Adora awoke to find herself somewhere unexpected. She wasn’t in the cramped Fright Zone cells she had expected to wake up when they took her. The room was much larger; the green walls and dim lighting were anticipated, but she was separated from them by a translucent green, domed forcefield in its centre. The only other occupant was a large metal loop jutting from the floor connected by a heavy chain to the manacles around her wrists.
Outside the dome, however, were more typical companions. Four guards, each in heavy armour: two with staves and the other two with pulse rifles, stood around her forcefield prison. There was a technician, too, tinkering with what appeared to be a camera of some kind. In her periphery, she could just about make out a gangly creature with an enormous head. It was pacing and muttering to itself; it was familiar, but right now, she couldn’t place it. It was a Force Captain, she assumed; probably an important one if they had put him in charge of She-Ra.
She-Ra. That was her way out, she realised, but she would need the sword. Where was the sword? There was no sign of it from where she sat, so either it was out of sight with the Force Captain, or it had been locked away somewhere else in the Fright Zone. Maybe it was hanging on the wall of the Black Garnet Chamber or Hordak’s Throne Room. Or perhaps the conqueror had sealed it away in his private vault with the other treasures he had deemed worthy of preservation. She might have considered that it was still in Brightmoon, that her friends were keeping it safe as they planned a daring rescue. But no, even the dumbest of Horde troops wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave it behind, and Catra was a far cry from dumb.
The memories began to come back to her; a vision of how she’d ended up in this mess ran through her mind’s eye. She remembered the battle turning south, the last-minute arrival of the Princess Alliance, and how their super-charged magic had repelled the Horde. Then being an idiot, she decided to give chase. A lot of Horde soldiers had been killed or wounded in the wake of the mystic shockwave, and she had to catch a glimpse of those mismatched eyes. She needed to know that her former teammates weren’t amongst the fallen. She remembered her relief when she saw a feline organising the survivor’s retreat, surrounded by familiar faces. Then she recalled their yet another standoff before feeling the explosion and the darkness it brought.
Catra. It had to have been Catra who had dragged her from the battlefield to the Fright Zone. Maybe not Catra personally; sure, she was stronger than she looked, but Rogelio or that Scorpia girl probably did the actual heavy lifting. Not that she was heavy exactly, she was in pretty great shape, at least she thought so. Did Catra think so too? Wait, why did that matter?. It was getting harder to think straight. Especially when it was about her friends. Her thoughts would spin instantly to their newfound contempt for her and leave her feeling worse than any battle ever could. The four of them had been the most important people in her world, and now they were on opposite sides of this stupid war. How had that happened? She couldn’t even call any of them friends anymore; Lonnie had made that clear when she had last been here, and Rogelio had swung at her like his life was on the line. Even Kyle had drawn a weapon against her back at Brightmoon. No, they weren’t friends anymore. Her cell was proof enough of that.
It wasn’t an easy thought to reconcile. She knew she still had everyone back at Brightmoon, but it was different from the other former cadets; they understood her. Or they did, now that connection was lost forever, just another casualty of Hordak’s conquest.
The creature in her periphery shifted, leaning his weight from one side to the other, only now noticing that she was awake. It replaced the nervous muttering with a shrill clicking noise as it skittered around to face her.
“The traitor princess is awake. Good, Lord Hordak will be pleased, yes, good. Shadow Weaver, too, yes. Both pleased, very good.” It babbled in a high-pitched voice, spitting words loudly at her from a circular maw lined with thin, pointed teeth, flanked by a pair of narrow tusks. Face to face now, she knew him. The bulging yellow eyes prominent fins, along with the dark blue uniform reserved for Hordak’s personals staff marked him as the warlord’s adjutant, Mantenna. He continued to skitter back and forth in front of her, clicking; he moved quickly on his four spindly legs. “Inform Lord Hordak, yes. Lord Hordak gave you an order to fetch him, find him when the She-Ra wakes, yes.” He called for her other captors to watch me closely as he rushed from her prison.
She had been awake for about an hour when the door opened, and two more guards entered, followed by a slender figure in red robes, practically gliding across the steel floor.
“Adora…” she cooed in the deep voice of her childhood she still heard in her nightmares. The eye slits of her mask practically glowing; Adora knew this was going nowhere good. “It seems you’ve found your way back to me at long last.” Though all Shadow Weaver got in return was a scowl. “Surely the rebellion hasn’t robbed you of the manners I so painstakingly impressed upon you?” When the young blonde responded with silence, the white glows narrowed. “I never expected this kind of insolence from you. If you wish to continue to play ‘rebel’, then so be it, but let me remind you that you find yourself at my mercy. But you need not suffer. I have no intention of hurting you. I only want to help you, the same as I always have.”
“You never wanted to help me; you lied to me my whole life.” Adora intended to give her former guardian the silent treatment, but that last comment had struck a nerve. Once she would have believed Shadow Weaver, but since her defection, she saw how a parent was supposed to be: Kind, nurturing and filled with warmth. So she found herself hissing her words at the sorceress.
“And how did I lie to you? That you were meant for greatness? That you were destined for power and glory? That you belong at my side? You’ve proved all of those true Adora; She-Ra, your little games of heroism, this very conversation is all proof enough, is it not?”
“You said we were liberating Etheria when the Horde was really conquering it. You’re evil.”
“There is no need to be so melodramatic Adora, a good soldier shouldn’t be so … emotional. Evil is but a point of view. I’m no more evil than you are, and we are liberating Etheria, liberating it from its own hubris. Do you honestly think Hordak has any intention of ruling over a kingdom of ashes and ghosts, Adora? His methods may be drastic, but there is an old saying about omelettes and eggs, did you get the chance to try omelettes in Brightmoon?”
“Omelettes? Those are people you’re breaking, not eggs. You’re a monster.”
“I’m offering you a chance out of your hopeless situation Adora, I’d rather all those years together not have been wasted. If you swear fealty back to the Horde; re-join our efforts and help restore order to Etheria, I’m sure Lord Hordak will look upon you with benevolence.”
“Benevolence? There’s nothing benevolent about Hordak, or you either.” Weaver’s eyes flashed, the ends of her hair and robe flared outward for a second before settling back to their usual slow sway.
“I raised you from an infant Adora, the only kindness you’ve ever known. I’m the one who shared the secrets of greatness with you and did everything in my power to spare you from your own foolishness. I even let you keep that pet of yours.” Adora’s temper flared once more; How dare she call Catra a pet. For years she had stood by and watched this monster tear apart her best friend as she watched helplessly. It was all Adora’s fault; if she had been stronger, then she could have stood up to Shadow Weaver back then, spared Catra so much pain. But that had just been her first failure, one whose consequences were still playing out in a before her eyes.
There was no way her rage wasn’t visible to the sorceress; after all, the woman was an expert on reading her emotions at this point. Shadow Weaver was right though, this wasn’t the time for reckless emotions. Adora would need her head about her if she was going to make it out of here, so she fell back on the only trick she knew for feelings. She forced them down, buried them where they couldn’t hurt her anymore, before meeting the gaze of the red mask and its soul-piercing eyes.
At that point, Shadow Weaver seemed to decide that the two of them had nothing else to say to one another; instead, she just kept looking at her, studying. She couldn’t be sure what thoughts were running through the mind of her would-be mother, but they couldn’t be good. She was tempted to call out the woman's audacity for even daring to show her face at all. She thought better of it; all it would earn her would be another lecture on everything the sorceress claimed to have done for her. Besides, this kind of arrogance had always been her calling card.
Shadow Weaver eventually left her to ‘consider her options’ for a few hours. Not that there was anything to consider. There was no way she was going back, betraying the rebellion, or ever again helping the Horde’s rampage across Etheria. Which probably meant she would be spending whatever was left of her life either in this cell or on Beast Island; she shuddered at the thought.
Maybe the others would come for her. She’d saved them after Princess Prom, right? But it was one hell of a risk, they’d have to be putting people too important to lose in the way of some serious harm, and all to save one soldier. Even if they wanted to come for her, it was impossible to justify, especially after what had happened to Entrapta.
The thought of Bow and Glimmer arguing for the rescue mission was comforting, but that is all it was, a thought. Angella had refused a rescue for her own daughter less than two months ago, and with everyone licking their wounds after the battle, there was no way help was coming. Instead, she busied her mind with more useful fantasies; how she would defeat the guards around her if she had the chance. Adora played out scenario after scenario, the hundred ways she could disarm each of the five of them, before making her daring escape. But she knew that too was just a fantasy, there was no way to break her manacles, and then the forcefield kept her from the rest of the room. It was hopeless; she was at the mercy of the Horde.
She wanted her friends. As much as she hated to admit that weakness to herself, she wanted Bow and Glimmer. She wanted Swift Wind. She wanted Perfuma, Mermista, Frosta and even Sea Hawk. Most of all, she wanted the friends she’d lost. Lonnie, who always pushed her to be better; Rogelio, who had put himself in harm's way for her; and Kyle, who made her laugh, intentionally or otherwise. She wanted Catra, her Catra, the one she remembered, the one she mourned, instead of the sad, angry girl she had come to see inhabiting her fur. Maybe this was how Catra felt, she wondered, abandoned and alone. It made sense, and the feline had always been one to lash out when she was upset. No. Adora had a mission; she had the Rebellion to think off; she couldn’t waste time moping. She was stronger than that. She just needed a plan.
Maybe she could lie to Shadow Weaver, agree to her demands, and pretend to defect before escaping. Perhaps, if she could transform, She-Ra could just fight her way out. Maybe if Kyle, or Rogelio, or even Lonnie came to visit her, she could convince them to help her. All duds, she couldn’t act to save her life, literally, in this case, she had no idea where the sword was, and all her squad had made it clear they hated her.
Maybe they were right to hate her; maybe she had abandoned them, left them behind. Would it have been so hard to sneak into the Fright Zone and try to talk to them? She just let Glimmer and the Queen boss her about, send her to Plumeria, to Salineas, to everywhere else but to the ears of the people she cared about. It had been months, and she still struggled with the look of betrayal each of them had flashed her over the past few months. All she had wanted to do was help people, to help the people the Horde was hurting. Now because her stupid brain wouldn’t let her explain it to her family, everything was lost to her.
Adora’s mood had only darkened in the next hour or so, trapped with her own thoughts and failures before the door opened once again. This time four guards entered the room, followed by the tall figure with the pale face she’d only ever seen on posters or monitors and once or twice from when he’d addressed the whole Fright Zone in some speech. He was, of course, followed by another four guards, the eight of them wearing a dark blue tunic over their armour and black visors where the regular troops had green. Hordak had a reputation as a formidable fighter in his own right; despite their famed skill and prestige, his personal guard was mostly for show.
His guards parted as he approached the barrier, the nearest of her captors deactivating the barrier at a curt nod.
“Adora”, his tone was cold but not impolite. For the time being, he at least wanted to keep things civil. That might have been the smarter move for her but, she had a habit of not thinking things through.
“Hordak”, she spat back at him.
“That’s Lord Hordak; traitor princess” the gangly form of Mantenna had slunk back into the room, crouching behind Hordak’s guards. He seemed to quickly find his rightful place at his master’s heel.
“Silence” Hordak’s tone brook no argument; her jailor cowed into submission with a shrill whimper. The warlord returned his attention back to her, his red eyes narrowing when he recalled her immediate defiance.
“I see the Princesses have well and truly corrupted you. A genuine disappointment: For one touted with such promise to become so enraptured by their lies.” More performance she knew, presumably for the guards that still bought into the ‘great liberator’ charade.
“it is a shame that we were never able to face each other in the field. I’m told that She-Ra is quite magnificent, that none can stand before her. I would have relished the opportunity to face her.”
“Give me back my sword, and we can fight anytime you like.”
“An enticing offer, but one that would be foolish to accept. Do you honestly think I would risk the Horde itself just to satisfy my own ego? Ignorant child.”
“You’re the one who kept me ignorant. But I see through it all now, the lies; the cruelty; all of it.”
“I have only done what was necessary. The bare minimum to maintain order. I assure you, Adora, there are harsher masters out there than I.”
“Then I’ll defeat them too.”
“I’m glad to see you taking your situation seriously for once. The reports that come across my desk make you out to be more interested in ballroom dancing and hot springs than fighting a war.” She hated that he wasn’t wrong. They were fighting a war, but it was a war that hadn’t touched Brightmoon. Her new friends had been so desperate to show her the world outside of training routines and drills that they had barely fought in months.”
“Why are you here? Think you could turn me where Shadow Weaver couldn’t?”
“Turn you? No, Adora, I’m afraid we are past such things. Even if I felt your defection to be more valuable than the message of your fate would serve, your compliance would be irrelevant. Shadow Weaver has assured me she can erase every rebellious thought in that treasonous little head. But no; if the Princesses turned you once, they could turn you again.” Adora didn’t like the implications of ‘her fate’, and the idea of being purged from her own mind by Shadow Weaver’s magic was too horrifying to dwell on. “But to answer your question, I am here out of courtesy. You are a Princess now, are you not Adora? And thus, certain formalities must be upheld. Besides, I would be remiss not to greet you personally.”
“Consider me greeted”, she muttered at him, her confidence fading. A thin smile formed across his even thinner lips.
“As you wish.” Hordak waved his wrist dismissively before curling it into a fist and lowering it back into the folds of his cape. He abruptly turned on his heels and left. The forcefield flickered back on as the tail end of his entourage disappeared through the door behind him.
And then she was alone again, or as alone as she could be with her guards still about and her jailor clicking in the corner. She swore to herself she wouldn’t let them see her cry; she was a leader of the rebellion, it would do no good for these guards to see her weakness. Instead, she curled up on the floor and tried to sleep.