Catra curls into the warm pillow beside her. A purr vibrates throughout her whole body. It’s been a long time since she’s slept so well. She doesn’t like to admit it—not even to herself—but ever since Adora left, Catra has been plagued by nightmares and insomnia and god-knows-what-else—
“Well. Good morning to you too, Force Captain Catra.”
Catra’s eyes snap open. At first glance, she doesn’t recognize her surroundings. There are dull, blank walls formed of rough concrete. And she sees a door of some sort, closed off with a glowing green forcefield.
The prisons, Catra realizes. She’s in one of the Fright Zone’s prison cells.
But that doesn’t make sense. She’s Hordak’s second-in-command. And didn’t she just capture She-Ra? She-Ra, the rebellion’s greatest weapon. What could possibly warrant Hordak throwing Catra into a cell—?
But then she remembers the voice. The voice that woke her.
Adora’s voice, amused and taunting.
And, oh god. Adora is right there—leaning over Catra with the smuggest possible smile. Upon seeing Catra’s eyes open and staring, Adora’s eyebrows arch in a silent question. One that she likely knows the answer to...but wants to hear Catra explain anyway.
And Catra...Catra is pressed against Adora’s side, somehow. Curled against her. Snuggling into her warmth.
With a small shriek, Catra scrambles away from Adora, climbing backward on her palms as jagged, panicked breaths escape her lips.
She was sleeping beside Adora. Cuddling with her on the floor. With Adora—with the enemy. Did Catra really capture Adora, drag her back to the Fright Zone, only to humiliate herself like this? Only to wake up beside the very person she’s been waging war against—?
Catra keeps going until her back hits the opposite wall. She squeezes against it, trying to get as far from Adora as possible.
“What...what did you do?” Catra demands. “Why did you fall asleep next to me—?”
“Me?” Adora says incredulously. “What, do you think I kidnapped you from your bed?” Her arms give a little shake, causing the bright green shackles around her wrists to clang dissonantly. “That’s rich. You’re the one who kidnapped me. And I can’t exactly move. I just woke up with you down here, next to me.”
There’s a pause as they stare at one another. And then Adora smirks, adding: “...Care to explain why you’re cuddling with the enemy, Force Captain?”
Catra’s cheeks feel scorched, they are so red and heated.
She wishes she had a good explanation. Truly, she does. She recalls, vaguely, coming down to this cell last night with Adora’s dinner. But Adora was already asleep when she arrived, shivering against the wall she’d been shackled to.
And, well. Catra thought that was suspicious, is all. Who just falls asleep after being captured by their enemy? Adora should have been terrified. She should have been begging for Catra’s mercy the second she entered the cell. But instead Adora was just...asleep. Snoozing away. Or maybe she was unconscious? Catra couldn’t be sure. They had been fighting pretty hard that day. And Catra had tased her in order to knock the sword out of her hand.
Catra decided to watch her. Not because she was worried that Adora had been hurt, or anything. But because she thought that Adora was probably faking it. It could’ve been a ploy to trick her guards into a false sense of security, one that Adora could use to escape. And Catra wouldn’t allow that, she wouldn’t let Adora slip away again—
But eventually, Catra must have fallen asleep too. And who could blame her? It was obviously boring to just sit there, watching Adora all night. It certainly wasn’t tranquil and relaxing and sort of comforting, comforting enough to cause Catra to slowly drift off, lulled to sleep by the steady rhythm of Adora’s breathing...
But she has no memory of crawling over to Adora and lying down beside her. Of all the ridiculous, mortifying things to do while sleepwalking—
She sees Adora’s features soften. “Do you miss me, Catra?” she asks quietly.
Catra barely hears the words. And when she processes them, she wishes that she hadn’t heard them at all.
The scoff that escapes her is loud. Too loud. “Of course not,” she claims. “I don’t...I don’t miss you. I was just delivering your breakfast. But I was hurt during our fight yesterday and I…” She searches for an adequate lie. “Fainted. I fainted and fell onto the floor, beside you. By accident.”
Silence passes between them as Adora bites her lip. And Catra knows that expression—knows what it means. Adora is trying to stifle her laughter.
“You fainted?” Adora repeats. “Just...onto the floor? Directly beside me?”
Catra nods, mentally cursing herself, and pushes her spine against the wall even more forcefully. “Yes. Totally an accident.”
And god, Adora is smirking again—a single eyebrow crooked upwards, like a challenge. “And did your devastating injuries cause you to purr for half the morning? Or did I imagine that?”
Catra grits her teeth. “I was growling, not purring.”
Adora’s smirk only grows. “Riiight.”
“Stop mocking me,” Catra hisses. “You’re my prisoner, remember? I defeated you. And I...I could make you suffer—”
Adora raises both hands in a gesture of mock surrender, her shackles knocking against her wrists as she moves them. “Okay, okay. I’ll stop giving you a hard time. Sorry.” She points to the tray of food at the center of the floor—the one that Catra left there from last night. “Can I have my breakfast now? I’m starving.”
Catra stares at her, chest heaving. And then, slowly, she crawls to the center of the floor. With a short push and the squeal of metal-on-concrete, the tray is slid to a spot directly in front of her—in front of Adora.
Adora sighs as she eyes the gray ration bar on the tray.
“Is this my last meal?” she asks.
Catra squints at her. “What?”
“Is this my last meal?” Adora says again. “Before my execution?”
“What are you talking about?” Catra demands, gesturing to the tray. “It’s just...breakfast.”
“Breakfast,” Adora repeats, then scoffs. “You do realize Hordak is going to kill me, right? I’m She-Ra. The biggest threat to the Horde. Worse, I’m a traitor. I have vital information about the Fright Zone—information that I’ve used to infiltrate this place. He’ll likely try to off me as soon as possible—”
“No he won’t,” Catra says defensively, interrupting her. “We’ll...we’ll find a use for you. I’m sure you have plenty of valuable information about the rebellion—”
Adora’s eyes harden. “I’d never give you that information.”
Catra gulps. “Well. Then we’ll extract it—”
Adora gives a stilted laugh, horrified and disbelieving. “What? You’ll torture it out of me?”
Catra’s eyes find the floor. The Horde has tortured many prisoners in the past. Catra was never the one to do it herself—though she threatened to do so in Entrapta’s case. That responsibility—torturing people—was usually reserved for Shadow Weaver. And Shadow Weaver always got the information she sought.
But Catra is no Shadow Weaver. Shadow Weaver is locked in a nearby prison cell, helpless, while Catra is here, gloating over her greatest enemy.
She’s better than Shadow Weaver. Stronger.
But she still can’t picture herself doing that to Adora—what Shadow Weaver used to do to the rebel captives that fell into her clutches. Or what Shadow Weaver would sometimes do to Catra, when she misbehaved.
The very thought makes Catra’s stomach turn.
“Even if you did,” Adora says, “I’d never tell you anything. I’d rather die.”
Catra knows that to be true too. Adora has always thrown herself—her whole self—into the things that she believes in. She’d happily die to protect her precious rebellion.
“So what’s it gonna be?” Adora continues. “Beast Island? The Crimson Waste?” She sighs enormously, exhaling her disappointment. “Or will you kill me yourself?”
Catra can’t answer that.
So she leaves the cell, leaves Adora alone…
...and leaves the question with her.
Catra hates when Adora is right.
Though she hates what Hordak tells her even more.
“So what do I do with the captured princess?” Catra asks Hordak, casually. Like she doesn’t care. Like his response won’t matter. But of course it does, it matters more than Catra would care to admit, and certainly it matters more than Catra wants it to—
Together, they stand in his sanctum; a rare occasion indeed, with Catra actually allowed inside. But Hordak has been too occupied with examining the sword—the enormous gleaming one that Catra stole from Adora. He didn’t want to tear his attention from it, not for anything. Not even to initiate a video call. Not even to look Catra in the eye. His back remains turned to her even as they speak, his spine bent over the sword in an effort to study more closely.
Because of course the sword is more important than Catra is. The Sword of Protection. She-Ra’s sword. It’s what Adora wanted most, wanted more than Catra, and now it’s what Hordak cares about most too.
The Imp flies overhead, cackling at Catra. She wishes she could swat it out of the air. The little creature has always been unsettling with those beady eyes. Not to mention its tendency to crawl into small spaces and spy—
“Interrogate her,” Hordak orders, referring to Adora. “If she defected from our ranks, she could have passed critical information to the princesses. We must learn what, exactly, she told them. And then…” He turns from the sword, his lips pulled wide by a markedly wicked smile. Catra feels herself stiffen beneath his red-eyed stare. “We will extract what they told her in turn. As the rebellion’s hero, I’m sure she has much to disclose.”
“And by extract…” she says slowly, “you mean…?”
“What do you think I mean?” Hordak snaps. He gestures furiously to the door. “Interrogate her. Torture her. Whatever it takes.”
“And how exactly do I...uh...do that?” Catra asks. Because genuinely, she has no clue. She doesn’t know or want to know how to interrogate a person, let alone torture them. That was always Shadow Weaver’s thing. And Catra isn’t like that. She’s not like Shadow Weaver—
Hordak simply snarls. “We have instruments, of course.” He flaps a hand, shooing her away. “Ask your officers. One of them will know. I did not, after all, promote you so that you could pester me about such an easy task.”
“Easy,” Catra echoes, gulping again. Her nod feels mechanical. “Right. I’ll...I’ll do that.”
And then, with a short salute in Hordak’s direction, Catra marches from the sanctum. She has a bad feeling that this whole ‘torture’ thing was covered in Force Captain training. And that she was probably lucky to have missed it.
Adora spends a great deal of her time sleeping.
There’s not much else to do in the Fright Zone’s prisons. Nothing to keep her entertained. So she simply slouches against the wall, trying to relax. Trying not to think about how devastated the rebellion will be without She-Ra. Trying not to think about the villages that might be razed without She-Ra’s magic to defend them, or the kingdoms certain to be toppled now that Hordak knows the way is clear—
She-Ra’s arrival marked a turning point in the war. But now…
Now Adora’s foolishness has dropped She-Ra’s sword directly into Hordak’s hands.
It’s easier to sleep than think about what she’s lost. About what the rebellion has lost, and what they still have yet to lose.
She sighs and closes her eyes. She needs to relax, try to sleep. Try to keep her strength up. It is, after all, the only thing that Adora has left. Her normal, human strength. The kind that remains when there is no magic to be found.
But still. She wishes she had something to do, besides sleep. Someone to talk to. The cell didn’t seem quite so empty and cold while Catra was here, sharing it with her. Even if Catra was practically yelling at her the whole time.
Adora smirks at the memory. She still can’t believe that Catra snuck into the cell to snuggle with her. Even if she did deny it—
The sound sends a startled jolt through Adora’s body, forcing both eyes open.
At first, she sees no one beyond the glowing forcefield that seals the prison cell. But then...after craning her neck...she thinks she can see a bit of brown hair. An ankle from a pair of red leggings. A foot with too-long claws. All of it, pressed against the wall that sits just beyond Adora’s cell door, trying to stay out of Adora’s sight and largely failing.
“Who’s there?” Adora asks, with an eyeroll. Just for good measure.
“It’s me,” Catra says. Bitterly. Angrily. Like she resents herself for being here at all.
“Wow,” says Adora, and despite herself, she finds herself overcome by the urge to smile. “Visiting me twice in one day? You must like me or something.”
“Shut up,” Catra snaps. She still doesn’t budge from her spot against that wall, the one Adora can’t see from this angle. Adora doesn’t understand why Catra is hiding there, just out of view.
“I don’t like you,” Catra snarls. “ I just…”
Catra trails off with a frustrated noise. Adora jumps, startled by the sound. By the strange mixture of rage and desperation that pulses from it.
“What do I have to do?” Catra asks. “What do I have to do to get you to just spill the beans on your stupid princess friends?”
Adora simply sits there, blinking at the question. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s like you said. Hordak plans to have you tortured for information,” Catra says, half-hissing the words. “I don’t know what that entails, not yet, but I’m sure it can’t be anything good—”
Adora’s expression remains unchanged in response to this information. Honestly, what did Catra expect Hordak to do? Just let Adora live out a peaceful, happy life in the Fright Zone’s prisons? Well, okay, Catra probably knew that Adora’s life as a prisoner wouldn’t be happy. But a largely uneventful life in prison was out of the question from the start.
“I mean,” Adora shrugs, “I kind of expected as much. It is Hordak, after all.”
“How are you so calm about this?” Catra demands, her voice shrill. “He wants to hurt you for information.”
Adora scoffs. “What? Like you didn’t hurt me?”
“That was different,” Catra says. “You chose your side, and I chose mine, and when a battle came around, we fought. But I didn’t sign on to torture defenseless prisoners—”
“I’m not defenseless!” Adora protests, indignant. “I’m tied up, sure, but I’m not defenseless…”
“I’m just saying,” Catra continues. “You could protect yourself if you gave up on protecting your stupid rebellion. Hordak might even let you join us again if you spill something really valuable—”
Adora leans her head against the wall. “Catra,” she says. “I’m not going to betray the princesses. Not for my safety. Not for anything.”
Not even for you, a voice in Adora’s head whispers, unbidden. Because at the end of every day in Bright Moon...Catra was always the one thing Adora missed most. Adora would have given it all up—the delicious food, the luxurious bedroom, the lovely surroundings—all for the chance to sleep in the same dull, overcrowded room as Catra again.
And now Catra is here, pleading with Adora. Pleading for her to come back to the Horde, pleading for her to protect herself when Adora’s agony and death is otherwise certain—
Adora would give up a lot of things to make Catra happy. But she won’t give up what’s right. She won’t give up the rebellion.
Catra gives another snarl, this one even more vicious than the first. She whirls around, finally facing Adora through the rippling green forcefield that separates Adora from the outside world.
“Then you’re an idiot!” Catra seethes, eyes glowing neon in the half-lit hallway. She jabs a finger at her own chest. “And it's not going to be my fault when you get hurt. I mean, here I am, trying to help you and you just...you just…”
Catra clenches and unclenches her fists.
“Whatever,” Catra huffs, and turns her back to Adora. “Get tortured for all I care. It’s not my problem. You’re not my problem.”
And then she storms away, again leaving Adora in loneliness and silence.
Adora knows she shouldn’t feel stung by those words. But still, she does. Catra has always had an ability to sting Adora like no other, slice through whatever armor Adora wears like it’s paper, and dig right through the deepest layer of skin.
And that’s a thought that’s tortured Adora for a long time. That Catra doesn’t care. About anyone, about Adora. That when this is all over, Catra will have forced herself to forget every glance, every smile she shared with Adora, back when they were friends.
“We have to do something,” Glimmer says, for what feels like the millionth time.
Bow places a comforting hand on her shoulder, though a look at his face betrays just how much he shares her anxiousness—brows knitted together, mouth twisted into a grimace.
They’re both standing beside the strategy table in the war room. Glimmer’s mother, Queen Angella, remains seated, chin dropped onto her hands, elbows balanced on the table as she studies its surface with unbreakable concentration.
The war table currently displays a projection of the Fright Zone. The thought of that place still makes Glimmer shudder. It was only a few months ago that Glimmer escaped being imprisoned there—escaped being held and tortured by Shadow Weaver. If Adora and the other princesses hadn’t saved her...Angella would have been forced to surrender to the Horde. And the war would have been lost.
And now Adora is the one captured. After everything. One of Glimmer’s two best friends, gone.
It was so fast, so unexpected, the way Catra just sprung out of nowhere, taser in hand. By the time Glimmer had turned around, the sword was already slung beneath Catra’s arm, and Adora was unconscious on the ground—rendered that way by the weapon’s ‘stun’ setting.
With Glimmer and Bow pinned down between bots and Horde lackeys, Catra was able to whisk Adora away before Glimmer or Bow could stop her.And now Catra has likely returned Adora to Shadow Weaver, Hordak’s second-in-command.
Shadow Weaver...who tried to erase Adora’s memories last time Adora was in the Fright Zone, staging Glimmer’s rescue. But Glimmer managed to free herself and attack Shadow Weaver before the mind-wipe spell was complete.
Glimmer can’t help but wonder if Shadow Weaver succeeded this time. Or if Shadow Weaver is carrying out that spell at this very moment—
Juliet—the general of Bright Moon’s army—steps forward, clearing her throat.
“Our intel says that the Fright Zone has quadrupled its defenses since the princesses’ last incursion,” Juliet tells them. “Attempting another would likely be suicide.”
“But we can’t just sit here and do nothing!” Glimmer exclaims. “Adora risked it all to save me and Bow. We have to help her—”
“I am aware of that, Commander Glimmer,” Angella grits out. And Glimmer would be lying if she said that Angella did not appear supremely worried. Ever since Adora rescued Glimmer and Bow from the Fright Zone,the Queen of Bright Moon has shown to be rather protective of Adora—has maybe even begun to view her as family.
“The problem is that we no longer have Adora here to help us,” Angella continues. “She was our best source of intel on the Fright Zone’s infrastructure and proceedings. And, as She-Ra...her offensive capabilities cannot be ignored.”
Angella releases an enormous sigh.
“But the Horde will expect us to come for her. They know what she means to the rebellion. Whatever weaknesses in the Fright Zone that Adora exploited will have been corrected by now, and she will likely be heavily guarded on top of that. Or...as you mentioned...mind-wiped, and potentially poised at us as a weapon.”
“So what do we do?” Bow asks. Desperation scrapes at his voice.
“I don’t know,” Angella says. “The best we can do at the moment is send scouts. See if we can infiltrate the Horde with spies and discover new weaknesses—”
“That will take too long!” Glimmer complains, pounding a fist against the table. “Adora is in danger right now—”
“And Adora would want us to be careful,” Angella says. “She wouldn’t want anyone taking any unnecessary risks to rescue her—”
“Yeah, well,” Glimmer huffs. “That’s Adora. She’s stupidly selfless that way. That doesn’t mean we have to do what she wants—”
“That’s true. But it doesn’t change the fact that a rescue, at this point, is something of an impossibility,” Angella argues. “We cannot stage an attack on the Fright Zone. Not when the last attack cost Princess Entrapta her life—”
That, of course, renders Glimmer silent. Entrapta’s loss is still a very recent and very deep wound. She doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt.
But she also doesn’t want to lose Adora.
“We will send scouts,” Angella repeats. “Hopefully, they can quickly identify some sort of weak point. And then we can stage a rescue. But in the meantime…” Angella gives another sigh. “I refuse to lose any more princesses.”
“Scorpia—” Catra calls, striding down the hallway with furious purpose. “I need to talk to you.”
Scorpia turns, eyes wide and smile even wider, so happy is she to see Catra approaching. “Catra!” she exclaims, with all the excitement and eagerness that could only belong to Scorpia. “Boy, am I glad to see you! You know, at this point it’s been 48 hours since we last saw each other. Which might be our longest period of separation since we met—”
“Scorpia,” Catra says again, interrupting her. She’s finally close enough to stand directly in front of her, staring her down. Trying to express as much impatience as possible with her body language, so that Scorpia doesn’t waste any more time. “I need you to tell me what you know about the Horde’s…” She sighs and hangs her head just slightly. “...interrogation methods.”
Scorpia’s eyes widen.
“Oh,” she says, and the word trembles in her mouth. “That…well…I personally have never interrogated anyone. I don’t think I was any good at it, and everyone knew it—”
“Scorpia,” Catra says again. Firm, but pleading. “Did they go over how it works in Force Captain orientation?”
Scorpia hesitates for a moment, mouth hanging open like she wants to say something, wants to protest, but can’t seem to find the words.
And then, finally...she nods.
“What do they do,” Catra whispers, taking a step closer to Scorpia to not be overheard, “to prisoners they need information out of? Especially if they’re expected to be difficult?”
Scorpia gulps. “Err...” she says, rubbing a pincer at the back of her neck. “Not...not good things, Catra. Honestly, I think that’s the one part of Force Captain training I’d rather forget—”
“Tell me,” Catra insists, despite how much she doesn’t want to know. Despite how much she shouldn’t care.
And as Catra learns the details from Scorpia, she cannot help but remember the promise Catra and Adora made to each other, all those years ago. The promise that Adora broke. The promise that Catra shouldn’t want to keep.
“You look out for me, and I look out for you.”
“Interesting…” Entrapta mutters, scribbling furiously into a notebook as she says the words.
But that’s all she says for a long while, instead devoting her entire attention to examining the gleaming sword placed on the table before her. She continues to scribble in the notebook, but her eyes never leave the sword’s face. Her hair seems to be writing of its own accord, a pencil grasped between prehensile strands.
After too many minutes of silence—save a few curious hums and gasps from Entrapta—Hordak grows impatient.
“Well?” Hordak demands. “What is your impression of this...technology?”
It is not often that Hordak allows others into his sanctum. He allows his second-in-command on occasion, as well as the Imp...but usually no others.
Entrapta has proven a recent—and necessary—exception. After she was able to “hack” into the Black Garnet and throw Etheria’s magical ecosystem into disarray, Hordak has been forced to trust her admittedly extensive scientific expertise. She knows much more about First Ones technology than he can claim to understand.
And this sword—She-Ra’s sword—is certainly one of the stranger items that Hordak has seen.
“I think it’s a truly incredible find,” Entrapta exclaims. “A portable runestone of some kind. I’ve always had my theories about She-Ra’s sword, but to actually have the opportunity to confirm them…” Entrapta’s hands clench into reverent fists, ones that shake with the intensity of her excitement.
But Hordak has very specific questions he wants answered, and he is impatient to know.
“Is it something we can use as a weapon?” he asks, and smirks at the idea of turning the rebellion’s own savior against them. “Can we make our own version of She-Ra to add to our ranks?”
“Hm...I’m not sure yet,” Entrapta answers quickly. “That will require extensive testing. It’s possible that the sword is specially attuned to Adora, and Adora alone. But if we can somehow bypass that…”
She pulls her goggles over her face and claps her hands together.
“Let’s set up some experiments!” she says, pulling some sort of beeping sensor from the pocket of her overalls. “With any luck, we’ll understand this baby in no time—”
Adora isn’t surprised when a pair of guards collect her the next morning.
They’re very careful about making sure she can’t escape. One guard pries one wrist free from its restraints along the wall, and the other does the same—then, together, they connect her hands behind her back, binding both wrists with some sort of glowing magnetic cuff.
From there, it’s a simple matter of prodding Adora toward her destination. They keep a taser at her back the whole time, forcing her to walk or risk electrocution. She gives a few experimental attempts to escape—all of which result in electric shocks or sharp blows to her ribs—but in the end, none of them accomplish more than injuries for Adora to bear.
Adora is surprised, almost, that Catra didn’t arrive to accompany her. Even if Catra doesn’t care about Adora, Adora figured she’d at least come to gloat, or to taunt Adora, or to make sure that Adora is wholly and truly defeated, just as she’s wanted for so long.
But Catra is nowhere in sight as Adora is pushed down the prison hallways.
Eventually, they bring Adora to a hallway she’s never seen before. Not even before her defection. There are no force-field barriers in this hallway—meaning that there’s no way to peer into the rooms that lead from this corridor. There are only rows of inscrutable metal doors, each tightly shut against their frames. The lighting is unsettlingly dim too. Like the Horde engineer who designed this place purposely crafted it to be dark and threatening.
One of the guards grabs Adora by the wrist and yanks her roughly forward. Without preamble, all three of them slip behind one of the metal doors, into the room beyond. Adora didn’t even see the door open. But she’s more than aware when it slams shut behind her, and Adora finds herself shoved into some sort of metal chair.
Adora is stunned when the cuffs automatically separate and affix themselves to the arms of the chair, securing her in place. Before she can even struggle, another pair of cuffs emerge from the bottom of the chair, holding her ankles lest she try to kick or fight.
A few moments of tugging against her restraints prove futile—not that Adora expected anything else. She knew she was largely useless here, without the sword. And she knew that the princesses wouldn’t have the resources to rescue her—especially after Adora just staged a rescue to retrieve Glimmer and Bow from the Fright Zone only a few months ago. Chances are, the weaknesses that Adora exploited are all fixed now. Which means that rescue is virtually impossible.
Which also means that Adora should be resigned to her fate. Resigned to whatever this is.
And unfortunately, Adora has a pretty good idea as to what this is.
She waits in that chair for several minutes. Waiting, waiting, with the guards posted at the door, watching her in turn. Adora doesn’t know what they’re waiting for. Because, really, if they’re going to torture her for information, why don’t they just get on with it?
Though her thoughts are soon interrupted by a harsh knock at the door, one that clangs dissonantly against the metal. Wordlessly, the two guards move aside from their posts, freeing the door to creak open.
Catra stands on the other side, eyeing Adora with an amused sort of triumph. Taking in the sight of Adora tied up, helpless, awaiting interrogation. Her smirk seems irrepressible.
“Hey, Adora,” she greets.
Adora doesn’t reply, of course. Her throat is too dry. Sure, she expected Catra to be here. But that doesn’t erase Adora’s horror in seeing that expectation become reality.
Catra’s gaze flicks between the guards at her right and left.
“Best you two take off,” Catra says, sauntering forward into the room. “I can handle this on my own. Besides…” Her smile flashes dangerously at one of the guards. “I doubt you two will be able to even stomach what I’m about to do.”
With a nervous glance at each other, the guards give Catra a quick salute, then scramble out the door.
Catra kicks the door closed behind herself. It locks automatically with the whirring of hydraulics.
When she again turns toward Adora, her expression carries the same smugness. Adora can only muster a sigh at the sight. She knew Catra always struggled with the idea of defection, always refused to renounce the Horde...but Adora never anticipated that Catra would take joy in something like this.
Catra stalks forward, moving slowly. Deliberately. Her tail swings from side-to-side, like a snake contemplating a strike.
“I’m going to give you one last chance to save your skin,” Catra warns. “Tell me something useful about the rebellion...and I’ll bring you back to your cell unscathed.”
Adora’s eyes harden, staring Catra down. She lets her jaw clench in refusal to speak.
“Come on, Adora,” Catra complains, with an eye roll. “Can’t you just make this easier on both of us? I have better things to do than babysit you, you know.”
“Is that what this is?” Adora asks softly. Defeatedly. “Babysitting?”
Catra places a hand on her own hip.
“No,” Catra tells her, all humor evaporated. “This isn’t babysitting, unfortunately. I’m supposed to interrogate you for information—and use any means to extract it.”
And there it is. The confirmation of Adora’s fears. Catra really is here to torture her.
And worse...she looks almost excited to do it. Excited to hurt Adora, despite everything they’ve been through together over the years. Though Adora shouldn’t really expect anything otherwise. Not after Catra’s most recent pattern of behavior. Her attack on Bright Moon, or the betrayal in the Crystal Castle.
And she brought Adora here, didn’t she? To the Fright Zone. She ambushed Adora, knocked her out, stole her sword. Why would Catra do that, if not to hurt Adora in any way she can?
It’s something Catra has grown skilled at, she supposes. Hurting her. Adora thinks about being left in the Crystal Castle, dangling off a cliff. Crying Catra’s name as Catra walked away. Whenever that memory resurfaces, it seems to grow claws—claws that dig and scratch and carve at Adora’s insides, twisting them up into knots and slicing pieces away.
Catra wants to hurt Adora. Over and over again, Catra has proven that.
“Well?” Adora cocks an eyebrow, despite the way her stomach plummets down to her toes. “Then why don’t you get on with it?”
Catra scoffs. “You’re really so eager to be tortured?”
Adora shrugs. “Ask me for information, torture me for information, kill me for information?” Another shrug. “It’ll all have the same result. I won’t tell you anything. And you’ll end up wasting your time.”
Catra stares at Adora for several moments, silent and contemplating. Her expression is...unreadable. Even for someone like Adora, who has known Catra since they were children, and should be able to interpret Catra’s expressions with the same ease that she can recall her own favorite color.
But not anymore, Adora supposes. That’s another thing that has changed too much, too fast.
“Well,” Catra replies, finally. “Let’s see if that’s really true, shall we?”
Adora’s whole body tenses as Catra reaches out, claws glinting in the dim overhead lights. She’d be lying, too, if she said she didn’t screw her eyes shut in anticipation of pain. But she doesn’t cry out. And doesn’t plea for mercy. She merely sits there, eyes closed, waiting for Catra to strike out.
But instead of a claw to the face, Adora is greeted by a very different sensation.
She feels Catra’s fingers tangle themselves into Adora’s hair, embedding themselves deep until they’re scraping along her scalp. It’s not painful, though. No. It’s a very hesitant touch, if anything.
And then Catra is tugging. Tugging, lightly. Adora’s eyes open to see long strands of her own hair pulled from her ponytail, hanging down across her face. It probably looks as though her ponytail half fell out of its elastic, leaving her with a messy in-between look. Hair pulled up, but also hanging out. Her hair poof must be entirely destroyed—
Adora blinks at Catra in confusion. “What are—”
But she doesn’t finish. Not before Catra shushes her harshly.
Adora is entirely unprepared to see Catra raising her claws. Raising them, only to bring them down on the collar of Adora’s jacket. They tear through the fabric with an ugly ripping noise.
“Catra!” Adora shrieks. “What are you doing?”
Catra pauses momentarily, tapping at her chin. “On second thought,” she says, under her breath, “Keep doing that. It will make it seem more realistic.”
Catra slashes through another panel of fabric on Adora’s jacket. Not deep enough to mark skin, but deep enough to expose Adora’s shoulder to the cold Fright Zone air, and force goosebumps to rise.
Adora is about to voice her outrage when Catra again reaches for Adora’s hair. Though, rather than tugging out strands this time, she rubs her palm across the top of her head. Rubs it quickly, and forcefully. And of course the friction creates a great deal of frizz and static, enough to make Adora look truly stupid.
Her hair must be standing upright, probably like she’s been electrocuted. And Catra knows that Adora hates when people mess with her hair—
She doesn't understand what’s happening. Is Catra’s special brand of torture doing this? Making Adora look as stupid as possible? Because if it is...Adora wouldn’t call it effective. Annoying, maybe, but not effective. If anything, Adora will be withholding information out of spite at this point, rather than loyalty to the princesses.
Catra is standing there, studying Adora as she continues to mess with Adora’s hair. Studying her closely, as though she’s placing the finishing touches on a painting.
“Can you please cut that out?” Adora says ducking her head out from under Catra’s hand. “What the hell are you—”
Catra sighs. Lowly, she whispers, “Can you just shut up and trust me for five minutes?”
Adora resists the urge to scoff. Trust Catra? After everything that’s happened recently?
But after noticing the determined, almost frightened expression on Catra’s face, Adora realizes that Catra is serious. Deathly serious. Serious, and nervous, judging by the way she keeps glancing at the door. Glancing as though it might be opened at any moment.
And only then does she finally understand what Catra is doing.
Catra is trying to fake it. To make Adora look tortured, rather than actually torture her. If Adora doesn’t come out of this room looking clawed up and disheveled...no one will believe that Catra actually did as she was ordered.
“Come on,” Catra breathes, and detaches all of Adora’s cuffs from the chair. The ones on Adora’s hands pull back together automatically, yanked into connection by magnets. Though her ankles are left free to walk. And that’s all Catra needs as she yanks Adora to her feet and drags her to the side of the room, her grip tight on Adora’s forearm.
“Can you do something useful for once and pretend to scream?” Catra whispers. As she says the words, she tugs a taser free from her belt. Though it is different from any taser that Adora has ever seen before. It’s larger, for one, and bright red in color. Adora can only assume it’s some sort of special weapon designed for these kinds of torture sessions.
Well, not this kind of torture session, specifically. Adora is fairly certain there hasn’t been anything like this before.
“But I’m…” Adora stammers back, struggling to whisper. “I’ve never been a very good actress.”
“Then get good,” Catra urges. “Or else we’re both dead.”
At that...Adora can only nod.
“Here we go,” Catra mumbles, more to herself than Adora, it seems. Her thumb flips a switch on the taser, and Adora is near-blinded by a storm of electricity from the top of the weapon, one so powerful that it raises every hair on Adora’s body. It’s so agonizing to simply stand near it, she cannot imagine it being used on her body.
A special taser, indeed. One that, she suspects, is not powerful enough to kill. But powerful enough to inflict great pain. Adora can barely hear her own thoughts over the deafening crackling and buzzing of that weapon.
Catra holds the taser out to the side, far from their bodies. She affixes her gaze to Adora’s face in front of her, mere inches apart from her own. And with a pointed flick of her eyes, she urges Adora to do as she’s been instructed.
So Adora screams. She screams and screams over the buzz-crackle of that weapon, pretending physical agony even when she suffers from an entirely different form of torture. The torture of complete and utter confusion. Because Adora doesn’t understand why Catra’s doing this, why she’s trying to rescue Adora from this interrogation session, especially since Hordak will definitely punish Catra if he finds out…
But she can’t ask. Not now, when she’s playing the part of the prisoner being tortured. Not when Catra’s blue-yellow eyes are on her, urging her to keep going. Urging her to keep this secret together, just like they used to. Though those old secrets were always simpler; skipped chores and stolen food and pranks that they never wanted to be blamed for.
But this secret is not so childish. Its consequences are severe. Deadly, even. And in doing this...Catra is trusting Adora with her life, and Adora is trusting Catra with hers.
It’s the closest thing they’ve had to friendship in a long time.
Hordak is there, waiting for her. Sitting upon his throne, half-bathed in shadow. His eyes are laser-focused on Catra’s face, intense both in color and in barely-constrained rage.
Catra must crane her neck to look at him, so high is he off the ground. A full flight of steps separates her and that throne. To her eyes, there seems to be a million of them. A million steps, a million feet between.
“Let me guess…” Hordak begins, having anticipated what Catra has to say—and, judging by the vicious growl in his voice, how he feels about the matter.
“Interrogation of the prisoner has once again failed to get us any useful information,” Catra recites, same as she usually does. This must be the fourth time she’s told the same lie. The fourth time she’s claimed to have tried and failed to torture Adora for information.
In reality, though… Adora is unharmed beyond mussed hair and torn up clothes. And Catra hasn’t even attempted a real interrogation. She does ask, on occasion, for Adora to give up some fragment of useful information—the question usually posed in the moments before Catra activates the taser, and Adora pretends to scream.
But Adora always just smirks and replies with her usual, “You wish.”
And maybe that bothers Catra. It bothers Catra that she’s risking her neck for Adora with this lie, but Adora can’t give some small scrap of stupid rebel intel in exchange.
But it still doesn’t bother Catra enough to make her want to torture Adora.
Catra gives a deep bow. “I’m sorry, Lord Hordak. Everything she tells us, we already know. It’s possible that the rebels just didn’t share much classified information with her.”
Hordak snarls at her, metal-encased fingers curling tight around the arms of his throne. “She is a princess, isn’t she? And not only that...but the one they call She-Ra. Their hero. Surely she must know something—”
“She was a Horde soldier before she was a princess,” Catra reminds him, and is somewhat stunned to find that the words escape indignant. “Maybe they didn’t trust her enough to tell her anything important.”
He waves a dismissive hand. “Somehow, I doubt that. The princesses are all too foolish and trusting. Besides...she has led their battles. She convenes with Queen Angella and her daughter. If not battle plans, she must have observations to share—”
His mouth snaps abruptly shut, both eyes narrowing to suspicious strips of red as they land on Catra’s face. For too long he sits like that, staring. Scrutinizing. Calculating, perhaps, with his eyes trained on Catra’s face, and Catra’s face alone.
She’s equally devoted to the task of staring back. She doesn’t want to seem nervous. Doesn’t want to seem like she’s lying, or has something to hide.
In fact, her attention is so fully occupied that Catra jumps when the Imp swoops in from the ceiling, its bat-like wings extended wide and its baby’s face split wide into a mischievous grin.
It nearly knocks into Catra’s head as it glides past, up toward Hordak’s throne. Hordak does not so much as flinch as the creature lands and perches itself over his left shoulder.
The Imp leans forward to hiss at Catra.
She resists the urge to hiss back.
“Are you sure that you’re giving the prisoner sufficient...incentive...to divulge the rebellion’s secrets?” Hordak asks, an idle hand traveling upward to stroke at the Imp’s cheek.
Incentive. That’s always been a euphemism for punishment, in the Horde. Cadets had incentive to be best in their class because, otherwise, they’d be punished with the most back-breaking chores. Soldiers had incentive to be obedient, else they’d be punished with physical discipline from their superiors.
And now prisoners have incentive to turn over information, otherwise they will be punished with torture.
“Yes,” Catra lies, through gritted teeth. “I’ve followed the Horde’s best information extraction techniques. None have yielded any results.”
Information extraction. Yet another euphemism. Though this one directly applies to torture, and little else about the Fright Zone.
“And you are certain?” he demands, in a voice low and unforgiving. His finger stills in his stroking of the Imp’s cheek as he leans forward, bending so that he can fully look down on her. “You are certain that you have tried everything to force her to talk?”
“Yes,” Catra repeats.
Though this time, her voice wavers just slightly. Catching on some enormous lump in her throat—a pressure formed from the weight of this lie, and one that grows with every layer of dishonesty Catra adds to it.
Hordak raises an eyebrow. Catra’s heart rate rises with it.
Catra is quick to clear her throat and add, “I’ve done everything I can. Problem is...” Catra scratches at the back of her own neck, trying to fabricate a convincing lie. “...she knows too much about how we torture people. I mean, she was one of us. I think she’s trained herself to be immune to our tactics, so there’s really no point in continuing—”
Hordak gives another snarl and resumes petting the Imp.
“Very well,” Hordak says. “I won’t waste further resources on her. Best that we make an example of her instead—show the other soldiers what happens to defectors.”
Catra’s eyes widen.
Shit. Catra just wanted him to stop asking for her to interrogate Adora. Catra definitely wasn’t arguing for Hordak to get rid of Adora.
“Wait—” Catra protests.
“A swift execution is too merciful,” Hordak muses, scratching at his chin. “But an exile to Beast Island is too dangerous for us. It’s not large enough to properly hide her. If former Force Captain Adora revealed too much about the island to the princesses...they could easily find and rescue her.”
“Lord Hordak,” Catra interrupts. “We might still be able to use Adora. We could use her to set a trap for the princesses, or—”
But he is not listening. Instead, Hordak seems fully occupied with the task of doling out Adora’s death sentence. “So,” he mutters to himself more than to Catra. “If not execution, and if not Beast Island, that leaves…”
“The Crimson Waste,” she answers, in a small voice.
“You want us to send Adora to the Crimson Waste?” Catra whispers.
“Yes,” says Hordka, all smugness as he relaxes back into his throne. “I think that will suit the rebellion’s hero nicely. She-Ra was lost for a thousand years...and she will be lost again to the sands of the Crimson Waste. Besides, the Waste is a technological deadzone. No one shall be able to find the former Force Captain once she is sent there. Not the princesses, and not any other…” His red eyes flash at Catra. “Lingering defectors-to-be here, in the Fright Zone.”
“Psh,” Catra snorts—perhaps a little too forcefully. “There are no other defectors, Lord Hordak. Everyone else is fully devoted to our cause.”
“I hope you are right, Force Captain,” Hordak says. “I’d hate to lose yet another promising officer to the princess’ lies.”
Catra swallows again. “And what about the sword?”
Hordak smiles. “I think I will continue to study it. See if I can turn the princess’ weapon against them.”
“H-how…” Catra shakes her head, willing herself to speak more steadily. “How long until we send her there? To the Crimson Waste.”
“Tomorrow, I believe, will be sufficient,” he says. “The sooner we remove her from the Fright Zone, the better. Best we send her somewhere where she’ll never be seen again—and where she can no longer cause us, or anyone else, further trouble.”
Catra nods, but in a blank, unseeing sort of way. Like she can’t quite process what she’s hearing.
Because she can’t. She’s imagined defeating Adora, of course. Forcing her to watch as Catra wins, as those stupid princesses lose the war. But Catra never imagined...she never imagined losing Adora forever. She never pictured Adora dead, or starving in some sort of empty desert wasteland—
“Well?” Hordak demands, the word brimming with impatience. “Shouldn’t you be preparing her transport?”
The Imp gives a squawk—one that affirms its master’s point—and it takes all of Catra’s willpower not to lunge and tear the stupid thing’s eyes out.
“Yes, Lord Hordak,” she manages, despite how nausea sends her words tumbling and trembling from her mouth. Walking from the room is something of a challenge too. Especially now that she knows what she must do once she leaves it.
“You look out for me, and I look out for you.”
Again, Catra wishes that she could forget those damn words.
Groggy eyes crack open. Adora is no longer surprised to wake this way, chained to the wall of a Fright Zone prison cell. Enough days have passed that she’s grown accustomed to it. But she is surprised to be roused at this strange hour, when most of the lights in the prison cells are switched off, and only sparse guards patrol the outer corridors.
It must be in the middle of the night.
“Psst,” a voice hisses again.
Adora can identify who it is based on tone alone.
She just doesn’t understand why Catra is here at this hour. Usually, Catra only visits Adora in the interrogation rooms—the ones where Catra pretends to interrogate Adora. After that, sometimes Catra will walk Adora back to her cell. But beyond that, they don’t interact anywhere else. Especially not here, where so many other prisoners or guards can see.
Though there doesn’t seem to be anyone paying attention at the moment.
“What’s wrong?” Adora whispers back. She can’t see Catra, not at first. Not until Catra carefully slides to the spot just outside the forcefield protected door. She glances about, ensuring that there’s no guards within close vicinity, waiting to catch them.
Immediately, Adora can tell that Catra is upset. Her posture is tense, and her ears are tucked toward her head.
Once Catra determines that the guards are all far enough away—and the adjacent prisoners fast asleep—she turns back to Adora.
“We’ve got a problem,” Catra tells her. “And if you wanna stay alive...we’ll have to act quickly.”
Catra tells Adora everything.
Well, not everything. But what she needs to know to stay alive.
“I’m going to send an anonymous tip to your rebel friends,” Catra whispers. “Let them know about the route we’re taking to the Crimson Waste. With any luck, they’ll attack your transport and free you, and we’re both off the hook from any further trouble.” She smirks just a little. “And then we’ll be back to fighting each other, just like old times.”
But Adora doesn’t look quite so amused. “Just like old times,” Adora whispers. And she sounds almost...sad. “That’s not old times, Catra. Us being enemies...that’s still new to me. And after all this…” Adora shakes her head. “I’m not sure that’s even true anymore. How am I supposed to view you as my enemy when you risked yourself for me?”
Catra’s nostrils flare. “Would you rather I hadn’t?”
“No,” whispers Adora, then sighs. “It’s just...you clearly don’t agree with Hordak’s methods, or Shadow Weaver’s. Otherwise you would’ve tortured me when Hordak asked. So...why don’t we both just leave tonight? We could both go to Bright Moon, where it’s safe.”
“Bright Moon may be safe for you,” Catra hisses. “But it’s not safe for me. No one would want me there. Especially not after I attacked it—”
A pause. And then Adora murmurs—
“I would. I’d want you there, even if no one else did.”
The admission makes Catra’s every limb feel like it’s dissolving into dust. Because it’s a nice thought. Really, it is. But the fact remains that it’s just not true. Adora will want Catra there so long as it’s convenient. But when heroism calls or whatever...she’ll leave Catra behind. Same as before. Same as always.
So Catra shakes her head, shakes off the thought, that odd floating sensation. “It doesn’t matter,” she tells Adora, and herself. “I belong here. I want to be here. Just because I didn’t want to see you barbecued doesn’t mean I want to leave.”
Adora’s face collapses in disappointment. Something in Catra collapses too, something weak and confusing and not at all sensible, but she can’t identify it. If she could, she would’ve torn it out of herself long ago.
“But I still plan to see you on the battlefield,” Catra adds, quietly. But just loud enough for Adora to hear. “So be prepared tomorrow. When the rebels attack your transport...you need to be ready to run.”
“And what about the sword?”
Catra rolls her eyes. Of course Adora wants the sword. There’s nothing she cares about more, least of all Catra.
“I can’t get you that,” Catra tells her honestly. “Hordak has it in his sanctum. With any luck, maybe you’ll get it back someday. But it’s not something I can help you with now.”
Adora sighs, head hanging low. Like the loss of the sword is some great tragedy or something. When, in reality, Catra knows that Adora is just as capable on the battlefield by herself, even without She-Ra’s strength to buoy her.
Catra misses it, almost. How they used to roughhouse and spar together. Heavy breathing and sweat flying and occasional giggling. Adora’s wide smile above or under her. Pokes and harmless jabs exchanged, rather than real blows.
Fighting with She-Ra was so different—like fighting a mountain, rather than rolling across the floor with an old friend.
“Hey,” Catra hisses. “I’m still saving you from a terrible death. Take what you can get.”
“I know,” murmurs Adora. “And I am grateful, Catra. Really, I am.”
Adora turns her head to face Catra directly—and Catra is stunned to see tears brimming there, at the edges of her eyes. Glistening in the low light of the prison cell, almost green in the way they reflect the forcefield.
“But I don’t know what I’ll do without the sword. I don’t know how I’ll face everyone if I’m not She-Ra anymore.”
A part of Catra wants to smirk at this. Because duh, of course the rebellion only cares about Adora so long as she’s She-Ra. Catra knew that from the very start. They’re not real friends, not like Catra was. Catra, who only wanted Adora around as herself, not some sparkly princess.
But Catra knows it’s useless to point that out. If anything, Adora needs to go back to the rebellion, whether or not they’ll still want her without She-Ra. If she stays here in the Fright Zone, she’ll be shipped off to the Crimson Waste to die.
So Catra rolls her eyes and says something she never thought she’d say out loud.
“You don’t need She-Ra to be useful to the rebellion. If the princesses don’t realize that you’re their greatest asset, powers or none, then they’re idiots.”
Adora’s eyes widen a bit at that, and Catra can’t stand to look at them a second longer. Cheeks burning red, she whirls around to avoid the pressure of Adora’s gaze—though she can still feel it boring into the spot between Cat's shoulder blades.
“You’re being sent out tomorrow night,” Catra says. “I’ll send the rebellion the anonymous tip in the morning. Hopefully they’ll respond and rescue you somewhere along the way.”
“And what if they don’t?” Adora asks, in a small voice. She grew up in the Horde. She knows as much about the Crimson Waste as Catra does—that it’s an empty deadzone. That everything that travels there is immediately lost to civilization. That there’s no food, no water—nothing but sprawling sand dunes and monsters and hostile vegetation.
It’s not as terrifying in their memories as Beast Island is. But Beast Island, at least, would provide a swift death, though a horrifying one. The Crimson Waste is where people are sent to wander and die. Catra really isn’t sure which is worse.
“Then...I don’t know,” Catra says. “We’ll just have to hope your stupid rebel friends pull through.”
Catra doesn’t know what to say, after that. She never thought she’d be hoping for Arrow Boy and Sparkles’s success. Yet here she is. Hoping for it, for Adora’s sake.
Adora doesn’t seem to know what to say either. She is silent. Everything is silent, really, save the buzzing of that forcefield.
“Thank you, Catra,” Adora murmurs.
Catra just grunts and begins to walk away. “Yeah, well. Don’t get too mushy on me. I’ll still fight you the next time I see you on the battlefield.”
“Looking forward to it,” Adora whispers back. And of course Catra hears, she can hear almost everything with those ears of hers.
She walks. Walks away. Walks with that one sentence echoing in her skull as she goes, wondering whether it was sarcastic or genuine, because really, it’s sometimes so hard to tell where Adora is concerned—
Hold on. What the hell was that?
Catra’s train of thought careens to a crashing halt when she sees something in her periphery. A brief movement. A shadow. She catches only the briefest glimpse of it, but...it’s still something that raises every hair on her body and causes her tail to puff up.
She freezes, turns. Eyes wide in search for some sort of pursuer. Because surely she saw something, even if just for a moment. Like something crawling out of the pipes that run all along the walls.
But there’s nothing, of course. Just an empty, dark hallway. Silent. Still.
Catra gives a skeptical hum and turns back around, continuing her march back to her quarters. She sees nothing else on her journey. And when she arrives in her room, she flops backwards onto the bed, more exhausted than she even realized.
She releases an enormous sigh and shuts her eyes. Catra can’t really believe that she’s doing this. That she’s helping Adora return to the rebellion. The rebellion, Catra’s enemy.
Still. It doesn’t keep Catra up at night. She falls asleep almost immediately.
“Catra!” a voice hisses, desperately. “Wake up!”
Catra’s eyes fly open.
For whatever reason, she’s not in her quarters, or her bed, like she expected to be. As far as she can tell...she’s not even in the Fright Zone at all.
So how exactly did she end up here? And where exactly is here?
She sits up, examining her surroundings. There are walls and a ceiling, all metal and crowding in their closeness, none of them long or particularly tall. The ceiling is remarkably low, Catra notes, and free of the pipes and metal fixtures that usually adorn the ceilings of rooms in the Fright Zone.
Instead of the thin mattress that Horde officers are usually provided, Catra’s shoulders and back ache against a cold metal floor. A floor that moves beneath her, humming with a faint vibration that Catra can identify as an engine, and terrain beneath wheels.
A transport. Catra must be in a transport.
“Catra!” the voice calls again. “Are you okay?”
With a start, Catra realizes that the voice is coming from behind her. Directly behind her, probably mere inches away.
She curses herself for only just realizing that there’s a body sitting there, just out of sight. She can’t see it, not from this angle. But she can smell who it is. Catra’s nose can do that much, at least.
Catra leans back until she sees her—the person sitting behind Catra. And sure enough, with unkempt blonde hair and a torn-up jacket, Adora is right there. Watching Catra with wide, fearful eyes—like Catra is recovering from some sort of terrible injury, and Adora is at her bedside.
“I’m fine,” Catra tells Adora, because she knows that she should. Because Adora sounds exceedingly worried. And it’s annoying that Catra still cares about whether Adora is worried, or upset. Because Catra really shouldn’t care. She shouldn’t care at all.
Though Catra soon discovers that she’s not quite fine. A glance down reveals that Catra’s hands have been shackled together, her hands (and claws) completely enclosed within a set of metal cuffs.
“I think they sedated you,” Adora whispers. “Then cuffed you and brought you here. I’m so sorry, Catra. I didn’t want you to get caught, to get dragged down with me—”
Catra cranes her neck, nearly straining her muscles to see Adora behind herself.
And there she is, cuffed in the same way Catra is—though her hands aren’t covered like Catra’s are. Her wrists are simply bound together. She also sits on the floor of the transport, though she seems far less panicked by the relocation than Catra does. Probably because she was awake when they brought Adora here, and Catra was not.
It doesn’t matter, though. At the end of the day...they’re both prisoners now.
Catra groans. Of course they’re both prisoners now. Of course Catra can’t get away with anything, ever, in her life. And of course Catra is now going to die because she couldn’t keep herself from helping Adora, even when she knew it would only bring her trouble.
All the bullshit in Catra’s life. Somehow it always comes back to Adora. And now Catra is no better than Shadow Weaver, a prisoner, a traitor—
“Force Captain Catra.”
Catra jumps and scrambles backward as a bright light flashes directly to her right. It seems that what she thought was a wall is actually a giant screen, one that is now displaying an enormous rendition of Hordak’s snarling face.
“Or should I say...Former Force Captain,” Hordak adds, through the screen and speakers. “You and your rebel ally share that title now. That, and the title of traitor.”
Catra swallows hard. “Look,” Catra says, scrambling to restore what little remains of her own trustworthiness, “You’ve got it all wrong, Lord Hordak. I’m no ally to the rebels. I was the one who invaded Bright Moon. Who hacked a runestone—”
“Do not lie to me,” Hordak hisses. And through the screen, Catra can see a glimpse of a shadow passing overhead, a small one. One that then lands on Hordak’s shoulder and perches there. Smirking at Catra through the camera lens.
“Besides,” says Hordak, reaching upward to pat the Imp’s head. “I have it on good authority that you are, in fact, a traitor.”
Shit. The shadow in the hallway the other night—that must have been the Imp. Snooping on Catra, spying on her, all so that it could crawl back to Hordak and snitch on her.
But of course it’s not true that Catra betrayed the Horde. She still wants the Horde to win. She still wants the princesses to lose. Catra just didn’t want to torture Adora, or send her to the Crimson Waste. There was no point, is all. And as soon as Adora was returned to the rebels, Catra hoped to go right back to war planning.
But the Imp wouldn’t care about that. Not when Catra’s conversations with Adora sounded so much like betrayal.
Oh, if Catra ever sees that stupid little winged demon again, she’s going to—
“My spy recorded how you conspired with the rebel princess,” Hordak continues. “You sought to deceive me. Help our enemies. And now...you will suffer the same fate as the prisoner you sought to set free.”
Again, Catra gulps. But this time she has nothing to say in response. Nothing to say, nothing to do to stop this from happening.
“This transport will deliver you both to the Crimson Waste,” Hordak says, “where you will both wander and perish, never to be found again. Your punishment will act as a lesson to all future soldiers who consider defecting from the Horde—a lesson on how it is a deadly mistake, one that they will suffer greatly for.”
But Catra is not a defector. Adora is, but not Catra. Catra stayed with the Horde, she stayed loyal, and this is the thanks Catra gets—?
“You’re wrong,” says Adora, to the screen. “With every act of cruelty, you inspire more and more people to defect. This is going to backfire on you. Just like all your other plans to conquer Etheria.”
Catra rolls her eyes. Typical hero speech from Adora.
“We will see about that,” Hordak replies, smug. “Though I do not expect much regrouping from the rebellion. Not without their precious She-Ra to protect them. Your failure has doomed them.”
From her periphery, Catra can see Adora stiffen at the accusation. A sure sign that Hordak’s words have affected her—cut deeply into the confidence she was pretending to possess.
Catra’s rage heats and heats. It’s always there, always simmering thanks to the shitshow that has been Catra’s whole life. But now it’s been made boiling from every fucked up facet of this situation—Hordak’s refusal to trust and believe Catra, Adora’s defection and forced return, Catra’s fury at even being asked to torture a person in the first place, Catra’s own goddamn stupidity at falling into the ocean-sized trap that is Adora’s eyes.
And, of course, her utter outrage that Hordak thinks he’ll do anything—conquer anything—without Catra dragging him over the finish line.
“She’s right, you know,” Catra bites out. “The Fright Zone was already bad enough when Shadow Weaver was running things. But without her, and without me? You’ve got nothing. No one with half a brain to keep wheels turning on the war machine.”
Despite herself, despite how afraid she is, Catra releases a laugh. High. Triumphant. Like Hordak’s the one heading to an execution right now, instead of Catra.
“You’re not gonna lose because the princesses regroup, or get revenge,” Catra adds, with another sighing laugh. “You’re going to lose because you’re too useless to actually run the army you claim to rule. So good luck. Good luck without me.”
That, at least, seems to wipe the smugness off Hordak’s face. His lips pull back from his mouth, exposing sharp teeth, and a growl pulses from deep in his throat.
“You are mistaken,” Hordak grits out. “And even if you were not...at least I will be satisfied to know that you died a death befitting of your traitorous behavior.”
“Yeah, well...we’ll see,” Catra shoots back. “I’ve survived a lot more than anyone’s thought possible. Maybe I’ll survive this too. And maybe when I do...I’ll come back and steal that throne out from under you.”
Hordak gives a grunt. A disbelieving one, and opens his mouth as though prepared to give a retort of his own—
But then he is gone, the video feed cutting to a storm of static.
“Good,” says Catra. “He finally shut up.”
But she can see Adora shaking her head.
“That static…” Adora says. “You know what it means, don’t you?”
Catra scoffs. “Of course I do.”
She stares at the wall, as though squinting at it hard enough might allow her to gaze out into the empty desert beyond. The one that awaits Catra and Adora as soon as this transport stops and releases them.
“We just entered a technological deadzone,” Catra says. “Which means we’re finally here. We’ve finally entered the Crimson Waste.”