The light was blinding, beautiful, breathtaking, like the first sunset Adora had seen from Brightmoon when the sky was painted so many colors that Adora had never even seen before. It made her stop in her tracks, made her stare in awe and she did the same now. Except now, there was a sharp undercurrent of fear that had her limbs shaking and her breath coming short.
“ CATRA! ”
The magicat was enveloped in the light emanating from the Spirit Ember, her always-present smirk fading from view as the light grew brighter and brighter around her, a deep orange in color. Adora’s grip on She-Ra’s sword slipped and the blade clattered to the ground as Adora ran past it. Glimmer and Bow both tried to stop her from running towards the light but Adora ducked under their grasps with an ease that spoke of her existence as a child soldier until just a few months ago. Scorpia and Entrapta are there too, Adora knows, but she can’t bring herself to take into account their current positions. Her eyes, her mind, everything about her was focused on the point where Catra had faded into the light.
As she gets closer, Adora can feel the heat there too. Now that’s close enough she can see that the light isn’t just bright and orange, it’s burning. Smokeless, odorless, but as hot as any fire. Adora’s fear for Catra suddenly shot up even higher.
Without stopping to think about it, Adora dove into the strange fire in search of her lost best friend. She tumbled as she hit the ground on the other side of the wall of flame, coughing slightly as she rolled onto her stomach and pushed herself back into a standing position. The air around her was warmer inside the fire but Adora found herself unharmed. The fire seemed to be shaped like a dome, a barrier to the outside world. At the center of the dome stood the Spirit Ember, glowing in a steady pulse that was much more reassuring than the erratic flashes it had exhibited before. In front of the runestone, lying motionless on the ground, was Catra.
“Catra,” Adora called her name again as she rushed towards the fallen soldier. She slid onto her knee with the intent of lifting Catra’s body off the floor only to recoil in pain as soon as her hands came into contact with the soft fur on Catra’s arm. “What?”
Adora lifted her hands and saw the blisters forming there, burns. Catra was burning hot to the touch.
“Catra, what happened to you?”
Catra’s eyes were closed, her breathing too deep and even to be natural. The heat was growing more intense. They had to get out of there and soon, before they were both burned alive.
“I”m not leaving you behind Catra,” Adora knelt beside her again, her face set in grim determination. “Not again.”
Gritting her teeth against the pain, Adora slid her hands beneath Catra’s body and lifted her. Catra’s head settled against her shoulder limply, her overheated skin burning even through the long sleeves of Adora’s shirt. Forcing the pain out of her mind, Adora turned them around and began to make her way through the wall of fire again. This time, the fire parted as she approached and Adora walked through unharmed with the unconscious Catra in her arms. The battle on the other side of the wall of fire had come to a halt with Bow and Glimmer standing to one side and Scorpia and Entrapta on another. Adora’s and Catra’s names overlapped as their friends called for them.
“What did you do to her?” Scorpia asked with a hollow voice.
“Nothing, I didn’t do anything. She was like this when I found her.” Adora had to stop herself from saying that she’d never hurt Catra because she already had and no matter how much tried, how much she regretted hurting the one person who she’d always cared for, Adora couldn’t take her back. “The runestone did something when she touched it. We need to take her to Brightmoon.”
“You’re not leaving here with her,” Scorpia took a step forward, her claw wavering slightly as she gestured to Adora. “Give her to me. I’ll take her back to the Freight Zone.”
“Scorpia,” Adora spoke in a tone that Bow and Glimmer had never heard from before. Desperation and fear and love rolled into one voice. The other two members of the best friends squad shared a look that said they both had come to the same realization. “Brightmoon is the safest place for her. The runestone is magic, she needs magic to heal. I promise, once she’s better we’ll let her go back to the Freight Zone if that’s what she wants. Please, don’t fight us.”
A look passed between Scorpia and Adora, neither of them looking away. Catra’s tail that had hung limply until then curled up slightly, a moan-like sound escaping her lips and she burrowed deeper into Adora’s chest. Scorpia’s eyes widened in realization and then her expression became sullen.
“I always knew there was something,” Sorpia said, mostly to herself. “Fine, but I want to be updated about her progress. If she needs anything...well,”
“We’ll let you know,” Glimmer spoke up as she and Bow came to stand on either side of Adora and Catra. Scorpia nodded once.
“Okay, let’s go Entrapta.”
“That was one of the most fascinating encounters I have yet to see,” Entrapta muttered into her recorder as she and Scorpia exited the castle at Candila. “Prolonged eye contact seems to be some advanced form of communication…”
“Adora, are you sure about this?” Glimmer asked as Entrapta’s voice faded away. “Taking Catra to Brightmoon? She’s the Horde’s second in command!”
“Please Glimmer. I can’t leave her, not again. Not like this.” Adora looked down at Catra’s unconscious face, her shirt burned black under Catra’s head. “It’s Catra. She’s…”
“We know,” Bow stepped up and put a comforting hand on Adora’s shoulder. “Of course we’ll take her with us. But-What’s wrong with your hands?”
Adora’s hands were now a deep red, burned. She’d gone numb to the pain. “Nothing, they’ll heal when I transform into She-Ra again. We need to go, before she gets worse.”
Bow and Glimmer followed Adora out of the castle to where the rest of the Princess Alliance was waiting to step in if things got too out of control.
“So, like, are we going to do something about that?” Mermista asked while pointing at Adora and Catra. “She’s evil, right?”
“She’s hurt and Adora promised to help her get better,” Glimmer answered. “We’ll worry about the evil bit later.”
“Whatever,” Mermista shrugged and walked away to fall into step with Perfuma and Frosta.
‘Do you think she realizes? Adora, I mean.” Bow asked as the group began walking in the direction of Brightmoon.
“That she’s in love with Catra? Not a chance but,” Glimmer paused for a moment. “I don’t know if she knows what love is. Romantic love. Growing up in the Horde…”
“Yeah, I know,” Bow scratched the back of his neck. “But she must know she feels different about her, right? Now that she has other friends to compare it to?”
“Maybe she thinks she feels different about us. Catra’s her normal,” Glimmer shrugged. “It doesn’t matter right now. Once Catra gets better, they can figure it out. We just need to keep Adora from doing something stupid until then.”
“Right, we can do that. Best Friend Squad for Life!” Bow cheered and then smiled thoughtfully. “Do you think we can be a quartet once Catra wakes up?”
Glimmer shrugged noncommittally but she had a feeling that forming a quartet would simply be the beginning of their relationship with Catra.
They walked together for a long while, until Glimmer was close enough to safely teleport herself, Adora and Catra back to the Brightmoon. Teleporting to the middle of the War Room while Adora cradled an unconscious Catra in her arms might not have been Glimmer’s best idea but it was the fastest way to make sure she met her mother first.
“Glimmer? Adora? What’s going on?” Queen Angella was on her feet as soon as the girls faded into view, her wings snapping out for a moment when she caught sight of Catra.
“Something happened when Catra touched the Spirit Ember, Mom,” Glimmer explained. “We have to help her.”
“You want us to heal the Horde’s second-in-command?” Angella had thought, hoped, her daughter was done surprising her with reckless actions during the middle of a war.
“No,” Glimmer said with the long-suffering annoyance of a teenager, “we want you to help us heal Adora’s best friend.” Glimmer accompanied her sentence with a wide-eyed expression, making a heart shape with her hands. Queen Angella looked puzzled at the motion.
“Please, Your Majesty,” Adora spoke up, tearing her gaze away from Catra for the first time since she arrived. Angella saw something in Adora’s eyes that she hadn’t expected, the same fear that Angella had felt so long ago every time her husband left with a chance that he wouldn’t return to her. “I have to help her.”
“I see,” Queen Angella folded her wings back against her back, nodding once in Glimmer’s direction to signal that she understood. “Take her to the guest room, I must contact Castaspella.”
Adora accepted the order with a slight bow of her head and let the guards lead her to the room where Catra would be staying. Once there, she carefully placed Catra down on the bed and took a seat beside her, leaning down to whisper in Catra’s ear.
“You’re going to be okay Catra. I promise. Just keep fighting.” Adora looked a Catra’s face for a moment as if waiting for a response, but none came.
“Let’s get your hands taken care of and get you cleaned up,” Glimmer said softly, offering Adora a warm smile when she looked up. “If we move fast enough, we can be back before Aunt Cass gets here.”
“Sure,” Adora looked down at her red and blistered hands for a moment, the black marks on her clothing where Catra’s body had rested against her. She squeezed Catra’s hand once, concealing a sudden burst of pain that the movement caused, and then stood to follow Glimmer out of the room.
She was surrounded by heat, it licked at her fur and stung her eyes. Catra had never felt so hot in her life. Sure she wasn’t a stranger to warmth or the heat generated from physical exercise, she was a soldier after all, but this was different. This wasn’t just a heat around her, enveloping her. This was a heat that arose from within. Someone called Catra’s name.
“Adora?” Catra called in a scratchy voice, coughing as she struggled into a sitting position. She didn’t remember being knocked down in the first place and frowned. Her frown deepened when she lifted her head and found herself in an unfamiliar setting. “Adora?”
Catra stood and the air around her was suddenly ablaze. She let out a startled scream as the fire rose around her, stumbling backwards in an attempt to evade the flames. The flames continued to close in on her as Catra’s back collided with something hard behind her and she closed her eyes, moving her hands like she could push the fire away from her with willpower alone. She waited for a long moment and then opened her eyes.
The flames had come to a stop a few inches out from Catra’s hand, they danced calmly, almost lazily, like Catra’s tail flicking in the wind.
“What the hell is going on?”
You have been chosen
Catra whirled around, searching for the source of the voice. “Show yourself!”
You have been chosen. The Trial has begun.
“Trial? What Trial?” Catra looked all around herself again, turning in surprise when the wall she had been leaning on fell away. “Who are you?”
The path is open to you. Find the flame before it finds you
A doorway opened in the place where there had previously been a wall. Catra turned her back to the open path. “Find the flame before it finds you?” She parroted with a cruel laugh, looking at the fire still dancing around her. “Too late for that.”
Cool air drifted over her from the open doorway. Catra was surprised when she shivered in response. “Okay two options, stay here until the creepy fire decides to move again,” Catra looked at the flames wearily. “Or go down the creepy tunnel and hope I can find a way out of this place.”
The flames danced a little more, shifting this was and that in a way that made it seem like they were pointing towards the tunnel. Catra followed their direction, ignoring the voice in her head that said she had a third option, calling for Adora again. Not like Adora would come anyway.
The pathway was apparently lined with torches which lit up as soon as Catra stepped through the doorway. The flames behind her surged forward to block the path backwards, Catra managing to jump out of the way just in time to save her tail from being scorched.
“Down the creepy tunnel it is.”
Castaspella brought with her two special magic users known as Spirit Healers. Although wary of helping anyone associated with the Horde, Cass had agreed to at least have Catra examined by the healers as a favor to her niece. Queen Angella walked her to the room where Catra had been placed.
“I feel I should warn you,” Angella spoke when they stopped outside the door. “Adora will be there, I doubt she will leave Catra’s side until she is healed, but I do not believe she fully understands why.”
“I assume they were friends before Adora left the Horde,” Cass said.
“Yes, but I am unsure that friends are all they are to one another. Adora worries for Catra the way I worried for Micah.”
“Adora loves her?” Castaspella turned to the Queen with a look of surprise. Angella nodded.
“Not that she’s aware of that yet, from my understanding love is not something that exists in the Horde,” Angella shook her head slightly. “I just did not want you to be surprised if Adora seems different than you expected.”
“You mean if Adora transforms into She-Ra the second she feels that someone is threatening Catra?”
“Wonderful,” Castapella pushed the door open and stepped through.
Adora looked up from her intense study of Catra’s face when the door opened, climbing to her feet to bow respectfully to the Queen and sorceress.
“Adora, how is she?” Queen Angella asked as they stepped further into the room, sending a guard to fetch the Spirit Healers.
“No change,” Adora’s hands were wrapped in white gauze and she was dressed in a pair of pants and shirt that seemed to be borrowed from Bow, hanging loosely off her body. “Be careful with her,” Adora held her hands up in display when Casstaspella leant down to touch Catra’s arm. “Her fur will burn you.”
“Thank you for the warning, Adora,” Cass stood up straight again and moved her hands in a pattern of fire protection. A moment later the spell took hold and Cass placed her hand against Catra’s arm. Even through her fire protection spell, Cass could feel the heat coming from Catra. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“She accidentally touched the Spirit Ember. Fire surrounded her and I jumped in to save her. She was already unconscious by the time I reached her.”
“The Spirit Ember?” Cass turned to Angella. “Is it real?”
“Indeed, the Princess Alliance journey to Mount Candila to secure its power for the Rebellion.” Angella explained with a slight inclination of her hand. “It seems that Catra has had some sort of reaction from touching the unstable runestone.”
“She didn’t mean to,” Adora bowed her head in shame and regret. “It was my fault. We were fighting and I knocked her into the runestone. She wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me.”
“Catra made her own decisions that brought her to Candila, you are not responsible for them,” Angella came around to the other side of the bed and rested her hands on Adora’s shoulders. Adora’s expression said she didn’t agree, but she let the matter drop for the moment as the two Spirit Healer’s walked in. They were duly warned of Catra’s overheated body and applied the same fire protection spell to their hands before beginning their evaluation.
Adora moved out of the way with Queen Angella by her side, standing tensley while the healer’s worked to determine what had put Catra into such a state. Her unhealed hands ached in their wrappings but she didn’t want to leave so she could transform long enough to heal them yet. Not when she didn’t know what was wrong with Catra yet. If they needed to move her again, Adora wanted to be there. She didn’t trust anyone to be careful enough with her.
“Impossible,” One of the Healer’s spoke suddenly, one hand resting in the air above Catra’s heart and the other over her temple. Adora had taken a step forward without thinking, it was only Angella’s hand on her shoulder that stopped her from moving all the way over to the bed.
“What is it?” Angella asked. The Healer’s traded a look with one another and then with Castaspella.
“There is nothing physically wrong with Catra. It is her soul that is in danger.”
“What does that mean?” Adora asked.
“The runestone must have been less stable than we thought,” Queen Angella said, mostly to herself. “It formed a bond with Catra as soon as she came in contact with it.”
“Yes, but the dormant power is strong. Catra’s soul must bring this power under control if she is to return to us.”
“And if she can’t?” Adora asked in a low voice.
“Then she will be lost to the flame within.”
The silence that followed the statement was deafening.
“There has to be something we can do to help her!” Adora was pacing along the hall outside of Catra’s room joined by Glimmer and Bow, who had just returned to Brightmoon with the other members of the Princess Alliance. The Sword of Protection was leaning against the wall where Adora had set it after transforming to She-Ra and back so her injuries would heal.
“The Healer’s will let us know,” Glimmer said in an encouraging voice. “We’ll make sure nothing happens to Catra.”
“Except something already happened to Catra and it’s my fault,” Adora stopped pacing suddenly, seeming to deflate as she covered her face with her hands. “It’s my fault.”
“Adora,” Bow pulled her into a warm hug. “You didn’t make catra fight you. That was her choice, you can’t blame yourself for reacting to that.”
“She’s my friend. She was my best friend,” Adora was trying hard to keep her tears in but they fell from her eyes anyway. “She was my best friend and I left her behind.”
“Not this time, not when she needed you,” Glimmer stepped up to join in the hug on Adora’s other side. “We can’t pretend that Catra hasn’t done some bad things, but she needs our help now and that’s what matters. We can deal with everything else later.”
“She’s your enemy,” Adora wiped at her eyes, almost angry at herself for crying.
“So were you when we first met, there’s no reason that Catra can’t change too.” Bow said easily. “We’re willing to give her the chance if she wants it.”
“And we’ll make sure that everyone else does too,” Glimmer promised.
“Thanks guys,” Adora sniffled slightly.
“There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for you, Adora. That’s why we’re the Best Friend Squad.”
Before Glimmer could add anything to Bow’s statement, the door to Catra’s room opened and Castaspella stepped out.
“The Healer’s have finished their examination,” she said, “they have determined that Catra must harness the power of fire on her own. There is nothing that we can physically do to help.”
Adora was visibly downcast at the news but Bow’s eyes had lit up. “Does that mean there’s something we can do that isn’t physical?”
“As a matter of fact,” Castaspella smiled. “There is.”
The spell was a simple illusion principle, but it would take a large amount of power and would only hold for a few minutes. Once the spell was cast, Adora would be able to speak to and see Catra in the place where her soul had gone to harness the fire, but she would not be able to touch anything. The connection wouldn’t last long so Adora would need to get all the information she could from Catra and give all the information she had in return.
“You will only have one chance at this. If you cannot find Catra, we cannot simply try again. You would be sending your very soul to Catra. Doing so more than once will put you in too much danger,” Castaspella explained to Adora where she lay in the bed beside Catra. “For the spell to work, you must focus only on Catra. Think of nothing but speaking to her. Seeing her.”
Adora nodded her understanding. Speaking to Catra, even arguing with her as they had been so prone to do since Adora left the Horde and Catra stayed, was all she had wanted to do since she discovered Catra’s unconscious form. “I’m ready.”
Castaspella stepped away from the bed and gestured for the Healer’s to begin the spell. Bow, Glimmer and Angella stood near the door as the only people allowed to view the spell. The Healer’s began to move their hands in a complicated pattern, each of them completing one half of the two-sided spell. The first Healer placed their hand over Adora’s eyes as the first part of the spell took hold, sending Adora into a deep sleep. The second Healer made a pulling motion with their hands, pulling Adora’s soul from her body and sending it to meet with Catra’s. Adora’s body fell into a relaxed unconsciousness as the Healer’s settled into the holding stances they would maintain until Adora awoke again.
The heat around Catra had settled into an almost soothing presence, a constant reminder to keep moving. She had been walking down the torch lit hallway for a seemingly endless amount of time. Each stepped carried her further from the doorway she entered but she didn’t feel like she was any closer to reaching the end.
The warrior of your heart has arrived
Catra whirled around as the voice sounded in her head again, only familiar in that it was unfamiliar. There was no one there.
Catra looked up, startled. “Adora?”
“Catra!” Adora’s voice was louder now, closer. “Stay where you are. I’m coming.”
“Where are you? How did you get here?”
“I followed you,” Adora was suddenly there, stepping out of the shadows created by the torch light. “Catra.”
“Hey Adora,” Catra said with her signature smirk. To someone who didn’t know her better, Catra would look the picture of relaxed ease. Adora did know her better though, and she could tell that Catra was unsettled. She didn’t know if that was because of Adora’s presence or the place where they were.
“Catra, please, we don’t have much time. You’re in danger.”
“From what? You? Haven’t we already proved I’m the better fighter?” Catra looked away to hide the grimace at the memory of her claws raking across Adora’s back with the full intent of causing as much pain as possible.
“I’m not here to fight you. I can’t,” Adora stepped further into the light. Neither she nor Catra realized that Adora didn’t have a shadow. “Listen Catra, the runestone activated when you touched it. It bonded with you but it’s unstable.”
“Is that why it’s so warm in here? It is the fire runestone right?” Catra’s tail swayed lazily even as her shoulders tensed.
“Damn it Catra this isn’t a game!” Catra turned to Adora with wide eyes. In all the years she’d known Adora, she’d never heard her curse. “Your life's on the line here!”
“What are you talking about?” Catra took in Adora’s almost frantic expression, her badly fitting clothes and the panic in her eyes.
“The Spirit Ember bonded with you and if you can’t calm down the fire within, it will destroy you just like the Fire Princess destroyed her kingdom.”
“You’re saying a runestone sent me here?” Catra asked, skeptical.
“Yes, and a runestone will keep you here if you don’t fight. Catra, please. You have to do this on your own.”
“If that’s true then why are you here?” Catra stepped closer to Adora and noticed the translucent quality of her former best friend. “Wait, you’re not actually here are you? What is this, a figment of my imagination? A memory?”
“It’s really me Catra, but I couldn’t be here physically. I can’t help you with this, as much as I want to.”
“Which is none at all. Why would you help me? You left me.” Catra fought to keep her voice from breaking but it did anyway and she scowled at the way her one body betrayed her.
“I left the Horde Catra, I couldn’t stay there anymore, but I never wanted to leave you. You chose to stay,” Adora shook her head sadly.
“Where would I have gone? To the Rebellion? Did you think I would drop everything to follow you?” Catra crossed her arms over her chest in a protective stance.
“I don’t know,” Adora hung her head low. That was the truth. She didn’t know what she thought Catra would do, she only knew what she wanted Catra to do. “I wanted you to come with me, it broke my heart to leave you behind. No matter how hard I try, I can’t think of you as my enemy.”
“Why’s that? You pity me too much?” Venom dripped from Catra’s tongue and the temperature in the hall rose several degrees.
“Because I care about you too much!” If Adora could have, she would have held onto Catra’s arms, pulled her into a hug, anything to show how much she meant what she was saying. “You’ve been my best friend for as long as I could remember. We promised to always look out for one another. I don’t know how to not care about you because it’s always been you there with me. It’s always been you who mattered the most to me.”
Adora’s chest was heaving with emotion. Catra was staring with wide eyes. She had half a thought about making some snarky comment about Adora telling herself that enough times to easy her guilt but the words wouldn’t come. Adora’s words were laced with guilt and agony and some emotion that Catra couldn’t identify but she knew it was important. Adora’s image wavered and Catra found herself reaching out for her.
“I don’t have much time left,” Adora’s voice took on an echo-y quality. “Catra, fight. Please. You’ve never gone down without a fight before, don’t start now.”
“I promise,” the words slipped from Catra’s lips easily, too easily. She’d never been good at denying Adora. “Adora, I-”
“We’ll finish this when you wake up,” Adora held her hand up in a half hearted wave. “Don’t forget your promise.”
“I won’t,” Catra watched as Adora’s image faded away.
Squaring her shoulders, Catra turned back to the direction she had been walking in and set off again. She moved faster now, a sense of urgency born from Adora’s warning. Catra had to know what it all meant. Catra had to identify that last emotion in Adora’s voice. Catra needed to find her way home.
She didn’t know if that meant Adora or the Horde.
Adora came awake slowly, like she had simply taken a nap rather than a complex illusion spell cast on her that sent her soul to meet with Catra’s. She was still on the bed beside Catra with the two Spirit Healer’s leaning over them. Their stances relaxed as the magic of the spell faded away.
“Were you successful?” Angella asked from her place near the door.
“I think so,” Adora glanced over at Catra’s still form. “Now we wait?”
“Now we wait.” Glimmer settled into one of three chairs that had appeared in the room while Adora was out, arranged near the side of Catra’s bed. Bow fell into the next chair, leaving the one closest to the bed for Adora.
“We will leave you be,” Angella waved her guards out and instructed them to send the Healer’s to their quarters to rest. Castaspella followed them out. “If anything changes, please alert us.”
“What was it like?” Bow asked once the door was closed and Adora was settled in the seat left for her.
“I didn’t really look around,” Adora admitted. “But she looked the same as always.”
“Did she believe you?” Glimmer asked, leaning forward in her seat. Adora nodded.
“She promised to fight her way out. There’s a conversation we need to have.”
Bow and Glimmer shared a look and then entered a brief, whispered debate that ended with Bow suddenly climbing to his feet.
“Well, I think we could all use a warm drink. I’ll be right back,” he looked at Glimmer. “Do it.”
“So,” Glimmer said to break the silence after Bow left. “Catra means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”
“She’s always been there for me,” Adora said. “We grew up together. Everywhere I went, there she was. Coming here without her felt like leaving a part of myself behind.”
“Like your heart?”
“Yeah,” Adora turned her head to glance at Glimmer out of the corner of her eye. “I know what you’re doing.”
“Doing? I’m not doing anything.”
“You know, your voice gets very high pitched when you lie,” Adora smiled slightly as Glimmer grumbled under her breath. “But it’s okay. If it had been anyone else, you’d be right. No one in the Horde knows anything about love.”
“But you do?” Glimmer spoke softly. Adora’s gaze remained on Catra.
“I didn’t before. Not really. I knew that I felt differently about Catra than anyone else, but the Horde isn’t about relationships. We were teammates and best friends. That’s all we could ever be in the Horde,” Adora sighed. “But then I came here, I learned about love. I learned that the way I love Catra is different than the way I love you and Bow. Realizing that was like losing her all over again.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know that anything like this was possible until I met Bow’s dads. Plus, she was our enemy, the second in command of the Horde. How could you trust me to fight by your side if you knew I was in love with the enemy?” Adora shook her head. “I couldn’t run the risk of losing you, too.”
“You wouldn’t have lost us, Adora. You won’t lose us.” Glimmer promised, leaning over to put her hand on Adora’s shoulder. “Love isn’t anything to be ashamed about. It’s something to celebrate! And you were our enemy once too, remember? I promised to give Catra a chance and I stand by that promise. But you have to do something for me.”
“What’s that?” Adora turned her head to look at Glimmer.
“Tell her, whether she goes back to the Horde or stays here. You deserve the chance to say it and she deserves the chance to hear it.”
“And what happens after that?” Adora looked down at her healed hands. “What happens when she doesn’t feel the same way?”
“If that happens, we’ll figure it out when we get there.” Privately, Glimmer thought that Catra was more likely to return Adora’s feelings than she was to reject them, but Adora didn’t need to hear that just then. “Promise you’ll talk to her?”
The air was growing colder the further Catra walked. A feeling like someone was watching her had the hairs on the back of her neck standing up and she found herself pausing every few steps to listen for someone following her. She was tempted to call for Adora but decided against it. If she paused to think about the conversation she and Adora had had earlier, she wouldn’t be focused enough to ‘calm the flame’ whatever that meant.
The time is near.
Catra stopped dead in her tracks, tail and ears flicking.
The fire awaits.
A door appeared before her in the space that she was sure had just been more of the long hallway a second ago.
The door swung open silently. Catra peered through it but there was nothing to see on the other side except black emptiness. A sound like rushing air behind her made Catra glance over her shoulder and she discovered that the empty hallway she had walked through was now covered in fire. She only had one way to go.
Steeling herself with the confident attitude that had led her to become the second in command of the Horde, Catra stepped through the doorway.
The room on the other side was circular and large, lit by a ring of warm fire that rose to just below Catra’s knees. The door disappeared as Catra passed through, a solid wall replacing it.
Welcome, Champion of Fire
Catra stepped further into the room, searching high and low for the source of the voice. There was nothing in the room except a glowing gemstone. It was vaguely familiar and after studying it for a moment, Catra recognized it as the Spirit Ember in Mount Candila, but this was it uncovered as it had been before the destruction of the Kingdom of Flames. Catra approached the runestone slowly, settling back on her haunches when a figure suddenly began to appear. It was humanoid in shape but composed of living flame, always changing shape and dancing to an unheard song.
“We have waited a long time for you,” although there was no mouth, it was clear the voice was coming from the fire figure. “Champion of Fire, the Flame bids you greeting.”
“Um, hi?” Catra stood up straight again, cocking her head to the side in curiosity as the flame figure glided across the room.
“The Trial of Fire awaits you. Do you accept the challenge?”
“The Trial of Fire? What is that?” If a living flame-shaped in vaguely human form could be surprised, Catra guesses it would look something like this: a shockingly expressive pillar of fire that stopped moving suddenly.
“You do not know of the Trial?” Catra shook her head. “How did you come to be here then? Were you not chosen?”
“No,” Catra looked away for a moment. “I touched the Spirit Ember by accident. I wasn’t chosen by anything.”
“But you are here, so you must have been chosen,” the fire sounded speculative. “An outsider has not been chosen for thousands of years.”
“No one has been chosen for thousands of years,” Catra pointed out. “Not since the last Fire Princess destroyed her Kingdom.”
“The Kingdom of Flame is no more?” The fire became darker suddenly, the light in the room dimming. Catra nodded her head. “That cannot be. The Mountain Flame is still burning.”
“Yeah, I have no idea what that means but there is no Kingdom of Flame anymore,” Catra watched the flame figure warily as it moved in a pacing motion.
“There must be, if the Ember has chosen a new Champion. The Flame Kingdom is still alive, yes, but different…” the flame moved in a way that gave the impression of turning around. “The Ember has chosen you. Do you accept the challenge?”
“If I say yes, can I get out of here?” Catra said, rolling her eyes. This flame thing was talking in riddles. How can a kingdom be dead and alive at the same time?
“You must face the Flame, become one with the Ember. Then you will return.” The flame figure moved closer to Catra. “Do you accept?”
Catra hesitated for a moment, thinking about her promise to Adora and the questions she still needed to answer. She promised she would fight her way out and she would keep her promise, even if that meant fighting against literal fire.
A whoosh like a fire starting sounded as the flames surged around Catra. The room went dark as Catra and the flame-figure disappeared.
You are lost
I am here
You are hurt
I am strong
You feel guilt
I...have made mistakes
Can you forgive her?
I already have
Can you forgive yourself?
I don’t know
Is power all that you desire?
I thought so but…
Your heart craves something else
Your heart craves her
Does this make you weak?
Are you certain?
You have made your choice.
Do you accept?
The Flame bids you farewell, then.
The Princess of Fire has returned!
Adora was sitting in a chair she pulled over to Catra’s bed when the change happened. She’d been half asleep, the moon shining high in the starless sky, but she refused to let her eyes fall closed until Catra’s eyes opened. Adora sprang to her feet when a sound like fire crackling reached her ears, the temperature in the room rising to an almost unbearable temperature and settling just as quickly. On the bed, Catra’s eyes sprang open.
“Catra?” Adora was beside her in a second but hesitated to touch her, not just because she didn’t want to be burned again but because she suddenly realized that she and Catra were still enemies, despite whatever promises they had made before.
“Hey Adora,” Catra was smiling slightly, pulling herself into a sitting position.
“You came back?”
“I made a promise.”
“Adora! We heard - Catra!” Glimmer appeared in the room in a shower of sparkles. “You’re awake.”
“Glitter,” Catra acknowledged, purposefully saying the wrong name. Catra turned her gaze back to Adora. “Why am I here?”
“You were injured by magic, I thought magic would heal you. Good magic, not Shadow Weaver. I brought you here when you collapsed.” Adora stood up from where she had taken a seat on the bed. Glimmer watched her movement with amusement, clearly remembering the conversation they had had earlier.
“The Spirit Healer’s from Mystacor helped Adora contact you before,” Glimmer explained. “I’ll let my mother know you’re awake.”
Glimmer was out of the room as fast as she entered.
“Does she do that a lot?” Catra asked, stretching.
“Yes,” Adora confirmed with a small laugh. “How are you feeling?”
“Warm,” Catra was looking over her body like she expected it to be different. “But okay. Even if I am in Brightmoon.”
“Yeah, I might have insisted on bringing you here. Scorpia was not happy.” Adora blushed prettily. “I’ll have to send her a message now that you’re awake.”
“She’ll be happy to hear that,” Catra poked at the pillows on the bed, marvelling at how soft they were.
“I’m glad you have her as a friend,” Adora said softly. “I’m glad she was there for you when I couldn’t be.”
“I didn’t make it easy for her,” Catra shrugged. “Still don’t.”
“It’s worth it anyway, speaking from personal experience.”
“But not worth enough to not leave me behind,” It wasn’t a question, just a statement. A starting point for the conversation that needed to happen.
“I didn’t want to leave you, Catra. I never wanted that.”
“But you left anyway,” Catra was looking around the room, anywhere except Adora.
“I had to. The Horde...what they’re doing is wrong. I couldn’t be a part of that anymore. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t miss you or that leaving you didn’t tear me apart inside,” Adora stayed where she was, not making any attempt to closer or further away from Catra.
“Funny way of showing it,” Catra mumbled.
“We are at war, Catra! As much as I would like to run up and kiss you every time I see you, a battlefield isn’t exactly the place for that. Especially not when you’re attacking me!”
“As much as you would like to what?” Catra was frozen, everything except her tail which twitched in anticipation. Adora stopped short, her eyes growing wide as she mentally repeated what she just said.
“Um, hug you?” A lam substitute that Catra was definitely not going to fall for but Adora needed to do something to save her dignity. She had not intended to admit her desire to kiss Catra.
“That’s not what you said,” Catra was turned around now, faceing Adora head on instead of looking away. Her face held more expressions than Adora had ever seen on her. Doubt, fear, happiness. “You said you want to kiss me.”
“Is that what I said?” Another dumb diversion tactic that failed immediatly. Catra stalked closer to Adora, climbing off the bed to stand in front of her. “That’s crazy.”
“You mean it?” Catra’s ears were dropping, a sure sign that her guard was down for the moment. Adora took a deep breath, intending to not let the moment go to waste.
“I mean it, Catra,” Adora looked deeply into Catra’s eyes. “I’ve always felt differently about that but I didn’t know if it was okay before. I didn’t know if I was okay with it before.”
“And now?” Catra was close enough that she could feel Adora’s breath on her face now, her head tilted up slightly so they were still looking one another in the eye.
“Now, I know, but I won’t do anything unless you want me to.” Adora glanced away for a moment and then back at Catra. “I want whatever we are now to be your choice.”
“My choice?” Catra was stunned. She’d never been given a choice in her life, not a real one. Her choices were always do what you’re told or face the consequences. Never before had she been trusted with a choice like this.
“Your choice,” Adora confirmed.
Catra had already made her choice, the second she told the Spirit Ember that she’d already forgiven Adora for leaving her. Catra had made her choice ages ago, as a child who promised to always protect the only friend she had at the time.
“What do you choose?” Catra asked Adora, the space between their bodies growing even smaller.
“You,” Adora answered a second later. “I choose you Catra, but this isn’t my choice alone. You have to choose me too.”
“I do,” Catra’s voice fell to a whisper. “I choose you. I always have.”
Adora’s smile was brighter than anything Catra had ever seen and she felt her lips grow into the same shape. “Catra,” Adora began, lifting her hands to cradle Catra’s head but stopping just shy of touching her. “Can I kiss you?”
“Yes,” Catra breathed the word and then her lips were pressed against Adora’s. They kissed softly, slowly, the new warmth in Catra’s heart rising to a muted inferno. Only Catra’s sheer force of will kept fire from coming to life in her hands.
They parted when a knock sounded on the door, both of them feeling flushed and elated. Adora took a small step back when the door swung up to reveal Queen Angella and Glimmer, Bow behind them, but kept her hand where it was now clutched in Catra’s.
“Good, you are well,” Queen Angella spoke to Catra. “Do you know what happened to you?”
“Yes,” Catra held up her free hand, closed her eyes for a moment in concentration, opened them and then snapped her fingers. A tiny flame rose over her index finger. “The Spirit Ember has chosen a new Princess.”
Luckily, Bow was there to catch Glimmer when she fainted.