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where we wander, where we conquer

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“WOAH!” shrieks Bow as he just barely jumps out of the jaws of a snapping serpent. He stumbles forward, grabbing Glimmer by the shoulders and shaking her.

“Teleport! Teleport, teleport!” he urges her, screaming at an impossible-sounding pitch. Panic stretches across his every feature, and his grip is near-painfully tight. Glimmer hesitates for probably too long as the snake slithers closer.

“But I’m—”

“Please don’t say you’re out of teleports,” he pleads, face falling in dismay.

But it’s not her fault! It’s not Glimmer’s fault that the Crimson Waste is filled to the brim with deadly things—quicksand, snakes, poisonous plants, rockslides, skin-scorching sun, outlaws with sharp weapons. They can hardly take a step without getting attacked by something, forcing Glimmer to teleport herself and Bow out of harm’s way.

So now she’s out of teleports.

Or, she hopes, nearly out of teleports.

Glimmer glances at that approaching snake, then screws her eyes shut. If she doesn’t do something...that three-headed monster is going to swallow Bow and Glimmer both whole.

“Let me...let me see.”

She searches inside herself for one last scrap of magic—some trace of power left behind from the Moonstone. Surely, there must be something. Something to save them—

And she senses it, finally. A flicker of magic. In her mind, she pictures it like a strip of fabric blown in the wind. She snatches it out of thin air. Dissolves it. Repurposes it. And then, with a frustrated grunt, she grabs Bow and allows herself to dissolve too. Teleporting away in a shower of sparkles. Away from the snake. Away from the danger.

And away from Adora’s trail.

When Glimmer opens her eyes, she’s in a different stretch of desert. One that’s quiet. One that she knows to be safe, because she’s walked it before.

But just because it’s safe doesn’t mean it’s where Glimmer wants to go. By teleporting here, Glimmer backtracked. She’s back to where she started. No closer to their destination, no closer to finding Adora.

She stands there with Bow, panting. Waiting for the adrenaline to dissipate.

Until Glimmer’s frustration boils over.

“Ughhh!” Glimmer screams, stomping her foot and curling her fists. “I hate this place! I hate the Crimson Waste. We can’t move an inch without something trying to kill us. At this rate, we’ll never find Adora.”

Bow shakes his head and places a hand on her shoulder. “I know,” he says. “Trust me, I know. But we can’t give up on Adora—”

“Of course we can’t give up on Adora,” Glimmer sighs, taking a deep breath to calm down. “But would it have killed Entrapta to make this stupid tracker—” she pulls out the device that Scorpia gave her, the one that’s supposed to zero in on Catra’s Force Captain badge, “actually work for more than five minutes?”

She shakes the device in question, willing the static to clear from the screen.

Bow shoots her a look. An annoyed one. And Glimmer almost immediately realizes why. It wasn’t long ago that Bow and the princesses thought Entrapta actually had been killed. That she had been killed during that rescue mission into the Fright Zone—a mission to rescue Glimmer and Bow, of all things.

“Sorry,” Glimmer says, pushing a hand through her own hair. “Too soon with the ‘killed’  jokes.”

Bow steps forward and plucks the device from Glimmer’s hand. She watches as he smacks the static from its circuits, causing the screen to render properly. A red dot begins to blink again, as well as an arrow that points them in the correct direction.

“I think the electromagnetic interference is stronger in certain locations, and weaker in others,” Bow speculates. “Which is why it keeps going on the fritz. Entrapta couldn’t possibly know that, though—she’s never been to the Waste herself.”

Bow kneels and pulls a piece of paper and a pencil from his backpack. “While we have it working, we should draw a map. It might not be totally accurate, but it’s better than getting lost again—”

Glimmer releases another groan and leans back against a nearby boulder. They’ve been searching for Adora for weeks now, walking across the Waste with that silly red dot—the dot that represents Catra—always remaining elusive or submerged in static. In the end, Glimmer and Bow are always forced to retreat to Bright Moon due to lack of supplies, and only to return in a couple days’ time.

Every attempt to find Adora has been an enormous failure. An enormous failure, and occasionally, a near-death experience.

And Glimmer doesn’t like to think about it...but she can’t imagine how anyone could survive in a place like this. Adora is tough, one of the toughest people that she knows...but can she really fight off the entire Waste by herself? For months? Because that’s how long Adora has been here, in the Waste. Months.

How could she survive?

Did she survive?

But Glimmer shakes off that thought. Adora is okay. She has to be. Maybe she found some sort of luxury castle in the Waste, one that Glimmer and Bow have yet to discover—

But then Glimmer imagines Adora staying with Catra in a castle, and the thought is just too strange to exist for more than a few seconds.

Bow makes a triumphant noise and rises to his feet, the paper—now scrawled with the vague topography of a landscape—clutched between his hands. “Alright, I’ve finished the map. More-or-less. Hopefully it will get us closer.”

He slips the device into his backpack. “We should get moving,” he tells her. “We only have two days’ worth of supplies. I don’t want us to have to come back again if we can avoid it—Adora has been here long enough. Too long. She deserves to go home.”

“Well, yeah,” Glimmer says, and begins following Bow as he walks forward, following the map. “I mean...I don’t know how she can stand to be with Catra for this long. She’s the worst.”

Bow laughs a little. But it quickly fades into a tense silence. A nervous one.

Because there’s still a fear—a fear about the tracking device. The device tracks Catra, and not Adora. And if Adora is not by Catra’s side...they may never find her.

So here Glimmer is. Hoping that Adora and Catra stay together.

Even though Catra got Adora into this mess in the first place.

It’s something of a struggle for Catra—keeping Adora still while Catra tries to wipe a damp cloth beneath and around her nose. Huntara clocked her pretty damn hard during that fight, and her face is totally coated in blood. It looks like she had her nose buried in a carcass of some kind, the blood covered her so completely.

But Adora is positively buzzing with nervous energy. She won’t stop bouncing her leg, glancing at the nearby door. Almost like she’s worried that Huntara is going to break it down and immediately murder them upon entry.

But that’s silly, of course. Adora and Catra are well-protected here. They’re back at Mara’s ship—seated on the bed in their usual quarters. Most of their gang is here, ready to defend them and their facilities should they be attacked.

Or, at least, that’s what Catra thought. But the developments from this fight with makes Catra doubt.

And that’s the reason that Adora is so nervous now. of their own gang members...snitched Adora and Catra’s plans to Huntara. Snitched, for the low, low price of a money bribe. And then Huntara ambushed them. Ambushed them with enough gang members to utterly decimate Catra’s own forces

Catra hadn’t anticipated that. She thought…

She thought that she had secured her people’s loyalty. She thought she had made herself—herself and Adora—indispensable.

But she was wrong. She underestimated just how selfish an individual can be. In the end, when presented with a better offer...people always leave Catra behind. Behind in the dust. Or in the dirt, six feet under.

In this case, it was an attempt at the latter.

She still can’t believe that all it took was some money. A little bit of money in exchange for a betrayal. It seems she really can’t trust anyone in this damn desert.

But she doesn’t want to focus on that right now. Instead, she focuses on clearing the dried blood from Adora’s face. She’s trying to be gentle and careful about it. She’s fairly certain that, beneath all that blood, Adora’s nose has been broken. She doesn’t want to apply too much pressure on it. Catra and Adora have both suffered enough broken noses during training to know that they’re unpleasant to say the least.

“I don’t know if it’s safe for us here anymore,” Adora whispers. She lifts a hand, curling it around Catra’s wrist as Catra continues her scrubbing. Adora’s eyes flick toward the door yet again. Checking. Worrying. “We should consider moving on—”

“Stop moving, and especially stop talking,” Catra hisses, shoving Adora’s hand back to her side. “If I tweak your nose, it’s gonna hurt like hell.”

“I’m fine,” insists Adora. “My nose doesn’t hurt, anyway.”

Catra rolls her eyes. It’s just like Adora to pretend that she’s not injured. “Yeah, yeah. You’re the toughest girl in the Waste, got it. Now stop lying and let me clean this—”

But as she continues wiping at the blood, clearing the layers away to reveal Adora’s nose underneath...she realizes that Adora’s nose doesn’t look broken at all. It’s the same shape as it was before. There’s no swelling, no tell-tale angles of snapped bone. Even the color is exactly the same. There’s no bruises, no anything.

Catra has seen plenty of broken noses. But this? This is a perfectly intact nose. One that has been mysteriously buried beneath a pile of blood.

But that, of course, doesn’t make any sense. Adora’s nose should be broken. Or hurt, at the very least.

“Are you sure this is your blood?” Catra asks, still dabbing at a speck near Adora’s lips.

Adora shoots her a funny look and shakes her head. “Of course it’s my blood, Catra. I spent half the fight trying to keep from choking on it.”

“Huh,” Catra breathes, brow furrowed. How did Adora manage to bleed so much without getting a cut, or a bruise?

Maybe this was just an over-glorified nosebleed? One induced by all the dry desert air…?

But no. Adora was hit. Catra saw that firsthand. She could hear the crack of Huntara’s elbow making contact with Adora’s nose from halfway across the battlefield.

So what the hell is going on here? How is this Adora’s blood if she has no real injury to accompany it?

After folding her arms over her chest, Adora grumbles, “And it’s not like it’s Huntara’s. Didn’t do her enough damage to draw any blood from her.”

“Well,” shrugs Catra. “That was your choice. You knocked her unconscious, in the end. You could have finished the job.”

Adora gives an eye roll of her own.

“That’s what I would have done,” adds Catra.

“It would have cost us people,” Adora emphasizes. “We were already losing pretty badly. And you…” Adora extends a hand, dragging her fingers lightly over the exposed skin of Catra’s neck. There’s a bruise there. One from Huntara’s failed attempt to suffocate her. Adora’s expression is so pained as she stares at it, one would think that she was the one nearly strangled. “You’d been through enough. I didn’t want anyone to have the chance to pick you off while I was picking her off.”

“I probably would have been fine,” Catra says. “And we wouldn’t have to worry about anything if she was gone—”

“We don’t know that,” Adora says. “Her gang might not want to follow us. And worse…” Adora sighs and hangs her head just slightly—enough that Catra has to crouch to get the blood that dripped down Adora’s neck. “Our own gang might not be trustworthy. Someone sold us out already. They could do it again.”

But Catra is still distracted by Adora’s nose. Did it miraculously heal itself during their run back to the ship? Because, really, that’s the only explanation. Even if it’s hardly a logical one—

“Are you listening to me, Catra?”

“Yes,” replies Catra as she lowers the blood-stained rag on the floor. “You’re worried that someone sold us out. “

“And you’re not?”

“Nope,” Catra says, teeth gritted. “I’m mad. Because when I find out who did it...they’re going to be introduced to my claws. And once the rest of the gang sees what happened to them, no one will ever think of betraying us again.”

“And how exactly are you planning to find them?” Adora asks, a skeptical eyebrow raised. “Just gonna ask around until someone admits to it?”

Catra turns around with a snarl, crossing her arms. It annoys her that Adora has a point. Truthfully, there’s no way for Catra to know who snitched. There were forty people on that mission and probably dozens more who knew about it.

She put far too much stock in gang loyalty. She should have kept her own secrets better.

“I don’t get it,” Catra says. “How did money manage to get one of our people to switch sides? Everything here is about bartering, not money—”

“Most things are, yeah,” Adora says. “But they say that there are people with skiffs who accept money, and only money, for transport in and out of the waste. And if that’s what that person wanted—”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” says Catra. “Escape is too tempting, I guess, and I should have realized that. But I’m not going to let Huntara’s spying scare us into losing control of this gang.”

“Then we need to make a truce with her,” Adora says. “That way, we don’t have to worry about her doing this again.”

“A truce?” shrieks Catra, outraged. She finally turns around to face Adora again—so that Adora can see just how much Catra hates that idea. “After what she just pulled?”

“You act like we didn’t start this fight,” Adora says, both hands raised in a gesture of surrender.  “We stole from her. She was just defending her territory.”

“Territory that should have belonged to us,” Catra hisses, jabbing a finger at her own chest.

“And I’m sure she feels differently about that,” Adora says calmly. “To her, that territory was probably hard-earned.”

“I don’t care what she thinks,” Catra grits out. “I mean, are you really going to defend her after today? After she convinced a member of our people to betray us, and then tried to kill me?”

“I’m not defending her at all!” protests Adora. She lays her hands across Catra’s shoulders, her thumbs rubbing circles into the seams of Catra’s leather jacket. “But I don’t…” Something in Adora’s voice fissures and cracks apart. Cracks so severely that it takes a clearing of Adora’s throat to right it again.

The sound of it wipes all anger from Catra’s mind. Her voice sounds so devastated, so frightened…

It hardly sounds like Adora at all.

“I don’t want to risk losing you like that again,” Adora murmurs, desperate. Her jaw trembles just slightly. “So yes. I want a truce with Huntara.”

Catra hesitates. She hesitates because it’s startling—the vehemence, the determination, the pleading beneath Adora’s words. Like putting Catra in danger is really the worst thing that Adora can imagine.

And that might just be a little too much for Catra to process.

She’s rescued from all obligation to answer, however, by an urgent knock at their door.

“Come in!” barks Catra, glad to know what to say in this case. Adora drops one of her hands—though it’s equal parts disorienting and comforting to feel Adora’s other hand tighten around Catra’s shoulder.

The door slides open, revealing one of their gang members.

“Boss,” they say, stepping closer to Catra. “A messenger from Huntara just came by—”

Almost like an electric current passed between them, Adora and Catra stiffen simultaneously. Their eyes yank wide as they exchange a surprised and nervous glance. Why would Huntara send a messenger to them?

“She wants a chance to negotiate a truce.”

Catra’s jaw drops just barely. A what?

And, ugh, Adora is already shifting beside her. Even from Catra’s periphery, she can see the smirk twisting Adora’s features, the infuriating glint of I-told-you-so in Adora’s eyes. The hold on Catra’s shoulder soon transforms into a gloating sort of pat.

But Catra can’t make sense of it. Why would Huntara want a truce? So what if Adora roughed her up a little—Huntara’s forces still utterly pulverized Catra and Adora’s. Not to mention that she successfully turned someone in Catra and Adora’s ranks into a spy. Why would she request a truce when she has an advantage?

But Catra also knows Adora. She’ll never let Catra reject this truce. If there’s any chance of peace, any chance at all, Adora will insist that they take it.

“Did she now?” Adora asks, like she couldn’t be more pleased. And then, with a pointed turn in Catra’s direction, she says, “Good to know we’re all on the same page.”

They agree to meet Huntara on neutral ground. The selected location is somewhere they’ve visited before: the very first bar that Adora and Catra encountered in the Waste—and the place where they had that first bar fight.

Neither Catra nor Adora have visited that bar since. But it’s something of a relief, Adora thinks, to go somewhere that’s at least a little bit familiar as they negotiate a truce with Huntara.

Moonlight streams through the half-open ceiling as they enter. The bar looks exactly as Adora remembers—same chipped tables and chairs. Same cracked, dusty bottles. Though there’s a new dent there, in the bar’s counter. Right where Catra shoved her knife through the goat woman’s hand.

They’ve certainly left a mark on this place.

She can only hope that they won’t have to leave another.

One thing Adora didn’t expect, though, is for the bar to be crowded. It’s fairly late at night, sure—the sun long since fallen beneath the rock-dotted horizon—which is peak time for bar-goers. But Adora knows that it’s rare to find so many people in the same part of the Waste, no matter what time of day. It’s a big desert. And a crowded place in the Waste is synonymous with a dangerous one. No one in the Waste can really be trusted, after all.

The last time Adora was in a location so crowded, she was suffering through her first sip of cactus liquor at that party. And this nighttime meeting in a dirty bar to discuss an end to gang hardly strikes Adora as a party. A chore, perhaps—and an anxiety-provoking one at that. But not a party.

Adora and Catra brought several of their own people to secure themselves—as well as weapons for added protection. They obviously can’t storm into the bar with their weapons drawn and their gang members primed for attack, as that would be counterproductive to the whole “truce” thing. But Adora has her bone sword slung through her belt, and Catra has a whip in a similar spot. Placed in an easily-accessed location, just in case. And their gang members have been instructed to be ready for anything.

Huntara seems to have the same idea in mind. She’s brought probably around ten lackeys (including that goat-and-lizard-woman duo that Adora and Catra brawled long ago). They occupy half of a large table at the center of the bar.

All of Huntara’s people are armed, Adora can see. Armed with blades made of bones, bludgeons carved from rock, bolas and nets woven from twine.

Dangerous items—though hardly unexpected ones. Adora takes small comfort in the fact that these weapons, though present, also seem to be sheathed. A small sign of hope, perhaps, even if neither party refuses to trust one another completely.

The object of concern, though, is that Huntara’s people and Catra’s people aren’t the only patrons within the bar tonight. There are large groups gathered at the edges of the room, their eyes sharpened by excitement and their voices buzzing with anticipation.

Individuals associated with neither gang, Adora would guess. Just people here to enjoy the show.

Tonight’s talks must be big entertainment to the rest of the Waste—a rare opportunity to watch the two most powerful gangs in the desert negotiate peace, or something close to it. The tension, the drama of it’s really no wonder they attracted so many spectators.

Though surely they must acknowledge the risk of being here—the risk of the talks going wrong and finding themselves standing mere inches away from an all-out gang war. Adora doesn’t know if she’d attend if she had the choice. It’d be too dangerous. An invitation for trouble, and for what? The chance to see a little drama firsthand?

Not, of course, that Adora does have a choice in being here. As Catra’s second-in-command and also sort of something more...she must be here. She has an enormous stake in what transpires here. And if a fight really does break out...Adora wants to be here to defend Catra. She wouldn’t trust anyone else with that responsibility.

“Evening, ladies,” Huntara greets, in that annoyingly sexy growl of hers. And it’s instantaneous—the way her voice cuts through the chatter, flattening it to silence. There’s no sound at all in the moments after. Just the hiss of dust and the occasional cough.

She extends a hand and taps the tabletop—gesturing to the seat directly across from herself. “Why don’t we begin our talk, hm?”

An invitation for Catra to sit down.

Catra’s eyes narrow, but the rest of her remains unmoving. Unbudged. Too many long, still, soundless moments pass before Adora has the presence of mind to give Catra a subtle nudge—one that just barely urges her forward.

She hears Catra grumble something unintelligible under her breath before she finally steps forward and sinks into the seat.

Adora follows after her, sinking into the adjacent chair, while the rest of their people gather behind them. Covering their backs, as instructed.

“You've come a long way since I first saw you,” Huntara remarks, eyes flitting between Catra and Adora both. A smile spreads across her lips, one that looks almost proud. “When I first set eyes on you, you were a pair of starving, dehydrated, lost little girls. But now…”

She gives an impressed chuckle.

“Now you’re leaders. Tradespeople. And…” Her smile falters. “A humongous pain in my ass.”

Catra only smirks. “For a pair of starving, dehydrated, lost little girls...we sure as hell managed to hand that ass to you. Even on that night we first met.”

“Maybe so,” Huntara shrugs. “Even I can acknowledge when I’ve been caught off guard. And you too certainly did that—in more ways than one. But as you’ve probably noticed recently…” Huntara leans forward to whisper: “I’m not so surprised anymore. Now, I’m defending what’s mine. And I am more than capable of fighting off a couple naive outsiders like you.”

Adora can practically sense the snarl building in Catra’s throat. It’s evident there, by the tension in Catra’s posture. The vivid and mounting fury in those blue-yellow eyes. The sharp tips of her claws, scraping into the table.

“So what do you want?” interrupts Adora, desperate to defuse the situation. “You asked for a truce. We want one too.” She leans forward. “So what do we have to do to make it happen?”

Huntara sweeps Adora with an appraising stare, almost like she’s measuring whether Adora is worth a response. She crosses her arms and leans back in her chair. Which leaves Adora trying very, very, very hard not to gawk at Huntara’s flexing arm muscles.

“I don’t know,” says Huntara, one eyebrow cocked. “What can you give me that makes a truce worth my while?” She smirks. “I am the one winning this little gang war, aren’t I?”

Catra slams her hands down on the table and springs to her feet. Her claws gouge the tabletop as she hisses, “You? Winning?”

She laughs in that way that is so exclusively Catra. A shrieking, patronizing bout of laughter meant to humiliate Huntara more than anything else. “After Adora knocked you out with a single shove during our last fight? We could end you—”

Huntara’s eyes are next to narrow. Narrowing at Catra in barely-restrained fury. Her head begins to shake from side-to-side, a tsk-tsk sound percussing from her lips.

“See,” Huntara says, and there’s an especially menacing note to her voice now. “Talk like that...really makes me not want to call a truce.”

“She didn’t—” Adora begins, trying to salvage the situation—but Huntara scoffs and raises a hand to quiet her.

“Didn’t what?” Huntara asks, to Adora. “Didn’t mean it?”

It’s mocking. Huntara is mocking them. And Adora can sense that Catra’s rage is coiling tighter with every word from Huntara’s mouth—

Huntara tips her head back and laughs. “Nah, I’m pretty sure she did mean it. And truthfully, I’m not sure if I can hold any sort of truce with someone so…” Another sneer in Catra’s direction. “Disrespectful.”

“Please, Huntara...” Adora near-whispers, still trying. Even as the vicious tension between Catra and Huntara heats to boiling by the second. “There must be something we can do to avoid further violence between us.”

“You’re right,” Huntara says to Adora, though her eyes refuse to leave Catra’s face. “There is something we can do to end the fighting.”

Without looking away, Huntara stretches a hand to one of her lackeys. An expectant hand. An open palm.

Almost immediately, a worn-looking roll of paper is placed within her grasp, one that Huntara begins to swing like some sort of baton. It’s tightly furled—with the blank side outward. Adora can’t read what it says, not at all. But it nonetheless gives Adora a bad feeling. What use could Huntara possibly have for some random piece of paper?

“News from the outside world always takes a long time to reach the Crimson Waste,” Huntara says. “Supply runs in and out of the Waste are so infrequent. And you have to know the right people to hear anything of interest.”

“What does that have to do with the truce?” Catra asks, her eyes following every swirl of the rolled up paper in Huntara’s hands. Her hostility seems to have been momentarily replaced by confusion.

“Well, it’s a shame, really,” Huntara says. “Because if I had known this shit about you earlier…”

Huntara slams the paper on the tabletop, then smooths it flat with her hands, unrolling it bit by bit. And Adora can see it, finally. What’s printed on the surface of that paper. The text and image that accompanies it, unfurled—

And Adora is frightened. She is frightened to realize that she recognizes the face in that image. Recognizes it too well, if anything. That thick hair, those angular features, that sharp-toothed smile. She wakes to it every morning, after all, and has woken to it for most of her life before that—

And Adora recognizes the picture too. It’s one of the rare images that Bow managed to snap with his tracker pad during one of the rebellion’s battles. A photo used almost exclusively in Bright Moon’s records of enemy combatants—

Force Captain Catra,” Huntara reads off the poster, voice dense with smugness. “Wanted for questioning about crimes committed against the kingdom of Bright Moon and the rebellion.

Huntara briefly looks up at them. She points a finger at Catra’s face, on the poster. “This sure looks like you. And your name’s Catra, isn’t it?”

Catra’s jaw hangs open, unable to formulate a response. And as Adora swivels her head around, gaze sweeping every face in the bar...she can see that all eyes are trained on her. On Catra.

Everyone is listening. Everyone must have heard what Huntara just said.

Which means there’s no escaping this.

Adora finds herself gulping, and gulping hard. Since when did Bright Moon put out wanted posters for Catra? Why would they—

Wait. Questioning. They want to question Catra, meaning that—

Force Captain,” Huntara repeats as she begins to scratch her own chin, eyes narrowed at Catra yet again. “That’s a Horde ranking, isn’t it? You must’ve been some kind of big-shot Horde commander, right?”

“I—” Catra begins. Her mouth opens and closes as she still attempts to process the paper that sits in front of her—the wanted poster that features her own face so prominently.

“Horde soldiers aren’t all that popular here, kitty,” Huntara sneers. “A lot of us are running from the Horde. Or left it, rather than help run that war machine. But you…”

Huntara tips her head down and continues reading. “Million-credit reward will be granted to any party that can capture Catra alive and present of mind.”

Adora’s brain nearly short-circuits. Million-credit reward? Did the rebellion really place a bounty on Catra’s head just so that they could capture her, question her, and…

Figure out Adora’s location. That’s the only explanation. The only reason they would do this. They must have thought that Catra could lead them to Adora, and therefore, to She-Ra—

But that realization is meaningless now. After hearing that last detail from the poster—specifically, the detail about the monetary reward—the bodies in the bar are shifting on all sides. Drawing weapons. Drawing closer. It’s one thing to be wanted in the Waste, Adora is sure. Plenty of outlaws live here. But to be wanted for a million credits—

No one can resist that kind of payday. It’s a one-way ticket out of the waste, out of danger, out of answering to someone stronger than them—

Huntara looks back up from the poster, smiling sharply. “To be wanted for one million credits, you must have been somebody real important. And somebody real awful. But for everyone else—”

Huntara stands and raises her voice, projecting for the entire bar to hear. “A million credits is enough to buy a brand new life. A life of luxury instead of a life of scrounging in the Waste. If I were any of you...” She chuckles and sweeps a hand out toward Catra. “I wouldn’t hesitate in capturing this kitty and collecting that reward. I’ve got people to help you, even. People who will help you transport her to Bright Moon, far away from here.”

Adora’s eyes widen. “If you knew about this,” she demands, outraged, “and had the means...why didn’t you—?”

“Act on it?” Huntara replies, more quietly. Her eyes glint with a malicious sort of amusement. “Because I rule the Waste, plain and simple. And I don’t plan on leaving.”

She points a thumb over her own shoulder, at a coyote-person bouncing a bat against their own hand. “I can’t say the same about them, though. Besides…”

She spits at Catra and Adora’s feet.

Fuck the Horde.”

There are mutterings of interest, of agreement. And there are bodies shuffling closer, closing in on all sides—

Adora stands and pushes Catra behind her, sword drawn. “Don’t let them touch her—” she orders, glancing back at their gang members, behind her. Counting on them for defense. Counting on them to watch Catra and Adora’s back, just as promised.

But Adora soon realizes that it was a mistake to assume that—that her people were still on her side. That quick glance reveals that her gang members are smirking. Smirking, and moving closer. Weapons drawn and pointed not at the rabid crowd, but at Adora and Catra themselves.

They want the bounty, just like everyone else.

You can’t trust anyone in the Crimson Waste. Again and again, Adora is learning that lesson the hard way.

And there’s no such thing as being indispensable.

One of their gang members outstretches a hand, grabbing Catra’s shoulder roughly. Adora moves to smack that hand away—but Catra beats her to it. The sensation of being grabbed seems to shake Catra from her shock, allowing her to hiss and scratch deep into that unwelcome hand, screeching, “Get off me!”

And it releases her, of course. That hand. It bleeds heavily as the body attached to it stumbles backward and releases a pained howl, crimson dripping a trail onto the dirty bar floor.

There’s a fleeting moment of silence, of panic, as Adora and Catra stare down an entire bar filled with hostile eyes. Adora is overwhelmed by the need to run, to escape. To find a way out. Catra isn’t safe here. They’ll do anything to Catra to collect that bounty. Hurt her in any way they can—

But there’s nothing. Nowhere to go. Every exit is blocked by hulking bodies and raised weapons. Even the bartender is staring at them with predatory hunger, as though considering joining the fun and smashing a glass bottle over Catra and Adora’s heads.

“Catra—” Adora whispers, voice trembling with horror. She secures a hand around Catra’s arm.

Adora’s heart is a body-wracking drumbeat within her head. It pounds like the footsteps of an approaching giant. Thumping, thumping, right until a stranger screams:

 “Get the cat!”

And that scream is the signal that unleashes unbridled chaos within the bar.

“No!” Adora cries as a horde of people crush forward, grabbing at Catra with what seems like a thousand hands. Catra hisses, slashes, kicks, cracks her whip with all her might. But there are so many people. Too many. And there’s a mounting fear and desperation in Catra’s eyes as she realizes that it’s no use, that no amount of fighting will be enough—

But Adora won’t accept it. She won’t. She tightens her grip around Catra, refusing to let her be separated from Adora again—

Adora slashes blindly and wildly with her sword, trying to fend off the attackers. And while she thinks that it might connect with a few bodies...she can’t be sure. Whatever she hits either doesn’t react or is replaced just as quickly. There are too many people, too many to fight, and not enough space to run or hide or defend themselves—

All Adora has is her grip on Catra’s wrist. But even that is slipping, being tugged apart—

“You’re welcome to join my gang, blondie,” Adora can hear Huntara laughing. Mocking. “But the cat...I’m afraid the cat has to go.”

It’s a mob. Adora and Catra are surrounded by a mob. All of them fighting and pushing and grabbing at Catra, trying to yank Adora from her side. Adora’s attention is split in a thousand different directions, focused partly on Catra getting her whip yanked out of her hand and partly on the person with an axe cutting a bit too close to Adora’s arm—

“Adora!” Catra yells as there’s a firm tug on Catra’s arm. One that nearly manages to rip Adora and Catra apart. But Adora holds tight, holds steady. Her muscles tremble as she yanks Catra back, and Etheria, it feels like she’s trying to drag back a tectonic plate. And that’s not even the worst part. Someone kicks Adora in the back of the leg as she does that, as she yanks Catra back to her side, and it’s a testament to Adora’s tolerance for pain that she manages to stay on her feet. Her leg threatens to buckle, but Adora threatens it right back.

It’s too many. Too many people. A circular wall of bodies, closing in. Solid and impenetrable and claustrophobic—

“Leave us alone!” Adora yells, voice grated by desperation. “There’s been a mistake! That bounty. It’s not—”

While Catra is trying to claw through a group of immediate attackers, someone lands a direct punch to Catra’s face. It’s a thick fist, a heavy impact—the kind that Adora can hear above the jeering crowd. Adora watches in horror, words dying in her throat, as Catra falls unconscious and limp.

“Careful,” shrieks another voice. “She has to be present of mind—

“She’s just knocked out!” a deep voice replies. Presumably the owner of the fist. “Nothing too damaging—”

“No!” yells Adora, and crams Catra’s body against her own hip. Trying to hold her despite the veritable army that seeks to take her away. “Stop! There’s been a mistake—”

“Only the cat needs to be okay,” someone calls. “Get rid of the blonde one!”

Adora swings her sword at the source of the voice, pressing Catra even deeper into her own body—as though that might shield her from the danger on all sides.

And it’s certainly on all sides. Adora is unprepared when something smacks into the back of her head. Smacks her hard, with the force of what feels like a boulder. Adora can only give a weak cry as belated pain erupts in the back of her skull. It’s an incredible sort of pain—vivid and catastrophic as an asteroid strike. One that spreads throughout the rest of her body like it’s a race to see what can reach Adora’s fingers faster—the thudding blood from her heart, or the numbness resulting from that blow.

Her vision spots. She only vaguely registers her legs giving out, her arm failing to maintain its hold on Catra. She watches, as though from outside her own body, as Catra’s hand is torn from her own. And it seems burned into Adora’s eyes, that growing distance between them. Growing larger as Catra is pulled away, fought over by the greedy outlaws who will do anything to trade Catra for that bounty—

Adora’s vision is darkening. Unconsciousness is coming for Adora any second now. If she doesn’t do something, if she doesn’t save Catra now—

Come on, Adora, she urges herself. Get up. You need to get up.

She clenches her fists. Her limbs shake as she struggles to move any part of her body. And God, how is she supposed to fight like this, even if she does manage to climb to her feet again? Her head hurts. It hurts so badly. And she’s not strong enough, she never was—

She’s just Adora. Strong, maybe, for a person of her size. But nothing more than that. Nothing more than a girl who fails everyone she cares about. Useless, unwanted—

You promised, a voice inside Adora’s head reminds her. You promised that you would protect her.

There must be something. Something that Adora can do, even as these bargoers near-trample her in their attempts to claim Catra’s bounty. Some last-ditch effort that she can make—

And she’s done this before, hasn’t she? Back during that fight with Huntara, only a few hours ago. She was beaten. Her legs were nearly broken. And yet, she found some hidden, lingering strength within herself. One that allowed her to get up, to fight back—

And one that allowed her to save Catra.

Catra. Adora focuses on Catra. She can’t see her, but she can remember her. She can remember Catra’s laughter, the color of her eyes, that tone she uses when taunting Adora. The way she bites her lip as she plans, and bites Adora’s lip when they kiss so deeply that Catra whimpers just a little.

Is Adora really going to let herself lose Catra? Lose her now, when they’ve never felt so right with one another? When they actually might have a future together?

Adora furls her fist even tighter. Her whole body seems to buzz with refusal, with fury. Tears bud at the corners of Adora’s eyes as she screws them shut, willing power back into her own body.

No. Adora won’t. She’s tired of being afraid. She’s tired of feeling like she’s not strong enough, like she can’t to protect the people she loves. She’s tired of feeling useless without a sword tied to her back, or clutched between her hands. Because what did that sword ever do, anyway, except drive Adora and Catra apart? Except create more problems for the rebellion?

Maybe she doesn’t have the sword anymore. Maybe that part of her life is gone forever. But it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need it. She’ll do whatever it takes, whatever she has to, pull strength from nowhere at all if that’s what she must do—

Adora was the strongest person in the world, once upon a time. And she’ll be just as strong again. She’ll find a way.

Catra!” Adora cries, in a voice that could scrape the bottom of the ocean. She hears no answer, of course. No sound but the jeers of that vicious crowd of outlaws.

Fury surges within her. Surging, surging, growing until it has nowhere to go. It evolves, folds in on itself. Mutates and builds within Adora’s chest until she’s utterly overwhelmed by that feeling. The one Adora was looking for. The feeling of something shattering apart within herself, the heat and crackle of energy beneath her own skin, the sudden white-hot healing of her injuries.

But it’s stronger this time, so much stronger. Like an explosion. A fissure; a fusion within her own body. A supernova, with Adora as the star consumed by the ensuing explosion.

Adora gives another scream as light pulses from her, illuminating the room in pure gold.

Bow presses forward with his nose buried in the map.

His legs burn from walking. His skin is coated with sweat. He really can’t stand too much more of this endless searching, but he’s just as incapable of giving up. Adora must be around the Waste somewhere. Surely, they’ll find some trace of her soon. The tracker did put her somewhere close to this area—right before it threatened to stop working again, of course. Which resulted in Bow having to draw yet another map.

“Uh, Bow?”

But he’s hardly paying attention to Glimmer’s voice, so focused is he on the map ahead of him. He keeps studying it, keeps walking in the direction it suggests.

“I think we might actually be on the right track this time,” he says, sighing with relief. He points to a landmark on his hand-drawn map, then the matching canyon directly to his right. “After days of walking in circles, I think we might actually—”


“So long as Catra actually stays put and doesn’t run off again, changing the destination—”


Glimmer physically pulls the map down, out of Bow’s face, and tips Bow’s chin up. “Yeah, uh. I don’t think we need that map anymore.”

Bow’s eyes widen at the sight ahead of him.

Bright light. Brighter than the moon overhead, a pillar of light climbing upward as though it’s holding up the whole sky. It glows so bright it’s nearly blinding, unwaveringly golden as it paints the horizon in strokes of yellow.

It’s erupting from a skeleton in the distance—the bones of some kind of once-enormous beast. Bow has no idea why anything would be there, amidst such dead and decaying surroundings. But there’s little doubt in Bow’s mind that the light belongs to Adora, somehow. Bow has only ever seen magic that powerful, that bright once before.

From She-Ra. That light must belong to She-Ra.

Glimmer must come to the same conclusion.

“But if the sword was destroyed…” she begins, “then how is that—”

“No time to figure it out!” Bow blurts out, and begins sprinting forward. The map falls from his hand, onto the ground. The skeleton was where it must have been leading them anyway. “We need to get there before that light fades—”

And so they run. Glimmer and Bow both sprint forward—chasing after the light.

When the light fades, everyone in the bar is staring at Adora. Frozen, speechless, and staring.

Not that she can blame them. She would stare at herself too, if given the opportunity. But for now she will have to settle for staring at her hands, which glow in a way that the overhead moonlight cannot possibly cause. She stares at her legs too. Marveling at how they’ve miraculously grown in length, in muscle, and have somehow covered themselves in white fabric that tucks into a pair of white-gold boots.

She raises a hand, searching with her fingers for—yes, there it is. A tiara, framed around her face. Though it is different from the one she remembers. It takes a similar shape to Catra’s mask now, rather than those gaudy wings on the sides of Adora’s head.

Adora doesn’t know how she did it. But somehow, some way...Adora has turned herself into She-Ra. She has completed the transformation without the help of the sword, even though that should be impossible.

And, just as impossibly, it seems she has conjured a brand new look and uniform for herself. She never realized how much of a relief it is to have her hair pulled from her face, and to have a bit more armor with which to defend herself. Her old uniform worked, yes. But this? This is so much better.

She doesn’t understand how this happened. But she’s too ecstatic—and too worried about Catra—to dwell on it for long. Adora has work to do. Catra to save.

She glances down. There’s a sword in her hand. It's a slimmer, lighter version than her previous one. And it glints in the moonlight as she stares, almost like it’s inviting her to use it.

She looks back up, at the childish monsters crowded around Catra. She’s horrified to see Catra still lying limp and unconscious, caught in a tug-of-war between gangs and outlaws. Her body pulled in a million different directions.

Fury flares in Adora’s heart—an inferno that spreads to her every limb.

There are bodies sprawled around Adora’s feet. People thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious by Adora’s transformation, she would guess. She steps over them and extends her sword toward an outlaw that appears to have a particularly rough grip on Catra.

“Release Catra,” she orders, tightening the grip on her sword. “Or I’ll be forced to make you.”

The sound of her voice seems to shake the crowd from its stupor. They growl and fling insults at her, but Adora doesn’t care—nor does she have the time to listen. She cuts an arc in the air with her sword, and magic spews from the blade at her command.

And it’s so precise, the way the magic targets all attackers but Catra—pushing them off their feet with cries of surprise and terror. Adora still winces slightly as Catra, without so many hands to hold her upright, begins to slide to the floor. Adora lunges forward and, with speed that only She-Ra can give her, Adora manages to catch Catra before she hits the ground.

For a moment, she merely examines Catra for injuries. She has a black eye. A bruise on her forehead. But thankfully, there’s nothing to indicate that Catra has sustained a life-threatening wound beyond a possible concussion. Her heart beats steadily beneath Adora’s fingers, and breath continues to puff past her lips.

Adora pushes a stray hair out of Catra’s face, then, in an impressive display of her own strength, slings Catra’s whole body over her shoulder. It’s truly like Catra weighs nothing within her arms.

Some of the bar goers have started to recover themselves, though. They scramble to their feet, hands searching for weapons wherever they dropped them. One manages to secure a hand around an axe and charges forward with a yell, the axe raised high.

Adora merely raises an irritated eyebrow as she catches the handle of the axe, then tugs it out of the attacker’s hand. They watch as she tosses the axe so hard that it flings right through the walls of the bar, out into the desert, and far out of sight.

With Catra still slumped over Adora’s shoulder, she then grabs the attacker by the shirt and tosses them through the same hole that the axe made. They scream as they fly through the air and land with a strangled cry.

There are others charging Adora too, but she hardly notices them. Almost carelessly, she cracks the butt of her sword against chins, swipes bone-shattering blows across limbs, kicks bodies into crashing collisions with tables and chairs. It’s easy, so easy, to win this fight. And Adora has definitely missed this. She has missed She-Ra’s power.

There are only a handful of people remaining—a few more would-be attackers holding weapons. Though they’re hesitating now. Trembling, dawdling, contemplating whether they should strike out and meet the same fate as everyone else who tried to out-fight She-Ra.

“I think it’s pretty clear that I’m the strongest in the Waste now,” Adora says, jerking her head at all the moaning bodies that she’s cleared from her path. “So unless you want a personal demonstration of how badly I can hurt you…” She twirls her sword, magic sparking from the blade as it cuts through the air. “I’d suggest that you leave. Now. And never come near us again.”

There’s one last lingering moment of hesitation. A moment of fear, of speechlessness.

But then, as though possessed by the same spirit of terror, all remaining outlaws sprint from the bar. Tripping over chairs and tables and loose floorboards like they can’t escape fast enough.

All remaining outlaws leave...except one.

Huntara remains standing, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, at Adora. Adora, who has now been transformed into something unrecognizable and otherworldly.

There is little doubt in Adora’s mind that she can beat Huntara now.

She storms forward, magic swirling around her like vapor. Vapor that climbs toward the ceiling, climbs higher than even She-Ra’s reach, rising as high as smoke from forest fire. But even as that magic clouds her vision, she keeps going, keeps moving forward until she’s able to fling out the sword and balance it beneath Huntara’s chin. Not yet cutting skin. But not far to fall either.

Adora’s knuckles go bone-white around the sword as she growls, “You are going to burn that stupid wanted poster of yours. And then…”

She digs the sword in a little bit deeper.

“You are going to leave us alone. And make your people leave us alone. Because if you don’t...if you come after us amount of money from a bounty, and no amount of armed lackeys and spies is going to keep you safe from me. Got it?”

Eyes blank with fear and surprise, Huntara nods. Nods blanky.

“B-but…” she begins, mouth very clearly struggling to form anything coherent. “How...who…?”

And surely, Huntara is wondering how this is possible. Up until this moment, Adora appeared no stronger than Huntara. But she is something else entirely. Not a gang leader. Not an outsider. But a princess—and a princess of power, at that. One who even Huntara cannot hope to beat in a fight.

“Catra is off-limits,” Adora says, without any desire to explain who she really is—mostly because she doesn’t quite understand it herself. “And anyone who tries to test that will deal with me. And the results will not be pretty.”

Adora untucks her sword from Huntara’s chin and jerks her head in the direction of the door.

“Now get out of here,” she hisses, to Huntara. “I never want to see you again.”

Huntara nods yet again. She backs away slowly, at first, never taking her startled eyes from Adora’s still-glowing features. And then, finally, she turns around, sprinting for the door. Her feet thump against the floorboards until they fade to faint patters and then, nothing.


In the now-empty bar, Adora takes a moment to process what just happened. She again stares at her hands and legs and feet. Her glowing hands. Her impossibly long, impossibly muscular legs. Her white-and-gold boot-clad feet. None of these things belonged to her an hour ago, and yet…

As she stares, she sees the sword disappear into thin air. Dissipating and dissolving like seeds blown from a dandelion. Adora gasps as it fades away, worried that she will never again be able to retrieve it from the nothingness.

But that’s not true. Adora created that sword from thin air. Surely, she can do it again.

And was this always the case? Was Adora always able to transform without the sword?

Catra begins to stir from where she lies, slung over Adora’s shoulder. Catra’s wavering moan of pain cuts through Adora’s many questions, erasing them from her mind in favor of a far more pressing concern.

“Adora,” Catra whispers. But that’s all she says beyond a few whimpers of pain and a shifting of her shoulders. Something in Adora’s chest feels like it’s tearing at the sound of it—the sound of Catra’s pain. Adora cradles Catra into her arms, between them, so that Catra can rest more comfortably. Adora probably jostled her enough during that fight.

Adora figures it would be best to take Catra back to Mara’s ship. Even if she has to fight through whatever remains of their gang to reclaim that safehouse, it’s their place. Hers and Catra’s. And it has medicine and food and water and whatever else they need. So long as she has She-Ra, Adora is more than capable of fighting off any threat.

There’s nowhere else to go. Nowhere else that’s safe.

With Catra in her arms, Adora turns to the door—prepared to leave.

Only to see two bodies standing in the doorway—frozen and open-mouthed. Two bodies...and two faces that Adora recognizes. The shimmer of pink hair and the glint of a golden archer’s bow.

Glimmer and Bow.

“Adora?” they both gasp, and it sounds like they’re on the verge of sobbing with relief.

Adora leans against the wall of Mara’s ship. Bow and Glimmer stand directly across from her, watching Adora like her hair might catch fire at any moment, or like something equally absurd might happen to her. And Adora supposes she understands why. Her situation could not be more improbable, more fantastical. And yet here she is. Horde soldier. Princess. Exile. Wanderer. Gang Leader. And now…

She doesn’t know. She-Ra is back, yes. But does that really make her a princess again?

She glances down the hall of the ship. It’s strange to find it empty now. Only a few hours ago, this was their base of operations—a place bustling with Catra and Adora’s fellow gang members. There were so many times that Adora resented their presence. Their mess. Their loudness. And, in particular, their tendency to interrupt what were supposed to be moments of privacy between Catra and Adora.

But however much they annoyed her, it’s somehow more heartbreaking to find this place so hollow, so abandoned. Everyone must have cleared out once they heard what happened at the peace talks with Huntara—what Adora did, what she turned into. Or rather, who she turned into.

They’re all afraid of her now, she is sure. Deathly afraid. Afraid enough to run off into the desert, rather than face her potential wrath.

That’s the price of it, Adora thinks. The price of being the strongest in the Waste.

So now it’s just Adora, Glimmer, and Bow standing in this place. This abandoned ruin that has served as Adora’s home in recent memory.

Though Catra is here too, technically. Asleep and recovering in their shared quarters. She checks up on Catra intermittently—sometimes even attempts to heal her in the way she has accidentally healed herself, with She-Ra’s magic. But she keeps messing up, keeps failing, and ultimately ends up back out here. In the hallway.

Where Glimmer and Bow expect an explanation.

They’ve discussed it all by now. Adora has relayed everything that happened after Catra kidnapped her. How Catra pretended to torture her, then tried to help her escape. How Catra was caught and ended up exiled to the Crimson Waste alongside Adora, doomed to wander until dehydration or starvation or other desert perils claimed their lives.

And then the more unbelievable parts. How Adora and Catra managed to wrest control of a gang—how they basically became two of the most powerful people in the Crimson Waste. How she and Catra became allies, a team, friends again—

Though she’s left out some details. Details that felt too private. Like how she’s become something more with Catra, something more intimate. Something that she doubts Glimmer would approve of, especially when it’s Catra that they’re talking about.

“So let me get this straight…” Glimmer says, finally. Her words are laden with some strange mixture of disbelief and outrage.  “We—” A frantic gesture to herself and Bow. “—have been beside ourselves with worry for months. Months! Thinking that you were tortured. Or brainwashed. Or dead. And you’ve been here...perfectly fine. More-or-less living it up as...what? Princesses of the Crimson Waste—?”

“Catra definitely would not like being called a princess,” Adora says, almost absentmindedly. “And we weren’t ‘living it up.’ At least...not all the time. In the beginning, we were really struggling to survive. I almost died a bunch of times. Catra kept me alive. She was the only person I could rely on.”

“A frightening way to live,” grumbles Glimmer, with a skeptical glance at the nearby door—the one that shields Catra’s sleeping body from the rest of the world.

“We’re not enemies anymore,” Adora insists. “She saved my life more times than I can count. And I…”

I care about her, Adora wants to say. But the words die in her throat. Not because she’s ashamed of them, though. No. It just doesn’t feel sufficient, saying she simply cares about Catra. She cares about Glimmer and Bow, about the rest of the princesses too, about the rebellion…

But Catra is different. Catra has always been different.

“How’d you manage to turn into She-Ra without the sword?” Bow asks, scratching his chin. “We were told that Hordak destroyed it. And whenever you’ve lost the sword in the past, you’d always lose your powers.”

Adora shrugs. “I don’t know,” she tells him. “I haven’t been able to transform the entire time I’ve been here. Okay, well. Almost the entire time. The only times I’ve been able to summon She-Ra’s magic was when…”

And then Adora realizes. It’s Catra. She was able to partially transform during Huntara’s ambush, and then transform fully when Catra was being attacked by that mob. During both instances, Adora found herself helpless to protect Catra from immediate danger—and thus called on She-Ra to intervene.

Adora blushes and admits, quietly: “I’ve only been able to transform when Catra was in danger, I guess.”

And it’s stupid-sounding. That Adora’s magic is activated by Catra, of all things. But it’s nonetheless the truth.

Bow shoots Adora a funny look, one that she can’t read. It’s skeptical—almost like he knows that Adora is hiding something from her.

“Well,” Glimmer says. “I’m sure this has been a very exciting adventure. But I think it’s time we rescued you—and ourselves—from this hellscape. We’re going back to Bright Moon.”

Adora blinks in surprise. “You still want me in rebellion?”

“I mean. Of course we do.”

“Why?” demands Adora. “I got captured. And in the time it took to find me, I probably cost you tons of resources and people. Not to mention that the Horde probably gained lots of ground in my absence—”

Glimmer rolls her eyes. “And we’d do it all again if it meant getting you back.”

Adora’s eyes narrow. “Because I’m She-Ra again?”

“No,” says Bow. “We’d want you back, She-Ra or not. You’re our best friend. We want you back home, where it’s safe.”

“Your safety is our first priority,” Glimmer adds, nodding. “She-Ra is a nice perk for the rebellion’re what we really care about, Adora. You always were.”

And at that, Adora cannot help it. She cannot help the way that tears gather in her eyes, blurring her vision.

“Though,” Glimmer continues, slowly. Smirking in that mischievous, destruction-loving way of hers. “I also wouldn’t be opposed if you decided to rejoin our Horde butt-kicking efforts. We could really use your help. But it’s your choice. We won’t make you do anything you don’t want to.”

Adora contemplates for a moment. It’s a relief to know that Glimmer and Bow still care about her—and will continue to care about her, even if she never turns into She-Ra again. She’s always been afraid that the opposite was true, that the rebellion only valued her as a soldier, and nothing more.

But now it’s truly a choice. A tough one. Does Adora really want to re-enter the fray—to throw herself headlong back into the war?

She’ll admit. It has been sort of nice to take a break from the Horde-versus-rebellion hostilities. That type of fighting doesn’t really exist in the Waste. The gangs are the groups that battle, and there are almost no civilians involved. War, on the other hand…war was always far more devastating. Far more destructive. It’s a lot to put anyone through.

But Adora still wants to help people. She does. As someone who was once brainwashed into following the Horde, she wants to free people from their control. And she wants to protect people and places and Etheria itself from all the damage that the Horde inevitably wreaks.

So Adora nods her agreement. She’ll do it. She’ll rejoin the rebellion. She wants to help make this world better.

“Yes!” Glimmer exclaims, pumping a pleased fist, then throws her arms around Adora to celebrate. Bow is quick to join in with an emotion-laden, “Best Friends Squad, back together again!” and Adora laughs with them as their arms envelop her completely. She’s missed this, certainly. She has missed her friends.

“So it’s settled!” Glimmer says. “A pickup transport should be arriving tomorrow morning at the edge of the Waste. It’ll take the three of us back to Bright Moon—”

“Three of us?” Adora echoes. “What about Catra?”

Glimmer doesn’t answer. Not immediately. And Adora feels like something in her chest is being lowered, slowly, to some spot beneath her toes. Adora detangles herself from Bow and Glimmer’s embrace so that she can see their faces—and the truth that they’re avoiding.

“Glimmer,” Adora says again, more forcefully. “What about Catra?”

Glimmer groans and pinches the bridge of her nose. “Ugh, I knew this was going to be an issue.”

“Well, yeah,” replies Adora, as if it’s obvious. “Why would I want to lose her again, after everything—?”

“Adora,” Glimmer says, very clearly forcing calmness into her own voice. “Catra nearly destroyed Bright Moon. People might not be too pleased to have her around—”

“I’ll vouch for her,” Adora says, immediately. “She’s not interested in fighting the rebellion anymore—not since Hordak exiled her. She just wants a place where she feels like she’s respected, like she belongs—”

“And do you really think that place is Bright Moon?” argues Glimmer. “No matter how much you claim she’s changed, a lot of people won’t believe you. No one will trust her. Not completely, anyway.”

“I will,” Adora insists, jabbing at her own chest. “I’ll trust her. In fact, there’s no one I trust more.”

“Are you serious?” Glimmer’s eyes are wide with incredulity. “This is Catra we’re talking about. She betrayed you, attacked you—”

“That was before.”

“Before what?”

Adora doesn’t answer. She can’t. She can’t explain it, can’t articulate how things have shifted between Catra and herself. But it’s real and insurmountable and immovable as the canyons of the Waste itself—this magnetism, this relationship between them. And she can’t imagine living, sleeping, existing without Catra again. Not now that she’s realized the truth.

And the truth is this. That Adora has always wanted Catra. More than anything in the world, she has wanted Catra. She’s always wanted to kiss her, touch her, laugh with her, sleep beside her, maybe even do something stupid like spend the rest of her life with her—

And most importantly...Adora has made a promise. A promise that she wants to keep, and intends to.

“You look out for me, and I look out for you.”

“Before what, Adora?” Glimmer demands. She wants an answer, of course. An answer she can pick apart and debate against.

And all of Adora’s resolve crumbles away.

“Before we realized what we mean to each other, okay?” Adora very nearly shouts. “Is that a good enough answer for you? The Horde drove us apart. Pitted us against each other. But deep down, we’ve always wanted...always felt something toward each other. Something different. Something that I can’t explain and I—”

Her voice cracks. The sound is so embarrassing that Adora is forced to swallow, inhale, start again. But she finds the strength to do it.

“I can’t leave her behind, Glimmer,” Adora says. The words are hardly louder than a breath. “Not again. She deserves better than that. Especially from me.”

Silence spreads through the hallway, far heavier than it has any right to be. Adora feels herself crushed beneath its impossible weight. Glimmer and Bow, meanwhile, exchange a series of glances before they finally speak. The kind of glances that Glimmer and Bow are so good at—and the kind that drives Adora up the wall. Because it’s like they’re having a whole conversation with eyes alone, one that Adora can’t interpret—

“Adora,” Bow whispers, finally. Like he’s come to some sort of realization of his own. And she can’t fathom why he’s suddenly whispering. There’s no one else here but Catra in that bedroom, and she’s likely not conscious enough to process anything they’re saying.

Adora returns his gaze, though. She eyes him expectantly, prompting him to continue.

“Are love with Catra?”

She blinks, processing the words and failing to glean meaning from them. “In love?” she repeats. “I don’t...what does that mean?”

“Oh god,” Glimmer groans, dragging a hand down her own face. “The level of repression in the Fright Zone is truly something else—”

“What does it mean?” Adora says. “In love?

“Oh man,” Bow begins, tapping a hand against his own hip. “How do I explain...well. It means you care a lot about someone—”

“Well, yeah,” Adora says, with an eye roll. “Of course I care about Catra—”

“—but it’s more than your usual level of caring,” Bow continues, interrupting her. “The feelings are...more intense. You don’t just care about them. You’re attracted to them. Connected with them. And sometimes….you want to do things like kiss them. Or touch them. You feel different when you’re with them—like you’ve found someone who gets you in a way that no one else does. And sometimes, if things are going might even want to share your lives together. ”

Adora’s jaw snaps shut with an audible click. Then opens again.

“Oh,” she says, in a small voice. So that’s what that’s called? She didn’t realize there was a word for it. For what she feels toward Catra.

“Oh my god,” Glimmer gasps, eyes wide and face slack with shock. “You totally love Catra.”

“And what if I am?” Adora demands as her cheeks heat to an impossible temperature. The way Glimmer said would think Adora had just admitted something embarrassing. “Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” sighs Glimmer, and she’s again pinching the bridge of her nose. She looks to Bow somewhat helplessly. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just…” She grunts in frustration. “This is going to be really, really difficult to explain to my mom.”


“Why do you think, Adora?” Bow says, with a little laugh. “Catra may have done some bad stuff but...if you love her, we’re not going to keep you from taking her with you.”

Glimmer shakes her head. “Catra, of all people,” she grumbles. “Of course it’s Catra.”

Catra wakes bathed in a strange warmth.

She groans. It’s too intense—almost painful. Like she’s being burned from the inside out. And there’s something else too. A hand cupped to Catra’s face, one that she thinks she recognizes, but it’s...wrong. Too big. Too warm. She recognizes that hand, but also doesn’t recognize it at all.

She hisses and shies away from it, jerking a hand as though trying to swat the touch away.

“Sorry!” yelps Adora’s voice. “I was just trying to heal you.”

“Heal me…?” Catra mutters, then cracks open one eye. “What d’you mean, heal—?”

But her words utterly disintegrate when she sees the face hovering above hers. The glowing face, framed by a metallic tiara, and the ice-blue eyes that Catra has seen before. The collection of flowing, impossibly flawless blonde hair. The layers of muscle adorning every inch of exposed skin—

It’s a different look, perhaps. But it’s recognizable all the same. Only one person on Etheria glows like that, or stands so incredibly tall—

“Huh,” says She-Ra, and she trails a gentle finger across Catra’s cheekbone, just below her eye. The inordinately warm and tingly feel of that finger makes Catra’s whole body tense. “I think it actually worked this time—”

And again, Catra hisses and swats at the touch, scrambling out from underneath She-Ra’s leaning body with a frantic, “Get off me!”

She-Ra jolts away, allowing Catra to race towards the nearest wall and press herself against it—seeking to place distance between herself and the monster who once stole her best friend.

This must be a nightmare. A terrible nightmare, one where She-Ra has returned to claim Adora yet again.

“Catra…?” She-Ra calls, voice slow and cautious. Her hands are raised and empty, like she’s trying to show Catra that she’s unarmed, that there’s nothing to fear. But of course She-Ra is something to be afraid of. She always was. “It’s alright. It’s just me—”

Catra’s claws dig into the metal at her back as she stands there, panting. “You can’t be here,” Catra heaves. “The sword is gone—”

She-Ra scratches at the back of her neck. “Yeah, uh…” She clears her throat. “Turns out I don’t need the sword to transform. All I need, really, is…” She hesitates, staring at Catra. “Some motivation, I guess.”

“No,” Catra says, shaking her head. “No. She-Ra isn’t supposed to bother us anymore. Adora and I—”

She-Ra laughs just a little. “I’m still Adora, dummy. I always was.”

And then she is closing her eyes, concentrating. With a flicker of light—some gold, some multicolor—Adora is standing there, back to her old self. Clad in her leather jacket and torn-up clothes. Catra gapes as she realizes that there’s truly no sword to be found—no magic trinket to enable the transformation. There’s just Adora, and only Adora.

“And She-Ra is the only reason we’re both still here, where it’s safe,” Adora continues, taking a step forward. “When Huntara sicc’d all those people on us in the bar...we were overwhelmed. They were going to take you away from me. And I…”

And Catra remembers that. She remembers being surrounded, being pulled in a million directions. She remembers calling Adora’s name as a fist smashed into her own face, forcing Catra to tumble into darkness.

Adora presses a hand to her own chest, where her heart is. “I couldn’t let that happen. And I think...I think that my need to save you was what made her—made She-Ra—come back. And once She-Ra was back…” Adora smirks just a little. “Well. Rescuing you became a lot easier.”

“Great,” says Catra, sarcastically. “Now you can put her away and keep her put away. Forever.”

Adora’s brow furrows in confusion. “I don’t understand. Why are you so mad at me?”

“I’m not,” snaps Catra, though it’s clear by her tone that she’s lying.

Adora just crosses her arms and awaits an explanation.

With a sigh, Catra admits. “Look. It’s not you. It’s her. She’s—”

“Adora—” a voice calls, one that freezes the blood in Catra’s veins. Though that’s only the start. Catra’s entire body feels like it’s being catapulted to the Northern Reach when she sees it—a head dipping past the doorway, a head covered with shimmering, purple-pink hair.

“We don’t have much time,” Princess Glimmer of Bright Moon continues, to Adora. She eyes Catra as though she might explode at any moment. “If we’re gonna make that transport, we need to head out soon. Like. Really soon.”

Sparkles. Sparkles is here

“What is she doing here?” shrieks Catra, gesturing frantically to Glimmer.

Adora steps in front of Glimmer, as if trying to shield her. As if Catra is the danger here, and Glimmer is the one in need of protection. As if the sight of that sparkly face isn’t going to upend Catra’s whole world, her only chance at happiness—

“Catra,” Adora says carefully, overenuciating every syllable of Catra’s name, her hands once again raised in surrender. “Glimmer and Bow have been searching for me ever since my kidnapping. They found me right after the fight in the bar—”

Glimmer. Bow. Adora’s two friends from the rebellion. The ones that Adora left Catra for.

“So you brought them back here?” demands Catra. “To our place?”

Adora looks down, toward the floor, then lets her eyes sweep the room. “It’s not exactly our place anymore, Catra,” she says. “Our gang is gone. They turned on us when they heard about the bounty. And then they ran off once they heard about She-Ra.”

Glimmer points at the door and whispers, “I’m gonna go.” Adora nods as she shuffles out of the room. Glimmer, meanwhile, throws startled glances at Catra from over her shoulder as she goes.

“S-she...she was talking about a transport,” Catra murmurs, more to herself than to Adora. Her eyes study the floor, searching it for answers. A transport. That’s what Sparkles said. A transport from here, certainly. A transport out of the Crimson Waste, one that will take them to—

Catra’s eyes snap up, latching onto Adora’s familiar features. Her gaze is so intense that it seems to strain every muscle in Catra’s face.

Because it’s too easy to guess what’s happening. Adora turned into She-Ra again. She found her magic, her purpose, her destiny, whatever. And now the rebellion is here, in the Crimson Waste. Miraculously. Suddenly. And with them, they’ve brought a transport. One that will most likely take the rebels back to Bright Moon—

 “You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Catra nearly gasps, to Adora. “You’re leaving the Waste, leaving this behind—”

“I…” Adora hesitates, wincing at the accusation in Catra’s words. “Yes. Sort of.” She sighs, eyes sliding shut as she searches for a proper explanation. One that won’t be anything more than a careless excuse, Catra is sure.

“It’s complicated, Catra.”

And that’s what she settles on, in the end. That it’s complicated.

“Doesn’t seem too complicated to me,” Catra snarls. “You finally have a ticket back to your precious rebellion. So you’re taking it. You’re getting out of here, abandoning everything that we’ve built—”

“I do want to go back to the rebellion,” Adora says, nodding. “But it’s not that simple. What we’ve’s already fallen apart. The gang is gone—”

But Catra tips her head back and laughs. And it’s hardly a pleasant laugh. A far cry from anything containing joy. It’s stilted, cold, heartbroken. The misplaced giggle at a funeral, a terrible emotion released in an entirely wrong way. Bursting from her like magma from some volcanic pocket of fury within her.

“I should’ve known,” Catra laughs, unable to help herself. She drops her head into her hands. “I should’ve known that you’d do it again. That the second the rebellion came for you, wanted you, you’d just up and leave again. That you’d leave me behind like I never mattered at all.”

“Catra, no—”

“I thought you changed!” Catra shouts, and the scraping volume of her own voice seems to pull tears from her eyes. “But you’re exactly the same. It’s always about your destiny, always about She-Ra and saving the world. And I’m still just something convenient...something that you keep around until you find something better—

“No, Catra,” Adora says, stepping forward. Her features are drawn with certainty, with determination. She reaches for Catra’s elbows, trying to hold them. “That’s not it at all and you know it.”

“How could it not be?” screams Catra, jerking herself out of Adora’s grasp. Adora’s touch is poison, after all. Addictive poison, but the kind that kills all the same. And this whole time here, in the waste...Catra has truly contaminated herself beyond repair. “You’re leaving. You’re leaving me, just like before. Just like always.”

“Catra!” Adora says, her grip tightening on Catra’s arms. A grip that’s not painful, but rather...steadying. “I’m not leaving you. Not this time.”

Catra just stares at her, unable to formulate a response as tears track down her cheeks. Because however much she wants to believe it...however much she wants to think that Adora’s words are really must be an impossibility. Glimmer was just in here, urging Adora to hurry up. To make herself ready for transport out of the Waste—

“Look,” Adora says, with a sigh. “Living in the Waste...running gangs and starting bar’s never been what I wanted. Not really.”

Catra blinks. So Adora...Adora was just pretending this whole time? Pretending to want to be Catra’s second-in-command, pretending to want to settle down in the Waste? She should’ve known. Really, she should have—

“T-then why—” Catra demands, voice half dissolved into a sob.

Because she wants to know why, even if she doesn’t. She wants to know why Adora bothered sticking around. Because surely, she just wanted to use Catra. Use Catra to keep herself safe and alive, and nothing more.

But it’s like Adora can read Catra’s mind—can see the assumption she’s making.

“No,” says Adora, shaking her head. “Please don’t misunderstand me. Please. I was never lying about how I felt about you—”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean, then what?” Adora demands. “Don’t you get it, Catra? I did all this...because I care about you. Because I want to be with you, I want to be with you more than anything. I don’t want to be separated from you again. And I…”

Adora trails off. She can’t seem to muster another sentence.

Catra watches blankly for several moments. Because this...this is just too much. How can Adora claim that she wants to be with Catra if she’s planning to leave in the same breath?

“It was all about you, Catra,” Adora says. Almost sighs. “I didn’t care about anything else. Just you.” A spasming laugh rings from her lungs. “I was ready to take on the whole Waste just to stay by your side.”

Catra shuts her eyes, and several more tears squeeze their way out—carving fresh lines into her skin.

“And yet you’re going,” whispers Catra. “You’re leaving.”

“I want to,” admits Adora. “I want to go back to Bright Moon. I want to go back to my friends, to the rebellion. But...I won’t. Not unless you come with me.”

Catra gapes, overwhelmed by the words. “Come with me.”

It isn’t the first time that Adora has said them. Back in Thaymor, Adora asked the same thing—for Catra to come with her. For Catra to defect, to join the rebellion.

But this time is different. Back in Thaymor, Adora didn’t say that other part. She didn’t say that she would go only if Catra accompanied her.

“I love you,” Adora tells Catra. “I didn’t really even know what that word meant until a little while ago but Glimmer and Bow explained it to me. I care about you. I care about you so much it feels…” Adora grasps blindly at something within her chest. “ feels like something’s tugging at me, right in here. And I want to be with you, Catra. I want to be with you so badly, it’s all I think about when I imagine myself happy. I don’t want to miss a chance to hold or touch or kiss you. I want to wake up next to you for as long as we can and I…”

Adora exhales sharply.

“I don’t want to live a life without you. Not again.”

Catra’s eyes feel taped open, her gaze is so affixed to Adora’s face. She knows Adora well. Better than anyone, in fact. And it’s heart-stopping, how earnest—how honest she looks. Eyes steady, jaw clenched. It’s like nothing could ever be more vulnerable, more truthful, more real than this admission.

Catra briefly considers collapsing to the floor, rather than consider Adora’s words.

“But you keep doing this to me, Catra,” Adora continues. And her voice could not possibly sound more wrecked, more torn. Catra can hear the tears emerging, coating her words in thickness and tremors. “You keep making me choose between you and the thousands of other things that matter to me. And I love you and I want you but I...I don’t want to have to choose you at the cost of the other things I care about. I want to be She-Ra. I want to help people, I want to help Etheria.”

And Adora looks truly adamant in that fact—that she wants the sword. That she wants the destiny that she was given, no matter where it leads her. That she wants the chance to rid Etheria of the Horde’s cruelties.

But, just as clear on her the fact that she wants Catra more.

“But I will, if that’s what you want,” Adora says, like she’s defeated. “I’ll pick you over everything else. I’ll do it, if that’s the only way to convince you that I care. I’ll stay here. But I just don’t think it’s fair.”

Adora gestures outward, to the ship’s walls. “We can stay here. Live in this abandoned ship with no one around—we can’t trust anyone else anymore, anyway. Not after that attack in the bar. No, we’ll stay here. Alone. And we can keep making cactus liquor and barter for whatever we can scrape. We’ll have nothing but each other and the desert and the Horde will take Etheria…”

Adora presses her lips together, eyes hardening as she tries to imagine what she’s saying.

“And that will be it. That will be our whole lives. People will suffer the same way we did, and we’ll just ignore it all. Pretending that it doesn’t involve us. Even though we can do something—even though we can stop anyone else from going through what we went through, at Hordak and Shadow Weaver’s hands.”

Catra just keeps studying Adora’s face. Keeps considering. Keeps struggling to process all those confusing words.

And it’s hard to overcome it—this violent, instinctual hatred for the rebellion. For She-Ra. It was ingrained in her—and made all the stronger by Catra’s resentment of Adora’s defection, of her abandonment of Catra.

But even Catra can admit that Adora has a point. There’s nothing much left for them here, in the Waste—not now that they were betrayed so thoroughly. Adora and Catra could probably try to scrape by, yes. Continue making cactus liquor. But in order to be truly safe, they’ll have to rely on She-Ra’s power to protect them. It was all that protected Catra from a kidnapping only a few hours ago. And Catra seriously doubts that Adora would want to spend the rest of her life intimidating people into leaving them alone. Adora has always wanted to help people—not hurt them.

And there’s the other part. The part about stopping the Horde. It wasn’t until Catra was exiled that she finally realized the truth—that Shadow Weaver, Hordak, the rest of the Horde...they never trusted her. Never believed in her. And never would believe in her. She suffered abuse after abuse at their hands only for them to toss her away like she was nothing.

Catra should want revenge. She should want to destroy the Horde; she should want to ensure that no one is ever treated like that again.

And she should especially want to keep that threat, that promise she made to Hordak.

I’ve survived a lot more than anyone’s thought possible. Maybe I’ll survive this too,” she told him. “And maybe when I do...I’ll come back and steal that throne out from under you.

What she wouldn’t give to see him defeated. Defeated, with the very help of the person he tossed aside.

And Catra has always cared about keeping her promises.

But more than anything...Catra wants Adora to be happy. She does. She wants to be with Adora, yes. She wants Adora more than she has ever wanted anything. But there’s no point to being together if Adora isn’t happy—if Catra has to watch Adora feel useless, unfulfilled, for the rest of their lives. And while Catra can do her best to remind Adora that she’s worth more than what she can do for others...she knows that Adora will never be truly satisfied until the war is over. Until the Horde is gone and the rebels are free.

And for the first time, Catra realizes that it’s not totally wrong for Adora to want those things. Freedom for others, as well as herself. Catra got her first taste of freedom and power here, in the Waste. And it was so exhilarating, so liberating…she knows she’ll never be able to go back to living under the Horde’s thumb. And she knows that no one else should have to live that way, either.

“What I really want,” Adora continues, made nervous by the silence, “is for you to come with me. To Bright Moon. To the rebellion. I want us to be on the same side—I want to make the world a better place with you, not against you.”

Adora waits for a response. Waits and waits, even though Catra is still working to muster one.

So Catra swallows, and swallows hard.

“You…” Catra begins, and still her voice partially fails her. “You want me to go with you to Bright Moon? Bright Moon, of all places?”

“I know it sounds crazy—”

“They’ll hate me there,” Catra whispers, frantically. “I tried to destroy their kingdom—”

“You’ve changed,” Adora says. “You know now. You know that the Horde was wrong. And you know that it’s wrong to try to rule through fear—”

Catra shakes her head. “But they don’t know that—”

“They’ll learn,” Adora insists. “They’ll learn that you’re on their side. They’ll learn that you want to do good—that you want the Horde gone, just as they do. They’ll learn how smart you are, how deserving you are of respect. And, more than anything…” Adora takes a step closer, and layers a hand over Catra’s cheek. Her eyes flash a bright, glowing blue. “They’ll learn that, if anyone so much as looks at you funny, they’ll have She-Ra to deal with.”

Catra gulps as Adora leans closer. “And what if they don’t learn?”

“I think they will,” Adora says. “You’re capable of so much good, Catra. I see it in you every day. And if they can’t see that too…” She kisses Catra on the forehead. “Then they don’t deserve either of us. And we’ll leave.”

She pulls away smiling. “But again...I trust Glimmer. I trust Bow. And I think we’re going to be just fine. Better than fine, even. We’ll be together. And the Horde won’t know what hit them.”

Catra stares down at the floor. It feels risky, agreeing to this. There are so many things that could go wrong.

But then again...Catra doesn’t have anything left to lose. The gang has crumbled. The Waste has turned on them. There’s truly nothing for Catra to lose except Adora herself. And if she tries to keep Adora here, away from all the other things she loves...she’ll still lose Adora. She’ll lose her in the way that matters most.

So Catra reaches out, and grabs Adora’s hands. She holds them tight.

“Okay,” Catra says. “I’ll go with you. I’ll join the rebellion.”

Adora is left stunned for several moments. And then slowly, gradually, her face splits into a grin. Whatever devastated tears had been dancing at the edge of her vision...they seem transformed now. Transformed into tears of joy that are finally made free, allowed to drop down Adora’s cheeks toward the solid ground below.

The air is knocked from Catra’s lungs as Adora throws her arms around her, tackling her in a bone-crushing hug. “I love you,” Adora breathes, over and over, as she paints Catra’s cheeks with relieved kisses. “Thank you, Catra. Thank you, thank you—”

“I love you too,” Catra tells her, face dipped into Adora’s neck. And it feels better than anything she can describe—being able to say that word, and know what it means. Know it to be true. Know it to be reciprocated and real and stronger than anything that might try to tear them apart.

Well. Not quite stronger than the sound of Glimmer’s knock at the door—the one that urges them to get a move on, else they’ll miss the transport.

Glimmer watches as Adora hoists herself into the rebel skiff, then turns around to pull Catra up beside her.

Adora’s leather jacket glints in the afternoon sunlight. There’s a strange symbol on the back—a snake devouring its own tail. But it’s only when Catra gains her footing, standing upright on the skiff’s deck, that Glimmer realizes that Catra is wearing a jacket with the same symbol. The only difference is that the arms of Adora’s jacket have been torn off, while Catra’s are intact.

They were a bit late to arrive thanks to Adora and Catra’s long heart-to-heart conversation. She still can’t believe that Adora convinced Catra to come. And she still can hardly believe herself for letting Catra come. Glimmer really has no idea how to explain this to her mother...

But now that she’s seen Adora and Catra together—together, properly—she knows that she never would have been able to deny Adora’s request. She looks happy in a way that Glimmer has never seen before. Relaxed. Her lips curved into a gentle, hopeful smile and her shoulders free of their usual tension.

Usually, Adora is the one who demands that they keep to schedule. That they hurry, or arrive early to avoid any unforeseen obstacles. But this time, Glimmer and Bow were the ones who had to halfway drag Adora and Catra to the transport, so smitten and distracted were they with each other. Glimmer almost regrets teaching Adora the word ‘love,’ since they absolutely will not stop whispering it to each other. As if Glimmer and Bow can’t hear them.

When they finally reached it—the transport—they were lucky to find it still waiting for them. Idling at the edge of the Waste. Adora and Catra are first to board, then Bow, then Glimmer. But even as she rises to the deck and positions herself in one of the seats, she cannot keep her eyes from flitting between those two leather jackets.

She elbows Bow. Points to the jackets. Her makes a concerned face but shrugs, uncertain whether her (admittedly unvoiced) suspicions are true.

“Adora,” Glimmer asks, tentatively—interrupting the laughter that Adora was just sharing with Catra. “Where did you get that jacket?”

“Oh,” says Adora, still sighing from whatever joke she’s recovering from. She looks down at her clothes. “Catra gave it to me. You know. So we match.”

Glimmer and Bow exchange another glance, their eyes nearly bugging out of their heads. If Catra gave Adora that jacket...and Catra is wearing something that matches—

That only means one thing, in Etherian tradition. The exchanging and matching of articles of clothing is something sacred, something intimate. Something that indicates—

Bow clears his throat, trying to be diplomatic despite his nervousness. “And...uh…” His voice is gratingly high-pitched, the same way it always is when he’s trying to tiptoe around an awkward situation. “When were you going to tell us—”

“Since when did you two get engaged?” Glimmer shouts, unable to wait for Bow to finish his sentence.

Because that’s what it means, when Etherians match and exchange clothes. That they’re engaged to be married.

Adora and Catra just look at each, blank-faced, then return their attention to Glimmer’s face.

“Engaged?” they ask, nearly in unison.

“What does that mean?” Adora continues, smiling at Catra like nothing could be funnier. “Engaged?”

“Like...engaged in battle?” Catra speculates with a small shrug. “Because we’re not enemies anymore, if that’s what you’re asking. I mean. That’s why I joined your rebellion, isn’t it?”

Glimmer groans and drops her head into her hands.

Living with these going to be a learning experience for all of them.


Hordak has been forced to barricade himself in his sanctum.

He had no choice—not with the streets and the buildings of the Fright Zone overrun with rebel soldiers and freshly-turned Horde defectors. And especially not with explosives continuously detonating overhead, carving holes into the roof of the very building where Hordak sits.

So he sits here, clinging to his throne. Watching the doors that he secured shut with locks and welding and any heavy object that he could locate.

He cannot believe how quickly his empire unraveled. After years and years of forward momentum, of building the Fright Zone’s resources, of conquering countless civilizations and kingdoms…it all seemed to fall apart in a matter of months. How, he doesn’t know. Though he can pinpoint the moment when the winds seemed to shift, and the tide turned in the Princess’s favor.

Scorpia disappeared. That was the first shift. She left the Fright Zone and never returned.

Hordak figured she had betrayed him, just as Catra had. And it wasn’t long before he began to hear talk of Scorpia fighting alongside the princesses.

But it also wasn’t long after that Entrapta betrayed him too. He should have known, should have expected it. Entrapta used to be quite close with Catra and Scorpia, after all. Not to mention that Entrapta herself had supported the princesses in the past—developed weapons for them. He never should have trusted her, no matter how useful her scientific expertise.

But he was nonetheless taken off guard when she departed, taking many crucial weapons and scientific discoveries with her. She even sabotaged his weapons forge and electrical grid as a final goodbye—one that took months for the Fright Zone to properly recover from.

Hordak was overwhelmed. He could hardly keep the lights on, let alone operate the machines that produced the food his troops required. As his soldiers grew hungrier and hungrier, they also grew more and more dissatisfied. Maybe even dissatisfied enough to begin questioning his authority.

And then that video was broadcasted all across Etheria, hijacking even the screens of the Fright Zone itself. Hordak suspected it was Entrapta’s doing—she knew so much about the Horde’s technology, after all. He could do little to stop Scorpia’s smiling face from flooding the screens, pleading for the Horde soldiers to defect and join the rebellion. She claimed that they would be fed and housed and treated with respect.

Empty promises, Hordak was sure. And he told his troops the same thing.

Only a few left, at first. But as Hordak struggled to repair his forge and produce ration bars, that number grew. It grew and grew. Key locations were left undefended as troops ran off to join distant kingdoms. Entire squadrons disappeared, never to be heard from again.

And then the rebels began to attack. They attacked in a way that Hordak had never before seen, never even imagined. They used strategies that Hordak could not anticipate, or make sense of. It was like the enemy suddenly knew every move he would make, and how he would make them. Where his defenses would be strongest, or weakest.

And there was something else too—some mysterious force that could cut through Hordak’s tanks like they were paper. Or reduce his fortresses to pulverized rubble. A new princess, many claimed. One stronger than She-Ra ever was, with unmatched magical power.

Despite how he tried, Hordak was never able to capture footage of this new threat. He could only run from the destruction left in its wake. And bit by bit, between the growing rebel armies and this new princess, Hordak’s forces were either destroyed or forced to retreat.

It wasn’t long before Hordak’s once-sprawling empire was reduced to a single stronghold: the Fright Zone.

And then the final attack began.

Only Hordak’s most loyal followers remain. The rest have surrendered or defected, leaving the princesses free to take what they please from his empire. Hordak, meanwhile, sits here on this throne. Relying on reinforced architecture and carefully designed defense systems to keep himself safe. So far, nothing has touched him. Dust falls from the ceiling when a particularly loud explosion rips through the upper floors...but that’s the extent of the damage.

He is safe, he assures himself. He is safe and in control.

But that’s when he hears it. The sound of a scuffle from just beyond the door, vibrating against the barricade that holds it shut. The sounds of weapons clattering together and grunts of effort. The thump of heavy objects hitting the floor. The shriek of blaster fire.

Hordak’s hands tighten around the arms of his chair. His defense system should protect him. It should wipe out whatever threat that seeks its way inside—

And sure enough, after a while, the noises fade to silence. Silenced, most likely, by the large, heavily armed robots Hordak stationed outside his door to protect himself—

But then the doors burst apart, thrust open by an enormous, thundering, flaming projectile. One that quite literally tears a hole through the closed doors and barrels through the barricade, the heavy objects knocked apart and away like they’re hollow mimicries of themselves. Hordak can only stare, unable to identify the projectile as it sparks and skids toward him.

It eventually slows. Rolling, jolting, slamming against the staircase to Hordak’s throne. Only when it’s there, smoking but still, can he recognize it for what it truly is.

It’s one of his own bots—the ones he stationed outside. Demolished and tossed through the air like it was nothing more than a toy.

Frantically, Hordak glances up at the hole left by the bot—that irreparable wound in the heart of his defenses. There are figures there, approaching from beyond the lingering smoke. Silhouettes that grow larger and clearer with every step forward.

He recognizes one of them first. The taller one. The impossibly taller one, clad in gold and white and glowing with accursed magic. As Hordak sucks in a breath, pale blue eyes meet his, boring into his vision like light from a laser. They are gloating, those eyes. Triumphant.

It’s not the appearance he remembers. But he recognizes the person beneath it just as well.


All those destroyed tanks and obliterated was not a new princess at all. No. It was the same princess who had plagued Hordak for years. The same princess Hordak thought he eliminated.

“You,” Hordak sneers, rising shakily to his feet. “You should be dead.”

She-Ra only smirks and moves further into the room, a gleaming sword clutched between her hands. And it doesn’t make sense, truly it doesn’t. Hordak was there when that sword exploded into a million irreparable pieces. Not to mention that he sent Force Captain Adora to the Crimson Waste, a place that no one is supposed to survive—

“And she’s not the only one,” calls another voice. One that makes Hordak stiffen as though shocked with an electrical current.

He can only watch, open-mouthed, as she steps into the room.

He wouldn’t be able to recognize her if not for those blue-yellow mismatched eyes. Her clothes are different—rebel garb now, rather than her Horde uniform—and that red mask no longer frames her face. Her hair is different too. Pulled back behind her head. Probably so that Hordak can see her traitorous features more clearly.

Catra,” he hisses.

But she ignores him, at first. She instead sweeps the room with her eyes—examining the cluttered destruction left in the wake of the Horde’s final months, as well as the bot that was just thrown through the door.

“Damn,” she remarks, eyes finally flashing in Hordak’s direction. Her smirk could not be more sharp, more vicious. “You really don’t know the first thing about running this place, do you?”

“It was you,” he says, in horror. “You convinced Scorpia to defect. Then Entrapta. You told her to sabotage our facilities—”

Catra only smiles, a hand on her hip—posing as though taking credit for her accomplishments.

“You proposed that video, the one that convinced so many of my troops to defect. You developed the strategies that allowed the rebels to lay waste to my strongholds, using your knowledge of our methods against us—”

Catra merely shrugs. “You say that like it was hard to do.”


And Hordak cannot fathom this. He cannot fathom how Catra managed to drag herself out of the Waste. The Waste is supposed to be a slow, painful death sentence. It’s not supposed to allow its victims to come back stronger, more dangerous, more traitorous—

“But what?” Catra laughs and crosses her arms over her chest. “I told you that I would survive. That I’d be back. That I’d be coming for that throne of yours. And now…”

She gives She-Ra a nudge, urging her forward. And She-Ra looks more than happy to oblige—her sword aimed directly at Hordak’s chest.

“Now I’m just fulfilling my promise.”