Horde Prime's Ship: The Velvet Glove
Catra's heart thunders in her chest with each step she's forced to take toward that room. The green door dissipates, as her captors push her forward.
"Ah, Little Sister, welcome." Horde Prime gives a chilling smile.
She recognizes his formal tone, though his words carry an undercurrent of malice.
'Fear is weakness' Shadow Weavers mantra plays in Catra's mind as Horde Prime strides over. A glint of something sharp catches her eye. A blade? "That's your plan, giving me a haircut?!" Her incredulous laugh sounds hollow in her ears.
"You must first look the part," Horde Prime answers, a cruel glint in his eyes.
"Even Hordak was more intimidating-" Catra winces as a pair of hands shove her shoulders down, bringing her to her knees.
"Curious how you display your insecurities so openly." Horde Prime runs his clawed finger down the side of her mask, before lifting her chin. "It will be a nice addition to my collection." He removes the metal headpiece, handing the blade over to one of the clones. "Proceed."
Catra closes her eyes, wishing she could block out everything. This is nothing like it was in the Horde. A memory from long ago surfaces:
Adora's gaze darts to the hallway on the left, then the right. "All clear," she sighs, guiding Catra to a secluded room. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Shadow Weaver doesn't like when my hair gets this long," Catra whispers, afraid the shadows might overhear. "Her way of cutting it is..." She trails off, curling her tail around herself.
"Okay, but it may not look that nice," Adora warns, bringing the blade closer. "Last chance to back out," she laughs, as she straightens a lock of hair in her hand.
"I trust you," Catra smiles, as Adora beams back before making the first cut.
The clones lift her to her feet, banishing the memory. In the next breath, they push her to the water's edge. It crackles ominously at her feet, causing her hair to stand on end. Catra clenches her jaw, eyes narrowed at Horde Prime. The water looks and smells foreign,, but she suppresses the instinct to scurry away. The surface glows brighter, as she reflexively shields her eyes. A curse dies on her lips as her feet touch the water, and a shockwave runs through her. The pain is familiar, yet alien all at once. Catra refuses to cry out. I won't give him that satisfaction! She glances back in hatred at the two clones preventing her retreat, making sure she can only move deeper into the water. She grits her teeth against the jolts of electricity, commanding her legs to carry her forward.
"I must commend you on your efforts, futile though they are," he acknowledges, a trace of amusement in his eyes.
Before a retort can form on her lips, another shock runs through her. The green liquid acts like an invisible hand dragging her down. The moment her feet don't feel anything solid beneath them, her pulse races as a chill runs through her. Panic stricken; she struggles to remember anything Adora had said about swimming. A single snap reverberates in her ears, as a shock rips through her with furious intensity. The last thing she sees before being dragged under, is Horde Prime's callous smirk as he watches and waits.
Acrid water invades her lungs, cutting off the scream that threatens to undo her facade. The mask of indifference she wears is disappearing as fast as the air in her lungs. Everything within her is sparking. A burn that travels from her head, to her throat, searing a pathway to her core. Thunderous roars fill her ears, drowning out every sound, save for the name echoing in her mind: Adora!
"Catra..." A voice says, shaking her shoulders. "Catra!"
It's a voice she knows well. Catra opens her eyes, meeting a pair of light blue ones looking at her with worry.
"A-adora?" Catra questions, not trusting what she sees, as a younger Adora looms into view. She blinks at her in confusion.
"Why'd you do it?" Adora frowns at her, holding her hand in hers.
"Shadow Weaver said..." Catra looks away, gaze moving wildly around the room. It's one of the training rooms that happened to have a pool.
"Catra, you know you can't swim," Adora scolds, a gentle admonishment. She stands, pulling Catra to her feet.
She meets her eyes, noting the water droplets falling off of Adora's hair. "You...jumped in after me?"
"Of course I did," Adora answers. "We need you, after all."
Catra looks at their joined hands for a moment.
"Ah, poor little sister...Even then your Adora wounded you deeply." Horde Prime's voice echoes.
The memory fades to black as Catra is surrounded by shadows with glowing green eyes. "She's not my anything!"
"Oh, but you want her to be, don't you?" Horde Prime taunts from the darkness
Another unbidden memory springs forth
"Catra," Adora calls, careful to keep her voice low. Their watch was supposed to be conducted in silence, but this was one of the few times they were truly alone.
Catra's ears perk up, as she turns toward her. "What?" She suppresses the urge to laugh. "You're going to make ME be the voice of reason, here?".
"It's because of," Adora pauses with a groan, averting her gaze.
Catra waits, studying her. Those blue eyes hold a trace of fear. It's a feeling that belongs with Catra, not the fierce, kind, dauntless Adora. A grimace replaces the smirk on Catra's face.
"Was it...something she did or said?"
"Not exactly," Adora shifts, gaze darting to every corner of the hallway.
Catra's claws extend, senses hyper aware. Cat eyes are better suited for the dark than her companion’s. "I'll handle this, so wait here."
"Wait, I can-" Adora interjects, taking a hesitant step forward.
"Can't leave,” she interrupts with a shrug. “One of us has to be here in case someone shows up," Catra advises, wearing a casual smirk. "Rules aside, you'll probably just trip and run into me...again."
Adora sighs in defeat, watching Catra's form move out of sight.
Catra scans her surroundings, as her ears turn in various directions to catch any hint of sound. Adora is probably worrying for nothing. Whatever scared her was reason enough to go through this, if only to give her temporary relief.
Claws tap against metal, more grating than Catra's. She peers into the darkness, muscles tensing for battle. Her hackles raise, as she resists the urge to hiss. The sudden resounding cry in the dark makes her stumble backward in a panic.
"Ugh, Catra!" Adora grunts, as they tumble to the floor. "What gives?"
"There's...something out there," she breathes, loathing the tremor in her voice. "It freaked me out!"
Adora scrambles to her feet before helping Catra up. "We go in together this time."
They both take tentative steps down the long hallway, an uncomfortable silence between them. The various creatures in the Fright Zone were abnormal in size and appearance. Even a small creature could pose a threat, especially those from Beast Island.
Knowing Adora she's probably thinking it's a ghost. Catra's hand touches something soft and coarse in the dark. Fur? She looks back at Adora only to have a shriek ring in her ears. Large red eyes blink back at her. She startles, a hiss tearing through her throat. "Adora, get-"
"That's...a big mouse," Adora murmurs, the fear in her voice replaced by amusement.
Catra swipes at the eyes of the abnormally large rodent, and it flees into the darkness. She glances back at Adora, a knot in her stomach as she catches that smug grin. "Not. A. Word." Catra growls, grabbing Adora's hand as they walk back to their post.
"What? I haven't said anything," she replies, her unspoken 'Yet' hanging in the air.
"You two appeared to be so...close," he states in a condescending tone, as the vision shifts to a battlefield. "Yet your words could not dissuade her."
Adora stands before her, staring in disbelief. "How could you possibly be okay with what Shadow Weaver and the Horde have done?"
"Like you said, it doesn't matter what they do, since we look out for each other." Catra places her hands reassuringly on Adora's shoulders. "Once we're in charge, it'll be us on top of the world...together!"
Adora's face falls, as she looks at the ground.
"Now we can go home," Catra says, keeping a hand on her shoulder. An explosion hits a bit too close to where they stand.
"I'm not returning to the Horde, Catra," Adora states, before moving to grab her hand. "We can leave all of that behind, go where they can't influence us anymore."
She must have misheard her because of the explosions. This isn't the Adora she's known for practically her entire life. "You can't be serious," Catra scoffs, pulling her hand away.
"I am," Adora states, squaring her shoulders, gaze unflinching.
"You're listening to people you just met..." Catra feels her chest constrict, as dread and fear seep in like a toxin. "Choosing them?!"
"I'm sorry," Adora says, her gaze sad as she turns away from her.
The thought of losing her makes Catra's stomach twist in knots so tight, it's painful. Betrayal, a bitter, heavy taste settles on her lips. Rage overwhelms reason, as her hands grip the combat staff. She hits Adora in the back, watching as she crumples to the ground.
Only this time, Catra feels the shock as well. A haze takes over, clearing the memory, though the pain remains.
"You failed to bring your Adora home," Horde Prime gloats, holding her face in his strong grip.
Catra tries to speak, but something prevents her string of curses. An odd plastic taste surrounds the small circular piece in her throat. Panic shoots through her as she grabs at it and pulls.
In response two clones pin her arms tight to her side as Horde Prime looks on in amusement. "Now now, little sister," he chastises. "The more you struggle, the more pain you will experience."
Cold metal touches her neck, latching itself to her like a parasite. Catra winces at the bite, gaze narrowing to slits at Horde Prime.
"I am sorry your Adora will be the cause of your suffering," Horde Prime says, tone a mixture of kindness and pity. He removes his hand from her aching jaw.
A buzz reaches Catra's ears, bringing a current to life. Every muscle in her body bunches in protest. White hot pain courses through all the nerves, as dots cloud her vision. Although she knows pain, this is so much more. Worse than when Adora shocked her with the combat staff. Worse than any of Shadow Weaver's punishments. Worse than that toxic pool she almost drowned in. Her only reprieve is when she drifts into merciful unconsciousness.
"Catra..." A voice whispers in her ear.
But she doesn't reply, covering her face with that all too familiar blanket.
"C'mon Catra," that small, calming voice coaxes. "I know you didn't mean to use your claws."
Catra knows that won't make a difference, not to Shadow Weaver. She's never been important enough to matter, only seen whenever she makes mistakes.
The blanket is pulled away, as those hopeful blue eyes meet hers.
"Hey, it'll be okay," Adora says with a small smile of encouragement.
A shock travels down her spine. "Always her leaving you to defend yourself..." his voice whispers, as the images shift.
Leaving you. The words fissure through her, opening something buried deep within. I wanted her to leave, didn’t I?
The weapon in Catra's hand is comforting. It gives her some sense of control. Lonnie launches herself at her, but Catra evades, sweeping a leg under Lonnie before hitting her in the chest. Lonnie smirks up at her. Catra turns, but a blow to her arm knocks her back. She sees Adora, sprinting for her. Raising her staff high, she aims for that center. Of course...she has to swoop in and save the day. Catra suppresses a growl of frustration.
Adora blocks the attack as their staffs connect. The hit to Catra's shoulder stings, diverting her attention long enough for her opponent's staff to collide into her chest plate. "Hey Catra," Adora smirks, triumph flashing in her azure eyes.
Another shock runs through her. "Always her shadow..." That voice murmurs as the Salineas gate morphs from red to brilliant blue
Catra leans in close, cradling She-Ra's face in her hand. "You left me to play hero with your new friends?!"
"I told you. I'm not going back! "She-Ra grunts, as blue energy goes from her sword to the gate. She turns her attention back to restoring the gate. Adora doesn't even spare Catra a glance as she celebrates their victory.
The shock returns "Always her second choice..." his voice hums, carrying a trace of sympathy.
Second choice. The cracks deepen, threatening to tear her apart. Like Adora said, Catra chose...and now she's living with the consequences.
The scene shifts to Adora hanging on to the staff to avoid falling.
"Hey Adora," Catra says, offering a hand to help her out of the pitfall.
Before she can lift Adora up, the memory morphs into the Crystal Castle. Adora is hanging onto a small ledge with unshed tears in her eyes.
"To her, you are nothing. A traitorous enemy." Horde Prime taunts her. It's a truth that Catra refuses to acknowledge, a reality she can't bear to face.
On and on it repeats; a vicious cycle replacing any semblance of time:
A barrage of pain.
Again, his voice whispers to her. "I can give you the peace you seek...make this pain cease..."
The onslaught stops, catching Catra off guard. Is it over?
"If you accept the light," he finishes, tempting her with an out.
No, I can't betray Adora...Not again!
"Always her leaving you to defend yourself. Always her shadow. Always her second choice. Her traitorous enemy." Horde Prime says repeatedly as other voices join in. Their words threaten to tear her skull apart until Catra's world goes dark.