It had only been thirteen days since the battle. And yet it seemed to Catra like it happened two months ago. Time had flowed in a slow motion in her cell, the prisoner waiting eagerly for the little interaction with people she got allowed to have.
Even if she had spent most of the days alone, she felt like that time had been only occupied by Adora. Talking together, arguing together...building up that desire that, Catra realized now, had existed between them for a very long time.
These thirteen days had felt like somebody had hit the pause button on life.
But today it had started again. Time accelerated, bringing her closer to her fate. If only she had managed to escape… If only Adora had set her free when she'd asked her…
The trip to Mystacor had been shorter than Catra expected the next day. The castle only looked far away because it floated above the clouds, but it was a false impression.
When they arrived, she couldn't help but marvel at the beauty of the domain. She hadn't seen anything as mesmerizing. The Fright Zone was a boil on the face of the planet in comparison.
Catra hadn't met anyone on her way to Mystacor's prison. Not even Adora. The guards had locked her in a dark but comfortable cell, and had left after giving her a frugal meal. She'd spent the night all alone, only to be woken up way too early for her taste by Vassilis who'd come to prepare the trial for the last time with her, all excited like Entrapta at the sight of tiny food.
Catra growled in warning when the warlock guard nudged her side with his magical spear.
They had been walking in the hallways of Mystacor for ten good minutes now. Catra couldn't help looking up to admire the general splendor of the place. The sorceresses had made it so the light would bounce on the walls and reverberate at every moment of the day. Even without knowing the castle was in the clouds, one could feel like their heart was floating in serenity. Like there were no horrors happening every day outside.
Tchh, Catra could have forgotten about the war as well, if she had lived here all her life. As long as the energy flows were circulating and the palace looked pretty, nothing really bad must have been happening on Etheria, huh?
Catra could understand why Angella had been so pissed at the sorceresses.
They entered a large hallway with high statues observing them as they walked by. That was when Vassilis felt obliged to explain to his ward the meaning of every single statue and who they represented. Catra really wanted to shove his notepad in his mouth.
"So they're all current or former leaders of Mystacor, or kings and queens of smaller kingdoms. Here's king Micah, Queen Angella's late husband, whose mother's family guarded the moonstone before Angella was found…"
Catra glanced up at the stone face. She could recognize, if she squinted hard enough, some of Sparkle's traits. She liked him better than her.
"And here is...Light Spinner."
Catra met Vassilis' gaze. If his eyes wanted to convey sympathy, it failed. A weird fascination glinted in them instead, as if the warlock was analyzing her whole body language at the mention of her name. It reminded her a bit of Entrapta's way of observing social interaction...in a much creepier style.
"You're ready for this, Catra?"
She shut down her annoyment, and nodded.
It was time.
Catra had never felt more out of place. Surrounded by at least two hundred princesses, sorceresses and civilians, their eyes following her as she walked between the benches… When the guards had pushed the door open, a general silence had welcomed her, followed quickly enough by grumbling whispers.
People stared. People glared.
There was anger in the air, but also shock at the sight of the famous Horde Commander.
"She looks like her…"
The chains at her feet rattled unpleasantly on the ground, reminding her of her current status. A criminal.
She didn't feel like one.
"Did you know she had a daughter?!"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Just look at her! It has to be!"
In the front part of the room, a rectangular space was framed by several heightened desks. Two desks were right in front of the first audience benches. The prosecutor was on the right one, studying his notes. The princesses were sitting at the desk adjacent to him, on the right. Catra recognized all of them except one.
Mermista with a heavy scarf around her neck and tissues in her hand. Perfuma, who waved at Catra. Angella, who put Perfuma's hand down. The couple Catra never remembered the names of. The kid. And the last one she never saw before, a redhead with fox ears. No Glimmer. That was odd.
On the opposite of the princesses stood the desk of the civilian members of the jury. They all sent daggers towards her. If Catra could flip them off…
Finally, at the front desk, facing the prosecutor and the defense, where Catra would stand, were sitting Mystacor's jury, and in the middle, an even higher desk rose, where Queen Castaspella dominated the Court.
Wow, they weren't kidding with protocols.
"I'm telling you, she must have had a kitten and hid it."
"I'm not surprised, it fits her personality."
"Poor Katriska, she would have been sad to see how that one turned out…"
Catra snapped her head and glared so hard at the stupid princesses on her left they whimpered and shrank their bodies on the bench.
The guard grabbed Catra's arm, pulling her towards the left desk. She walked up the wooden stairs with Vassilis, and they both sat on chairs placed on top. It brought Catra much closer to the civilian jury desk than she would have liked.
"Where's Adora?" Catra asked Vassilis as she glanced at the audience behind her. She could see Bow, alone in the middle of chatty princesses squeezing him on the third row… Where was the rest of the boring trio?
"She will be coming in through that back door when I call her, with the permission of Queen Castaspella."
"And after her testimony, she has to leave?"
"No, she'll be staying with us. She can be called back on witness stand, if new facts are revealed during the trial."
"Then what's the point of making her wait behind that door?"
Vassilis blinked in surprise. "It's just how we do it."
Right. In the Horde a designed criminal would just be thrown in the pit. There wasn't any place for these...justice show times. It was too flashy for Catra's taste. She only hoped it was worth it. Would it truly be fair, like Adora promised? Catra still doubted it. But she had to acknowledge that Vassilis was an odd duck who seemed to truly want to 'win this case', as he said.
Castaspella knocked on her desk with her magic wand, inviting everyone to silence. She took a purple shiny crystal out of her robe, and murmured a spell before throwing it in the air. The piece of rock glowed brighter, floating in the center of the room.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let us begin the trial in regard of the war crimes of Catra, Second-in-Command of Lord Hordak."
It looked as if Castaspella's words were drawn to the crystal. Catra was sure she saw letters forming just around the purple object when the queen spoke.
"Members of the jury, I present to you Warlock Hermès, in charge of the prosecution, and Warlock Vassilis, in charge of the defense."
The two men stood up and bowed to the jury, then to each other. The prosecutor was older and looked more experienced than Vassilis, Catra observed. But it didn't mean anything. Catra was the living proof that young people shouldn't be underestimated. However she reconsidered her thoughts as she saw Vassilis rub his hands like a child receiving an extra ration bar for Hordak's annual glorification day.
"Gentlemen, do you swear to follow the rules of our Sacred Writings in the process of the task that has been asked from you?"
They both swore.
Vassilis sat down, letting the prosecutor talk first, as it was the rule. Hermès cleared his throat, gave a grave stare around the room, before starting his speech.
"Members of the jury, thank you for attending this exceptional trial today. How long has it been since the last time a person went so far over the line of cruelty that the High Court felt the necessity to gather?"
Oh wow. He went right for the feelings huh. Awesome.
Catra rolled her eyes and sunk deeper in her chair. Adora would probably tell her that a nonchalant attitude wasn't the smartest move right now. But Adora wasn't there yet, and Catra was extremely annoyed and wanted to show it.
She glared back at a few civilians of the jury while Hermès kept on demonizing her.
"Such a young person, and yet the Commander already committed more crimes than all of you together… And in what name?! Hordak's…"
Low hisses resonated in the courtroom.
"For power and destruction...Commander Catra ordered and participated to burning down your villages… Kill and terrorize your people… Take away your runestones!"
He looked specifically in the direction of Perfuma and Mermista, who looked away, discomfort showing on their face.
Catra wondered what good Adora's and Vassilis' work could do. Ten minutes of trial had been enough to set the minds ablaze, and the more Hermès talked, enunciating one by one the different assaults Catra led, the less silent the audience turned. People acclaimed, people shouted words of approval here and there. Castaspella even had to ask for silence twice.
"...and for all these crimes… Members of the jury, Queen Castaspella… What makes this trial exceptional, is that your final choice goes beyond the Commander's own fate," the prosecutor looked at the jury, one by one. "Your choice will sculpt the foundations of the new Rebellion."
Vassilis squinted his eyes, scribbling something in his notepad.
"Will you make the difficult choice of giving this war criminal the maximum penalty in order to set the example, assert your dominance in this war, and give hope to the many innocent people who waited for such a long time for you to save them?"
A few shouts echoed his words in the audience.
"Or will you," anger rasped his voice. "Will you decide to forgive a heartless monster who will betray you as soon as she gets the opportunity, making a fool of yourselves when it happens, and disrespecting all the people who died or lost someone because of her?!"
Catra tightened her fists.
"The answer should be obvious," Hermès pursued in a heavy sigh. "The civilians and the smaller kingdoms that you failed to protect are all looking at you with hopeful eyes right now. They need you to be the strong rebellion they needed since the war began, and I think… I think they deserve your consideration."
When the warlock stopped talking, the audience cheered eagerly. Whistles and new death threats came to Catra's ears, but she didn't twitch an ear.
Vassilis stood up, a smile on his face as he embraced the ice cold stares of the jury. Catra felt the sudden urge to thank him for trying after all… But she wasn't delusional. His intervention wouldn't be of any use.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Members of the Jury, Queen Castapella…" he bowed. "My ward is guilty. My ward...is a criminal."
A dead silence welcomed his first words. The prosecutor raised an amused brow, and even Queen Angella frowned in perplexity, wondering where the antlered man wanted to go with this.
"Yes, Commander Catra admitted she did order all these assaults. She caused indirectly the destruction and deaths of many. Corrupted by the Horde's military mind-washing and destruction praise."
He looked at her with pity. She pursed her lips, but refrained herself from growling.
"She is a woman, who has lived nothing else but oppression and terror in the Horde, just like us… Except that in her case, it was her every day life… It was the people who raised her. The people who taught her the values of right and wrong…"
The jury remained impassive. It would need more than that. Much more than that.
"What would you expect from a woman who saw violence on a daily basis since infancy? What would you expect from a child who was taught that her only value as a person lied in being a good soldier, winning for their almighty ruler?"
The audience didn't boo anymore at least. They listened, boiling, ready to explode if Vassilis said one problematic word.
"Soldiers are nothing in the ranks of the Horde. Soldiers barely have a name. The first thing they learn as kids is to destroy the evil princesses… But even among them, Catra wasn't a simple nobody. She was even less than that."
Oh man. What wouldn't she give to claw his face.
"The last magicat…raised, hated and tortured by the rot of Mystacor. Light Spinner."
A general gasp erupted in the room. Castaspella knocked on her desk to gain silence.
"Yes, Light Spinner escaped and joined Hordak, taking the name of Shadow Weaver-"
"Objection, my Queen," Hermès raised. "There is no known proof for that statement, and I fail to see the relevance in the case of the war crimes-"
"Warlock Hermès, you got to say your introduction speech uninterrupted," Castapella said sharply. "You will respect your colleague and do as such. Now Warlock Vassilis, you can only tell in your speech what has already been asserted before. If your witness can assert this, you need to call her now, and reduce your speech by the same time."
Catra didn't understand. Adora told her about Shadow Weaver being Light Spinner. She said the sorceresses had been astound and pissed at Angella for hiding it to them… So it hadn't been made public yet.
"I will call her later, my Queen," Vassilis bowed again. "So, despised and tortured more than the others by their caretaker, different in many ways, and having no real values of life, death, and morals in general… Only loved by one person, her best friend, the golden child of the Horde, who left her for people she barely knew…"
Here came the Adora part.
"It wasn't surprising that when she got the opportunity to become somebody, to become more than the failure of all the kid soldiers, and prove her best friend she could reach the top without her... She took it without hesitation.
Who can say they never caved to their primal urge to be validated and appreciated by their superior and family?
Who can say they haven't reacted inappropriately to the betrayal of the person they loved most?"
Ugh, really?! Now she just sounded like a needy brat.
"When Princess Adora left the Horde to lend us the strength of She-Ra, she also left her friend behind, alone, at the mercy of their caretaker's cruelty. She snapped the last string of faith Catra had in love. The only person to ever consider her as an equal, leaving… It's not surprising Catra lost her ability to see people for who they were."
Catra really didn't understand, how exactly was this speech serving her? He was only feeding the prosecutor's image of her being heartless.
"And as for listening to Princess Adora who begged her to join us… Who can blame her for still being heartbroken by her friend's betrayal?
Yes, Commander Catra acted for herself. Yes, she didn't think about us, the people suffering from the Horde's attacks, because she was raised on survival instinct only. She was raised to live for her sake, and for the ones she cares about, before caring about anything else."
How could Vassilis even think these people would understand? He was too naive.
"But Catra got betrayed by her side now. Catra is no longer Second-in-Command. Catra learned about her past, learned how Hordak killed her race, the Magicats, one by one.
Catra has as many reasons as all of us now to fight the Horde. And Catra, as you have all seen, is the new and last Queen of the Magicats, carrier of the restored mask, enabling her to turn into the great warrior her people used to be."
"Members of the jury," Vassilis' eyes were glowing in excitement. "Isn't it too beautiful for a coincidence? The last magicat being She-Ra's long life partner? The magicat runestone, reappearing after all these years? The princesses and She-Ra boosted up? Hordak losing the battle he was certainly supposed to win?
No...it looks like the turning point we've been waiting forever since She-Ra came back.
Now do you think the First Ones would want us to get rid of a potential extraordinary ally?"
Oh good one. Catra, in the place of the jury, would have just rolled her eyes, but she could see on the faces of the sorceresses and the civilians a shred of doubt. She remembered how Adora told her about their faith in the First Ones.
"My esteemed colleague is right about this choice being decisive for the future of the Rebellion.
Forgive her...and we can start to make amend for not believing Queen Katriska, fifteen years ago. We can honor the dead Magicats by sparing their last queen and giving her a second chance."
That elicited a new kind of reaction from people, especially the sorceresses. The mention of their past mistake must have stung...
"Thus we can fight together against Hordak, and make him pay for all the lives he took and the suffering he brought to everyone, including Catra.
On the other hand, send her to die…"
Vassilis' usual sparkle turned severe in his eyes.
"And we might as well take the name of the Horde for acting as narrow-mindedly as them."
Heavy murmurs filled the room. Catra saw some civilians look uncomfortable. Queen Angella had a small smile on her lips.
This was...not so bad after all. Not enough, but not so bad.
"My Queen, if I may, I will call now the main witness of the defense," Vassilis exclaimed. "Princess Adora."
Entrapta exhaled as she literally dropped her ass on a chair. Her hair was exhausted now that she had to use them all the time. For walking as well as holding her useless legs in the air.
She rubbed her face whilst browsing the to-do list on her computer. She stopped at the last line… The one she had read several times already since she wrote it.
She bit her lower lip. A shiver ran down her spine. She was scared of that call. Scared of learning what could happen to Catra. And also scared of betraying Hordak again. She knew she had pushed her luck quite far, and up until now it had gone well...until Kyle got imprisoned by Octavia.
The Second-in-Command had spent the whole night torturing the boy...and Entrapta guessed he hadn't talked since she could still overthink peacefully in her lab. But it didn't mean he would hold for long.
Everything could fall apart. She had to act fast.
She dialed the number on her computer, breathing in and out slowly.
The ringtone echoed several times in the lab.
"Come on, Bow… Pick up…"
"Do you recognize this mask, Princess?"
"Yes, it's Catra's mask."
"When was the first time you saw it?"
"I can't remember. She's always had it, except for a few years, because Shadow Weaver confiscated it."
"Why did she do that?"
"Catra would always hide it under her pillow, until Shadow Weaver discovered it when she was ten. She got very mad at Catra, and said useless soldiers like her shouldn't have a special item belonging to them."
"And then what did she do?"
"Catra was trying to get her mask back so she...threw her in the pit. The prison meant for torture. She left her there for two days."
People gasped in the crowd at Adora's words. It was inconceivable in their world... Harming a child that way…
Adora glanced at Catra, cheeks red in shame, her back hunched as if she tried to make herself smaller. Catra stared back, pain and anger in her eyes at the memory of that day. Her anger was partly directed at Adora, for sharing that with so many strangers. Even if it was for her sake...it wasn't her place to do that. And Adora knew it.
Catra averted her gaze. She fixed on her feet, trying to block the flashbacks from the long days she had spent in the pit… But Shadow Weaver's voice was sneaking in her mind again…
Insolent, useless child…
You should be lucky Lord Hordak spared your miserable existence…
Learn to respect your superiors… I'll release you tomorrow, if I don't forget…
Catra's whole body shivered. She planted her claws in her wrist, focusing hard on the pain, as she rocked her upper body back and forth. She could feel her pulse throb under her skin. It soothed her.
Shadow Weaver's voice faded away slowly, leaving her body shaking from head to toe.
She opened her eyes, and realized a lot of people from the jury were looking at her weirdly. The civilians looked torn between concern and suspicion. Angella looked worried. And Adora…
"Can you describe your relationship with Catra, Princess?"
So many emotions lied in those blue eyes, as they took a minute to look at Catra. Catra held it, conscious that air was suddenly stuck in her lungs. A small smile warmed Adora's face.
"She meant everything to me."
Catra didn't blink once while Adora talked. Adora didn't look away either.
She spoke well. She moved people with her words, in a way that Catra would never be able to accomplish. Catra hurt when she talked. Catra knew how to guilt, knew how to manipulate, knew how to stir rage and bitterness from people.
Adora… Adora knew how to soothe people. How to make them relate. She drew a portrait of Catra that could soften the coldest heart. She told about their fondness, their friendship, their mutual support...but also the flaws of their relationship, the damage Shadow Weaver had done to both of them…
People gaped. People whispered.
Catra wondered where she learned to do that.
"When did you learn that Shadow Weaver was Light Spinner?"
"Objection, my Queen, once again, I don't see the relevance of this matter in the trial."
"I'll allow it."
"...she told me over a year ago, when I first visited Mystacor. She used her shadow magic to trick me and terrorize me, and because of her I accidentally broke some of Mystacor's Ancient Writings…"
A grunt of heavy discontent ran in the crowd. Catra wasn't sure it was a great idea to expose that accident…
"So what you're saying is," Vassilis paced in the room, looking thrilled, "Light Spinner, the disgrace of our kingdom, banned for using dark magic on the last Queen of the Magicats, Queen Katriska, who also had a personal fight with her… Light Spinner was also the woman who had to raise the new queen, the last descendant of the Magicats, that she personally hated."
"And for all these years of torture and condescending, you, Princess Adora, who was also Light Spinner's favorite, were the only light in Catra's life."
Catra's eye twitched.
"And when you left the Horde for the reason of finally perceiving how evil it was, she saw this not only as abandoning her, but also discarding her whole life experience. Her trauma. Your friendship, for all these years, suddenly appeared as fake."
Adora nodded, lowering her eyes. Catra didn't know if she was acting it, but Vassilis was in his element.
Why Adora… Taking it all on you? Making it all about you? Was that the smartest move?
"She suddenly had no other choice than survive on her own, and get revenge on Princess Adora and the ones who took her away from her. And eventually prove her worth, show the whole world she was not the weak useless kid Light Spinner had made her believe she was for all her life.
Catra is a victim of this war, just like us. A victim of years of mental and physical abuse, being beaten up, being compared to her best friend, being condescended...to be finally betrayed by the one she loved most. The path she took would have been totally different if only one thing had changed in her story.
And Princess Adora, by her honest testimony, showed us that Catra isn't inherently a bad person. Catra, as the new queen and legal carrier of the mask of Katriska, as a former Second-in-Command who knows everything about the Horde who betrayed her, would be the perfect ally for the Rebellion, and the best one to help us win the war.
Her mistakes are grave, and we won't forget about them. But we can't ignore the past that made her, and we can't throw away the possibility of having a great warrior by our side, especially when the First Ones brought her to be She-Ra's intimate friend."
Vassilis bowed and took his place back next to Catra.
The room was tensed. She could feel his speech had had a little impact on the jury and the audience.
Hermès stood up. It was his turn to speak.
"Princess Adora, when you met the Commander the first time after you left the Horde, you did ask her to join you, is it correct?"
"How many times since you left have you asked her to join you?"
"About a dozen times."
"Have you apologized to her, have you explained to her your reasons for leaving?"
"Have you showed her the atrocities the Horde did on our people?"
Adora agreed again. Each yes broke her face little by little. Each yes atoned Vassilis' speech in people's forgetful minds. Hermès was winning again. He didn't even have to pursue the questioning any further. The conclusion he drew was solid.
Adora had abandoned her, but Adora hadn't given up on her, and Catra had chosen to ignore her apologies. And whatever torture Catra had lived in the past in the Horde, she'd also chosen to ignore the pain she was inflicting to others.
It was a choice.
Adora's time as a witness was over. She joined the defense team, looking so defeated Catra didn't even want to spit "I told you so".
"The prosecution now calls their main witness," Hermès claimed. "Princess Glimmer."
Catra saw her follow the sparkle princess with her eyes, in awe, without blinking, until she sat on witness stand.
Glimmer glanced at her friend once, a sorry look on her face, before focusing on the prosecutor.
Catra stared back at Adora, trying to catch her gaze. But the princess wasn't turning away from Glimmer, anger and pain twitching her traits as she tightened her fists on her lap.
"Princess," Hermès started, his voice turning all sweet all of a sudden. "Can you tell us about the time you got kidnapped?"
Bow huffed loudly, trying to make his chatty neighbors understand he was actually trying to pay attention to the trial. An old princess grandma with big rabbit ears that could perfectly hear through the rumble- unlike Bow- was commenting every sentence the warlocks and witnesses said.
What was the point of repeating everything?!
Bow sighed, focusing as best as he could on Glimmer.
Glimmer being the prosecutor's witness… That wouldn't make things easy afterwards…
He could almost hear Adora's complaints from here. She looked devastated. Thank the First Ones she wasn't allowed to turn into She-Ra.
Bow looked around him, listening to the whispers of the crowd. The audience was so passionate about this. Discovering Light Spinner had escaped and become She-Ra and Catra's caretaker was probably the heaviest news of the day.
Bow could feel people's hesitant sympathy for the prisoner. They also saw the big advantage of having her on the Rebellion's side… Especially considering she was now Hordak's enemy. Honoring the Magicats had also touched a string in their heart. Catra's people had been very appreciated in their time, despite their disagreements with Mystacor.
Vassilis had done his part well.
But people still hated how Catra discarded their own misery, and how she participated to the Horde's destructive operations. Just because she had suffered… It didn't excuse her actions. And her stubbornness to oppose She-Ra only made the crowd angrier to realize the slaughter could have been avoided if it wasn't for a lover's spat….
That was what it looked like from here anyway.
The debate was tight.
"Master Archer, your bag is buzzing."
Bow blinked twice, not understanding the grandma's words. She pointed to the backpack he had thrown under the front bench. His quiver and arrows were popping out of it, vibrating periodically.
Somebody was calling.
"So Commander Catra, when she was still a Force Captain, trying to prove her worth to her superiors and get back at Princess Adora for leaving, kidnapped you and Master Bow."
"And at the Fright Zone, she left you in the hands of Light Spinner, knowing perfectly well how she would torture you."
"...yes," Glimmer said with a little voice.
"You would think, members of the jury, that after spending so many years tortured, one would take pity on an innocent woman suffering from the same abuser. That is, if that someone truly had a heart."
Catra could see Adora boil on her seat. She knew what the blonde wanted to say. She probably had a dozen of protests ready to blurt out of her mouth, and she had to bite her tongue to keep them in.
"Commander Catra's evolution moved the most during that time when Princess Adora left and she was alone in the Fright Zone, figuring out who she was… And Princess Glimmer, by her testimony, showed us exactly the person she was becoming. A revengeful, pitiless woman, greedy for power, uncaring of the fate and feelings of others…
How, how can we now trust somebody like this? How can we expect the commander to change in barely two weeks after Hordak chased her away? Do we really want to take that risk and offer her the stick she will beat us with?
...no further question."
Vassilis raised from his seat, frowning as he thought of his strategy.
"Princess Glimmer, how did you escape from the Fright Zone that day?"
Adora's face lit up. Catra rolled her eyes.
"...Adora and I were stuck in front of the purging chambers. I couldn't teleport because of Shadow Weaver's magic. That's when Catra arrived and gave us the sword of She-Ra."
The crowd gasped. Hermès glared at Glimmer. From what Catra could guess, Glimmer hadn't told him everything… The sparkling princess looked her in the eyes. And at this moment…Catra felt like she had to do something. Something real. Something meaningful.
A little smile tucked the corners of her mouth. That was the nicest face Catra had ever made for the princess.
Glimmer blushed, averting her gaze quickly.
"So Catra let you escape in the end, at the most crucial time of her evolution…"
"No further question."
Vassilis was smirking. That dude was enjoying himself too much. But he had studied his case, Catra was impressed.
As for Adora, if she could taunt Hermès for having his words used so easily against him, she would. Instead she just smirked at him, and Catra was sure she saw her discreetly stick her tongue out.
That was a nice turn of events. Probably not enough in Catra's opinion, but it still...changed some things. Even if it was definitely not Catra's crucial moment of evolution bullshit.
"Princess Glimmer, you can join the prosecution desk," Castaspella said. The princess joined Hermès, who was listening to a young woman whispering in his ear as she handed him a file.
"Members of the jury," Castaspella pursued. "If you-"
"I call Princess Adora back, my Queen," Hermès cut her off. Vassilis' smile fell. Adora widened her eyes, forgetting how to breathe. "New facts we cannot overlook have been brought to light, thanks to the archives, with the help of my apprentice."
"Objection my Queen," Vassilis raised from his seat, furious. "The prosecution said only yesterday that all their research have been completed, meaning whatever's written in that file must have been known by Warlock Hermès before the beginning of the trial."
"It appears I haven't done all my research properly, esteemed colleague…" Hermès barely hid the mischievous glint in his eyes.
"My Queen, this isn't reglementary! The prosecutor hasn't even examined the file, and neither have you!"
"And I will hand it over right now, Warlock Vassilis."
Hermès quickly walked to Castapella's desk and gave the orange papers, while Vassilis stood boiling on his desk. The Queen took a minute to study the file. She looked conflicted for a few seconds...
"...I'll allow it."
Catra snorted. What kind of bullshit was this trial? It was nothing else but a performance show. Vassilis grunted as he sat down, giving a nod to Adora who left the desk.
"Hey Vassilis," Catra whispered in his ear. "I don't get it, what's with the new fact thing that can't be mentioned during the trial…?"
"I explained it to you yesterday…" he sighed. Of course Catra hadn't listened. "Before the beginning of the trial, we have to present every single fact we plan on using to the queen, so that she can examine their authenticity, without revealing our strategy of course. The facts that were already known and proven before can be used in our introduction speech, whereas the one we intend to prove thanks to the witnesses are reserved for witness stand. Finally the facts we cannot prove at all are not to be used."
"Oh… So Hermès lied about the thing he's going to ask Adora."
"I didn't think he'd go dirty like that…"
Catra raised a brow, but didn't comment that Vassilis had accidentally blurted out that Shadow Weaver was Light Spinner in his own introduction speech.
"And you know what it's about?" Catra asked.
Vassilis averted his gaze. That didn't sound good.
"Princess Adora," Catra brought her attention on the blonde, her ears perked up, her heart beating faster all of a sudden… She didn't know why she had a bad feeling about this. "Can you please show us your back?"
Adora froze for the third time today. But this time, all colors seem to leave her face.
In the jury, some princesses and Queen Angella pouted. What was going on?
Adora swallowed with difficulty. She turned around, tucked the hems of her shirt up, and slowly lifted it, until her shoulder blades were visible. The crowd gasped again.
But Catra didn't hear them.
She could only hear the pulse in her head, threatening to make it explode. She could only feel her stomach clench, almost about to reject her thin breakfast. She could only see what Adora had hidden underneath her shirt for so many months.
Four long white marks on one side of the column and three on the other, disfiguring her skin.
Seven scratches, making the feline's fingers throb as she remembered the feeling of sinking them in the tender flesh…
"Princess Adora, who did that to you?"
Adora fixed her shirt and turned around. She looked up sadly at Catra. She looked like she was about to cry. Cry because the scars would probably be the final blow to convince the jury that Catra was unworthy of being forgiven. Oh, Adora…
A tear rolled on Catra's cheek. She didn't even realize before its saltiness tickled her mouth.
"When was that?"
"Last year, during the battle of Brightmoon."
Why didn't she tell her? Why was Catra learning about it now?!
"Were you in your She-Ra form?"
"Now usually, do you keep scars when She-Ra is wounded?"
Vassilis sighed heavily. Catra didn't know where this was going, but she didn't care at this point. She kept staring at Adora, guilt, anger and pain swirling in her heart.
Thirteen days. She had spent thirteen days in the cell of Brightmoon, visited by Adora twice a day or more, to take care of her own wounded back…
"How extraordinary that the only scar She-Ra kept was made by Commander Catra…" Hermès rubbed his chin as he talked. "I was confused about this detail, so I made some research, and my apprentice found out in our oldest archives, the explanation for this. Princess Adora, would you mind reading it for us?"
Adora took the file. The room was dead silent.
"Energy flows in She-Ra's body, more than in the other princesses'," Adora read. "It gives her strength and high regeneration abilities, so that no physical wound may remain more than a day on her body. However it is known that-"
Adora hiccuped. She looked up in awe at Hermès who invited her to pursue with a nod.
"It is known that heavily emotional wounds can leave scars on She-Ra's body, that can even transcend onto her human form...as a mark of She-Ra's truest enemy. The enemy of the heart."
Enemy of the heart…
Adora looked Catra in the eyes. Despair lidded the blue irises. Was she thinking of their last encounter like Catra right now? Was she also thinking of that kiss that wouldn't leave her mind in peace?
Or...was she doubting her fight suddenly, just because a stupid archive told her Catra would remain her nemesis forever?
Catra frowned. Catra wanted to break her chains, take Adora by the hand and drag her out of this useless showtime. She wanted to grab her face, plant her eyes in her ocean ones, and tell her…
Tell her how much she regretted ever scratching her. Tell her how devastated she was to see her hatred marking her skin forever.
Tell her she had been right to believe Catra could change.
Tell her how much she wanted to kiss her again.
"As you can see thanks to our Sacred Writings," Hermès concluded gravely. "It might have not been a coincidence if the last Queen of the Magicats grew up with the one who would become She-Ra. Everything could have been different, it is true.
But what is certain today, is that the First Ones are giving us right now a powerful warning through those scars. A reminder of who Commander Catra is."
Hermès stared at Catra in silence for a dramatic effect.
Bow really wanted to stay but his tablet had buzzed at least three more times. It must have been pretty important for their Horde allies to insist…
Soon the jury would retire to take their decision anyway.
He could wait until then.
"Warlock Vassilis, if you have something to ask Princess Adora in regard of this new event, go ahead."
"Thank you my Queen. Princess, will you please read for us the date of publication of this archive?"
Adora had to search for a while until she found it.
"Year 198 after the Great Chaos…"
"Members of the jury," Vassilis almost yelled. "How can we give faith to a writing made so long after the last She-Ra disappeared? And how can we base our current situation on something written more than eight hundred years ago?"
"Are you saying our Sacred Writings are worthless, Warlock Vassilis?" Hermès snarled.
"Are you saying Catra cannot change because of some white marks on She-Ra's skin?"
"This is the First Ones' will-"
"Gentlemen!" Castaspella shouted. "That's enough. Warlock Vassilis, do you have another question for Princess Adora?"
"...I do," he softened his voice. "Princess, here's my very last question. What do those marks on your skin represent for you?"
Oh, cute naive Vassilis. As if Adora's love could save the day…
"For me…" Adora smiled. It was a soft smile on a tired face. The smile of someone who was healing from heavy wounds. But still healing. "These marks are the reminder of our mistakes…and a promise to erase the real scars in here."
She tapped on her chest as she smiled at Catra.
Stupid, cheesy Adora.
Catra sniffed as silently as possible, blinking frantically to hold back the tears. Vassilis stared at her intently. His eyebrows were raised so high they disappeared under his bangs. She knew what he meant. The jury needed to see her tears.
But they'd seen enough of her weakness for today.
"Members of the Jury," Castaspella said joyfully as she closed the door. The twenty-one people in question had all sat around a table in the back room. Blank identical shaped paper sheets were placed in front of them. "It is time for you to vote. Does any of you need to see the pieces of evidence and the witnesses' testimonies?"
A civilian asked for the archive about She-Ra's wounds. A sorceress asked to read Adora's testimony again. Castaspella put all the files on a table, and left in another room, leaving the jury alone to take their decision.
"Can we quickly get to the vote?" Isidore asked fifteen minutes later, sending irritated looks to the people who were still examining the files.
"Isidore, it's their right to take as much time as they need," Mortella scolded him.
"I don't understand why it would take so long, the outcome is obvious. Vassilis said it himself, she is guilty."
"Whatever your opinion is, you have no right to press the rest of the jury into making a decision hastily," Angella said as she took a file herself.
"With all due respect, Warlock Isidore," a civilian started hesitantly. "This vote is proving itself much more difficult than what I initially expected."
"You can't be seriously thinking of forgiving her…" spat another civilian.
"I didn't think I would, but sending her to death, after everything that's been said? It is too much."
"So because Princess Adora is crazy about her, we have to forget everything she's done to us?!"
"Gentlemen, please!" Angella rose from her seat. "Our votes are supposed to be anonymous, and our debate as neutral as possible. If you're only about to argue, refrain yourself."
"Yes, all your opinions are valid," Mortella nodded. "And the purpose of this jury is to be fair, so no influencing whatsoever," she glared at Isidore as she said those last words. He scoffed but obeyed. Almost an hour passed in silence, until the jury felt ready to decide which motions to propose.
"Alright, if you're all ready, let's proceed to vote the first motion," said Perfuma, who had been assigned to the vote process management.
"In favor for giving Commander Catra the death sentence. Write yes or no."
Bow scrutinized the landscape, far under Mystacor's floating island. The clouds passing by made it more difficult to decipher every detail.
He left the watchpoint, hurrying to the next nervously. Behind him, the captain of the sorceresses' army followed close, arms crossed beneath her chest.
"Are you sure about your info, Master Archer?"
"Pretty sure," Bow protected his eyes from the suns to see better. "The Horde is going to attack today. I know it."
The captain didn't answer, doubt betraying her face.
"Listen, the Alliance receives trustful information from the Horde, and I'm telling you, today, we need to be vigilant. We need to reinforce the surveillance and the magic shield."
"The shield is at its optimal state. The spell has been casted by the High Council a few months ago. There is absolutely no way the Horde can break into it, if they ever do attack us."
Bow raised a thumbs up, but he didn't leave his watch, which only irritated the captain more.
"So Queen Angella sent you to make sure we would be ready?" she asked suspiciously.
Bow swallowed the little lie he just made. What could he tell her? That he had just received a call from the Horde's mad scientist asking for information about Catra and insinuating very heavily that Mystacor might be attacked on that very day, hence why he had just rushed in the watchpoints?
She wouldn't believe him.
Should he have interrupted the trial to warn everybody?
...yes he should have. Definitely. But he didn't understand how it was possible for the Horde to reach Mystacor. They just came out of a battle. They lost most of their robots. What exactly did they have left?
Besides, the captain was right. The shield was unbreakable.
Bow relaxed a bit. Now that he made sure there was nobody outside and that the forces were ready, just in case…
How could he warn Queen Angella and the High Council? Interrupting a trial of this importance was not something anyone ever did. But he trusted Entrapta… If she was right and the Horde managed to break into the castle… They had to evacuate everyone.
"Please, stay alert…" Bow insisted before he left.
The air was vibrating with tension in the courtroom. With the jury desks being empty because they were taking their decision in the back room, the audience felt the need to participate in thoughts, asserting their opinions without much discretion.
Catra was blocking them all. All the spiteful comments on Vassilis' work, all the doubts the people had regarding her joining the Rebellion. Even the ones who actually took her defense… She was tired of all this.
She was glancing at Adora from the corner of her eye. She wished Vassilis would just sit somewhere else… Of course he had to take the middle chair, he was her defensor. But now Catra could only hope to catch Adora's gaze.
Why was she avoiding her all of a sudden? After pouring her heart out on so many strangers… Maybe it got her confused somehow. Or maybe she was just so worried she couldn't focus on Catra right now.
Catra sighed. This was getting long. The jury had left almost an hour ago. They had until the end of the day technically… But Catra would go crazy soon if she couldn't move out of her chair. She had slouched for too long, her back was aching.
She peeked again behind Vassilis' back. Adora had her face obstinately turned on her right, closing herself from Catra.
Just as she was about to call her, her ear flicked at a feeble sound on her left. Somebody was arguing behind the civilians' jury desk… They were hidden, but Catra could distinctly hear the familiar voice…
"You don't get it! We might be in danger, I need to speak to Queen Castaspella right now!"
"You are not interrupting the voting process Master Archer. Go back to your seat or I'll have to escort you out myself."
"What don't you understand in the words 'we're going to be attacked by the Horde' exactly?!"
Catra's ears raised. Her heart pounded hard, a glint of hope spreading in her chest. For a second she couldn't help thinking that the Horde was actually coming to rescue her. She had to shake her head to remind herself of the reality.
If the Horde attacked, it would be to kill them all.
"You're saying nonsense, Mystacor's shield is unbreakable. Now go, or I'll have to cuff you."
"I'll bring Glimmer with me then, you can't stop Castaspella's niece…"
"You can't talk to the witnesses right now either, it's forbidden."
"What? Hey! What are you-"
Bow's voice got muffled. What an idiot. They were all idiots here. He was probably right, and he got arrested for that. And how arrogant were these sorceresses, thinking their little shield could block any assault?! Not that Catra minded at the moment… It could only be useful to her.
She became suddenly hypervigilant of her surroundings. The loud grumble of the crowd faded in her mind, and instead she could hear every little creaking noise from the insects on the edge of the window… She could spot every exit entrance. She could locate every guard and every weapon, even without seeing them.
"Catra? Are you okay?"
The felined snapped out of it. Adora was looking at her with concerned eyes. And suspicious eyes. Catra had to calm down. She had to control her body language that Adora was too familiar with…
"Just exhausted, don't worry about it…" she mumbled. Adora hesitated. She looked as if she was about to say something, but before she could overcome whatever was bothering her, the backroom door opened.
Silence fell upon the courtroom.
The jury all took their places one by one. Then Castaspella came out of another private room, and walked up on her desk.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the jury has taken its final decision."
Catra's heart started pounding again. Adora looked at least as tensed as her, and even Vassilis was scratching the base of one of his antlers until it bled.
Castaspella took the official paper Perfuma handed to her.
"Under the laws of Etheria's Sacred Writings, the jury declares Catra, Second-in-Command under Hordak's rule...guilty."
Catra shrugged. No surprise here, they pleaded guilty.
"After hearing with impartiality to both defense and prosecution, as well as the witnesses' testimonies," Catra held her breath. "The majority voted...against the death sentence."
A little whimper from Adora's lips was the first sound to echo in the room, followed quickly by loud protestations from the audience. Whistles, shouts, and boos deafened them all.
"SILENCE!" Castaspella knocked on her desk several times. "However..." that captured everyone's attention again. "Her crimes cannot be forgiven as they are, given the atrocities she committed, hence why the majority voted for another motion that seemed the fairest."
Adora's face fell. Catra frowned. Vassilis facepalmed.
"Until she redeems herself enough to fight the demons that corrupted her soul and free herself,
Commander Catra will be sent into exile in the Forbidden Zone."