That feeling had rarely filled the Alliance meeting room, and even when it had, it had never been as thick as it was now.
Adora was sitting straight in her chair, looking grave. Glimmer was glancing at her regularly, feeling uncomfortable. Mermista was tapping her fingers on the table, a little bit annoyed about the wait. Frosta was impassive as always. Spinnerella and Perfuma were nervously playing with their hair. Bow and Netossa were the only ones who tried to plaster a smile on their face, but it didn't look as convincing as they thought.
Angella was presiding, sitting on her royal throne, next to her late husband's empty one. A few more chairs had been added on the other side of the table.
The queen cleared her throat. She couldn't stand this atmosphere any longer.
"While we wait for Castaspella and her counsellors, I was thinking that we could review this battle and our situation."
"Alright," she pursued. "The very positive side is that we've all increased in power, which Castaspella will enlighten us about. The negative side is that-"
"We lost my kingdom."
"The castle is destroyed."
"So many soldiers and civilians are dead…"
"Please, everyone!" Angella extended her wings. "We've all been shaken by the Horde's strength yesterday, but let's not forget that we won in the end."
"We won because we got help, Queen Angella," Frosta replied acidly. "Twice. We don't even know what the second help was."
"And Hordak didn't lose per se, he kinda ran away…" Bow added.
"He ran for a good reason. He knew we would have crushed him if he had stayed. What you don't know about this power boost that we've had," Angella sighed. "Is that it's not a boost. It's our natural power."
"What do you mean, mom?" Glimmer frowned, while the others exchanged confused stares.
"She means," the joyful voice made them jolt. Castaspella had burst into the room with two other people, one sorceress and one warlock. They took a seat next to Angella, while Glimmer's aunt stood up, dominating the room as if she was about to perform in a play.
"She means that almost fifteen years ago, when you were all little, Etheria's runestones took a severe blow that altered their energy and decreased the princesses' power. It all happened when the Queen of the Magicats died and her mask was destroyed by Hordak. Or at least…"
She took Catra's mask out of her robe and held it up with both hands. The golden and blue rocks brightened when the sun rays hit them.
"…that's what we thought had happened."
Her dramatic effect was spot on. The princesses were speechless.
"Catra's mask is the Queen of the Magicats'?" Adora asked, an incredulous tone in her voice. Catra hadn't known anything about her ancestors, since they weren't taught a lot of history in the Horde's ranks. The origin of the mask had never been very clear.
"Exactly. And Catra would be their queen, if her people were still alive."
"I'm sorry, what?!" A general gasp erupted from the table.
"Castaspella…" Angella tugged her sleeve. "Don't just drop bombs on them like that. They need context. Please, let me do the talking."
"Yes, please mom. Context would be a treat."
"Alright," Angella took her sister-in-law's place. "So about twenty years ago, no eighteen years ago precisely, the Horde appeared. Out of nowhere."
A shadow lidded Adora's eyes. That was when she had appeared as well. Eighteen years huh…
"This was unprecedented, to say the least. Princess Scorpia's father, King Cancerius, pledged allegiance to Hordak right away, and let him settle down in his kingdom, now known as the Fright Zone. Cancerius didn't ask for any advice from the other kingdoms. This attitude was highly disapproved of, given that we didn't know anything about them.
Then, Hordak asked to meet us. All of the princesses and queens, and Mystacor's Council."
A shiver ran down Angella's spine as she recalled the first time she had seen Hordak. They didn't know at the time, how much harm he was about to inflict on them.
"He told us he was a space traveller, exploring different planets and systems, and intended to live here to observe for a few years, if we would be kind enough to welcome him."
"That doesn't sound fishy at all," Bow snorted.
"Indeed, but who were we to deny hospitality to a traveller for a few months at least, until he was ready to leave again? Cancerius had already vouched for him, pointing to Hordak's use of tech powers to heal his wife and baby daughter Scorpia as proof of his generosity and helpfulness.
Besides, we were curious. There hadn't been a space traveller on Etheria for a thousand years, according to Mystacor's Sacred Writings."
"Curiosity is what will cost us all," Castepella's counsellor spoke for the first time. She was a beautiful woman with elegant traits. Adora remembered her from the last time she had visited Mystacor. What was her name… Morticia? No, Mortella.
"We should have followed the First Ones' will, and sent him away," she added.
"Or we should have just listened to Katriska," Angella spat.
"Who is that now?" Mermista asked in a bored tone.
"Katriska was the last Queen of the Magicats. She warned us that she didn't trust Hordak, and wanted us to act against him before it was too late. She wanted war."
"And that's exactly why we refused, Angella. Katriska was like all of her predecessors. Fiery, stubborn and hotheaded, ready to jump head first into a fight without considering the consequences," said Castaspella.
"You just like to remember your disagreements with her and her people. The Magicats never followed Mystacor's ways regarding the planet's wellbeing."
"Why do you take this accusing tone? These were the ways you agreed upon, the ways the First Ones transmitted to us, the ways-"
"Excuse me!" Glimmer interrupted. "You're losing us right now! We don't know anything about your old disagreements, so please? What does it have to do with what is happening now?" She looked over at Adora and added, "what does it have to do with Catra?"
"I'm getting to it, Glimmer, I promise. You just need to understand the world you were born into."
My world, right… Adora thought. She hadn't told them yet what Hordak had revealed about her.
"The Magicats retreated to their lands, Halfmoon, furious to have been denied their request. For a couple of years, we actually got along with Hordak. Believe it or not."
The young adults looked at their parent figures in awe. Angella and Castaspella had never looked so embarrassed and guilty.
"He could be charming when he tried," Castaspella fidgeted. "And we were young rulers as well! We were not even twenty years old…"
"He told us many stories about the different worlds he had travelled to, including Eternia, his home planet, where the First Ones, our ancestors, had come from. Unfortunately, he couldn't go back there because he had gotten lost in the system of Despondos, but he promised us, and himself, that he would find a way to bring us all there. Such lies," Angella said bitterly.
"And then he convinced one of our own to betray us," the other counsellor, Isidore, blurted out.
"Yes. Light Spinner, or as you know her now, Shadow Weaver."
"Excuse me?!" Castaspella gasped. "Shadow Weaver, Hordak's Second, is Light Spinner?! When did you intend to tell me, Angella?"
"This is not so surprising, Castaspella," Mortella pinched the bridge of her nose. "She must have escaped from the Forbidden Zone somehow."
"Adora found out last year, but since we had been on cold terms, I forgot to mention it," Angella answered. Glimmer rolled her eyes again.
"So anyway, at a party where all the rulers were invited- same principle as Princess Prom, except that it was politics oriented- Light Spinner drugged Katriska and stole her mask. We don't know what she tried to do, but it almost killed the Queen. Light Spinner explained it was all for Hordak and for the greater good. Long story short, we banned her, at Katriska's request."
"And she joined Hordak, it seems."
"Yes. Katriska warned us again about Hordak, and we finally began to see him as a real threat. We were getting ready for an offensive when…"
Angella sighed heavily. "He attacked the Magicats. Halfmoon was the closest kingdom to the Fright Zone at the time. He destroyed it. Despite the Magicats' strength, the Black Garnet gave the Horde enough power to kill them all and destroy the Queen's runestone."
Castaspella held the mask up again. "These rocks are the Magicat runestone. The only other portable runestone after She-Ra's sword, and the only one that's in two parts."
"Golden for strength…" Angella's eyes sparkled, like she was seeing the ghost of the late queen.
"And blue for wisdom," Castaspella finished.
The assembly of princesses exchanged a stare. They didn't interrupt the silence though.
"We thought that the mask had been destroyed after that horrible slaughter, because our powers lost energy all of a sudden. We became terribly weak compared to Hordak, which is why we then created the Alliance."
"But why? Why did losing the mask take a toll on all of our powers?" Perfuma asked.
"Because the energy flow is a continuum on Etheria. The runestones are the surface points connecting the energy to you princesses, unlike us sorceresses." Isidore explained, a little condescending tone in his voice.
"You need it to call your powers. We don't," he pursued. "We can make any instrument our power connection thanks to a special spell, like Glimmer's staff. However, losing one runestone has affected us the same as you somehow. We lost a good deal of our magical power."
It made sense now. The shockwaves that had made Etheria tremble when the mask was fixed. The extraordinary energy rush through their bodies, almost intoxicating their minds. That feeling of being reborn…
That also explained why Mystacor had joined in the fight. They had sensed the disturbance in the flow of energy caused by the return of the mask.
"What about Catra?" Adora asked.
"Oh right. Catra is the last of the Magicats. I actually didn't know about her. Once again Angella, a little note wouldn't have hurt. Did you know as well about her eyes?"
"I didn't until a few months ago. I wasn't sure what it meant to be honest. She also had the mask, but without the stones…"
"You should have told me. This was very irresponsible."
"I tried, but you wouldn't talk to me, Castaspella!"
"Helloooo!" Glimmer waved her arms angrily. "Context! Please!"
"Sorry, Glimmer. Catra's eyes are the Queen of the Magicats' spirit's eyes. When a queen dies, her spirit travels into a kitten, any child of the Magicats, who recognize her by her eyes."
Golden and blue.
Hey Catra, your eyes are so ugly and weeeiiird!
Don't listen to them, Catra. Your eyes are unique.
"The eyes of the runestone."
They make you special.
You really think so, Adora? Shadow Weaver said I'm nothing special. She said I'm a nuisance.
You're special to me.
Silence fell again on the little assembly.
"So what now?" Frosta asked, focused as always.
"Now everything's perfect!" Castaspella exclaimed. "Etheria's complete again, you will beat Hordak, the planet will stop dying, and everything will go back to normal!"
"I'm sorry what? The planet is dying?" Mermista shook her head.
"You're too optimistic Castaspella, we haven't beaten him yet."
"This is a lot to take…"
"Hordak still has Plumeria and Salineas, how are we supposed to-"
Adora made her chair fall when she stood up, drawing every gaze to her.
"What will happen to Catra? The current Queen of the Magicats?"
"Um…" Castaspella fidgeted as she searched for her counsellors' support. "I'm sorry, dear. We can't consider her as a queen. She is our enemy, the Horde's Second-in-Command. And she has no kingdom."
"She has harmed us in many ways, Adora," Angella said as softly as she could. "She's a prisoner of war. She needs to face her judgement as such."
Adora nodded, pursing her lips. She quickly left the room to avoid spilling her feelings out onto her companions.
"Wow, what a bomb," Seahawk shook his head at the revelations.
"Tell me about it." Mermista groaned. "To think that our parents would hide this from us…"
It was unbelievable.
Her father had died so abruptly she hadn't even had the time to ask him more about the first war against Hordak ten years ago, but she had never imagined it would be so deep. Why had he never told her about their loss of power? Or the planet dying?
That information had slipped from Castaspella's mouth, and both queens hadn't explained anything, but Mermista wouldn't forget about it that easily.
"Seahawk, you've travelled a lot."
"Yes, Princess. I am the most accomplished pirate of Etheria!" he stroked his moustache and winked.
"Yeaah, whatever. Did you… Did it seem to you like our world was like, I don't know… Dying out?"
"I wouldn't say that but…It is true that the ocean is not the same as before, and I heard that the desert has spread quite a lot in a few years."
Mermista rubbed her chin. Was it because they had lost the mask fifteen years ago? If it was, then as Castaspella said, it should all be fixed from now on. Adora did mention that the Whispering Woods were growing again, before the meeting. It was a huge deal for them.
Lost in her thoughts, the Salineas princess resumed helping to repair the front of the castle. The soldiers were digging through the ruins, searching for intact furniture and utensils they could reuse in the future. Some civilians had come back to help as well.
Mermista brought in large quantities of water which Frosta then froze to bring stability to the broken walls. It was only temporary, but would suffice until they could get proper materials.
"My father never talked much about the Magicats. I only knew they were decimated by Hordak," Mermista told Seahawk. "And according to the other girls, I'm not the only one. Why though? Why didn't they tell us about how it all happened? Why didn't anyone teach us about the way the runestones work? Was it because of the fiasco of the first Alliance? Were they ashamed? Did they lose hope or something?"
If that was the case, they acted stupidly.
She raised her hands to launch a new wave of water, but she suddenly felt an immense fatigue throughout her body. Her arms shook and the water fell. She leaned on her knees, panting heavily.
"Princess, are you okay?" Seahawk rubbed a hand on her back. Frosta was approaching as well, a frown on her face.
"I'm fine, don't worryyy…" she groaned. "Just a little bit tired, that's all."
Catra surprised her so much that the blonde tripped on the doorstep of the prison.
"I forgot how good your hearing was."
The feline didn't answer. She was lying on her side, facing the wall of her cell.
It was like a mirrored world all of a sudden. Only three days ago, she was the one in the cell, ignoring Catra.
"Perfuma made a special balm for your back. And a potion you'll have to drink twice a day. I'll bring them to you every day."
A tail swish and an ear twitch were the only signs that Catra had heard her. The features of a Magicat… They had always seemed normal to Adora. Of course, Catra was different, but her differences were never something she had dwelled upon.
She looked behind her. The guard was standing at the entrance of the prison, watching them from the corner of her eye. Adora sent her a sign. The guard nodded and walked her way, aware of what she was going to do.
The guard took the key to the cell out of her pocket, unlocked the door and pushed Adora inside. Adora jumped in as quickly as she could. The guard closed the door behind her and went back to her previous spot.
"Did you guys really think I would try to run away?"
"I have to take my precautions, I'm sorry. I don't want you to get hurt again."
Catra snorted. She sat up and turned around, facing Adora, who had crouched to her level. Her eyes were shining despite how dark it was in the prison. Her hair looked more dishevelled than usual, but maybe it was because of the absence of her mask on her head. Rebel strands framed her face now, giving it a more savage look.
"I can do it myself, Adora," Catra nodded in the direction of the balm. Her voice was so different now, compared to before the battle. It was low and off, and not only because of the sickness.
"Drink it all up."
Adora held out a gourd. Catra rolled her eyes and took it. As she chugged the potion, her nose wrinkling at the saltiness, Adora looked again at the guard. She wasn't sure she could hear them from over there. And…what if she could? Catra had a right to know.
"Can I tell you something?"
"Can I stop you?"
Catra put the bottle down and turned around again, presenting her back to Adora. She took her prisoner t-shirt off. The skin was as bad as the day before. Red, oozing, and blistering. Adora gulped. She pushed the messy hair off the sensitive zone and felt Catra tense. She didn't know if it was from the pain anticipation or the fact that it was Adora touching her.
"It's about your mask. And you."
"I figured. Are you allowed to tell me about it?"
Adora plastered the balm on her shoulder blade. Catra hissed in pain. She clutched her knees and bit her lip so hard she tasted a bit of blood.
"I don't care if I am."
"Wow, what a disobedient girl. It's not like you, Adora." Catra snickered as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. The balm actually soothed the pain faster than she expected.
It was a bit ironic when she thought of it. Adora rubbing her back was the physical representation of their relationship. Hurtful and relieving at the same time, leaving a bitter and sore pain to heal on its own.
"I'll only tell you if you want me to, but I think it's important. It's your past after all."
Catra stared at the wall, lost in thought. Did she want to know? Of course, curiosity was itching at her, but at the same time, did it matter? Would it change what she was now? What she thought? Or what she'd done?
Did she want to change anyway? A part of her was irked at the thought that a single revelation might turn her world upside down. She needed control, and it had already slipped from her hands in a mere few days. Another part of her was also irked at the idea that Adora might hope for her to change if she heard the truth.
"I'm sorry about yesterday evening by the way," Adora spoke again. "The way they beat you up…"
"Don't be. I've done a lot worse to them," Catra replied harshly.
"What you did to them doesn't excuse what they did to you, Catra. It's not a competition."
"You really are a goodie-two-shoes."
Catra could feel that she had irritated Adora in the way her hands were rubbing her lower back more harshly. She smirked.
"I don't care. How can we pretend we're fighting against evil if we act that way as well?"
"Ughh, you're killing me, Adora," Catra jerked her head backwards as she rolled her eyes. "You're always so shocked about people's behavior. I never am."
"Enlighten me then, miss smartass."
"This is a war, Adora. There might be one or two bad guys who have the evil intentions. But it's a war. All the people involved, whatever side they're on, however important in rank they are, are going to act badly, one way or another, to different degrees. Whether you like it or not."
"That doesn't mean I have to accept it."
"Then prepare yourself to be shocked many times in the future."
Adora slipped her balmed hand onto Catra's left hip, where the skin was a bit burnt, even if it wasn't as bad as the back. Catra could have done that part herself, but she let her. She didn't know why. She didn't want Adora to stop.
"I'd rather be shocked while trying hard to pull the best out of people."
"Is that what you're trying to do with me now?"
"No, right now I'm taking care of my weak ex-best friend's injury," Adora answered softly.
"That's your thing now… She-Ra, protector of the weak and wounded."
"I can stop if you don't like it."
Her hands left her skin. Catra's tail swished involuntarily, marking her discontent. Adora giggled and resumed her work. She was almost done.
"I can control it now, you know. The beast."
"Yeah. Yesterday, when I tried to run away, I wasn't out of my mind, like the first time."
"Good. I'll tell them if you don't mind."
"Why? You're pleading my case?" Catra chuckled. The silence that followed didn't reassure her.
"Catra… They are not going to be merciful with you."
"I understand. I wouldn't be either if I was on the other side."
Adora stopped her work, satisfied with the color of Catra's skin now. It would be greasy under her shirt, but at least it wouldn't hurt as much.
"So, do you want to know the truth or not?"
"Yeah, okay. Just, let me ask… Why are you doing all this? After everything I did to you?" Catra's voice was very small all of a sudden. Vulnerable.
Adora handed her the shirt. "I left you once."
Catra tensed again as she was putting the shirt on her back.
"I don't want to do that again."
Catra scoffed. "I'm not asking you for anything. How many times have I told you that it served me well when you left?"
"Look where it led you though."
"That's not what led me here. That was-" Catra's words died in her mouth. They weren't useful though.
That was when I tried to protect you from Hordak.
It made Adora smile. She rearranged Catra's messy hair. Catra let her. She was too tired to resist.
"Hordak messed us all up, Catra. Let me tell you what happened."