I'm pretty sure you've heard of the Magicats, Catra.
I mean, you're currently the Rebellion's prisoner, and they used to be friends with the Magicats, once, so I can only assume it must have dropped in the conversation! I myself was a child when they disappeared, and I've never really been interested in politics… But I knew what they looked like, and I was aware, when I first saw you, that you must have been a survivor.
I never told you, because there was no point, was there? They were gone. Or at least, that was what I thought, until I decrypted the data from Light Hope's Temple. That piece of marble is a real jewel from the First Ones, I have to say! If I could, I would spend hours in there trying to understand how it works. Emily said we would go someday. When it's all over, you know.
Basically, anything involving Etheria's magic is transcribed and encrypted in that castle. That's how I discovered the truth.
They're not all dead, Catra! And I know where they are!
Isn't that great news?!
"Hey, Adora. It's been a while."
"I…um… My troops need me, so…"
"Oh, sure. We… We can talk later. Right?"
"Right. See you later, Princess."
The anxious expectation.
It dawned on Adora that this situation was becoming too frequent for her taste. She could still feel her anxiety when she'd introduced herself almost two years ago, in this very room, as She-Ra, Princess of Power, but also as Adora, former Horde soldier.
It hadn't been easy. Getting the Rebellion to trust her when she didn't know who she really was…
Adora noted that nothing had really changed, except that this time, she wasn't the one trying to gain the Rebellion's trust.
"Queen Angella, the other queen is ready."
The other queen.
Even if Adora could see the guard was just confused by the turn of events, that name sounded awkward. Suspicious.
"Send her in."
Princesses, civilians and sorceresses all focused their attention on the majestic double door of Bright Moon's throne room. The loud creak made Adora cringe, but she forgot instantly about it when their visitors came in.
Adora had never seen Catra so confident and calm. That little smirk and that glint in her eyes…
Adora had missed this. She had missed her.
Her hair was still up in a ponytail. She was wearing the same outfit she saw on the battlefield of Plumeria yesterday, a golden and red jumpsuit sticking to her figure. She had added a dark red cape that gave her an aura of grandeur. Her mask glowed under the light of the chandelier, making a few princesses gasp in the crowd. They should gasp. Catra looked amazing.
On her right, a tall armored magicat woman with striking purple eyes on a deep brown skin walked at a pace Adora could easily appropriate for herself. That woman was military for sure.
She heard a suspicious whimper from Glimmer next to her, and raised an amused eyebrow at her red faced friend.
"Don't gawk too hard, Glimmer. You're gonna drool."
On Catra's left stood an old magicat man who looked a bit breathless, trying to keep up with his two companions. The little trio was framed by two magicat soldiers. Where was Scorpia? And Rogelio and Kyle?
"Lucio!" Angella put her hand over her mouth, but nobody missed her bright grin and her wings throbbing in excitement. The old man smiled back at her as the magicats slowed their walk to the throne. Angella cleared her throat, then looked at Catra gravely.
It was like time had stopped in its tracks.
Everybody remembered the last time the two leaders shared the same air. That last time when Angella had finally come to her senses and tried to stop Mystacor's insane actions. Mystacor, whose highest representatives were by Angella's side at the moment, holding their breath to be sure not to miss a single word of the exchange.
Catra wasn't looking at them though. Focusing on Angella only, she didn't spare a glance at the diminished Castaspella, who looked like she was bearing the misery of the world, or the spiteful Isidore, or the ice-cold Mortella.
She wasn't paying attention to the princesses either.
Not even to Adora.
"Commander Catra, in the name of the Rebellion, let me present to you-"
"It's Queen Katriska," the military woman interrupted. Lucio just looked like he ate a rotted escargot. A few disapproving grunts in the crowd made the tall woman's ear twitch. Catra's smile only grew. But she didn't comment. She didn't even apologize for her soldier.
She was unusually silent, at least for Adora's taste.
"Very well," Angella gulped. "Queen Katriska, we thank you for your contribution to Plumeria's victory, and… please accept our most sincere apologies for the treatment you received the last time you were here."
The rumble that echoed in the room at these words annoyed Adora. She thought she would get used to the political game or whatever, but she clearly hadn't. So what, Angella apologized for throwing Catra in a psychological prison that made the death penalty sound merciful. It was only fair. But Adora reminded herself that for a lot of people, Catra had deserved it.
Catra had been a monster.
But now Catra was a savior, a liberator, and mostly… a magicat.
"We have many questions to ask you. Lucio…" Angella looked overwhelmed. She couldn't find her words. "How…?"
"We will have time for this, Angella," he answered with a warm smile. "It's a long story."
"Certainly. However, if it's not too much to ask," she pursued, peering back into Catra's eyes. "The Rebellion and myself have trouble understanding why you are calling yourself...that."
"That is her name!" The armored woman, looking outraged, took a step forward, but Catra grasped her arm.
"Forgive Commander Anya, Your Majesty."
Finally. Adora had missed that voice so much. Hearing a few words on the battlefield had definitely not been enough. She wished she could meet her gaze. They had so many things to say. So much to catch up on.
"It is common knowledge to you that Katriska died in the hands of Hordak, sixteen years ago, isn't it?" Catra's voice was strong and confident. No rage anymore. It suited her. "So how come a girl in her twenties like me was taken in as their fallen queen by the Magicats, who you thought were extinct?"
Isidore whispered something in Castaspella's ear, but he had forgotten how well magicat ears worked.
"Our queen did not deceive us," Lucio answered in their place. The old man smiled at the assembly. "We recognized her immediately. We saw her grow up once, after all."
"But how do you explain your...new youth, Queen Katriska?" Mortella asked.
"I think you heard someone stole this from you after you sent me into exile?" Catra tapped on her mask. The pitch of irony didn't go unnoticed by the assembly. A feeling of discomfort spread in the ranks of the sorceresses when they recalled the situation in question. "That someone was an old witch. She found me in the Forbidden Zone. She confessed to me that she was the one who turned me younger during the battle of Halfmoon. She also took the blue stone with her, and gave it back to me last year, after Hordak restored the yellow one."
Whispers got louder around them. It fit what was publicly known, for sure. But that kind of magic was unprecedented. A huge amount of power was needed just in order to heal wounds.
"Adora, did you know about this?" Netossa murmured. She shook her head. She should look more surprised if she didn't want to rouse suspicion.
"Why didn't you tell us about that witch?" Angella asked.
"If you mean after getting released from the Forbidden Zone, I think you can imagine that I didn't want to jump into your arms after the treatment I received in the Rebellion."
"I meant when the blue stone reappeared, after the battle where Hordak sacrificed you."
"I would have. Maybe. But I have no memories of that moment."
"What about your life before you were turned young again? Do you remember it?" Frosta asked, a suspicious frown on her face.
"Nope. Nothing up there," she tapped her head with a defying smile.
"And, do you have any proof to corroborate your words?" Angella added without hiding the despair in her tone. She really wanted Catra to give them something… Anything to make her story believable.
Adora frowned in confusion. Catra had all the evidence she needed stored in her mask. Why was she lying? She obviously didn't want the Rebellion to know about the memory power of her mask.
"How convenient," grumbled Isidore. "But then something has to be pointed out. If what you're saying is true, that witch helped you escape from the Forbidden Zone, thus you defied your sentence!"
"Isidore!" Castaspella shouted. Adora could see Catra tightening her fist behind her back.
"Helped or not, I faced my demons, Warlock Isidore." There was the old Catra again. The fire Adora knew too well behind those beautiful yellow and blue eyes. It comforted her. That was something she could trust. "And here I am, bringing with me the Magicats and more to help you all win this war you've been stuck in for years, so I think you ought to show me a little more respect!"
"Nobody asked for your help-"
"Enough!" Angella interrupted Isidore. "Please, accept our apologies, once more, for my ally's rude behavior. You faced your judgement for the crimes you committed against us. It is enough for us. We are grateful to you now. The Magicats and yourself had no reason to help us after everything that happened last year, but also after we failed to help you against Hordak so many years ago, and yet you still came to our rescue. Thank you again, Queen Katriska."
Anya nodded, satisfied with Angella's answer. Adora fidgeted behind her back. She couldn't wait any longer. "What do you mean 'more'?"
Catra finally looked into her eyes. Adora swallowed, but her mouth was dry and it seemed all of her body fluids decided to turn into sweat. If she could stop her heart from tumbling inside her chest…
Feeling the rest of the room's eyes on her was overwhelming. She stuttered, "I heard- I mean, you said you brought the Magicats and more…"
"What I meant, Princess Adora," Catra answered, almost purring her name. It made Adora shiver. "Is that the desert isn't as empty as you thought."
At these words, one of the magicat soldiers sent a signal to the Bright Moon guard, who opened the doors again.
Three women and a man walked in, joining the magicat trio under the questioning looks and excited whispers of the crowd. Who were these mysterious persons making a theatrical entrance? Were they former Horde soldiers who escaped? The whole room was buzzing, waiting eagerly for the Queen of the Magicats to talk again. The queen in question was taking her sweet time, her peaceful smile back on her face. She wasn't looking at Adora anymore.
Adora scrunched her nose. This didn't look like Catra. Making a show was a thing, but this was too much. This was like her trial, except she was orchestrating and enjoying it this time. All of Bright Moon was, actually. Had she planned it that way, to get their interest and approval? Had she decided to join the political game she denounced upon their return from the Forbidden Zone? Maybe she thought she'd found a way to play it for good, but this Katriska character wasn't the woman Adora knew and loved.
"Rebels of the North," Catra said as she and the magicats stepped aside to make some place for the newcomers, "may I present to you Queen Orla from the Spades Kingdom, Princess Melody from the High Note County, Prince Clover from the Daffodil Kingdom, and finally Leader Huntara from the Crimson Waste."
The four nobilities bowed as the rumble intensified behind them.
"What is happening?" Adora asked Glimmer. "Is there something I'm missing?"
Her friend opened her mouth, but Angella beat her to it. "So it was true… The Kingdoms of the South are still alive."
"We cut ties off with you a few hundred years ago," Huntara shrugged. "We never disappeared."
"You made it hard to find you then," Angella laughed. "I spent quite some time in the desert in my youth, and never found anyone."
Then how did Catra find them? This whole situation was extremely confusing. Adora was not the only one who was getting a headache.
"However, when Queen Katriska came to us a few months ago," Huntara continued, nodding at Catra, "We knew that it was time the North and the South work together again."
"We are so grateful, and of course, we accept your allegiance-"
"Not so fast, Angella."
An icy silence fell over the room at Catra's words.
"We are going to work alongside you, but not for you. We'll fight as our own alliance. The Alliance of the South. In other words," Catra's sharp eyes didn't blink once. "We are not pledging allegiance to the Rebellion."
Adora couldn't prevent herself from smiling. There was the Catra she knew.
"How did you never recognize her, Angie?"
"How could I, Casta? She's my own daughter's age! I suspected she was Katriska's child, not…"
"But she is. There is no doubt. The way she looks, the way she leads… it's definitely her."
Angella clutched the window ledge of her room, staring into the air absent-mindedly. The night was peaceful over Bright Moon. Nobody could tell an extraordinary assembly had taken place a few hours ago. Nature didn't care about the war and the Rebels' internal conflicts.
Breathing the clear air of the domain soothed the queen for a second.
The lazy smoke of a fire was waltzing above a close part of the Whispering Woods, where the Magicats and the Princesses of the South had set up camp. The ex-Horde Commander had declined Angella's offer to settle in Bright Moon after the Battle of Plumeria, and now that Angella knew about the new Princesses, it all made sense. The magicat queen didn't want to expose them before it was time.
"Things have gotten a lot more complicated, haven't they?"
Castaspella hummed. Her smile faded, replaced by that depressed face she had been wearing for many months now. Angella stared at her in silence. She was worried about her sister-in-law.
"People are happy to see the Magicats again. That's a good thing," Castaspella noted. "It will make it easier to work with them."
"But the Magicats don't trust us, and I don't blame them. I don't blame her, " Angella sighed. She wished she could see Catra alone soon and personally apologize for her many failures to the young queen. For failing to intercede on her behalf last year. For failing to trust her sixteen years ago.
Trusting Katriska… maybe that was the first step to making amends. She had to show that the Rebellion was worthy of leading the war with their old allies. That was why Angella didn't pry further into the mysteries of their return, despite some of her own allies' protests.
"I just hope they aren't staying independent because they're hiding something."
"You really think they're the ones who have something to hide?" Castaspella asked harshly.
"What do you mean?"
Castaspella locked eyes with Angella, but quickly shook her head. "Nothing. It was rhetorical."
Angella frowned but didn't answer. There was too much to process already. The Magicats were not dead, and neither were the Princesses of the South. Catra, or more like Katriska, was a long lost queen turned younger by a mysterious witch, and conveniently, she brought back her people and the lost Kingdoms to help the Rebellion fight against Hordak when they most needed it.
Angella was holding the pieces of a puzzle with a blindfold over her eyes.
The Whispering Woods at night brought a feeling of relaxation to Adora that she didn't think she could reach today. The sounds of the bugs, the fresh wind in her hair, the temporary lack of responsibilities… She breathed in and out, and looked up. The three moons were up, lighting the bland, dark blue sky that the woods weren't blocking from her view yet.
She thought of the stars Madame Razz had told her about. The shiny, blinky dots she saw in her memories when she met Light Hope.
Would she ever get to see them again? Was it even real, or some kind of mind trick Light Hope had used against her?
Would she ever get to speak with Light Hope again anyway? She hadn't been able to since the invasion of the Temple by the Horde. Even if the Rebels had reclaimed it from the assaillants, the marble castle was completely broken and had remained silent ever since.
It was a fake silence, like the woods at night. Like the Rebellion. All the murmurs around her, keeping her ignorant on purpose. These talks saying nothing real. Nothing true. All these lies she'd been fed for all these years. The Horde, the Rebellion, Mystacor, Light Hope…
Adora had so many questions.
But she didn't know where to ask anymore.
She'd never felt more lonely in her life.
Adora unsheathed her sword out of reflex. A second later she regretted her impulse, as she came face to face with that tall Commander of the Magicats. That same woman who was currently glaring-with her amazing purple eyes-at Adora. They spent a few seconds staring at each other with tension, before the magicat smirked and lowered her weapon.
"Catra didn't mention you were a sleepwalker, Princess."
Startled, Adora proceeded to put her sword behind her back. "Commander Anya, is that right?"
"Just Anya. Come on, I'll show you the way."
"Well, I assume you're not here to pick daisies, are you?" She put a hand on her hip, looking at her with an air that felt oddly familiar.
"No, I was… I was wondering if I could see her." Adora fidgeted as she spoke. She didn't want to bother Catra. It felt so weird now that Catra was a queen. She wanted to see her, talk to her, and other stuff… But what if it became awkward?
"You're the She-Ra, you can basically do whatever you want, unless it's messing with Catra's heart. In that case, you and I are going to have a problem."
"That's not in my plans," Adora chuckled. Anya smiled in response as she led the Princess to their honorary camp. "Why do you call her Catra, by the way?"
"Uuh, 'cause that's her name?"
"Isn't she Katriska now?"
"Are you She-Ra now?"
"I- no, but- I mean, is it the same?"
"I don't know," Anya shrugged. "You'll have to ask her yourself."
Adora didn't like riddles. She would have tried to get more out of the warrior, but they had already crossed the lines of the magicat camp.
The guards on duty saluted Anya. They even bowed politely to Adora, to her surprise. She let Anya walk a bit ahead of her as she looked around the camp. Most of the soldiers had retired to their tents. Some of them were drinking around the fire, joined by some Southerner soldiers. There was some sparring in another part of the camp, which of course captivated Adora immediately, to the point of stopping her in her tracks. Anya turned back to stand next to her.
"Catra said you're an amazing fighter."
Adora snorted, "She did? It's hard to believe."
A new voice behind her retorted, "Hard to believe? I'm shocked you would think so low of me, Princess."
Adora's shoulders tensed, but she didn't turn around. She held still when a shoulder brushed hers unashamedly, but a smile finally cracked on her face when she felt a tail on her leg. "You once told me nothing's too low for you."
"I am great at pointing out your qualities though," Catra purred.
"That's true. You always said I compensate for my lack of agility and strategic thinking with brute strength."
"Now that does sound more like me."
Anya cackled in the distance. She had already disappeared behind a tent, giving the two women some privacy.
They stayed a few minutes that way, hypnotized by the soldiers' sparring and the cheers from their comrades. Then Catra's hand found Adora's. She gave it a squeeze.
Adora broke her trance, turned away from the lively camp, and followed Catra through the darkness.