In the week following the events in Dryl and Shadow Weaver’s threat, the thing Adora found the most disturbing was how little everything seemed to change.
Sure, security had been heightened – extra guards had been posted and she needed ID to enter and exit the castle now – but it was still Brightmoon. She wasn’t stopped in the halls with demands for an explanation of her presence, there weren’t any invasive searches.
An incident like that in the Horde and the Fright Zone would be even more intolerable for months on end as Shadow Weaver and a dozen copycats tried to leverage the situation to strengthen their hold on power. There’d be random inspections, midnight “training” sessions, and even the slightest slip up would result in punishments harsher than even Catra got on a regular basis.
Adora had to admit she much preferred Brightmoon’s method, even if all her training – her conditioning – screamed at her that it wasn’t enough, that it wouldn’t keep her and Catra safe.
Now, The Queen stood at the head of the war table, heading a hastily called meeting of the Princess Alliance – plus Kyle and Rogellio, who Catra of all people had suggested they include, since they were likely to be affected by Shadow Weaver’s threat as the rest of them.
More than anything else, the heightened security, the princesses arriving in Brightmoon, it made Adora feel safe. Not the Queen specifically – although she had been feeling a lot more comfortable around her after their talk – but just the knowledge that they were finally going to do something about it.
“Last week, during their mission to recruit Princess Entrapta, Adora and Catra were on the receiving end of a direct threat to their safety – one that may threaten the entire Alliance.”
As she recounted Shadow Weaver’s threat to the princesses, Angella couldn’t help but notice the lack of empty seats.
Her daughter had done it.
She’d rebuilt the Alliance Angella had allowed to fall apart.
She felt herself flush with pride, as inappropriate as it felt given the situation.
“Shadow Weaver – Hordak’s second in command – appears to have been personally slighted by Adora and Catra’s defection and threatened the physical and mental wellbeing of both them and our guests, Kyle and Rogellio.” She said as she gestured to the boys in question.
“Our warning of this threat was delivered by one Lonnie, a former teammate of the four and an active soldier in the Horde’s army.”
Mermista stood from her seat and interrupted the Queen’s briefing.
“Wasn’t she like… a part of the force that attacked my kingdom? How can we trust her?”
The rest of the princesses at the table, with the exception of Adora, murmured in agreement. Who could trust the word of a random Horde soldier?
“Adora told me that Lonnie helped her disable the cannon on the Horde’s ship.” Catra pointed out.
“Lonnie was mean sometimes, but she never seemed to buy into the Horde’s propaganda.” Kyle added, Rogelio’s hand on his shoulder in a silent show of support.
“That lines up with what she told me at Salineas.” Adora added. “She doesn’t seem to support everything the Horde does, but there’s too much she’d be giving up if she just left.”
“If our source has been vetted to your satisfaction,” the Queen directed to Mermista, “may I continue with the briefing?”
Mermista nodded as she sat down, satisfied – but not apologetic for wanting some assurances on a random Horde soldier.
“Shadow Weaver is a former sorcerer of Mystacor, who joined Hordak in the early days of the war after being banished for practising forbidden magic.”
The Queen sighed.
“And she has apparently corrupted the power of a runestone.”
The room went dead quiet. The idea that something as powerful as a runestone could be corrupted – something even the princesses who used them had to yield to on occasion – could be overpowered, it was incomprehensible.
“Brightmoon…” Perfuma stammered as she tried to recover from the news. “Brightmoon hasn’t been attacked, has it?”
“No.” The general confirmed. “However, the Whispering Woods – which provide the vast majority of our defences – are most effective against large forces. A single person, especially one as magically proficient as Shadow Weaver, could be able to navigate them with ease.”
“The horde is aware Adora and Catra are living at Brightmoon.” Entrapta pointed out. “What if we simply moved them to another kingdom? The Horde’s surveillance network is limited at best, they likely wouldn’t notice for several months, maybe even a year.”
Murmurs of agreement ran about the table until Adora spoke up.
“I don’t think that will work. Even if the Horde can’t find us, Shadow Weaver’s always seemed to know exactly where Catra and I are. I think she can find us magically, no matter whose kingdom we hide in.”
The murmurs died as Adora’s point killed any plans that had begun to form.
“That complicates matters somewhat.” The Queen said. “If we can’t hide the four of you, how can we best protect you?”
The paused, the princesses all trying to come up with some kind of plan.
“We have the Sea Gate at Salineas, maybe it can disrupt the tracking magic?” Mermista suggested.
“First One’s artifacts have done stranger things.” Bow agreed.
The table’s eyes turned to Entrapta.
The Alliance’s expert on all things First One’s tech put down the small pile of parts she’d been tinkering with as she realised everyone’s attention had turned to her.
“Entrapta?” Perfuma prompted.
Entrapta’s eyes lit up as she figured out the implied question.
“While some First One’s artifacts have displayed traits similar to the ones described, the interactions between First One’s artifacts and modern magic have produced far too inconsistent results for this to be considered a reliable course of action.”
The table settled into another silence as the Alliance reconsidered.
“Ooh, what about Plumeria then?” Perfuma offered, sounding more excited than was probably reasonable given the situation. “We don’t have the same physical defences sure, but our positive energy and natural connection to Etheria would surely repel someone with such a powerful tie to dark magic.”
“I don’t know if that would work if she’s already corrupted a runestone.” Glimmer argued. “She might just end up corrupting whatever tries to keep her out.”
The look on Perfuma’s face soured quickly. Her kingdom was still recovering from the Horde’s corruption, and she wasn’t eager to expose them to it again.
“I suppose you could come to Dryl. We don’t have any protections against magic, but the Crypto Castle could buy you time if she does come.”
Memories – nightmares – from her last trip to Dryl ran rampant through Adora’s mind. The fear, the loss of control.
Her eyes darted to Catra’s shoulder.
She couldn’t do it again. That feeling – like something, someone, else was in control of her body – would stick with her for a lifetime, even with Entrapta’s reassuring daily updates on the states of both the disc and the previously affected robots.
The rest of the table – or at least the ones who hadn’t been at Dryl that day – were watching her, waiting for some kind of explanation.
One that wasn’t coming, at least not from her.
“No.” Catra repeated, picking up on Adora’s discomfort with practised ease.
“Right.” Entrapta agreed after a few moments when she picked up on the issue. “It probably wouldn’t be a great idea anyway; I’ve still got to finish up the repairs from last week.”
Adora gave Catra and Entrapta looks of gratitude as she let out a small breath of relief.
“Thank you for offering your kingdoms.” The Queen began as she braced herself on the table. “However, in this case we truly only have one option.”
The table leaned in as Angella took a deep breath.
Catra had zoned out of the Alliance meeting once they’d agreed on Mystacor. She’d picked up that there was some kind of protection there – something to keep out banished sorcerers maybe – but all she really needed to know was when they were leaving.
Even that hadn’t been a simple matter since Mystacor apparently moved around Etheria on its own, chasing the moons or some other thing that Catra didn’t fully understand.
Eventually it had been decided they’d leave early the next morning, so they wouldn’t have to “make the jump” to Mystacor in the dark, whatever that meant.
That left her with the night to pack her things. Adora had already finished packing hers, and had been conscripted by Glimmer to help with the princess’, so Catra was left alone in their room, its bareness revealing to her just how few things she actually had.
She had a few sets of nearly identical clothes that Glimmer had found for her when she’d arrived, the slowly dwindling pouch of stardust Angella definitely hadn’t given her, and her pile of notes and theories about sorcery.
That was everything.
Everything except Micah’s journal.
Of everything that had come into her possession since leaving the Horde, it was by far the most significant.
She’d found her people in the journal. She’d found something she could make her own.
She’d found healing.
But she wasn’t the only one it was important to.
Glimmer and Angella had lost family. She couldn’t just take something so personal from them like it was nothing.
She put the journal on the room’s desk.
“I’ll get her for the both of us.”
She let silence hang over the room as she looked at the journal, surprised that saying goodbye to a book was making her tear up a little.
The girl in question jumped as Angella entered the room, walking so softly even Catra’s sensitive ears didn’t catch it.
“Angella!” Catra replied as she jumped up, wiping an errant tear from her eye.
“I’ve finished making the arrangements for you to stay at Mystacor.”
Angella looked around the room.
“Adora’s not with you?”
“She’s helping Glimmer pack.”
“I’ll see her soon then.”
Angella sat on the edge of the bed Catra and Adora shared and gestured for Catra to join her.
“When you get to Mystacor, I want you to seek out Castaspella.”
The name familiar to Catra, but it took a few moments for it to click.
“Yes. She’s the head sorcerer at Mystacor, and she’s agreed to give you lessons, if you’d like them.”
“Really?” Catra whispered.
“You’ve come far on your own and I am incredibly proud of you, but Micah’s journal can only teach you so much. I know…”
Angella got cut off by Catra wrapping her arms around her.
Almost everyone in the Horde found the Black Garnet Chamber unsettling at best, and Lonnie had never been an exception to that rule, as much as she might have liked to pretend otherwise.
That being said, it had a different air since she’d sent Adora that warning, a foreboding reminder that she was one slipup from a trip to Beast Island.
Each step loomed longer than the last as Scorpia escorted her to the chamber, her claws clacking nervously.
“I didn’t rat on you, you know that right?”
The optimist that Lonnie had spent a lifetime trying to bury hoped that no one had ratted them out and it was just a coincidence that they were being summoned to Shadow Weaver’s chambers.
The “realist” in her that had been forced to emerge after a decade in the Horde knew that was too good to be true, but even its jaded, cynical nature couldn’t believe that Scorpia of all people would turn her in.
“I know, Scorp.”
Lonnie shuddered as she took the final steps, stopping in front of the chamber’s sliding door.
She raised her hand to knock but stopped before the fist landed.
This wasn’t going to go well.
She knew that.
So why was she doing it? Why not take Scorpia and run, run far away where no one could ever hurt them again?
“Come in, cadet.” Shadow Weaver’s harsh voice raked down Lonnie’s spine like nails on a chalkboard.
Scorpia put a claw on her shoulder and gave her the best attempt at a reassuring smile she could muster.
It was meant to be reassuring, but it felt like she was being marched to the executioner’s block.
The door opened as Lonnie felt the shadows surrounding her grow deeper.
“Cadet.” Shadow Weaver addressed her; the outline of her mask barely visible through the shadows that danced around the Black Garnet.
“Shadow Weaver.” Lonnie replied, doing her best to compose herself and stand at attention. “You wanted to see me?”
“Indeed.” Shadow Weaver’s voice slithered around Lonnie like a snake on her neck until she was practically whispering in her ear. “I hear you’ve been sending messages.”
Lonnie couldn’t stop her voice from hitching as she responded.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You need to find Catra and hide. She’s not going to stop until she kills her and has you in chains.”
Lonnie gasped as the screens that lined the walls lit up with her own face, illuminating the room but doing nothing to dispel the shadows that swirled around her.
“You should know better than to try hide something from me, cadet.” Shadow Weaver growled, her voice growing louder as her shadows swallowed the light to grow deeper. “There is nothing I do not know, nothing I do not see.”
Shadow Weaver took a breath that sounded more like a bull rearing to charge than a person calming themselves as the shadows shrank back to a more natural state.
“But do not worry, child. All will proceed according to plan. Adora and Catra have been forced to flee to Mystacor. Soon, everything will be as it was always meant to be.”
Lonnie’s heart sank as she realised, she’d been set up. Shadow Weaver had counted on her warning the others, and she’d played right into Weaver’s hands.
“Of course, you will not be allowed to interfere again. You are to guard my chambers with Force Captain Scorpia until this matter is… resolved.”
“This is going to be great; you guys are going to love Mystacor!” Glimmer declared as she and Bow guided the former Horde soldiers through the Etherian countryside.
“It’s got everything.” Bow agreed, trying to help left eh groups spirits. “Warm beaches, hot springs, an amazing view…”
“Magical barriers to protect us from a demented, vengeful sorcerer?” Catra interjected.
Her voice prompted Bow to stop hiking up the hill they were climbing and take a closer look at his companions.
All four of them, even Kyle and Rogelio – who had been to Mystacor on their tour of Etheria and knew what was waiting for them – looked ire. It was clear that they’d gotten maybe an hour of sleep between them the night before, and Catra and Adora, who Glimmer and Bow would normally have trouble keeping up with, were lagging at the back of the group, jumping at shadows.
“Uh… yeah.” Bow nodded before jogging back up to Glimmer.
“I’m worried about them, Glim.” He confided, quiet enough that he hoped they wouldn’t overhear.
“Me too, Bow.” She agreed as she stopped at the cliff’s edge. “But we’re nearly there, so everything should be better soon, right?”
“I hope so.”
The pair stood at the cliff’s edge; quiet as they waited for the others to catch up. The early morning moonlight illuminated the woods below them in beautiful shades of blue and orange.
It was a moment of peace in a storm of turmoil, but neither could imagine enjoying it without the other.
They savoured the moment as the others caught up.
“Uh, guys?” Adora asked. “Are we going to keep moving?”
“We don’t need to.” Glimmer replied, gesturing out to the horizon. “We’re here.”
“Are you sure?” Adora asked.
“This doesn’t exactly look like a…”
Catra was interrupted by Bow and Glimmer jumping off the cliff.
“What happened?” Adora and Catra scrambled to the edge, both hoping to and scared to find their friends.
As the pair desperately tried to look through the low hanging clouds that had gathered around the drop, Kyla and Rogelio wandered over at a far too relaxed pace for a pair who had just seen two people jump off a cliff.
“Do you think we can climb down, or should we run the longer way?” Adora asked as she tried not to fall down the ledge she was leaning over.
“Guys…” Kyle tried to interject.
“I think I could climb it, but not both of us.” Catra replied, already starting to climb.
“Guys…” Kyle tried again.
“If I go down the long way, I won’t be able to help them if they’re trapped on a ledge – do we have a rope or anything?”
Rogelio rolled his eyes and growled, reaching down, and picking Catra off the cliff face.
“Kyle is trying to tell you that’s how you get to Mystacor.” He signed after putting her down.
“That’s how you get to Mystacor?” Catra asked, indignant both at being picked up and not being told in advance.
“So, you just jump off and bang you’re in Mystacor?” Adora clarified as she collapsed to the ground, only landing on the safe side of the drop thanks to a quick guiding hand from Kyle.
As if to answer her question, the clouds below them were blown away by a gust of wind to reveal Bow and Glimmer, standing safely on a large floating rock.
“Pretty much.” Kyle confirmed.
“Kind of you to tell us.” Catra snarked as she leaned over the edge to get her own confirmation of Bow and Glimmer’s wellbeing.
“We assumed you knew.” Rogellio signed. “You’ve been out of the Horde longer than we have.”
Catra rolled her eyes.
“Well, after you then.” She said, gesturing overing the edge.
Rogelio chuckled and grabbed Kyle under one arm.
“Uh… see you guys soon.” Kyle stammered as Rogelio backed up, then ran off the cliff.
Kyle waved from the rock when they landed, Rogelio’s powerful thighs easily absorbing the force of the impact.
“Is it just me or do those two seem closer than they used to be?” Catra asked, turning to Adora.
“No, I think you’re right.” Adora agreed as she stood up, mostly recovered from her friends’ apparent dive off a cliff.
The pair took a moment to watch the horizon together.
“Couldn’t get this in the Horde, could we?” Adora asked.
Catra purred in agreement as they let the moment sink in. Seeing Etheria in all its glory like this, one quiet breath with the person she most cared for, it made her forget Shadow Weaver’s threat, if just for a moment.
“Together then?” Catra offered Adora her hand as they stood over the edge.
Hand in hand, the pair backed up, footsteps so in sync they may as well have been one mind. They ran forward, over the edge together…
One foot on the cliff and one hanging in the void, Adora heard her name whispered on the wind. She twisted around to the find the source of the sound, her hand slipping out of Catra’s as they fell.
There, floating in the shadows of the forest on the cliff behind them, was one of Shadow Weaver’s wraiths, an umbra devoid of its own shadow, with cruel red eyes that watched Adora fall.
She could have sworn it smiled as she lost balance and tumbled through the void.
Through the void and face first into a rock.
“Ooh…” Glimmer winced. “Are you okay?”
Adora groaned from a pile on the ground as the floating rock began moving.
“Not used to Adora falling on her face yet?” Catra asked as she helped the girl to her feet.
The wind breezed through Catra’s fur as their floating island carried them through the air.
The quiet carried on a moment too long and Catra started to worry. They’d been teasing Adora for her habit of falling on her face for years, and she’d always had some kind of now-quite-witty response.
“You are okay, right?” She asked as she grabbed Adora’s face and made a show of inspecting her head. “Please don’t be brain damaged, Shadow Weaver would…”
Catra closed her eyes tight and tried to force herself to think about something, anything else. Magicat history, spells, Glimmer’s family drama.
Adora’s voice was a whisper, almost lost to the wind.
Catra’s eyes snapped open as she felt her breath catch in her throat.
“Who.” She whispered, hoping against hope she was wrong.
“Her spies, they’re here. She knows where we’re going.”
Suddenly, the wind stopped, but Catra shivered regardless.
“What spies?” Bow asked.
“Shadow spies.” Adora replied. “They live in the darkness and report everything they see to Shadow Weaver.”
“Horde Soldiers always called them her eyes.” Catra added. “They say the spies can appear anywhere, as long as there’s a shadow.”
Glimmer looked around at the desolate former Horde soldiers and felt a righteous anger rise in her heart. How dare this woman hurt these people – her friends – so much.
“Don’t worry.” She told them. “We’ve crossed Mystacor’s barrier now. Even if she knows where you are, there’s no way she’ll be able to reach you.”
Adora wanted to believe her, but a lifetime of evidence suggested otherwise, and one look at Catra told her the other girl agreed.
Maybe it would have been better not to say anything, she considered. Seeing Catra worried hurt almost as much as seeing the shadow spy.
The rest of the trip was filled with Bow and Glimmer – and to a lesser extent Kyle and Rogelio – trying unsuccessfully to raise the mood.
After some time, their floating rock came to a gentle stop at the edge of a much larger floating island, the largest of a cluster of three.
“Is that my Glimmer?”
A tall woman with dark hair and a golden circlet that dripped with stardust ran onto their rock, wrapping the girl in question in a powerful hug.
“Aunt Casta…” Glimmer forced a smile as she slipped out of her grasp. “Mom told you we were coming?”
“She did.” Castaspella replied, her voice suddenly curt at the mention of her sister-in-law. “It would be nice to have been asked, but she is an angelic being after all, and I am mere common sorcerer.”
Glimmer sighed. Catra got the feeling this conversation had happened before.
“Oh but excuse me.” Castaspella caught herself. “We have guests! Rest assured that no harm will come to you within the halls of Mystacor.”
Catra did have to admit, actually being on the island, floating hundreds of meters in the air did make her feel more secure than she had been floating up.
“Now, Glimmer, you simply must introduce me to all your new friends.”
Glimmer sighed but complied.
“You know Bow.” She said, gesturing to the boy in question.
“Great to see you, Casta!” Bow said, smiling brighter than the woman’s stardust circlet.
“Lovely to see you as always Bow, did you get the socks I sent you?”
Bow lifted the cuffs of his pants slightly to reveal a pair of fluffy woollen socks.
“I’m wearing them right now.” He smiled.
Castaspella beamed back.
“And these,” Glimmer continued, “are Adora, Catra, Kyle, and Rogelio. They were all raised in the Horde, but they’re good now so don’t worry.”
“Welcome, all of you.” She greeted them, turning to each of them one by one to offer a smile.
As she stopped on Catra, the magicat noticed something poking out of the edges of the woman’s dress. Elegant, familiar designs, inked into her skin.
Intrigued, Catra filed the idea away for future research.
“So, shall we begin the tour?” Castaspella asked, clapping her hands.
“Tour?” Adora asked.
“Of course, we can’t have you visiting and just not show you the Lunar Lenses.”
“Actually, Aunty,” Glimmer interrupted. “Mom said something about you teaching Catra sorcery, and I figured the rest of us could go to the beach in the meantime?”
“Yes, Angella did mention something about that…” She muttered, turning to Catra. “You want to learn sorcery?”
“I’ve been teaching myself with Micah’s old journals, but I want to learn more.”
Castaspella’s eyes lit up at the mention of her brother.
“Micah’s journals you say? Let’s get started right away then.”
Glimmer looked between her aunt and Catra and decided they were probably safe to leave now.
“Sorry for throwing you under the skiff.” She whispered to Catra as she left, taking the others with her.
“Don’t worry about it.” Catra whispered back – although she could feel her excitement drop as Adora left.
“Take care of her for me.” Catra nodded at Adora.
“That’s the plan.” Glimmer nodded. “Will you be okay?”
Catra took a moment to check herself.
“I think so. Theres something about this place, a power I can feel on my skin. It’s reassuring.”
Glimmer and Bow lead the other three away, following the edge of the island until they turned around a tree and out of Catra’s view.
“Classes are already in session, but there should still be some empty training fields if you follow me.” Castaspella said as she led Catra away from the edge.
“So, tell me Catra,” Castaspella asked as they wound through buildings and courtyards. “What do you know already?”
“I don’t remember exactly how he worded it, but Micah’s journals mentioned that spells are powered by the caster’s connection to Etheria – which can be strengthen by stardust – and their effect is based on the runes they draw.”
Castaspella nodded as they walked onto a large grass field, with more than a few small craters blown into it.
“Very impressive.” She praised.
It had happened a few times now, thanks to Angella, but Catra didn’t think she’d ever get over the rush she got from this casual approval.
“It sounds like you’ve got a solid grasp on the basic theory.” Castaspella continued. “Now, since we have some space, how about a demonstration – show me what you’ve got.”
Catra nodded and began drawing runes.
“This was the first spell I managed to cast.” She explained as she finished the rune with a touch of stardust.
The circle framing the rune collapsed into a small ball of red light and started bouncing around the training field.
Unlike the first time she cast the spell, Catra managed to avoid pouncing after it.
“Ooh, I remember helping Micah with that one – we developed it together for little Cyt’yra, she loved chasing it around.” Castaspella reminisced, a small tear forming in the corner of her eye.
Catra couldn’t help but wince at the mention of Micah’s first child. Angella and Glimmer had both assured her it was fine, but she still felt like she was intruding when she read the journal – especially when Cyt’yra came up.
“I think he wrote it in his journal to teach it to her.” Catra admitted.
“It was an old magicat tradition, to learn from a journal your parents wrote for you. It seems fitting that a magicat is learning from it now, even if it isn’t his daughter.”
Catra didn’t know how to respond. In her head she’d been preparing for Castaspella to decide that actually Catra shouldn’t be using her brother’s journal, that it was too personal for some random Horde soldier to be reading – studying even. But for her not only to approve, but to be glad for it?
It didn’t line up with what she’d been trained to expect from life.
It wasn’t a disappointment.
“So, Catra, do you know any other spells?”
And so, Catra showed off every spell she’d picked up from Micah’s journal. A simple light spell, the rock cutting spell she’d used in Dryl, a small fire spell.
And her spell.
She finished the rune and a small laser shot out of the stardust hanging in the air, the beam managing to avoid burning Catra’s new teacher as it sailed for several meters before fizzling out into the air.
Castaspella jumped to attention, leaning forward to inspect the remnants of magic in the air where the laser had just been.
“I don’t recognise that one.” She told Catra. “Did you find it in Micah’s journal?”
“Kind of.” Catra explained. “I made it myself, based on an incomplete rune from his journal – burnt a hole in Glimmer’s wall in the process.”
Castaspella stopped, eyes wide.
“You made it yourself?”
Catra nodded, not understanding what the problem was.
“That’s really impressive, how did you do it?”
Catra winced a little. Whenever she’d done something well enough that even Shadow Weaver couldn’t ignore it, she’d always be asked how she did it.
Challenged to prove the accomplishment was really hers.
But Catra didn’t hear that same animosity in Castaspella’s voice.
Just curiosity and excitement.
“Micah’s version of the rune looked wrong to me – I think he was distracted when he drew it – but I noticed there were similarities between what was there and some of the other light spells he’d recorded. So, I figured that each of the symbols in the rune controlled a specific part of the spell and I copied some from other spells to fill it out.”
“You’ve really got a talent for this,” she said. “That’s really close for a blind theory. You’re right that each of the symbols tells the spell to do something specific, and the overall effect is a consequence of how they interact. However, those symbols don’t have to be confined to a rune.”
Now that was interesting.
“If they’re not all in a rune, how does the spell know what to do?”
“Strictly speaking, the spell never knows what to do, even when it’s confined to a rune. Runes and the symbols that make them up help guide a sorcerer’s magic to produce a given effect, but with enough training and focus you can guide the magic yourself. When multiple runes – or even no runes – are involved, you follow the same principle, guiding your magic through symbols, regardless of how they’re contained.”
Catra started drawing symbols as Castaspella watched.
One on the ground.
Another floating in the air.
A final one on her own palm.
She closed her eyes and focused on the magic within her as she let Etheria’s power flow through her, into the symbols on the ground and in the air, and finally back into her hand.
She opened her eyes to a glowing hand, the light spell working as intended, even without a rune.
“Woah…” She said as she held her hand up to her face, turning it as she examined her handiwork.
“Nicely done.” Castaspella said, nodding her head. “You can take it a step further too, we here at Mystacor have a proud tradition of tattooing the runes and symbols we use most to our bodies, so we can use them again and again, without needing to draw them.”
As she described them, Castaspella pushed up her sleeve to reveal an arm covered in intricate tattoos, drawn in a deep black ink with flecks of stardust sparkling through.
Catra didn’t know why, but she couldn’t shake the vision of being held by a woman with tattoos just like those.
Adora didn’t know how Kyle and Rogelio managed to get out of going to the beach, but she wished she had too.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like it, per se, she just didn’t get it.
“So, what are we actually meant to do here?” Adora asked her captors.
“We’re not meant to do anything.” Glimmer explained as she and Bow laid down towels on the sand. “You just… exist. It’s relaxing.”
“Well, why would I need to do that? I’m perfectly relaxed.” Adora insisted through a clenched jaw.
Bow and Glimmer didn’t respond with words, instead opting for a pair of disbelieving stares.
“Adora, it’s alright to be stressed, you’ve been going through a lot recently.” Bow tried to reassure her.
“Is it that obvious?” She asked, her shoulders drooping.
“Yeah.” Bow and Glimmer replied in unison.
“Look, Adora.” Glimmer said. “Just try it. Get comfortable and let the sound of the clouds on the beach wash away your worries.”
Adora needed that.
She had no idea how laying still for however long could possibly achieve it.
But she needed it.
“Okay,” Adora agreed. “I’ll try it.”
She laid down and tried very hard not to be tense.
Adora closed her eyes and focused on the sound of the clouds on the beach, trying to lose herself in their rhythm like Glimmer had told her.
Just in and out.
In and out.
In and out.
In and out.
In and out.
“You can’t hide from me.”
Adora jumped as a hand shook her shoulder.
“This isn’t working for you, is it?” Glimmer asked, taking her hand off Adora’s shoulder as the girl caught her breath.
She didn’t get a chance to confirm before Glimmer continued.
“It’s worse than I thought.” Glimmer mused. “Bow, get up – this calls for the Steam Grotto.”
Bow jumped up, unfairly alert for someone who had clearly managed to fall asleep.
“Woo, Steam Grotto!”
Adora stood back awkwardly as Bow and Glimmer started gathering their things.
“Uh, guys, I don’t think steam will help.”
Glimmer put her things back down so she could put a hand on Adora’s shoulder.
“Look, Adora, Shadow Weaver can’t hurt you here. You just need a distraction to take your mind off it – and there’s no better distraction than the Steam Grotto.”
Adora must not have looked convinced, because she continued.
“Please Adora? For us.”
That wasn’t fair.
“Okay Glimmer, I’ll try it.”
As it turned out, Catra loved lessons.
By the end of her time in the Horde, she was skipping more than half the lessons and other training sessions she was meant to attend.
But it hadn’t always been that way.
As hard as it was to believe, she’d been more excited than Adora when they were finally moved to formal training as kids. She’d felt so ready to start learning and prove to Shadow Weaver that she was worth her bunk space.
And she was good at it. Her instructors loved her enthusiasm, she worked hard, and she did well.
But it was never enough.
Not for Shadow Weaver.
And her instructors picked up on it too.
She didn’t know is Shadow Weaver had told them to treat her worse, or if they’d just grown tired of her, but one by one they began ignoring her achievements and berating her failures.
So, she stopped caring.
Castaspella made her forget all of it with only a few words.
“Yes, well done Catra.”
The sorcerer clapped her hands at Catra’s answer.
It hadn’t been hard – she was basically just repeating something Castaspella had just told her about stardust a few minutes ago – so she didn’t really get why Castaspella was so enthusiastic about her answer.
But that feeling.
It took her right back to those first few classes, sitting with Adora and competing to answer Grizzlor’s questions.
“Do you have any questions, or should I move on?”
Catra shook her head.
“I think I’ve got it.” She confirmed.
“Next topic then!” Castaspella declared, swiping away a series of diagrams she’d drawn with light in front of her.
“Have you noticed that your spells all create new effects and don’t change the world around them?” She asked.
“Or at least, don’t directly modify the world around them.” Castaspella amended after a moment of thought.
Catra thought about it.
Castaspella was right. The light, the fire, her laser – they were all something she was making.
Although didn’t the tunnelling spell modify the rock?
“What about the magicat rock carving spell? That one leaves marks on the stone.”
“That’s a great point, I hadn’t considered that spell.” Castaspella acknowledged.
It felt weird that she could correct a teacher – or any authority figure for that matter – and not get eviscerated for it.
Not that it had ever stopped her from doing so.
“Anyway,” Castaspella continued. “Spells that affect the world around us are typically more complex than ones that create something new.”
Catra nodded along. She hadn’t noticed at the time but looking back at it there had been a real imbalance in Micah’s journal – especially the sections addressed to Cyt’yra. It would make sense that meant there was a jump in difficulty at that point.
“The reason for this.” Castaspella continued as Catra thought back on what she’d already learnt, “is that spells affecting the world need to be told in some way what they’re meant to change.”
As she lectured, Castaspella cast a spell that made her finger glow bright blue, which she used to draw helpful diagrams in the air, where they floated like runes.
“Normally, I’d just explain how to do this, but I’ve been impressed by everything you’ve said and I’d love to hear how you think it’s done, if you wouldn’t mind sharing?”
That gave Catra pause.
How was it done?
She had an example of each, the answer had to be in there somewhere.
What was the difference?
They didn’t feel any different to cast, as far as she could tell at least.
The symbols that comprised the runes were different, but that was true of all spells, there was no way it could be that alone.
Catra tilted her head as she puzzled it out.
Almost without thinking about it, she started drawing a rune in the air – a light spell – and cast it, hoping for a side-by-side comparison.
The first cast, she felt around for a stone to draw the second on when it hit her.
“I draw the rune on the rock I want to change!” She burst out as it finally clicked.
“Very well done, Catra, I’m impressed.” Castaspella praised her. “That is one was a sorcerer can target their spells, and it seems to me that is how the tunnelling spell specifically works.”
Oh, that was a rush.
“That being said, it’s not the only way, and it’s often not practical – it tends to work best for long term applications, such as the shields and levitation spells that Mystacor relies on.”
“Take telekinesis, for example,” Castaspella continued, “a staple of a sorcerer’s repertoire. How might you target something you can’t reach to draw on?”
Catra had no idea.
This wasn’t like the last question, where she could reverse engineer an answer from the spells she already knew – nothing she knew fit the description.
The closest she had was her laser, which moved away from her, but that felt more like a fire, which she started, but only had limited control over it after that.
Even if the laser did work like these targeted spells Castaspella was talking about, Catra had cobbled the spell together out of runes she knew basically nothing about, so it wouldn’t have helped even if it did.
She didn’t know, and she was going to have to admit it.
“I… don’t know.” She said, wincing unconsciously as she did.
Castaspella felt her heart break a little.
She recognised Catra’s wince. She’d seen it before, in other students who had been hurt. Sometimes it was a teacher, sometimes it was a parent, and she didn’t know enough about Catra’s history to guess.
But she did know that now wasn’t the time to push her.
“That’s okay.” She reassured her. “I doubt Micah’s journals would get that complex.”
Not the Horde.
Not Shadow Weaver.
Slowly but surely, it was getting easier to believe.
She recomposed herself.
“So how do you do it?” She asked, eager to try and put it behind her.
Castaspella waved a hand through the diagrams, causing them to fade away as she drew a new one – the Sword of Protection.
“Ultimately, it comes down to magical signatures. Most magical items and First One’s artifacts generate one naturally, and you can use a rune to make something emit one of its own.”
Catra drew a rune in the air by the Sword.
Catra jumped to dig through her bag and pulled out a piece of paper, copying down the rune and labelling it.
Castaspella smirked at Catra’s eagerness and paused her lecture while the student was distracted.
“And finally, the heart of the planet emits a signature of its own, far more powerful than any Mystacor has recorded in its storied history.”
Catra nodded along.
“So, once I have a signature, how do I use it?”
“Unless you’re dealing with a magic item directly – summoning a staff for example – using a signature in your spell ends up being far too complicated, adding potentially hundreds of symbols to your rune to translate things like location, motion, speed, and direction.”
“So, what’s the work around?”
There had to be one, right? There would be no reason to mention it otherwise.
“Strictly speaking, there are several.” Castaspella answered. “The most common, however, is this.”
Instead of drawing another rune in the air, Castaspella pulled up one of her sleeves to reveal a rune tattooed near her shoulder.
Well technically she revealed more than one rune – Castaspella had a lot of tattoos – but there was one that was larger and more prominent than the rest, which Catra assumed was the one she was referencing.
“This is what we call the Redirection rune. How it actually works is incredibly complicated, more so than even using signatures – I can lend you some books on the topic if you’d like to learn more, but it’s not necessary – but essentially what it does is translate your intentions on what you want to target into symbols you can use on the fly.”
Catra studied the rune inked into Castaspella’s arm. It was easily the most complicated rune she’d ever seen, with symbols branching off each other like fractals, getting finer and finer until Catra could barely see the ink.
“That looks far too complicated to just add to a spell.” She pointed out.
“Very observant. It’s very rare for the redirection rune to be cast normally – typically it’s tattooed early into a sorcerer’s career, often as the first one they receive.”
“In fact,” Castaspella continued. “I’d be happy to give it to you tonight, if you’d allow me.”
Catra had to stop herself from gasping.
“Just like that?”
“Even though it’s me?” was left unsaid.
“Admittedly it is rather forward, traditionally your mentor would be the one to give you your first tattoo, but Micah…”
“Well, he can’t, and I’d…”
Catra could feel tears starting to fall, but she didn’t try to stop them.
“I’d be honoured to have you tattoo me.”
Even Adora had to admit, the steam felt nice. It would probably be great for her muscles after a tough training session.
Of course, she’d only admit it after sneaking out of the grotto.
She appreciated what Bow and Glimmer were trying to do, she really did, but they simply didn’t get it.
Shadow Weaver was hunting them.
Adora knew that, and she didn’t like it.
It terrified her.
But Shadow Weaver wasn’t the real danger here.
As much as seeing the Shadow spy had upset here, she had felt the barrier as they passed into Mystacor, and it let her put Shadow Weaver to the back of her mind.
Present, but not overwhelming.
She was here.
And she couldn’t protect everyone from herself if she was just laying in the steam with Bow and Glimmer.
She had to get away from anyone she could hurt if she lost control. Last time, she’d scarred Catra.
She couldn’t let herself think about what could happen next time.
Everything inside her was screaming to leave, run away from Mystacor and find somewhere she would never need to worry about losing control of She-ra and hurting her friends.
But she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t just leave her friends – leave Catra – to deal with Shadow Weaver without her.
And so, she wandered the beach, staring over the edge, too far to protect her friends from Shadow Weaver and too close to protect them from herself.
And apparently too distracted to see what was right in front of her.
Kyle and Rogelio were standing right in front of her, apparently wandering the beach themselves.
She tried to just give them a nod and step around them to keep herself isolated, even with their arms around each other they were agile enough to block her.
Rogelio reluctantly removed his arm from Kyle’s shoulder so he could sign.
“Where are you going?” He asked.
“Oh, you know… nowhere in particular…”
“Alone?” He signed. “Weren’t you with Bow and the princess?”
“Uh yeah… I just wanted to grab a bit of fresh air.”
Kyle shook his head.
“Wow Adora, you aren’t a good liar, and that’s coming from me.”
“Come on, let’s sit down.” Kyle suggested. “We’ve barely talked since we left the Horde.”
She was a danger, she needed to be as far away from everyone as possible.
But something about Kyle and Rogelio, two of her oldest friends, even older than Catra – who didn’t end up in the Horde until they were five or so – compelled her.
Because Kyle was right.
She and Catra had left without saying goodbye, and when Kyle and Rogelio eventually joined them, they hadn’t stuck around in Brightmoon, opting to tour the world with Bow’s brother.
The truth was, she missed them.
They sat down in the sand, around a small fire that Rogelio managed to create suspiciously quickly.
Had he always been able to do that?
And so, they sat, staring into the flame, the crashing of the clouds into the shore echoing down the beach.
They didn’t say much – where could you possibly begin after such a monumental change – but they enjoyed each other’s presence, the quiet familiarity of lifelong friends.
Eventually, Rogelio broke the silence with a grunt.
“You’re not okay.” He signed.
It wasn’t a question.
“I’m not okay.”
She wanted to disagree – maybe if they didn’t know they’d be content to leave her alone – but she knew Kyle and Rogelio would see right through whatever she tried to tell them.
“Want to talk about it?” Kyle offered, poking at the fire.
Kyle’s directness managed to snap Adora out of her stupor for a moment. The Kyle she remembered would never have had the confidence to be so direct. The tour of Etheria must have been good for him.
That or just being out of the Horde in general.
“Not particularly, but you’re not going to let it go that easily, are you?”
Rogelio shook his head.
Adora sighed again.
She poked the fire, watching the embers twist and twirl as they floated down, losing herself in their glow.
“I’m scared.” She admitted. “Terrified actually.”
She breathed in slowly, tasting the smoke of their fire on the fresh beach air. She could feel her connection to Etheria grow as she focused on her senses.
She shut it down just as soon as it had opened.
That was not what she needed right now.
It did, however, force her to stop putting off an explanation.
“Last time I went on a mission, I lost control of She-ra. It was like she was forcing me to watch as she went on a rampage.”
Adora choked back a tear.
“I… she hurt Catra and I don’t know if she’ll do it again.”
Adora stopped, forced to catch her breath as the tears began to fall.
Kyle and Rogelio shared a look. They’d heard that something happened at Dryl, but not what – until now.
“And that’s not even starting on Shadow Weaver.” Adora continued once she’d had a moment to recover. “We know she’s out there, hunting us, but no one seems to be taking it seriously. Even Catra’s off learning magic instead of…”
“Instead of what, Adora?” Kyle interrupted. “We’ve come to Mystacor because it’s the safest we can be while the Rebellion figures out how to deal with Shadow Weaver. There’s nothing more to be done.”
His words stopped Adora in her tracks.
Not so much because of what he said – in theory it was all stuff she already knew – but because he said it.
Kyle really had grown a spine.
“Well,” Adora sighed. “I don’t feel safe.”
“What would make you feel safe?” Rogelio asked.
She didn’t need to think about her answer.
“I need to leave. I can’t be trusted not to lose control of She-ra again, I’m a danger to everyone here.”
Rogelio gave her a sad look, shaking his head.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Kyle asked, “how did it happen last time?”
“Honestly, I don’t know, I don’t remember much of what happened at Dryl. Catra told me I got infected by one of Entrapta’s robots.”
“You probably don’t need to worry about that here.” Kyle pointed out. “Not a robot in sight.”
It didn’t really help her worries, if Adora was being honest, but she appreciated the attempt.
“But that’s not all.” Adora added. “When me and Catra left the Horde, Shadow Weaver said something about messing with my mind – controlling me – and then just now I heard both her and She-ra voices’ on the waves…”
“What if… What if she can control She-ra?”
An uneasy silence settled over the trio. No one wanted to admit it, but Adora was right, she had – they all had – good reason to fear that Shadow Weaver could – would – take control of She-ra.
“That’s why I need to leave, I’m a danger to everyone as long as I’m here.”
“A danger to Catra…”
“Are you saying that Shadow Weaver is going to have a harder time going after you if you’re alone and outside of Mystacor’s protections?”
“Well…” Adora tried to cut in, but Kyle didn’t stop.
“Besides, even if Shadow Weaver is angriest at you, do you really think she’ll stop there? That she won’t march She-ra into the halls of Mystacor and not stop until everything is exactly the way she wishes?”
“We survived the Horde by sticking together. Do you think Shadow Weaver would have held back with Catra’s punishments if you didn’t interfere? The only thing that got her through those sessions with Shadow Weaver was knowing we – you – would be there for her afterwards.”
Adora cast her eyes down to the fire, memories playing in her head.
“Fuck you’re right.”
She looked up at Kyle.
“You know, it’s not fair how good you’ve gotten at that.”
Rogelio growled in agreement, planting a kiss on Kyle’s cheek.
Adora smiled at her friends display, letting it cheer her up for the first time in days.
“I’m going to go find Catra.” Adora said. “I think it’s about time I was with her.”
Kyle and Rogelio didn’t say anything as she left, too distracted by each other.
“Like the tides, the moons have a pull on Etheria’s magic.” Castaspella explained as she guided Catra through Mystacor’s many halls. “That’s why tattoos are traditionally applied in the evening, under the shadow of both the day and night moons.”
Catra tried not to let her attention drift as Castaspella talked – after all, the woman was about to tattoo her, the least she could do was pay attention – but Mystacor made that nearly impossible.
Every way she turned, some kind of magic was being cast, and she wanted to stay and study it all.
“Is that why so many people are casting spells now? Everything seemed so much quieter during the day.”
“Well observed.” Castaspella commented as she led them into an ornate but bare room. “In fact, I’m supposed to be leading the Lunar Lens Ceremony right now, but I asked Rituella to take my place. A sorcerer’s first tattoo is far more important.”
Privately, Catra doubted it, but she didn’t say anything. She wanted this, and she wasn’t about to try and talk Castaspella out of it.
Instead, she looked around the room. It was circular, with a stone table in the centre big enough for her to lay on. Beside it was a smaller table, which held a couple of what Catra assumed were tools used in the tattooing process. A privacy screen was pushed against a wall on the opposite side of the room.
“Okay, just wait here a moment.” Castaspella directed as she stepped behind the screen.
Left on her own, Catra realised the room didn’t have any lights, magical or otherwise. Instead, a large skylight was built into the ceiling, the intricate shaping of its glass seeming to direct both the day and night moons’ light into a beam concentrated enough to light the table.
“Let’s get started, shall we?” Castaspella said as she stepped out from behind the screen. She’d changed out of her previous dress into a sleeveless white one which showed off the runes of her arm.
As she got closer, Catra realised it wasn’t a simple white dress. It appeared to have runes sewn into the fabric, forming a complex tapestry that was practically invisible from a distance.
“This,” Castaspella continued, holding up a bottle from the smaller table, “is the ink we’ll be using.”
Catra took the bottle and looked inside. Little flecks of stardust floated in ink as black as night, swirling gently in the otherwise still liquid.
“Impressive, isn’t it.” Castaspella agreed, taking the bottle back, replacing it on the table and taking the other item.
“And this,” she said, handing it to Catra, “is the needle.”
The needle was a magnificent work of art in its own right. It was weighty like stone or steel, but its colour suggested it was made of wood or bone. Patterns of runes formed spirals from the tip to the base, glowing a faint blue that reflected off Catra’s claws.
“Needless to say, but there’s too many runes to go into all of them in specifics, but each spiral concerns an aspect of the process.”
Castaspella pointed to the first spiral.
“This one relates to hygiene and ensures the healing process will be quick and painless.”
She pointed out another.
“This one concerns the application of the ink and its permanence, so you don’t need to worry about it fading.”
She pointed out the last of the three major spirals.
“And this one helps with control, keeping the needle steady and helping guide it through the runes as I apply them.”
Taking the needle back from Catra, Castaspella continued.
“Have you considered where you’d like the tattoo?”
Catra had not.
“Maybe on my back somewhere? I hadn’t thought about it, do you have any suggestions?”
“The back is a good choice, although this particular rune is hardly big enough to take up the whole back. Perhaps near the base of your neck, between the shoulder blades?”
It sounded just as good as anywhere else.
“Wonderful!” In that case, could you please take off your top and lie down on the table?”
Catra did as instructed as Castaspella busied herself double checking her tools. She wiped down the needle with a cloth Catra hadn’t noticed earlier.
“Are you ready Catra?”
And so Castaspella started her work.
She wiped down Catra’s back with the same cloth she’d used on the needle, who could feel the tingle of magic as it glided over her fur.
Apparently satisfied that Catra’s back was ready, Castaspella put down the cloth and picked up the needle.
“I’m starting with the needle now.” She warned. “The enchantments mean it shouldn’t hurt a bit.”
“Go ahead.” Catra replied, trying her hardest not to move.
At first, Catra thought Castaspella must have changed her mind and gone back to the loth, because it felt practically the same – a cool tingle between her shoulder blades.
It wasn’t until a couple minutes later when Castaspella wiped the needle off on the cloth that she noticed the change had indeed been made.
“I always appreciate a chance to teach.” Castaspella said a few minutes in. “But you didn’t need to pretend not to know about runic tattoos.”
Catra scrunched her eyebrows.
“I wasn’t pretending.”
One of the runes on the needle must have had a calming effect, because even the implication of an accusation by a teacher brought up bad memories, yet she didn’t feel panicked at all.
It was Castaspella’s turn to be confused.
“But what about the ones you already have?”
Or apparently, tattoos.
“That’s a tattoo? Adora noticed its similarity to runes a while ago, but it didn’t do anything when I tried casting it.”
“Huh.” Castaspella murmured as she finished the one she was applying as fast as she safely could.
She wiped the needle and Catra’s new tattoo one last time before setting her tools aside.
“Do you mind if I take a closer look?”
Castaspella pushed aside Catra’s fur to get a closer look at the mystery tattoo.
“What, what’s wrong?” Catra asked.
“This tattoo wasn’t drawn on you. It…”
Castaspella had to stop herself from heaving.
“It was carved into you.”
Catra could hear Castaspella give a faint sob as she delivered the news.
She just felt numb.
Of course, Shadow Weaver had carved some sick spell into her skin.
Of course she had.
“What… what’s the spell?” She asked, unsure if she even wanted to hear the answer.
Castaspella took a deep breath and calmed herself.
“Of course…” She said as she continued to follow the pattern of the rune through Catra’s fur.
“It was a block.” She answered. “Tell me, when you cast your first spell, did you feel a burning sensation through your body?”
“How did you know?”
“That was your magic burning through the rune and restoring its connection to Etheria. Normally, you’d need another sorcerer’s help and potentially years of magical therapy, but this rune…”
Castaspella narrowed her eyes.
“There’s more than one rune here.”
“What do you mean?” Catra asked. “What’s the second one?”
“It’s hard to tell.” Castaspella replied, once again peering through Catra’s fur. “It’s done properly – with ink – so it’s harder to find through your fur.”
“In fact, I think the block was – carved – directly on top of it.”
Castaspella shuddered again at the thought of someone who could do something so cruel to a child.
“Wait…” She muttered as she traced the older tattoo. “I recognise this one…”
She gasped, her hands flying to her mouth as she stumbled into the smaller table.
“I… I gave you this tattoo.”
She stumbled forward and held Catra in her arms.
“Cyt’yra… you’re alive.”