Catra woke slowly. The knowledge that the worst had already happened had let her fall asleep quickly, and sheer exhaustion had finally made that sleep dreamless. With no nightmares jolting her awake for the first time in weeks, her body was reluctant to let go of that state.
When she finally did open her eyes, she quickly regretted it, being met with a flare of pink light. The fact that it quickly passed didn’t make it more pleasant. Even half-awake, it was obvious that the source had been her new roommate.
The space made Catra think of two Force Captain quarters merged together and painted in pale, rather than dark, gray. Two beds, two chairs, a table, some storage built into the walls, and not much in the way of extra space. It was plenty to her, probably a serious downgrade to Glimmer.
The Queen of Bright Moon glared at her from the opposite bunk, arms folded across her chest.
Catra returned the glare. “I’m a good fighter, but there’s no need to attack me the second I wake up.”
“What’s my name?”
“What? Did Horde Prime do some sort of memory wipe on you? It’s Spar… Spar…” Something was stopping the word in her throat, forcing it into a different shape. “Glimmer.”
“I can’t teleport or muster up a glitter bomb, but my truth spells still work. What do you know about the Heart of Etheria?”
Catra grimaced as she sat up and began to finger comb the snarls out of her hair. “That it exists and you tried to set it off.”
“Why did you tell Horde Prime that he would need your help to use it?”
“Because I realized that I wasn’t actually interested in dying just then. I’m a good liar when I’m not being forced otherwise and a quick enough study that I might be able to fool him long enough to at least get us out of here. If I can’t, then I’m no worse off than before.”
“You said ‘us’. Why would you want to help me?”
“I doubt I can do it alone, I have no allies, and out of my available enemies, you’re the only one who might want out of here as badly as I do.” She huffed out a breath, her fingers still working through her hair. “I hope Prime doesn’t have anything listening to this.”
“What makes you think I want your help?”
Catra rolled her eyes. “I doubt you can do it alone, you have no allies--not that know where you are anyway--and out of your available enemies, I’m the only one who might want out of here as badly as you do.”
Glimmer cocked her head as she considered these facts. “Why don’t you want to work for Horde Prime? I thought that’s what this was all working towards.”
“I got tired of taking orders a long time ago. As for what I was working towards…” Her hands stilled as she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I didn’t realize it wouldn’t get me the results I wanted until it seemed too late to turn back.”
“Just what results did you think you would get from conquering Etheria?”
She took a deep breath, searching for the words for what she had never said out loud. “I thought I would finally be respected, and that no one would be able to hurt me again.” With her tail curled tight around her feet and her ears drooping, she suddenly seemed fragile.
Glimmer’s arms uncrossed, and her voice softened. “Who hurt you before?”
Catra barked out a mirthless laugh. “There’s a list, but Shadow Weaver is firmly at the top of it.”
“She raised you the way she raised Adora. Right?”
“No,” Catra snapped, her body tensing. “She raised me at the same time she raised Adora. She didn’t raise us the same way at all. Adora was her prized pupil, the shining future of the Horde. I was a nuisance and a disappointment who had to be kept under control so I wouldn’t drag Adora down with me. Those aren’t my impressions. Those are her words. You want to know why I’m not fighting this spell? Because Shadow Weaver taught me how much fighting magic can hurt. Her favorite punishment for me was something that looked like an immobility field. It doesn’t make your muscles lock up or anything. It wraps you in a feeling like a million needles pressing against every inch of your skin, and if you move, they jab into you. As I got older and better at keeping still, she added an electrical charge to it and would up the voltage until I twitched.” The words poured out, the poison that always swirled through her mind released into the air.
Glimmer’s face went slack as the description stirred my memory. It was one thing to use that spell on a prisoner of war but… “She did that a lot?”
“Never went more than a month without her finding a reason,” Catra said as she stood to grab her headpiece from the shelf set into the wall by her bed. She fitted it into place. “That felt like mercy compared to the stretches when she would find a reason every day.”
“Did... did Adora know about that?”
“She didn’t know about every time, I never told her just how bad the pain is, but she knows it happened. And that didn’t clue her in to the fact that the Horde is evil. No, it took a couple of hours with a handful of strangers for her to realize that.” She slumped against the wall. “So much for me being important to her.”
“You were the only person from the Horde she tried to get to leave with her.”
“I almost did.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Catra closed her eyes briefly, summoning the memory. “I was just starting to consider it when Shadow Weaver hauled me in front of Hordak to face punishment for failing to bring Adora back. I was braced for the worst. And then he gave me the Force Captain promotion Shadow Weaver had planned to give Adora and told her off for ignoring my potential. Adora had been gone less than a day and all of a sudden, for the first time, someone--someone with power--was calling me her equal. Not her sidekick or the beast weighing her down. Her equal. I… I can’t find the words to describe how that felt. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I thought that if the only way to be Adora’s equal was to be her rival, I would do that.”
“I don’t think Adora really understands the idea of someone being her equal.”
Catra smiled, a ghost of the cockiness Glimmer was used to seeing on her face. “Learned that the hard way Your Majesty?”
“Me being willing to work with you doesn’t make us friends,” Glimmer said, her expression turning hard again.
“That’s for the best. I’m a bad friend.”
“You’re the reason my mother is gone.”
“It’s not like she’s dead,” Catra said with a shrug.
Glimmer nearly launched herself from the bed. She held herself back enough that she ended up merely standing in front of Catra rather than violently shaking her. “How can you say that?”
“I learned a lot in the portal. I started it. My mind shaped it. That perfect world never fooled me. I knew what was going on the whole time. When it swallowed me, I clawed my way out. While I was doing that, I saw things, learned things. Holding the portal closed is not a one time sacrifice. It is a continuous act. Your mother is somewhere. You can reach it with the right tech. Get Entrapta to pick my brain, and I’m sure she’ll have a ball building it. I wonder if giving her fuel for new theories will be enough for her to forgive me for the Beast Island thing.”
“Why did you send her there anyway?”
“Because she was going to stop us from opening the portal. Adora was going to win. Again. Because someone else handed her her victory. Again. Because I couldn’t stand one more time of working so hard to hold the prize in my hand and be told it meant nothing. Again. I doubt you would understand how that felt. I doubt anyone ever asked you to prove that you were worth keeping alive.”
Again Glimmer’s face went slack and her voice went soft. “No one should ever have to prove that.”
“Very few things that should happen in my life do.” Catra sighed. “How much longer is this truth spell gonna last? If we want to stay alive, I need to be able to lie to Horde Prime.”
“I can release it, but how will I be able to trust what you say to me?”
“You have my promise. I’ll tell whatever lies we need to get out of here, but when we’re alone, I will never lie to you. I don’t make promises lightly.”
“You will help me get out of here and get my mother back?”
“I’ll even do you one better. That stocky sorcerer guy that was with you in the portal world? That’s your father right? The one the reports say is dead?” Glimmer nodded, her brow furrowed. “Another thing I learned when I got swallowed. Making that world didn’t make anyone out of whole cloth. It only took people who were alive on the planet and moved them around. He’s somewhere you can find him too.”
Glimmer looked at her dumbstruck as she made a motion with her hands and Catra felt a pressure around her throat release.
“What’s my name?” Glimmer asked.
“Sparkles.” Catra took a deep breath. “Our odds aren’t good, but my odds never are. First thing we need is information. Ready to fool an interplanetary overlord?”
“I have to be.”