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Prisoner of Conscience

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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.

Chapter Text

Catra had won. Maybe not the battle itself, but she had managed to pull one hell of an equaliser out of the bag. That had become something of her calling card whenever one of her missions had gone awry due to She-Ra’s interference. She would find some way to balance out her defeat by bringing in something useful: intel usually, but there was that time she captured the Brightmoon Princess too. It had always been enough to spare her a reprimand, and it seemed to impress Hordak too. At this point, he appeared to expect it of her; plenty of her debriefings ended with his glare softening to a sly smile as Shadow Weaver fumed silently.

But this time, she had outdone herself. She had managed to navigate the trap she’d been caught in almost as soon as the battle began. She was leading an attack on the Rebellion's capital, despite exactly zero experience as a field general and nowhere near enough troops. Shadow Weaver had set her up to fail, die probably. The old witch must have seen her earning Hordak’s favour as a threat. Given her own recent failures, She would have wanted to eliminate a rival. Or maybe it was just another act of casual spite.

Regardless she had played things cautiously; used her paltry artillery to bombard the castle itself, forcing their Queen to dedicate herself to a forcefield. She’d even managed to divide the Princesses on the field, keeping them contained to separate corners of the fight. If it weren’t for their reinforcements, she might have pulled it off. The Wind Princess had been on the ropes, and the archer had overcommitted his troops to the right flank; he was practically begging to be punished for it. She had even drawn Adora out and had come as close as she ever had to beating her in a straight fight.

But it hadn’t mattered. The other Princesses had arrived and unleashed some sort of magical rainbow shockwave thing. She had managed to call a retreat the moment she saw the three new armies enter the fray and had minimised losses to a frankly impressive degree. But most importantly, she had cut the legs out from under the rebellion; she had captured She-Ra.

Every time Adora had beaten her in training. Every humble boast despite being only a hair behind her. Every time she had been reprimanded for managing to trounce Adora. She had proven them wrong. In the end, she had won. She had beaten Adora in the only test that would ever matter, and now her stupid hair poof was rotting in a Fright Zone detention cell.

It had been more luck than she wanted to admit. She-Ra had come at her whilst she was organising the retreat. She had danced around Adora’s alter-ego, as usual, proving that agility would usually beat out raw strength. She’d learnt from years of sparring with Rogelio that muscle was useless when it was clumsily applied. She-Ra moved in the same way as the Reptilian, unsure how much power to put into their movements, overthinking every action. But as she ducked and dived around Adora’s golden form, she was thrown backwards; one of her remain tanks had taken a pot-shot; her own life be damned apparently. She even remembered the hazy screams of Scorpia, demanding the gunner stop, but it was too late for that. Luckily, the gunner was a lousy shot, and she walked away with a few scrapes, faint streaks of blood soaking into her fur. She remembered scrambling to her feet, seeing She-Ra had been caught too; though her magical resilence had kept her on her feet, she had lost the sword in the blast.

She had yelled at Lonnie, who rushed to retrieve the blade. Whilst she charged the dazed She-Ra, her powers faded almost instantly without the sword. That had left only a weakened Adora, who barely needed a single blow to knock her down. After that, it had just been a case of Rogelio lifting Adora into their transport and speeding away before the other Princesses had put two and two together.

She had won. And now she was preparing for a nice, long gloat. She was going to spend her evening watching Adora through a cell door. Finally, she had all the proof that she was the better woman; even Shadow Weaver had been forced to acknowledge her work this time. She finally had everything she wanted.

Ha. you don’t know what you want.

She did. She wanted to watch Adora realise just how wrong she’d been. Wrong to assume she was better, wrong to curry Shadow Weaver’s favour, wrong to leave her.

Kyle would be here soon with her ration bar, then it was off the prison cells to gloat. And tomorrow, she would be honoured by Hordak himself. She had earned a promotion; capturing She-Ra had been the kind of legendary feat most dreamed of. It was damned sure more impressive than anything Octavia had ever done. She’d been a Senior Force Captain in all but name anyway, reporting directly to their elusive leader as much as Shadow Weaver. She was easily a match for most of the other Seniors in a straight fight, too, if it came to it. The victory rally would even be the perfect place to cement it officially; those promotions were always public events, celebrating the officer’s victories. This was her time.

She still remembered how they had tried to celebrate her first promotion; when she had just wanted to slink away and sulk over Adora. The three of them hadn’t let her; they had fought through their own grief too and made sure that becoming a Force Captain was a happy memory for her. They enjoyed an evening of jokes and stolen ration bars in a disused storage room; it had been the kindest thing in the world.

In return for that and so much more, Catra had done everything she could for them once they were made a specialist unit. She made sure they got new quarters to themselves, the best equipment she could requisition, and anything else she could give them. She’d been determined to make up for the years they had been forgotten by Shadow Weaver for not keeping up with her and Adora. She wanted to make them the best, out of spite as much as love.

Her tracker pad pinged, some new order, maybe? Not now, she had plans for the evening. What could possibly more important than shoving her victory in Adora’s dumb face. She found herself slinking over to the narrow desk and picked It up, pressing her finger against the flashing red circle in the corner of the screen.

 

Attention all Force Captains.
In celebration of the capture of the renegade princess known as ‘She-Ra’, a victory rally is to be held at the Fright Zone Assembly Area tomorrow evening at 19.00 hours. Attendance is mandatory for all Horde personnel not currently on field assignment. Force Captains will be responsible for ensuring the attendance of their subordinates.

Order of Services
Introduction – Force Commander Shadow Weaver.
Victory Speech – Lord Hordak.
Honour Ceremony – Fallen Heroes of Brightmoon.
Commendation – Force Captain Scorpia & Claw Squadron.
Commendation – Force Captain Catra.
Prisoner Execution – She-Ra.
Closing – Force Commander Shadow Weaver.

Expected Duration: 70 mins.

Glory to the Horde.
Office of Force Captain Mantenna.
Personal Attendant to Lord Hordak.

 

She didn’t even reach the end of the notification, unable to move past the execution order. It made her feel sick.

I thought you wanted to win?

She barely noticed that she’d dropped her pad or that she had fallen to the ground. If it weren’t for the instinct to rub her eyes, she wouldn’t have noticed the tears.

 


 

“Are you okay?” Kyle’s voice was nervous, the way he shuffled his feet as he asked, he must have known it wasn’t his place to ask her such questions of an officer. But how could he not? The girl he’d known since they were kids, his … whatever they were, was slumped against a wall fighting back tears. Catra didn’t say anything, but she did look at him, mismatched eyes full of pain and doubt. She wanted to rebuke him, but all she could manage was to bury her face back into her knees. The next thing she knew, the Horde’s saddest excuse for a soldier was slumped beside her, extended his arm around her tragic form. Physical contact had become alien to her over the last year, Scorpia still tried to hug her, but at this point, they were as impersonal as a salute to her. This gentle touch of comfort was something she hadn’t felt since … since it had all gone wrong.

“They’re going to kill her.” She finally broke the silence, the grip on her shoulder tensed, and his face was the same as hers, confusion and pre-emptive grief.

“I know you all hate her”, Kyle began between sobs, “but I never could. Lonnie and Ro were like you; they were so angry when she left, they felt betrayed, I guess, abandoned. But whenever she fought us, all I saw was someone who managed to get out.” He almost seemed to scoff at his own words. “All I could think was about how I wished I could be brave enough to leave too.”

“You want to leave?”

“I hate it here, Catra, all of it: Fighting, training, Shadow Weaver, Lord Hordak, ration bars. The only thing I didn’t hate was you guys, you’re all that matters to me, and this place has been tearing away at all of you since we graduated.” He seemed a little surprised that he’d said it but followed the outburst with a heavy sigh and just stared at his feet. “I just don’t think I’m strong enough to actually walk away, you know?”

“I kinda do.” She admitted, “but honestly, I’d always kind of figured you’d bought into it all; ‘glory to the Horde’ and all that junk.”

“Nah, never. I mean, are you really that shocked that I realised that the people who made my life hell since I was a kid might be the bad guys? I’m not stupid Catra, I just try to, I dunno, make the best of things”.

“I don’t think you’re stupid Kyle, I’ve seen your test scores; you’re the smart one, remember?” The blonde failed to hold back a snigger, “Why are you telling me this? They’ll send you to Beast Island or worse if they find out”.

“I don’t think I care anymore,” Kyle raised his head, eyes focused on the light fixture, the gentle thud of his head off the metal wall rang through the heavy silence. “Once they kill her, it’ll just prove that there is no escape from any of it. I think I’d rather be sent to Beast Island than stay here without any hope, y’know.” For maybe the first time she saw the optimism melt away from him, it was only for a moment before his mask of joviality went back up. His dumb grin filled his face as if he’d hadn’t said anything. “Besides Catra, you’d have to turn me in for that.”

“You think I wouldn’t?”

“Of course, you wouldn’t; we’re friends, the four of you are my family, and Scorpia now too.”

“Don’t you mean three?”

“Adora’s my family too, Catra, and I know despite everything, you still care about her, Lonnie and Ro too. If you didn’t care, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“I hate her Kyle, she left us. Left me. She was the most important thing in the world to me, and she threw me away without a second thought, all for a fancy sword and her new Princess friends.”

“But you still care about her, though, right? I’m pretty sure she still cares about us too.”

“She threw me away without a second thought. Even if she cared then, how could she care now? After all the times I’ve hurt her.”

“I’ve seen She-Ra throw around tanks Catra, do you think we’d still be here if she wasn’t pulling punches. If she wanted to hurt us, all she would have to do is stop holding back. She still cares.”

Maybe this could be salvaged. If Kyle’s right, why the hell were they still fighting each other?

No, you both made your choices. You picked your sides. Live with it.

“I know it hurts, and I know it’s confusing”, Kyle continued “we’ve all been feeling it; you don’t have to feel it alone, you know. You’re our friend Catra”.

“Am I? I don’t remember the last time we just hung out. Even when we were cadets, you guys just put up with me ‘cos you liked Adora. You could count all the times I was nice to you on the one hand.”

“Catra, I lost count of how many times talked back to Shadow Weaver to cover for my mistakes. The times you stood up for me against other cadets or argued with instructors when I failed at something. And since you got promoted and let me run our tech, and work with Entrapta, and learn to pilot, I finally found things I was good at, Catra. I’m your friend.”

“I …”

“Look, I know you like to pretend you’re not, but you’re a good person, and I’m proud of you.” Damn, she wanted to hate him right now, but given that she was pretty sure that was the first time someone had ever said that to her, the best she could manage was half-hearted:

“Shut up”.

“No.” she didn’t have to look at his face to know that his grin was ear-to-ear; she could practically hear it in his voice.

“I killed her Kyle, I captured her and dragged her before Hordak; that’s not something good people do.”

“No. none of us knew this would happen, okay. I hate it too, but it’s not our fault. Besides, it’s not like there is anything we can do about it?”

She deserves what she gets. Just sit back and watch what happens.

No. Adora didn’t deserve this, the stupid blonde girl had never been anything but kind to her, and in return, she’d dragged her from that perfect Princess life and hurled her at a warlord’s feet. She’d killed her.

Good. You hate her, remember. She ruined everything.

She did hate Adora for leaving, but it wasn’t just hatred. There were a hundred different feelings, pulling in different directions, confusing every thought she had about the girl. She’d won, so why did it feel like she’d lost? Why did she feel the same way she would have if it had been her own execution order? She tried to picture it, Hordak’s red grin as his cannon reduced her best friend to dust, and she felt sick.

No. Adora’s not your friend. She left you; she hates you. You hate her, you hate her, and it’ll be better when she’s dead.

No, it wouldn’t be better; the Adora shaped hole inside her would just fester, she knew. Maybe there was another option; the one from Thaymor. Another chance, maybe.

“Kyle, if you could help her, right now, would you?”

“What? I… I can’t help her”.

“Would you?”

“… Yes”

Stop it, let her die. You’ll be free forever.

“What about the others, Lonnie and Ro?”

“M… maybe, I don’t know”, the confused teen responded, “Catra, what are you doing?”

“Keeping a broken promise”, for a few seconds, she put her own hand around Kyles. “I want you to find the others and take them to Entrapta’s lab in an hour.” Before pushing herself to her feet. Kyle still looked confused, but his eyes had widened as he seemed to realise what was happening and nodded in understanding of his orders.

“Yeah, I can do that. I’ll do that.” Kyle seemed almost giddy as he leapt to his feet; he’d said it himself that he was a fool for hope. But she managed to catch his arm before he left the room.

“Thanks, Kyle.”

 


 

It was a short walk to Scorpia’s quarters, the old Force Captain block was just around the corner from where she rested her own head, but somehow every step felt like it took an age. She was about to do the dumbest thing she could imagine, and she was about to pull Scorpia into the mix. She hoped that her friend’s pushover nature would win out, and it wouldn’t take much to convince her, but she had connections to this place that Catra couldn’t understand, so maybe this whole plan was about to go down in flames.

Stupid girl. You’re going to get yourself killed. You’re going to get all of them killed. Let her go.

There was no time for doubt. If Catra didn’t do this now, Adora would be lost to her. Not that she cared about Adora, this was about proving a point. Proving that she was better than Adora, she would keep that promise and look out for the idiot.

You’re all going to die with her.

How the hell had she gotten here: She lets herself be soft for just a little bit, and the next thing, she’s organising a suicide mission. She wanted to damn Kyle for talking her into this.

The immediate issue remained, though; she was about to upend Scorpia’s entire life to rescue a stranger. But maybe if she focused on the other stuff, she could wangle this? Scorpia belonged here less than any of them; it was remarkable she’d managed to stay so warm and kind in a kingdom that ruined everyone it touched. Scorpia deserved a better life than that; all of her team did: And Adora was their pathway to it. She was going to get them out, she decided, even if it killed her.

Catra soon found herself on the third floor of the building, outside Scorpia’s door; a blank slab of grey-green metal much like every other in the Fright Zone, distinguished only by a small nameplate next to the buzzer. This was it; she could do this. She’d led life or death missions into enemy territory, she’d fought in an actual battle, she’d gone toe to toe with real magic princesses. She could press a button and talk to her friend.

If you press that button, you’ll kill her.

She pushed her hand to the small red button underneath the ID scanner, and she heard a faint buzz from behind the green door. It took only a few seconds for Scorpia’s door to burst open.

“Catra! You’ve never visited my room before, come in”.

Chapter Text

Scorpia was used to being something of an outcast; after all, she’d hadn’t really earned her rank, and the other Force Captains resented her for it. She’d never won any victories or performed any legendary feats of arms; she hadn’t even excelled in the academy. Her rank had been given to her by birth; she was the last of the Scorpioni royal family, and Lord Hordak had ensured she was treated like it.

But ever since they’d returned from Brightmoon, things seemed different. Random soldiers were saluting her, and she had even gotten some nods of approval from other Force Captains. Even Shadow Weaver had commended her, which had never happened before, and felt pretty amazing.

It wasn’t just her either. The Fright Zone was making a point to celebrate the whole of Claw Squadron: Even Kyle was being treated as a hero for bringing in She-Ra, and she couldn’t help but feel happy for her friends. Not simply happy, but proud; Catra especially was finally getting the adulation she deserved, and her wildcat had even brought that traitor Adora to justice.

As she sat on her bunk, thinking about the new life of respect that awaited her, the door buzzed. She wasn’t used to visitors; she rose, curious. It was probably just a messenger. Maybe the comms were down again. Moments after she pushed the large button next to the door, it opened with a loud ‘woosh’.

There stood her best friend; a rush of excitement filled her from head to toe as she beamed at the young feline before her.

“Catra! You’ve never visited my room before, come in”.

Once the door closed behind them, she pulled Catra into the tightest hug she could manage, with the feline playfully protesting as she always did. She was such a kidder. Once she let go, though, Catra’s face didn’t shift to her usual grumpy indifference but to one of worry. “What’s wrong?”

“Have you seen the orders?”

“Yeah, I can’t believe we’re going to be honoured publicly like that. I bet Hordak’s going to promote you. Oh, Catra, I’m so proud of you.”

The scowl she got in return meant that Catra hadn’t come seeking praise, darn it, Wildcat was just so difficult to figure out sometimes. Why was she always so bad at these things? There she was, wanting to talk about work, and she’d missed that her best friend in the whole of Etheria was upset about something. Good job, Scorpia.

“No, the other stuff about Adora?”

“Oh… yeah, I did.” This is what she was upset about; she supposed that made sense; they were best friends for a long time, and now she was going to die. There was no need to be jealous of that; it was normal to be sad when a friend died. Even if they had thrown away your friendship and betrayed everything, you ever knew. “I’m sorry Catra, I guess you still kinda care about her, huh?”

“Kind of,” Catra sat on Scorpia’s bunk, “it’s hard to explain Scorpia, I just, I think I’m beginning to get why she left.”

“Oh.” That couldn’t be good. Why couldn’t that Adora just leave her friend alone? That must be why she’s here, reassurance. Great, she could do that; she was great at that. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nah, I think I’ve already talked enough; I think it’s time to do something.”

“Wildcat? What’s going on?” The brunette sighed, looking up from her claws for the first time, mismatched eyes meeting her own with a look of determination Scorpia had seen only a few times before.

“I’m leaving Scorpia. I’m saving Adora and leaving the Fright Zone.”

Oh.

“What are you saying? You’re going to betray the Horde?” Her, she was going to betray her.

“I want you to come with me”.

The look on Catra’s perfect face; that determination, was now mixed with what could only be hope: Hope for her to say yes, or maybe for Adora, or maybe even for whatever freedom the feline thought she might find away from this place; she couldn’t be sure, but it was going to be hard to refuse.

“I… I don’t know Catra, that seems like a really bad idea.”

“I know. … It’s just I can’t let them kill Adora; after everything she did, I still care about her, I think. I don’t know. It made so much more sense when Kyle said it.”

Kyle? That wasn’t good; she was going to have to talk some sense into her.

“So, you’re just going to run away and join the Princesses now?”

“Maybe, it might be our best option outside of here.”

“I’d never fit in with them Catra, my family never did.” Compulsively she found herself raising her pincers for emphasis. It was true; for centuries, her people had been outcasts amongst Etherian royalty. It was no wonder her grandfather had so readily turned to Lord Hordak and his promise of justice all those years ago.

“Then screw them. If they suck, we can just go someplace else.”

She knew Catra didn’t mean it the way she wanted her to, the idea of settling down with her kitten in some little cottage somewhere away from the war, live their lives together. But the hope that it might be possible was enough. The hope that Catra might come to see her the same way was there. Maybe she could do this.

“What about the Rebellion?”

“You think I care about the Rebellion? Scorpia, I just want to… to save her.”

It was the pause. It was one Scorpia knew well; she could recall the dozens of times it had spilt from her own mouth when someone had made her justify doing something nice for Catra. It stung as confirmation that the girl she had loved from across mission briefings and battlefields had eyes for another. But at the same time, it all made so much more sense. Catra was willing to risk it all for love.  Even if it weren’t the love that she had craved Catra might feel, she couldn’t in good conscience stand in the way of it.

“Okay.”

 


 

Entrapta’s workshop was as hectic as ever; half-built bots lay strewn across the floor, bits of First-Ones tech cluttering every surface. The dim lighting obscured the Princess’ most offensive messes as she sat hunched over a workbench, soldering iron in hand, tinkering with some device.

“Hey, Entrapta.” Scorpia’s warm greeting did little to improve the harshness of the dank corner of the Fright Zone, but Entrapta seemed to appreciate it, as she turned, smiled, and bounced in their general direction on her pigtails.

“Friends!” she exclaimed, “have you come to see my latest project? Incredibly, I’ve been able to boost the efficiency of my generator by 17%. I hope Hordak lets me apply the same upgrades to the big industrial ones.”

“That’s great, Trap” Catra was doing her best to sound interested, but she wouldn’t have cared about generators even if she were going to be around to use them. As ever though, Entrapta seemed too swept up in her own excitement to even notice the insincerity. “But we’re not here for that.” As the two talked, Scorpia rested her bag on one of the benches. It was filled with everything she and Catra owned in the world, a few trinkets from her childhood and a picture of her moms. Catra had added only a tiny slip of paper; something small wrapped within.

“Oh?”

“We need to plan a mission, and we need your help.”

“My help, that’s so exciting; I’m sure Lonnie will love the improvements I’ve been working on for the pulse rifle scopes.”

The others began filtering into the room; Lonnie perched herself on a free segment of desk. Rogelio leaned against a column, and Kyle pulled a spare stool into view.

“Do they know?” She asked Kyle, who shook his head cautiously. That can’t be good; Kyle was supposed to be onboard already. Was he having doubts? Nerves? Fear? Oh gosh, maybe he needed a hug.

“Know what?”

“Probably that Adora is going to be executed?” Entrapta piped in. Ah, well, that could have gone better. Scanning the room, he had to look at the horror dawning on Rogelio’s face, contrasted to the deep frown plastered on Lonnie’s.

“Yeah, thanks’ Trap”, Catra sighed in frustration as Entrapta beamed with gratitude. “Tomorrow, after we get medals or whatever, Hordak is going to kill her in front of the whole Fright Zone.”

“He’ll probably use the new arm cannon I built; I can’t wait to see it in use.” Entrapta began to ramble about the power of the weapon. Kyle scrambled for a nearby waste bin, his face drained of all colour.

“Entrapta, enough!” Catra stopped her from going any further.

“Oh, sorry. I guess that would be pretty bad, wouldn’t it, poor Adora.” The engineer shrank away, a little ashamed of what she’d said.

“Yeah, so…” This was going to be the hard part. As proud as Scorpia was of her Wildcat’s courage at the moment, the fate of their mission would come down to how the others would react to the feline’s following words. “I’m going to bust her out and escape with her. I was kinda hoping you guys might want to help me.”

Kyle was nodding; despite his nerves, the little guy seemed to have found some courage. She couldn’t back out now either, so she mirrored his gesture.

“Kyle and Scorpia are in already; it’s just the other three of you.” Catra continued.

Rogelio didn’t say a word. He just pushed himself off his column and marched towards Kyle, stared into the shorter boys’ dark eyes for a second, and placed a firm hand on his shoulder and nodding in her and Catra’s direction. It seemed so easy for the Reptilian; no conflicts or arguments, just devotion to the people he loved. It was funny; if it were anything else, she would have reacted the same way. But everything she’d ever known being thrown in the air like a live grenade, and there was no shaking the feeling it was about to explode.

That made four of them.

Entrapta watched the room nervously; she reached for a tool from her workbench and started playing with it as she thought things over. She even went as far as reaching for her mask, pulling it down over her face as she prepared to speak.

“I don’t think I want to leave. I’m sorry.” The steel muffled her voice.

“Trap?” Catra prompted for more; maybe she could still be persuaded.

“I… I just, I don’t know. I’m sorry everyone, it’s just there is so much for me to study here, so much for me to science. I’ve never had an opportunity to work with tech like this, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Catra was clearly disappointed, “I get it, we’re asking a lot, and let’s be honest, it’s all bots and stuff for you here. It’s perfect for you.”

“Trap, you’re going to have to lie about this when they ask you, okay?”

“Lie?”

“If they find out that you knew, you might get in trouble.” Scorpia found herself adding; she understood Catra’s line of thought and hoped that the engineer might better grasp the gentler approach.

“Of course, subterfuge, interesting.” Entrapta’s optimism was contrasted by the concerned look Catra shot her. I mean, Entrapta was probably a fantastic actor, but if she wasn’t, then who knew what could happen to her.

“We could make it easier.”

“How?”

“We could incapacitate you. You know, make it look like you tried to stop us.”

“Amazing idea, Catra.” She pulled up her mask and drew her recorder. “Subterfuge log number one: Catra has suggested…” the Force Captain snatched the device from her friend’s hand. Tossing it onto the workbench.

“No. None of that. Scorpia, can you sting her, please.”

“Sting me? Of course, that would be perfect. And I’ve never had the chance to study the effects of your venom before. I can’t wait to catalogue how my body reacts.”

She hadn’t expected Catra to draw her into this part; using her stinger on Entrapta felt wrong. She knew the engineer wanted this, and it would probably save her life, but still.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. I’ll miss you all, though.”

“If you ever need us, we’ll keep our frequency open.” Her fellow Princess gave a shy smile, bracing for impact.

Scorpia reluctantly flexed her tail, manoeuvring the tip of her stinger to be in line with Entrapta’s left arm, and then she struck. Her friend gave a mild whimper before she collapsed into Rogelio’s arms. Gently he carried her onto the bed in the back of the room.

The silence lingered, grief knowing they would be at least one short when they fled in a few hours time haunting each of them. But there was still one left.

Lonnie hadn’t moved an inch, only stirring when she had no option but to make her decision. She pushed herself from the desk and began to march in their direction; her eyes filled with a venom that she didn’t expect.

“You’re really doing this, aren’t you?” She didn’t give them time to answer. “It figures. The second we finally get onto something good, you find some way to ruin it!” Her voice was getting louder, her tone harsher with every step she made towards the four of them, settling a few metres away.

“Lonnie…” Kyle tried to calm her. But the brawny girl him off immediately, jabbing her finger into his chest.

“I’d expect this crap from you.” The blond edged backwards as Ro shifted his weight to put himself between them. Lonnie: seeming to sense the threat wheeled on Catra. “I thought you’d be smarter than this, though. Then again, you always did put Adora before reason.”

“You need to stop.” She couldn’t let someone talk to Catra like that, even if it was Lonnie.

“Not now, Scorpia. You and this one,” Her finger was outstretched again, now about an inch from Rogelio’s snout, “really can’t talk. Turns out you really will just do whatever you’re told. I don’t know why I’m surprised, but Entrapta is the only smart one.” She was beginning to run out of steam, her anger began to crumble like a stale ration bar.

She began pacing, head in hands. Scorpia took a half step towards her, hoping that a hug would solve this, when Catra extended a hand to block her. Maybe her Wildcat hoped that Lonnie’s anger would burn itself out quicker by itself.

“You idiots are going to get yourselves killed.”

“Are you done?” Catra’s smile was back.

“… yeah.” Her voice utterly absent of enthusiasm.

“and?” Catra asked again. The few seconds of silence seemed to last an age before a heavy sigh echoed off the walls of Entrapta’s basement.

“What’s the plan?”

“It’s pretty straight forward; we split into three teams, Scorpia; you need to get the sword. There’s no way Adora will leave without it, and we might need She-Ra to get out of here. It should be easy; just go down to Hordak’s vault and tell them that you’re getting it for Entrapta to study.”

“Right. Easy.” She could do that.

“Lonnie, Ro; you guys are our exit. You need to get us a skiff; it’ll have to be one of the big ones to fit everyone.”

“One of the assault skiffs?” Lonnie queried.

“Yeah, and make sure it’s prepped and ready to go; I don’t think we’ll have much time to hang around.” Catra sauntered to the bag they’d brought with them. First, though, anything you want to bring goes in here, then any extra ration bars or gear you can get hold of.

“Kyle, you and I have the hard job; we need to bust out Adora and get her to the skiff.”

“Wait, what?” Kyle spluttered at the assignment.

“It was your idea, right; only fair you get to risk your neck too.” She loved that sly smile, the one that came out just for teasing.

“It wasn’t my idea!”

“Well, you gave me the idea, same thing.” Catra shrugged, resigning Kyle to his fate.

“But…”

“You’ll do fine.” Lonnie smiled at him; Rogelio nodded.

“It’s not going to be easy; I was hoping Trap would be onboard to set off some distraction or something, but we’re on our own.” She gestured to the sleeping engineer.

“We’ll manage.” Kyle gave a shaky smile, committing himself before breaking off to explain which of his meagre possessions Lonnie and Rogelio were to salvage.

As they left Entrapta’s workshop for the last time, she gave the Princess a final smile. Secretly she hoped that the Super Pal Trio would find themselves together again someday.

 


 

This would be easy, just go to Hordak’s vault and collect the sword; they would be expecting Entrapta to send someone for it sooner or later anyway. All she had to do was lie to the vault guards and give the sword back to She-Ra and betray everything and everyone she ever knew. Easy. Maybe she’d made a mistake. Maybe Catra had. No, Catra knew what she was doing; she was so clever; if anyone could pull this off, it’d be her.

She’d been inside the vault before to raid parts for Entrapta from Hordak’s old experiments, prototypes, and abandoned projects. The Force Captain who ran it was an old friend of her family, and seeing him always cheered her up, she only hoped that he wouldn’t get blamed for her little heist.

After entering the doorway, she found a handful of guards and the bored-looking Force Captain. He was an older human with a pale complexion and a prosthetic hand. The steel fingers drummed nonchalantly on his desk as he read from his tracker pad. This was it, game time; it was going to be easy. Easy.

“Scorpia, what can we do for you today, more parts for Princess Entrapta?” The man smiled as he noticed her approach.

“Yes, Force Captain Jace, I’ve been sent to collect the sword, She-Ra’s sword, that sword”.

“Of course, I was told Entrapta would need to study it. I was just hoping to have a little longer to admire it.” He pushed himself up from the desk with his mechanical hand and gestured to the vault door, “If you’d please follow me”.

She’d always liked Jace. He was always courteous to her, a far cry from most of the other Force Captains. She had a few vague memories of him from her childhood when he had served as her Grandfather’s adjutant. He’d been stationed down here since he lost his hand in the battle that had claimed the old man’s life. Modulok’s replacements weren’t as sophisticated as they were now, so he’d retired from active duty and ended up managing the vault. Jace tapped a code into a keypad, and two of the guards turned a large wheel to release the lock.

“I understand you’re to be honoured at the execution tomorrow, alongside young Catra. You may have won us the war by bringing in that turncoat.”

“Thanks… hey, how’s your bunkmate getting along? It’s been a while since I last saw her.”

“Iona is quite well, thank you, we’ll be hitting thirty years next month”.

“Aww. Congratulations, Jace. Tell her ‘hi’ from me. Oh,  and that she’s doing great work down in Protein Synthesis. The grey ration bars have never tasted better”.

“I will”, Jace chuckled. Through the usual array of old machinery and relics, he led her to her prize: The Sword of Protection. He had been right; it was unquestionably gorgeous. Bright gold from pommel to cross guard, with a gem set in its centre, the blade was a single piece of sharpened crystal carved with ancient glyphs. Jace gingerly picked the weapon up by its hilt, admiring it for a moment, before gently wrapping it in a large square of black fabric. His easy smile beamed as he offered her the package.

“Thank you, Jace.”

“Of course, Force Captain, try not to let the Princess damage it; it’s a thing of rare beauty.”

“I’ll be sure to remind her”. Easy, just like Catra said it would be.

As she began to make her way back to the doorway, they heard the feint sound of sirens from the streets above them.

Catra.

“What on Etheria now?” bemoaned Jace as he drew his tracker pad, swiping his flesh hand across a few screens before frantically reading the notification. That couldn’t be good, what should she do? She should probably go. Yup, she should definitely move. She began walking more promptly towards the door.

“Lord Hordak, save us. She’s loose.” She turned her head to see Jace was panicking, his eyes almost bulging from their sockets as he continued to read. “Catra, it’s Catra. She’s betrayed us.” That was when it seemed to dawn on him. “The sword” little more than a whisper, inaudible over the sirens, but he might as well have screamed it in her face. He knew, his expression soured with disappointment. “Scorpia, what have you done?” he’d closed the distance now and discarded his pad. His human hand reached for the pistol at his hip as his steel one stretched for the enchanted blade.

The two wrestled over the weapon, her pincers made it difficult to grip the hilt, but her strength had forced Jace to abandon his pistol, adding his second hand to the sword. She didn’t want to hurt him; he was a sweet old man, but she needed to get the blade to Catra. They were leaving, and every second wasted here would hurt their escape. She gave the sword a final pull, her loose grip causing the blade to turn, slicing through the bag and, from the sound of it, something else. Jace stumbled back, barely registering the series of soft clanks as his robotic fingers scattered on the vault’s floor.

Being reduced to one hand for the second time in his life seemed to awaken something primal in the man. He lunged forward, desperately grabbing for her, eyes full of betrayal. Instinctually her tail struck out and pierced Jace’s shoulder. He fell to the ground, face still twisted with rage, a far cry from the slow fade to sleep Entrapta had experienced. She started running, knocking on the vault door until a guard opened it. The soldier gasped, clearly spotting Jace lying motionless a few metres behind her. She should have moved him, hidden him; that would have been smart. That’s what Catra would have done.

Once again, her instincts saved her, and her stinger found its mark on them too. But their squadmates rushed her almost immediately. Now, this she could do; it was time for the muscle to shine. She cast the sword aside and brought her meaty claws down in swinging axe-handle onto the head of her first opponent, watching as they crumpled instantly. The second lunged from behind the first, only to find themselves caught, entangled in her muscular arms. She lifted them above her head and hurled the trooper at the last of her foes, leaving them both in a heap. She grabbed the sword and ran.

 


 

They had agreed to meet in the skiff garage on the Western Gate. Scorpia had managed to make it there without incident. She’d run into a couple of soldiers here and there. But they’d been preoccupied with the sirens, so her own haste had gone unnoticed.

She was able to slip through one of the side doors, met by the sight she was hoping for. Lonnie was dragging an unconscious mechanic behind some crates as Rogelio had a pilot locked in a chokehold. The poor guy clawed at Ro’s arms, but his thick gloves rendered the attempt futile.

“Hey guys, is everything going okay here.”

“Yeah, everything’s under control; you get the sword?” Lonnie’s tone was brusque even for her. The ‘mission’ had to have all of them uneasy, she guessed.

“Absolutely, almost no problems at all. I only had to bust up four guys.” One of them an old man who had once served her grandfather.

“Seven on our end.” As if on cue, the pilot in Rogelio’s arms went limp, and the Reptilian hefted him onto his shoulder and made his way behind some shelves.

As she approached, Lonnie had perched herself on a stack of fuel canisters, lazily reading her tracker pad.

“Any updates on the others?”

“Not yet, besides the alert.” Lonnie barely looked up from the pad as she explained. She found herself taking a seat beside the younger girl, sighing as the doubts she’d been nursing all evening tumbled from her mouth.

“Do you guys think this is a good idea?”

“No.” Lonnie sighed, “but I think it’s a little late to pull out now, Scorp.”

Rogelio growled in disagreement, retorting with a series of guttural sounds she didn’t understand.

“What if Catra hadn’t thought up a plan? Were you going to storm the stage tomorrow?” Lonnie had a solid grasp of his language, though.

She’d been trying to pick up more of the Reptilian language, the others could understand most of what little Ro said, but she had never been good at that kind of thing. She even struggled with Etherian sometimes, as if the words just stopped meaning anything in her head. It’s probably why her academy grades had been so bad. She tried her best, though, a lesson instilled by her moms, where the instructors had quickly given up on her.

“If I had to. Adora is family.” Rogelio, she thought she got the gist of that one, roughly.

“You wouldn’t get close before Hordak blew your head off.”

All she got in response was a scoff and a shake of the head.

“What about you? You wouldn’t have asked if you didn’t have doubts.” Lonnie rounded back on her, leaving Rogelio to clean up the rest of his unconscious victims.

“I don’t know. We’re risking everything for some girl who betrayed you all, who just ran away and left all of you. What’s to stop her from hurting you all again?”

“Adora’s an impulsive idiot, but she isn't cruel; I don’t think hurting us was what she meant to do. It sucks knowing we were an afterthought but knowing her, she probably didn’t think about anything besides saving that village. I doubt she realised she was leaving the Horde until she’d already left.” Lonnie’s wistfulness betrayed her stern expression; the memory was clearly still painful.

“I figured that no-one Catra…” loved, the word was loved, as much as it pained her to admit it “… was willing to risk her life for could be all that bad. it’s still like you said: We finally have everything we could ever want, and now we’re throwing it all away.”

“Yeah. I’m not gonna lie; I’m happy with where we are. I finally feel like I’m getting some recognition, y’know. But there’s only so much of the ‘this’ I can take.” She gestured around her. “You saw how Shadow Weaver tried to sabotage us at Brightmoon. She won’t stop until we’re dead, or at least until Catra is. And as much as I don’t want to give up everything we’ve worked for, I don’t know how long we can hold on to it. Maybe it’s better someplace else. In Brightmoon or whatever.”

“It’s just the Horde has been good to me. It’s my family’s kingdom; my history is this place. It feels wrong to abandon it to go live it up with the Princesses who isolated my ancestors.”

“I get it. This place is in my blood too; my parents died for the Horde, and it feels like running away is betraying their memory.”

“Exactly.”

“And giving up that legacy for Adora? After everything she pulled is a lot to swallow.”

“Then why did you agree to do it?”

“Because; at the end of the day, I can still swallow it. “I’m still pretty pissed at Adora for what she did; we used to be friends, and maybe she can be again. Even if she can be an ass.”

“Same reason as you, I think. my friends asked me.”  They shared a smile.

“Catra has a way with words, doesn’t she?”

“Nah, I just knew they’d get themselves killed without me. Besides, I owe Adora an ass-kicking, and I can’t collect on that if she’s dead.”

Rogelio rolled his eyes at the idea.

“What? You don’t think I can beat her?” She seemed frustrated with the Reptilian, who just shrugged as he leant against a tool cabinet. “A straight fight; no weapons, no magic, then she’s mine.” Rogelio's only response that dry, throaty chuckle of his. The laughter only increasing when Lonnie hurled a pair of welding goggles at him.  She smiled at their teasing. It had been a while since she’d seen them like this; for months, it had just been frustration or stoicism from either; it was a welcome change.

The Reptilian’s smile drained after a few moments. He scratched the back of his head, rubbing one of his spines, pressing his finger into the point a couple of times. She had no clue what he said next, but it must have had an impact based on Lonnie's thoughtful expression.

“We shouldn’t let the past define us. The only family that matters is each other.” Lonnie translated, little emotion in her voice.

She didn’t have a response either. The three of them just sat in silence until Lonnie decided the time was right.

“I’d better prep the skiff.” she grabbed the sword that Scorpia had leant against the canisters and climber the ladder onto the skiff. Before Rogelio passed their bag, “You guys sort out the doors.”

Scorpia returned to the side door she’d entered, though, creating a quick barricade from some shelves and a crate. Meanwhile, Rogelio threw a large switch on the far wall, slowly opening the main doors, their exit to a new life.

Finally, she stopped by the street entrance, opening the door wide enough for the escapees to squeeze through once they arrived. Looking out over the Fright Zone, she found herself willing the fugitives on.

Chapter Text

Dusk was almost on them as Catra approached the detention block, the final sunset that Adora was supposed to know; it might turn out to be her last too. She let the pale amber rays wash over her and hoped this wasn’t as stupid an idea as she was beginning to suspect. It seemed she wasn’t alone; Catra could feel Kyle’s anxiousness; it radiated off him. He was struggling to keep his tray steady, the ration bar atop it trembling as he kept pace beside her.

“Keep it together,” she growled at her co-conspirator. Bringing Kyle might have been a mistake. Despite every improvement he had shown as a technician and pilot, he still had a habit of ‘Kyle-ing things up’ from time to time. Lonnie or Rogelio might have been better choices if things went south; they were dependable, more than a match for any common grunt who might get in their way. She had figured Kyle’s tech skills would probably be more useful if they needed to bypass a lock or something. After all, it had been him who’s accidentally kickstarted this whole mess. He deserved to shoulder some risk for it.

Kyle straightened his posture in response, trying to keep his eyes straight ahead as they neared the prison entrance. Adora was being kept on the seventh floor, in a special cell designed to hold Princesses, complete with its own security system and anti-magic wards lining the walls. The guard at the front desk handed her a key card and waved her to a dimly lit doorway off to one side. It led to a dozen small flights of winding stairs, featureless aside from the light fixtures and a maintenance grate hidden in a corner. In turn, the stairway led onto an exposed walkway without a barrier or handrail. Catra noticed almost instantly that the floor was at an incline; any would-be rescuer would be just as likely to stumble and plummet to their deaths. The only other possible way out would be to leap to the building across the way. Its roof was about the right height, but it would be too far for most to jump; even she would struggle to make it, Adora and Kyle certainly wouldn’t. Meaning that their only way out was the way they came in.

Two guards were stood outside the lone door, well equipped with heavy armour and staves, their belts laden with stun batons and grenades. They were prepared for trouble, but they were still only two regular troopers. That was dumb; she would have bet heavily on Adora against a small squad of the rank-and-file, so two was a joke. She would have assumed Hordak might put a whole unit on duty, maybe even one of his top Force Captains for She-Ra, but no, just two ordinary soldiers.

“Force Captain Catra”, the first announced, followed by both saluting.

“Only the two of you? You know that’s She-Ra in, there, right?”

“No, Sir, Force Captain Mantenna has the rest of our squad inside.”

Mantenna? That was good, she could take Mantenna, but it was another weird choice. He wasn’t much more than Hordak’s toady, no actual fighting ability or combat experience. The only threat he posed was supposed to be paralysing eye beams. Dangerous, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Something was wrong here.

“Good, I need to speak with the prisoner; Shadow Weaver thinks she has valuable information. I need to get it out of her before the execution.” The two stood aside and allowed them in.

Inside was about what she had expected. Adora was on her knees in the centre of the room, chains bound her arms to the ground. A pale green forcefield formed a barrier between the prisoner and the cackling Mantenna, his shrill taunts filling the closed space.

As she drew nearer, Adora broke her defiant gaze with her captor. She gave her look equal parts exacerbation and resignation. “Not this. Not now.” it seemed to say. So Catra tried to keep her mask up, the smug indifference that had carried her through a hundred dressing downs by Shadow Weaver.

“Mantenna, you’re relieved”.

“No. On whose orders, yes? Lord Hordak himself asks Mantenna to guard the She-Ra, say not to leave. Who? Yes, the little cat must tell?”

She’d forgotten what it was like to deal with this idiot.

“Shadow Weaver’s, I’m to interrogate the prisoner”. Mantenna was making some strange clicking noise now. His look was one of scepticism as if he were looking for a trap in her words, trying to figure out if obedience was in his best interest.

“No.” He decided, “Lord Hordak say for Mantenna to stay, guard traitor princess no matter what. Little cat wants to interrogate prisoner, then she can interrogate whilst Mantenna watches.” The harsh way he spoke bordered on a hiss this time.

It was worth a shot; this was going to go down the hard way. The two fins on either side of Mantenna’s grisly head flapped as he stared at her, waiting for her to begin. Every few seconds, his maw would pulsate, or his eyes would bulge. It might typically be a discomforting sight, but she was past such things.

“Then sit in the corner like a good little lickspittle and don’t say a thing.”

“The whelp cannot order Mantenna.”

“I just did. Do you honestly think Hordak will care if I send you back to him, missing a few fingers, or do you think he values the sad little monster who brings his meals over his rising star?”

Mantenna considered the threat, glared at her and retreated to his corner, clicking and muttering as he scuttled. Kyle approached the console; she gave him a nod, and a few buttons presses later, the forcefield fizzled away.

“Hey, Adora.”

“Come to gloat?” It seemed Adora wasn’t in the mood for her games. “To see me off before Hordak has me killed?” Too bad for her that she had to keep up appearances. She started by drawing her finer slowly across the Princess’ chin, not hard enough for her claw to break the skin, but just hard enough to leave a scratch mark.

“Has you killed?” Her laugh was hollow. “He’ll do it himself, I offered to pull that trigger for him, but he wants to send a message to your sorry gang of rebels.”

“You don’t have to do this, Catra.” Her voice trembled, fear, anger, and hurt coursing through every word. It might have been enough to sway her had she not already swayed herself.

“Oh, Adora,” she let the word linger on her tongue, grasping her chain firmly and tugging it slightly. Their faces were barely an inch apart now, her fake grin lined up perfectly with Adora’s defiant snarl. “you should know by now; I only do the things I want to do.”

Catra’s claws tore the chain bonding Adora to the ground to pieces with a powerful strike. It took Adora a few moments to process what she was being asked, and her death glare sank away, her eyes filling with confused hope. She jumped to her feet with all the grace that comes with fatigue, fists at the ready.

It was quick and glorious; the two of them fought as if they’d never been apart, almost able to predict each other’s movements. Catra spun right and stayed low, avoiding Mantenna’s eye beams. He ate a powerful kick to the chest and stumbled back, and despite his extra legs, he struggled to keep his balance. Catra’s fist planted itself between his massive eyes, and he collapsed with a high-pitched wail. The guard who’d been standing beside him leapt into the fray, but once Catra’s fist shattered his visor, he didn’t stay on his feet for long.

Across the room, Adora went right, punching the first soldier in the throat and brought her knee into the gut of the second. Winded, he lunged, and Adora sidestepped, wrenching his arm as he passed her. Using his own momentum to bring him to the ground, she quickly stomped his chest and incapacitated him.

Even Kyle played his part, thrusting his stun baton into the side of the soldier nearest the door just as Mantenna hit the ground.

“Catra! What are you doing?”

“Saving your life, what does it look like”.

“Catra, what? I… I don’t understand; why are you doing this? Hordak will kill you.”

“I’d like to see him try” It was clear that her glibness was frustrating Adora, but after everything the girl had put her through over the last year, she deserved a little exasperation. Besides, Adora looked half-dead from exhaustion, if a bit of annoyance kept her on her toes; all the better.

“Um… hi Adora.” Kyle interrupted, stumbling from the entrance way, his nerves almost getting the better of him again.

“Kyle?” she turned as if seeing him for the first time. What’s going on?”

“We’re saving you. Like Catra said.” He was on the verge of breaking point, but he soldiered on, “We’re leaving, we’re saving you and leaving.” She wrapped him in a loose hug.

“You’ve no idea how glad I am to see you. Thank you, thank you both” Catra wanted to smile at the reunion. Despite everything that the two of them had put Kyle through, he still seemed genuinely overjoyed, and there was something infectious about his goofy grin. But she wasn’t ready for Adora to see her happy yet, so she forced it down.

“It turns out you still had people who care about you, even after you abandoned them.”

“Catra, I’m ….”

“We don’t have time for this right now, Adora, but I think I’m starting to get why you left, or some of it, maybe, I don’t know.” Adora gingerly stepped towards her, unsure how to proceed, but her oldest friend closed her eyes and wrapped strong arms around her. It felt right; she hadn’t realised how much she had wanted this, how even Scorpia’s squeezes paled compared to this gentle embrace. Catra had to stop herself from hugging back as much as she wanted to. She pushed the girl who had been her world back. “We’re going to have to move quickly once we leave here, there are two guards on the door, and I think they’re expecting a rescue from the princesses”.

“Are you sure?”

“They left four soldiers and the guy who does Hordak’s laundry to watch the most powerful person on the planet: it’s a set up”. She sauntered over to where Mantenna had fallen, giving a stiff kick for good measure.

“So, you just sprang the trap”.

“Probably, if I’m right, there’ll be a lot more than two guards on the door right now. So, we’re probably going to have to just run for it, follow my lead, lose them in the streets, maybe.

“Even if it wasn’t a trap, someone saw us.” Kyle pointed at the camera mounted on the wall nearest the control panel.

“I may have forgotten about that.”

“Of course, you did.”

“I’ve had a rough day, alright; I think you can cut me some slack.”

“I guess, are you okay? “We’re probably going to have to fight our way out of here.”

“Yeah, I’m fine”, replied the girl, clearly drained but doing everything she could to hide it. Catra shot her an incredulous look and continued. “We need to head to the right, get to the stairwell, be careful the walkway is slanted. Once we get through the lobby, we’ll have options”.

“Where are we even going”.

“Western Hanger, Lonnie and Ro should be prepping a skiff”.

“I can’t leave without the sword”.

“Trust me, I know how much you care about your dumb sword; I’ve got Scorpia on it”.

Adora looked genuinely gobsmacked.

“Thank you.”

“Thank Scorpia. She the one risking her life for your toy.”

“It’s not a toy, Catra… it’s….”

“I know, Adora. It’s your magic destiny sword, fairly sure I couldn’t forget the thing that you replaced me with.”

“I didn’t replace you for the sword Catra, I couldn’t just stay once I knew what the Horde was doing. You just wouldn’t let me explain.”

“Guys, we don’t have time for this.” Kyle was strangely authoritative for once; he was right, though, so she just rolled her eyes at the two of them.

“You want to know why I’m doing this? A long time ago, Adora, we made a promise to each other. Tonight, I’m going to keep it.”

She shouldn’t have snapped at her. They needed to be on the same page right now, but damn, did that girl make it difficult. All she could manage was to sigh at the blonde’s shamed expression and crouched over one of their victims. A few moments later and she’d found what she wanted: unfastening the grenade pouch from their belt, liberating the flashbang and smoke grenade, before doing the same to another soldier.

“Scavenge anything else useful. Kyle, give her the ration bar; she needs to eat.” Kyle passed the tray he’d been carrying to Adora, who unwrapped the grey slab.

“I’d forgotten how bad these tasted.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Princess, the commissary was fresh out of everything else.”

That’s not what I meant. When we get out of here, I’ll show you real food.”

“Whatever that means.” She found herself scoffing at the suggestion. This really wasn’t the time to bicker over food.

“What are you doing now?”

“Seeing what that trap looks like. Be ready to run.”

 


 

Catra opened the door as wide as she dared and slipped through. She wasn’t surprised by what she saw: An entire platoon of troopers stood on the roof of the building across the walkway, pulse rifles trained on the door. At the head, lazily resting on his ridiculous battle-axe, was Grizzlor, huge and hairy, with a shrewd look on his face. This wasn’t good. The Jungulian Force Captain was one of the Horde’s biggest guns, and his troops were amongst the toughest veterans the Fright Zone had to offer. The man himself was a legend, and from what she’d seen, the stories had to be at least partly true. Even they had She-Ra, it might not be an easy fight.

The two guards on the door had moved too. They had positioned themselves between her and the stairway, staves at the ready.

I told you it would end like this.

“What brings you here, Kittycat?” the wide grin on his face told her everything she needed to know about the situation. “Come to check in on your little friend?”

“I was just passing by, figured I’d stop in for old times’ sake.”

“I bet you was ever so sad when you saw her death order. A real shame, given how Shadow Weaver went on about her.” He stood upright, deftly hefting his weapon onto his shoulder, “we was expecting’ Princesses, but to be honest, I’m glad it’s you. I’ve wanted to wring your neck since you got your rank. Upstart little brat. Out of the academy for five minutes, and you think you can run with the likes of me, not a bloody chance.”

“I’m glad you’re getting something out of this furball.”

“No need to ’be so hostile, Catra; it’s for the best, really. You was never cut out to be a Force Captain.”

He’s right; you’re nothing.

“Now, tell me, how do you wanna go? Axe or crossbow?” He gestured to the enormous weapon one his men were holding for him. The crossbow was a nasty piece of work; black steel with sharped blades running across the limbs and a snarling dragon’s head decorating the front. The bolts alone were nearly two-foot-long, and she had seen first-hand that the weapon could fire them with enough force to send a grown man flying.

“I think you might need to get a little closer for that axe big guy.”  He chuckled and placed his second hand on the handle, swinging a lazy half-circle above his head before tossing it right at her. She dipped low and spun to the left as the double-bladed monstrosity embedded itself in the wall of Adora’s prison. Her heart was pounding, the sight of a handful of long brown hairs floating to the ground, proof of just how dangerous her opponent was.

“Not bad, but your aim could use some work. How about I take a turn.” A quick flick of her wrists, and she was holding a grenade from her belt. Another blur of movement and a white cylinder was in flight, sailing over the chasm and landing at Grizzlor’s feet. Catra shielded her eyes as a blinding flash of light filled the area. Moments later, every trooper was on their knees, removing their helmets, rubbing their eyes.

“Now!” Catra screamed as her companions poured out of the cell, the three sprinted right, and around a corner, they heard the blinded Grizzlor screaming to give chase, but his goons were helpless. The two guards on her side of the gap were right ahead of her. She vaulted over the first, kicking them in the back; when they landed, a deep voice screamed as he tumbled, losing their balance and disappeared over the ledge. The second turned to face her, only for Adora to crash into them, shoulder checking them into the wall, slumping beside it in a heap. The three kept running, heading for the staircase that spelt freedom.

“What now? There’ll be more waiting at the bottom, right?”

“The vents?” Kyle suggested, they always build a hatch into the stairways.”  A few moments later, and they found the grate, Catra pulling it from its hinges with ease.” Adora and Kyle crawled in as she followed, replacing the grate as best she could.

The maintenance shaft was as cramped as they could expect; how Entrapta could navigate them so easily was beyond her. Kyle took the lead, accustomed to working in the vents when helping the princess with her work. He led them through the twists and turns, occasionally passing a small, grated window or vent. They offered views of empty cells mostly or panicked guards. One even let them in on the flustered rant of the Warden as they passed his office. It did her heart good to know that she’d managed to cause a healthy amount of chaos with this. Down a ladder and up another, they raced from the cells. The booming voice of Grizzlor carried through the ducts behind them. He was ordering troops after them, but they had too much of a lead for it to matter now.

Eventually, they found the hatch Kyle seemed to have been looking for. He brought them out on a small balcony. She knew where they were now; they were a few metres above the roof of the armoury, a short drop, and they were onto the next leg of their escape.

“Kyle, you genius.” She ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately.

“Yeah, that was amazing, thank you.” Adora smiled at him, then at her. She missed that smile, missed the warmth it made her feel in her heart, and the flitter it made her feel in her stomach. But they couldn’t linger in whatever this was just yet; there was a long way between them and the hanger.

 


 

It didn’t take long for the alarms to sound, calling dozens of soldiers to action all around them. Though they remained unnoticed as they scrambled across the rooftops, leaping the narrow gaps between the buildings with ease, even Kyle didn’t struggle with them. It was going well; the run-in at the prison seemed like it would be the last of the trouble for now.

They were too exposed on the roof though, all it would take would be for one of Grizzlor’s goons to pick up a pair of binoculars or a rifle scope, and they’d be made. There was a ladder, she thought, two rooftops over. Once they were on the streets, they could use the alleyways for cover and maybe go down into the sewers if needed.

The roar from behind them proved her confidence ill-placed. Grizzlor had found them somehow and had given chase. He hadn’t called for backup though, it seemed that the trick with the flash bang had been enough to bruise his ego, and he wanted to bring them in personally.

The Jungulian fired his crossbow, the thick steel bolt passing by Adora’s head.

“Faster.” The blonde called, urging the trio on, their pursuer gaining with worrying speed. They needed to get off the roof to neutralise that crossbow. Maybe they could lose him in the labyrinth of the alleys. They were on top of one of the barracks now, and as expected, she could see the top of a ladder poking up from the ledge on the far side.

She raced down the ladder, Adora barely stopping herself from trampling her fingers in the rush. They’d need to disappear into an alley or a building, something to lose the monster.

“Through here.” Adora pointed to the nearest alley. It would lead them between two of the barracks; this could work. They’d be able to follow it through, lose Grizzlor between some of the buildings when the alley forked.

“Kyle, hurry up.” He dropped the last two rungs of the ladder to keep up, jogging behind them to the turn, when a low whistle filled the air, capped by Kyle’s familiar scream.

She turned back to see him on the ground, his face a mix of fear and pain. He was pinned to the ground by a two-foot-long steel bolt protruding from his left shin. Looking for the source, she found the gargantuan shape of Grizzlor standing on the rooftop they’d just escaped, his crossbow in hand.

“Nice effort, but this ends here.” He didn’t bother with the ladder. Instead, he jumped the two stories, landing cleanly. “Now you’ve got a couple of choices, Kittycat. You can surrender now and die clean to Hordak in front of everyone tomorrow, or you can die messily in some alley to me.”

“Run, you have to get out of here, both of you.” Kyle pleaded.

“Not a chance.” Catra scurried to her friend. “This is gonna suck”, she smiled at him before pulling the bolt from his leg with surprising ease. The noise her friend made as he tried to muffle his own scream was unique: a high-pitched whimper that bordered on animalistic.

“I’m gonna have to go with the messy alley death. If you think you’re up to it.” She twirled the bolt between her fingers, “Adora, get him out of here. I’ll catch up.” She meant it, or at least she hoped she did; after all, Catra didn’t have to beat him, just escape him, then get back to Adora and Kyle, and that wouldn’t be the hardest thing she’d done today. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Adora disappearing into the alley, Kyle limping with an arm over her shoulder.

The big man moved first, setting his crossbow down or a nearby crate with surprising grace, not that it lasted. It had been down two seconds before he was rushing her with his shoulder. He was faster than she imagined possible for his size. If she had been anyone else in the Fright Zone, she’d have just taken one hell of a blow, but her natural agility saved her again, leaping backwards a few steps.

It was barely enough. Grizzlor’s reach was insane, and with the amount of force behind his blows, she couldn’t afford a single hit. She made a swipe at him with her free hand, leaving a bloody scratch down his meaty arm.

His fist brushed her ear again, Catra couldn’t keep this up for long, and she’d need to get to the others quickly. She leapt against the wall as another swing came her way, her feline agility allowing her to practically rebound off the surface. She came down hard on the Force Captain’s head. He roared in pain as her foot pressed into his face.

She drove the bolt downwards, hoping to put an end to the Force Captain, but he shifted his weight, so it only lodged itself in the flesh of his shoulder and not deep enough to even force a wince. Changing tac, she pushed off his head as if it were a steppingstone, throwing herself at the ladder that had brought the trio to the alley minutes before.

“Coward!” Grizzlor called after her, but he didn’t take the bait. He shook the cobwebs and pulled the bolt from his shoulder. Instead of scrambling after Catra, he began to follow the trail of Kyle’s blood. Forcing her to follow too, stalking quietly from the rooftop, not letting the hulk see her. He seemed to have assumed she’d fled, so there was no need to let him think otherwise.

Her quarry turned a corner and chuckled. Damn, he must have found them. She caught up in moments and saw for herself.  Adora had stopped to fashion a tourniquet from the sleeve of her jacket. She rose, putting herself between the wounded boy and their pursuer, despite how ragged she seemed; Adora was determined to play the hero.

“The Kittycat ran. Up and left you, she did.” Adora only scowled in response. Did she believe him? Couldn’t have that.

The mass of muscle and fur began to move down the narrow alleyway, so yet again, she took a running leap. This time she hit Grizzlor square in the back, a flawless dropkick with both feet. He didn’t have a chance to react or room to manoeuvre, so he just stumbled forward, right into Adora’s uppercut.

The blonde followed up with a series of body shots, every ounce of energy she had left being beaten into Grizzlor. She joined the fight, landing a powerful kick to his gut, doubling him over. As he tried to straighten himself, he put his head squarely into range. Catra delivered a second kick right between his fierce eyes.

“Adora!” It was Kyle. He was pushing himself up the wall where he’d been left slumped and tossed her the stun baton he had on his waist. The blonde caught it, flicked the switch, and drove it into Grizzlor’s exposed face. He fell back against the alley wall, finally defeated.

“That was satisfying.” She found herself quipping.

“He said you left?”

“Never.” She wanted to reassure her friend, but it turned to poison in her mouth. “I’m not you.” The look of dejection had turned out to be nowhere near as satisfying as she’d hoped. The blonde just groaned and handed Kyle back his weapon.

“I’d say to leave me behind, but I tried that already. “Kyle smiled weakly, “And I really don’t want to stay here.”

“Stop whining” Catra found herself chuckling at him; at least he was still in high spirits. “We’ll get you out of here.” They each took an arm, holding him between them enough support so he could limp along with them.

They could move between the alleys easily enough, but the final stretch would take them into the streets. There were soldiers everywhere now; occasionally, they would need to duck behind a doorway or waste disposal unit. Stealth was more difficult than it would have been had Kyle been able to support himself, but she couldn’t complain; she’d brought him along. It would have been even harder had it been Lonnie or Rogelio who had gotten hurt. It had been Kyle who’d remembered the vents too; he’d more than earned the right to slow them down a little.

She recognised the Force Captain directing traffic as Blast, an athletic man with a thick black beard and cannon mounted to his shoulder. He oversaw the Horde’s Armoured divisions and was generally the guy called in when Shadow Weaver wanted a town removed from the map. She almost felt a little bad for the guy, he was nicer to her than most, and he hated Shadow Weaver. He’d been the one to tip her off about why she had so little artillery at Brightmoon. But he was in her way.

She reached for her belt again, one smoke grenade and one flash bang. The former would shield their exit well enough, Blast couldn’t chase what he couldn’t see, but it would alert him and everyone else to their presence; the last leg would be a sprint. On the other hand, the flashbang would only catch those close to it. Everyone else would be unaffected and free to chase them down.

“Okay.” She turned to her friends, no. to her friend and Adora, “Get ready to go as quickly as you can. Adora nodded; the look of grim determination that she’d been wearing since escaping the detention block remained unfaltering. Kyle just smiled weakly at her with his tired eyes.

She threw the grenade a little ahead of Force Captain, none of the soldiers noticing until grey smoke began to plume from the metallic cylinder.

Carrying Kyle between them, they moved as quickly as possible, rushing past the bewildered Force Captain. She briefly locked eyes with Blast, his confusion changing to realisation and then to anger. He called for his soldiers to give chase, but the three of them were lost to the smoke before any could.

The calls of dozens of soldiers echoed behind them. The occasional blast from a pulse rifle exploded into the ground at their heels. A huge red bolt of energy that could only have come from Blast’s shoulder cannons sailed past them at one point, reducing a hapless trooper in their path to a smoking crater.

They were close now; Scorpia’s head peaked briefly out from behind the door ahead. Good, she had made it, which meant Lonnie and Ro must have held up their end too. They were going to make it, just a little further. They might have half the Fright Zone on their tails, but she dared to hope, dared to imagine that this mission wouldn’t end in her death, in the death of her friends. So close.

 


 

The three of them had made it inside the hanger, Her and Adora practically dragging Kyle. All of them silent aside from laboured breathing or the occasional moan of pain from their injured friend, but now wasn’t the time to sacrifice speed for his comfort. Scorpia closed the door behind them. A moment of relief swept over them as they rested Kyle against a row of shelves, the three of them happy to catch their breaths, for a moment.

“You made it”, Scorpia cried as they shuffled into the hanger proper.

“Yeah, it was a trap for the Princesses though, Grizzlor was waiting for us, and now half the Fright Zone is on our tails. Did you get the sword?”

“Yeah, of course, it’s on the skiff.”

“Hi, Scorpia.” Adora was awkward in her greeting, “thank you so much for helping us.”

“She’s my friend.” Scorpia shot a soft look in the feline’s direction, “They all are. They wanted to save you, and I couldn’t say no.”

“Thanks all the same.”

“Just, just treat them right this time, Adora. Earn this.”

“I will.”

Rogelio was jogging over to them, a concerned look on his face, eyes locked on Kyle. He didn’t get close before Adora pulled him into a brief hug, thanking him profusely, as the lizard man stifled a smile.

“Are you guys ready?” Lonnie’s head emerged from the skiff. “I don't like the sound of that mob outside.

“Lonnie, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We need to go. She ran a hand across the side of her head, failing to hide the warmth that crept into her eyes.

“Good job Scorp, think you can get this klutz up there?”

“Hey, that’s not fair. It wasn’t my fault this time.”

“Enough complaining, Scorp, if you wouldn’t mind.”

The Princess picked Kyle up from his place by her side, cradling him like a baby, jogging to the skiff and passing him to Lonnie, who hefted his form onto the deck. Rogelio had liberated an extra med kit from one of the cupboards, hurrying back to the skiff to tend to his friend.

“Looks like I’m driving then.” Lonnie sighed.

“Just until the meds kick in. Hit me with that painkiller Ro, I can do this.” Rogelio set about his work, pressing a syrette into the young man’s neck.

“Wait, Kyle can fly this thing?”

“Better than any of us.” She found herself explaining; a small prideful smile crept to her lips, though she bit it back once she noticed Adora doing the same.

“Great, let’s get going.” They shouldn’t have wasted time with reunions and small talk. The street-side entrance burst open, and soldiers began pouring into the far side of the room. Lonnie was scrambling into the pilot’s seat of their bulky escape vehicle when it struck her what was happening.

They were inside now; a small group were charging them. Blast stepped through the wreckage with another familiar Force Captain: A brutish slug man with mottled green skin and an enormous mouth known as Leech, supposedly capable of draining anyone of their life energy in minutes.

“Adora, Scorpia move.” It was becoming clear that they weren’t going to get the time they would need to start the engine; the troopers were on them. ‘You’re going to get them out,’ she remembered, ‘if it kills you.’

She just needed one last chance to see that face, those eyes.

“Adora, get on there. I’ll hold them off. Get to Brightmoon, take care of these guys. They were always supposed to be your squad after all.”

“Catra, no! You have to come with us. Please.”

“There’s no time. Just promise me, you’ll look out for them.”

“I… I promise.” The look on her face was enough to make her want to join them, but the universe had other plans. Call it comeuppance for all the terrible things she’d done, one last twist of the knife. Having to give up her life and deny herself the freedom she’d promised herself a few hours earlier. If it meant Adora would live, if it meant Scorpia and Kyle, and Lonnie and Ro would make it, then she could handle not being around to see it.

“Don’t break this one, okay.”

This was it. This was going to be it for her. Catra knew this was a possibility, but she’d be damned if she was going to let them take Adora, Scorpia or any of the others. She had risked their lives with this dumb rescue, so it had to be her. Resigned to the inevitable. She took a step towards the approaching battalion.

Scorpia pulled her into her death grip.

“I can’t let you do it, Wildcat, not after everything else. This is your chance to be happy.” There was a sharp pain in her right arm, and then she couldn’t move, couldn’t feel anything but a dull ache over her whole body. A second later and she was being passed from the Scorpia’s arms to Adora’s, powerless to resist.

“She’ll be okay; it was only enough venom to make her go a little limp. She’ll be fine in a few minutes.”

“Scorpia, don’t you can still come with us.” Adora’s practically screaming at the hulking hybrid as she gave the two of them a warm smile.

“Make this count; make sure she’s happy. She deserves that much.”, And then Scorpia was charging the soldiers, embracing the fate she had meant for herself moments before. Adora was dragging her stupefied form onto the skiff, Rogelio’s thick hands helping to pull her up. In the distance, she saw Scorpia wreaking havoc on the crowd of enemies as the two Force Captains pushed their way into the ruckus.

The engine roared to life, Lonnie put all her weight on the throttle, and they sped from the hanger, from the Fight Zone and from Scorpia.

Chapter Text

Adora was struggling to stay on her feet. She needed to move, climb on the skiff with the others, and get out of here. But the Horde had broken in, and troops were flooding the far side of the room, a rising tide of dark armour and green visors. Catra was saying …something to her, but it was hard to concentrate on the words. All she could really hear were the cracks in the feline’s voice.

“Take care of these guys.” That was the first part that she could make out, but what did she mean? Why would she need to take care of them? What about Catra? No. the realisation hit her, no. She couldn’t let her stay behind. Catra had done enough; she was going to take her to Brightmoon, show her the gardens, show her the food, show her parties and everything else the Horde had ever denied them. No.

“Catra, no! You have to come with us. Please.” They could still make it, all of them, they just needed to get on the skiff, and they’d be fine. Everyone would be fine.

“There’s no time. Just promise me, you’ll look out for them.” No, this wasn’t happening. She couldn’t leave Catra here again. Not after everything that happened since she’d sauntered into her cell, tail swishing as she walked. In a single moment, she had flipped everything she had come to understand about their lives around. It should be her who stayed. It was her Hordak wanted, after all, and she should be the one Hordak got, not Catra, not any of them. If someone had to stay behind, it was going to be her. Saying goodbye to them was going to be rough; they’d not want to know that they’d just risked their lives for nothing. But if it was her or them, her or Catra, then there was no other choice she could ever make.

Her legs stayed rooted to the ground, her body betraying her will. Adora knew that she’d collapse well before making it to the soldiers, and even if she did, in this shape, she wouldn’t delay them for more than a few seconds. But it didn’t matter if it meant she could spare Catra; she had to move, had to push through her fatigue. But it was no good.

“I… I promise.” What was she saying? She was She-Ra. She couldn’t just admit defeat like that; how was she supposed to a hero if she couldn’t save one person?

“Don’t break this one, okay.” She couldn’t even speak anymore, the salty tear that gently tricked onto her lips, the only reminder she even had a mouth at all. All the effort in the world to save her friend, every ounce of strength she had left, and nothing. Silence. She couldn’t even manage a goodbye; she just stood, watched, and cried.

Then Scorpia was there. Hugging Catra, saying her own goodbyes.

“I can’t let you do it, Wildcat, not after everything else. This is your chance to be happy.” What? That wasn’t a goodbye. Well, it was, but the wrong kind, and then the larger girl’s tail struck Catra’s arm, and she went limp. What was happening? Had Scorpia sold them out? Had they been led into a trap like the one in her cell?

Before she could react to Scorpia’s betrayal, the limp feline form was being forced into her arms. It was everything she could do to raise them up. She fought every ache her muscles could unleash upon her to keep her friend steady.

Scorpia gave her a sad look, and then understanding hit her again; It was going to be Scorpia who stayed. She couldn’t let that happen either; she wasn’t worth somebody else’s life, even a stranger’s. Catra was always stubborn, but this girl might listen to reason if she could just tell her. The taller woman talked about venom, but it seemed to float past her. Helplessness was overtaking her exhausted body. She had to fight her own weariness, say something. Do something.

“Scorpia, don’t you can still come with us.” The words tumbled out of her as if the dam holding her mouth closed had suddenly burst. Perhaps her adrenaline was finally kicking in, or maybe it was just knowing Catra was out of danger, but she was somehow lucid again. It wasn’t right; it wasn’t fair. Scorpia always seemed a gentle soul even when they’d fought.

“Make this count; make sure she’s happy. She deserves that much.” There was a sad smile on the woman’s face, her strong jaw on the verge of quivering and a tear in the corner of those big black eyes. And then she was gone, charging towards the mass of soldiers, screaming in their faces, claws swinging.

 


 

When she opened her eyes, she was on the skiff, slumped against a supply locker at the rear of the deck, Catra beside her. There was no telling how long she’d been out, but it couldn’t have been too long. They were still in one of the Fright Zone canyons. It had been long enough to replay the details of their escape a dozen times over. Every repeated dream ended in the same inescapable sacrifice, and her watching helplessly.

Thinking about it in the waking world was different. There was just so much for Adora to process; in less than two day’s she’d fought a battle, been captured, sentenced to death, and then rescued by her former best friends. Now they were fleeing from their childhood home at high speed. It was a lot. She tried to push the events from her mind, but they kept spinning back. The blank space she tried to focus on would begin to ask how she would explain this to Bow and Glimmer. Or it would show her how the Horde might retaliate. Desperate for any other thoughts, she stared across at the vista beside them.

The canyons and wasteland soon gave way to the plains and crops of woodland that separated that Fright Zone from the Alliance kingdoms and the Whispering Woods. The last amber rays of daylight would have faded completely in less than an hour. Every possible route would become more dangerous. The night was filled with beasts and bandits, and whatever else stalked the territory.

She had to assume they were going the long route; there was no way Lonnie would risk the Whispering Woods. They had to be heading North West, through Plumeria, before turning south to Brightmoon. They’d probably get pretty far before encountering a patrol, given how thinly stretched the Rebellion was.

If they did run into a patrol, how would that play out? Would she be able to vouch for them, or would the freedom fighters just see a gang of Horde soldiers aboard a Horde skiff and arrest them without question? They’d have to listen to her right, not drag them off to some dungeon. She wouldn’t let that happen; she’d even stand up to Queen Angella if she had to. Adora had promised that much to Scorpia, and she was done breaking promises.

Part of her had come to hate Scorpia, or at least resent her. The woman had not only taken her place as Catra’s best friend but her slot on the team too. The muscular scorpion girl had fit into the role so neatly it was hard to not think of her as a replacement. Even the way she looked at Catra made her ache; not that she understood it, envy she supposed. Every time she meant to ask Bow about it, she’d shied away, choosing to use the frustration it stirred during battle instead.

But now, the Fright Zone’s heir was gone. She had died to save her, and all she had done was watch. Her exhaustion, confusion, and need to protect the limp Catra. Those were all just excuses; if she’d been strong enough, she could have saved Scorpia, saved everyone like she was supposed to. Instead, she just stood there and watched her charge without a moment’s hesitation. Platinum hair and that sombre smile had engraved themselves onto her brain. The Princess’ last words repeating themselves anytime she stopped to think, “Make this count, make sure she’s happy. She deserves that much.”

The loss was clearly weighing hard on the others too. Scorpia might not have meant much to her, but she had been their friend. They were visibly shaken but fighting to stay in the game, the soldiers they were raised to be. Rogelio focussed on wrapping Kyle’s bloody leg in bandages, and Lonnie starring diligently at the road ahead, desperate to keep their minds from grief. Kyle just stared into space as if trying to piece together the puzzle. Catra was devoid of any emotion, the paralysis still in effect, conscious but unable to move, a prisoner in her own body.

“I’m sorry,” she said at last. But was met with silence. “About Scorpia, if I’d known what was going to happen, I’d never have…, I’d have….”

“Adora, stop.” Lonnie’s tone was fierce despite the emptiness of her eyes. “Scorpia was a soldier. She knew what she signed up for; we all did. Saying sorry won’t bring her back.” She had no response for that; Lonnie wasn’t wrong; when you went off on a mission, you might not make it back; every kid in the Fright Zone learnt that much. But this time, the mission had been her; Scorpia had died for her.

“I don’t understand, we were never friends, and she died to save me, I just…”.

“She didn’t.” Catra’s voice surprised her; she hadn’t noticed that the paralysis had worn off; she had seemed catatonic a few minutes earlier. “She didn’t sacrifice herself for you, or for the mission, or any of that junk. She did it for me. I was about to pull the same thing, and I guess she figured out the only way to stop me.”

“Catra… I” suddenly it made sense, to willingly give up your life for another, to care about them that much was powerful. She lingered on Catra’s idea of doing the same for her but forced the notions aside for simpler thoughts.

“That’s who she was”, Catra continued. “She was kind and willing to do anything for me, and all I ever did was yell at her. She didn’t even want to leave the Horde; I dragged her into this mess. She was finally getting some respect, and then I come in with a big stupid plan to save you, and I get her killed.”

“I’m so sorry, Catra.”

“No. You don’t get to apologise for this. You don’t get to make this about you too. It’s not your fault we lost Scorpia; it’s mine. I dragged her along when I should have just let her stay in the Fright Zone; she’d have gotten over me leaving.” Catra was on the verge of tears now, “Or maybe I shouldn’t have rescued you at all.” she tried to hide her watering eyes behind her anger as she looked at Adora.

“I never asked for you to save me.” She meant to snap back at Catra, but it came out as a whimper. “If I’d known what was going to happen, I’d have told you to leave me in that cell.” She didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but it was true; all they’d done is traded Scorpia for her, and if the Princess was even half the person, they all seemed to think she’d been, that trade was far from fair.

“You think that would have stopped me?” Catra was struggling to make eye contact, alternating between staring at her feet and the horizon before them, but the words that followed were meant for her ears. “I’m going to make them pay for her. I’m going tear down their whole world for her. Her name is going to be the last thing Hordak, Shadow Weaver, and the rest of them ever hear.”

“Does this mean you’re joining the Rebellion?”

“It means I’m burning the Fright Zone to the ground. If you and your Princess buddies want to help carry the matches, I won’t stop you.”

“Enough with the crusades, both of you.” This time Lonnie was the one shouting. “I didn’t sign up for your lost cause, Adora. And I’m sure as hell not going on some suicide mission against my own people.”

“So, you’re just going to let Scorpia die for nothing.” Catra shot back.

“Scorpia died so we could get away. I’m not going to dishonour that by dying on   some revenge fuelled rampage.” Lonnie all but spat the words in Catra’s face, taking her eyes from the road to shoot a poison glare.

Before they could argue any further, they interrupted by a gruff roar from Rogelio. He pushed past them, leaping onto the turret. The women turned to investigate the commotion; they saw the shapes on the horizon.

More Skiffs.

 


 

There were five of them in total: Four of the small recon models followed by an assault craft, identical to their own. The formation of green steel was gaining with concerning speed.

“Kyle, you good to drive?” Catra’s voice shifted to that of a commander; strong, authoritative.

“Yeah, I think I can handle that.”

“Then get going. Ro: test your range, and Lonnie, see what’s in that weapons locker. She watched Rogelio span the mounted gun around to face their pursuers, firing a few shots to test his range. Kyle limped to the alcove that made up the cockpit, Lonnie vaulting the control panel to allow her friend to take the helm.

Adora had to admit she was impressed with how Catra had instantly taken control of the situation. Lonnie was rummaging through the locker near the turret, passing Catra a pistol before checking the scope of their lone pulse rifle. On instinct, Adora reached for her sword, but Catra stopped her.

“I don’t think She-Ra’s going to be much use unless they got a lot closer.” Lonnie seemed to agree, placing one of the pistols in her hands.

“Okay, get ready to light them up those scouts as soon as they’re in range, Kyle see what you can do about some evasive manoeuvres?”

“Yes, sir.” The boy began adjusting controls.

“So, Kyle knows evasive manoeuvres, huh?”

“I told you he’s a good pilot.”

“So, all he needed was a good C.O?” Catra blushed at the accusation. Though she lost her chance to retort as Rogelio’s turret let loose its first volley.

“Here we go!” Lonnie was in her element now too, and she was one hell of a shot. Even as a cadet, she’d been their best marksman, scoring hit after hit on the soldiers manning the skiffs. By comparison, all Adora was managing was to bounce pot-shots off the hulls. She was grateful that Rogelio could keep up a suppressing fire, preventing most of their attackers from firing back.

Their first glimmer of luck came in short order; Lonnie managed to take out the pilot for one of the smaller skiffs, which immediately careened out of control and out of sight. The second went down quickly, too, as one of Rogelio’s volleys managed to hit something important, the engine block bursting into orange flame. Out of formation, the third scout skiff skittered into a ditch, though Adora couldn’t be sure if it were Lonnie or Catra who’d shot the pilot.

“Ro; focus on the big one’s turret. If it gets close, we’re done,” Catra barked. His affirmative growl was cut short by a howl of pain from behind them. Lonnie writhed on the deck, frantically pawing at a blackened wound on her shoulder. Luckily the pulse had managed to cauterise most of its own damage, but there was still a thick trickle of blood oozing from it.

“I’m okay”, she grunted, pushing herself against the side of the skiff. Adora crawled to her, propping herself onto one knee to check the wound, and despite the charred circle of ruined flesh, it wasn’t that bad. She was out of this fight though, there was no way she could hold a weapon right now.

“Just keep pressure on it; you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah”, she nodded, gesturing to the rifle, “take that, see if you can hit something” The injured girl chuckled quietly. Adora regained her position next to Catra but still failed to make any shots count. She hadn’t touched a pulse rifle since leaving the Horde, and her skills had clearly deteriorated. As she continued to struggle, the final scout skiff ground to a halt as Catra winged the pilot, causing him to crash into a nearby rock.

“That big one is getting close, focus on the pilot and gunner, or they’ll rip us to shreds.” Catra was yelling as the assault skiff drew closer. They could make out its crew now. Vultak. A famous Force Captain whose squadron of winged raiders were one of the Horde’s deadliest units. She’d seen him before when he’d hosted a special training session for the senior cadets: He was a tall, wiry man with pewter-grey skin and a sharp chin. She recalled the way his crimson eyes had glistened unnervingly, framing his near-permanent grin. And, of course, his pride and joy were on full display; two enormous jet-black wings protruded from his back. If he wasn’t here to kill them, she might even think of them as majestic. The Force Captain was not alone; a half dozen of his raiders stood around him, wings unfurled, ready to take flight at a moments notice.

Almost on cue, Vultak and his raiders launched themselves into the air, the skiff still pursuing, manned by a handful of regular troopers. The raiders were graceful fliers, fast too; they didn’t have time to do anything but steel themselves for their arrival. The first landed behind them, heading straight for Kyle, stun baton in hand. But they had sacrificed their footing for a wider swing, so when Kyle’s attempt to dodge caused the skiff to swerve, the raider stumbled into Adora’s path. She barely had to aim when she sent an energy pulse hurtling into his chest and sent them tumbling overboard.

She caught a glimpse of Rogelio wheeling the turret around to shred the wings of the next raider. As one fell, two more had landed onboard. One swung a blade at Catra, forcing her backwards towards a second with arms outstretched. Adora took a step towards them, desperate to intervene, only to watch Lonnie spring her feet and barrel into them, send all four sprawling across the deck. Turning from the carnage, she saw Vultak had joined the fray himself; he was wrestling Rogelio from the turret. About turning, Adora raced for the grappling pair, being forced to vault her Reptilian friend as he was tossed to her feet. She locked eyes with their assailant; the deep red orbs pierced her soul, making her feel like prey meeting with a predator. But she had run enough today; she was going to fight, fight for her friends. She dropped the rifle and took up a stance.

“Brace!” they heard Kyle scream from the cockpit; Vultak spread his wings and jumped backwards from the skiff; his airborne form visible for but a few seconds before her world began to spin. Then came a horrific noise as metal bent and broke. A sudden jolt followed and then a few moments of weightlessness. Finally, there was an almighty thud with a harsh impact.

 


 

By the time Adora came to her senses, she was all but consumed by pain. Her arm was all but numb, only a dull ache to remind her it existed at all. Her mouth was full of blood, the metallic flavour bringing back memories of training injuries and roughhousing gone too far. She attempted to wipe her face with her sleeve, which only led to her shirt coming away a dark crimson.

They must have made it to the outskirts of Plumeria or near enough for the yellow grasses to turn to green and for lush thickets to spring up either side of the road. That road itself gave away their location; it was now more mud and stone than the dry dirt she’d seen before. Though now that mud was strewn with what had once been a Horde assault skiff, green metal littered across the open space.

From the look of it, she was the first of the survivors to her feet. Vultak’s squad were strewn about the wreckage, with no sign of her friends. No, wait, there! Rogelio was lying against the upturned turret; his bright green face made him an easy spot even with her impaired vision. He was gravely wounded with a nasty gash across his head, and a large patch of his chest was exposed; bright pink where his scales had been torn away.

“Ro! Rogelio”, they’re here, come on”, it took two more slaps to rouse him, and she had to help him to his feet, which given his size, wasn’t easy. They found Lonnie, too, barely conscious but very much alive, pinned under one of Vultak’s goons. Kyle, they found trapped under part of the control unit, with a dislocated shoulder. Catra was the last; they found her stumbling groggily towards them, dragging the sword behind her.

“Catra, come on, we’ve got to get out of here”. Before Adora had even finished her sentence, she knew it was too late.

A dark shape flashed from their flank, and a vicious punch floored Catra almost instantly; Vultak had found them. Adora threw caution to the wind, unwilling to let everything her friends had done for her go to waste. She sprinted, jumped at the winged Force Captain, and swung at his face. She didn’t hold her advantage for long. Her fatigue overcame her once again, and Vultak tossed her to the ground, and moments later and Vultak’s boots were becoming acquainted with her ribs. She could just about make out Rogelio charging towards them, but he was tackled by a pair of soldiers. The final skiff had caught up, she realised. Its surviving crew were surrounding the wreckage.

“Tie these ones down and load them on the skiff. We’ll be rewarded for this one lad’s” she recognised Vultak’s nasal voice and knew it was over.

It had been less than a day since she’d last been, She-Ra, but it felt like months. The first hours had been the cold stare of Hordak, the spiteful machinations of Shadow Weaver and near-constant clicking and complaining from Mantenna. Then Catra had come, her Catra, the one she’d begged the universe for only hours before, had waltzed into her cell, Kyle in tow and had said one little sentence that had changed the world.

‘you should know by now; I only do the things I want to do.’

What did she want to do now? That was an easy question, the same answer it was anytime it was asked; keep people safe. Right now, the people who needed protection were her own. She’d recklessly charged into the Fright Zone to save Bow and Glimmer one time; surely, she could manage to fight one Force Captain to save her childhood friends.

Her mind forced her to relive her choices, the ones that had left the four of them behind. She had begged Catra to join her but only managed to drive her away. She never even got to talk to the others. The next time she saw them, they just fought. The betrayal in their eyes was beyond her comprehension; it had been nearly as devastating as having to fight them.

She still didn’t understand why they’d stayed, but it didn’t matter; they were here now. This was her chance to fix the friendships she’d given up to save Etheria, mend the hurt she’d caused them. But she had a different kind of hurt to contend with. She was face down in the dirt, aches in every limb, and barely conscious after the crash, and now Vultak had her, had them. The sword was nearby, abandoned in the mud, where Catra had dropped it. She should have grabbed for it instead of the villain himself, but no; she’d been stupid and emotional, just like Light Hope had warned her, and it was going to cost her everything unless… And there it was, right where she’d left it; two or three metres away, only the hilt and pommel visible from her position, but still very much the Sword of Protection.

Her blurred vision and ringing ears did their best to obscure the situation. Vultak was kicking the downed Catra in the stomach, punishing her for making them chase her from the sound of his taunts. His soldiers were wrestling with the others, but she couldn’t help them, not without the sword. She blocked out their cries and began to crawl; she was getting close now.

Nearly.

She reached out her fingers, felt them brush against the pommel, a little closer, praying none of the troopers would notice her, a few centimetres, almost.

There.

She had it. She pulled the sword towards her, and once she had it proper, she dug the blade into the soft earth and used it to pull herself to her feet. She’d been lucky the thugs had been distracted by the chance for impromptu cruelty and had ignored her struggle. She lifted the blade above her head.

“For the Honour of Grayskull.”

The light began to fill her. The power was as intense as it ever was, coursing through her like a golden wave. Her fingers tingled, almost numb as they tightened around the ancient weapon. The magic within beckoned forth the planet’s avatar, each of her scratches fading into the glow as it consumed her. Even her exhaustion withered into newfound energy as She-Ra overtook her own consciousness. It wasn’t as if She-Ra was a different mind possessing her. More a separate will compelling her to action; she remained in control. However, somehow her actions were still not entirely her own. It was as if Adora’s personality was muted save for a thirst for righteous justice.

Adora could feel her arms trembling with fury, but She-Ra’s were unnervingly still. Their attackers were looking at her now; Vultak and his men. She recognised the fear in their captain’s eyes, it was clear he wanted to run, but something kept him rooted to the spot; loyalty? Duty? Fear? It didn’t matter. She was charging him now, fighting to keep herself from swinging the sword at his neck and taking his head to mount above Brightmoon’s gate. No, that wasn’t her; it had to be She-Ra’s inherent rage. She wouldn’t let herself be used to murder, fighting the rage as she ran. She-Ra stopped just short of Catra’s prone form and pulled her arm back; for a moment, time stopped, she heard a single word.

“No.”, it fell from Vultak’s thin lips, so quiet, no one but the two of them would have heard it, not even Catra. Then fist met chest, and Vultak was forced to redefine his understanding of flight. He landed with a sickening crunch against a tree on the other side of the road and stopped moving. The soldiers had stopped abusing her friends now. Half had their eyes locked on the crumpled form of their leader, the others staring with terrified awe at the one who’d crumpled him. All of them remained perfectly still until she turned her glare on them directly. They threw down their weapons and ran, stumbling over rubble and wreckage in their desperate escapes.

She-Ra was supposed to heal people, so she bent down and concentrated on repairing Catra’s wounds. She had never really managed it before, but this time was different. Somehow it began to click as if She-Ra were guiding her to the answer. She could feel Catra’s life force emanating from her, reaching out for She-Ra’s aura. Her wounds just felt like blank sections of a drawing, waiting to be coloured in. It took a few moments, but the cuts and wounds on her arms and face began to fade, the broken ribs repaired themselves, and even the very concept of pain seemed to leave her friend. Catra opened her eyes; Adora saw nothing but warmth for a moment.

“It’s okay, Catra, it’s me” the cat girl’s eyes widened, and then the panic faded, her ears twitched, and the hair on her tail began to lower. It was strange seeing her vulnerable like this, but something about it made her smile.

“Hey, Adora.” The voice was a little drowsy, but she seemed content, like when she’d hidden on their balcony, napping in the sun. “I found your sword.”

“I know” she smiled at her friend, hoping that the simple gesture would break through She-Ra’s near-permanent scowl. She rose and offered a hand to Catra, pulling her friend to her feet.

Rogelio was next; she could only assume it was adrenaline keeping him on his feet at this point; he was in a pretty bad way. The cut on his head was dangerously close to his left eye, and that chest wound was far worse for having it ground into the rocky dirt by Vultak’s boys. He sat calmly on a piece of the skiff and let her do her work. When she’d finished, he marvelled at the results. She couldn’t help but grin at his wonder; he returned her smile as he nodded his thanks accompanied by an affectionate growl.

 


 

The five of them sat amongst the wreckage for a few minutes, taking the opportunity to wrap their heads around things before planning their next move. It had been a long time since she had enjoyed their silence. She was almost disappointed when Kyle spoke up, filling the air with his high-pitched voice.

“Erm, so what now, does anyone know where we are?” the growing darkness was no doubt worrying him, and he was probably right. This was not a place to be at night; there were worse predators out here besides Vultak.

“You were the pilot Kyle; you had the map”, Catra called at him. He just chuckled in response, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck before sighing and making his way to the wreckage.

“Ro, did you bring my pad? We can load a map onto that”. The lizard was up too now and was prying open the dented storage container at the rear end of the former skiff. From there, he pulled out a black duffle bag, slinging it across his shoulder as he jogged back to the group and tossed it to Kyle.

“I’ve got a map, but it’s not going to be easy to get to Brightmoon,” Kyle responded after a few minutes of rummaging in the bag and tapping at his tracker pad.

“If we keep by the road to Plumeria, it’ll take a week,” Catra spoke, peering over the boy’s shoulder at the pad. “We don’t have supplies for that. We could cut through the Whispering Woods, cut the journey in half” Though all the suggestion earned her was ten seconds of silence.

“The Whispering Woods?” Lonnie was practically screaming once again, “I’ve put up with a lot of crap so far, but wandering off to die in the Whispering Woods is the line. Besides, what’s the plan after that? What’s to stop the Rebellion from just throwing us into prison?”

“Me.” She spoke up for the first time in a while. “I’m stopping them. After everything you’ve all done, they’ll have to go through me if they want to do anything besides welcome you with open arms.”

“We’re taking Adora to Brightmoon, Lonnie. After that, we’ll figure things out.”

“You’re going to like it there, Lonnie” Adora smiled at her former squadmate. “all of you will.” But her smile was not returned by any of them, and the group returned to its awkward silence. Catra paced around the scene, stopping at the slumped form of the Force Captain against the tree.

“Oh damn, I think you killed Vultak”, Catra’s voice filled with something approaching glee. She bent down and pressed to fingers to his neck. “Or at least hurt him really badly. How about I finish him off?” She brandished her claws.

“Leave him, Catra”.

“Fine” instead, Catra’s fingers moved to the fallen Force Captain’s chest and pulled free his rank pin before tossing it to Adora.

“What’s this?”

“a souvenir for defeating a Force Captain.”

“I’ve defeated you”. Adora teased.

“That’s up for debate?” Catra smirked over her shoulder.

“I don’t think it is.”

“Then here, she undid her own pin and threw it to the blonde. “It’s not like I need it anymore anyway.” They fell into their old banter so easily, each willing to forget the past year if only for a few fleeting moments to share a smile. A smile that almost made the pain of the past twenty-four hours’ worth it.

The peace was shattered by a rustling from beside their camp, intruders. More Horde soldiers, she had no doubt. They were always going to catch up to them now at they were on foot.

“There they are!” one cried, in a familiar, cracking voice. When the second figure bounded from the brush, Adora relaxed her stance, as a blur of pink and purple bolted for her.

Chapter Text

Glimmer had been arguing with her mother for nearly an hour, and despite all her excellent points, the Queen refused to listen.

“But Mom!” she called across the war room once again. “We have to try; she came after Bow and me when we got captured.”

“Yes, and in the process, we lost poor Entrapta, if you recall. I am not about to endanger any more lives on some poorly thought-out rescue mission.” This was insane; how could her mom just abandon Adora after everything she’d done for them. There wouldn’t even be a Princess Alliance without She-Ra, and who knew how long they’d last without her. More importantly, Adora was her friend.

“We won’t let that happen again. Mom, we can do it much more carefully; we even know our way around the Fright Zone now.” It was everything she could do not to scream those words into her mother’s face, but they still came out far louder than she intended. She looked across to Bow for support; his nervous smile was less than comforting.

“Your majesty, Glimmer is right; we can do this carefully. The Horde won’t be expecting a rescue so soon; they’ll think we’re recovering from the battle.” The Queen considered this for a moment before turning to her General, who had been absent-mindedly drumming her helmet.

“Perhaps, but more likely, they would be on high alert, concerned of a counterattack. We just dealt Hordak quite the blow. I’d be recommending an attack myself if I thought we had the resources.” The Queen seemed to agree with her and motioned for the General to continue. “Frankly, your majesty; we don’t have the intelligence for this sort of covert operation. Most of our knowledge on the Fright Zone remains with She-Ra; her expertise is the sole reason for the last rescue’s success. I’m sorry to say we neglected to recover much of that information during her time here.

“And why is that?” The Queen’s mood turned, her tone; accusatory.

“I was never given the opportunity to properly debrief her, your majesty. She-Ra was constantly away on missions with the Princess.” The General began to defend herself, “you were opposed to any kind of offensive mission that would require that kind of intelligence, so it was never a priority. It was a mistake, your majesty.” Glimmer was beginning to really dislike the General.

“I’ll say.” She spat the retort, earning her a look equal parts anger and shame from the officer.

“Glimmer!” The Queen shot her a look that demanded she bide her tongue. “The fault lies with me as much as with Juliet.”

“Then make up for it, let me rescue Adora.”

“I have told you, Glimmer; I will not risk more lives so frivolously.” Glimmer was about to shout something we knew she would come to regret when the Queen raised her hand to pre-emptively silence her. “But I have no intention of abandoning Adora either. General, I want the Fright Zone under observation immediately.” The General nodded.

“I will ready our available scouts”.

“Glimmer, Bow; since you’d go no matter what I order, you should be able to get closer than anyone else. Remember you are not to engage at all. I promise that we will rescue Adora, but we will do it properly.”

“Yes, your majesty” Bow bowed.

“Yes, Mom”.

“Promise me, Glimmer, you are only going to watch.” Her mother brook no argument this time. It was an ultimatum and a promise that, if broken, would end with far worse punishment than a grounding.

“I promise.”

“Bow?” That was her favourite loophole closed. Her mother may not be much of a warrior, but she was an adept politician, and she’d seen the two of them play this game before.

“I promise too, your majesty.”

The Queen took her leave, gracefully waltzing from the war-room, flanked by her bodyguards. The General rose to do the same, nodding curtly to the two of them, though she didn’t bother to return it. The moment she was gone, Glimmer grabbed her best friend roughly by the wrist. She took him in a flash into his workshop, where he hurriedly began putting together a bag.

“Can you believe them?” Glimmer found herself slumped against a workbench, passing a small bundle of arrows between her fingers.

“Glimmer, she’s just being cautious; she’s right. We don’t know what we’d be walking into.” She hated when Bow tried to be the peacemaker; it sucked the energy out of every argument.

“Don’t you side with her. Adora leapt in to save us; we can’t just let her rot until my mom decides it’s safe.”  She almost snapped the arrows in her anger, but Bow was quick to rescue them from her grip.

“I know, Glimmer, I don’t like it either.” Bow stuffed a handful of energy bars into his satchel. “But knowing the lay of the land before jumping in is a good idea.”

“Uggh, fine.” She’d let it drop for now; the mission was more important.

 


 

A couple of teleportations later, Bow and Glimmer stood on a cliff overlooking the fortified city at the heart of the Fright Zone. It was as close as they could get without entering the sprawling stronghold. The industrial lighting gave each building a sickly glow as if the kingdom itself was infected and decaying from within. The green steel of the buildings only compounding the illusion of rot. Bow approached the jagged sandstone ledge and knelt, pulling a pair of binoculars from his pack and focusing them on the bustle of activity in the streets before them.

“There are plenty of soldiers about; some look a little banged up”, he recounted his observations. “But I don’t think many of them are actually on duty. No patrols, minimal postings. I guess you were right.”

She couldn’t relish in this minor victory, not when Adora was still in danger, but Bow seemed to notice her despondent shrug.

“It’s okay, Glimmer, it’s all going to be okay. We will get Adora back. I promise.”

“She risked so much for us, and now she’s rotting in some cell. Who knows what they’re going to do to her.”

“I know, Glim, but we won’t let them.”

“What if Shadow Weaver tries to erase her memories again, turn her into some mindless thug. It’d be worse than killing her Bow.”

“I know Glimmer, I know. If they hurt Adora in any way, I’d never forgive myself either. But the Queen is right; we can’t just rush in like we always do, last time we got Entrapta killed.” That wound was still fresh for both, but Bow was taking the loss particularly hard. He’d found a kindred spirit in the Princess of Dryll, a fellow engineer, whose thirst for tech managed to even outstrip his own.

“I know, let’s just follow the mission, learn what we can, then get back and organise the rescue.” Bow dropped his arms, nodding, managing to find his resolve beneath the sorrow of the moment. She watched him return to the cliff and once again bring his binoculars to his face. With a newfound determination, she followed him and crouched beside the archer.

It was her fault. She should never have let Adora run off after the Horde. They were retreating. There was no reason to run them down. And by the time they’d realised what was happening, her friend was unconscious and bundled into the back of a transport. Her magic too drained to teleport after them.

It had to have been Catra; it was always Catra. For some stupid reason, Adora always pulled her punches around her, no matter how many times the feline spat in her face. What could Adora have ever seen in her? Maybe growing up in the Horde made you a horrible judge of character. More likely, it just made you horrible, and Adora was some fluke exception. When she got her hands on the Force Captain, she was going to test the limits of how high a cat could fall and still land on its feet.

“I’ve got something. Looks like Catra and Kyle heading to the prison.” Bow’s announcement brought her out of her thoughts, reminding her she had a mission here beyond stewing in her own sorrow. That mangy little hellion no doubt had a long night of taunting planned, and she was powerless to interfere.

“Oh?” her response was resigned.

“Yeah, at least that means she’s not with Shadow Weaver.”

“That’s something.” She knew how frustrated she must have sounded, but she truly was relieved. Shadow Weaver had relished in the torture she’d inflicted using the Black Garnet. Adora being spared was the first good news they’d had since her capture. Moments later, Bow pointed the pair out again on a walkway, talking to guards before they disappeared inside.

Within a few minutes, the rooftop opposite had become host to two dozen soldiers. Bow described their leader; a massive Jungulian with a thick brown mane and an axe taller than she was. Maybe it was the same one Adora had fought in the whispering woods, Grizzly, or something. He was supposed to be a big deal in the Horde’s hierarchy. It couldn’t be good that he was here.

Then all hell broke loose. Catra was outside arguing with the Force Captain. His axe narrowly missed the feline’s head, and she threw something back, though, without the Binoculars, she couldn’t be sure what. There was a small flash, and the troopers were on their knees. She didn’t have time to relish in their discomfort as Bow was screaming, rubbing at his eyes from the ground. A flash bang, clever. Maybe. What was happening?

She tried to check on her writhing friend, but he just called to keep watching. Hence, she grabbed the binoculars just in time to witness Catra disappear back into the stairwell, closely followed by Kyle, and shockingly by Adora. It was a prison break; it had to be. Why? Catra hated Adora, hated the rebellion, hated everything as far as she could tell. It had to be a game, a trap, some way to further humiliate and traumatise Adora.

From their narrow vantage point, she watched it all unfold from behind a set of glass lenses, unable to risk interference. She’d promised her mother for one, and with a limited number of teleports left to her, there was no room for error. Watching things play out was her only option right now.

“She could actually be switching sides?” Bow’s tone was a frustrating combination of sincerity and excitement. He’d watched Adora breakdown half a hundred times over losing the friendship that looked to be rekindling before their eyes. He knew what having Catra back in her life would mean to Adora, and he was the trusting sort, always taking people at face value. She loved that about him, but it was sooner or later going to get him hurt. “If Kyle’s involved, do you think the others might be?”

“Maybe.” It would make sense if the others were guarding their exit, some hidden tunnel, or vehicle. If they were, then her remaining charges became even more valuable. Teleporting eight people halfway across the continent would put a massive strain on her powers.

Taking turns with the binoculars, they recounted to one another as the three escapees slipped past the brute outside the cells and again as he chased them into the streets. Bow eventually managed to spot them near the Western Gate, running into a plume of smoke desperately dragging Kyle between them, his leg wrapped in part of Adora’s jacket. The whole Fright Zone looked to be on them now, dozens closing in on them now surrounding the building they’d fled into. It didn’t take two minutes for them to breach the door.

She needed to get in there, promise be damned, they were in real trouble now, and only she could save them. They could worry about getting back to Brightmoon later. Then suddenly reprieve: a skiff shot from the other end of the building. Adora was aboard, with the others, including Adora’s other old friends, Lonnie and Rogelio, she recalled. Still, there was no sign of the powerhouse Princess, Scorpia. Though it wasn’t long before they discovered her fate, she crashed into the street, brawling with one of the slug-folk from the southern marshes.

She must have stayed behind, bought them time to escape. Suddenly she regretted some of the things she had said about Scorpia in the last few months. She was down there now, proving herself as noble as any other Princesses. Maybe Glimmer could save her; she would be able to jump in, grab her, and jump out in about ten seconds. But then, a lot could happen in ten seconds. Scorpia was surrounded, on her knees. As the slug man wrapped his enormous, webbed hands around her, proving the stories about their energy-draining powers to be true. All it would take would be for one of those soldiers to be quick on the draw, and she’d be downed before she could escape.

She remembered her promise and an old lecture of the General’s about the difficult decisions of command and finally Entrapta. The rebellion might not recover from losing another Princess; as much as she hated herself, she pushed aside her own protests, whispering ‘coward’ under her breath.

As Scorpia was dragged before Shadow Weaver, the scene played out the only way it could, with bolt after bolt of crimson lightning unleashed upon the captive. Her whole body responded with a dull ache, remembering her own experience of that red agony. She could practically hear the husky drawl of the sorceress as she gently caressed the face of the former Force Captain, shoving her roughly to the ground.

“Glimmer!” Bow called to her, his voice on the verge of panic. He was staring at the rough road that had carried Adora to freedom, seemingly unaware of the spectacle below. She forced herself to glance briefly at Scorpia as a pair of soldiers hoisted her up once again to meet Shadow Weaver’s eyes. There was nothing she could do to help her; as much as it pained her to abandon someone to the sorceress, she let her duty overtake her shame and turned to Bow.

“What is it?” She tried not to let her emotions fill her voice, now was the time for strength, like her Mom, like Adora.

“We’ve got a problem.” A half dozen skiffs had given chase, she handed Bow back his binoculars as he described their crews.

“We need to find them.”

“Well, they’d have to take the road to Plumeria, right?”

“Probably.” It made sense; they’d be reluctant to disappear into the woods. The Horde had learnt to fear the magical forest; countless soldiers had been lost to its lavender embrace over the years. It almost seemed to have a malicious will of its own against those who meant it harm.

“Then we just need you to teleport us ahead of them. Do you remember that old watch tower near the border?”

“Yeah, that could work.” She grabbed Bow’s arm, and the two disappeared into a shimmer of fading sparkles before he could say another word.

 


 

The watchtower was ancient; it dated back to the times of the First Ones before these lands had been part of Plumeria. All that remained was the stone husk, two stories of rocky purple and grey in a rough square. Large windows were open to the elements around the second story, any glass long since gone. A winding staircase led to what would have once been its roof had the wood not rotted centuries ago. You could still climb to the top, though and view out across both kingdoms for kilometres in any direction.

Bow jogged up the crumbling staircase as quickly as sensibility would allow, perching himself atop a dilapidated merlon. Binoculars in hand, he studied the road that would bring this new batch of defectors to them, along with her friend.

She threw herself onto a mossy stone slab just inside the ruin, her guilt heavy on her mind. What would she tell them about Scorpia? How would Adora react to her leaving one of her rescuers behind? How would Catra? Her reasoning became her mantra, repeating over and over: She was no match for Shadow Weaver or the small army surrounding her; she was too important to risk, she had strict orders to not engage. She still couldn’t help but feel she’d made a mistake.

Maybe she could make it up to them somehow, put a good word in with the rescuers with her Mom, let them stay in Brightmoon. Adora would like that. She’d been moping over her lost friendships for as long as she had known the girl. Even slumber parties and game nights could turn sour if something reminded Adora of their childhood exploits. Then the rest of the evening would be comforting the poor girl as she wrestled her loss.

A horrifying sound rang out, breaking her concentration. Metal shearing and the faint screams meant only carnage. Adora had made it this far only to fall at the final hurdle; her idiot ex-friends had crashed the skiff and killed her.

Bow grabbed her arm before she could teleport.

“You need to conserve your powers; we might need to get them to Brightmoon right away if they’re hurt. She hated when he was right, Adora might need a healer, and she wasn’t sure they’d be forgiven if they left an injured Catra or one of the others out here. It wasn’t far anyway, so they ran.

Glimmer was beginning to wish she were in better shape as she hurtled past rocks and trees, struggling not to trip over her own feet as they cut through the woods between them and Adora. As she continued at the best pace she could manage, Bow began pulling away. He was in fantastic condition; he’d always been athletic, but the past year he’d started to fill out a bit more. His shoulders were broader, his arms thicker, and he'd grown an inch or two taller. How hadn’t she noticed until now; he had become a man.

But now wasn’t the time to think about Bow; she needed to focus on Adora. On the mission, the pillar of black smoke was just ahead now. And suddenly, she could make out that blonde ponytail bobbing just out of reach, beyond the treeline, a teasing look on her face. She was alive. She was happy. She was here.

“There they are!” Bow shouted, delighted to have found his missing friend. She overtook him when he stopped to calm himself, rushing from the woods towards the friend she’d feared she’d lost. She threw herself at Adora, pulling her into a tight hug. It lasted only a few seconds before Bow wrapped his arms around the two of them.

“Adora, we’re so glad you’re okay.” Bow’s voice cracked with excitement; his joy was infectious as she squeezed the two of them as hard as she could manage.

“We were so worried.” Her own voice trembled too.

“I missed you guys too. How did you find us?” It was good to hear that voice, so full of strength but always falling away to something softer.

“Mom let us recon the Fright Zone; we saw everything.” Suddenly she remembered they weren’t alone. Catra stood arms crossed next to a motionless Force Captain with great black wings, slumped against a tree. The others were sat in a loose circle to one side, exchanging glances with one another. All four looked suspicious, concerned maybe over what would happen next. Adora seemed to notice the others again, leading her and Bow in their direction.

“Okay,” Adora began awkwardly, not sure how this was going to play out. “I guess it’s time for you to all meet each other. Like for real meet each other, not like fighting each other meeting….”

“Breath Adora.” Bow’s touch on her shoulder was light but clearly appreciated, as it spurred the blonde onwards.

“Guys,” she gestured to the defectors, “meet Bow and Glimmer.” “Bow and Glimmer meet Catra, Lonnie, Kyle and Rogelio.” None of them seemed thrilled to meet her acquaintance, getting three different variations on ‘exhausted scowl’ and one ‘lengthy inspection of his own shoes’ from Kyle.

“Hi, Sparkles.” It seemed Catra’s attitude had survived the crash too.

“Horde Scum.” It wasn’t her wittiest retort, but given her mood, it would have to do.

“Not anymore, or did you miss that on your little stakeout?” Oh good, more sarcasm; maybe she could leave Catra out here. Bow made a play to end the tension, jogging up to Kyle with a smile on his face.

“Hey Kyle, it’s good to see you again.”

“Yeah, um, hi Bow.” Rogelio seemed to bristle at the interaction, snorting in Bow’s general direction and placing an arm around the skinny boy’s shoulder, who seemed relax at the touch, and return a tired smile towards the archer.

“Guys, please.” Adora pleaded.

“Fine…” Catra shrugged. “Ro, knock it off.” She could work with this. She’d need to tread carefully, though, diplomatically like her mom would.

“Thank you for rescuing Adora; she really means a lot to us.” That would be a good start, but the chorus of scoffs she got in return said otherwise. “I hope that we can take this opportunity for a fresh start.” That seemed to work a little better; Kyle and Rogelio even seemed to nod at the sentiment.

“What now?” Adora asked her expectantly, knowing her response could seal the fates of her rescuers.

“We’re going home.”

Chapter Text

“We’re going home.”

Catra found herself grimacing at the Princess’ words; she didn’t have a home anymore, if she ever had one, to begin with. They were going to Adora’s home, the castle she’d tried to conquer that very morning. She’d known it was coming from the moment she’d worked up the courage to pick herself off the floor of her quarters a few hours ago, but now that they were moments away from Brightmoon, it felt daunting. ‘Home’ was a word she didn’t know what to do with. Lonnie had reminisced about having a home from time to time, back before her parents died and she’d been tossed in with the other orphans. It was a place you were supposed to feel safe, feel loved. When was the last time she felt either?

Could people be your home? She looked over to her team, but her eyes lingered on the goofy grin of her oldest friend. How about just one person?

Did she even want that, to go back to having Adora to thank for everything she had? Never being able to let her guard down out of fear that it would be snatched away on a whim. Sparkles broke her out of her trance, announcing her plan.

“Okay, but I can’t take us all at once.”

“Lonnie, Rogelio, Kyle, you’re up first, then Glimmer can come back for Catra, Bow and I”. Adora seemed to have it all planned out, no doubt in her head, the four of them would be welcomed as heroes and get the same treatment she got. Fat chance.

Nervously the three walked over to Glimmer, three awkward hands reach out to Sparkles’ shoulder, and in a flash, the four were gone. Fortunately for her, Crop-Top was still here, and she was spared being alone with Adora. She was not prepared for that right now.

“Hey Catra” She looked to see Bow, his permanent grin softer than usual. “I just wanted to say thanks for saving Adora”.

“Whatever.”

“Really, you gave up a lot tonight for her, and well, I’m starting to see why she missed you.”

“Whatever”, she responded again, only this time let the corner of her lip turn upwards before turning to Adora.

“So, you missed me?” This was easy, the childish teasing came back so simply, and if she kept it up, it meant they wouldn’t have to deal with the baggage.

“Shut up”. Adora was blushing, just a hint of red in her pale cheeks, just enough to remind her why she was here in the first place.

“No.” When they were little, that response had been the funniest thing in the world. Later it became a favourite in-joke between the five, a surefire way to draw a smile from any of them. How long had it been since Adora last heard it? Long enough for the smile to have to battle the sorrow in her eyes.

She wanted to reach out, tell Adora that she missed her too, but that would raise the questions, the talking, the reasons they were apart. Now wasn’t the time; hopefully, it never would be. Instead, she just smirked at Adora as the blonde wiped her eyes with her sleeve. A few tiny damp smears darkened the white of her shirt.

“What did you and Twinkles see anyway?” She turned to the archer, hoping to change the subject, trying her best to sound indifferent.

“The prison break, the chase. We couldn’t believe it when we saw it. Not that I want to sound ungrateful or anything, I just never expected you to switch sides so… dramatically.” Was that some veiled insult? Arrow-Boy didn’t seem the type for that kind of casual mockery, but she didn’t appreciate the insulation either way.

“Guess we didn’t like the idea of Hordak executing our friend”. She regretted the word ‘friend’ the moment she heard the giddy squeal from the young rebel, shaking his hands in front of his face. He hadn’t even seemed to notice the snap in her voice, so she chose to commit to it; there had to be some way to get a rise out of this one, “And it didn’t look like any of you princesses were going to step up”.

“I’ll step up, Catra”. The princess was back, the last few specs of light from her magic fading into the evening. And there was this bitch.

“Just try it Sparkles, I’ve lost plenty today, and I’m itching to take it out on some spoilt brat.” She took a few steps forward, flexing her wrist, making sure the Princess got a good view of her claws. She didn’t make it three steps before Adora gently pushed her backwards, Bow doing the same to Glimmer.

“Okay, everyone’s made their point, and I’m grateful to all of you. Glimmer, Bow, we’ll tell you the whole story, but we need to get back to Brightmoon. The Horde could be back any minute.” Adora’s voice was firm, the voice of a woman who might have made a good Force Captain in another life.

“But…” The Princess still chose to protest; she really was a brat. If she still wanted to pick this fight in the morning, she’d happily give it to her, but Adora was right. They needed to get out of here.

“Glimmer, I know you don’t trust them yet, but can you just do this for me? Just give them the same chance you gave me, please.”

She hadn’t expected Glimmer to back down, but there she was, staring at her shoes, quietly exuding something that bordered on shame. She’d missed Adora having her back like this, but it stirred up old fears alongside the comforts; of a ‘friend’ who didn’t think she could look after herself and a monster who used her as a prop to control. Pride and doubt were burning a hole in her stomach.  

“I’m sorry.” The pastel Princess seemed sincere enough, and as much as she wanted to sneer in her face, Adora’s pleading look made her reconsider.

“Thanks.” That should be enough to keep the peace between the two. She turned to pick up the bag they’d brought with them. Somehow it seemed heavier now as if it held not only their meagre possessions but the weight of all the pain and grief that had escaped with them. It was tempting to just drop the bag and walk away from it all, but there was something oddly comforting about the hurt, something she could use.

“Ahem…” It was the Princess again. Casting her head back to see hands-on-hips and a pout that could sink ships.

“What?” it had come out more of a snarl than a question.

“Aren’t you going to apologise too?” Oh, this one was going to be fun to mess with.

“Nope. I’ve done literally nothing wrong.”

“Glimmer, please drop it. I guarantee that’s the best you’re going to get.” Adora was clearly beginning to lose patience with the situation.

“Fine.” Once again, Sparkles swallowed her pride. “Let’s go.” She followed as Bow and Adora placed their hands on Glimmer’s clearly agitated shoulders, and then they were gone.

 


 

Teleporting was a new experience for her, and she soon discovered it was one she didn’t want to repeat. When the four of them rematerialized, Catra immediately threw herself to her knees as her stomach tried to settle itself. A few moments later, she realised she was kneeling on grass. It was thick and a vibrant shade of green, a far cry from the dry yellow twists that grew here and there in the Fright Zone or even the wispy blades of dark teal she’d seen in the whispering woods.

Not that the realisation helped. Catra’s stomach still felt like it was trying to escape, and her ears rang as if a grenade had exploded. If it weren’t for the faint gentle voice telling her to breathe, she thought it might have been some trap. One of the Princess’ henchman must have given her a concussion, or Crop-Top had nicked her with a poisoned arrowhead. She was even more surprised when she regained her faculties and learned the voice hadn’t been Adora as she’d suspected but Bow. This one had to be playing some sort of game, or she’d found herself another Kyle. The archer even helped her up before walking her to a bench where the others were recovering.

“You’ll be fine in a few minutes; the first time is always rough” Bow smiled at them.

“Glimmer went to explain to her mom, I don’t think the Queen would appreciate us barging into the castle with a bunch of ex-Horde soldiers, and hiding you wouldn’t go well, trust me.” Adora was smiling, too, despite clearly being exhausted. She really wanted to smile back, but she couldn’t bring her face to anything more than nonchalance.

She looked around at her squad, and hoped this would be worth it, hoped Brightmoon was everything Adora claimed; if nothing else, she’d better had not been lying about the food.

She couldn’t help but notice that the guards in her periphery were multiplying. None seemed ready to make a move, not with Adora and Bow present, but each had their spears to hand. It made sense; most of them probably fought in the battle; maybe they’d lost friends of their own. She could relate. Adora had promised that they’d be welcome here, but things could get complicated if the Queen decided otherwise. She doubted Adora would really put the four of them before the Rebellion if push came to shove; that’s just who she was now. She didn’t want to have to find out.

Lonnie had noticed them too; the gears were in motion behind those hard hazel eyes, taking stock of numbers and armaments; how she’d fight them if it came to it. They shared a wordless glance, an understanding that things might not go as Adora hoped.

Glimmer returned shortly after that, looking even more pleased with herself than usual before clearing her throat obnoxiously.

“On behalf of Queen Angella of Brightmoon, I welcome you to our kingdom. You are to be our honoured guests, and I would like to extend our hospitality to you this evening.”

“What?” Lonnie had clearly run out of patience with her flowery words.

“It’s a formal greeting, it means….” Bow tried to explain before Glimmer began talking over him.

“It means my Mom is offering you a meal and a bed. She wants to meet you all tomorrow for a debriefing, but tonight you get to eat and sleep.”

“I like the sound of that Sparkles” Catra felt whatever anxiety had been holding her hostage fall away; at least they weren’t being turned away at the door.

“Lead on, Princess”, added Lonnie, as she, Rogelio, and an uncommonly excited Kyle. Walked through the main gate, the guards relaxing their weapons but still clearly uneasy. She could hardly blame them; it was less than a day ago they’d come to Brightmoon as conquerors, now they were waltzing through the front door as allies. She hoped allies anyway; there was still every chance the four of them ended up in cells of their own. She’d laugh at the irony if she could muster the energy.

 


 

Glimmer led them down a series of long marble corridors, each lined with elegant torches and from time to time some mural of past monarchs, all standing arms outstretched surrounded by moons and stars. They were strangely beautiful. The featureless faces each seemed to convey their own delicate sadness. The castle was beginning to feel less the fortress it had this morning and more a gentle mausoleum.

The kitchen was a large open room, the walls an off-white, contrasted by the dark slate tiles of the floor, which glistened with the sheen of a freshly polished pulse rifle. Dozens of cabinets were scattered along the walls, occasionally interrupted by some strange device or other.

It was a far cry from what she’d seen of the Protein Synthesis Plant. There were no great vats of pulsating brown and grey slurry and no technicians tapping at gauges or preparing the gigantic mould trays. Not that it was a bad thing; ration bars tasted awful regardless of colour, so this ‘kitchen’ could only be a step up, so open mind it was.

Adora was practically jogging to a long wooden and took up a seat at the bench beside it. She found herself next to Adora, opposite the others; the same order they’d sat in every day in the commissary, the familiarity sparking a thousand banal memories. As Catra sat and watched, Bow and Glimmer bustled around them, bringing pitchers of water and a basket of small golden-brown lumps, which looked both soft and crispy at the same time. Adora ripped one from the basket and tore a chunk with her teeth, awkwardly swallowing it with as little chewing as she could manage.

“Guys, it’s bread; it’s good.” Lonnie was the first to follow suit, pulling one in half and taking a small bite, savouring her mouthful before taking another. Her enthusiastic nodding and pointing to the basket was all the assurance she needed to take her first step into a new world. It was moist and springy, somehow flaky. Its taste was subtle but distinct and, for someone with almost no context for flavour, indescribable. She was chewing her second bite when Bow cleared his throat, clearly bemused by the sight of the five of them tearing into the little bread things with ravenous abandon.

“So, where do you guys want to start; Adora, what do you think they’ll like? Her oldest friend pondered the question for a few moments. She could practically see the meals dancing past her eyes.

“Meat.” The answer was succinct. She remembered the survival classes they’d been forced to endure years ago; the instructor had described eating animals if they ran out of rations. She’d been fascinated at the time, what Shadow Weaver had condemned as her savage, bestial instincts. It only lasted until she, Adora and Rogelio had spent an afternoon sampling whatever bugs they could find in the yard behind the academy’s barracks. They hadn’t been great; hell, the memory had driven her to bring an extra ration bar on all their missions to avoid a repeat. Ro seemed to remember too, exchanging a sceptical look with her. Adora interrupted with another enthusiastic call. “Hey Bow, how about steak, steak and eggs?”

“Sure, I can handle that.” Bow was a flurry; he disappeared through a pair of double doors, bringing a strange chill into the room, emerging with a stack of thick red-pink slabs and a dish full of brown eggs, each dashed with dark speckles. She could only watch as he went cracking them onto a pan, alongside the meat, sprinkling everything with handfuls of powders from little jars.

It wasn’t long before white ceramic discs were placed in front of them, along with miniature tridents and serrated knives. Before Bow brought out a tray loaded with the slabs, each now turned a dark brown. But there was something wrong with her mouth; it was filling with saliva, she had to fight to keep herself from drooling, hastily she followed Adora’s lead and skewered one of the enticing ‘steaks’ they smelt of earth and blood in the most incredible way, as another tray emerged, laden with the eggs, once cooked they had turned white, though the yolks still shone in their middle like miniaturised suns.

Mimicking the blonde, she pinned the steak to her plate with the trident and cut off a sliver, pressing it behind her teeth. The inside was still red, almost bloody, and it almost fell apart as she moved it around her mouth. All Catra knew at that moment was that she wanted more, so she cut a second slice and a third and a fourth until she was on her second steak.

The eggs were much harder to describe; she’d never known anything like them. Not that she had much in the way of context until a few minutes ago, her descriptors for flavour were limited to ‘grey’, ‘brown’ and ‘bug’. None of which came anywhere close to the golden ooze leaking from its thick white pocket. Across the table, Rogelio was sniffing his egg suspiciously before tossing it into his mouth whole and chewing for a moment. His eyes turned wide as it burst, filling his mouth with the hidden cache.

Lonnie and Adora both seemed to be on their fourth steaks at this point, greedily tearing chunks of the dripping flesh apart. Kyle meanwhile had tears streaming down his face and egg yolk down his chin, reaching for yet another of the yellow and white treasure chests.

Eventually, they finished the feast laid out for them. Adora and Lonnie reluctantly agreed to split the final steak as Ro mopped up the last of his egg yolk with another bread roll. She could get used to this, especially given their host’s insistence that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently, there was still all manner of delicacies ahead of them.

 


 

Eventually, Bow finished clearing away the remains of their victory over their meal, and Glimmer announced she would take them to their room for the night. They wandered up a few flights of stairs and through yet another curving corridor, stopping at a large purple door. On the other side, four beds had been laid out, in a room that would have easily slept twenty as a Horde barracks. There was a bathroom to one end, too, vastly different from the shower blocks in the academy or even the tiny cubicle attached to her Force Captain quarters. It was as bright as everything else in this place, stank of flowers just like everything else, it appeared that it was meant to be looked at rather than used.

The three rebels said their goodnights and promised they’d get them before breakfast. Adora mostly just stood there as the other two talked, shuffling her feet and smirking uncontrollably. Bow actually had to lead her out of the room as they slipped away.

Kyle sat on one of the bunks, swinging his legs up onto it, his face still beaming at his dream having come true. She turned away for a second, and he was already asleep. If nothing else, just watching the little goof’s happiness might have made everything they’d gone through today worth it. As the dork began to gently snore, she scanned the rest of the room. Ro was leaning on the balcony, staring at the empty sky, taking in his new surroundings as Lonnie rummaged through the bag that contained everything they had ever owned.

“Catra?” She called her over before sullenly pressing a picture frame into her hands, complete with a bundle of trinkets that had once lived beside her friend’s bed. Two Scorpioni women cradled an infant with platinum hair starred at her, their eyes frozen in solemn judgment. ‘You left our daughter’, they seemed to say. Baby Scorpia seemed to judge her too, glossy eyes boring into her soul, condemning her actions in the hanger. Who knew how long she’d been staring past the last remnants of Scorpia’s life, but a scaly hand on her shoulder interrupted her lament.

“It’s late.” He gestured to Kyle and Lonnie, fast asleep on the beds before her. He was right; he usually was. But she couldn’t sleep right now; it was all still too heavy, so instead, she just pushed herself up and meandered towards the window Rogelio had been staring out from.

He followed her, sighing quietly and taking up position beside her, intent on not letting her languish in peace.

“I screwed up, didn’t I?”

“No.”

“I got Scorpia killed.”

“Scorpia was brave, loyal and kind. She did what she was always going to do in that situation.” She hated when he talked so quickly, he knew about as much Reptilian as Lonnie, but her acute hearing meant she picked up the weird little quirks in Rogelio’s growls that the others didn’t seem to notice. Maybe it was like an accent or something, but they meant she misheard him all the time, and it took her a little longer to translate them.

“It was still my fault; I dragged her into the mission and messed it all up.”

“Do you remember that mission to Silverglade? We were supposed to capture the wizard there.” She gestured for him to slow down, and when he patiently obliged, offered a nod of gratitude.

“Sure, Kyle set off that trap, and he got away.” In hindsight, it was kind of funny; he’d stumbled into magical tripwire and locked down the sorcerer’s tower. They had to sit there for five hours before it wore off and then had to fight their way, most of the town’s militia on their way out.

“We didn’t capture him, but between the intel, the damage we did and scaring off their protector, the kingdom surrendered the moment Grizzlor’s army rolled up.”

“Yeah…” at the time, she’d felt proud of their accomplishment, that they’d won the Horde a new settlement, now though she just hoped that the

“Do you remember what you told Shadow Weaver when she tried to chew us out?”

“We didn’t fail.” She remembered fondly, “We just succeeded unconventionally.” She had been sure Shadow Weaver would have blasted her with lightning on the spot. She had been desperate to have the wizard for some reason, but before the hag could even begin her wrath, Hordak himself had stepped out of the shadows and praised their ingenuity, forcing the old witch to curb her revenge.

“I didn’t go according to plan, but we still saved Adora.” His growl was softer this time. He wasn’t wrong.

“Tell that to Scorpia.”

“You tried to pull the same thing first, Cat; do you think If I was down there, it wouldn’t have been to knock you out and charge them? Do you think Lonnie wouldn’t have, or Kyle? The moment they broke down the doors, one of us wasn’t going to make it. I’m glad you did though, I don’t think we’d make it too far without our Captain.”

“I just … it seems like I just traded one for the other.”

“Lives don’t work that way. Don’t dwell on how she died for us; focus on how you’re going to live for her.” Damn him, for a doofus, he sure knew how to turn a phrase.

“I’m sorry Kyle got hurt.” It was hard not to notice how soft he was the little dweeb, and she’d damn near cost him a leg during the chase, and after this pep talk, he deserved something from her.

“He’s tougher than he looks. Did you see his face when Adora healed him?”

“I saw your face when she healed him.”

“Shut up.” That weird little snort of a laugh of his always made her feel better.

“No.”

“Okay big guy, if you wanna keep going? How about we talk about Kyle some more?” This always worked.

“I’m going to bed.” He pushed up from the window and began his slow walk to the cot he’d picked out, between herself and Kyle.

“Thought you might. Night Ro.”

“Night Cat.”

Maybe he was right, perhaps this would work out, or at least it would give her a platform to plan her rampage.

She drifted off easily for the first time in months, her heavy lids closing just as the door handle began to twitch.

Chapter Text

Adora’s mind wandered as she traipsed back to her room., Bow and Glimmer had already pulled far enough ahead that she couldn’t even hear their voices anymore. Something was slowing her down; her usual quick march had slowed to a snail’s pace through the softly lit hallway.

She had only been away for a few hours, but not knowing if you’d ever see your home again, for even a few minutes made you appreciate it on a new level. There was beauty be found everywhere, from the gleam of a guard’s helmet to the way shadows of the columns danced in the light from the sconces. Brightmoon was light and life and everything the Fright Zone wasn’t. Most of all, it was a promise of hope, and her greatest hope had just come to pass.

The castle itself was utterly different to any of the Horde’s fortresses; they were military outposts encased in thick walls and dotted with sentry towers. Brightmoon was something else entirely: Situated at the end of a valley, where the Singing River flowed into a lagoon beside the sea. The castle was perched on an offshore island, surrounded on both sides by the purple-grey mountains called the Talons. A narrow causeway was the only way inside. It led to a gatehouse that was little more than a walled checkpoint before opening up to the gilded elevator platform that stopped just a short way from the grandiose Throne Room. The Moonstone itself stood atop the tower, too, acting as ‘a beacon of hope’ as Angella had put it. In truth, it was just another in a long line of baffling design decisions by generations of Brightmoon architects more concerned with beauty than defence. She stopped pointing them out to Glimmer when she started getting indifferent shrugs in return.

Brightmoon’s keep was to the rear of the island; an enormous round tower, built into the plateau that supported the throne room. The top floor was given up to the royal apartment. She had only seen it a few times when the Queen had invited her for afternoon tea in her state room. Below that were a few floors of bedrooms meant for high-ranking guests. However, the Best Friend Squad had all but commandeered one of the floors, especially now that they’d brought in a few more visitors. Most of the other important Brightmoon officials lived below these floors in comfortable apartments with their families, and beneath these were the feast hall, private dining rooms and kitchen, alongside the library and a ballroom that put Frosta’s to shame.

Outside there were smaller towers, the most prominent being mostly full of government offices and housing for servants, officials, and the garrison. There were the gardens, training yards, stables, armoury, and other outbuildings. There was an old barracks handed over to Rebellion fighters and a small tower away from the rest, where Spinerella and Netossa had made their home.

The town itself might be her favourite part of Brightmoon. The market had dozens of stalls to discover, all selling things she could never have dreamt of a year ago. Most of her visits saw her jogging from food stall to food stall, sampling spiced meats and pastries filled with fruits she had never heard of. Sometimes she would even peruse the craft stalls, choosing a trinket for her growing collection of ‘things’. Best of all, though, was the main square. Sometimes musicians or dancers would set up beside the fountain, or a troupe of actors would put on a show. The comedies were her favourites, silly little plays that took her mind off the war for an hour or so. They made her laugh, and they always had a happy ending.

Her own story had just taken a massive step towards an ending like that. Soon she’d be sharing all the things she loved with the people she cherished. She could practically hear Ro’s snorting laugh at some actor’s pratfall or Lonnie’s face light up at the taste of a honey cake, and she just knew Kyle would love the stables as much as she did. And she wanted to see Catra dance again. When they were little, she loved to twirl, spin and leap; showing off her natural grace in a way training never allowed. Then there had been Princess Prom, though that had been …different, maybe dancing like that with Catra could be something they did again too. If Catra wanted to.

 


 

It had taken her far too long to reach her bedroom. Long enough, she found Bow and Glimmer bickering about forming a search party.

“Adora!” Bow was first to reach her, pulling her into a warm hug. “How’re you holding up?”

“I’m fine, Bow.” The truth was that she was better than fine. She was home, had her friends, and had Catra.

“Are you sure? You’ve had a rough day.” He wasn’t wrong, but that didn’t matter.

“It was definitely worth it, though.” It really was.

“Yeah?”

“They’re here, Bow, they’re here.”

“They are.” He seemed genuinely happy for her. “Are they going to be okay? They’ve been through the wringer too.”

“I think so. They seemed pretty happy after that meal. Thanks, by the way, it was amazing.”

“You’re welcome. It was literally just steak and eggs.” He smiled again, relishing the compliment.

“No, it wasn’t.” That simple meal had been so much more. It was a reconnection. It was a fresh start. It was everything.

“They’re going to be allowed to stay, right? You’re not going to turn them away or anything?” She turned to the young princess, eyes sparkling with hope, practically begging her friend to tell her what she needed to hear.

“I don’t know Adora, it’s up to my Mom.” That was Glimmer’s ‘diplomatic voice’, it never meant anything good, and right now, it was stabbing at her gut, clawing at her throat, and blurring her vision.

No.

She had promised them.

She’d promised they could stay.

Promised.

She had promised to fight for them as they fought for her.

Maybe she should go to the Queen, ask her to let them stay.

Yeah, that would be it, she’d convince the Queen.

She wouldn’t let them down again, never again.

She had promised.

A pair of firm hands clenched her shoulder, a hazy voice gentle asked her to breathe. After a few repetitions, she began to listen, in and out to the sound of Bow’s voice, and then Glimmer as she joined in, placing her own hand around her wrist, steadying the tremble.

“I’m sure the Queen will let them; we’ve had a pretty great experience with defectors so far, right?” Bow was grinning again, “And we could use all the help we could get.”

“Do you think so?” Less of a question and more of a plea.

“They’re supposed to this elite squad, right? And we’ve seen first-hand how good a commander Catra is. We could really use some people like that.” Glimmer bristled at Bow’s comment.

“What if they don’t even want to stay?” The Princess’ words stung.

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Adora, but they don’t really strike me as the ‘freedom fighter’ types. I mean, they stayed with the Horde even after they knew they were evil, right?” Why was it so hard for Glimmer to give them a chance? They might have taken a little longer to come around, but they were good people; they were her friends.

“Glim, it couldn’t have been easy to walk away from their whole lives like that. They needed to do it in their own time for their own reasons. Just like Adora did.”

“But do they care about Etheria? About stopping the Horde.”

“Even if they don’t join up, it’s a big gain for us to have them not fighting for the Horde.” Bow didn’t know how right he was. There had been more than a couple of missions that had gone awry because they’d run into Catra and her squad. Not just because of how good they were as a team, but because she couldn’t help but pull her punches. She always made sure they were able to walk away from their fights, and even then, she usually spent that evening racked with guilt, weeping for every blow she’d dealt them.

That wasn’t to say she could stop holding back. She didn’t want to hurt the soldiers she fought any more than she had to. After all, the people in the Horde weren’t bad per se. Most had just bought into the propaganda. She, too, had believed that they were liberating Etheria from oppressive tyrants. Most of her enemies just thought they were bringing order to the mayhem of the Princesses, blinded by loyalty into doing what they had to in the name of the greater good.

She would need to go back to the Crystal Castle soon, though; the thought of Vultak slumped and broken against the tree was a stark reminder that she still couldn’t properly control She-Ra’s power. Light Hope had promised to guide her and help develop her powers, but there was something off about her. The hologram had been insistent on her ‘letting go’ of her friends, dedicate herself to her destiny. It had been a difficult choice when it was just Glimmer and Bow, but with everyone else here now, too, she didn’t know if she was strong enough to cast them aside for anything.

“Why don’t you try to get some rest Adora, we can straighten everything out in the morning.” Glimmer’s demeanour had softened again, but it was hard to miss the frustration that lined her words.

“Yeah, in the morning, we’ll meet with the Queen and sort everything out.” Bow smiled as he meandered towards the door. “Goodnight, Adora.”

“See you in the morning.” Glimmer began to follow.

“Night, guys.” And then she was alone again. She took a few sips of water, though it did little to quench the burning anxiety of what tomorrow might bring. She changed as quickly as she could into the tank top and shorts that she’d taken for pyjamas, another reminder of the luxuries of Brightmoon.  In the Horde, you slept in your clothes, in your boots too ideally. You had to be ready in case of an attack. Bow had once asked her, ‘how was her life so sad?’ at the time, she’d thought nothing of it, but now the question rang through her mind at all the little details she saw of the grim existence her friends had led.

She threw her head back onto the pillow, hoping that the solace might lull her to sleep, speed her along to the morning she longed for and dreaded in equal measure.

 


 

 

It didn’t matter what Adora tried; there was no sleeping for her tonight. Everything she had wanted for the past few months had stumbled into her lap, and she was having trouble believing it. It wasn’t perfect; they still seemed a little mad at her, or at least Lonnie and Catra did, but they were allowed to be upset after everything that happened. Besides, it wasn’t as if they hated her or anything; they wouldn’t have saved her if they did. She would have plenty of time to fix things now they were here in Brightmoon, though, right?

Childhood memories wandered into her mind’s eye. Everything they had done for her over the years drifted through her brain: a near-infinite list that now had the words ‘saved me from the Horde’ etched forever in at the top of it. It wasn’t the first time they’d saved her; growing up in the academy, you had to have someone looking out for you, or you didn’t make it. Later she’d understood it was by design; you needed to trust your squad to be a good soldier, which weeded out those who couldn’t.

There had been one time a training bot had malfunctioned. It was about to explode in Adora’s face when Rogelio had hurled himself on top of her. He’d ended up with a back full of burns and shrapnel, but he’d saved her life in the process. You could still see patches of discoloured scales covered with scars if you got a good look at his back.

Kyle used to stay up and help her with class assignments; he’d literally spent hours of his life explaining maths to her. Sometimes the number just got jumbled up in her head, and they’d stop making sense. Then along, he’d come with his pad and his textbook and unscramble them, no matter how long it took.

Lonnie had been almost obsessed with proving herself an equal. Having her nip at her heels had been every bit the incentive to succeed, to spend extra hours in the gym or on the track, anything she could do for that extra edge. It had made her the woman she was, the soldier she was, and she would never be able to thank her rival enough for it.

Catra had done all of those things and more. Most importantly, Catra had been the one to tell her ‘no.’, the one to pull her back when her own dedication had been her undoing. Forcing her to stay in bed when exhausted or ill, sometimes skipping classes altogether to remain by her side. She’d been there when it had all been too much, and she needed a shoulder to cry on, leading her to the secret places they could be themselves.

Of course, it wouldn’t be so simple as it had been. Adora had the Best Friend Squad to consider now. How would she fit Bow and Glimmer into all of this? Bow had met Kyle before, and they seemed on decent terms, which meant if Bow didn’t do anything stupid, he’d win over Rogelio too. Lonnie was easy as well; you just needed to fight her. She seemed to understand anyone after a sparring session or two. Even he might struggle with Catra, though, even as a kid, she’d built up walls around herself, and it had taken years for their friends to break them down. Though if anyone was up to the task, it would be Bow.

Glimmer, though, had made it clear that she didn’t like them, or at least she didn’t like Catra. The Princess was trying at least, she’d apologised to Catra after all, not that it had gone well, but she had tried. She was going to have to convince the feline to play nice as well until they could get on the same page. Either that or the two of them would kill each other within a week.

She’d dreamt of this once or twice before, Bringing the four of them to Brightmoon, showing them the castle and the whole wide world outside the Fright Zone. Showing them a festival in the town square, or the spas of Mystacor. She’d dreamt of parties and music and everything else she’d come to know over the past year.

That was it. Adora needed to see them again, to make sure they were really here this time and not just another cruel dream. More importantly, it was another chance to recapture something lost. It was the feeling she had been chasing with every sleepover with Bow and Glimmer. Even if it was only for one night, she was going to fall asleep in their comforting presence again; she needed to be with them.

She rolled out of bed, readjusting the strap of her top and quickly made her way to her sparsely filled closet. Glimmer had taken her to the tailors a couple of times, but she’d always found the experience overwhelming. So many choices and none of Glimmer’s suggestions ever sat right with her. In the end, she’d gotten so flustered that they just remade old clothes without the Horde logos. She had even kept her now ruined jacket she’d been gifted by Shadow Weaver. The only exception had been the dress she’d worn to Princess Prom. It was a simple red thing, with plenty of room to move in. She had only managed to pick after the kindly seamstress had pulled her out of an anxiety attack and reduced her choices down to two: This or a flowing white ball gown lined with gold. It had been the prettiest thing she had ever seen, but there was no way she could have fought in it, so the choice was simple. She found her bedroll exactly where she had left it, propped in a corner besides training staff. Grabbing it tightly in both hands, she darted for the door.

The corridors were so empty at night, there was a guard or two on patrol, but there were none of the scurrying servants and messengers you ran into during the day. It was probably a good thing; explaining why she was out of bed might be a little awkward. Part of her wanted to baulk when she reached their door and found it guarded by a stoic guardswoman, spear in hand, but she had to admit it made sense. The Queen wouldn’t want even ex-Horde soldiers wandering around unsupervised, nor would she want anyone in the castle to take a shot at revenge.

The guard made no attempt to stop her, just cocking her head as Adora tried to casually slip inside. The creak of the doorframe made her wince as she crept through. Mercifully, years of sleeping in a barracks made you a heavy sleeper, so they remained blissfully unaware of her entrance.

They looked comfortable enough, giving them beds like her own rather than the ridiculously soft feather mattresses Brighmooner’s favoured looked like a good call. However, she would make sure they got the choice themselves in the morning. They might even want separate rooms; Catra would be used to a bit of privacy now, and the others might like that too.

Ro would need a new bed, his bulky frame barely fitted onto the narrow bunk. Even when curled tightly into the awkward ball shape he always slept in, he struggled to stay on the mattress. Lonnie and Kyle slept the same way she remembered, too; Lonnie would just collapse face down; and not move an inch until morning. Kyle would splay out wildly, restlessly flailing. He’d had night terrors his whole life, and more than once, it had been her woken to comfort him.

None of them seemed to notice as she unfolded her bedroll on the floor.

Chapter Text

When Catra opened her eyes, she was in one of the Brightmoon hallways. However, she had no idea which one, the same: pastel walls adorned with bronze swirls, only by the occasional sconce or column. How she’d gotten here, she couldn’t be sure. Perhaps she’d walked off in her sleep? There had been a cadet in their barracks who used to do that; one of the instructors would always bring them back, loudly proclaiming that it was the kid’s fault they were having their sleep disturbed. When they were eight or nine, though, he wandered off one night and never returned. She couldn’t remember his name.

Mulling her limited choices, she opted to walk. Sooner or later, she’d run into someone, and they could point her back to her room. It wasn’t that easy, though; the corridor seemed endless, seemingly devoid of either people or doors. Her only company being the sparse decorations and a mural of some ancient king painted onto a wall. Eventually, though her luck changed, and she found a set of closed doors, they even looked vaguely familiar. She gave them a gentle push, and her world filled with white light. It flickered for a moment into pale green before giving way to the kitchen from the night before.

The room was nearly as empty as the corridor, the same collection of stoves, cupboards, and worktops, that had been here the day before, though still absent of any staff. She headed towards the table they’d sat at last night, taking up the same spot she had during their meal. Maybe if she took a few moments to think on it, she’d be able to find her own way back from here.

“Catra.” The voice was deep and cold. It drew her name out almost to the point of being threatening. She turned her head, unsure what would greet her, but the kitchen remained empty. It had to be her mind playing tricks on her. “What have you done now?” Contempt had wormed its way into the disembodied tone now, and in the process, familiarity dawned on her; she knew the voice. She looked up once more to be greeted by a shape, dark grey and humanoid, tendrils of smoke floated from it as it stared into her soul. The longer she looked at it, the more it shifted until finally a slender figure dressed all in red came into view, hair billowing as if she was underwater.

Shadow Weaver. Had she managed to sneak into Brightmoon using a spell? Or was this an illusion, something like the shadows she’d sent to Mystacor? It didn’t matter; either way, she needed to be dealt with. Catra took up her stance and bared her claws.

“You really are an ungrateful wretch, aren’t you?” the sorceress had never been one to mince words when it came to disappointment. “I raised you from a kitten, and now you dare to fight me?” Her tone was angrier now, shocked that she was being stood up to.

“You didn’t raise me. You raised Adora.”

“too stupid to even realise what I did for you. Of course, you threw it away for a plate of eggs. Pathetic. You couldn’t even defect properly. When Adora left, it was out of some naïve sense of heroism. You just did it to make yourself feel better.” She was wrong; she had to be.

“I did it to save Adora, you hag.” She needed to reign it in; she was no use if she got flustered like this. Anger would be her downfall again.

“You did it to spare your own conscious. I’m honestly surprised you have one at all, given how you spent your whole life deliberately ruining hers.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Spitting words right back into that mask of hers.

“You’ve always been such a selfish creature. I’ve honestly no idea what Adora saw in you.” She’d heard it all before; being compared to an animal by Shadow Weaver was far from new. All of it was familiar territory, in fact; ‘beast’, ‘weak’, ‘stupid’ and everything in between were staples of every conversation she’d ever had with the sorceress. Her stance wavered; her claws receded. She knew these were just the cruel words of a vindictive old woman, but she wasn’t wrong. She was all those things and worse. Shadow Weaver just knew how to say it to hurt her the most.

If Catra couldn’t fight, she could run, just like she always did, so she stood, ready to storm out of this place. The moment she got up from the bench, the walls changed to green-hued metal, the light became sickly. The furnishing fell away to reveal Hordak’s Throne Room, complete with pillars and banners. The throne itself shifted from golden curves to dark angles. Its master sat, eyes burning into her soul with crimson contempt.

He remained silent, scowl locked, and fingers tented. The throne room was quiet save for the wing beat of the warlord’s pet circling overhead, a disturbing creature that looked like some kind of demon baby and went by the name of Imp. After an aeon, the silence was broken.

“Did you think you could escape my power so easily? Stupid girl.” She was back.

She bared her claws, ready to strike at her tormentor again, a low hiss emerging from between her teeth when things shifted again. Hordak was gone; in his place sat the Queen of Brightmoon, face set in the same scowl, at the foot of the Throne, where Imp had been seated, was now occupied by Bow, his head cocked to one side as he watched the scene unfold. Shadow Weaver faded, too, taking on Glimmer’s shape. But the death glare hidden by a mask was now plain to see on the princess’ face.

“This is it, the Force Captain.” Glimmer stared at her with a disdain that could have rivalled anything Shadow Weaver managed, “it attacked us time and time again. It killed our people, tried to kill me, and now it wants forgiveness.” The Queen did not move an inch; she stayed hunched over her throne, fingers tented in judgmental thought. “She even left her friend to die.”

“What of Adora? She seems to care for the beast.” The queen’s eyes didn’t move when she spoke, her voice flat and deep, closer to Hordak’s than she would have imagined.

“She’ll be fine. If Adora really cared about this thing, she wouldn’t have abandoned it in the Fright Zone. It’s just a feral animal.”

“Then perhaps we should put it out of its misery. A kindness rather than let it continue its wretched existence.” Angella rose from her throne, her wings outstretched. They looked more like blades than feathers, and what had appeared to be hands only a moment ago now resembled claws. Even the queen’s features shifted; her neutral expression fell away as her lips gave way to a smile. A terrible smile overtook more and more of her face, razor-like fangs on full display as any remaining kindness faded from her eyes. As the Queen shrieked and leapt into the air, now fully resembling the demonic tyrant, she’d fought over and over in training simulations and covered posters all over the Fright Zone.

Not knowing what else to do, she turned on her heels and rushed from the throne room, hoping to find her way back to the corridor or anywhere but the throne room. She was outside the small lawn outside the throne room, where Glimmer had teleported them to after their escape. She was greeted by another familiar face, standing near the walkway to the moonstone: Adora.

“Adora, they’re going to kill me. You have to help.” The girl was visibly confused, struggling to process these two worlds colliding so violently only hours after bringing them together.

“What did you do, Catra? I know the Queen; she wouldn’t just do something like that. You ruined everything, again, didn’t you?”

She stumbled backwards, she tried to find her footing, but no, her foot met open air. She was too close to the ledge. Then she was frozen, Adora’s hand around her waist like it had been in the Kingdom of Snows. For a moment, their eyes met, their cheeks blushed, and Adora began to pull her closer. Their faces were inches apart, the heat of Adora’s breath radiating across her lips, the taste bordered on intoxicating. The one thing she’d always refused to let herself want was within her grasp. All she would have to do is close that gap.

“I’m sorry, Catra. I can’t do this. You’ll only hold me back.” Of course, why would she expect anything else from the golden girl? “I don’t need you anymore.” Adora’s face dropped that sad smile that had always been kept between the two of them, that only saw the light of day on their balcony. She tried to call out, beg maybe or invoke the promise Adora had made only yesterday. “I have to let you go” Adora’s grip loosened, and then she was falling.

 


 

Suddenly she was alive, she was in Brightmoon, and she was surrounded by her friends. A dream. It seemed stupid to think it was real, Shadow Weaver could never be here, and Queen Ancella wasn’t a demon. Some of it was less farfetched though, she could believe Glimmer saying those things, and then there was Adora. The girl had changed so much from the friend she used to know so well, not just as She-Ra but in every way Catra could imagine. The girl in her dream hadn’t been wrong; Adora had outgrown her, it was obvious.

After another ten minutes or so, she’d had enough of examining the ceiling pattern and swung her legs off the bed, stretching as they hit the floor. The others were still asleep; it wasn’t until she rubbed her eyes and began to take in the rest of the room that she notices a familiar shape on the floor.

“Adora?” she murmured. Despite the best night’s sleep, she could ever remember, there was no way she had the energy to deal with this. She couldn’t even decide if sneaking into their makeshift barracks was endearing or weird. Why would it be anything but weird; was she trying to pretend like nothing had happened and that we could just pick up as best friends after she abandoned me? What gave her the right? Why would it be anything but endearing; it was Adora.

She stood, frozen, watching a little longer. Adora had always been a restless sleeper, sometimes fighting whole battles in her bed. She seemed more subdued now, though, more so than she had been in years. Was that this place? Had Brightmoon given her the peace she deserved, the peace she’d failed to help her find? She scoffed for the benefit of her slumbering audience before slinking past the blonde’s bedroll and into the shower room.

She peeled off her uniform, only now noticing the layers of dust, mud and dried blood that covered it. She hadn’t bothered to grab a spare from her quarters, and they’d probably need to be more presentable if they were going to be dragged before the Queen. Though that was a problem for future Catra.

The shower itself was a little more complicated than she was used to. Not only was there an on / off lever, but there was also a dial that seemed to move between a setting for ‘blue’ and one for ‘red’, whatever that meant. Another she judged to be for intensity or water pressure from the look of the symbols. She stepped inside and threw the lever, and hoped for the best.

She emerged from the bathroom a short time later, smelling of flowers and cursing the icy cold of the Fright Zone showers. The feeling of warm water pulsing through her fur and hair had been as impressive as real food. Even the towels here were better than the ones she was used to. Dressed only in her underwear, she tossed her ruined uniform beside her bed and made for their bag, hoping one of the others might have packed something that would fit her. She got lucky with Kyle’s things, they wouldn’t be comfortable, and they’d need some ‘adjusting’, but they’d serve for now. She extended her claws and got to work; she started with a tail hole, then took the ends of the pant legs and removed the top's sleeves entirely. It seemed her makeshift tailoring had been louder than expected, as she noticed Kyle and Lonnie beginning to rouse. However, Rogelio still looked dead to the world.

“How was the shower?” Lonnie asked, groggily pushing herself onto her elbows.

“Warm.”

“Seriously?” Catra nodded at her. “Dibs”, she announced to Kyle before jumping up from the bed.

“Is that Adora?” she seemed more surprised than anything, but again all Catra could do was shrug. Almost on instinct, that sly grin that Kyle had learned to fear crept onto her face, and she sauntered back to her bed. She picked up a pillow, tested its heft and hurled it with all her strength at the sleeping Adora’s face.

The pillow exploded on impact, spilling feathers all over the room. Adora bolted upright, screaming. For a moment, she was in attack mode until she looked at the feathers falling around her and laughed. It had been so long since she’d heard Adora laugh like this that it ached in her gut. That sound alone almost validated her, leaving her entire life behind. She couldn’t let herself fall into sentimentality, not with the girl who’d hurt her so. “What are you doing here, Adora?” she asked, the laughter in her voice giving way to a wave of quiet anger.

“I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have… But I’ve missed sleeping in the same room as you guys. I just …”

“You don’t just get to act like everything’s okay.” the mirth was entirely gone from her voice. She could even feel the mood darken around her, Lonnie and Rogelio were frowning now, and Kyle just looked sad. The silence hung there, engulfing the five of them. Adora had a sullen look of her own, a face she’d seen a few times in the last day or so, and it usually prefaced an apology.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t come back for you.” Right on cue. “I was planning to, but then Thaymor happened, and I didn’t get the chance.” Adora paused, trying to straighten out whatever asinine thought would come next. “What I mean is, I’m sorry I made you feel like I abandoned you. I tried to talk to you. But every time I did, we just ended up fighting before I could get the chance. This is what I wanted you guys to see, what I wanted to share with you.”

Another condescending apology, just like in the dream. Catra got as far as raising her pointed finger at Adora, determined to curse her out when the door opened, and the ever-smiling Bow poked his head around the door.

“Um, good morning, guys. Did you sleep well?” He seemed to notice Adora, still half in her bedroll on the floor, covered in feathers. He paused for a second, seemingly deciding not to acknowledge the scene. “I came to see if you wanted breakfast.”

Once the others had showered and changed, Bow led them to the dining hall. It was essentially a bigger, nicer version of one of the Fright Zone commissaries. Tables ran the room's length, lined with benches and full of hungry-looking soldiers. Only instead of a grim-faced academy washout handing out grey or brown slabs of processed nutrients, there were tables against one side of the wall laden with all sorts of foods.

It turned out that every meal in Brightmoon seemed to be incredible. The closest thing to a morning meal in the Fright Zone was if you saved a chunk of last night’s ration bar. Though given that eating a whole one left her full for an entire day, she never bothered. Here though, food was less efficient, but eating more of anything this delicious was worth the trade-off.

She’d tried different types of meat, eggs cooked in new ways, and even some of the fluffy beige discs Bow seemed so fond of. The others had followed suit, save for Kyle, who had become strangely fascinated by a machine that cooked slices of bread. It was rare seeing him so happy, even if it was just a passing fancy with some gadget. She had been the one to keep this from him, this life from all of them, hadn’t she? It was her who refused Adora in Thaymor. If she’d just listened, they could have gone back and broke the others out and never hurt each other at all. She hated that nearly a year of heartache could have been avoided if Adora’s opening gambit had been a plate of bacon.

No. If Catra had left then, she’d just be Adora’s pet again, a charity case for the Princess of martyrdom to save. Screw that, she was here on her own merit, at least until the Queen banished her.

They were about finished when Glimmer waltzed into the room. The Princess was flanked by four of Brightmoon’s finest. Other diners were stepping quickly out of their way as the group beelined for them, only stopping for Glimmer to grab a piece of fruit. She could hear the crunch of Glimmer’s breakfast between her teeth long before she was close enough to talk. The waxy red of its exterior giving way to its pale innards with every bite; its juice ran down the Princess’s chin before she wiped it away with her glove.

“My mom has scheduled your debriefing in a couple of hours.” She began after swallowing her most recent mouthful.

“okay… and what are we supposed to do until then?” Lonnie answered, her tone already sceptical of what the princess had to say.

“Well, that’s up to you. You’re welcome to explore the castle and enjoy its facilities on the condition that you take an escort with you.” She gestured to the guards. Each of them clicked their heels and stood at attention on command. If you like, I can give you a bit of a tour?”

“Pass.” She couldn’t imagine anything duller than following the little princess around, feigning interest in the architecture.

Adora was staring at her in a way she had exactly zero interest in dealing with. So Catra did what she did best: In a single motion, she swivelled on the bench and leapt to her feet, sprinting from the hall. She heard one of the guards sighing before giving chase, armoured boots clattering as they failed to keep up.

 


 

She opted to forgo Sparkles’ little tour and explore herself. The nooks and crannies of the towers seemed infinity more interesting than lectures on the tapestries anyway. So, she tore from one hallway to another until she found a window overlooking a courtyard leading to the castle grounds proper. Her escort reluctantly in tow.

Once she made it past the courtyard, she would need to lose her babysitter. It was no fun to explore with her tagging along, and she’d prefer to be alone right now anyway. Launching into a full sprint, she darted between towers, slid between the legs of some servant, and leapt over a pair of technicians repairing something or other.  After a few more corners and a shortcut through what she assumed was a barracks, her pursuer was nowhere in sight now. She might be able to find some peace.

She picked out a tower she liked the look of. It was maybe five stories tall, built from the same white stone as the others: plain, save for a door and a handful of windows, each facing different directions. It was topped by a pale grey dome that tapered into a three-meter spike.

The view put her balcony above the foundry to shame; cliffs, waterfalls, and gardens to one side and the sprawl of the town on the other. Damn, this was a mess; she shouldn’t have snapped at Adora. The dummy had just wanted to be close to them again, be close to her. Wasn’t that what she wanted too? If not, then why had she bothered to save her at all.

It didn’t matter what she wanted. Her fate was in the hands of the Queen now, and there was little chance of a happy outcome. Adora would speak for her, but all it would take would be a few snide reminders from Sparkles or one of the other countless enemies she had here, and she’d be on her ass. Maybe she could at least convince the Queen to let the others stay. It wasn’t as if they’d led attacks or anything; they had just been following her orders. Sure, it would suck to be on her own out there, but if the others were safe and happy, it might be worth it. It might be better for Adora too. Shadow Weaver had always said she’d held her friend back, and the last year had proved it. Without her, she was a hero to the whole damn planet. All Catra could do now is distract her, ruin everything. It was what she excelled at after all, like some stupid animal.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t have options. She could find some town and offer her services in their militia. They’d welcome an experienced fighter, or she could head down to Seaworthy and get on a ship to the other side of the world. Or she could tell them all to go to hell and launch her one-woman crusade into the Fright Zone and go out in a blaze of vengeance and glory.

Something from below broke her train of thought, a familiar sound of struggle: the laboured breathing and determined gasps of a certain blonde struggling to climb something she shouldn’t. Catra really shouldn’t have been surprised. It had never mattered where she went; Adora would find her. Maybe there was no point in running; as much as she hated the idea, it looked like she would have to confront this. Maybe try to fix whatever the hell this was.

She closed her eyes and took one last breath, long and slow, forcing as much of her doubt from herself as she could before she let the mask of familiarity take control.

“Hey, Adora.”

Chapter Text

Watching Catra sprint from the hall, some poor woman rushing after her, was a stern reminder of the boundary she’d apparently crossed the night before. She had to fix this. She needed Catra and the others here; she couldn’t let her own stupidity drive them away. So, she gave chase, squeezing between the other diners as they went about their business, nearly spilling some poor clerk’s pancakes across the marbled floor. Finally barging through the door, Catra had escaped through only to be met with an empty corridor. Only the sound of the pursuing guard’s armour clattering off to the left, meaning Catra was heading towards the grounds.

“Adora!” she hadn’t made it three steps outside of the dining hall when Bow’s voice called behind her.

“Oh, hey um, Bow, did, do you need something? I’m kind of busy right now.”

“Slow down a minute Adora, I think you might need to give her a little space.”

“What? What are you talking about? I’m fine, everything’s fine, I’m fine.” She was fine. Definitely.

“Adora,” just the way he said her name was enough to know he didn’t believe her, despite her obvious fine-ness. “You snuck into their room in the middle of the night and slept on the floor. I don’t think you’re fine.” Okay, maybe she wasn’t completely fine, but that was beside the point.

“I…”

“Why don’t we go talk about it.” His voice wasn’t quite a plea, but it was close enough that it would be hard to turn him down. She’d already wasted enough time though, she’d already lost the trail. If she didn’t chase her friend now, it might go completely cold.

“But Catra…”

“It’s okay. It looks like she might want a little space, Adora. You’ll still have plenty of time before the meeting to talk.”

“Okay.” Maybe he was right. She’d only driven her friends further away with her stunt. Bow seemed to understand how feelings worked a lot better than she did, so maybe he could help. Adora pushed down that desperate need to chase, taking a moment to readjust her ponytail and gestured for Bow to lead on. Through a couple of corridors, he led her past murals of people she didn’t know the names of. Only turning into a quiet hallway once they reached a vaguely familiar tableau of some old king slaying lizard monsters, all rendered in soft pastel colours. At the far end, they came across a padded bench that curved around a small table set into an alcove; a lone fern sat in its centre, its rich green the only thing that stood out from the pale surroundings.

“How about we start with what happened after I left last night.”

“I couldn’t sleep.” She looked towards the archer; he nodded in encouragement, almost giving her no choice but to keep going. “I just kept thinking about everything they’d done for me. I just missed them Bow, I slept in the same room as them since we were little kids, and I just wanted to feel … safe again.”

“I get it.” Bow was sympathetic as ever.

“You do?” It suddenly began to dawn on her how little she knew about him. He was one of her best friends, one of the most important people in the world to her, and she knew almost nothing about his past.

“Yeah. It’s, err been a while since I’ve seen some of my family too.” He rubbed his hands over the stubble on the side of his head, almost unsure of what he’d said.

“You don’t talk about them.”

“I just don’t want to bring you guys down, you know.” Bow sighed.

“You can, if you like, talk about them. I don’t mind.” She wanted to know more; did he have parents? Siblings? Who were they? Where were they? But she knew better than to push him.

“I grew up with a big family, twelve brothers Adora. I know how it feels to be surrounded by the people I love; they grew up and moved on with their lives one by one. It got lonely sometimes. It still does, you know, I’ve got you and Glimmer, and I love you both, but….”

“It’s not the same.”

“No.” the corners of his lips curled upwards, but it did little to hide the fluid welling in his eyes. “It’s not.” She’d never seen him like this before; Bow always seemed like the one person who had it all together. Seeing him like this was equal parts comforting and terrifying. Unsure what else to do, she reached out a hand, covering his own as it rested on the seat beside him. “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? You can be surrounded by people every day, even your best friends in the world, and still feel lonely.” So, he did get it. She didn’t like thinking about it, it felt like she was betraying the Best Friend Squad just by acknowledging it at all, but there was an itch that the two could never scratch.

“I guess so…” Her voice fell away; she wasn’t sure how else to respond.

“It’s okay to miss them, Adora, just like it’s okay for me to miss my brothers, and just like you’re getting a chance to reconnect with your friends, I think I’m going to need to make a couple of calls.”

“But…” What if she didn’t stay? What if they all left and she never saw them again. She needed to find Catra before it was too late.

“You just need to be gentle with her, respect her boundaries. I think she just needs a little patience Adora, she has a lot to process right now.”

“I think I want to go find her.”

“Just be careful, Adora.”

“I will.” She would have liked to have said that she gently slipped away, but she was running again the moment Bow was out of sight.

 


 

Adora didn’t own much, but she would have been happy to bet it all that she’d find Catra mulling on one of the rooftops. Her instinct was always to go up, to find somewhere high, as if her problems would struggle to reach her. It made sense; if you want to be alone, find someplace only you can get to. Somehow, the brunette always managed to pick a place that Adora would reach. If she were willing to try somewhere, that would be just enough effort to put anyone else off.

Luckily, there weren’t too many places that fit the description, at least not in the direction she’d knew Catra had gone from the Dining Hall. Frantically she jogged back along that path, nodding politely at the few others whose paths she crossed on their way, her nervous smile and quick pace drawing more than a few odd looks.

Once she made it outside, craning her neck upwards, inspecting every tower she saw. Eventually, though, she was greeted by a confused looking guardswoman at the foot of one of the smaller towers dotted randomly around the grounds. A quick look upwards, and she could just about make out a familiar tail dangling from its roof.

“is Catra up there?” She kept her voice forceful, that of an officer; it was the easiest way to be taken seriously by the soldiers.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ve tried asking her to come down, but …” She was clearly nervous, whether it was because she was intimidated for some reason or panicking over losing her charge. She wasn’t sure, though.

“Yeah, that won’t work. Just keep watch down here, maybe shout when it’s time for the debriefing.”

“Of course, Ma’am.”

“Thanks.” Well, here goes nothing. There weren’t many options for handholds, at least on the bottom few floors, but there was a tree a few metres away that would get her perilously close to a window arch on the third floor. That would work.

Years of chasing Catra up scaffolds and worse had left her a decent climber, so she made her way up the tree with little effort. After leaping across the branches onto the window and scaling an almost featureless wall, she found herself on the verge of slipping. She let out a startled cry but was able to hold on to the notches she’d found. A few moments of precarious dangling later and she dragged herself onto the small, domed roof. Catra sat, as expected, against an ornate spire, staring out across the castle grounds.

“Hey, Adora.” Catra’s hearing had always made it impossible to get the drop on her. But this time, her friend hadn’t so much as turned her head. She just kept staring out over the kingdom.

“Hey, I figured I’d find you up here.” That earned her a scowl.

“Am I that predictable?”

“You like being high up”.

“I like being alone.” Anger flared in her voice for a moment.

“You like it when I find you.” Another, somehow meaner scowl followed.

“ugh, what do you want, Adora?”

“To talk.”

“I don’t have anything to say to you right now.”

“Then maybe just listen.”

“Fine.”

“I wanted to say thank you.”

“Think you already did that.”

“I know, but I needed to say it again.”

“Is this going to be a thing?”

“No…”

“Good.”

“Look, I know we’ve been through a lot in the past year. We’ve hurt each other a lot and said and done things that, but I wanted to tell you, Bow was telling the truth yesterday when he said I missed you.” This was easier than she’d thought. There was something about Catra, even when she was acting hostile, that just made her easy to talk to, share things that she didn’t even like talking about with Bow and Glimmer.

“Why did you do it?”

“I already told you.”

“Yeah, you said you didn’t want them to kill me. That hasn’t stopped you trying to do it yourself for nearly a year, Catra.”

“I was never trying to kill you. I just wanted to hurt you. Make you feel the same you made me feel.”

“I’m sor….”

“I told you to stop apologising. I know you don’t mean it; I know you’re not sorry you ran away and joined the princesses.”

“I’m not sorry I left, but I am sorry that I left you. You’ve no idea how sorry I am that I hurt any of you.”

“Apologising doesn’t change that it happened, Adora. Do you know how it feels to be left behind? To be replaced so easily, to find out that the most important person in your life considers you an afterthought.”

“You’re not an afterthought to me Catra, you’re my best friend.” The outburst seemed to make the feline uncomfortable. “But I just couldn’t stay, not after what I saw the Horde doing in Thaymor, not after I realised the truth.”

“You still tossed me aside Adora, you just ran off with the glitter twins without a second thought.”

“I tried Catra. I begged you to come with me, remember.”

“Only once you remembered I even existed. Like I said, I was an afterthought.”

“I’m sorry I ever made you feel like you were. You’re so important to me. Do you think I would have crept back into your room if you weren’t?”

“I guess not.”

“Can we be friends again? Please, the way it used to be?”

“Adora. I don’t know.” It was like being stabbed. It was as if Catra had reached into her chest and dug her claws deep into her heart. “But I think… maybe… I want to try.” Suddenly her heart was free of claw marks. She had a chance again, to be friends to be Catra’s world and for Catra to be hers, the way it was always supposed to be.

“Then you’re going to stay?”

“I don’t think it’s my choice, Adora. It’s up to the Queen, right? What’s she like?”

“She’s a bit like Shadow Weaver.” Catra winced at the name, “but like how she used to treat me is how Angella treats everyone. She’s kind, Catra and strong in her own way. She actually cares about her people. When you captured Glimmer, she was ready to surrender herself to Hordak to save her. I think that’s what a mom is supposed to be, a real one.”

“is that so?”

“Yeah, and I’m going to do everything I can to convince her that we need you.” That seemed to cheer her up a little. “You know, I’ve been dreaming of showing you Brightmoon.”

“Your dreams are so lame.” Catra sniggered, her tail wagging a little as she did.

“I’m serious, we always talked about seeing the world together, and I want to show you what I’ve seen. I want to walk through the forests of Plumeria with you, or Mystacor. I want to show you Mystacor. I think Glimmer’s aunt would love you.

“What’s an aunt?”

“Castaspella, she’s Glimmer’s dad’s sister.”

“Oh,” Catra nodded in understanding. “What about Glimmer’s dad? He’d be the King, right?”

“Yeah. King Micah was a hero in the old days, during the First Princess Alliance, but he died.”

“I remember now the battle of Glenmar. We studied it, strategy class, he tried to break our… the Horde’s line by himself. Seems pretty dumb if you asked me.”

“Don’t say that around the Queen or Glimmer. They both really miss him.”

“Suppose I don’t want to upset them any more than I already have.”

“I told you, they’re not going to be mad at you. Glimmer just needs some time to get to know you.”

“Whatever you say.” Why was she always impossible? Sure she and Glimmer had gotten off on the wrong foot, but Glimmer had at least been willing to try.

“You’re going to have to make at least a little effort to get along with her, you know?”

“I am trying; I’ve not attacked her once since she found us last night.” It was a start, she supposed. Maybe she should change the subject back. Besides, she didn’t want to give Catra the satisfaction of thinking her diversion had worked.

“You still never told me why?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Catra, please. I just want to understand; it all seemed so sudden.”

“Fine, if you really want to know, you have Kyle to thank for this whole mess.”

“Kyle?” That surprised her. She’d never had thought he’d have it in him.

“Yeah, he was actually happy you left. He said it gave him hope that there was a way out.” Damn it, Kyle, you beautiful, little dork. “When we saw the execution order, he accidentally talked me into breaking you out. One thing led to another, and here we are.”

“How are the others doing?”

“They’re doing okay, I think. They’re tough, but you hurt them too, Adora.”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t. Kyle might have gotten hope from it, but he almost fell apart holding on to it. He was about ready to be shipped off to Beast Island.” She knew he’d looked tired when they’d run into each other; sometimes, he’d even bordered on gaunt, but the idea that he’d been pushed that far turned her stomach. “It’s not just him, the way Lonnie’s been going; it was only a matter of time until she snapped. She’d broken a half dozen arms in sparring sessions in the last two months. Ro’s just taken to staring off into space, growling at anyone who interrupts him.” No. It was all her fault; she’d ruined them all. Catra wasn’t even looking at her anymore, just throwing her words into the morning sky. Maybe she was hoping the gentle breeze might carry them away, lighten her burden.

It was all she could do to keep her breakfast down; she didn’t have an apology for Catra this time, just the wordless mess of noise that came with her tears. She needed to do something, but all she could manage were more sobs. Catra didn’t even seem to notice; she just kept staring out across the town, as if she knew that if she looked Adora in the eyes, something might break inside them both.

“The only one of us who you didn’t mess up by leaving is the one who ended up paying the heaviest price.” And there she was; it was only a matter of time before Scorpia came into things. The woman had died for her; despite what Catra had said on the skiff, it was true. She had failed Scorpia, gotten her killed, and she would need to find some way to make it right.

“I know you told me to shut up about it before, but I really am sorry about Scorpia. I never wanted anyone to get hurt.”

“It’s okay. It’s just I feel like I let her down, you know, She was my friend, and I left her behind just like you did to me.” What could she say to that? Despite everything she’d done to reach out to Catra, she still felt abandoned, still felt left behind, and it was going to take a lot more than a few words to fix that.

“She seemed like a good person.”

“She was. I mean, yeah, she didn’t understand personal space and never knew when to shut up, but she didn’t deserve to go out like that.” She’d never heard Catra talk that way about anyone before.

“I was a bad friend to her; all I ever did was yell and order her around.”

“That can’t have been true. Scorpia was the Princess of the Fright Zone, right?”

“Yeah…”

“She must have family there, right, and a history beyond the Horde?”

“Yeah…”

“And she gave it all up to follow you on some dumb rescue mission to save someone she didn’t even know?”

“What’s your point?” The unease was on full display now, Catra’s voice dripping with suspicion of what might follow.

“She must have cared a lot about you, Catra. You must have been doing something right.”

“Maybe. Doesn’t matter now. She’s gone. I’m going to make them pay for her. They’ve no idea the storm that’s coming for them.”

“You know you don’t have to do it alone; The Rebellion could really use you. All of you. We don’t have many real soldiers, just guards and volunteers. I’ve seen the missions you led, you’re incredible at planning, and you know so much about the Horde, you’d be unstoppable.”

“I think that says more about the state of the Rebellion than it does about me.” She wasn’t wrong; they had a lot of problems: inexperienced fighters, logistical issues and leadership that even Adora had to admit was frustratingly noncommittal. She wasn’t sure how much of that Catra could fix, but just having someone like her around could do a lot of good. Even if she didn’t care about helping the Etheria, just wanting to rip the Horde apart might be enough to make one hell of an impact on the war effort.

“So, you’re interested?”

“I told you, I’m going to make them bleed for Scorpia. If your merry band of monarchs want to help me out, I won’t say no. Ro and Lonnie will probably be game for some payback too. Not Kyle.” She seemed pretty insistent on that point, and she couldn’t blame her.

“Not Kyle?”

“He’s come a long way, but he’s not a soldier. Let him have his peace. Besides, you owe him big time.” There was no denying that. She’d have to find some way to make it up to him, and hopefully something more impressive than toast.

“The rebellion are volunteers. Nobody has to fight if they don’t want to.”

“He belongs someplace like this, someplace soft and fluffy.”

“But not you, though, right?”

“I don’t think I belong anywhere.” Catra was wrong. She belonged here, with her, just like she belonged with Catra. It was just she didn’t know how to say it, not without sounding stupid.

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Shut up.”

“No.”

The two of them just sat there for a while, enjoying each other’s silence, and watching the world go by beneath them, the way they always used to. For the first time in a long while, they were comfortable around each other. It wasn’t quite the same as it used to be. Something felt unsaid, but that didn’t matter to Adora; just being here with Catra was enough right now. The quiet continued until the guard watching them from below called up. It was time.

Chapter Text

After breakfast with the others, Kyle decided to explore the castle on his own. He remembered something Adora had said about the gardens. After the excitement of yesterday, the idea of decompressing amongst the greenery was too tempting to turn away.

It had been a little while since he’d had any time to himself. There hadn’t been much to spare since the Kingdom of Snows, so the chance for quiet was welcome. Back in the Fright Zone, he used to like walking the halls of an old munition factory. A few years back, it had been a hub of activity as the assembly lines struggled to keep up the demand for charge cartridges. But since the newer pulse rifles didn’t need them, the place had been left to ruin.

On the west side of the building, there was this spot that had once been a loading bay. Plants had begun to grow through the paving in search of light; they were little more than weeds really, but nature was scarce in the Fright Zone, so he adored them as if they were floral blooms. Occasionally he even saw a bird scratching at the ground for bugs or a mouse scurrying by, seemingly unaffected by the grimness of its surroundings.

He had been fascinated by plants and animals for as long as he could remember. Maybe that was why he’d gravitated to Rogelio; his species were quadrupeds when young, so between that and the language barrier, it was as close as he’d ever come to having a pet. Not that he saw Ro as an animal or anything like that, but there was something special to him about the friendship with a non-human that he couldn’t explain. When he was little, he even tried to pet Catra once, but that ended in scratches and sorrow, and he’d been a little afraid of her for years afterwards. Their relationship had improved quite a lot over the years, but she’d still only ever let Adora stroke her fur.

Even before the gardens, there was something about Brightmoon he liked. It was supposed to be old, ancient even, whereas most of the Fright Zone had sprung up in the decades since Lord Hordak had arrived in the Scorpion Kingdom. He supposed the appeal had something to do with his own complete lack of history.

He used to dream about where he might have come from, usually whenever Lonnie would reminisce about her own parents. He’d think up these elaborate tales that they were off on helping people on the other side of the planet and that they would come for him one day. Of course, the stories were just that. Once Catra had been promoted, one of the first things she’d done was hand each of them copies of their files, arguing they deserved to know whatever was in there. His pre-Horde life was compressed to one scant sentence; “child found on mission, estimated age 18 months.” At that moment, he understood that he came from nowhere. It made sense. If he had a family who cared about him, they’d never have let him end up in a place like the Fright Zone, but the loss of those fantasies had been one hell of a blow to his already fragile sense of self. Even all these months later, he tried not to think about that particular hole in his heart. He couldn’t help but hope that this time, when he filed it away, it would never come up again.

A duty guard nodded curtly at him and his escort as they approached the archway to the outside, and as he stepped through, the warm glow of the morning overwhelmed his eyes. Years in the Fright Zone and its harsh lighting had made him accustomed to needing his eyes to readjust whenever he stepped outdoors, but he’d never experienced this before. It wasn’t any drastic shift in the lights, but more like his brain struggled to comprehend what he was seeing.

The gardens were beautiful. Everything was green, and not the sickly luminescent green of the Fright Zone’s lights, but dozens of lush shades intermingled, the green of life. Not just green either; there were flowers of every colour arranged in rows around the pathways or sprouting from the ornate shrubs. It was flourishing in a way he had only ever seen from the Whispering Woods, only warm, welcoming, and without the sense of looming dread hiding behind the trees.

He found himself wandering almost absent-minded for a time, admiring the flowerbeds and rose bushes until he came across a large tree with purple-ish bark and dark leaves. He’d never been so close to a real tree before, at least not where he’d had the opportunity to properly experience it. Kyle reached out and touched it, running his hand along the bark of the trunk, feeling the nooks and crannies. It felt so alive, unlike anything he’d known in the industrial wasteland that until yesterday had been home. The cheek scratch he managed to give himself, fumbling with the cutlery at breakfast, began to sting as a tear ran into the wound.

The blonde ran his fingers through his shaggy hair as he put his back to the tree and slumped against the trunk, staring out across the vast garden. Greens bled together with pinks and purples, with whites and blues and reds. The swelling tears in his eyes helping to blur them together. It was like the time Catra had stolen paint from a supply closet, and the five of them redecorated their barracks. It had predictably ended with Shadow Weaver dragging their future Force Captain away as the others were ordered to clean up the mess. Catra had returned two days later, looking like she hadn’t slept or eaten the whole time. He and Adora had rushed to help her, but all she had managed was a fearful hiss before collapsing.

The chirping of a bird broke him from memory. It was smaller than the haggard-looking ones he’d seen in the Fright Zone, more delicate too, and most notably bright blue. He’d never seen anything so wonderful. There were others he saw flying from tree to tree or fiddling with their nests, but the blue one was pecking at the grass, quickly finding a chunky yellow beetle, swallowing it, and fluttering off, disappearing into the foliage of a nearby tree. As the last hints of its tail feathers vanished from sight, he realised that this was where he wanted to be. He wouldn’t be able to do much for the rebellion he knew. They probably didn’t have much use for a guy whose skills relied entirely on tech they didn’t use here or vehicles they didn’t have, but here would be something he could do here to earn his keep. If it meant he got to stay here, he’d gladly spend the rest of his days cleaning latrines and sweeping floors if he had to.

Kyle had never been able to blame Adora for leaving; sure, he wasn’t thrilled at being left behind. But after just a few hours in Brightmoon, he knew that if it had been him who’d found a magic sword and got to run away, he’d have done it in a heartbeat. He would have gone back for his friends, though. He knew Adora would still need to make up for that, for the pain she had caused to Catra in particular, but he understood what doing the right thing meant for someone like Adora, he’d often wished to be the same way but he was made of weaker stuff. For him, though, reparations had been paid in full; a lifetime of trees and toast was enough to earn his forgiveness.

His mind began to drift to the five of them together in these gardens, living the peaceful life they had should have always had, if not for Hordak and Shadow Weaver. One moment they were hanging out, enjoying a meal together. In the next, they watched Adora, and Catra wrestle over some trivial thing, laughing as they rolled in the grass. In the last, it was just him and Ro, sitting quietly together as the golden sky slowly turned to black.

His friends. He hoped he’d get to show them the gardens. He hoped they’d want to stay. Would they stay? Adora had been right about Brightmoon so far; it was beautiful, not that he had ever had much context for the word until he’d stepped outside a short while ago. The food had been fantastic too, and even the people seemed nice. Since he had gotten here, not once had anyone been mean to him. No one had insulted or snapped at him, an odd look or two sure, but this, he figured, was how people were supposed to treat each other.

Rogelio would be the easiest sell; he already knew the big man would enjoy the quiet here. And there was something unspoken between them: If one asked for something, really asked, the other would help them. Catra and Lonnie were different; the feline had bad blood with Adora, more than a meal and some kind words would fix. Lonnie had bad blood with the whole damn Rebellion. That was without how volatile she’d been getting; he’d seen it first-hand back in Entrapta’s lab. Honestly, he’d been amazed she had agreed to defect at all, but here she was, so maybe she could be won over.

If they didn’t stay, though, what would he do? He’d proved he could live without Adora. He might eventually get used to life without Catra and Lonnie. Still, he honestly didn’t think he was strong enough to not have Rogelio by his side. It was stupid, but he kind of maybe liked him as more than just his best friend. He wasn’t in love or anything. That would be ridiculous; it was just a crush. After all, the guy was undeniably handsome, had an incredible body, and most importantly, he was kind, thoughtful and just probably the most wonderful person in the world.

He just felt safe around him; was that so bad? To want to be held by those strong arms? Protected from the horrors of the world? Every trouble of his soothed away by a gentle growl? Of course not; it was just a silly little crush.

Besides, it didn’t matter. Ro could have his pick of anyone he liked. Though he’d never show much interest. Least of all, some scrawny little coward who spent too much time with his nose in technical manuals. It was stupid, and he needed to stop thinking of his best friend as anything but that. All it would do is ruin the best thing in his life.

 


 

The longer he sat under the tree, the more it all came back to him. the sad little life that had brought him to this paradise. The other cadets had always singled him out as if he radiated weakness, determined to punish him for it. Even his own friends seemed to love making him the butt of jokes, but he didn’t mind that so much; their laughter, even at him, made the day a little more bearable.

The abuse had eventually mellowed after it became clear just how dangerous his squadmates were. All four were intimidating, either their natural ferocity or hard-earned skill; each was a serious threat in their own right. By the time the last few years of training rolled around, all it would take would be a scowl or flash of teeth to bring the entire mess hall to heel. The last time any of his fellow cadets had tried something, it was a squad the year above them. The poor fools had somehow convinced themselves that they could kick his ass without repercussion as long as he was alone.

It had been his own fault, really. Their note had been so obviously a trap in hindsight, but reorganising a storage room with Ro had seemed an excellent opportunity to hang out one-on-one. He barely made it a metre inside before the door locked, and they’d jumped him. As a connoisseur of beatings, he had to admit it was a pretty thorough one as if his attackers were trying to make up for lost beatings. The only mercy was how brief it had been, he remembered vividly the shouting from outside the room, their squad leader’s angry curses, and the crash as the door gave way. After that, he had just about been able to make out four familiar shapes stepping into the room. All hell broke loose, and he passed out.

Their leader ended up losing an ear to Catra, and Rogelio had crushed another’s hand so bad that she’d needed a cybernetic mod. Their wounds paled in comparison to their punishment once Shadow Weaver had found out they’d dared attack Adora, though. One had landed a cheap shot and given the poor girl a concussion. In return, the whole squad had been fast-tracked out of training and sent to the frontline.

Most were dead now, and the last he’d seen of the lone survivor was a few months back when he’d noticed a familiar soldier glaring at him from across a hanger. Except it wasn’t really a glare, the look had been empty; nothingness wrapped in a thin shell of hate. Everything about the guy had been hollow, he’d realised. Everything that had once made him a person was just gone, as dead as the rest of them. It was just that his body hadn’t caught up with his soul.

You saw it in the veterans' dead-eyed stares, or you heard their screams echoing through the barracks as they relived their horrors. They were just husks going through the motions of life; until they died a pointless death for the glory of the Horde.

For a while afterwards, he’d been terrified of ending up the same way. It was only a matter of time until something horrible happened to his friends, and he’d be lost to that trauma for the rest of his life. Catra had been the one to pull him out of it; she’d hidden her kindness behind indifference, of course, but that was her way. The speech she’d given about protecting them was nothing new, but the newly minted Force Captain had meant to shied them in excellence; she was going to make them too hard to kill.

For him, that meant studying. The other gem in his file had been his test scores and aptitude results; they were good. Good enough that if he’d been left in the regular classes, he’d have been pulled for the Research Track. If it hadn’t been for Shadow Weaver snapping him up for her pet project, by now, he’d be designing tanks or revising ration bar formulas. Instead, he had been made into a soldier or something approaching one.

So Catra had sent him to all these special training classes until he had pilot credentials on a dozen vehicles and a better understanding of Horde systems than half of the technicians. She’d even taken him to Entrapta to help with the upgrades to the comms systems. For the first time in his life, he had been useful, and he’d loved Catra for making it happen.

He loved her enough to stay with her when he’d found her sobbing the day before and offer what comfort he could. He’d be lying if he’d said he expected that his simple offer of a shoulder to cry on would escalate as it had. Their daring escape still felt like a dream, though the anxiety the memory induced almost made him wish it were.

It was real though, that was the important thing. He was on the verge of a new life in this perfect little corner of the world. The only obstacle at this point was the Queen, and if she was everything Adora claimed, then he could make this his home, live in peace with the people he cared about. It would come down to them, though, would he be able to stay here without them? Would he be able to leave with them?

Before he could spiral any further, his escort approached him, offered a hand to pull him from his shady spot beneath the tree and told him: It was time.

Chapter Text

In all honesty, Brightmoon seemed nice, or at least it looked nice, but Lonnie couldn’t help but feel there was something off about it. If the castle was as old as Glimmer said, why weren’t there cracks in the masonry or scuffed floors. The Fright Zone was kept clean as a matter of discipline, but time still took its toll; metal rusted, and paint cracked. Brightmoon seemed to stand defiant against such decay as if it was supposed to appear as ageless as its Queen.

Every time Glimmer prattled on about some ancestor that lived and died centuries ago. It felt wrong that their mural looked like it had been painted yesterday. It felt wrong that they had murals at all. There were no paintings of the dead back home, no memorials to individuals. There was just a great eight-sided monolith with countless names etched across it, save for the front side, which had a space around head height, where large block capitals spelt out “GLORY”.

Since childhood, they’d been taught that one day their names would be added to it. That they would share in that glory, but that was lost to her now. She would never partake in the triumph of her parents. At one time, earning their respect from beyond the grave had been all that mattered to her. It was different now. She had to push them from her mind; a mother whose face she couldn’t remember and a father whose features were starting to fade.

Rogelio snapped her out of it, the two of them had been left in the lurch once Catra had run off, chased by Adora and Bow, so they’d opted for Glimmer’s tour. Their guide hadn’t seemed to notice the low growl coming from the Reptilian’s throat. The anger was aimed at a picture of the long-dead King Enoch, the name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t remember why. She just gently put a hand on her friend’s shoulder and led him on.

“This”, Glimmer paused, her voice turning wistful, “is my dad”. The Princess reached a handout and gently stroked the artwork as if hoping this time, he might return her touch. Another dead parent, she should relate to Glimmer, she wanted to. Part of her desperately so, but how could she. Glimmer hadn’t been dragged one morning to the academy barracks and told she lived there now. Glimmer had never had to pretend she didn’t want to mourn, so she didn’t look weak. You couldn’t show that kind of weakness; in the Fright Zone, you cried when you were alone, and Lonnie made sure she was never alone.

Rogelio said something she didn’t quite catch but recognised as supportive. The big guy was constantly feeling sorry for people, Kyle more often than not. Usually, she found it more endearing, but all she could do was roll her eyes this time.

“He was a hero in the first rebellion. He died in battle at Glenmar.” She knew this. They’d studied the battle in detail, but somehow hearing the words from this entitled princess was like a spear to the gut. She wasn’t going to let her take that day from her.

“Enough!” Lonnie was glaring at the Princess now, finger pointing accusingly. “You think you’re the only one with dead parents”. Glimmer just stood gawking at her.

“My dad died at Glenmar too, and there’s no mural for him! The others don’t even know who their parents were, and here you are, rubbing it in our faces over how special your dad was.”

“I…” Glimmer stuttered, stumbling over whatever half-hearted condolence had come to mind. She was probably delighted that her dad was dead; one less Force Captain could only be a good thing in her eyes. She wasn’t going to put up with this brat now. The vague shapes of her parents rematerialized in her mind's eye, and she needed to be away from this. She just turned and walked; with all the determination she could muster despite having no idea where she was going.

 


 

After a few minutes of storming, she found herself at what looked like training grounds. A handful of guards were sparring with staves and blunted swords. Perfect, she needed to hit someone, and who better than these Brightmoon idiots.

She hopped the handrail and approached a weapons rack, grabbing a staff. It was lighter than the ones she was used to and not as well balanced, but it would serve. There were six guards paired off, four with training blades and two with staves like her own. An instructor was also overseeing the session, but he was unarmed as far as Lonnie could tell. She wandered towards them as she loudly declared:

“Fight Me.”

“This is no place for you Hordling, why don’t you go back to hiding behind She-Ra before you get hurt.” The instructor chuckled. Word must spread quickly here.

“I’ve been training since I was a kid to wipe the floor with you jackasses. Fight me.” The instructor shrugged and motioned for a pair with swords to break off their struggle and move towards her.

A short woman moved in on her left; all swagger and no discipline, charging at her, blade raised above her head. Lonnie twisted her waist, and the idiot stumbled past.

THWACK

Her staff struck the guard in the back of the helmet, and they crumpled to a heap. No time to revel, the second was on her: A lanky man with a scar. She spun to avoid his clumsy blow and flicked her wrists upward to block his next. As their weapons met, she kept turning her own, scraping the edge of his blade along the ground. A quick push, and he’d lost his grip. She dropped low and swept his leg, leaving him helpless on his back.

“I yie…” he tried to call.

THWACK

She brought her staff down across his head in a wide arc.

“Fight me.” She called back to the instructor. She was just getting warmed up.

She saw a scowl flash across the bearded man’s face as he ordered his remaining students to close in. A moustachioed man came in first with a staff, clearly a ploy. To tie her up so another could flank. She dipped past him, opting for the offensive. She went for the stocky looking swordsman, using her staff to jab his ribs before driving it upwards to strike his face.

THWACK

She barely had time to smirk at the helpless idiot before she was leaping a low strike from a Faun woman with a staff. Damn, she mistimed her landing and stumbled backwards. Three left, all moving in. She couldn’t let them take charge. She dived, swinging in the air at Moustache. He raised his staff above his head, barely blocking her blow, but he couldn’t stop her momentum. She collided with him, crashing to the ground together.

She had to keep moving. She rolled to her feet before the others could get to her and drove her weapon into Moustache’s face.

THWACK

The final swordsman was on her, fast but sloppy. He reigned blow after blow, but none were coming close. She saw her opening and raised her staff to block. His sword bounced off, and he was exposed. She raised her arms quickly, clocking his jaw with the middle of the staff, before bouncing it off his face.

THWACK

Only the Faun was left now. They quickly exchanged strikes, but her foe’s inexperience quickly got the better of her. Lonnie rolled past her, swinging to the side, striking across the back of the Faun’s knee, dropping her onto one hoof. Once upright, all she needed to do was raise her staff overhead and swing.

THWACK

“That the best you can do?” She called to the clearly perturbed instructor. He stomped over to a rack and drew a pair of blunted swords. He took a moment to test their balance, turning them slowly as he walked towards her.

“Okay, you’re not bad for a Horde thug. Let’s see how you fare against a real fighter.” He was struggling to contain his excitement. “Tell me, girl, back in the Fright Zone, do they still scare the kiddies with tales of the Brightmoon Blitz, or do I need to educate you?”

“Brightmoon Blitz? That supposed to be you, old man?” she scoffed at the nickname.

“A Lesson it is then.”

“A history lesson, maybe.” She called back.

Grinning ear to ear, he entered his stance. Barely a second later, and he’d closed the ground. He was quick. Scarily quick. Both swords spun at once, the swings wild. No. They only looked wild; as she blocked and dodged, she saw the pattern and held her ground. There it was a moment between the spinning circles where he was open. The only issue was the Blitz clearly knew about it; he tried to hide it with a flourish during his attacks. She’d need to be fast to catch him.

His strikes were beginning to take their toll on the staff, though. the lighter design struggling to withstand the punishment of the instructor’s barrage. As if on cue, the wood gave way, snapping with an unpleasant crunch.

She had to roll to avoid his next flurry, snatching at the sword one of the idiots had dropped. Again, it was lighter than the Horde equivalent and surprisingly flimsy given the craftsmanship of the ornate patterns on the hilt. None the less, it parried the so-called Brightmoon Blitz well enough. There it was again. She rushed forward into that tiny opening. He turned at the last second, her blade cutting into the side of his gear.

She winked at him and was surprised to see him still smiling, despite the profuse sweat he’d worked up. She didn’t let up, following her attack through, desperate to prevent him from gaining the space he needed to start another ‘blitz’. No luck this time either; his defence was nearly as good as his offence. With expert timing, he blocked with both blades, sandwiching her sword between his own. He twisted both wrists in opposite directions, and she felt the steel slide from her hands. It clattered on the stone floor.

No weapon. An enemy about to attack. Hopeless. Good, she could work with hopelessness. Not many options, though. She launched herself, tackling his waist. One of his blades dug into her exposed forearm, even blunted the pressure was enough to leave a deep gash. It was just a flesh wound. The impact of hitting the ground snapped her back to reality. She was straddling him now, pinning him to the ground. He desperately reached for the closest sword, the other having skidded out of reach once it opened her arm. She had the superior position and snapped it up in her good hand, pressing the blade to his throat.

“I yield,” he called as she pushed herself up from his form. She turned and offered her hand and pulled to his feet. A worthy opponent. “You’re excellent.”

“You’re not so bad yourself.”

“I’m just an old man, well past his prime.” He removed his helmet and scratched his beard. “I’m sorry for belittling you. I’m Peck. It’s my job to mould the guards into something formidable. I may have my work cut out for me.”

“Thanks, I’m Lonnie, and I’m used to getting my ass beat by superior opponents too.”

“That’s a nasty cut. You’ll need to have it looked at.” He turned to a man on the sidelines, “Healer!” and one came running. A young elf with dark hair sat her down on some nearby steps and began treating her arm. His touch was gentle, far defter than the medics in the Fright Zone, who would probably have just tossed her a roll of bandages and expect you to deal with it yourself.

Peck passed her a flask of water, which she drained with the speed of one dying of thirst. Wiping her mouth with her gloved hand, she guessed the man had to be around fifty, old enough that he might be answer something.

“Were you at Glenmar?” she asked bluntly.

“Aye.” Peck answered, “hell of a fight that one.”

“With the King, right?”

“The damn fool, he caught one glimpse of Hordak and thought he could end the war himself.”

“What happened.” Hordak couldn’t have killed him; that would have been all over their lessons.

“It was his sorceress, the red one; she didn’t let him get close. She must have killed more of her own troops than ours the way she threw that lightning about.” Shadow Weaver, it was unheard of for her to leave the Fright Zone these days, and she’d never heard of the woman fighting in battle. This was strange. “Why do you ask?”

“I saw the mural earlier; it reminded me of my dad. He died there.”

“I’m sorry.” He looked sincere; it didn’t make sense.

“Why? You were on the other side. For all I know, it was you who killed him.”

“I didn’t see too much of the fighting. I was at the King’s side. When his adjutant got her face cut up, he ordered me to get her to safety. The next I knew he’d charged in, and then we were retreating.”

“I’m sorry.” It seemed the right thing to say, she didn’t think she meant it, but he’d shown sympathy for her loss. Maybe she could find some for his, Glimmer’s too, when she saw her next.

“Micah was my friend. After he fell, the Alliance crumbled, and we’ve been on the back foot ever since.” He was quiet for a moment, recollecting his thoughts. “After that, it was just a slow defeat. Until She-Ra arrived.”

“Adora really changed things, huh?”

“Aye, She-Ra is our beacon of hope; you’re her friend, aren’t you?” Was she?

“Something like that.”

“Thank you for bringing her back. You saved the war last night.” She felt a strange sting of pride. It was rare to be thanked and even rarer to know her efforts had made a difference.

Peck took his leave shortly after that, though not without asking her to come back and show his recruits a thing or two.

 


 

She sat there for a little while. Maybe she shouldn’t have shouted at the Princess, but perhaps Glimmer should have known better. After all, she’d been around Adora long enough to know that Horde kids don’t tend to have happy stories. Maybe she just likes rubbing her family legacy in people’s faces. That was the whole point of a monarchy, wasn’t it? To flaunt your power, show off everything you had over everything else. Had the whole tour been some kind of subtle power move, or was Glimmer just an inconsiderate brat.

Why had she even agreed to come here? After all, the Horde were her people, her family’s people. She knew they weren’t liberators exactly, but they were bringing some much-needed order to Etheria. Maybe she should have followed Entrapta’s lead and refused to come along. But then she’d be alone. Or maybe Scorpia had the right of it, going out in a blaze of heroism. But then she’d be dead, which was probably worse.

She hated being alone. Usually, she did everything she could to avoid it, not an easy task when you’re the fifth wheel between two pairs of best friends, but she managed. Being alone just meant having to listen to her own thoughts, and they had nothing to say but remind her of her own shortcomings. She had been tipped for greatness; the daughter of Turron, one of the Horde’s most famous Force Captains. She’d proven her excellence time and time again, but Shadow Weaver wouldn’t give her the time of day. She’d rarely been more than half a step behind Adora or Catra, but every time she would just watch one get praised and the other scorned, whilst she got nothing at all.

That’s how she knew she was broken: She actually envied how Catra was treated, so starved for attention that even a scolding seemed better than nothing. The only thing that had stopped her from acting the delinquent was her parents’ memory and a refusal to tarnish it. How had she gotten so pathetic?

For a time, she’d let that envy of Adora and Catra turn to resentment, hatred almost. But then she’d remember everything they’d done for her and found the strength to resist those impulses. After all, if she hated them, then she’d just be two steps closer to being alone. That, she figured, was probably why’d she’d agreed to this stupidity. If she’d stayed back in the Fright Zone, it would just be her, alone with her thoughts, until she found her share of the Horde’s ‘GLORY’.

“Excuse me, Miss.” It wasn’t the guard Glimmer had assigned to her. She’d no idea where they’d been all this time, but now they were standing over her. “I’ve been asked to take you to the war room.”

It was time.

Chapter Text

Rogelio had never been much of a talker. None of his friends spoke the same language as him, and for another, playing the part of the strong, silent type had always served him well. The attitude made an excellent partner to his impressive size. It helped ensure he went unmolested by the other cadets during his years in training. He had even used it to protect his family as best he could too.

As much as he liked to pretend it was always his persona that kept him quiet, it was very much the language barrier at the heart of the matter. He had never enjoyed the company of his own kind, so he had rare opportunity to speak his mother tongue even if he wanted to. Reptilian vocal cords were almost unique. They couldn’t imitate other languages and vice-versa, leading to centuries of mistrust and conflict.

Before Hordak, they had been shunned to small territories along the southern edges of the Fright Zone, the old bonds between the clans frayed beyond recognition. But he had brought them together and then united them with the other misfit denizens of his makeshift domain. Ironically Hordak had done this with language. The Warlord’s unusual species had been able to approximate their words. Through that sign of respect, he had earned the loyalty of the Reptilians, bringing them into a kingdom for the first time as equals.

His family were unusual, not his biological family; he would never have known them if they had been inches from his snout. He assumed they were dead. If it was true for Lonnie, then why not him. But Kyle had spent hours studying recordings and coaxing him into reading aloud so he might understand him. At this point, the blonde probably had a better understanding of Reptilian than he did himself. But Kyle would use his knowledge to translate for the girls, who in time had picked up enough to hold conversations on their own. He would always love the little guy for that and did what he could to repay that kindness where he could.

None of this, however, was the reason for his current silence. After Lonnie had stormed off, Glimmer had followed suit. So, when the guard that stayed with him had asked him where he wanted to go, he didn’t have an answer.

It wasn’t as if the guard would understand him if he had an answer, so instead, he did the only thing he could do; shrug and continue his stroll down the castle corridor. Until now, everything had been simple for him; training, missions, battle, and whatever joy he could scrape from the moments between from his family. Adora had thrown a wrench into things, though, twice if he counted. First by running off to play at Princess, as if none of them had ever existed. He didn’t blame her for defecting, he’d thought about it himself from time to time, but his family had been enough to make him stay.

The newer, more relevant wrench was ironically the reverse, where his love for his family had made him leave. All it had taken was the idea of saving Adora, and he was on his feet. The terrified excitement across Kyle’s had only spurred him forward. She might have abandoned them, but they were not about to do the same to her. Now the five of them were together again, as it was supposed to be. It wasn’t quite the same as it had been. There were still many things unsaid between Adora and the ones she had left behind, a lot of hurts to be resolved, but he believed they could fix it if they wanted to.

The way that the blonde had acted the night before made him think that she wanted to fix the mess, mend the family. Despite him still being wary of some trap from the Brightmooners, Adora was too poor an actor to be in on it. Despite everything, he had to admit it was good to see her as a friend again. Every swing he’d taken had felt like a blow to his own gut. That was no way to fight a war; he was glad to see it behind him.

He found himself standing in front of that mural again, the one for King Enoch. Enoch Egg-Eater, his people, called him, and they’d even briefly studied him at the academy. One day this King of Brightmoon had decided he liked the look of the Reptilian territories that sat along his borders and slaughtered with wild abandon until he held them. He’d earned his nickname when his army had fallen onto their hatcheries and held a feast, a whole generation gone overnight. A monster in every sense, yet here he was, emblazoned on the walls of his would-be new home. Enoch was the reason his people had been driven from kingdom to kingdom for a century and a half before settling in Fright Zone. Why the promise of justice and vengeance had brought them into the Horde. Ultimately Enoch’s tyranny was the reason he’d been born into the life of a soldier.

He spat in Enoch’s face, his saliva running down the dead king’s painted cheek like a tear. Turning a sharp corner and heading up a staircase, Glimmer had mentioned a library being up here somewhere. Maybe he could find that. See what nonsense the Brightmoon histories had to say about the crying butcher on the wall below.

 


 

As Rogelio continued his aimless explorations, he realised he was beginning to acclimate to Brightmoon. He was used to the lighting now, and the castle was quiet, at least compared to the constant hum of the Fright Zone’s machinery. Last night it had been unsettling, but now he was enamoured with it. He’d heard the silence of the outside world before, but when you were out on a mission, you had too many other things to think about, no time to relish the silence. But here, now; it was the missing piece, the breathing room his brain needed.

He passed through a set of double doors to a section where one of the walls cut away to open-air, making it more of a covered walkway than another corridor. The view looked out over the gardens though he could just about see into what looked like a training yard, the two separated by a smooth stone wall, painted in the same pale grey as the rest of the castle. Rogelio found himself leaning against the railing, staring out across the greenery.

It would have been difficult not to notice Kyle wandering amongst the flowerbeds. The skinny kid in the Horde uniform looked comically out of place beside all this grandeur, and though he hated to laugh at his friend, the corner of his mouth curled upwards.

The commotion from the training yard cut short his gazing. Unsurprisingly Lonnie had found someone to hit, that one only knew one way to deal with anger. She had always been a dangerous fighter, relying on well-honed technique rather than the natural ability Adora and Catra showcased. The unfortunate guards saw what a lifetime of resentment does to a person and what it lets them tap into when they get a chance to cut loose.

He had always relied on brute strength in fights himself; after all, he was freakishly strong. Apparently, his egg had been impossibly big. So Shadow Weaver had staked a claim on it for the team she wanted to build around Adora. Of course, she lost interest before the team had turned ten and put her efforts purely onto the golden girl herself. He never had the resentment that Lonnie or Catra seemed to have developed, though; the less Shadow Weaver paid attention to him, the easier his life was. It had hurt his skill, though; he had never really been taught to effectively use his power, which had left him uncoordinated and clumsy. Even once he and his team had been deemed ‘elite’, requisitioning specialised training for a single trooper was difficult, though Cat had certainly tried. He didn’t think he’d get the chance here either. The way Lonnie was dismantling the soldiers below, their training couldn’t be up to much.

As he turned his gaze from the fight, he couldn’t help but notice a pair of familiar shapes atop one of the towers. He has known the moment Catra had run from the hall that she’d find somewhere to climb and that Adora would follow, as she always did.

Those two needed one another, Adora said it with her eyes, her smile, and her blushes. He’d missed catching glimpses of that blush. They always reminded him of who Adora was behind that layer or twice polished duty. Cat had been reluctant to admit her feelings at first, even in their secret exchanges of pining. It had been a complete fluke that it had been him to find her in the bowels of a warehouse after the Salineas mission, hugging her knees to her chest and struggling to breathe.

But they’d sat and talked, confessed things to one another that they’d never said out loud. They spoke about their best friends and the feelings neither really understood, but she told of loss where he had talked of love.

If he’d been bolder, he’d have told the poor girl to run, to flee to Brightmoon and make amends, whilst he dragged Kyle, Lonnie and poor Scorpia after her. How much anguish would all of them have been spared if he’d taken that chance?

It was kind of funny that it had been Kyle to do in the end, to do it, for a boy so convinced he was a coward, he might be the bravest of them all. It had been Cat’s plan who’d gotten them here, sure, but Kyle’s heart was behind it. He was proud of him; he was used to taking pride in his friends before, especially his Kyle’s. Rogelio would do everything in his power to make Kyle wear his accomplishments as badges of honour. Whatever it took to boost his best friend’s confidence after years of failure, but this hit different, beyond that familiar feeling. It was like he had finally watched him blossom after a lifetime of struggling to find the sun.

He resented Shadow Weaver for how she’d treated him, hated her for what she’d put the girls through, but he’d envisioned choking the life from her frail grey carcass when he thought about what that ghoul of a woman had done to Kyle. Cat may have been her favourite victim, but that sweet boy was the perfect target. Whenever her success and good behaviour had made punishing her difficult. She could always rely on Kyle to provide her with a motive for callousness. It was her way she would alternate between not caring that he existed at all and seeing what it would take to kill him.

It wasn’t just her mindless insistence that the round peg fit into the square hole, but that each time it didn’t fit, she would find some way to punish the peg. The punishments were relatively tame, he knew, at least compared to what Cat was subjected to. Not that she’d ever shared what happened when dragged away, but singed fur only did so much to hide the bruises.

Catra had suffered in ways he couldn’t imagine. But Weaver understood that she had to be kept alive, for Adora’s sake. However, when it came to Kyle, she didn’t seem to care one way or another. “Run laps until your feet bleed”, “Push-ups until you collapse”, “Squats until I remember you exist.”. Damn her. Usually, he was the one who picked him off the floor and laid him on his bunk, who dressed his wounds, who watched over him as he slept.

The girls would lie for them, explain away their absences and for a few hours, they would be together. Even when he was awake in those times, Kyle didn’t do much more than lay there. He might crack his goofy smile or utter some self-deprecating joke, but it was enough just to be with him.

He wasn’t sure when exactly he started feeling this way; when Kyle’s smile became his sunshine, but it was, but it had been long enough to rival Cat’s own wanting. Years ago, he’d sworn that he’d say something once they became senior cadets, he didn’t. He promised himself he’d confess after they graduated. When that passed, it was after the next mission and the next, and the next. Maybe here, surrounded by the silence, he could find the courage.

What if Kyle rejected him? What if everything changed, and his best friend in the world became awkward around him or distant. Would that misery be worse than the constant pang of not knowing? Was ignorance bliss?

He was down there now, sitting with his back against a tree, seemingly lost in the innocent delight of the greenery surrounding him. This was what his friend deserved, to be free of the anxiety that consumed his every waking moment. He wasn’t sure yet what he wanted from this new life before him, but he knew that Kyle’s happiness had to be a part of it. If Kyle wanted to stay here, amongst the flowers, he would stay too. Kyle’s smile was amongst his earliest memories and was undoubtedly his first happy one. If moving to this strange place, with all of its chequered past, meant he’d see it again, then so be it.

He didn’t remember much of his early life. Just a few scattered memories of sitting alone, shunned by the other hatchlings, it wasn’t often that the runt was twice the size of the rest. But that was just the first example of his complicated relationship with his own people.

He was still a juvenile when Shadow Weaver took him, still walking around on all fours, acutely aware of his own vulnerability. One morning he had woken up in an unfamiliar room, full of loud noises and a blonde human staring at him, smiling.

The abrupt move to this new unit had not been without its problems. For one, Catra struggled to control her hunting instincts back then. He’d spent far too much time fleeing her or being wrenched free of her clutches by the others. More significantly, though, Shadow Weaver had never bothered to send him to Reptilian classes. She had been content to let him remain almost a mute, with only the smattering of words he’d picked up from his time in the hatchery to his name. Instead, it had been a Reptilian Force Captain who had decided to observe a training session and saw him make a fool of himself trying to talk. Supposedly they’d threatened to drag Shadow Weaver before the Clan Chiefs. By denying him his language, she had broken some part of the agreement made when they’d joined the Horde. Something about upholding Reptilian culture amongst their people: she’d consented with a scowl, and off he went to learn to talk, years after he should have.

That had been how he’d learnt the snippets of the Reptilian culture he held dear to. Weaver had pulled him back into her training schedule as soon as the troublesome Force Captain was killed about a year later. But he still had scraps: He’d learnt how to fashion a bracelet from leather and beads, a couple of old myths and even a song. It was some sort of hunter’s prayer that his ancestors had sung to bring them luck; more than once, he had muttered to himself before missions. He’d even managed to track down fragments of his eggshell that the hatcheries always kept and gifted to their owners to craft talismans and marriage tokens from. He could wear that bracelet now, he realised, maybe even make more, without Shadow Weaver’s contempt for such things forcing him to hide it away.

Brightmoon could mean more than wearing a piece of jewellery though, Adora had found a home here and some level of happiness with it. In truth, he wasn’t sure that sneaking into someone’s bedroom and sleeping on their floor was the act of a stable person. But whatever she had found here, she wanted to share it with the four of them. He hoped she’d get the chance, that he could find something worth fighting for here. If nothing else, he’d be willing to defend the peace Kyle had discovered, and if that meant kitting up and busting a few heads on the other side of this damned war, then so be it. All he knew how to do was fight, and there was only one thing you could do with those skills in Brightmoon. What other choice did he have; go live in some village and tend crops until the Horde rolled through it?

He was a fighter, a soldier, simply one without a side, and this one at least seemed noble enough. His family were out in the grounds beneath him, proving they belonged here, and he belonged with them.

Before long, his guard coughed to get his attention and politely explained that It was time.

Chapter Text

The others were waiting in a foyer when Catra found her way to the war room, Adora beaming stupidly at her side. Bow led them to a nest of soft pink sofas before launching into some tedious lecture on etiquette. When to kneel, when to bow, which titles to use; all that official crap designed to inflate the egos of people who thought they special based on who their ancestors had killed. It all seemed pointless; no doubt the Queen had already have decided to kick her to the curb, and kneeling before her wouldn’t do anything to change her mind. This whole meeting was just to put on a show and wring her for intel.

Even after he’d finished his sermon, Bow didn’t stop talking; now, he was asking them all about their mornings for some insane reason. Catra wasn’t in the mood for sharing, and Adora’s soft smile seemed to agree. Their morning on that tower was for them alone. When her turn came, she only scowled, and Bow was at least smart enough not to press her instead; they listened to Kyle’s passionate droning about trees, oh and birds. The birds seemed to be particularly important.

She liked Kyle, he was one of the few people she cared about in all the world, but damn he might be the least exciting person on Etheria. Scratch that; Bow seemed intent on taking the crown for himself; he was actually asking follow-up questions and recommended his favourite flower beds. Suddenly she was looking forward to being kicked out of this ridiculous place.

She did have one possibility that she could explore, though. She could take advantage of their predetermined opinion of her. If they thought that she was some heartless Horde thug, maybe she could play into that. Act the mercenary and sell these idiots a squad of hardened soldiers who could help them win the war. It wasn’t ideal, and it wouldn’t earn her many friends here, but she didn’t have a lot of options. There was only so much she would be able to rely on the thimble of gratitude she’d earned and whatever Adora’s promises meant these days.

It was a long shot, but it was her only shot.

 


 

Eventually, the double doors opened, bringing a blinding light with it. Glimmer stepped towards them, complete with a sour look. The awkward glances exchanged between Lonnie and Ro meant their tour hadn’t gone well.

If she didn’t know better, calling this place the war room might have been ironic. It was the most perfect room she’d seen so far; it conjured images as far from war as you could imagine. Though decor aside, it wasn’t all that different from Hordak’s alternative; a large table with a holo-projector surrounded by high-backed chairs.

A handful of women were seated before her; she recognised the Wind and Net Princesses from the battle, but she’d never been close enough to make out their features. The two couldn’t have been more different; the Net Princess had a dangerous look to her, athletically built and dressed for a fight. Her silvery hair fell over half her face, covering the scowl of a woman who didn’t want to deal with you. The other was the very definition of soft; she was round, and every inch of her from skin and hair to her outfit was bright pink or purple, with a smile that reached her eyes.

The third woman wore a Brightmoon uniform though its distinction marked her as an officer of some kind. Half her head was shaved, highlighting pointed ears; however, her most distinctive feature was the wide scar across her nose. She, too, wore a scowl, but this one felt more intense; the anger behind it was real.

The Queen herself was motionless, staring intently. She had only seen her distantly during the battle, as she’d flown off towards the Moonstone, but she was beautiful. Tall, elegant, and yet somehow fragile; she was a thing to be admired, not used.

Unlike the officer, she maintained composure, her face a lesson in diplomacy. “Welcome to Brightmoon. I am Queen Angella; these are the Princesses Spinerella and Netossa of the Alliance and my trusted commander, General Juliet.”

Catra inclined her head, the closest to a bow she was willing to get. However, her companions had paid more attention to Bow’s ramblings, each bending their backs in unearned respect. “My name is Catra, former Force Captain of the Horde. These are my friends, though you probably know them as Claw Squad; Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio.”

“Welcome to the four of you. We are in your debt for your rescue efforts and understand that you risked much to bring Adora back to us.” She gestured to the table, expecting them to sit. She chose the one directly opposite the Queen, whilst Adora sat to her right. The others spread out around her, Adora walking a little too quickly to the place on her right. The Queen’s eyes never left her; it wasn’t hatred behind them like the General’s. It was something else, almost as if she was trying to piece something together. Curiosity maybe? Whatever it was, she found it unnerving.

“I hope that you enjoyed your time here; from what Adora has told me, conditions in the Fright Zone are significantly less … comfortable than Brightmoon.”

“Yes, thank you for your hospitality” She found herself smiling, “It was our first meal that wasn’t a bar of processed protein.”

“Ah, yes. Adora had mentioned your ration bars; I hope you found our cuisine a little more to your liking.”

“We’ve got a couple in our room; I’d be happy to give you one, your majesty, in exchanges for sharing your own food.”

“Thank you for your offer Catra, I will consider it” She wouldn’t. No one with half a brain would voluntarily eat a ration bar when they could dine on steak and eggs and breakfast every day. But the small talk might endear her a little.

“I’d like you to talk us through what happened yesterday, answer some questions.”

“Where should I start?”

“Start with the battle.” The General practically barked her words like an order, her frown only having etched itself deeper into her face. “Tell us all about how you…” The Queen raised a hand to cut her off.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning, Catra. I understand you were close with Adora as children?” The beginning? Well, there was only one beginning to this story.

“We grew up with Adora. We were raised to be her squad; Shadow Weaver wanted her to use us to climb the ladder.” It was true enough, though the explanation seemed to shame Adora; her eyes hadn’t left the table since she had started talking.

“We were inseparable, then she found that sword, left us all behind. You probably figured out the rest: I got her promotion, and we’ve been ruining your days ever since.” That earned her a glare at the soldierly woman with the scar. “I’d be happy to run you through our war record if you’d like.” She flashed a smirk to the General, who narrowed her eyes. “Hell, we even managed to capture your daughter.” The Queen herself frowned at that one. Maybe she was going a bit too far, but she had to sell herself, focus on the wins. Just stick to the plan.

“Oh, we’re well aware of your record” The General was the first to speak.

“Then you know that how good we are, that’ll save us some time.” This was too much fun. She just knew that one would have annoyed Glimmer too. Damn it, she needed to stop antagonising these people, just focus. This was too important for her usual antics.

“Why don’t you continue, Catra,” Spinerella spoke as softly as she expected, an encouraging smile plastered across her pink face.

“My star was rising; Shadow Weaver was wasting all sorts of resources chasing Adora around Etheria. Hordak noticed and wanted to get rid of a rival.”

“So what did she do exactly?”

“She sent me off to invade your castle with no command experience and a fraction of the troops I’d need to do it. The battle was a setup to get me killed and take a few of you with me. Once the tide turned, I called for a retreat. Then this one came after me.” She pointed to Adora, who avoided her gaze but at least found the courage to finally speak up.

“I needed to know you were okay” Of course, she had; Adora was an idiot, couldn’t even enjoy her victory. She had to know her enemy was still alive; how the hell had the Horde not steamrolled these idiots already.“We fought a little, then she got knocked out, so we took her. She was going to be our constellation prize, a way to stop Hordak from punishing my failure.”

“After that, I woke up in a prison cell.” Adora took over the story. “Shadow Weaver tried to convince me to rejoin the Horde, then Hordak pretty much told me he didn’t care if I defected or not, … that he was going to kill me.” Of course, Shadow Weaver had been there, trying to make her victory about her but trying to turn Adora. When the time came to take that one down, Catra would make sure it was her who did it.

“The order came through, and Kyle and I kind of decided that we couldn’t let them do it.” That was all they were getting of that story.

“Yeah, um, we got together to plan a rescue.” Kyle had apparently been encouraged by his mention, no doubt eager to curry whatever favour he could with the woman who would decide his fate.

“So the four of you planned the mission?” Netossa enquired.

“Yeah, there was Scorpia too, oh and Entrapta.” For a moment, Kyle seemed pleased with his usefulness. He paused, waiting for a follow-up question that never came. Instead, there was silence, the Brightmooner’s exchanging looks she couldn’t quite read. Then they were all speaking at once.

“What?”

“Isn’t she dead?”

“Entrapta!”

“How?.”

They thought she was dead. That was why they left her behind. She’d assumed that ‘Trap was just another discarded hanger-on of the Princesses, thrown away without the moment they became an inconvenience. This was more complicated, Catra knew that she’d played things up when she’d convinced Entrapta to join the Horde, but this was not what she had expected.

“What the hell are you talking about.” Glimmer was on her feet, arm trembling as she pointed accusatorially, “she died, you… you’re lying.” Of course, they’d blame her, well fine then, so much for not antagonising, she was going to twist the knife.

“You left her for dead.” It seemed to work. The will to argue poured out of the young Princess, leaving her grasping for her seat as she deflated into it.

“No…” Her words were so quiet. Bow wrapped an arm around her, gently touching her hair, sighing as he did so. Maybe she had gone too far.

“Catra, please explain yourself. We thought Princess Entrapta had … fallen.” The Queen was as reserved as ever, though something in her voice betrayed her shock.

“I found her in the vents, and she joined the Horde. She’s been playing with their tech ever since?”

“Entrapta was one of us; she would never join the Horde.” Bow looked crestfallen as he spoke. ‘Trap had mentioned him a few times; he had been the only one of the Alliance to really get her. His expression was one she had worn for months, the tragic mix of confusion and betrayal that came with being on the opposite side of a war to a friend.

“The Horde has the most advanced tech on the planet, and she gets to play with it all she likes.” None of them had a rebuttal; acceptance was slowly dawning on them. Even Adora, who just stared at her, scrunching up her face as she did. She always made the same face when she didn’t know how to feel about something.

“Where is she now?” Netossa tried to bring things back around to normalcy.

“She’s still in the Fright Zone; she wouldn’t come with us.”

“Why?”

“We already told you. Entrapta’s obsessed with our tech. She thinks the Horde’s resources will help her with her research.” Lonnie interjected, hoping to speed the topic along.”

“Do you want me to keep going?” Catra directed her question to the Queen as desperate to move on as possible.

“Yes, please. I think we had best just get through this.”

There wasn’t much enthusiasm left for the rest of the story, even as she explained her daring rescue and triumph over Grizzlor. If anything, she found that concerning, not that they weren’t singing her praises, she was used to that. Only the General had seemed to recognise the name Grizzlor. The Jungulian had expanded the Fright Zone’s territory up to the Plumerian border and personally killed more rebels than anyone alive. These idiots didn’t have a clue. She had suspected that they weren’t well organised, even that their intel was terrible, but this was something else. What kind of operation was she even trying to join here?

Once she recounted the hanger, though, things got more complicated. How was she supposed to explain that? How do you explain the bravest, most selfless act in the world to a bunch of people who wouldn’t even care?

“When we reached the hanger, half the Horde were on us, I was ready to stay behind, cover the escape, but I didn’t get the chance. Scorpia got there first.” Grief fell heavy in the air, spreading slowly from those who had witnessed the sacrifice to the rest as comprehension dawned. Only Glimmer seemed unaffected, her eyes trained on the floor, seemingly unlistening as if she was fighting to keep herself in the room.

“I’m sorry for your loss. Princess Scorpia sounds very brave. A true hero.” The Queen’s words were empty courtesy. But somehow, they helped in that soothing voice of hers; it made her feel more at ease.

Eventually, they were able to get back on track, as she relayed the chase and Vultak’s attack all the way up to Glimmer and Bow’s appearance without issue. Neither Adora nor her team had anything to add when prompted, so she hoped they could get the next part over with. It had hurt more than she expected to recount everything, and she wanted to rush to talking her way into a place here. Then she could find herself another tower to climb, maybe one Adora couldn’t reach this time.

That release would take a little longer, though. The General had been insistent on hearing Bow and Glimmer’s version of events, though the archer was able to keep things brief. She couldn’t even enjoy the idea of Bow getting caught in her flashbang through his binoculars, the ghost of Scorpia draining any laughter from her.

“After that, we saw you escape on the skiff and Scorpia fighting into the street.”

“What happened?” The General seemed determined to draw this out as long as possible, punish her with Scorpia’s final moments.

“She crashed into the street, fighting a big green guy, then I’m not sure. I got distracted when we saw Vultak’s skiffs start chasing you. Did you see anything, Glim?”

“I…” Glimmer struggled to find the words. Could it have been that bad? “I saw them drag her in front of Shadow Weaver.” No. Not that, Catra had to brace herself for impact; she dug her claws into the armrest of her chair, fearing the worst. Only before the gut punch came, she felt a weight on her wrist; Adora’s smooth hand was resting on top of her own. Adora understood she had seen what Shadow Weaver was truly capable of, what her magic could do to a person. Adora gave her a squeeze of support before Glimmer continued her tale. “She used … her magic. I… just stood there. I could have… teleported… saved her… didn’t. I… I left her like Entrapta.

“You left her” It was barely more than a whisper; only Adora seemed to hear her.

“I’m… sorry, I was just trying… a good commander.” The words were muffled by sobs.

“You left her” louder that time, more heads turned.

She had no idea what Glimmer had said after that, and she didn’t care. All that mattered is that she had casually watched Scopia die and done nothing. She had been blaming herself, but no. It had been this entitled, selfish little bitch who had killed her friend. She wanted justice, vengeance, blood. Adora’s hand was forgotten, the gentle touch nowhere enough to curb her fury.

She leapt onto the table, span to face the Princess and pounced. She crashed into the unsuspecting royal with all the force afforded to her. Adora was screaming her name as she threw punch after punch into the face of the shorter girl. It wasn’t until the fourth blow that Glimmer managed to put up her hands in defence, and on the fifth, she teleported them both.

A second later, two were in the air amid the glittery residue, falling into the centre of the room. Catra disentangled herself mid-air, twisting as she fell to land on her feet first on the table. It was only seconds before she sprang back into the fray, throwing snarls left and right. She didn’t get close.  A grid of white energy hit her head-on and sent her hurtling backwards towards a wall where she remained in place.

She was helpless to watch the chaos ensue.

Her squad were the first on their feet, rallying around her, ready for a fight. Even Kyle had taken up a stance to protect her, fighting his nerves in the name of foolish loyalty. She wanted to take pride in their show of commitment, but they might have just sealed their own fates, joining her in whatever dungeon or banishment was waiting. The General called for help as a half dozen guards poured into the room, spears at the ready. The scar-faced woman had drawn her own sword and pointed it at her friends from across the table.

Bow and Spinerella focused on Glimmer, helping her to her feet and examining her bloody face. Whilst Netossa had an arm outstretched to keep her pinned against the wall.

Adora wasn’t the first to move, but the world fell away when she did. The blonde turned, putting herself between her friends and the Brightmooners staring down the guards. She couldn’t see the girl’s face, but she already knew the look she wore. It was the one that she had been fighting against for a year; equal parts righteous determination and solemn duty, only this time Adora wore it for her.

The General opened her mouth to give the order, to condemn them to a fight they couldn’t win.

“Enough.” The Queen’s voice was firm. Loud enough to force everyone into silence. “Bow, could you take my daughter to the infirmary, please.” The young archer nodded and led her away.

“General, order your guards to stand down; they are dismissed.”

“But your majesty….”

“They are dismissed. Now clear the room. Adora, could you please look after your friends. Netossa, please release Catra. I would like to speak with her in private.” She was finally beginning to see why this woman ruled Brightmoon. She was stronger than she looked, with more spine than her dainty appearance implied.

Netossa waved her hand, dissolving her net, and she fell forward. The Queen remained still, staring at her. All Catra could do was stare back, wait for one of them to break the silence.

 


 

“Catra.” Her voice was cold, devoid of anger as much as anything else. “Before I go any further, you should know that what you just did was completely unacceptable. The only reason we are even having this conversation is the debt of gratitude my kingdom owes you. Now would you care to explain yourself?”

“She… she left Scorpia. She killed her.” Catra’s voice began to crack as the words fell out.

“I ordered Glimmer not to engage; she did as she was ordered. Would you punish your soldiers if they obeyed you?”

“No, but…”

“Then the fault lies with me. It was my order. If you want to blame someone for your friend, then make me your target.” Orders were one thing, but it was clear Glimmer was no soldier.

“My squad use their judgement. I trust them.”

“I wish I could trust my daughter’s judgement sometimes. She can be so impulsive, and I just wanted to keep her safe.” Regret filled the air as she spoke, its solemn despair covering her face with every word. “It was just supposed to be a recon mission, she was going to back so we could plan our own rescue, and my hesitance cost you dearly. Catra, whilst I know this probably means little from me, I really am sorry for your friend.”

It wasn’t this woman’s fault, any more than it was Glimmers; the Brightmooners had just gotten caught up in her mess. Scorpia wouldn’t have needed to stay behind if she’s seen through Grizzlor’s trap earlier. It was all her fault, just like she had always thought.

“It was me.” She didn’t know when she’d dropped to her knees or when The Queen had sat beside her. “I left her. I killed her. It was supposed to be me who died.” The tears were streaming down her face now, dampening her fur.

“Catra.” A hand gently brushed her shoulder. “Never apologise for living. It isn’t your fault. From the sounds of things, you did everything you could; you were even ready to die for her, for all your friends. I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Why? all I do is mess things up; you saw what I did to Glimmer.”

“Because then I would never have gotten to thank you for saving Adora. I know how hard it is to lose someone you care about, and I know what it’s like to blame yourself for it.”

“You do?”

“My husband, King Micah.”

“Adora told me he was this big hero, right?”

“He was. But he was more than that, he was the warmest, kindest, most stubborn man in all Etheria, and I loved him. I still do. I think about him every day. Whenever I wake and see my bed half-empty, whenever I walk past his nook in the library, and whenever I see his features in Glimmer’s face.”

“I’m sorry.” That’s what you were supposed to say, right?

“I was warned, you know, that marrying a mortal would only end in heartache, but I didn’t care. It was better to have a few short decades with my true love than a millennium with another. I didn’t even get that long, and it was all my fault. I sent his army to Glenmar, and he never came back.”

So the Queen, Angella, did understand. She had been living this hell for nearly as long as Catra had been alive, and she still seemed troubled by it. Would this be her life now, grieving Scorpia anytime she was reminded of her?

“How do you deal with it?” There had to be some way of coping.

“One day at a time. I try to be there for my people, for my daughter when she lets me, and even for Bow and Adora when I can. I always wanted more children, but it wasn’t to be. So I’ve tried to give that love where I can to whoever might need it. Like you do now.”

Need love? What did that even mean? She was just a wretched animal who got her friends killed. She didn’t need anything or anyone. There was comfort in the lie, there needed to be, to offset that she would soon be homeless and alone.

“I don’t understand.” All this woman could talk about was kindness, love and all the other things she had been denied her whole life. She had never known a mother’s love; her only family were the other stolen kids Shadow Weaver had been determined to ruin.

“Adora talked a lot about your upbringing, a lot about you. Neither of you are my first experience with Shadow Weaver’s victims; I’ve seen what she can do to people. I just try to offset that woman’s cruelty, if I can. She truly is a monster.”

“You’ve got that right.”

“It’s why I’m choosing to be lenient with you, to not hold your outburst against you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Long ago, striking a member of the royal family would have cost you the hand if you were lucky.” Angella’s tone had turned wistful.

“So, what are you going to do to me?”

“I have a few choices. Firstly I could take your hand as my ancestors would have. But I am not a barbarian. Or I could banish you from my kingdom, but that would only inflame what we saw today. So instead, I’m going to ask you to be better. I want you to work to be the person I think you can be.

Who was this woman to talk to her like this? What did ‘be better’ even mean?

“When I look at you, I see such a strong young woman. You’ve suffered your entire life and never gave up on yourself or your friends, not even Adora, when push came to shove. I’ve read every report on Claw Squad that came across my desk; I know you’re brilliant. But yesterday, you proved yourself to be brave, selfless and determined to risk your life to do the right thing.”

“I’m just some dumb animal.” She hated it, but it was true. Why else would she have reacted like she had, a feral animal ruled by instinct and urges.

“Is that what Shadow Weaver told you?” Angella didn’t let her answer, “Because that horrid cow is wrong. Catra, you’re anything but those things. If you were stupid, there is no way you could have accomplished all you have, and the Magicats are as civilised and noble a people as I have ever had the pleasure to meet.”

“What’s a Magicat.” She had never heard the word before.

“Damn that woman, how could she keep something so fundamental from you?.” Angella scowled, “You’re a Magicat; they are your people, my dear. I take it you don’t remember how you came to the Fright Zone?”

“My first memory is Adora finding me in a box when I was two or three. I’ve no idea where I came from before that.”  It wasn’t entirely true. There were one or two very hazy things she recalled from before then, one of being held and one of a woman singing, but they had never been clear enough to mean anything. “I never even thought about having a people. I mean, I knew there had to be others like me out there somewhere. That’s just how it works, right? But I never really figured I had much to do with them.”

“They’re a reclusive people, for the most part. They live on an island out in the Growling Sea. But from time to time, a few venture out into Etheria. Some of them even fought with the First Princess Alliance.” Angella trailed off, almost as if she was lost in a memory. The war had cost this woman more than a husband, and now here she was, ripping into one of the scars.

“Oh.” What else could she say? How was she supposed to deal with there being a whole island of other hers out there? Was she supposed to want to see them? She wasn’t sure if she did. They didn’t mean anything to her, just more strangers. The only people who cared about her were her friends, and now apparently, for some strange reason, Angella. They were the people she wanted to see, be around.

“My place is with my friends, not some island.” Angella smiled at that.

“And would you like that place to be here?”

“If that’s what they want. I don’t really care where we are?” Who was she kidding? Kyle belonged here, Ro would just follow him, and Lonnie didn’t seem to care. Then there was Adora. Damn.

“I think they want to stay, though.”

“If you can be that better person we talked about, and if you apologise to Glimmer, there is a place for you here.” She still wasn’t sure what being ‘better’ really meant, but trying might not be so bad. Apologising, though, that was a different story. She had sworn that she would never do that, not even to Adora. But maybe she could?. She could try for her friends, and for Adora and for Angella. Most importantly, she could try for herself.

“What about the Rebellion?”

“That would be up to each of you. I would never dream of forcing anyone to fight.” That took Catra aback; she figured that was her ticket in. She was a talented soldier with all the inside knowledge they could ask for, and here was the leader of the Rebellion, turning it down, giving her a choice. How few of those had she ever been given? Only once that she could remember, amidst the smoke of Thaymor, though she hadn’t been ready to make it.

She had already decided she wanted to make the Horde pay; it had been a no brainer from the moment she had come to on the skiff. Now though, the bloody swathe of mayhem she had dreamt of felt less appealing. She had been offered a home here, with all her friends, without expectation. Perhaps she could do things their way, not as some lunatic on a quest for vengeance or as a cold-hearted mercenary, but as a rebel.

“Are you ready to bring everyone back in?” Angella broke her train of thought.

“I think so.” Angella pulled a small square of fabric from her pocket and began dabbing at Catra’s eyes.

“Here, let’s clean you up a little.” She smiled at her handiwork. “You really are a pretty little thing, aren’t you?” Nobody had called her pretty before, well Adora might have said it once, and Scorpia had tried to make ‘pretty kitty’ a thing. But this was different; was this how Adora felt every time Shadow Weaver had said something nice about her?

“Blue and gold, Angella was singing now, just under her breath, “daffodils beside a stream, two shades in harmony like sapphires and citrines.”

“Huh?”

“I’m sorry; your eyes, they reminded me of a song. My sister-in-law used to sing it, and always used to put Glimmer right to sleep.” She trailed off, the words becoming a gentle hum. “There we are, no more tears.” Angella smiled and returned to her feet.

 


 

Angella ordered a guard outside the door to have the others found. After a few minutes, they began their slowly filter in, save for Glimmer, who Bow had announced was okay but wanted to be alone. Good. That would spare her having to apologise publically. Plus, it might be best if Glimmer didn’t hear what Angella would say like this anyway.

“I want to thank you for your patience. I believe Catra and I have come to an understanding.” Angella announced. Most began to look around apprehensively at the news. Save for the General who seemed to have figured out what was coming, her evident frustration losing out to a desire not to die on that particular hill.

“I have invited Catra to stay in Brightmoon, and I would like to extend that offer to the three of you.” Angella’s eyes met her friends; she almost wished she had a tracker pad so she could take a picture of their faces. “The offer is exactly that, an offer. Any of you may choose to leave whenever you like, and I do not expect any of you to fight for the Rebellion, though you may do so if you wish.”

“Thank you, your majesty.” Kyle nearly tripped over his words, “I think I’d like to if the others would.” Rogelio didn’t hesitate; his large green hand found Kyle’s shoulder and before moving to his head and ruffling through his already messy hair.

“I’m going where you go.” His growl was soft, and anyone hadn’t figured out how bad he had it for the little dweeb; they knew now, save for the oblivious little doofus himself, of course.

“um, Rogelio is staying too.” Kyle stammered, remembering to translate.

“It’s not like I have anywhere else to go,” Lonnie admitted with a sigh, she might not love it here, but she was going to try. Catra had to respect that, and if Lonnie could live amongst the people she’d wanted to kill her whole life, then she could try too.

“Then let me be the first to welcome you.” The Queen’s smile was wider than it had been all day.

People were on their feet again now. Spinerella congratulated her friends, pulling Kyle into a deep hug, and Netossa shook their hands. Even the General had resigned herself to courtesy, welcoming the three in turn.

All three of the senior rebels were hesitant to come to her, each preferring to offer a curt nod from a safe distance. There was an exception though, Bow walked over nervously.

“Hi Catra, um, so you’re staying, huh?” His tone hurt. She had been starting to like this one, just a little. Now he seemed to resent her as much as the others.

“You don’t have to sound so excited about it.”

“I didn’t mean it like that; it’s just….”

“Glimmer?”

“Yeah.”

“Look, I shouldn’t have done what I did, okay. Angella wants me to make it right anyway.”

“That’s… good.” His voice cracked on the second word, “just be gentle with her. She’s pretty messed up.” Well, randomly getting blindsided and beaten up would do that; she’d learnt that as a kid. She was really going to have to fix this, wasn’t she?

“Do you know where she is?”

“The throne room, I think.” He was grinning like a child. What was wrong with him?

“What?”

“I just realised. You didn’t call her Sparkles.”

“Yes, I did.” That record had to be set straight.

“Okay.” His smile didn’t recede as she walked away. She mentally rescinded her thoughts about him growing on her.

There was only one person left who hadn’t acknowledged her. Adora had been busy exchanging hugs with the others. Still, every now and then, she had caught her sneaking glances in her direction. They weren’t happy looks or even angry ones; frankly, she had no idea how Adora felt about everything that had gone down.

There were so many ways that conversation could go, most of them bad. Catra needed to be smart about this, an argument with Adora now, and she’d never apologise to Glimmer. She’d probably end up picking another fight and be out on her ass before dinner.

The next time Adora caught her eye, she just slipped out of the room, heading towards the Throne Room.

 


 

She found Glimmer alone in the Throne Room. It was far bigger than in her dream and infinitely grander; every inch of the room seemed to take the Brightmoon aesthetic to its extreme. Every wall was built around enormous golden archways, filled with polished silver strips and stained glass. Every shape accented by huge pink gemstones and more of those same golden curves.

It was a damn sight lighter than Hordak’s own throne room, not just in the decorations but in its purpose. Hordak rarely used the room save for show, only ever to intimidate. Though in truth, he seemed to hate the damn thing more than anyone. This place was meant to bring people together under Angella’s power, join them as a single people. The messages might be different, but the meaning stayed the same: You do not mess with the person who sits here.

Even the thrones themselves were different. Hordak’s was huge and angular, deliberately uncomfortable to sit in, and anyone unwilling to play the part would be lost inside it. It was rigid, unyielding; that thing would survive any bomb blast. Angella’s seat of power was a different beast altogether, an elegant construction of gold and pink crystal that reeked of antiquity. But it sat in the open air, floating outside a large awning, accessed only by a series of hovering steps, a perilous seat indeed.

The Princess was sat at the far end of the room, perched on the ramped platform that led to the floating throne. She sat, knees huddled to her chest and eyes looking past her, past everything.

“Hey, Sparkles.” She tried to be casual about it. After all, Angella had been right about blaming Glimmer. If this apology was a condition of her staying here, then she’d rather not make a whole ‘thing’ of it.

“Oh.” Glimmer barely registered her presence. She wasn’t even sure if the Princess had even said anything; it might have just been an exasperated sigh she had misheard.

“I guess you’re surprised to see me, huh? Bet you thought I’d get dragged off to some dungeon, right? Sorry to disappoint.”

“What do you want, Catra?”

“I spoke to your mom.”

“And?” Glimmer practically spat the word at her. Okay, maybe she’d been a little too antagonistic this time.

“And she sent me to talk to you.” She was just going to have to come out and say it wasn’t she? Okay, fine, might as well get it over with. “I’m sorry that I hit you.” There it was, her first apology. It wasn’t so bad; it actually felt kind of good, liberating almost. Catra had no plans to make a habit of it, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to do it from time to time when it mattered.

“I deserved it.” That wasn’t the response she expected. How hard had she hit her? There had better not be brain damage. Even Angella wouldn’t be able to forgive that.

“Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I should have done it.”

“What the hell did my Mom say to you?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, you went from like a feral panther to a house cat pretty quickly, so it must have been some conversation.” Well, she wasn’t exactly wrong; it had been life-changing. It had literally changed her life. She’d been offered home.

“Look, I’m not trying to make friends or whatever, but I’ve been ordered to play nice with you.” The truth was Angella had managed to show her more affection in a single moment than Shadow Weaver had in her whole life, and she wanted to earn it.

“She mom-ed you, didn’t she?”

“I don’t even know what that means?”

“She did it to Adora too. She was all kind and affectionate, you know; motherly.” Catra really didn’t know. “Oh, um, sorry, Adora didn’t really know either.” The confusion must have been visible, “It’s how a mom is supposed to be. It must mean she likes you.”

That made sense, Lonnie had talked about her mom being like that, and Shadow Weaver had tried to play the part for Adora. She had always craved that attention, but had she really been desperate to fold to the first sign of affection like that? She was getting soft.

“She was trying to do the same to me; she only wanted to keep me safe, I think. You know, when she ordered me not to get involved.”

“Yeah, I get that there wasn’t much you could have done. It’s just… It hurts.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t try to help her. She sounds like she was a good person.”

“She was the best.”

“Can I ask you how it happened?” She needed some kind of closure; she just hoped it had been a quick death.

“I don’t know, the last I saw, they were dragging her away.” Wait a minute.

“You didn’t see them kill her?”

“No.” The thought running through her mind was too much; if it was true, everything could be fixed. Scorpia. She could save her. “What is it?” Glimmer was right to be confused, it didn’t make much sense, but maybe there was a chance.

“Shut up.” She needed to think, okay, what were her options? She would need to know for sure; gather some intel. Maybe they could ambush a patrol, make them talk? No, they probably wouldn’t know anything and wouldn’t speak to a traitor.

Then inspiration struck.

“I need your help; I need to know if she’s still alive.”

 

Chapter Text

Adora quickly ushered her old squadmates out of the room. What the hell had just happened? One minute it was just a regular debriefing; Catra was explaining their escape, answering questions, and then it all turned to chaos. Glimmer had seen everything that her friends had been through to rescue her, and then she had just sat back and let Scorpia die. Glimmer hated the Horde more than anyone and had made her opinions on Catra, Scorpia and the others perfectly clear more than once. Still, she would never have thought the Princess was capable of abandoning someone like that. It didn’t make sense. And then there was Catra… It was too much. Her stomach felt like it had back at Thaymor, when the world began to crumble in front of her eyes.

She had seen Catra fight hundreds of battles, fought plenty of them herself, simulated, or otherwise, but she had never seen her like that before. If it hadn’t been for Netossa, she was pretty sure Catra would have kept swinging until there was nothing left to punch. Then everyone else had gotten involved, and before Adora knew it, she was standing beside her friends. Maybe she’d gotten swept up in the moment, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to regret it, no matter what it ended up costing her.

The four of them traipsed their way back towards the tiny foyer with the pink sofas, as dejected as any defeated army. She wasn’t sure where else to take them; the rest of the castle might be a little hostile right now, and she didn’t want to inflame things any more than they already had. She’d noticed the sneers, heard the murmurings since all morning, word travelled fast, and soon they’d all hate her too. Just another Horde rat, they’d say; a traitor who threw in with the enemy; moments after they’d tried to assassinate Glimmer. Why couldn’t this be simple? Why couldn’t everyone just be friends?

It was too much, so many things to think about. she had promised to fight for the Rebellion, promised to be She-Ra, but she had promised to defend her old friends too, to never leave them behind again. Promises. Too many promises. It was too much. No. Too much. Too much. Too much.

Something was wrong. Her head was spinning. Breathing was getting faster. So fast. Too fast. No. Stop. Breathe. Please.

“Adora!” someone called her name. She wasn’t sure who it was; the voice was familiar, no. Not like this. She was She-Ra. Couldn’t let the others see. Not like this. Disappointment. Failure. Weak. No. She just-

“Damn it, this again.” The voice was different, another person. “Ro, get her on her feet. Kyle tried to calm her down. I’ll see if I can find some water or something.” Strong arms wrapped around her, lifting her from the ground.

“It’s okay, Adora, we’ve got you.” Another voice, softer than the first, she knew it too. “You just need to breathe. Ro put her down here.” She was somewhere soft now; was it the sofas? The buky green arms released her gently. “it’s all going to be alright,” the voice got louder as smooth hands took hers and spoke so gently. “look at me, please, you need to breathe.” She opened her eyes, and Kyle was staring at her. “That’s good, now breathe with me, okay. In…two…three…four hold…two…three…four out…two…three…four.”

She followed along; in, hold, out. It was getting easier to breathe, easier to think. A rough hand began to stroke her hair, and Kyle kept up the mantra, this was better. She hadn’t had one of these attacks since choosing a dress for Princess Prom, but they had once been regular occurrences. The five of them had muddled through like this; only usually Catra’s fur had been her saving grace, the soft brown fluff that could help her calm down with only a touch. Since then, she’d had to make do with the stuffed toy she’d become obsessed with on her first visit to the Brightmoon market.

He had been hiding behind a stack of other toys on the market stall; a silly little animal boy with a fluffy tail, pointed ears, and soft hair. She had named him Loo-Kee after one of Madame Razz’s imaginary friends who liked to hide, and he had been her late-night confidant ever since.

Lonnie returned a little while later, thrusting a glass of water into her hands and ordering her to drink.

“We were so close, we just had to make it through that one meeting, and Catra has to try and murder the Princess. What the hell is wrong with that girl.” Lonnie had never been shy about expressing her frustrations.

“I didn’t think you wanted to stay.” Kyle was quick to respond.

“I don’t; I’m just resigning myself to it. You guys like it here, and Catra…” Lonnie gave her a strange, loaded glance before rolling her eyes. “This place has everything she’s ever wanted.”

“And yet…” Rogelio’s low growl brought the reality of Catra’s actions back.

“I just don’t know what came over her.” Adora threw her hands over her face, muffling the sigh that followed.

“You don’t?” Kyle was uncharacteristically sceptical. “This isn’t exactly the first time she’s lashed out.”

“And she doesn’t usually have a reason that good.” Lonnie added, frowning at Adora’s confusion.”

“I guess so….” She had to admit, if it had been one of her friends who’d been left behind like that, she might not be so calm in the situation.

“Glimmer hasn’t exactly been a gracious host either.” Lonnie interrupted. Whatever must have happened on their tour clearly still had the girl on edge.

“She tried, I think.” Rogelio, ever the level-head, shrugged as he growled.

“You’re seriously going to side with her, Ro?” Lonnie snapped back at him, jumping to her feet as she did. The Reptilian remained seated, gently moving his fingers over his spines, eyes trained on his frustrated friend.

“I’m not taking sides; it’s just there was no way she could have known about your dad.” Well, something weird must have happened on that tour; how the hell had Lonnie’s dad come up, and what had Glimmer done to upset her? Surely Glimmer would understand, given what happened to King Micah.

“That’s not the point; she shouldn’t have… you know what? I’m not doing this right now. Glimmer pissing me off isn’t the problem here.” Lonnie threw herself back onto the sofa, arms folded.

“No. I suppose not.” Rogelio agreed

“Wait, what happened?” She hated having to admit her confusion; back in the Fright Zone, you’d get reprimanded for revealing that kind of weakness. Even in Brightmoon, she still got funny looks when she confessed to not understanding some ‘ordinary’ detail of life here. Embarrassing as it was, at least the Brightmoon version ended in her learning something new or, even better, having some new treat thrust into her hands.

“Glimmer showed us the picture of her dad; Lonnie got upset.”

“I told you, we’re not doing this.” Lonnie barked, bringing the group to silence.

The quiet hung awkwardly. This was new. Back before Adora had left, the group had just been able to sit in comfortable silence. Even when they occasionally argued, the tension would usually drift away without a word needing to be said. Now it was beyond uncomfortable. How had she managed to ruin so much by just following her destiny?

“Look, guys, I know that I didn’t get a proper chance to thank you last night, but I really am grateful that you broke me out of prison and everything.” That seemed an excellent place to start, her hands still trembled a little as she spoke, but it was fading as she moved her focus to her feelings. Her horrible, confusing feelings.

“Pretty sure you thanked us last night.” Lonnie rolled her eyes. Had she? That sounded like her, but there had been so much chaos she couldn’t remember for sure.

“And I want to apologise.” She tried plan b.

“You did that too.” That also sounded like her.

“I know, but I’m really sorry.” Time for plan c?

“Please stop.” Lonnie almost sniggered at her own words but was able to quickly regain her composure.”

“But…”

“Adora, look. We know you’re sorry for what you did, but that doesn’t change the fact that you did it, and it really hurt us. Even if we won’t all admit it.” Kyle shot Lonnie a look.

“What’s that supposed to mean? I’ve been pretty open with how pissed off I about this whole thing.”

“I don’t think that’s the same thing, Lon.”

“Pfft, whatever. At least I got angry, instead of you two sadsacks.” And just like that, there was silence again, Kyle and Rogelio just exchanging sullen glances as Ro threatened to rub his spines down to nubs. “Why did you do it? I get you found the sword, and the Horde was evil, and all that stuff. I get that. Why didn’t you come back, try to talk to us?” At least Lonnie was consistent in trying to make things awkward for her. No. That wasn’t fair. They deserved an answer, which was a necessary step, just like with Catra.

“I tried to talk to Catra at Thaymor, and I don’t know if she wouldn’t listen, or I screwed up convincing her, or if I gave up too easily. But by the time I got back to Brightmoon, I got so swept up in the Rebellion that I didn’t get the chance to find you. The next time I saw you guys, we just ended up fighting and everything just kind of spiralled. I never really even got to talk to you.” Telling them felt kind of liberating, even more so than the talk she’d had on the roof that morning.

“You didn’t try.” Lonnie’s words stung. She had told herself for months that she had done everything she could, but now those reassurances rang hollow. She hadn’t tried. Not really.

“I know, and I want to try now, though, to fix things.” She was almost pleading with them now, not for their immediate forgiveness but for a chance. They must want it on some level after all, or they wouldn’t be here in the first place.

“There’s nothing to fix. You apologised, I accepted. Done.” Rogelio had always been easy to win over. She wanted to love him for it, but right now, she kinda wished he’d put up more of a fight. It wasn’t that she didn’t want his forgiveness, but she wanted to prove she deserved it. After all, if it could be so easy, why had they been at each other’s throats for a year.

“Okay.” Kyle smiled, “I can do that; give you a shot, I mean. I mean, you’re one of my best friends, like family.” Kyle struggled not to trip over his own words as he spoke.

“They don’t speak for me.” Lonnie, sweet, dependably angry Lonnie. There was no way that one would let her off the hook so easily. “It’s going to take a little more than a plate of eggs to win me over; standing up for Catra back there was a good start, but it isn’t going to make up the year of crap we’ve had to put up with.”

“I get that. I’m going to make this right.”

“You know that involves getting your ass kicked, right?” Something seemed to click in Lonnie, the same willingness to mend that the others had shown.

“What?”

“We’re going to settle this Horde style, Adora, in my training yard.” That was how you settled things in the Fright Zone; you fight it out. Didn’t matter who was right once it got that far, but you needed to dispel whatever animosity had built up; get it out of your system. After all, a soldier needs to trust the ones next to them.

“Your training yard?” She could feel it rising inside of her, the urge to compete, show off her hard-earned prowess. This was what Lonnie always brought out of her, in some ways more so than even Catra. The feline was closer in skill but didn’t take their competitions seriously and had to be prodded into challenges.

“I am its undisputed master, thank you very much.”

“And I’m literally the Princess of Power.”

“Oh no, none of that She-Ra crap, I’m kicking Adora’s ass.”

“Still seems a tall order. Maybe you should stick to embarrassing the guards, then if you’re feeling up to it, try your luck against Kyle.”

“Oh, it’s like that then.” Lonnie scoffed at the accusation

“What did I do?” it seems that Kyle still hadn’t learnt when to keep his head down.

“Shut up, Kyle!” both girls cried simultaneously before erupting into fits of laughter, infecting the boys. It was so good to hear them laugh like this again; it almost felt like it used to.

“Maybe you could give him the sword, see how you fare against Kyle-Ra.” Rogelio chuckled as he spoke.

“Hey, I bet I can pull off that tiara.” Kyle barely got his words out before he was wheezing with the rest of them. Just like that, it seemed that everything might be okay.

The jokes kept coming, easing them back into what she’d feared was gone forever; now, all that remained was the Catra problem. She would need to think of a solution and quickly. Very quickly, it turned out, a guard summoned them back into the War Room, where they were met by a surprisingly calm Catra, sitting back in her chair as if nothing had happened.

 


 

They were staying in Brightmoon. All of them, even Catra. Not that the feline had stuck around to celebrate with the others, she’d run from the war room the second she had the chance. She should try to find her, and in a little while, she would. She would have to check in on Glimmer too, no doubt she’d need to be talked out of some elaborate revenge scheme or something. Right now, though, she needed to decompress a little with Brightmoon’s latest residents.

Whatever Angella had said to Catra seemed to work; she wasn’t sure she had ever seen her old friend look so remorseful. Shadow Weaver had constantly threatened her into submission, and on rare occasions, guilt might do the same. This felt different somehow; the Queen had a knack for knowing how to fix things, saying precisely the right words to motivate you in the right direction.

She watched her friends storm their way through the castle’s supply of soda pops and cake. The way their faces had lit up at the first taste of chocolate was something she never wanted to forget. She wondered if this was how Bow and Glimmer felt whenever they’d shared their favourite tidbits with her? All she knew was that she wanted to live through it again and again. She started planning what treats she could show next; ice cream, popcorn, toothpaste. All of the culinary delights of Brightmoon were open before her.

Her gastronomic daydreams were interrupted when Catra burst into the dining hall. Glimmer of all people in tow, practically dragging the Princess by the wrist.

“Catra! You have to try this!” Kyle tried to force a bottle of green soda into her hands, only to be shoved to one side as the two girls pushed their way to the middle of the group. “But it’s really good”, he moaned before taking another hearty gulp of his own.

“It’s Scorpia. She might be alive.” Catra was deadly serious; there was no way this could be some weird joke, not with Glimmer involved.

“What?” The reaction was unanimous, four voices screaming the same word, nearly simultaneously, and one confused rumble.

“I didn’t see them kill her, only drag her away.” Glimmer confessed. Damn. That changed everything; if she was still alive, they could rescue her and repay that debt.

“We have to do something.” That was what she managed to blurt out, but it earned a show of nods, all of them in agreement. Catra seemed to be ahead of them already, asking only to see some maps. They practically sprinted to the war room, Kyle bringing up the rear, multiple soda pops in each hand.

“Does this thing have a map of Plumeria?” Catra asked, eyes flicking from the table to Bow, trickles of impatience finding their way through between glances.

“it should do.” Bow began pressing at a small touchscreen built into the side of the table. A hologram flickered to life, rendering Perfuma’s kingdom in pink geometrics. Catra seemed to take to it instinctively, swiping and zooming until she settled on a section in the country’s north. “What are you looking for?”

“There’s a listening post; it’s supposed to be spying on your comms. Or it would if any of you Princesses bothered to actually coordinate with each other.” She wasn’t wrong; most of the Rebellion just did whatever it wanted; last month, three separate groups had tried to ambush the same convoy. It had turned out to be a trap, and now they were down three squads.

“We should be able to take that, no problem. So what’s the plan?” Lonnie asked, whatever levity she had found in their little celebration gone.

“We attack them now! Come on, let’s go!” One of Kyle’s empty bottles rolled off the table as he cheered. Okay, so Kyle might have had too much sugar. Ro carefully plucked an open drink from the blonde’s hands and pressed him into a chair.

“Probably no more than A half dozen soldiers, a couple of technicians, and a Force Captain. Nothing we can’t handle.” Catra explained, her tone infinitely more professional than anything she’d ever seen before. Watching her take charge of this impromptu briefing was frankly impressive. For a moment, she almost forgot to breathe.

“Cool, not that I’m complaining about kicking some Horde butt and kicking them out of Plumeria, but what does this have to do with Scorpia?”

“It will have a connection to the Horde’s network. We just hack in and find out what they’ve done with Scorpia.”

“How do we hack in; I’ve never had much luck with their systems.”

“We’ve got Kyle here. He helped Entrapta upgrade those networks; his pad should still have admin access. What do you say, buddy, think you can do it?” He was vibrating in his seat, only Rogelio’s firm hands on his shoulders keeping him put.

“Sure. I can do that, definitely. You know, for Scorpia.”

“We’re probably best approaching from the south as early as possible. We can set up on one of these ridges and scout in more detail. Do you think you can get the four of us there, Sparkles?”

“I hope you don’t think I’m sitting this one out.” Adora needed this. Not only to make up for what happened to Scorpia but to prove that she had Catra and the other’s backs, that she wanted to be a part of their squad again.

“Me either. We owe Scorpia, and well, this is how we handle things.” Bow seemed nearly as adamant as she was.

“Fully charged, that won’t be a problem.”

“Okay, Arrow-Boy, show us the armoury.” Shrugging, Bow led the others from the room. She caught Glimmer’s arm when she turned to follow them.

“Glim, are you okay?”

“I really don’t know, Adora. I think I screwed up, bad.” She slumped into one of the chairs.

“What happened?” Maybe talking would help. It usually did whenever Bow made her sit down and explain how she felt about stuff.

“Mom ordered me not to get into a fight, and I didn’t want to disappoint her again after getting captured. I was trying to be a good commander, I guess, you know; stop screwing around and take things seriously. I didn’t want to risk another Princess after Entrapta, but I guess it turns out that was stupid, ‘cos she’s not even dead.” She hadn’t even had the chance to process that one. Not only was she alive, but she’d joined the Horde. Maybe she hadn’t known the goofy little engineer as well as she’d thought.

“You didn’t know about Entrapta, and when we thought we’d lost her, it almost broke up the whole Alliance.”

“Yeah, but you would have jumped in without a second thought, no matter how helpless the odds.”

“I didn’t, though.”

“Huh?” Glimmer was understandably confused

“Back in the hanger, I wanted to be the one who stayed behind, but I could barely stand, and then I don’t know what happened. I was just holding Catra, and then Scorpia was gone.”

“Doesn’t sound like your fault.” Glimmer barely managed a smile, but there was still something infinitely reassuring in it. She put her hand on Glimmers and returned the smile.

“Catra didn’t think so either, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.” She paused, just needing to breathe for a few moments before the past twenty-four hours overtook her mind. In. Hold. Out. “So, what did Catra say to you?”

“Mom spoke to her, pulled another one of her mom interventions, and we talked it out a bit.” She rubbed at her bruise as she spoke. “It’s typical really some Horde Commander strides in here, beats the crap out of me, and all she gets is a slap on the wrist. I know she’s your friend and everything, but the girl is a bit-“

“Glimmer.” She pleaded with the Princess to get back on topic. “So, are you guys aren’t friends yet?”

“Nope, but we’re on the same page about Scorpia.”

“It’s funny, isn’t it? That I kind of hated her, Scorpia, I mean.”

“Well yeah, she was in the Horde.” Glimmer rolled her eyes.

“No, I mean that I felt like she just kind of took my place, you know. Catra was my best friend in the world, and suddenly this big woman with claws tries to muscle in on that.” Did she explain that right? She was so bad at this.

“You were jealous?”

“Pfft, of course not.”

“You were totally jealous. I knew you missed Catra but didn’t realise it was like that. “

“Like what?” This was beginning to get weird.

“Wow, it really was like that?”

“Like what?” she repeated, more confused than before.

“You like Catra.”

“Of course, she’s my best friend, or was, I don’t know, we’re going to try to be that, again, I think. Not that I’m replacing you and Bow or anything.”

Glimmer just laughed in response. The Princess pushed herself up from the chair and rested a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Maybe, you should get a little rest, we’ve got a mission in the morning, and I don’t want to fry your brain anymore.”

That sounded like a good idea.

 


 

The seven of them had set up a small camp on a ridge overlooking the valley a little after dawn. Well, camp might have been an overstatement; Kyle had set up a bunch of camping stools and laid out the makeshift breakfast he and Bow had rummaged from the kitchens.  Only a couple of the little pouches of nuts and berries were left, the ones Rogelio hadn’t inhaled at breakfast or taken with him when he’d gone scouting with Glimmer and Lonnie. Catra had planted herself on the cliff ledge,  staring through binoculars into the valley, occasionally pausing to question Bow on his research into the area.

She occupied herself with sword practice, making her way through all the forms she’d learnt in the Fright Zone and Brightmoon. Kyle observed silently, but he wasn’t the spectator she was interested in. Every now and again, she’d glance over to Catra, only for her heart to sink with disappointment when she was still focused on the valley. It was silly, and she didn’t really understand why but getting Catra’s attention, and impressing her, was beginning to feel important to her. Maybe she was just trying to make up for lost attention or something? Or perhaps she just liked the warm feeling she got whenever Catra looked at her.

“So, just how magic is it exactly?” Kyle interrupted her display; it was probably a good thing. Catra wouldn’t care about her sword exercises.

“I don’t know, really; I maybe ran away from my magic sword training.” She planted the sword in the soft earth and took a stool.

“Magic sword training? Sounds lame.” Catra had joined them now, perching herself on the stool beside her. Typical, the moment she stopped looking cool, that was when Catra turned around.

“Yeah, kinda, I guess, there was this hologram woman, Light Hope. I met her back when I first found the sword, and she said it was my destiny to be She-Ra and wanted me to do all this training with her.” her destiny wasn’t lame, was it? No, it was cool; she got to be a magic tall lady; it was really cool.

“So, I was right then?” She had to snigger at Catra’s snark.

“Why did you leave?” Kyle asked, leaning forward in anticipation.

“She wanted me to stay there, train until I was ready for my destiny, whatever that was supposed to mean. she wanted me to leave the Rebellion, give up on everyone.” Okay, maybe that part was a bit lame.

“I was definitely right.” The sly grin had returned, practically begging Adora to respond.

“Shut up.”

“No.” Catra shoved her, not hard, but enough to disrupt her balance a little. It was another old habit, one that she hadn’t realised how much she’d missed. She shoved back, knocking Catra off her stool. “You are so dead”, Catra pounced, forcing her backwards from her owns seat. Catra was on top of her now, pinning her arms to the ground and laughing. For a moment, their eyes met, and something shifted behind the blue and yellow, as a barely noticeable red began to fill her face behind the fur. Of course, this was when Glimmer and the others chose to rematerialise. Catra rolled off her and leapt to her feet.

“oh good, the wrestlings back?” Lonnie quipped at them in her dryest possible voice.

“We found it.” The Princess announced, “on a cliff ledge, a few kilometres to the north of here.”

“It’s better defended than you thought. We counted sixteen, including three techs and a Force Captain.” Lonnie began explaining, “they’ve thrown up a watchtower too, on the southside. It’s not much, but it’s going to give away our approach if we’re not careful.”

“show me,” Catra ordered, and the scouts laid out a rudimentary model from stones and twigs. A small prefab stood in the centre, with a dozen tents to one side. Lonnie was right, not much of a threat.

“How about if you and Sparkles teleport in on the northside, flank them once we attack?” That made sense; it would catch them off guard and cut off their escape.

“We could do that.” Agreed Lonnie, Glimmer just nodded her head.

“Bow, I need you to bring down anyone on that tower before I make my move. If they get a message to the Fright Zone, they’ll boot the outpost from the network.” Catra explained, and Bow agreed.

“What’s your move then?” Rogelio grunted curiously.

“Did you scope the power supply?”

“Just a regular portable generator, on the east wall of the prefab,” Rogelio clarified

“Okay. So, once Bow takes the tower, I’ll go for the power, and that’s when Adora and Rogelio attack from the south, Lonnie and Glimmer from the north. Once the fight starts, Bow and Kyle can move up to support.” Catra moved leftover nuts around as she spoke, illustrating her plan.

The difference between this Catra and the one she knew in the Fright Zone was night and day. She would never have believed that the little girl more interested in catnaps than classwork could be so motivated. She even ran them through contingencies before moving out.

They moved into position carefully, keeping to the thickets and brush along the western side of the roadway before finding a comfortable spot where Bow could lineup a shot whilst remaining hidden. Catra split off at that point, prowling in the shadows past a makeshift barricade of supply crates and then and beneath the scaffolding of the watchtower. She turned to them and gave the signal before slinking into a better position for her final approach.

Bow aimed and took his shot, the arrow rushed to its mark, latching onto the soldier’s chest, and a flash of blue lightning buzzed through their armour. Perfect. Wait, no. The soldier was still on their feet, they were stumbling backwards, and then they were gone. A second later and they heard them hit the ground like a sandbag. Damn. Other soldiers had reached their comrade, their voices clear as day.

“He fell.”

“No, he didn’t; look an arrow.”

“It’s an attack; find the Captain!”

“Wait, that’s her, the traitor! Kill her!” They’d spotted Catra; she had to do something. Screw it.

“Now.” She called as she drew the sword and charged. Rogelio let out an ear-shattering roar and followed suit. The first to come at her was a pale woman with a shaved head and the Horde’s sigil tattooed above one eye, swinging a stun baton with almost wild abandon. Catra raced through her periphery, desperately racing to reach the generator.

“For the Horde!” her attacker screamed as she charged, the passion in her voice filling her eyes with every unhinged attack. Adora weaved through the strikes, waiting for her opening. There! The woman howled as her blow fell far short. All it took was a flick of her wrist as she swung, and the flat of her sword stuck the zealot clear across the face. She reeled from the impact, spinning backwards, crashing into a stack of crates, and slumping against them.

Catra had disappeared behind the small, rectangular structure with an ungainly antenna erupting from its roof. The large blinking light halfway up the aerial continued to flash, bathing the prefab in intermittent scarlet. Then it faded. Hopefully, Catra had been quick enough. If, not this was all for nothing.

All around her, the skirmish raged. Rogelio was locked in a grapple with a tall man who clearly regretted the decision. Bow was crouched behind a table, exchanging potshots with a Reptilian rifleman. Even Kyle was in the thick of it, shoulder barging one of the technicians into a tent, before leaping after them.

Catra, though was in full flow, three soldiers and a technician lay on the ground around her as another two armoured troopers ran at her. Some warriors, she’d heard, flowed like a river, smoothly shifting between movements as they danced through combat. Catra fought more like rapids, all the grace and flow of the river, but channelled into something chaotic, spectacular and liable to smash your head against a rock any moment.

The taller soldier swang first, a wide two-handed arc with a staff. It was easily side-stepped, but when they to bring their weapon back up, Catra leapt onto the pole itself, balancing effortlessly on one end. The soldier barely had time to cock their head in bewilderment before Catra’s foot cracked into his helmet, and she rode their tumbling body to the ground. The second waisted no time, jabbing their stun baton to where Catra had been perched a second before. He cursed loudly when he realised where his foe had gone; she dashed in on his left and dug her claws into his chest plate, cutting deeper than she would have imagined. He stumbled backwards; chunks of armour fell away when she pressed her assault, punching straight into his exposed stomach with all of her surprising strength. He bent double before the feline axe kicked his neck, driving him into the dirt.

“Adora, head in the game.” Bow shouted from across the battlefield. How long had she been staring at Catra? Another challenger had emerged from behind the prefab, a diminutive Reptilian with a sword of their own. Well, not a sword exactly; it was more of a machete, notched and jagged from overuse against the thick Plumarian foilage, a nasty looking piece of steel.

The two of them began that oldest of dances, their weapons ringing off one another as they came to blows. An inhuman whine pierced Adora’s ears after a barely blocked thrust, and her blade came away bloody, a deep red gash in the teal scales of her enemy’s sword arm. They dropped their blade and stepped back, afraid, clutching their wound; they turned to run. They only made it a few metres before Rogelio knocked the deserter from their feet with a powerful lariat.

It looked to be over when the prefab door swung open, and the Force Captain stormed into the melee, swinging a stun baton as if his life depended on it. Catra vaulted over him with her usual rough-and-tumble grace, twirling in the air as she did so. He was quicker than he looked, spinning to meet her, his baton grazing her hair as she ducked another swing. The feline swiped, leaving deep gashes in his bracer when he tried to block and when he came in for another blow, Catra dipped and kicked low, striking right into his kneepad with a crunch. His leg buckled, and a moment later, he was on his back, grabbing at his knee.

 


 

“Okay, Kyle, you’re up.” Catra sauntered over to their prisoners as he hurridly drew his tracker pad and stepped inside the little hut. She picked one of the soldiers at randomly and pulled off their helmet. Just a kid her own age, no, she was younger, in the academy year below the five of them. Their eyes were filled with panic as Catra began to stroke their thick black hair.

“Stay away from me, traitor!”

“So, you know who we are? We must be all they’re talking about, huh?” She was toying with her, dragging a claw every so gently down her cheek.

“Enough basking in your own notoriety. Do they know anything useful?” Glimmer stepped forward, nearly growling her words.

“Please, keep her away from me, not the Princess. I’ll tell you anything.” The girl cried, inching herself as far back as she could manage.

“What?” Glimmer’s frustration melted into confusion at her sudden infamy.

“Please don’t eat my face!” The girl was on the verge of tears, trying desperately to raise their bound hands to protect their face from her childhood monster.

“Is everyone in the Horde this stupid?” Glimmer sighed.

“mostly, yeah.” Catra chuckled, and she supposed it was kind of dumb when she thought about it; she’d believed all the same junk about the Princesses as this poor kid; funny how that seemed so long ago. There was something she envied, though, how simple this kid’s life was. All she had to do was wake up and fight bad guys, none of the complications, none of the grey of having to fight dumb kids who didn’t know any better.

“It’s not their fault; they had all those lies fed to them since they were kids, just like we did.” She argued, but Catra just stared at her, a thoughtful look on her face; the feline closed her eyes, took an almost comically deep breath and knelt back down beside the girl.

“Look, kid, no one here is going to hurt you, and you’re going to be okay.” Her voice was soft, almost gentle, a side of Catra she so rarely saw even when it was just the two of them. She called for Bow to give her one of the remaining berry pouches from his bag, and he tossed them over. “Here, a little taste that things might be sweeter outside the Horde.” She opened the bag, plucked a berry and offered it to the girl who just stared at her.

“W-What is it?”

“Bow?” Catra passed the question on, trying to hide her ignorance.

“It’s a blackberry, it’s food, they’re really good. I promise.” He beamed back at them. The soldier still seemed hesitant, so Catra popped the berry into her own mouth, licking the thin smattering of purple juice from her lips when she finished. “See, not poisoned, now eat.” The girl hesitantly opened her mouth to accept the morsel. A second later, it looked as if her brain was exploding. Catra simply stood, patted her on the head and rejoined the rest of them.

“What are we going to do with them?” Lonnie gestured to their captives.

“Cut them loose and send them on their way. We don’t take prisoners.” Glimmer responded, crossing her arms at the insinuation that they might do anything else.

“You should,” Catra argued, without skipping a beat. “What you guys do is stupid.”

“First up, I’m not going to take ethics lessons from the likes of you, second what good would taking them prisoner possibly do.” Snapped Glimmer, her brow furled and voice sharp.

“First, it takes them off the board. If you let them go, and most will find their way back to the Fright Zone, and you’ll be fighting them again in a few weeks. Second, it might be good for them to see that you aren’t the monsters they think you are.” She had a point. A little kindness had done wonders on her and the others. “Give them a reason to not want to go back to the Horde.”

“How about a camp? We could set something up away from the front lines and give them a chance to see the truth.” She offered enthusiastically.

“Sure, feed them real food, a few extra hours sleep and all that Princess stuff you guys keep going on about.” Catra grinned at her; it finally felt like they were starting to sync up again.

“That… could actually work.” Glimmer considered, “Bow get your tracker pad; we need to make some calls.”

Catra made her way about the soldiers, removing helmets and feeding them berries, determined that each get a morsel of the kindness Brightmoon had shown her. Most reacted well enough and none as bad as the first girl. The Force Captain, though, was a different sort. Under his helmet was a squat, middle-aged man who looked like a collection of scars held together by a bushy greying moustache. He accepted the blackberry, chewed it for a second before spitting it back in her face.

“I’ll die for the glory of the Horde.” He snarled every word, but Catra only laughed as she wiped his attack from her face, a few droplets of dark purple staining the brown of her fur.

“No.” Catra responded coolly, “you won’t.” She crouched beside him and stared into his eyes, blue and yellow meeting hazel. “And you’re going to spend the rest of the war figuring out why you don’t want to. You’ll kick and scream and rant and rave, you’ll lash out, and you’ll hurt the people trying to help you. You’ll make yourself the victim, and maybe you’ll even be right about that, but in the end, you’ll realise how wrong you were.” Adora found herself strolling over to her oldest friend, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. Catra turned, and they shared a look, equal parts sorrow and hope.

“Guys!” Kyle’s yell from inside the prefab ruined whatever was happening. “I think I’ve found her. She’s alive! Really alive!” Rogelio’s hands were on his shoulders now, pressing him down as he stared intently at the pad plugged into the stacks of bewildering technology. She and Catra had to squeeze past his bulky frame to be able to see what was happening. “It looks like she’s in Moorstone.” That killed the tiny room’s joy. Moorstone was the Horde’s northern bastion, sitting either side of a vast canyon joined by an enormous bridge. However, it was best known as the base for the Horde’s armoured division.

“A fortress full of tanks. I knew taking this place was too easy.” Rogelio sighed.

“It looks like they’re moving her, though. Someplace called Mondor.” Kyle barely took his eyes away from the screen as he spoke.

“Never heard of it.” Lonnie piped up from the doorway.

“I think it’s a mine, near the Dryll mountains. It won’t be anywhere near as fortified. That’s where we’ll hit them. How long do we have?”

“A little over a week,” Kyle answered nervously, tapping his thing fingers on the side of his tracker pad.

“Maybe our escape showed them we could bust her out of prison?” She offered.

“Maybe.” Catra furrowed her brow. “Kyle, find out everything you can about Mondor. We’ve got a mission.”

Chapter Text

The attack on the outpost had gone better than Bow could have imagined. Not only had they taken the comms station and managed to locate Scorpia, but they had devised an entirely new way of dealing with defeated Horse soldiers. He didn’t love taking prisoners exactly, but Catra and Adora’s plan was a great idea.  He wanted to kick himself for not thinking of it honestly; how many enemies could they have turned into friends if they’d thought of this years ago?

It had even proved relatively straightforward logistically. Perfuma had jumped at the chance to help them and had spent the last two days dragging the girls around the site she had picked out, making whatever other arrangements were needed. He had a different task and had taken Kyle and Rogelio back to Brightmoon to set up the comms equipment they had liberated from the outpost.

Someone had the idea that if they could rebuild the set-up within the castle, they could have their own backdoor into the Horde’s systems, flipping the script on their secret listening post. The first problem had been getting it into his workshop, but Rogelio’s strength had gotten everything there with minimum disassembly. The second and current problem was powering the damn thing. It turned out that the Horde’s power connectors were incompatible with Brightmoon’s own. So now he was trying to cobble together an adaptor, but it was proving a difficult nut to crack. Not for the first time of late, he wished he still had a particular friend.

Entrapta. It still didn’t feel real that she was alive. Not only alive but a willing member of the Horde. She would have been able to whip something up in minutes; instead, she was probably developing new and exciting attack bots to gun down his friends. He had taken the loss particularly hard; Entrapta had been something of a kindred spirit, one of the few who shared his love for tinkering and engineering. Their short friendship had meant a lot to him,  only for it to be snapped away by a raging inferno. But apparently, she had survived the blaze and then just turned around and signed up to join her would-be murderers. This had to be what betrayal felt like; the gut-wrench whenever you thought about her name, the bile in the back of your throat when you realise you really don’t know someone important to you. Is this what Catra and the others had gone through, suddenly he found it much harder to blame them for the last year.

At least he had Kyle, his talents lay more with systems than electrical engineering, but he wasn’t wholly inexperienced and was more than a little eager to learn. He was sat cross-legged in the middle of his workshop arranging the nest of cable’s they had brought back with them, whistling some jaunty little tune as he worked, though when asked, he had no idea where it had come from. He’d taken a quick liking to his newfound work partner; he had a goofy sense of humour and optimism he would have thought impossible in the Fright Zone.

He was interrupted from his thoughts by the clicking of the door handle and heavy footsteps on the short staircase. The hulking Reptilian looked exhausted, arms dangling as he dragged himself to the small sofa he kept down here. He had discovered the castle’s gym and had spent most of his morning making up for the few days workout he had skipped. He stopped only to grunt his greetings to the two of them before he fell into the soft purple mass of cushions. Right now, he only understood a handful of the Reptilian’s words: “Yes”, “no”, “more food”, and approximations of the group’s names. For everything else, he had to rely on pointing or translations from the others. He’d had a quick scan of the castle library for anything that might help him, but he’d come up short; maybe his dad’s might have something in their vast collection when he next visited.

They had only ever met in the heat of battle before, and Bow was ashamed to admit he had read Rogelio as just another big, dumb brute. How wrong he had been, he hadn’t come out of his shell quite yet, but there was something strangely soft about him; like one of those little candies Glimmer loved from the market; hard shells filled with oozy, fruity stuff. Yesterday he had seen him nearly take some poor Horde trooper’s head off with his forearm, now he was lounging as his best friend prattled about wires, a soft smile and softer eyes.

The bigger surprise than Rogelio’s personality had been that he and Kyle weren’t together. He knew that any moment now, Kyle would decide he’d want a break. Then moments later, he’d be able to find him sitting far too close to his friend on the sofa, giggling quietly whilst scaly fingers ran through his hair. It would be cute if they were a couple; right now, it was mostly just frustrating to watch. Maybe it was a Horde thing; everyone in the Fright Zone was just terrible at figuring these things out and talking about feelings. From what he’d seen of Adora and Catra these past few days, they weren’t much better, just less touchy-feely about it.

Back when he had been a prisoner in the Fright Zone, he’d thought Kyle was kind of cute, a bit nervous, sure, but that had its own charm to it. By comparison, Rogelio was just plain hot, the type of body you usually only saw in those pulpy romance novels Glimmer liked to read. Well, maybe not read exactly; she usually got bored halfway through, skimmed the last few pages for the ending and left them scattered around the castle. If things were different, He might take a shot at either one of them, but his love life was complicated enough as it was.

He still hadn’t had a proper chance to talk to Perfuma since Princess Prom. He liked the Plumerian Princess a lot, but she had definitely been a little distant since that eventful night. Maybe it could still be fixed, but if not, at least he had given love a real shot for once. He’d always been amorous by nature; he fell for people quickly and fawned like a puppy over them for a week or two, and then usually, his heart would just move on. A blooming friendship would extinguish the flame of romance. There was an exception, though.

The torch he carried for Glimmer still burned as bright as it ever had. Even her most recent outburst over Perfuma had done little to quench that fire. In a way, her passion had only made things worse; it might be her best quality, and if not her best, then definitely his favourite. It could never be, though. Glimmer had a thing for bad boys; those chiselled chests in her trashy books were usually attached to delinquent rogues with devil-may-care attitudes. He was about as far away from that fantasy as was possible. He took care of his body, and he was a rebel in the technical sense, but he knew in his heart of hearts he wasn’t the most exciting guy in the world. He was a gentle breeze when Glimmer craved hurricanes. Besides, she was his best friend; why ruin a good thing with something so messy? Best to leave the yearning over besties to the lovesick doofs on his sofa.

VRRRM VRRRM

His tracker pad buzzed, pulling him back to reality. Bow glanced down at the notification, a message from his dads.

 

Hey Bow,

Just wanted to say hi!

“Hi”

Love dads
xoxo

Well, he wasn’t sure what he should have expected, and as corny as it was, their dumb sense of humour reminded him of simpler times. Unbidden, he felt his lips curl into a simple smile as a second message popped onto his screen. He placed the pad back on his workbench as he turned back to his makeshift power adapter.

VRRRM VRRRM

His dads again.

 

Hey Bow,

HAHA JK LOL

Seriously, how is everything at the academy? We were hoping you might pay a visit soon. We just finished a big research project and would love to show it to our budding young historian.

You should bring some of your friends, we’d love to meet your schoolmates. We just got a new package of spices from Salienias(so hard to get these days!) So we’re thinking about making that curry you love so much.

Love dads
xoxo

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. Bow had been wanting to get out and see them for a while, to be honest, and perhaps after they’d rescued Scorpia, he might get some actual downtime. Convincing his friends to keep his secrets might be tricky, though. George hated the war, and Lance wanted him to be a historian; the truth would break both their hearts. He’d need to tell them one day he knew; they’d expect him to graduate his fake boarding school at some point, but disappointing them wasn’t something he had the stomach for just yet.

 


 

As Bow watched Kyle pick himself from the floor and hurled himself beside his scaly friend, he realised how few actual guy friends he had. There was Sea Hawk, and that was about it. He’d grown up surrounded by all his brothers, but with the age gaps, they’d never had much in common with him. It’s why he’d started sneaking off to Brightmoon when he was six to find some other kids to play with rather than be told off for interrupting the older boys’ studies.

It had been a complete accident that he’d stumbled upon the castle at all; Bow had been expecting to find the nearby market his dads visited. But, instead, he must have gotten turned around in the woods; because he emerged in the Brightmoon Valley. A glistening beacon of a castle shining in the distance, begging him to investigate.

The sight was breathtaking, walking through those elaborate gates for the first time. Spying a glimpse of the throne room as he followed the other visitors past its gargantuan form. He had never seen anything like it.

He didn’t remember exactly how it happened, but he’d wandered off from the path and ended up in the gardens. He had been minding his own business, gently running his hand through a fishpond when a little girl with bright pink hair and arms full of pastries had crashed into him. Luckily, both had been spared an impromptu swim, but most of the girl’s flaky treasures hadn’t been so lucky. Before he knew it, a portly man in a chef’s uniform was yelling from where she’d come from, and she was scurrying to collect her few reaming tarts and disappeared further into the gardens with a hurried “sorry”. After that, he’d started going back to Brightmoon whenever he could, hoping to get another glimpse of the pink-haired girl. He’d gotten a few looks at her, usually trailing behind some old man laden with books or being chased by the guards.

It wasn’t until the seventh or eighth visit that he’d gotten to speak with her again. He’d brought his bow and quiver this time, a recent birthday gift from his dads and had set himself up taking pot-shots against a tree. She’d appeared behind him as if from nowhere, suddenly fascinated by his attempts at marksmanship. She asked him a few questions, laughed at his jokes, then announced that she’d show him the proper archers and led him to the training ground.

She had practically bounded up to the Master of Arms and demanded she be allowed to introduce him. He had to respect her boldness, but he knew she would probably end up getting chased off again. These were real soldiers; after all, they weren’t about to let some random kid interfere with their training. Everything changed when the man had called her Princess. His new friend was a Princess! A real one; maybe she was magic like in the stories. The man shook his hand and offered to let him take a few shots at the targets. They were proper archery butts; straw circles atop wooden tripods, brightly painted with colourful rings. Peck had scratched his beard and watched him shoot without comment. Interrupting only after his third miss to help him adjust his stance and posture. His next shot found its mark, and by the time his little quiver was empty, he’d even managed a bullseye.

From then on, they’d been inseparable. Bow would run off to Brightmoon the moment his studies and chores were finished, then he’d practice archery and play with Glimmer. He finally had a friend his own age.

Things were a little different now, though, with the Rebellion and the war. Even having Adora in the mix changed things. Not to mention all the other friends they’d made; Sea Hawk, the Princesses and now Catra, Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio.

It was kind of funny how just adding four more faces to Brightmoon made it seem so crowded. It was like being a kid again, surrounded by other people; it had only been a few days but just having them around made him feel a little less homesick. He’d been reaching out to his family, too, since his chat with Adora. He’d spoken to a couple of his brothers; Garren had dug up a trove of First Ones pottery, and Tyran had a new boyfriend. He hadn’t liked lying to them about his own life, but he couldn’t risk his dad’s hearing about what he was actually doing, not with Garren’s mouth at least.

Kyle and Rogelio’s laughter broke him from his train of thought. Screw it. He wasn’t getting anywhere with his adaptor; maybe he should take a break. He shuffled his way over to the small fridge in one of the corners and pulled out three bottles of orange pop. After last time, giving one to Kyle was probably a mistake, but the little guy had more than earned a sugary treat. He walked back over to the pair and passed each a cold drink. Rogelio popped the top of his own before snatching the one Kyle struggled with, liberating the bottlecap and thrusting it back to a cheery thanks.

“So, how’d the workout go?” He turned to Rogelio.

“You guys need heavier weights, apparently”, Kyle translated the low growls of his companion.

“Jeez, how much can you bench?” The castle gym had some serious equipment; just how strong was he?

“All of it.” A sly grin materialised on the Reptilian’s lips as Kyle relayed the answer. “Please don’t make me translate his workout boasts.”

“Hey, if we could gym talk without you, we would; noodle arms.” He teased, falling into the patterns of brotherly banter he’d grown up with.

“What’s a noodle?” Kyle questioned, suspicious of the insult.

He grabbed at a spare length of wire on a side table at tossed it into Kyle’s face

“Like this, but food.” He smiled as Kyle flinched, and Ro laughed heartily, uttering something in his raspy tongue.

“They do not”, Kyle protested at the Reptilian, “I’ve got muscles, see.” He flexed his lean arms, to which Ro curled his own bicep and kept laughing.

Bow took a long sip of his drink, the cool liquid offering much-needed respite to his dry throat. “So, what was Adora like when she was young?”

“Literally exactly the same as she is now.” Kyle chuckled.

“Really, that bad, huh?”

“Yeah,” Kyle chuckled. “You know how she is, always pushing herself too far, taking too much on.”

“That sounds like her. That girl doesn’t know how to relax.” He agreed.

“She used to completely wear herself out all the time. Like, she’d just collapse. We’d have to drag her back to her bunk and watch her, make sure she didn’t get back up.” Kyle explained between mouthfuls, only for Ro to roar in disproval.

“Okay, okay.” Kyle responded, “One of them would watch her.” Rogelio rolled his wrist, encouraging the smaller boy to keep going. “I did it once, and despite being half-unconscious, she managed to overpower me. Ro found her passed out on a weights bench twenty minutes later. Bow couldn’t help but laugh.

“Thanks for looking out for her; I know she appreciated it.”

“She was our squadmate, our friend. We had her back, and she had ours. I couldn’t tell you how many times she saved me. Hell, I’m literally only alive because of her.”

“What?” Just how dangerous had their training been?

“That’s how things work in the Horde; if nobody has your back, you die.” He said it so matter of factly; it was horrifying. “If your grades suck, then you get sent away, if your course times suck, you get sent away, you don’t follow orders, and you get sent away. Then, you end up in a mine, or the front lines, or whatever, and nobody ever hears about you again.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yeah, but that was our lives. Adora dragged me through those training courses, took hits for me to keep my scores up, whatever she had to do so I didn’t die alone in some trench or mineshaft.” The words began to catch in his throat, and eventually, he just stopped talking. He wasn’t sure what Rogelio said to comfort him, and Kyle was too shaken to translate. Still, it seemed to be enough to prevent his watering eyes from becoming tears.

“She’s a good friend.” He added, “Before I met her, I kind of assumed everyone in the Horde were bad guys, you know, just like storybook villains and stuff. She proved me wrong, and you guys are proving she isn’t just an exception.” Kyle just nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“Yeah, we were just too dumb to leave when she did.” Kyle took a long swig of his drink.

“Nah, you just needed the right push. For Adora, it was finding the sword; for you guys it was, the execution order. You’re here now, and that’s what matters.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. The three of them sat and drank, joked and shared stories. It was like having brothers again. It was for the first time in a long while that Brightmoon felt like home.

 


 

It wasn’t until later that evening that the girls returned. The four of them meandered into the dining hall as Rogelio polished off his third bowl of stew. Kyle sucked the remaining flesh from a peach pit, smiling wildly as the juice ran down his lips into little pools on the tabletop.

“How’d it go?” He asked earnestly enough, their faces giving little away.

“Fine,” Lonnie grunted, snatching one of Rogelio’s untouched bread rolls and pulling a chunk away with a satisfying crunch.

“I have a new least favourite Princess. No offence, Sparkles.” Catra added, forcing herself onto the bench next to Kyle. The tired expression on Glimmer’s face didn’t change; she didn’t even seem to notice the jab.

“Liar, you and Perfuma hit it off.” Adora laughed

“I was talking about you, dummy.”Catra tapped the other girl’s forehead with her claw.

“Shut up!” Adora laughed and shoved Catra’s shoulder. They began roughhousing again when he noticed Glimmer slip away from the group and head for the exit. He took his eyes from their playfulness, barely hearing Catra’s snappy “No.” between laughs. Watching intently as the Princess couldn’t even make it to the great wooden doors before teleporting away. Finally, he made his excuses, determined to help his friend, offer what comfort he could.

Tracking his best friend down wasn’t hard. She only ever went to her room when she needed to decompress, the power to go to anywhere on Etheria at the snap of her fingers, and this was where she felt safest. He would’ve been here, but he’d chosen to take a detour to his workshop and raid his fridge one last time to pick up a small rectangle wrapped in pink foil he’d saved for times just like this.

“Hey Glim, how’s it going?” He asked, gently pushing his way into the room; she was slumped into the corner of her window seat, a stuffed toy in her arms and one eye starring into the moonset.

“Fine, I guess; turns out trying to set up a whole prison camp in a day isn’t easy.”

“I’ll bet.” He slumped beside her on the window seat and offered her the treat he’d brought. She grinned at him with that perfect little smile of hers, somehow a few squares of chocolate being enough to break down her troubles for a little while, at least. She tore at the metal wrapping and bite deep into the rich brown bar, a few flecks sticking to her lips, quickly melting from their heat.

“Everything’s moving so fast. All these new faces, none of them like me, and now we’re upending everything we do on Catra’s whims.”

“She just has a fresh perspective on things, that’s all. Adora, was the same, remember?”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t so….”

“Wilful?”

“Exactly.” Glimmer took another bite of her chocolate bar, chewing it carefully. “Have you noticed how they are with one another now?” Well, she had cheered up enough to gossip, might as well indulge her.

“How could I miss it? It’s kind of cute.”

“Cute? It’s gross. She’s a total bitch.”

“Glimmer!”

“What, I’m happy likes Adora likes someone; I just wish she’d choose someone who hasn’t tried to kill me.”

“You’re impossible sometimes.”

“I know.” A flash of teeth filled her smile for just a second, that hint of wickedness that made him melt.

“But, you’re right, our little girl is growing up.”

Glimmer rolled her eyes, “I thought she might be ace or something for a while.”

“Did you not see her at Princess Prom? She blushed at every girl with nice arms and a low cut dress, and that’s without her losing her mind over Catra’s suit.”

“She wore it well; I’ll give her that.”

“Where do you even get a burgundy tuxedo in the Fright Zone?”

“Maybe one of those villages she conquered had a good tailor?”

“Glim!” He spat over his laughter.

“What, are you going to forget everything she’s done too?” She gestured to the fading bruise below her eye “like this?.”

“I thought you made up over that?”

“I accepted her apology; that’s not the same thing.”

“You were fine with her at the outpost.”

She sighed. “That’s different; Scorpia getting captured was my fault.” She shushed him the moment he began to object, “I need to fix this, Bow, and…” she took a deep breath, letting the chocolate bar fall into her lap. “I don’t know how.” His fingers found hers. “I thought maybe that if we could make this right, then everything could go back to normal.” She picked her chocolate back up, brushing a few crumbs from her clothes. “But it turns out Catra is this amazing commander, she led that mission better than I ever could have, and now she’s trying to change all this stuff. And everyone seems to have just forgotten everything she’s done.”

“I don’t think people have forgotten, but we’re choosing to forgive her.”

“Is there a difference? Catra raided our villages, hurt our people, led an army to our gates, and now everyone is all lovey-dovey with her. Mom, Adora, Perfuma, you.” Her words faltered at the end, a twinge of regret in her eyes, but she pushed it aside, and her voice hardened. “How can you trust her?”

“You saw with your own eyes what happened in the Fright Zone. I know it isn’t easy to accept, but they’re here because they want to be. You gave Adora a chance; why not them?” He tried to sound as earnest as he could; shouting matches were never the way to bring Glimmer around to something. She didn’t seem to have an answer to his question; she just stared at him blankly, considering her options, before throwing her hands up in frustration.

“I don’t know!”

“Look, Glim, she’s had a hard life and made mistakes. Do you think you’d be much different if you’d grown up like that?”

“Yes, because I’m a good person.” He wanted to scream. Maybe a different tac?

“People can change.” He had to believe that, not just for Catra’s sake or any of the prisoners they’d taken, but for his own. He had to believe that one day he could be brave enough to tell his dads the truth, and they could be brave enough to listen. “The guys are already settling in, Catra’s already getting better, and even Lonnie will come round eventually.”

“Lonnie.” She scoffed at the name. “All she’s done so far is yell at me.”

“What happened?”

“I showed them the mural of my dad, and she just went nuts and stormed off. She said something about her dad dying at Glenmar, too, as if I was supposed to know.”

“I don’t think you could have known, but that doesn’t mean she was out of line for being upset.

“but-“

“Empathy Glim, we’ve talked about this.”

“Uggh, I know, I know.”

“Maybe apologise, do something nice for her. I don’t think she’s fitting in as well as the others.”

“I’ll try.” Glimmer finished her treat, rolled the foil into a tight ball and hurled it at her waste paper basket, where it bounced off the rim and rolled under her desk to a sigh of exasperation.

“I know Adora would appreciate it too.” He pushed himself up from his seat beside her, made his way to the cluttered purple desk, and crouched before it. “You should try to get to know Kyle and Rogelio too; I think you’d like them.” He reached for the foil ball, but his fingers found something else instead, an inch or so of bound paper. Knowingly he pulled it from where it had been abandoned. “And if you don’t, you can always just ogle Ro’s body. He’s your type, right?” He waved the romance novel in his hand at her at tossed it gently at her.

Glimmer disappeared in a puff of sparkling light, and the book landed with a soft thud on the cushions of her window seat.

“I’ll have you know I don’t ogle, I’m a Princess, I gaze approvingly thank you very much.” She rematerialised inches from his face, causing him to jump back into the desk. Bow yelped as its edge dug into his exposed lower back. There were disadvantages to wearing a crop top, it turned out. “Are you okay?” She squealed.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” He winced. The pain shot up his spine the moment he tried to move, bending him double the second he took a step.

“You’re not fine.” She reached out her hands to steady him, and in a flash, they were back at the window seat. “Lie down”, she ordered. Reluctantly he stretched himself out on his stomach across the padding, moving aside the stuffed toys and cushions as he did.

Glimmer took a jar of ointment from a dresser draw and began to rub it into her hands, pressing them across his injury, gently rubbing the most painful areas. She’d taken a few massage classes in Mystacor a few years back to skip brunch with her aunt, and from time to time, they came in handy. However, he’d forgotten how delicate she could be when she wanted to, soothing his ache with only her hands.

He shouldn’t be relishing her touch like this; all it would do is damage their friendship. As much as he’d hoped she might ‘gaze approvingly’ at him, it was a dead-end, a childish fantasy, that he needed to let go of. But it wasn’t that easy; how were you supposed to not think about the girl you pined for in the dark of night? Glimmer was the girl he’d liked before he liked girls at all, and now here she was; her soft hands were deftly rubbing his body,

“How is it now?” She asked, taking her hands from his back. All good things must come to an end.

“A lot better, thanks Glimmer.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Shortly after, he left her, mind buzzing at the intimate moment between him and his best friend, knowing it would haunt his dreams that night and likely many nights to come. But as his mind wandered to forbidden thoughts of hopeless romance, he imagined something else; a circuit board. A solution. He wasn’t halfway to his room before he turned on his heel and jogged to his workshop.

As if gripped by compulsion, he flicked on the lamp on his workbench, turned on his soldering iron and fumbled through a draw of transistors. He had this.

Chapter Text

Catra had been at this for too long. It had only been a day and a half ago that she had gotten back to Brightmoon. After a brief catch up over a much-needed meal, she had headed straight to bed, eager to start fresh the following day, so she could get back on track for the rescue.

It wasn’t that the meetings hadn’t been worth it. The prison camp was a good idea, and if she hadn’t been there to move the discussion along, Perfuma would still be wandering around her village mulling over the basics. Calling the home of such a powerful Princess a village felt strange. But what else could she call it; even the royal palace was just a slightly larger tent than everyone elses. If she were being honest, she actually respected that about Perfuma; that she lived amongst her people. Sure it wasn’t the show of power that Hordak or even Angela liked to make, but the Plumerian was a very different type of leader to either.

Perfuma mostly wafted from decision to decision, making as few as possible, trying to make her indecisiveness look like she was empowering her subjects to help themselves. But given they seemed to be just as spaced out as she did, not a lot really got done. The only reason they had gotten as far as they had was due to the combined frustrations of the four of them. They had each taken turns to plant the meetings firmly back on their tracks and away from idle chatter on weaving and fruit trees.

Not all of Perfuma’s distractions had been so bad; she’d even gotten some fresh clothes out of one of them. They gifted her a pair of baggy pants, and a loose tank top after the Plumerians insisted on cleaning her improvised uniform. It was a good thing they had, given that Kyle’s former clothes hadn’t held up to whatever they’d done, and they had come back unwearably small. They weren’t ideal, the underwear itched, and the baggy clothes impeded her movements. As much fun as she had climbing through the Plumerian foliage, once she’d changed clothes, it seemed much more difficult. Bow had been pushing to take them to a tailor; their Horde uniforms were still turning heads, so maybe she could spend her afternoon picking something out; it might even be fun. Regardless she would need to find something new before they saved Scorpia at the very least.

Running amok through crops of trees had been how she’d spent most of the many breaks called to the meetings. She had always enjoyed obstacle courses but had never been allowed to explore them at her leisure before. Those brief periods of adventure had been beyond liberating; there was no other word for it. She would go back, she decided, when there was no mission to plan or prison to build and spend a few days enjoying the forests. She would let that exhilaration she’d felt in small snippets become her whole world for a little while, and relish whatever freedom this whole mess had won for herself. She could even take Scorpia; a few days of meditation and flowers seemed like it would be right up her alley.

They’d settled on was a spot a little way inland from Plumeria’s western coast, surrounded by dense woodlands and with plenty of room to expand. From there, Perfuma’s people would try to rehabilitate the soldiers. They had plans to teach them trades, farm the land, and anything else that might be useful post-war. She doubted many of the prisoners would take to tilling fields, but if it kept them busy and out of trouble, she wouldn’t complain. They had just better not expect her to grab a hoe and get to work. Perfuma had also been very enthusiastic about talking with the soldiers and forcing all sorts of other feelings junk on them too. She was convinced that she would bring ‘enlightenment’ and ‘spiritual liberation’, whatever that was supposed to mean. They were going to need to pull something out of their hats, given that her ‘Plan A’ of winning them over with a few good meals had fallen apart once she’d tasted their cuisine. It wasn’t bad exactly; she had just gotten attached to meat in the past few days, so a bowl of spiced beans and vegetables had fallen short of expectations. Adora had seemed to agree, joylessly pushing slices of carrot around for most of the meal. Both of them had sated their hunger once she’d gotten back to Brightmoon, tearing through enough roasted chickens that she struggled to make it to bed under her own power.

Once she’d woken, though, her mind had gone straight to the mission. Bow had gotten that comms station up and running during the night, so she had tasked Kyle to pulling every ounce of useful information he could from the Horde’s systems. From there, she had commandeered a dimly lit storage room, transforming it into a makeshift ready room. She lined it with maps and schematics, and the wall behind her littered with troop compliments and Force Captain profiles. She’d been pouring over them all night and now had something resembling a plan.

Scorpia was being moved three days from now. A convoy was planning to take her from Moorstone, one of the Horde’s most well-defended strongholds, to a small iron mine in the mountains named Mondor. They must want to make use of Scorpia’s impressive strength before they worked her to death. That sounded about right; Shadow Weaver’s lust for cruelty tempered by someone saner, or at least someone more practical. The only thing missing from the equation was Hordak. He would have had her executed, made a display of it as he had planned with Adora. Perhaps he had washed his hands of the whole issue; it wouldn’t have been the first time. More and more, the warlord had been retreating to his sanctum, leaving most of the decision making to Shadow Weaver, Calix, or the others.

Moorstone was out of the question. For one, it wasn’t just one fortress, but two, each at the opposite end of a bridge over a canyon. Each stronghold reinforced the other, ensuring that even if one fell, the other could drop the bridge or use the artillery stockpiles to reduce the other to dust. There was also its commander, a Force Captain named Blast. He commanded the armoured divisions and was known for reducing entire towns to rubble. She had had dealings with him before, and he was warmer towards her than most. Still, whatever goodwill was between them would have evaporated after embarrassing him during the Fright Zone escape.

The convoy would be a better choice, but it wasn’t without its problems; hitting a moving target like that had plenty of risks. Most significantly would be figuring out which vehicle Scorpia was in and then ensuring it came to a peaceful stop. They weren’t skimping on muscle for this either; the command had gone to Draggstor. She didn’t know him well, but the Reptilian cyborg’s thugs had a certain reputation. They were an ex-bandit gang who’d turned privateer for the Horde, best known for their reign of mayhem along the borders with their fleet of swoop bikes and technical trucks and modified skiffs. They were dangerous, but if this was just a simple drop-off for them, then he wouldn’t be sticking around for long.

That meant that the mine was their best bet; there wouldn’t be mu-“

“Hey.” Her train of thought was thoroughly derailed when Adora burst through the door, maybe an hour and a half after moonrise. How could she manage to still look so radiant so early? She had to look like a wreck, by comparison; having been awake for nearly a full twenty-four hours at this point, she could feel sweat-matted fur, and her own stale musk filled her nostrils. Adora’s smile was enough o keep her going, though, enough to make her want to stay awake as long as she could, just to enjoy her company. That was when she noticed that she was carrying a pair of tall metal cups and something wrapped in foil that, from the smell, could only be bacon. “You missed breakfast.”

“Hmm,” She mused, watching intently as Adora placed the cups on one of the few empty sections of the desk and tossed her the little foil parcel. She unwrapped her meal, a frankly ridiculous amount of bacon, stuffed between two slices of bread and tucked in greedily, “thanks.”

“Lonnie said you didn’t go to bed last night either.”

“Lonnie doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Besides, you don’t get to lecture people on overworking.”

“Whose lecturing? I think it’s amazing seeing you like this. The Catra I knew would never spend all night planning missions.”

“Well, the Catra you knew’s life didn’t depend on spending all night planning missions.”

“Sorry.”

“Stop apologising; I thought we were past that.”

“I know; it’s just that I keep seeing how much I’ve missed. You’re not the person I knew anymore.” Adora smiled. Where the hell did she get off with this? It was her leaving that forced her to change, to adapt.

“Well, whose fau-“

“You’re so much more.” A pair of soft eyes met her own. Dammit, why did they have to be so blue? How were you supposed to react to the girl you… the girl you cared about singing your praises and looking at you like that. She grabbed for one of the drinks, only for Adora to snatch it from her hand.

“Sorry, that one’s mine.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well, Glimmer always says coffee helps you stay awake, so I figured you might want that.”

“So, what’s yours?”

“It’s tea.” She paused, “I’m not allowed coffee anymore.” Catra tried to suppress a snigger but failed miserably, splashing her drink over an old map.

Catra took a swig, the dark brown liquid almost black, and she was taken aback by the taste. Bitter, but not unpleasant, no, it was far from unpleasant, new flavours blossomed forth as it washed over her tongue. It was like tasting a dozen things at once, none of which she had a name for. “okay, this is kind of amazing.”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d like it. I needed to add milk and lots of sugar.” Adora admitted

“Like the stuff that made Kyle go all weird?” That was the word Bow had used when he was trying to calm the boy down before the comms station mission.

”Yeah, that’s it, it’s like white powder, and it makes stuff taste good, sweet.”

“And you load the drink that gives you energy with the powder that gives you energy?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m beginning to understand why you’re not allowed anymore.” She took another sip and let the warm liquid trickle down her throat. She already began to feel perkier, though whether that was the coffee or Adora’s presence, she couldn’t be sure.

She could only watch as Adora began rifling through the papers on her desk, flicking between Kyle’s labours with surprising fervour. “So we’re hitting the mine, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve got some ideas, but I want to run them past the others?”

“When did you start listening to other people?” Adora questioned.

“Since I became responsible for them,” Catra replied, grinning like an idiot. “What?”

“I never thought I’d hear you and the word responsible in the same sentence.”

“My whole life, all I ever had was scraps. Only the crumbs of whatever Shadow Weaver gave you; it didn’t matter how well I did, I never got anything, so I realised there was no point in trying. Then you found your sword, and Hordak gave me your promotion. I didn’t earn it; he did it on a whim; I just happened to be there; he’d have put the pin on Kyle if he was in the room. So I figured that being a Force Captain didn’t matter either. I didn’t bother with Force Captain orientation, I didn’t bother planning anything, I just jumped in, tried to hurt you, make you feel the same way I did. Then, do you remember Salineas? At the Sea Gate?” Adora nodded, curious but unsure where this was going. A pang of regret flashed across her face as their fight came into her mind. “Well, after we licked our wounds, I figured just how serious you were about the whole betrayal thing, so I should get serious too. So I started doing all this stuff.” She held up her arms, gesturing to the papers that covered the walls. The look on Adora’s face was one she didn’t quite know, but it kicked up that feeling in her gut again, the one that made her feel safe.

“I’m proud of you. You’re brilliant; look at all of this, I don’t care what Shadow Weaver said; it always should have been you.” She couldn’t mere her friend’s eye after that; the safe feeling had turned to a raging inferno, threatening to burn away her insides.

“hmm, thanks.” It was all she could mention, that fire deep within turning her cheeks to crimson beneath her fur.

Overloud chatter from the corridor cut the moment short. The noises heralded the arrival of the others. She was surprised at how quickly the boys had acclimated to the pastel palace, joking with Bow as they bounded into the room. They were followed by a more sullen Lonnie and then Glimmer, whose neutral expression turned sour when their eyes met.

“Why are we in this dank little hole?” Glimmer sniped, so she couldn’t even make it two steps through the doorway without complaining.

“Aww, what’s the matter? Is the basement not glamourous enough for her majesty?” She was supposed to be playing nice with the Princess, but she couldn’t help herself; someone had to defend the honour of her dank little hole.

‘Be better.’ Angella’s words rang in her head, and she corrected course, “I needed somewhere to think; this place was empty.”

“Because I’m not talking it to your mom before it’s ready, and that means I want input.” If Glimmer’s scoff was any indication, she was going to have opinions on the plan.

“Who are these  guys?” Bow interrupted, enquired after her little wall of fame.

“Force Captains, the big guns. I’ve had Kyle print off their recent movements. Trust me, we want to know what these ones are up to.” She answered, her eyes returning to her maps.

“This is that Grizzlor guy, right, the one you fought?” She turned on him to see him poking at the fuzzy portrait of a very familiar Jungulian.

“The big, dumb, hairy one, right?” Glimmer added

“That’s him. I wouldn’t write him off like that, though; he’s a hell of a lot smarter than he looks, tougher too. If you see him, run.”

“Pfft, we beat him.” Adora chimed in.

“Yeah, two on one in a tight alley.”

“Legend is; only Hordak’s ever beaten him in a straight fight”, Lonnie added, earning a worried look from Bow.

“Okay, what about this one?” The archer tried to move on to the next.

“Octavia.” She announced.

“Has a dumb face.” Adora interrupted, her smirk struggling to restrain a giggle.

“She does, but that dumb face has been put in charge of the Horde fleet. She’s been terrorising the Salineas coast for months. She’s strong, smart and angry.”

“She also hates Catra,” Lonnie added

“Why?” Bow’s tone was apprehensive.

“She used to have two eyes,” Adora explained to a few sniggers from the others and an anxious glance from Bow. Glimmer’s own reaction seemed frozen somewhere between disgust and being impressed.

“What about the rest of them.” Bow pressed onwards.

“Vultak’s out of commission for now.” She skipped to the next photo, a stony-faced human with a thick beard. “Drome runs the medical core, and Calix is more of a general than a straight-up fighter.” That one’s stony face was much more literal. He was one of the Rock People, who had spent the last few years winning a civil war amongst his own people in Hordak’s name. “Blast heads up the armoured divisions; Leech sounds like he’s the one who took Scorpia. He’s the brute you think Grizzlor is.” She finally approached the last of her pictures and pulled Draggstor down from the wall.”This is the one you need to worry about right now.”

“Draggstor.” Kyle shuddered; he had once bumped into the man outside Shadow Weaver’s office and earned himself a pair of broken fingers, she remembered. 

“He’s commanding the convoy; he’s a vehicle specialist and not someone I want to fight on the road. That’s one of the reasons we’re waiting until they reach the mine.”

“One of?” Rogelio growled

“Well, the mine only has a single platoon stationed there, and they’re only there to watch the mountain pass, not defend the camp.” She motioned to a rough road that ran past the base.

“That’s still forty soldiers; those are tall odds.” Glimmer argued and got a few cautious nods from the others. Time to bring it home.

“Exactly, which is why I don’t want to fight them. We’re going to draw them into the pass and cut them off with this.” She pointed to one of the outcroppings on her map, near the perimeter, next to the road.

“A hill?” Bow was curious.

“It’s a slag heap. All the worthless rock they dig out of the mine and don’t want. We plant a charge, and it’ll collapse into the pass. All we have to do is lure the garrison out past it before it blows, and we’ll have plenty of time to get in and out without much of a fight.” She explained.

“So, how do we lure them out?” Lonnie asked.

“I was thinking the honour of Grayskull might be able to help us out with that one.” She flashed a grin at Adora.

“Okay.” Adora smiled back “of course, I’d love t-, I mean like to. She-Ra would like to help, … do that thing.” Adora stuttered, a hint of red hitting her cheeks, her flustered attempt to correct herself stirring the longing deep within her gut. As much as she tried to convince herself it was just the coffee, she knew that was a lie.

“What about the mine?” Glimmer prodded her again.

“What about it?”

“We’re just going to leave it standing?” the Princess clarified.

“um, yeah.” Where was she going with this?

“What?!” Glimmer almost screamed at her, “This is the perfect opportunity to blow it up or something, hurt the Horde.”

“It really isn’t. This is an extraction; quick and clean, in and out. Blowing the slag heap won’t give us long, and the mine will be full of, well, miners.”

“Great, we can liberate them.”

“These aren’t soldiers brainwashed by propaganda; they’re volunteers, ordinary civilians who happen to work there.”

“Volunteers?” The Princess scoffed incredulously.

“Yeah, there are plenty of people out there, trading a day’s work for a roof and a meal. Hell, it’s probably the same guys it was before the Horde even took over.”

“But-“

“The mission is Scorpia, not the miners. What are you going to do, convince them to join us? Or are you just going to take them, prisoner, like the soldiers? How are you getting them out of there before the troopers are back in the game? And then what, do you send them to the camps? Do you have a spare mine lying around for them to work in?”

“you’re right,” Glimmer sighed, frustrated and grumbling under her breath. Not for the first time, her eyes were lined with dejection, and it felt like the glitter in her hair had lost its shine.

“Be better”, she heard again. She still didn’t think much of the spoilt brat, but she was part of their team now, and she needed her. She could fix this; give her something.”

“Okay, Sparkles, tell me about your power; how many times can you teleport before you need to recharge? It’s going to be important for the mission?”

“I’m not sure; I’ve been getting stronger recently, but maybe two dozen or so, less if I’m going far or taking other people.” Glimmer explained.

“Okay, I can work with that. First, I’m going to need you around here.” She flicked through a couple of papers to pull a map of Moorstone and its canyon, “keep an eye on that convoy.” Glimmer nodded, looking over the images

“How about by here.” She gestured to a mesa a little way to the north “that’ll give me a great field of vision.”

“Perfect, once we know they’re on track, you can make your way back to us. We’ll be camped out around here.” She moved back to the map of the mining camp and gestured to an open area nearby.

“Okay, then what?” She’d at least gotten Glimmer engaged; it was a start.

“Lonnie and Bow, I want you two sneaking up onto this ridge up here; you should be able to plant the charges on the slag heap easily from up there. Lon, make sure you bring one of those pulse rifles we took from the listening post.” Lonnie nodded. “That’s when Glimmer takes She-Ra and me into the road, we make some noise, or whatever makes them bring out the garrison, once they’re next to the slag heap. Boom! and Glimmer drops us off on the other side before meeting Ro at the back of the camp, near the mine entrance.”

“Okay, so when do I actually get to see some action, though?” Glimmer’s frustrations were back.

“Hopefully you don’t”, Adora jumped in, “it’s like Catra said, it’s quick and clean.” It didn’t do much to improve Glimmer’s mood, but Adora’s voice at least did a better job of reaching her.

She turned back to Lonnie and Bow, both nodding intently, “Once you blow the charges, move down to here and cover everyone else.” She pointed to a spot that overlooked the camp. “That’s when Glimmer and Ro come in from the back, here, and Adora and I move up through the main entrance. If we can make Draggstor think he’s surrounded, he’ll bug out, and we can take Scorpia no problem.”

“What about me?” Kyle’s cut through the murmurs of agreement.

“We don’t need you for this one.” Keeping him out of the fight was half the point of defecting, and now he suddenly wanted to be a soldier.

“No.” There was a look in his eyes she barely recognised, a determination that looked more at home on Adora. “She stayed  behind for me too; I’m bringing her back.” Without saying a word, she turned to the little box of figurines, and plucked a seventh purple token, and dangled it over her map of the compound. She let hang there for a moment as her eyes met his, one last chance to back out, but Kyle held his resolve and nodded, and so the token was firmly placed on the map with the others.

“Kyle, You’ll be with Glimmer, work recon, then move in with her and Rogelio.”

“If you’re bringing Kyle, shouldn’t it be me on the ground?” Lonnie asked before turning to Kyle, “No offence.”

“You’re the better shot. If Kyle screws up on the ground, he gets his ass kicked again, he screws up from that crow’s nest, then I accidentally get shot.”

“That’s fair.” Kyle agreed, whatever confidence he’d managed to club together finally evaporating.

“How are we getting out of there?” asked Bow.

“Do you think you can handle that, Sparkles?” She gave Glimmer her opening, a chance to ‘save the mission’.

Glimmer took closed her eyes and took a breath; maybe the nickname wasn’t warming on her as she’d hoped. “I’m not sure. It sounds like I’d be burning a lot of magic just to get through this plan.”

“How about somewhere nearby? We could stash a vehicle or something.” Offered Kyle far more chipper about risking his life than he should be.

“That could work; I should be able to get everyone as a little way out.” Glimmer agreed.

“How about here?” Lonnie pointed to a spot on the other side of the mountains; it was close enough to teleport to and just a stone’s throw from the southern border of the Kingdom of Snows. Once they got there, either Glimmer could hop back to Brightmoon and recharge, or they could go the long way around, travelling west into Plumeria again.

“That should work. Any other questions?” She asked the group, receiving nothing but murmurs and a bored growl until Adora piped up.”

“Does this mean we can take this to Queen Angela now, then?”

“Later. I think I need a bit of a break.” The coffee was all but done now, and she felt even more exhausted than she had before she’d drained her cup.

“You do look pretty tired; maybe you should get some rest.” Rogelio chimed in.

“I’ll take her to your room.” Adora beamed and grabbed her arm and pulled her from the room.”

“Fine.” She let Adora lead her back up to her room before collapsing onto her bunk, the final fumes of caffeine failing her with every fresh step. Adora seemed unperturbed by her sluggishness, barely noticing that the Magicat shaped weight on the end of her arm was getting heavier by the moment.

Magicat, it was funny; she’d never thought of herself like that before. Not that she’d have known to up until her talk with Angela a few days ago. She hadn’t thought much of it at the time; it was just another word. Now though, it felt more like it fit, that it was something she was, a scrap of identity to put alongside the others. Maybe she would even see their island one day. If she was going to go back to Plumeria, why not there too, why not anywhere, everywhere?

“Almost there.” Adora blurted a little too loudly as she fumbled with the door handle, reluctant to release Catra’s own wrist to more easily open the heavy, wooden blockage. Finally, Adora gave up, using her free arm to push down the handle before just ramming it with her shoulder, crashing through the door pulling Catra in with her.

Wait, not just crashing, falling.

She must have thrown off Adora’s balance, and now she could only watch as the blonde tumble towards the floor, and she was along for the ride. Adora yelped as she landed, and she followed suit, screaming as Adora broke her fall.

She’d forgotten how soft her best friend was. When they were little, she would fall asleep on her all the time, Adora was as much a pillow as she was her best friend, and now they were here again. She could feel sleep calling for her as Adora fought to free herself from the dead weight.

“Catra, get off me, Adora giggled

“No…” she softly growled, “comfy.” Adora wrestled her for a few moments more before she felt a jolt, and her weight shifted as Adora flipped her over, with a thud. For a moment, Adora was straddling her, and she let out a giggle of her own before she pushed off of her limp form, her cheeks redder than they had ever been before. Before she could start laughing again, those strong arms wrapped around her and picked her up, and that fire in her gut began to reignite, the flames licking her insides.

A few steps later, she was being gently laid on her mattress, and she surrendered the last of her will to slumber. Adora murmured something as she began to drift off, but she couldn’t make it out. Even her ears were too tired, she tried to open her mouth to dismiss her oldest friend, but only a muffled yawn emerged. Moments later, sleep finally claimed her.

Chapter Text

Adora helped Catra to her bunk, wasn’t coffee supposed to last longer than this? Glimmer usually buzzed around for hours after a mug of the stuff., maybe she’d done it wrong? At least Catra had liked the drink, or said she did, so that was something, maybe she’d bring her one with milk and sugar next time, or one of the flavoured syrups Glimmer liked, was that a good idea? Was that important? After Catra had collapsed on top of her, she’d felt weird. Not a bad weird, not even a new weird; it was the same surge of confusion that wracked her brain, that feeling she didn’t understand bubbling to the surface once again. She wasn’t sure how to describe it. First, this heat rose through her body and then her brain would begin to fog up. Most of the time, it just made her nervous or giddy, or it made her want to do dumb stuff like showing off. The rest of the time, she would just freeze up and look like an idiot.

“Sweet dreams”, She called as Catra slumped into her mattress, passing out from the exhaustion. She’d done it herself a couple of times, well, maybe more than a couple, but she had to; it was the only way she could stay on top, not… not let Shadow Weaver down. She didn’t want to think about her either. That was a very different kind of confusion, the ‘your whole life was a lie’ type of confusion. That settled things. She needed to get her mind off everything. She needed to hit something.

She made her way back to her bedroom and glanced at the Sword of Protection that lay on her desk, both blade and hilt glistening in the summer light. It meant everything to her; it was her purpose, her destiny and the service she owed to each person on the planet. But then, if it was so important to her, then why had she begun to dread even touching the damn thing? Every time she picked it up, it was like a bomb’s fuse ticking down until she had to give up everything for whatever Light Hope and fate had in store for her. No. No more thinking; this was training time; Adora forced her eyes past She-Ra’s blade to the weapon beside it.

The blacksmith had made her a training sword. It was about the same size and weight as the real deal, only with blunted edges, so she didn’t accidentally hurt another sparring partner. It had only happened once, and the wound she’d dealt to one of Peck’s charges wasn’t bad, but it had been enough that the Master-at-Arms had sent her off to meet Thera nonetheless.

Thera was a tall, brawny woman with a thick auburn braid, a booming laugh and the kind of arms you only get from spending all day, every day swinging a hammer. The woman stirred up those feelings again; it was a bit like what she had come to call the ‘Catra Feeling’ but much less intense. The ‘Catra Feeling’ was getting more and more common. Back before she’d found the sword, she’d felt it from time to time, sometimes when the two of them sat real close against one another or when she pounced on her and pinned her to the floor. She’d gotten it a few times when they fought too, and big-time at Princess Prom when they’d danced together, but now, it was everywhere. It wasn’t a bad feeling, not at all; it was like having her stomach tickled, but on the inside or like you couldn’t stop giggling, despite no one telling a joke.

It had taken Thera weeks to get the weapon right. The Sword of Protection was, as she’d put it, ‘appallingly balanced’, something to do with a solid gold hilt and a feather-light crystal blade.

She had to admit the weapon was unwieldy; if she didn’t have She-Ra’s strength to rely on, she’d struggle to keep it upright. There had to be some kind of knack to it, maybe she would learn when she eventually went back to Light Hope, but until then, it was just her trying to figure it out for herself. Not that anything like that ever went well for her; things never seemed to click when left to her own devices. It was much harder to focus without clear directions, and her brain almost seemed to want to get distracted. Back in the academy, the instructors would explain how to do something, maybe show her if need be, and it would all just come together. It’s why she was grateful for Peck; he had shown her plenty of techniques on how to fight with the ungainly blade. It wasn’t the same as learning its hidden magic or whatever Light Hope had planned, but it was a close second. She grabbed the replica and raced from her room.

She decided to cut through the gardens on her way to the training grounds. As she made her way through the greenery, taking in the swirling colours of the flowerbeds and the concert of birdsong, a voice called out from nearer the castle.

“Oh hey, what’s up, Adora?” It was Netossa. She was sat amongst a formation of wooden garden chairs, ornately carved with flowers, each set with a jewel and painted in bright pastels. Besides her was her bunkmate, Spinerella. No, wait, wife. The word they used here was ‘wife’.

“Oh hey guys, I was just heading over the training yard, gotta practice, y’know.” She waved her sword at them, earning Spinerella’s warm smile and a quick snigger from Netossa.

“No, you don’t; that can wait. Pull up a seat.” Netossa called, waving her closer.

“Okay, what are you guys up to?” She asked as she drew out a third chair, propped her sword against the table and sat before the couple.

“Angella invited us for tea in the gardens, but she’s running late. ”Spinerella explained. “But enough about that, it’s been too long since we’ve been able to talk, Adora; how are you?”

“Good, I’m good.”

“how about your friends? Are they settling in?” Spinerella asked, smiling as she did so.

“I think they are.” Catra was doing pretty good, and the boys seemed happy, but she wasn’t sure about Lonnie. As far as she could tell, the girl only seemed to enjoy the training yard and the dining hall; she’d frowned at nearly every other part of Brightmoon. She’d even managed to sulk her way through Plumeria’s beautiful forests. Maybe it would just take a little time for her to adjust, or she missed the Fright Zone more than the others. At least for a little while, she had missed it too, well, it might be more accurate to say she’d missed some of the people, but Lonnie had a connection to the place she could only begin to understand. Who knows what dragging her out of the Fright Zone might have done to the poor girl.

“Good, we need all the fighters we can get,” Netossa replied, “What about Catra?” Netossa moved on.

“Huh?” Why did she want to talk about Catra?

“Is she going to be a problem? Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t stepped in when she had Glimmer?”

“She’s just… she’s been through a lot.” Not just the past few days, but Catra’s whole life had been more complicated than she’d realised, she should have noticed just how Shadow Weaver was treating her best friend, how it was affecting her, but instead, she’d just let it happen. That was something she was going to make up for in Brightmoon; no one was going to hurt her ever again.

“I meant, what’s up with her and you? Are you two… you know?” Netossa asked.

“Honey, I think you need to let them figure it out themselves.” Spinerella objected.

“Babe, you’ve seen them as much as I have. They just need a little push.”

“I… I don’t-“ What was Netossa talking about? Was this the same thing Glimmer meant? Was this about the Catra feeling?

“I know you don’t, Adora; that’s what I want to talk about. Tell me, what do you think about her, about Catra?”

“She’s my best friend.” She blurted. What else was she supposed to say?

“Okay, sure, and why is that?” Netossa pushed harder.

“Um, she’s clever and funny, and strong, and brilliant, and… and... an-“ not again, it was getting hard to think, hard to articulate. Why was everyone so obsessed with her and Catra all of a sudden?

“Let’s start easy. Do you think Catra’s pretty?” Netossa interrupted her, her voice equal parts compassion and frustration.

“Honey, stop.” Spinerella pleaded with her wife. She couldn’t even begin to answer the question. The Catra feeling was back, and it had a clamp on her jaw. The heat was rising again, hitting her cheeks. It was more than that; everything was turning sour. She felt uncomfortable, anxious again, no. Not now. Please, not now. “Are you okay?” Spinerella must have noticed. She rose and started pouring a glass of whatever was in the pitcher before them, gently pushing it into her hands, “take a drink there, sweetie; it’ll help bring you back around.” She took a deep sip of what turned out to be a bitter still lemonade. “I’m sorry about my wife. She’s just trying to help, get you to talk about it a little; she’s just a little too blunt for her own good sometimes,” Spinerella shot her wife a look and earned a scoff in response.

Adora swallowed hard; maybe Netossa was right; talking about it would help. They seemed to know about this kind of stuff, more than the Best Friend Squad anyway, “Y…yes.” She stammered, trying to find her nerve. “I… think she’s pretty.” It was an understatement; Glimmer was pretty, Perfuma and Mermista were pretty, Catra was as far beyond pretty as pretty was beyond ugly.

“That’s perfectly healthy, Adora, and how does that make you feel?” Spinnerella took over the questions.

“umm.”

“How about nervous? Or excited?” The wind Princess continued.

“Yeah, both of those.” She paused, “It’s like being full of squirming bugs or something, but like good.” Somehow, she felt a little better saying it out loud. Spinerella and Netossa seemed to understand what she was rambling about even if she didn’t quite herself. Their nods of encouragement helping to ease her worries.

“I remember that feeling.” Spinerella chuckled.

“Wait, so you get it too?”

“I used to all the time, back before we started dating,” Spinerella explained.

“We both did, and even sometimes after we started dating too.” Her wife agreed.

“You wouldn’t believe how nervous she was at our wedding, Adora. Angella actually had Juliet on standby in case she tried to run.” Spinerella laughed.

“I don’t know; maybe a little violence would have suited our wedding.” Netossa grinned, and it got a laugh from Spinerella, though Adora wasn’t sure she got the joke.

“Huh?” Wasn’t a wedding supposed to be like a big party or something?”

“We met on the Battlefield, Adora.” Spinerella began, “This was at the very start of the Alliance, I was out on a mission, and Micah had gone to check out some sorcerer causing trouble down in Seaworthy.”

“The word you’re looking for is surviving, babe.” Corrected Netossa, feigning offence.

“Well, it turned out that the sorcerer was a rogue Princess, and Micah recruited her,” Spinerella explained.

“The promise of a hot meal, a soft bed and a good fight.” Netossa laughed.

“On their way back to Brightmoon, they got a call. My squad had come under attack and needed help. Micah made a beeline right for us, and that new Princess made quite the impression.”

“I might have wiped out a whole platoon single-handed, no big deal.”

“After that, we spent the next few months getting closer, until finally-“

“We figured out how dumb we were.” Netossa interrupted again.

“Until we both realised that we loved one another,” Netossa confirmed.

“Damn right, we do.” Netossa grinned, pushing her head towards her wife, whispering something in her ear that earned her a sly giggle.

“I’m sorry, Adora. It seems my wife can’t control herself. Why don’t you tell us about that feeling again? How often do you get it?”

“Mostly, it’s when I’m around her, or if I’m thinking about her. Sometimes I get it around other people too, but that’s not very often. Sometimes it gets pretty intense, and I can’t think straight.” She should tell them; she took a deep breath and sighed. “I call it the Catra feeling.”

“Wow. You’ve got it, bad kid.” Netossa chuckled between her words. What did she mean? What did she have?

“Be nice, honey.” Spinerella chastised her wife, but it didn’t ease her own confusion.

“She does call it the ‘Catra feeling’, babes.” Netossa shot back.

“Wait, what’s wrong? Am I sick or something? Is the Catra feeling bad?” She thought Spinerella said it was good, normal? Maybe she could use She-Ra to fix this or one of the healers in the infirmary.

“Oh, sweetie. No, it’s a good feeling, perfectly wonderful.” Spinerella squeezed her wife’s hand. “Do you remember when we had that talk months ago, and we explained marriage?” Spinerella’s tone softened again.

“Yeah, you said that it’s because you love each other and always wanted to be together, right?” Adora sputtered, almost too quickly, desperate to figure out where all of this was going.

“Yeah, that’s it”, Netossa confirmed. “it sounds like you might love Catra?”

She didn’t know how to respond to that. For the longest time, she had assumed that they would just be together forever by default; how could they not be? They were Catra and Adora, Adora and Catra, virtually inseparable. A year ago, they even dreamed of ruling the Horde side by side. Then things changed, and then they changed again, and now, she didn’t have a clue. “I… don’t, I always just thought, maybe, I don’t know what love is supposed to feel like.”

“Adora, what exactly do the Horde teach you about relationships?” Netossa asked.

“Or the birds and the bees?” Spinerella added.

“Oh, we learnt about eating them in survival class.” The resulting afternoon of bug-eating with Catra and Ro in the yard had regrettably been her first taste of non-ration bar food.

“No, Adora, we mean sex.” Netossa clarified.

“Oh, what does that have to do with birds?”

“it doe- never mind.” The Netossa rubbed her temple as she gave up.

“Oh, you mean like mating? We had a lecture on that one time. Reproducing to keep the Horde strong and stuff.” It had been pretty embarrassing; she’d mostly tried to bury her head in the Horde Procedure Manual pages they’d handed out about requesting shared quarters. She’d ended up with Catra that evening awkwardly giggling over Kyle’s notes after she’d skipped the lecture. It was the first time she really remembered the Catra feeling taking over. Oh.

“Have I mentioned how much I hate the Horde?” Netossa shook her head.

“Repeatedly, dear. Adora, it really sounds like you have feelings for Catra, romantic feelings. I mean, you must have noticed how you’ve changed since she got here?”

“Changed?” The word fell from her mouth laden with confusion. She hadn’t changed, had she? She was the same Adora she always had been, right?

“You’re much happier.” That might be true; she had been happy before. Still, something about having Catra here and the others too did make everything seem a little brighter, like a load off her conscience.

“Thanks.” She noticed Queen Angella round a corner far behind the two Princesses, her escort in tow. “Looks like the Queen’s here; I’d better get going.”

“Sure, kiddo, have fun with that sword of yours.” Netossa nodded to her.

“Don’t be a stranger, Adora,” Spinerella added, waving calmly.

“Look, kid.” Netossa grabbed her arm as she walked past, “It’s clear that you care about Catra, like a lot. Even if you don’t fully understand everything yet, you should talk to her about it. Life is short, and after everything you’ve been through, you deserve some happiness.”

 


 

Adora’s training hadn’t lasted all that long. A few hours in, her rabble of friends found her, even a still-weary Catra rubbing her eyes. She barely had time to react before they pulled her from the yard and towards the market, home of the tailor’s shop that Glimmer adored.

She and Bow had been threatening new outfits upon her friends since they’d gotten here. Desperate to rid them of the Horde iconography that earned sour looks wherever they went. Lonnie had been able to pick up something new in Plumeria but did not seem taken with the brightly coloured sarong and tube top they’d forced on her. Catra seemed to hate hers even more. She’d been complaining of how restrictive the baggy pants and baggy tank top were since she’d gotten out of earshot of Perfuma.

She had never liked the little shop herself. Glimmer and Bow had taken her a few times, and it had always gone the same way, badly. There would just be too many choices; styles, colours, fabrics and everything else, so she would just seize up and ask for something like she was already wearing. Even when Glimmer made her try on other things, none of it felt right, like they were meant for someone else. The worst time had been before Princess Prom when she had needed to pick out a formal dress. She’d never had to wear anything like that before; it was all so unfamiliar, so different that she’d collapsed into a full-blown panic attack. Eventually, the little, old woman who ran the shop had given her a warm drink and talked her down with Glimmer’s help. Then the dozens of dresses were whittled down to two. The first was long and flowing in white and gold; it was beautiful, soft, elegant, and everything else she could never be. The second was the easier to move or fight in and blood-red; perfect for a soldier. The choice pained her more than she was willing to admit. She could still remember her finger trembling as she slowly, reluctantly pointing to the red one before the Seamstress took it away for adjustments.

The soldier’s dress had proved the right choice in the end. Of course, it had; what was she if not a soldier. Sometimes she even felt less than that, just a weapon. After all, wasn’t She-Ra just a big stick for the rebels to swing at the Horde and hope it would solve everything. Sometimes she didn’t always feel like much of a person. After all, people got to choose. She had never had many chances to decide anything for herself, and most of the time, when she did, she would freeze up, like she had with the dress. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to choose anything; that was what destiny was about, right? And what was She-Ra, if not destiny incarnate? At least Light Hope had kept saying she so. The Princess of Power was supposed to bring balance to Etheria, defeat the Horde and save everyone. Only there wasn’t supposed to be a choice involved; she was just supposed to do it.

Even when she had choices, she was terrible at them; if you put a plate in front of her, she’d eat it, but ask her to choose from a menu? She’d just stare at it until Bow or Glimmer pointed her towards something they knew she’d like. If you just asked her what she wanted to eat, she’d ask for the first thing that came to her mind, whether she actually enjoyed it or not. It was why she liked the little stalls in the markets, they all only sold one or two things, and it was easy to try them all, settle on favourites and go back for more.

She needed to relax. She was overthinking everything again, which never ended well for her, just more anxiety and panic. At least this time, it wasn’t really for her, she’d need to replace her jacket, sure, but the tailor had repaired it enough times to make another like it, she hoped. This was more about getting the others out of their Horde uniforms. She could just sit there and watch the others try on outfits like she did with the Best Friend Squad, easy.

Glimmer was surprisingly chipper, well maybe not so surprising; she was about to get to play dress-up with four new mannequins. She almost burst into the quaint little shop with its mahogany shelves lined with fabrics and racks of garments. The others followed, mostly unsure what to think as she and Bow brought up the rear. “Are you okay?” he asked, “you look a bit nervous.”

“It’s nothing, sorry; this place just makes me a little anxious.” She admitted.

“Yeah, I remember, you don’t have to go in if you don’t want to; we can go hang out in the square until they’re done if you like. I heard that the guy with the puppet show is back in town this week.” She nodded gratefully. Just knowing that she could tap out and spend the afternoon with a show and a slice of cake gave her the courage to push forward through the tailor’s door.

“Thanks, but it’s okay. I don’t mind watching everyone else try stuff on.”

“Well, if it gets too much, just let me know, and we’ll go, okay” Bow smiled and followed her inside.

“Thanks.”

Glimmer bustled around the shop as they entered, dragging the Seamstress and her assistants towards her friends, making the introductions as best she could. However, both groups still seemed unsure around one another, Catra in particular, got a nasty look from an elf with a pointed beard and measuring tape hung around his neck.

“Welcome, welcome. The four of you won’t be the first ex-Horde soldiers we have garbed, and with Princess Glimmer vouching for you all, it would be our pleasure to help you acclimate to Brightmoon fashions.” The Seamstress announced before waving her assistants to work.

Catra backed towards her, desperate for a friendly face, as the Seamstress herself made a beeline for the two of them. “Princess Adora, it is always a pleasure to dress you. Are you looking for something for yourself today?”

“Um, no, thanks.” She mumbled before correcting more loudly, “wait, I need a new jacket. My old one sort of died.” Catra stifled a giggle, but the old lady just smiled warmly towards her.

“It gave its life for Kyle”, Catra threw back her head, still laughing, so she shoved her in the shoulder, trying not to giggle too.

“Sorry.” She apologised to the bemused shop owner.

“Ah, it’s quite alright. Why don’t you look at some of the racks or design books and see if anything appeals? Whilst I talk with your friend here, I don’t think I’ve dressed a Magicat since Queen Angella’s wedding.”

She opened her mouth to explain, but it was bone dry, her words stuck in her throat. All she wanted was a jacket like the one she’d lost; simple, easy. Why was she freezing up? The woman was paying her no mind anyway, already locked deep in conversation with Catra.

It was okay, she could do this, maybe a new jacket would be a good thing, besides all she had to do was browse the racks or the design books and choose something. She approached one of the shelves, lined with colourful coats. The first one was brown leather, with a thick woollen collar. No. Then a blue one with pink trim. No. How many more were there?

She just kept mumbling to herself over and over as she pulled a long purple coat, sighed and put it back. Another brown one. Another green one. It was beginning to make her itch. The narrow walls of the little shop seemed to be closing in on her. There were too many outfits, too many fabrics, too many choices; she needed to get out of here. Bow? Where was Bow? He said he’d help her.

She darted forward to where he was stood looking at buttons with Kyle and tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped in surprise before turning to meet her face.

“Sorry.” She cried, a little too loud.

“It’s okay; what’s up,” Bow asked.

“Can we… you said we could go… if I didn’t feel okay.”

“Sure, not a problem.” He turned to the room and raised his voice “hey guys, Adora and I are going to get some air. Why don’t you meet us at the market square when you’re done.” He got a series of murmurs in response, and they made for the door.

The market square was as busy as ever. The traders were selling their crafts, from jewellery and toys to spices and trinkets of every kind. However, her favourites were the dozen or so food vendors selling spiced nuts or skewers of grilled meat and whatever other delicacies from across Etheria were on sale this week.

“Why don’t you go find us somewhere to sit? I’ll grab us some snacks.” Bow pushed gently through the crowd gathering next to the food stands.

“Thanks.” She made her way towards the fountain in the middle of the square, taking a seat on its edge. It was an enormous circle of carved pink stone that housed a shallow pool of water. In the centre sat a podium topped with a Seraphim in flight, enormous wings plated with silver and water pouring from outstretched hands. She didn’t think it was Queen Angella, but it had to be an ancestor of hers.

After a few minutes, Bow returned and took the space beside her, pressing the little bag of popcorn and a bright purple drink into her hands. She had a good view of the puppeteer’s stage as he began rummaged through boxes and arranged his scenery.

“So, are you doing okay?” He asked.

“Yeah, a lot better thanks, I think I just needed some air, too stuffy, y’know.”

“Are you sure, Adora? I’ve seen that look in your eyes before?”

“I don’t know; I talked with The Queen this morning and Netossa and Spinerella, and they said a bunch of stuff, and now I think I’m even more confused about Catra than ever.”

“You and Catra, huh?”

“Yeah, they think that maybe I like her, in a ‘more than friends kind of way.’ They think maybe I love her.”

“And what do you think?”

“I… don’t know, I’m trying not to.” She didn’t want to get into it, not really. Bow might be an excellent person to talk to about this sort of thing but now didn’t seem like the time. She just needed to take a step away from Adora’s life for a little bit.

“Then, maybe we just sit back and enjoy the show.” He grinned, pushing a straw into his dring and sucking a long, noisy mouthful of the sugary liquid.

“I’d like that, please.” She popped a piece of popcorn into her mouth, the sugar tingling her tongue.

“Gentle citizens of Brightmoon,” the little puppeteer announced, “today I have a real treat for you all, a classic tale of adventure, daring deeds and true love. I present to you; the story of the brave Sir Kottur and his prince.”

The painted wooden figures danced across the stage as the puppeteer twisted his fingers. It was amazing how each character came to life; the heroes and villains all had different voices and moved differently. As she watched the tale unfold, her troubles began to drift away. Catra was forgotten; Scorpia, Hordak, and Light Hope, all of them were now just a haze at the back of her mind. Why couldn’t her own life be as simple as those puppets? Maybe it was; after all, they just danced on the end of another person’s fingers, not unlike she had done all her life.

The puppeteer was acting out a battle scene when the others turned up; the brave knight had rescued his prince and was trying to escape from the dragon who guarded the tower. She barely spared them a glance at first; she was so engrossed in the adventure before her. But once she caught a glimpse of their new outfits in their periphery, she couldn’t help but stare.

Lonnie’s outfit was predictably plain, much like her own. Grey trousers and a tight black t-shirt, framed with black gloves and the sturdiest boots she could get her hands on.

Kyle had picked out some new boots too, far sleeker than Lonnie’s and finishing just below his knees, with the hint of a heel and buckles near the ankle, like the riding boots the scouts wore. Tucked into them were navy blue pants and into them an off-white collared v-neck, its sleeves rolled to his elbows, under a pale blue vest lined with pockets.

Rogelio had chosen what had to be the tightest tank top in all of Etheria, hidden beneath a sleeveless blue jacket with black detailing and a popped collar. His boots matched Lonnie’s though in place of gloves he had taken to dark grey hand wraps that went part way up his forearms. As he stepped aside, she almost dropped what was left of her popcorn.

She had not been ready for Catra’s outfit. It was vaguely in the same style of her old uniform; her leggings replaced with short pale-grey tights that rose past her hips in a v-shape, and after a short gap of leg fur, long black socks with open heels and toes. She’d matched it with a form-fitting dark magenta top that tapered to a point just below her navel, in lines matching her shorts, giving a hint of mid-drift. She noticed the deep lines in the fabric accenting her gentle curves as she brought her eyes up. It was almost a torture designed just for her; each moment she took in her friend’s fashion choices, the more the Catra feeling began to flare in the back of her mind. Catra’s neckline matched the other v’s plunging deeply, offering a dangerous tease of her chest, whist her shoulders were covered in black leather, almost forming a collar. Finally, she’d added fingerless sleeves that finished a little below the elbows. She looked incredible. Too incredible. Maybe everyone had been right. Damn them.

“Hey, Adora. Do you like it?” Catra flashed her teeth when she smiled.

“Y…yeah, you look really… really great.”

“Thanks, apparently I’ve got a knack for fashion, or at least that what Sparkles said.” Catra grinned again, but Glimmer just ignored her; she seemed more interested in liberating Bow’s popcorn from him.

“I got them to whip something up for you too.” Catra gestured to Kyle, who pulled a package from his bag and passed it to her. “I know you needed a new jacket, so I took the liberty of choosing for you.” Okay, that wasn’t too bad. She could live with this, maybe. She could never wear something like Catra was wearing, but Catra wouldn’t have picked something like that out for her, right? She tentatively undid the string and unfolded the paper, hoping she wouldn’t have to pretend to like it; she wasn’t much of a liar after all. The first thing she noticed was the colour. It wasn’t bright red like her old one but closer to purple, like a light shade of plum maybe, with black detailing. When she began to turn it over in her hands, she saw that the cut looked pretty much the same, the shoulders weren’t quite as puffy, and they were much longer. This could work. This could work very nicely.

“Thanks”, she stuttered.

“I just figured it might be time to let people know which side you’re on. It might stop one of the Rebellion’s idiots blowing your head off.” The two of them shared a smile as she went to try it on.

“It fits.”

“Yeah, the old woman knew your measurements; she said she’d repaired the old one so many times she already had a design ready to go. It didn’t take long to whip something up.”

She refastened her belt over the jacket and rolled up the sleeves. It felt right, the same. The colour was warming on her, too; she could get used to this. She still felt like herself, whoever that was. she didn’t have a mirror, but from the warm grin on Catra’s face, she assumed it looked okay. “How is it?” She asked, hoping it was okay.

“Like a Princess.” Catra smiled, earning sniggers from her audience, but her blue and gold eyes softened the moment they met her own.

“Shut up.” She went to shove her friend’s shoulder but, she’d forgotten the popcorn in her lap; it flew into the air and spilt around them. She squealed as the surprise caught her off guard. Throwing her balance into disarray. She was tipping backwards; she had to rebalance! No! She reached her hand back to steady herself, and it was suddenly wet. The fountain! Then she was; still, a furry hand was clutching her top, holding her.

Just like that, she was lost to the Catra feeling, her body was going limp, but Catra’s strength kept her steady. She’d forgotten how strong the Magicat was; her lithe physique concealed impressive power, she suspected maybe even stronger than herself. Catra hoised her back onto her feet, her hand dripping. They were stood far too close. Too close. No, not again. She should get out of here.

“I… have to go.” She mumbled as she fled. It wasn’t fair; all she wanted was one afternoon away from everything, just relax and enjoy the story. Now she was running through the market, no idea where she was going. What was wrong with her? This went against everything she knew; face your problems; that was what she’d been taught. Now for some reason, she was running from them, from her. She’d never been on this side of things before; usually, it was Catra who sprinted away. Normally, when the walls closed in, she just huddled into a ball of panic and worry until someone pulled her out of it. But this felt different; she couldn’t do that in public, not like that, it was too… too… too vulnerable. She needed to be somewhere safe. The castle? Her room? Her bed?

Before she knew it, she was back on the castle grounds and tearing through the gardens towards the keep, earning strange looks from every groom and clerk she passed. Soon she found the enormous spiralling staircase that offered a reprieve, and up she continued to run.

Why? Why did it have to be like this? Why couldn’t she just be friends with Catra like before? Why did it have to be so weird and complicated? The Catra feeling wasn’t bad, that’s what Spinerella had said, but right now, all it did was fill her with worry.

What if she talked to Catra, and she didn’t love her back? Would she leave? Would things be weird?

What if she talked to Catra, and she did? Everything would change and change quickly. It was a mess.

She burst into her room, her thigh slamming into her desk as she passed, knocking the Sword of Protection from its perch. The weapon hit the ground with a ringing clang, but she paid it no mind. Instead, she threw herself onto her bed, grasped for Lookee, her long-suffering stuffed confidant and began whispering her woes to him.

Chapter Text

Rogelio could only watch as Adora tore from the market square. Something was wrong with the poor girl, sure falling in the fountain was a little embarrassing, but nothing Adora wasn’t used to. Every last one of them had been knocked on their ass more times than they could count or had fallen from an obstacle course into a pool of water.  Something was wrong.

“Adora, wait!” Catra’s cries fell on deaf ears, and just like that, Adora was gone.

“What the hell just happened,” Lonnie asked to no one in particular.

“What did you do?” Glimmer pushed Lonnie aside, earning a scowl and jabbed a finger into Catra’s chest, using the new cutout in her top as a target.

“I didn’t do anything.” Catra pushed Glimmer’s arm back, flashing a heterochromatic death stare.

“You dropped her in the fountain.” Glimmer stepped forward, getting worryingly close to the former Force Captain.

“I pulled her out of it,” Catra growled in response. Somehow, the inch or so between their heights felt like nearly a foot as Catra bent her neck to meet the Princess’ eyes.

“Then why did she run away.” Glimmer was almost yelling now, the puppet show’s audience turning their heads to gawk.

“I don’t know.” Catra’s voice matched Glimmer’s volume now, the two of them on the verge of a screaming match.

“Guys, calm down.” Bow tried to maintain order, he and Lonnie pushing the other two apart. It was getting harder and harder to put up with the two of them. Growing up, he’d seen fights erupt between cadets all the time; some of the instructors even encouraged it; figured it would make stronger soldiers or something. Every few months or so, even Catra and Lonnie’s bickering would boil over into something more aggressive. But an exchange of barbs and a scrap in the training arena the next day, and they’d be back to being friends or as close as the two of them got. Glimmer though? She and Catra seemed perfectly made to agitate each other.

This was getting them nowhere, and whilst these idiots bickered amongst themselves, who knew what state Adora was in. Catra was usually the best person to speak to her, but given that the poor girl’s reaction to Catra’s outfit caused the freakout, that might not be a good idea. Glimmer and Bow had become Adora’s confidant over the last year too, but neither were in the state to help her right now, one threatening an all-out brawl and the other trying to stop it.

It was up to him then. He gently pushed past the crowd gathering around the two of them and followed the street Adora had taken. As he made it past the first storefront, he felt a small hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, where are you going, Ro?” It was Kyle, of course, it was; who else would it be. He was the only one not tied up in the squabble by the fountain and probably the only one to notice he’d left at all.

“To find Adora.” He explained.

“Is that a good idea? Maybe she wanted to be left alone.” He sputtered, concern dripping through the cracks in his voice.

“You know her better than that.”

“Sure, do you want me to come with you?”

“That’s okay. I think this would be better alone. Maybe help Bow and Lonnie from stopping a battle from breaking out, buy me a little time to find her.” he rasped.

“Okay, if you’re sure.”

“Yeah, I think this one should be me.” Should it? He’d always been a good listener, had to be when nobody understands a word you say, but he wasn’t sure how much he knew how to talk to Adora anymore. The five of them had fallen back into old habits quickly for the most part, but there was this whole new side of her that kept surprising him.

“Cool, I’ll try to keep this…” he gestured to the squabble behind them, “under control.” The two shared a quick laugh “oh, I was gonna check out the library later if you wanna come, thought that might be cool, y’know.”

“Sure, I’ll see you later.” That might be fun, explore a little bit of the castle, steal a few quiet moments in Kyle’s company, fair payment from the universe for helping Adora, he decided.

He’d been the one to find Catra a couple of times over the last year. Those were always a game of hide and seek in the deepest bowels of the Fright Zone; somehow, he didn’t think Adora would do the same. She liked the familiar, the safe, and there was only one place he knew in Bright Moon that she might feel that way, so at the next crossroads, he turned towards the castle.

As Rogelio made his way though through the hallways, he considered asking a guard to confirm if she had been through here, but he’d left the little notepad in Kyle’s bag, so instead, he took his chances and headed towards the upper levels of the keep, where the bedrooms sat.

Adora?” He heard the sobbing from the corridor. He pushed the door to see one of his oldest friends huddled on a small cot much like his own. She was murmuring into some weird looking pillow, shaped like a little person with cat ears and a tail. “Are you alright?” She didn’t seem to hear him. Leaving her alone wasn’t a good idea; she would just end up spiralling.

He gingerly pushed himself into the room and crossed the floor. He hadn’t seen Adora’s bedroom before; it was as he expected, the same pastel marble and grandiose furnishings as his own, as far from the barracks as was possible. The main differences were it was littered here and there with trinkets that Adora must have accumulated over the last year. Each presumably had its own story; a conch shell, a pair of model horses and an odd-looking windchime, and all manner of other knick-knacks.

Rogelio sat on the end of the bed and smiled weakly at the crying girl, hoping to get her attention. She didn’t seem to notice him; instead, he just caught a few of the whispers spilling into the toy’s ear. “Catra… Too much….”

It’s okay, Adora” He tried to keep his voice as still as possible, though not easy to do when trying to remain understandable to the poor girl.

“Hey… hey Ro. Um, what are you doing here?” Adora mumbled, finally noticing him.

“You kind of surprised everyone back there; you’re not usually one for running away like that.“ He tried to broaden his smile, try to ease her into a conversation he suspected she didn’t want to have.

“I guess that’s more of a …Catra thing, huh.” The way her voice trembled at that name confirmed his assumptions. This was a lovestruck idiot problem. Well, he’d spent a year consoling one of them and years of his life pretending not to be one, so maybe he was the right choice after all.

“Yeah, you’re much easier to find for what it’s worth.”

“Is that a good thing?” she chuckled, though the smile didn’t reach her red-raw eyes.

“I’d like to think so. Do you want to talk about it?” He asked, growling the question as simply as he could.

“I… I don’t know.”

“That’s cool; I can just sit here, keep you company, with this little guy.” He pointed to the toy she was holding.

“That’s Lookee, he’s… he keeps me company sometimes.” Adora looked down at the stuffed toy and held it up to him for closer inspection. Lookee was maybe a foot or so tall, with fluffy paws, striped blue hair and a matching tail. The guy was undeniably cute, and the smile stitched into his face echoed the one Rogelio saw plastered across Kyle’s face when he drifted to sleep. He tapped at one of Lookee’s brass buttons, stitched into bright red overalls, which for a second reminded him of poor Entrapta. She had to be alone now, or perhaps that wouldn’t bother her; she always seemed disinterested in anything that wasn’t robotic anyway.

He wasn’t sure leaving her was right, even if it had been what she wanted. Had Adora felt the same uncomfortable sensation when she’d thought of him or the others? Did it matter? Choices had been made, good and bad, and they just had to deal with the consequences.

The two of them just enjoyed the comfortable silence; he waited patiently as she began to acclimate to him being here. “It’s Catra.” She finally murmured, her voice still shaky and rasping a little.

“Yeah, I figured as much.”

“Uggh, does that mean everyone’s figured it out?” She tried to bury her head in a pillow again.

“That depends on what you think they’ve figured out. I can’t really speak for anyone else though, I’m pretty sure Catra doesn’t have a clue.” Maybe getting her to say it would help.

“Spinerella and Netossa say that… and Glimmer knows too, I think… they said that I might be in love with her.” There it was, just a little more.

“And what do you think?”

“I’m… I’m…” She was almost trembling again; he reached out a scaly hand to calm hers. The touch seemed to steady her resolve. “I’m in love with her.” She somehow managed to sound wholly dedicated to her words and completely uncertain at the same time, but her tone.

“you don’t sound happy about it.”

“I don’t know how I feel, Ro. I’m happy, excited, and mostly just terrified.” He patted her hand a few times and reached for his spines with his spare hand.

“Sure, I get that.” He had spent his fair share of sleepless nights worrying about ruining his friendship.

“So, are you going to lecture me too, beg me to talk to her?” Her voice soured a little, but it was exasperation more than anything.

“I don’t know, maybe. Figured you might at least want to hear from someone in the same boat, though.” Well, he was doing this now, it seemed.

“You’re in love with Catra too?” He had to laugh; a raspy chuckle filled his throat at the mere thought of being into Cat.

“Kyle.”

“Oh, that makes sense; wait, does that mean that I act the same way around Catra as you do around Kyle?”

“Nope, I just turn into a sad, soft mess; you two are all weird and wrestle-y.”

She groaned, and Lookee bounced off his head. “Could you maybe, tell me about Kyle?

Sure, I guess.” He began, how do you explain what it’s like to have the whole world revolve around someone, like moons around the planet? “He makes me happy.” Good start, big guy, “I just feel warmer around him, softer, like my best self. He makes me want to hold him, keep him safe and just tell him over and over again how special he is. I want to fall asleep with him in my arms so I can keep his bad dreams at bay, and I want to wake up knowing he’ll always be mine.” He found himself smiling as he daydreamed allowed. “It’s not just that; I want to kiss him, embrace him, love him, I want him to be my life, even more than he already is.”

“Wow.” Adora’s voice was barely a whisper, and her eyes were wide open, almost staring at him in awe.

“huh? Are you okay?”

“um, it’s just, you kind of just said it. I mean, that’s pretty much how I feel, not the part about lips, obviously, but the rest of it, yeah.”

“Yeah, I know.” His hand found its way back to his spines, his finger rubbing over the point.

“Are you going to do anything about it?” She asked.

“I don’t know, Adora… things are… I don’t know. Things are pretty good right now; he’s happy, he’s safe, I’m happy he’s both. Why risk messing it up, right?” He must sound just like she had when she had been trembling moments earlier; how had he let it come to this?

“Yeah, everything’s changed so much for all of us so quickly, it might not be a good thing to change it more, y’know?”

“Sure. But Adora, the difference is I’m not having panic attacks in the street over an inch of thigh and a plunging neckline.” He tried to make light, but really they weren’t that different; he just had a better hold of his mess than she did.

“dress Kyle up like that; we’ll see how you handle it.” They both laughed. It hadn’t taken much to bring her around, just the right words and a dumb joke. It only got funnier when Kyle sauntered through his mind eye dressed in Catra’s skin-tight ensemble, but somehow the boy managed to pull it off and make it his own.

“Shut up.” He growled.

“No.” Adora swung her legs off the bed and sat up, now sitting on the side, right next to him. “Ro?” she asked, “Should I talk to her? That’s what everyone else says to do, but I’m… I’m scared, Ro. I know it’s dumb and that I shouldn’t be afraid of something like that. I’ve charged into battle and faced the worst the Horde has to offer, and all that other stuff that’s supposed to be scary, but this, Ro, I spent a year without her, and it broke my heart, what if she runs away again?”

Should he tell her? Explain that Catra had been pining for years, that the feline was just as lovestruck as they were. No. It wasn’t fair; Cat had poured her broken heart out to him in confidence; the best he could do would be a nudge. He wasn’t entirely sure how Catra might react to the news, that Adora felt the same way as she had, but he had to believe that as life-changing as it may be, it would be for the best to get it out in the open. He’d want to know if Kyle felt the same about him, even if he had to risk it all to find out, he decided.

“You should tell her.” He growled as enthusiastically as he could muster.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” he agreed, nodding somberly, wondering what he was about to unleash upon Etheria.

“Then you should talk to Kyle too.” She countered.

“Yeah, I suppose I should.” Damn her. “Are you going to be okay?”

“I think… I think so. You really helped me out, Ro, thanks.”

“Same to you, Adora.” He smiled, and he wrapped her arms around her, holding her tightly. “Same to you.” After a few moments of embrace, he stood and made his farewells. For his part, at least Adora seemed to have found some semblance of control of the situation, a game plan an instruction to follow.

 


 

Should he do it now? Plan it? Take him into the gardens or something, somewhere he’d be comfortable? Damn it, Adora, maybe he should have just left her to her misery; it would have spared him his own. He’d figure something out.

Maybe he should get him a present? Courting gifts were something he vaguely remembered from his lessons with his people. Mostly he remembered the instructor explaining the Reptilian take on marriage tokens, jewellery crafted from fragments of their old eggshells, symbolising giving your past away to your future. He had a box of them sitting upstairs; maybe he could do something with those.

When you turned fifteen, or at least when the Horde believed you had, you were handed a small box containing whatever trinkets they had taken when they found you. He had gotten shards of eggshell and a few childhood teeth that someone had thought to save for him, and Catra had gotten her mask, though no one had any kind of explanation for it. Lonnie had received a few trinkets from her parents and childhood toys. Medals mostly and a small handful of wooden soldiers shaped like Horde Troopers and an evil looking Princess for them to fight. Kyle had a thin copper medallion, with a tree carved into one side and his name of the other. Adora had received nothing, which was tragically common.

Maybe that was too much; he didn’t want to give Kyle the wrong idea. He wasn’t asking Kyle to become his bunkmate, husband, or anything so serious, yet. Maybe he should just rip the bandage off and do it now? Perhaps just play it by ear, see how things went; there was no rush after all. He remembered where the library was from Glimmer’s tour, though she hadn’t bothered to open the door,  and slowly made his way there, almost yearning for the sight of his best friend. Damn this love thing, no wonder it was tearing Adora apart.

The library was huge. In truth, Rogelio wasn’t quite sure what to expect. There were no libraries in the Fright Zone; the closest thing was the few piles of operations manuals and field guides in the req-office. Some of the classrooms had a shelf or two books, simple stories about heroic soldiers and evil princesses designed to help the cadets learn to read, but again nothing like this. Most of the room was given up to massive shelving units lined with books, a pair of clerks bustled about, their hands full of volumes. As he poked his head around the rows, searching for his friend, he spotted him sat in a purple armchair, lost in some book.

“Hey?” he growled as softly as he could manage, causing Kyle to look up from his book.”

“Hey.” He answered back.

“What are you reading?” Rogelio found himself asking, the book’s title obscured by kyle’s slender hands.

“It’s a storybook, but like for grownups.” He explained enthusiastically.

“Who said you’re a grownup?” he joked, running a hand through the shorter boy’s shaggy hair. It had become so much softer since reaching Brightmoon. It must be the shampoo, he figured; the body wash they’d given him was certainly much gentler on his scales; it smelt nicer too, like fruit and flowers.

“Shut up.” Kyle tried to hide his grin.

“No.” He chuckled, “Is it any good?”

“Yeah, I like it so far. It’s about this guy who grew up on a farm and runs away from home and goes on adventures. Fights bad guys and stuff like that.” He began to explain, the excitement in his voice not wavering for a moment.

“That’s cool.” It wasn’t too often that he got to see Kyle so thrilled by something, at least something he could understand. Typically, to hear this kind of passion from the guy, there would be a lecture on electronics, engine blocks, or whatever else he had been studying.

“There’s a Reptilian in it, the main bad guy. He’s like a pirate king, all covered in scars, with a sword made out of bones; he’s terrifying.”

“Of course he is.” How else would a Brightmoon writer depict his people but as some rabid villain? How many books in this whole library imagined the Reptilians as monsters? Maybe he was overreacting. Most Brightmooners had been, and the few side-eyes and murmurs he had gotten seemed more focussed on his former allegiance than his species. That said, some of the Brightmooners had given him a wider berth than they did with Lonnie or Kyle, but maybe they’d just been soured by pirate kings with bone swords.

“Did you find Adora?” He asked, his face shifting to concern.

“Yeah.”

“How is she?”

“As messed up as the rest of us. But she’ll be okay. She just needs to talk to Catra.”

“Oh. So that’s finally coming to a head, huh?”

“Yeah, it looks like.” Was now the time? Maybe.

“I hope they figure it out; they’d… they’d be a good couple, cute, I guess.” He wasn’t wrong; he’d call them cute now if they weren’t so insufferable.

“You ever think about stuff like that?” Rogelio found himself asking, equal parts curious and fearful of the answer.

“Yeah, I mean sometimes, back in the Fright Zone, I mean.”

“Yeah?” this could be interesting; Kyle had never mentioned this before.

“It was all just dumb fantasy. I had to hope for a future that didn’t end in my name carved onto that damned monolith and never thought about again.”

“What kind of future did you fantasise about then?” He had to know.

“All of us being happy and together mostly, someplace with nature, but sometimes, I thought about having a bunkmate, having some kids maybe. I don’t know; it’s weird to talk about.”

“It sounds nice.”

“Yeah, I guess so. What about you?” Kyle asked.

“I don’t know. I never thought beyond the war, never figured I’d live to see the end of it, didn’t see the point in daydreaming. Besides, I never thought I’d get the one thing I wanted.” It was true; he’d never let himself give in to hope. He’d mostly just accepted his fate and wished he could do what he could to keep his family as safe as he could manage along the way.

“What did you want?”

“Only y-“, he caught himself, his courage wavered, and he knew he couldn’t do this right now, not here before the watchful eyes of the librarians. This needed to be private. There was the mission, too; he should wait a few days. He could manage that much; after all, he’d waited years, which was a few more days. And that would give him time to think of a plan. Perfect. “Peace”, he tried to correct, “I just wanted to find a little peace.”

“Well, looks like you’re on the right track with this place, Ro.” Kyle looked into his eyes and smiled, “you deserve that much.”

“We all do.” He wasn’t special; he didn’t deserve whatever slice of happiness Brightmoon could offer any more than any of the others.

“Sure, but you’ve always been there for me. Even when the others have been by our sides, it’s always been you and me, buddy. Always has, and always will be, at least as long as you’re willing to put up with me.” Kyle sat his book on the coffee table before him and took his hand.

“I’ve never put up with you. You’re my best friend, Kyle, whatever help you need, whatever support, I’m going to be the first on my feet.”

“Thanks, I just wish I didn’t need all that extra support. I wish I was strong like you and the others.” The bottom fell out of his voice.

“You’ve no idea how strong you are. Catra says you’re the one who got us here.” He tried to reassure him.

“I got a crossbow bolt the size of a javelin through my leg and had to be carried to the skiff, Ro; I didn’t have much to do with it.”

“Dumbass, you convinced Cat to break Adora out; we’d all be sitting in the Fright Zone mourning Adora if it weren’t for you. You got us here as much as she did, as much as any of us did.”

“No. Scorpia did more.” Kyle disputed.

“She did.” He agreed with a shrug. Scorpia had made that final effort to push them into freedom, and he suspected she had paid the cost gladly. He’d never seen the woman as much of a soldier; she was tough, but much like Kyle had none of a soldiers instincts, save one. The only one that really mattered at the end of the day; loyalty to a cause greater than themselves. It was why she had stayed behind. It was why they were going to tear Etheria apart to free her.

“And we’re gonna get her back.”

“Or die trying.”

“Yeah… or die trying.” Kyle gulped nervously. And after a few quiet moments, he looked back to his book and fumbled for a thick leather strap, placing it between the pages and closing it before reaching to the floor on the far side of his chair. “I nearly forgot; I found something you might like too.” He pulled up a bright blue tome, its title embossed in large golden font; ‘Folklore and Legends of the Reptilian People’, and etched below, was a stylised Reptilian warrior.

His heart skipped a beat.

Part of him was surprised that Brightmoon even had something like this, but the rest of him just wanted to hug his friend. Excitedly, Rogelio opened the cover, skimming the first few pages until he spied a contents page. It detailed close to twenty different stories, of which he only recognised two. He flicked a few more pages, finding a beautiful illustration of a Reptilian squaring off against a gigantic spider with a crystal spear.

“I asked the librarian if they had anything about your people, and she found this for me.” She said it was a gift from the Clan Chiefs for Queen Angella’s coming of age,” Kyle explained, utterly failing to hide how pleased he was with himself. He was a little surprised to see something like this in Brightmoon, all things considered, but perhaps it was a good sign.

He thumbed through a few more illustrations; scenes of battle, hunting and romance. His eyes even lingered a second on one of a Reptilian woman with a tiara, holding a golden sword aloft. He was almost salivating to dive into them. But first, he carefully set the book down.

“Thank you.” He grinned. More than once, he’d complained to Kyle about not knowing enough about his past, his people, his culture, the mess that Shadow Weaver had caused for him. Now so much of it was in his hands, begging him to get to know it. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” He wrapped his hands around Kyle and hoisted him into the air, pulling him as close as he could. In that instant, he fought a battle to keep the words ‘I love you from spilling into the world, but this was a moment he couldn’t afford to ruin.”

“Thought you might like it.”

Releasing his best friend, Rogelio pulled another chair nearer to the table. He took his seat, curling his tail around himself. He picked up the tome and went to the first story, rubbing his eyes to stop the welling tears from spoiling the antique pages.

Chapter Text

It was mid-morning when Lonnie arrived at the training yard, or her training yard as she liked to think of it, after humiliating the Master-at-Arms and his charges. She usually wanted to get there early, but she’d had to swing by the armourer first for one last fitting on her order for the mission tomorrow. Now Lonnie would have to share her training session with some of the others. Not a bad thing per-say, she’d been sparring with them since they were kids, but sometimes she just needed to cut loose; something you couldn’t do when you were worried about hurting your friends.

She found a few of Peck’s newest recruits gingerly hitting each other with blunted swords, his frustration clearly growing with each sloppy parry. Adora and Rogelio were sitting on the half-wall that separated the cordoned off ‘arena’ from the rest of the yard, lazily watching the training session unfold as they chatted.

Kyle had explained that Ro had gone to find Adora after what happened yesterday, and it seemed the big guy had managed to talk some sense into her. The damn love-sick fool had lost her mind in the market square and ran off to wherever Rogelio had found her. Not that he was much better, too long around Kyle, and he’d melt into just as useless a puddle.

Sometimes she wished she better understood that strange infatuation, given how easily it ensnared her friends. But she’d known for a long time that wasn’t the way her cannon fired.

“Did you do it?” Adora asked Rogelio as she drew near.

“No, it didn’t seem like the right time, maybe after the mission.” He growled in response; he seemed more nervous than usual. Maybe she should ask about it; it took a lot to rattle the big guy.

“Yeah, that makes sense; I think I’ should wait too.” Wait, was this a romance thing? Pass. She was not getting involved in any of that, in any way, shape or form.

“Are you sure you’re not just putting it off?” Rogelio continued.

“Nah, the mission’s more important, and I’ve gotta get my head in the game, y’know.” Adora finished. That seemed unlikely; she couldn’t even concentrate on a puppet show yesterday. This idiot’s crush was going to get her killed, wasn’t it?

“Hey.” She greeted the pair of them as she got near, trying her best to shake her frustrations as she interrupted their conversation. Ro patted Adora lightly on the shoulder as the two turned to greet her.

“Getting in a little sparring before tomorrow?” The Reptilian asked, smiling as he did so.

“Yeah, I’ve been stuck at the armourer’s for like an hour and a half, missed my usual session.”

“you’re welcome to join ours.” Adora offered, bold as ever; she’d always been confident when it came to combat; right now, it bordered on cocky, arrogant even. It was enough Lonnie decided that she was going to collect on a promise.

“Okay, fight me.” She demanded.

“huh?” Adora seemed more confused than anything.

“Fight me.” She repeated, more firmly.

“like spar with you? Sure, it’s been a while.”

“I don’t want to spar with you; I wanna fight you.”

Lon?” Rogelio, voice filled with suspicion and dread.

“You sure you wanna do this?” Adora, to her credit, seemed almost excited, whatever funk she’d been in the day before, now thoroughly shaken off by the thrill of a challenge.

“I promised to kick your ass, Adora. Your time has come.” She forced her own self-confidence to the surface, she was a hell of a fighter in her own right, and now she was going to show it off and take the Princess of Power down a notch in the process.

“Oh, I remember, just wasn’t sure if you actually wanted to take on She-Ra.” Cocky bitch.

“Nuh-uh, no She-Ra, my beef is with Adora.”

“you’re right. I don’t need She-Ra to take you down.”

“Well, you’re gonna need something.”She walked over to the weapon racks and picked out a staff. She had talked to Thera this morning about getting a staff of her own built, something more like the sturdy Horde weapons she was used to, but for now, this would do.

“Pick your poison, Adora.”

“Oh, I think I’ll take the same, just like old times.” Adora’s grin had only gotten larger, almost reaching her ears; oh, this payback was going to feel good. Adora tested the weight of her staff, nodding in satisfaction as the two of them turned back to the yard. She just managed to catch Rogelio’s exaggerated eye roll in her periphery, presumably entirely for her benefit.

The two of them found a spot away from Peck’s lesson and separated, moving a few metres apart from one another. Waiting as Ro ponderously walked up to the wall and took up a seat directly between them. “Horde rules?” He asked plainly.

“Fine with me,” Adora confirmed.

“Me too.”

Rogelio sighed, “one round, no time limit, winner by knockout, submission or disqualification, keep it clean.” He bellowed though no one within earshot save the two of them would have understood a word.

The two of them began circling, slowly reducing the distance. She’d let Adora make the first move, all she’d have to do is give it a minute or so, and the girl’s impatience would get the better of her.

Adora moved. That girl was quicker than she remembered, closing the remaining gap and swinging at Lonnie’s chest. Fortunately, years of sparring with Catra had honed her reflexes to cope with attacks faster than even Adora’s impressive speed. She rose her staff to block the blow, but Adora followed up with another swing, and another and another, each only meeting her own weapon.

After the fourth strike, Lonnie spotted her opening; just after Adora’s heaviest blows, there was a moment she left herself unprotected. She made her own attack, jabbing towards Adora’s midsection with the end of her staff.

“Oof.” Adora groaned as she made contact, the blow causing her to double over. She moved to an overhead stance and brought her weapon down, hoping to finish things early. The strike found only the gravel of the yard; Adora had managed to roll to safety.

“Not bad,” Lonnie called at her opponent.

“Thanks, you should see what happens when I try,” Adora smirked back.

“Oh, hell no, you don’t get to be that cocky when you’re losing.” She spat back as Adora came at her again.

Adora was good but was out of practice. She had to assume that all that sword training had made a dent in her staff work. Lonnie’s though were as sharp as ever, even better than when she’d last tangled with Adora. She hated to admit that the blonde had always been her favourite sparring partner. Adora was close to a perfect fit for her own mastery of the Horde’s standard forms, mixed with all the determination and natural prowess to guarantee a good match. Scorpia and Ro were capable but not quite up to the challenge, and Kyle was Kyle. Catra was too inconsistent to be much good as a regular partner; when she was focused and engaged, she was dangerous, unpredictable and clever, a whirlwind of pain. The rest of the time, boredom made her sloppy. For most of the last year, she’d just run through anyone willing to step into the ring with her. Just whoever was waiting around the training rooms; sometimes, she’d just march in and demand someone ‘fight her.’ Two at once, three, four, it didn’t matter; she’d just keep going until she was calm enough to face reality again.

Adora danced nearer again and began exchanging blows; their staffs rang as they countered each other, banging out that oldest of songs. There it was again, that lack of practice, Adora’s footing was off, just enough to make blocking a high attack difficult. She swang.

She struck Adora across the face, and she stepped back, blood trickling from her nose; she wiped it with her sleeve, leaving a dark red smear. To her surprise, Adora just grinned and leapt into an attack, swinging her staff high, looking to settle the score; it was all she could do to dodge her, blindly stepping back with each strike. She was getting close to the edge of the yard, a few more steps, and she’d be stuck against a wall; that must be Adora’s plan. She’d need to do something, but with so little room to move, her options were limited.

She looked desperately for an opening, but Adora had tightened up since her earlier mistakes. Whatever gaps were there only lasted a split second; no chance she could exploit them.

Her only option was to use the environment. She let Adora swing a few more times, taking a step back each time. She threw her leg out behind her onto the wall and pushed off it when she was close enough. She launched herself at Adora, but to little avail, as the rush was easily dodged.

THWACK.

Lonnie wailed as Adora caught her across the back, then again as a follow up caught her calf. She span, deflecting the third blow. Lonnie might have taken some hits but was free of Adora’s barrage. She was back in this.

She swung left, but Adora raised to block, throwing her shoulder into the deflection, checking her back once again.

“So, this about me leaving?” Adora asked, her teeth stained red with her own blood.

“You know it is.”

“I’m sorry, Lon, you know that.”

“Sure, you’ve said that a bunch of times. That doesn’t mean you didn’t earn an ass-kicking.”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“I’m not even that mad that you left, not anymore. I got over that pretty quick; I hate how complicated you went and made everything.” She swang, Adora ducked the blow. “Everything I believed was a lie, thanks to you.”

“It was a lie without me, too, Lonnie,” Adora called back. So what if it was, right? Did it matter? Did that make it hurt less?

“I know!” Lonnie screamed as she swang. She caught Adora on the side but fell short when she tried to follow through and earned a strike to the gut for her trouble. It hadn’t been hard, but it was enough to slow her down, enough to make her regret her hearty breakfast.

“I know what you’ve been through Lon, I had to deal with the sa-“ Adora tried to reason with her. Hell no, not this again. It wasn’t always about her.

“No, Adora, all you had to deal with was figuring out Shadow Weaver was a slightly worse person than you already knew she was.”

“That’s not fair.” Adora’s voice raised a little; a nerve had been struck, maybe not just Adora’s. Good.

“Isn’t it, did you just think all Weaver’s BS was just tough love or something? Did you think how she treated Catra was okay? Or Kyle? Or anyone who wasn’t you?”

“No. I just didn’t… I didn’t realise… what was I supposed to do, Lon? If I didn’t know it was a lie, didn’t know all this was out here waiting for us, what was I supposed to do?”

“Anything she screamed back.” The Horde might have been a lie, so what if it was, it was a lie that meant something to her, or it had before she’d known the truth, now it was all just empty. “My parents died for that lie, Adora. That’s not something that gets fixed by running away to some fancy castle and fighting the good fight for the rebellion.”

“I’m…” Adora paused.

“Fight Me!” she screamed in Adora’s face and charged, wildly hurling her staff with all the fury she’d repressing just for Adora. No. She had to calm down. Had to regain control. Had to focus. Screw that, let it out.

Swing. Block. Swing. Block.

Adora was on the backfoot now. She hadn’t been expecting this; how could she, this kind of fury was something new. Lonnie knew about her reputation as a methodical fighter; her rage ran cold, Instructor Cobalt had used to say, but this was an inferno. She made a heavy overhead swing, and Adora raised her staff in both hands.

CRACK.

Adora’s staff shattered at the point of impact, falling apart in two halves. She stood there for a moment, looking shocked when Lonnie moved back again and raised her weapon. She brought it back down in a terrible arc.

Adora’s hand tried to meet the blow, but it was no use.

THWACK.

Adora lay dazed on the gravel; she didn’t seem to be moving to save for the rise and fall of her chest and the occasional flicker of her eyes, though they remained closed.

“Adora!” Rogelio was on his feet, jogging over from his self-made referee’s perch. He  took one look at Adora and glanced at her, “We have a winner; Lonnie by knock out.” He raised her hand.

Rogelio crouched beside her and checked her over, just as Adora’s eyes began to open. “Hey, guys.” She smiled groggily, pushing herself up on her elbows.

“Hey, you okay?” Lonnie asked; she really hoped she hadn’t hurt her. She had just lost control and gone for the win, sure Adora had riled her up a bit, but that was just how the game was played. It had been one hell of a blow, though, and with the mission tomorrow, they’d need Adora in good shape. Had she just screwed up Scorpia’s rescue because of pride?

“Sure, I think; my head hurts a bit, though.” Adora glanced around, realising she was on the ground, “guess I lost, huh?”

“Just a little.” Lonnie extended her hand, which Adora gripped tightly, and with a mighty pull, dragged the blonde to her feet, though she staggered a little once Lonnie let go. “Let’s have one of the healer’s check you out. Catra’ll kill me if I’ve damaged you.”

“Catra’s nice.” Adora mused, clearly not quite back from whichever dream she’d beaten her into. She’d just about gotten her balance back but nonetheless readily accepted her shoulder to make it back to the wall.

“Sounds like you broke her, Lon.” Rogelio chuckled as he waved over the healer who had been watching over Peck’s training session.

“Hey, Lonnie?” Adora’s voice was still flighty.

“Yeah?” Who knew where this was going.

“Are we friends again?”

“Of course.”

“You’re not still mad at me?” Adora’s voice was almost pleading.

“Less than I was.”

“That’s nice.” Adora grinned, and the healer gently began checking her over.

 


 

By the time she’d made it back to their shared room, it was nearly dusk. Catra had insisted on a last-minute recap of the mission after dinner; her job hadn’t changed; she was providing covering fire with Bow. There wouldn’t be much resistance; not with the garrison would be trapped behind an avalanche of slag, and Dragstor was a glorified bandit; he wouldn’t stick around for a battle.

It was still going to be a long day, so an early night seemed like a good idea, so she’d made her excuses after dinner and found her way back. When she pushed her way through the door, she not unsurprisingly found a shiny new breastplate sitting on her bed, a note taped to it.

 Good luck tomorrow

- Thera

The armourer had been quick with her adjustments, just as she’d promised. Unlike the ornate armour that Brightmooners favoured, this was a much simpler piece of protection but far sturdier. The metal had been recovered from the gear they had ‘requisitioned from the comms outpost garrison. Over time, the Horde developed its own alloy, shockingly strong and surprisingly lightweight, a borderline super-material compared to what their enemies were using. The downside, of course, was how resource-intensive it was. Hundreds of mines were needed to feed the smelters, and that was without the intensive scavenger programs initiated to reclaim what they could from the dead. That, she realised, was likely the fate of her parents, stripped of their gear and left where they’d fallen. They might have been recovered, of course; the transports holding their bodies saluted by passersby on the Fright Zone streets before their remains were given over to one of the furnaces. So that even in death, they could make the Horde stronger, but there was no way to tell. Suddenly it didn’t bear thinking about.

She lifted the breastplate over her head and fastened the straps. The fit was perfect, exactly what she had been hoping when she’d swung by Thera’s little smithy a few days back. Even the colour worked; the grey matte of the Horde’s alloy had lightened a shade when being reworked and contrasted against her new outfit. An urge struck her, and she pulled out a case from under her bunk. Inside was the pulse rifle she had reclaimed. She lifted it from its box, ensured it wasn’t loaded and wandered towards the large mirror against one of the walls.

Lonnie lifted the butt of the rifle into her armpit and lined up the sights, keeping one eye on the badass aiming back at her in the mirror. She turned on heel, aimed in a different direction, then another, then another. This would work.

“Ahem.” A high pitched voice announced its arrival. Damn.

Lonnie turned on her heel, finding the Princess herself, looking more than a little amused, one hand on her hip and the other behind her back. “Princess.” Lonnie nodded.

“Am I interrupting something?” Glimmer sniggered. She didn’t need this right now.

“I was just trying on my new armour.“ She couldn’t quite meet Glimmer’s gaze.

“It looks great; Thera’s work, right?”

“Yeah,” Lonnie confirmed.

“She does good work.” Glimmer offered.

“I was hoping to get an early night, is there something you wanted?”

“I was hoping to get a minute or two to talk?” Glimmer seemed oddly sincere. That was weird; what the hell did she want to chat about? They were hardly friends.

“I guess so. Is it about the mission?” Lonnie asked. That had to be it, right?

“Not everything has to be about the mission Lonnie, I’m… I’m trying to fix whatever it is. I screwed up with you guys.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know I didn’t make a good first impression, the mural, and the other stuff; I’ve barely been able to make it a few days without getting into a fight with Catra.”

“That’s just how she is. I’ve been doing the same thing since we were five.”

“Damn, really?” Glimmer went to take a seat on one of the bunks,

“Not that one.” She called, “That’s Catra’s. she’d kill me if she saw you on it.”

“I doubt she could kill you, miss armour-plated badass.” It was strange how quickly her resolve melted away in the face of a compliment; damn, when had she become as bad as Catra.

“You’re lucky. Cat’s only ever punched you; I’ve seen what those claws can do to plate steel.”

“Maybe I should stop arguing with her.”

“Maybe.” Lonnie agreed, watching as Glimmer moved across to her own bunk instead, doing her best to conceal whatever had been behind her back.

“Why is she like that?” asked Glimmer.

“Shadow Weaver, if I had to guess. The first time I met either of them, the old witch scolding her.” Weirdly it was one of her earliest memories that didn’t involve her parents. Walking into a half-empty barracks and finding a handful of kids standing at attention and Shadow Weaver holding a scared kitten girl by the scruff of her neck and yelling something in her face.

She quickly noticed the pattern once she’d been picked for Shadow Weaver’s project: Catra would get into trouble and be punished accordingly, then she’d act out in revenge and end up with something worse, and on and on it went. A lot of the time, that trouble was her. For whatever reason, they rubbed each other the wrong way and found themselves scrapping it out. It was funny how those brawls had become such happy memories. The fights somehow cemented a strange friendship between the two of them and forged the final bond that turned them from a squad into a family, or as near to one as she would ever know again.

“She just needs time to adjust, I think. The Queen already talked some sense into her.”

“Yeah, what about you? How are you adjusting?”

“Fine.” Her answer harsher than she meant it to be.

“Are you sure? the others are settling in; you’ve just been alternating between eating, sleeping and beating up recruits.” Glimmer rebutted.

“There isn’t much else for me here. I’m not sure there’s much for me anywhere anymore.”

“That’s not true. When Adora first got here, she was the same. Hell, she didn’t even know how to relax. Now, she hangs out at the stables, collects random junk and watches every show we let her. And until you find what you like, you’ve got friends here, Lonnie, and if you’ll let us, Bow and me too.”

“Do I?” Lonnie answered, breathing every ounce of scepticism she could muster into both words.

“What do you mean?” Glimmer asked, her curiosity piqued. Did she want to do this? It was probably a bad idea. She’d never been much of a talker, but then again, when had she ever tried it. Screw it, why not, and besides, this girl was almost a stranger to her.

“It’s just that, I don’t know. Damn, I’m no good at this stuff. It’s like they’ve been drifting away from me, or I’ve been drifting from them. Ever since Adora left, it’s all just been like the only thing keeping me together is being taken away from me, again.”

“I kind of get it. Bow’s spending so much time with Kyle and Rogelio these days, and I’m pretty sure Adora and Catra are joined at the hip now.” Glimmer was at least sympathetic, it seemed, even if she was only scratching the surface.

“It’s more than that, though. Growing up, I was always the odd one out, always this fifth wheel between two sets of best friends. For a long time, it wasn’t so bad, sure they were closer with each other than they were with me, but we were still all kind of together, y’know. Then puberty hit, and slowly they all started acting like, well, you’ve seen it.”

“It’s a little difficult to miss.” Glimmer smiled, but it did little to ease the growing emptiness.

“Right? And sometimes, it’s like they forget I exist. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re not doing it on purpose, and they’re the most important people in the universe to me, but sometimes I just… I just wish I had that kind of connection with someone, anyone, but I don’t, and I doubt I ever will.

“Oh.” The Princess seemed muted, lost in thought for a moment as realisation slowly washed over her.

“It’s not like I can help it; it’s just the way I am. Besides, it’s not all bad. Do you have any idea how much time I save, not fawning over my friends?” She asked, mostly joking.

“Plenty more time to eat, sleep and beat up recruits, right?” Glimmer’s look became sly.

“You trying to tell me I need a new hobby, is that it?”

“Couldn’t hurt, right?” Glimmer smiled again; this time, it seemed more effective, almost warming her when the grin reached her eyes.

“Maybe.” Lonnie reluctantly agreed, and the two shared a quick laugh. Maybe this Princess wasn’t so bad.

After a few moments and their chuckling subsided, Glimmer turned to her again. “Look, there was another reason I came here tonight. I wanted to give you something.” Glimmer handed her the package she’d had utterly failed to conceal. It was about the size of a tracker pad, wrapped in pink and purple paper, and smelled faintly of flowers. “A peace offering, for that stuff with the mural.”

“You couldn’t have known about my dad.” She had been the one to overreact to that. Glimmer had only tried to show her around, show her something important to her, and her stupid, bitter ass had gone and picked a fight over it.

“Even so, I’m sorry I upset you.” Glimmer smiled again.

“Doesn’t matter. I should never have acted how I did. I was… I was in a weird place, thinking about my family, about leaving them behind back there. Fighting for the Horde was like my last connection to them, knowing that I was living the life they wanted for me. I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted, let’s just try to move past it, okay.”

“Look at you; the Princess is capable of diplomacy after all.” This was all getting too mushy; she tried to change the tone.

“Look at you; big tough, Horde trooper is capable of feelings after all.” Glimmer shot back.

“Do you remember your dad much? The man, not the pictures on the wall.” Lonnie asked, her eyes fixed on the gift, her hands running over the textured pattern on the paper.

“Only a little, mostly I just remember him holding me and smiling. What about you?”

“bits and pieces, him playing with me mostly, telling me stuff. It’s more than I remember about my Mom. She died too when I was very young. She was a scout. One night, her squad went into enemy territory, and she didn’t make it back.”

“You know, my aunt told me, that you die twice. Once when you die normally, and once when someone says your name for the last time. She repeats my dad’s name every night before she goes to sleep so that his memory lives on just a little longer.” Glimmer was lost in sentiment now, barely making eye contact, instead staring wistfully out of the window and the moon beyond.

“I should probably open this, right?” She asked, snapping Glimmer from her introspection. She carefully unwrapped it to find a picture frame, and enclosed behind the glass was a painting. It was far more detailed than the faceless murals that lined the walls of Brightmoon and a more realistic style than those more minimalistic, angular designs. There were two figures; a tall, athletic man with dark skin and darker hair styled like her own and a close-cropped beard. Next to him was a woman with a caramel complexion and rich brown hair tied into a braid. She knew them at once, even though she hadn’t seen their features since childhood. A mother whose face she couldn’t remember and a father whose features were starting to fade. “How?” She nearly choked on the word, she fought back the tears, but it was a losing battle.

“I had Kyle find their files in the Horde database, then I gave the photos to an artist in town, had to pay a hell of a commission fee to rush it through.” How was she supposed to react to that? All her life, she’d refused to cry in front of others. That wasn’t something soldiers do; they were supposed to be strong; she was supposed to be strong. But here she was, balling her eyes out to a Princess of all people over a dumb picture.

“Thank you.” Without thinking, Lonnie grabbed at the Princess and squeezed her tightly, refusing to let go, even when Glimmer protested beneath her muscular arms. “Sorry.” She finally released the embrace when Glimmer’s voice became a squeal. “That’s probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me; I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to react to it.”

“You did fine; just next time, try to let me breathe, okay.” The two shared a giggle again.

After a few awkward moments, Glimmer made her goodbyes, promising her that early night she’d wanted. Lonnie gently placed the picture on her nightstand, using the little stand that unfolded from the back of the frame, and she tenderly caressed the glass over her father’s face.

“Turron.” It felt better somehow, even if she was the last person that even cared that he had lived at all. Glimmer’s little trick was strangely comforting. She wished that she’d known this trick years ago when she had needed it most, as a stupid, angry little girl. But better late than never.

“Alana.” Her fingers passed over her mother’s features. She took them in, restoring her mental image. Her nose was smaller than she imagined, her lips fuller and her hair a shade lighter, but that was her.

Her parents didn’t live in the Fright Zone anymore; they were here with her now. They had faces again, and she was going to burn them into her memory, never willing to let their names go. She would do the same for her second family, too; the ragtag group of foundlings who meant the world to her. No matter what would happen to them going forward, if they could find some happiness in each other’s arms, she would do what she could to give it to them; they deserved that much. And now she had Glimmer too; how could she have been so wrong? That little ball of glitter had given her back so much in one little action, and she was going to repay that.

“Turron, Alana.” She repeated to herself as she threw herself onto her bunk, giving the picture one last look before she closed her eyes. “Turron, Alana.” She muttered again and again until her words became gentle snores.

 

Chapter Text

Flames surrounded Kyle, flames and screaming. No, not again, please not again. Everything was the same as it always was; he should know; it must have been hundreds of times he’d lived through it. He was always trapped in place, surrounded by the smouldering husks of buildings as oily shadows shaped like people panicked around him. The shapes made their usual noises as they failed to outrun the flames and were swallowed by the chasing inferno, wailing for mercy as they vanished. He could only watch and listen as each of the creatures fell away into ash, and their screams became the only sound in all the world, and the stench of their smouldering remains filled his nose.

Sometimes he could make out words, but that only made things more confusing. ‘Please’, one shape would beg before disappearing into the blaze. Another just laughed angrily, and a third called for others to ‘run’. Some made even less sense “fallen”, “tavern”, “square”, “ferry”, “master.” Each word was randomly thrown into this terrifying world by the shadows as they were consumed, each word muffled by the fire’s roar. Save for the last words, the last ones he always heard, that replayed “safe… across… love… here… run.” He had never been able to make out the whole sentence, just those few scant words in a gentle voice not unlike his own.

He tried to obey it, as he had a hundred times before, to flee from the catastrophe that surrounded him, only to remain frozen, his feet planted to the ground. A blood-curdling scream sounded off, and the flames rushed to meet him.

Kyle woke to find a huge scaly hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently, emanating comfort with his tender grip. Suddenly he noticed the cold sweat running down his forehead onto the pillow, the room being far colder than the inferno he had imagined. “Hey,” he whispered into the yellow eyes that looked down on him, full of worry.

“Hey,” Rogelio growled as lowly as he could manage. “The same dream?”

“Same as ever.” Kyle pushed himself up onto his elbows and did his best to force enthusiasm. “Was I loud this time.”

Only loud enough to wake me,” Ro murmured.

“Same as always, then?”

“Almost always. Just be glad Catra’s still asleep.” He wanted to smile at Ro’s suggestion and the much colder level of comfort he would have gotten from the feline instead, but the fires of his nightmare were still too near.

“What time is it?” he asked groggily, trying to shake the cobwebs from his mind.

“No idea, it’s still dark; must be pretty early still.”

“You should try and get some sleep, big day, y’know.” He reasoned.

“Probably. Not until you’re okay, though.” Ro reluctantly agreed.

“I’m fine, used to them at this point, I guess. Thanks for watching over me though, you’re the best.”

“I know.” Rogelio shrugged as he pushed himself to his feet and made his way back to his bunk, turning his head towards him one final time in the darkness before he threw himself back down.

He had never been able to get back to sleep after those dreams, those ‘fire dreams’. If he tried, all that would happen is that he’d stare at the ceiling and try to puzzle them out, not that he ever got any further than ‘there must have been a fire’.

He swung his legs off the end of the bed and grabbed his book, glancing back at his sleeping friends and making sure Rogelio had curled into that tight ball he slept in.

The library was as quiet as you might expect. One might even use the word dead, save for the flickers of light glowing from the sconces, some kind of magic Kyle assumed. Though as he found the nest of armchairs that he’d been using for his reading, he discovered that he was not alone. Queen Angella sat on the furthermost chair, sighing softly as she turned the pages in some enormous tome.

“Good morning.” Her eyes flickered to him the instant he was within view, her words flowing with the same courtesy they always seemed to, despite the hour and his obvious intrusion.

“Good… good morning, your majesty.” He clenched his book tighter and rubbed his free hand through his sandy hair, for a second remembering the feeling of green fingers doing the same. The urge to smile at the imagined touch, fighting against the instinct to cower from the monarch before him.

“I take it you couldn’t sleep?” She asked.

“No, ma’am, nightmares.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you get them often?” Her tone seemed surprisingly sincere. Why would she care? He was nobody to her, just a friend of a friend of her daughter, a stupid kid who grew up on the wrong side of the war.

“A few times a month, ever since I was a kid. It’s always the same one; fire, burning and smoke.”

“You poor thing, why don’t you take a seat? You look like you need it.” She put her book down and lent towards the silver tray on the table before her, an ornately decorated lidded jug ley before a few small matching silver mugs resting beside it, the nearest to her steaming away and filling the room with a faint sweet smell. The Queen upturned a second, poured a stream of thick light brown liquid into the vessel, and placed it in front of him, nodding with encouragement when she met his eyes.

“Thanks.” Oh damn, “thanks, your majesty.” He corrected, earning the slightest curl of her lip in response.

“There is no need to hold to such formality, Kyle. I’m not here tonight as Queen of Brightmoon, simply as a reader who cannot sleep, like yourself.”

He set his book down as he planted himself on the seat opposite her and, hands trembling, reached for the mug. Bringing it to his mouth, he could feel the steam on his face well before the silver met his lips. The sweet scent was even stronger now, and he could make out some of the spices he’d come to know from the cakes and pastries he’d come to love but couldn’t name if he tried.

He took a sip, and for a moment, time stopped. It was thick, creamy even, and as sweet as it was, there was a bitterness to it, an earthiness, he supposed. He recognised the most dominant flavour as the chocolate Adora had given him a few days prior, and Bow had been stopping him from gorging on ever since. Balanced out by the milk and spices, the only word for it was incredible.

“How is it?” Angella smiled, taking some degree of pleasure from his first taste of what could only be the drink of creatures as perfect as the seraphim. He didn’t have the words, did anyone? It was as if comfort had a flavour all its own.

“It’s… amazing. I’ve never… what is it?”

“Hot chocolate.” She replied, stifling a slight chuckle. There was no denying that the name made sense; he cocked his head and took another wonderful sip. What are you reading?” the Queen asked, gesturing to his book.

“Oh, it’s called The Lost Runestone; it’s like an adventure story.”

“Ah, I know it or know of it. My husband always loved such tales, and that was one of his favourites. More than once, I found him sat here thumbing through that exact copy instead of his duties.”

“Really?” It seemed so bizarre to be enjoying the same book that the King of Brightmoon once had. Like he was intruding on the lives of those so far beyond his significance.

“They were an escape for him during his …studies in Mystacor, and in some ways, he never quite grew up.” Were words trailed off, weighed down by their whistful fondness for the Queen’s lost love.

“Oh.” He wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, was he supposed to comfort her? Just agree with her? Maybe just smile and nod?

“Are you enjoying it?” The Queen thankfully ended his struggle for him.

“Yes, your majesty.”

“I’m glad. It’s strange what comfort we can find in seeing the passions of those we’ve lost continue on.” She looked past him as she spoke, peering off into the shelves, maybe hoping to see her husband making his way down it, arms laden with the adventure novels of his childhood.

“What about you, if it’s okay to ask?”

“Of course it is, but I’m afraid the answer isn’t very exciting. It’s about the history of Brightmoon, the reigns of my ancestors. Your friend’s antics with the murals have turned my eye to past.”

“Oh, is this about Rogelio and the mural?”

“My leniency towards your group has upset a few of my councillors, especially given Catra’s …outburst. “Rogelio’s actions, considering Brightmoon’s troubled past with his people, have stirred them even further.

“Is he going to get in trouble?” His voice cracked as he spoke; he reached for the silver mug, desperate for another calming mouthful.

“No. I still wear the crown here. Though I’m beginning to dread some of the conversations that this may dredge up. Hence why I’m reading up on the history between Brightmoon and the Reptilian people.”

“Thank you. Can I ask you something, please, your majesty?”

“Certainly”, she answered matter of factly.

“Why have you been so nice to us?” He hoped that he wouldn’t jinx the situation, somehow turn her against him by asking things he shouldn’t.

“Adora taught me some perspective on the Horde. They might be our enemy, but they’re not necessarily evil, not all of them anyway. That girl has given hope back to my people and rekindled the fire of rebellion across Etheria; perhaps, more importantly, she brought my daughter back to me. If offering the four of you the same chance I gave her makes even the smallest impact on my debt to her, I will pay it gladly.” The Queen explained. So it all came back to Adora, just like it always did.

“I… but Catra?” He stumbled over his words.

“That was before I even met any of you, but then in the war room, from the moment I laid eyes upon your ragged band, I could tell that you’d been through hell. Adora had mentioned your shared upbringing, but to see you all in the flesh, brought the reality to bear. To see children with so much pain in their eyes, well, perhaps you’ll understand should you become a parent yourself. Catra, in particular, those eyes, blue and gold, they haunted me, called out for help. And before that meeting ended, I was given a choice.”

“You were?” he asked, anticipation loading his speech.

“A choice between offering her salvation, a fresh start and the chance to be who she was meant to be, and whatever spiral my condemnation would have set her on. It is not easy to forsake your own child’s pain, to see her led away covered in tears, but it seemed to me there was something more important at stake than a few bruises.”

“Thank you, your majesty.”

“I’m sorry?” The Queen seemed curious about his thanks.

“She’s my friend; thank you for doing this for her.” He spoke too quickly.

“You are very welcome, Kyle. However, it was not solely for Catra’s benefit. My husband always wanted a big family; to make up for the isolation forced upon him as a boy and meant to fill our halls with the laughter of children. But well, things were not to be. We Serraphims have a low birthrate, a fact that has brought us close to extinction, and there were some added complications in our case.” Queen Angella’s hand brushed her stomach as she talked, and her voice began to trail off. “I do know that seeing Brightmoon full of all of you, knowing Glimmer might finally have what he always wanted for her, would bring a smile to his face”.

“But Glimmer- Princess Glimmer, I mean. She isn’t really…” The Princess had so far been pretty standoffish and understandably so given everything that had happened. His group was a long way from being her friend, let alone whatever King Micah might have wanted.

“She will come around; she isn’t anywhere near as good at holding a grudge as she would like us to believe.”

After that, the conversation died away; they finished their drinks and enjoyed their books in each other’s quiet company until the Queen took her leave just before dawn.

 


 

It was daybreak by the time he returned to the room to shower and change his clothes. It didn’t take long for him to find his gear, nor did he overlook the new item adorning Lonnie’s nightstand. The elegant painting of two familiar faces he had found photos of for Glimmer a few days prior. This was a good thing, surely; maybe things could be the way Micah wanted after all.

The others were waiting for him in the courtyard when Bow shoved a foil-wrapped parcel and flask into his hands by the time he arrived. “You missed breakfast, bud.”

“Yeah, sorry, I got lost in a book.” Kyle yawned, happily accepting them, and he began to unwrap his meal. Ne didn’t miss Rogelio’s annoyed snort in his direction as he did. No doubt the big guy had presumably been practising since he’d found his empty bunk. Great.

Catra just rolled her eyes as he tore into the sandwich within, “glad you could join us.”

“I said sorry,” he exclaimed between mouthfuls of bread, eggs and bacon, yolk and grease beginning to dribble down his chin.

Lonnie looked up from her pack, grinning. When was the last time she had grinned? “You’re hopeless”, she called, pulling a packet of tissue paper from her bag and tossing it at him, chuckling as it bounded off his chest.

“What’s gotten into you?” Rogelio asked, surprised by her enthusiasm.

“I think she’s just excited to hit people who aren’t rookies.” Glimmer chimed in.

“Or Adora”, Catra added.

“I hit her too.” Complained Adora.

“What, I can’t be in a good mood without the promise of violence?” Lonnie asked.

“In theory,” Rogelio answered.

“Seems unlikely.” Glimmer smirked

“Shut up”, Lonnie called back at the group.

“No.” The Princess called back.

“Everybody ready?”Glimmer asked the group. We should probably get you guys to the Kingdom of Snows.”

“Yep, got my sword; I’m ready to go.” Adora grinned, whirling her weapon onto her shoulder.

“I’ve messaged Frosta; she has a skiff waiting for us,” Bow announced, prompting murmurs of approval. And within moments, his friends, old and new, grabbed Glimmer’s shoulders, disappearing in a puff of sparkles.

Ten minutes or so later, she reappeared. “Sorry, had to recharge. Better to be safe than sorry.”

“Sure, I just grab your shoulder again, right?” He asked.

“Yup” She sighed and grabbed his wrist, and they were gone.

He and Glimmer reappeared on a cliffside overlooking the Moorstone canyon, both of its fortresses on full display, with the bridge in between being particularly visible. His second adventure in teleportation didn’t go much better than his first. Bow’s sandwich felt like it was trying to escape; he doubled over, reaching for both his head and stomach at once, groaning as he did. Glimmer’s hand found his shoulder, and moments later, began slowly circling his back. “You’ll get used to it.” She offered reassuringly.

“When?” He pleaded.

“Eventually.” She offered unhelpfully before strolling to the edge of the cliff and stared at the base below. “I can see why Catra didn’t want to attack this place; it would be suicide.” He had been there once before but had never gotten a good look at the place. He’d been stuffed into the back of transport with Entrapta’s gear and then rushed into the garages to assist her upgrades to the tanks. From this angle, he had to agree; it was an imposing sight. The two identical hexagonal fortresses on either side of the canyon, each with six enormous defence towers, one at each corner. Inside was a massive courtyard that gave access to countless garages, each he knew filled to the brim with tanks and artillery. Finally were the command towers, a pair of great keeps laden with auto-turrets and artillery canons. You could throw every soldier the Rebellion had at this place and still lose.

The southern courtyard was alive with activity; maintenance workers were scrambling to load a crate onto an enormous transport truck. It was a massive piece of machinery, quickly three times longer than a standard supply vehicle with a flatbed and armour plating. That flatbed was lined with makeshift cover, railings and a scaffolding platform behind the cab, which seated a rotating turret. The crate itself drew the eye too, a cube of black metal with a hinged door on the front. It had to be their prize, some kind of mobile cell and big enough to easily hold Scorpia. “That’s it”, He called out.

“I think you’re right.” Glimmer agreed as he zoomed out slightly, taking in the surrounding area. A Reptilian Force Captain prowled around the cab, barking orders. Dragstor was the opposite to Rogelio in every way, short and lithe with dull, greyish scales and a uniform that bordered on ragged. Most notable, though, were his cybernetics; he must have spend hours under Modulok’s knife, one of his arms was gone from the elbow, and both of his feet from the look of it too. Then there was his chest; it looked more like an engine block than a torso. Exhausts jutting from his back and thick tubing wrapped around him, some connected to a heavy breathing apparatus, the rest serving an unknown purpose.

He stomped around his truck, pointing and shouting at anyone who irritated him as his own rag-tag thugs watched from the sidelines giggling. After a few moments, the workers had finished securing the cargo, and Dragstor clambered into the cab along with one of his men, a tall human with a handlebar moustache.

The truck roared to life; even from their distant perch, he and Glimmer could hear its’ dreadful racket and see the vile plume of dark smog erupting from its exhausts. Dragstor’s truck sped across the bridge, followed by a handful of technical trucks, a pair of attack skiffs and half a dozen swoop bikes, each looking as piecemeal as their drivers. Though once Dragstor’s truck reached the other side, it came to a sudden halt as a lone human in heavy armour and a canon on his shoulder strolled into their path. Force Captain Blast he recognised on sight from their encounter escaping the Fright Zone. Dragstor leant from the window, furiously waving his arms, as Blast stood, still as his fortress. There seemed to be an exchange of words between the Force Captains before Dragstor slunk back into his cab defeated, and Blast stepped aside to let the convoy pass. They sped from the northern gate and on towards the mining camp, unwittingly carrying Scorpia to freedom.

Once it disappeared from view, Glimmer turned to him, asked him to grab his pack, and then they were gone again, to some new overlook, watching the convoy speed along. Then another. Then another. Then another.

True enough, the teleportation’s side effects grew weaker each time; by the fifth time, he was barely having to hold his stomach at all. Below them, the convoy had slowed down, navigating a serpentine road that weaved through rock formations; it would take a while for them to clear its twists. Now was as good a time as any.

“Um, Glimmer?” He asked, drawing her attention from the convoy’s struggles.

“Yeah?”

“I… I wanted to say thanks. About Lonnie, I mean. I don’t remember seeing her so happy.”

“Why do you think that has anything to do with me?”

“When I went to get ready, I saw the picture, the one on her nightstand. I got those photos for you, remember, from the personnel files.” He explained.

“We… figured things out.” She returned her gaze to the scene below, the wind was picking up, and her cape began dancing to its tune.

“Yeah, well, thanks, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” She seemed more confused at anything.

“I don’t know everything, I guess. I know we haven’t exactly made it easy, coming to Brightmoon, I mean. The stuff with Lonnie, and the stuff with Catra, and all the rest of it. I’m sorry.” He explained, and Glimmer’s face softened.

“None of that’s your fault, Kyle. You don’t have to apologise for it.”

“I know, just force of habit, I guess.” They shared a brief smile with one another. “I was kinda hoping things wouldn’t be this awkward.”

“Guess we haven’t really had much of a chance to get to know each other, huh?” It was true, he’s spent a decent amount of time with Bow, but Glimmer had been distant; this was probably the most time he’d spent with her one-on-one.

“I guess not.”

“Maybe we can fix that once we make it out of all this. You like the gardens, right?” She asked innocently enough.

“Y...yeah,” Where was she going with this.

“I know some great places all over the grounds; maybe you could take Rogelio there sometime.” Her look shifted, bordering on smug.

“Wait, what?” did she know? How did she know? Did everyone know? Did Rogelio know? Please no, that would be too much.

“Nothing, we can talk about it in the gardens. Come on, looks like they’re about out of the pass. We’d better move onto the next location.

 


 

After another two stops, Glimmer teleported them both to the rendezvous point. The girls were sat in a semi-circle around a small heater, taking what relief they could from the cold winds, passing a flask between them and talking in hushed tones. He could only assume Bow and Rogelio must be scouting or something.

“How’d it go?” Adora asked, jumping to her feet the moment they’d arrived.

“Fine, they’ll be here soon.” Glimmer answered

“Was there any-“ Lonnie began, only to be interrupted by Catra.

“Did you see her?” she called, leaping from her seat to join Adora.

“No, but we saw them loading a crate with a door and air holes; it was big enough for her.” He tried explaining.

“Okay.” That seemed to placate Catra for now, but she began pacing rather than taking her seat.

“Was there any trouble?” Lonnie asked again

“Nope, smooth sailing.” He answered.

“Good, what about Bow and Rogelio?” The Princess asked.

“Setting the charges into the slag heap, they should be back any minute,” Lonnie explained, Catra seemingly too caught up in her march. Adora too caught up in watching her for either to hear the question.

Kyle took the flask Lonnie offered and took a long sip of what turned out to be some kind of herbal tea. It was surprisingly bitter but had a sweet aftertaste, not bad, but it was a far cry from the hot chocolate he’d enjoyed in the early hours. He sat and made small talk with them, exchanging details of his day’s adventures with Lonnie until two familiar shapes rounded a corner.

“Everythings set, and I think the convoy is turning in.” Bow announced, and yeah, I can see that crate; looks like some kind of mobile cell.”

“Good, everyone gets to positions,” Catra called. Bow and Lonnie made their way towards the camp as Catra, Adora, and Glimmer disappeared.

He followed Rogelio down a short path, leading to a ledge to the camp’s rear, and together they waited for Glimmer. Rogelio was oddly quiet, even for him.

“Is everything okay?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be.” Ro snapped.

“Are you sure you’re being weird? Is this about me not going back to bed?”

“Of course not, though not cool, by the way. It’s just nerves. This isn’t a normal mission.” Rogelio spoke more calmly now as if just being asked about it was enough to settle him.

“I guess not.” They had never had to do anything quite like this, or at least not when the stakes were their friend’s life. He couldn’t screw this one up. As he peered over some rocks towards the entrance, a bright light flashed to the east; Adora had transformed.

“Just stick behind me, okay,” Rogelio growled, but something about his words didn’t sit right.

“You don’t have to baby me, Ro. I’ve gone through all the same training you have. I might suck at it, but I don’t need you to keep watching out for me.” He struggled to keep his voice down. Was this really how Ro saw him, some weak little kid? An alarm sounded. The garrison was being lured out.

That’s not what I meant. I’m not trying to treat you like a kid or anything; it’s just if… if anything happened to you, I don’t know what I’d do. Brightmoon is where you belong, and I want you to be around to enjoy it.” Rogelio tried to explain; his hands reached for his spines and his eyes to his boots.

“I know.” He agreed, “it’s just that if you want me to enjoy Brightmoon, then you’re going to have to make it back home too, and if you’re more worried about me than you are yourself, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to use you as a shield, Ro.”

A thunderous rumble interrupted them, and a sound he could only begin to describe; it was like a hailstorm had gone mad or a tidal wave made of gravel. It had to be the slag heap collapsing into the road; the garrison was isolated; it was almost time.

“Then don’t. I’m going to have your back out there no matter what; if you want to make things even, then keep an eye on mine too; hows does that sound?”

“I think I can manage that.” Damn that stubborn reptile, he always knew how to make him feel better about stupid crap like this; it was why he… well, why he loved him. But he could do that; they could be like partners; wait, no, not partners exactly, that meant maybe, no, he couldn’t dwell on that now though. Later, maybe.

Glimmer reappeared, and after a quick acknowledgement, the three of them dropped down into the mining camp. A few dozen small cabins surrounded them; makeshift bunkhouses for the minors and garrison, he assumed, along with storage sheds and one that looked to house some generators. They would be in position soon enough, ready to swoop in from the rear and flank Dragstor’s men. He peered through a gap between two buildings and caught a glimpse of She-Ra moving quickly from the entranceway towards the truck. It was nearly time.

The only thing slowing them down was the maze of buildings, with no easy way out of the prefab labyrinth. Maybe Glimmer could teleport them to one of the rooves, or Rogelio could boos them up? That would be a lot quicker. “Hey guys-“ he began.

A sound rang out, no, not just a sound; an everything. It was coming from behind them, he thought, maybe from the mine, but the trembling earth beneath his feet and ringing in his ears did little to confirm or deny. He forced himself to look behind him to see a thin column of dark smoke as if someone had cracked open the sky, and nothingness was pouring forth. To his side Rogelio was leaning against one of the buildings, eyes closed and hands covering his earholes. Glimmer had braced herself in their narrow corridor and seemed more confused than even he was.

The mine, it had to be the mine. A collapse maybe, or maybe an accident with a blasting charge. Maybe he should go and find out, Kyle realised. It could be important and affect the mission, and those were civilians in there, and they might need help. Besides, the others could spare him anyway, right? Catra had planned everything, assuming he’d sit it out; this would be fine; he could handle it. He was a rebel now, a hero. “I’ll check it out; you guys keep going.” He called to Ro and Glimmer as he turned and sprinted for the thick plume billowing into the sky just beyond the structures. He just about heard Rogelio’s cry of objection, but he had to ignore it and push forward.

He rounded the corner to see that the mine entrance was now just a smouldering hole in the cliff face, a black void spewing smoke. The smell lingering in the air was foul but disturbingly familiar; it was the stench of fire and screaming. Oh damn, there was nothing he could do, was there? He knew at once it would be filled with nothing but charred corpses and whatever ghosts the explosion had left behind.

“Please”, called a voice in the back of his mind “, run”, “fallen”, “tavern”, “square”, “ferry”, “master.” This was stupid; he took a reluctant step towards the mine. Profoundly stupid, he inched closer. But what if they needed help? The miners could have survived. His feet were moving on their own now, against every rational thought he might have had; stupidity persisted. Don’t be dumb; there’s a mission; Scorpia needs you. No, they need you here too; you’re a hero now, like Adora; be like Adora.

“Help!” a low, shaky voice called from within the mine. That settled things. Kyle raced a few metres into the void; he was hit by a wall of heat and lazily floating clouds of ash that stung his eyes and throat. He needed to keep going, and a few steps further, he found a man staggering towards him, barely visible and clutching his side. “Help”, he repeated, his voice weaker than the first time.

“It’s okay; I’ve got you.” He threw the man’s arm around his shoulder and began to walk. He moved for the entrance, each step a struggle under the man’s weight, the rigid muscle of a life of labour weighing the pair down as Kyle practically dragged the man to the daylight. The man groaned as they went, heavy step after heavy step until suddenly they saw the sky above them and fresh air in their lungs. The man coughed and spluttered, groaning in agony at the change in environment. He led him to a storage shed and propped him against it; the extent of his injuries became apparent in the smog laden daylight. He was covered in cuts, burns and patches of missing skin, his arm was bloody from fingertips to shoulder, and what looked like a chunk of pickaxe was lodged just above his gut.

He didn’t know what to do. His first aid skills were limited to dressing a wound; nothing like this. Catra had talked to him a few weeks ago about taking a medic course, and it had seemed a good idea, but that couldn’t help him now. “It’s okay; it’ll be okay. What happened?”

“T’others, they’re gone. Dead, the lot of ‘em.” The man spat, letting a small trickle of soot-stained blood run down his chin into his beard.

“Kyle!” Rogelio stormed around the corner into view, though the panic in his growl fell apart when he found the two of them. He made a beeline for the sorry sight of a half-dead miner and a silly boy in way over his head.

“Ro! the mine, we need to-”

BEEP

The three of them all turned their eyes to a small metallic box, hastily planted to the side of the supply shed. Its red light blinked in time with the noise. Kyle’s heart fell the moment he recognised a Horde demolition charge. He’d had helped Claw Squad set them a half dozen times on their missions and knew precisely what they could do. Damn.

“Best run, lads,” The miner coughed, and Rogelio brook no argument. He roared, that fierce battle cry reserved only for the Reptilian’s deadliest foes and began to move. Before Kyle could comprehend precisely what was happening, he was off his feet, slung across impossibly broad shoulders. The shed, the miner and the bomb got steadily further away.

BEEP BEEP BEEP

Then for a moment, a split second, there was only serenity. But then death filled the vacuum. The miner was gone in a moment, the storage shed, the buildings around it, all consumed by death. Then everything shook again, and more columns of fire erupted to the east and west, ripping more of the buildings to shreds. More and more explosions filled his periphery; two, three, four, too many; Mondor had become hell in a heartbeat. The fires consumed everything around them as Ro raced to escape their path, then his grip loosened, and he was falling from his friend’s shoulder.

THUD

He suddenly crashed into something; another building, maybe or a hunk of rock? Ro was with him, their faces only a few centimetres apart as Ro tried to position his scaly hide to protect them both from debris. He saw his best friend howl, but the noise all around drowned out his friend. Pain. His side. No. What? No. Things seemed fuzzy all of a second, more pain, his head now? Wait, yeah, his head. So fuzzy, dark.

It couldn’t have been too long since the second explosion. Kyle’s ears were ringing and his hands trembling, a dull ache on the back of his head where he’d collided with the building, and a stinging one in his side he couldn’t explain.

Eyes closed, his left hand fumbled for the agony, “arrgh,” sharp, he pulled his hand away, fingers wet. Something was digging into him, not deep, but enough to leave a hell of a scar. He tried to shuffle free when it came back to him.

Wait, Ro! He opened his eyes to find his friend slumped on his knees, close enough to feel his laboured breathing, the only sign that he was still amongst the living. That was when his eyes were drawn to the wound.

The object that had cut into his flank was a length of what must have been a scaffolding pole. It had been so damaged that there was now a jagged edge that pressed into his gut. When he followed its origin, he found something far more horrifying. The steel was jutting from Rogelio’s chest, pinning him to the building, and jutting out nearly two metres behind him; from the look of things, it had torn straight through his lung. Congealing blood had stained the metal to a dark red, and a thing trickle still poured from the wound, dripping down the pole and pooling on the floor.

No. No. No. No. No. No.

“Ro!” he called but got no response. Kyle managed to wiggle free, pushing himself out from under his Reptilian shied. He clambered through the dust and dirt, trying not to disturb his wounded friend, feeling blood from his flesh wound seep into his shirt. “Ro!” he called again, “come on, buddy, not like this. Come on!” No, not after everything. He wasn’t going to let this happen, the secret fear of losing his friends was coming true before his eyes, and it was all his fault. If he had just stuck to the mission, everything would be fine; they’d have saved Scorpia by now and be on the way back home to Brightmoon and a hot meal. Instead, he was here, watching his best friend fade away, fighting every urge to panic.

He should never have come; all he’d done was screw everything up again. This was so much worse than usual; it hadn’t been clumsiness or incompetence that had done this; it had been him. It was his choice to run off and play the hero; he had decided to get Rogelio injured. Oh hell, what was he supposed to do?

He couldn’t lose any of them, but Rogelio, least of all. He was the one who had made him feel like a person and not the waste of space Shadow Weaver had insisted he was. He couldn’t let him just bleed out in some stupid mining camp.

He needed a medic. This was well beyond his basic first aid skills. Did any of the others know how to fix this? Could they find him? Wait, She-Ra, he needed She-Ra.

“Adora!” he called at the top of his lungs. “Adora! Adora! Help!” He cried again, hoping his friends would hear his desperate calls. There was no response, save for the distant sound of battle. There was nothing he could do but watch and beg.

He turned back to Rogelio, tears streaming down his face, and he held the Reptillians face to his own. “Ro, I’m so sorry, please don’t go, not like this, not here. Ro… I love you.”

Chapter Text

Adora struggled to hide her excitement; it was finally time to repay her debt and make everything right again. Collapsing the slag heap had gone perfectly. The entire garrison had charged out to meet her, Catra and Glimmer, only to see them vanish in a puff of glitter once they were close enough. They reappeared in front of the entrance just in time to watch Bow’s explosives send the rubble cascading into the road. Glimmer vanished again, teleporting herself back to the others and their next part of the plan. Now it was down to her and Catra.

“Let’s go.” The Magicat whispered as she began sauntering into the mining camp. There was something about seeing Catra so determined that she found exciting, not quite the awkward longing that she’d come to call the Catra feeling. Still, more like the rush she’d felt dancing with her at Princess Prom.

The mining camp was as quiet as they’d hoped; the miners were in the middle of their shift, and the garrison was struggling with the slag heap. Anyone else had better things to do or had gone into hiding once the alarm went off. All according to plan. At this point, the only reminder that this wasn’t a ghost town was the garrison’s distant curses and the gravely Reptilian roaring that had to be Dragstor losing his nerve.

There were still a lot of Dragstor’s troops standing around their vehicles, clutching their weapons as a handful were unpacking supply crates from his truck. The black steel behemoth Kyle and Glimmer had described was still sat in place on the back of the lead vehicle. That wasn’t ideal, they might have to go through more of Dragstor’s band than they’d hoped to get to Scorpia, but nothing they couldn’t handle.

Once the truck was in view, Catra’s whole posture shifted; the fur on her arms was standing on end, and there was a tremble to her step. Adora reached out a hand, quietly resting it on her shoulder, the only comfort she could offer. Catra’s head snapped back to her the moment she made contact, glaring at her in blue and gold. Okay, maybe she just needed to do this.

The ragged Force Captain was directing traffic from atop a crate, pointing and yelling at anyone not moving quickly enough. Catra’s photos hadn’t done justice to just how little of him was left; cybernetics littered him from head to toe, a missing arm, and tubes and pipes covering his iron-clad torso, hooking up the tanks on his back to an uncomfortable-looking breathing mask, there was something in his file about a swoop bike crash she recalled, but these injuries were far beyond such a mundane description.

Dragstor’s troops were a sloppy bunch, not one of them adhering to uniform regulations; in fact, they looked more like a bandit gang playing dress-up. Their weapons were no joke, though; each was armed to the teeth with pulse rifles, crossbows and melee weapons of every sort. They would need to be careful.

“Hey, assholes.” Catra just strode out into the open, yelling at anyone able to hear her. Dragstor’s soldiers ground to a halt, every eye on her, none of them daring to move until Dragstor hopped down from his makeshift pedestal.

“I know you; you’re She-Ra’s pet, right?” Dragstor growled in that heavy Reptilian tongue.

“Oh, I’m a lot of things scrap heap. Why don’t you and your goons get out of here before I walk you through the list.” Catra teased; suddenly, every weapon was pointed right at her, save Dragstor’s, who was pacing frantically.

“Get out of here? Get out of here? You listen to me, you stupid little traitor bitch, I’m going nowhere, you on the other hand….” He drew his sidearm, a harsh looking hunk of black steel with two gaping barrels; this wasn’t any kind of Horde standard issue; the damned thing would take your head off with no problem at all. “You, on the other hand, are going on a one way trip to the dirt.” He waved his weapon in Catra’s face as he chuckled at his own threats.

Catra didn’t so much as blink; she flexed her fingers for a moment, her claws retracted as she did so, before extending back out. For a few seconds, she just stood there watching the cyborg Reptilian gloat; he had begun a raspy diatribe on his own victory when Catra lunged. She was fast, so far; even from this distance, she could make out his blood-red eyes dilate, his slitted pupils shrinking almost to nothing. His weapon fell to the ground in ribbons.

“Haha, she got you good.” A low, wet voice spat from the shadows behind the truck, and the hulking blue-green form of a Slebatorian slunk into view. The slug folk some called them, and it obvious to see why; thick rippling layers of fat and muscle beneath slick teal flesh and a bulging gut distorting his slime stained uniform. His arms and feet were bare, exposing his bulbous fingertips and toes, each the size of her own forearm and connected by thick webbing.

Force Captain Leech, she recognised him from Catra’s wall of fame. He had been one of their pursuers in the Fright Zone, the one who subdued Scorpia to hear Glimmer tell the story, but who he was seemed less important than why the hell he was here?

“Let me guess, you’re here to babysit road rage over here.” She gestured to the snarling Dragstor. “Etheria knows you’re not much good for anything else.” Catra leapt straight into verbal assault. It was a trap that Adora had been stumbling into for most of her life, getting wound up at Catra’s taunts and taking the loss because of it, and these two were not as thick-skinned as they looked.

“I’m here to make a point,” Leech grunted, his giant gaping maw dripping thick mucus with every chuckle. What was this? Nothing in any of Kyle’s reports had him here; in fact, he was supposed to be down south somewhere if she remembered correctly.

“Then make it, so I can get to the kicking your ass part.” Catra’s voice dripped with contempt.

“I was getting bored of waiting anyway.” Leech’s thick lips twisted into a cruel smile. His huge webbed hand slithered to his belt and pulled something from it.” A dark cylinder with a few buttons that would have easily filled the palm of any human hand was lost amongst his slick digits. Wait, she knew what that was, and from the stern look on Catra’s face, she recognised it too; a detonator.

“It’s…” Catra’s words abandoned her, and even Dragstor looked confused at the device.

“A trap.” Leech cackled. No. What had they walked into? How had they walked into it? They’d planned everything so carefully. This didn’t make sense. She was putting a stop to this.”

“Enough.” Adora strode into the middle of the clearing, drawing all eyes to her.

“She-Ra!” Dragstor’s growl was shakey, his gun hand trembling as he cried her name. His men, too, seemed hesitant to do anything, all standing like Frosta’s ice sculptures in her presence.

“Shadow Weaver said you’d be here too.” Leech scoffed as loudly as he could manage, though his carefree expression remained. He had a reputation as a strong fighter but not much more than a  brute. There were those hands of his though, she could make out the markings on his palms, the ones that would clamp down on his victims and drain their power.

“How?” Adora demanded, her voice as cold as She-Ra could manage.

“That outpost you took out; they got a message off. Lord Hordak’s been controlling what you’ve been seeing ever since.” Leech slobbered. “He set you up.”

“Where’s Scorpia?” Catra snarled.

“She’s right where you think she is.” Dragstor hissed, finding his courage again.

“Live bait works best,” Leech confirmed. Catra’s eyes barely left the black crate with the cell door, still sat on the back of Dragstor’s flatbed.

Might be an overstatement, she was looking rough when we put her in there, and it’s been a bumpy ride.” Dragstor was straight up back to gloating now; she couldn’t wait to watch Catra tear him apart. It looked like she would get that wish; Catra’s fingers were flexing again, and no amount of armour would spare the cyborg her wrath.

 “Forget about that traitor; you’ve got other problems right now.” Leech raised the detonator again, his globular thumb hovering centimetres above its button.

“Whatever you’ve got planned, I’m going to stop you, put it down and walk away,” Adora ordered, all the authority of Etheria’s avatar flowing into her words.

He hesitated, his fleshy digit recoiled from the trigger for just a second, then his eyes hardened again. “Orders are orders. Shadow Weaver’s gonna reward me for this.” What was he planning to blow up? Did he know where the others were? Or was it Scorpia’s crate? There was nothing else she wasn’t going to find out.

She-Ra’s rage burned through her, and she started moving, a beeline for Leech. He seemed surprised with how quickly she closed the distance, but Leech slid backwards from her grip, and his plump digit found its mark with a horrifying click.

The ground beneath them roared. And the sky behind the rows of prefabs spat fire and dusky fumes into the air. He’d blown up the mine. Why? It didn’t make sense; it was full of the Horde’s own people, civilians. This couldn’t be part of the trap; this place was real; she had seen the shift start with her own eyes.

“What are you doing?” She cried, desperate for an explanation.

“It was never about stopping us….” Catra murmured; Adora could see the puzzle solving itself behind her blue and gold eyes.

“Why!” The ferocity of her voice, enough to make even Leech wince.

“I just kill who they tell me to kill, and right now, that means a bunch of useless miners,”  Leech growled and earned a raspy chuckle from Dragstor.

“Adora, it’s a false flag. They’re trying to make it look like the Rebellion did this.” Catra answered, but it didn’t make any sense; the Rebellion would never do anything like this; nobody would believe them. “It makes the Princesses look as bad as the Horde say they are, and this time they’ll have a pile of corpses to prove it. Also makes me look like a monster; anyone who thought Claw Squad were heroes will be thinking differently after this.”

“Shadow Weaver said, you’d be coming to save the traitor no matter what, and wasn’t much chance of us stopping She-Ra a second time. So why not hurt you where we can.”

“If this was the plan, you lot could have at least warned me.” Dragstor hissed.

“You blew up your own mine, killed your own people, just to make us look bad?”

“But we didn’t blow up the mine. You did.” Leech boomed, his stupid grin stretching to the corner of his thick lips. It was getting harder and harder to hold She-Ra back now.

“You want to turn this place into a bloodbath?” Catra’s fury seemed so much different than her own than She-Ra’s; she almost seemed to be in control of it. “Fine.”

And then all hell broke loose. Catra’s rammed her elbow into Dragstor’s gut; he roared in pain and stumbled backwards. Catra span and slashed at him with predatory precision, only his thick bracers sparing him from the Magicat’s fury. After a few frantic strikes, he came back at her with a knife, his own swings far less coordinated; it was almost like when she’d seen drunkards take swings at the guards outside the tavern in the market square.

Catra looked like she was born for this. Her whole body seemed designed to move and flow, to fight and dance and laugh in the face of anyone who dared oppose her. She hated how right all of them had been; Glimmer, Netossa, Spinerella, Angella, Rogelio; this had to be love, right? She could barely take her eyes off the fight before her, the warmth Catra brought to her very soul even lulling She-Ra’s passion for battle.

It didn’t last, one of Dragstor’s men came at her, swinging a mace, and just like that, she was in the game. She dodged the first blow with ease; the scruffy-looking faun on the other end was just like her boss, little more than a brawler, with none of the forms one saw with properly trained Horde soldiers. It took little effort to manoeuvre between her attacks, ducking under one swing, then sidestepping another. With a heavy swing, she brought the flat of her sword to bear against her opponent’s face, sending them spinning into the dust and gravel.

More were sprinting towards her now, five of them and a handful of others moving around further back. She-Ra urged her to fight them, defend Etheria, her friends, her Catra, anyone and anything that stood between them. She charged right back at them, screaming a battle cry of her own. There was no time to draw this out and no way they could take any prisoners; holding back was not an option. Blood would be spilt today.

The first soldier didn’t even get a chance to attack; the crystalline blade slid through his torso like he was made of cake; he didn’t even make a noise; he just slumped to the ground. It wasn’t the first life she’d taken; this was a war after all, but there was still something haunting about it, the way that she could turn a person into a thing with a flick of her wrist. She-Ra seemed pleased though; a warm feeling flooded her entire body; she seemed to be fulfilled if only for a moment before the next poor fools came for her.

Little gave the next woman’s identity away; a few flashes of lavender flesh poked out beneath layers of worn leather and dinted armour. Adora span to meet her and cut clean through the stun baton raised above her enemies head. There was a flash as the Sword of Protection met the electronics, an explosion of white sparks in her face and the woman dropped to her knees screaming and clutching her eyes.

Catra was on the offence again, leaping at the cab of Dragstor’s truck and almost bouncing off it into the Force Captain, slashing at his helmet and cracking his open visor. She landed behind him, crouching low and kicked at the back of his knee; he buckled with a scream, but before she could finish, Catra was driving his face into the ground. Dragstor let out a laboured scream, mangled by the sound of his visor shattering.

She dispatched another of Dragstor’s men, a squat man with a rust coloured goatee. She turned to Catra to watch her leave three bloody marks on the face of a bald woman. There were more of them coming, more than a dozen; even She-Ra would struggle against them all at once. Then another foe got close; a furious looking man swung a hatchet at her. His swings were as chaotic as his uniform, each one missing her. He screamed as he swang and screamed when she planted her sword into his stomach; another poor fool roped into this stupid war.

There was a wet roar, and Catra screamed. Adora’s head snapped back to see Leech drive his shoulder into her, slamming her into the side of Dragstor’s flatbed. Her oldest friend, the girl she loved, lay crumpled at that monster’s feet, enemies closed in around her, and Scorpia was still their prisoner. She-Ra wanted to stand and fight them, and honestly, so did Adora. She dug in her feet and raised her blade.

Leech ignored her; instead, reaching for Catra, the jagged teeth in the centre of his palm twitched, anticipating their meal. That wasn’t going to happen; there wasn’t a chance she was going to let him drain her lifeforce, or energy, or whatever his powers were supposed to do. She took a step towards him. “Leave her alone.” Leech snarled in response, finally acknowledging her presence. And grabbed at Catra. The Magicat shuddered.

WSSHH

An arrowhead erupted from Leech’s shoulder, and he wailed in agony. Bow! She looked past his flailing form to the rooftops where Bow was notching a second arrow. Beside him, Lonnie crouched, lining up the scope of her pulse rifle, sending a bolt of energy streaking across the battlefield into the chest of one of the charging soldiers. He spasmed for a few seconds when he hit the ground, then he stopped moving.

As if on cue, a blur of pink and purple dashed into the fray too, her father’s staff held aloft, crying “Brightmoon” as she ran. Kyle and Rogelio would be right behind Glimmer, Adora knew., together they would make light work of these idiots. Even Catra was stirring, using the bed of the truck, she pushed herself back up and glared into Leech’s orange eyes.

And then the soldiers were on them. There was no time to spare them or stop and think about them as people; the garrison would be here soon, and unless they could get to Scorpia, this whole mess would be for nothing. She had no choice but to cut them down but cut them down she did. Catra to one side of her, Glimmer to the other. This was everything she’d dreamed of; fighting for Etheria together, being the heroes she had always pictured them as.

Glimmer swang her staff, cracking a barrel-chested man across the jaw as Catra swiped at the neck of a second; and Adora drove her blade into another unfortunate trooper, he tried to say something when she drew it from their chest, but it only came out as a wheeze.

There was still no sign of Kyle or Rogelio; maybe they’d gotten caught up in something. That would be typical Kyle; maybe he sprained his ankle or buried himself under some crates. Maybe they were helping survivors; that’s what they’d gone to do, right?.

CRASH

A metal crate flew past her head, exploding into a mound of ration bars when it collided with the side of a prefab shack. Leech was back in the fight,  charging into the three of them, shoulder first. Catra danced around him, unwilling to get caught a second time, as Glimmer teleported from his path. Adora, though, she stood her ground, braced for impact and readied for sword yet again. He had already hurt enough people today. No more.

Leech saw the weapon and tried to course-correct, his slick feet struggling to find a grip on the gravel underfoot. This was her chance; Adora moved in on the right and drove her blade towards him, Leech stumbled, and crystal met flesh, slicing into his side. He grimaced, hollering every curse he knew at her, before grabbing the sword. And yanking it from his wound. Adora lost her balance and stumbled backwards with the bloody sword.

Panic flooded Leech’s eyes as he comprehended the slash across his flank; he pulled the detonator from his belt a second time and reached for the trigger. “No reward is worth this”, He slurred as he pushed that murderous red button. The ground trembled for just a second before the thunderous explosion rocked everything around them, small crates toppled from their stacks, and a few of the soldiers struggled to keep their balance. She even caught a glance of Lonnie grabbing Bow, stopping him from plummeting from his perch.

When she turned to inspect Leech’s mess, she saw a half dozen plumes of black smoke and even a few licks of flames from whatever rooftops had survived the blasts. When she looked back around, Leech was gone. Damn him.

“Are you okay?” Glimmer called at her as the Princess slid up to her.

“Yeah…” Adora grimaced, she’d found her balance, but she’d failed to stop Leech twice now; who knew how many more people had been in those buildings. How many civilians, or Horde non-combatants. She might as well have killed them herself.

Catra joined them, standing to her side, leaving the three of them back-to-back as the remnant of Dragstor’s men began their wary advance. Catra’s ears twitched, and she turned her head at some faint sound beyond her own hearing. “Kyle”, she muttered, “it’s Kyle; he’s calling for you. For She-Ra.”

“What?” Adora exclaimed.

“Coming from the mine, I think. The idiot sounds like he’s in trouble.” Catra explained. That couldn’t be good.

“Okay, but what about you?” Adora asked back.

“Go! we can handle these losers.” Catra cried, and she did, running past the carnage, past the fallen Horde troopers, the scattered cargo and into the smouldering inferno.

 


 

Adora forced her way from the fight, dragging She-Ra’s from the heat of battle. Sprinting into the maze of prefab buildings, bunkhouses, storage sheds and whatever else they were, it didn’t take long for them to give way to ruins and rubble. Putrid fumes filled the air, becoming a thick smog as it rose. She’d known the Horde was evil, but this was absurd; killing their own people; civilians even didn’t make sense no matter how Catra span it.

She clambered through the rubble, forcing herself not to look at the occasional charred limb that protruded from beneath the newly made ruins. She needed to get to Kyle and find out what had happened. She wasn’t going to leave them behind again; she couldn’t. It had taken a year to get them to Brightmoon. Since they’d arrived, they had already started to become, she didn’t know how to explain it, more of themselves; almost like when you coloured in a drawing.

As she neared mine, Kyle’s calls grew louder; she could hear them clearly now. His barely comprehensible sobs and rambling; occasionally, he’d stop to call her name. Was he hurt? He had to be, that or… Why couldn’t she hear Rogelio? If they were trying to get her attention, she’d be able to hear his roar from the other side of the compound. She picked up her pace, shoving aside the broken pieces of wall or blackened supply crates that stood before her, driving She-Ra onward to their common goal.

There they were, it was hard to miss them, given that nearly everything surrounding them had been reduced to ash.  Rogelio was propped against one of the still-standing structures as Kyle held his hand, loudly weeping. Something wasn’t right… no… not propped; he was pinned. Ro was pinned to the prefab by a giant metal pipe. No.

She ran towards them, she had to do something, help him, save him, anything. Then she was going to make Leech suffer for this, and not just him; Dragstor, his men, Shadow Weaver, Hordak, anyone and everyone who would do this. She was She-Ra; she was Etheria’s wrath.

“Kyle!” She cried, desperate to grab his attention, “Kyle!” she called again. “Kyle!” a third time, he looked up; the whites of his eyes were red, and he barely seemed to register her. “What happened.”

“I… I.. don’t know. There was an explosion; I went to check… check it out, and then he… there was another one, and then… I don’t know… you have to help him. Please, Adora, I can’t… I can’t lose him.” Then she noticed his other hand, clutching his side, a dark red stain slowly growing beneath his palm. That couldn’t be good.

Rogelio was still breathing at least, but it was laboured; there was no way his lung hadn’t been punctured. This was precisely why she needed to go back to Light Hope; the hologram had warned her that she would get her friends hurt, and here she had been right. The sooner Adora returned to the Crystal Castle, the sooner she would learn how all this worked, how to be a real She-Ra. Even if she had to give up her friends, even if she had to let all of them go, if it stopped things like this from happening to them, it would be worth it, right? That was how you won wars instead of battles; you planned long term, you made hard choices.

Adora knelt beside her friend and placed her hand upon him. She could do this; she’d managed to heal his wounds after the skiff crash; she had done it for everyone, easy. This was just the same, only much, much worse.

Where was she even supposed to start; maybe she should start with that wound on Kyle’s side. It looked pretty nasty, and she might need his help. Yeah, that sounded like a good idea. She marched around Rogelio and roughly stood him up as straight as she could, pulling his bloody shirt up as far as she could to reveal his pale, lean stomach. There was a gash down one side, no more than a few centimetres deep, but it ran the whole length of his side; if she didn’t do something, he probably wouldn’t make it back either. “Stay still”, she ordered.

“But Rogelio…” Kyle protested, wincing as She-Ra’s muscular hands pressed onto the wound. Triggering another trickle of crimson to ooze from within.

“Stay still; I’m going to need your help.” She announced, and Kyle meekly obeyed, remaining motionless as she worked. She could feel him; his life, his essence, it was like a pale light that somehow felt uniquely “Kyle”. The more she focused on it, the clearer the light got, and the more ‘Kyle shaped it became, and just like at the skiff wreck, She-Ra guided her to a hole in the light, an empty void along one side. She let Etheria’s power flow into the space, and slowly but surely, the light began to overtake it. A few moments later, the figure in her mind’s eye was pristine. When she opened her eyes, she found Kyle’s stomach was healed; only the faintest of scars remained. He nodded at her gratefully, but his newfound health had done little to offset his nerves; he still trembled with his every movement. His previous awe for She-Ra’s power was gone too; now, he was looking past her, locked on his dying friend.

“R-right” Kyle took a few deep breaths, his raw eyes still locked on Rogelio’s limp form. Now for the hard part, Adora took up position on Ro’s left and laid out her hands once again.

Just like she had with Kyle, she focused on Rogelio, on the connection between her hands, him and Etheria. His essence was there, but it was paler than she remembered, like it was fading away, the edges more grey than white. She willed She-Ra to guide her once again, and there it was; a great, dark void in Rogelio’s essence. She concentrated on it, and it began to shrink, slower than with Kyle, but it was still shrinking, pale light began to wash over the darkness until all of a sudden; it didn’t’. She’d barely made a dent into it when the void just stopped receding. That wasn’t right. What had she done wrong?

The pole. “Kyle”, she called. “I need you to hold that pole still; I need to pull him off.

She moved behind Rogelio and took hold of him under his muscular arms. She nodded to Kyle, urging him to keep the scaffolding pole as steady as he could manage. Adora pulled, and slowly Rogelio glided along the metal shaft, each centimetre a war between urgency and safety. As he slid along, he left a bloody trail until he finally came loose with a wet popping noise that made her stomach turn.

Adora dragged the limp form backwards a few paces; Kyle was still holding the pole, now topped by a slick red smear. She called at him,  and after shaking loose the cobwebs from his mind, he scampered to meet her. He knelt on Rogelio’s right as tears ran down his cheek, mixing with the soot and pooling black on the ground. He reached out and put the Reptilian’s hand in his own, stroking gently and trying not to let the terror in his eyes take hold. “Come on, Ro, you can do this. Come on, please.”

She went back to work and tried purging the void once again. This time, the slow reclamation by Rogelio’s essence was more successful, every second taking just a little more back into his life force. That lifeforce was still pale though, she thought it was even fainter than it had been on her first attempt. Wait…there it was; the whole shape just got that little bit darker and fuzzier around the edges. Damn it, she wasn’t going to let him die, couldn’t let him. She owed him too much, too much to let him fade away like this.

“Come on, Ro, stay with us.” It was Kyle, and for a few seconds, Rogelio’s essence flashed, brighter and stronger than she’d ever seen it, before fading back again. That was it.

“Kyle, keep talking; it’s important; keep going..” She called to him.

“You have to keep fighting,” He continued, “I can’t lose you, I can’t!” Kyle murmured, each word causing Rogelio’s essence to pulsate with life. As he spoke, Adora returned to the wound, restoring it with She-Ra’s healing touch.

“Just a little more”, Adora called, the wound so close to being sealed, and the light was getting brighter. It was amazing to watch it play out, to feel flesh, bone and organ knitting itself together, to feel the power flowing through her fingertips. To channel for once not just Etheria’s rage but its mercy.

“Please, I need you, I need you so much, please,” Kyle begged, each half-sobbed word breaking her heart. Kyle paused, “Ro, I love you.” Oh. Of course, he did, All of a sudden, scales turned to fur, and it was Catra dying before her.

“No!” Adorea screamed; she drew her hands away in shock and stumbled backwards. It couldn’t be; Catra was fine; she was back with Glimmer… fighting the Horde. What if... what if she was hurt, or face down in the gravel, slowly bleeding out? She should have been there to protect her. She couldn’t-”

“Adora”, Kyle’s voice cut through her nightmare. “Adora, please, you have to help him. I… I love him, Adora; I need you to do this, please.” Rogelio… she opened her eyes, and there he was, where she had seen Catra only moments before. Flat on his back, his chest rising and falling slowly in laboured motions, and Kyle kneeling beside him, hand in hand, his dark eyes pleading with her to save the man he loved.

He was right. Adora couldn’t just let him die; he was her friend, one of the most selfless people she’d ever known. He’d saved her life from that training accident, carried her back to their barracks when she’d collapsed from exhaustion, and he’d sat on the end of her bed and helped her with the Catra feeling. Adora crawled towards the two of them, pressed her hands back onto the supine Reptilian and continued her work.

Calm. Breathe. Adora could do it; she knew she could; she was so close and just had a little bit further to go. The final parts of Rogelio began restoring themselves under her touch. The hole in his lung was all but gone; next came his shattered ribs, the fragments of bone fitting into place like some grizzly jigsaw puzzle. Finally, the musculature, flesh and scales began to emerge on top of them. Eventually, it was done, and with Kyle’s declarations of hope and love anchoring Rogelio to the living world, pale yellow eyes slowly opened.

With a slow grunt, Rogelio slowly propped himself up on his elbows. Groggy eyes surveyed the scene taking in her and Kyle’s faces, gradually coming to realise what had happened to him. “What happened?” he growled raspily. She couldn’t help but grin at the sound of his voice; she had never been so glad to hear the rough Reptilian language or his

“You got caught up in that explosion,” Kyle explained, “You saved me.” his despair forgotten, replaced by delight.

“I did, didn’t I.” Rogelio smiled, flashing his pointed teeth with pride.

“He saved you back.” Adora grinned right back at him. “I just healed the wound; he kept you here.”

“Well, yeah, it was nothing really.” Kyle agreed nervously, quickly nodding at Adora, silently thanking her.

“He did…” A memory seemed to dawn on him, three little words she suspected that might change the Reptilian’s entire life. He stared into Kyle’s red raw eyes, and his smile changed; the bravado softened. She had best leave them to it; they probably had a lot to talk about. She pushed herself back to her feet and turned to leave. “Wait, what about the mission? What about Scorpia?” Rogelio asked.

“I don’t know; Catra and the others had it in hand. I'm going to go find out; you two had best get out of here.” She explained, craning her neck over her shoulder.

“Like hell.” Rogelio extended his hand, and Kyle took it, and with more than a bit of effort; pulling the big man to his feet. Rogelio stumbled on his first step forward, meekly growling as he fell to one knee. Maybe she should have healed him for longer, she might have fixed his wound, but she hadn’t managed to restore his strength.

“You should rest up. Kyle, get him to the rendevous point; I’ll get back to the others.” Adora ordered.

“Right.” He stepped towards Rogelio, “come on, Ro, on your feet.” He put an arm under his shoulder and hoisted him back up.”

She turned and began to walk away. “So…” She heard Rogleio growl from behind her, “you love me….”

“Uhm, well….” Kyle stuttered.

“It’s okay Kyle, I love you too.” She had to smile. After their talk in her room, she knew how much Ro had wanted to say those words, and maybe together, they could find some happiness. Part of her desperately wanted to do the same; to Catra, tell her how she felt, explain the yearning she felt deep within her heart. There was no way that her confession would end so happily, though. It didn’t matter what any of the others told her. It had been a battle just to get her to try to be friends again; anything else was out of the question. She sighed, continuing her walk away from the lovesick pair, and began her race back to the others.

By the time she got back to the battle, it had looked to have ended. None of the troops was left standing, there was no sign of Dragstor or Leech, and that ridiculous truck was speeding from the scene, still with that black steel crate strapped to its back, a skiff and a handful of swoop bikes around it. There was a blur of brown and purple chasing after it; Catra, she realised. All she could do was watch her sprint after the truck, half a heartbeat later, and she leapt onto a crate, using it as a launching pad for a second reckless jump to the truck. She wasn’t going to make it; not even Catra could manage that jump. Catra fell short, but no, she had managed to snag her claws onto a free-hanging tarp, and there she was, dangling from the back of it as Dragstor raced away. No, no, no, this was insane; she needed to get to them, to Catra and Scorpia.

“Adora!” Called Glimmer as she jogged over to them. Are the guys okay?”

“My boys? Adora, how are my boys?” Lonnie ran up to them, Bow in quick pursuit, trying to bandage her arm as they ran.

“Hey, stand still”, Bow called as they came to a stop,

“They’re good; Ro got hurt pretty bad in the explosion. But I gave him some of the old She-Ra healing magic. They’re heading to the rendevous.” Lonnie and Bow both nodded appreciatively. “We need to go after them. Glimmer, can you get me onto that truck.”

“I don’t think I have a choice.” The Princess responded, grabbing her arm.

“We’d better get out of here too,” Lonnie added, pointing to the camp entrance in the distance. The garrison was back in the game, pouring through the gates, scarpering to avoid the remnants of Dragstor’s fleeing convoy. “We’ll meet with the guys; keep to the plan.”

“Good luck.” Bow grinned. And with a puff of sparkles, she and Glimmer disappeared.

Chapter Text

Catra watched as Adora, or She-Ra, or whoever she was right now, rushed into the maze-like streets of prefabricated buildings, desperately hunting for their friends. As desperately as she wanted to chase the towering blonde, she rooted herself to the ground. Kyle and Rogelio were not only her friends but her team; her soldiers; she had brought them here, planned the mission, and if anything had happened to them, it would all be her fault. But she had to trust that Adora would help them; she had bigger problems; to deal with. Scorpia was still a prisoner, locked in that hulking black steel crate, in who knew what condition. And worse of all, most of Dragstor’s men still sat between the two of them.

“We don’t have time for this; the garrison will be back any minute.” Glimmer was at her back, a thin staff topped with a crescent moon in her hands. She’d never been impressed by the Princess’ fighting skills, but she wasn’t doing too badly against Dragstor’s rough and tumble thugs. Luckily, the only real threats so far had been Dragstor and Leech, and thanks to her, the former was lying face down in the gravel. The latter had slunk away under cover of an explosion but had to be cowering around here somewhere.

“If you think you can speed things along,” she struck her fist into the face of a charging Reptilian, who fell to the ground, unmoving. “feel free to step in at any time, Princess.” Another two soldiers ran at them, though one only made it a few steps before collapsing, clutching his chest, an arrow shaft protruding from it. The second swang their stun baton in a furious arc, narrowly missing Catra’s head. She moved left, weaving between the wild assault, making sure to move forward with every dodge until she was close enough to strike. She pulled back her arm, claws glistening in the ribbons of sunlight piercing the smoky sky. Catra growled as she brought her hand down, crashing through the visor on her enemy’s helmet, bringing it back, to find her claws dripping red.

Arrows and energy bolts flew overhead, Bow and Lonnie downing more of her foes; they were clearing a path. This was her chance to get to Scorpia. She started running towards the truck as fast as she could manage, jumping onto the back of the flatbed. There it was, the vast, black steel crate that served as a mobile prison cell.

“Ugggh” A noise came from her left, behind Scorpia’s crate; her eyes darted to find a bloated slug man slumped against it. Perfect. Leech wasn’t going to get to sit the rest of this out, not after everything he’d done to her friends. She moved towards the Force Captain, who turned his head to snarl at her.

CLANK. CLANK. CLANK.

Footsteps! Behind her! Catra span out of the path of another flailing henchman. An axe struck the side of Scorpia’s cell, rebounding off with a metallic clatter. Catra danced behind her when her assailant whipped back around swinging again. Catra’s speed saved her again, the axe lodging itself in a stack of wooden boxes. She was a tall, thin woman with a snarl chiselled into her pointed features. The woman cursed as she struggled to free it; Catra slashed at her stomach, watching as crimson streams began to pour through the deep cracks she’d left.

” You… you… I’ll kill you,” the soldier screamed; her voice was high, frantic, the realisation of their own mortality clear across her narrow face. Suddenly there was a knife in their hand, and they were screaming, charging her.”Die!”

Catra sidestepped and struck, her claws sinking into the attacker’s armpit, dropping their blade and screaming. She only dug her nails in deeper, pinning herself to her foe as she left her feet. Catra jumped towards the tall woman, smoothly wrapping her powerful legs around a screaming head. All she had to do was twist her waist, and the two of them were tumbling to the floor in a head-scissor. Catra released her grip and rolled free as the trooper smashed into the cold metal plating of the truck’s deck.

She kicked her downed opponent, making sure she wasn’t getting back up anytime soon and turned back towards her prize. She’d deal with Leech first; he was already wounded, it wouldn’t take too long to exact a little vengeance. She’d earned a little taste after what she’d been through. A smile reached her lips, a hint of her pointed canines on display and her walk became a saunter, tail swishing confidently as she went.

Leech had pulled himself to his feet, but he was still bent double. He was clutching his side, breathing heavily, even his enormous hands struggling to cover the deep cut Adora had left in his flank. He’d tried to dress the wound, but he seemed to be as good as first aid as he was at everything else. Loosely tied grey bandages were sloppily tied around his midsection, still dripping blood with his every movement.

“That looks like it hurts. I’d offer to put you out of your misery, but there’s nothing merciful about what you’ve got coming.” Catra taunted.

“You can shove your mercy.” The agony in his side influenced each of his wet words. He lunged, grabbing for her with his free hand; he was slow, clumsy, missing her by nearly half a metre, a laugh slipped out at his meagre attack.”Stand still, I’m supposed to… I can still kill you.”

“No. You can’t.” There was no sense playing with her food any longer; she’d wasted enough time on this idiot. She could just about make out the garrison’s rabble grow slowly louder; they’d be on them soon enough.

A flash of pale energy exploded on Scorpia’s crate, Catra stumbled backwards, squealing. What the hell. She turned her head to see another of Dragstor’s goons firing a pulse rifle at her. The gunman lined up their next shot when an arrow struck their chest, exploding into a white net, sending them flying backwards into a prefab. She’d need to thank Bow for that later.

Something wrapped around her tail and pulled. Catra was dragged from her feet with an agonising jolt, hitting her shoulder on the metal floor. She slowly tried to stand, pushing herself back up, only to find Leech standing over her, smirking. He tugged her tail again, and she fell back down. Damn it, she needed to do something; she couldn’t lose to this idiot.

Leech’s iron grip yanked her again. This time, it wasn’t a sharp pull, but he was lifting her, letting her dangle by her tail from his mucusy hand. Leech roared as he tossed her across the truck bed, crashing into a crate. Her body felt like it was on fire, rippling with agony as a fiery sting danced along her spine.

THUD, THUD, THUD.

Heavy footsteps came towards her, laboured breaths accompanying each vile thump. “Told you I’d kill you.” Leech sniggered, something dripped onto her as he spoke, but she couldn’t tell if it was blood or drool. Leech’s colossal hand wrapped around her neck, stinging as the little teeth in his palm clamped into her flesh, and started their work. She began to feel woozy, weaker She tried to dig her claws into him, force him to let her go, but somehow she couldn’t manage to do it. He lifted her limp form, holding her against the crates; his chuckle became a deep booming laugh, mucus running from every side of his gaping maw.

This was going to be how she died, wasn’t it? She could almost hear Shadow Weaver taunting her, calling her a stupid beast, a useless failure, a wretch who ruined everything. Leech was proving it all true; Scorpia was only metres away, and there was nothing she could do to help her. She was just going to die a failure.

What did Brightmoon do with its dead? In the Horde, they chiselled your name into that stupid obelisk, and your body would feed the furnaces; so that even in death, you could serve Hordak’s cause. They probably had some whole dumb ceremony with flowery speeches and fancy crystals everywhere. That wouldn’t be so bad; Adora would probably shed a few tears for her, maybe some of the others too, maybe.

Was that what she really wanted? to leave Adora a blubbering mess? To hurt her again? No. Adora had suffered enough on her account; she had to do something. She tried to flex her claws, hoping she still had the strength to do anything. Her hand grazed something, a thick metal cylinder embedded in the crate about half a metre long. The tall woman’s axe.

She curled her fingers around it as best she could. She could do this, one quick motion, the last of her strength, and she’d be free of this brute. She was so close that she could do this almost, nearly, for Adora, Scorpia, and the rest of them, just a little more. Come on.

Catra faintly heard a familiar twinkle; she forced her blue eye open to see a quickly fading shower of glowing sparkles. A crescent headed staff appeared behind the towering slug man’s head, and all of a sudden, Catra had never felt worse about how she’d treated the Princess.

“Get away from her!” Glimmer screamed, furiously striking Leech’s head with the top of her staff. Leech roared in pain; he released his grasp and clutched at his head. Catra slipt down the crates but somehow managed to stay on her feet; she grabbed for the axe once more and wrenched it free. With what effort she could muster, she swang. Leech’s spare hand went up to try and block the blow, the one that had been around her neck moments before. Catra buried the axe deeply in his palm, splitting the toothy orifice at the centre in two. He reeled backwards screaming, with his good hand, he laboured to pull the axe free, but Catra had no intention of letting him off so easily. She jumped, right hand outstretched, and with a horrifying squeal, cut deeply across his face. Leech stumbled backwards. Glimmer attacked again, this time, a powerful jab to his chest, and he tumbled off the side of the truck, landing on his back in the blood-stained gravel.

Before Catra had a chance to even steady herself, Glimmer was helping her. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, we’re all on the same side now, right?”

Catra somehow found the energy to laugh. “I guess so. Come on, help me with Scorpia’s cell; we don’t have long.” Glimmer nodded, and after a shaky first step, Catra was able to regain some kind of composure.

“Get the hell off my truck!” A garbled Reptilian growl filled the air. Catra looked back to the warzone they’d made of the loading bay. Dragstor was back on his feet holding a grenade launcher, a thin trail of smoke emanating from the barrel, drifting slowly, losing itself in the black smog overhead.

CLANK.

The grenade landed right between her and Glimmer. Catra just wanted to scream at it, scream at all of them, everyone who dared to try and stop her from rescuing her friend. Before she even had time to open her mouth, a pair of arms wrapped around her midsection, pulling her with surprising strength into a tight hug. Then with a shower of sparkles, she was gone.

Moments later, Catra was on the other side of the battlefield, her stomach turning as a small explosion overtook the place she’d been standing moments before. “Are you okay?” Glimmer asked.

“Yeah…. Thanks again.” Glimmer just smiled. “Can you get me back ov-“

“This is done.” Dragstor was hanging from the door of the truck cab, grenade launcher still in hand. “Anyone still alive; bug out. Anyone else, you’re on your own.” The engine roared, and most of the troopers began running, some clambered onto the truck, but most sprinted for the skiffs or swoops bikes left lazily around the outskirts of the loading bay.

“Idiot! Coward!” Leech was screaming at them. “You have to follow the plan!” Catra ignored him and started running. Her muscles ached, she was all but running on fumes, but she had to do something. Scorpia was still on the back of the truck, and its wheels had begun to move.

 


 

Before Catra knew it, she was sprinting after Dragstor’s truck; she couldn’t let them escape with Scorpia, she couldn’t abandon her again. It didn’t matter how much she had left in the tank; Catra was going to keep running until she had her friend back and could bring her to Brightmoon; show her the life she deserved.

There was a stack of crates just ahead of her, tall enough that she could use it to jump onto the back of Dragstor’s truck, or maybe one of the skiffs if she got the timing right. But it was going to be mostly luck; once she committed to it, there was no looking back. She veered slightly to the right, made aim for the pile of boxes, forcing herself into the air with the highest jump she could manage. One step along the top of the box, and she had to jump again; this was it. All or nothing.

Catra flew through the air, reaching desperately for the back of a truck that was second by second, moving past her landing point. She wasn’t going to make it. No. She’d screwed it all up again. Why had she gone after Leech? If she’d left him sitting against the crate’s side, Scorpia would be a free woman. Catra kept falling; the truck was too far away for her to make it. Even if it stopped moving then and there, her claws would barely scrape the end of the rear bumper.

Wait! There! There was a section of tarp flowing in the breeze; it was well within range; she could do this. She stretched out her arms and begged that her luck would hold. Her claws just managed to snag it, and holding on for dear life, she dangled wildly from the end of the makeshift tether.

She pulled herself up the tarp, slowly but surely making her way towards her friend. Just another metre or so, and she’d be on board, and everyone stupid enough to get between her and Scorpia would be getting familiar with her claws. A head appeared over the edge of the truck bed, a well-built human with greasy hair dancing in the wind and a gruesome burn scar over his right cheek. He didn’t say anything; he just stared at her, a twisted smile forming; his eyes were hidden by a pair of goggles, but she knew she wouldn’t have liked the look in them.

The smiling man’s hand went to his belt and unhooked his weapon; it had once been a standard-issue Horde weapon but had been twisted into something far nastier. Damn it, she began climbing faster, one hand in front of the other; as the man knelt and put the tip of his gnarled blade to the tarp, it began to come apart the moment the razor tip met the fabric.

Damn.

Catra was moving as fast as she could now, the smiling man maliciously driving his blade through the material. She threw herself forward as far as she could; her lifeline gave way beneath her, tumbling away into the breeze. Her claws grasped at the air, desperately begging that just this once, fate might smile upon her. Her fingertips found something solid; she dug them in as hard as she could manage. Her claws sliced into something soft as she tightened her grip, and the smiling man screamed, razor-sharp talons tearing through his boot into the flesh of his feet.

Catra hurled her other arm up onto the bed of the truck, and with every ounce of upper body strength left to her, began to pull herself up. Once both of her elbows were aboard, she withdrew her claws and pulled the smiling man’s legs out from under him. He hit the deck with a clunk and a groan, giving Catra all the space she needed to hoist herself up. Scrambling onto the deck, she took a minute or two to catch her breath, ducking behind a heavy-looking weapons locker. Catra took in her surroundings; about a half-dozen of Dragstor’s men had made it onboard the truck itself, littered around the remaining crates. A pair of swoop bikes kept pace on the left; a third sped alongside her right, trailed by a skiff.

Not a lot of options; she would just have to cut her way through and use the cargo as cover from the escorts. It would be a lot to deal with, especially in her current condition. Still, it was this or abandon Scorpia again. She flexed her claws.

“Hey, what’s going on back there?” a scratchy voice called out, shouting for the smiling man; somehow, no one had seen his unconscious body yet. “Hey, are you there?” they called again “hey, listen to me” it was getting closer; she would have to move quickly. “Shit!” they must have seen the smiling man, “we’ve got a man down.” They’d definitely seen him.

Catra sprang up and vaulted the locker, her foot clipping the shouter’s arm as she did so. Landing behind him, she drove a sharp elbow to their kidney. No time to play around; the others were making their way towards her now. She had to work fast, or at least as fast as she could manage. She kicked the shouter in the back for good measure, watching him tumble over the side with a yelp.

She counted five more of them, all jogging towards her, as a sixth hung back, readying with a pulse rifle. Fine. She ran towards the group, jumping into the air and striking the bearded man leading the column with a powerful dropkick. He tumbled backwards into his allies, reducing them to a writhing pile of limbs. Catra rushed past them, kicking a downed trooper in the head as hard as she could manage on her way past.

A shot dashed past her ear, the rifleman had joined the fight, another bolt of energy flew over her shoulder. She rushed him, staying low and zigzagging as best she could to avoid his nervous blasts. Shot after shot narrowly missed as Catra drew closer and closer. Just a little more. Perfect. She swang at the rifleman, his weapon coming apart under her claws. The man’s eyes begged her to stop but screw him, her second blow hit her cheek, and he barreled backwards, hitting his head on the edge of a crate. Four left.

Before she could even feel the relief of downing a foe, someone grabbed her left arm, pulling it back painfully. Her assailant spun her around; the bearded man was standing right there; balling his fist before ramming it into her stomach. Pain flooded her body, forcing the air from her lungs, and all she could do was wince at the agony. Another soldier grabbed hold of her free arm, and a second blow met her gut. Catra tried to snarl in their faces, mock them, spit on them, anything, but she could barely raise her head. The third blow came, and it was she could manage to stay on her feet.

A familiar noise rang out, that sparkle on the air that could only mean one thing. Sure enough, as Catra craned her neck the few inches she could manage and forced her mismatched eyes open, there was Glimmer, stood proud on the skiff to her right, and she wasn’t alone. She-Ra stood beside her, driving that glowing sword of hers into an attacking soldier. Adora’s eyes, glowing with blue light, found her own and instantly narrowed. Leaving Glimmer to handle the skiff crew, Adora took a few steps back. She began running towards the edge, jumping onto the truck bed, that dumb magic sword of hers at the ready. She was never going to live this down.

“She-Ra!” the bearded man yelled as the group turned to face the towering warrior. “Stay back!” his voice trembled now, “Stay back, or we’ll kill the traitor.”

“Put down your weapons, let her go, walk away.” There was an unfamiliar fury in Adora’s voice, a cold wrath that brook no argument. When they’d fought each other, Adora’s anger always seemed more frustrated than anything, annoyed that she hadn’t meekly followed her off to Brightmoon. But this was different; it sent a chill running down her spine as Adora spoke of protecting her. It was the realisation that something she had always dreamed of was coming true before her eyes. Adora was fighting for her, and she for Adora. It might not be everything she’d dreamed of, but these idiots were going to understand just how dangerous that was.

There was something ethereal about She-Ra, more than just the shimmering hair and glowing eyes, a radiance that spoke of a strange kind of primal beauty. As far as Adora had explained, the two were separate wills, but she wasn’t so sure, watching her fight; the two seemed more entwined than Adora understood.

One of the troopers took a step forward, and then everything seemed to happen at once. Adora flicked her wrist, and the soldier was crumpling into a heap, blood dripping from Adora’s sword. The bearded man swore loudly, moving to attack alongside his remaining allies, and the woman grasping her right arm loosened his grip.

It was just enough; she wrenched her arm free and scratched the face of the man holding her left. Deep cuts in his cheek oozed blood in the seconds before he covered it with his hand, staggering away from her, fear in his eyes, one step too far, and he fell. He didn’t fall far; instead of meeting the ground, he crashed into swoop bikes, causing the driver to lose control and careen into the side of the mountain in a fiery ball.

The bearded man was fighting Adora now, too, leaving her only with a lone trooper. Moments earlier, the woman had been pinning her arm, but now she was on the offensive. She was quick, her first strike catching Catra in the cheek

Wait, she recognised the soldier. It was the tall woman, the one with the axe who’d fought her back at the mining camp, whose axe had saved her from Leech. She had found herself a spear, and was storming towards her, face consumed by rage. Adora had the others handled; she could find the strength to take on one last idiot, especially this one. She swang a punch of her own, narrowly missing; she was too slow. Stupid girl. Another strike connected, this time to her chest.

In her periphery, she watched Adora cut down the bearded man, the last of her opponents, even five on one; they didn’t stand much of a chance. Watching her work was impressive, just tearing through Dragstor’s goons like they were gnats in need of swatting. She cut through two more of them as if they were nothing.

“I thought I told you to get off my truck.” The passenger side door of the cab flung open, and Dragstor leant out of it, screaming loudly in Reptilian. One hand holding onto a handlebar above the door, he leant out as far as he could and fired his grenade launcher again. She, Adora and the tall woman all watched as the grenade hurtled towards them before hitting the edge of a nearby crate and ricocheting out of sight. Moments later, she heard a scream coming from her right and caught a glimpse of a swoop bike disappearing in a violent explosion. The Force Captain growled in disgust and clambered on top of the cab, clipping a tether from his gear onto a nearby handrail and jumping to the platform’s turret, swinging it around to face them.

He opened fire, carelessly reigning death down on them as they scrambled safety. Catra dived behind a row of metal crates. Adora’s sword became a shield, Dragstor’s shots unable to penetrate the magical weapon. It was only then that Catra saw the tall woman kneel before her, spear in hand, eyes still glaring.

Damn it, this was the last thing Catra needed, the tall woman screamed; Dragstor’s volley doing nothing to slow her would be rampage. She drove her spear towards Catra, narrowly missing her shoulder, as it pierced the crate. The lunatic pulled her weapon back, shifted her stance as best she could, holding her spear like a two-handed staff. She lunged again, this time forcing the shaft against Catra’s throat with both hands, strangling her with it. She was stronger than she looked; the metal pole pressed against her windpipe, each breath a struggle. Her arms were pinned too, forced against the crate; she barely had the leverage to keep the woman from crushing her windpipe. She heard another hail of turret spray towards the two of them; a dozen tiny impacts hit the crate behind her, each thudding higher and higher against her spine. The tall woman’s head whipped back with a pained gurgle and the spear loosened from across her throat; it fell backwards with its wielder into a limp pile as a thin trail of smoke trailed from the wound in her forehead.

Now only the Force Captain himself stood between Scorpia and freedom. Adora glanced at her from behind her shield, her eyes asking if she was okay. She nodded in response, one hand grasping at her pained throat.

“Spear” Adora extended her hand towards her. It was close, easily reachable with her slender legs. Catra reached out and nudged it closer, each little kick knocking it closer to within arms reach. She grabbed for it and passed it to Adora, earning a confident smile in return. She-Ra’s muscular legs propelled the amazon to her feet, and shield still deflecting turret fire, she took aim. Adora roared, hurling the spear with all her strength. The weapon tore through the air with incredible speed, punching right through the turret and into the cab below. An eruption of sparks threw Dragstor from his feet, only his lifeline keeping him aboard.

Everything swerved. The truck was listing to the right, aimlessly heading for the mountainside. The spear hadn’t just pierced the cab but had torn right through into the driver’s seat. The truck screeched as it began to scrape alongside the wall of rock, sparks flying as metal met stone. Catra covered her ears, did what she could to spare herself the dreadful racket. They needed to get Scorpia and get out of here.

“Catra!” Adora cried, She-Ra’s resolute voice cracking with panic, “The cliff!”. Craning her neck as best she could to see past the cab and a flailing Dragstor to see a rapidly approaching patch of sky where the road made a tight bend. Fine. They needed to make this quick.

“We need to get to Scorpia.”

“Right” Adora nodded and ran towards the black metal crate; there wasn’t going to be time to open it. Instead, Adora took hold of Scropia’s cell, wrapping She-Ra’s hulking arms around it as best she could, and leapt from the back of the truck into the road. Catra gasped as the crate came free of Adora’s grip in midair and skidded to a halt in the middle of the mountain road as the blonde rolled alongside it, She-Ra’s from fading away. She sighed with relief, her prize same from harm, she turned to make her own escape.

“Arrgh” Something struck her back, her left shoulder began to scream, and the smell of burning fur filled her nostrils. She turned, flinching from the agony to see Dragstor back on his feet, pistol in his trembling hands. Shaking, he aimed his weapon a second time. Damn it. She was too late; the road had narrowed, no room to jump free from the truck, the only way off was the way she had gotten on; a desperate sprint along the truck with Dragstor taking potshots. Great, all the crap she’d been through, she was either going out to a punk like Dragstor or tumbling into oblivion.

Everything jolted again. Catra fell forward onto her knees, only her natural balance preventing her from slamming into the deck. Dragstor fell backwards on his podium, pistol slipping from his grip and flying into the unknown.

The truck began to tip ever so slightly; they were over the edge now, just her, Dragstor and the open sky. The Reptilian cursed frantically, scrambling back to his feet once he realised what was happening. Clumsy cybernetic fingers fumbled with the carabiner chaining his guideline to the handrail, but it kept slipping from his cold grip. The last Catra saw of him, he was screaming as the cab began to fly over the cliff. She started running, desperate to avoid the same fate; every second, the truck tilted more and more as it continued to slip away. Each step was more challenging than the last, the incline growing steeper and steeper. Each second she stayed aboard brought her closer to her doom. She was almost at the rear of the truck; she vaulted the body of the smiling man and kept going. She was almost there, almost, just one more step. The truck was going too fast; she was almost out of the road, she’d have to jump. Catra leapt; for a moment, she was in midair, empty sky beneath her, as the last of the truck slid into the abyss. Dragstor’s wails slowly grew further away until she hit the dirt with a thud. Somehow she was alive.

As she found her footing, another explosion shook the mountain, this time from far below, good riddance. Somehow, she found the power to push towards the crate, her walk more of a shamble at this point, each muscle screaming louder by the second. She could make out Glimmer bringing her stolen skiff to a halt, hunks of mangled swoop bike clattering to the ground as she stopped. Adora, too was Adora pushing herself to her feet, but she paid them no mind. Adora was fine, and she had someone else to worry about. There it was; the miniature prison they’d risked so much for, almost died for. Catra slashed at the heavy padlock, and it fell to the ground. With a bit of effort, she pulled the bolt across and managed to free the stiff door. As she did so, the light revealed the dank little chamber, and within it, a shape, shuffling towards her.

“Scorpia?” It was her. She sat on a small metal bench, back propped against the rear wall, staring blankly at her. She seemed thinner too, it would take a far longer imprisonment to erode her muscle, but the Princess was definitely leaner and gaunter in the face. Thick blotches of black and purple sat under her right eye and dappled the rest of her face, and she could make out fresh scars over her exposed upper arms.

“Catra?”

Chapter Text

Scorpia didn’t remember much after Leech dragged her before Shadow Weaver, just a flash of light and then red agony. All she knew was that she had woken up sometime later, in some dank cell, her limbs aching and her skin aflame. The one thought that ran through her head was that her friends were safe; Catra was safe.

When she tried to move, she found that her pincers were bound shut with thick leather straps, another lashing down her tail. It wasn’t these restraints that kept her rooted onto the thin cot, though, but the dreary ache that resonated through her entire body. It demanded she stay as still as possible, lest she agitate the dull throb into a flare of agony. Instead, she just lay there, moving her neck the little she could manage to take in her surroundings.

The cell she found herself in wasn’t a part of the regular prison block; who knew what state that was in after the breakout? No, this was a much older part of the Fright Zone. Her walls were even made of rough-hewn stone bricks rather than the usual concrete and steel. She would have to be deep in the bowels of one of the old buildings, something built before Lord Hordak’s arrival.

The cell wasn’t as small as the ones in the modern prison block and significantly better furnished. Instead of just a bench and latrine, there was the full-sized cot Scorpia found herself lying on, an end table, and even a tiny desk. The cot was even long enough to accommodate her, which she supposed made sense; if it was as old as she thought, it would have been by and to hold Scorpioni. Beyond a wall of thick metal bars and a heavy door sat a small anti-chamber, and just past that, the outside world. From time to time, she heard the muffled words of her guards in the anti-chamber. Probably just idle chatter, like Claw Squad used to share when Shadow Weaver wasn’t around. Still, sometimes Scorpia felt like she could make out the word ‘traitor’ float through that thick metal door.

There was little for her to do but lie still, slowly watch the thin trickle of moonlight make its way across the floor, from the tiny window. Despite her worries, she began to find something comforting in the murmuring of the guards, their soundtrack a surprisingly welcome break from the pain and solitude of the moment.

Scorpia didn’t regret the choices that had led her here, not one bit. Buying time for her friends to escape was the right choice, the only choice. They were going to live the lives they deserved, and she… she was going to live where she belonged too, the Fright Zone was her place, after all, her family’s place. She had been very young when her moms died, but she still remembered the bedtime stories they would tell her; all of them ended in true love and a happy ending. Back in that hanger, Scorpia has seen the chance for her own happy ending fizzle away in Catra’s eyes. The moment she saw the way her best friend had stared at the young blonde, she understood everything. It all made so much sense; Catra’s wasn’t betrayed by just her best friend, but by the girl she loved. How much of it did Catra even realise herself? Had she been lying to herself when she’d planned to rescue an old friend from certain death or was it just to everyone else?  

Catra deserved that love, even if it had to come from someone like Adora. As much as she dreamed that it would be her on the receiving end of Catra’s desires, the very idea of her Wildcat being happy and loved was enough. She could give her life for that; it was an easy trade.

 


 

There was no telling how long she’d been lying alone in the dark with her thoughts when the heavy door to the anti-chamber opened with a loud creak. In stepped an unremarkable shadow, average height and average build “Lights.” his voice was stern but lifeless. A guard outside acknowledged the order, and a fluorescent strip above her began to hum.

A moment later, sickly light filled the chamber, the man grunted to the guards, and they closed the door behind him. She knew him now, a gaunt, pale face hidden by a thick grey beard, hair tied back in a loose ponytail and eyes that screamed, ‘you will speak, only when spoken too’. Force Captain Drome. He was responsible for the Horde’s medical corp and often attended to the Horde’s best and brightest personally. In one hand, he was carrying a heavy-looking medical kit, and the other, he flexed idly before reaching into the pocket of his lab coat. Noticing her stare, he grunted again.

“I’m here to tend your wounds, Lord Hordak’s request.” Why would Hordak send the best medic in the Fright Zone to her? Unless… oh. Hordak wanted her healthy when he executed her. She had robbed him of a public show of power, so now she would take She-Ra’s place. “Understand,” Drome continued, “that any attempt at non-compliance will result in further brutality.” He spoke so matter of factly as if treating some infamous traitor was so routine.

“Okay.” Her voice was hoarser than she had expected. Grunting again, Drome reached into his pocket, withdrew a large, black key, turned it in the cell door, and entered with a casual stride. Pulling a stool from underneath the desk up to her cot.

She’d met the man a few times before. Once at Force Captain orientation, another time he’d overseen one of his students to treat a training injury, and before that, he had stood beside her Grandfather’s deathbed. Each time he had pretty much ignored her, haunting the room with his presence or investing himself in his work. There were some stories about him, though: That he’d been a renowned healer from Mystacor, or a travelling apothecary or a genius scientist. They all ended the same way, though; he overshadowed the Sorcerers, and they hounded him into exile. Only he joined the Horde and was able to lead some of his pursuers into an ambush. There had to be some truth to that part, as they always had him take a magic ring as a trophy, and there on his right hand sat an ornate silver ring, set with a large red stone with a curious rune carved into its face.

Drome got to work, opening his case and pulling from it a variety of bandages and ointments. Methodically he cleaned the cuts on her arms and face before helping remove her blood-soaked uniform. As she looked down, her smooth, pale skin was littered with faint purple crackles beneath her flesh. She’d seen them before, helping Lonnie trim back Catra’s singed fur after a violent debriefing. The red memories returned, the sting of magical lightning coursing through her body. How many times had Catra been through that? The thought of it turned her stomach, but it would never happen again. She had made sure of that. By now, she would be safely in Brightmoon, getting ready for a new life away from all of this.

Drome dragged her from memory with a stinging sensation across her back; his firm hands rubbed a poultice into her skin. “Keep still.” He demanded, and she did her best to comply. Once he’d finished, he began wrapping her chest and arms in grey bandages, meticulously covering every cut. Silently he pulled a loose pair of grey pants from his bag alongside a matching top and helped her dress. So it was official then; she was a prisoner.

Once Drome had finished, he left as bruskly as he had entered, murmuring that he would be back in due time to check on her. Once again, she was alone, but the aches keeping her awake had numbed, now just a distant ringing in the back of her mind; it didn’t take long for her exhaustion to claim her.

 


 

“Leave us.” A sour voice boomed from the anti-chamber, waking her from slumber. Without a word of disagreement, the footsteps of her guards began to echo as the door opened. She wasn’t alone though, a tall figure stood motionless in the open doorway, shrouded in darkness save for a pair of glowing red eyes.

“Force Captain.” That voice, it couldn’t be. It was Lord Hordak.

“My Lord.” She jumped to attention. Hordak stepped into the room, stopping just shy of the cell itself, the creature Imp sat on his shoulder, large yellow eyes curiously watching her.

“Explain yourself.” Hows was she supposed to answer that? She wasn’t sure she could figure out everything that had happened.

“Um… I… er…” She stuttered, Hordak’s glare narrowing as she did.

“When I assumed command of the Fright Zone from your Grandfather, I swore that your future would be attended to. I have seen you rewarded with rank and privilege well beyond your ability. Yet, you still chose to betray my benevolence. Explain yourself.”

“I was helping my friends.” It was the only answer she had for him, not that he seemed impressed by it.

“Force Captain Catra?” He spat her name; that betrayal had stung him too, she realised.

“Yes, sir.” His brow eased a fraction, but only for a second before returning to his scowl.

“Then tell me, why did she cast aside her loyalty to save a traitor, one I was given to understand she despised.” His barking had softened to a low growl, though the bile in his voice didn’t lessen at all.

“Love.” She stuttered, but she could tell from the look on Hordak’s face that this was not what he wanted to hear. Hordak’s thin lips narrowed, his scarlet fangs now wholly hidden.

“a foolish notion. Though the irony of it bringing the both of us here tonight does not go unnoticed.” She wasn’t sure what he meant by that. Silence passed between them; each still second drew out beyond discomfort. “Your grandfather was a great man.” Lord Hordak began pacing; his voice almost became whistful, “one of the few Etherians I had come to respect. He was ferocious, even ruthless, but not without mercy.”

“Gosh, I’m afraid I don’t really remember him.” It was true; her Grandfather wasn’t much more than flashes of a stern face and a booming laugh.

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t.”You were quite young when he died, and you Etherians have such fleeting memories. When I first came to these lands, he had me dragged before him; I felt his claw around my throat. We exchanged words, and then he helped me to my feet and welcomed me to his kingdom.” Absentmindedly Hordak lightly wrapped one of his gloved hands around his throat, pondering the memory. Scorpia winced; she had never heard this version of the story. But she knew all too well how dangerous her claws could be, that if he had a mind to, Hordak would have died then and there.”

“I’m sorry he did that to you.”

“Thrones are not shaped to fit angels, Princess. He understood the challenge of command and rose to meet its time and time again. I am here to grant you the mercy that your Grandfather once showed me.”

“You’re not going to execute me?”

“Arrangements have been made; a few days from now, you will be taken away … and the debt between us shall be repaid.” That didn’t sound… good. But it was better than public execution. She had never seen this side of Hordak before, he was pretty well known for his lack of mercy, but here she was, about to be shipped off who knew where.

Hordak didn’t bother with the formalities of a proper goodbye. Instead, he slowly pivoted on his heel and marched from the room as if she wasn’t even there.

 


 

Scorpia settled into a routine fairly quickly. She would spend her day alternating between lying on her cot and whatever exercises she could manage in her wounded state. Then she’d wolf down the ration bar Drome brought her when he returned to apply his poultice and fresh bandages before crawling back into her cot. The next day had been different. Her guards burst into the cell and dragged her from its safety into a maze of strangely empty corridors and stairwells. Was this what Lord Hodak had meant? Was she being taken away to meet whatever fate he had deemed merciful?

No. instead, she was led into a room she knew well; the Black Garnet Chamber. At one time, the runestone had sat pride of place above her Grandfather’s throne in the Horror Hall. But not too long after his death all those years ago, Shadow Weaver had squirrelled it away up here and stapped it into some odd device. She’d been summoned here from time to time for orders, even more so once she’d been paired with Catra, watching her Wildcat scornfully accept their missions and trade barbs.

A bent backed, old Leporidious man shuffled around the room, long rabbit-like ears dangled lifelessly from his head as he hobbled towards her desk, tray in hand. Placing a tray on the sorceress’ desk, he quietly groaned and slowly grabbed for a tall, slender bottle, pouring its dark red contents into a stemmed glass, his nose twitching at the rich, sour smell that came with it.

Shadow Weaver herself stood off to one side, peering into the Black Garnet. Occasionally she would elaborately curl her long, wiry fingers as red sparks fizzled from their pointed tips. The sorceress barely seemed to notice her guests at all, nonchalantly gliding to her desk and back kept firmly to them, lifted her mask to take a long sip from the glass. She seemed to relish the refreshment, savouring the burgundy liquid for a few moments before replacing her mask and turning to face them.

“Well, if it isn’t the traitor.” Shadow Weaver sneered, “I always knew that Catra couldn’t be trusted, but I never quite expected her to abandon one of her own like this. She was usually so protective of her tragic little cabal.”

“No…” the word slipped from Scorpia’s mouth, barely more than a whisper; she’d seen what happened when Catra spoke back to Shadow Weaver. She’d already experienced enough of the witch’s sting to last a lifetime.

“No?” she could almost picture the cruel smile behind the mask as Shadow Weaver dragged the word out. “But I’m confused; if Catra didn’t discard you, then why are you still here and not wallowing in the decadence of Brightmoon with the other traitors?”

“I… I had to buy some time; they were already inside the hangar.” She tried to explain.

“How very noble of you, truly your mother’s daughter. She was so quick to throw away her life too for those she professed to love.” Mom? She realised how little she’d known about their deaths. Just that one day, they’d gone away on some important mission, and neither had come back. “I saw the way you looked at her, fawning like a fool, blushing whenever she looked at you. It’s pathetic, really, to think she’d ever return your devotions.” Maybe, but that didn’t matter. “That one knows only indolence and ego.”

“you’re wrong about her.” Scorpia practically snarled. Darn it, she should have kept her big, dumb mouth shut.

“Am I? Then tell me, how is it that you were left behind and not her? Let me guess, Catra was ready to ‘sacrifice’ herself. I’m sure she made such a show of her teary-eyed goodbye that you couldn’t help but demand to die in her place.” No. that wasn’t it; why couldn’t Shadow Weaver just understand. It had been her choice. It had. “It isn’t how I would have gone about it, but the results speak for themselves. She got to escape and rid herself of the deadweight all in one fell swoop.” Shadow Weaver almost seemed amused by that; her smokey cackle bounced off the walls of the dimly lit room.

“Deadweight?” That wasn’t true, was it? Sure her position had come from Hordak instead of earning it like every other Horde Captain. Sure she’d been bounced around half the units in the Fright Zone before landing with Claw Squadron, but that didn’t mean anything. She had faced down Princesses in single combat, she had helped capture She-Ra, she was more than deadweight, right?

“Foolish child. Catra only knows how to use people. I tried to shape her into a worthy soldier, but instead, she ignored my tutelage. The ungrateful wretch even tried to worm her way into Lord Hordak’s favour. Still, I don’t suppose any of that matters anymore.” Shadow Weaver reached out and brushed her cold hand down the side of Scorpia’s head, bristling the thick stubble. “You don’t need to concern yourself with her any longer; she isn’t long for this world, and you will help see to that yourself.”

Shadow Weaver made a motion with her hands, and there was a flash of dull rose light in her palms, a waft and smoke, and suddenly everything seemed off. The masked witch began cackling, her laugh became more distorted, the figures stretching and bending as the room started to spin. Then there was nothing.

 


 

The next time she woke, she was somewhere unfamiliar. It was another cell, but far different than the one she’d come from. It was so much smaller, it almost verged on cramped, but that was okay; she could deal with cramped; she was tougher than she looked after all.

There was a stinging pain in the back of her neck, and when she moved her still bound pincers to investigate, she found a sticking plaster over a square of gauze. She must have cut herself during transit, a clumsy guard, no doubt. It was sometimes hard to see what you were doing in those helmets, she knew.

She could only guess at the passage of time by on the occasional delivery of a ration bar, slid lazily through a slot at the base of the solid metal door.

“Hi, there”, she had called, the first time it had opened; maybe if she was nice enough to her jailor, he might tell her something about where she was, that would be pretty great. Not that it would help her actual situation, but it would be something, right? It didn’t work. Every time, they ignored her, slid her ration in, and closed the hatch. She quickly lost count of the days; her cell barely had the space to work out, so she soon resorted to spending most of her day sitting in contemplation. Picturing the new lives the others were living. It was like Princess Prom, she bet, every day full of music, dancing, and fun. That high pitched laugh echoed in Scorpia’s head when she tried to close her eyes, more often than not bringing the faintest of smiles to her lips.

She wasn’t sure what exactly Hordak had in store for her, but it probably wasn’t a good thing. Despite all his talk of mercy, he had never been known for being particularly forgiving. Honestly, he had seemed to take this whole thing kind of personally; Shadow Weaver seemed to think he had a soft spot for Catra, and there was the whole thing about her Grandfather. She had never thought of them as friends or anything, but maybe she had been wrong about that.

Hordak had already been in the Fright Zone for a long time when she was born, and the Horde was well established. As far as she understood it, her family’s kingdom was pretty much a vassal state at that point, but maybe there was more to it than that. She could recall the two of them sat across a game table, moving pieces around, and Hordak had loomed over the old Prince’s deathbed, but that was about it. She couldn’t remember much warmth between the two, then again, Catra had never been all that warm to her, and well, they were undeniably the best of friends. Unless Shadow Weaver was right, but come on, that was Shadow Weaver; she was just mean, like all the time, to everyone.

It didn’t sound like Hordak was planning to execute her, and if that was the case, she wouldn’t have been moved to… wherever she was. For the same reason, it didn’t seem like she was heading to Beast Island either. Maybe it would be hard labour, the front lines, or just left in some cell forever. None of those were great options, sure, but she would be alive, right? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

The door opened, and without warning, two burly men in ragtag Horde armour burst into her tiny cell, pulling her to her feet and dragging her into the corridor.

A handful of similarly threadbare troopers stood waiting, their piecemeal armour covered in the grime of travel. Their leader was an irritable looking Reptilian cyborg, most of his body looking like some cruel breathing apparatus, a Force Captain pin, welded to the centre of his chest piece.

He began quickly murmuring to his soldiers, raspy growls that made her wish she had spent more time trying to learn Rogelio’s language. The only word she could make out clearly was ‘traitor’, and he must have said it half a dozen times before his fist crashed into her jaw.

Two soldiers grabbed her arms before she could fall, and another shot met her face, landing below her eye with a crack. He hit harder than she expected, much harder, and from the hoarse giggle that followed the punch, she knew this was only the start of things.

With her good eye, she noticed a tall crate off to the right, an uncomfortable-looking hunk of black metal, its thick door wide open to reveal a small bench fixed to the far wall. An armoured kneecap met her stomach, and she wretched, spitting up a thing grey pool of ration bar. Another blow came, and another, until her captor barked for her to be released, and she collapsed. That didn’t stop their work as a boot caught her in the chest. She wasn’t sure which of them it was, but it didn’t matter; the others joined in moments later. Some took her under the ribs or in the stomach as others simply stomped down on her back.

“Enough!” A calm voice shouted in clear Etherian from the doorway to her left, forceful enough to cause all but the Force Captain to recoil.”She is to arrive at her destination unharmed, Lord Hordak’s direct orders.”

“Hordak isn’t here”, The Reptilian growled, or at least something to that effect.

“No, but I am, and in case you have forgotten, Moorstone is under my command. Wait, Moorstone? That meant her saviour was Force Captain Blast, but why on Etheria was she up in Moorstone? The crate, of course. They were taking her somewhere else, from the look of these guys, probably somewhere worse.

“So what?”

Blast didn’t reply. Instead, his eyepiece flashed for just a second, and the canon built into his shoulder plate fired. A deafening boom rang out, only to be echoed by the pained gurgle of one of the ruffians behind her and a limp thud. “No further harm will come to her today. This will be in my report.” With that, Blast turned on his heel and marched from the room. Dragstor roared in annoyance, shouting another unrecognisable order before stomping off down the corridor. The remaining soldiers complied, and she was roughly tossed into the crate, the door slamming and sealing her in total darkness.

 


 

She must have passed out. The next thing she knew, there was chaos outside, a battle, from the sound of it. Was it a monster? The Rebellion? Bandits? A pair of massive explosions rocked her container; maybe this meant freedom, or maybe this would just make things worse. What if it was slavers from across the sea? Or the feral mutants from the Crimson Wastes that the cadets talked about?

The vehicle beneath her sprang to life, and she was moving. The fight still raged around her, but each second it got further away. Was this the Horde? Or had the truck been hijacked? If it was, did they even know she was here? What would they do with her? Did it even matter? The road made itself known, each bump and pothole slamming her into a metal wall, wreaking havoc on her bruises. She heard more voices in the dark, muffled arguments beyond the steel; whoever had her was panicking. Wait. They weren’t arguing anymore; they were fighting again.

Infighting? She didn’t think so. There was someone else aboard; there had to be. Whoever the truck had escaped had caught up to them. Scorpia could do nothing but wait patiently and hope that anyone but her captors were victorious. Screams and gunfire were so close but locked behind her miniature prison, leaving her powerless to intervene. In the end, she wasn’t sure how long this fight lasted, only that it ended in a blaze of what had to be turret fire.

She heard one of the victors calling to another; it almost sounded like she was saying, “Adora.” But that couldn’t be true; there was no way the Rebellion would come for her; they wouldn’t even know how to find her. Even if they did, Catra was too smart for such a dangerous mission. No. It couldn’t be. Don’t hope, don’t be stupid.

Without warning, her cell began moving; this wasn’t the steady motion of the truck beneath her; it was uneven, jolting her from side to side. She threw her arms as best she could to the sides, hoping to brace herself, but It didn’t help. Moments later, she slammed into the cell door. No time to steady herself before she met another hard wall and another, and another. She was falling; that was the only explanation. Another wall crashed into her back. She’d been tossed off the side of some cliff and was tumbling to her death.

CRASH

Scorpia was alive, somehow. How was her crate sturdy enough to feel that fall. But now she was trapped at the base of a mountain, or in some ravine, or who knew were. Well, that sure wasn’t a good thing. Maybe she could find the strength to break through the door? But somehow, standing seemed beyond her for the moment.

She heard voices again, and suddenly, there was a thin crack of light as the door to her mobile cell opened. She had averted her eyes from the brightness as it began to fill the cramped room, but she caught a glimpse of blue and yellow in the split second before she did. A familiar, raspy voice cried her name, and she began to cry.

It was Catra. Catra had come for her. She forced herself up from the tiny bench, legs trembling and stepped gingerly towards the light. Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the daylight. The vague shape became more defined; feline ears, wild hair and mismatched eyes, it was her. Just a few more steps, Catra seemed nearly as worse for wear as she felt, blood matted her fur, and her outfit was torn, a shame she looked so good out of that Horde uniform. Princess Glimmer was there too, and Adora. They’d come for her, they really had; she tried to step through the doorway, Catra moved back to let her through, but she couldn’t manage to lift her foot high enough, and she caught it on the lip. She stumbled forward into the daylight and into Catra’s arms.

“It’s okay. I’m taking you home.” Catra brusher her fingers through Scorpia’s matted hair, and just like that, her stiff limbs and bruises didn’t seem to hurt so much.

“Home…” That sounded lovely, just like Catra had promised; she could feel her lip curl into a smile.

“We have to get to the rendevous.” Another voice called, Adora, she thought.

“Do you have enough juice left?” Catra responded.

“I hope so.” That had to be Princess Glimmer, she supposed. She should get up, but her legs just wouldn’t budge, nor would the rest of her; in Catra’s arms, she felt so safe, so… so home. A soft hand fell on her shoulder, and before she could flinch, there was a twisting feeling in her stomach, and the three of them were gone.