“Are you sure you don’t want to stay? We have board games!”
Catra raised an eyebrow at Scorpia, frowning slightly. “Is board games some kind of weird code for you, or…?”
Scorpia turned redder than her shell. “N-No! Of course not, I — wait you knew?!”
“I figured it out later. You’re worse than Adora when it comes to dating.” Scorpia sputtered for a moment, and Catra smiled, hoping it wasn’t too mean. “You and Perfuma enjoy your board games.”
“You’re not staying?” Perfuma popped up behind Scorpia, almost looking disappointed. “It’ll be fun!”
“I’m sure it will be, but I’ll have to pass. Don’t stay up too late, you crazy kids.”
Catra was chuckling as she headed off down the path. The routes between the kingdoms were still in their first stages, but it was already far better than picking her way through trees. Melog jogged up beside her, headbutting her thigh. That was mean. Like he wasn’t just as amused.
“Scorpia knows I’m a terrible person.”
Melog huffed, glowing and growing bigger, allowing Catra to hop on his back so they could run home. She loved this feeling. The woods were so peaceful at night, save for the hum of animal life, and Catra loved the feeling of the wind whipping gently through her fur and still short hair. It had only been a month since they had defeated Prime, and she really needed to be more patient about her hair growing (as Adora repeatedly told her like a hypocrite), but she missed her long hair. Even if several people (including Adora) had said the short hair was adorable. She didn’t want adorable, she wanted…
What, menacing? Like anyone’s gonna think about you like that again after seeing you cuddle Adora and purr like a dumbass.
Okay, maybe she just wanted her hair back for herself. Something she could reclaim from the very many things Horde Prime had stolen from her.
They broke the forest line and ran over the bridge, the palace looming overhead, runestone glowing bright. Catra smiled, feeling at ease, for once. The palace wasn’t quite home yet, but it was far more than the Fright Zone had ever been.
Although a little less so tonight, she thought, morose, as she entered the palace. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow were off on some diplomatic thing that Catra would have gone to if it hadn’t been in the North. Nope, no snow, no thank you. Never again if she could help it.
So she’d stayed behind, using the time to visit people, to work in Salineas without her personal bodyguard. Adora worried too much sometimes. Mermista had also been guarding her, although for different reasons — she too had started weaning off, leaving Catra to herself. She got glares, but no one bothered her. They let her fix the damage she caused. Apologizing one brick at a time.
Melog slowed at the entrance hall, and Catra jumped off to walk. It wasn’t that late, but the halls were already quiet — other than the guards she greeted on her way in, there was no one around.
She had made an effort to learn all the guard’s names, with the help of a wary Juliet. It had taken some time to explain that she had grown up around faceless, nameless soldiers, and she didn’t want to go back to that life. She was pretty sure it helped her win the captain over just a bit. And the guards seemed to smile when she greeted them all by name. Sometimes, it was the little things.
They made their way up the stairs, Melog bouncing ahead slightly. The palace was bright and full of magic. He loved it. He was practically frolocking through the halls. And his happiness made Catra feel better. She wasn’t sure if that was a bond thing, or if she was just amused by seeing her usually composed companion let loose.
“You gonna play all night, or are we going to sleep?” she called, hand resting on the door to hers and Adora’s room. Melog huffed, bounding back to join her, and she let them both in.
She heard a shuffle of noise behind her, but had no time to react before something was pressed over her nose and mouth. It was a plant. It smelled… weirdly sweet, Catra noted as her body began to sway.
Melog roared, bowling over the person who had ambushed Catra. She stumbled forward, shaking her head to try and fight off the sudden wooziness. Another hand wrapped around her upper arm, dragging her up and shoving her against the wall. Her head snapped back, stars bursting to life in her vision.
What the fuck…
She heard Melog howl, and attempted to pick herself up; once again she was stopped by a hand. And then the feeling of something sharp piercing her skin.
She didn’t even register where the pain was coming from at first. All she felt was fire in her chest, burning, stealing her breath, making it impossible to even gasp.
Or maybe that was because she had been stabbed in the lung. Smart, she thought numbly, unable to focus. Now she couldn’t yell for help.
The knife slid out. She dropped to the floor, wheezing. Her attackers stood over her, one kneeling, one standing.
“We can’t afford to stick around and torture her—”
“She deserves to suffer!”
They were… Bright Moon guards. But Catra didn’t recognize their faces or voices. She gasped, coughing roughly, the taste of copper rising in her throat. Melog. Where was Melog? Had they hurt him?
The knife went in her other side. She almost felt it enter her lung. “How does that feel?” the kneeling figure sneered, holding the blood-stained knife over her face. Her blood. That felt weird. “Do you feel helpless? Lost?” He reared back and punched her square in the cheek. She managed a weak grunt, and definitely tasted blood in her mouth now. “Now you know how we felt watching you burn our homes!”
“Just slit her throat and get it over with!” the other one hissed. The one with the knife shook his head.
“That’s too easy.”
He plunged the knife right into her stomach. Her body jolted slightly, a pained cough replacing what would have been a scream. “She can stay there and suffer.”
They disappeared from her view. She didn’t hear the doors open or close, but that didn’t mean much since her ears felt like they had been stuffed with cotton.
Catra’s hand weakly grasped for the knife, finding the handle and pulling it out, remembering too late that she wasn’t supposed to do that. The pain nearly consumed her, her eyes threatening to roll back, her mind threatening to give up. But her hand tightened slightly around the blade, grounding her and keeping her in reality.
In reality. Where she was slowly bleeding out from several stab wounds. She couldn’t yell for help. Frantic attempts to move got her lying on her side, gasping as if she’d just run several miles. She wasn’t going to be able to make it to the door.
And Adora wouldn’t be home until the next afternoon.
Melog. Her eyes drifted around the room, trying to find the alien cat. Was he hurt? He was nowhere in her field of vision.
Where was he?
“It’s cold,” Adora complained, dropping into her bed and shivering. “Even the Fright Zone had better heating than this.”
“You could’ve stayed home,” Glimmer reminded her patiently. “You wanted to see the snow.”
If Adora were honest, she mostly wanted to see Catra in boots again. But Catra had, unsurprisingly, outright refused to go anywhere that dipped below Bright Moon’s average temperature.
“She-Ra’s immune to temperatures, right?” Bow asked, looking up from his tracker pad. “You could transform.”
“I’m not going to transform just to sleep.” Adora paused, looking at her perfectly fine bed. “Also, I don’t think she’d fit.”
Glimmer tried to cover her laugh with a cough as she imagined She-Ra sleeping with her limbs flung over the edge of the bed, snoring.
Something shimmered in the middle of the room; everyone looked up to see Melog appear. Alarm bells were already going off in Adora’s head — what would possess him to come all the way here when he knew Catra was alone in Bright Moon? — and then she saw the blood.
Adora flew off the bed, ignoring Bow. “What’s wrong? What happened?” she asked urgently, checking him over. She found a few cuts in his fur, and a slash on his snout. But the blood on his feet was something he had stepped in.
“Glimmer.” Adora did her best to stay calm. Her hands were cupping Melog’s face, forcing her to remain gentle.
Glimmer grabbed Bow, rested a hand on Adora’s shoulder, and they appeared in Bright Moon amongst a shower of sparkles.
It took Adora a moment adjust to the darkness even as Melog hurried to a lump on the floor, poking it with his snout. The lump groaned.
Adora scrambled up and almost slipped as she hurried to Catra, crashing to her knees again. She already had an idea of what to expect, but reality was always so much worse — a stab wound in each of her sides, and one right through the stomach. Weren’t those injuries supposed to be the worst? Something about bleeding out slower. Adora couldn’t remember.
“Catra, hey.” She gently tapped Catra’s too, too pale cheek. Catra coughed once, gasping, and her eyes fluttered open.
“H-Hey Adora.” The words were more of a wheeze if anything. She choked, and coughed again, a shudder running through her (small, fragile, breakable) body.
“What happened?” Bow asked as Adora gently pulled Catra into her arms.
“Guards,” Catra mumbled weakly, eyes fluttering. Glimmer’s eyes went wide for a moment before her expression hardened.
“Bow, get Juliet and lock down the castle.” Bow nodded, running out of the room. “Catra, I know this is going to suck. I’m sorry.”
She grabbed Adora’s shoulder again, teleporting them to infirmary. Glimmer immediately started talking to the healer, which sparked something in Adora’s mind.
I can heal her.
She stood, placing Catra on the bed, watching her chest for a moment to make sure she was still breathing, then holding out a hand.
“For the honor of Grayskull!”
“That also works,” Glimmer said, turning to watch Adora transform. She-Ra quickly but carefully cupped Catra’s face with one hand, fingers barely brushing against the fur as she pressed their foreheads together.
You are not leaving me like this.
They both started to glow…
And Catra screamed.
The noise was so jarring the Adora stumbled back, falling ungracefully to the ground. She hadn’t heard Catra make a noise like that since…
Since they were kids. Since Shadow Weaver had tortured her under the guise of punishment while Adora could only watch.
“What happened?” Glimmer was saying, pulling Adora out of her haze. Catra’s chest was moving faster now, trembling. Were her wounds bleeding more?
The healer stepped in to access Catra, and find out the extent of the damage. “Do you know what she was attacked with?” They both shook their heads. Melog — who had appeared next to her — made a noise. No one understood, of course, except for Catra, and Adora wasn’t sure she was conscious.
“Let me try to heal her again,” Adora said, scrambling up again.
“She screamed the first time,” Glimmer said quietly. Adora winced. Another healer was coming out now to help. “Come on. Let’s search your room and see if we can find something.”
“No, I…” Adora stood, shifting back to normal, reaching for Catra. She was blocked from view now. Glimmer took her hand, squeezing.
“They have her. We can’t help with this. We need to help in our way, and that’s finding out who did this.”
Adora’s lip quivered. They were talking about the surgery suite now. Catra had to get stitches once and she had barely resisted panicking. What would she think of surgery?
“Adora.” Glimmer drew the blonde’s attention back to her. “We can’t help her. I’m sorry. But we need to do what we can.”
She finally nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. She wasn’t abandoning Catra. She was going to find out who did this.
And she was going to slowly tear them limb from limb.
They found Bow first. He was talking to the two guards on duty, who confirmed that Catra had only come home about half an hour ago. At least she hadn’t been lying there in agony for too long.
“Juliet’s got the rest of the guards blocking off the exits and patrolling.”
“Make sure they’re all accounted for and find out if they can account for the last half hour,” Glimmer said stiffly.
“Do you… really think a guard did this to her?” It felt hard to believe. Catra had gone out of her way to learn about the guards, to try and prove to them she had changed. Juliet had said most of them were growing slightly fond of her.
“I don’t know,” Glimmer admitted. “But she said guards and right now that’s all we have to go with.”
“If the entire guard is under suspicion, then we might need backup,” Bow said. “We can’t cover everything with just the three of us and Juliet. Is it too much to ask the Princess Alliance?”
Glimmer chewed her lip for a short moment. “No. Just a few of them, though. Scorpia, Perfuma, and Mermista. And probably Sea Hawk. I don’t want to pull everyone in and make this a crisis.”
“Yeah, no big deal, someone just tried to carry out an assassination attempt in the palace,” Adora said, partially sarcastic, partially hysterical. “Nothing to raise alarms over, right?”
Glimmer whirled, grabbing Adora by the shoulders. “That is not what I mean, you know it. I’m scared too, okay? I want to get every single person we know here to help. But if we create too much chaos, it’ll make it easier for whoever did this to slip out. The three of them, and my dad. If we don’t get anywhere, we can start putting out news and expanding our investigation. Okay?”
Adora took a couple of deep breaths, and nodded. “Okay. I’m going to take you back to your room. Do you think you can handle searching it alone?” Melog brushed against Adora’s leg. “Not alone, got it. Bow, keep talking to guards. I’m going to get everyone together. Meet in the war room when we’re done. We’re going to figure out who did this. And we’re going to line up and take turns kicking their ass.”
“Got it,” Bow said. Adora nodded again, and Glimmer teleported her back to her room.
It looked worse with the lights on. There was blood smeared on the floor, and a large (too large) puddle where Catra had been laying. Adora took a deep breath, resting her hand on Melog’s head. He really was calming.
“Are you okay?” Melog mewled and nodded. “Don’t need bandages or anything?” He nudged her hand. “Catra would kill me if she found out I didn’t take care of you, you know.” He licked her hand. “Okay. Any ideas where to start looking?”
Melog went straight to the corner near the door. Adora followed, frowning when she saw a leaf. It had odd ridges, and seemed to be sprinkled in white powder. Adora reached for it — and abruptly snapped back when Melog tried to bite her.
“Don’t touch it?” she guessed. Melog nodded. She went to get a washcloth from the bathroom, waiting for Melog’s approval before she gently scooped it up and folded it in the cloth, setting it aside. Her eyes roamed the roof, landing on a dagger covered in blood. Not something they usually kept around. Adora went to get another cloth, just in case, and carefully picked it up by the handle.
Melog was sitting near the puddle of blood, making a sad, mournful noise. “Hey.” Adora rested a hand on his head. “You tried to protect her and you got her help. You did the best you could. Let’s go meet the others.”
Glimmer was already back with Perfuma, Scorpia, and Mermista, and her dad was sitting beside her. “But she’s okay, right?” Scorpia was asking, her voice high pitched.
“She’s with the healers now. Probably in surgery,” Glimmer said. “That’s all I know.”
“This is insulting,” Mermista said, crossing her arms. “I’m the only one who gets to murder Catra.”
“Maaaaaaybe not the right time for that kind of joking,” Bow said as he slipped in passed Adora, squeezing her shoulder. Adora actually appreciated the joke a little, though. It’s normal. She needed to cling on to normalcy.
“I found these,” she said quietly, putting the dagger and plant on the table and unwrapping the plant. Perfuma only looked at it for a second before gasping. “You know what it is?”
“I think — let me see.”
She reached across the table, gingerly touching the corner of the cloth to drag it over to her side. Micah and Glimmer had taken the dagger. “Zinnia,” Perfuma finally declared, leaning away from it. “That’s… absolutely vile.”
“What is it?” Adora asked, heart jumping into her throat.
“On the surface, it’s just a sleeping plant. The dust helps you fall asleep. But if you inhale too much, it can start doing damage to your body, your brain… I would guess whoever did this tried to get the jump on Catra and use this to knock her out. Which means they know they wouldn’t have won in a fair fight.”
“Speaking of dirty tricks,” Micah said slowly. The dagger was glowing a rather unpleasant dark purple-black color. “This is cursed. Any wound it leaves rejects magical healing.”
That explained the screaming. Adora winced. She had caused Catra so much pain without even realizing it. “So they had a backup plan for their murder attempt,” Mermista said slowly. “They weren’t messing around. They wanted to make sure she died painfully.”
And they had almost succeeded. “But why would…” Scorpia’s question drifted off into a sigh. “Never mind.”
Why would anyone do that. There were plenty of reasons to hate Catra — Micah was probably the only one here who hadn’t felt her wrath in someway, and even he had been affected by her actions via Angella. “That kind of curse takes some power,” Glimmer said slowly. “Who’d be capable of that?”
“The only person I can think of is dead. But it wouldn’t shock me if she left a few nasty surprises out in the world.” Shadow Weaver. Adora’s jaw clenched. “I don’t know for sure, though,” Micah added quickly, seeing the look on Adora’s face. “There are plenty of capable sorcerers in Etheria. Castaspella might be able to help.”
Glimmer nodded and disappeared. “What can we do?” Mermista asked, arms resting on the table.
“We need help keeping the guard in check since they’re the only lead we have right now. There were ten stationed in the castle and four outside in the time between Catra coming home and Melog coming to get us. There’s a pair of guards at each door now, and Juliet has the rest sitting on their hands. We need to make sure no one gets out until we know they’re all in the clear.”
“Let’s go, then.” Mermista stood, with Perfuma and Scorpia following. Bow led them out of the room; Scorpia stopped, putting a pincer on Adora’s shoulder.
“She’s going to be okay.”
Adora took a deep breath and nodded, trying to smile. “Yeah. She’s too stubborn to die.”
“Either that, or cats really do have nine lives.”
Adora looked at Micah when they were gone. “We have some of the best healers in Etheria right here in this castle,” he assured her. “She’ll be okay.”
“I know.” Her voice cracked, betraying the lie, but Glimmer returned with a slightly disoriented Castaspella before he could call Adora out.
“Okay, now what’s going on? Someone was stabbed?”
Micah explained the situation while she examined the dagger, frowning deeply. “That is a nasty bit of magic,” she murmured. “Not Shadow Weaver, though.” Somehow, that was a relief. “I recognize this magic. It’s an acolyte we banished several years ago for being a little too interested in dark magic. Obviously no one wanted to take chances after Light Spinner.”
“Do you think you could find him?” Adora asked eagerly. “Maybe he knows how to reverse it so we can heal her.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. I need someone to come with me and look threatening, though.”
“My time to shine,” Micah joked, standing. “We’ll find him. Don’t worry.”
They left, leaving Adora and Glimmer alone. “Are you—”
“Can we go to the infirmary?” Adora cut in quickly. She was already barely holding on; she might break if anyone asked if she was okay.
Glimmer nodded, then hesitated. “Do you uh… wanna get changed first?”
“What — oh.” She had been walking around covered in Catra’s blood. Good thing no one else saw her. “Yeah. That might be a good idea.”
They went up to the room, Adora determinedly not looking at the congealing blood on the floor. “We’ll get that cleaned up,” Glimmer assured her. “I’m sure Catra won’t stand for staying in the infirmary once she’s coherent.”
Probably not, Adora thought, a little amused. She’d probably pitch a fit if anyone said bedrest. “Thanks, Glimmer.”
Glimmer gently hugged Adora when she finished dressing. “She’s my friend. I want her to be okay, too. Ready?”
No. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
There was a healer waiting for them when they arrived. “She’s still in surgery,” he informed them regretfully. “The damage is more extensive than we originally thought, and she’s lost a lot of blood. We may need to do a transfusion.”
“Do whatever you have to,” Glimmer said firmly. The doors to the surgical suite burst open suddenly, another healer looking out.
“Jada, there’s—” He stopped when he saw Glimmer and Adora, but it didn’t matter. Adora could only hear one thing.
A long, monotonous, uninterrupted beep.
Glimmer had to tackle Adora and teleport her out of the room. They landed on Glimmer’s bed, and Adora immediately scrambled to escape. “You have to let them work, Adora!” Glimmer grunted, trying to wrestle her down.
“Let me go!” Adora snapped, shoving at Glimmer. “Let me go, I can—”
“Can what? You heard Dad, we can’t heal her with magic. There’s nothing you can do!”
“You don’t have to keep saying that!”
Glimmer pulled away, shocked by the sudden shout. Adora collapsed into a boneless heap against the bed, curling up tight, tears streaming down her face. “I know there’s nothing I can do! She’s dying, and I’m completely useless!”
She pressed her face into her knees, sobbing. Was this how things were just meant to be? Were she and Catra not meant to be together, to be happy? Why did the universe try to keep dragging them apart?
The bed shifted, and Glimmer wrapped her arms around, Adora, hugging her tight. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“You’re not useless, Adora. This is just one of those times where your skills don’t directly fix the problem. The healers have her, though. She’ll be okay.” Adora was starting to wonder if Glimmer was saying that to reassure her, or herself. Maybe both.
The door opened slowly. “Hey, you guys in here?” Bow asked, peeking in.
“Yeah,” Glimmer said. Adora sat up quickly, wiping her eyes. Bow sat on the bed and hugged her tight. “Do you have something?”
“Maybe. I did inventory on the guard weapons and uniforms. There are two uniforms and two staffs missing.”
Glimmer’s eyebrows furrowed. “So either someone got careless with their armor…”
“Or someone used it to sneak in and get close,” Bow finished with a nod. “Catra knows all the guards, right? Maybe she was trying to tell us that the guard’s been… invaded or something. We can ask her when she wakes up.”
The beep echoed in Adora’s ears, bringing on a fresh wave of tears. “Can we go back?” she whispered. Glimmer hesitated, but she had Bow now, at least. He could help keep Adora down. So she nodded and took both their hands.
There was a different healer waiting for them this time, looking tired and forlorn. “Is she—”
“She’s… somewhat stable,” the healer said slowly. “We found something odd in her blood samples, so we’re taking a closer look at that.”
“They… They dosed her with some kind of sleeping leaf,” Bow said slowly. “Zinnia, I think? Something like that.”
The healer nodded. “We saw traces of that, but not enough to cause the kind of… reaction she had. Did you find any weapons?”
“Just one dagger,” Glimmer said.
“The stab wounds are different sizes, indicating different daggers were used. Are you sure there’s only one?”
Adora groaned, slapping her forehead. “She took it out, she always forgets…” Everyone blinked, staring at her. “W-When they stabbed her the last time they probably left the knife in. She panics when she’s hurt and forgets you’re not supposed to take the weapon out.”
“So they, what? Accidentally left one dagger behind?”
“They might have been in a hurry. Maybe they noticed Melog was gone.”
“Or they wanted to prolong the pain,” the healer suggested hesitantly. The thought sent a jolt up Adora’s spine. She had never been so thankful for Melog.
The doors opened again, but the healer who stepped out looked much less panicked. “We’ve finished stitching up the wounds and repairing her lungs. She’ll need to rest for several days to make sure they don’t collapse again, though.”
“She’ll love that,” Adora muttered.
The healer smiled a bit. “We’re preparing her for a blood transfusion now, then moving her to observatory room, if you’d like to wait there?”
“Please,” Adora said. The healer nodded, gesturing for them to follow.
The observatory room was big, with a window overlooking the Whispering Wounds, equipment set up and ready to be attached to Catra when she was brought in, and several chairs, including a comfy looking armchair. Adora collapsed into that, curling up tight. She was going to be here awhile, so she got the comfy chair.
“I’m going to see if Dad and Aunt Casta are back yet,” Glimmer said. “Bow, can you…?”
Stay with Adora so she doesn’t lose her mind. Bow nodded, understanding the unspoken words, and sat beside Adora, giving her a small smile. Glimmer disappeared, leaving them alone and silent.
It was twenty more minutes before the healers brought Catra in. Bow had to hold Adora back while they hooked up to the monitors and IV. The heart rate sounded a little too fast, Adora thought, and one of the healers apparently agreed; she gave the screen a slight frown, checking a few things.
“What about that stuff in her blood?” Adora asked, unable to help herself.
“Healer Kara is still trying to determine what that is.”
Bow hated to push it, he really did, but he also recognized that voice. “You have an idea, don’t you?”
The healer nodded. “We believe it may be poison.”
Glimmer was exhausted.
She was tired, starting to hurt from all the teleporting, and starving. And one of her best friends was up in the infirmary fighting for her life.
If there was no good news soon, she was going to kill someone. Preferably whoever did this.
“So they poisoned the dagger, too?” Mermista raised an eyebrow. “That is some serious overkill.”
“We don’t know for sure yet but… yeah, most likely.” Glimmer sighed. “They wanted to make sure she died and stayed dead.”
“I might be able to help with the poison,” Perfuma said. “If your healers need it.”
“I’m sure they will.” Glimmer smiled. “Thank you.”
Micah and Casta walked in, both looking highly annoyed and frustrated. “Did you find him?”
“Yes. He’s sitting in the… prison cell now.” They really needed to make an actual prison cell. “He told us everything he knows, which honestly, isn’t much. Someone who sounds like any generic person asked him to curse several daggers, and paid him well for it.”
“What about a way to reverse it?”
Casta shook her head. “There isn’t one. And I assure you, we did everything we could to drag the truth out of them.”
Glimmer didn’t doubt that. “Catra’s out of surgery. Adora and Bow are with her. But the healers think she might have been poisoned.”
“Poisoned, cursed, and stabbed,” Micah said slowly. “On top of the damaging plant. This was planned. Very, very planned.”
“There’s no way they didn’t have inside help,” Mermista said. “And I think I have something. I was talking to the guards on duty, and five of them said they were outside during the time period when Catra was attacked.”
Glimmer sat up straighter. “There were only supposed to be four outside. And ten inside.”
“So someone is lying.”
“Let’s get those five rounded up,” Micah said. “Figure out which one forgot where they were supposed to be.”
“On it.” Mermista stood. “Scorpia, be my muscle?”
“I think I’ll help the healers with the poison as well,” Micah said, standing. “Casta, would mind checking on Catra? Not that I don’t trust our healers, but another eye never hurt.”
“I’ll get right up there.”
“Um.” Glimmer quickly took her arm. “Adora might be ready to stab anyone who walks through the door. Better do this my way.”
Predictable Adora did indeed have the sword summoned, holding so tight her knuckles were turning white. “Anything?” Bow asked hopefully.
“Maybe,” Glimmer said. “Don’t want to get too hopeful. Mermista and Scorpia are chasing it up, and Dad and Perfuma are helping the healers figure out if she was poisoned.”
“If she wasn’t, I’ll be amazed,” Casta said, surprising them. Her hands were glowing pink, gently hovering over Catra’s body.
“I’m not trying to heal her,” the sorceress assured Adora. “More like scanning her. Elevated body temperature, fast but weak heartbeat, possibly some neurological effects…”
“Don’t suppose your old acolyte would know anything about that,” Glimmer said.
“It’s always worth trying.” The glow faded, and Casta pressed a hand to Catra’s forehead. “She’ll have a fever by the end of the hour. I’m going to help Micah and the others. They’re going to be busy.”
“Thank you,” Adora said quietly, trying to make up for snapping at her. Castaspella gave her a small, reassuring smile.
“Of course. If you’ll excuse me…”
Glimmer watched her go; her entire body slumped slightly as she said, “I’m going to check in with the guards—”
“Glimmer, sit,” Bow said firmly, standing. “I’ll check with the guards. You need a break.”
“Don’t make me get Castaspella back in here.”
Oh, that was low. “Fine.” Glimmer collapsed into Bow’s seat, crossing her arms and huffing. Bow smiled, satisfied, and left.
They sat in silence for about ten minutes before a low groan shook them out of their trances. “Catra?” Adora immediately dismissed the sword, hurrying to the bed. Catra’s expression was pulled tight, clearly pained. Opening her eyes seemed to take a lot of energy. She smiled faintly.
“Heeeey A...dora.” Her voice was stilted, uncertain, like she didn’t quite trust the words. She might as well have declared her love again, though; Adora beamed, wrapping both of her hands around Catra’s smaller, slightly colder one.
“Hey. How’re you feeling?”
“Been better, honestly.”
Glimmer stepped up to the other side of the bed. “Catra? I know you’re tired, but if you can answer a few questions…”
“M’fine,” Catra said at once, wiggling slightly as if trying to sit up. “Wanna help catch the bastards.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening.” Adora smoothed her hair back. “You’re on bed rest. Leave this to us.”
Catra snorted weakly. “You couldn’t even figure out who was tying your shoes together.”
“You and Lonnie were both perfectly reasonable and equal suspects.”
Glimmer rolled her eyes. “Reminisce later, please. Catra, you said something about guards before you passed out. Did you recognize your attackers?”
She shook her head slowly. “No, but they were… dressed like… you know.”
“I know,” Glimmer said. “How many were there?”
“Mmm, two, I think. One of them jumped me and dosed me with something. Everything was hazy.” She squinted hard, then blinked. “Is Melog okay?” The alien cat propped his front paws on the bed beside Adora, making a small noise. “H-Hey buddy. Were there two people?” He nodded. “Cool. Yeah, two.”
“Two. Okay.” That lined up with two uniforms missing. “And you’re sure you didn’t recognize them?”
“‘Course. I’m great with voices.”
“That’s actually true,” Adora said.
“I believe it,” Glimmer assured them both, squeezing Catra’s arm. “Get some rest, Horde Scum. Mermista’s called murdering rights.”
“She’s earned them,” Catra mumbled, taking a careful, deep breath. “Go get ‘em, Sparkles.”
Glimmer rolled her eyes and disappeared. “Adora?” Catra muttered after a minute. Adora’s attention immediately snapped back to her. “Don’t… Don’t be too mad. People are angry.”
“That doesn’t justify this,” Adora said firmly. “Nothing justifies murder. You didn’t deserve this. Understand?”
Catra frowned faintly, looking like she wanted to argued, but she was distracted by a sharp pain in her lungs, and cramping in her stomach. “Augh… fuck,” she muttered, breathing hard. Her eyes were starting to glaze over.
“What’s wrong?” Adora asked, panicking.
“Just… Just a little pain, it’s… it’s fine.”
Adora pressed a hand to Catra’s forehead. She was warmer, fever creeping up. “Catra, I’m going to get a healer. Can you try and stay awake?”
“Yeah… Yeah, sure.”
There was a healer nearby, thankfully. “Something’s wrong,” Adora said firmly. The healer looked up from the chart she was reading, knowing better than to argue with She-Ra.
Catra was staring at the ceiling, blinking repeatedly. “Catra?” the Healer said gently, stepping up beside the bed. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“Just… Just pain,” Catra muttered. Her ears twitched when she heard the the heart monitor skip slightly. The Healer checked the monitor.
“Is it the stab wounds?”
“Sorta? It’s… there. But I don’t think it’s actually…”
Not the wounds specifically. The Healer looked back at her. “We believe you might be poisoned,” she said slowly. “The entrance points would be the stab wounds.”
“Oh.” Catra tilted her head. “That… makes sense.”
“Room’s spinning. Wasn’t sure if that was just some weird Bright Moon thing or drugs or something.”
Adora squeezed Catra’s hand tighter. “We’re trying to find an antidote,” the Healer assured her. “You’ve got quite the group trying to help you.”
Catra tried to roll her eyes, but only got halfway there. “Adora call in all the forces?”
“Shut up,” Adora said with a small smile. The Healer slipped out while they were talking, probably to see if there was any luck with identifying the poison.
“Adora?” Her eyes fixed back on Catra, who was struggling to focus on her. “You’re not allowed to like… get all sad and stuff, right?”
“What would I be sad about?”
Adora’s grip tightened. “You’re not dying.”
“‘Kay, but if I do—”
“Shut up,” Adora said again with a bit more force. “You’re. Not. Dying.”
Catra sighed, eyes fluttering shut. “Stubborn,” she muttered.
“Listen, we know one of you is lying about where you were when Catra was attacked. Just come clean and we’ll go easy on you.”
The five guards exchanged uneasy glances, then look at Juliet. “If you weren’t involved and having nothing to hide, then it shouldn’t be hard to answer the question,” she said simply. The eyes went back to Mermista, who was watching them, arms folded.
“Please, Princess Mermista, we already explained—”
“Yeah, and one of you is lying!”
Watching Mermista get into detective mode was almost fun. Scorpia might have enjoyed it more if her best friend’s life wasn’t on the line.
“Listen, we all know Catra’s done shit. She destroyed my entire kingdom. Of course someone wants revenge. I don’t blame them. I called dibs on killing her months ago.” Okay, this part was less fun. “But this was an assassination attempt. Someone got into the castle undetected and made it all the way to her room without being seen. Either one of you helped, or you let two assassins into the palace on your watch because you're all terrible at your job. Which is it?” No one answered. “Okay, Plan B.” Mermista summoned some water from a nearby pitcher.
“Ah, Princess Mermista,” Juliet said quickly. “I don’t believe… that would be necessary.”
Mermista looked at her, then glared at the guards. “You’re lucky,” she said, returning the water to the pitcher. Everyone breathed a little easier.
“I know one of them is lying,” Mermista muttered. She was out in the hall with Scorpia and Bow, reporting on her interrogation.
“Have we considered other castle staff?” Scorpia asked curiously. “Like, kitchens or something?”
“They’re all on lockdown in their rooms,” Bow said. “The guards seemed like the best bet since Catra said she saw them. But she’s confirmed she didn’t recognize them, so…”
“I still think one of them is lying.”
“More than one person could be involved.”
It was terrifying to think more than one person in the castle was actively trying to murder Catra.
She was shivering despite the fire in her body.
The healers were trying to treat the symptoms, but they didn’t know what the exact problem was, and were afraid of giving her something she’d have a bad reaction to.
Adora sat beside the bed, clutching Catra’s hand, watching her twitch, her breath hitching. “It’s okay,” Adora murmured, squeezing Catra’s hand. “You’re going to be okay.”
She kissed the pale knuckles, trying to fight down tears. She couldn’t cry. Even if Catra didn’t see it, she couldn’t cry.
Catra mumbled inaudibly, fingers twitching as if to hold on to Adora’s. But her eyes remained closed. She was so pale. Too pale.
Her mind dragged her back to Horde Prime’s ship, Catra gasping for life in Adora’s arms. Kneeling on Darla’s cold, metal floor, forehead pressed to Catra’s, silently begging her to live, please live…
When were they going to be able to relax? To not watch the other almost die? When did they a break?
Did they get a break?
Adora ducked her head to hide the tears.
“We have nothing.”
“We know someone is lying.”
“We have nothing.”
The princesses and Bow sighed, staring at the table. “Anyone checked in on Catra?” Scorpia asked after a minute.
“I was up there half an hour ago,” Glimmer said. “She’s having trouble breathing again.”
“The healers and everyone are making progress on an antidote, though,” Bow added. “She’s going to be okay.”
They were starting to believe that. “Let’s go over what we have again.”
“We have five guards outside at a time when only four of them were supposed to be,” Mermista summarized.
“And two missing sets of armor and staffs,” Bow added.
“So someone in the guard probably helped two assassins infiltrate the castle, and messed up where they were supposed to be,” Glimmer summarized, her heart falling. She didn’t want to think any of the people they trusted their lives to were capable of allowing something like that to happen.
“Do the ones who were inside remember where they were at the time?” Mermista asked. “Was the hall just conveniently empty or…?”
Bow shook his head. “I think two of them were on the other side of the floor, but yeah, Catra’s and Adora’s room didn’t have anyone nearby. It’s a huge place, though. Having ten on patrol is basically a skeleton crew.”
Glimmer rubbed her temples. “It’s been over twelve hours and we’re not getting anywhere.”
“Maybe we need fresh eyes?” Scorpia suggested.
“What does Adora think?” Mermista asked, raising an eyebrow.
“We haven’t told her we think we narrowed it down,” Glimmer admitted. “She’d go She-Ra on all five of them.”
“Maybe we need them to be scared.”
“We don’t need her immediately punching whoever confesses, though.”
Mermista didn’t look like she agreed.
“I think Scorpia’s right,” Bow said. “We need new eyes. We need someone who can see passed all the nonsense we’re getting caught up in.”
There was silence for a moment before they all said, “Entrapta,” and Glimmer headed to Dryl.
“How’s Adora doing, anyway?” Scorpia asked.
“She’s freaking out, but she doesn’t have the sword summoned and ready to go anymore. It’s progress.”
“...doesn’t really seem like my area of expertise,” Entrapta finished saying as she appeared in the room with Glimmer, flanked by Hordak and Wrong Hordak. Mermista groaned.
“Did you have to bring them?”
“I’m not leaving the former war lord alone in a place full of dangerous technology,” Glimmer said. “And Wrong Hordak wants to see everyone and make sure Catra’s okay.”
Hordak looked offended. That was ignored. At least his hair was blue again so they could tell the clones apart. Wrong Hordak had been having fun with hair colors, changing it nearly every week. It was currently a similar shade to Entrapta’s.
“Okay, guess I’m doing this.” Entrapta sat down, getting comfortable. “Tell me everything.”
“Catra was attacked in her’s and Adora’s room by two people dressed as Bright Moon guards. They stabbed her with cursed knives that had a coating of poison on them.”
“That seems like overkill,” Entrapta said, hair tapping her chin.
“She’s annoyingly good at surviving,” Hordak muttered.
“Nobody let him near Adora,” Glimmer noted before moving on. “There was a skeleton guard on duty because I was up North with Adora and Bow.”
“The attackers must have known there wouldn’t be many guards on duty,” Entrapta pointed out. “Probably someone who knows your schedule or could easily access it, and who would know the guard would be light tonight. I assume that's not public knowledge.”
Glimmer’s mind flashed to Juliet — but no, she wouldn’t. She valued her oath to serve Bright Moon too much to throw it away over vengeance. She was just letting herself get paranoid
“We’re pretty sure they’ve been planning it.” Bow continued. “This wasn’t a plan thrown together in a couple days. They hired someone to curse the knives.”
“Do you know who did that?”
“Yeah, Castaspella and King Micah caught him. He didn’t get names, though.”
Entrapta nodded. She was taking this seriously; Glimmer and Bow were grateful. “So it was a planned assassination attempt with help on the inside, probably from someone who was on duty tonight. Do they all have alibis?”
“They all just say they were patrolling. One or two can vouch for each other because they happened to cross paths, but it was basically every guard for themselves tonight.”
“And no one who was on duty tonight has complained about Catra?”
“Not to Juliet. She said a lot of the guard likes Catra.”
“Why?” Several voices spoke at the same time.
“Apparently Catra’s been learning all the guards’ names so she can greet them. Some of them have conversations with her. A few of them have even sparred with her.”
“I wasn’t aware Catra was that likeable,” Entrapta said.
“She knows what it’s like to be a nameless soldier.” Scorpia threw a rare look of deep dislike in Hordak’s direction. Some things couldn’t be forgiven. “That was almost her life. And she’s always been good at turning situations around to work in her favor. It’s just a matter of if she’s using it for good or evil. I’m not surprised she managed to make friends with people who are used to being part of the background.”
“But someone clearly wants her dead. And there hasn’t been any trouble or second attempts since?”
“She has the actual savior of the universe sitting next to her,” Mermista pointed out. “No one is going to try anything as long as Adora’s in the room.”
“Another reason to keep Adora out of this as much as possible,” Glimmer added. “We don’t need her running off to hit potentially the wrong person while someone else sneaks into the infirmary and tries to finish the job.”
“Logical,” Entrapta agreed. “How many guards were working?”
“Fourteen. Ten inside, four out. Not counting the outposts at the castle gates but I think they have a good alibi of, you know, being hundreds of feet away.”
“It definitely would’ve been one of the ones closer to the castle. And they all say they were where they were supposed to be?”
“That’s where things get sticky. We have five saying they were outside.”
Entrapta tilted her head. “Well that’s clearly not right.”
“We think the one who’s lying is using the being outside excuse to cover their grounds. If someone saw them outside, they could say they were on patrol. And it would be easier for them to meet the assassins and get them inside.”
“What about the assassins?” Entrapta asked, tilting her head. “Has any sign of them been found?”
“You mean besides the dagger they left in Catra’s stomach?”
“Yes. They would’ve had to discard the armor when they left. People would remember if they saw two Bright Moon guards running from the castle. Also, it’s probably not the best armor to sneak around in. They’d have the best odds if they ditched the armor as soon as they were out of the castle and used the darkness to get away.”
Everyone exchanged slow looks. “That is… a good point,” Mermista said, blinking in surprise. “If the armor’s not back where it belongs, then they probably just dropped it somewhere before they bailed.”
“So we have to search the entire palace and grounds to see if we can find the armor they used,” Bow said slowly. “There’s five of us — seven if you count Hordak and Wrong Hordak—”
“I will not be assisting in your investigation,” Hordak said stiffly. “I find it regrettable that they didn’t succeed.”
“I’ll help however I can!” Wrong Hordak spoke up.
“Four of us haven’t slept,” Bow continued. “And I don’t know about you guys, but I’m running on empty.”
“Same,” Glimmer murmured. Scorpia nodded in silent agreement. Even Mermista had to relent and nod once.
“I can help with that!” Entrapta said cheerfully. “I’ve been working on a series of Emily Juniors — smaller bots which can be given one task to fulfill. They can spread out over miles and communicate with one another, and me through my tracker pad. We can pack up a crate and set them loose around the palace.”
Glimmer really didn’t want to sleep. She knew Bow didn’t, either. But they were going to be useless to Catra if they kept this up. “Okay. Bow, talk to Juliet. The morning guard is here now, so she’ll need to let them know not to kill any of Entrapta’s bots, and to be on the lookout. Mermista, Scorpia, if you guys want to go home—”
“Hell no,” Mermista said. “I’ve put too much into this.”
“I want to help,” Scorpia said. Glimmer smiled despite herself. She knew Scorpia’s friendship with Catra was still a bit wobbly — Catra had broken and gone to her for advice one night on things she could do to help mend bridges — but she was loyal through and through.
“We’ll get you guest rooms, then. Entrapta, the war room is all yours to do whatever you please.” Entrapta lit up. “Except mess with the table.”
“And you,” Glimmer shot Hordak another glare, “are not allowed to leave the room.” Hordak scoffed at her. “Entrapta, seriously, keep him in here with you.”
“I will,” Entrapta promised. She knew no one else trusted Hordak — which was why he stayed in Dryl with her most of the time. But it seemed like she was going to be in Bright Moon for a bit, so it only made sense for him to be here as well. “Can Wrong Hordak use your kitchens?”
“Uh… I’ll let the kitchen staff know he might swing by.” Glimmer rubbed her eyes. “Okay, back to Dryl to get everything you need. Bow, can you check on Adora and Catra before you go to sleep?”
“That was the plan.”
“Can I come with you?” Scorpia asked, raising a pincer.
“Me too,” Mermista added. “Ya know, just to make sure she’s still going to be around next week for me to beat on.”
Bow chuckled while Glimmer rolled her eyes. “Sure. Let’s go.”
Catra jolted awake, immediately seeing the white ceiling. “No,” she tried gasp, tried to push herself up with one arm while reaching for her neck. “Nononono—”
“Catra, it’s okay.” A voice broke through her panic. “You’re safe. You’re in Bright Moon. It’s okay.”
Hazy eyes sought out the speaker — Adora. Catra frowned, blinking a few times to make sure that was right. “S’goin’ on?” she asked, voice slurring slightly.
“You’re sick. Can you lay back down, please?”
She nodded once, letting Adora help her settle back against the bed — the bed that was definitely not a metal table with clones standing around her, bits of her hair littering the floor…
No. Don’t think about it. She focused on her body instead, which was probably just as bad. Her sides and stomach hurt with every breath, air seemed unnecessarily hard to inhale, and it was so hot…
She grimaced, an anxious purr rumbling weakly in her chest. “I know.” Adora held squeezed her fingers, other hand reaching out to gently scratch the base of Catra’s ears.
A knock at the door interrupted them. Bow poked his head in. “Adora?” He smiled when he saw Catra. “Hey, you’re awake!”
“Sure, let’s go with that,” she mumbled tiredly. Bow opened the door completely, revealing the two princesses standing behind him.
“Wildcat!” Scorpia at least kept her voice low as she hurried inside. “How’re you feeling?”
“Bit like death, but I’ve had worse days.” Catra squinted, slightly suspiciously, at Mermista. “You hear to finish me off?”
“Please.” Mermista scoffed. “If I kill you, I want it to be fair. I’m not going to hit you when you’re down.”
“Anything about the antidote?” Bow asked Adora.
“Yeah, Perfuma was just in here… um, a little while ago.” She smothered a yawn behind her hand. “She said they’ve got… a start on something. It was good news.”
Bow frowned. “Adora, you need to sleep—”
She wasn’t going to leave Catra defenseless. Absolutely not. “What if I sit guard?” Scorpia volunteered.
“You’re supposed to be going to sleep too,” Bow reminded her.
“I’ll sleep after Adora does.” Scorpia shuffled her feet, staring at the ground. “I haven’t been able to do anything but stand around and look scary. That’s my thing. I can use it to watch over things so she can sleep. And I’m not that tired. Really.”
Bow wanted to argue, but there was just no way Adora was going to let Catra stay defenseless. “Okay,” he finally said. “If Scorpia stays, will you sleep?”
Adora’s eyebrows furrowed. “Sleep, dummy,” Catra muttered, tugging her hand weakly. “You’re not gonna be any good if you drop dead from exhaustion.”
“Your chair turns into a cot, too,” Bow added. “Just lean it back all the way. So you don’t have to leave.”
“Fiiiiiine,” Adora grumbled. Bow helped her set up the chair into a cot and retrieved a blanket for her before he and Mermista left. Scorpia moved a chair to sit in front of Catra’s bed, facing the door. No one was getting passed her.
Adora started snoring within five minutes. Scorpia thought Catra was asleep as well until a weak voice, “Scorpia?”
She turned, surprised to find Catra attempting to focus on her. “Hey, Wildcat.” Scorpia gave her a small smile. “You need something?”
“Just… ugh.” She groaned, scrubbing her eye with the palm of her free hand (Adora had her other one in a death grip). “Wanted to say thank you. For looking out for this idiot.”
“I’m looking out for you, too,” Scorpia pointed out. “You should rest.”
She rubbed her eye, blinking furiously. “I just… you don’t have to—”
“Catra?” Scorpia gently interrupted her. She hummed in response. “You’re my friend. You’re sick, and someone just tried to kill you. I know I don’t have to, but I want to. Get some sleep, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.”
Catra stared at her, tears filling her eyes before she quickly closed them. “Ugh. Don’t be sappy at me when I’m sick.”
“Love you too, Wildcat.”
Entrapta was hard at work when Glimmer, Bow, and Mermista returned several hours later. Scorpia had gone to bed about an hour before, when Adora woke up to take over Catra duty.
“What was the one thing I said you couldn’t do?”
“Mess with the table.”
“Aaaaaaand what did you do?”
Entrapta tilted her head, eyes shifting slowly to look at the lit up table, then back at Glimmer. “I know, but I can explain. See all the little dots? Those are Emily Juniors. They’re scouring the entire kingdom.”
“Have they found anything yet?” Bow asked.
“No, and it’s been almost six hours. I don’t want to say anything definitive, but with the amount of searching Emilies, the odds of finding something are getting lower.”
“So either they kept the armor…”
“Or there’s still a couple of assassins still hiding somewhere in the castle.” Glimmer scrubbed her face. “Great. Just great.”
“Juliet doubled the guard,” Bow said slowly. “Now I’m wondering if that was a mistake. Did we make it easier for them to escape?”
“I have no idea. Entrapta, can you get a couple Emilies to search the castle?”
“So we have fourteen possible suspects for inside help, maybe narrowed down to five, and possibly two assassins still in the castle,” Mermista summarized. “Anything else?”
"An antidote, hopefully," Bow said with a tired smile. "I checked in before I came down here, it was almost done. Catra's going to live."
"Great, she'll live to see someone try to kill her again."
Entrapta was tapping away on her tracker pad, frowning. "It's quite disconcerting how close they came to succeeding this time."
She was right. If it hadn't been for Melog...
Melog appeared as if he had been waiting to be summoned, gently tugging on Glimmer’s hand. “Melog? What’s wrong? Is Catra okay?”
He just tugged again. Glimmer wasn't even entirely sure what he had been doing this whole time, but she suspected he'd been on the prowl, ducking in and out for information. “I think he wants you to go with him,” Bow said.
“Yeah. Okay, you guys wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.”
She let Melog do the teleporting since he knew where they were going. Their destination was one of the highest towers, where two men were cowering behind boxes. “Get that thing away from us!” one of them shrieked, eyes locked on Melog; the alien cat’s mane had turned spiky and red, the way it did when Catra was angry.
Glimmer looked around, her eyes falling on two sets of abandoned armor. She looked back at the men, her expression hardening. Melog snarled.
They set up a second and third guest room as cells to throw each man in, keeping them apart. Bow took a picture with his tracker pad and went to the former acolyte, ignoring him when he complained about being forgotten. He confirmed that the one of the men was the one who had paid him to curse the daggers. Glimmer teleported him to the edge of Bright Moon and left him to figure himself out.
“Soooooo we can’t kill them?” Mermista confirmed.
“No,” Glimmer said firmly. “We need them to tell us who their inside man is. Just… stay patient.”
“Are you telling me, that or yourself?”
Glimmer, Bow, and Mermista stepped into the room, glaring at the man trapped in the magical cell. He glared back. “So are you going to try and defend yourself, or what?”
“I don’t regret it,” the man spat. “That bitch didn’t deserve to walk free.”
“Luckily for you,” Glimmer said pointedly, “she’ll continue to walk free, otherwise we’d have She-Ra in here right now trying to run you through with a sword.”
The man scowled. “You’re lying. She can’t have survived that.”
“We have really good healers.”
Mermista stepped forward, arms crossed. Her eyes narrowed. “I know you,” she said slowly. “I’ve seen you helping around Salineas.”
“She destroyed our homes. She destroyed my home. And you all just… let her go? Just like that?”
“I told you all what the situation was. She has been helping rebuild. I’m not saying she’s forgiven, but at least she’s putting in the effort. She can’t help anyone if she’s dead.”
“We know someone in the castle helped you,” Bow stepped in, voice surprisingly hard. “You’re not going to do yourself or them any favors if you don’t tell us who it was.”
“And why should I?”
“Because if you don’t, we’re going to walk out of that door and leave you alone with the big angry cat.” Melog appeared behind Glimmer, snarling. “You stabbed him too, you know. He’s not happy.”
The man recoiled. “Keep that beast away from me.”
“Then. Start. Talking.”
The guard was a new recruit, brought in right before Horde Prime’s invasion. His name was Tobias. Glimmer remembered walking by him and Catra once while he talked about proposing to his boyfriend.
He stared up, dead-eyed, at Glimmer and Juliet. “She destroyed everything. Why should she get to walk free without punishment?”
“You have no idea what happened to her during the war. She has more than been punished,” Glimmer informed him. “And even if she hadn’t, taking it into your hands and deciding to kill her isn’t how you handle anything.”
“I never raised a hand to her.”
“You foresook your oath to protect the occupants of this castle and the citizens of this kingdom,” Juliet said, anger barely contained. “You’re a disgrace.”
“Killing her would help protect everyone.”
Glimmer shook her head. She couldn’t handle this. “Juliet—”
“I’ll take care of it, your majesty.”
Glimmer offered her a small smile. “Thank you so much.”
Glimmer, Bow, and Melog appeared in Catra’s room. Adora was standing guard warily by the door while Perfuma helped Catra drink something that looked absolutely disgusting.
“Couldn’t throw some better flavor into it?” she grumbled, grimacing. Perfuma smiled, looking between Adora and the new arrivals.
“I think she’ll be fine. Did you guys…?”
“We found the assassins,” Glimmer said, nodding. Adora turned, and Catra sat up the best she could. “They didn’t have time to get out of the castle before we locked things down, so they’d been hiding in a tower. Melog found them.”
Catra sighed, falling back against the pillow. “Good job, buddy.”
Melog shrunk down to jump up onto the bed, settling by Catra’s thigh so she could pet him. “There’s… something else,” Bow said. They had debated not telling Catra this part, but she deserved to know. “Someone in the guard was helping them. Younger kid named Tobias.”
Catra’s tired expression fell. “Blonde hair, green eyes?” Bow nodded. “But I… he…”
Melog nudged her, mewling, and Adora went to take her hand. She had been working so hard on her trust issues. They all knew this was going to set her back.
“You got them all, though?” the blonde asked.
“Yes, and no, we’re not going to tell you where they are,” Glimmer said. “You’re not allowed to punch anyone.”
Adora’s eye twitched. Catra squeezed her hand tiredly, sliding down on the bed. “S’fine, Adora. Will you relax now?” Probably not, but Adora did collapse back into her chair, kissing Catra’s cheek. “Woooow, careful, someone might think you like me.”
Catra needed to take the antidote every hour for at least twenty-four hours, which meant keeping her in the infirmary, much to her displeasure. Perfuma, Micah, and Castaspella were the only ones allowed to prepare it and give it to her, by Adora’s request. She wasn’t feeling too trusting. Neither was Catra, if she was honest.
It was late, some time between doses of the antidote. Pure stress had exhausted Catra, Adora, and even Melog; they were all asleep, assured by the fact that they were being checked on every hour by Perfuma, and they were tucked away in a deeper part of the medical wing. Adora was sprawled out on her cot, snoring, one hand loosely holding Catra’s. Melog was pressed against her other side, a faint purr rumbling in his chest.
A shadow slipped into the room.
Perfuma always made sure to knock on the door and announce herself, lest she set off one of the girls’ or Melog’s freaky reaction instincts (they were all so fast). This figure did its best to skirt the edges of moonlight shining into the room. It approached only when absolutely necessary; moonlight glinted off the dagger in its hand. It raised the blade, pressing it Catra’s throat—
There was a flash of red and a roar, then a scream, as Melog tackled the figure. Adora immediately jolted awake, summoning the sword without thinking and vaulting over the bed; she grabbed the crumpled figure and slammed it against the wall, tip of the sword pressed to its neck.
The light flicked on. “What’s going on?” the healer on duty started to ask. She froze when she saw the scene before her. “Jada? What are you doing?”
Melog growled, circling the fallen dagger. Catra was groggy, stirring uncertainly, a hand trying to press against the small cut Jada had managed to inflict before Melog had attacked.
The healer started to approach, but froze when Melog snarled, blocking her path. “Catra?” Adora asked without looking away from her hostage. “You okay?”
She wasn’t sure. Her eyes wouldn’t stay open, and her fingers felt numb, clumsy. “I… I um…”
Jada was lucky Adora didn’t stab him. “Please get Princess Perfuma and Queen Glimmer,” she requested as patiently as she could. The healer nodded, recognizing she wasn’t trusted here, and ran out.
It didn’t take much to get Jada to admit he dosed Catra’s last round of antidote with something to keep her asleep so she wouldn’t react when he cut her throat. She’d be fine once she slept it off. Melog sat beside the bed, bigger than necessary, watching as Perfuma gently bandaged Catra’s throat. It wasn’t deep, but it was bleeding a lot (he had nicked a vein), and she’d already lost enough blood in the last day and a half.
“Who. Else. Is. Involved.”
Glimmer’s voice betrayed her impatience as she glared down at the healer — one of the many who was trusted to help people, not try to kill them in their sleep. She was flanked by her father, Bow, and Adora (who was being held back by Bow). Jada simply stared back. Glimmer’s glare deepened.
“Listen. You just tried to kill one of my best friends. I don’t like when people try to kill my friends. It puts me in a bad mood. You are the third person to try and kill my friend in the last day. So either you tell us who else is involved in this, or three of us are going to walk out while you stay here with the most powerful person in the entire universe, whose girlfriend you just tried to kill.” The man paled slightly. “You see Bow holding her back? She’s letting him do that, because I asked her to wait and give you a chance to talk. That’s the only thing standing between you and her knocking your lights out. So you gonna talk, or…?”
Glimmer let the threat hang. Jada looked between them, trying to find the bluff.
There wasn’t one.
It took three more days to weed out the staggering fifteen guards, four healers, and twelve various staff members involved in this. Glimmer was appalled — these were people she had grown up with, people who had always taken care of her, people she had trusted. That they were somehow part of a conspiracy to help assassins into the palace and kill Catra was unbelievable. But every single one of them admitted it under Adora’s cold, threatening gaze. Apparently it had been decided to bring in two outsiders because no one wanted to risk doing something like poisoning her food and having things traced back to them. And it wasn’t particularly hard to find people outside of the castle who hated Catra. A staff member had just spent a day in Salineas and found nearly twenty people willing to help.
Mermista went back to put a stop to any burgeoning thoughts of repeating this.
The healers who didn’t want to kill Catra were reluctant to let her go back to her room, but no one dared to argue. They weren’t allowed near Catra — no one outside of the Princess Alliance was allowed within a hundred feet of her, per Adora’s request (more of a demand really, and there was going to have to be a conversation about that eventually). The room had been cleaned, and Adora searched it top to bottom twice, with help from Melog and Castaspella, before Catra was allowed in. This entire thing had done a number on both of them and their ability to trust anyone in the palace.
Bow and Scorpia took turns standing guard outside the room for the first few days, just so Adora would sleep. Melog spent a lot of time on the balcony.
“This is ridiculous,” Catra finally said on the fourth day of allowing Adora to try her food before she was allowed to have it. “You can’t spend every single second thinking someone here is going to try and murder me.”
“What if it was me in your position? What would you do?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Catra sat up, hissing slightly when the action pulled at the stab wounds. “It’s not you, it’s never going to be you, and we have to go back to normal eventually.”
“I know you think this is just some universal karma thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay,” Adora shot back. “I’m not going to just get over it.”
“Do you think I like it?!” Catra didn’t mean to yell, but she was exhausted and at the end of her rope. Melog’s ears drooped as he slumped out to the balcony to let the girls have this fight in peace. “I spent an entire year in the Horde losing sleep and being paranoid because I thought someone was going to come after me, or hurt me, or try to kill me. This isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.”
“Then why are you just accepting it?”
“Because it’s always going to be like this! People are always going to want revenge for the things I did, and it sucks, but this is your home, and I go where you go, so that’s just how it is.”
“Then maybe this shouldn’t be your home.”
They jumped, looking back at Glimmer. Neither of them had noticed her teleporting in. “I don’t want you to leave,” she continued, crossing her arms sadly, “but you’re both right. And you don’t deserve to live in a place where you spend all your time feeling like you should be prepared to die. Home is where you’re supposed to feel safe and protected. I don’t blame you for not feeling that here anymore. I’m sorry I didn’t notice how bad it was.” She held up a hand as Catra and Adora attempted to protest. “I take trust for granted here, because I’ve always had it. I knew some people weren’t thrilled about Catra, but I thought it would go away. And it might, with a little time. But you guys shouldn’t have to wait for that.”
“It’s not like we have anywhere else to go, Sparkles,” Catra muttered, curling up slightly. There was a knock at the door before it creaked open, and Bow poked his head in.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but… I have an idea.”
“George, Lance, this is Catra. She and Adora need somewhere to stay for a bit and I know you have some open rooms, so I was thinking…”
“Yes!” Lance burst out, clapping his hands together. George was smiling, but a little more reserved as he looked Catra up and down.
“You were with the Horde.”
She winced, her ears drooping. “Yes, sir.”
Lance was already carefully inspecting Melog, who seemed amused by the attention. “You don’t have to call me sir. It makes me feel old.” He chuckled. “And I’m not accusing you of anything. I know children were born and raised in the Horde. That’s a hard cycle to break free from.”
“Not an excuse for the things I did,” Catra muttered, curling in on herself.
“Perhaps not, but the past is the past. If Bow trusts you, then you’re welcome here for as long as you need.” George paused for a minute before adding, “Of course, if you’d be willing to watch the place while Lance and I are away, that would certainly be a bonus…”
Glimmer and Bow exchanged grins before looking at Adora and Catra, who seemed to be having a silent conversation with their eyes. They finally both nodded cautiously.
“We can do that.”
Glimmer and Bow spent the night at the library with them, and Glimmer helped Adora move stuff the next morning while Bow showed Catra around. “This is the kitchen — I know you guys don’t really cook, but there are a lot of recipe books around, you could probably learn pretty fast—”
“Is this really okay?”
Bow stopped, looking at Catra, who was watching him with a cautious, uncertain expression. “What do you mean? George and Lance are fine with it. Actually, they’re probably thrilled. Now they can leave more and go visit my brothers and stuff.”
“I just… they’re…”
Her voice drifted off as Bow rested his hands on her shoulders. “George fought in the war during the first Princess Alliance, and he carried that with him for a long time. But he let it go. And they’ve been out here alone for years — the war barely touched them before Horde Prime came. It’s not as personal to them as it is for some people. And they’re pretty easygoing. Especially Lance. He’s eventually going to start asking you questions, though, so be prepared for that.”
“Questions about what?” Bow grinned, poking her ear. “Uuuuuuuuuugh. I grew up in the Fright Zone. It’s not like I can tell him anything.”
“That’s never stopped him before.”
Bow pulled her into a gentle hug, mindful of her wounds. She only hesitated for a short moment before returning it. That was progress.
Their room was smaller than the one in Bright Moon, but that was kind of a relief for both of them. They liked being able to easily see corners. It was also a little darker, with no giant Runestone or unreasonably sized windows letting moonlight in. The door had a lock, which was important. The bed was soft, but comfortable, and big enough for both of them to fit in with room for a smaller Melog at the bottom.
“You okay?” Adora asked as they lay in bed that night, Catra curled carefully into her arms. They were listening to the sounds of wildlife outside, lulled to comfort by the sounds and the warmth around them.
“I’ll live,” Catra said dryly. Adora rolled her eyes, kissing the top of her head.
“You know what I mean.”
Catra was silent for a long moment, staring out the window. “I don’t know. I mean, I know people hate me. They’re always going to hate me, that’s just… how it is. I don’t know why I thought Bright Moon would be safe.”
Because it was supposed to be. But Adora didn’t say that. It wouldn’t help.
Instead, she held Catra close, burying her face in her fuzzy hair and taking a deep breath. “We’re safe here.”
“Yeah,” Catra murmured into Adora’s collarbone. “We’re safe.”
They fell asleep with that reassurance in mind.