Chapter 1: Pieces
“Etheria Liberation Effort, day two; Hordak and I are attempting contact with the Princess Alliance! We are en route to their last known location. So far, we have completely evaded Horde detection.”
Holding her recorder tightly, Entrapta extended all four of her mechanical limbs, raising herself up into the air to get a better vantage point. The tufts of her pigtails squirmed against their ties, but Entrapta was able to put the feeling aside. Now that her hair was long enough to tie back, it was much easier to ignore the useless automatic movements of the shorn strands and focus on controlling her new augments.
Entrapta and Hordak stood atop a hill at the edge of the Whispering Woods. The trees were so densely packed, it was impossible to discern anything other than the hills and valleys of the terrain. Entrapta strained up as high as the limbs would extend, but the extra height did not help much.
To the northwest, a giant white spire dominated the horizon. Her eyes constantly returned toward it. Spires like these descended all over Etheria on the day Horde Prime invaded, carrying thousands of Horde soldiers. Entrapta longed for a glimpse inside. The sheer amount of sophisticated technology to be found in just one of these spires was staggering to imagine.
“What do you see?”
Hordak’s voice brought Entrapta back to the present. She shook her head, lowering herself back onto the grass. “Nothing but trees, and the spire of course.”
Hordak nodded. He too was looking at the spire, his green eyes narrowed. “It is good fortune the spire is so distant. We do not wish to be anywhere near it.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” she huffed. “You know what’s inside it. I’ve never seen one up close.”
“There will be plenty of time for analysis later, if… when the Alliance is victorious.”
“Fair point.” Pocketing her recorder, Entrapta drew out her data pad and opened up a topographic map of the Whispering Woods. Bright green dots illuminated the screen, showing the movements of Horde clones and bots. Entrapta had managed to use the data from Sophie to track the signature of the Horde soldiers connected to Prime’s system. She could now monitor the Horde’s movements from her pad, provided they were within range, and no matter how the terrain of the Woods might shift, she could count on this system to guide them back to Sophie. “I suppose we should keep heading north for now...”
Together they made their way down the hill and deeper into the trees. Entrapta’s concentration on her monitor was so intense, she hardly noticed how eerily quiet the forest was. Barely any creatures stirred. It was as if the entire woods were holding its breath.
After a while of walking in silence, Hordak cleared his throat. “Entrapta, how certain are you that the Alliance has not relocated their encampment?”
“Hmm… I’d say about seventy two percent,” Entrapta replied without looking up or slowing her steps. “There are only so many places to hide a small army. Although....” her fingers typed away furiously on her pad. “With the increase in Horde activity, I revise my number to sixty percent.”
Hordak sighed. “How long will it take to search this section of the woods?”
Entrapta slid her finger across the pad to view a larger map of the Whispering Woods, temporarily losing sight of all the moving green dots. “If we examine each quadrant thoroughly, I estimate it will take around… twelve hours!”
“We should not remain exposed for so long. Can you find a swifter route?”
“On it!” Tapping the places with the least amount of green, Entrapta began to chart a course forward. An odd bit of movement caught her eye as she did so. Dozens of green dots were swirling around a single point on the map. It was in the wrong direction to be the spire, and too close to their location. Entrapta looked over her shoulder at Hordak. “What do you think this means?”
Hordak leaned down to examine the display. “I am not sure. A battle, perhaps.”
“With the Alliance?”
“It is possible.”
“Then let’s go!” Swerving left, Entrapta increased her pace to a trot. “We can get there in ten minutes if we hurry!”
Jogging through the brush, Entrapta had to look up or risk colliding with a tree. She kept glancing at her pad when she could, eyes focused on the cluster of green dots. This could be where her friends were.
“Entrapta, wait!” Hordak had already caught up with her. “I do not think we -- stop!”
He had not shouted. The word was more of a strangled whisper, yet it broke through Entrapta’s excitement and she skidded to a halt. “What is it?”
Hordak held up his hand for her to wait. One of his ears twitched a fraction. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Entrapta asked blankly.
A twig snapped loudly somewhere to her left. “Ohhh,” she tilted her head. “That. Your ears are so sharp!” Entrapta looked down at her data pad. “Well, it’s not from the Horde, whatever it is. I don’t see anything on the map… I’m going to go check it out!”
“Be careful,” Hordak said after her. “Keep out of sight.”
Entrapta nodded. “I know, I know…”
It took all of her self-control not to bolt forward through the bushes. Entrapta knew Hordak was right. It was better to gather data from a safe distance than lose everything by running straight into danger. Less exciting, perhaps, but a higher chance of success.
Whatever it was ahead of her was still rustling around, though very quietly. Did it have feet, or was it rolling along on the ground? Entrapta almost hoped it was some variation of Horde bot. Horde Prime would have to outsmart her rudimentary tracking methods eventually. Some sort of cloaking, maybe… a signal jam? If I can keep the bot intact, I’ll know exactly how it works.
A flash of red caught her eye. Entrapta crept closer. It was tall, whatever it was. She reached down to unhook her blaster, holding it at the ready. The blaster was set to stun. There was no use destroying her target, leaving nothing behind to examine.
Several yards ahead, the foliage shifted aside, revealing the figure’s true form clearly for the first time.
“Scorpia!” Entrapta squeaked, running out from cover.
Scorpia turned around, eyes wide with shock. “Entrapta?”
Immediately her face broke into a wide smile. She knelt down and held her arms out, and in the next instant Entrapta was wrapped in a tight embrace.
“It’s really you!” Scorpia said tearfully, lifting her up and spinning her around. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay! I’ve missed you so much!”
Entrapta felt joy swell in her heart. She hadn’t realized how much she missed Scorpia until this moment. “I missed you too!”
Scorpia released her and stepped back. Her bright smile was gone. “W-what happened to your hair?”
Reaching up to brush her tiny pigtails, Entrapta grimaced. “Horde Prime had my hair cut,” she said quietly. “But it’s okay now! I built robotic arms as a replacement until it grows back!”
“Whoa!” Scorpia jumped as Entrapta extended all four of her mechanical arms and wiggled them like the legs of a giant insect. Then Scorpia seemed to crumple and covered her face with a sob. Entrapta withdrew the limbs quickly, wondering what she’d done wrong.
“First Beast Island, and then captured by Prime!” Scorpia shook her head. “I can’t imagine...”
“Don’t cry, Scorpia,” Entrapta soothed. “It hardly hurts anymore, and my hair is growing back!”
“It-it’s not that. I --” Scorpia shook her head again, tears spilling over her cheeks. She took a deep breath before continuing. “When Catra sent you to Beast Island, I-I just stood there and did nothing. I c-could have stopped it, I could have -- I was afraid, and I wanted to stand by Catra, even though I knew what she was doing was wrong. I should have gone looking for you sooner, or told someone. What if you had --?” she choked off. “Oh, Entrapta I’m so… I’m so sorry.”
Entrapta felt a pang at the mention of Beast Island. For all that she discovered there, she could not shake those final moments of despair, the feeling of not mattering to anyone. “You were... looking for me?”
Scorpia nodded. “You’re so smart, and so strong, I hoped you’d still be okay, and I wouldn’t be too late. I’m so glad Adora was able to find you.” She wiped her eyes gently with the back of her claw, trying to compose herself. “You were the first real friend I ever had, and I…I let you down when you needed me. But I want to be better, if… if we can still be friends…”
Entrapta was silent as she took it all in; Scorpia’s apology, her tears, her worries, her request for friendship. Scorpia had been kind to her back when she was with the Horde, at least when they spent time together. She’d even drawn pictures of them as a group. Comparatively, Scorpia was a better friend to her than Catra was, even before the portal incident.
From the moment Entrapta woke on Beast Island, she knew she was alone. No one was coming for her. All the tech on Etheria could not fill that void inside her heart. The best it could do was cover the wound for a while. Scorpia said she made a mistake and she was sorry. She expected Entrapta to be angry, but truthfully, Entrapta was thinking about the hug Scorpia had given her minutes ago. She was thinking of warm memories of sharing hot chocolate during their expedition to the Northern Reach, the cheery smile and wave Scorpia always gave her when she popped into a room from the vents. On the island, such memories brought only pain, best buried deep inside her. Things were different now.
“Yes!” Entrapta nodded vigorously. “I want to be friends again.”
Scorpia’s eyes shone. Before Entrapta knew what was happening, Scorpia had scooped her into another hug. Entrapta tensed in surprise, then smiled and patted her friend’s armored shoulder.
“Thank you for giving me another chance!” Scorpia rocked back and forth, still holding her tightly. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise!”
Hordak’s voice sounded from within the trees, reminding Entrapta of what they were doing here. “Oh, right!” she said. “We’re on a mission!” Twisting around in Scorpia’s grip, she called out to Hordak. “I’m here! Everything’s fine!”
“Ohhh! Is that what you were doing when you got captured by Prime?”
Entrapta shook her head. “No, but we’re here to help now!”
“That’s great, but, uh... who’s ‘we?’”
At that moment, Hordak emerged into the clearing. He acknowledged Scorpia with a nod. “Entrapta and I would be grateful if you could lead us to the location of the Alliance.”
“Is this a Horde clone?” Scorpia gasped, pointing a single claw at Hordak. “Are the Horde clones robots? Did you reprogram --?”
“I am not a robot,” Hordak growled.
“No, that’s Hordak,” Entrapta said with a casual wave of her hand.
Scorpia took a step back. “L-lord Hordak, sir?” she stammered. “I didn’t recognize you! You look -- wow!” Recovering from her shock, Scorpia stood up a little taller. “I’m not sorry for running away,” she said in a stronger voice. “I’m with the Alliance now, and I’m happy here.”
“That is fortunate,” Hordak replied with a dip of his head. “For we also seek to aid Etheria against the Galactic Horde.”
Scorpia looked from Hordak to Entrapta. “Is this real ? Am I dreaming right now, or is the leader of the Horde -- well, formerly, of our Horde anyway -- changing sides?”
“Yep! Absolutely real,” Entrapta nodded. “We’ve got weapons and data from Horde Prime’s armada, so if you could direct us to the rest of the princesses that would be really great!”
“We should not linger in the open,” Hordak added as Scorpia hesitated.
“Of course!” Scorpia scratched her head with a small smile. “I’ll take you back to camp. Boy, is everyone going to be surprised to see you!”
“Surprised is not the word I would use,” he replied.
Scorpia gave an oddly-pitched laugh as she started to lead the way. “We’ll have a lot of explaining to do…. A lot . But with how bad it’s been lately, I’m sure everyone will come around. Oh, and Emily will be so excited!
Entrapta squeaked. “Emily! She’s with the princesses? How are her functions? Is her leg still sticking?”
“She’s doing great! A couple dings and, uh, scrapes, but nothing serious.”
Entrapta easily kept pace with Scorpia’s longer strides. Her hands fluttered in excitement. “I can’t wait to see her!”
“She’s missed you,” Scorpia replied. “I did my best to take care of her, but well… I’m not you. I don’t know Emily as well as you do. I hope I did okay.”
“I’ll give her a full examination! She could be due for a tune-up. Oh, and I can review all the things Emily might have recorded while I was gone! We have so much catching up to do! How far do we have to go, anyway?”
“Uh.... about an hour maybe? If we don’t run into any trouble.”
“We won’t,” Entrapta assured. “I can track the movements of the Horde forces. We can avoid them easily!”
Scorpia peered over at the green markings on her data pad. “What? That’s amazing!”
Entrapta beamed. She looked to Hordak and saw he too was smiling faintly. His smile widened for a moment as their eyes met, then he turned to look forward again.
As they walked, Scorpia filled them in on what was happening on Etheria during the time Entrapta and Hordak were away. The Alliance had rallied at Bright Moon, but soon after Adora and Bow had left on their rescue mission, they were overtaken and forced to flee. Even with the power of the Runestones, the princesses did not have enough strength to hold their own in open combat against the vast armies of the Galactic Horde. Their current strategy was to attack from hidden camps and disappear before the Horde could retaliate. This seemed to help them gain ground for a little while. That was before the chips.
Entrapta was fascinated by the concept. She wondered at the technology required to program the mind of an organic lifeform, all through a chip affixed to the back of the neck. Hordak and his fellow clones had a complex network of cybernetic implants designed to interface with Prime’s technology. How was Prime able to condense such a system into a tiny chip?
Are these chips a recent advancement of tech? Entrapta wondered. I could never have escaped if I’d been chipped… perhaps there are physical parameters that must be met? No, that doesn’t make sense either. There’s no reason Prime couldn’t have cut into me and implanted the necessary tech. Maybe he did, and I just don’t know about it yet...
The thought gave Entrapta a little thrill, a mix of excitement and fear. I’ll ask Hordak later, she decided. He’d tell me if I had Horde tech in my brain, or anywhere else.
Scorpia was now leading them along the bank of a shallow riverbed. Hardly any water flowed over the smooth pebbles. Entrapta checked her map and saw there was indeed a river indicated in the topography, though it looked to be bigger than what she was seeing. Perhaps the river had been diverted somewhere else. Even as she watched, the flow of water lessened further and further, until the bed was nearly dry.
How odd! Entrapta opened her mouth to say something to the others, but never got the chance.
Entrapta whirled around just as a wall of water slammed into Hordak, knocking him off his feet and into the riverbed. Mermista emerged from the trees, her trident pointed at Hordak. Before he had a chance to recover, the water rose back up to envelop his head and shoulders, a suffocating net he could not fight.
Seized by panic, Entrapta did the only thing she could think to do. “Stop!” she cried, diving for Mermista.
Mermista did not see her coming. Entrapta cannoned into her side, sending the two sprawling. Her magic ended, and Entrapta could hear Hordak coughing and sputtering as the water released him.
“Entrapta?! Get off me!” Mermista tried to shove her away, but Entrapta clung on, her heart pounding in her chest.
“No!” she shrilled. “You have to stop!”
“What’s wrong with you?” Mermista demanded, still struggling to get up. “Scorpia, Perfuma, can’t you do something?”
Entrapta felt something slither around her stomach and pull tight. In the next moment, she was being pulled away by several thick vines that twined around her limbs, holding her immobile. She struggled and kicked helplessly, but the vines were too tight.
“It’s going to be alright,” said Perfuma, coming to stand in front of her. “Mermista’s taking care of it.”
Entrapta felt tears prick the corners of her eyes. “Let me go, please!”
Perfuma bit her lip and took a step back. The vines loosened. Entrapta wriggled free.
“Now, If you just-- Entrapta!”
Entrapta wasn’t listening. She was already running to Hordak’s side. A vine nearly curled around her arm, but she pulled free and kept going. Hordak still knelt where he had fallen, soaked through and gasping for breath. Entrapta crouched down and put a hand on his back.
“Hordak! Are you alright?”
Unable to speak, he nodded. His skin felt cold, even through her gloves. Entrapta put her arms around him protectively, ignoring the chill of the water as it soaked into her clothes.
“Hordak?” Mermista’s voice was thunderous. “ This is Hordak?”
Entrapta flinched and looked up to see Mermista heading toward them, Perfuma and Scorpia hurrying behind her.
“Technically, yeah,” Scorpia replied. “But I can expl --”
“You bring the one responsible for almost destroying my kingdom, the one who called the entire space army here in the first place, and you expect me to let him go?” Mermista pointed her trident at Hordak. The water on the ground gathered together, rising up to circle around her. “Move, Entrapta.”
Entrapta bristled. Hands clenched into fists, she stepped in front of Hordak. “No! I won’t!”
The water around Mermista spun faster. “Why are you being so difficult? Is this why you turned your back on us? For him?”
“I’m not turning my back! We came here to help you!”
“Help us? I’m not letting you lead that monster back to the camp! He’ll have the entire Horde army on us in seconds!” Mermista shook her head, her voice lowering from a shout to something hard and cold. “This is your last chance, Entrapta. Move.”
Entrapta shook her head. “No! I will not let you hurt Hordak. After everything we’ve been through, after what I --” she faltered, the pain of losing her hair flashing through her, the moments of despair and loneliness, the pure joy of reunion. Entrapta drew her blaster, taking aim at Mermista. She may not have her hair, but she would fight. “I’m not going to lose him.”
Mermista growled in frustration. “I don’t believe this!” She raised her trident. Entrapta prepared to fire.
“Mermista, don’t!” Perfuma cried, stepping between them, arms raised. “We do not attack our friends!”
“Are you serious right now?” Mermista huffed. “They’re not our friends! That’s Hordak! You know, the warlord who's been trying to crush us for the last few decades? All of Etheria would sleep better without him around.”
“They’re not with the Horde,” Scorpia joined. She came to stand beside Perfuma, in between Mermista and Entrapta. Entrapta looked from Scorpia’s broad back to what she could still see of the sea princess.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” Scorpia went on. “I get it. You didn’t trust me when I first came here, either. But with She-Ra gone, we need all the help we can get against Horde Prime. I’m just asking you to give them a chance.”
Mermista stood rigid for a long time. Finally, she released a loud sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine, if you want to risk it, we’ll bring them to the others. But I’m not taking my eyes off them. Not for one minute!”
Entrapta helped Hordak to his feet. His ears dropped a fraction as their eyes met, and he opened his mouth to speak, only to close it again.
“Are you hurt?” she asked.
“I will be fine.”
Entrapta nodded, but continued to examine him anyway. “The armor appears to have withstood the water, but we need to get the rest of you dry ASAP!”
Everything seemed to be in working order. Hordak did not resist her examination, letting her lift his arm and test the flex of the armor. “Entrapta,” he began, his voice kept quiet for only her to hear. “I know we have discussed this, however… I believe you are putting yourself at too great a risk.”
“If anyone wants to get to you, they have to go through me,” she replied firmly. Satisfied Hordak was truly uninjured, Entrapta held out her hand to him, not caring that everyone was watching. “We’re in this together, okay?”
Hordak nodded, though Entrapta could tell by the set of his ears that he was still uneasy. Hand-in-hand, they turned to face Scorpia, Perfuma, and Mermista. Scorpia offered her a smile, and Entrapta grinned back. The other two were less than pleased. Ignoring their stares, Entrapa went over to where her data pad lay face-down in the grass. Luckily it was undamaged from when she dropped it to tackle Mermista.
“Okay, to the camp!” Scorpia said cheerily. She pointed with both her claws. “This way!”
Entrapta followed after Scorpia, Hordak by her side. Mermista scowled darkly as they passed her, but the sea princess kept her silence, and Entrapta did not break stride. She felt a small twinge of apprehension and guilt. Perhaps Hordak was right and they’d made a grave mistake returning to the Alliance. She wanted so badly to be accepted, but she should have known better. That thought was consumed by sudden anger. Entrapta could endure many things, but when it came to Hordak she would stand her ground.
“Hey, Entrapta,” Scorpia slowed to walk beside her. “Do we have any bots to worry about?”
“Oh!” Entrapta brought the map back up on her pad with a few button taps from a robotic limb. “Nope, it looks like we’re clear!”
“That’s a relief!”
“What’s this?” Perfuma had drawn closer on Scorpia’s other side.
“Entrapta can track Horde soldiers and bots with her tech. Fancy, huh?”
“How did you manage to do that?”
Entrapta grinned. “During my preliminary analysis of the Horde bots I’ve managed to dismantle so far, I --”
“Actually, maybe you should, um, wait until we arrive.” Perfuma said in a rush, cutting her off. “That way you can explain to everyone at once.”
Tamping down the familiar disappointment at not being allowed to share the intricacies of her work, Entrapta focused on the hope that at least she was already proving herself useful. She wasn’t sure what would happen when they reached the camp, but if the Alliance was at least willing to listen, surely everything would work out for the best.
Chapter 2: Arrival
The in-between chapters are shorter and feature the perspective of other characters. I originally had them as sections at the end of each chapter, but I think having them as their own separate chapters flows better.
If you like this format, or have suggestions about improving it, please let me know in the comments.
At the edge of the tents, Frosta slouched against a tree. Snow swirled into her hand to form a perfect white sphere. Idly Frosta tossed it from hand to hand before suddenly flinging it high into the air. She watched it arc upward, taking careful aim, flinging a dagger of ice with a swift flick of her wrist. The dagger pierced the snowball in an explosion of white.
Netossa poked her head out of a nearby tent. “Not so loud, Frosta,” she said sternly. “Guards are supposed to be quiet.”
“Hmp,” Crossing her arms, Frosta sat down with a thump. Guard duty was so boring. Nothing exciting ever happened while she was on duty.
As if on cue, the bushes ahead of her rustled. Frosta leapt to her feet in excitement. Immediately her hands were encased in two fists of crystalline ice. “Who goes there?” she demanded.
“It’s me,” Scorpia said quickly, raising a claw. “I’m clean.” She turned to show her neck. “Mermista and Perfuma are with me too, and we’ve brought… well, you’ll see. I’ve got to go talk to King Micah and the rest.”
Scorpia hurried past her, and Frosta sighed. She hated being left out whenever something big was going on.
Frosta gave two jabs with her ice fists, shadowboxing an imaginary opponent. Why can’t they just tell me what’s going on? I’m not a baby! I can handle it!
After several more jabs and a spectacular right hook, the bushes parted and Perfuma came into view. Trailing behind her was a Horde soldier. Frosta immediately perked up, her cloudy mood forgotten.
“Finally, a prisoner!” she crowed. “Give us five minutes alone, and I’ll make him talk!”
Perfuma waved her hands and shook her head. “No no, not any of that just yet, Frosta. There’s no need to fight.”
“Oh, come on !” Frosta glared at the Horde clone. “Just one good punch!”
“No,” Perfuma replied sternly. “We’re going to call a meeting and then decide what to do. Now if you’ll let us through, I can take Hordak to the others.”
“This is Hordak? He looks… different.”
“Horde Prime altered his appearance after beaming him to the flagship,” A new voice chimed in. “It’s all part of the ‘reset’ so everyone looks the same, but we’ve already made some changes!” The voice was punctuated by a familiar giggle.
Frosta blinked hard. She was so distracted by Hordak she hadn’t noticed Entrapta.
“What happened to you?” she demanded. “Where’s all your hair gone?”
Entrapta opened her mouth to respond, but Perfuma cut her off. “Frosta, please, I’m sure we can all catch up once we’re at the meeting.”
Frosta crossed her arms and rolled her eyes in a very convincing parody of Mermista. “Whatever.”
“Thank you,” Perfuma said stiffly, before continuing on her way. Frosta glared at her as she passed by, then transferred that glare to Hordak.
“You’d better watch your back,” she threatened.
Hordak seemed unmoved by her words, which only added fuel to her frustration. He thinks I’m too small to be a threat, she fumed. We’ll see how he feels after I rearrange his face!
“Bye, ice princess,” Entrapta waved with a grin. “See you at the meeting!”
Frosta was caught off-guard by Entrapta’s cheerfulness. Her frown deepened as she watched them go. Entrapta was standing oddly close to Hordak. They were even holding hands. Ew! What’s that about?
“So, what do you think of the new arrivals?”
Frosta jumped. She’d been too distracted to notice Mermista come up behind her. “He doesn’t fool me,” she said, trying to play it cool. “I’ve got my eye on him.”
Mermista was watching the pair disappear into the main tent. She scowled. “Good. I’m glad you know what’s up. We can’t afford to let our guard down.”
“Count on me!” Frosta offered her fist.
Mermista returned the gesture with a smirk, touching her own fist to Frosta’s. The Princess of Snows stood a little taller, proud at least someone thought she was capable. She and Mermista weren’t going to be fooled by the Horde’s tricks. Not now, not ever.
Chapter 3: Alliance
Entrapta ran a gloved hand along the circle that enclosed the barrier around her. “Wow,” she breathed, looking up with shining eyes. “Hordak, have you ever been in one of these before?”
“No,” he answered dully.
As soon as they arrived at the Alliance, the pair of them had been imprisoned inside these strange circles by a sorceress Hordak did not recognize. The Alliance then left them there to deliberate on what to do. One princess insisted on staying behind on guard duty. Frosta, the smallest of their number, princess of the Kingdom of Snows.
The girl scowled at them from where she stood by the entrance, hardly saying a word. Hordak was not fooled by her diminutive size. He recalled enough to know this princess was quite powerful. She had been eager to strike him on his arrival, but the older princesses denied her the opportunity. Alone with no one to stop her, he was surprised she did not take advantage. Her restraint was impressive for one so young.
Hordak flinched at the flash of light, opening his eyes to find Entrapta cradling her hand against her chest, staring at the barrier that surrounded her. “What happened?” he asked sharply.
“I wanted to see what would happen if I touched it,” she explained, bringing her hand dangerously close once again. Hordak’s ears flicked back as an arc of energy sparked toward her fingers. “Whoah, did you see that?” She extended her finger even closer. Another spark struck her glove. “Fascinating!”
Entrapta drew her recorder from her pocket. “Edit to log,” she began, “the barrier appears to have some sort of energy charge, shocking the occupant on contact....”
Hordak tried to force his ears into a more neutral position, hiding his mounting fear. The sparks dancing around Entrapta’s glove confirmed exactly what he’d felt when the barrier closed around him. The deep sense of unease, a strange vibration in the air. Hordak never liked being in such close proximity to strong concentrations of magic. It made his skin crawl and his mouth go dry, filled with the instinct to run.
There was nowhere to run now. He was trapped here, at the mercy of the Alliance. Hordak tried not to dwell on it, but there was nowhere to look that did not remind him of the spell. The tent surrounding him was tinted by the blue glow of the barrier, and even if he were to close his eyes, he would still be able to feel it.
Suppressing a shudder, Hordak tried to focus on Entrapta. She was examining the markings along the base of the barrier, a thoughtful expression on her face, the short tails of her hair swaying back and forth. Hordak tilted his head, a sudden realization piquing his curiosity. Entrapta’s hair was surely guided by magic, and yet it did not repulse him, not even direct contact. He could think of no explanation for this. Strange .
The entrance to the tent opened noiselessly. Hordak looked up at the sudden movement, and a chill swept through him.
Crimson robes and long black hair, face hidden behind a metal mask. A sorceress, a practitioner of dark magic. His senses told him before his memory could supply a name. The air inside the tent seemed to draw thin and bitter.
Entrapta’s head snapped up at her approach. “Oh, hi, shadow lady!”
Hordak was not so welcoming. His eyes narrowed, his lips drawn back into a snarl. What is she doing here?
Shadow Weaver glided forward with unnerving grace, as if her feet did not truly touch the ground. The white eyes of her mask were trained on Hordak. Though those eyes were blank, he could feel the intensity of her gaze. Hordak had an alliance with this woman once, that much he knew, but he did not trust her. If she had betrayed him directly, he could not recall. Regardless, her mere presence made him deeply uneasy. He was determined not to show it.
“So you remember me,” she said smoothly. “I had hoped you would, though, rumor has it, your mind is not what it once was.”
Hordak glared at her. “What do you want?” he demanded through gritted teeth.
Shadow Weaver laughed. “What do I want?” She leaned in closer, her head tilted to the side. “I want what everyone wants; to see why you’ve come crawling to the Alliance.”
“We’re here to stop Horde Prime,” Entrapta supplied.
The sorceress did not turn her gaze from Hordak. “But this was what you wanted, was it not?” Her voice dripped with mockery. “To call upon the full might of the Horde to crush Etheria once and for all?”
“There was a time when I wished that, yes,” he conceded roughly, “but no more.”
The white eyes narrowed to slits, then she turned away. She lifted a hand as if to inspect her nails. “It’s painful, isn’t it? To be cast aside.”
Hordak felt a jolt. How can she know?
He had never confided in Shadow Weaver, that much he was certain. Yet she cut straight into him as if she knew his innermost thoughts, his weaknesses.
“Actually, we had to fight our way out,” Entrapta cut in. “We stole one of Prime’s ships to come here.”
“You did?” Frosta piped up from her place at the door. “How many clones did you beat? Did you fight Horde Prime himself?”
Entrapta tapped her chin. “Hm, I don’t remember exactly. We fought a lot more bots than clones. I modified a cannon with enough blast power to destroy a whole line of them!”
“That’s so cool!!”
Shadow Weaver tilted her head, returning her uncanny gaze to Hordak. “An interesting story. We shall see what truly transpired, along with whatever else you may be withholding. If you have anything to hide, you should be nervous.”
Voices could be heard outside the tent. It seemed the Alliance had come to at least one decision. Hordak squared his shoulders. “I will not be intimidated by you,” he growled.
She shrugged. “I merely speak the truth. One cannot resist the pull of a truth spell.”
Hordak held her gaze, preserving a dignified silence. After everything he had endured, the last thing he wanted was for someone else to go rooting around in his head, least of all Shadow Weaver, but there was nothing to be done. He chose to come here with Entrapta, and now he had to accept the consequences.
The tent flap lifted aside, and a procession of people entered, led by a bearded man with greying black hair. Some of them Hordak recognized from the incident by the river; Scorpia, Perfuma, Mermista. Others he was unsure about. A confident-looking woman with dark skin and bright white hair strode in next to the same pale black-haired sorceress that drew the barrier spells earlier. Beside Mermista, Hordak also saw a moustached man he vaguely recognized. Lastly, a brightly-maned alicorn stuck its head into the tent. Hordak was given a brief flash of Adora riding the steed through the air, then he blinked and the memory was gone.
“Hi!” Entrapta greeted brightly as they all filed in.
Scorpia waved a claw and smiled. She was the only one.
“So this is where you went off to,” the dark-skinned woman remarked, shooting a glance at Shadow Weaver. “Swift Wind said he saw you sneaking around earlier. What were you doing coming here alone, huh?”
Shadow Weaver steepled her fingers together and tilted her head. “Netossa,” she said sweetly, “I have done nothing to the prisoners, as Frosta can attest.”
Netossa lifted an eyebrow at Frosta, who shrugged.
Hordak’s attention shifted to focus on the bearded man. He had a different aura than that of Shadow Weaver, but no less powerful. A force to be reckoned with. Hordak had the strong feeling they had met before, though he could not place when or where.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?” the man asked.
“No, I do not.”
“I am King Micah of Bright Moon,” he said. “We’ve met in battle, you and I. You exiled me to Beast Island.”
“Ah.” Hordak nodded. He had no reason to doubt Micah’s word, having sent many of his enemies to Beast Island. “Am I to expect retribution for that?”
Some of Micah’s iron demeanor faltered. He looked genuinely confused for a moment, before shaking his head and clearing his throat. “Not today.”
“Unfortunately,” one of the princesses muttered under their breath.
Hordak ignored them. Micah was clearly their leader, so it seemed his fate, and Entrapta’s, rested with the king of Bright Moon.
“We are not here to dole out punishment,” Micah continued. “The whole of Etheria is fighting for survival. We have decided to set aside the past, for now, and focus on the present. Having said that, we need to know without a doubt that we can trust you.”
Hordak nodded, glancing at Entrapta. “Okay!” she said brightly. “What do you want to know?”
“I will be asking you several questions, but first I’m going to place you under a truth spell. You will be compelled to speak honestly.”
“Oh! I’ve never been under a truth spell before. What’s it feel like?”
Micah frowned dubiously. “It doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I’m not worried!”
“Ah, good,” Micah clasped his hands before turning to Hordak. “And you? Any final words before we begin.”
Hordak gave a short nod. What he was about to say carried a risk, but he could not stay silent. “I will comply with your demands,” he began, turning to glare at Shadow Weaver. “All I ask is that she is not present.”
Shadow Weaver tilted her head to the side. “Under the confines of the truth spell, you will speak, whether you wish it or not,” she said blithely. “You are in no position to issue --”
“Agreed,” Micah replied with a nod. He turned to Shadow Weaver and swept his hand to indicate the exit. “Please leave us.”
“You can’t--” She sputtered. “I have as much a right to be here as any --”
Micah held up a hand. “I know. Please, do this for me.”
There was no hostility in his voice, which surprised Hordak. Surely Shadow Weaver had not become a trusted member of the Alliance so quickly. What surprised him more was seeing her comply. Without another word, she shot Hordak a venomous look, turning to leave in a whirl of crimson robes.
“Now then…” Micah traced his finger through the air, forming the glowing nexus of a spell. “Let’s begin.”
He thrust his palm forward, and the circle sped toward Entrapta, passing through her and dissolving into the air. Hordak flinched inwardly as the light touched her, but Entrapta merely laughed. “It tingles!” she squeaked.
“Princess Entrapta,” Micah addressed, calling her attention back to him. “Are you loyal to the Horde?”
Entrapta tapped her chin. “Hm, well no. I was with the Horde for a while, at least that’s where I was living, and I did design weapons for them. The Etherian Horde, I mean.” She spread her arms wide. “The Galactic Horde is an entirely different matter. I followed Hordak through a portal onto Horde Prime’s flagship, but things went bad pretty quickly. Hordak was hurt for one thing, and when I tried to help him, I was captured, and that’s when they cut my hair.”
Perfuma gasped, putting a hand to her mouth. Entrapta was unfazed by the interruption.
“Eventually we were able to steal a ship and escape together,” she continued, pacing back and forth within the confines of the circle, illustrating her story with wild gestures. “That’s when I intercepted a distress message from Bow. His ship was damaged and stranded on a deserted planet, and Adora took the only spacesuit to go outside -- an ancient thing! She was lucky it was safe to use -- Bow lost contact with her, so he asked us to come help. I made the repairs, and it turns out Adora and Bow were there to rescue Glimmer from Horde Prime! Bow was upset that I left Glimmer on the Velvet Glove. I didn’t know she was still there when we escaped. I thought she could teleport, but apparently her powers don’t work in space. Maybe it’s an issue of being too far from her Runestone, or --”
“Wait!” Micah held out his hand. “Slow down a moment, please. You said you were Horde Prime’s prisoner, and Glimmer was with you?”
Hordak was surprised by Micah’s intensity. Something in his tone caught Entrapta’s attention as well. She tilted her head. “Yes, that’s right.”
“What happened to her? Is she… alive?”
“Yep!” Entrapta nodded. “She’s fine. I was about to say, it turns out Catra was on the Velvet Glove too! I never saw her, but considering how massive the ship is, that’s no surprise, really… Anyway, Catra was able to send Glimmer to us using Prime’s portal technology.”
Micah took a shaky breath. “And Glimmer, she… she isn’t hurt?”
“Nope! I examined her when she got to the ship, and there’s no permanent damage that I could see.”
“Good. I’m so --” his voice caught. “Thank you for letting me know my daughter is safe.”
Ah! Now Micah’s strong reaction made sense. Glimmer, the former leader of the Alliance, was his daughter. The tall sorceress stepped forward and put a comforting hand on Micah’s arm, and he turned to her with a brittle smile. For the first time Hordak noticed just how alike they looked. Siblings, perhaps.
“But why haven’t they come back yet?” Perfuma queried. “If Glimmer is safe, shouldn’t they have come home?”
Entrapta fidgeted restlessly with her hands. “Well, Adora wanted to stay and help Catra.”
“What? Are you serious?” Mermista rolled her eyes.
“I advised against it,” Hordak put in crisply, “but my warning went unheeded.”
All eyes in the room snapped to him. Hordak immediately regretted calling attention to himself, but he would not be intimidated. He stared back at them unflinchingly.
“I am interested to hear this warning of yours,” said Micah. “But first…”
Hordak braced himself as Micah drew a second circle in the air. The spell struck him like a rush of cold wind, a prickling energy settling over his skin. His ears flicked backward involuntarily. Hordak had no more secrets to hide when it came to the Horde, but he dreaded what he might be called to reveal about himself. The feel of the spell made it more real, wearing at the edges of his fear, giving way to numb surrender, an instinct woven through the fabric of his mind.
There is no escape. Do not struggle. It will only bring pain.
Micah folded his arms. “I’ll start at the beginning. Princess Entrapta said you are here to aid the Alliance. Do you no longer consider yourself part of the Horde?”
“No, I do not,” Hordak replied.
“Have you come to ally yourselves with us?”
“I will offer my services to the Alliance as necessary. However, my allegiance is to Entrapta.”
“I see…” Micah glanced between the two of them. “And what do you have to offer?”
Hordak respected Micah’s efficiency. “The Horde vessel we arrived in contains the technology to interface with Adora’s ship,” he replied evenly. “If they have succeeded in their mission, we will be able to know. The vessel also contains Entrapta’s equipment from Dryl, the uses of which I am sure you are all very much aware. As for myself, I will offer the experience and knowledge I have gained as one part of the whole, my time spent in service to Prime within the influence of the Hivemind.”
The alicorn shivered, almost backing out of the tent. “Hivemind? That sounds bad!”
Mermista leaned to her companion. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”
“Dearest, I have not the faintest idea,” he replied.
“Scorpia, you were a part of the Etherian Horde,” Netossa pointed out. “Have you heard of this?”
“No,” Scorpia shook her head. She clicked her claws nervously, eyebrows drawn together. “Whatever it is, I’m with Swift Wind. I don’t like it at all!”
Entrapta’s arm shot into the air. “I can explain!”
“Thank you, Princess Entrapta, but wait just a moment,” Micah said to her, before turning his attention back to Hordak. “Could you tell us what the Hivemind is?”
Normally Hordak found it difficult to discuss such things, but under the influence of the spell the words came easily. “It is what links all of us to Prime. Through his network, Prime is allowed complete access to our minds. He transmits signals to us, letting us know his will. He sees through our eyes, and in that way, he can see all that transpires within the planetary systems he has conquered.”
“He can also use it to directly control their bodies,” Entrapta added. “You can tell when he does this, because their eyes glow!”
“Yes.” Unable to suppress a shudder, Hordak felt his ears dip at the memory of being fully taken over by Prime. It was a helpless, sickening feeling. He very nearly raised a hand to the back of his neck, but kept himself in check.
“That must be how Prime’s been taking control of everyone!” Scorpia exclaimed. “Those chips, they must connect to the Hivemind!”
Perfuma clasped her hands to her chest. “How awful! Can’t they fight it? Can’t they break free?”
“No,” Hordak replied. “Once Prime has access to your mind, you cannot fight. The connection must be broken.”
Micah crossed his arms thoughtfully. “If what you said is true, then how are we to trust you? Can’t Prime take control of you again?”
Hordak shook his head. “I no longer have any connection to the Hivemind. Entrapta severed that before our escape. Otherwise, I would have stopped her. I would have had no choice.”
“I see,” Micah replied grimly. “One final question, or should I say two: Do you know Horde Prime’s plan, and if so, what is it?”
Hordak had told no one of this, not even Entrapta. This was not intentional on his part. If she asked, he would have been honest with her, but by an unspoken agreement the two of them chose not to discuss what they had suffered aboard the Velvet Glove. Now Hordak was forced to recall the plans and intentions that filtered through the network before he broke free of Prime’s control.
“Horde Prime plans to harness the Heart of Etheria as his personal weapon. He will take the princesses under his control, using their Runestones to power the Heart. Etheria will be allowed to live, but only as long as its magic lasts.”
“But Prime can’t activate the Heart of Etheria now, it’s too unstable,” Netossa protested.
“Yeah!” Frosta joined. “It could blow up the whole planet!”
Mermista tossed her head. “Tch, almost did!”
“The limits of this planet’s technology will not stop Prime,” Hordak replied. “He has the means to disperse the energy of the Heart within his system.”
“Incredible,” Entrapta breathed, wide-eyed. In the face of everyone’s stares, she frowned, looking to the floor. “And bad… very bad.”
Chapter 4: Snare
“I can’t take this! I don’t know what to do!” Adora paced back and forth, hands on her temples.
Glimmer watched her friend with a worried frown. Adora had been like this since returning to the ship with an unconscious Catra. They barely escaped Prime’s ship with their lives, and even after Bow piloted them far away from that terrible place, Catra was still no better or worse than the state Adora had found her in.
“What do you think he did to her?” Adora’s voice was growing increasingly strained. “What if she never wakes up?”
“Adora, she’s going to be fine,” Bow soothed. “I’m sure she just needs rest.”
“You don’t know that! You didn’t see what I saw, with Catra strapped to that -- that thing! I barely got her out of there, Bow. What if I was too late?”
“We’ve done everything we can. For now, we should let her sleep, and focus on getting all of us home.”
Home. Glimmer cast a glance at Bow, but as soon as their eyes met, he looked away. Her heart plummeted down somewhere in the region of her stomach. She sighed. “Bow’s right. Whatever happened… Catra needs time to recover.”
Adora stopped pacing. Her blue eyes were dark with fear. “Do you really mean that?”
Glimmer understood what she was truly asking. Adora never pressed Glimmer for details on what happened to her when she was held by Prime, and for that Glimmer was grateful. Even the thought of Horde Prime sent a chill through her. She had never met someone so cold. Oh, he smiled often enough, and when he chose, he spoke in a way that was meant to be beguiling, but it was all empty. Glimmer felt like a snared bird in his presence, a bird frozen in the thrall of a snake. Every glance, every move, every word, was a threat. Prime had never hurt her, not physically, but she sensed he was capable of anything. There was no comfort Glimmer could offer Adora.
“I’m sorry,” she said at last. “There’s nothing more you, or any of us, can do.”
Adora straightened her shoulders, her jaw set in a stubborn line. “I can’t just sit here,” she replied. “I’m going to check on her again.”
Her ponytail flashed as she whirled around to leave the deck. Glimmer held out her hand, reaching.
“Wait, Adora, I’ll--”
Adora froze at the doorway.
Glimmer paused awkwardly. “Can I check on her this time? If she’s awake, I’d like to... thank her for saving me.”
Slowly Adora turned around. Her face was solemn, but to Glimmer’s relief there was no anger in her eyes. “Okay,” Adora said calmly. “Just… let me know if anything… if she… please?”
Glimmer came forward and took Adora’s hand in both of hers. “I will. I promise.”
Making her way down the hallway, the young queen wrung her hands and chewed her lip, wondering if she was doing the right thing. She hated seeing Adora so worried, but something in Glimmer recoiled at the thought of Adora seeing Catra alone.
It’s not like I lied, she told herself. I will give Catra a proper thank you… after we’ve established some ground rules first.
Glimmer’s feelings surrounding Catra were still complicated, to say the least. She was grateful to Catra for sending her to safety, and if that act cost the felinetta her life, it would haunt Glimmer for the rest of her days. Yet that act alone was not enough to erase all Catra had done.
Tears welled up in Glimmer’s eyes as an image of her mother formed in her thoughts. She could not think of Catra without remembering her mother’s sacrifice. It was Catra’s fault Queen Angella was gone. She may not have killed the queen, but who could say what sort of realm Angella was now trapped within? Perhaps it was a fate worse than death. Her mother could be suffering for eternity, all because that damn cat had to pull the switch.
Glimmer halted in the hallway, realizing her hands had curled into fists by her side, so tight her nails dug painfully into her palms. She forced her hands to hang loose, lifting her arm to wipe the tears from her eyes.
Steady, Glimmer! Don’t fall to pieces. You’re not going to let Catra see you cry, are you?
When she finally arrived outside the room, Glimmer hesitated to open the door. A part of her hoped Catra would still be asleep. Then Glimmer would not have to face her. As soon as the thought entered her mind, she scoffed at herself. I am the queen of Bright Moon. I’m not afraid of Catra!
Still her heartbeat quickened as she entered the room.
All was as it had been the last time Glimmer was here. The room was in semidarkness, a mattress pushed up against the far corner of the room. Catra lay resting there, her chest rising and falling with even breaths.
Glimmer forced herself to walk to the edge of the bed. It was strange to see Catra with short hair. She looked almost naked without her brown mane. Glimmer winced, her thoughts returning to Horde Prime. He’d done the same thing to Entrapta, not caring the tails of her hair were like arms for her. Or perhaps that was why he did it in the first place.
“Damn it,” she muttered, hugging her arms to ward off another chill.
One of Catra’s ears twitched. She stirred, and Glimmer took a reflexive step back.
“Y-yes, it’s me,” Glimmer replied, still on edge. “I’m here.”
Catra’s head moved restlessly, her eyes still closed. “Where… am I?”
“Mara’s ship. We’re on our way back to Etheria.”
“Good.” Catra’s eyes flashed open.
Glimmer felt sick. There was something wrong with Catra’s eyes. The world blurred around them as if in a dream. The only thing that was real were two gleaming green eyes fixing Glimmer to the spot.
Before the word was halfway out of her mouth, Catra was upon her. Glimmer brought her hands up to shield her face and stumbled backward, losing her balance. Her back struck the floor hard. Gasping for breath, Glimmer managed to force her knee up between them, kicking Catra off and over her. Her shoulders stung as the felinetta’s nails scraped across her skin, but those were shallow cuts. Catra hadn’t had time to get a good grip on her.
Glimmer rolled to her knees just in time to see Catra’s outstretched hand flying toward her face. She dodged to the side, rolling away, this time managing to gain her feet. She was already panting, winded from the fall.
I have to get out! I have to warn them!
As soon as the thought entered her mind, Catra was between her and the door. “I don’t think so, sparkles.” Her voice was eerie, hollow. “Oh wait, you have no magic here… do you?”
Glimmer grit her teeth, raising her fists into a ready position. This wasn’t Catra. Something was dreadfully wrong. Those eyes. Those green eyes. Just like the clones on the Velvet Glove.
Catra dove for her again, and this time Glimmer met her head on. She threw a punch and Catra danced out of her way, her lips curled into a smile. Glimmer scowled back. She wasn’t used to fighting without her magic. Catra was faster than her, stronger than her. What chance did she have alone?
It doesn’t matter! I’m not going to lose to her! Not this time!
Chapter 5: Truth
Hordak expected some outcry at his words. Instead it seemed the Alliance was shocked into silence. Micah shook his head, his expression troubled. “If Prime has the technology to harness the Heart, how do you suggest we stop him?”
“The Heart will not be activated until Prime sees fit to test its power against a suitable target,” Hordak replied. “You have until then to disrupt his plans. Prime prefers to bend the minds of lesser beings without such measures, but his use of the chips suggests --”
“Excuse me, ‘lesser?’”
Hordak turned to Netossa, unmoved by the intensity of her glare. “In the eyes of Prime, yes. The lives of Etherians are nothing to him.”
Her dark eyes flashed. “And what are our lives to you?”
“Your planet may be primitive in comparison to the wider universe, however.... That does not make you lesser beings.”
As he said that, his eyes automatically found Entrapta’s. She smiled at him, and warmth blossomed in his chest, emboldening him to continue. “Prime does not desire to waste resources by taking full control of every being on Etheria. He will focus on the most valuable targets, the princesses, and others with strong ties to magic. He will not risk allowing any with magic to walk free. It poses too great a threat.”
Netossa nodded, accepting his answer. “You said Entrapta removed your connection to the Hivemind, right?”
“So,” she turned to Entrapta. “You could remove the chips as well.”
“Yes!” Entrapta answered. “Well, theoretically. I’d need to see it up close to be sure.”
Nodding slowly, Netossa folded her arms. “Oh, I’ll get you one up close. Prime has my wife, and I’m going to get her back.”
“We won’t let him keep her,” Perfuma joined. “Or take anyone else!”
Hordak inclined his head. “It will take more than bold words to stand against Prime.”
“And what is your assessment of our odds?” asked Micah.
“Horde Prime is the ruler of the known universe.” Once Hordak had said those words with such pride and fervor. Now his voice was hollow, but he could not hold back the truth. “None have faced the might of the Galactic Horde and lived.”
“I guess we’ll be the first.” Micah ran a hand through his greying hair. “Entrapta, what do you think of our chances?”
Entrapta folded her arms. “I’m not sure. I could run the numbers, but I’ll need my equipment back.”
He shook his head. “No, that won’t be necessary. I think we’ve all had a long day. Unless anyone has an important question to ask, we can conclude the --”
“So, what exactly is Entrapta’s relationship with Hordak?”
Micah and the rest turned to Mermista.
“What?” she spread her hands. “We’re all thinking it. Might as well have it out in the open. So what is it, geek princess? What’s going on between you two?”
Though Hordak expected this question sooner or later, he found himself nervous to hear what Entrapta would say. Entrapta did not share his trepidation. She grinned widely, answering without hesitation.
“We’re lab partners! Hordak listens to my ideas, and I help him with his projects too. I designed his armor to interface with his cybernetic implants and strengthen his body. There’s space for weapon enhancements too!”
Hordak’s heart gave a jolt at the mention of his armor, but Entrapta glided right past the subject and on to the next.
“This is our most recent work!” She extended all four of her mechanical arms, startling several people. “Performance Enhancing Artificial Limbs, or PEArL as I like to call it. I designed it to help me compensate for my hair, and Hordak performed the necessary surgeries so I could install the components onto my back. It connects directly to my nervous system, so I can --”
“Okay, we get it!” Mermista interrupted. “We’re not talking about your… spider arms. We want to know what you do with vampire guy over there.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you. We build machines together, discuss theoretical physics, study First One’s technology, all kinds of things! Now that we have Sophie, we’ve been adding modifications to her as well. Oh, and then at the end of the day, we --”
Micah held up his hand abruptly. “I don’t think we need to know about that,” he said. “There’s a child present, you know. It’s best to avoid discussing anything… inappropriate.”
Entrapta raised an eyebrow. “There’s nothing inappropriate about cuddling,” she remarked.
The princesses shared various looks of discomfort. “Gross,” Frosta murmured under her breath.
Not quietly enough.
“It’s not gross at all,” Entrapta chirped. “It’s wonderful! Having his arms around me is one of the best feelings in the world! I’ve calculated a 2.5 hour increase in sleep duration on average, and a thirty percent increase in work productivity.”
Hordak’s ears twitched in slight embarrassment. Though he would rather not be seen in such a soft light, it was comforting to know his presence had a tangible benefit. He was proud to be her partner.
“Wooow, he really has you wrapped around his finger.”
Entrapta blinked at Mermista, confused. Hordak’s eyes narrowed. “I do not appreciate your insinuation,” he growled.
“Oh, I bet you don’t,” The sea princess rounded on him. “What did you do to her, exactly? Classic manipulation? Bribery?”
Hordak bristled. “I have done nothing to her!”
“Likely story. Entrapta would do anything for tech. It’s all she cares about.” Mermista waved a hand in a flippant gesture. “I’ll bet it was easy for you to turn her against us. Dangle the chance to tinker with some bots in front of her, and she’ll do whatever you want.”
Hordak expected Entrapta to protest, but his partner didn’t say a word. She had pulled her mask over her face and stood silent, doing nothing to defend herself.
Something snapped within him. Hordak leapt to his feet, bringing himself inches from the barrier. “I will not have you insult Entrapta,” he hissed. “She is a princess of her own kingdom, a scientist of the highest caliber, and the most intelligent woman on this accursed planet. Upon Prime’s vessel, she had at her fingertips the most powerful technology the universe has ever seen, and yet she chose to stand against the Horde and return to Etheria. It is a wonder she desired to return, if this is how you treat her.”
There was silence in the tent. Scorpia shifted nervously. Hordak did not take his eyes from Mermista. The look he gave her was pure venom.
He could tell the sea princess was rattled. “Wait a minute, are you two actually…?” She trailed off, seemingly too horrified to complete her sentence.
“Entrapta is my partner,” Hordak replied proudly. “She has been a friend to me when I could trust no one else. She --”
Realizing what he was about to say, Hordak clamped his mouth shut, fighting hard against the compulsion to speak. His ears fell flat and his hands curled into fists by his side.
It was no use.
“S-she told me my… imperfections were beautiful. I … ” Hordak looked down, shame and helpless anger flashing through him as he wished this cursed spell would end. “I am… defective. The armor Entrapta built for me compensates for the weakness in my body.”
His shoulders slumped in defeat. “I had hoped to prove myself worthy to Horde Prime, but I will never be worthy in his eyes. Entrapta should have left me to my fate.”
“No!” Entrapta protested. “I’m not going to leave you. Not ever!”
Hordak wanted to take comfort in her words, but he couldn’t. Not with the memory of her screams, her pain. Not with the knowledge that because of him, Entrapta was a prisoner once again. “She suffered to free me,” he said. “Without Entrapta, I would be just another part of the whole, until Prime saw fit to discard me once again. She is a powerful ally against what is to come. You would do well to listen to her.”
Finally Hordak fell silent, but it gave him no relief. His heart was pounding, his wretched ears clearly displaying his distress. The Alliance knew he was defective. Now they would prod further into his weaknesses, and he would have no choice but to provide them with every detail. He could not escape it.
There was no response but a heavy silence. It seemed to draw out forever. Even Mermista seemed to have nothing more to say. Hordak clenched his hands to stop them from shaking. He could not bring himself to look up. “If you are finished, may we go?”
Micah nodded. “Yes, you are free to go.” He motioned with a hand, and the barriers around Entrapta and Hordak fell away. “Scorpia will show you to Bow’s tent, where you can find the tech we have on hand. Tomorrow we’ll see what we can do about bringing your ship closer to camp.”
Entrapta was at Hordak’s side immediately. She slipped her hand into his and tugged his arm gently. “Come on,” she said, “We’ve got work to do!”
Hordak nodded numbly, refusing to look at anyone as they left.
“So… uh,” Scorpia faltered as they walked. “Glad that’s over, huh?”
“Yep,” Entrapta agreed. “So where’s Emily? I didn’t see her earlier, and the tall halo lady said she couldn’t be at the meeting.”
“Sorry about that. She’s around here somewhere… I’ll find her, but first I’ll get you to your tent.”
Entrapta trotted after Scorpia, pulling Hordak alongside her. He let her lead him without resistance. A pressure was building up inside him with each step he took. All he wanted to do was get away, find somewhere to hide, but even though he was free of the confines of the spell, he was still trapped. There was nowhere to go.
Scorpia left them to their own devices once they reached the tent, promising to return later with bedding. Entrapta immediately set about taking stock of the small pile of equipment sequestered in the corner of the room.
Hordak watched her from the entrance. He had hoped once they were alone, the heavy feeling in his chest would abate. Instead the pressure had only grown worse. A hot helpless anger flared up inside him, so intense his vision dimmed for a moment. He growled under his breath, clenching his fists.
Remember where you are, he told himself harshly. What will the Alliance do if you fly into a rage now? What will they do to Entrapta? Control yourself!
Exerting a monumental effort, Hordak forced his hands behind his back, walking over to join Entrapta at the back of the tent. She was busily shifting equipment around, muttering into her recorder. A small monitor, several tools, and an assortment of thin metal rods stood on a table beside the crates. Hordak picked up one of the rods and turned it over in his hands. He could not stop thinking about the spell, the futile struggle as his greatest secret was pulled out of him for all the princesses to hear. What must they think of me now? Pathetic. Weak.
Hordak wanted to punch his fist through the darkened monitor, send the tools flying across the room. He wanted to smash the crates until there was nothing left but rubble, but he could do nothing. He was trapped.
His fist clenched reflexively, bending the rod in half. It folded with a sharp creak.
Entrapta looked up, her eyes fixing on the bent metal in his hand. Any sense of satisfaction he may have gained from that small release of force vanished in an instant. Fool!
“What happened?” she queried, at his side in an instant. “Did the arm plate malfunction? Let me see if --”
“No!” Hordak stepped back, drawing his arm and the bent piece of scrap closer to his chest. He could feel Entrapta watching him, but could not meet her gaze. The pressure inside him was so great it made the blood roar in his ears. Eyes fixed to the floor, he took a deep shaky breath, the metal in his hands giving another protesting squeak as his grip tightened. He would not erupt at Entrapta. Not this time. He would master himself and maintain control.
Entrapta had not backed away. “Are you in pain?” she asked.
“No,” he said, more softly this time, though he could not keep a growl from his voice. “I am not hurt.”
“Then why are your ears drooping?”
“It is of no concern.”
Entrapta tilted her head, taking the last few steps to close the distance between them. She lifted a hand to touch his arm. “Hordak, I want to help you, but I don’t understand what’s wrong.”
Her touch softened the edge of his anger. Entrapta had already done more to help him than he ever could expect. He shook his head. “There is nothing you can do.”
“Okay,” she said, drawing back slightly, her hands clasped to her chest. “I’m not good at people things. Maybe I can’t help, but I could try.”
“No, it is not that. It is... difficult to explain.”
“But you’re upset,” she prompted.
“Yes. If left to my own devices, there would be little left of this room.” Hordak swept his hand sharply to indicate Bow’s equipment. “However, I will not jeopardize your place in the Alliance with such behavior.”
Entrapta stared at him intently. A strong emotion was in her eyes, but Hordak could not determine what it was, then she blinked several times and it was gone. “If you wanna smash things, I’ll find you something good,” she said.
“There is no need--”
Entrapta had already whirled around and began rifling through the crates. “There’s really no harm,” she called over her shoulder. “Not everything here is necessary, and besides, I can always repair it!”
The tension in Hordak’s chest eased as he watched her. With a sigh, he uncurled his hand, letting the bent remains of the metal rod fall to the floor. Nothing about his situation had changed, and yet seeing Entrapta intent on helping him, knowing he had her support, made him feel better. He could not explain it.
“Aha!” Entrapta lifted up a crooked sheet of metal. “This looks like it would be satisfying to crush! What do you think?” Her smile widened into a playful smirk. “Can you handle it?”
Hordak took the sheet in his hands, though he had little need for it anymore. Entrapta’s smile reminded him that his failures, his weaknesses, did not define his worth. Let the others think what they would. With Entrapta, he had more than twice the strength he would have on his own.
The dented metal was thick but only moderately heavy. It crushed easily in his hands, and with that motion, the rest of Hordak’s anger left him. He cast aside the ruined piece and smiled. “Thank you, Entrapta.”
“It’s no good to bottle things up! It has to come out sometime.”
“I will concede your point,” Hordak nodded. “However, it is not always the appropriate time for such things.”
Entrapta’s face fell. Swiftly she pulled her mask down, hiding herself from sight.
She did not respond to him. Unsure what he had done wrong, and not knowing what he could do without making it worse, Hordak decided to leave her be. He busied himself with moving the scrap pieces of metal behind the crates where they could not trip anyone, then he looked for a power source for the monitor. After a few minutes, Entrapta joined him.
“I did not intend to upset you,” he said.
“It’s okay,” she replied, “I was just thinking… I lose control too, sometimes.”
Her voice was very quiet. Hordak stopped what he was doing to look at her. Her face was still obscured by the mask.
“You should know, before it happens,” Entrapta continued, still in that subdued voice. “It really freaks people out.”
“I will stay by your side through anything.”
“Thanks… I do what I can to avoid them, but sometimes it’s not enough. Everything goes… static. It’s all too much and I can’t process anything else. I feel so trapped, like the world is closing in around me. Sometimes I scream, or cry, or throw things. I curl up and close my eyes, but it doesn’t stop. I can feel the pressure on my skin.” Entrapta hunched her shoulders, rubbing her arms in distress. “Touch hurts when I’m like that. It tingles as if I’m being shocked. So I wrap my hair around myself and wait for it to be over.”
Hordak stood silent, transfixed by the nightmare she described, now made even worse because the one thing she could use to protect herself was now gone. He had no idea she suffered like this.
Entrapta drew in a deep breath. “Hordak, I’m afraid. I don’t know what I’m going to do when it happens again.”
“Is it… inevitable?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “It’s just the way I am, ever since I was little. I have a lot of tools to help, things to keep me distracted, but I can’t stop them entirely.”
Before Hordak could think of a response, the entrance to the tent opened and Scorpia bustled through. Her arms were full of blankets and padding. “I brought two beds and two blankets,” she said breathlessly. “Woops! Hey, watch it!”
A large round bot scuttled into the tent after Scorpia, nearly knocking the bedding from her grip, beeping and trilling the entire way.
“Emily!” Entrapta squeaked, flipping her mask up to reveal a wide grin. She ran up to give the bot a big hug. “I missed you!”
Bwip! Emily bumped against her.
Hordak was glad to see Entrapta so happy. Leaving her and Emily to catch up, he went to help Scorpia with her burden. Scorpia gave him an awkward smile. “I wasn’t sure what you would need, but I figured I’d be safer with two, so… anyway, here they are!”
A sliver of embarrassment pricked at him. Hordak could only offer a nod in response.
“I’ll let you three get settled in. Tomorrow I’ll come with you to the ship and help bring everything here.”
“Okay!” Entrapta waved. “Goodnight Scorpia!”
“Goodnight, Entrapta, Hordak, Emily. See you in the morning!”
Emily ran several excited circuits around the room. Moving out of her way, Hordak set down his bedding in the far corner. Entrapta followed him, placing hers so close the edges almost overlapped.
“I was thinking we could lay close together and share a blanket,” she said. “We’d be warmer that way, and if it gets really cold, we have an extra.”
“An excellent plan,” Hordak agreed. “We should rest before tomorrow.”
Entrapta helped him out of his armor, and after each piece was arranged beside them, she pulled off her shoes, gloves, and the ties from her hair. She let him detach PEArL from her back and place it beside his armor.
Hordak reached up to dim the light crystal hanging from the ceiling. The effort left him suddenly bereft of energy. Without his armor, the trials of the day were beginning to catch up to him. More than ever he felt the bruises from when he’d been tossed into the riverbed. Hordak sank down onto the bedroll with a barely audible sigh. Tomorrow morning was going to be unpleasant.
Entrapta was already curled up under their blanket. She looked so small as she lay there. Hordak wondered if she was still thinking about what she’d told him before Scoripa arrived. It was unlike her to be so quiet.
Emily waddled over to join them, interrupting his train of thought. She stepped over the pieces of his armor, knocking several aside, before finally settling down in the middle of it all like a nesting animal. Her ocular light dimmed, leaving the room in near total darkness.
Lifting the blanket to lie beside Entrapta, Hordak settled on his back, close enough to feel her warmth but not so close that they were touching. He did not want to be presumptuous.
“Hordak?” Entrapta ventured.
“Would you hold me?”
She stiffened briefly at his touch, relaxing with a shaky sigh as Hordak wrapped his arm around her in a secure embrace. He enjoyed being this close to her, and it seemed she felt the same, though at the moment he could feel a lingering tension in her body. The strands of her hair had settled, but her heart rate was concerningly fast. “Is this what you had in mind?” he asked.
Entrapta nodded. “Yes, thank you. This... it helps.”
“What is troubling you?”
“Usually, when I’m asleep, my hair curls around me like a blanket. Scorpia used to say it looked like I was sleeping in a nest.” She laughed, a quiet warbling sound that made Hordak feel warm inside. “I can’t do that right now, and I’m trying my best to get used to sleeping without it. Some nights are okay, but other times I can’t seem to relax. I hardly slept at all on the Velvet Glove. Even on Sophie, it was easier to work during the night than try to fall asleep. My theory is having you next to me helps me calm down, and it works best if we’re touching.”
Hordak felt his chest go tight. He pressed his cheek to the back of her head, closing his eyes as her hair brushed against his face. “I will hold you whenever you have need of me.”
“It’s nice that you’re doing this for me, and I really appreciate it, but…” she trailed off. The blanket stirred as she fidgeted with her feet. “Do you find cuddling helpful too?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Without question.”
She hummed in contentment, settling more comfortably against him, placing her hand on his arm to hold him closer. Hordak smiled gently as the last remnants of anxiety left his heart, leaving him completely at peace. He did not want to think of what tomorrow might bring. For now, he was with Entrapta, and they were safe.
Chapter 6: Connection
Micah stood at the back of the control room of Entrapta and Hordak’s vessel. Sophie, did they call it? His hands were clasped behind his back in what he hoped was a relaxed pose as he tried his best to stay out of the way. It was not an easy task. The room was small, and with Entrapta darting every which way, opening panels, reconnecting wires, fiddling with the control settings, nowhere was quite safe for Micah to stand.
Hordak did not seem to share this issue. Entrapta continued to bounce around the room, rattling off observations and instructions. Micah didn’t have a hope of following along, yet Hordak understood without a problem. Despite his size, the former Horde lord was never in Entrapta’s way. He easily moved aside to let her reach whatever she needed, handing her tools, occasionally answering her questions, all while performing his own part of the work.
Micah ducked as one of Entrapta’s mechanical arms reached past him. He dared not interrupt the chaos to ask how much longer this was going to take. He could never forgive himself if he somehow ruined the Alliance’s only link to Adora, Bow, and Glimmer.
The thought of his baby girl made his chest tight with anxiety. The last time he saw her, she was so small she barely came up past his knee. Now she had grown to be a soldier for the Rebellion, Queen of Bright Moon, a war captive of Horde Prime. What would he do if something had gone terribly wrong? If Glimmer wasn’t there when they made contact?
No! No, she will be there. He couldn’t bear to imagine otherwise. She’s going to be safe, and I’ll tell her --
He broke off. It had been so long, Micah was almost afraid to see his daughter again. He didn’t know what she would think of him anymore. It seemed such a trivial thing to worry about with a planet-wide war going on, but still he worried. He wanted Glimmer to know how much he wished he could have been there for her. He wanted her to know how much he loved her. Surely it was never too late.
Entrapta was sitting in the pilot seat, bent over the main console. “With our signal boosted, we should be able to reach them. Sophie already has their communication signature, and I’m sure Darla will recognize ours.”
Micah frowned in confusion. Darla? Oh, yes, Entrapta’s name for the First One’s ship.
“Aaaaand sent!” Entrapta tilted her head back over the chair, regarding Micah upside down. “Now we just have to wait!”
More waiting… Micah turned to find Hordak watching him. Hordak was impassive, relaxed, his flat green eyes betraying nothing. Ever since the truth spell, Micah had been fighting against his misgivings at working so closely with his old enemy, but he was beginning to develop a grudging respect. Hordak was in a precarious position, surrounded by people who wished him harm. He accepted this without protest, doing his part alongside Entrapta, and answering any questions Micah gave him with blunt honesty.
“How long did it take your ship to return to Etheria?”
“Approximately twelve Etherian days.”
Micah calculated how long it had been since Entrapta and Hordak’s arrival. “Then it’s possible they could be only a few more days away from home.”
Hordak tilted his head. “That is an optimistic speculation.”
Micah sighed, forcing a laugh. “I suppose someone has to be,” he muttered.
“I’m getting a response,” Entrapta piped up excitedly. “It’s Darla! I’ll bring up a visual.”
The dark glass of the pilot window flickered, and a virtual screen materialized, revealing two figures. Micah caught his breath. There she was, standing next to Bow. Angella’s eyes stared back at him from a face similar to his own when he was young. Her shining hair was cut short. Bandages covered her arms, and several scratches stood out bright red upon her cheek.
Every word he planned to say vanished from his mind in an instant. There was only the massive relief of seeing her, his precious daughter, alive. He blinked back tears. “Hey, sweetheart.”
Glimmer reached out toward the screen, then pulled back. “I’m sorry, dad. There’s so much I want to say, but we don’t have time. It was a trap. Prime did something to Catra. He… controlled her. We thought we got away, but then she attacked us.”
Micah went cold. “Was there a chip on the back of her neck?”
“Yes!” It was Bow who answered. “You know what this is?”
“Unfortunately, yes. For the past few weeks we’ve been forced to fight our own people as well as Prime’s clones and bots. He’s been chipping us one by one.”
“We’re doing our best to hold out,” Micah replied in what he hoped was a calm reassuring tone. “With Entrapta here, we hope to find a way to remove the chips and free everyone from Prime’s control.”
“Catra’s chip seems to be inactive for now,” Bow replied. “Adora was able to damage it in the fight. Unfortunately not before Catra wreaked havoc on the ship’s systems. It took all three of us to bring her down.” He gave a long sigh. “We’ve set a course for Etheria, but I don’t know how long it will take us to get to you.”
“What seems to be the problem?” Entrapta queried.
“We haven’t been able to --”
Micah blinked. By the looks of it, Bow was still talking to them, but there was no sound from the monitor. He turned to Hordak and Entrapta. “What’s wrong? I can’t hear him anymore.”
“I don’t know,” Entrapta replied. “I’m not picking up anything unusual in the transmission…”
The screen dimmed and flickered in and out. Half-formed words came in spurts. “Obs… we… Ador…”
Then everything went black. Gone in an instant.
“Where did they go?” Micah demanded, panicked. “Can’t you bring them back?”
Entrapta was typing on the monitor. “I’m trying, but I can’t get a signal anymore.”
“How is that possible? They were right there only a moment ago! Did your ship drop the signal?”
“Hmm, no, the connection is stable here…. Nothing out of place.... It’s all in working order. The problem must be on their end.”
No, that can’t be! Desperate, Micah looked to Hordak. “This is one of your ships, isn’t it? Surely you know what’s going on.”
Hordak shook his head. “No, I do not. However, it is likely Entrapta is right. Their vessel is damaged. It may have dropped the transmission in order to conserve power.”
Micah nodded, wanting to accept that answer. Another part of him feared the worst, that Prime had caught up with them, that they were now under attack. He could not voice it aloud. To do so would make the possibility more real. Instead he drew in a deep sigh and forced a brave smile.
“Thank you both for your help,” he said. “There is nothing more we can do now. Let’s get back to the others and tell them what happened. Then later… Perhaps we can come back and try again.”
It was a long slow walk to exit the ship. Micah felt as if he was trapped in a dream. He half expected to wake back on the island, encased in the life-sucking vines that plagued his nightmares. The slow creeping pressure began to close in. He shook his head sharply, brushing a hand down his robes in a desperate reflex to dispel the visions. He could not afford to pay them any mind. The Alliance was counting on him to be strong.
“Such a grim face does not bode well.”
Micah turned to see the form of Shadow Weaver materialize from the shadow of a tree. As strange as it was to work beside Hordak, it was far more eerie to be allied with Shadow Weaver. His old mentor. After all this time, Micah wanted to forgive and move forward, but he could never forget the night of the spell. He couldn’t forget what she’d gone one to do as Shadow Weaver. Sometimes he felt foolish to trust her, yet Micah still felt a sympathy for her that his anger and fear could not banish away. Angie would have said he was too kind, too quick to forgive.
Angie… His breath caught, but he managed to stop himself from falling apart. Barely. “We made contact.” His voice hardly shook as he spoke. “But there was a problem.”
Micah explained what Glimmer and Bow had told him before the transmission was cut short. Finished, he ran his hand through his hair. “I can’t stand not being able to do anything to help. The only thing we can do is continue on with our work here and hope they’ll be able to make it. A part of me wishes Hordak and Entrapta had stayed with Adora’s ship instead of coming here. Entrapta could have helped fix the damage, or maybe… I don’t know.”
Entrapta’s voice carried to him across the clearing, and he looked up as the pair appeared at the entrance of the Horde vessel. “They’ve been a great help to us here. Without them, we wouldn’t have a way to contact the ship at all. We’d still be completely in the dark. Hopefully Entrapta will be able to find a way to disable the chips somehow. That would give us our best chance.”
Micah turned to her, knowing from her tone there was something on her mind she was withholding. “What is it?”
Shadow Weaver was standing with her arms crossed, watching the pair close the hatch of their ship. “The princess of Dryl is capable of accomplishing all we require,” she said. “Hordak’s presence, however, is unnecessary.”
Micah raised an eyebrow. “On the contrary, they are an efficient team. But this isn’t really about efficiency, is it?”
She did not answer.
He sighed. This was not the first time they had this discussion, and he sensed it would not be the last, but there was nothing more he could say that he had not already. Old grudges did not die easily. “I miss her,” he said, changing the subject. “I miss her so much.”
“Glimmer is far stronger than you realize.”
Micah nodded. “I hope it will be enough.”
“You will see her again,” Shadow Weaver replied. “With Adora by her side, I have little doubt she and the others will return.”
“I never thought I would see you as an optimist.” He nudged her shoulder. “Maybe all that time in Bright Moon really did change you for the better, eh?”
He could have sworn she rolled her eyes behind the mask. “I see you have returned to your usual self,” she said.
“Yes, I suppose I have.” Micah laughed, gazing up at the sky through the trees, and took a deep steadying breath.
Stay safe, Glimmer, Bow, Adora… We’re fighting our fight here as best we can. Find your way home to us.
Chapter 7: Distance
“Etheria Liberation Effort, Day six; Due to yesterday’s weapon misfire, we’ve been given a new lab assistant! What did you say your name was?”
Entrapta thrust her recorder near the armored woman’s face. The woman’s dark eyes widened as she leaned away. “J-Juliet,” she stammered.
“Right! Juliet,” Entrapta nodded. “As I was saying…”
Entrapta rattled off all the half-finished projects that were strewn across the two tables that served as her workbench. Nearly every bit of space was covered in dismantled equipment, mostly salvaged parts from Horde bots. Entrapta was becoming quite practiced at repurposing their cannons into portable weapons, and their sturdy metal casing made for excellent shields. The cannons were already proving to be quite destructive. One side of their tent was now replaced by a patched curtain, covering the damage from when one of their newest weapons discharged unexpectedly and lit the tent on fire.
An entire section of the work area was devoted to core processors and ocular systems. These were vital to engineering equipment to intercept and interrupt the signals between Prime’s soldiers, as well as the people he’d chipped. Most were too damaged to be of use on their own, but she wouldn’t complain. This was the best she had until she could get her hands on one of the chips for study.
Hordak’s growl interrupted Entrapta’s train of thought. Pausing her recorder, she looked up to see her partner glaring at the entrance, eyes narrowed in a scowl.
“Ah, now that is a most familiar phrase.”
Entrapta whirled around. Shadow Weaver was standing just inside the tent.
“Get out,” Hordak repeated.
“Temper, Hordak,” the sorceress replied smoothly, gliding forward. “You hold no authority here.”
“I do not appreciate idle interruption,” Hordak said tightly. “State your business, and leave.”
“My business is not with you. I am here for the princess.” Shadow Weaver turned her blank eyes to Entrapta. “The Alliance has called a meeting, and you are expected to report on your progress.”
A flutter of excitement bloomed in Entrapta’s chest. I’ll need my tablet, my recorder, and… would the latest cannon be too much to carry? No, I think it would be best to bring an ocular sample…
She waved her hand in Shadow Weaver’s direction and turned back to the work bench. “One minute! I need to finish this first.” Entrapta fetched the nearest orb from the pile. “Hordak, can you find my smallest set of tweezers?”
Wordlessly Hordak handed them to her.
“Thanks!” In a few moments, Entrapta had pried the back open and prised out a tiny chip, which she tipped delicately into a glass vial.
“Taking orders from a princess? I never thought I would see the day.”
Hordak stiffened, the tips of his claws digging into the table with a sharp screech.
“Oh they’re not orders,” Entrapta chirped. She put the vial and recorder in her pocket and picked up her data pad. “We’re partners!”
“Indeed.” Shadow Weaver was even closer now. Entrapta could feel her looming over her shoulder. “Time is of the essence, princess. Whatever it is you are doing can surely wait an hour or so.”
“I’m coming!” Entrapta whirled around so fast she almost collided with the tall sorceress. Shadow Weaver pulled back quickly, and Entrapta did not wait for her as she bounced to the entrance of the tent. “I’ll be back soon, Hordak!” she waved.
Hordak raised his hand in answer, though he was frowning. Entrapta didn’t have time to ask him about it. She filed it away for later. “Emily, you wait here and help him, okay?”
Bwuu. Emily, who had followed her to the entrance, sat down with a muffled thud. Entrapta patted her affectionately. “Be a good help, please!”
Shadow Weaver took the lead once they were outside. Entrapta studied her from behind, calling upon what she could remember of the sorceress. She had been in the Fright Zone when Entrapta arrived. Entrapta had observed her a few times from the vents, and then once in the Black Garnet chamber.
“Say, you’re the sorceress who used the Black Garnet before Scorpia!” Entrapta exclaimed.
“That is correct.” Her voice was clipped, sharp. “Before Hordak saw fit to give it to you, and before Catra broke my connection to the Runestone.”
“Aaah, this is so exciting!” Entrapta fished out her recorder. “Runestone Log, Entry seventy-two -- I think that’s right --”
“Entrapta,” Shadow Weaver interrupted, still looking forward as they walked. “Though you are quite accomplished in matters of machinery, magic is not your area of expertise. Your… tinkering with the Garnet nearly caused Etheria’s entire ecosystem to collapse. I do not believe you could grasp the intricacies of my craft.”
“Oh, but I’d love to try!” Coming up in front of Shadow Weaver, Entrapta raised herself up on her mechanical limbs, bringing herself inches from the metal mask. “I want to know everything!”
The sorceress leaned back, her mask unfathomable. The white eyes narrowed to two nearly invisible slits. “Another time, perhaps,” she said at last. “We are late.”
Energized, Entrapta ran the rest of the way to the tent, Shadow Weaver trailing silently behind her. She entered the tent to find a large group of people circled around a map spread over a table. Their conversation came to a halt, everyone turning to face the entrance.
Entrapta grinned and waved. “Hi!”
“Hey!” Scorpia waved back. She motioned next to her, and Entrapta trotted over to take her place beside her friend. Shadow Weaver moved to stand behind Micah.
“I’m glad you’re both here,” Micah said with a friendly nod. “Now we can properly begin. Princess Netossa?”
Netossa sighed, pointing to a dot on the map. “Yesterday, we lost contact with Coralia…”
Entrapta did her best to listen, but after a while, she found herself opening tabs on her data pad, going over her research and puzzling out formulas in her head. The conversation faded in and out around her. Bits of information she stored for later. The rest was quickly forgotten, drowned out by her focus on the data in front of her. It took her a long moment to realize when the room had grown silent.
“Entrapta,” Scorpia whispered, nudging her.
Scorpia pointed to Micah. Entrapta followed her gesture, realizing everyone was staring at her.
“Princess Entrapta,” Micah addressed her. “If you would please tell us your progress on tracking the people that have been chipped.”
“The tracking system I have currently only extends to bots and Horde clones with an active connection to the Hivemind,” Entrapta admitted. “My attempts at accessing the wider network, including the chips, have been unsuccessful so far. I was hoping to use the bots to access the system remotely. Unfortunately the connection is lost once the bots are shut down. Since the samples obtained so far have massive damage to the internal processor, I haven’t yet been able to figure out exactly how it works.”
She brought out the small chip from her pocket and held it up for them to see. “There may be a defense mechanism that fries the circuitry to prevent tampering once the connection is gone,” she continued in a rush. “That way, the network can’t be compromised from a singular source. It’s a brilliant defense strategy! Even with the damage, I can tell from observing the movements of Horde soldiers that the Hivemind is incredibly complex, maybe even as complex as an organic system!” Her eyes widened, a new idea bright in her mind. “If we could somehow manage to obtain a live sample, I could --”
“If you like them so much, why did you even come back?”
Entrapta stopped short, her smile fading. Mermista was glaring at her from across the table, arms folded tightly. “I came to help,” Entrapta said plainly.
“Did you?” Mermista asked, raising an eyebrow. “It seems like this is all fun and games to you. You don’t care what happens to any of us as long as you get to play with your bots.”
Frowning, Entrapta took a step back. She could tell from Mermista’s tone she must have done something wrong. The sea princess had been prickly with her ever since she arrived, no matter what she said or did. Entrapta looked down at her data pad lying on the edge of the table. She slipped the sample back in her pocket, unsure what to say.
“Mermista,” Netossa began. “Is now really the best time for --”
“Maybe it’s the only time,” Mermista shot back. “You want to wait until she, like, gets someone killed?”
Entrapta looked from Netossa to Mermista. “I don’t understand,” she said slowly. “I--”
“That’s the problem!” Mermista threw up her hands. Her voice had risen to a shout. “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you care? We’re risking our lives out there. Every day, one of us could be taken out by a bot, or one of Horde Prime’s clones, and you just tinker away as if the entire planet isn’t in jeopardy.” She jabbed a finger across the table at Perfuma. “If Perfuma was gone tomorrow, would you even shed a tear? What about Frosta, or Scorpia? Would you still love your precious bots then?”
“I don’t want that!” Entrapta shook her head, clutching her tablet tightly. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“Then why do you care more about robots than actual people? What do you think would happen if we brought a hostile bot into the camp? You--”
“Princess Mermista,” Micah cut in firmly. “That’s enough. Entrapta’s work has been helpful to us, and we need to trust her judgment.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t,” Mermista shot back, folding her arms. “She’s already deserted us once already.”
Entrapta flinched. “You left me!” She burst out.
“It was an accident! We thought you were dead! Bow and Glimmer tried to rescue you as soon as we knew you were alive, and what did you do? You decided to stay with the Horde. The Princess Alliance nearly fell because of you!”
The room was now dead silent. Entrapta looked around at all the faces turned toward her, and felt tears sting her eyes. This was what everyone thought of her. Mermista, Perfuma, Netossa, Frosta. No matter how hard she tried, they would never accept her. Entrapta hunched her shoulders, a tight pain constricting her chest. She wanted to say something, to explain herself, but the words would not come. What did it even matter?
Unable to stand it any longer, Entrapta spun around and fled from the tent.
Entrapta ignored Scorpia’s call, not stopping until she reached her own tent. She burst through the entrance, and Hordak turned to her, the surprise on his face quickly transforming to concern. On the other side of Hordak, Emily raised herself tall. Bwee!
“What happened?” he asked sharply.
Entrapta shook her head, choking back a sob. Hordak opened his arms to her, and she took the invitation, burying her face in his chest.
“I take it the meeting did not go well,” he remarked.
She shook her head again. Mermista’s words were still ringing in her thoughts. Why do you care more about robots than actual people? If you like them so much, why did you even come back?
Why did I come back?
“Princess Entrapta, what’s going on?” asked Juliet. “Is there some sort of emergency?”
Entrapta had forgotten Juliet was there. It took her a moment to pull her thoughts together enough to respond. She shook her head.
“Perhaps it would be best if you wait outside,” Hordak suggested.
“My orders are to… well, alright. Let me know when I can come back in.”
Footsteps faded away. Still Entrapta clung on, her head a mess of frantic thoughts. The entire Alliance was angry with her. She needed some way to fix it, but they weren’t satisfied with her work. Maybe she should just keep her head down and focus on getting results, not speak to any of the princesses until she had what they wanted. They never listened to the process anyway. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll stay here and work as hard as I can! With Hordak to help me, I’m sure I’ll get it done!
“What happened?” Hordak asked again. This time his voice was quiet.
“I messed up,” she murmured. “I messed up, but I’m going to fix it. I have to.”
Hordak did not reply, but she didn’t need him to. Entrapta knew he loved her. He would understand. That was enough.
The next week passed by rather quickly for Entrapta, each day blurring right into the next. She rose in the morning as early as she could to get a head start on the day, then stayed up well into the night, until Hordak could coax her to sleep or she passed out at her work.
This didn’t bother her. How can I waste time sleeping on a project this big? She sighed, picking up a set of pliers. The average Etherian only needs three hours or so of sleep to maintain basic body functions. Hordak doesn’t need to worry about me.
Emily bumped against her leg with an insistent pip. She looked down to see a bowl of small bugs teetering on the dome of Emily’s body.
“Emily is correct,” said Hordak. “You need to eat.”
Entrapta rubbed her eyes. “Did I forget breakfast again?”
“You did.” Taking the bowl from Emily, Hordak set it down beside Entrapta on the worktable.
“I’m not really that hungry,” Entrapta protested, moving the bowl further away from her. Normally she liked the tiny bugs Scorpia saved for her. They were the ones too small for most people to bother with, but for Entrapta they were perfect. Lately not even the cute bright-shelled ones looked appealing.
“As you wish.”
Looking from the pile of scrap to her computer monitor, Entrapta felt her eyes begin to sting. She pulled her welding mask down so the tint of the glass would ease the glare of the screen on her eyes. The crack in the right lens was only a minor distraction. “I think I’m close to a revelation,” she said. “It feels like I’m just moments away!”
“I see… Entrapta, will you attend today’s meeting?”
The reminder prickled at her, but Entrapta shrugged it off. She shook her head. “I’ll make more progress here.”
“You have not brought your findings to the Alliance in many days,” he observed. “It may do you good to have a change of setting, and a change of company.”
Entrapta frowned. She glanced at Hordak, tilting her head as she lifted her mask. “Change of company?”
“It is true we have accomplished much here. However, I do not wish to keep you isolated from the others.”
“I don’t understand. You’re not keeping me here. I want to be here.”
“Do you not also wish to visit your friends?”
The question made her chest ache. Slowly she replaced the mask over her face and turned back to her work. “I would, but... I can’t.”
“Hey, Entrapta, Hordak!” Scorpia peeked her head into the tent, smiling. “And Emily, of course!”
Emily bustled over to greet Scorpia, beeping cheerily the whole way. Scorpia patted her affectionately before coming over to see what Entrapta was doing. “That looks complicated,” she said, squinting at the screen. “I hope I’m not interrupting something important. The meeting’s about to start, if you’re ready.”
Entrapta did not pause typing out the sequence she was working on. “Here’s what I’ve found so far,” she said, handing Scorpia her recorder with one of her long limbs. “Second to last recording, Etheria Liberation Effort, day fifteen.”
Scorpia took the recorder gingerly, but didn’t move to leave. She cleared her throat. “You know, Entrapta, I’ve never been really good with these things. Maybe it would be better if you come to the meeting and explain what you found?”
Entrapta stopped typing, the memory of harsh faces staring at her in her mind’s eye. She hunched her shoulders. “I’d rather stay here.”
“Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine,” she replied flatly.
“This is about what Mermista said, isn’t it?” Scorpia took a few steps forward. “I’m sure she didn’t mean… well, no, she probably did. But she won’t be here today, so you don’t have to worry!”
Entrapta shook her head. “I don’t think I should go. I’ll stay here and finish my work.” She paused. “That’s what I’m good at.”
“Of course it’s what you’re good at!” Scorpia was right at her elbow now. “Nobody’s better at tech than you, which is why we need you at the meeting. Our heads aren’t smart enough for all this stuff.” She lifted the recorder with a claw. “Everyone’s good at different things, you know? I’m the muscle, Netossa’s a strategist, King Micah’s the leader… we all need each other.”
Entrapta wished that were true, but the others seemed so much happier without her. Mermista was constantly snapping at her. Even though she smiled and said sweet things, Perfuma usually ignored her. Frosta said she talked too much. Netossa spoke to her on occasion, but she was often gone for long stretches of time. People grew quiet whenever she was around, and no matter what she did or said, she always managed to upset someone.
Tears stung her eyes. When it came to social things, Entrapta was always wrong. It was better to stay away.
“You should leave,” Hordak said to Scorpia. “If Entrapta does not wish to attend the meeting, you cannot force her.”
“I’m not trying to--” Scorpia flustered. “I don’t mean to push, I just want everyone to get along. We’re friends! Friends are supposed to stick together!”
Entrapta shook her head, hugging her arms to her chest. “They’re not my friends.”
“Oh, Entrapta, don’t say that!” Scorpia protested. “Everyone’s just really tense, with the war going on and all. I’m sure things will get better.”
Scorpia didn’t understand. It was always like this. “I wanted them to like me, but they don’t,” Entrapta mumbled. “Nobody wants me there. It’s better if I just stay in here with Hordak and Emily.”
“That’s not true! I want you there, and I know I’m not the only one. If you want to stay this one out, that’s okay, but I’m going to keep on asking, because you’re my friend.”
Scorpia’s claw rested gently on Entrapta’s shoulder. “You’ve been working so hard, I don’t think I’ve seen you take a break! I know you have Hordak and Emily to help, but I’m worried about you. And I miss you.”
“You miss me?” Entrapta peeked out from under her mask.
“Yeah.” Scorpia smiled at her. “I do.”
Relief and joy swelled in Entrapta’s heart. She threw herself into Scorpia’s open arms, and Scorpia hugged her warmly. “I think both of you have been working too hard,” Scorpia remarked. “You know what I miss?”
“What?” Entrapta asked, stepping back.
Entrapta squealed happily, clasping her hands together. “You have some?”
“Yup!” Scorpia declared proudly. “I found it yesterday. Haven’t had a chance to try it yet.”
Hardly able to contain her excitement, Entrapta glanced from Scorpia to Hordak. Her partner tilted his head. “What is hot chocolate?”
“You’ve never had hot chocolate?” Scorpia asked. “Wow… we are changing that today!”
Hordak’s ears twitched uneasily. He turned to Entrapta with a slight frown. “What is it?” he repeated.
“It’s chocolate that you drink,” Entrapta replied. “And it’s warm, which is great for cold days!”
“And you like it?”
“Mm-hm!” She nodded.
“Very well…” Hordak relented.
Scorpia leaned toward him, squinting with her chin resting on the tip of her claw. His frown deepened. “What?” he demanded.
“You don’t know what chocolate is, do you?”
“That’s so sad!” Entrapta exclaimed. After all the years he’d spent on Etheria, Hordak had never tasted chocolate. If she’d have known that, she would have offered him some when they stopped by the Crypto Castle. “Scorpia’s right, you have to try it.”
“I will,” he assured her. “Since it is something you like so much.”
She smiled brightly. “I think you’ll like it too!”
“Well, I have to go now,” Scorpia said as she edged toward the exit. “They’ve probably started without me. I’ll bring some hot chocolate after the meeting. That is…if you have tiny mugs.”
Entrapta bounced up and down excitedly. “It’s a date!”
Scorpia laughed, her face slightly pink. “Do you… would you mind if I invite Perfuma?”
“Ooh, a double date!”
“Yeah, uh, a double date.” This time Scorpia flushed completely red.
Entrapta looked up at Hordak, leaning over to clasp his hand. “We don’t mind, do we, Hordak?”
Hordak appraised her for a moment, before turning to Scorpia. “Of course you may invite your partner,” he said.
“She’s not--!” Scorpia sputtered. “I mean, we’re just -- oh, wow...” She covered her face. “I’d better go,” she muttered before quickly backing out of the tent.
“What do you think that was about?” Entrapta asked after Scorpia was gone.
Hordak shook his head. “I do not know.”
“Well, I guess we should get back to work, then.” Just as she started to turn, Entrapta saw her recorder laying on the ground near the entrance. “Uh-oh.”
“What is it?”
“Scorpia dropped the recorder.”
Entrapta extended one of her mechanical limbs to scoop it up. Scorpia must have dropped it by accident. She’d seen her friend drop plenty of things before in the past. It seemed much more likely than deliberately leaving it behind on the ground.
“I guess I should go to the meeting,” she said at last.
“If you prefer, I will go in your place,” Hordak offered.
“That’s okay. I’ll go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” she replied, this time with more strength in her voice. “Want to come with me?”
Together they left the lab and headed across the center of camp to what had been designated as the council tent. Entrapta was still a little nervous despite Scorpia’s reassurance, but it was easier to be confident with Hordak beside her.
“Entrapta,” Hordak ventured hesitantly. “What is a date?”
Chapter 8: Date
Scorpia fidgeted nervously, glancing from Perfuma to Juliet, to Entrapta, to Hordak, then back to Perfuma. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as Perfuma smiled at her, and she grinned back, feeling her face go pink. She nearly dropped her cup when Perfuma handed it to her, but managed to hang onto it without shattering the handle in the grip of her claw. Whew, that was close!
Entrapta was talking rapidly to Juliet about her spaceship, Sophie, and the Bright Moon guard sat quietly with the occasional awkward nod. She took her cup gratefully. Entrapta was too caught up in her excitement to notice.
Scorpia smiled, happy to see her friend was already enjoying herself. It’s not good for her to be cooped up in here all the time. She needs more people to talk to.
In contrast to Entrapta’s lively demeanor, Hordak sat still and silent. Even though he hadn’t said a harsh word to Scorpia since his arrival, he was still intimidating as ever.
Perfuma’s hands shook slightly as she offered him his cup. Scorpia felt a pang of guilt. It had taken a lot of convincing to get Perfuma to come. She didn’t feel safe around Hordak, and his relationship with Entrapta made her uneasy as well. Scorpia assured Perfuma that Hordak wasn’t going to harm any of them, least of all Entrapta. She saw the soft way he looked at her when he thought no one could see. It was heart-melting! Entrapta’s affection for him was even more obvious. Even in her Fright Zone days, Scorpia remembered how much Entrapta mentioned Hordak in her free time. If she wasn’t talking about tech, she was talking about him.
I thought she might have a crush on the boss back then, and he was devastated when she… when Catra sent her to Beast Island. I think they’ve loved each other for a long time.
In his hands, Hordak’s cup looked comically small. Scorpia held in a giggle at the sight. She lifted her own tiny cup. “Okay, everyone’s got their cocoa! Hordak, are you ready to try it?”
Entrapta halted mid-sentence, swiveling around to face her partner. “I can’t wait to see what you think,” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “Be completely honest!”
Hordak’s ears flicked back, flustered at suddenly having all eyes on him. The effect was adorable. Scorpia felt bad for thinking it, but she couldn’t help it. The fierce leader of the Horde, now just a shy guy on a cocoa date.
Tentatively he raised the cup and took a very small careful taste. The tips of his ears twitched. He looked up, his face kept carefully neutral. “It is… sweet.”
“Very!” Entrapta agreed, nodding. “Do you like it?”
“Yes, though I believe it would be best consumed in moderation. It is quite strong.”
Entrapta leaned her head against his shoulder. “You have a much stronger sense of taste than I hypothesized. Is that why the Horde bars had almost no flavor?”
“That’s a fair question!” Scorpia said with a laugh. Outside of the Horde, she felt like an entire new world opened up in front of her just concerning food. Everything was bursting with flavor, both amazing and disgusting.
Hordak considered both of them with a slight frown. “Perhaps,” he replied slowly. “I admit flavor was the least of my concerns in their creation.”
“I suppose some things will be sacrificed in the interest of health,” Entrapta said with a nod. “I ran a nutritional analysis of both the brown and grey bars, and I’m impressed how many macronutrients you fit into a single serving. Very efficient!”
Scorpia hid her amused smile by taking a sip of her own cocoa. Of course Entrapta had analyzed their food. “So, um, Hordak, what do you plan to do when this is all over?”
Hordak’s expression did not change as he looked at her. “I do not know what will happen in the aftermath of the war. Perhaps you could tell me what I should expect.”
“Yes. You approached the Alliance for aid on Entrapta’s behalf. How were you received?”
Scorpia scratched her head. “Well, they attacked me at first,” she admitted. “But you’re past that point now… Then they put me in a big room with cushions and a fountain. They called it a prison!” She laughed. “Can you believe Bright Moon doesn’t have a real prison? Anyway, all things considered they were nice to me. They gave me a chance to talk, and even though they didn’t trust me at first, eventually I could go wherever I wanted.”
“I see. It seems a generous consideration of your small part in the war.” Hordak turned to Perfuma. “What fate did you have planned for me, should your armies have conquered mine?”
“Um…” Perfuma frowned, deeply uncomfortable. “I don’t know.”
“You may speak plainly with me. I have chosen my fate, and will not shy away from it now.” He looked between Perfuma and Juliet. Perfuma tried to hide behind her tiny cup, looking anywhere but Hordak. “What is it I should expect?” he asked again. “Imprisonment? Exile? Execution?”
Scorpia grimaced. She couldn’t imagine the Alliance executing anyone, but exile was different. Hordak sent Micah to Beast Island… would he send Hordak there as revenge, even after all this?
“Why would you want to do any of those?” Entrapta commented with a frown. “Don’t you want to explore the stars with me?”
“I do,” he replied. “However, I do not imagine I will be allowed the option.”
“Why not? We have Sophie. Without Horde Prime’s armada, we have a clear shot at open space.”
“And if I am imprisoned by the Alliance?”
Entrapta shrugged. “I’ll break you out.”
Perfuma nearly choked on her drink. She coughed, setting down her cup. Scorpia patted her back in an attempt to help. “I’m sure we can work out a peaceful solution,” Perfuma managed breathlessly.
“If we help you get rid of Horde Prime, the least you could do is let us explore space,” Entrapta pointed out. “We won’t be in anyone’s way.”
Scorpia frowned in the awkward silence that followed. Something in Entrapta’s tone unsettled her, calling her mind back to earlier that day when her friend was distressed. Entrapta didn’t seem upset now, but something was still off. Scorpia cleared her throat. “Are you… going to come back?”
Entrapta cocked her head. “I don’t know. There’s so much to explore! An endless sea of planets and stars! We could spend an eternity there.”
“Yeah, that does sound… incredible, but…” Scorpia trailed off, glancing at Perfuma. Oh dear, this is not how I planned it in my head!
Scorpia began to fidget with her empty cup. “I was thinking, uh… in eight years it’s going to be Princess Prom again. I was hoping I, uh, could host the event. So I can make up for, you know, trashing the last one. I haven’t asked yet! But I hoped to… soon.” She laughed sheepishly.
“That’s a wonderful idea, Scorpia!” Perfuma beamed.
Perfuma’s sweet smile made Scorpia feel suddenly very warm. “Anyway,” she continued, forcing herself to return her attention to Entrapta. “If you do go off exploring the universe and all that, do you think you and Hordak could make a trip back for Prom? I’d really like it if you came.”
Entrapta sat up a little taller. “You would?”
“Both of us?”
“Of course!” Scorpia grinned, nodding to Hordak. “Every princess gets a plus one, you know.”
Entrapta squeaked, nearly jumping up to her feet in her excitement. She grasped Hordak’s arm. “I’ve never been to an event with a partner before! Think of the data we could collect between the two of us! You’ll go with me, Hordak, won’t you?”
“Y-yes, of course.”
Scorpia laughed. They are such a cute couple! I wonder what they’ll wear to the event. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen Hordak in anything but armor and whatever these Horde robes are called. “Just make sure you don’t make as much trouble as I did with Ca--”
She stopped at the dangerous look that flashed in Hordak’s eyes. Entrapta was too busy hugging her boyfriend to notice. “Where will you host it?” she asked as she pulled away.
“Um, gosh, I hadn’t thought of that!” Scorpia felt her face flush. She cast another glance at Perfuma.
“Hmm,” Perfuma mused. “Well, we could… Oh, Mermista, hi!”
Scorpia looked up to see Mermista poking her head through the entrance of the tent. Everyone else turned to look. “Mermista, you’re back! Did you…?”
“Nope,” Mermista replied with a single shake of her head. “Gone before we could get there. Figures… We brought something back for geek princess, though.”
“For me?” Entrapta tilted her head with interest. “What is it?”
Mermista pushed the tent flap aside, holding it open for a large Plumerian carrying something over his shoulder. Scorpia gasped. “I-is that what I think it is?”
“Yep,” Mermista replied.
Wordlessly the Plumerian knelt down and dropped the limp body of a clone soldier on the floor, right in the middle of everyone. He ducked his head, and made a hasty retreat. “Sorry to disturb your tea!”
No one bothered to correct him. They were all left staring at the clone on the floor. Perfuma drew back, her hand over her mouth. Entrapta extended two of her mechanical arms to grip the clone’s shoulders, lifting him up so she could peer at the back of his neck. Hordak’s expression was impossible to read.
“You said you wanted a ‘live sample’ or whatever, so here you go.” Mermista waved her hand. “Study away.”
Silent, Entrapta looked up at Mermista, then back to Hordak. She looks worried… not excited at all. It gave Scorpia a very uneasy feeling.
“Just don’t let it wake up,” Mermista warned. “Or we’re all dead.”
Chapter 9: Brother
Hordak stared at the needle-like end of the cable in his hands, unable to keep his dark thoughts at bay. He had made several cables like this before during his time on Etheria. It was not a mechanically difficult task. The purpose was what made him hesitate.
He glanced to where Scorpia stood beside their newest prisoner, the unconscious clone brought to the camp by Mermista’s party. The clone was propped up against a box, his hands tied and his arms bound to his sides by several lengths of thick vine. His head tilted limply over one shoulder. He showed no signs of consciousness since his arrival, but his heartbeat was strong. It was only a matter of time before he woke.
What they were about to do carried great risk. Entrapta would attempt to connect the clone to her computer without alerting the attention of Horde Prime. The probability of Prime’s focus being anywhere near an unconscious, and therefore useless, clone was next to none. However, the Hivemind was a sensitive web. Prodding it directly was bound to cause a disturbance.
“Is it finished?”
Hordak nodded without looking at his partner. As she reached over to take the cable from him, her hand lingered over his. Only then did he look up. Entrapta was gazing at him intently, studying his expression. “Are you sure you want to test it?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “It is safer this way.”
“True. You should be able to detect any weaknesses in the system. Are you ready?”
Hordak sat down and took a deep breath. “Yes.”
Her left hand rested on his shoulder. The other held the cable. Facing forward, Hordak sat as still as he could, trying not to think about it. Scorpia’s nervous grimace did not help. He caught his breath as he felt the edge of the cable touch his cervical port. There was a flash of momentary discomfort, not the sharp pain he’d been expecting, then a dull low-level hum rose up in the back of his mind.
“Did it work?”
Entrapta’s voice was muffled against the hum, as if his ears were clogged. Hordak knew the sound did not come from his ears. It was coming from Entrapta’s computer as the cable allowed it to interface with his cybernetic systems.
“Yes,” he replied. “Now I will see what I can find.”
Navigating Entrapta’s device was very different than any Horde system Hordak had ever accessed. He closed his eyes to better concentrate. While he crafted the cable, Entrapta had been busy encrypting her data in an effort to stop Prime from accessing it, or at the very least slow him down. She has done incredibly well. I can see no obvious weak points… What is this?
There appeared to be some information Entrapta had forgotten. Hordak took a closer look, delving into one of the files. Ah, this is Bow’s work, he realized. From before he left Etheria. It seems he was researching portal technology. Interesting...
“Does it hurt?”
Hordak opened his eyes to see Scorpia leaning near him, her dark eyes full of concern. The sight made Hordak feel strange.
“No,” he answered, resisting the temptation to shake his head while the cable was still attached.
Scorpia released a deep sigh of relief. “Oh good. When you closed your eyes, I thought you must be in a lot of pain.”
“I am grateful for your concern. However, I am fine."
Entrapta leaned in over his shoulder. “Well, what do you think of my defense system?”
“It is quite thorough. I detected no entry points, and I was not able to gain any information from the encrypted files.”
“Great! Step one of our experiment is officially a success!”
Hordak felt a tight pressure at the back of his neck, then the droning hum in his head disappeared as Entrapta removed the cable. He stood up, ready to help Scorpia move the clone into position. The task was simple between the two of them. The clone did not stir as he was moved. It felt wrong to be doing this, but Hordak had no space to allow that kind of sentiment. They had to do whatever it took to discover and exploit Prime’s weaknesses.
Entrapta got the cable into position. “Ready? Three, two, one, go!”
The clone did not so much as twitch as the cable connected. Entrapta hopped over to the monitor. “No signs of anything so far. Let’s hope we can get in right under Prime’s nose!”
Hordak did not offer any comment. Instead he watched his brother sitting silent and unresponsive beside the worktable. Do you feel any of this, I wonder? Will you remember it when -- if -- you are allowed to awaken?
It should not matter. His brother was under the full influence of the Hivemind. He had no thoughts of his own, no individuality. He was merely an extension of Prime. Yet somehow it did matter. The knowledge of what the Alliance would do after they had what they wanted from him made Hordak feel an unexpected sense of loss.
“What’s gonna happen to him?” Scorpia asked. “You know, after this?”
Remarkable how Scorpia is having the same thoughts, Hordak reflected. “He is too dangerous to be kept here,” he replied bluntly. “It is likely the Alliance will terminate him, or abandon him in the wilderness somewhere.”
“I think we should free him,” Entrapta piped up. “That way the Alliance has no reason to want to hurt him, and he can decide for himself what he wants to do.”
Hordak frowned. Entrapta had a valid point, however disconnecting the clone from the Hivemind would cause its own issues. Before he could voice his concerns, Entrapta threw up her hands with a cry of frustration.
“Something’s gone wrong. I’m only getting bits and pieces, and sometimes it’s like there’s no connection at all!”
“Oh no!” Scorpia fidgeted nervously. “Does Prime know what we’re doing? Is he trying to hack your computer?”
“No, I don’t think that’s it.” Entrapta spun around, frowning in concentration. “It seems as if the connection is unstable. Hordak, you didn’t notice a disturbance, did you?”
Hordak shook his head. “No.”
“Then it’s not the cable.” Entrapta leaned over and carefully removed it from the clone’s cervical port. Picking up a slender probe, she peered inside the port. “Oh… here’s the problem.”
“What is it?” Hordak queried.
“His port’s been damaged.”
“Blunt force, most likely,” Entrapta replied, moving her instrument to examine the inner circuitry. “Whoever knocked him out sure hit him hard! I’ve got several pinched wires, and who knows what else underneath that I just can’t see… Oops!”
The clone gave a jolt, and began to stir awake. Hordak glanced to Entrapta with rising alarm. “What happened?”
“The connection’s gone,” she said. “I didn’t mean to -- I almost had it fixed! -- but I think I might have reset him.”
“What does that mean?” Scorpia asked. She peered at the clone cautiously, her claws curled against her chest. “Are we going to have to knock him out?”
Entrapta’s frown was now replaced with a look of curiosity. “I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”
While they were talking, the clone had opened his eyes. They all stopped to watch what he would do. Hordak tensed as if readying for a fight, even though he knew there was no chance of a struggle.
Slowly the clone looked around the room, a confused frown on his face. “Where is this place?” he queried. “What was I…” he trailed off with a gasp. His ears dropped and tucked back in abject terror. “Where is the Hivemind? I cannot hear -- I…” tears welled in his eyes. “I am alone!”
Before anyone could react to this outburst, the clone’s eyes landed on Hordak, and a look of hopeful desperation came over his face. “Brother! What is happening to me? Why can I not hear the others?”
Hordak kept his expression carefully neutral. As unprepared as he was to deal with this new development, he knew it was important to remain calm and in control. “Your connection has been damaged,” he said simply.
“I am… damaged?” The clone’s green eyes were huge.
“The damage seems relatively minor,” said Entrapta. “I’m sure I can fix most of it. Are you in any pain?”
He looked at her uncertainly, his eyes returning to Hordak. “N-no.”
Hordak recognized that look. It sent a cold shiver through him. “You need not fear reprisals,” he said. “You are not here to be decommissioned.”
White ears lifted ever so slightly. “Then… I am to be reconnected to the Hivemind?”
“I am afraid that cannot be done.”
The clone’s face crumpled. “How will I prove my worthiness to Prime?” he wailed. “How will he know of my devotion?”
“Hey now, don’t cry.” Scorpia patted his shoulder in an attempt to soothe him. The gesture had no effect. He continued to cry, curling in on himself and attempting to cover his face with his bound hands.
Hordak’s ears tucked back against the noise and he looked away. His brother’s distress struck something in him, something buried deep he did not want to remember. It was raw and painful, and a part of him wanted to cry out too, in an echo of pain long past.
“You didn’t do that when you were disconnected,” Entrapta remarked.
Her voice dispelled the beginnings of memory. Hordak let out a sigh that was half relief and half regret. “No,” he agreed, “but I had memories of a life outside of Prime. I had… you.”
Entrapta reached out and took his hand, the texture of her glove a familiar roughness against his skin. “Now he’ll have us! We’ll be his new family!”
Before Hordak could ask Entrapta what she meant, Perfuma burst into the tent, startling everyone. “They found her!” Perfuma cried. “They have Spinnerella!”
“Hooray!” Scorpia cheered.
“We need to get the chip off her before she wakes up. Entrapta, can you -- oh!” In her excitement, Perfuma was late to notice the weeping clone. “What’s, uh, wrong with him?”
In response to her words, the clone cried even harder.
“He’ll be alright,” Entrapta asserted. “He’s just having a crisis, dealing with the shock of being disconnected from Horde Prime, and all.”
“Oh…” Perfuma trailed off awkwardly. “Well, could you please come and remove Spinnerella’s chip?”
“Of course!” Entrapta went to the worktable, tucked her tools under one arm, and waved to Hordak. “Take care of him while I’m gone, okay?”
Hordak’s ears flicked back. “Entrapta…”
She was already gone. Casting Scorpia a beleaguered look, Hordak took a deep breath and approached the distressed clone. His sobbing was finally managing to subside, but he still looked thoroughly miserable.
“Am I… being punished?” he asked, his voice small.
“No! No, you’re not being punished,” Scorpia assured in a rush. “Well, I mean, you were attacking some of our friends earlier. That’s why we had to tie you up.”
The clone tried his best to compose himself. “My apologies, esteemed brothers. I do not know what has come over me.”
“You seem calm now, so I’m sure we could... Hordak?”
Hordak considered the clone carefully. The likelihood he would become a threat was low. He would not attack them without orders from Prime, orders he was currently unable to receive. Hordak nodded to Scorpia. “You may release him.”
Scorpia gave the clone a friendly smile. “Here you go!” With two swift clips of a claw, she cut the vines holding him. Though he was freed, he made no move to stand up.
“What am I to do, brother?” he asked Hordak.
What indeed? Hordak tried to think of how best to handle the situation. He could not explain to this clone where he was and what they were doing. It would only cause the clone to break down again. It is best to focus on practical matters, he decided. “First I will examine the damage to your cervical port.”
“Yes, brother.” He bowed his head obediently.
Hordak ignored the eerie chill that settled over him and focused on the task at hand. Most of Entrapta’s smaller tools were with her, but he would make due. He could not recall ever seeing the interior of this port, certainly not his own, and yet there was an instant feeling of familiarity. A residual memory from the Hivemind. He noticed immediately what was out of place.
“Sooo,” Scorpia began, scratching her head awkwardly. “What’s your name?”
The clone flinched, nearly dislodging the instrument from Hordak’s hand. “Names are not permitted.”
“What do you mean, ‘not permitted?’ Everyone has a name!”
“None but Prime is worthy of such an honor.”
“You don’t mean…?” Catching on, Scorpia looked up at Hordak in horror. “ None of you have names?”
“No,” the clone replied. “It is unnecessary.”
“That’s just not right! We can’t have you walking around with no name.”
This time there was no reply from the clone. Hordak doubted Scorpia was going to make any headway with him. “It is not wrong to take a name,” he said. “It will help us to communicate with you, in the absence of the Hivemind.”
His brother shifted almost imperceptibly. “Names are… permitted here?”
“Yes,” Hordak replied.
“Then… you may address me as you like.”
Scorpia beamed. “That’s the spirit! I’m going to call you… Kadroh!”
Finished with his work, Hordak stepped away. The newly named Kadroh bowed his head to both of them. “Thank you, brothers.”
“You don’t have to call me that! I’m Scorpia.”
“Yes, Scorpia.” He repeated the unfamiliar name slowly.
Scorpia patted him softly on the shoulder. “I know you’ve been hurt and scared, but it’s going to be alright now. What you need is a big hug!”
Kadroh tilted his head. “Hug?”
“It is a gesture of affection and support,” Hordak explained.
“Yep, and I give great hugs!” Scorpia said proudly, spreading her arms. “C’mere!”
Hordak moved out of the way just in time as Scorpia wrapped her arms around Kadroh. His brother gave a squeak of surprise, but did not struggle. At first he stood stiff and frozen, then he softened, laying his head against her shoulder.
“That’s it,” she soothed. “Everything’s gonna be okay. I got you.”
To Hordak’s surprise, Kadroh became completely relaxed in her embrace. He closed his eyes, his ears slowly tilting forward in contentment. Scorpia was offering him more warmth than he’d ever been allowed to have before, and instead of being afraid, he let it comfort him.
Scorpia looked up. “You want to join in on this?”
“No.” Hordak shook his head. “This is your area of expertise, and you are doing far better than I can offer.”
“Okay, but you’re missing out!”
Her words tugged a brief smile from him. Entrapta would not hesitate to join in if she were here. It felt good to see his brother happy, even if the moment was not meant to last. For all his docility, Kadroh was still loyal to Prime, and soon he would have to decide between that and his newfound freedom.
“Just a bit more… Almost… Got it!”
Entrapta held up the loose chip between a pair of pliers. “With no power source, it should no longer be sending any signal.”
As she spoke, Spinnerella began to stir on the cot. “Spinny!” Netossa rushed forward.
Entrapta stepped out of the way. As Netossa helped move her wife into a more comfortable position, Entrapta dropped the chip into a glass vial for future study. Now was the time to examine the wind princess’ recovery.
Spinny groaned and tried to sit up. “Netossa?”
“Yes, it’s me, I’m here.” Netossa drew closer, moving to take Spinny’s hand in hers.
Spinny leaned into her, though whether it was from fatigue or the need for closeness Entrapta couldn’t tell. “Thank the moons,” she murmured.
“How are you feeling?” Entrapta asked. “Any physical symptoms? Dizziness? Pain?”
Shaking her head slowly, Spinny closed her eyes. “No. Just tired.”
Entrapta opened her mouth to ask another question, then stopped. A thousand questions of what it was like under the influence of the chip burned in her mind, but she knew from looking at Spinny that it was the wrong time to ask them just now. She looks to be on the verge of collapse. Not the best time for memory recall. At best I’ll be ignored. At worst the princesses will be mad at me again.
“I think we should let her rest,” Netossa said.
“Okay.” Nodding, Entrapta turned to go.
She stopped, peering over her shoulder.
“Thank you, for your help.” Netossa’s eyes were shining, and it took Entrapta a moment to realize she was holding in tears. “I really owe you one.”
Spinny struggled to turn and look at her, managing a tired smile. “Thank you.”
Entrapta smiled at them both, a feeling of warmth in her chest. “You’re welcome! I’ll be back to check on you later.”
With a skip in her step, Entrapta returned to her own tent, eager to disassemble the chip to its tiniest pieces and discover its secrets. She caught sight of Emily across the camp, patrolling along the edge, and called to her with a shrill whistle. Emily scuttled over to her, inspecting the chip with her violet eye. “Are you ready to meet our newest friend?”
The two entered the tent to find Hordak at her computer, while Scorpia sat on a crate beside the clone. Scorpia’s face lit up when she saw them. “Hey Entrapta, Emily! How’d it go?”
Entrapta held up the vial with the chip. “I’ve got it right here!”
“Hooray! I knew you could do it! Is Spinnerella going to be okay?”
“She should be fine once she rests,” Entrapta replied, setting the chip on the table. Hordak picked it up and turned it over carefully. “Now we have the chip to study as well, which should help me analyze how they all connect to each other.”
“That’s great! Oh, and while you were gone, we gave this guy a name.” Scorpia patted the clone’s shoulder. “Say hello to Kadroh!”
“Kadroh?” Entrapta giggled. “Isn’t that Hordak backwards?”
Hordak frowned for a moment, then cast a scathing glare at Scorpia. Entrapta doubled over with fresh laughter. He didn’t notice!
“Ah, yeah,” Scorpia admitted. “Sorry, it was all I could think of.”
“I like it!” Entrapta marched right over to Kadroh, and brought herself up to his height. “Alright, Kadroh, let’s give you a full examination!”
Beside her, Emily added a chipper beep.
Kadroh’s ears flicked back in unease, but he smiled and dipped his head. “Yes, brother.”
“I completed the repairs to his cervical port,” Hordak informed her.
Entrapta peered inside to check. “Yep, everything looks as it should. I can see signs of swelling, though. Are you in any pain?”
“No,” Kadroh replied automatically.
“So this doesn’t hurt?” Entrapta squeezed his left shoulder right beside his neck.
Kadroh flinched visibly, his ears dropping so far they nearly brushed his shoulders, but he did not cry out.
“I thought so!” Entrapta nodded. “You’re just like Hordak, always hiding when he’s hurt, not wanting anyone to help. How are you supposed to get better if you don’t do anything about it, hmm?”
As she said it, a memory rose in Entrapta’s thoughts. Hordak’s words from when she was imprisoned on Prime’s ship. If I do not discover a way to rid myself of these flaws, I will be destroyed. Entrapta’s hand tightened on the instrument she held. Of course they would hide if being hurt, or sick, or just different, means you get thrown away. Kadroh doesn’t know I won’t do that. He doesn’t know we want to help.
“The damage isn’t permanent,” she said at last. “What we need is some anti-inflammatory medicine. Or ice would do.”
“Oh!” Scorpia jumped up. “I’ll get Frosta!”
After Scorpia left, Entrapta continued her examination of Kadroh. He did not appear to have suffered any other injuries. In fact, he seemed to be in peak physical condition. His frame was slightly more muscular than Hordak’s current physique. Entrapta wondered if this was consistent between the other clones. A sample size of two didn’t tell her much.
“Interesting!” She turned to Hordak. “Kadroh is two centimeters shorter than you!”
“I-I am not!” Kadroh protested.
“It’s what the data says,” Entrapta said matter of factly. “I just measured.”
“No,” Kadroh insisted stubbornly. “I am not below standard height specifications.”
Entrapta shared a glance with Hordak. He did not offer any comment, and his expression did not give her any clues to what he was thinking. “That may be true,” she said at last. “I won’t know until I take more measurements. There may be more height variability that we just can’t see at a glance.”
“I’m back!” Scorpia called from the entrance. She held the tent flap open for Frosta to come in behind her.
“Another one?” Frosta asked, gesturing to Kadroh with raised eyebrows. “Are you building your own army of these guys?”
Entrapta laughed. “Good idea!”
Kadroh looked between the two of them, visibly confused.
Frosta crossed her arms. “So… Scorpia says you need me?”
“Yes! We need a small piece of ice about this big,” Entrapta indicated with her hands.
“That’s hardly a challenge,” she remarked, forming a ball of ice in her hands. “I thought you’d want me to make something big!”
Kadroh’s eyes went huge. “How did you do that?”
“What, this?” Frosta made another frozen ball. “Magic, of course!”
His ears flicked nervously. Emily shuffled closer to him and pressed against the side of his leg. This seemed to have a curious effect on Kadroh, causing his ears to move in a way Entrapta had never seen Hordak’s do, far too fast for her to catch the precise movement.
The ice princess didn’t seem to notice a thing.
“If you think that’s impressive, watch this!” Frosta smacked the floor with her hands, and in between a miniature castle of ice rose up from the ground, complete with detailed turrets. Kadroh was enraptured at the sight.
“Ooh, is that based on a real castle?” Scorpia asked.
Entrapta wasn’t paying attention to Frosta’s response. She wrapped one of the small pieces of ice in a scrap of cloth and placed it against Kadroh’s neck beside his cervical port. He shuddered at the feel of the cold ice against his skin. His hand reached out to touch the top of Emily’s dome, and the round bot gave a soft beep in response. The sound seemed to reassure him.
“Hold this here,” Entrapta instructed. “It will help.”
Kadroh did as he was told. “Good,” Entrapta beamed at him. “In a little while we’ll have you switch sides. That should get the swelling down and help with the pain. You’ll probably be sore for a few days, but after that it’ll be like you were never hurt!”
Slowly Kadroh smiled back, and Entrapta was struck by how similar he looked to Hordak, and yet so different. He was his own person, just like Hordak was. All he needed was the space to express himself. There were thousands of clones just like them under Prime. Even though Kadroh was traumatized by his separation from the Hivemind, Entrapta did not regret what she’d done.
If she could, she wanted to free them all.
Chapter 10: Control
Her eyelids were heavy. Not long ago, her head began to ache with weariness. Still Spinnerella refused to close her eyes for more than a moment. The night was quiet and peaceful as she lay sleepless in Netossa’s arms, resting in the soft security of her embrace, yet the worry was still there.
This doesn’t feel real . She touched her wife’s hand, feeling the warmth of her skin. It feels like, if I close my eyes, everything will disappear.
“How many bots have you destroyed?” she asked, trying to keep her voice light. “I should know what I have to catch up to.”
“I… haven’t been counting,” Netossa admitted. “It hardly seemed fair, getting a head start like that.”
It was deeply comforting to hear the sound of Netossa’s voice, gentle words spoken for only the two of them to hear. One more confirmation of the truth. “That’s kind of you. Tomorrow you might regret it.”
Netossa laughed gently. “I don’t think so. Especially if you won’t go to sleep.” She paused. “You should rest, you know.”
Spinny sighed, not knowing quite what to say. She was free now, yet the persistent floaty feeling of unreality remained, and hiding beneath was a deep well of terror. The nightmare wasn’t over.
“I don’t know what I’ll see when I close my eyes,” she said. She didn’t want to worry her wife, but there was no use hiding the truth. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Oh Spinny…” Netossa pulled her closer. “Do you need to talk about it?”
Spinny shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t… remember much. It’s all broken up, and sometimes when I try to concentrate too hard, it slips away.”
“Mm.” She felt Netossa nod gently.
“I remember seeing your face,” Spinny continued. “You looked so scared, but I couldn’t reach out to you. I couldn’t say anything. I knew something terrible was about to happen, but I couldn’t move!” She shuddered, drawing her arm to her chest. “I… I don’t know what I did, and I’m scared to remember more.”
“It’s okay,” Netossa soothed, still holding her firmly. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“The one thing I can’t forget is the noise. It never stopped.” Shaking her head, Spinny brought her hand to rest over her ear. “I felt like I was going mad!”
“It can’t reach you anymore. You won’t ever have to hear it again.”
“Thank the moons.” Spinny closed her eyes for one small moment of reprieve, but just as before, she did not allow herself to drift to sleep. Though the chip was gone, she could still hear an echo of the droning sound in her memories. It won’t last forever, she told herself. It will fade away. Please let it fade...
“I don’t know how the clones can stand it,” she said suddenly. “I can’t imagine living with that sound in my thoughts every waking hour.”
“I guess if they don’t know any differently, it would feel natural,” Netossa mused. “That new clone Entrapta was studying, he started freaking out when he was disconnected from the Hivemind. Horde Prime is like a god to them. Maybe they see it as a kind of blessing?”
Spinny shook her head. “It’s torture.”
“Maybe it’s best not to think about it anymore. The chip’s gone now, and Horde Prime is never getting his hands on you again. He’s going to regret the day he even glanced at Etheria.”
Spinny smiled warmly, her spirits lifted by the quiet fire in Netossa’s voice. Her eyes drifted shut again. It was getting harder to force herself to stay awake. Eventually she would have to surrender. She didn’t want to relive the terror of being trapped, helpless as her body was puppeted by another. No one deserved that. “What will happen to them when this is over?” she asked.
“The clones,” Spinny murmured. “There are thousands of them.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Why do you think he has clones, anyway? Why not an army of machines? He has the tech… I know he does.”
Netossa was silent for a long moment. “Spinny, maybe we should talk about this in the morning after you get some sleep.”
“I’m sorry, I just… can’t stop thinking about it.” Thoughts of the clones confused her, and beneath that was a sorrow she had yet to fully grasp. “If we defeat Prime, what happens to his army? Do you think they’ll keep on fighting?”
“I don’t know. Some probably will. I guess we’ll see what happens with our ‘newest’ member and how he adjusts.”
“Mm.” Spinny nodded sleepily. I haven’t seen him yet… tomorrow, I will.
Netossa chuckled, kissing the top of her head. “Please get some rest now,” she said softly. “I’ll look out for you.”
Spinny smiled. I love you, dearest.
She did not have the energy to voice it aloud, but she was sure Netossa knew what she wanted to say. There was no need to speak the words. Finally, with the warmth of love in her heart, Spinny allowed herself to drift off to sleep.
Chapter 11: Purpose
Mild content warning: The chapter starts with a nightmare sequence
Entrapta made her way along a maze of cables and wires, following the flashes of light as signals traveled through the Network. They danced around her, a complex system of connections she couldn’t hope to fully grasp, and yet she had to. She had to know where the signals were coming from, and where they were going.
She looked down at her tablet, but it was blank with static. It couldn’t help her here. A flash caught the corner of her eye, but when Entrapta turned, all was dark.
There it was again on the other side. Putting the tablet away, she made her best guess where the light had come from. She hoisted herself up into the tangle of wire at the top of the tunnel. There was an opening there just wide enough for her to squeeze through. Entrapta crawled into the darkness, feeling the cables press in on her from all sides. She kept moving, her eyes on a pinpoint of light in the distance.
It was getting harder to move. When had the tunnel gotten so small? Her arms were practically pinned to her sides. Extending her hair, she pulled herself forward, wriggling her body as best as she could to make it through the opening as it shrank around her.
I’m almost out. Just a little further…
Entrapta managed to push her head out of the opening, but still she wasn’t free. The cables had begun to twine around her arms and legs, holding her back. Entrapta tried to pull them off her, and as she did so, she saw they weren’t cables at all. They were vines. Thick black vines.
She tried to cry out, struggling wildly, but no matter what she did, the vines continued to twist around her limbs. They tangled in her hair, pulling tighter and tighter, wrenching her head back so hard it hurt.
Just ahead of her, Entrapta saw a group of figures standing, watching her. “Please,” she cried. “Please help me!”
The figures stepped closer. Adora, Glimmer, Bow, Scorpia, Perfuma, Mermista, Netossa, and others behind them still hidden in the shadows. Their faces were blank, impossible to read.
The question struck her, harsh and cold.
“Why should we help you? What’s the point? You don’t know the first thing about being a good friend.”
“I’m trying,” she sobbed. “I’m trying!”
“You can’t help us. You’re just going to mess up again. It’s not worth it…”
“No, please, don’t go!” Entrapta renewed her efforts to struggle free as one by one they turned and left. Their shapes blurred as tears flowed down her face. “Please don’t leave me here!”
It was useless. No one was coming back for her. Why should they care? Why should they want to help a stupid useless freak? Entrapta had no more strength left to fight. Her body was bound so tight she could hardly move. Slowly one of the vines curled around her neck. This was how she would die. Alone.
A sliver of desperation called her to look up. One figure was still standing there. One figure had not left her behind. She recognized him immediately. “Hordak!”
The vine tightened around her throat, choking off her voice, but she was sure he heard her. Hordak would help her. He would never abandon her. He wouldn’t...
Yet Hordak hadn’t moved any closer. It took Entrapta only a moment to see why. The vines had hold of him too, so tightly he was nearly fused with the wall. His eyes were blank. No light. Nothing.
Entrapta woke with a gasp. Every hair on her body was standing on end. The tent was dark around her. Somewhere outside, a nightbird called. She was curled up beside Hordak, her head resting on his chest. Normally it was wonderful to wake up so close to her partner, but right now the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear hardly brought her any comfort.
Screwing her eyes shut, Entrapta raised her hand to grab a fistful of her hair, trying to force herself to relax. Her throat ached as she fought to hold in tears. It isn’t real! It isn’t…
As hard as she tried, she couldn’t stop seeing the vision of her friends turning away from her. No, they wouldn’t do that! Scorpia is my friend! And Bow, Adora… they wouldn’t leave me like that. They didn’t leave me on Beast Island, even when I begged them to.
They only helped you because they needed you. Once you aren’t useful anymore, you’ll be alone again.
Entrapta shook her head uselessly, running her fingers through her hair over and over. She thought she was building connections in the Alliance, but maybe it wasn’t true. Scorpia’s my friend, but Perfuma… She's Scorpia’s friend. She doesn’t really want to be around me. If I hadn’t been able to remove Spinny’s chip, Netossa would probably hate me too.
Yesterday, Entrapta made a disturbing discovery concerning the chips; they were designed to fuse with the subject’s neural network over time. The longer a chip was in place, the harder it would be to remove it without damaging the host. If her theory was correct, the connection would eventually become permanent. In order to stop this, Entrapta had shifted her focus to developing some form of signal jam the Alliance could use in order to remove all of Prime’s chips at once.
What if I can’t do it? What if the Hivemind is too complex and I never find a way to free everyone? I can’t manually remove all the chips. Even with Hordak’s help, there’s too many.
Even if I jam the signal and we win, will anything change?
Hordak stirred. Entrapta stopped her agitated stimming, hoping she hadn’t woken him up. Very carefully she raised her head to check. His eyes were still closed, two thin lines of dim green light barely visible in the darkness.
Entrapta’s chest was tight with guilt and dread. Hordak’s memories were still incomplete. He had followed her because he trusted her, and she trapped them both here. The Alliance only tolerated them as long as they were useful. When the fighting was over, the princesses would turn on them.
We’ll make our own way, she thought. Kadroh can come with us if he wants to, and Emily. We can go off on our own.
Yet for the first time Entrapta began to have doubts about this. Here, surrounded by the other princesses of Etheria, she was reminded how odd she was, how much she lacked. There were things Hordak still didn’t fully understand about her. When he did, he would see her just as everyone else did.
Hordak said he would stay with me through anything, but he hasn’t seen the worst it can get. He doesn’t know… Barely suppressing a sob, Entrapta sat up to leave. She needed to get back to work. Then there would be no room to think about what would happen.
She squeaked as Hordak’s arm, draped loosely around her side, moved to pull her close. His grip was gentle. Entrapta could move away if she chose to, but instead she stayed.
“You should know you cannot sneak away so easily,” he murmured, his eyes still closed. “It is far too early for you to be working again.”
“Sorry.” She paused, almost holding her breath. “Are you mad?”
“No. I admire your dedication and spirit, but even you need your rest.”
Entrapta lowered herself back down, snuggling closely against Hordak’s side. She wanted to be near him, even if, like everything else, it could not last. “I don’t think I can go back to sleep.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Just a bad dream. I think… I think getting back to work will take my mind off it.”
Hordak drew in a deep sigh. “If it will help, I will not refuse. Give me a moment and I will be ready.”
“You don’t have to get up with me,” she protested softly.
“Perhaps not, but I have made my decision.” He opened his eyes, and slowly shifted to a sitting position. Entrapta followed suit. She still felt a lingering guilt at waking her partner, but Hordak chose to stay with her, and that simple gesture soothed her frayed nerves. Her hair rippled as she stretched her limbs, careful not to hit Hordak with a stray arm.
Kadroh was already awake. Entrapta saw the glow of his eyes from across the tent. Beside him, Emily’s ocular light was still dim. With one final long stretch, Entrapta rose to touch the light crystal hanging above them. She had to jump to reach it, sending it swinging. Kadroh flinched at the sudden light, ducking his head under the edge of the blanket cocooned around him.
At the sound of her voice, Emily powered on. She rose with a loud beep, looking around at everyone. Kadroh slowly got up, using Emily to steady himself. Emily made a low whirring sound but otherwise stayed still. He smiled at her, his ears relaxing into a neutral position.
Entrapta grinned at seeing them get along so well. Kadroh seemed to feel safe around Emily, and she took it upon herself to sleep beside him so he wouldn't be alone.
Turning back to Hordak, she helped him into his armor. “Have you been able to make contact with the crew on Darla?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not yet, but yesterday I got so close! I almost had it for a moment! If your theory is right and their ship tightened the signal radius in order to conserve power, it could be that Darla is moving into closer range. I’ll give it a try now so I won’t forget!”
“You should not venture to the ship alone in the dark.”
Entrapta shrugged, unaffected by his stern glare. “I’ll be fine. One of us should stay here with the equipment.”
“Agreed. Take Emily with you.”
“Okay!” Smiling, Entrapta turned to Kadroh and Emily. “You ready to go, Emily?”
Emily rose up tall. Bee-bwee!
“How may I be of service?” asked Kadroh.
“You shall stay and assist me,” Hordak replied.
“Yes, brother.” He bowed his head. Emily bumped his leg softly, and he reached out to touch the top of her dome.
“Hopefully we won’t be gone long,” said Entrapta. She did not need to take much with her, but she picked up one of her tablets so she could contact Hordak right away if there was an emergency. Once she had what she needed, she left the tent into the darkness, Emily by her side.
The camp was quiet and still at night. All the tents were illuminated by the soft glow of the moons, making it easy for Entrapta to navigate her way through. She kept glancing up at the stars as she went, recalling the thrill of being surrounded by the crushing void of space, and imagining the infinite discoveries that lay far beyond the atmosphere. She and Emily were almost to the edge of camp when Entrapta heard a shuffling behind her.
“Entrapta? What are you doing awake at this hour?”
Entrapta whirled around. In the darkness, she could make out a tall silhouette with a thin headpiece like a halo. Oh! That’s one of the sorceresses. Entrapta tried hard to think of her name. Cassandra, maybe?
“I’m making a trip to Sophie to see if I can contact Darla,” Entrapta replied. “What are you doing?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” said the sorceress. “May I come with you?”
At first they traveled in silence. Sophie wasn’t far, just a short distance through the trees.
“I’m sorry to intrude,” the woman said suddenly. “With Micah gone, I… I wish I could have gone with him to Mystacor, but he’s right. One of us should stay with the camp.”
Entrapta nodded, not sure how to respond.
“Do you think you’ll be able to reach Glimmer and her friends this time?”
“Yes, provided Darla is in range,” Entrapta replied. They had already reached Sophie, and she searched in the low light for the mechanism to open the hatch. “Got it!”
The ship opened, and Entrapta made her way in. Emily was right behind her, and Cassandra, or whatever her name was, trailed further behind. Once Entrapta was inside the main deck, she activated the power, turning on the lights and console display. She immediately set to work on sending a signal to Darla. If my calculations are correct, they should be in range by today or tomorrow, provided they aren’t forced to fly off course.
She did not have long to wait. When the signal made contact, Entrapta jumped up in triumph. “We found them! Bringing up a visual now.”
Only Bow was visible on the deck of the First One’s ship. He looked haggard, with dark circles under his eyes, but he smiled when he saw them. “Entrapta! Aunt Casta! I’m… I’m so glad to see you.”
“Bow!” Casta came forward. “What’s going on? How far away are you? Where is everyone else?”
Bow closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “The others are asleep, I think. Adora and I have been taking turns piloting the ship. We’ve hardly had a break. Ever since you last contacted us, Prime’s ships have been attacking us at every turn. Everywhere we go, they find us, like they know exactly where we are.”
“Did Prime place a tracking device on Darla?” Entrapta asked.
“I don’t know… I haven’t been able to find anything.” Bow sighed. “I took us through an asteroid field yesterday, hoping to lose them, but they were waiting for us on the other side! We barely made it to safety.”
Entrapta crossed her arms, thinking hard. “What about Catra’s chip?” she asked. “Did you remove it?”
Bow shook his head. “No, but it’s not active. Catra’s back to her usual self,” He rolled his eyes. “She’s not under Prime’s control anymore. Still a pain in the butt, though.”
“That has to be it,” Entrapta asserted. “The chips use the host’s neural network as a power source. Even if it’s damaged, it could still be broadcasting her location to the Hivemind.”
His eyes grew huge. “Are you serious?”
“Yep! It shouldn’t be a problem to remove since it’s not active. I’ve managed to collect several of --”
“I don’t know how to remove something like that!” Bow cried, waving his hands. “I’m not half as good with tech as you. I can’t!”
“Of course you can!” Entrapta replied, unbothered by the interruption. “I saw the modifications you made to Darla. You’re far more capable than you give yourself credit for. You can do this.”
“We have faith in you, Bow,” Casta joined in. “I’m sure you have what it takes!”
Bow seemed to calm down. He looked at Entrapta in silence for a long minute. She waited patiently for his response. Surely Bow would see she was right.
“You think so?” he asked.
Entrapta nodded. “Absolutely. I’ll tell you exactly what to do, and you’ll have the chip off in hardly any time at all!”
Bow took another deep breath. “Okay. Okay, I can do this… Entrapta, tell me what I need to do.”
Hordak tried to focus his mind on practical matters while Entrapta was gone. He knew she was quite capable of looking after herself, but even so, being apart from her for long periods had him on edge. It did not help that he was alone with Kadroh.
Kadroh liked to keep close to him. Too close for Hordak’s liking. He had long abandoned trying to shoo his brother away, reluctantly allowing Kadroh to hover beside him so long as he did not impede their work.
At least he does not touch the equipment.
Hordak observed his brother from the corner of his eye as he worked. Kadroh was watching him with bright attentiveness, his ears alert, a smile on his face. Hordak was unsure how to feel about this friendliness. On one hand, it was a welcome difference from the sea of blank faces that comprised the Horde. On the other, his demeanor grated on Hordak in a way he could not put into words.
Entrapta’s cheerfulness does not upset me. Neither does Scorpia’s. Why is it that from him, it feels so… irritating?
The more Hordak observed, the more he suspected Kadroh was a newly born clone. It was in the tentative way he moved, his clumsy stumbles, his flinching at strange noises. Hordak had no doubt Kadroh could fight if pressed -- all clones were conditioned that way -- but he did not possess the sharpness of instinct, the deadly skill honed over countless battles. The Alliance was doing far more damage to Horde Prime’s armies than Hordak predicted if he was already sending fresh clones into battle. Perhaps Kadroh possesses some undesirability not unlike my own defect. He seems healthy, but if there is weakness there, it will show itself soon enough.
Hordak could hardly contain his sigh of relief. Entrapta was unhurt, and she looked to be in better spirits than earlier this morning. “Were you able to make contact?”
“Yes! Turns out they’ve been taking so long because they were being tracked! I told Bow how to remove Catra’s chip, and once he does that, I don’t think they’ll be followed anymore.”
“I see. Are the others aware of this?”
“They will be soon. That tall sorceress with the black hair, she was with me, and she’s going to make sure the Alliance knows what’s going on.”
Hordak frowned. “Shadow Weaver?”
“No, not her, the other one. The one with the circlet.” Entrapta mimicked a crown over her own head.
“Ah,” he nodded, relieved. “Castaspella.”
“That’s her name! I keep forgetting. Anyway, I’m going to reassemble a chip so I can run it through some tests!”
Entrapta was at her workbench quick as a flash, one long metal limb pulling her tools closer to her. It was remarkable how much energy she had on so little sleep. Hordak was determined not to show his own exhaustion. He resumed working on the cannon he was reassembling, careful not to burn himself when soldering the parts together. Meanwhile, Kadroh had wandered over to Entrapta’s other side, peering over her shoulder with open curiosity.
“Kadroh, can you hand me that scanner?” she pointed.
Entrapta giggled as he handed her what she asked for. “You keep calling me that, but I’d be a sister if anything.”
“Of course, sister.”
“You can just call me Entrapta.”
Hordak felt a shudder go through him. Hearing Entrapta’s name in a voice so like his own made him deeply uncomfortable.
“Why do you get up so early?”
Frosta trudged grumpily into the tent. She was rubbing her eye with the back of her hand and looked half asleep. Hordak tensed automatically. His memory of the princesses came in bouts, scattered and fleeting like leaves stirred by a wind, but the instinct was still there. He forced himself to remain calm and alert. The past could be dealt with after the war. He needed to focus on the present.
“Mermista sent me to make sure you don’t blow anything up,” Frosta explained, looking from Entrapta to Hordak. “Does it happen often?”
Entrapta tilted her head. “Does what happen often?”
Hordak could not miss the spark in Frosta’s eyes as she said it. “Not anymore,” Entrapta replied. “I used to have tons of explosions back in my lab, but here, not really. Not much of this can blow up at the moment.”
“What about that fire?” Frosta asked.
“That was one of the cannons. It fired while I was putting it back together.”
“Wow!” Frosta went up to get a closer look at the cannons, bringing her very close to Hordak. “I’m not allowed to have one of these, so I don’t get to see them in action. How much fire power do they have?”
She looked up at him expectantly. Hordak could hear the rapid typing that told him Entrapta was already back at her computer, leaving him with the ice princess. He supposed there were worse fates. “It depends on the salvaged parts,” he answered. “Most of the cannons have been used in battle prior to collection. Some have little power left, and there is a limit to how much energy can be added through modifications.”
“You’re saying some of the cannons only have a few shots left in them?”
“That is correct.”
“Have you tested them all yet?”
Her expression grew intense. “You wanna test some?”
Hordak looked up to where Entrapta was still typing away, deep in concentration. Kadroh and Emily were by her side. He felt another surge of irritation and let out a rather aggressive sigh. Perhaps a change of setting would be good for him. “I will give you one single demonstration,” he relented.
“Great!” Frosta grabbed hold of one of the cannons in both arms, carrying it outside with her.
Hordak’s ears flattened against his head. Already regretting his decision, he followed after the young princess.
Frosta had not gotten far. Sea Hawk stood in her way, arms crossed. “Where are you going with that, Frosta?”
“Hordak’s going to show me how to use a cannon!”
“Is he now?” Sea Hawk gave Hordak a suspicious look.
A blaze of fire danced before Hordak’s eyes. The sight of crumbling buildings and fleeing people. In the next instant it was gone.
“I said I would demonstrate one of the modified canons,” Hordak said rigidly. A stiff ache was building in his joints from the morning chill, and he would prefer to get this over with so he could return to his work.
Sea Hawk appraised them both, stroking his moustache in thought. From his furtive glances and pained expressions, Hordak could guess what he was thinking, and his mind returned to the flash of memory. Who is more dangerous with a live weapon, a child princess, or a war criminal?
“You know,” Sea Hawk said at last, “I’ve fired many a cannon in my days on the sea. Perhaps I could --”
“Oh no you don’t!” called a voice from across the camp. “You’ll set the whole camp on fire!”
While Sea Hawk sputtered a response, Hordak saw Frosta start to sneak off with the cannon. He decided to take matters into his own hands. With a speed no one was expecting, he snatched the cannon from her, using his height to easily hold it out of her reach.
“Hey!” Frosta shouted.
Sea Hawk whirled around, his hand on the hilt of his sword. He eyed the weapon in Hordak’s hand warily.
Well aware of how he appeared, Hordak held the cannon in a neutral position. “ I will use the canon,” he said firmly. “I shall not strike anyone, nor light anything on fire. Then the both of you will allow me to return to my work in peace.”
“Very well, sir.” Sea Hawk dipped his head. “See that you don’t, or I shall have to run you through.”
Hordak raised an eyebrow. “An empty threat. I do not need this to defend myself from you.”
“A stain on my honor!” Sea Hawk exclaimed. He drew his sword with an elaborate flourish. “I challenge you to prove yourself in arms. Do you accept my challenge?”
How can one simple thing spiral out of control so quickly? Tired and in pain, Hordak was not in the best condition for a fight, but it galled him to even think of backing down. “Very well,” he growled.
“Excellent! Tomorrow at dawn, we shall duel!”
Hordak did not know whether to be relieved at this postponement. Sea Hawk is a rather excitable man. He will be a difficult opponent to predict.
“Hey!” Frosta waved at him to get his attention. “Are you going to show me the cannon or not?”
Hordak released a heavy sigh. I left my post for a few moments, and already I have several new obligations. I will remember this the next time I consider leaving.
Entrapta was ecstatic when he told her. “This is a perfect test of your armor,” she exclaimed, starry-eyed. “What weapons can you use? What are the terms of the duel? I can’t wait to see!”
“You think Hordak will win?” Frosta asked.
“Oh, absolutely,” Entrapta replied. “From the data I have, Sea Hawk is not an expert in any weapon class. I don’t see how he’ll stand a chance.”
Hordak was flattered by her immediate support. Entrapta knew his weaknesses better than anyone, and if she was not concerned, he had no reason to be either. No matter his condition tomorrow, he would show this Sea Hawk what he was capable of.
Chapter 12: Abandoned
Bow sat on the floor, rubbing his head where he had struck the edge of the console during their rough landing. He could vaguely hear Adora and Glimmer talking in raised voices, which only made his headache worse. It sounded as if they were arguing.
“That’s enough!” He exclaimed, standing up. Dizzy from the sudden movement, he lurched forward and had to catch himself on the console. His two friends went silent. “Thank you!”
Still holding his head, Bow marched over to the two of them. “Now is not the time for fighting,” he said sternly. “We’ve just landed on an unknown planet, and our only chance of getting back out alive is to work together.”
“Guess we’re all doomed, then.”
Bow whirled around. “If you don’t have anything productive to say, Catra, keep out of it.”
Catra scowled at him and shrugged, folding her arms. Bow found his hand going to his pocket where he could feel the outline of the chip he’d taken from her neck. It was hard for Bow to trust Catra, even knowing she was free of the chip. Adora vouched for her, and for now he would trust his friend, but he still thought caution was best. For her part, Catra hadn’t caused any real trouble since the chip had been removed. It seemed most of the fire had gone out of her. Bow was reminded of how Glimmer was when she first arrived on the ship after escaping Horde Prime. Scarred.
Shaking his still sore head, he turned away and went to the pilot chair. “Darla, damage report.”
“Hull integrity at seventy two percent,” the ship intoned. “Starboard landing apparatus critically damaged. Energy systems at sixty percent.”
“I guess that’s why everything looks tilted outside,” Adora mused. “Oops.”
Bow sighed, rubbing his temples. “We’ll deal with the landing gear later. First, we need to make sure the internal systems are working.”
“Is that… a Horde tower?”
Bow looked up, peering outside. He had to tilt his head to get a good view. Sure enough, a small distance away, the crumbling remains of a Horde tower rose up from the dark rocks. “Yeah, I see it too.”
Glimmer drew close to him. He expected to feel the familiar touch of her hand on his arm, but instead she held back. “What does that mean?” she asked fearfully.
“It means the Horde was here, princess,” Catra muttered.
“I know that,” Glimmer snapped. “But if that tower can still see us, it’s not safe to stay here.”
Catra scowled. Her hand rose up to touch the back of her neck. “There’s no one in that tower anymore. The Horde hasn’t been here for a long time.”
Adora approached Catra with a worried frown. “You sound as if you know. Did you… have you seen this place?”
“Just… flashes,” Catra admitted. “I think there’s something here Prime doesn’t want anyone else to know.”
Everyone took a long look at the tower. It seemed ancient and faded, not quite the same design as the ones Bow remembered from Etheria. There were no signs of a battle here. Everywhere the landscape looked broken and dead.
“I think we should take a closer look,” Adora volunteered.
“No,” Bow countered. He did his best to keep his voice level and calm. “I don’t think any of us should go wandering around an unknown planet. We need to make our repairs and get out of here.”
“I’m with Bow,” said Glimmer. “This place gives me the creeps. I think I saw something moving outside!”
Bow immediately moved closer to the window, trying to keep his mounting panic under control. “Where? Was it by the tower?”
“No, it was closer to us. I think it was… there.” She pointed to a large hollow between the jagged rocks.
Peering out into the gloom, Bow couldn’t see anything. He turned back to Glimmer, and for a brief moment their current predicament was brushed aside at the sight of his childhood friend so afraid. Almost unconsciously, he reached out to take her hand. Her fingers were concerningly cold. “What did you see exactly?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I saw a shadow move, and then as soon as I turned to look, it was gone. Wait, there it was again!”
This time Bow saw it too. A wavering shadow, just on the edge of his vision. He shivered. “Maybe it was just the wind moving some rocks?” he suggested in a small voice.
Glimmer huddled close to him, grabbing his arm with her other hand. “I don’t think so, Bow. It was way too big for that!”
“Guys, are you seeing --?” Bow turned and cut off with a squeak of panic. Both Adora and Catra were gone.
“Di-did you see what happened to Adora and Catra?”
“I can’t believe this is happening right now!” Glimmer’s grip on Bow’s arm was painfully tight. “We’re being attacked by ghost aliens, and now they have our friend!”
Bow took several deep breaths. “No. No, I’m sure there’s a good explanation for all this. They probably just went to -- Aagh!”
Adora and Catra had now reappeared. The only issue, they were outside the ship.
“What are they doing ?” Bow fumbled around for his communicator. When he finally found it, he jammed it into his ear with unnecessary force. “Adora! Get back on the ship right now!”
“Not until we find out what that thing was,” Adora replied.
“Are you crazy? Get back to the ship!”
This time Adora said nothing.
“Bow,” Glimmer was tugging at his hand. “Bow, it’s back…”
Bow was speechless with horror. He was now getting his first good look at the creature outside. It was tall, catlike, with a bristling red mane and glowing angry eyes. Adora and Catra saw it too, and stopped, frozen. Bow didn’t know what to do. It was too late for them to run back to Darla. That thing would catch them before they could even get halfway. The staff in Adora’s hand looked like a toothpick in the face of the monster.
The creature stopped its advance. The red mane smoothed, shifting to a translucent blue, and it tilted its head at the two young women.
“Bow, can you see this?” Adora whispered. “It’s just… staring.”
“Maybe for now, but any second you could be lunch,” Bow whispered back fiercely. “You need to get out of there. Back up toward the ship slowly, and if it attacks, run!”
The creature took another step toward them. Adora raised her staff, and it bared its teeth in a fierce snarl, bristling red once again. This time Catra pushed the staff down, stepping in front of Adora. The creature seemed to understand this. It calmed again, stretching its head forward as if it wanted to sniff Catra.
Bow closed his eyes, unable to look. Whatever Catra had done in her life, he couldn’t bear to stand and watch her get eaten.
Glimmer gasped. That’s it, thought Bow. It’s caught Catra, and now Adora’s trying to fight it. Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?
“Bow, that thing, it got smaller,” said Glimmer. “It’s... letting Catra pet it.”
“It what?” Bow peeled open one eye. Sure enough, the creature was now only half the size it had been, and Catra was stroking its head.
“Adora, what’s happening down there?” Bow asked tentatively.
“I’m not sure,” Adora replied. “It seems like --”
Catra made a motion to shush her.
“Sorry,” Adora whispered, moving a few steps away. “It seems like it’s talking to Catra. I don’t know how she can understand it, but… it’s trying to communicate.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Bow explained the situation to Glimmer. “That’s good, isn’t it?” Glimmer pointed out. “Maybe it can tell us what happened here.”
Bow nodded slowly, barely containing a groan. Wonderful. A talking cat alien that knows about the Horde… What in the universe have we gotten ourselves into now?
Chapter 13: Signal
There's another nightmare sequence in this one (marked in italics).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“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.
Please let me know at any point if I am missing content warnings. Aside from the obvious heavy and intense topics, I have a hard time knowing what kinds of content need a disclaimer. The nightmare sequences are mild by my estimate, but I wanted to be safe.
Chapter 14: Identity
I belong here. This is a good place. I… I like it here.
Kadroh stared at the ceiling of the tent, still unable to relax. I must follow brother Hordak’s instructions and sleep.
Hordak… That name gave him the most peculiar feeling, as if he had forgotten something deeply important. Everything about this place was odd, so unlike the teachings of Prime, and yet through all that strangeness Kadroh felt happy here.
Is it wrong that I feel this way? When I close my eyes, I can still remember the Light, but it is fading.
He had been given a name. Kadroh. Sometimes he repeated the name silently to himself, finding joy in the sound of it. Then panic would set in, and he would berate himself for daring to presume he could ever deserve a name. Prime would surely be furious. Yet everyone assured him it was natural to have a name. They all did. Scorpia, Entrapta, Hordak, Frosta, all of them so different from one another.
Is this heresy? Or are they so high in Prime’s favor that he has given them names? Such favored ones must have a deep connection to the Divine Light, and yet… I am told the Hivemind cannot reach here. Is there an even higher level of connection than that?
His head ached with the uncertainty of it. Kadroh fidgeted with the hem of his blanket, his eyes closed tightly in concentration. Did I imagine the Light? Was it ever truly there at all?
Kadroh sat up abruptly. He cast a guilty glance to where Hordak and Entrapta were lying together, both of them asleep. Kadroh would not dare wake them. He needed to find help elsewhere.
I will go outside and look at the stars, he decided .
Leaving the tent as quietly as he could, Kadroh felt a weight lift off him as he gazed up at the night sky. He did not know why the sight of the stars was immensely comforting, but he would not question it, not now.
Kadroh’s ears flicked toward the noise. He turned his head to see a shape rising up from the darkness. It was the bird-horse, Swift Wind.
“It is I,” said Kadroh softly, biting off the impulse to say his name.
Swift Wind fluffed his wings. “Oh, whew, Kadroh! You startled me there. What are you doing awake?”
“I cannot sleep.”
“Nervous about tomorrow? Me too. I’ve decided someone needs to guard the camp until dawn. Want to join me?”
Kadroh nodded. “Yes.”
He came over to where Swift Wind was settling back down into the grass. The bird-horse motioned with a wing for Kadroh to sit down beside him, and Kadroh took the invitation, leaning against Swift Wind’s broad shoulder. His coat was warm and incredibly soft.
“That’s, uh, closer than I was expecting, but hey, it’s a cold night. We could both use the warmth.”
Kadroh nodded, comfortable in his place. He turned his eyes back to the stars. The steady rumble of Swift Wind’s heartbeat was quite loud in his ears, but it made him feel less alone.
“Adora’s out there somewhere,” Swift Wind said suddenly. “I think about her all the time, and I miss her. See, Adora and I have this special bond. We can feel each other over long distances. Whenever she was in trouble, she could call me to her side just like that!” He stretched his neck toward the stars. “We’ve never been so far apart before. I can’t feel her at all… still, I can’t help but come out here every night and talk to her. Maybe, somehow, she can still hear me.”
Kadroh closed his eyes against a wave of loneliness. “I too have been separated from my master,” he said.
Swift Wind tossed his head, jostling Kadroh. “Oh, Adora’s not my master! We’re friends. You know, sharing a mutual bond of respect and kinship!”
Kadroh blinked up at him, not understanding. Swift Wind frowned. It was a strange expression on such a long face. “You don’t get what I’m saying, do you?”
Shaking his head, Kadroh looked down, confused and ashamed. He thought back to what Hordak said to him earlier. ‘Entrapta and I are your family, should you choose to stay with us.’ If I choose… is that what it is to have a mutual bond?
No! I am not deserving of choice. I am not --
Swift Wind touched his soft nose to Kadroh’s forehead, interrupting his thoughts. “Hey now, don’t be sad! You might not know what a friend is, but you have them right here. I’ll be your friend too.”
Overcome by a sudden strong emotion, Kadroh wrapped his arms around Swift Wind’s neck in a strong hug. “There we go,” Swift Wind encouraged. “Just like that.” His wing extended over Kadroh, sheltering him in as close to a hug as the bird-horse could give in return.
“I think you’ll like Adora when you meet her,” he said as Kadroh eased his grip. “She’s a great friend. A little too serious sometimes, but she knows how to have fun too. Adora’s really…”
As Swift Wind went on about his friend, Kadroh could not help but smile. Perhaps he was wrong to want this. Perhaps a terrible punishment awaited him, but right now that fear was pushed far away in his thoughts. Comforted by the sound of Swift Wind’s voice and the warmth of his presence, Kadroh closed his eyes, and at long last drifted off to sleep.
Chapter 15: Loss
Entrapta woke to a roar of noise. The first thing she saw was Hordak crouched over her, his eyes on the entrance of the tent, his body shielding her from anything that might enter. His voice was a low growl. “They are here.”
Twisting around to reach PEArL, Entrapta got up immediately. She hardly felt the jolt as the neural ports connected, already concentrating on reaching out with her limbs to draw her shoes and gloves to her. The tingling of her scalp quieted as she tied her hair back. Hordak was already halfway into his armor, and Entrapta helped him the rest of the way. Her heart was pumping fast in anticipation of their first battle.
The ground beneath them shook with the force of an explosion, and a bloom of light shone through the fabric of the tent. Emily beeped in alarm. She scuttled around the two of them, her single purple eye looking every which way.
“Aah, hang on, hang on!” Entrapta hooked her blaster onto her belt and rushed to her workbench, now empty except for her own computer and Bow’s. Last night she had set up a portable computer system to Bow’s larger device, transferring the data so they could leave the less efficient system behind. The transfer was not yet complete. Entrapta stared at the small sliver of space at the end of the status bar. They couldn’t leave, not yet.
Scorpia burst into the tent, Kadroh close behind her. “Guys, we’ve gotta go! Now!”
“Almost there!” Entrapta did not even look up. Another explosion shook the earth.
“Entrapta,” Hordak began. She could feel him very close to her, but he did not put a hand on her arm or otherwise disturb her. All this work would be wasted if she had to leave it behind. They did not have the time to start over.
Entrapta’s fingers were flying across the keyboard at record speed. “I know, I know, I’m nearly done… almost… there!”
She folded the computer screen down over the keyboard and held it aloft. “Let’s go!”
They emerged from the tent to utter chaos. Etherians were fleeing in all directions, pursued by an advancing mass of Horde robots and clone soldiers. The air was loud with laser fire and screams. Entrapta hunched her shoulders, wishing she could block her ears, but she clutched both arms protectively over her computer as she ran on through the crowd. Hordak was just ahead of her, and she assumed Scorpia, Kadroh, and Emily were close behind, until --
“Brothers, why do you attack? What is--?”
His voice cut off in a sharp cry. Entrapta skidded to a halt and whirled around. Kadroh was crumpled on the ground, and several clones were advancing on him.
“Entrapta,” Hordak called to her through the din, “We cannot go back!”
Entrapta was not listening. She was already back at Kadroh’s side, grabbing hold of his arm in an attempt to help him up. “I’ve got you,” she said, “come on!”
Kadroh staggered to his feet. His green eyes were wide and staring, his ears tilted low. Pain or shock, likely both. Entrapta kept a firm hold on him and turned to run. Hordak was by her side, firing into the line of Horde soldiers to keep them back.
“Let’s go,” she called, tugging on Kadroh’s arm. He didn’t move.
Entrapta glanced back in concern. “What’s wrong? Are you--?”
Then she saw the blood.
The ground erupted beneath them. Entrapta found herself flying through the air. Her back struck against a tree with bruising force, and she tumbled to the ground, ears ringing. She tried to pick herself up, only for a blaze of pain to drop her back to the ground. The ports that connected PEArL to her back were cushioned to prevent damage from impacts such as these, but something must have gone wrong.
Entrapta reached around for the mechanism that would loosen the support cables and detach the locks on the ports. Her fingers found the catch just as a hand wrapped around her ankle and yanked.
A scream tore from her throat. She was being dragged along the ground by her foot. Entrapta tried to struggle, and another wave of pain made her vision dim. She caught sight of a blurry white silhouette just before the darkness closed in.
Hordak woke to a pounding headache and the taste of blood in his mouth. A heavy silence hung in the air. For better or worse, the battle was over. The last thing Hordak could remember was the explosion. Entrapta... His chest tight with worry, Hordak pushed himself to his knees and looked up to search for her.
A Horde soldier was standing right in front of him.
With practiced speed, Hordak brought his arm cannon up to aim straight at his enemy’s chest, a high whine rising in the air as it charged to fire. The clone’s ears flicked back, but he made no move to attack or flee. Hordak released a heavy sigh and lowered his weapon.
“Kadroh. Where is Entrapta?”
Kadroh did not respond. His eyes had a glazed faraway look.
Hordak did not have time to deal with this. He took in Kadroh’s appearance with a sweeping glance, noting the stain of deep blue from a wound in his side. Kadroh flinched as Hordak took hold of his wrist, pressing his hand over the wound. “Keep firm pressure here,” Hordak instructed. “Unless you desire to bleed to death.”
With that, Hordak turned and strode through the trees in search of Entrapta, not checking to see if Kadroh chose to follow. Given the source of the explosion, Entrapta should have landed somewhere south of the clearing. She was small and could have easily been flung much further than he had. Normally she had her hair to cushion her fall, but without it, she could be seriously injured.
Hordak quickened his pace, searching every inch of ground for any sign of his partner. Heavy indentations in the grass marked where Horde soldiers and bots passed by. Hordak found Entrapta’s computer a little further along, lying at the base of a thornbush. Entrapta was still nowhere in sight.
Numbly, Hordak bent to retrieve the device. If the Horde had found her first… he could not bear to think about it.
A twig snapped behind him, and he turned to see Kadroh shuffle into view, still lost and afraid. Hordak turned away again, his fear for Entrapta overriding any sense of sympathy he had for Kadroh’s mental crisis. There was nothing Hordak could do for him. Kadroh would have to decide for himself what he wanted to do from here.
“Why?” The trembling voice was barely audible. “Why do you defy Horde Prime’s will?”
Hordak pushed aside a branch of foliage, not looking back. “I found something more important to live for,” he replied.
“I do not understand…”
“No, I do not imagine you would. Not yet.” Where was Entrapta? The longer Hordak spent looking, the more his heart constricted with fear.
He froze, not quite daring to believe it. “Entrapta?”
Entrapta burst from a tangled mess of leaves, rushing toward him and wrapping him in a fierce hug. “I found you!” she squeaked. “And you found my computer!”
Hordak almost let her emotions carry him away with her, but a sliver of caution reminded him to check if she’d been chipped. Mercifully, the nape of her neck was clear. Hordak allowed all the tension in his body to dissolve into relief. With that release, he began to feel the full force of pain from the explosive blast that knocked him unconscious. Hordak pushed it down with practiced stubbornness. He knew he would survive just fine. “Have you suffered any injuries?”
“I don’t think so,” Entrapta replied. “Nothing permanent, anyway. I can’t remember what happened…”
“There was an explosion.”
“Oh, right! And then… then I woke up here, by myself.” She looked around. “Where’s Emily?”
“I do not know.”
Entrapta’s face fell and she was silent for a moment. “Emily must be with the others,” she said at last.
Hordak nodded, though internally he did not have much hope Emily had survived the battle. He could not bring himself to voice the thought aloud.
“How long was I knocked out? Do you think they left without us?”
“Doubtful,” he replied. “They do not have the knowledge or skills to pilot our craft.”
“We’d better hurry, then.” Entrapta opened her computer with her mechanical limbs and held it in front of her as she walked to the edge of the clearing. “There’s no clear path to Sophie from here, so we’ll have to blast our way through. There are a lot of dots clustered around the landing sight. I’d say it’s likely everyone’s there, sheltering inside the ship.”
She turned back and cocked her head at Kadroh, who was still standing in the open. “What’s wrong?” she asked. When Kadroh offered no response, Entrapta turned to Hordak. “Is he not coming with us?”
Hordak did not know how to explain. “We shall see.”
Coming to stand before his brother, Hordak looked him directly in the eyes. Kadroh was teetering on the edge of self-destruction. It was how he had been made, how they all had been made. How far I went to return to Prime’s side . I saw no other choice but death . “If you wish to go back, you know what awaits you,” Hordak said at last. “It is your choice to make. However --”
“You could come with us instead!” Entrapta piped up.
“Yes.” Hordak nodded in agreement. “You have a place with us, should you choose to stay.”
Kadroh looked between the two of them, shoulders hunched. Blood oozed from between his fingers, but he held himself steady. He had followed Hordak this far. Despite his doubts and despair, a part of him clearly wanted to live. Perhaps that part was strong enough to defy his conditioning. Hordak would not not press Kadroh further. This needed to be his brother’s decision.
“I… I want to stay with you.”
“Great!” Entrapta rushed forward to take his arm. “Once we’re on the ship, I’ll take a look at your injury. I may not be an expert when it comes to organic tissue, but I’m sure I can repair any mechanical damage there might be.”
Kadroh let her lead him without resistance. As they continued on their way, Hordak put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. The tension in Kadroh’s ears relaxed, and he seemed more at peace with his decision, yet a haunted look remained in his eyes. Hordak could not expect otherwise. He knew the difficulty of the choice Kadroh had just made. It would take time for Kadroh to fully accept it, if he survived.
If any of us survive.
The Alliance had just suffered a devastating loss. How devastating remained to be seen. Hordak did not know what they would find when they finally reached Sophie. After the dust has settled, how many will be left to fight? Perhaps this is merely a final struggle before the end.
“Hold still,” Entrapta chided. “I’m almost done…”
While Hordak piloted the ship, Entrapta was doing what she could to treat Kadroh’s injury. Spinnerella had already sewed part of the wound shut, but the blast had struck one of his ports, causing several internal ruptures. Luckily they were near the entrance, allowing Entrapta to repair them with her current equipment. Finished, she cleared the port of blood and the traces of green fluid that had leaked from his damaged cybernetics.
Beside him, Emily waited her turn for repairs. As Entrapta hoped, Emily had managed to make her way to the ship, but she was in rough shape. Scorpia had asked her to defend the group, and she did so, taking several direct hits in the process.
“You were so brave,” sniffed Perfuma as she wiped away at the soot on Emily’s scarred dome with a dirty cloth. “Just like Scorpia…”
Emily shuffled with a dejected brrr. Entrapta’s hand tightened around her tools. Scorpia had been chipped. She sacrificed herself so the others could reach the ship. The shock and sadness still felt far away in Entrapta’s head, not quite real.
The floor shuddered beneath them. Several people across the storage room flinched and cowered behind the boxes of equipment. Entrapta stood up, completely unafraid. “Looks like we’ve just landed. I’m going to go see where we are!”
“I’ll go with you!” Frosta leapt to her feet.
“That’s a good idea,” Spinny nodded. “Perfuma and I will stay here and protect the others. Let us know if it’s safe to go outside.”
With Frosta following behind her, Entrapta met Hordak at the exit. “I have placed us in a canyon system on the outskirts of the Crimson Waste,” he said. “We should be able to shelter here for at least a few days.”
There was hardly any light outside of Sophie. Hordak had managed to land her inside a wide cave. Entrapta was quite impressed at the skill it would have taken to maneuver the ship into this space. I wish I’d been there to see it!
The cave stretched out even further into the darkness. Instead of following to see where that led, they turned toward the entrance. It was a wide slot in the canyon wall, opening up to a ledge that overlooked a staggering drop. Across the gap, all that could be seen was an expanse of red-orange rock, peppered by dry shrubs. The wind was dry and hot against their faces.
Entrapta drew out her recorder. “Etheria Liberation Effort, day twenty… six? Twenty-seven? Day twenty-six! After our camp was attacked, those of us alive and still un-chipped are forming a new camp in a canyon on the border of the Crimson Waste. The cave is protected by a sheer drop of at least twenty meters. There are no Horde towers in sight.”
“Ew, you could fry an egg out here!” Frosta commented. “Let’s go back inside.”
Neither Entrapta or Hordak disagreed. The interior of the cave was a much more pleasant temperature than outside. Once Frosta gave the all-clear, the others began to emerge from the back of Sophie.
It was a small miserable group. Three Plumerians, one fawn from Thaymore, and two Shroomish from Erelandia. The rest had scattered to the winds. There was no telling how many were able to escape and how many had been chipped. Spinnerella and Perfuma were doing their best to keep everyone’s spirits up. They moved from person to person with bright smiles and words of reassurance. It seemed to have a marginal effect.
Hordak went back into the ship and came out carrying Emily. The bot wiggled her single working leg in mild protest. Breeee!
“Don’t fret, Emily,” Entrapta soothed as Hordak set her down beside their new work area. “I’ll have you up and walking in no time! Together, we’ll help get Scorpia back, and everyone else!”
Entrapta drew out a folded paper from her pocket, smoothing out the creases. It was a drawing Scorpia made for her, a picture of their cocoa date. There was Hordak, and her, then Scorpia, Perfuma, and that one Bright Moon guard. Julie? Janet, maybe? Everyone was smiling, even Hordak.
Leaning the picture against the rocky wall of the cave, Entrapta picked up her tools. Once my jammer is complete, Scorpia will be free again. She knelt down to repair Emily’s leg joints. Any day now, I’ll have it!
“Entrapta, may I talk to you for a moment?”
Turning about to face Spinnerella, Entrapta nodded. She patted Emily’s dome. “I’ll be right back.”
Entrapta followed Spinny to a more secluded part of the cave, wondering what this was all about. Spinny was fairly friendly with her, but they had never spent any time alone together. Did I do something wrong? A sliver of anxiety twisted her stomach, prompting her to fidget with her gloves.
“Now that we’re all in such a tight space together, I thought we should discuss your sleeping arrangements with Hordak.”
There it was. She should have suspected it. “Hordak and I want to sleep together,” she said firmly.
“There’s nothing wrong with you sharing a bed,” Spinny replied quickly, holding up her hands. “But with Frosta here, and everyone so close together, please refrain from any… adult activities at night. I’ve told the Shroomish couple the same thing.”
“Oh!” Entrapta laughed. “Hordak and I haven’t done anything like that yet. I’m asexual, possibly demisexual, but that theory is still being tested, and anyway Hordak is still figuring it all out himself. Clones aren’t allowed to have those sorts of feelings, you know. We’ve decided to take things real slow and see what happens. We’re not in a rush to experiment!”
Spinny gave her a warm smile. “It’s wonderful you two are so close and open with each other. Just remember, if you do decide to, ah, experiment, please go somewhere private.”
“Okay!” That would be easy enough to do.
“Also… please keep a close eye on your tablet.” Spinny looked away, rubbing her arm absently. “The others may contact us, and if they need our help...”
Entrapta nodded. “You got it! Netossa should have one with her.”
“Yes. I hope… I hope she still has it.”
Since their conversation seemed to be over, Entrapta trotted back to Emily, but her thoughts were still on her partner. She was content with their relationship as it was, but it filled her with excited curiosity to imagine where it might lead. The chances of us finding each other after the battle must have been astronomically small, but we did! We’re still here together. As soon as she saw Hordak, she quickened her pace, nearly tackling him in her enthusiasm.
“What has you so excited?” he asked.
“I’m happy you’re here with me,” she replied, holding Hordak more tightly.
“I am glad to see you safe as well.”
“Sorry, Emily!” Entrapta released Hordak, turning back to where Emily was waiting for her. Kadroh was beside her too. His knees were drawn up to his chest and his ears twitched at the commotion around them. He was leaning very closely against Emily’s side, but fortunately Entrapta would not need to shoo him away to do her work.
Hordak’s hand was still resting on her shoulder. “Entrapta, if Emily does not object, perhaps Kadroh and I could make the repairs while you set up your computer system.”
“Right!” Entrapta nodded. “I need to finish the jamming program ASAP! Due to the data transfer, I wasn’t able to upload the information from my tablet into the system yet.” She flipped open the computer and brought up the necessary files, then with another two limbs, she grabbed her tablet and a cable. Just before she connected the device, she tilted her head to Emily. “You don’t mind, do you Emily?”
Hordak knelt beside the battered bot. As he reached for her tools, Entrapta noticed he was frowning darkly, and his ears were tilted back against his head. “What’s wrong, Hordak?”
He paused, and as he did so his ears relaxed back into a neutral position. The rest of his expression remained grim. “The Alliance is truly broken,” Hordak said in a low voice. He looked out at the ragged band of survivors as they finished making camp. “I do not see how we will recover from this.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic!” Entrapta replied, patting her computer. “I’ve still got this, remember? When our friends are free again, we’ll have all the army we need to fight back!” She laughed. “Won’t Prime be surprised!”
Hordak nodded. “He will indeed.”
“This… signal jam,” Kadroh ventured. “It is designed to disrupt the Hivemind?”
“Partially,” answered Entrapta. “Prime has an entirely separate sub-system for the chips on our friends. He can still access it from multiple points, but the system is not completely intermeshed with the larger Hivemind. Otherwise it could take months, maybe even years to make a schematic for the whole thing! It would be incredible!” She paused, coming down from the tips of her toes and resting her hands back on her keyboard. “But we don’t have time for that right now.”
“Then it will not affect our brothers?”
“No,” Hordak replied. “It will not.”
Entrapta paused her typing again, remembering the feeling that overtook her the first day Kadroh was freed. She thought of how Hordak’s memories had been stripped away, how much he struggled to make the decision to leave with her. The fastest way to take out the Hivemind is to strike at Horde Prime himself.
She shuddered, every hair on her head squirming. No one had ever made her feel so helpless. Still, Entrapta would face him if she had to. I will not let him keep my friends, and after this is over, the clones he has under his control will be free too.
“We won’t forget about them,” she said. “I promise.”
Chapter 16: Perseverance
Resting against the side of a tree, Netossa rebooted her tablet for the third time. She stared at the cracked screen, hoping this time she would be able to get a clear signal.
Come on! Please work!
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw flashes of the battle. Micah was there, as they feared he would be, the full strength of his magic turned against them. Castaspella had not hoped to stand a chance. Still she tried to buy them time to get away.
Netossa hadn’t seen much after that. She had her own fight to contend with. Before she’d been forced out of view, she saw a glimpse of Shadow Weaver stepping in to intervene. Then a wave of bots had forced Netossa back. Her net shield kept most of the fire at bay, but one laser blast got through, striking her full in the shoulder and breaking her concentration.
Separated from Spinnerella, she would have been quickly overwhelmed, had it not been for Swift Wind’s arrival. He managed to pull her out of danger just in time. Netossa was grateful to him, but a part of her wished he hadn’t taken her away so quickly.
I’ve lost Spinny again. She shook her head, touching a hand to her bandaged shoulder. There was no room in her heart to face the empty terror of never seeing her wife again. Spinny can’t be gone. I’ll find her again. I have to.
Across the clearing, Sea Hawk had fallen asleep against Swift Wind’s side. Swift Wind was exhausted as well. His head rested on the grass, eyes closed. Sea Hawk had lost sight of Mermista during the battle and gone after her. He did not tell Netossa much of what happened, but she knew by the time Sea Hawk caught up with Mermista again, he was too late. Still, the man was not willing to give up. Netossa understood. She wouldn’t stand in his way.
Netossa’s heart leapt as the tablet lit up in her hands. Quickly, she sent out a signal, holding her breath for an answer.
In moments Entrapta’s face filled the screen. “Hiiii!”
“Hey Entrapta.” Netossa gave a weak smile of triumph. She forced a deep breath to steady her rapid heartbeat. I have to know. “Is Spinnerella with you?”
“Yep, she’s right here.” Entrapta leaned back. “Hey Spinny! I’ve got Netossa!”
A wave of relief flooded through her as Spinny came into view. “Hey darling.”
“You’re hurt,” Spinny noticed with a frown of concern. “Will you be alright?”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m with Sea Hawk and Swift Wind. We managed to find a few others, but we’ve led them to other groups so they can go into hiding. Most are too scared to want to fight anymore.”
Spinny nodded. “We made it to the ship with a few refugees, and Hordak piloted us to the border of the Crimson Waste. There’s not much Horde activity out here. Where are you?”
“We’re still in the Whispering Woods.” Netossa sighed. “I’d hate to say we’re lost, but we probably are. Luckily Swift Wind can get us out if we need to, after he rests a bit.”
“I’ll give you our coordinates so you can come find us.”
Netossa shook her head, wincing as the motion jarred her injury. “Not yet.”
“What do you mean?”
The look on Spinny’s face nearly broke her heart. Netossa steeled herself, and with a last glance at Sea Hawk, she continued. “Mermista was chipped during the fighting. Sea Hawk tried to go after her alone, but... I want to help him find her, Spinny. She’s an elemental princess, and besides that, I don’t want to leave her behind.”
As much as the silence tore her up inside, Netossa did not look away from her wife. Finally Spinnerella spoke.
“I understand. You didn’t give up on me, after all.” Spinny managed a brittle smile. “Please stay safe.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep the boys out of trouble,” Netossa assured her. “I’ll keep in contact. As soon as we find her, I’ll let you know our location. As much as I hate to blow your cover, we need Entrapta, and I don’t think the three of us will be able to make it back to you with Mermista.”
“Understood,” Entrapta piped up.
Spinny nodded silently.
“Thank you, both of you.” Netossa smiled. “I’d better go now. It’s Sea Hawk’s turn to keep watch, and I’m exhausted.”
“I’ll see you again soon, my love. Good luck.”
“See you soon.” Her smile fell as soon as she signed off. Finding Mermista would not be easy, and once they did, they still had to find a way to subdue her. We’ll make it work. Once we know what we’re dealing with, we’ll find a solution.
I’ll come up with a plan. I always do.
Chapter 17: Breaking
Content warning: This chapter contains depictions of a meltdown. There’s really no easy way to skip it, so please proceed with caution if it may distress you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Entrapta had been staring at the screen for hours. Her eyes were beginning to sting and a slow pounding pressure was building in her head, but she couldn't bring herself to pull away. Any moment now, she would find the calculation she needed, and all her work over the past weeks would be complete.
Spinny and Frosta had left to scout for a water source. Entrapta barely noticed them leaving and had no idea how long they’d been gone. The general chatter of the others in the background was becoming increasingly distracting.
Clenching her gloved hands, Entrapta let out a huff of frustration. Another dead end! Maybe if I...
She was so close now. She’d felt this before, but this time she was sure of it. The only thing standing in her way was the scope. Entrapta could not afford to create a program that disrupted only a few chips within a limited range. It needed to disconnect them all at once. If she failed, she may not get another chance to try again.
No, no that won’t work either…
Entrapta was beginning to feel short of breath. Her heart was beating madly in her chest. She paused a moment, flexing her hands, letting her eyes drift shut against the glare of the screen.
100, 96, 92, 88, 84, 80, 76… She continued skip-counting backward all the way down to zero, then drew a deep breath. I can do this. I’ll figure it out.
The pain in her head was building. It felt as if a vise were clamped on her head, squeezing her. All she wanted to do was lay her head down on the table and rest, but she couldn’t. Her thoughts were racing, tumbling into each other, repeating. Entrapta hugged her arms, her fingers digging into her skin with near bruising force in an attempt to distract herself. It only made things worse.
99, 96, 93, 90… 87… 8…
Her mind could no longer hold the numbers. The screen began to blur before her eyes. The air felt unbearably hot. PEArL’s support cables were too tight around her body. Even the sounds of conversation drifting across the room felt like daggers to her ears, spearing through her head.
An unpleasant tingling had begun to settle over her skin. No, no, no! Not now! Frantically, Entrapta tried to run her hands through her hair, and her fingers bumped into the rim of her mask. She tore it off her head, barely feeling her hair come loose from its ties, and in a fit of helpless fury flung the mask away from her.
Hordak was immediately on alert. Entrapta stood hunched at her desk, her hands grasping her head. He was at her side in an instant. “What happened?”
She shook her head with a sob, curling away from him to hide her face. Her mask was gone. Hordak searched for where it could have fallen, then caught sight of the mask further along the cave. Why would she throw her mask away from her? What purpose…?
“Oh, Entrapta, don’t cry!” Perfuma hurried over. “I’m sure it’ll be okay.” She reached out to place her hand on Entrapta’s shoulder.
“Don’t--” Hordak tried to intervene, but was too late.
As Perfuma touched her, Entrapta shrieked, every hair on her head standing on end, and she curled up even tighter into herself. Before it could get any worse, Hordak grasped Perfuma by the wrist and pulled her back.
“Let go of me!” Perfuma squirmed in his grip.
Hordak glared at her, and she shrank back. There was the fear he was used to seeing. At this moment, he did not care. “Do not touch her,” he said in a low voice. “Is that clear?”
He let go, and Perfuma snatched her hand away, rubbing it as if he’d hurt her. “I was just trying to--”
“I know,” he interrupted, “but in this instance, what you are doing will not help.”
Perfuma looked about to argue with him, but after another glance at Entrapta, her angry glare crumpled. “Then what are we supposed to do?”
Hordak turned back toward Entrapta. During his exchange with Perfuma, she had shrunk down to the floor, crying, curling up as tightly as she could. It pained him deeply to see her so distressed. Hordak had only witnessed this once before, and it was only by some miracle he had not made it worse. Since then, she had explained to him these things happened to her when she became too overwhelmed, and the only thing to do was wait it out.
“Be patient and give her space,” he said simply.
Retrieving her mask, Hordak set it down gently in front of Entrapta in case she were to need it. Entrapta made no indication she saw it there. She continued to cry, her hands dragging through her cropped hair. A familiar hot anger rose in Hordak. He could not stand by and helplessly watch her suffer, not when it was his fault she couldn’t shield herself like she used to.
There must be something... His eyes landed on the blanket folded over their bed. Would this help? Or will my interference cause her more harm?
After another moment of indecision, he acted. Hordak took the blanket and went to Entrapta’s side. “Entrapta,” he said very softly. “I brought your blanket. Do you want it?”
Was that a nod? Hordak could not be sure. As he waited, Entrapta reached out her hand toward him. He placed the blanket in her hand, and she took it, wrapping the blanket around herself until she was hidden from sight. There was a muffled thud as PEArL fell to the floor beneath the blanket.
“What is wrong with her, brother?”
Hordak motioned for Kadroh to be quiet. Kadroh ducked his head, glancing sheepishly to Perfuma. “My apologies, brother,” he said in a more subdued voice. “Do you want us to leave?”
Hordak considered the situation carefully. The other Etherians were huddled across the room, shocked into silence. Aside from this cave and the ship, there was nowhere to go. “You do not need to leave. However, if any of you cause a disturbance, I shall throw you out into the Wastes myself.”
Perfuma and Kadroh nodded their understanding.
“Entrapta,” Perfuma took a tentative step closer to where she lay huddled on the floor. Hordak moved to position himself between them, fixing her with a warning glare. Perfuma did not look at him, but the message was understood. She made no attempt to move past.
“I’m sorry, Entrapta, I… “ her voice wavered. “I’m sorry.”
Hordak appraised Perfuma more carefully. She was clearly upset by something, more than what had just occurred. Emily shuffled forward and bumped against Perfuma’s side insistently, as if to shepherd her away. Composing herself, Perfuma turned and took Kadroh by the arm. “Come on,” she said cheerfully. “I’ll make some calming tea, and when Entrapta’s feeling a bit better, maybe it’ll be good for her. Would you like to help me?”
As the two of them moved away, Hordak sat down beside his partner. “Entrapta, if you have need of me, I am right here.”
He did not know how long it took for Entrapta’s distress to subside. Hordak kept a careful eye on her and made sure no one else approached them. Emily stood guard from the other side. As they said they would, Perfuma and Kadroh stayed away. Kadroh was watching her brew tea with rapt fascination. Hordak wasn’t sure Entrapta would like this tea, whatever it was, but if the activity kept the others busy he supposed that was good enough.
Eventually Entrapta grew quiet and still beneath her blanket, disturbed by the occasional sniffle. Her hand reached out from cover to take the mask Hordak left for her, pulling it under the blanket. After a few moments, the blanket parted and her mask peeked out. “Hordak?”
“I am here.”
Entrapta shuffled over to him in her bundle of blanket. “Can I h-have a hug?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
She snuggled against him, mask, blanket, and all. Hordak held her back, startled to feel her shaking. Her body was hot from being under the blanket for so long. From the sound of her breathing and the way she leaned against him, he could tell she was exhausted.
That tiny word tugged a strong surge of emotion from him. “You have nothing to apologize for,” he assured her.
“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want-- My head hurt, I couldn’t concentrate, I tried… I tried so hard… It hurts so much.”
“It may help to rest,” he said. “You have been neglecting your sleep for many days.”
Entrapta was silent for a long moment, then, slowly, she raised her mask. “Just a short rest,” she agreed, wincing. “I need to finish the calculation.”
“We shall see.”
As the pair of them got up, Perfuma and Kadroh made their way over. “Are you feeling better?” Perfuma asked her.
Entrapta nodded silently, looking down at her feet.
“That’s great! I made you some tea, if you want it.” Perfuma held out a tiny cup. Tendrils of steam curled upward from the pink liquid.
A small smile lit Entrapta’s face. She nodded again.
Perfuma waited for Entrapta to sit down before handing her the cup. “This tea is a specialty in my kingdom,” she said. “The flowers used to make it grow only in Plumeria. It provides peaceful sleep to even the most anxious mind.”
“It’s hot!” Entrapta observed, wiggling out from the cover of the blanket.
As the blanket slipped down, Hordak tensed in alarm. The skin surrounding the ports on her back was visibly inflamed. “Entrapta….”
“Hm?” She gave him a quizzical look.
“It seems your mechanical augments have overheated.” The ports were still hot to the touch. Hordak traced his finger down to brush the red skin at the base of the metal. “Can you feel this?”
Removing his hand quickly, Hordak checked the underside of PEArL itself. It was hardly warm at all. Strange.
“Oh my!” Perfuma squeaked as she saw the burns. “I have some medicine that will help. I’ll be right back!”
Hordak let her go without comment, watching Entrapta with a pensive frown. She had already drank her tea and was now sitting with her shoulders hunched, her head in her hands. “Faulty cooling system,” she mumbled. “I’ll need to fix it.”
“ I will fix it,” Hordak corrected her. “Once Perfuma returns, you need to rest.”
Entrapta gave an exasperated sigh. “I can’t get anything done like this!”
“You will not get anything done if you make yourself sick,” he countered.
Perfuma was hurrying toward them, her footsteps loud. Hordak glared at her and she winced. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I brought the medicine. You should only need a small amount.”
Hordak took the vial and examined it. The contents had a strong flowery smell. “We are grateful for your assistance.”
Entrapta shivered as Hordak began to apply the medicine to her raw skin. “That’s cold!”
“Is it helping?” he asked.
“Good.” Hordak was satisfied to see her skin was already fading back to its natural brown shade. He rubbed her back gently, moving up to her shoulders as Entrapta sighed appreciatively. She was finally beginning to relax. Hordak smiled softly, feeling her slowly melt as he massaged her shoulders. Perhaps now she would be willing to sleep a few hours.
When he drew away, Entrapta turned around with surprising energy and threw her arms around his neck. “Thanks, Hordak!” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek.
Hordak tried to hold her back, but before he could, she slipped right out of his grasp and stood up. With an exasperated sigh, he got to his feet. “Entrapta, what are you doing?”
“Working,” she said. “I feel better now!”
“What of your headache?”
Entrapta shrugged. “Oh, it’s not so bad now.” Though she spoke in a light tone, her voice sounded strange to Hordak. Forced. “Besides, I have to repair PEArL before I can start on anything. It shouldn’t be too much trouble. I’m sure I can --”
“Entrapta,” Hordak cut in firmly, scooping up the domed pack before she could grab it. “You need rest. You barely sleep as it is.”
“We are not discussing this.”
Entrapta glared at him, the ends of her hair bristling. Hordak knew he’d crossed a line. He had not meant to react so harshly, and the last thing he wanted was to cause a fight.
“I think Hordak’s right,” Perfuma joined in. “You could barely think straight a minute ago. What if it happens again?”
Entrapta looked away, pulling her mask down. Hordak was surprised at this, but he was not going to reject Perfuma’s support. “You know the importance of sleep,” he reasoned. “If you do not take proper care of your body, you will not be at your full strength.”
“I know,” she nodded. “But I don’t want to fall behind. I already wasted enough time.”
Her voice was beginning to rise in distress. “No time has been wasted,” he assured her. “I will repair PEArL while you sleep, and when you wake, you can return to your projects.”
Entrapta was silent a moment. Then she nodded. “Okay.”
Removing her mask again, she curled up on their bed. Her forehead was creased and there was worry in her eyes, but as she looked at him, it was gone, replaced by a bright smile. Slowly Hordak reached out to smooth her hair from her face. Entrapta closed her eyes, tilting her head in response to his touch. “I like when you do that,” she said.
“This?” He ran his fingers through her hair.
He smiled. “Good.”
Hordak continued to stroke her hair as she rested. Once he was sure she was well and truly asleep, he rose and brought PEArL to the work table. He could not help but glance up at Entrapta’s computer. The web of connections she had managed to successfully map so far was quite impressive. Horde Prime had truly underestimated her. It would be his undoing.
Perfuma was at his shoulder. Hordak turned to look at her, trying his best to curb his irritation. “Yes?”
“Will Entrapta be alright?"
“She will be well again with rest.”
“I’ve never seen her like that before… You seemed to know what was happening. Can you explain what’s wrong?”
Hordak appraised Perfuma carefully. She appeared genuine enough, but he was not sure how much Entrapta wanted him to reveal about her situation. “Entrapta has been under severe pressure. That, combined with pain and exhaustion, became too much to bear.”
“But she always seems so energetic and happy! Why didn’t she say anything?”
“Perhaps she did not feel safe to do so.”
“What do you mean, not safe?” Perfuma demanded. “Of course it’s safe to talk to us!”
Hordak’s eyes narrowed, remembering how much pain Entrapta went through in her first weeks with the Alliance, how isolated she felt. “It is not for me to say,” he replied evenly. “If you wish to help, you must speak with Entrapta yourself.”
Perfuma wrung her hands, nodding. “Okay, I’ll be sure to ask when she’s feeling better.” She turned around and froze. “Oh dear…”
“What is it now?” Hordak asked wearily.
“I um… I gave Kadroh some of the tea, and it looks like he’s passed out.”
Hordak whirled around. Kadroh was indeed on the floor, laying in a strange half-curled position, eyes closed. “What was in this tea?” Hordak demanded. “If you have poisoned--”
“No! There’s nothing like that! It’s just a flower tea meant to calm anxiety and help with sleep.”
Hordak’s frown deepened, and he cast a concerned look at the sleeping Kadroh. Entrapta had not passed out like this. What could have caused him to collapse? Is it sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep, or some other reason?
Perfuma waved her hands consolingly. “Don’t worry, he’s not hurt! He’s just in a deep deep sleep. He’ll wake up… eventually… I’m sure of it!”
“Your hesitation does not inspire confidence.” Hordak bent down and lifted his sleeping brother in his arms. It caused him some difficulty, but he was able to bring Kadroh to a bed without visible struggle.
“How did this happen?” Perfuma fretted to herself. “The magic in the trees is quite gentle, especially in the blossoms.”
Ah. Of course the tea contains magic, as does nearly everything on this wretched planet. Hordak sighed. He decided to trust Perfuma when she said Kadroh would be fine. His brother would wake once the enchantment ran its course. Hordak glanced to where Entrapta was curled up on their own bed. Entrapta will be disappointed she missed such an event . I will keep a record of the time so she will know exactly how long Kadroh sleeps.
He returned to the work table, Perfuma still hovering nearby. “How much tea did you give him?”
“Not much. A tiny cup, like Entrapta’s, but only half full.”
Hordak took note of that on one of Entrapta’s pads. “I suggest you refrain from allowing Kadroh to ingest any substances with magical enhancements from now on.”
“Oh!” Perfuma put her hand to her mouth. “Wow, you really are sensitive to magic!”
This chapter was extremely cathartic for me to write, as I based it on my own experiences. I know this is a sensitive topic, and I debated many times whether I should cut it, but ultimately I felt it was an important aspect of the story. I did my best to handle it with care.
Perfuma sat near the edge of the drop, her legs folded neatly and her arms resting gently on her knees. She closed her eyes, focused on taking slow even breaths. The air around her was starting to cool with the coming evening, which in the Crimson Waste was a welcome relief until the night chill settled in. It was the perfect time for evening meditation.
Opening one eye, Perfuma saw Entrapta approach her from the darkness of the cave entrance, her small shape just visible in the evening light. Entrapta stopped just short of where she was sitting. “Are you going to make that cactus bloom?” she asked.
Perfuma looked down at the small round cactus plant in front of her. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Cacti are still difficult for me to control sometimes.”
“Really?” Entrapta crouched down to peer at the cactus. “Why is that? Is it because of the molecular structure of the cactus? Maybe it’s the vascular tissue…”
Confused by the words Entrapta was using, Perfuma frowned. “What are you talking about?” she asked a little sharply.
“The cactus. There must be some difference that makes cacti less compatible with your abilities. How do your powers work, exactly?”
“How do you use your powers? What process do you use to make plants grow?”
“Um…” Perfuma thought hard. “I don’t really know… I guess I just go by feeling. I’ve always been able to make flowers grow, as long as I can remember.”
“What kind of feeling?” Entrapta persisted. “Can you describe it?”
Perfuma shook her head. “I don’t think I can put it into words. It happens so fast, I’ve never had to think about it. Except with cacti. I reach out with my mind, and it just doesn’t work. It’s like they speak a completely different language! The roots I can handle, but the rest… they just don’t hear me very well.”
Entrapta was silent for a while. Satisfied that she seemed to have no more strange questions, Perfuma closed her eyes and returned to her meditation.
“I don’t see why you wouldn’t try to understand how your powers work. It seems like you take them for granted.”
“E-excuse me?” Perfuma sputtered. Her zen thoroughly broken, she glared at Entrapta, crossing her arms. “There’s no need to be rude. No one’s good at everything.”
Entrapta looked away, covering her face with her mask. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
The gesture startled Perfuma, forcibly reminding her of Entrapta’s meltdown earlier in the day, and what Hordak said afterward. Perfuma took a moment to focus inward, breathing slowly in and out until the writhing ball of negative energy inside her chest grew smaller and smaller, so small it was nearly out of sight. Now she could proceed with a clear head. “It’s safe to talk to me,” she said calmly. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Entrapta was silent for another long minute. “I don’t think you want to talk to me. You don’t like me very much.”
“That’s not true!” Perfuma protested.
“You ignore me a lot.” Entrapta’s voice was completely flat, and with the mask in place Perfuma couldn’t guess her expression. “The only time you talk to me is to tell me not to do something, or make me stop if I don’t do what you say. You don’t ever let me talk about what I want to talk about, and you talk down to me. A lot. Mermista does it too. You slow your words as if I can’t understand basic Etherian.”
“What am I supposed to do when you don’t listen?” Perfuma replied defensively, deeply stung. “Or when you go running off on your own? You don’t consider the consequences your actions have on other people!”
“I know I’m not good at people,” Entrapta cried. “I’ve struggled all my life! I study, and I try to understand, but it doesn’t matter because I always mess it up. I can’t be like you!”
Perfuma’s anger was pushed back by the raw pain in Entrapta’s voice. She stared at the cracked lens of the bug mask, speechless. Entrapta’s body was rigid, as if she were ready to bolt at any moment.
“I’m trying to help you with the one thing I am good at. I wanted… I hoped, if my tech was useful, you would… let me be friends with you again.”
Guilt twisted in Perfuma’s stomach. “You’re working yourself sick so you can prove you belong with us?”
“That’s so awful!” Perfuma shook her head vigorously. Tears stung her eyes as the terrible realization settled over her. “You don’t have to do that! I never wanted to make you feel that way!”
Entrapta didn’t move or say anything. Now that it was out in the open, Perfuma saw exactly why the princess of Dryl felt the way she did. Entrapta had been abandoned twice, once in the most dangerous, terrible place in all of Etheria. She always seemed so happy, like nothing ever bothered her, but the truth is, I never looked. I never asked how she felt. I thought…
Perfuma looked down in shame. I thought she didn’t notice or care what anyone thought of her. No one in the Alliance spent any time with Entrapta other than to check on her progress with the chips and supervise her work so nothing went wrong. No one but Scorpia.
The tears in her eyes threatened to spill at the thought of Scorpia. If you were here, you’d know what to say. “Entrapta,” she managed in a brittle voice. “Would you come sit with me for a minute?”
Wordlessly, Entrapta came over and sat, her legs dangling over the edge of the precipice. Her mask was still firmly in place.
Perfuma reached out to touch Entrapta’s shoulder. Memory stopped her short, and she moved away, folding her hands in her lap. There was so much about Entrapta she didn’t know. Maybe Perfuma had hurt her so much that it was too late for an apology.
“I’m… not a very patient person,” Perfuma admitted, looking out across the dark expanse of the Waste. “I strive to be, but the truth is a lot of things upset me. I get scared and angry all the time. It takes a lot of meditation and breathing and mindfulness to keep my vibes positive.”
She closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. “I have a lot to work on, I know. I don’t understand the way you think, and maybe I can’t, but I haven’t… I haven’t made the effort. Can you help me understand?”
“I’ll try,” Entrapta said slowly.
Perfuma smiled. “Is it okay if I hug you?”
Entrapta hesitated a moment, then nodded. Perfuma embraced her gently, just in case Entrapta decided to pull away. “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” she said as she held her friend. “You don’t have to prove anything.”
When she pulled back, she heard Entrapta sniffle from behind her mask. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Entrapta replied. “I’m okay.”
“I’m sorry if I… oh dear, I’m even worse at this than I thought!” Anxiety and shame burned in the pit of her stomach. How is it the evil lord of the Fright Zone is better at this than I am? She understood even less about Hordak than she did about Entrapta. Maybe that was a good place to start. “Um… can you tell me about Hordak? How did you two meet?”
Entrapta flipped up her mask, a wide smile on her face. “I was looking for a six-sided hex driver,” she said. “I’d seen one in Hordak’s sanctum while in the vents, but Catra…”
It was remarkable how quickly Entrapta’s distress turned to joy when she was talking about Hordak. Before today, Perfuma would not have understood. Hordak, he... scares me, but he cares for her. If he makes her happy… then I’m happy for her too.
Perfuma sat there on the ledge as Entrapta talked non-stop about her lab partner, the sky slowly darkening above them. She would not interrupt her friend. This time, Perfuma was going to listen.
Using the cactus as a launching point for the scene was inspired by a conversation with Forestfairyunicorn. Thank you for the inspiration!
Chapter 19: Integration
Frosta came flying at him, and Hordak ducked out of the way. Her movements were becoming easier for him to predict.
Twisting as she landed, Frosta flung an ice missile toward him. Hordak deflected it with a sweep of his arm. His armor was not even dented.
Hordak sidestepped as Frosta leapt at him again, missing by a wide margin. She was far more suited for distance attacks, yet not only did she insist on close range combat, she continually flung herself up to his height. “You are wasting your strength,” he commented. “Calculate your strikes.”
Frosta ground her ice fists together. The ice encasing her hands looked extra large on her small frame without her coat. She’d taken it off in the heat of the day. “I have plenty of strength to take on an old-timer like you!”
She does indeed seem to have boundless energy. Hordak had to carefully conserve his own, allowing Frosta to tire herself while he defended against her attacks with as little movement as possible.
The ice princess hurled several more spikes at him. As Hordak blocked them, he saw Frosta dart for the opening she’d created, moving to strike his side. Hordak spun aside and made a grab for her as she passed. Frosta struck his arm aside with a single ice fist, then hopped back to give herself some distance.
Hordak inclined his head. “Better.”
“This is so exciting!” Entrapta trilled. “The armor appears to be working at full capacity. Do you mind if I run a few tests?”
“Not at all.” Hordak relaxed his posture, indicating to Frosta their spar was over.
Frosta deflated. “That can’t be all you’ve got,” she complained. “I’ve still got plenty left!”
“Good. You must be ready in the event our encampment is discovered.”
The ice princess grumbled but didn’t argue.
“I’ll stand guard with you, Frosta,” Spinnerella offered as she stepped out from the shade of the cave. “I could use the fresh air.”
Hordak followed Entrapta back inside, brushing droplets of melted snow from his armor. With mild concern he noticed Entrapta was not wearing PEArL and the skin of her exposed back was slightly pink. The machinery had overheated again. Neither one of them had managed to discover the cause of the issue. The circuitry appeared functional and undamaged, leading Entrapta to hypothesize it could be due to the hot climate. At the very least, she was more conscious of the problem and took breaks to allow the apparatus to cool off.
“I did not know you had come to watch,” Hordak said to her.
“I didn’t want to spoil the data, so I stayed quiet,” Entrapta replied. “I knew I had to come see the armor in action! Your duel with Sea Hawk gave me hardly any data at all.”
“Yes, it was quite a short encounter. I suspect he was not taking the fight seriously.”
“Oh? What makes you say that?”
Hordak paused to consider. “Sea Hawk is overeager and has a habit of… unnecessary movements, but his reflexes are sharp and he handles his weapon with expert familiarity. I do not believe him to be an incompetent fighter.”
“Are you going to test that theory when we’re all back together again?”
They passed Kadroh on their way to Entrapta’s workstation and he waved vigorously. He was helping the others with food preparation. As Hordak expected, Kadroh had refused solid food during his first days with the Alliance. Scorpia finally coaxed him to try blueberries on the fourth day. Ever since then, Kadroh was filled with an insatiable curiosity about food and what was and wasn’t edible. He was eventually trusted to help with meals, but despite his enthusiasm, or perhaps because of it, he still needed strict supervision.
Hordak sat down on a stone to give Entrapta an easier time examining the armor. She went over every inch of it, her sharp eyes seeking out any damage that may have resulted from the fight, reporting the details to her recorder.
“Does anything feel out of place?” she asked. “Too loose or too tight?”
Slowly testing out various movements, Hordak concentrated on the feel of the armor. The only thing he noticed was a small twinge along his right forearm. He hadn’t felt it at all during his spar with Frosta. “There is one small anomaly here,” he said, lifting his arm.
“Hm, let’s see…” Entrapta disconnected the plate from his arm and turned it over. “There doesn’t appear to be any damage to the interior. Do you still feel anything without the armor?”
Hordak flexed his fingers. “Yes.”
“It’s possible a strike at just the right angle compressed your cybernetics beneath the armor,” she mused. Hordak kept his arm still as she examined the circuits of the implant in his right forearm. He couldn’t stop the occasional twitch of his fingers as her instruments sent little surges through his hand.
“You didn’t have these when we first met,” Entrapta observed. “Did they fall out?”
Hordak was struck by the mental image of his own shaking hand, and the widening gap in his forearm. Nearly overcome by shame, he turned his head away, focusing on the readouts of Entrapta’s computer. “Yes, I believe so,” he replied quietly.
“Kadroh has them too, though his are smaller. Are they some sort of weapon attachment interface?”
“I don’t think I would have designed implants like these,” she said, setting her tools aside. “It compromises the integrity of your arm, and I’m sure even with the best of circumstances there’s nerve interference. At this point, you might as well have an entirely mechanical design and forgo the organics.”
Hordak raised an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting I have my arms removed and replaced by robotic components?”
“It is a viable option! But don’t worry, I won’t chop your arms off or anything.” Finished, Entrapta grinned. “Unless you wanted me to.”
“I hardly think this is the time for such experiments,” he replied, amused despite himself. His lab partner was endlessly creative. “In any case, I can still make use of them as they are.”
Entrapta traced her gloved fingers over his forearm. “I think they’re pretty great.”
Something in the way she said it caught Hordak by surprise. She was smiling at him, but it was not her usual excited grin. It was warm and soft, like her first sleepy smile of the morning. Entrapta slid the plate back in place, sending a tingling shock through Hordak’s arm. He flexed his fingers to dispel the lingering feeling. She ran her hand over the chestplate of his armor, stopping to rest over the crystal she gave him. “How are you feeling now?”
Hordak placed his hand over hers. “I am well.”
Today was a good day, the best he’d felt in weeks, but he knew it would not last. It was difficult not to despair at the thought. Pushing that aside, Hordak focused on his partner. “What of your health?” he asked. “Is your head still causing you pain?”
“I’m fine,” she replied brightly. Emily beeped and rumbled over to bump her side. “It only hurts a little,” Entrapta amended. “I can manage.”
Hordak gave her a stern look of concern.
“I’m taking breaks, I promise.” Entrapta held up her hands. “It’s not bad in the mornings, and if I pace myself, the afternoon isn’t so bad either.”
Her headaches were becoming worse and more frequent. Entrapta tried to work through them when she could, but thankfully she was beginning to listen to Hordak and her friends when they told her to rest. By nightfall, she was too exhausted to refuse sleep anymore.
Hordak firmly believed these headaches were due to overwork, though she was no longer pushing herself to the very limit. Why else would they fade when she rests? Will this pain continue to torment her until her project is complete?
“Alright, you two!” Perfuma called to them. “The food’s ready, if you want to come over.”
Entrapta spun around and stretched up on the tips of her toes. “Coming!”
She took his hand, and Hordak let her lead him to where the others were. He was still not used to being in a shared space with everyone. The refugees often went silent whenever he was near, but at least the Shroomish had stopped flinching away from him. Hordak suspected Kadroh’s friendliness had more to do with this than anything else. The face of a Horde clone was no longer an automatic threat.
Spinnerella and Frosta also came inside to join the group. The food was an assortment of bugs, dried fruit, and mushrooms Spinnerella had gathered from her last trip to the edge of the woods. Meals during the day were always prepared without a fire. They couldn’t risk the smoke giving away their location, but it was just as well. The sun was mercilessly hot in the Crimson Waste.
“I also made cold tea,” said Perfuma, handing out cups. “It’s perfectly safe,” she insisted when Hordak hesitated to accept any. “I promise! It’s only normal tea. Kadroh’s already tried it with no problems.”
Kadroh was indeed drinking his tea with no hesitation, not deterred at all by his first experience. If there is anything to worry about, I suppose we shall see soon enough.
“This kind of tea is very mild,” assured Camille, the Plumerian sitting beside Kadroh. They grinned. “I drink it almost every day.”
“Tea is a mild stimulant,” Entrapta pointed out. “It may have an effect on their alien biology independent of additional magical enhancement. Kadroh! Have you noticed having more energy when you drink tea?”
Staring down into his cup, Kadroh considered his answer. “I am... not sure.”
“Kadroh always seems to have a lot of energy,” Perfuma commented with a humorous smile.
Entrapta nodded. “True. Will you tell me if you notice anything?”
“You too, Hordak!” Entrapta turned to him. “You’ll tell me if you feel any differently, right?”
“Of course,” Hordak replied. This discussion was making him even less inclined to try the tea, but he gave it a cautious taste. It had a light earthy flavor, mild and seemingly harmless. He found he enjoyed it.
“Well?” Perfuma was leaning forward expectantly, hands clasped together. “What do you think?”
“It is… pleasant.” Hordak stumbled over his response. “Thank you.”
Perfuma beamed at him. It was the first time Hordak had seen her make such an expression while looking directly at him. He was not sure how to respond.
“Tea always makes me sleepy,” the fawn joined in shyly. His long ears quivered when Hordak looked his way. This was the first time Hordak heard him speak up close, rather than snatches of conversation from across the cave. The fawn’s name was Awari, if he recalled correctly.
Entrapta tilted her head. “Interesting! Do you sleep in the middle of the day?”
“I-it doesn’t make me fall asleep,” Awari corrected. “It’s calming.”
“I see. How long do the effects last?”
“Um, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it before.”
“A few hours, maybe?” Camille speculated.
“That could be…”
The group spent the next several minutes discussing different varieties of tea and their effects, sharing personal stories and recipes among one another. Hordak watched them in contented silence. Though he could not dispel his natural wariness, he was glad to see Entrapta and Kadroh expanding their circle of friends. Kadroh in particular got along well with the Plumerians. Between Camille and Frosta, he was dragged into plenty of harmless mischief. Entrapta still spent most of her time working, but when she stopped to rest, Perfuma, Spinnerella, and the others kept her well-occupied. It was wonderful to see her smiling so brightly while among them.
Once the crew had cleaned up and everyone was separating again to their own tasks, Spinnerella approached them. “Entrapta, Hordak, I have a serious question for both of you.”
The pair shared a look. It was clear Entrapta knew no more about this than he did. “What is it?” she asked.
“I still don’t remember much of what happened while I was… trapped. Sometimes I get flashes of things, usually while I’m asleep, and I can’t always remember them when I wake up.” Spinnerella paused, putting a hand to her temple. Her blue eyes were staring right through them, fixed on something far away. “Last night, I saw an image of the Sword of Protection. It was whole again, and hooked up to some sort of machinery.”
She paused again. Realizing where this was going, Hordak did not press her to continue. The pieces of the sword were lost in the battle. There is a chance they remain in Etherian hands, but we cannot know for certain… If Prime is seeking the sword, sooner or later the pieces will fall into his hands.
“The sword is the true key to the Heart of Etheria, not us,” Spinnerella continued. “Prime knows that now. I don’t know what happened to the pieces during the battle. Netossa and I wrapped them up to carry, but there wasn’t time to get them after the start of the attack. There’s still a chance…” She took a deep breath. “Does Horde Prime need all of the pieces of the sword to activate the Heart?”
“Hm, I don’t know,” Entrapta mused. “Adora seemed to think putting each piece of the sword back together wasn’t enough to restore its power. Even if that’s true, the least he would need is all the pieces of the runestone in the guard. That’s where the energy is gathered. The blade may be less important, unless… unless the blade is a runestone!”
Spinnerella looked to Hordak. “What do you think?”
“I have limited knowledge of the Runestones,” Hordak replied slowly. “I do not wish to give you false hope.”
“I see… I hope we can keep as many pieces out of his hands as possible. I wish we could know if anyone --” She cut off, turning to look at the pack beside her bedroll. Her tablet was receiving a message. “I’ll be right back.”
Hordak watched her go, his thoughts troubled. “We cannot know when Prime has acquired the sword.”
“Well... that’s not entirely true.”
“What do you mean?”
Entrapta glanced down with a sheepish expression. “I took a sample for study, a piece of the runestone, and a shard of the blade too.”
Hordak frowned. “Why did you not speak of this to Spinnerella?”
“I didn’t want her to be angry.” Entrapta wrung her hands, still looking down. “I knew I wasn’t supposed to take it.”
“I should think she would feel relief, given the dire situation. In any case, now is not the time for such secrecy. Your actions may give us the time we need to rally our forces again.”
“You think so?”
Hordak gazed into her bright eyes. “I wish I could say for certain.”
“That’s okay.” She smiled at him, undeterred. “The shadow lady probably knows. Too bad she’s not here to tell us.”
Hordak nodded reluctantly. As much as he mistrusted Shadow Weaver, Entrapta was right. She was the one that could give them answers. If she is still among the living. There had been no sign of the sorceress since the battle that scattered the Alliance.
Spinnerella returned to them, her tablet in hand. “I just got a message from Netossa and the others,” she said. “They’ve sighted Mermista and are going to attempt to subdue her. If they can manage it, they’ll give us their location so we can pick them up with the ship. I’m telling everyone to be ready to leave.”
“Okay!” Entrapta replied brightly.
Something was odd about Spinnerella’s smile. It made Hordak feel deeply uneasy. “There is something else,” he pressed.
“Yes,” she admitted reluctantly. “Netossa said they found allies. Ex Horde members.”
“Etherians, I assume.”
Spinnerella nodded. “Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio. Do you know them?”
Hordak felt a vague stir of memory, but nothing clear. He shook his head.
“I remember a Kyle,” Entrapta asserted. “Skinny, blonde, with a high voice. He used to watch me work sometimes. One time he got thrown across the room by a bot!”
“Do you think he could be trusted?”
Entrapta nodded. “I think so. He seemed really nice.”
“I hope you’re right. Netossa seems to trust them, and I trust her, but… I hope this isn’t a trap.”
“No Etherian has anything to gain from an alliance with Horde Prime,” Hordak replied. “I do not believe those of my armies that have not been chipped will hold any loyalty to the Galactic Horde, if they value their own survival.”
Spinnerella gave him a calculating look. “Coming from you, I believe it.”
Hordak inclined his head, leaving the darker implications of his words unspoken. He had known when he began seeking a way to return to Prime that Etheria and all its people, both his enemies and those who served him, would be enslaved or destroyed at Prime’s discretion. Back then, he did not care if his redemption was bought with the blood of an entire planet. This was what he was made for, a harbinger of the Light of Prime’s judgment. Nothing else, no one else, mattered.
A gloved hand touched his, startling Hordak from his thoughts. He looked down at his partner. Entrapta. The first person to fully accept him for who and what he was, who made him realize that he didn’t have to go back. He could choose to move forward. Even if he didn’t know where it would lead.
“The Alliance is coming back together again,” she said, grinning.
Hordak nodded, allowing her bright spirit to dispel the worst of his fears. “Yes, it would seem so.”
Chapter 20: Change
For anyone who’s not a fan of Catra, please bear with me on this chapter. Both Adora and Catra are in a vulnerable state and have a lot of developing to do after this point. That said, I’m open to constructive criticism.
The vast canvas of stars moved slowly around them as Adora and her friends made their way toward home. Adora fought against the urge to sleep. She shifted in the pilot seat, dislodging Catra from her comfortable position against her shoulder. “You’re supposed to keep me alert,” she said wryly, “not doze off in the middle of our watch. Get up or you’ll fall asleep.”
Catra’s tail flicked, but otherwise she didn’t move. “Is that an order, princess?”
“It’s about to be,” Adora warned.
“Oh, I’m so scared.”
Adora rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help a small smile. It was so easy to fall back into old patterns when she was with Catra. During the times they were on pilot duty together, they would sit and talk for hours, as they hadn’t talked in years. Other times they would say nothing and simply watch the stars. Quiet moments like this were comforting, like home, yet things were not quite the way they were before. There was a sour note in the air between them, a lingering uneasiness. It reminded Adora of the pocket of still time between thunder and lightning.
She sighed, wanting so desperately to go back to simpler times, even though in her heart she knew they never could. There was a chasm of pain between them. War was waiting back home, and after that… Adora didn’t know what would happen. It might all end in a few days, she thought, closing her eyes and trying to feel the peace of this moment. She could face the pain another day. I wish…
No, I don’t want to think about that.
Shaking her head to dispel the vision behind her eyes, Adora sat up a little straighter. “You should be afraid,” she murmured to Catra. “Because I know... your weaknesses!”
She went straight for Catra’s side, right where she knew the felinetta was most ticklish. “Hey!” Catra leapt out of the chair with a startled laugh. “That is not fair!”
Adora laughed. “It woke you up, didn’t it?”
Mew! At the foot of the chair, Melog rose up from where they had been sleeping. “Oops, sorry Melog…”
The strange feline alien they met on Krytis had decided to accompany them to Etheria. They had taken a liking to Catra, reminded of the people that once populated their planet, in the days before the arrival of Horde Prime. Melog and a few others of their kind had driven him off, but it was too late to save Krytis. All they could do was linger on as their planet slowly decayed.
Melog let out a soft growl. Catra laughed and reached out a hand to scratch their ear. “Yeah, I know, Adora’s rude sometimes.”
Adora stuck her tongue out at the pair of them. “I guess I’m the only one doing my job around here.”
Before Catra could retort, all of them were startled by the beep of the monitor. Darla was receiving a transmission.
Adora got up from her chair and went to the console. “It’s from Sophie,” she said, pressing the button to bring up the holo screen. Catra’s ears pinned back, and she looked away. Melog nuzzled against her, and Catra absently brushed her hand over their mane, still not looking at the screen.
“It’s good to see you, Entrapta,” Adora smiled. “And Hordak,” she added awkwardly.
Behind Entrapta, Hordak inclined his head in acknowledgment. The glare he gave Catra was sharp as a dagger. “What’s going on back at home?” Adora asked quickly.
“I’ve got so much to tell you!” Entrapta replied. “The camp was attacked, and we…”
Adora listened in silence as Entrapta told her about how the Alliance was scattered, with even more of them now under the control of Prime’s chips. Her hands tightened into fists on the console. King Micah’s chipped… oh Glimmer, I’m so sorry… She released a heavy sigh and turned to Catra. Her friend was still looking down at Melog, rubbing the back of her neck where the chip once was.
“The longer a chip is in place, the more it begins to fuse with the subject’s neural pathways,” Entrapta went on. “However, I’m working on a program that will disrupt all the chips at once! When that’s complete, we’ll be able to free everyone!”
“That’s… that’s great, Entrapta, thank you.” Adora mustered a smile. “We really need some good news right about now.”
“You’re welcome! By the way, who’s your new friend?”
Melog raised their head to look at Entrapta. Catra offered no response. “This is Melog,” Adora replied instead. “We met them on a planet called Krytis.”
Hordak’s ears lowered a fraction at the mention of the name, but he otherwise showed no reaction. Entrapta was fascinated. “You landed on another planet? What was it like? What did you see ?”
“Um, well, it was… pretty dead, actually. Melog is the only one left. Horde Prime tried to conquer the planet, but their people were able to use magic to drive him away.”
“Ah! That matches with the data I have. It seems the clones are physiologically sensitive to Etherian magic.”
A spark of hope kindled in Adora’s heart, followed immediately by a pang of guilt and the image of a broken sword. “Then we have what we need to stop him.”
Entrapta nodded. “I’m sure there’s a way to utilize the Runestones without causing a planet-wide crisis of destruction. I theorize we’ll have the best chance once we have all the elemental princesses free from the chips. We --” Entrapta turned her head sharply, and Adora heard a familiar voice from somewhere out of view, too quiet to make out the words.
“Oh!” Entrapta turned back to Adora. “We’ve gotta go! They’ve managed to catch Mermista, and we’re going to rendezvous with everyone so I can remove her chip! We’ll contact you again once we get there, okay? Bye!”
“Thank you, and good… luck.” Adora didn’t get to finish before Entrapta ended the transmission. Her tech friend was lively as ever, and as dire as their situation seemed, she appeared to have everything well-handled. A jammer to disrupt all the chips… that’s exactly what we need. We may only get one shot to use it.
When she closed her eyes, Adora was greeted by the image of Hordak’s flat green gaze staring back at her. He hadn’t said a word during the entire call. He just stood there, looming behind Entrapta, watching.
Adora shuddered. She still didn’t quite know what to do about Hordak. The sight of him still brought forth unpleasant memories of terror, not helped in the slightest by the clone army that had now invaded almost every corner of Etheria. Adora got the shock of her life when Entrapta arrived on their ship with a newly freed Hordak. She wanted to be happy for her friend, and at first it had been simple enough to accept this new version of Hordak. He didn’t even remember who he was. How could she be angry at a man with no concept of what he’d done?
That was changing now. More and more of Hordak was coming to the surface every day. Adora could see the recognition in his eyes, and it frightened her.
Catra broke the silence. “Did you see the look he gave me? Like he could bore a hole through my head. I bet he’d like to.”
Adora nodded, but a sick feeling rose up in her stomach. She knew the source of Hordak’s anger toward Catra, and after barely getting Entrapta off Beast Island alive, she couldn’t blame him. “We’re almost to Etheria,” she pointed out. “A day or so at most. Once we get there, you’re going to have to face everyone, including Hordak and Entrapta.”
“Not a chance!” Catra bristled. “You think I could even get near them without Hordak blasting my head off?” Melog bumped against her side, and Catra looked down to stroke their broad head. “He doesn’t want an apology from me.”
“What about Entrapta? You really hurt her, Catra. You… hurt a lot of people.” Adora looked down. You hurt me. Sometimes it was easier to forget that. She wanted to believe in those words Catra shouted to her through the transmission. ‘ I’m sorry for everything.’
“ Are you sorry, Catra?” she asked quietly. “Did you mean what you said?”
Catra did not look up from Melog. She was silent for a long time. “Yes.”
“That’s the first step.”
“The first step to what? It doesn’t matter what I do. Everyone on Etheria hates me! Hordak’s just the first one in line.”
Adora frowned. “Catra, nothing’s going to change unless you change it! You have to keep making different choices, even when it’s hard.”
“You don’t get it! She saved my life, Adora. Hordak was going to send me to Beast Island for losing Shadow Weaver, but Entrapta stood up for me, and then I… I stabbed her in the back.” Hugging her arms, Catra turned away.
In the silence that followed, neither one of them spoke of what had happened next. Adora’s own words echoed back to her. You made your choice. Now live with it. Those words were said in anger during the heat of their battle, but they were no less true now than they were then. Queen Angella’s words were in her heart too, and Adora’s chest ached with the weight of it.
Take care of each other.
“You can’t just run away from everything you’ve done. None of us can.” Adora stepped forward and Melog moved out of the way. She reached out to grip Catra’s shoulders in a firm but gentle hold. “You have to face this head on. We have to bury our grudges and work together, otherwise Prime is going to win. Hordak knows that, and I know you do too.”
Catra shook her head, her eyes stubbornly fixed to the floor. Eventually she relented.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
Chapter 21: Lifeline
Horde Prime is his own warning
Much to Entrapta’s disappointment, Hordak did not let her pilot Sophie to the rendezvous point. She was more annoyed with herself than she was at him. Their agreement was that Entrapta could pilot the craft if she was fully well in the morning, but the dull pain behind her eyes was still there. She couldn’t even attempt to hide it. Hordak knew without even asking.
Entrapta watched the scenery go by in silence. This incessant headache was getting on her nerves. Hordak thinks I’m working too hard, but I’m not even doing anything right now! I don’t understand it.
She had checked her temperature multiple times, and other than one low-grade fever, there was nothing worth worrying about. Her blood pressure was always within healthy numbers. She felt a little nausea when her headaches were at their worst, but she was sure that was only from the severity of the pain. I’m not sick. I don’t have any other symptoms. Perfuma says I need to drink more water, but all that does is make me pee!
“Hm?” She glanced at Hordak. His eyes were straight ahead, keeping to their course while also making sure not to crash Sophie into anything. For a long moment, he said nothing.
“I realize the temptation to press on through discomfort,” Hordak said at last. “However… it is not worth harming yourself.”
“I know,” she nodded. “But resting doesn’t seem to help much anymore. I took five breaks yesterday. I counted. If your theory is correct and it’s due to overwork, I should be getting better.”
“Yes.” His ears dipped. “I am sorry.”
Entrapta put a finger to her chin. “Maybe it’s some sort of alien virus. I could have picked up something on Prime’s ship, or maybe the clones could have brought it to Etheria.”
The ship swerved noticeably as Hordak tensed in shock, a look of horror on his face.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be fine!” She patted his arm. “Besides, if it was a virus, the others should be sick too, and so far I’m the only one.”
He nodded, his ears still lowered. Entrapta never had someone so concerned for her safety before. I suppose it must be natural for a partnership. Hordak knew more about her than anyone, and still he chose to stay with her. He didn’t abandon her when she was falling apart. That meant more to Entrapta than anything. She smiled, finding distraction in examining her partner’s face. The sharp contours of his cheekbones, his linear markings, his crest of dark blue hair, the faint shadow of grey over his eyelids, the warm yellow-green of his eyes. They were changing shade, she was sure of it now. It was easy to tell the difference compared to Kadroh’s.
The soft hum of the ship changed tone as Sophie slowed to land. They were descending beside the outskirts of a scraggly wood. The area was sheltered by a cluster of large rocks. Hordak maneuvered Sophie into the shade of the boulders, leaving plenty of room to take off as soon as they needed to leave.
Entrapta leaned against Hordak’s shoulder, her hand on his arm. “You’re pretty good at this, but I’m definitely calling pilot next time!”
Hordak reached up to place his hand over hers. Entrapta’s tiny pigtails tilted toward him, and with a small pang she wished she could wrap him up in an embrace with her hair. “As you wish,” he said. “Now, let us see about meeting these new allies.”
Netossa and Swift Wind met them outside. Spinny shared a long embrace with her wife, and assumingly to help Swift Wind feel included, Kadroh gave the bird-horse a hug as well. Netossa explained the rest of her group was sheltering inside a shallow cave a short walk away. She waited until everyone was ready and then led the way to the camp. The morning was painfully bright, but in the shadow of the rocks all Entrapta could make out were the dim shapes of people.
Entrapta jumped. That sounded like me! She turned to see Imp flying toward Hordak with incredible speed. Hordak had only a moment to hold out his arms before Imp landed, scampering up to his shoulder and butting against the side of his head.
Hordak’s eyes were wide with shock. “I… I know you.” Imp pressed against his ear again, and Hordak reached up to stroke the tiny tuft of hair at the top of his head. “Where have you been all this time?”
Imp opened his mouth. “Friends,” he recited in a high familiar voice.
“Hi Kyle!” Entrapta greeted as the owner of the voice stepped forward.
“Hey,” Kyle replied with a hesitant smile and wave. Two others were behind him, a strong-looking young woman with dreadlocks and a tall green reptilian. “I-is that really Lord Hordak?”
“Of course,” Imp said cheekily, this time in a woman’s voice.
“It is simply Hordak now,” Hordak replied.
“I didn’t think the rumors were true,” said the woman. Entrapta noted it was her voice Imp had just used. “Then again, the world’s falling apart again , and these are strange times.” She held out her hand. “I’m Lonnie. This is Kyle, and Rogelio.”
Rogelio made a sign with his hands, rumbling deep in his throat. Lonnie nodded. “We deserted before this Horde Prime guy arrived, and I think it saved our lives. He’s a real piece of work.”
A booming voice caught Entrapta’s attention, and she glanced around the others to see Sea Hawk talking to Spinny. I forgot how loud he is! The rest of the princesses were gathered around them, along with Swift Wind. No one seemed to be bothered about what the former Horde members were doing.
“Who is this?” Kadroh had drawn closer to Imp, only to jump away as Imp flared his wings with an angry shriek. The sound hurt Entrapta’s ears and made her hair quiver.
“This is Imp,” Hordak replied. He held up his hand to quiet the small creature. “Do not be alarmed. Kadroh is also a friend.”
Imp seemed to consider this carefully. He lifted off Hordak’s shoulder and flew around Kadroh once, before returning to Hordak. Kadroh stood completely still, his ears flicked back.
“I can’t believe you have another clone with you,” Lonnie commented to Entrapta. “Isn’t having one Hordak around enough?”
Hordak scowled, but said nothing. “I am not Hordak,” Kadroh corrected. “I am myself.”
“They’re very different from each other,” Entrapta added. “You’ll see. They only look the same on the outside.”
Rogelio tilted his head with a contemplative growl. He came over to Kadroh and signed again. “Um, how did you escape the Horde?” Kyle translated.
Kadroh glanced between them uncertainly. “I… I do not understand what you mean.”
“Kadroh didn’t leave the Horde on purpose,” Entrapta explained. “His connection to the Hivemind was damaged, and after that he -- eep!”
A tap on her shoulder jolted Entrapta to a stop. Beside her, Emily raised up to scold Netossa with several sharp beeps. Entrapta winced as the sound lanced through her head.
“Sorry,” Netossa said softly. “I didn’t mean to startle you, but we need you to remove the chip before Mermista wakes up. Are you ready?”
“Mm-hm,” Entrapta nodded. She took out a slim toolbox and on impulse flipped open the lid to check inside. “Oops! Hang on a sec, I forgot something!”
Emily accompanied her back to Sophie. Entrapta was glad of the company, even though she planned to only be gone a few minutes. For a moment she rested her head against the cool side of Sophie’s hull. As much as she was glad to see everyone, the buzz of conversation seemed to be making her headache worse.
As she darted in to fetch her missing tools, her footsteps were loud and sharp in her ears. Entrapta slowed down, forcing herself to take careful steps. The ship seemed to be slowly tilting around her. She put a hand to the side of her head. The other she used to steady herself against the wall. Must have… run too fast...
Emily leaned over to support her from the other side. She smiled, patting Emily’s dome. “Thanks.”
By the time Entrapta made it to the end of the storage room where her tools were packed away, the pain was so intense she could barely move. The room was spinning now. Entrapta sank to the ground, clutching her head. Her stomach clenched, expelling what little she had eaten that morning. She shuddered, curling up into a ball on the floor, her eyes screwed shut. This would pass. It always did. Yet with each moment, the pain only seemed to grow worse. Something was terribly wrong.
Breee! Emily blared an alarm. Entrapta wanted to tell her to go find help, but couldn’t seem to draw in enough air.
No one can help you.
The words stabbed through her like a spear. Entrapta brought her hands to her ears as if that alone could push it away. Dread and terrible understanding closed over her. Her whole body shook.
This suffering is your doing. Let go, and it will stop.
Go away! Get out! Her head was agony. Entrapta tried to scream, but all that came out was a muffled whimper. She knew what she had to do. Reaching back, Entrapta grasped the release catch on PEArL’s underside, but no matter how hard she tried, the mechanism was stuck fast.
It is useless to fight this. All you have to do is surrender, and come into the Light.
No? I see your mind. I understand you. You don’t belong with the others… Do you?
A chorus of angry voices filled her ears. ‘Get away from that! What are you doing? Stop! By the moons, you talk too much. What a freak. Why are you even here? You don’t care about any of us… why should we care about you?’
Entrapta could see their faces glaring at her, watched them turning away. All her life she’d been shut out and left behind. A terrible sound reverberated inside her, seeming to penetrate her very bones, and she could feel a constricting pressure begin to wrap around her limbs. The vines had never truly let her go.
Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. No! Shut up!
You know the truth, and so do I. No one will miss you. They will be glad to be rid of you as soon as you are no longer convenient.
Am I? Why was it that your… ‘friends’ retrieved you from the island? Ah yes, it was because…
Entrapta shook her head restlessly, refusing to give Prime what he wanted. Bow and Adora are my friends, she countered. They care about me!
Laughter echoed through her head, sharp as needles. And where are your friends now?
Bow and Adora were still far distant in space, separated from Etheria by an entire armada of ships. Scorpia had been chipped. Hordak, Perfuma, Spinny, and the others were right outside, but too far away to hear her. When would they realize what was happening? It doesn’t matter…
Yes, it is inconsequential, isn’t it? This entire ‘war’ is a meaningless effort. Etheria is already mine.
No! Entrapta felt a wave of heat as her pain and fear transformed to anger. Even if it was too late for her, she would fight, and Hordak would continue what she started. We will stop you!
Are you referring to your little… jamming project?
More harsh laughter. There is nothing you can hide from me. I see you have been working on this project for quite some time now. A pity such effort will be wasted... Get up.
A vision of broken equipment flashed before her eyes. All her work, everything she accomplished in the last month, destroyed at her own hands. Horror twisted in her gut. I won’t!
You will, or I shall force you to. It’s really quite simple. Get up.
Entrapta felt her muscles contract against her will, and she shuddered with the effort to keep herself curled up on the ground. The sensation filled her with an overwhelming panic. She wanted to scream until her lungs gave out.
If you wish to prolong your suffering, that is your choice, but you will submit.
The force attempting to move her limbs intensified. This time she did scream. It was raw and desperate and nearly split her head in two.
You will not last long. Soon, you will break. I can feel your mind as it slips away from you…
He was right. A blanket of static was descending over her thoughts. She was going to lose control, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
There is no need to fight this. Prime’s voice had softened, hardly more than a whisper now. You no longer have to strive or struggle. You will be just like everyone else. Let go. Come into the Light.
The rest of his words were blurred in her mind, but Entrapta latched onto them. “Hordak....”
One defect clings to another. He can do nothing to help you.
Entrapta was once again straining for the release catch. Another hand joined hers, and hope swelled in her heart. Hordak knew what she was trying to do. He understood, and he was going to help her.
It is far too late for that.
A blinding pain shocked through Entrapta’s body, all the way to the tips of her fingers and toes. She went limp, as if the strings pulling at her limbs had been suddenly cut. The muffled echoes of a voice came to her from far away. This time Entrapta was not afraid. Hordak was here, and she no longer had to fight alone.
With the image of her lab partner shining in her thoughts, Entrapta slipped into oblivion.
Hordak stared at the data crystal glinting in his hand. His fingers closed over it protectively as he released a shaky sigh. There was no choice. You did what was necessary.
Entrapta was still alive. He could hear her heartbeat easing to a steady calm rhythm, and see her back rise and fall with each breath. Light-headed with relief, Hordak bent down to manually remove PEArL. His mind was still reeling with shock. When Emily had scampered out of Sophie, alarming non-stop, he thought he knew what he would find. He could not have imagined Entrapta’s machinery had somehow been corrupted. There was no mistaking the green tendrils creeping out from beneath the rim of the metal.
How could this have happened? When could Prime have done this to her?
Why did I not realize?
Without power from the crystal, the mechanism was no longer locked, and PEArL came away easily, revealing the red electrical burns radiating from the ports on Entrapta’s back. Hordak forced himself not to turn away from the damage he caused. He knew tearing out the crystal would send a powerful surge through her body. I was built to withstand such shocks, but Entrapta… it could have paralyzed her, perhaps even killed her. I hope that she...
He shook his head, setting PEArL aside. The loose support cables dragged on the ground, unable to retract. Imp flew down from his perch on Emily, chittering nervously as he poked the lifeless pack with a finger.
Despite what it had just done to her, Entrapta would be fascinated, wanting to discover how Prime had managed to hack into her invention. Hordak felt no such curiosity. Filled with sudden anger, he had the urge to smash it and throw it across the room, destroying any chance Prime had of tormenting Entrapta again.
The sound of her voice cut through his rage like wind banishing a cloud of smoke. Entrapta was stirring on the ground, trying to sit up. Very carefully Hordak reached out to help her, cradling her in his arms.
“Oww…” She turned her head to bury her face against his chest.
“The danger has passed,” he said gently. “You should rest now.”
Entrapta shook her head. “They’re coming again. He knows where we are. I’m sorry, I tried…”
“That you were able to resist so long is a testament to your strength,” Hordak replied. “A lesser will would have been crushed. There was nothing more you could have done.”
A gasp came from the doorway. Spinnerella had followed him. “Hordak, what’s going on? What happened to her?”
Hordak straightened, still holding Entrapta. “There is little time to explain. Tell the others to come into the ship. We need to leave, now.”
“Alright, I’ll tell them, but…”
“Go,” he urged. “We cannot linger here. Prime knows where we are.”
Now Spinnerella understood. Fear in her eyes, she turned and left without another word. Hordak brought Entrapta to the other end of the storage room where the blankets were curled up against the wall. “I must leave you here,” he said. “The others will arrive shortly.”
Entrapta nodded, her eyes still tightly shut. She pulled the blanket around her with a tiny pained noise. Hordak hesitated to leave her like this. It was hard to see her suffering, but far worse was waiting for all of them if he did not act.
He turned to Imp. “Guard her with your life.”
The little creature nodded. He hopped down to sit beside Entrapta, nestling against her side. The corners of Entrapta’s mouth lifted into a smile as she felt him there. That gesture was enough to ease the knot of fear constricting Hordak’s chest. He turned and left to find the others. Entrapta was going to be fine. She had just stood her ground against the ruler of the known universe, refusing to submit to his will. Hordak would not let her struggle be in vain.
Outside Sophie, the Alliance and ex Horde members stood huddled together, murmuring uncertainly among themselves. Mermista’s unconscious body was draped over Swift Wind’s back.
“Why do you linger here?” Hordak demanded. “We need to leave.”
“Not before we get this chip off Mermista,” Netossa countered. “What happened to Entrapta?”
“Entrapta cannot help you. She has been injured. I will explain shortly, but right now we must leave this place.” Hordak turned to Kadroh. Piloting skills were part of their programming, but whether or not Kadroh had access to those memories was another matter. “Can you pilot this ship?”
Kadroh hesitated. “I… yes.”
“Good. Once everyone is inside, you will take control of the ship and take us into the Crimson Waste. Should Prime pursue us, we can evade him in the canyon systems.”
Some of the group had caught on to the severity of the situation and were making their way inside the ship. Perfuma and Camille followed after Kadroh, their eyes anxious. Kyle, Lonnie, and Rogelio also came without further questions. Still others hung back. Hordak barely suppressed the urge to snap at them to make haste. There was no knowing how far away Prime’s forces were. They could have mere minutes left to escape.
“What about Mermista?” Swift Wind asked, shifting his hooves nervously. “Once she wakes up, won’t Prime know where we are again?”
“Yes,” Hordak said heavily. His eyes traveled from one terrified face to the next, stopping at Netossa’s steady gaze. None of them would take his next words well. “We cannot afford to wait for Entrapta’s recovery. I will remove the chip.”
“Out of the question!” Sea Hawk cried. “I shall never let your clawed hands near my dearest Mermista!”
Hordak did not take his gaze from Netossa. Her brow was knit in a furious frown, but he knew out of all of them, it was she who would see reason. “You know what must be done,” he said quietly.
Netossa took only a moment to decide. “He’s right. We’re doing this.” She waved her arm. “Come on, everyone, into the ship.”
With a few murmurs of dissent, the rest of the group was herded into Sophie. Swift Wind was the last to come inside, carrying Mermista. They gathered into the storage room, and with Swift Wind there was barely any room for Hordak to shuffle through to reach Entrapta’s tools. Lonnie left to join Kadroh, saying she knew a thing or two about driving big craft. A few moments later the ship whirred to life, and they were on their way.
“You sure you know what you’re doing?”
Hordak glanced at Netossa, then his eyes sought Entrapta, his lab partner. She was still curled in a blanket where he’d left her, but now she had Kyle, Rogelio, Perfuma, and Camille to keep her company, along with Imp and Emily. Her eyes were open, and she was smiling.
Turning back to Netossa, Swift Wind, and Sea Hawk, Hordak nodded. “Entrapta has instructed me,” he replied. “With her knowledge, I shall not fail.”
Chapter 22: Waking
Mermista surfaced slowly. Her head was heavy, and the taste of sand was in her mouth. She felt beat up and hung over, as if she’d been in a bar fight. She struggled to remember what happened. Ugh, where am I? What’s with all that noise?
The steady buzz in her ears was getting louder, loud enough for her to realize it was the sound of voices. “Quiet down, will you?” she mumbled.
“Ah, dearest, you’re awake!”
There was no mistaking that voice. Mermista raised her hands to rub her face. She was leaning over something, and as she shifted, she realized that something was alive. She opened her eyes and was greeted with a view of a metal floor, with Sea Hawk’s boots standing beside her.
“I knew you would come back to me, my sweetest Mermista,” Sea Hawk gushed. “Horde Prime could never keep hold of you. The fire of your spirit is too strong!”
A flash of green light. Stabbing pain in the back of her neck. Mermista groaned, both at the volume of Sea Hawk’s voice and the echo of overwhelming thought-destroying pain. She closed her eyes. “Youuuuu can knock me back out now.”
“Nonsense! I’ve only just got you back.”
“How are you feeling?” Spinny asked, leaning down beside her. “Can I get you anything?”
“Not right now,” Mermista replied. “I feel like I got rolled down a hill. What happened?”
“After you were chipped, Sea Hawk, Netossa, and Swift Wind tracked you down. I don’t know how they did it, but they were able to knock you out and bring you back to us. Then Hordak removed your chip.”
“Hordak?” Mermista struggled to push herself up. She craned her neck and saw Hordak was indeed standing there behind the others, regarding her cooly.
Mermista stared right back. There was no way Hordak would choose to help her. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“It is no joke, dearest,” Sea Hawk assured her. “I witnessed it with my own two eyes.”
Mermista glanced around at everyone, just in case this really was an elaborate trick after all. Nope, they’re all serious… ho-ly shit. As much as Mermista was angered by the mere sight of Hordak, she couldn’t shrug this aside. It felt strange, being indebted to a former tyrant. Not indebted, she argued with herself. After all the damage he caused, he owes us.
“Thanks, uh… for getting the chip off.”
Hordak inclined his head.
“Just so you know, I still haven’t forgotten about Salineas, or all the other times your army attacked us.”
“I am well aware.”
Mermista squinted at him carefully, trying to shift herself to a more dignified position. “Ugh, can someone get me off this horse?”
“Excuse me,” Swift Wind remarked. “I think what you meant to say was ‘thank you, Swift Wind, for risking your life for me and carrying me to safety.’”
“Thank you, Swift Wind, for risking your life,” she drawled. “But your back is digging into my stomach.”
“Allow me!” Sea Hawk came around behind her and half lifted half slid Mermista from Swift Wind’s back. She stood shakily on her own two feet, Sea Hawk’s arm around her shoulders, torn between embarrassment and relief. The last thing she wanted right now was to collapse to the floor, but she would not admit how comforting it was to lean against Sea Hawk. Why am I still shaking? A part of her wanted to turn and put her arms around him for comfort. Shit, what’s wrong with me?
“You look like you could use some rest,” said Netossa. “Spinny was in bed for almost a day after being freed. It takes a lot out of you.”
Mermista put a hand to her head. “Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea.”
“The blankets are over there,” Spinny pointed. “Don’t worry, you’ll... start to feel better soon.”
Sea Hawk helped Mermista over to where the bedding was. Hordak followed the pair of them like a looming shadow. Mermista refused to look at him. What do you want now? she thought irritably.
“Try not to move,” Perfuma scolded gently, reaching down to touch a bundle of blankets. “The medicine needs to soak in.”
A head of lavender hair was poking out of the blankets. Mermista froze, and Hordak stepped around her. He hadn’t been following her at all. A blonde young man Mermista’ didn't recognize moved out of the way to give Hordak room to kneel beside Entrapta. Perfuma patted his shoulder, and he didn’t resist the gesture. “I did what I could for the burns. They should heal just fine when the medicine does its work, but these are a lot worse than last time… it may take a few days.”
Entrapta looked drawn, and despite her smile, Mermista could see from the glassiness of her eyes that she was in a lot of pain. Hordak took her hand when she reached out to him, and when they touched, the tips of her hair curled upward. The soft look he gave her was miles away from his usual scowl.
“Awww,” Sea Hawk leaned his head against hers. “Such tenderness. See how he takes care of his love? Just as I --”
“Oh-kay, we are not doing this right now,” Mermista protested, inserting her hand between them and trying to push Sea Hawk to a more reasonable distance. She stumbled and nearly lost her balance.
“Careful, dear! Netossa says you need to take it easy.”
Mermista grumbled. Putting her hand on the edge of a crate, she scooted herself forward and grabbed one of the blankets. Sea Hawk helped her unroll it, and she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and sat down. She didn’t complain as he sat beside her.
“It’s so good to have you back, Mermista!” Perfuma beamed.
All Mermista could muster was a nod and a mumbled “Thanks.” She was beginning to feel queasy.
Entrapta stirred in her blankets. “I knew you could remove the chip no problem,” she said to Hordak. “I don’t see why everyone was so worried.”
Mermista raised an eyebrow at Hordak. He hadn’t moved, but she swore she felt the focus of his gaze shift to her for a brief moment. I guess we know who’s not the vengeful type.
Seeing Entrapta sick like this made Mermista miss the times long ago when the princess of Dryl would zip around Bright Moon, propelling herself with her prehensile hair, chatting into her recorder. Even having the tails of her hair cut off couldn’t slow her down. Yes, she’d engineered weapons for the Horde in the past. Mermista couldn’t forget about that. But she came back to the Alliance wanting to help them. She had helped. She’d saved lives.
Mermista sighed. Sure Entrapta was annoying to work with at times, but those grievances seemed so small and insignificant now. She didn’t want to stay mad, not anymore. “You look like a mess,” she said bluntly. “What happened?”
Entrapta shifted to face her, wincing. “Horde Prime hacked into PEArL and tried to use the neural connections to control my mind, like he does with his chips. The machinery has been overheating for days, and I’ve been getting these intense headaches, but we didn’t know what was wrong. Hordak insisted I was overworking, so I tried to take breaks, and that helped at first, then it didn’t, because the real problem was the virus system inside PEArL trying to take control! You see, while I was wearing it, the system could try to fuse to my neural system, but when I took it off, the process was stalled and I could recover a little bit.”
Mermista’s head was whirling. She frowned, shaking her head. “Are you talking about that thing with the spider arms?”
“Yep! Today was the worst headache I’ve ever had. I could hear Prime’s voice in my thoughts, and I…” Entrapta’s face fell. She ducked down beneath the edge of the blanket so that only the top of her head was visible. Her hair was standing on end, and her forehead was creased in pain and fear. “He told me bad things about myself, and tried to make me not want to fight anymore. He wanted me to destroy my equipment, but I wouldn’t do it.”
Dark memories rose up in Mermista’s thoughts, shadowy and half-formed, but enough to set her heart racing. She didn’t know the words Prime had whispered to her mind through her own chip, the things he made her do. She didn’t want to know. “Try not to let this get you down, okay? You’ll heal up in no time and be right back on your feet.”
Hordak ran his fingers gently through Entrapta’s hair. She closed her eyes, and the tension in her face relaxed. “I don’t understand why Horde Prime would want to chip me,” she said slowly. “I’m not an elemental princess, and I don’t have any magic. Plus Prime has all the advanced tech he could possibly want. That’s… all I’m good at really.”
Mermista snorted, feeling more than a little guilty. She pushed it aside. “Sounds to me like Prime’s afraid of you.”
Entrapta tilted her head. “You think so?”
This time Mermista laughed. Even Hordak turned to look at her, and she was amused by the surprise on his face. Mermista wouldn’t pretend she understood what brought these two weirdos together, but Entrapta had won Hordak over to their side, and Kadroh too.
“Oh, I guarantee it. If he isn’t, he really should be.”