“Are you sure about this?”
“Absolutely,” Entrapta nodded smartly. “If I can collect as much data as possible on the signals sent between Prime’s clones, it will help me design a program to interfere with the chips, and that means getting as close as possible!”
Both Scorpia and Perfuma shared a worried look. Entrapta was excited to have the company. As far as she was concerned, the more of the Alliance that got involved, the greater chance the mission would be a success.
“Finding a group of chipped Etherians would be even better,” she continued, returning her attention to her tablet. “I’ve recalibrated the parameters of the signals my equipment can detect, so I --”
She cut off, jolted by the feel of something curling around her waist, pulling her to a stop. Her excitement died instantly. Entrapta looked down, following the length of the vine to Perfuma’s hand. “It’s going to be very dangerous where we’re going,” said Perfuma. “It’s best if you don’t wander off.”
Entrapta shuffled her feet, her eyes returning to her data pad. Perfuma was right; she did wander. Sometimes she lost track of what she was doing and got distracted by new goals. Entrapta liked working that way. She could follow whatever path interested her, leading her to new and exciting discoveries, and if things got dangerous, she could use her ingenuity to get out of trouble. No one else seemed to like it.
Stupid. Clueless. Inconsiderate. Out of control. Their words rose up in her thoughts. The vine felt even tighter around her waist. No matter how hard Entrapta tried to be of help, she always managed to ruin things. Maybe I deserve this…
A soft beep from her monitor caught her attention. Her eyes fixed on the anomaly, and at that same moment she felt a little lighter. It was better to focus on her work. The sooner Entrapta got the data she needed, the sooner she could return to camp and discuss her findings with Hordak. That thought teased a smile from her lips. She could endure this for a little while longer.
“Um, I don’t think we should use this thing.”
A soft tug at her waist made Entrapta look up. Scorpia had taken hold of the vine. It rested in the groove of her open claw, as if she were about to cut it.
Perfuma frowned. “What do you mean? We need to be able to stick together.”
“Yeah, I know,” Scorpia replied. “It’s just… I dunno, it doesn’t feel right. I know we need to be careful, and that means sticking together at all times, and yeah Entrapta can be… hard to keep up with sometimes.” She cast Entrapta an awkward glance. “Maybe there’s another way?”
“What do you suggest?”
Scorpia scratched her head, looking away. “I don’t know. Sorry, I’m not the best at these things. But you didn’t --” she broke off, her face reddening. “You didn’t ask Entrapta about it before you, well...”
“Oh!” Several expressions crossed over Perfuma’s face, too quickly for Entrapta to even attempt to read them, before they were replaced by a small smile. “Entrapta, you’re okay with the tether, right?”
This was her chance to say something. Entrapta glanced between Scorpia and Perfuma, hesitating. Scorpia seemed like she would listen, but Entrapta still felt unsure. “No,” she blurted before the dark thoughts could close over her again. “I don’t like it at all.”
Perfuma’s face pinched for a moment. She shared an uncomfortable glance with Scorpia. “Alright,” Perfuma said at last. “We can… think of something different.”
The vine slackened around Entrapta’s waist and receded. Entrapta smiled, grateful Perfuma actually listened to her. She bounced up on the balls of her feet. “Okay, let’s go!”
Entrapta slowed to a stop.
“Please, Entrapta, you can’t run off!” Perfuma jogged up to block her path. She placed her hands on Entrapta’s shoulders. “I need you to stay with us.”
“I’m following the signals,” Entrapta replied, fighting the urge to squirm away. “We aren’t nearly close enough to get the data I need.”
“Fine, but we have to be careful. If Scorpia and I lose you, we won’t be able to help you if you get caught.”
“Plus we’ll be lost,” Scorpia added. “Without you to guide us, we don’t know where we’re going.”
“Hmm,” Entrapta tapped her chin with a finger. There weren’t nearly enough communicators and tablets to go around. Otherwise they could have brought some on the mission to divide and conduct their own searches. “Maybe we could use the vines after all,” she said carefully. “We each hold one end, so we can always find each other.”
“Brilliant!” Scorpia exclaimed.
“I think I get what you’re saying…” Perfuma produced two long strands of vine. “Like this?”
“Yep!” Entrapta held out her hand to accept her end of the vines. They twined around her hand once before curling over her wrist. Entrapta didn’t mind the feeling. It was almost like holding hands. Thankfully it didn’t interfere with her grip on her data pad either.
“Um, I think you’d better tie mine around my claw,” said Scorpia sheepishly. “I don’t want to accidentally cut it.”
As the vine curled around Scorpia’s right claw, she and Perfuma shared a smile. A pink flower blossomed over the knot in the vine. Entrapta wondered the significance of this. Looking down, she saw the vines on her own wrist bore a cluster of tiny yellow flowers. Cute!
Another beep came from her data pad, bringing her back to the mission at hand. Their targets were getting closer. “Come on,” she said. “It looks like they’re coming to us!”
Scorpia laughed nervously. “Gee, I wish I could be that excited about it.”
Entrapta ran on ahead, the others trailing behind her. She could tell they weren’t too far away. The vines she held were still loose. Eventually the green dots on her monitor were almost on top of her. She slowed to a stop beside a large tree, waiting for Scorpia and Perfuma to catch up. They were near a clear path through the woods, and Entrapta could hear movement on the other side of the foliage. The green dots were moving along the clearing. Entrapta began running her secondary scanner, gathering what she could to map the signals passed within the group.
I can’t see what I’m looking at through all these leaves. I need to get a higher vantage point.
Entrapta used the limbs from PEArL to lift herself to the lowest branch of the tree, then began climbing. Two of the metal arms kept tight hold of her data pad. Her scalp tingled like mad, and Entrapta thought wistfully of how easy it would be to swing herself to the top of the tree with her hair. As it was, her arms and legs were strong enough to get her there just fine.
Leaves rustled below her as Scorpia and Perfuma arrived. There was a small tug at her wrist, and Entrapta looked down briefly to wave at them. Scorpia waved back. Perfuma was out of breath, with her hands on her knees. Eventually she gave Entrapta a wavering thumbs up.
This high up, Entrapta was able to get a glimpse of the clones as they marched. The readout on her pad showed a few chip signatures in the mix, and one was approaching fairly close to where she was. Entrapta narrowed her eyes, intent on searching them out. Finally she caught sight of them.
A powerful sense of impending danger surged through her. The strength of it shocked Entrapta into silence when she otherwise would have cried out. She knew none of the Horde could see where she was unless they knew exactly where to look. But I felt something when --
For a moment she clung to her perch, unsure what she should do. She shook the vines in her hand to let the others know she was coming down. This is bad...
Castaspella shook her head. “I am telling you, something’s wrong. I’ve tried contacting him by mirror for days, and not just him. There’s no word at all from Mystacor.”
“Then there is a very real chance Mystacor is under siege,” replied Shadow Weaver. It was impossible to tell how she felt about this possibility.
“Maybe we should move camp,” Netossa suggested. “If Mystacor falls, that means Horde Prime will have the strongest sorcerers on Etheria. They could come straight here.”
“Mystacor will not fall,” Castaspella argued hotly.
Hordak observed their debate in silence. He would not offer counsel unless asked. His hands were kept carefully clasped behind his back to hide their shaking. Ever since the morning, his body had been fighting against him. His joints ached, and what started out as a mild tingling in his right hand grew into visible tremors. There was no question of allowing anyone to see his difficulties, yet he would also not refuse a summons.
The physical pain Hordak could bear. As the meeting wore on, his thoughts kept returning to Entrapta. She was meant to have returned from her mission by now, but the day was growing late with no word from her.
Netossa turned to him. “Mystacor is hidden and protected by magic. Do you think Prime could attack it directly?”
Hordak considered his answer carefully. “No, I do not believe that would be his strategy. It is far more likely he would seek to take sorcerers under his control and use them to fight against their own.”
“I’ll go,” Castaspella said suddenly. “We need to know what’s going on.”
“And what will you do if he is right?” Shadow Weaver countered, crossing her arms. “Your magic will not be strong enough to protect you, especially against your brother.”
“Oh, so it’s better if you go? Do you think I’m a fool?”
“You are certainly behaving like one,” replied Shadow Weaver acidly. “If Horde Prime is attacking Mystacor, we will need a substantial force to be able to counter him, not one sorceress of meager talents.”
“So what are you suggesting?” Spinnerella asked softly, before Castaspella could loose another angry retort. Hordak was surprised to hear from her. The wind princess had been quiet and subdued the entire meeting.
“We need to --”
A loud beep muffled her next few words. Shadow Weaver stopped, glaring at the data pad sitting on the table in front of Hordak. “Perhaps this shall give us clarity on the matter,” she said as Hordak took the pad and answered the call. He held the tablet in his left hand so his tremors would not shake the screen.
Three faces appeared. Entrapta’s was foremost, and over her shoulders both Scorpia and Perfuma gathered in closely. “I got you!” Entrapta exclaimed.
“Indeed,” Hordak replied with a ghost of a smile. Internally he was vastly relieved. “What is your position?”
“We’re on our way back,” she said. “The good news is, I think I was able to gather a good amount of data from the clones. The bad news is, I saw Micah with them. He’s been chipped!”
The tension in the room was palpable. Castaspella rushed forward, nearly yanking the pad out of Hordak’s hand. He did not have the strength to stop her. “Are you sure?” the sorceress demanded. “Are you absolutely sure it was Micah?”
“Positive. Grey and black hair, beard, wearing Brightmoon colors. His eyes were green and everything.”
Castaspella all but wilted. Hordak snatched the pad from her before she could drop it.
“I don’t believe this,” Mermista exclaimed. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“We have to get out of here, as soon as we can.” Netossa came closer to Hordak so she could be heard. “We’re going to move the camp,” she said to the trio. “It will take us a while to be ready, so get here as soon as you can. I don’t want to have to move without you, but Micah knows we’re here, and that means Prime does too. There’s no time to waste.”
“We’ll get there as fast as we can,” Scorpia replied.
“Good. We hope to see you soon.”
Entrapta waved to them. “Bye!” After that, the screen went blank.
“Okay everyone, we’ve gotta move,” Netossa asserted, immediately taking charge. “Castaspella, Shadow Weaver, we’re going to need both of you to make the barrier around this place as strong as you possibly can. No one gets in or out, except for our team once they get back.”
Castaspella nodded numbly. Shadow Weaver stood silent, almost rigidly so. Hordak could tell she was afraid, despite her attempt to hide it.
“What can we do to assist?” asked Sea Hawk.
“We’re going to need to sort out what we need to take and what we can leave behind. Spread out and tell everyone to pack up.” As they were leaving, Netossa turned to Hordak. “Some of the supplies will need to go in your ship, but not too much. We need room for refugees. How many can you take?”
“That will depend on what supplies you require us to store,” Hordak replied.
“We’ll try and keep it to a minimum. What’s your estimate?”
“Fifteen. Perhaps twenty for a short time.”
Netossa shook her head, her hand on her chin. “It’ll have to be enough."
“If that is all, I will go now,” Hordak said shortly. He would not be able to wait idly for Entrapta’s return. Her equipment needed to be organized and transported to Sophie. Some would undoubtedly need to be left behind. There was much for him to do while he still had the energy.
As Hordak went to walk past, Spinnerella reached out and placed her hand on his arm. He flinched, moving away from the contact, and she let him. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “They’ll get back to us safely.”
Hordak nodded wordlessly. Before she could say anything more, he left. Why did she say that to me?
He did not know what to think of this gesture of support, yet at some level it comforted him. Spinerella was likely right. Entrapta was adept at surviving dangerous situations. She would return, as she always did, and he would be ready for her.
Endless white corridors, a maze with no end. There was no doubt where he was. How had he found his way back? Was this the Hivemind? No, it did not feel right. Something was different. Hordak still felt himself. His mind was his own, and yet his body refused to obey him.
Where was Horde Prime? Where was anyone?
Dread settled over him like a weight. He wanted to run, to leave this place, but he could not will his legs to move faster, nor could he slow to a stop. It was the same steady plod, endless monotony. Just as it had been. Just as it would always be.
A high scream pierced the air.
Hordak trembled. He knew that voice.
The scream came again, louder this time. Agonized.
Exerting every muscle in his frail body, Hordak broke into a stumbling run. His feet stuck to the floor with every stride, dragging him down, threatening to make him fall. Hordak would not slow down. The halls echoed with her screams, drowning out everything. Gasping for breath, Hordak ran on desperately. He had to reach her, before --
The screaming stopped.
Hordak fell to his knees, struggling to rise. The silence gripped his heart like a vise, worse than the sound of Entrapta’s torment. There was nothing to guide him anymore.
To his left, a door glowed brightly. She was there. She had to be. Hordak slammed his hand against the barrier to the room, pushing his way through as soon as the particles dissolved. Rows of pods lined the walls, rising in endless tiers until they disappeared from sight. A circle of his brothers stood, hooded in the darkness, watching him with glowing eyes. As one, they turned to the pool at the center.
There, floating facedown in the water, tangled in a mess of her own hair, was Entrapta.
Hordak ran to her. Splashing heedlessly into the water, he gathered her in his arms. She was cold. So cold. “Entrapta,” he tried to call to her, stroking her sodden hair from her face with a shaking hand. “Entrapta, I’m here!”
Her eyes were open, but they were glazed, unseeing.
Hordak stared into those blank eyes, once so beautiful and full of light. There were no words that could give voice to his anguish. He stood frozen in horror, unwilling to accept the truth. He was too late.
“Oh, how she hoped you would come for her. Such a pity.”
The words stabbed through Hordak like a blade. He did this. He failed her. If not for him, Entrapta would still be --
Laughter echoed through the darkness. The air around him crackled with electricity, but Hordak did not move. He simply stood, cradling the body of his lost love, and waited for oblivion.
Hordak jerked awake, his heart beating so fast it hurt. Where was he? The room was in shadow. Something was covering his body, stifling him. He almost flung it off of him in a panic until he felt a stir of movement by his side, a soft sigh. Entrapta was here beside him.
He took a shaky breath to steady himself. She is safe. Alive.
Sound asleep, Entrapta was curled up on her side, facing away from him. This close, Hordak could feel her warmth. He could hear the steady beat of her heart. His own heart still hammered painfully in his chest. The tips of his claws dug into his palms as he willed himself to calm down.
Needing comfort and not knowing what else to do, Hordak carefully turned on his side, drawing closer to Entrapta. She stirred again at the contact, snuggling against the curve of his body. At first he thought she was awake, but it was clear by her calm breathing she was still deeply asleep. Hordak wrapped an arm around her, hoping that wherever she was in her dreaming, she could feel he was by her side.
We should have left immediately. Morning is too long to wait.
Despite his fears, Hordak still could not bring himself to wake Entrapta when she slept so soundly. She hardly let herself rest anymore, waking up earlier and earlier to work. Dawn will come soon enough, and in any case we cannot go anywhere until the rest of the camp is ready. Entrapta will need her strength when that time comes.
Out of the darkness, two citrine green eyes winked to life. Hordak shuddered as if a cool wind had struck him, every sense now on high alert. Before he could decide what to do, the eyes were gone.
Is this another nightmare? No... This time Hordak was undoubtedly awake. The pain in his limbs attested to that.
A sliver of green reappeared. Peering carefully into the darkness, Hordak made out the shape of Emily across the room, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Kadroh.
Hordak was at this point too thoroughly awake to attempt to rest. He carefully got up and tucked the blanket around Entrapta, then stiffly made his way over to where Kadroh was still pretending to sleep.
“You have not slept, have you?” he said in the barest whisper.
Kadroh’s eyes reopened. “N-no, brother.”
Hordak nodded. He had been the same. Sleeping outside a pod took some adjustment, and it was not only that. The isolation took its toll as well. He still longs to reconnect to the Hivemind. Even though Hordak could not recall his first days on Etheria, his own moments of deep despair, seeing it in Kadroh struck a deep chord in him. This feeling of kinship was strange. Despite Hordak’s efforts to push it away, it persisted, filling him with the compulsion to do something.
There is no helping it, he thought irritably. It is hard, but Kadroh will become accustomed. I endured isolation for decades.
Kadroh was looking at him with worried eyes. Hordak hated that look. Every time he lost his patience with Kadroh, he saw that face, and it stirred up that strange feeling that kept needling him.
“It will become easier over time.” The words shocked them both. Hordak had not planned on giving in to the impulse, but as soon as he did, it felt right.
“Falling asleep?” Kadroh asked.
“Yes,” Hordak nodded, his prickly mood diminished. “And… being alone with your thoughts.”
“I do not want to be alone.”
He could hear the despair in his brother’s voice. “I know. But you will see that you are not alone. Not truly. You have…” he trailed off, remembering Entrapta’s words. “A family.”
“Yes. Entrapta and I are your family, should you choose to stay with us.”
Kadroh shifted under his blanket. “I… I am honored to be here with you.”
Somehow it felt good to hear those words. Hordak did not know how long such feelings would last, but he had done what he could. “It is late now,” he said. “Tomorrow you will need to be rested. Try your best to sleep.”
Hordak left before Kadroh could respond. Once he was settled back into bed beside Entrapta, he heard an almost inaudible whisper from across the room.