Adora is pretty sad. The other kids don't want to play with her today. They said her game was boring and they were on barracks cleaning duty anyway, unlike her. Maybe that's another reason they don't want to play with her, but that's not her fault. She wanted to go with them, but Shadow Weaver said she had to practice instead, because she should always be ahead of the others in training. If she isn't, Shadow Weaver will scold her for lacking discipline.
Shadow Weaver is the only one who likes her games anyway. Adora loves the rare times Shadow Weaver joins her in her stories. She praises Adora's sharp mind, and corrects her when she says something wrong, like the time she pretended Princesses were the good people of the game. She also read her a story once or twice when she couldn't sleep.
Adora feels a bit better now. She's done practicing, and she's drawing something for Shadow Weaver. A drawing of the both of them holding hands. She hopes Shadow Weaver will like it. Sometimes she doesn't react well to Adora's 'childish' displays of affection. At least she's much nicer to her than most of the other kids.
Adora still wishes she had a real friend though. Someone who would get her, unlike all the other kids.
But at least she has Shadow Weaver.
She's walking in the mountains. The sword feels heavy on her back. It's slowing her down.
She's calling Glimmer and Bow, but they keep on at the same pace in front of her. They're not listening to her.
She's trying to run, but her legs hurt so much. She wants to stop.
If she stops, she won't ever catch up with them.
She bends down and grabs a rock. She throws it towards the cliff next to Bow's head. That should make him turn around.
At the impact, eyes open on the rocks. A hundred pairs of eyes suddenly focus their gaze on her.
The mountain is watching her. If she throws a rock again, it won't let her pass.
One of the pairs is blue and yellow.
Piercing, blue and yellow…
They're glaring at her. Then they disappear.
A huge boulder falls fast from the top of the mountain. Right over her oblivious friends. She shouts their name.
But they don't listen.
"Adora? Adora, wake up!"
She was still deep in her dreams as her hand went automatically under her pillow, but her mind cleared in a second when she didn't find the object that should be there.
Adora jumped, her shoulder hitting something sharp in the process. "My knife!"
"Ow! Adora, what the fuck?!"
She blinked several times, chasing the remnants of her slumber from her brain. She was not in her room. She was-
"Fuck, you made me bite my tongue!"
"Catra… oh shit, I'm sorry!"
Adora kneeled next to her ex-enemy. Catra glared at her before turning her naked back to her. As she fumbled through the cushions in search of a mirror to examine her tongue, Adora gaped at the view Catra was offering. She hadn't been able to fully contemplate her in the darkness of the military camp during the night… they had been too busy to even turn a lamp on anyway.
The ugly white scar Adora had spent many days taking care of last year was now covered in tattoos. It was almost completely drowned in the sophisticated drawings. A huge bird took up most of the skin, its wings spread on her shoulder blades and the head ending on the side of her neck that had been touched by the fire. The bottom of the bird ended in smoke, coming from a small flame inked on Catra's lower back. Around the flame, a baby version of the feline warrior Catra could turn into was curling up, one eye peeking at the fire.
Adora reached out, but stopped halfway there.
"You can touch it."
She jolted. Looking up, she realized Catra was watching her through a small mirror. She winked at Adora, who smiled awkwardly and closed the distance between her hand and the skin. It was rough beneath her fingertips. Perfuma's balm had done wonders for the healing process, but the scar would still remain permanently. It reminded her of her own scars. The ones Catra had left on She-Ra's skin, unknowingly marking Adora's skin as well because of their emotional bond.
She felt Catra tense under her touch. She wondered if she could still feel the pain. How did she get brave enough to endure what seemed like hours of needle work to ink all that?
"It's beautiful," she sighed. "But why…?"
"Why a bird?"
"Yes, I mean, I remember you chasing Lonnie's pet bird when we were kids."
Catra chuckled at the memory. She leaned back, finding comfort in Adora's chest, who wrapped her arms around her waist.
"That bird was the symbol of the first queen."
Catra looked up at her in surprise. "That's right. Did you take extra classes I wasn't aware of in the Horde?"
"As if I wouldn't have dragged you there, you lousy student."
"Hey, I only skipped a few times because of the old hag…"
Their tone lost its warmth as painful memories flashed before their eyes. Catra didn't even have to get into the details. Adora was aware of how abusive Shadow Weaver had been towards Catra compared to the other cadets. Catra was still hiding the extent of the harm she had suffered.
Adora kept blaming herself for how blind she had been regarding Shadow Weaver's attitude towards Catra, but also toward herself…
However, another feeling had been nagging her mind for a few months regarding her old mother figure and Catra.
"Anyway…" Catra said, popping Adora's bubble of thoughts. Catra shifted in her arms. "Queen Alondra was the first to wear the mask after the Great Chaos. She was also the only queen who was part magicat, part human."
"Her dad was a bird-human, right? He could fly."
"Yes. So could she. Being from two worlds was hard, because she was different from the people she had to lead. But it was important to her. She belonged to two worlds, and also two eras. She was born before the Great Chaos."
"It must have been difficult to be a leader back then." Adora frowned as her words faded.
The Great Chaos. The catastrophy caused by Mara.
There was so much mystery around that woman. Adora had done research about her in secret during Catra's absence. But nothing had remained from Mara's mistake and disappearance. Nobody but Light Hope knew that Mara was the reason why the Great Chaos happened.
Adora had briefly told Glimmer and Bow about it. Not Catra though. She didn't want to talk about it again to anyone. Not before she could speak with Light Hope. If only she could.
"Yeah, Alondra had a lot to handle, that's for sure," Catra said. "She did a lot for the survivors."
"I'm sure she would have done much more if she hadn't died from disease a few years after the mess," Adora ended sadly. Catra didn't reply. She stood up, grabbed her shirt on the ground of the tent, under Adora's thoughtful gaze. "What's the flame for?"
Catra took a moment to answer the question. "It's her legacy."
"... is it the prophecy?"
She plopped back down next to Adora on the camp mattress that served as a bed. She took Adora's hand and rubbed her knuckles. "More like a mission."
"Ah yes, the anti-planet deterioration mission," Adora said in a military voice.
Catra chuckled. "You still sound like a Horde cadet."
"What?! No way!"
Adora punched Catra's shoulder lightly, grumbling against the unfair calling out. She knew Catra found it cute, but it bugged her a bit. It bothered her that her Horde education came back to the surface at random times. Like it would never leave her.
"Yes way, but don't worry. It's adora-ble."
Catra didn't give Adora the time to retaliate. She captured her lips as she pinned her down on the mattress, muffling Adora's moans. The princess yanked her down on her body, erasing the little space that had remained. Catra broke the kiss, smirked when Adora whined, and dived on her neck instead. Her touch had been hungry last night, desperate to have her princess again. Now it was lighter, softer… she teased Adora with a trail of feather kisses down to her breast.
Adora couldn't get enough of her. She wanted to appreciate this moment to its fullest, aware that this may be their last one for a while. All because of the war. But as always when she tried to focus on her pleasure, an intrusive thought came to nag her mind.
"You still haven't told me…" she propped herself up on her elbow. Catra didn't react, too busy kissing her belly. "What happened back there? What was it like when you found your people?"
Catra crossed her arms on Adora's stomach. She stared at her mask, resting on a pile of clothes. Adora reached out, grabbed a brown curl and twirled it around her finger.
"We almost died in that fucking desert," Catra started. "We ran out of food in a couple of days, and our water supply wouldn't last long. We are definitely not made to survive in that heat. We were at the right spot, where Entrapta knew the Magicats lived, but the thing is, if they don't want to be found, you'll never find them."
"All the Kingdoms of the South use some sort of magical shield, a protection making them invisible and untouchable. They could observe us, but we couldn't see them back. Scorpia, the boys and I were on the verge of calling it off and trying to survive until we reached the Whispering Woods, when they finally took us in."
"So it was less easy than you made it seem yesterday."
"Well, duh. Imagine their shock, discovering a younger version of Katriska coming to them in a prisoner outfit, with Horde soldiers as her companions. They were as confused as you all were yesterday."
Adora hummed in response. She ran her hand through Catra's hair, smiling when the queen sighed in pleasure. It was still hard to process she was really there. Catra hadn't sent any news for so many months… but Adora didn't care right now. Catra had come back to her.
"I showed them the memory of the mask, but they would have believed me anyway. They can tell when I lie, because I never learned to control my body language like them. It's actually pretty annoying."
"Really? I always thought you lied pretty well."
"Humans don't know the finesse. You guys are… a bit dense, to say the least."
Catra's snickers got muffled by the pillow Adora threw at her face. She swapped their position, tackling Catra on the mattress, but the queen didn't intend to let herself be dominated that easily. She folded her legs beneath Adora, and pushed on her stomach with her feet. Adora whimpered as she fell on her side. She was ready to go full on wrestling mode, but she stopped when she saw Catra laughing next to her.
She hadn't seen her look so carefree in such a long time.
For a moment, it was like they were teenagers again. During their sparse free time, they would climb up the pipes of the Fright Zone, Catra always reaching the top first. They would joke, fight and tell stories under the sunset. They would eat some ration bars they had snitched from the kitchen. They would cuddle when one of them got cold. They would imagine what the world was like beyond the fuming buildings of their home.
They had happiness, somehow. They only had each other.
"My Queen," a deep voice suddenly spoke, making the women jolt. "The Alliance of the South is ready for today's meeting!"
Catra jumped from the mattress. In less than a minute, she'd finished preparing herself, cursing several more times, under Adora's amused gaze.
"What are you looking at?" Catra asked as she fixed her ponytail.
"Nothing," Adora giggled. "It's just funny to see that despite being a queen you're still faithfully late to meetings."
"Hey, you're the reason for that right now." Catra grabbed Adora's eternal Horde shirt and jacket, and threw them at her. "Put on some clothes, perv. I need to go."
Adora nodded, trying to hide her disappointment.
"I'll see you later?"
Catra looked back at her just as she was about to exit the tent.
"Of course," she said with a smile. "Don't miss me too much, Princess."
The festive atmosphere that had taken over Bright Moon surprised Adora when she came back from the camp. People from the closest villages, princesses and sorceresses were decorating the castle's main courtyard with magical ribbons and flowers floating in the air. The guards helped setting long buffet tables framing the square space. Swift Wind was giving orders about apples, insisting they had to be the main course of the meal.
Adora waltzed her way through the excited Bright Moon citizens. She smiled awkwardly when she received a flower crown from a Plumerian, but kept it on her head until she disappeared inside the castle.
"What is going on…?" she wondered. She had barely set foot on the stairs when a sparkly cloud exploded next to her.
"Adora!" Glimmer grasped her shoulders. "I've been looking for you all morning! Where have you been?"
"I...um… I was with…" Adora laughed unnaturally, fidgeting her fingers.
"You were with Catra?! Dammit!" She pouted. "I went to their camp earlier, and this infuriating commander made fun of me! She said I was too short to be wandering around the woods by myself. Can you believe that?! And then she lied to me! She said there was no way she would have allowed you near her queen. Ugh, what a pain in the ass!"
Adora raised a brow. Glimmer seemed to get particularly worked up around Anya.
"Anyway, we're having a surprise Rebellion meeting right now. We're late."
"Okay, but first, what's going on outside?"
"Oh, we're throwing a sort of 'welcome back' party for the Magicats and the South. Everyone in the region is coming, and more princesses too, like Peekablue and the Star Sisters. It's been such a long time since I've seen them."
"I've never really bonded with them…"
"Well that's normal. With the war and all, it's hard to make new friends. And they never wanted to join our Alliance meetings since they don't have a runestone or powers, even if it's not an obligation for us. Aah, I can't wait to show them my new magic powers!"
Adora followed the bubbly princess through the corridors in awe. More Bright Moon citizens crossed their path, carrying supplies for the party with brilliant smiles on their faces.
She had trouble understanding the change of attitude. Yesterday, everybody was so suspicious and puzzled, and now they looked like they were celebrating victory over the Horde. There was obviously too much that Adora didn't know about Etheria's kingdoms. She had read about the Magicats' popularity. However, she never imagined their return would inspire such enthusiasm, all the more so because they were led by an ex-Horde commander who had caused many casualties to the Rebellion.
When they stepped into the war room, Adora realized the Princesses were not immune to the joyful atmosphere that had bloomed overnight in the kingdom. Adora sat next to Seahawk who was listening to Perfuma ranting about her land's historical partnership with the Daffodil Kingdom.
Queen Angella stood up when her daughter took her seat next to her.
"Dear friends, now that we're all here, we can start the meeting of the Alliance of the North, with Mystacor's Council as our guests."
"Do we have to call it that…?" Frosta pouted.
"Yes, now that we know there's a South," Glimmer answered softly. "But wait, Mom, hold on. Is Mermista coming?"
Everyone stared at Seahawk, who lowered his eyes sadly. "She doesn't want to. She left me in charge."
"Again," Perfuma whispered. The Rebels didn't break the silence for a few seconds, until Angella cleared her throat.
"I hope Mermista will let herself persuaded to come back to us soon. In the meantime, let's focus on the latest subject at hand. The Alliance of the South."
"I have a question," Frosta spoke again. "How much can we trust Catra on her story? And why did the Magicats hide? Why didn't the survivors come seek asylum in Bright Moon after the battle of Halfmoon? Why are the Princesses of the South back now? Why-"
"One at a time, please!" Angella chuckled. "Catra, or more like Katriska, is trusted by the Magicats, including Lucio, an old friend who knew Katriska and her predecessor very well."
"Really?! How old is this guy?" Spinnerella asked.
"He's about 95 years old. That's still young for a magicat."
"But what about what Isidore said yesterday?" Frosta pointed at the warlock in question, who raised his eyebrows in surprise. "She couldn't have deceived them, right?"
"No, she wouldn't," Adora answered. "The Magicats are her people. The only ones like her in the whole world. She would never hurt them."
Her tone clearly indicated she wouldn't tolerate any contradiction.
"Alright. What about their reasons for hiding?"
"I can answer that one," Angella said. "Historically, when the Magicats lost a queen, they retreated into the protected undergrounds of their kingdom until the new queen was old enough to govern. They called it a lockdown. Everybody assumed they were still inside of Halfmoon, but obviously they had a secret hideout in the desert. After Hordak's slaughter, the survivors must have waited there for the new queen to return."
"Why didn't they just choose a new queen?" Seahawk asked. Being relatively new to the Princesses' meetings, he wasn't caught up on all the information they shared.
"They don't elect their queens," Netossa answered. "When the old one dies, they search for a baby who has blue and yellow eyes. She's the new queen."
"It's a magical thing? It's weird."
"Yes," Netossa agreed. "Since Katriska was still alive, obviously the Magicats didn't find the baby."
"But did they know she was still alive? The Horde could have kept other babies including a new baby queen after the slaughter as hostages, right?" Perfuma suggested.
"That's true," Angella conceded. "But anyways, it doesn't matter. The Magicats were waiting for their queen to come from outside their kingdom."
"Am I the only one who finds it weird?" Adora shook her head. "Why didn't they try to retrieve Katriska or the new baby queen by themselves? Why didn't they act, find the Rebellion, and do whatever they could to save their queen?"
Silence fell over the table. Adora regretted her words as soon as she realized their impact. It sounded pretty suspicious indeed, but as Adora thought about it again, she remembered something important. Something she hadn't properly discussed with Catra yet since she was back.
Madame Razz and her tendency to twist the world at her will.
Adora shot a glance at Glimmer and Bow. They were the only ones she told about the revelations.
They both looked back at her gravely, as if they had heard her thoughts.
"Madame Razz did that for a special reason, Adora."
Catra's words echoed in her mind. The memory of old Katriska's last moments before she got turned into a five year old child blinded her mind. The pain the mask had shared with her gave her chills.
"She did that so we could meet."
Could the old witch have told the Magicats about this terrible chess play? Did she convince them to let their queen go and wait in the desert for her return?
"I'm supposed to be helping you save the world."
Did the Magicats and even the old Katriska know all along it would happen? Did the prophecy say their queen would have to sacrifice herself? Did they know the baby she would become would have to endure living amongst their murderers?
No, they wouldn't have let Catra almost die out there when she finally came back with Horde friends if they knew about that part.
But if the rest was true, was Catra okay with that?!
"This is something you will have to discuss with Lucio and Katriska, Angella," Castaspella spoke for the first time. The Princesses were surprised to hear her voice. She had turned very quiet over the last few months. She had… faded.
"Why in private?" Isidore asked. This guy would never drop the tone of protest and suspicion in his voice. Adora wondered what good he was to Castaspella. "Why can't they explain themselves in front of everyone?"
"Because some things are not easily told in front of an assembly," Mortella said as she sent daggers to her colleague. "Angella is more likely to learn useful information and bond with our allies if she faces them alone."
"Besides, Lucio is my friend, and I want to reconnect with him," Angella added.
"Yes, let's not forget our goal is to work with the Alliance of the South," Bow reminded everyone. "We need their trust. It'll be easier if we don't try to poke around in their business."
"Of course, but they need our trust too, Master Archer," Mortella replied. "We will need to hear them out on their true motivations to join the battle this late, whether it's the Magicats or the other Kingdoms of the South."
"Maybe Mystacor can explain their own motivations too, then." Everyone widened their eyes at Adora's words. Adora ignored the kick in the shin she received under the table from Glimmer. She held Mortella's inquisitive stare for a few long seconds.
"Castaspella," the sorceress said, turning to her queen. "If I'm correct, you've already explained multiple times our people's reluctance to join the war because it would have disrupted the flows of energies."
"You were only reluctant until the Queen of the Magicats and her mask came back," Adora glared.
"Would you care to elaborate on what you are insinuating, Princess Adora?"
"Ladies, this is a civilized war meeting between partners only. I won't tolerate this score-settling at such a crucial time. We need everyone focused on the near future." Angella said severely. "But tonight, let's enjoy the party. Let's rejoice as we should that we have new allies willing to help us win the war. Bond with them, have fun, and don't drink too much. Tomorrow we hold the first strategy meeting between the two Alliances. Don't be late. Dismissed."
The princesses and sorceresses left in the room in a hurry. Most of them joined the party planning outside. Adora was about to tag along with Netossa and Spinnerella, but a grab of a hand and one sparkly purple cloud later, she found herself in the backroom of the meeting room with Angella glaring at her.
"What was that, Adora?" She asked with more calm than Adora thought she would receive. Bow and Glimmer took a seat, but Adora kept her stance, her military reflexes taking over during a reprimand.
"Adora," Glimmer took her hand with concern. "I know you don't like that we're still working with Mystacor, but that sounded like an accusation."
"It's not. I was just annoyed with their attitude, trying to put doubts in our minds about the Magicats..."
"I don't understand," Angella shook her head. "Mortella was just agreeing with our main concern, and so were you. You said it yourself, some of the Magicats' decisions have been obscure."
"But I didn't do everything I could to throw the last magicat queen into the Forbidden Zone, did I?"
"We've already talked about this, Adora…" Angella pinched the bridge of her nose. It pissed Adora off. "The Council apologized and recognized that they acted impulsively and with clouded judgement. At the time, they were being attacked by the Horde. It wasn't an easy situation for anybody. And after that, we agreed not to include them in the Alliance of the North, to keep our independence."
"And yet somehow, they still attend all of our meetings." Adora crossed her arms beneath her chest.
"What is it about them, Adora?" Bow asked. "Is there something you aren't telling us?"
She looked at her friends, then at Angella. They weren't judging her. They were only trying to understand.
After Catra had been sent into exile, a long period of recovery had started for the Rebellion. Cutting ties again with Mystacor hadn't gone without consequences.
Angella had made an official speech, claiming the ex-Horde commander had suffered a great injustice from the Rebellion. Castaspella had apologized publicly, in Bright Moon's throne room, for putting the Princesses in custody during those troubled times. She had also pledged allegiance to the Rebellion, but Angella and the Princesses had decided to keep them out of their inner circle.
At least at the beginning. As it happened, they needed Mystacor's forces. It became necessary to include their higher ups to their private meetings. Adora hadn't seen that with a tolerant eye.
She had protested, but her friends had disagreed with her. The Rebellion needed to act fast, and win back Plumeria, and then Salineas, especially after what happened to Mermista a few months after she first got sick…
Adora had caved. But she hadn't forgotten what Catra had told her in that prison where she was taking care of her wounded back. She had thought of it after Catra's departure to the desert. She had thought it over and over as she was pretending to mourn her best friend supposedly lost in the Forbidden Zone.
Mystacor and the Magicats had gone through a thousand years of disagreements.
She had come to realize that maybe Catra was right.
Maybe Mystacor wanted Catra dead from the beginning.
Bringing herself back to reality, Adora shrugged. "I don't trust them. That's all."
"But you trust us, don't you?"
Adora averted her gaze from Glimmer's hopeful eyes. She couldn't stand this anymore.