she looked at Adora surging back to the battle. She sat on the ground, exhausted already by exertion and the pain in her back. She reached to the wound and gulped when she saw blood on her hand.
Catra was wary, but the person didn't seem to mean any harm. However, an incredible power lingered in their aura. They must have been the most dangerous thing Catra had ever encountered.
"You look lost, Katriska. Does Mara know you're here? She must be sad without you."
The person reached out a hand at Catra. She growled in warning. The person understood. They stopped and picked mushrooms again. They minded their own business for a while, humming and talking alone about their Loo-Kee something.
Catra felt more at ease. She sat and proceeded to lick her wounds. She whimpered as the pain inside intensified. It wasn't a pain that she could heal. She flattened her ears in despair.
"You need help with that, Katriska. You know it, deep down, don't you dear? You've come to Madame Razz for a reason."
Catra let them come closer. Even if they did mean harm, her pain was so wrenching that nothing could make it worse.
The person put a hand behind Catra's ear and scratched. Catra knew it should have made her feel better but she barely felt anything at all. Still, she purred slightly to thank the person.
"So much pain you've overcome…" the person sighed. "Don't worry, I'll make sure Mara finds you."
The person took a shiny blue rock out of her pocket. She put it above Catra's right eye. When it clicked inside the eye-hole, Catra roared. She jumped everywhere as the pain threatened to make her body explode.
Images flashed in her head. Fire everywhere. Blood on the ground. Dead bodies. She screamed in terror.
Then it all went blank.