It was like the world was ending.
There was noise everywhere, exploding in her ears. The whole castle was shaking, making desks, chairs and pillars fall. People screamed, some of them were running away, but most of them were still lying on the ground because of the detonation.
Whatever the Horde had done, they hadn't done it halfway.
"The magic shield has been destroyed! Everybody evacuate now!"
Screams intensified at these words. Smoke filled the air as the door opened. The castle was on fire.
Catra rose from the ground. She had jumped from the desk in time before it fell, and landed next to Vassilis who had crashed ungraciously before her. The warlock was stunned, holding a half broken piece of his antlers in place.
In a swift move, Catra caged him on the ground, pressing her unsheathed claws on his pulse.
"Catra?! What are you doing?!"
"Uncuff me now."
She jiggled her wrist chains in front of his nose.
"I don't have the key…"
"You have magic," she replied coldly. Vassilis gulped, fear showing in his eyes. He took his magic pen out of his pocket with a shaky hand. "And don't try to put a bad spell on me. My claws are quicker."
He put the pen above her cuffs, mumbled a few words, and a second later, her wrists were free. He proceeded the same way on her ankles. Catra stretched, enjoying her new freedom in the current chaos…
She quickly scanned the messy courtroom. The members of the jury were helping people stuck under desks and benches. Sorceresses had all left, probably to fix the magic shield. Castaspella had knocked her head and was being taken care of by a guard. The mask was popping off her robe.
She looked back at Vassilis, who was slowly crawling away from her. She smiled at him, much to his surprise, and murmured a small 'thank you', before she leapt towards the unconscious queen.
The guard spotted her too late. She kicked her in the stomach, sending her crash against the desk. Her head made a loud noise against the hard surface, and she fainted.
Catra grabbed the mask and jumped away from them before anyone else could see her. A flash of blond hair appeared in her vision. She went around the fallen desk, crouching to hide from Angella and other princesses who were shouting orders nearby.
A whimper of pain came from the desk. Adora was lying there, her legs being stuck underneath. Catra saw her pull in vain, then attempt to grab her sword that was just a fingertip away from her…
Finally Adora saw her, crawling slowly in her direction. Hope lit her face up, and she opened her mouth, but closed it when she saw the mask in Catra's hand. She seemed to be evaluating the situation, but everything was too blurry, her legs were stuck, panic filled the air, screams and smoke disturbed her senses…
And Catra came closer and closer, until her face was an inch apart from hers.
This damn voice… It was the same vulnerable voice she had used yesterday, when Catra had pulled away from that kiss.
"...I'm sorry…" Catra whispered. Before Adora had the time to react, Catra had closed space between their lips. She cupped her face, pulling Adora in for a harsher contact, moving her lips on the princess's mouth. Adora responded to the kiss by instinct, angling her face to give better access, clutching Catra's shirt without realizing.
But as quickly as she had started it, Catra ended the kiss. She placed a last peck on her forehead, mumbled a last apology, and left Adora behind, stuck under the desk.
Her ears flattened when she heard the princess scream her name, betrayal breaking her voice. She chased the guilt away from her mind as she sneaked in the crowd running away. She crouched a bit, making sure no soldier would see her. If the civilians and magicless princesses saw her, it was only in a flash, and the panic was too strong to care about anything else but their own survival.
Catra had the advantage in that scenery. Her whole life had been filled with stressful situations. She had learned how to deal with it, and how to use it.
She couldn't have asked for a better escape plan.
The ex-Horde soldier followed the general movement. The crowd was evacuating chaotically, but they were basically all following the same path in the luminous castle. They avoided a hallway where the smoke was coming from. The sorceresses might have gathered there to control the damages. She had to find another way out.
She had to find it fast, she was getting spotted more and more by people.
Just as she was about to disappear in a corner, the world ended for the second time.
Catra crashed with several people on the wall behind her. The glass window on the other side of the room had completely shattered. People scattered erratically, avoiding the glass that was falling on them.
Catra's ears hurt so bad. She couldn't hear anything but an awful whistle. Her head was throbbing, and her back wound had probably reopen given the pain it was sending through her body…
She couldn't stay here. She was on the ground among a dozen of rebels, who were hurt or just stunned. She had to move before somebody sent help.
Catra stood on shaky legs. Her back ached so damn much. Her hand was so clenched around her mask she wondered how it wasn't already broken. She shook her head and walked away, turning right at the corner. Her ears were impairing her. She lost her balance several times and knocked into a small statue before she took control of her body again.
Finally able to analyze her surroundings, she realized she was alone in the area that had been hit. Alone… Or close.
An entire wall had been destroyed. Heavy rocks had fallen on the ground. On people. Injured people.
And dead people.
Catra didn't have time for that. They would get help soon. She had to find a practical exit now. And the big whole in the wall was actually meeting her expectations perfectly.
She ran in that direction, jumping to avoid stepping on the wounded. Just as she was about to take a big leap through the hall, she heard it.
A small wail.
She knew that kind of noise. She had heard it many times in her dreams. In her nightmares…
Everything is hot… Smoke is stifling her again…
She's all alone, and lost… Nobody will help her…
She curls up in a ball….
"Shut up!" Catra yelled, hitting her own head.
She looked down, determined to know the origin of the unbearable noise.
Then she saw him. The little boy. Sitting behind the rock, shaking an unconscious princess. A princess whose lower body was completely crushed under a massive rock. The red pool surrounding her was big. Way too big.
Catra's breath stopped. Her whole body was frozen on the spot. The little boy wouldn't stop calling the woman, asking her to stand up. And Catra's thoughts were exploding, hurling at her to drag him out of here. To help the little boy who was now all alone in the world…
The wall behind him was unstable. Rocks were still falling. He had to get away from here now.
She jumped from her perch, landing next to him. The puffy eyes looked up at her with hope. He asked her to help him.
But Catra couldn't give him the help he wanted.
She wanted to tell him that life was unfair like that… But how could he understand?
"You need to go."
Her voice was as harsh as the rock on his mother. She hated herself for that.
"No! Not without mommy…"
But she couldn't find any word that wouldn't be inappropriate. How could you tell a child that their mom would never come back?
Catra didn't have a mother, but Catra had known love and even lost it somehow.
When she thought Adora died, the world could have ended that she wouldn't have cared. She knew that was what the boy felt right now. Nothing else mattered. And nothing she could say would help him.
When little Lonnie had lost her pet bird twelve years ago, killed by Shadow Weaver when she found out about it, Catra had told her it was stupid to wait at the window like it would come back magically and take her away from the Fright Zone. Lonnie had punched Catra hard in the face. She had deserved it.
Catra sighed heavily. She bent down and caught the boy. She really didn't have time for this…
As expected, the kid shrieked, wiggling in her arms, but Catra tightened her hold. Behind them, the rocks finally lost their fragile balance. She jumped out of the narrow space just in time before they crashed on the ground.
A second later, and they would have been dead.
The kid hiccuped at the sight. His body was shaking so much he couldn't even scream.
She pulled his head in her chest, rocking her body back and forth. As if hiding him would change anything… But that was the only thing she could do. Offering him a temporary shield from the chaos. Offering him a few moments of warmth in the coldness of reality.
Like Adora had done with her so many times after Shadow Weaver had tortured her. Even when Adora didn't know the details, she knew that Catra needed a shield. A shield of love. Adora had protected her as hard as she could, as an abused soldier child herself. Even if she hadn't understood everything. Even if she hadn't been perfect.
The Horde had wrecked them. And now Catra was wasting her only time to escape her punishment for making the wrong choices by trying to provide a kid the same warmth that probably saved her in the past.
Comforting this kid as she could, even if it wouldn't change anything.
...another kid destroyed by the war.
Time seemed to freeze with her as she slowly turned her head. Even if she knew who was standing behind her, her heart still beat harder in her chest at the sight…
She-Ra, glowing radiantly in the contrasting dirty hallway, eyebrows furrowed in anger, her sword in one hand...and the mask in the other.
Catra had dropped it during her fall with the boy.
Catra spun herself around slowly, revealing the small one still trembling in her arms, petrified by the events.
Adora didn't say anything. Her lips were drawn in a thin line, her eyes sending daggers. Catra knew she wouldn't forgive her for leaving her stuck in that courtroom. For leaving like this after everything she had done for her…
Catra frowned back, holding the silent glaring contest. She had no other choice. She had to escape and Adora knew it. But Adora probably hated that Catra left her behind…
A flashback rushed in her mind at this thought…
"I couldn't go back to the Horde, but I never wanted to leave you Catra…"
"Leave the child and go."
Catra blinked out of her memory. "What?"
Adora threw the mask at her feet. The blue and golden rocks shone, attracting the little boy's eyes. It seemed to break him out of his freezing response, and he started to cry in Catra's arms. He cried loud, very loud, matching the pain that tore his heart to pieces…
Catra softly unwrapped herself from over him, as Adora was coming closer. She turned back into her human form to avoid scaring the kid more than he already was.
She took him from Catra's arms, without looking at her.
She walked away from Catra, without a word.
Catra's heart ached. She wanted to pull her back in a hug. She wanted to kiss her again. She wanted to thank her for holding her promise…
Her voice sounded heavy from exhaustion.
"Thank you..." Catra whispered loud enough for her to hear. She put the mask on her forehead, chasing the strands of hair that kept tickling her eyes… She finally felt complete.
She jumped on the rocks, then landed on the ledge of the hole in the wall. She took one last glance at Adora before disappearing.
Adora was not good with children… And that was an understatement. She didn't know what to do or say to the devastated boy in her arms, who kept crying and asking for his mom, wiggling as hard as he could to break free…
She walked faster through the castle, heading to the park exit. The crowd had evacuated there for the time being, while the sorceresses were fixing the shield and the broken castle magically, using all their power at once.
They didn't know if the Horde would send another missile. They had to be prepared. But what exactly could they do…? Only She-Ra and the princesses would be able to stop a flying bomb before it hit the castle, and Adora couldn't just watch the skies all day long just in case…
The Horde was taking a new step in technological offense… Just when they thought they had taken the advantage thanks to the magicat mask's restoration.
When she felt fresh air on her face, Adora breathed out. The park had remained untouched, so the medical aid had settled their camp there.
Behind the camp, the people who weren't injured were already leaving the island. Adora couldn't blame them, but she wondered how they could ever feel safe in their home without the protection of the princesses and Mystacor…
Nobody would ever feel safe after that. Not until the Rebellion found a weapon or a way to counter attack the Horde's new tech.
Perfuma and Frosta rushed at her sides, worry on their face.
"Are you okay? What happened?"
Adora handed the little boy to Perfuma, and collapsed on the ground. She felt exhausted all of a sudden. She coughed several times.
"Did you inhale smoke?" Frosta asked. "You need oxygen, I'll call Spinnerella."
A couple of nurses came to help, checking Adora's temperature and asking her basic questions. Her mind was blurry, she didn't really know what she was answering…
"Don't worry Adora, we're going to help you," Perfuma smiled.
Adora smiled back, starting to feel a bit safer. Maybe she could relax a bit. But Catra's face made her way in her mind, stressing her whole body again. She hoped she was okay…
Even gone, she kept haunting her mind. She saw her everywhere. Right now, she was seeing her unconscious in the arms of a guard.
Adora's head cleared out in a second, her mind fully focused now.
Three guards were walking fast to the camp, one of them carrying Catra… Mouth open, arm hanging in the air, eyes closed… Knocked out. By their side, Castaspella, Mortella, Isidore, Angella and Glimmer were arguing. As soon as the group saw they attracted attention from the camp, they stopped and turned grave.
The three mages scanned the crowd until they spotted Adora. Their face turned even more severe… Even Castaspella, whom Adora had never seen anything other than joyful.
"Princess Adora," Castaspella started. "You are under arrest."
Lonnie chewed on her ration bar harsher than she needed, making her teeth grind unpleasantly against one another.
She was doing her best to ignore the irritating pacing of Rogelio in front of her.
Ever since the lizard guy had made his first steps on the prosthetics, it seemed like he could run through the whole Fright Zone twice a day. Entrapta's tech had not only given him his legs back. She had made him much stronger somehow.
And Lonnie, who was still struggling with a crutch, found that particularly annoying.
"Rogelio," she grunted. The guy didn't look up. "What exactly do you want us to do…?"
He finally stopped pacing and stared at her.
"He got in this mess because of me," he signed. "I know it."
He signed fast, but Lonnie was part of the cadets who had had to live very close to him, since they were in the same squadron since infancy. Learning how to understand him had been essential. Sometimes she wondered how come Shadow Weaver had never tried to get rid of him like with Catra… But she guessed a soldier who couldn't talk was still a soldier who could obey. Rogelio had never been destined to become anything more than a basic pawn… There had never been any career prospect for him.
Just like Kyle. That was probably the origin of their close bond. Kyle had always been an outcast among soldiers because he was terrible at everything. Rogelio understood that feeling, even if it was for a different reason.
"I know, I know…" she sighed. "But taking him out of the pit against Octavia's orders? She's just gonna put us all in there in the end."
"...we could leave," he said with hesitant hand movements.
"To go where?! And look at me, you really think I can go far with my ankle?"
Rogelio rolled his eyes as he resumed his pacing. Kyle had been locked in the pit for over 24 hours now. Octavia had probably already tortured him several times, and they didn't even know why…
Actually, Lonnie was sure it had something to do with his business with Entrapta. She had warned him… She had told him getting involved would get back at him.
And here they were, powerless in her brand new coach bedroom, exhausted after a hard day of work and training, trying to find a solution…
Lonnie didn't see any positive outcome from this. Either Kyle talked and Entrapta and him were screwed...either he didn't talk and he would die in the pit. Kyle did not have the endurance to survive in there more than two days.
"Entrapta could help us," Rogelio insisted.
"I already asked for her help. She said she would think about it," Lonnie spat. She couldn't help blaming the scientist. She had come to her the day before, accusing her of having put Kyle in unnecessary danger. She had asked her to fix it, use her influence on Hordak to make him release the cadet.
But Entrapta had looked very detached… Very preoccupied. She had answered that Octavia had Hordak's approval to do this, and she had as much authority as herself.
Things kept getting better and better.
A knock on the door made them jolt, automatically taking their combat stance. It was way past curfew. Nobody was supposed to be out at this hour.
"Coach Lonnie! It's Scorpia, open the door!"
Rogelio and her exchanged a stare. She nodded to him, exhaling as she braced herself. The imposing Force Captain came in, looking around the room she had never visited before. She congratulated Lonnie again for her promotion, but rapidly changed her usual careless attitude for a much more serious one.
"Entrapta wants to see you both. Right now."
Another day, Lonnie would have been suspicious, but their situation and Scorpia's unusual nervousness convinced her to follow without questions.
They travelled in the main building in silence, heart pounding in their chest. Scorpia was carrying Lonnie- to her dismay- since she couldn't walk silently with her crutch. The Force Captain was receiving indications from a little earphone, Lonnie could see it from here. Entrapta was monitoring them to avoid the security bots.
When they finally entered the lab, Lonnie was surprised to see Entrapta waiting for them dead serious, sitting in her chair. She invited them to sit with her. Two big backpacks were resting next to her. Lonnie squinted her eyes. She didn't like what this was suggesting…
"Hi guys," she grinned awkwardly. "So...I have something important to tell you all. It's about Kyle and the Rebellion."
"Yeah, so…" she looked like she didn't know where to start. "Today, I called Bow, my old friend from the Rebellion-"
Lonnie frowned. She had fought several times with that guy. So Entrapta was a traitor…
"And, well, I just learned the results of Catra's trial."
"Catra?! So she's alive..." Conflicted feelings whirled in Lonnie's mind, but she couldn't help feeling relieved at the news.
"Oooh that's right, you don't know anything about it..." Entrapta scratched her head. "Well yeah, Catra is alive, she's a prisoner of the Rebellion, and today she was judged for her crimes, and she's gonna be thrown in the Forbidden Zone."
"What is that?" Lonnie translated Rogelio's question. A shared question.
"It's the place where all evil is banned." A glint of fascination shone in Entrapta's eyes. "For thousands of years, it has been the place where the most evil people were sent. Very few of them managed to ever get out of it, and from the rare testimonies we got, it seems like it's a place filled with your own demons… And the only way out is to beat them all before you die."
"We can't let Catra being sent there!" Scorpia exclaimed. "I haven't showed her my new drawings!"
"That's why I called you guys. It is time for you to leave the Horde."
It took them a few seconds to process her words. Even if Lonnie and Rogelio had thought of the possibility, they had never been brought face to face with the decision of actually doing it.
"What do you mean 'you'?" Scorpia finally asked.
Entrapta looked away, discomfort showing on her face. "So let me explain. In these backpacks," she tapped on them, "I put valuable crystals from the Temple we invaded a few months ago. These crystals have to go to Catra."
Entrapta stared at all of them one by one, making sure everybody registered.
"I decrypted some crucial information from these crystals. Information that Catra needs to know. I put all the data on this," she took a tablet out of the first backpack. "And I recorded myself in a video explaining to Catra everything I found."
"Entrapta," Scorpia stood up, fear creeping in her eyes. "Why are you saying it like that?"
"Hold on," Lonnie said. "You want us both-"
"And Kyle and Scorpia."
"-so you want us to go rescue Catra from a place where nobody can come out, just to give her some crystal shit?!"
"No, you'll have to rescue her before she's thrown there."
"What the hell man?!"
"Entrapta, you are coming with us right?" Scorpia grabbed her shoulders.
"We don't even know where she is!" Lonnie raised her valid arm in the air. Rogelio was frantically signing next to her, but she was too consternated to translate.
Entrapta broke free from Scorpia's grip and rose on her hair. A frown disfigured her face in a way Scorpia had never seen before.
"Can you please let me explain everything before reacting?" nobody answered. Entrapta nodded approvingly and sat down. She pulled another little tablet from the second backpack. "I put one of Catra's hair in my tracking device's settings. With that, you can find her wherever she is. She must be in Mystacor right now. I know it's not an easy place to break through, but don't forget we sent two missiles on them today. Their shield is broken, and their defense must be pretty weak."
"This is crazy! They must be on their guard after the raid!" Lonnie crossed her arms beneath her chest. "Why should we go though?! Why not you?"
"That's actually two different issues that don't bear a causality link," Entrapta lowered her eyes. "Kyle knows too many things, and Octavia will make him talk, or kill him. He needs to get out of the Fright Zone, and I gave him the mission of finding Catra and giving these-" she tapped on the backpacks, "to her."
"So that was just before he got arrested…"
"Yes, and so I figured, that you both could go with him and Scorpia… You were a team, with Catra, weren't you? After you rescue her, she will need your help. For what awaits her."
"What is it?" Lonnie squinted her eyes.
"I can't tell you."
"Then I'm not going."
"Buff girl, this is your escape plan too, you know. You're on Octavia's radar just like Kyle."
Lonnie scoffed. She wasn't wrong, life in the Horde was starting to be really exhausting…
"But what about you?" Scorpia asked again. "You are coming with us, right?"
"Scorpia…" Entrapta hugged her lifeless legs. "I can't go."
"But why?! I'm not leaving without you!"
"You have to. Catra needs your help Scorpia. I would come along if I could but…" Entrapta looked at her right hand. She tightened and released her fist. "I would be dangerous."
Scorpia saw her movement. She wasn't stupid, she knew it had something to do with the atrocity Hordak had done.
"It's your hand… I knew it... But… Can't you just take it off…?" she asked, desperation painting her voice.
Entrapta turned around and browsed on her computer. A second later, an x-ray picture appeared on the screen, showing a body figure. The skeleton was flashing normally… And a hypersignal came from the right hand. The whole right hand emitted a bright white signal. Wires came out of it, flashing on their way along the arm...running up until the shoulder...and ending in the column, going up in the spinal canal.
"No. I can't take it off anymore."