"Ghosts of my childhood, stay with me if you will / Find a place where there's water, hold you under 'til you still"
- The Mountain Goats, "Outer Scorpion Squadron"
On the first day of the second autumn since the end of the war, Queen Glimmer woke up to drops of rain on the window. Gray, pre-dawn light coaxed her eyes open little by little, glinting off the crystal lamps hanging from her tall ceiling. She shifted around and got a face full of Bow’s armpit hair. Wrinkling her nose, she carefully extracted herself from under her boyfriend’s arm to look at the clock on their bed stand: too early to rush out of bed, but too late to go back to sleep, or she’d risk being late to her first meeting.
Usually Glimmer wouldn’t have hesitated to wake Bow up—first with a gentle kiss, then some tickles, then maybe something else. But he had been out late the night before coming back from a construction site in Galebreath, so today, she let him sleep.
She pulled herself up, stretching and stifling a yawn as she eased her body back into wakefulness. She slid into her fluffy purple slippers, then paced gently toward the tea nook next to her desk. She drew a quick heat sigil to boil some water—but no glowing runes followed where her fingers traced.
The queen let her eyes fall closed and exhaled deeply. Her spells hadn’t been working for a few days, and she still wasn’t used to it. Her instincts still told her to just cast a little spell at nearly every opportunity (it was good practice, according to Micah and Aunt Casta) and not being able to do so was impossibly frustrating, like trying to walk through a convenient doorway that had been bricked over for no discernible reason. She didn’t have the patience to try again this morning. Instead, she reached for the electric hot plate that Bow kept in a drawer under the desk.
The ornate antique tea box was stocked with silk sachets of myriad flavors, herbal and caffeinated. Definitely something caffeinated this morning, Glimmer thought. Her hand paused over darjeeling as she remembered the first time she had tasted it. Her mother had told her the myth of how the Great Goddess Etheria had created the tea, but had deemed it too good for mortals and hidden it among the frozen mountains—until the angels of the moons had conspired to steal it and give it to the inhabitants of the Whispering Woods, for which they had been cast out. “And now here we are,” Angella had said, “still drinking the same tea that got my foremothers in trouble in the first place.”
It was bitter—the tea, sure, but the memory now, too. Every time Glimmer thought of her mother was another minute spent steeping in nostalgia, then regret, then resentment, then guilt. She was starting to wonder if her memories could ever be sweet again.
Glimmer passed up the darjeeling in favor of a stronger, blacker blend from Mystacor. She was too tired for anything else.
Blood-red electricity crackled across Catra ’s skin, all her muscles spasming and her joints locking into a painful hold. Shadows swirled around her and congealed into a form she couldn’t see, but knew she would recognize if only she could turn around.
A seething voice whispered in her ear: “Look at what you’re doing, child. The only thing you’ve ever been good at is destroying, shredding, ruining. You’re nothing but a beast set loose to wreak havoc on all that I’ve worked for.”
Before Catra’s eyes—clouded with tears—stood another Catra, a few years younger with longer, wilder hair. She held a stun baton, scowling as she drove it into the back of her best friend. Then she turned around and the baton was a sword, which she threw down the wide chasm at her feet, saying, “I really am going to miss you.”
Then she was sticking another baton into Entrapta’s back, turning it on Scorpia, threatening her with a wild look on her face. Then that baton turned into a lever, and Catra took her younger self’s place as she scowled and pulled it, breaking the world.
And then came the part Catra didn’t expect. Instead of another one of her many very real mistakes, she saw an entirely unfamiliar scene. Well, not entirely unfamiliar—it was a hallway in Bright Moon, probably somewhere near the royal archives, she guessed. Adora ran toward her with open arms, but Catra didn’t receive her embrace. What she did do was hold one hand straight out, claws bared, and dig into the tender spot right below Adora’s ribcage, that little divot Catra liked to kiss sometimes. Her claws sank in and she couldn’t stop herself. She thrusted upward and watched as blood dripped from the corner of Adora’s mouth, open wide with shock and betrayal. Catra tried to scream, but what came out was a laugh. She pulled her claws out of Adora’s flesh and her best friend, the love of her life, dropped to the floor dead.
Then Catra was turning around—not out of her own volition, but not by the nerve-grip of dark magic either. She was met with a tall figure in an old, red robe. Looking up, where she had expected to find a white-eyed mask, she saw the old witch’s true face, the one Catra had only seen twice in her life, with pale green skin, scars and keloids and shattered pupils. That’s what it was at first. But the longer she looked at it, the more it took on a different shape. Its ears grew longer, its skin paler. Its eyes changed color and shape—poison green, three on one side and one on the other.
A clawed hand gripped her throat and lifted with inhuman strength. As her vision went black around the edges, the last words she heard were these:
“Some creatures are destined only for destruction.”
And then, she fell.
Catra jolted awake with the force of a body hitting the ground. Immediately, she sat up, looked around, and found Adora still sleeping peacefully next to her. She took stock of her surroundings otherwise: a trickling waterfall, a purple canopy, a confused, housecat-sized Melog blinking blearily at her from the foot of the bed.
The spectral cat mewed at her. Their voice echoed in her head with a question: Nightmares?
Catra nodded wordlessly, not wanting to risk waking Adora—though she wouldn’t have minded some comfort right then, honestly. She looked her girlfriend over again, focused her hearing on the slow pulse in Adora’s neck, the tide of her breathing. She was alive. That was enough for Catra. And she looked so damn cute sleeping like this, her wheat hair all splayed out like it didn’t even know the word ponytail, her mouth hanging open slightly. She was drooling. Catra shouldn’t have found that cute, but for some reason she did.
So, Catra pulled herself out of bed slowly, careful not to disturb the mattress too much, then slipped on some sweatpants and a t-shirt from the pile of not-dirty-but-definitely-not-clean clothes on the floor. Sensing her intent, Melog was already at the door, ready to get lost in Castle Bright Moon’s corridors with her until the light of the first moon signaled the end of the long autumn night.