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Seacat (She-Ra AU)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Starfox5, Jun 20, 2020.

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 9: The Milk Run
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 9: The Milk Run

    “Cadets! Fall in line!”

    She growled as she started moving - the instructor was screaming loud enough to hurt her ears. Were they deaf or something? It wasn’t uncommon in the Horde, especially among former artillerymen. Or sailors. The big cannons were incredibly loud.

    But they didn’t need to yell that loud, she thought as she jogged towards the wall across the square. She didn’t need to be the fastest, she only needed to beat Kyle, who was still limping from his mishap on the obstacle course, to not be the last cadet of the formation. And she could beat him in her sleep even when he wasn’t hurt.

    Then she saw Adora, already at parade rest at the head of the line, glaring at her. Scoffing, she sped up. Her friend was always on her case about not making an effort - as if you needed to. She’d seen the actual soldiers - they never gave their all in drills. As long as she did enough to succeed, everything was fine.

    She grinned as she took up position next to Adora, elbowing Lonnie out of the way. “Hey, Adora,” she whispered.

    “Catra!” her friend hissed back. “You need to be quicker! The instructor knows you can do better.”

    She was about to retort, but then Kyle finally arrived, and the instructor started screaming again, and her ears hurt once more. As if they would win the war by standing extra-straight in formation! All that would do was to present the princesses with better targets! She suppressed a chuckle at her thought.

    “Cadet Catra! Did I say something funny?”

    She froze and clenched her teeth. Damn. The Instructor had noticed. “No, Force Sergeant!” she yelled.

    “Then why were you grinning like a demented rebel? Huh?”

    She stood ram-rod straight, as their first instructor - who had been a deaf former artillerywoman - had called it. “I don’t know, Force Sergeant!”

    “If you can grin like an idiot, you can do pushups - all of you! Give me thirty, everyone!”

    She hissed as she dropped down and started doing pushups. This was bad. And so unfair - everyone would be on her case for this as if it was her fault that the instructor was an arse.

    “I told you!” Adora whispered next to her.

    “Shut up!” she hissed back.

    “If you can still whisper, you can do ten more!”

    She suppressed a growl. This was Adora’s fault! Not hers!

    *****​

    In her hammock on the Dragon’s Daughter IV, on the way back to Salineas, Seacat sighed without opening her eyes. Another weird, stupid dream. She had never been a soldier, much less a Horde soldier. And she’d never been drilled like this - the closest she had come to such exercises was observing some Horde scum walking in formation in the naval base they had left yesterday. It was better than dreaming of the dead Horde fishman, but still...

    It was all Blondie’s fault. If the woman hadn’t insisted, even drunk, that Seacat was her missing, dead friend, she wouldn’t keep having such weird nonsense dreams. She’d give the princess a piece of her mind next time they met - and not the piece of her mind that kept dreaming of her!

    *****​

    “And this is how the propulsion mechanism looked, yes? Yes! Oh, I see! They must have managed to find a solution for the fouling. Something to prevent the impurities found in seawater from building up inside a crystal-laced matrix when the water’s partially steamed while being funnelled through it. How ingenious! I’m almost jealous! Field trip log, day seven: First results have appeared but require further examination and research!”

    Seacat glanced at the others in Mermista’s throne room while the hair princess was talking to herself - or to the thing in her hand. Mermista was closely paying attention but trying not to look like it, lounging on the throne - but the way she tightly held her trident betrayed her. Sea Hawk was smiling at the princess and acting as if he didn’t notice.

    Brain Boy was nodding along with the hair princess, but the shrimp looked lost yet trying to fake it. And Blondie…

    ...was looking at Seacat with a smile on her face.

    Seacat quickly looked away, then clenched her teeth for her stupid reaction. People could look and smile at her how much they wanted to; that was no skin off her butt. She felt her cheeks heat up a little and drew a hissing breath as she stood straighter, pushing her chest out.

    Seacat had no reason to be embarrassed - she had every reason to be proud, instead! They had returned with vital information for the Princess Alliance! A harrowing adventure, indeed, as Sea Hawk had told it - even if the frigate he had set on fire probably hadn’t burned down to the waterline.

    Then she realised that she was standing ramrod straight - just as she had been standing in line in her dream.

    She forced herself to slouch a little and shifted her weight, then put one foot in front. “So… what can we do about those ships? As they are, they’ll sail circles around the Salinean frigates.”

    “Oh…” The Hair Princess looked as if she hadn’t even considered that. That wasn’t a good sign. “Well, I guess… the mechanism that provides propulsion by pumping water through the ship requires both a sort of fuel and air - the additional air intakes at the stern lead to that conclusion. Otherwise, they wouldn’t really be necessary. Although I wonder why they didn’t add the air intakes on the front of the ship.”

    “That’s called the bow,” Seacat told her.

    “Right, the bow.” The princess blinked. “Did you ever think of putting a giant bow there? To shoot giant arrows at the enemy? I just did, and it sounds like a fun thing!”

    “That’s called chase guns, and we’ve had them for a while,” Mermista cut in. “Back on topic: How can we counter those ships?”

    “Well, as I said, they need some sort of fuel and air, according to my preliminary calculations and deductions. And, as the grate on the water intake on the front - the bow, sorry - shows, the pump mechanism is also susceptible to foreign objects. Whether they could damage the mechanism or would merely reduce its efficiency remains to be discovered. In any case, clogging the intake should greatly hamper the whole propulsion system,” the Hair Princess rambled on. “As would, presumably, clogging up the air intakes. They probably are quite close to the actual mechanism, by the way, and must be rather voluminous - otherwise, from an efficiency point of view, it would’ve been much better to add intakes in the front as well.”

    “Clogging up the intakes, hmm?” Sea Hawk was rubbing his moustache, Seacat noticed. “That sounds like a daring plan!”

    “You’d need to get very, very close,” Seacat pointed out.

    “Exactly! A harrowing adventure!”

    “I don’t think that we’re that desperate yet,” Mermista said.

    “Coulda fooled me,” the shrimp mumbled under her breath - Seacat overheard her, of course - which prompted Brain Boy and Blondie to frown at their friend.

    “Not to mention that we’d have to face their guns to get close enough to clog their pipes,” Seacat added. “Best case, that’s two chase guns handled by their best gunners. Worst case, they turn and give us a broadside.” And even average Horde gunners wouldn’t miss too much at point-blank range.

    Sea Hawk, of course, looked even more eager.

    “And even if you can manage, you’re just one crew. We’d need at least one ship per enemy frigate,” Mermista said. “Small ships with expert sailors willing to face such odds…”

    “Exactly!”

    “Well, I could help with that!” Hair Princess piped up.

    “You could?” Mermista looked surprised.

    “Sure I could! A catapult to deliver the payload, and you won’t have to go near the enemy at all!” The princess’s hair tentacles were moving rapidly as she started sketching things on a whiteboard nearby. And on the wall next to it. Mermista wouldn’t be pleased.

    “A catapult! That could be used with different payloads, right?” Sea Hawk asked, beaming at the princess.

    “Sure, I guess,” the Hair Princess replied without looking up from her scribbled notes.

    “Perfect! This might revolutionise boarding tactics!”

    “No!” Seacat blurted out - together with half the people in the room.

    *****​

    An hour later, the meeting had broken up. Officially, at least - it had become a research and development session, as the Hair Princess called it, long before that, of course. Seacat didn’t care either way. As long as the Alliance found a way to stop the Horde frigates - preferably without sending brave sailors, like Seacat herself, to their doom - she was fine with it. Although she wasn’t looking forward to having a catapult installed on the Dragon’s Daughter IV. That was as bad as hiring Sea Hawk to transport a cargo full of oil drums.

    “That was very brave of you,” Blondie interrupted Seacat’s thoughts. “Sneaking into the naval base like that…”

    Seacat narrowed her eyes a little, then grinned and shrugged. “What can I say? We’re the best!” They had done well, after all.

    The shrimp frowned a little at her boasting, Seacat noted, but Blondie smiled. “Though now it’s our turn. We’ll have to find out what fuel those frigates need.”

    Seacat hid her frown. If she had paid more attention to the warehouses in the base, she might’ve found out that information as well. She should have, in any case, but she had been too focused on the ships. Sloppy. And now Blondie would have to do a spy mission. “I still say we could sneak into the naval base again.”

    “You probably could,” Blondie admitted, “but then who would fetch the materials Entrapta needs?”

    Someone with a slower boat. Which might mean the princess’s devices wouldn’t be ready in time for the next battle. If they were too slow, a possible Horde blockade might stop them entirely. There were good reasons for Sea Hawk and Seacat not doing the spy mission, but she didn’t like them anyway. “Well, don’t get caught. Wouldn’t want to have all our work be ruined.”

    Blondie snorted. “We won’t!”

    “And if we are, I’ll get us out,” the shrimp butted in. “I can move us across the entire Fright Zone in a single teleport,” she boasted.

    “Yes, you’re really good at running away,” Seacat told her with a wide smile that grew even wider when she saw the princess scowl.

    *****​

    Seacat spotted Blondie before the other woman reached the pier that the Dragon’s Daughter IV was tied to and sighed. She knew that walk: All determination and stubbornness. Like Mermista when she was angry. No, actually it was different. And she hadn’t seen Blondie like that before, had she? So why...

    “Hello.”

    And there she was. Seacat forced her stupid thoughts away. “Ahoy,” she replied with a grin.

    “Permission to come aboard?”

    Oh? Had she been reading up on sailing? “We’re no fancy navy ship with all that stuff. Hop on deck.”

    Blondie did. She wasn’t jumping as easily as Seacat, or with as much style as Sea Hawk, but it was still impressive. Sort of.

    “I thought you were planning your spy mission,” Seacat said. Just as she was preparing the ship for their own mission.”

    “Well, I told them all I knew. I was never actually in the Horde Supply Corps, so that wasn’t all that much,” Blondie said. “Glimmer and Mermista will be sorting it out.”

    That made sense. Mermista knew all about the Horde supply routes by sea, and the shrimp would know about the landlubber side of the war. Or should - Bright Moon had been on the frontlines for years, after all, and the shrimp apparently was the commander of their army.

    “So you came to help me get the ship ready because you were bored.” Seacat nodded as if that was obvious.

    “No!” Blondie blinked. “I mean… not that I won’t help, but I wasn’t bored.”

    “You weren’t? Those were some of the most boring meetings I had ever seen,” Seacat lied. She had seen and attended far worse.

    “Really?” Blondie looked surprised, and, for a moment, Seacat thought she would call her on her claim. Then the other woman shook her head. “No, I came for another reason.” She stood a little straighter and narrowed her blue eyes slightly, facing Seacat. “Why are you needling Glimmer?”

    Oh. Seacat narrowed her eyes in turn. Defending her best friend, was she? “Someone has to, to keep her head from getting too big.” And it was fun to see her all worked up, of course.

    “She isn’t like that!” Blondie protested. “She works very hard. And she cares about everyone.”

    This time, Seacat huffed. “She’s a princess and thinks she knows best.”

    “Well…” Blondie looked quite cute with that scrunched-up expression, but she couldn’t deny this, could she? “But that’s still no reason to make her mad!”

    “It’s also funny.” Seacat bared her fangs at Blondie. “And she needs to learn how to control her temper before she becomes queen. I’m actually helping her.”

    Blondie opened her mouth, then closed it before opening it again. “That’s… That’s…” Suddenly, she frowned at Seacat. “You’re just doing this because you think it’s fun, aren’t you?”

    Rats. Seacat took care to shrug in an especially bored-looking way. “You can have more than one reason for doing something, can’t you?”

    The frown didn’t vanish. “Yes. But you’re doing it because you think it’s funny.”

    Seacat was frowning herself now. “Well, it is funny. You should try it yourself,” she added with a slightly forced grin. She had no reason to feel bad - it was funny, but also needed. Two birds, one stone or something.

    Once more, Blondie gaped at her. Then the woman sighed and closed her eyes, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Glimmer doesn’t think it’s funny.”

    “That’s part of why it’s funny,” Seacat retorted. “Don’t you think it’s at least a little funny?”

    Blondie shook her head with a stern expression. Still, Seacat had seen a hint of a smile and a little red blush appear for a moment before vanishing again. So she smiled widely at the other woman until Blondie sighed.

    “I didn’t actually come here to talk about you and Glimmer, you know?”

    “No, I didn’t,” Seacat replied. “Why did you do it, then?”

    “I thought it was a good opener.”

    Seacat snorted. “You should’ve opened with ‘Hey, can I help you?’ instead.”

    “Then you’d have me sweep the deck for an hour.”

    Seacat smirked. Of course she’d have done that - who would turn down free help? “So, why did you come then?”

    Blondie sighed again. That was a bad sign. “What you did was very dangerous.”

    Seacat shrugged. “Someone had to do it. Might as well send the best, so it actually gets done.”

    “Yes, but… Look, we’ve got a good plan, but we might be a little too late to stop the Horde frigates.”

    Seacat clenched her teeth. “We’ll try anyway!” The Horde would take the kingdom over her dead, floating - or sinking - body.

    “Yes, but… What I meant was that you’re doing dangerous missions. You might…” Blondie took a deep breath. “...you might die on one of your missions.”

    “Yes,” Seacat said, nodding. She tried to appear confident and casual. She didn’t want to die, but war was dangerous. Of course, so was she. And anyway… “The same goes for you,” she pointed out.

    “Oh, I’m She-Ra, I’m very hard to kill. It’s you I’m worried about.”

    Did she just…? Seacat felt her tail poof up as she clenched her teeth and growled at the idiot. “Worry about yourself, first!”

    “But…” Blondie looked confused. “I didn’t mean you’re helpless or weak…”

    “Of course not!” Seacat scoffed. The woman just had to double down on the insult, had she?

    “But… you’re usually alone out there, with no one except Sea Hawk, and in a small ship. I’m fighting with Glimmer, Bow, Perfuma, Netossa, Spinderella and sometimes Frosta. And Bright Moon’s army, of course. If I should get hurt - which I haven’t yet, not really - there are lots of people to help and save me.”

    “And you’re facing the entire Horde,” Seacat shot back.

    “Not the entire Horde - they have to garrison a lot of territory, and we keep them off-balance with raids all along the border, so they need to use even more soldiers to guard their supply lines.”

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “And they don’t raid your supply lines?” The Horde soldiers were scum, but they weren’t stupid.

    Blondie grinned. “They try, but they don’t have princesses. They need a lot more troops to stop one of our raids than we need to stop one of theirs.”

    “They have the bug woman,” Seacat retorted. And that woman looked like she could take on an army by herself.

    “Ah… Scorpia rarely appears on the frontlines.”

    “Then she must be up to something worse.”

    “Well, we’ll see. Scorpia isn’t your typical Horde soldier.”

    “Of course she isn’t. If she were, we’d have lost the war already. At least on land.” Seacat bared her fangs at the other woman in a sneer.

    “Hey!” Blondie frowned at her in return. “Anyway, I’m just saying you’re taking bigger risks than we do. Especially with those super-ships the Horde has now.”

    “So? We’ve taken even worse risks.” Hell, Blondie had been there - well, present - in the Battle of Salineas!

    “What? But…” The other woman pressed her lips together for a moment, visibly trying to calm down. “Look, I’m worried about you.”

    “Worried about me? Or about your friend?” Seacat huffed and crossed her arms.

    “I’m worried about you no matter what.” Blondie glared back.

    Which meant she still thought Seacat was her former Horde cadet friend. “Well, you don’t have to be. We’re going on a milk run. Even with cargo, we can outsail the Horde frigates.”

    “You were saved by a raincloud last time,” Blondie retorted.

    “We were caught in a bad spot with the wind blowing from the wrong direction,” Seacat told her. “But even then, we could’ve escaped if we had known how fast the Horde frigates were. Now that we know, they won’t catch us downwind like that again.” The Dragon’s Daughter IV would start evading much sooner, and they’d pick a route that wouldn’t let the Horde ships use their sails to best effect.

    “And what if the wind turns?” Blondie shook her head. “It’s still more dangerous than what we’re doing on land.”

    “Yeah, because ships can so easily hide in the brush or in a building and ambush you.”

    “We’ve turned the last such ambush back on them,” Blondie said, glaring. “I doubt that they’ll try that again anytime soon.”

    “Why not? They’ve got soldiers to spare, and they only need to get lucky once.”

    “That also goes for you!”

    “It’s not the same on the sea.” It was different. A different war.

    “Why not?”

    “We’re fighting ships, not soldiers.” Unless they were fighting a boarding action, of course.

    “So? One unlucky hit and your mast goes down, and you’re helpless!”

    So, Blondie had been studying naval warfare or something. Or she had paid more attention to Seacat’s stories at the Princess Prom than Seacat had expected.

    “One unlucky hit and you’re out. Or one of your friends.”

    “I’m very tough.”

    “Tough enough to bounce a cannon shell off your hair poof?” Shells that could wreck ships didn’t care about tiaras.

    “Well… I’ve never tried that. I mean, I’ve never had to try. Wait! Are you making fun of my hairstyle?”

    “Is this a serious question?” Seacat cocked her head with a grin.

    “My hairstyle is perfectly fine!” Was Blondie finally getting angry?

    “Perhaps in the Horde.”

    “Hey! No one else had my hairstyle!”

    “I think I’ll have to raise my estimation of our enemies’ intelligence, then.” She bared her fangs at the stupid, stubborn woman.

    Suddenly, Blondie was laughing. After a moment, Seacat joined in. She couldn’t help it, for some weird reason.

    “I’m just worried about you,” Blondie said after both of them had calmed down again, leaning against the railing.

    “But you expect everyone else not to worry about you?”

    “I’m She-Ra. I’m supposed to protect everyone else. That’s my destiny.”

    “Who said that?”

    “Li… that’s not important.” The woman shook her head. “I’ll fight, and we’ll win.”

    “Yes, of course.” They had no choice, after all.

    “But I worry that, well…” Blondie trailed off. “If we couldn’t…”

    “Couldn’t what?” Seacat narrowed her eyes again. Couldn’t have sex? Or couldn’t ‘remember’? If this was just another attempt to make her believe that she was a former Horde scum...

    Blondie stared at her for a moment, wetting her lips. Then she sighed. “Just don’t die.”

    Seacat scoffed. “Don’t worry.”

    Blondie’s chuckle sounded very forced.

    *****​

    One of the worst parts of a milk run was the boredom. Seacat was reminded of that fact a few days into their cargo trip. The wind was blowing steady and from behind them, the course was easy to keep, and there were no enemies on the horizon. Which meant there was nothing to do. Well, not nothing - you could always clean or fix something on a ship, so she was currently splicing rope - but nothing that really required her concentration.

    Or Sea Hawk’s. Which was worse.

    She suppressed a sigh when she saw the captain approach her on the foredeck. “Hey! Everything shipshape?”

    “Of course,” she replied. As if she’d accept anything else.

    “Good, good!” He leaned against the railing across from her, then looked at the horizon, then at the top of the mast.

    “What?” Seacat asked, rolling her eyes.

    “What?”

    “What do you want?” she asked again. It wouldn’t be a good thing - Sea Hawk rarely needed to work up to a talk with her. He was more the ‘blurt it out’ type.

    “Ah.” He beamed at her. “Since the sea and the wind are currently favouring us, I thought we could have a talk or something!”

    “The weather can change in a heartbeat,” she reminded himself.

    “If it does, we’ll be at our posts in a heartbeat as well!”

    “Right.”

    “Anyway!” He took a deep breath, then coughed into his fist. “I was wondering about your relationship to Adora - She-Ra.”

    “There is no relationship,” she replied at once.

    He raised his eyebrows at her but didn’t say anything.

    Frowning - and clenching her teeth - she added: “She’s talking to her missing friend, not to me.”

    “Are you sure?”

    Seacat narrowed her eyes. What exactly did he mean? Was this a hint that he believed Blondie’s absolutely stupid claims? Or was he just asking if Blondie might be talking to Seacat instead of this ‘Catra’? “She still thinks I’m her missing friend. And she’s oh so afraid I’ll die before I ‘remember’.”

    “Well…” The captain drew the word out. “She’s been sticking to her story.”

    “Which makes no sense.” Seacat scoffed. “You know the Horde - they don’t send cadets into battle.” The scum had no honour, but some lines they didn’t cross. If only because sending children into battle meant fewer adult soldiers in the long run.

    “Mistakes do happen.”

    “So, this Catra mistakenly arrives at a force that’s about to attack a village, and instead of, well, sending her back, they let her join them?” Seacat scoffed. She wouldn’t have joined butchers about to massacre a village. Cadet or not. “I think the girl deserted and got killed by some monster, and they covered it up so her fellow cadets wouldn’t get any ideas.”

    Sea Hawk nodded, but she could tell that he wasn’t convinced.

    “I’m not Catra,” she said, baring her fangs at him. “I’m Seacat.”

    “Of course!” He flashed her a smile. A genuine one. “But… are you worried about her?”

    “She’s She-Ra. Legendary Princess of Power.” Seacat rolled her eyes. “She can throw some of those Horde bots.”

    “And bounce shells off her face,” Sea Hawk said. “Or so the legends claim.”

    Seacat snorted. She’d believe that if she saw it - not that she wanted to see Blondie get hit by a shell. A boot to the head, on the other hand…

    “I just noticed that you’ve been spending more time with her than with anyone - except for me and Mermista, of course.”

    She scoffed. “She’s the one following me around.”

    “When she’s not carrying you to bed.” The captain grinned at her.

    She glared at him in return. “You won’t ever let me forget that, huh?”

    “Of course not!” He chuckled, then shook his head and sighed. “Although you should consider that the war’s growing worse. In the last year, the Horde has made more headway than in the decade before.”

    Since the Princess Alliance had fallen apart, in other words. “Is it really that bad?”

    “Yes. They’ve been building up. New and more weapons. The frigates are just one part of that. Bright Moon’s been hit by more of those giant walking bots they have, and they’ve been fielding mobile cannons.”

    “Mobile cannons?”

    “Yes.”

    “But… the recoil would wreck any skiff they mounted it on!” It had been tried before, after all.

    “They don’t shoot while flying - they set down for that.”

    “Oh.” That would be… ugh. She winced.

    “Yes. So… perhaps… think about not being too stubborn to miss out on something…” He tilted his head in a not-quite-shrug. “...beautiful?”

    He patted her head and left to return to the bridge before she could think of an answer.

    *****​

    Perched on the top of the mast, Seacat narrowed her eyes. Was that…? She squinted, then nodded. The Sea Gate’s slight glow was unmistakable. “Salineas ahead!” she yelled down to the captain.

    “As expected!” he yelled back. “We’ve made good time!”

    They had - despite the heavy cargo they were transporting back to Salineas. But they weren’t in port, yet. They hadn’t spotted any Horde ships on their trip, so the new frigates had to be somewhere - and blockading Salineas was an obvious move. The enemy ships would be able to intercept arriving ships easily - or, at the very least, drive them away - and sooner or later, the Salinean navy would have to give them battle or see the kingdom starve.

    But if there was a blockade, they should’ve seen the pickets guarding the western approaches of the kingdom already. This was the obvious route to take, most of the other routes locked by reefs and the Maelstrom, so where were the Horde sailors?

    “Do you see any sails?” Sea Hawk, of course, knew this as well.

    “No!” she yelled back, clenching her teeth. She used her telescope to scan the horizon - none. Wait… “There’s one!” She adjusted the telescope, which was a little tricky doing one-handed, and got a clearer view of the sail. “It’s a Salinean sloop.”

    “Alright.” He didn’t ask if she were sure, of course.

    Seacat felt relieved - trying to outrun a new Horde frigate with a cargo hold full of metal and other materials would have been a little difficult, even with the wind blowing from a favourable direction. But she couldn’t help worrying, either.

    If the Horde frigates weren’t blockading Salineas then where were they?

    *****​

    “Landing operations?”

    “Yes.” Mermista wasn’t happy. She was very unhappy, in fact. And not at Sea Hawk, for a change. “The Horde has launched a campaign up the Northern Coast, supported by several landing operations to encircle and take port after port. If they aren’t stopped, they’ll soon control the coast up to the Northern Sea.”

    And cutting off Salineas from support by the Alliance - with so many ports, the Horde could easily control the sea up to the Kingdom of Snows.

    “We didn’t know - we were at sea for the last few days,” Sea Hawk said. “But surely, we can stop them before they advance too far! If they conduct landing operations, they are vulnerable to a naval attack!”

    “We can’t face their frigates and hope to defeat them,” Mermista said. “We lost two frigates on patrol already. I’ve called back the entire fleet until we can counter their advantages.” She smiled for the first time since they had arrived in the throne room. “Which is why your cargo was so essential.”

    “Princess Entrapta must be glad to finally have the materials to finish her work,” Sea Hawk said, smiling himself.

    Mermista grimaced for a moment before she nodded. “I suppose so.”

    *****​

    “Oh! This is just perfect! The density is in the green range, too! And there’s enough for several tests! Oh, and this! What’s this?”

    ‘Glad’ wasn’t the right word to describe the Hair Princess’s reaction. ‘Ecstatic’ would be better. Or ‘hyper’. The princess was all but bouncing around in the room she had obviously transformed into a laboratory or workshop… Wait, now she had taken a leap and bounced off the wall to get behind a stack of metal plates.

    “Hello, Entrapta. You’ve got the cargo, I see,” Mermista said.

    “Yes, yes, I did! Thank you so much!” The princess used her hair to jump over another stack and land next to Sea Hawk, wrapping him up in purple tentacles. Like a demented squid. “And you!”

    Before Seacat could react, the princess moved over to her, and Seacat found herself wrapped in hair. Tightly wrapped. “Hey!”

    “Thank you!” The princess whirled, moving back towards her bench. Seacat felt herself dragged along and was about to use her claws to get free when she was suddenly dumped on the floor - which was littered with parts, one of which dug painfully in her rump.

    “Ow!” she complained, but it wasn’t like the princess even heard her.

    “Those are the last high-tensile components I needed!”

    “So you can build your countermeasures, then?” Mermista asked.

    “What?” The princess looked up but didn’t remove her mask, which made her look like one of her creepy bots. “Oh, yeah, sure. That’s easy, just have to use the chemical converter over there. Shouldn’t take more than a day to convert the base material.”

    “So you’re working on the catapults?” Sea Hawk asked.

    “No. Should I? Those are easy, anyway, and a mature technology.” This time, the mask slid up, and the princess’s confused expression was clearly visible. “Your yard workers should be able to build as many as you need.”

    Seacat wasn’t the only one who blinked. “You’ve already finished the countermeasures?”

    “The design, yes. Others can build it - it’s not First One’s tech. Oh, did you know that if you do everything yourself, you hurt the economy of your kingdom? People need work or they’ll leave, which reduces the amount of taxes and customs you receive, which reduces your research and development budget!”

    “Err, yes,” Mermista replied. Sea Hawk nodded.

    “I had to learn that for myself.” The princess pouted, then beamed. “But that’s all in the past now that I have the new materials!”

    “So…” Sea Hawk spoke up. “If you’re not working on the counteragent or catapults, what are you working on?”

    “Happy you asked!” The princess jumped up and landed next to a covered board. Her hairs grabbed the cover and ripped it away, revealing a whiteboard with…

    “You’re working on a propulsion system?” Seacat asked.

    “Yes!” The smile widened even more. “With this - once it works - your frigate will be the fastest on the seas again!” Then she frowned. “Well, for about half an hour so far.”

    Oh.

    *****​

    A few days later, the Salineans were still working on the catapults. Apparently, it was a little harder than the Hair Princess had claimed. Especially since the ‘mature technology’ actually meant that no one had constructed catapults in a century or so, what with everyone using guns on ships and for sieges instead.

    “Should we go seek cover?” Seacat asked as she watched three sailors handle a catapult on a small platform on the shore near the Sea Gate.

    Mermista glared at her. “This catapult was built exactly to Entrapta’s specifications.”

    “I thought all the others were built to her specs as well,” Seacat replied.

    “They were supposed to,” Mermista admitted. “But there were a few problems with the building process.”

    And with quality control. Like sinking the boat the first catapult had been mounted on. Seacat was very happy that she had managed to stop Sea Hawk from volunteering their ship for testing.

    “But it’s all fine now,” the princess went on. More loudly, she added: “Fire when ready!”

    “Aye, aye!” the commander of the catapult crew replied before turning to his men. “Alright, you scallywags! The princess herself is watching! If you mess up, she’ll have us all keelhauled!”

    Seacat snickered at that - and at Mermista’s expression. “Great discipline, princess.”

    “Keelhauling isn’t actually practised any more in the Salinean Navy,” Mermista replied with a deep frown.

    “But do they know that?” Sea Hawk asked.

    “Yes. They should, at least.”

    In Seacat’s opinion, some of the Salinean sailors would deserve to get keelhauled, if only to encourage the others. Like the crew on the slow frigate in the Battle of Salineas. The catapult crew there, though, threw their backs into it. Two used a crank to pull the arm down, and the third carried the payload - a dummy cask - to load it.

    This time, the arm didn’t break, and the catapult didn’t flip over either. It worked as advertised, sending the cask flying in a high arc.

    But it didn’t come near the target. Not even close.

    “They need more training at aiming,” Sea Hawk commented. “It’s not like aiming a cannon.”

    Mermista frowned.

    Seacat did so as well. It took weeks to train a gunner so they could hit anything from a ship at sea. She didn’t think it would take less time to train a catapult crew - quite the contrary, actually.

    And they didn’t have the time. Not with the Horde rolling up the coast.

    *****​

    It took the princesses a little longer to realise what Seacat already knew, but after a day’s worth of training - which resulted in another catapult self-destructing and one botched shot almost hitting the Sea Gate - Mermista announced that the catapult project would be abandoned. “We won’t be ready in time. We need to use our current weapons instead of new ones,” she said in her throne room after dinner.

    “Technically, it’s not a new weapon at all, but a very old one. Salineas was once protected by numerous catapults covering the approaches,” the Hair Princess retorted. “Catapults of various sizes, even! And installed on ships.”

    “Very old or new, the thing is, our sailors aren’t trained to use catapults. And I cannot send them into battle with weapons they don’t understand. That would be murder,” Mermista told her.

    “Well, actually… Oh. You were using hyperbole, weren’t you?”

    “Yes,* Mermista replied through clenched teeth.

    “Thanks! Socialising log day thirty-one: I correctly identified hyperbole.”

    Seacat didn’t know if she should laugh at the princess or pity her. There were more important concerns, anyway. “What are you planning then? Shoot the casks out of cannons?”

    “That won’t work,” Mermista replied.

    “Have you tried it?” Seacat asked.

    “Yes! The pressure from the cannon’s charge is too much for the cask!” The Hair Princess made a gesture with her hands that indicated an explosion. “I constructed a cask that was tough enough to withstand the pressure, but that meant it was tough enough not to break up upon hitting the water, which kinda defeated the purpose of shooting it in the first place. I’m trying to calculate the right structural strength so the cask will only just survive the shooting and will be so damaged, it’ll break as soon as it hits the water, but it’s a very fine line - and the standardisation of Salinean cannons leaves a lot to be desired!”

    “At least our cannons don’t blow up if they’re handled a little roughly,” Mermista shot back.

    Sea Hawk cleared his throat. “As much as I like explosions and catapults, what are our plans now to battle the Horde frigates? Is your new method of propulsion ready to be tested?”

    “Yes! It is!” The princess beamed at them. “I just need a volunteer!”

    “Not the Dragon’s Daughter IV,” Mermista snapped.

    “But it’s ideal for my tests! Light enough so the propulsion booster will show its true potential!”

    That sounded worrying. And the gleam in Sea Hawk’s eyes was even more worrying.

    “No.” The Salinean princess looked grim. “We’ll need the ship in top shape to lead the battle against the Horde.”

    Seacat clenched her teeth. She knew what that meant. “You’re going to swarm the frigates and pour the stuff into the sea at close range.” So close, the Horde frigates would have an easy time aiming their guns.

    Mermista nodded. “I don’t like it, but it’s our only chance.”

    Seacat didn’t like it either. Not at all. But the princess was right - they had no choice.

    “But… I just need a little more time to finish my device!” the Hair Princess protested. “Your chances of survival would be much improved with it!”

    “We don’t have the time. If we don’t stop the Horde now, they’ll take Seaworthy, and with that port in their power, they’ll cut the alliance in half. There’s not much north of Seaworthy that could stop them.”

    “But…” The Hair princess shook her head, her tentacles flailing around, “That’s… your chances of survival are far too low! It’s irrational!”

    “Our chances of survival might be low, but our chances of success are better. And it’s our only option,” Seacat said, chuckling without any humour. Even the weird princess who was often more like a bot than a person knew how bad this was.

    Sea Hawk, though, was beaming. “Huzzah! A daring, desperate gambit awaits us! Adventure!”

    *****​
     
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 10: The Battle of Seaworthy
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 10: The Battle of Seaworthy

    She sniffed the air and made a face. There was that smell again. She had the best nose of all the cadets, and the smell was really noticeable among the usual smells of the Fright Zone. No smoke, no stink of whatever materials the factories used, but… weird. Wrong, kind of.

    “What’s wrong?” Adora asked, looking up from where she was watching the formation drills on the square below them.

    “Something stinks,” she replied. “Very much.”

    “It’s probably you,” Lonnie butted in with a sneer. “You ‘forgot’ to wash again?”

    She snarled at the stupid girl. “I didn’t forget - I didn’t need to!” It wasn’t her fault that the others couldn’t smell how bad the water stank. She didn’t smell bad, anyway - she had hardly made an effort at the exercises. She didn’t need to, anyway - it was easy to tag the clumsy and slow practice bots.

    “Ew.”

    “Catra! You can’t neglect your hygiene!” Adora blurted out.

    “I didn’t!” she protested. “Lonnie’s stinky, anyway. I’m fine.”

    “Really?” Before she could react, Adora had stepped up to her and started sniffing her.

    “What are you doing?” She gasped - Adora was far too close - her stupid hair poof was almost tickling her chin!

    “Checking. A good officer always checks and verifies reports,” Adora replied, twisting her neck in an attempt to smell her arms.

    She moved back, crossing her arms over her chest, and felt her cheeks heat up. “Don’t do that! I’m fine!”

    Adora frowned. “You always say you’re fine. Even when you aren’t!”

    “I am fine!” she snarled. “And I don’t smell!”

    But Adora sniffed the air. “No. That’s a bad smell!”

    “That’s not me - that’s the stench I smelt before!” she told her friend.

    “Of course you’d say that! Stinker!” Lonnie said.

    She glared at the girl, noticing that Rogelio was snickering in that lizard way of his, and even Kyle dared to smile - though the wimp paled quickly when she narrowed her eyes at him. He’d pay for that! “You don’t believe me? I’ll prove it! Follow me!”

    She took off before the others could say anything. They didn’t matter anyway - only her friend mattered, and Adora would follow her, as usual.

    “Catra! Wait!”

    She knew it! She grinned and smelt the air - the stench came from the direction of the disposal site. Where the wrecked gear was disposed of. That made sense.

    And she knew the way - you could find useful stuff there, sometimes.

    She dropped down on the catwalk below them, dashed forward past the stairs and grabbed the water pipe at the edge. She swung over the railing, slid down the pipe and hit the ground running. No one was as fast as she was when she went all-out!

    She had to slow down a little to get through the maze of supply depots and pipework, but she reached her goal far ahead of the others - and not even out of breath. Which was a good thing - the stench was much worse here.

    It was so bad, she had to pinch her nose closed. Really bad. And with her nose closed, she couldn’t track the stench any more.

    “Catra! There you are… ew!”

    “See?” She turned towards Adora, who was panting. “That’s where the smell came from.”

    “Ew!”

    She nodded. “Yes, it’s bad. Especially for me.” No sign of Lonnie and the others. They probably hadn’t had the guts to follow her. Stupid idiots, anyway.

    “But what is it? I’ve never smelt this before,” Adora asked.

    “I don’t know. It smells weird. Like the mess hall, once.”

    “Rotten, you mean.” Adora nodded. “Let’s find out! If someone’s left food out to spoil that needs to be reported!”

    She made a gagging noise - easy with the stench. “Adora! You’re such a goody-shoe!”

    “I’m going to be a good officer - and good officers don’t look away when something’s wrong!”

    She rolled her eyes - that was Shadow Weaver talking. Adora was such a fool when it came to the witch. But she followed her friend - someone had to keep her out of trouble.

    They moved past some wrecked bots and some destroyed cannons, turning around a corner - and stopped. And stared.

    Before them were two rows of somethings, covered with tarps. Bodies, she realised after a moment - she could see some limbs and some tails sticking from under tarps.

    Dead bodies. Dead Horde bodies - she could easily see the uniforms. Or their bloody remains.

    “Bodies…” Adora said.

    “Yes,” she agreed. “Lot’s of them.” Almost two dozen. And they were here to be disposed of.

    Without saying anything else, they both turned away and left. At a brisk pace.

    And she tried to remember how often she had noticed that smell before. Then she tried to forget it.

    *****​

    Seacat woke up in her hammock and snorted a few times - she could still smell the stench of rotting bodies. Just like on the outpost the Horde pirates had taken. But the Horde didn’t do that to their own soldiers. They certainly wouldn’t just dispose of their dead like broken cannons or skimmers, would they?

    No, they wouldn’t. This was just her worrying in her dreams about the upcoming battle. And her possible death.

    *****​

    “Admiral! Admiral Sea Hawk! Hah! I can’t wait until Scurvy hears of his!” The captain - Seacat wasn’t about to call him admiral just because Mermista had said so - rubbed his moustache for the umpteenth time since they had set out from Salineas. “And we’re leading the entire Salinean fleet! People will talk and sing of this battle forever!”

    “As long as we’re among them,” Seacat muttered. She’d rather be alive and a hero than dead and a hero. Who knew what kind of lies they’d tell about her if she wasn’t around to correct people? And Blondie would be crushed. And she’d also proven right about her worries. Both were unacceptable to Seacat.

    “Oh, we will! The Dragon’s Daughter IV is the fastest ship on all the seas. And if the wind doesn’t change, we’ll have the advantage we need against the Horde.”

    If. The wind could change. Of course, even if the wind changed unexpectedly, and in the worst moment, they probably could still pull off their attack. Hell, they could get sunk and would still be able to make a decent attempt - they carried so much of Entrapta’s Solution, it was probably enough to cover the entire area around Seaworthy.

    It was the getting away part that worried her. Unlike in other, slightly similar situations, they wouldn’t have to swim away from a burning Horde ship with a crew that was too busy trying to fight a fire than to hunt them down - they would be facing a fleet, and even with their magic engines shut down and the crews the usual collection of scum and the dregs of the Horde, they would be able to catch up to a couple of swimmers before the rest of the Salinean fleet descended upon them.

    They would have to hope that the Horde would be too preoccupied with their failing propulsion and the approaching fleet to take revenge against them. And that the ‘automatic flotation devices’ the Hair Princess had developed worked as advertised.

    She glanced at the necklace. The princess had explained how it worked, but other than ‘like inflatable, but not,” it had gone over Seacat’s head. She hadn’t even understood half the words the princess used.

    Then again, neither had the others.

    “We’ll see,” she said. “As long as we take down the Horde fleet, we’ll have done our... “ She trailed off. It wasn’t their duty - they were volunteers. Although Sea Hawk’s promotion to admiral might have changed that, at least for him. Not for Seacat, though, She was an independent sailor. “...task,” she finished lamely.

    “Indeed! However, I aim to do a little bit more than what is expected of us!” Sea Hawk pointed to the horizon, where, if you squinted and had a telescope, the first peaks of the inland mountains would become visible soon. “We will make the Horde rue the day they challenged Admiral Sea Hawk’s fleet!”

    Well, that was something Seacat could get behind. Although… “You want to ram one of them?”

    “Once they’re helpless and engaged in battle, I want to board it, then set it on fire,” the captain confirmed what she had already known.

    “They’ll be expecting that once they see our flotilla,” Seacat pointed out. After the Battle of Salineas, even the Horde would have realised the danger of smaller ships ramming their warships. And worked on countering it.

    “They won’t expect us to board them, which will be their undoing!”

    Well, that was true - for a simple reason: Two people boarding a frigate was generally suicide.

    On the other hand, a panicking crew, torn between the propulsion failing, fire starting and the Salinean frigates bearing down on them… It was still damn dangerous, but they might have a chance. A better chance, in Seacat’s opinion, than swimming for it.

    She sighed, and Sea Hawk beamed at her.

    He knew her as well as she knew him, after all. He hadn’t even tried to make her stay behind, or serve as ‘liaison’ on a regular frigate. Even though she knew he had wanted to.

    But they were crew. He was the captain, and she was the first mate. If he was leading a flotilla of volunteers in small ships, some barely more than boats, then her place was at his side.

    No matter what Blondie might think.

    Seacat clenched her teeth. This wasn’t the time to be thinking of the woman and her weird views. She had to focus, not wonder how Blondie would react to however this might turn out.

    *****​

    They reached Seaworthy a day later, in the afternoon. The Horde hadn’t yet launched their attack, but Seacat saw several columns of smoke rising from the port. “The Horde has started their bombardment!” she told the captain.

    He frowned, then checked himself with his telescope. “That doesn’t look like a bombardment. Not a siege bombardment. It’s probably just a few guns - mobile ones - to unnerve the defenders and possibly lure them out.”

    Ah. “Those mobile guns we’ve heard about?”

    “Most likely.” He grinned. “That means they don’t have too many of them yet. And their fleet should be around as well. Just as planned!”

    “I must have missed that planning session,” she said, as sarcastically as she could manage.

    “Probably,” he replied with a shameless grin. “In any case, they’ll have their landing troops on their ships already, so they won’t be able to run from us.”

    “They’ve sunk two Salinean frigates already; I don’t think they’ll run anyway.” Seacat wouldn’t, not with such an advantage. “And they’ll fear that we’ll go after the transports with our flotilla.” Like they had gone after the bomb vessel in the Battle of Salineas.

    Sea Hawk’s grin widened, and he rubbed his moustache. “They will be surprised when we go after their frigates instead! A perfect feint!”

    “They’ll also do their worst to sink us,” she pointed out.

    “They’ll do that anyway!”

    He had a point, though she didn’t like admitting it. “Orders?” she asked instead.

    “Signal the flotilla to follow us southwards! We’ll search and engage the enemy!”

    “Aye aye, Captain!”

    “It’s Admiral!”

    She chuckled as she climbed the mast, signal flags held in her teeth.

    *****​

    A night battle would’ve been perfect, but the Horde fleet was already closing in on Seaworthy when they found it - with enough daylight left to land the troops if left undisturbed.

    “So much for great planning,” Seacat muttered under her breath as she adjusted the sails. The wind was blowing towards the coast, so neither side had an advantage. She clung to the mast with her legs, one wrapped around a line, and quickly counted the enemy fleet. Thirteen frigates. One bomb vessel, falling back - they had learned their lesson at Salineas. And half a dozen troop transports even further back - turning towards the coast. Were they trying to land troops there now?

    It didn’t matter much. They were here for the frigates. “Thirteen frigates!” she called out to Sea Hawk. “One bomb vessel, six transports.”

    “Signal the flotilla to pair up and pick their targets. The Dragon’s Daughter IV will go for the enemy flagship! And signal to the main fleet that we’re engaging.”

    She checked the horizon - the leading ship of the Salinean main fleet, another courier, was just barely visible from her position. She signalled it first, then started relaying commands to the flotilla. A few of them were already spreading out - no discipline amongst the volunteers.

    Then again, she thought as she slid down the mast, they needed bravery more than discipline for this attack.

    “Prepare the cargo for dispersal!” Sea Hawk yelled as he adjusted course, lining up their ship with the leading frigate.

    “Aye aye, Captain!” she replied, then moved towards the casks tied to the deck, next to improvised rails which would let them slide into the sea with little effort. And the other casks. A last check of the ‘quick-release stopper’ the Hair Princess had provided, then she turned towards the bridge. “Ready!”

    “Alright!” Sea Hawk was grinning widely - she could see his white teeth catching the sunlight for a moment.

    Then the first shells from the enemy hit the water ahead of them, followed by dozens more - the enemy battleline was firing the chase guns.

    “Turn about!” Sea Hawk announced, and Seacat jumped to tighten the lines as the ship turned towards the wind, away from the coast. She craned her head to look at the enemy line. If they didn’t take the bait… But they did. Fearing that the flotilla would circle around them and hit the transports, the entire battleline turned towards the wind as well.

    But the Horde frigates were fastest with the wind at their back - tacking against the wind, they couldn’t keep up with the fast ships following Sea Hawk. They wouldn’t have to, of course, if the flotilla were going after the transports - the Horde frigates would still be able to intercept them thanks to their relative positions.

    But that wasn’t the goal.

    The enemy had stopped firing - at their current course, the angle was wrong for either broadside or chase guns. But that would change soon - the trailing ships of the flotilla would soon be in the line of fire of the leading ships of the enemy. Still out of range, though.

    Seacat clenched her teeth. They had cut it very close - possibly too close. If the wind let off just a little, they would be caught in range of the enemy broadsides before they were in position.

    Minutes passed as they held course, slowly outpacing the enemy. Slowly reaching the point where the wind would be just right for the final part of their attack.

    Too slowly - the enemy started firing again. Broadsides. And the trailing ships were in range. Barely, but with the sheer number of shells thrown their way…

    Water columns appeared all around the last two ships. And then the second to last ship suddenly seemed to stop, dipping and listing. Hit below the waterline, Seacat realised. Keel was probably shattered, too - the mast was swaying, and the ship was already sinking.

    It didn’t matter, the next volley smashed the entire ship to pieces. The Horde gunners had the range, now.

    She looked at Sea Hawk.

    “All ships - deploy smoke and close with the enemy!”

    Instead of using the signal flags to alert the ship behind them to deploy smoke and charge, Seacat simply lit the prepared smoke charge in the bow. Everyone knew the plan anyway. Then she had to jump to adjust the mainsail as the Dragon’s Daughter IV turned until the wind was almost at her back and she was racing at the enemy.

    The smoke was quickly blown towards the enemy line by the wind, obscuring them from view - and concealing the Salinean flotilla from the enemy gunners. Except for the enemy flagship, which was too far ahead relative to the wind’s direction. That meant it had a clear line of fire at the Dragon’s Daughter IV.

    The enemy guns roared again, sending shells at the charging ships. Columns of water were thrown up all around them - their sudden turn must have thrown off the gunners’ aim. They would quickly adjust, though. Seacat hissed through clenched teeth, trying to estimate the rapidly closing range and the rate of fire of the enemy. At their current speed, the enemy would get off three volleys before they were close enough to dump the casks overboard.

    But if the enemy was competent, they would save the last volley until point-blank range - they would expect a ramming attack and would want to sink them at the last moment. They could only hope that the enemy flagship was crewed by a competent captain - but not too skilled gunners.

    “Turn about!” Sea Hawk yelled, and Seacat threw herself to pull the mainsail back as the ship swerved, turning a little into the wind. A moment later, the Horde flagship fired her broadside. Most shells went wide, missing with a good margin. A few were close enough to throw water over the decks. And one shell went through the mainsail, ripping a hole into it, before detonating in the water on the other side.

    Sea Hawk quickly turned back, returning to a collision course. Seacat checked the mainsail - it was holding so far, not tearing up, but any sharp manoeuvre could change that. Any manoeuvre such as another hard turn to avoid the next salvo.

    She cursed under her breath then looked to starboard. She couldn’t see any of the other ships - the smoke hid them. But that meant they wouldn’t be able to see much, either. They could only hope the other crews were good enough to correctly judge the distance.

    Shaking her head, she looked at the enemy flagship again. The Horde used breechloaders, so there was no way to tell when the guns were ready to fire other than timing the volleys and guessing, but any moment, they’d spat more shells at them.

    “Turn about!”

    Once more, the Dragon’s Daughter IV turned away, towards the wind, slowing down. And once again, the enemy fired a few seconds afterwards. Seacat saw the shells hit the sea, one impact closer than the other. Water washed over the deck, drenching her, but her claws anchored her to the planks - she wouldn’t slip.

    Then the bowsprit vanished in an explosion. The Dragon’s Daughter IV shook as if it had struck a reef, and Seacat barely managed to dive behind the casks before splinters shredded her. The ship was rolling, almost stalling - without the bowsprit, the foresail was uselessly flapping.

    Seacat jumped up and drew her cutlass. Two slashes, and the foresail was cut free, dropping into the sea next to them. She whirled, dashing back to her post. They were close enough that she could almost make out the expression on the Horde Sailors on deck. The water had extinguished the smoke charge - not that they needed it right now, anyway.

    This was it. The Dragon’s Daughter IV was damaged, but she was still sailing. Still going directly at the enemy ship. What would the enemy do? Hold their fire until they were too close to miss? If they fired now, all it would take was one hit. If they turned away to get a better angle, the Dragon’s Daughter IV could turn from the wind to avoid their broadside and strike their stern - not that they wanted to.

    The enemy held their fire and held their course. Seacat yelled, baring her teeth, as Sea Hawk turned the ship away again. “Release the cargo!” he yelled.

    Once more, Seacat whipped her cutlass around, slashing the ropes holding the casks in place. The first cask rolled over the rails, hitting the water - and breaking up. As planned.

    The enemy was now trying to change course, but a frigate wasn’t as nimble as their own ship. The next cask hit the sea. And they were almost out of the firing angle of the enemy broadside. The Horde captain tried to turn to keep up, but they had missed their moment - with each cask hitting the water, the ship grew lighter and gained more speed. The guns of the enemy broadside couldn’t reach them now. And as soon as they were in front of the enemy, Sea Hawk was turning into the wind again as the last few casks hit the water - the Horde frigate wouldn’t be able to avoid them.

    Then the chase guns fired. One shell missed, throwing water into the air on the backboard side of the ship. The other shell struck the Dragon’s Daughter IV’s stern. The impact threw Seacat forward, sending her to crash into the rails mounted there and sliding across the deck before a rolled-up line stopped her. Despite the pain in her side, she jumped up.

    She whirled and gasped - the entire afterdeck of the Dragon’s Daughter IV was wrecked. The Captain! Sea Hawk! She rushed back, claws digging into the slowly tilting deck, as she tried to find him amongst the debris and smoke.

    The keel must have held - they hadn’t capsized already - but without the rudder, the wind hitting the mainsail was pushing the ship off course and would soon push it over. If it didn’t sink or got blown before that.

    “Sea Hawk!” she yelled, climbing over the remains of the stairs leading up to the wrecked afterdeck. “Captain!” Had he been blown into the water? Or... No! He couldn’t have! She clenched her teeth and reached the top - the entire afterdeck was gone. She could see the keel through the empty space.

    “Captain!” Where was he? Why couldn’t she… There! She saw a speck of orange, down in the water, surrounded by floating debris. The flotation device had worked!

    She dived into the sea without hesitation, narrowly missing a particularly large splintered beam, but instead of diving, she was pulled to the surface as her own flotation device pulled her up - the amulet had released some balloon-like swimmers around her neck. She couldn’t swim like this! Or fight! Her claws made short work of the flotation things and she pulled the device off her neck, then quickly swam towards Captain. He wasn’t moving. Clenching her teeth, she grabbed him under the shoulders. “Captain!”

    He wasn’t answering. Was he breathing? She couldn’t tell. And the Dragon’s Daughter IV had turned away from the wind and was slowly rolling over. If she reached it…

    The roar of another broadside almost deafened her. Eyes widening, she slashed Sea Hawk’s floatation device and pulled him underwater, trying to get as deep as possible before…

    She was thrown around as if hit by a minotaur, multiple times, when the shells exploded. She felt her breath being driven out of her lungs by the shockwave and almost lost her grip on the captain before she managed to claw her way back to the surface.

    She gasped for air, then pulled Sea Hawk’s head up as well. The Dragon’s Daughter IV was gone - blown up by several shells hitting it. But there was floating debris around. On her back, she swam towards the largest, a piece of the deck, dragging Sea Hawk behind her, his head pressed to her chest, above the water. It was all she could do, and if the damned Horde wanted to finish them, she would be helpless.

    But they weren’t finishing them off - even with her ringing ears, she could hear the sudden screams from the flagship. They must have spotted the main fleet of the Salineans, sailing at them with the wind at their back, their approach hidden by the smoke so far.

    She pulled Sea Hawk on to the floating wood and finally could check him. He was bleeding from a cut in his forehead, but his heart was beating - and he was still breathing. Coughing up foul-smelling water, tainted by the solution they had poured into the sea, but breathing.

    Laughing - and coughing herself - she looked around. The smoke was mostly gone, so she could see the rest of the Horde fleet - and what was left of the flotilla.

    There weren’t many ships left of them, she realised. She counted six burning wrecks, and who knew how many of the small ships had just vanished, like their own? But a few had made it through the enemy lines and were sailing away as fast as they could while the Horde ships were trying to form a line to receive the Salienan main attack.

    Trying - and failing. She bared her teeth as the first shots from the Salinean chase guns rang out, shells splashing the water near the frantically turning Horde ships - and hitting them.

    “Seacat?”

    “Captain!” She gasped. He was awake!

    “Did we ram the ship?” Sea Haw tried to push himself up on his elbows.

    “No, we got sunk,” she told him. “But we did wreck their ships.” She wasn’t lying - the Horde frigates were sailing far slower than before - slower than they had before being upgraded, even. All those water intakes must have added drag to the designs.

    And the Salineans were placed in a perfect position to exploit it. They were now sailing parallel to the Horde line, exchanging broadsides - but they were easily outpacing the Horde ships and would be able to cross the enemy’s T before long.

    If the Horde scum lasted that long - she saw one frigate’s main mast fall, dragging most of her rigging down and slowing the ship so much, the following frigate couldn’t turn away in time and rammed it from behind. Two Salinean frigates lost no time swerving and raking the Horde ship’s sterns with heavy volleys. The rest of the battle line stayed on course, though - and was now about to pass Seacat and Sea Hawk’s position.

    Which meant they were about to find themselves smack in the middle between two battle lines - and too close to the Horde ship. “Dive!” she yelled, sliding off the piece of deck. A moment later, Sea Hawk followed.

    Seacat remained underwater as long as she could hold her breath. The chance of getting hit by splinters was low, but with the number of shells a broadside threw at the enemy… When she resurfaced, gasping for air, the Horde frigate was burning and had lost one mast. Her cannons were still firing, though - and the Salinean frigate had taken several hits as well, though none of them crippling, as far as Seacat could tell.

    “Huzzah! That’s the enemy flagship! Give it to them!”

    “Dive!”

    She turned underwater, trying to spot a glimpse of the enemy’s hull underwater, but they weren’t close enough for that. She could hear the muted explosions, though. If the enemy frigate’s magazine went up…

    The next time they resurfaced, the Horde flagship had been completely demasted and she was dead in the water. Seacat could spot several horde sailors jumping into the sea. She didn’t see anyone lowering dinghies into the water - but judging by the damage she could see, they hadn’t survived the fight anyway. And the smoke rising from the hulk...

    An explosion shook the frigate, sending spouts of water up in the air - not the main magazine; probably propellant left on the gun deck - and the frigate slowly started to turn turtle.

    “And down she goes! Hah! Another heroic adventure successfully concluded!” Sea Hawk yelled, pointing at the sinking ship.

    “Thanks to the Salinean fleet,” Seacat muttered as she pulled herself up on the piece of deck from the Dragon’s Daughter IV that had remained nearby.

    “They helped, of course, as was the plan!” the captain exclaimed as he followed her.

    Seacat was too busy watching the enemy’s hull as it completely turned over to reply. There was the water intake - and the pipe at the stern.

    “Hm. With the water pushed straight at the rudder, the frigate should’ve been more responsive. I think there’s more to the engine than what we assumed,” Sea Hawk said.

    She glanced at him and saw that he was squeezing water out of his moustache. “I think we’ve got more things to worry about than that,” she said.

    “On the contrary! Until we’re picked up by our valiant allies, we have nothing else to do than wait and watch!”

    Well, he had a point. She looked around. The enemy’s numbers had been reduced to about half, from what she could see, what with smoke from burning ships blocking her view in some areas. And all the Horde frigates she could spot were in bad shape, engaged by at least one Salinean ship.

    A not so distant explosion sent smoke and fire high in the air - that had been a magazine going up. A Horde frigate’s, or so Seacat hoped. The Salineans hadn’t escaped unscathed either - she could only count nine frigates still sailing, and what might be a burning hulk in the distance. But the outcome wasn’t in doubt any more.

    She saw two Salinean frigates finish off the closest Horde frigate. Good! That meant… She blinked. They were turning away? Oh. “They’re going after the transports.”

    “Of course! With the enemy fleet defeated, this is the best opportunity to end the threat of another landing!” the captain said.

    “It also means we won’t get picked up until the last enemy has been sunk,” Seacat told him.

    He blinked, then beamed at her. “Indeed! This will be another captivating part of our tale!”

    “Really.” She frowned. She didn’t hate swimming, unlike Blondie’s friend, but sitting on a floating piece of deck, soaked to the bone, her fur already getting crusty with salt? She could do without all of that, heroic adventure or not. On the other hand, they had survived the battle, and that was… She blinked. “Horde!” she hissed.

    “What?” Sea Hawk was at her side in a moment. “Where?”

    She pointed at a figure in the water swimming towards them. They were coming from the position where the enemy flagship had sunk. No allied ship had been near there. Other than the Dragon’s Daughter IV.

    She drew her cutlass. What was the Horde scum thinking, coming at them? She almost wanted to jump into the water and slice the scum up before it could try to capsize their raft!

    “They seem to be alone,” Sea Hawk commented.

    “Gutsy bastard,” she spat.

    “Maybe not.”

    “What?” She glanced at him. “What do you mean?”

    Then the enemy reached their raft and gripped its edge. “Made it!” the man gasped, panting. “A hand, mate?”

    She saw him look up, his eyes widening as he got a look at them. And at her cutlass.

    But next to her, the captain was kneeling down and reaching out to the enemy. “Welcome to what remains of the Dragon’s Daughter IV. I believe you are our prisoner!”

    The Horde sailor coughed, then gripped the captain’s hand and let himself get pulled onto the raft. “Thank you,” he said as he sat down, slumping over. He was barefoot, only wearing the Horde uniform pants and shirt, and his dark hair was plastered to his head.

    Seacat glared at him, her cutlass pointed at him. If he made the slightest move…

    “We’re just doing what any sailor would in our position. The law of the sea is clear about this,” Sea Hawk said. “And, we’re kind of in the same boat. Or on the same raft.”

    The Horde scum weakly chuckled, coughed again, and groaned. “You were the ones in the small ship trying to ram us, then?”

    “No!” Seacat spat. “If we had wanted to ram you, we would have done so!”

    He shied away from her.

    Sea Hawk cleared his throat. “Not exactly. Suffice to say that we completed our mission before your chase gunners got lucky.”

    The man nodded but didn’t take his eyes off Seacat’s blade. She kept it pointed at him for a few more seconds, then sheathed it. He wasn’t armed. And even without her blade, she could disembowel him with her claws if he tried anything.

    Sea Hawk smiled and struck a pose. “You are twice fortunate. Not only did you survive the sinking of your ship, but you were rescued by the one and only Sea Hawk, and my first mate, Seacat!”

    She was about to remind the captain that there was a time and place for such boasting, and it wasn’t when they were on the floating remains of their ship, but their prisoners gasped and stared at her with wide eyes.

    “Seacat? Catra?”

    Not again! She grabbed the scum by his throat and held him up. “Why do you know that name?”

    “Ah, Seacat…”

    She ignored the captain. She had almost been killed by the Horde, she could feel the seawater drying on her fur, leaving salt crusts and whatever the princess had put into those casks, and now this Horde scum was insulting her? “Talk!”

    The man coughed, feeble hands gripping her wrist.

    “He can’t talk if he can’t breathe.”

    She glared at the captain, then released the scum. “Talk!”

    He coughed instead of talking, rubbing his throat. “Just heard the names… general orders.”

    “‘General orders’?” Sea Hawk asked.

    “What orders?” she spat.

    “Just that…” The scum coughed again. “That should we capture, ah, Seacat or Catra, we should deliver her to the Fright Zone.”

    What? She blinked.

    “What? Seacat? Are you sure they didn’t mean Sea Hawk?” the captain asked. “The one and only Sea Hawk? Scourge of the Horde fleet? Love of Princess Mermista’s life? Captain of the fastest ship on all the seas? Most wanted man on Etheria? The Sea Hawk?”

    She glared at him. This wasn’t the time to worry about your fame!

    “Uh… yes? We got a description, too. Ears and tails. They, uh, match…?” The Horde sailor grimaced, then cowered when she glared at him.

    “And you had no other special orders?” Seacat asked.

    He shook his head wildly.

    She frowned. “Why would the Horde single me out?”

    “Indeed! You are the best first mate one could wish for, but I’m the captain of our crew! How could they mistake you for me?”

    She couldn’t tell if Sea Hawk was joking or not.

    *****​

    It took another hour before Seacat saw a dinghy heading their way from one of the two damaged Salinean frigates that had stayed in the area - all the others had sailed off to hunt down the bomb vessel, the transports and what other Horde ships hadn’t been smart enough to flee in time.

    “Ah! Relief at last!”

    “Yeah,” she muttered, glancing at the Horde sailor. He hadn’t looked up. He hadn’t said anything since the interrogation, either. Which was just fine with her.

    “Ahoy!” Sea Hawk yelled, waving.

    “Took you long enough!” Seacat added, then smirked when she saw the Salinean midshipman in charge of the boat flinch. Yes, leaving the lover of your princess in the water for hours might not have been the best decision.

    Not that the captain would abuse his relationship for that. Not when drifting on the sea for hours made a much more compelling tale. By the time they hit Seaworthy, Sea Hawk might have added nearly dying from hunger and thirst to the tale.

    “Captain Sea Hawk?”

    “Admiral Sea Hawk, if you please! My flotilla might be gone, and my ship most definitely was sunk - we’re standing on the last remaining piece of her that’s still afloat - but I still have my rank!”

    “Until Mermista decommissions you,” Seacat added, smirking when he frowned at her.

    But he smiled again in a heartbeat. “In any case, this was a splendid victory! My compliments to Admiral Gharn - she hit them right when they were the most vulnerable.”

    “Ah, thank you, Admiral,” the young midshipman managed to reply as she gestured at her boat. “If you’d like to board…?”

    “Certainly! Also, this is our prisoner - Sailor... “ Sa Hawk frowned. “I actually didn’t get your name in all the excitement. But he served on the enemy flagship and has vital information about the enemy plans!”

    “Oh?” The officer perked up and looked at the Horde scum.

    “I what?” The sailor looked confused in return.

    “Captain!” Seacat hissed. This wasn’t anyone else’s business!

    But Sea Hawk wasn’t listening to her. “Indeed! There was a very interesting general order given to the Horde fleet! The Princesses have to hear about this at once!”

    “No, they don’t!” she snapped. Especially not Blondie!

    But everyone was ignoring her.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2020
  3. RubberBandMan

    RubberBandMan I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Still enjoying this. Catra SeaCat and SeaHawk are still such great foils. Seacat is so very aware she'd have to make her own trouble if it wasn't for Seahawk, and would miss the chaos, while Seahawk knows better when to reel it in because Seacat's trust and support means he's not trying to prove himself so relentlessly, he know's there's one person that always has his back through thick and thin.

    The image of them going 'well, it's part of our ship that was blown up that we're all stuck on, therefore we took you prisoner on our ship' is just so very perfect almost-nonsense that both Catra original and Seahawk would exploit, even though it does make a sort of sense even though the real logic is 'Catra will beat you up if you don't accept it'.

    Keep up the good work!
     
    Eryk and Starfox5 like this.
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 11: The Bounty
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 11: The Bounty

    “You could’ve done better, Adora.”

    She didn’t like the voice. Not at all. She pulled back a little more, pushing herself into the corner behind the pillar that was a little off, near the door to their quarters. No one would find her there, and she could still hear everything - her ears were much better than anyone else’s - she knew that!

    “We passed the exercise.”

    “Adora…”

    She clenched her teeth, hissing under her breath as she felt her fur rise. She hated that tone, especially!

    A sigh.

    Fake. Fake. Fake.

    “Passing is not enough. Not for someone with as much potential as you. You’re letting others hold you back. Stifle you.”

    She wanted to spit. ‘Potential’. Bah! She was faster and she had claws! And she could see and hear things better than anyone else. But no one, ever, said she had potential.

    “But it was a group exercise. We had to work together” Adora said.

    “You were the leader, and they let you down.”

    “They didn’t! We passed,” Adora protested.

    “You could’ve done better. You were distracted, Adora. You can’t allow yourself to be distracted. As a Force Captain, everyone will depend on you.”

    Yeah, yeah - Adora would be a Force Captain. She knew this already. Everyone knew this. Feh!

    “And I won’t let them down!”

    “You can’t let them drag you down - even if they are your friends, you have to be better than that.”

    “This is about Catra, isn’t it? She took down the main bot from ambush!”

    “After hiding for the entire exercise. She’s dragging you down. And you let it happen.”

    “She’s my friend!”

    “And what will you do when her laziness and mistakes cause the death of others under your command? And that will happen, Adora! She’s a liability. A soldier of the Horde has to always give their best. You have to trust them to obey your orders, or your plans will fail. She is a distraction - no, she’s a danger to you and everyone else.”

    “She’s my friend! She won’t drag me down!”

    Yes! Tell her, Adora!” She hissed again. Stupid… stupid…

    *****​

    Seacat woke up shivering. Again that stupid, hateful voice. Again a stupid dream - she didn’t even know how the face the voice belonged to looked like. If that didn’t prove that she wasn’t this ‘Catra’, then nothing would.

    She stared at the ceiling. Solid wooden beams - but she wasn’t on a ship. She was in Seaworthy, in an inn. The best inn of the port, actually. Sea Hawk might not have been an admiral for longer than a week, and he might not remain an admiral for much longer, now that their work was done, but the people in Seaworthy didn’t know that and had been very grateful for being saved from the Horde invasion.

    Sea Hawk’s latest shanty hadn’t hurt, of course. How the captain had found the time to compose it she didn’t know - he had been handling his report and looking into the survivors of the flotilla on the way to Seaworthy, and she didn’t think he had invented it on the spot.

    Not that there had been many survivors. She sighed as she got out of bed and splashed some cold water on her face, then rubbed it dry with a towel. As they had expected - and as Sea Hawk had told them - the Horde had been prepared for ramming attacks by fast boats. They had installed carronades on their frigates. Those guns had a pitiful range but were devastating close up. Grapeshot at point-blank range…

    She shivered once more as she pulled her clothes on. A single carronade could destroy a boat and kill her crew at once. If the Dragon’s Daughter IV had just sailed a little closer, or if the Horde scum hadn’t been patient and skilled enough to wait a little longer…

    Only three ships of their flotilla had survived. And one of them had been sunk attacking a transport later. Fools - all they should have done was shadowing the transports and leading the rest of the fleet to them. Which the other two had managed, at least.

    She bared her teeth. All transports sunk, most of them with the landing forces still on them - the Horde scum would feel this loss for a long time!

    Well, it was time for breakfast. Seacat hoped that she was early enough to eat without getting bothered by anyone. Like a princess.

    She took a deep breath as she stepped into the hallway, her nostrils flaring. Oh, fresh milk bread! That was something you didn’t get to eat on a ship. Licking her lips, she went down to the inn’s dining room, taking two steps a time.

    And came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. Blondie and her friends were there, sitting at the closest table.

    Looking at her. Damn.

    “Cat-Seacat!” And Blondie made a beeline towards her, almost shoving the waitress out of her way.

    Seacat smiled at her. “So, you made it as well. How did…” Before she could finish, she found herself interrupted by the woman grabbing her in a hug strong enough to push her breath out of her - and she wasn’t even transformed! “Ack!”

    Blondie released her, only to grab her by her arms instead. “What were you thinking? We’ve heard about what you did! Who had this… this plan?”

    Uh-oh. “What plan?” She had to delay. Distract the woman. She just had to stall and… why weren’t the shrimp and Brain Boy interrupting them?

    “What plan? The plan to rush at a Horde battle line in small boats and get sunk!”

    “Ah, that plan.” Seacat forced herself to smile. Stalling didn’t work very well. And the shrimp and Brain Boy were glaring at her as well - as if this was her fault!

    “Yes, that plan!” Blondie looked really angry. Were those tears in the corner of her eyes? For her? Or had she tried the hot fish stew for breakfast?

    “Hey, it worked, didn’t it?” As Sea Hawk had taught her, it was hard to argue with success. Not impossible, but hard.

    “It also caused over fifty per cent casualties among the soldiers involved,” the shrimp said. As if that was her business!

    “Sailors,” Seacat corrected the princess, “not soldiers.”

    “Who cares? You almost died!” Blondie blurted out. “And after you said…” She shook her head - shaking Seacat a little as well since Blondie still kept vice-like grips on Seacat’s upper arms. “Whose plan was it?”

    Blondie was really mad. There was only one answer. “The Salinean Navy’s!” Seacat replied. They could take the casualties better than Seacat’s crew could. She had only one captain, and the Salineans had officers to spare, many of them useless anyway.

    “Oh! I’m going to give Mermista a piece of my mind!”

    Ugh. If Blondie went after Mermista, Sea Hawk would step in to protect the princess. “We volunteered! We knew how dangerous it was, but it was the only way to save Seaworthy!” Seacat told Blondie. “We tried catapults to deploy the mixture, but they didn’t work, cannons wouldn’t work either, and the Hair Princess’s new invention to make our ships faster wasn’t ready yet.”

    “Sea Hawk volunteered you?” Blondie had no fangs, but up close, her teeth looked quite impressive when clenched.

    We volunteered,” Seacat spat.

    “What were you thinking? You almost died!”

    She finally managed to wriggle out of the woman’s grip. “But we didn’t! And we had it all planned out - attacking with the wind, smoke to hide us and hinder their gunners, turning outside the point-blank range of the enemy… We even had new flotation devices the princess made for us.” Which hadn’t really been that helpful - quite the contrary, actually - but there was no need to mention that.

    “And you got sunk!”

    “One of the Horde gunners got lucky,” Seacat spat with a frown. But Blondie was still glaring at her. And those were definitely tears in her eyes. Damn. Seacat forced a weak smile on her face. “Look, I know the general order the Horde got to capture me looks bad, but…”

    “‘General order’? They want to capture you?”

    Seacat winced at the volume. “So… you hadn’t heard about it, yet?” And she was still so worked up?

    “We arrived late at night,” Brain Boy said. “And we convinced Adora that you needed your sleep after your, ah, ordeal.”

    Was that a fancy word for battle?

    “I wasn’t about to wake her up!” Blondie protested.

    “You were about to transform and break through her door,” the shrimp retorted.

    “Never mind!” Blondie turned back to Seacat and glared at her. “What did you say about a general order to capture you?”

    That was an intense glare the woman had. Seacat felt her fur bristle a little in response. Even though she wasn’t afraid or even impressed. She huffed and sneered a little. “We captured a sailor. He told us that if they captured me or Catra, they should bring us to the Fright Zone. So, you see - it’s an order to capture me, but just an order what to do should they capture me. Which they won’t, anyway!” She flashed her teeth in a smile. A confident smile.

    But Blondie wasn’t looking at her - she was frowning at the floor or something, and biting her thumb. “Shadow Weaver! She’s behind this! I should’ve expected that after her letter!”

    Shadow Weaver… Seacat felt a shiver run down her spine. She didn’t like that name. At all. Wait! She blinked. “What letter?”

    “The letter Scorpia delivered to you at the Princess Prom?” the shrimp was suddenly at their side. “That letter?”

    “Yes,” Blondie replied, grimacing. “She tried to use my old comrades in the Horde against me. As if I’d fall for that! But I should’ve expected that she wouldn’t give up.”

    “Wait! You’re the reason the Horde wants to capture me?” Seacat blurted out. “They think I’m your friend? Your missing friend?”

    Everyone was staring at her again.

    “Err…” Blondie coughed. “Yes?”

    “Why?” Seacat snapped. “Why, damn it?” This couldn’t be true!

    “Uh…” Brain Boy spoke up. “Are you asking why Shadow Weaver wants to kidnap you, or why she thinks that you’re Catra?”

    Before Seacat could answer the stupid question, the shrimp spoke up. “What kind of question is that? Everyone knows that she’s Catra! The dates match, she looks like her, she acts like her…”

    “I don’t act like her at all!” Seacat protested. “I like to swim! And I hate the Horde!”

    “Big deal!” the shrimp retorted. “I didn’t like to swim when I was younger, either! And Adora hates the Horde, too!”

    That stupid princess! Seacat hissed. This wasn’t true!

    “And, ah… Shadow Weaver wants you because you’re my… friend,” Blondie added, with a glance towards her friends.

    “One of her friends,” the shrimp added before she was elbowed by Brain Boy.

    “So… this Shadow Weaver…” Seacat felt her fur bristle again just saying the name. “...she wants me as a hostage?”

    “Yes.” Blondie nodded. “She must have found out about you at the Princess Prom, from Scorpia. And when I didn’t react to the threats to the cadets in my former squad…”

    Seacat shook her head with clenched teeth. This wasn’t true! This couldn’t be true! She wasn’t just some hostage! She wasn’t just leverage against She-Ra! She was Seacat! She had fought the Horde! She had beaten the Horde - with Sea Hawk. She had done much more things that mattered than… dancing with a princess at a ball!

    “No!” she spat and whirled around.

    “Ca-Seacat! Wait!”

    “Leave me alone!” she hissed at Blondie. “This is all your fault!”

    Then she leapt to the door, ripped it open and rushed out of the inn. Away from… away from everyone.

    “Wait!”

    Blondie was coming after her. Of course!

    “Wait! Seacat, wait!”

    But the woman didn’t know Seaworthy as well as Seacat did. And she wasn’t as fast as Seacat. Not by a long shot.

    Seacat sprinted down the main street on all fours, dodging around the passers-by and easily outdistancing the Blondie, until she reached a particular intersection. She bared her fangs as she took the corner, dashing down a side alley, then took the next corner, and another and one more.

    Then she slowed down. Here, the alleys were so narrow, sometimes you couldn’t even see the sky above you. There was no way Blondie - or any princess - would find her here.

    Sighing, she sat down and leaned against the wall.

    And cursed the Horde, Blondie, the princesses. Everyone.

    She wasn’t Catra! She was Seacat! The damn best first mate of the fastest ship in Etheria! She mattered!

    And she wasn’t crying!

    *****​

    Seacat sniffed the air and grinned. She could smell the roasted fish around two corners - her third-favourite food stall in Seaworthy was open! She could finally get breakfast. Scoffing, she reminded herself that this, too, was all Blondie’s fault. If not for the princess and her stupid friends, she could’ve eaten in the inn. Milk bread!

    But now she could eat in peace. And it was late enough so she could order breakfast and lunch together. Perhaps one order of roasted fish and one of fried fish? Yeah, that would do. Running from a stupid princess had made her work up an appetite, too!

    She was licking her lips as she rounded the last corner. There was the stall - and that was a piece of arctic shark on the spit in the corner! And there was…

    …Sea Hawk sitting at the counter.

    She froze for a moment, almost turning and dashing back around the corner. Then she scoffed and straightened. She wasn’t going to run away from her captain.

    Instead, she continued walking and sat down on the seat next to him. “Morning,” she grumbled.

    “Morning, first mate!” he replied with a smile.

    She didn’t ask how he had found her - he had shown her the back alleys of Seaworthy, after all. But she looked around.

    “No one else is here,” he told her.

    She huffed in response. But she was glad he hadn’t brought Blondie here. Not that she had really expected him to.

    “I’ll have the fried fish and the roasted shark,” she told the cook.

    “Good choice,” Sea Hawk told her. “The shark’s delicious - fresh from the Kingdom of Snows. I had it myself.”

    That was good news. She nodded, licking her lips as she watched the cook put the fish pieces into the boiling oil before cutting off a generous portion from the shark. She had been here often enough, so the man knew better than to ask if she wanted some greasy side dishes with her fish.

    And the shark was delicious. She gobbled it down while the cook finished frying her next order.

    Sea Hawk didn’t say anything while she ate, but as soon as she swallowed the last piece of fried fish, he cleared his throat.

    And Seacat suppressed the urge to wince. “It’s all Blondie’s fault!” she spat before he could say anything.

    “Is it?”

    “Yes!” Of course it was!

    “That the Horde wants to capture you?”

    She clenched her teeth for a moment, almost hissing, before she answered: “Yes. They want me as a hostage. Because she thinks I’m her missing friend.”

    “I think dancing and sleeping with her in the Kingdom of Snows also played a role there.” He nodded slowly and took a sip from his ale.

    This time, she did hiss. “I didn’t sleep with her - we just slept in the same bed!” she corrected him.

    “Well, you know gossip and rumour.” He chuckled softly. “I think people were already talking about your passionate night with Adora before we left port.”

    “You mean She-Ra.” She scoffed. “No one would care about her if she were just a Horde deserter fighting against them. The Horde.”

    “Ah.” He frowned and tilted his head. “Are you angry that the Horde didn’t put a bounty on your head for being the best first mate on all the seas?”

    She clenched her teeth again. She didn’t want to sound arrogant, but…

    She had taken too long to answer since he patted her shoulder before she could say anything and told her. “I understand completely, Seacat. I, too, know how it feels when your accomplishments haven’t been appreciated as they should’ve been.”

    “They made you an admiral,” she replied in a flat voice.

    “And it was completely justified, as we proved during the battle, yes!” He smiled widely. “However, it took me a long time to develop my reputation as the best captain on all the seas. Oh, the years of doing heroic deed after heroic deed, surviving adventures that would have left others dead and destroyed…”

    “Such as setting your own ship on fire,” she interrupted him.

    He ignored her jab. “...without being recognised for it. Well, except for the bounty hunters and the jealous captains. Or their jealous lovers.” He nodded to his own words. “But in the end, Mermista acknowledged my heroic and dashing nature and my pure love for her!” He reached over and grabbed her by both shoulders, looking into her eyes. “You, too, will achieve your dreams, as long as you persevere and never give up!”

    “I don’t want a relationship with Blondie,” she retorted.

    “Did I say that?” he asked - far too innocently to be innocent.

    She narrowed her eyes and growled at him.

    He released her shoulders in response and coughed into his fist. “Trust me, you too will soon be hunted by the Horde for your own merits - they’re just a little slow to realise what we’ve done to them, together. Part of the reason for this is that Mermista has forbidden me to sing shanties about our spy missions for ‘operational security’.”

    “That’s so we won’t run into a trap the next time we do such a mission,” she told him.

    “Probably, yes.” He grinned. “My dear Mermista is a little too cautious. I’ve told her that we wouldn’t use the same plan twice, so letting the Horde know what we did would only make them focus on the wrong areas, but she remains unconvinced.”

    She scoffed in return.

    “Exactly! But I might yet convince her. Anyway, you shouldn’t blame our friends for the Horde’s actions.”

    “It was their actions that led to this,” Seacat told him. “If she hadn’t mistaken me for her missing friend, none of this would’ve happened.”

    “Are you certain?” He cocked his head. “She didn’t force you to spend so much time with her, did she? If she did, I’ll have a word with her - as your captain, the law of the sea compels me to protect you from such… advances.”

    Seacat clenched her teeth. She was tempted to lie - it would serve Blondie well to have the captain come after her - but… She wasn’t the kind of sailor who had a lover in every port, nor was she a rake like some of Sea Hawk’s friends, but she, well… If Blondie weren’t a princess, not a former Horde soldier, and not such a pain in the stern about her missing friend, she wouldn’t be the worst choice to spend an evening carousing with.

    “Ah!” The captain was smiling widely - she had taken too long to answer. Again.

    “It’s not like that!” she spat.

    He chuckled in return. “Of course not. But it could be, couldn’t it?”

    She glared at him instead of answering.

    He sighed and put his hand on her shoulder again. “Seacat, I know this isn’t easy for you. But remember: This isn’t your fault, nor hers. Nor anyone’s except the Horde’s. Adora and the others mean well.”

    “She still thinks I’m Catra.”

    “She’ll come around.” He squeezed her shoulder. “Now, shall we head back to the inn to discuss our next step in the war?”

    She scoffed again but nodded.

    *****​

    “So… what about our ship?” she asked on the way back to the inn - where, apparently, the Alliance would be planning the next step of the war. “Did you check the harbour if there’s a nice courier ship for sale? With Mermista bankrolling us, you should be able to outbid anyone else who lost theirs in the battle.”

    “Ah, no. Actually, our new ship is waiting - or so I hope - in Salineas for us.” The captain smiled at her, flashing his teeth.

    That was the sort of foreplanning Seacat wouldn’t have expected of Sea Hawk. He didn’t believe that preparing for misfortune would ensure it would befall you, as some superstitious - and stupid - sailors thought, but he was a great believer in improvising. Although this had been a very dangerous mission, and it wasn’t out of the question that Sea Hawk would have taken steps to… No. He hadn’t been planning ahead like this even when he had been planning to wreck his ship ramming the Horde bomb vessel in the Battle of Salineas. That meant… No. “You didn’t… you didn’t pick the Princess’ test ship!”

    He nodded with a wide grin. “Of course I did! Princess Entrapta said that it would be the fastest ship on all the seas once she has perfected the design. Imagine if someone else would get to sail her instead of us! The shame! We have a reputation to defend - now more than ever!”

    She felt her ears flatten against her head as she stopped walking and glared at him. “Are you seriously trying to use this mess about Blondie’s friend to… to justify risking our lives with the Hair Princess’s project?”

    Sea Hawk beamed at her and cocked his head sideways. “Yes. Is it working?”

    She growled, shook her head and turned to continue to walk briskly towards the inn. Even dealing with Blondie and her stupid friends was better than trying to talk sense into Sea Hawk right now.

    *****​

    “Seacat!” Blondie jumped up as soon as Seacat and Sea Hawk entered the inn. “I’m sorry!”

    Seacat glared at her. “What are you sorry for?”

    “Uh…” The woman blinked with a particularly stupid expression. “Everything?”

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “It’s the Horde’s fault, you idiot!”

    Blondie started nodding and smiling. It didn’t make her look smarter in any way.

    “Are we really doing our planning here?” Seacat pointedly looked around and eyed the waitresses and the innkeeper, all of whom were staring at them. The Horde must have spies in Seaworthy, and who knew who they were? They hadn’t revealed themselves during the battle, unlike the ones in Salineas.

    “Of course not,” the shrimp spoke up. “We’ve got a secure room prepared. Upstairs.” She stood. “Let’s go! The admiral is waiting,” she added with a frown at Seacat.

    As if that was Seacat’s fault! She stuck out her tongue at the shrimp’s back as they climbed the stairs.

    “The other admiral,” Sea Hawk said. “I’m also an admiral.”

    Admiral Gharn was already in a large room on the first floor - with two marines standing guard outside - but it didn’t look like she had been waiting for them; she was at a long table scribbling on sheets.

    “Admiral Gharn! How’s my fellow flag officer doing?” Sea Hawk blurted out as soon as the door opened.

    “Doing paperwork,” the woman replied with a frown.

    “Ah!” Sea Hawk nodded sagely before sitting down and putting his boots on the table. “My own, sadly, sank with my ship. Very unfortunate.”

    “Not as unfortunate as our casualties,” the admiral retorted.

    “Yes.” Sea Hawk nodded again. “I’ve lost my ship as well.”

    “And most of your command.”

    Seacat clenched her teeth and glared at the officer. “Everyone knew the risks,” she spat. “We did better than expected.”

    “Yes. A few ships survived, actually,” Sea Hawk added with another nod.

    “And replacing those that didn’t will take a long time,” Gharn said. “Until then, our ability to keep up lines of communication with headquarters as well as keeping eyes on the enemy fleet will be restricted.”

    “What enemy fleet?” Blondie asked. “You sank the Horde ships in the area, didn’t you?”

    “The Horde will be sending more ships. And my own fleet is in dire need of repairs and resupply. Our victory was bought with blood.”

    “As was the victory in the land battle,” the shrimp said. “And we have to keep fighting. The Horde’s reeling - this is the best time to hit them. Hard.”

    “Half my ships won’t be hitting anything until they’ve been patched up. If I sent them out in their current state, I might as well sink them myself.”

    “That still leaves the other half of your ships, my fellow admiral,” Sea Hawk said. “And you should still have two couriers to serve as the eyes of your fleet. More than enough to push down the coast and take a port or two back.”

    “Yes!” Blondie said. “We can land troops, too! If you take a force down the coast, we can hit them before they know what’s coming.”

    “I cannot risk the Salinean fleet without approval from Princess Mermista.”

    Seacat hissed. Bloody coward.

    “Well, unless I bungled my admiral orientation,” Sea Hawk said with a sly grin, “which was given to me by the princess in person, mind you, then our standing orders are that absent other orders, we’re to hunt down fleeing Horde ships. And I’m reasonably sure that some Horde ships are fleeing south. Although we’re bound for Salineas, to take possession of our new ship, so I can ask if your different orders take precedence.”

    Gharn looked like she wanted nothing more than shooting Sea Hawk out of a cannon right now. “I’ll send out scouts to recon the southern coast.”

    “Great!”

    “And we’ll send out scouts as well,” the shrimp said. “To clear the coast down to the closest enemy naval base.”

    Well, it looked like matters were settled. Of course, that would mean that people would now spend far too much time talking about stupid details. Seacat made a point of closing her eyes and leaning back, though she didn’t put her feet on the table.

    *****​

    “I can’t believe you fell asleep in the briefing!” Blondie, sounding both shocked and annoyed, cornered Seacat as soon as they had left the briefing room.

    Seacat made a point of yawning and stretching, craning her neck for good measure, before replying. “Why?”

    The other woman blinked. “Huh… I mean: What were you thinking?” She was flushed now, too. She must really care about rules and expectations.

    “I was thinking that I said my piece and had no need to listen to all the logistical details. I don’t need to know about who supplied whom and who gets to order whom around on the move south since I’m not going to head south for a while.” Seacat grinned.

    “But…”

    “Also, me listening would’ve been a bad idea since such information is need to know, and since I won’t be taking part in the operation, I don’t have a need to know. So, you see, me taking a nap - which was quite challenging with all the whispering from you - was actually just me doing my duty for the Alliance.”

    Blondie was gaping again. “But… but…”

    Of course, the shrimp just had to butt in. “So you acknowledge that you’re a member of the Alliance now?”

    Seacat frowned at the princess. That was… well, she was correct. Kind of. But not really. “I’m Sea Hawk’s first mate,” she said. “And he’s an admiral of the Salinean Navy.”

    “A soon to be decorated admiral!” the captain said from further ahead, looking over his shoulder at them.

    She rolled her eyes. “But I didn’t join the Navy,” she went on. She would remember that. Even if others assumed so.

    “But…” Blondie tried again.

    Seacat interrupted her with a raised claw. “No buts. There’s only one man who can give me orders, and that is Sea Hawk.” And as long as she didn’t join the Navy, that wouldn’t change - she knew better than letting all the idiot officers in the Salinean fleet order her around.

    “That’s… incredibly…” The shrimp seemed at a loss for words.

    “...smart?” Seacat prompted her, flashing her fangs in a grin.

    “...Selfish! And disruptive!” the princess tried.

    “No. Even if we were both in the Navy, I’d be directly under him, with no one between us. No one else would be in my chain of command,” Seacat told her.

    “Mermista could give you orders!” The shrimp obviously didn’t like to lose an argument.

    “That’s different,” Seacat replied, “and not related to the Navy at all.” And she wasn’t going into the reasons she - sometimes, only - listened to Mermista.

    “But…” The shrimp finally huffed - and clenched her teeth, which made her look more like a child than the commander of Bright Moon’s army she was. “Fine! Whatever! You’re not in the stupid Navy!” She turned to her friends. “Let’s go and talk to our troops! We’ve lost enough time here!” She whirled and walked - stomped - down the hallway towards the stairs.

    Brain Boy, who had stayed silent so far, glanced at Seacat before following the princess.

    Blondie, though, hesitated. “Uh… if you’re not going to join the attack down the coast, where are you going?” she asked.

    “Back to Salineas,” Seacat told her. “We need to get our new ship and get it sea-ready.” Which could take a while even if she didn’t blow up the first time they pushed her.

    “Oh.” The woman looked almost disappointed for a moment before smiling at Seacat. “That’s great!”

    “We’ll see,” Seacat said. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to testing the inventions of the Hair Princess, but Sea Hawk was correct that they couldn’t let others have a shot at the fastest ship on the seas, even if it was a little dangerous.

    “Is something wrong?” Blondie frowned at her.

    “Nothing,” Seacat lied and stretched again. “It’s just been a long day, and a troublesome morning.”

    Blondie had the grace to blush in response. “Again, sorry about that.”

    “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It’s the Horde’s.” Like so much else.

    “But still… you’re now in even more danger!”

    Seacat scoffed. “More danger than charging at a Horde battle line in a courier?”

    “Well…” The woman looked confused for a second, then frowned again and leaned towards her. “You won’t do that again, right?”

    Seacat leaned back before she realised what she was doing. That was an intense glare - worse than Mermista’s in a bad mood. But she was Seacat, not some Alliance soldier or whatever. She raised her chin. “Not until it’s needed. You won’t be charging Horde artillery, will you?”

    Blondie opened her mouth, then closed it again, her frown turning into a pout before she smiled - weakly, but it was there. “Not until it’s needed.”

    Seacat chuckled, and, a moment later, both of them were laughing.

    *****​

    Seaworthy might have been under siege less than two days ago - although not for long, all things considered, and the port hadn’t been completely surrounded on the land side - but the seedy underbelly of the port, as Mermista would have called it, hadn’t been affected much. The tavern Seacat had just entered - the same where she had met Blondie for the first time - proved that beyond a doubt. It was as busy as ever, and the patrons as shady and untrustworthy as they came. As usual.

    She walked up to the bar, glaring at a drunken sailor who stared too openly at her butt, and flipped a coin to the fishwoman behind the counter. “Ale,” she ordered. “Cold. Keep the change.”

    The woman caught the coin without looking at her and quickly filled a mug. “Here.”

    Seacat took a sip and blinked. The ale was stronger than usual. She turned to address the bartender and lifted her mug. “Is this a new brew?”

    “To celebrate the victory against the Horde.” The woman’s smile was a little forced, but the surrounding patrons lifted their glasses and mugs. “To victory!”

    Seacat joined in - it was her victory, after all. Well, hers and Sea Hawk’s. And their flotilla. And the Salinean Fleet had helped, too.

    She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and resisted the urge to lick it clean right away. That was strong ale, though the aftertaste was a little off. “Need to go over the recipe again,” she told the bartender, wrinkling her nose. “There’s some aftertaste.”

    “Huh?” The drunken sailor - a goatman - next to her grunted. “Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout? It’s fine!”

    She scoffed. “Just because you have no taste…” She blinked. The man looked a little… hazy. Seacat hadn’t drunk that much. And it was ale, not liquor!

    She pushed off the bar and felt her legs wobble for a moment. Damn - the ale! She whirled around with a hiss. The bartender was at the other end of the bar, headed towards the door there.

    Growling, Seacat jumped on the bar and dashed along it on all fours. The fishwoman yelped and started to run, but she was too slow. Seacat smashed into her just as she reached the door and tackled her to the floor. A quick blow to the chest stopped the scumbag’s attempt to fend her off. While the woman clutched her ribs, Seacat kicked her in the other side, flipping her on her back. “What did you put into my ale?”

    “Nothing! I swear!”

    “Then why did you try to run?” She kicked the liar again and flashed her claws. “Talk or I’ll gut you like a… a fish!”

    “Help! Help!”

    Damn. Seacat placed a foot on the woman’s belly and looked over her shoulder. Four people, including the goatman, were moving towards her, weapons drawn. “Stay back! She poisoned me!” Seacat snapped. She had to blink again - things were getting hazy once more. “Call the guards!” she added.

    But the four kept dancing - and fanning out.

    “Ah! That was your plan! Horde scum!” Seacat snarled. She drew her cutlass and ignited it, waving it towards the closest attacker. The man shied away, and Seacat jumped forward, to the door the bartender had tried to reach.

    It wasn’t locked! She kicked it open and swung her blade again, almost catching the goatman in the stomach, but the nimble bastard managed to jump back in time. Then Seacat dashed through the open door - and found herself in the tavern’s kitchen. The cook, a fat woman, shrieked and moved into the corner, but Seacat had only eyes for the exit - the backdoor. There!

    She took a step, but her leg almost buckled. Damn! And everything was now hazy.

    She steadied herself with one hand on the big table in the centre of the kitchen and turned just in time to meet a burly man jumping at her, hands outstretched. Seacat snarled and ducked, then pushed herself up, sending the fool flying headfirst into the huge pot of soup on the stove behind her.

    He smashed into it, spilling boiling hot, greasy broth all over himself and the floor. While he screamed like a stuck pig, Seacat jumped on the table - she didn’t fancy getting her feet scolded.

    But her legs gave out, and she ended up on her back on the table, sending spices and bread flying. And the goatman was charging at her, wielding a sap.

    Seacat rolled to her side and raised her blade, but before she could stick it through the scum’s chest, his hooves slipped on the greasy floor, and he fell down, hard.

    Seacat rolled on her belly and stabbed down, catching him in the shoulder. He screamed and rolled away, and before she could recover and cut his flailing legs, a fishman jumped on top of her with a high-pitched yell.

    The impact drove the breath out of her lungs, and she almost dropped her cutlass. Before she could react, she felt hands around her throat - he was choking her.

    Snarling, she lashed out over her shoulder, burying the claws of her free hand deep into his lower arm, then ripped them out again.

    The fishman howled and released her neck, and she felt blood drop down on her back. Hissing, she reversed her grip on her cutlass and drove the blade back - into the fool’s stomach. His screams cut off, and she twisted, pushing the dying bastard off her.

    That left the goatman and the fourth, a lizard. She rolled off the table and faced them. Just two left, and she could flee out the back…

    She blinked. The goatman had doubled. As had the lizard. And they were growing taller. No, floating.

    No, Seacat’s legs were collapsing - she was sinking to the floor.

    Everything went black before she hit the ground.

    *****​
     
  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Thanks! I'll try my best.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 12: The Witch
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 12: The Witch

    “Oh, look at this!”

    “It’s a skiff, Catra.”

    “Yes - but look at it! It’s flying!” She cocked her head, smiling.

    “It’s hovering, actually. It can’t really fly.”

    Adora was being a killjoy again.

    “It doesn’t have to be touching the ground to move and it can go higher than a tall trooper stands. That’s flying!” Anyone could see that the skiff was flying - to demonstrate, she quickly passed underneath it. “See? Flying!”

    Adora frowned at her. “It’s not really flying. It needs the ground to work.”

    “So?” Who cared? As long as it could soar above everyone else on the ground? And could go fast!

    “That means that it won’t work over water.” Adora huffed at her.

    “What? That makes no sense!” She stared at her friend. Why wouldn’t the skiff be able to fly over water? If you could fly over rocks and grass, why not water?

    “It’s magic, duh.” Adora shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

    “Magic?” That couldn’t be true!

    “Yes, magic.” Adora nodded with that overly serious expression of hers.

    “But… why are we using magic?” She took a step back. Magic. Only princesses used magic. The Horde used technology! Like the cannons. And the bots. And the shock weapons.

    “We aren’t - we’re using the skiffs,” Adora explained. “Making them needs magic, but anyone can use them.”

    “So we’ve got princesses in the Horde making them?” That sounded wrong, too - everyone knew princesses were the enemy of the Horde.

    Adora blinked. “I don’t think you need to be a princess to do magic. Shadow Weaver isn’t a princess, and she can do magic.”

    She felt her fur bristle at the name, and she hissed, then looked away. “Well, if it’s from Shadow Weaver I don’t want to have anything to do with it!”

    “Catra! It’s not from Shadow Weaver. I think, at least.” Adora blinked. “Someone else probably worked on it. Or we took the magic thingies from the princesses and built the skiffs around them.”

    “‘Magic thingies’?” She raised her eyebrows with a grin.

    Adora scowled at her. “You know what I meant. The magic…”

    “...thing?” She flashed her fangs, chuckling.

    “...device that makes things fly.”

    “‘Things’!”

    “Oh, you!” Adora glared at her, huffing.

    “Whatever - let’s check it out!” She jumped, grabbed onto the railing, and swung herself onto the skiff. “Whoa…” She could feel it shift slightly under her feet as she walked. That wasn’t a solid wagon. It was more like… a boat. She shuddered, remembering the ‘amphibious training’ they had gone through. She wasn’t made for water!

    “Catra! Come down! We’re not supposed to touch the skiffs - we aren’t even supposed to be here!”

    “Feh!” She scoffed. She could also feel something vibrate. Softly, but it was there. Was that the magic? She cocked her head, trying to get a feeling for it.

    “Hey! What are you doing here? This is off-limits to cadets!”

    Uh-Oh!

    *****​

    The vibrations were the first thing Seacat noticed when waking up. Like in her dream - she was on a skiff. Then she gasped - she was bound. And she remembered. She had been attacked. Poisoned! She looked around - it was dark, but not completely dark. She was in… in a crate. A wooden crate - a little light came through the gaps between the boards.

    She had been kidnapped! And hogtied! Clenching her teeth, she tried to break her bonds, but no matter how much she flexed and strained, the bands holding her wrists and ankles together - behind her back - didn’t budge. And she couldn’t use her claws on the bonds.

    Damn! She settled for slamming her body against the boards. If she rocked the crate, perhaps...

    “The cat woke up!”

    “So?”

    “She’s banging around in the crate.”

    “So? Let her.”

    “What if she brains herself? We won’t get the reward if she’s dead!”

    “‘Brains herself’?”

    Seacat hissed. She knew that voice - the goatman from the tavern! The other must be the lizard.

    “Killing herself by hitting her head against the wall. People do that.”

    “In your damned Mermaid Mysteries, perhaps.”

    “Oi! They’re good books!”

    “They’re trash!”

    “Don’t say that!”

    “I’ll say what I want! I got us this windfall!”

    “And you got Juke and Oli killed!”

    “I didn’t get them killed - they got themselves killed attacking the cat. I fought her and lived!”

    “You almost died - she cut your shoulder.”

    “And I’ll heal. Unlike Juke and Oli. Now shut up and let the cat tire herself out. No one can hear us out here anyway.”

    Seacat hissed again. That was important information. Important but not very promising. At least she had killed two of the Horde scum who had poisoned her. But they must be far inland if there wasn’t anyone around. And they were headed to the Horde territory.

    Damn.

    She threw herself at the crate again. That didn’t do anything. But she could use the claws on the boards, couldn’t she? Of course she could!

    She twisted until she was lying on her back and tried her claws on the board below her. They easily went through the wood. Good. But how to escape? She was on a skiff, that much she knew. Perhaps if she dug through the board and the deck below, she could damage the skiff and cause it to crash?

    They weren’t flying high, so she would survive. So would the two scumbags, though - but if they crashed, there was the hope that others would find them. Sea Hawk would know about the kidnapping - everyone in the tavern had seen the fight. And Blondie would probably charge after them on foot and without any directions…

    Seacat chuckled under her breath at the thought. That would be… She frowned. She didn’t need a rescue by Blondie. She could escape herself. All she needed was a little luck. Like the goatman and the lizard crushing their skulls in a crash.

    Clenching her teeth, she started scratching through the board. She couldn’t see her work, and just using her fingers as leverage made it far harder than usual, but this was wood used for crates; far from the hardwood used for the decks of ships or their hulls. After a little while, she had made a hole big enough so she could easily reach the deck below.

    That was made of metal - and harder than she remembered… had dreamt of. Still, she could feel her claws cut it. Little by little. Her fingers hurt, but she’d hurt her kidnappers more. All she needed to do was to crash the skiff, then get out of the crate and roll onto them until she could dig her claws into their flesh.

    But first, she needed to get through the skiff’s deck. She just needed to be patient. Revenge would be hers. And she would get the key to her bonds.

    After a good while, she finally broke through the deck. But as much as she twisted, she couldn’t reach anything below it with her hands. Damn it. That meant, she would have to widen the holes in the crate and the deck. Probably large enough so she could fall through them.

    That would take a long time, but it wasn’t as if she had better things to do. As long as she managed before they reached Horde territory…

    She heard steps approaching the crate and froze. Had the kidnappers heard her? No, she hadn’t been loud enough; she’d know. So…

    The steps stopped, and, for a moment, she felt relief. But then, the lid of the crate was removed, and she was blinded by sunlight, hissing as she squeezed her eyes shut.

    “Here’s some water, you…” The lizard gasped. “Brad!”

    She snarled and threw herself upward, fangs bared. The lizard raised his arms, and she bit him, sinking her fangs into his lower arm.

    “Ah! Help! Help!”

    He recoiled, but she didn’t let him go - she clenched her jaws and hung on. All she needed was a little leverage, a twist, and she could use her claws on him.

    But he shook her too hard for that - she could barely hang on.

    “What are you doing?”

    “Trying to get her off!”

    “Well, just hit her, idiot!”

    She hissed and let go, landing a few yards away and rolling until she hit the railing. She shook her head, then glanced around. They were in some kind of forest. The goatman was at the helm, clutching the steering wheel. And the lizard...

    “Look at my arm!”

    ...was wailing and clutching his barely-bleeding warm.

    “Get her! She’s about to escape!”

    “But my…”

    “Get her!” The goatman was screeching.

    Escaping was a good idea, but hogtied as she was, she couldn’t exactly move well. She couldn’t even get up. This wasn’t going as planned.

    The lizard approached her, and she hissed and snapped, driving him back.

    “Get her, you fool! She’s tied up, you worthless, useless idiot!”

    “Oli! You saw what she did to my arm! What if her fangs are poisoned?”

    “Just grab her - she can’t really hurt you!”

    “She hurt me already!”

    But the lizard was advancing on her again. Seacat lunged - as much as she could, bound as she was - but he sidestepped her attack and grabbed her by the neck. She managed to slam her knees into his shin, but except for forcing him to take a step back, it didn’t do anything.

    And he hadn’t released her. Instead, he held her up. “Got her!”

    She hissed again, but he barely flinched.

    “Finally! Now poison her! I’m not going to have her escape again!”

    “But…”

    “Do it!”

    Seacat struggled as much as she was able to, shaking and growling. “You’ll pay for this! They’ll come for you! They’ll already have your names!”

    “Oli…?”

    “Shut her up, damn it. We’ll be fine in the Horde!”

    Despite her resistance, the lizard forced a piece of wood into her mouth. She tried to bite through it, but that was hardwood. She wouldn’t… wouldn’t…

    Everything went dark again.

    *****​

    The smell was the first thing that hit her when she woke up. She knew it. A bit of smoke - coal, not wood - and oil or other stuff. And no hint of the scent of the sea. None at all. Yet, it was… familiar. She had smelt it before. It was… it was… Horde!

    She gasped, opening her eyes and looking around. She was in Horde territory! Blinking, she looked around. She was in a cell. A metal cell, with dimly glowing bars instead of a door. Horde style. Green, dim light filled the room. She wasn’t hogtied anymore. And her hands were in cuffs, but in front of her, not on her back. Good.

    But her throat hurt. As did her stomach. The kidnappers hadn’t fed her much during the rest of the trip - she only remembered waking up a few times, and getting water and some dried meat. The scum had kept her drugged for the entire time!

    And it hadn’t done her any favours - her head hurt, and standing up was… well, she managed. On the third try. But she was parched and hungry. Didn’t the Horde feed their prisoners?

    She looked around again. In front of the bars there was a tray, and on it… Water! She stumbled towards it, almost falling down, and grabbed the bottle with both hands. Water!

    She gulped down most of it, sighing as it soothed her throat. Sweet, sweet… well, the water had a metallic aftertaste. Like drinking from a metal can after a month at sea. Seacat made a face but drank the rest of the water anyway.

    There were a grey and a brown bar on the tray as well. Horde ration bars. She wrinkled her nose - even the supposedly good ones tasted bad. But it was food. Sort of.

    And she needed food. She couldn’t escape while starving. She sniffed the bars, then took a cautious bite.

    Bleargh. She shuddered at the taste but kept eating. She had eaten worse, after all. And the taste was kind of familiar. Like...

    She blinked, then clenched her teeth. She had eaten Horde ration bars before, at sea. That was why they tasted familiar. No other reason. None!

    Growling, she finished both bars, tried to lick the last drops of water from the bottle, then scuttled back and leaned against the wall.

    She was in a Horde cell. Probably in the Fright Zone - the Horde Heartland. And the Horde had a bounty on her head. They wanted to use her as a hostage against Blondie.

    She needed to escape, and quickly.

    *****​

    She met the first Horde scum about an hour later - it was hard to tell the time without seeing the sky. She heard them, first - steps on metal grates. Those were rather uncomfortable for bare feet and claws could get stuck in them. Or would. Before she could consider the stray thought, a figure in Horde armour stepped into the hallway outside her cell. They looked female, but with the chest plate and helmet, it was hard to tell.

    Seacat glared at them, but they didn’t even stop - they just walked past the cell. That wouldn’t do. “Hey!”

    That made them stop and turn around. “What?”

    So, there was a man under that armour.

    “I’m hungry.” She kicked her tray towards the bars. She could jump the scum when they opened the cell to feed her.

    “You’ll get food in the evening.” He turned away.

    Damn. “And when will that be?”

    “In the evening.”

    “What time is it?” she spat.

    He snorted. “Noon.”

    She couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. “And where am I?”

    A scoff was her only answer, and the scum walked away, ignoring the curses she sent after him.

    “Scum,” she muttered one last time, then sat down, leaning against the wall again. With the guard gone, she was alone again - there wasn’t even anyone in the cells nearby. No one she could hear or smell, in any case.

    Though that was an opportunity as well. She grinned and looked at the wall. Metal - but that wouldn’t stop her claws. And she had, unless the scum had lied to her, a few hours to bust out of this cell before they came to feed her.

    That should be more than enough to get through the metal wall. She raised her hands - slightly awkward, since they were still cuffed together - and started scratching the wall.

    It was much, much harder than she’d expected. She was just scratching the wall, instead of leaving deep gouges in it. And her claws started to hurt. As did her wrists - the cuffs dug into her wrists with each swipe.

    This might not work as she had planned. Whoever had built this cell had been prepared for her.

    And wasn’t that worrying? First the general order - and a bounty on her had - and now this. All the work of this ‘Shadow Weaver’?

    She shuddered against her will and clenched her teeth. She was better than this. She had fought and beaten the Horde scum - sank their ships. She wasn’t about to be scared by anyone. She…

    Footsteps. She cocked her head, her ears twitching. Several people - three. Coming towards her. Coming for her.

    She had run out of time.

    But.. Seacat’s ears perked up. They were talking!

    “Should we be doing this?”

    “Yes.”

    “Are you really sure? This is a restricted area. Like, really restricted. Not normal restricted.”

    “Yes, Kyle. Now shut up.”

    That didn’t sound like a goon squad here to fetch her to whoever - Shadow Weaver - had wanted to capture her. She shifted a little, stretching out and crossing her legs as she was lounging on a deck in the sun. She wouldn’t appear weak to anyone.

    Three Horde scum stepped in front of her cell. A wimpy looking blond man, a tall lizard - not the bounty hunter scum, though - and a tough-looking woman with a stupid haircut. All wearing Horde uniforms, but no armour. And all looked a little surprised when they saw her.

    Seacat flashed her fangs at them with a smirk. “Hello, there.”

    The woman pressed her lips together for a moment, frowning. “Catra.”

    Oh, no! Seacat hissed and glared at her. “Not another one! I’m Seacat, not ‘Catra’. You dumbasses need to get it right!”

    The blonde looked surprised. “Really? Oh, that would…”

    “Kyle!” the woman snapped. “She’s lying - of course, that’s Catra!”

    “I’m not,” Seacat retorted.

    The lizard hissed something in return, and the woman nodded. “Yes, Rogelio. See, Kyle? She has the same markings. And the same attitude.”

    Attitude? She’d give the idiot attitude! Seacat growled. “You just don’t want to admit that a pair of loser bounty hunters fooled you and got the reward!”

    “Loser bounty hunters who managed to capture you. What does that make you?” The woman scoffed at her.

    She bared her teeth at them and felt her tail tap the ground as her ears flattened a little. “They poisoned me before they attacked, and I still killed half of them!” The idiots had been lucky, that was all.

    “Oh.” The blond took a step back.

    “And yet you were captured.” The woman scoffed again. “How does that feel, Catra?”

    “I’m not Catra!” Why couldn’t the scum see that?

    “Try to tell that to someone who doesn’t know you.” The woman leaned forward, touching the bars. “You haven’t really changed, have you? Still mouthing off and screwing up, huh?”

    “Screwing up?” Seacat got up and walked to the bars, snarling at the woman. “I fought you scum for years! I’ve sunk your ships and killed your soldiers!”

    All of them gasped - even the lizard. “You… you traitor!” the blond blurted out.

    “Of course she’s a traitor, Kyle,” the woman said, glaring at her. “She’s joined up with Adora, remember?”

    “I didn’t!” Was there something in the water that made everyone in the Horde stupid? “I’m Admiral Sea Hawk’s first mate!”

    “Who?” the blond asked.

    “Sea Hawk! The best captain on all the seas!”

    “Some rebel,” the woman said. “Like you, huh?”

    Seacat hissed at her. “Says the Horde scum.”

    “You were one of us until you deserted!” the other woman spat. Then she raised her chin a little and sneered at her. “But you never really were one of us, were you? Always hanging out with Adora, looking down on us, lazying around while we did all the work… I bet you only deserted because it got too hard for you to shirk your duties. Too much work.”

    “‘Too much work’?” Seacat growled. She was the best first mate - she worked damn hard! “For the last time: I didn’t desert - I never was in the Horde! You scum destroyed my village and killed my family!” she hissed at the scum in front of her.

    “Uh…” The blond seemed to hunch over a little and shy away from her. “But we didn’t…”

    “Kyle! She’s lying. That’s Catra.” The woman scoffed. “We wanted to talk to you, for old time’s sake, but if you’re being like this… Rot in here for all I care!” She turned around and walked away.

    The lizard hissed something and followed her. The blond, though, looked at them, then at Seacat. “You really aren’t Catra?”

    “Why doesn’t anyone listen? I’m Seacat!”

    “Uh… sorry…” He trailed off. “You know, Lonnie’s been under a lot of pressure after Adora deserted.”

    Seacat huffed. “So?” Who cared about Horde scum?

    “Just saying. She isn’t usually like this.”

    “That’s what they all say.” She bared her teeth at him.

    “You really don’t, uh remember me?”

    “I haven’t seen you before in my life.” Only in some weird dreams, she realised. No, that couldn’t have been them. Or her.

    She turned away, tail swishing against the bars, and ignored him until he had left.

    She had to escape. She was going mad in here.

    She looked at the bars. They were thicker than she expected. And made from the same metal as the walls - just covered with a different coat of paint, as she found after scratching one. Damn. She clenched her teeth. Horde scum trying to keep up this farce… And it was a farce. And it was all Blondie’s fault. She wasn’t Catra. She was Seacat. She wasn’t Horde scum.

    No matter what anyone else claimed.

    She took a few deep breaths. She had been stupid to chase the Horde soldier away. She might have convinced him to let her out...no, no one was that dumb. But fool him into coming into her cell? Fake an illness? That probably could’ve worked. Could still work - they had to feed her, after all.

    That was a plan. Wait for the evening, then jump the scum serving her dinner. Easy. She just had to wait. For hours.

    She cursed again and kicked the bars. She hated waiting. Unable to do anything. Just waiting. For others. Helpless… no, not helpless. Even with her hands in cuffs, she could still fight. An average Horde soldier? No contest. She could outfight one of those with both hands tied behind her back.

    She scoffed, then sighed and sat down again, leaning her head back against the wall and staring at the ceiling above her. There was a grate covering the air duct. If she could climb up, she should be able to remove it and slip into the ducts. She could disappear there - they were narrow, but she was slim and flexible. She would be able to pass through them. Get to the outside, then disappear in the Fright Zone’s labyrinth of factories and refineries…

    ...well, the supposed factories and refineries. She had only heard of them. Though she could smell them. Burning coal and other stuff. That meant the ducts had no filtration. A logical deduction, as Mermista would call it.

    She snorted at the weak joke. A deduction. She didn’t - couldn’t! - know the ducts, or the area, but she could deduce how it looked. Mostly.

    Not that it mattered - she couldn’t climb the walls. They were too hard, too smooth. Her claws couldn’t find any purchase.

    That left plan ‘jump the Horde soldier’. She liked that plan - she needed to fight someone. Break something. Anything. Teach the Horde that she wasn’t helpless. That she was dangerous. That she wasn’t just a stupid hostage, but a threat to them!

    But she had to wait until someone came visiting her. She hated that part of the plan. She needed to move, to do something.

    She sighed again. Perhaps a nap would help. Though she doubted that she would be able to sleep easily with all the noise and the stench from the Fright Zone. And who knew what kind of stupid dream she’d have? More stupid Horde soldier dreams? Perhaps with the three idiots from before?

    She’d rather have a nightmare. Or another weird dream with Blondie.

    Damn. She really needed to escape. Before she started feeling as if…

    She growled at her own stupidity. She was Seacat. Not Catra. Never Catra.

    Huffing, she lay down on the floor, squirming a little to find a comfortable position. With her hands cuffed together, it wasn’t as easy as usual, and the stupid metal floor didn’t help, either. But she managed, using her arms as a pillow.

    But she couldn’t sleep. She was in the Fright Zone. The Horde wanted to use her as a hostage against Blondie. She couldn’t let them do that. Not that Blondie would give in - she wasn’t that stupid - but it would… well, she couldn’t let the Horde do this. No matter what.

    She found herself gnawing on her lower lip, almost piercing her skin with her fangs. Could she kill herself, if everything else failed? Would serve them right, mistaking her for Catra. But it wouldn’t work - the Horde could lie about her death.

    And killing herself would have been stupid, anyway. There was always hope as long as you were alive, no matter how bad things looked. Sea Hawk had taught her that. And experience. She just had to be ready to take any opportunity that might appear.

    She sighed. Sea Hawk. He would be so worried about her. Probably trying to sail their ship… no, he didn’t have a ship. She clenched her teeth. He would come for her. Probably with Blondie. And the Horde would be expecting them.

    No! She growled again. She couldn’t let anyone get killed for her. This was her fault - she shouldn’t have let herself get caught by some stupid bounty hunter scum. So she had to fix it. She had to escape. Where was the stupid Horde scum with her dinner, so she could jump him?

    Where was…

    She froze. Someone was… something…

    A figure stepped - no, glided - into view outside her cell. Red robes, moving by themselves. A mask hiding her entire face. Wild dark hair peeking out… Seacat drew a hissing breath.

    She knew this woman. She knew her.

    “Shadow Weaver.”

    The woman tilted her head. It looked… off, somehow. But that might’ve been the way she seemed to glide and float, instead of walking. “You remember me, then.” Her voice was… raspier than expected.

    Seacat knew that the woman was smiling, even though she couldn’t see her face. But the attitude… the arrogance. The way she held herself showed it. And the tone of her voice, always so… “No, Blondie told me about you,” Seacat spat.

    “Really?” The woman’s voice dripped with condescension. “Did she try to jog your shaken brain into remembering your past?”

    “No.” Seacat hissed at the woman. “She told me that you were the worst parent. That you were trying to manipulate her - and failed.” She bared her teeth.

    “Oh? I guess even Adora thought that it wasn’t worth trying to recover your memories.” Shadow Weaver shrugged. “Perhaps she prefers your current personality. You certainly weren’t a prize while growing up, Catra.”

    “I’m not Catra!” Seacat spat.

    “Really? You deny it, even at this point? I knew you were remarkably stubborn and simple-minded, but this is…” The woman shook her head with a sigh. “...ridiculous.”

    “It’s not! I’m not Catra.”

    The Horde scum ignored her. “Your denial is understandable, of course - I wouldn’t want to be Catra myself. No one would. She was always in trouble. Skiving off, failing to follow orders, making a nuisance out of her, trying to distract and drag down her fellow cadets… She was a pest, to be honest. Worthless.”

    Seacat growled, her tail lashing as her ears flattened themselves against her head. This was… this was… not true! “Wrong!”

    “‘Wrong’?” Shadow Weaver laughed. “Didn’t Adora tell you about ‘her friend’? How she always had to cover for the pest?” She scoffed. “Or did she lie to you, perhaps?”

    “She didn’t lie to me!” Adora couldn’t lie worth anything!

    “So you say.” The Horde witch shook her head. “But deep down, you know the truth. You are worthless.”

    “So worthless, you put a bounty on me! General orders!” Seacat sneered at the witch.

    “You’re nothing. Your only worth is as a means to convince Adora to return to me.”

    “No!” She jumped to her feet and moved to the bars, glaring at the arrogant Horde scum. “I’m Seacat. I sunk your ships and foiled your invasions!”

    “You? Don’t make me laugh! Still riding the coattails of your betters, I see, and claiming their success as your own. Just as you did as a cadet!” The woman leaned forward - but not close enough for Seacat’s claws to reach her. The gap between the bars was too narrow to allow her to stick her arm through. “A nuisance. A distraction. A pest. That is what your existence amounts to.”

    “For the Horde,” Seacat shot back. “But my friends know better.”

    “Your friends are fools as well. Their stubborn refusal to admit defeat is all that keeps this war going.”

    “We just defeated your invasion of Seaworthy! And we sunk your fleet! We’ll push you back into the Fright Zone, and then we’ll finish you!”

    Once more, the woman laughed. “You have no idea. This war won’t be decided at sea. You could sink every ship that the Horde fields, occupy every port, and you’d still lose.”

    You’re delusional!” Seacat spat. “The Kingdom of Snows joined the alliance. It’s the biggest kingdom in Etheria. The Horde hasn’t managed to defeat Bright Moon when it stood alone, and now you want to defeat the entire alliance? You’re even more stupid than your sailors!” She scoffed. The woman was mad. Unless… No. This had to be a ruse. An attempt to make her lose hope and give up. And she wouldn’t! She’d rather die!

    “Of course someone as shortsighted and ignorant as you would think so.”

    “We’ll see who’s right soon enough.” She bared her teeth again and gripped the bars.

    Shadow Weaver scoffed again. “We? You’ll rot in this cell. You won’t see anything ever again except these walls.”

    Seacat scoffed in return. “Really? You want to use me as a hostage to make Adora switch sides, don’t you? How well do you think that’ll work with me isolated here?” She forced herself to laugh before she imitated the woman’s voice. “‘Oh, yes, Adora - I have Seacat in a cell, trust me! I would never lie to you! Now do what I say!’ No wonder Adora deserted as soon as she could.”

    She saw the witch freeze for a moment before Shadow Weaver’s hands rose and something hit Seacat, through the bars, throwing her back a yard.

    Magic.

    Seacat managed not to rub her aching chest and face as she got up. “Feh! I’ve been hit harder in friendly tavern brawls!”

    “Do not test my patience. I only need you alive, not unhurt.” Shadow Weaver told her in a clipped tone - she was mad! Good!

    “And that will make Adora see the error of her ways, right?” Seacat laughed again. “You really are bad at this, aren’t you?”

    The witch grew still again, and Seacat wondered if she had pushed the Horde scum too far.

    But the witch didn’t lash out again. “You haven’t changed at all. I had wondered if your… experiences… had changed you. For the better. But you’re as insolent as ever,” Shadow Weaver spat. “You haven’t grown up at all. You’re still the useless brat I knew.”

    “Takes one to know one,” Seacat shot back. “Not that you’d know me since I’m not Catra!”

    But instead of getting angrier, the woman seemed to relax. She even snorted at Seacat, cocking her head. “Really? How long will you keep up this useless charade? Or do you honestly think you aren’t Catra? No, not even you could be so stupid. Not in the face of all the evidence. Adora recognised you, after all. As did your former comrades. As did I.”

    “They’re mistaken!” Seacat snarled. They had to be. She wasn’t Horde scum!

    Shadow Weaver laughed in response, and Seacat cringed. That was… that sound… She knew it… No!

    “Oh, I understand now. You don’t want to accept the truth. You are so desperate to be someone else, anyone else but the failure that was Catra, you’ll ignore the truth staring you in the face.” She laughed again and leaned forward until her eyes were on the same level as Seacat’s. “Poor, naive Catra. So desperate to succeed, to be more than a fool and a distraction! You tried, but your base nature and your mental limits betrayed you every time, and now all that is left is mindless denial. But no matter how often you repeat it, it won’t come true. You are Catra. A former Horde cadet too weak and inept to make it. Not even Adora, for all her efforts, could salvage you. Vanishing was the best thing you did.”

    “You lie!” Seacat threw herself against the bars, tried to jam her arms, even bound as they were, through to reach the woman and claw her mask and face off. “It’s not true!” She didn’t care about the pain - she was hurting anyway. “I’m not a failure!” She hated the witch. Hated her more than anyone else.

    Once more, the woman laughed. “But you are! A complete failure. No discipline. No intelligence. You’re barely more than a wild animal, always acting on your whims. Spoiled rotten by Adora. And how did you thank her? By dragging her down! You’re a hindrance, nothing more!”

    “No! I’m the best first mate on all the seas!” Sea Hawk’s first mate. Seacat.

    “Did they tell you that? Probably to avoid hurting your poor feelings. But you know the truth - you aren’t good enough. You’ll never be good enough. You are and remain a failure. Your only worth is that Adora, out of mistaken loyalty, still cares for you. Probably out of pity for her pet.”

    No. No! NO!

    Seacat growled and hissed: “No!” Not pity! She managed to refrain from throwing herself at the bars again. That was what Shadow Weaver wanted - a stupid girl hurting herself while trying to claw her. Seacat wasn’t stupid. She forced herself to laugh. It was a choked laugh, but the best she could manage. “You are blind,” she added with a scoff. “And stupid.”

    Shadow Weaver snorted in response. “I know you. Better than you know yourself - if your claims of having lost your memories are true and not some pathetic attempt to hide from your past.”

    “They are!” Seacat snarled. No - she couldn’t lose her temper. That would let the witch win. And that couldn’t be allowed! That would be… like in her dreams. No. She raised her chin and sneered at Shadow Weaver. “But you don’t know me. You just see what you want to see. That’s worse than being blind. I’m Seacat. I’m the first mate of the fastest ship on all the seas. I’ve outsailed, outfought and out-thought the best of your fleet. I’ve spied on your ships, I set them on fire - and I crippled them in the Battle of Seaworthy. My captain, Admiral Sea Hawk, trusts me with his life.” And she him with hers, of course.

    “He must be a bigger fool than I had heard, then,” the witch replied.

    She snarled at the witch once more. No one insulted her captain! Well, except Mermista. And Seacat herself- but only if he deserved it. The stray thought allowed her to snort, even chuckle. “Again, you only see what you want to see. He led the Salinean fleet against your ships - and his tactics saw the Horde frigates sunk. He’s been sailing circles around your ships for years. If he’s a fool, then what does that make you?”

    “He was lucky so far. But luck runs out sooner or later.” Shadow Weaver’s hand rose, then fell again. “He’ll reap what he sowed soon enough.”

    “Keep dreaming!” Seacat spat. “He’ll sink the pathetic rest of your fleet, then the Salienans will take your ports and wreck your supplies! And then Adora will lead the alliance into the Fright Zone and crush the Horde once and for all!”

    “Adora will do no such thing! Once she’s separated from the rebellion and back in her proper place, she’ll…”

    “...cut you down with her magic sword!” Seacat interrupted her, baring her teeth. “You really think hurting and threatening her friends will work? I haven’t known her for long, but even I can tell you that this won’t end well - for you.” She scoffed, shaking her head. “She said you raised her, but I can’t believe that. Not when she deserted the Horde as soon as she could and spent all her time since then fighting you. If you really raised her, then you were a total failure. A complete screwup! An utter fool! A moron of such...”

    “Enough!” Shadow Weaver screeched and pushed her hands towards her.

    Seacat saw something sparkle between the clawed fingers of the witch, then lightning struck her.

    And she screamed. Her body felt as if she were burning. Her muscles were frozen - and hurting. She was clenching her jaws so hard, she thought she could hear her teeth crack. This was like when she had been hit with one of the shock rods. No. This was worse. Much worse. And different.

    But familiar. She’d suffered like this before. No!

    She thrashed on the metal floor, convulsing as her limbs flailed around, still screaming. No! She hadn’t been here before. Hadn’t suffered this before.

    It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be true. She didn’t… she wasn’t…

    She arched her back, against her will, as pain filled her. Overwhelmed her. Reduced her to a screaming, trembling wreck.

    But she didn’t care any more.

    She remembered.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2020
  7. ArKFallen

    ArKFallen _____

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    I've never seen either run of She Ra but this is good enough to get me to dive those wiki :)
     
    Eryk and Starfox5 like this.
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 13: The Return Part 1
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 13: The Return Part 1

    “A field exercise?” Adora gasped. “We’re going to be deployed in the field?”

    Catra rolled her eyes. Her friend was far too naive. This was just another exercise, only in a different location. They probably wouldn’t even leave the Fright Zone. Really, Adora shouldn’t get so excited. It wasn’t as if they’d let her command actual soldiers.

    “Indeed. For one week, starting tomorrow, you will be working with units in the field.” Shadow Weaver nodded.

    “On the frontlines?” Adora asked.

    “No, you’ll be training with formations which are working up for deployment at the front.”

    As Catra had expected. Training as usual, just with different instructors. She snorted - silently.

    “Oh. New formations?” Adora asked. Always the teacher’s pet. Or Shadow Weaver’s pet.

    “No. You’ll be assigned to combat formations that are integrating replacement soldiers. You’ll be able to profit from the experience the veteran soldiers will impart on the new soldiers.”

    “Ah.” Adora nodded with the most serious expression. “That makes sense.”

    “Indeed, Adora. Perceptive as usual.”

    Catra clenched her teeth. If she had said that, Shadow Weaver would have called her out for being insolent. But Adora got praise. Typical.

    “So, which unit will we be assigned to?”

    “You’ll be split up,” the witch told them.

    “What?” Catra blurted out. Split up?

    “An entire squad would be too much for the formations. By splitting you up, you’ll also be forced to interact with experienced soldiers instead of sticking with each other,” Shadow Weaver added.

    And Catra knew exactly to whom this was addressed. She bared her fangs in response, but the witch didn’t even twitch.

    Damn.

    “Report to your assigned units tomorrow. Dismissed, cadets!”

    And the witch glided away. Oh, if only Catra could see her stumble once…

    “Wow! We’re going to be working with actual soldiers!” Adora gushed.

    Catra sighed loudly. “Come on, Adora - she’s left. No need to act all eager. It’s just training.”

    “But training as soldiers, not cadets! This is a major step for us - if we do well, we’ll be so much closer to becoming soldiers ourselves!”

    The others were nodding in agreement. No surprise there - Catra was surrounded by morons and naive Adora. “We’re going to be training with them. Big deal.” She scoffed. “And we might learn a trick or two from a veteran. Cleaning boots without polish - life-changing.”

    “I’d love to be able to clean boots without having to replenish my polish can every week.”

    “Shut up, Kyle!” Catra spat. She scoffed. “Anyway, I’m going to take a nap.”

    “But we should prepare for the exercise!”

    Catra stretched and looked over her shoulder at Adora, who blinked at her. “You can do that. I’m best when I’m improvising.” And it was just training, anyway - Catra could do that in her sleep.

    *****

    “We’re deploying?” Catra asked, frowning.

    The officer in charge of the company she had been assigned to, Second Company, glared at her. “Are you hard of hearing, cadet? Yes, we’re deploying. We’re about to take a rebel village. Now get on that skiff there!”

    Catra’s eyes widened. This had to be a mistake - they weren’t supposed to be at the front. They were supposed to be assigned to units in training. She opened her mouth to complain, then blinked. She didn’t know that this was a mistake, did she? She was supposed to follow orders from the officer in charge, wasn’t she?

    Grinning, she saluted, then sped away to the closest skiff. Hah! She’d get actual combat experience! The others would be so jealous! And the best thing, it was Shadow Weaver’s fault! The witch had personally handed her her orders!

    Hah!

    She jumped and grabbed the railing of the skiff, then pulled herself up and slid over it. “Cadet Catra, reporting as ordered!” she snapped, saluting again.

    The gruff-looking man at the helm snorted. “None of that here, cadet - we’re a recon unit for the main force. We don’t salute in the field.”

    Now that was nice to know. Catra nodded. “Got it.”

    “So, you’re the hotshot cadet who’s good for recon, huh?”

    Hotshot cadet? Had Shadow Weaver mixed up her orders with Adora’s? Catra flinched a little. The witch would blame her, then. But… Adora was slated for command, not recon. She was very good at almost everything, but she wasn’t a scout.

    Catra, on the other hand, was the best at skulking and sneaking, and getting into places she shouldn’t be in. And Shadow Weaver knew that. What if… What if this wasn’t a mistake? What if Shadow Weaver had picked her for this operation? A trial by fire? A test to see how she worked with actual soldiers, in her speciality? She smiled, almost against her will. An opportunity for her to prove herself!

    “Yes.” She nodded. “That’s me - the best scout of all the cadets!”

    The man snorted again. “Don’t get a big head, you’re still a cadet. But command said you were good enough for a field mission.”

    Yes! She knew it! This was her chance! She nodded again.

    “So… it’s an easy one - Gullpeak, that’s the village, shouldn’t be fortified. All we have to do is scout out what forces the alliance has in the village. Then we take it, push the enemy out, and go home.”

    “Sounds easy enough,” Catra said. It did.

    He shook his head. “It’s never easy. But it’s simple enough.”

    She nodded again, then frowned as she spotted an unfamiliar bot walking in formation with the rest of the bots supporting them. “What’s that?”

    “That? Oh, some new bot. Only the captain knows what it’s supposed to do.”

    “Ah.”

    Nothing to worry about, then.

    Catra picked a spot on the skiff’s bow and sat down. They’d take some time until they’d hit the rebel village.

    *****​

    She came to panting and shivering. Her body felt as if she had been dipped in fire. Groaning, she rolled over on the metal floor. She was in a cell - standard Horde prison, she remembered. No, not standard. Reinforced. Had to be. Standard, she could scratch. She had proved that, once.

    And she’d been punished for it. By Shadow Weaver. Just like before. Now. She’d tried to explain that now they knew the cells weren’t enough for someone like her, but… the witch hadn’t listened. Hadn’t wanted to listen.

    She remembered that day. And she remembered every other day. In the Horde. She was Catra. Horde cadet. Horde scum. Blondie - Adora - had been right. Damn. Damn. Damn!

    She wiped her eyes. She couldn’t cry. Not with Shadow Weaver watching. No matter how much it hurt.

    She took a deep breath. That hurt too - but she could handle that kind of pain. She was used to it. Had been used to it. Damn. Damn. So much… so many memories. She couldn’t… she had to focus. She was in a cell. She needed to escape. She had to. This was…

    She blinked. Her last memory before… No. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t!

    She clenched her teeth. It couldn’t… no, of course, it could be. This was Shadow Weaver.

    “Have you learned your lesson?”

    She hated that voice. Hated that woman. Clenching her teeth, she opened her eyes and turned her head, staring at the witch. “It wasn’t a mistake, was it?” Every word hurt.

    Shadow Weaver slightly tilted her head to the side. “What are you talking about?”

    “My ’training exercise’. You didn’t make a mistake and assigned me to a frontline unit. You wanted me to go to Gullpeak. As a scout - first into the fray, and all. You wanted me to die.” She shuddered as she tried to sit up without losing eye contact with the witch.

    The other woman stared at her for a few seconds before scoffing. “Figured it out, did you? Took you long enough.”

    No hint of remorse. No hatred. Just disdain. And that hurt the most.

    She should have known better, back then and now. But she had hoped…Of course it had been a pipe dream. A stupid fantasy.

    She scoffed in return. “Why did you go to that trouble? Why didn’t you kill me yourself?”

    And the other woman laughed. “I see your mental facilities haven’t improved despite your memory returning. I needed to get rid of you before you ruined my dear Adora. But if I had killed you, she would have blamed me. She wouldn’t have understood that it was for the best. That it was better for her. She would have resented me for doing what was needed. What she needed.”

    “Hell, yeah, she would have,” she spat.

    “So, I had to arrange an accident. I thought about a training accident. Tragic, but it happens.”

    She shouldn’t ask, but… she couldn’t help it. “Why didn’t you?”

    “In hindsight, I should have. The risk of Adora finding out the truth was minimal. And even though losing a cadet would have reflected badly on me, I could’ve handled the consequences.”

    The witch was talking about her death as if it was a footnote. Some banal task - necessary but boring. She found herself hissing under her breath.

    “But… I saw an opportunity. If you died at the hands of the enemy - or close enough - Adora would’ve been even more motivated. Driven by the need to avenge you. And I would be able to console her, and help her through those trying times.”

    Oh, yes, she could imagine that. Shadow Weaver, playing nicely, being oh so understanding and helpful… She growled. “Too bad that the new bot malfunctioned and killed everyone.”

    “Oh, yes, too bad.”

    Wait. That sounded smug, not annoyed. But why would… no. That couldn’t be true. It was… not even Shadow Weaver would’ve been cruel enough to…

    “Oh. What are you thinking now?”

    “Nothing,” she spat. Don’t tell the enemy anything. Information was a weapon. But… “You never used that weapon again.” She had checked, fearing more such massacres. But no other village had been wiped out like Gullpeak.

    “The weapon wasn’t reliable. An expensive and costly mistake. Fielded too soon, without appropriate refining.”

    “It wasn’t your weapon.” She felt her stomach sinking.

    “Of course not. Although I was involved in the development in a peripheral role. Interaction of magical components.”

    Which would’ve given her ample opportunities for sabotage. One less rival. One less nuisance. No witnesses.

    “You look shocked. Have you started to fool yourself again? Perhaps told yourself that you were so important, someone sacrificed an entire company to get rid of you? Don’t flatter yourself. You weren’t worth anything back then, just as you’re worthless now.”

    The crazy women had done it. She stared at Shadow Weaver, baring her teeth. “You failed. I survived. And I even met Adora again while you lost her.”

    The witch raised her hands again.

    This time, she managed to close her eyes just before the spell struck her.

    *****​

    She didn’t immediately open her eyes when she woke up next. Instead, she listened - making sure that her ears didn’t twitch and gave her away. She couldn’t hear anyone or anything but the familiar faint sounds of the Fright Zone’s machines. She opened her eyes just a sliver and glanced at the bars of her cell. No one was there, either. Shadow Weaver was gone, then.

    Good.

    She groaned as she sat up. The witch had been really mad. And Catra… Seacat… had been really stupid. Taunting someone who had admitted that she wanted you dead? That was a desperation move in a fight, not something to do while you were locked up in a cell. The Captain would not be happy with her.

    But he’d be happy to be able to scold her for it. She smiled at the thought, then frowned. For that, she needed to escape the prison. Before the others tried to save her and got captured themselves - or worse. Shadow Weaver would be expecting them. Hell, this was probably her plan. Not even Adora would be as stupid as to surrender herself to Shadow Weaver for Catr… Seacat.

    She blinked. She remembered her life now. Both her lives. Both her names. Both of her very different lives. Damn. She was Horde scum. Had been Horde scum. Watever. Damn. Adora had been right. Again. What would they think of her, once they found out she hadn’t been a victim of the Horde, but one of the scum wiping out Gullpeak? What would Mermista say? What would the Captain think? She didn’t want to know. Not after… not after...

    Sighing, she leaned against the wall. She had no time for this. She had to escape. She could sort this out later. Much, much later.

    For now, she had to focus. Escape the cell. Escape the Fright Zone. Return to the others. To Sea Hawk. And Adora.

    Adora… Her best friend. Her only friend, not counting Sea Hawk and Mermista, who were… well, something different. So very unlike…

    She clenched her teeth. She wasn’t a cadet. Not any more. Nor was she a stupid little girl still dreaming of… whatever.

    Except for bashing in Shadow Weaver’s face. Shattering her stupid mask. Paying her back for everything she had done. The witch had tried to kill her. Get her killed. And so many others. Gullpeak. And the entire Second Company. Which had been Horde scum. Like Catra.

    She hissed under her breath. Well, Seacat wasn’t Horde scum any more. But the Second Company had trusted Shadow Weaver. And had been… She still couldn’t believe the woman had gone so far. And had she, really? Or was that just another attempt to confuse and manipulate her? Would she really sacrifice a whole company just to get rid of Catra?

    No. That was… just no.

    But if Shadow Weaver could get rid of a rival, or get more power? Catra didn’t know what exactly Shadow Weaver was doing, other than favouring Adora and getting on her case, but she was a witch. And the second in command of the Horde. She was doing magic, in any case. And the bots weren’t magic. Even if you couldn’t see how they worked.

    In any case, Shadow Weaver didn’t build bots. Hordak wasn’t building them, either. Not that she’d know, anyway. At least she couldn’t imagine the Horde leader getting his hands dirty. So, someone else would’ve built the bot Catra remembered. A potential rival? She couldn’t think of anyone. But then, she had been a stupid little girl and hadn’t cared about stuff like that.

    She shook her head, growling. She had no time to dwell on this. She had to escape. Before her friends did something stupid. More stupid than usual, she added with a snort. Which turned into a sob. Sea Hawk would do whatever he thought would help her, no matter how stupid. Mermista would rein him in - but Mermista hadn’t been at Seaworthy. She was days away in her kingdom. And Adora… Adora would also do whatever it took, no matter how stupid or dangerous, to save her. To save Horde - former Horde scum.

    She growled again. She had to hope the shrimp and Brain Boy would be enough to keep the others alive.

    Great.

    She really needed to escape as soon as possible!

    Fortunately, for all the pain Shadow Weaver had caused her, Seacat had finally remembered her life as Catra. And that meant she remembered everything she knew about the Horde and the Fright Zone.

    And that was a lot. The witch might call her a failure and a nuisance, but Catra had paid attention to their lessons, even if she hadn’t shown it. She looked up. If she could get into the air ducts, she could get out. She knew her way around them - all of them were laid out the same way. And while she couldn’t reach the air ducts from her cell, out in the hallways, the air ducts were easily accessible for maintenance.

    All she had to do was to get out of the cell, first. And now that she remembered Horde rules and procedures, that shouldn’t be too hard…

    Well, it wouldn’t be easy, either. This was the Fright Zone - and a personal project of Shadow Weaver. The witch wouldn’t be using the dregs of the Horde. And if she thought you were slacking off, instead of taking a well-deserved break after doing everything you were told to, then she tended to get testy. And nasty.

    She clenched her teeth at the memories that thought brought up. Yes, she couldn’t count on the Horde soldiers handling her being sloppy. And she probably couldn’t count on Lonnie, Kyle and Rogelio returning, either. Not that they would help her, anyway - Lonnie was almost as much a hardass for rules and regs as Adora had been at her worst, and the woman didn’t like Catra. Kyle might be gullible enough to get talked into letting her out of the cell.

    She frowned. No. It had been four years. Even Kyle would’ve wised up in that time - he was a Horde soldier now, wasn’t he? If he were still as prone to screwing up as he had been as a cadet, he would’ve been in the cell next to her. Probably.

    She snorted at the thought, then sighed. As Sea Hawk had taught her: While she should always be ready to exploit any mistake an enemy made, she couldn’t count on them making mistakes in the first place. Any plan that relied on enemy mistakes was a bad plan.

    Of course, sometimes, a bad plan was all you had, and, often, a bad plan was better than no plan at all. Sea Hawk disagreed with that, of course, but Mermista was on Seacat’s side there.

    In any case, she had a decent plan. All she needed was a little luck. And Shadow Weaver being her usual self and ignoring her.

    She curled up and shivered, letting her fur ripple a little. Then she moaned and groaned. It wouldn’t fool Sea Hawk or Adora, but she was very sure that whoever was guarding her cell and coming to feed her wouldn’t know her well enough to tell. And it had worked on that guard in Seventower, after that misunderstanding about their cargo. It would work here as well. It had to.

    All she had to do was look pitiful and wait.

    *****​

    Hours - at least! It was hard to tell the time here - later, she was wondering if they even planned to feed her. Shadow Weaver had tried to kill her, letting her starve wouldn’t be beyond her. But it would be stupid - she needed Catra as leverage against Adora. And for that, she needed Catra alive. And reasonably healthy. Or so Seacat hoped. And she had been fed before already.

    But she was getting hungry enough so she didn’t have to fake her groaning. Perhaps that was Shadow Weaver’s plan? Weaken her enough so she couldn’t do anything? No. The witch thought Catra was useless; she wouldn’t go to such lengths to weaken a ’nuisance’.

    She growled under her breath. She’d show the witch who was a nuisance! She was Seacat, scourge of the Horde fleet! She’d show her! Show them all!

    As soon as she got out of this cell. And got something to eat. Rations, probably. She gagged at the thought. Hell, if the others knew about how much better people had it outside the Horde, they would… Steps! Someone was coming!

    She curled up tighter, holding her stomach - or tried to, with her hands in cuffs, it was a little difficult. And she moaned.

    “Here’s your dinner.”

    She opened her eyes, groaning as if it hurt, and blinked. There was a guard, in full Horde armour. And they had dropped a ration bar in her cell, and a water bottle.

    “Water?” she asked. After not saying anything for a few hours, and not drinking much, her voice croaked.

    But the guard scoffed and turned away.

    She almost cried out after them but managed to control herself. When they returned in the morning, her act would look more convincing. Especially if she hadn’t touched the food.

    Which wasn’t really hard, anyway - it wasn’t one of the good rations.

    Then her stomach rumbled. Damn. She never slept well on an empty stomach. And she needed the rest. As much as she needed the food. Which she couldn’t eat.

    She crawled forward, in case someone was watching, and grabbed the water bottle. Opening it was awkward with her cuffed hands, but she managed. Drinking helped a little.

    She curled up again. The guard would return in the morning.

    And then she would escape.

    *****​

    “Catra! Catra!”

    Adora was running towards her, waving. And smiling. And behind her were Sea Hawk and Mermista. And the shrimp and Brain Boy. All of them were here, for her!

    All of them were walking into a trap. She wanted to warn them - but Shadow Weaver had tied her to a pole and gagged her, and no matter how she struggled, she couldn’t break free.

    “We’ll have you free in a moment!” Adora yelled.

    She frantically shook her head. No! No! Don’t approach! She tried to yell, but the gag silenced her. No!

    Then the trap was sprung - Adora’s friends suddenly vanished in a big hole. And Shadow Weaver appeared next to her, holding a knife to her throat.

    “Surrender, or the nuisance dies!”

    No! She struggled even harder, but couldn’t move even a finger. No! Adora was wavering. Her big sword was pointing at the ground. No! Don’t do it, Adora! You stupid idiot!

    There was just one way to save her and her friends: She had to remove herself as a hostage. Crying, she pushed her head down, trying to cut her own throat on Shadow Weaver’s blade…

    *****​

    She woke up with a gasp, cuffed hands going for her throat. No blood. No pain. It had been a nightmare. A stupid nightmare - as if Shadow Weaver would use such a blatant trap! Or a knife. Just a stupid nightmare.

    She forced herself to calm her breathing. A stupid nightmare, nothing more. She was still shivering, though. Her friends were coming for her. She knew it. And if she didn’t escape as soon as possible, it would be her fault if anything happened to them. She had let herself be captured by some stupid bounty hunters.

    But she had a plan. A good plan. She just had to wait for the guard to return with breakfast. Breakfast… She glanced at the ration bar near the bars. Against her will, her nostrils flared. Food. She was hungry. She needed to eat. Even if it was just a ration bar. And the water… Her throat felt parched. She needed water.

    But if she ate or drank, the guard wouldn’t fall for her ruse. Clenching her teeth, she curled up, groaning and holding her stomach. If only the stupid Horde scum would arrive already!

    It took another eternity - at least an hour - until she finally heard steps. Booted steps. The Horde! She tucked her head into her arms some more and kept her eyes closed.

    “Breakfast.”

    In response, she groaned. Softly.

    “Are you trying to starve yourself?”

    She groaned again. “Water…”

    “There’s water, traitor.”

    This was it. This had to work. She slowly uncurled, groaning and holding her stomach. Which was aching for real. “Water?” her voice sounded weak and rough. She blinked at the guard, hoping her face looked as bad as her fur felt. “Go away!”

    “I will.”

    “Go away!” she repeated herself, then groaned and curled up again. “Leave me alone!” She shuddered and trembled.

    “As you want, you… ah, screw it.”

    Yes! She hid her grin. Now he would step into her cell, and she would jump him, grabbing his keys and weapons…

    “Hey, Lern! I need you - the prisoner seems sick.”

    Damn! He was bringing another guard. Well, she could take two Horde scumbags at once. She had done it before.

    But the steps she could hear approaching weren’t just from one guard.

    “Alright. You two stay outside. Lock up after us. We’re going in.”

    “Do we have to?”

    “Shadow Weaver wants the traitor alive. If she’s dying from some infection or illness, and we didn’t do anything…”

    “Right!”

    Damn. At least four, then. And they were smart about it. That meant she had to strike as soon as the bars were pulled up. She clenched her teeth and moaned again as she waited, her heart beating faster in her chest. Any moment now…

    Then she heard the sound of metal grinding against metal - the bars were being raised. And then she heard footsteps.

    Now!

    She uncurled and whirled as she rose into a crouch, then pounced on the two guards standing right beneath the bars with a hiss.

    “Whoa!”

    “Ah!”

    One of them tried to hit her with a shock rod, but he was too slow - he had been aiming at the floor, where she had been, and she was already above him when he started to raise the rod.

    She slammed her hands on his helmet and raked her feet, claws out, across his arm and chest, before jumping off him. The one guard next to him was turning towards her, but a kick to the woman’s visor sent her stumbling back and further into the cell.

    Seacat twisted in mid-air, feet hitting the doorframe, and propelled herself at the guards outside the cell. Both had their shock rods out already, but they still underestimated her. She hit the ground and rolled over her shoulder, under the swing of the closest one. She came up inside his guard with her hands raised above his head and her fangs bared.

    Then she raked her claws down his front, shattering his visor and leaving deep gouges in his chest plate - and in his stomach below it. He collapsed, screaming, while she pivoted on the ground, legs sweeping out and catching the second guard in the shins. He, too, fell down with his muscles shredded.

    But the first one was already coming at her. She tried to evade, but his boot caught her in the stomach and slammed her back, into the gutted guard.

    Seacat had her breath knocked out of her, but she managed to recover before the guard could follow up. Snarling, she jumped straight at him, aiming for his ruined arm. Her knee dug into his stomach, where the armour was flexible, and she hit him in the neck with both hands, digging her claws into his helmet.

    Then she twisted until she heard a satisfying crack.

    One left. The female guard she had kicked in the head had recovered and rushed her - but, once more, was too slow. Seacat grinned as she hit the door controls and the bars slammed into the woman from above, knocking her down. That gave Seacat rough time to pick up one of the shock rods and drop her for good, then do the same to the guard on the ground who was holding his shredded shins.

    Hah!

    Now she had to get rid of the cuffs. Didn’t one of the guards have a key? They should, shouldn’t they? She quickly searched the one who had brought her breakfast - he had ordered the others around. Horde cuffs were standard, anyway, and… there! She grinned as she pulled out the key from the pocket in the back of the guard’s belt.

    Unlocking her cuffs was child’s play. Now she had to get away. The guards hadn’t managed to sound the alarm, but that wouldn’t last. She pushed the guards still outside the cell into it, then locked the bars in place and wrecked the door controls. Those wouldn’t come after her. Well, the one she gutted wouldn’t, anyway - he had died in the meantime.

    No big loss. Just another Horde scum. She clenched her teeth and grabbed another shock rod - hers would have lost some charges - and one spare.

    Then she dashed down the hallway. The doors would be locked with a code, and with all prisoners knocked out - or dead - she couldn’t get the codes out of them. But she only needed access to the air ducts.

    The next room was a small room for the guard shift. Four cots, a small table, an armoury - just shock rods, though, and she already had two. Nothing else that would be of use - there were playing cards left on the table, but they had played for bottle caps, not valuables.

    But there was food! Well, rations. But the good ones! She grabbed one and wolfed it down while stuffing two more down her shirt - supplies for her escape. Another followed.

    And there was the grate covering the air ducts! She was tempted to rip the grate off, but she still had some time - and if she didn’t make it obvious how she had escaped, the Horde soldiers would take longer to realise that she was in the air ducts.

    She used a small knife to pull out the screws, then removed the grate and crawled inside. Pulling the grate back in place behind her took some squirming and heaving, and putting the screws in was even more of a pain - she didn’t manage it, but she managed to get the grate stuck in place by using the screws to wedge it closed.

    “So long, suckers!” she whispered, sticking her tongue out, before she twisted around in the narrow duct and started crawling.

    She didn’t know exactly where she was - there were several holding areas, and this wasn’t one of those Catra had seen before - but that didn’t matter. She could follow the flow of fresh air.

    Sort of fresh, she amended her thoughts with a grimace - the stench of the Fright Zone’s factories would never smell fresh to anyone who knew the open sea. Hell, even Seaworthy’s harbour at its worst smelled better!

    She came to a t-junction. The air current - almost like a soft breeze barely strong enough to fill a sail - came from the right. Following it, she came to a narrow shaft. Up or down? No question. Up. You had to climb up in the Fright Zone.

    She entered the shaft. The metal wasn’t as hard as the material in her cell, so she could easily climb it using her claws. She passed several ducts branching out from the shaft, but ignored them, following the air current. All the way to the top.

    Just like before.

    Here, the air currents were stronger, but still no problem. Not for her. She crawled through the air duct until she reached the big fan at the end.

    That was a problem. Not the fan itself - she could wreck it and get past it easily enough. But that would also show the guards where she went.

    On the other hand, they wouldn’t take too long to find the route she had taken - there were not many alternatives.

    She scoffed and started slashing at the fans. She needed to get out of the building. Then it would be easy to get away.

    She had to duck to avoid one blade spinning as it tore itself off, and another hit her hand hard enough to bruise, but less than a minute later, she was squeezing through the remains. Now only another grate stood before her and freedom! She could see the roof and the sky through the metal mesh! She was almost out of the prison! Just one grate left!

    But it resisted her claws. Hissing in frustration, she tried the walls, but they were reinforced as well.

    Damn. She tried to reach the screws, but she couldn’t get her hand through the grate.

    No choice - she had to backtrack and try another way.

    Cursing under her breath, she scrambled back. The guards could be detected at any moment, which would trigger the alarm. She needed to be outside when that happened.

    She squeezed through the wrecked remains of the fan again, resulting in a tear in her shirt’s sleeve, then climbed down the shaft. Still no alert. Good. She took the first air duct from the top. The higher the better - they would be watching the ground entrances. And the underground ones. Few guards ever watched the topmost balconies, as Sea Hawk had taught Seacat.

    Granted, he had been talking about sneaking into a palace - Mermista’s, to be exact - but it held true. At least in her experience.

    She reached a grate and peered through it. Even in the dim light, her eyes had no trouble making out a storage room - no, a janitorial closet. That would be perfect; those were never locked. Now to open the grate…

    It was impossible to reach the screws from the inside, but this grate wasn’t reinforced metal. She grinned as she started cutting through it. The Horde always went for the cheapest possible solution, as Catra knew. Well, Shadow Weaver probably had luxury quarters, and she doubted that Hordak cut any corners when it came to his, but the Horde couldn’t afford to make everything too tough for her claws.

    Grinning, she gripped the grate she had cut before it dropped on the floor, then lowered it gently down. It still made a sound - stupid metal floor; a ship’s deck would’ve masked it. She listened for a moment, but couldn’t hear anything. Good. And still no alert. How often did they check the cells? Or the guard shifts?

    She slid through the opening - no more tears in her clothes this time! - and landed lightly on the floor below. The closet was filled with cleaning supplies, and She frowned. She knew that smell. Catra had been forced to clean the hallways often enough. Too often. If there were some janitor’s uniforms, she could disguise herself and pass as one easily enough, but in her own clothes...

    Scoffing, she opened the door a gap wide. Still nothing and no one outside. Still no alert. How many soldiers were in the building, anyway? Shouldn’t there be a regular check-in? Or were secret special prisons exempt from that?

    It didn’t matter; she was getting out of here. She stepped into the hallway and looked around. Left or right? She frowned, recalling the direction. Right it was.

    She padded softly through the hallway, ears twitching as she listened for footsteps, or any other signs of Horde soldiers. But she didn’t hear anything. Was the prison actually mostly empty? What a waste. Like sending a ship with half the cargo hold empty.

    Well, that was the Horde for you…

    Snorting, she approached the doors ahead of her. A storage room - paper and ink and stamps; nothing useful - and an office. Not one in use - there was a fine coating of dust on the desk. No windows, though she hadn’t expected any - she was, by her reckoning, still not at the outer walls.

    There was a checkpoint ahead, but it wasn’t manned. This was starting to get weird. Where were the other guards? And the prison staff? Was this prison so secret, only a handful of guards had the needed clearance?

    Well, never complain about the enemy making mistakes, as Sea Hawk liked to say. She passed through the checkpoint and reached the stairs. Finally! All she needed was to get to the roof and she would be clear!

    Once more, she listened for footsteps. Or talking. Nothing. Was the whole damn building empty? Or was it constructed so the sound didn’t carry? Not everyone liked to hear screaming prisoners.

    She shook her head as she dashed up the stairs. Escape now, think later.

    The door to the roof was locked, but that had never stopped Catra before - well, not since she learned how to manipulate the controls. And the door controls were on the inside, as was standard for Horde buildings.

    She grinned as she cut into the side of the panel with her claws, peeling away the cover. Yes - they hadn’t changed the setup! She cut the green wire, and the door slid open. Yes!

    And the alarm sounded. She blinked, gasping. What the…? Had they changed the door controls? Of course they would have - this was a prison, not the barracks or a factory! Doors to the outside opening would sound an alert!

    Cursing her own stupidity, she dashed across the roof to the railing. And froze for a moment. The entire Fright Zone - well, the part of it that she could see from her spot through the smoke - was on alert. She could hear multiple alarm sirens going off - general alert. And she could see soldiers scrambling out of barracks.

    Shadow Weaver really didn’t want her to escape.

    Pressing her lips together, she grabbed the railing and peered down. Yes, there were plenty of hand- and footholds to climb down. But she couldn’t take her time. Not with every damn Horde scum looking for her.

    She climbed over the railing and started her descent, jumping from ledge to ledge whenever possible. Once she used her claws as a brake to slide down a gutter. More than once she almost fell, only catching herself in the last moment.

    And for the whole time, she expected to be detected, soldiers scrambling on the ground to cut off her escape route. Why weren’t they gathering? They had to know she wouldn’t stay on the roof!

    But against all hope, she reached the ground without getting shot at. Good. Now she could disappear in the maze of buildings and channels. The junkyards and factory feeders would be her best bet; no one ever patrolled there unless on punishment detail. And from what she had seen from the roof, she just had to…

    “Wow! You’re the intruder?”

    Seacat froze. A huge figure stepped around the corner, blocking her escape route. Massive claws cracked as she flexed and a giant stinger dangled over her head from an armoured tail.

    The Bug Princess of the Horde was barring her way.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2020
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 14: The Return Part 2
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 14: The Return Part 2

    Seacat hissed. This was bad. Very bad. The Bug Princess was huge - almost as big as a bot, at least it looked like that right now - and unless those bug parts of hers - shoulders, pincers and tail, mainly - were much weaker than they looked, she was tougher than a bot, too. And Seacat didn’t have her cutlass, only two shock rods. This wouldn’t be… Wait. “Intruder?”

    The Horde scum laughed. “You’re good - I would have never expected you to reach the prison.”

    Seacat blinked. ‘Reach the prison’? “What?”

    “You broke through our perimeter, didn’t you?”

    Seacat didn’t have the time to spend talking. But if she could distract the brute, she might be able to dash past her and make her way to the scrap parts. A huge woman like the Bug Princess wouldn’t be able to follow her there.

    So she put her best sneer on her face and laughed. “No. I broke out of prison. Guess Shadow Weaver lied to you, as usual. She tends to do that.”

    “What? No, we got the alert from the perimeter patrols.” The Horde scum frowned. “You’re trying to trick me!”

    Seacat’s eyes widened. If the Bug Princess was telling the truth - and she wasn’t smart enough to lie, that was obvious - then someone else had triggered the alarm by breaking through the… Oh, no! Sea Hawk was already in the Fright Zone! And with Adora!

    Damn! Now Seacat would have to find them before fleeing. She would…

    …dodge! Now!

    Seacat threw herself to the side, narrowly avoiding the charge of the Bug Princess. She rolled over the concrete floor and came up in a crouch on all fours. And gasped. That woman was a monster! Her blows had cracked the concrete and powdered enough of it to throw up a cloud of dust!

    And there she came again! This time, though, Seacat was ready. She avoided the pincers by diving to the ground, rolled over her shoulder and dodged to the side, leaving the woman’s stinger to pierce the ground.

    It didn’t get stuck, alas.

    “You’re fast!”

    The woman was a talker, too. “Faster than you,” Seacat spat, baring her fangs. Why hadn’t the princess sounded the alarm, yet? Not that Seacat was complaining, but… if there were more Horde scum, she’d be easy prey. A single squad would be enough to corner her, with that brute pressing her.

    “Hah!”

    Another charge. Seacat jumped back, scrambling up the wall, then pushed off when the Bug Princess slammed into it, jumping over the woman. But the stinger shot up as well, and she was forced to parry it with her shock rod. It threw her off some - this monster woman was strong.

    Seacat twisted in the air and landed on both feet. And with the Bug Princess at the wall, the way out was clear! She whirled and dashed down the passageway. There was no way the Horde scum would catch up to her n…

    Something struck her shoulder and sent her flying. She hit the wall to her left, sliding along it and scraping her left arm before she ended up on the ground. What the…? She jumped to the side, avoiding the second chunk of concrete the Bug Princess hurled at her. “That’s destruction of Horde property!”

    The Bug Princess actually stopped for a moment, blinking. Then she grinned. “I’ll blame it on you!”

    Seacat rolled to her feet, then winced - her shoulder hurt like hell. Her right arm was almost useless. She certainly wouldn’t be able to run on all fours like this. Damn. And the woman was charging at her again.

    Seacat growled and jumped over the pincers, then struck out with her shock rod at the Bug Princess’s face. There was no bug shell there!

    But the Horde scum managed to raise one of her pincers in time to block her. The charge still went off, but the woman wasn’t even fazed. Seacat slammed her feet, claws out, into the shell and pushed off - just in time to avoid the stinger.

    And her claws, too, had barely scratched the woman’s pincers. That was so unfair!

    “You should surrender - you’ve got no chance!” the woman yelled.

    “I’m not going back into prison, Horde scum!” she yelled - and threw the shock rod at the stupid woman’s face. You weren’t supposed to do it - Catra had caught hell for doing it in training - but as expected, the Bug Princess blocked the rod with both pincers. And that meant she blocked her own field of vision, too.

    Seacat dashed ahead, drawing her second shock rod, and struck at the woman’s legs. This time, she heard the brute cry out - but the princess didn’t go down, even if she favoured her leg when she turned to face Seacat.

    “Nice blow.” The way the woman bared her teeth at her sent a cold shiver down Seacat’s spine.

    “Not good enough,” she spat.

    “Like you!”

    Oh! Seacat snarled. She’d pay for that. This time, she charged at the brute herself. “I’ve killed worse scum than you!” she yelled, raising the shock rod above her head. And as soon as the woman’s eyes followed the rod, Seacat threw it up and jumped forward. She rolled over her good shoulder, and dived between the woman’s legs, lashing out with her claws, ignoring the pain in her shoulder.

    As the Bug Princess screamed, Seacat dashed forward, whirling to strike at her back - just in time to see the stinger come down and strike her chest.

    The impact was surprisingly gentle - all she felt was a slight bump. No sting. No pain. But when she jumped back, she heard her shirt rip as the stinger was lifted.

    “And it’s over! You fought well, wildcat, but…” The Bug Princess trailed off, blinking. There was a ration bar stuck on her stinger.

    Seacat patted her front - just in time to catch the second ration bar she’d had stuffed down her shirt when it slid out of the torn remains of her top. She grinned, baring her teeth, and tried not to wince. Her shoulder was hurting - everytime she moved her arm, it flared up with pain.

    “That’s… You were carrying ration bars in your shirt?” The Bug Princess seemed more shocked by that than by the fact that her legs were bleeding, and she was propping herself up with one pincer on the wall. She swung her stinger around - but the ration bar remained stuck on it. As anyone who’d had to eat the things would expect.

    “They didn’t leave me with bags in the cell, you know,” Seacat shot back. “I had to make do. And now my shirt’s ruined.” She was studying the woman. The princess was leaning against the wall, which meant there was an opening on her other side. Seacat could rush forward and go past her before she could react with her wounded legs.

    “Your... cell?”

    “Yes, my cell.” Seacat moved to the side a little. If she ran straight for the opening, the Bug Princess would intercept her. She needed to trick her again. And with both her shock rods already on the ground, she hadn’t much else left to do so. Well, another ration bar, but that wouldn’t do anything. The Bug Princess’s eyes tracked her. And… “Are you blushing?” What?

    “Can’t you, like… fix your shirt?” The woman bit out.

    Oh. Oh! Seacat grinned. She could use that. “Why? You did that.”

    “That’s not the issue!”

    Yes, definitely blushing. She pulled her good shoulder back, and her shirt fell completely open. The hulking brute gasped - and Seacat moved. She dashed, running straight at the woman, claw and ration bar raised.

    The Horde scum gasped again, pushing off from the wall to raise her pincers in defence.

    Seacat had expected that. She dived again, going down on all three, protecting her wounded shoulder, as if she were going for the other’s legs again.

    The Bug Princess fell for it. She slammed her pincers down, trying to catch her - but Seacat had changed course already, sidestepping the attack as she slid around the woman, into the passage behind her. The Horde princess lashed out with her stinger, but Seacat had expected that as well and dodged easily.

    “Hey!”

    “See you, sucker!” Seacat yelled a moment before she dashed into the narrow side passage around the corner. She might not run and climb as well as she usually could, not with her shoulder hurting like that - but she could outrun the Bug Princess easily even when the Horde scum wasn’t bleeding from both legs.

    Of course, the woman still tried to come after her. But by the time she reached the entrance to the narrow passage, Seacat was already leaving it on the other side - by scrambling up a pipe feeding a factory.

    “Wildcat!” she heard the Horde scum scream before the sound was drowned out by heavy machinery.

    She grinned even as she changed direction - the Horde scum would inform the rest of the Horde. Which was why she grabbed another pipe and slid down to the ground and doubled back a bit - they wouldn’t expect that. Certainly not the Bug Princess.

    But she still needed to get away for good. And while she knew more or less where she was, she couldn’t afford another encounter with Horde scum. And she knew that somewhere in the Fright Zone, Adora and her friends were trying to come for her. Probably stumbling into a Horde ambush at this moment.

    So she dashed through two more passages, one underground, then scaled the next factory. All the smoke from boilers and the fog from steam pipes made it very hard to spot anyone on its roof - Catra knew that from experience. But it didn’t keep anyone on the roof from spotting guards on the ground. Which she also knew from experience.

    On the roof, she quickly moved to the other side, tying her shirt closed - there was no need to give anyone a show any more.

    “Now… if I were a stubborn, dumb idiot trying to save me, where would I be?” she muttered as she studied the area between her and the Whispering Woods.

    Well… Adora had never explored the Fright Zone as much as Catra had done. Always too much of a good little soldier. They had their secret places - she smiled, remembering that particular ledge - and Catra had dragged her on a few excursions, but Adora wouldn’t be very familiar with the back routes out of the Fright Zone - or into it.

    Granted, Catra hadn’t been exactly roaming the Whispering Woods, either. But she knew her way around the Fright Zone. Unless the Horde had been rearranging entire factories and barracks in the last four years. Which they hadn’t, as far as she could tell from here.

    So, Adora would be taking the secret passages she knew about. Which Catra also knew. And that meant, assuming she came in from the Whispering Woods, which were the closest area held by the Alliance…

    A plume of smoke rose in the middle of the Fright Zone.

    “...or the idiot decided on a frontal assault,” she muttered under her breath. That had been the main road linking the small arms factory with the arsenal. Adora couldn’t really be trying to tackle the Horde head-on, could she? Not even Sea Hawk would do that. They’d be fighting the entire Home Force - Horde garrison, she corrected herself. This wasn’t home.

    She blinked. Yes, an apparent attack on either the factory complex or the arsenal would draw the attention of all the Horde scum in the Fright Zone. Which meant this was a diversion!

    She grinned, flashing her fangs. Adora was an idiot, but she wasn’t stupid - she knew how the Horde operated. And Sea Hawk knew all about distractions. And blowing things up. If the shrimp was here, she could teleport around and set things up all over the place to blow up or burn!

    But if that was a distraction, then where would Adora lead the others? Catra hadn’t known about the prison she had been held in. She didn’t even know if it was a new building, repurposed or had been there all along. Adora might have known, though - she had been Shadow Weaver’s pet cadet, and the damn witch would have shared such secrets with her to make her feel important. Or she might have kept it a secret anyway.

    Damn. Decisions, decisions. You didn’t have to worry about that on the sea. No, wait - this was exactly like trying to guess which route Scurvy would take to escape a trap. If Scurvy wasn’t an ugly bastard who couldn’t outsail a Horde tub, but a smart, tough and… whatever.

    She clenched her teeth. She had to think like Adora. And Sea Hawk. But Sea Hawk would be trusting Adora to lead them. So… think like Adora. “Oh, I’m such a good cadet, I’ll follow orders blindly! Jumping into that hole? Why, at once!”

    No, not that. She chuckled. But if this were an exercise, how would Adora run it? Catra’s plan would have been rejected for cheating or something. Lonnie would be waiting for orders. Rogelio never said anything, anyway. And Kyle would be useless. But Adora… she’d come up with a plan that wasn’t too obvious, but not too complicated either. She’d feint once, then she’d strike. And she’d avoid the obvious route - usually.

    That meant… Hm. The normal prison was over there. And Adora didn’t know about Shadow Weavers real plans. So, she wouldn’t be looking for a secret prison.

    She closed her eyes for a moment. Catra knew the area around the prison - Shadow Weaver had threatened her with it often enough so anyone would take a few precautions. Apart from the obvious route, there were two more routes. But the faster one required climbing over a building. Adora wouldn’t be doing that - too easy to get caught in the middle of the climb if you weren’t as nimble as Seacat. So, the hidden route past the reprocessing plant, it was. Or would be.

    Seacat grinned as she dashed across the roof and slid down the largest pipe, before jumping off and landing on a catwalk two floors down, halfway to the ground.

    Then she started to run.

    Fifteen minutes later, she was leaning against a shabby concrete wall with flaking paint. And coughing. Damn, she had forgotten about the filthy air in the Fright Zone. It was like breathing next to a bonfire when the wind turned and blew the smoke into your face. After Sea Hawks old socks had fallen into the flames.

    At least she had reached the passage. Now she just had to wait until Adora passed through. Just as…

    An explosion interrupted her thoughts. She blinked, That had come…

    ...from the prison! But how…? Seacat had gone past the prison on the way here! Had Adora infiltrated the prison already when Seacat had passed through? Without her noticing? Had Adora managed to become sneaky? Well, she would’ve been with Sea Hawk, but…

    She turned and dashed back towards the prison. She checked the sky - the smoke from the explosion was fading, so it wasn’t on fire. Yet. But she had to hurry - even cadet Kyle would have noticed the explosion. That meant the Horde was coming. Or, at least, some of them - what with part of the Fright Zone still on fire from Adora’s distraction. Which probably had been Sea Hawk’s idea.

    Her shoulder was getting worse, she noticed. The stupid Bug Princess must have hit her harder than she had thought with that piece of concrete. But she could still fight even if it hurt - she was used to that. Now.

    She approached the last corner before the prison and carefully peered around it. There was a huge hole in the prison’s walls. Smoke was still coming out of it. There was Brain Boy covering a few Horde scum on the ground. The shrimp was standing on top of a cart, looking down the main road. And there were Sea Hawk and… Adora. Interrogating a prisoner. A Horde prisoner, not a prisoner of the Horde.

    At least it looked like an interrogation to Seacat - Adora, in her princess form, was shaking the scum back and forth and shouting: “Where is she? Where did you take her? Stop lying! I know you have her!”

    “I’ll keelhaul you! On land! After gelding you! Talk, you scum!” Sea Hawk added, flashing his blade.

    She found herself smiling. They had come for her, the idiots! Then she smirked and stepped around the corner. “Hey, Adora.”

    The idiot didn’t even notice.

    Brain Boy noticed her first. She saw his eyes widening, and she sent him a glare when he opened his mouth, putting a finger across her lips. He fell silent, flashing her a smile. Good boy!

    Shaking her head, Seacat started walking towards them. “Hey, Adora.”

    She was halfway across the road when the Shrimp noticed. To Seacat’s surprise, the princess looked at her with wide eyes, then at Adora And Sea Hawk, then at Brain Boy before she giggled. So, the shrimp had a sense of humour. Just hidden most of the time.

    “Tell me where she is, or I’ll tear off your head!”

    “Your other head,” Sea Hawk added.

    “Hey, Adora.”

    This time she noticed - Seacat saw her freeze up for a moment before her head snapped around. And her eyes went wide. “Cat-Seacat!”

    “Seacat!” Sea Hawk exclaimed. “There you are!”

    “Captain.” She smiled at him. They had come for her. But now…

    “Catra!”

    And she found herself lifted off her feet, caught in a hug that would probably put a Kraken to shame.

    “You’re alive! You’re here! I was so worried!”

    Damn, she was big. And strong. Very strong. It actually hurt. “Ow!” she hissed - that was her woulded shoulder.

    “Oh, no! You’re hurt! I hurt you - I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to… Ack! You need help!”

    Catra laughed despite the pain. For all her magic and bulk and muscles, this was still Adora the dummy, overreacting. “Im fine,” she lied. “Just hurt my shoulder a little.”

    “Oh, no, and I made it worse!”

    “Where were you?” Sea Hawk asked.

    “Special prison,” she told him. “So secret, it had only a handful of guards in it. Easy to escape.”

    He nodded, then smiled - though she could tell it was a little forced. “I expected no less from my first mate! An adventure we shall sing about!”

    “They poisoned my drink,” she told him, “or they would’ve never caught me.”

    “We know - we found out, but only after they had left already. What a dastardly plot! But the fiends will pay for it!”

    “Bow! We need bandages to treat her wound!” Adora yelled.

    “We can do that later,” Seacat told her. “It’s just a bruised shoulder.”

    “Your entire shirt is torn! And you’re covered in blood!”

    “It’s not my blood,” she told her. “But we need to get out. Half the Horde is hunting you.”

    “They’re busy dealing with our distraction,” Sea Hawk said. “We set their factories on fire!”

    “I did that,” the shrimp cut in.

    “It was my idea!” the captain retorted.

    And there came Brain Boy with enough bandages to treat an entire crew after a boarding action.

    “I’m fine,” she spat. “We need to go - now. They’re mobilising everyone, and they’ll have noticed the explosion. We need to move before they lock down the area and cut us off from the scrapyard. Come on!”

    She started towards the side alley that led to the scrapyard area.

    “Wait… how do you know that’s what we... “ Adora blinked.

    Now she had to get a clue. Seacat sighed. “I remembered in prison. Everything.”

    “Oh.” Adora gasped “So...”

    “We need to go. Now!” She bared clenched her teeth, This wasn’t the time to talk about… everything.

    The shrimp appeared next to them. “Guys! There’s a squad coming!”

    They started running. Finally.

    They dashed down the side passage, towards the scrapyard, until they reached a particular t-junction, just as Catra remembered it. “Follow me!” she told the others, starting down the smaller, darker passage.

    “But that’s not leading to the scrapyard!” Adora protested. “Are you sure you’re OK? Do you remember everything correctly?”

    “Of course I do!” Seacat blinked. “Why do you think we’d be going to the scrapyard?”

    “You said so. Just before!”

    “Of course I said so - right next to the Horde scum on the ground,” Seacat replied. “They’ll expect us to go to the scrapyard area.”

    “Oh.”

    Oh, Adora… Seacat shook her head. Still all the subtlety of a particularly dense brick. “Now let’s go!”

    “Are you sure we’re not overestimating them?” Brain Boy asked as they sprinted down the passage to make up for the time lost - they still had at least a squad on their heels and needed to be well out of sight by the time the Horde reached the t-junction.

    “What do you mean?” Seacat glanced back at him; the man was covering their rear.

    “What if they don’t tell them where we’re going?”

    “Oh, they will,” Seacat replied. “They’ll fall all over themselves to share such information. Especially after not only losing us, but getting captured by you guys. That won’t look good for them.”

    “Oh, yes. Shadow Weaver won’t be happy,” Adora agreed.

    Shadow Weaver. Seacat clenched her teeth. The witch would be very unhappy, indeed, if Seacat had any say.

    But Sea Hawk agreed. “Oh, yes. It’s an old but very reliable trick. Many ruses work best when the enemy thinks he caught you making a mistake. Sometimes, they even work best when you do make a mistake since it makes it more convincing!”

    “Also known as ‘improvising’,” Seacat added. And claiming after the fact that it had all been part of the plan. She snorted and smiled at Sea Hawk, who beamed at her and raised his sword in salute. While running.

    Adora came to a stop in front of another t-junction. “Uh...left or right?”

    “Neither,” Seacat told her, pointing at a manhole cover. “Down.”

    Her friend gasped. “The sewers?”

    The shrimp, predictably, protested as well. “Ew!”

    Sea Hawk, though beamed. “A classic escape! We might even get to fight a monster in the darkness!”

    “Let’s hope not,” Seacat told him as Adora lifted the manhole cover - with one hand, easily. “Fighting the Bug Princess was enough for one day.”

    “You fought Scorpia?” Adora asked.

    “Yes.” Seacat peered down the shaft and wrinkled her nose. This wouldn’t be fun. But it was their best shot to reach the river docks undetected. No one ever was in the sewers, unless they were on punishment detail. Catra knew that very well.

    “Double-Ew!”

    Seacat scoffed at the shrimp. “What’s wrong, princess? Afraid to get your shiny clothes dirty?”

    “As if!” the princess retorted. A moment later, she vanished with a soft popping sound.

    And Seacat heard a splashing sound. The following yelp and cursing that would put Scurvy to shame everyone heard.

    She nodded. “Now we know there’s water down there, so be careful you don’t slip off the raised passages on the side of the sewers.” She gripped the ladder and slid down the shaft, breathing through her mouth.

    “Wait, Cat-seacat! You’re wounded - you shouldn’t take point!”

    Seacat grinned as she lightly landed on her feet in the sewers, next to a dripping-wet princess.

    “That was… that’s… disgusting!” the shrimp told her with clenched teeth.

    “Welcome to the sewers,” Seacat replied before plucking a piece of debris out of the princess’s hair. “And you got lucky - this is mostly water used to cool the factories. The barracks are on the other side of the zone.”

    “Ew!”

    “Wait!” Adora landed next to her. “Let me take the lead.”

    “Oh, please!” Seacat retorted. “Who here has the best eyes to see in the dark? And who here has spent the most time down here?” If Adora the great had been sent to patrol the sewers even once, Seacat would...well, Adora hadn’t been.

    “But you’re wounded!”

    “I can still move and fight.”

    “Guys! We should move!” Brain Boy butted in.

    “Yes.” Seacat pushed past Adora and headed down the main sewer. The ‘River Route’, as Catra had called it. They wouldn’t have to walk too far.

    “Ew!”

    “I think I just stepped into something... Something.”

    “Are you sure you’re OK?”

    “Onward!”

    Seacat sighed. They wouldn’t have to walk too far, but it would still be a long trip to the river port.

    And yet, she was smiling as they made their way through the sewers.

    *****​

    A few minutes and a lot of whining later - really, Seacat was walking barefoot, and did she complain? No, she didn’t! Not much, anyway - they reached the river docks. Well, the manhole closest to the piers. “Alright,” Seacat told them. “Now we need to sneak into the docks and on to a river barge.”

    “A river barge?” Sea Hawk frowned. “I think we should board and commandeer a river gunboat, at the least! Fight our way free of the port, then sink the boat to block pursuit and make our way to the sea!”

    Well, she should’ve expected that plan.

    “What? No!” Adora protested. “We need to head to the Whispering Woods; it’s closest, and we will be able to easily lose the Horde soldiers in there. We’ll also be able to reach Bright Moon easily.”

    The shrimp and Brain Boy agreed with her, of course. Seacat should’ve expected that as well.

    She sighed. “We can’t crew a river gunboat. Not if we want to use the guns. And we’re on the opposite side of the Whispering Woods border. Not to mention that the Horde will expect us to go back to the woods.” Rebels had been using the woods to shelter and infiltrate the Fright Zone for a while, after all. Catra remembered hearing reports of that.

    “We could set a few boats on fire and sneak back to the woods,” Adora suggested. “Glimmer can drop a few more firebombs, like before.”

    Sea Hawk looked torn, Seacat noticed. He liked setting ships on fire, but to abandon the river plan for a trip through the woods? And he enjoyed starting the fires himself. On the other hand…. Oh.

    Seacat shook her head. “They’ll expect another diversion.”

    “They’ll have to react anyway,” Adora retorted. “And Glimmer can teleport us half of the way. Right?”

    The shrimp didn’t look as confident as Adora but she set her jaw and nodded firmly. “Yes, I’ve got enough left for that.”

    So, that was how they had gotten the climbing part done, Seacat noted. But she still didn’t like the plan. And not just because she didn’t want to go back to the woods. “They’ll expect a diversion. And they have enough troops to cover the borders to the woods anyway. I doubt that they withdrew the pickets and patrols.”

    “They haven’t,” Adora admitted.

    Seacat nodded. “So… we can set a few barges and boats on fire, and sneak away on another barge escaping the attack.”

    Sea Hawk nodded in agreement. “That’s a cunning plan worthy of adventure! Unless we manage to take a gunboat, of course.”

    Seacat resolved to have the shrimp prioritise gunboats when it came to burning ships.

    “Still… if we’re caught on the barge…” Adora worried.

    “Glimmer can get us out then,” Brain Boy replied. “Provided you don’t overdo it in the port.”

    “I won’t.”

    Adora frowned, but Catra could tell that she was just holding out because it hadn’t been her idea. She would give in anyway.

    Seacat grinned. This wasn’t a military exercise - this was perfect for Catra’s skills. Seacat’s, she corrected herself with a frown. “I’ll take a look,” she told the others and started climbing.

    Holding up the manhole cover with one hand, using a foot to brace herself so she could let her hurting shoulder rest, Seacat peered out at the river docks. “The guards are on alert,” she said. “And there are more of them than normal.” At least what Catra remembered as normal.

    “We can take a few more guards!” Adora said below her.

    “As long as we’re quick enough to get away before reinforcements arrive.”

    “Yes, I think…” Seacat trailed off and hissed. There was a bot walking around as well. That definitely wasn’t normal.

    “What? Is something wrong?” Adora whispered.

    “They’ve got a bot too,” Seacat replied. And tried not to think of Gullpeak.

    “Ah. No problem.”

    Seacat nodded. No problem at all. She had to believe that. She could handle a bot, anyway. Had done so before. Before she had remembered her life as… whatever. She peered around. “We can’t get out here without being seen,” she said. There’s a guard keeping an eye on the area.”

    “Where are they?” the shrimp asked. “I can take them down easily.”

    “Corner post,” Seacat told her. “Come get a look.” She was getting a little tired bracing herself and keeping the manhole cover propped open, anyway.

    “Jump, I’ll catch you!” Adora told her.

    Letting Adora catch her? Like a… She forced the weird feelings down. Anyway, she wasn’t an invalid. She could handle herself. “No need,” she said, then started sliding down the ladder, jumping the last few yards and landing in a crouch in front of Adora.

    And barely splattered her with murky water from the puddle in which she landed.

    “Hey!”

    Seacat chuckled. “What, are you afraid of a little water?”

    “No!” Adora lied. Then she grinned. “It’ll vanish anyway once I change back.”

    Seacat gasped. That was cheating!

    But the shrimp was already climbing up. She probably was running low on her magic, Seacat thought, or she’d have teleported. That meant escaping might not be as easy as they assumed.

    She heard the princess grunt and looked up. The shrimp was struggling with the cover. Seacat turned to Adora. “Can you lift the lid with your sword or something?” Adora was tall enough, as She-Ra, and the shrimp small enough, for this to work. Without cutting anyone by accident. Probably.

    “I don’t need help.” The shrimp grunted even louder and made a funny grimace as she kept pushing up.

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “Don’t be stupid.”

    “I’m not!”

    Too stubborn to admit she needed help. Really, Seacat had expected better from Bright Moon’s princess. “Adora…” she started.

    But before she could tell her friend to help the shrimp, she heard a popping sound - the princess had vanished. Had she teleported blindly? No, there was the sound of the manhole cover falling closed again. “Never mind. She got it. Finally.”

    “Glimmer’s stronger than most think,” Adora said with a smile.

    And more stubborn and stupid, too, Seacat added to herself. Not that she cared unless the princess got them killed.

    Which was a real possibility if the shrimp screwed up taking out the guards. If the bot sounded an alarm… They would have to flee. Either on the ground or down below. They’d be more mobile, but more exposed up there - down here, they were limited and cut off more easily - if the Horde was quick enough. And if they realised that they were fleeing through the sewers.

    Decisions, decisions. Wait. If the princess screwed up, Adora would charge in to save her anyway. She wouldn’t abandon her friends. And that would make trying to sneak away undetected much harder. Heh, she was already waiting right at the top of the shaft, ready to jump out. No, sneaking away through the sewers was probably impossible.

    “Let’s go!”

    And here we go, Seacat thought as Adora pushed the cover away and jumped out.

    “Adventure!” Sea Hawk was next up the shaft.

    Seacat looked at Brain Boy.

    “After you,” he said.

    She grinned and scrambled up the ladder herself. Time to sink more Horde ships!

    She reached the top of the ladder and climbed out, then froze for a moment. There was the bot - and it was glowing. Before she could react, though, the bot collapsed, and Adora appeared behind it, pulling her sword out of it. “Hah!” she yelled, grinning widely.

    And there was the guard - on the ground in a growing pool of blood. Glimmer must have killed them from behind, as planned.

    “Huzzah!”

    The captain! Seacat whirled, then cursed. Sea Hawk was charging down the pier, towards the largest gunboat moored there. The gunboat with the crew scrambling to man the guns. She looked around - Adora was mowing down a squad of soldiers and about to break through into the gun emplacements guarding the port. The shrimp was too far away, dropping firebombs on more gunboats. “Brain Boy! Support the captain!” she yelled, already charging after Sea Hawk.

    If only her shoulder were whole! She dashed across the pier, jumping on top and then down from an overturned cart full of rations. The first Horde gun crew was already loading their carronades - and Sea Hawk was too far away to…

    An arrow hit the gun, and both it and its crew vanished in a… splatter of glue? What was Brain Boy doing?

    But stuck to the gun, the Horde scum couldn’t bring it to bear - and there was Sea Hawk!

    “For the Alliance! Adventure!” he yelled as he jumped, landing on the deck of the gunboat. His blade flashed, and a Horde sailor fell. But more were coming.

    Seacat pressed on. She was almost there. Half a dozen sailors charged the captain - one fell with an arrow in his chest - but Sea Hawk could handle that.

    The gun crew trying to bring the swivel gun to bear on him, on the other hand… Seacat snarled and jumped on a crate on the pier, then pushed off, landing feet first on the loader of the gun. Her claws slashed across the woman’s back, sending the Horde scum down onto the deck in a shower of blood. Seacat dropped and rolled over the deck, grunting with pain when her wounded shoulder struck something, then came up in a crouch, claws out and rushed the gunner.

    The fishwoman shrieked and drew her cutlass, but she was too slow. Seacat grabbed the gun barrel and threw it to the side - which rammed the breech into the fishwoman’s side, sending her staggering to the side. Before the Horde scum could recover, Seacat vaulted over the gun and struck out with her feet, raking the sailor’s arm.

    The fishwoman dropped her cutlass and fell down, clutching her ruined arm. Seacat snatched up the blade and slashed the Horde scum’s throat, then whirled. Sea Hawk was finishing off the last two sailors fighting him, and… the helmsman on the bridge was on the ground, an arrow stuck in his head.

    But the officer on deck was already gripping the wheel, and more sailors were casting off the lines that kept the boat moored. Seacat snarled, ignored the pain in her shoulder and rushed the bridge.

    The officer - the captain; up close, Catra recognised the rank tabs - let go of the wheel and met her with her sword. “Rebel scum!” she yelled, slashing with the blade.

    “That’s alliance scum!” Seacat retorted, deflecting the blow and riposting with her new cutlass.

    But the enemy was good - she fell back as she parried, keeping Seacat at a distance so she couldn’t use her claws.

    “And former Horde scum!” Seacat yelled as she repeatedly lunged at the Horde captain, trying to land a blow.

    “Traitor!” the Horde scum snarled as she parried each blow - though with mounting difficulty, Seacat noticed.

    Grinning, she sidestepped a counter-lunge, then attacked again, driving the enemy captain further back - until the woman stepped into the pool of blood left by the helmsman, and her next parry sent her stumbling when she lost her footing or a moment.

    Long enough for Seacat to bat her blade aside and bury her cutlass in the woman’s gut. Whatever the Horde scum had been about to say was drowned in the blood gushing from her mouth.

    Seacat kicked the enemy’s blade away and turned. The remaining Horde sailors had been killed or driven to jump overboard by Sea Hawk. Time to look for a barge to hide on while Adora and the others finished off the Horde garrison of the river port.

    She blinked, then cursed. Brain Boy was running towards the gunboat they had just taken, carrying the shrimp in his arms. And Adora was holding back what looked like an entire assault company trying to storm the pier.

    With the shrimp knocked out, there was no way they’d make it on a barge without getting spotted.

    Seacat cursed and gripped the steering wheel. They had no choice, now. “Captain! Cut the lines as soon as Brain Boy is on board!” she yelled.

    “Huzzah! Another daring plan comes together!”

    The captain slashed the last two lines, and Seacat felt the ship starting to drift as the river’s current dragged it away.

    Brain Boy made the jump before they left the pier, landing in a heap on the deck. But Adora…

    Seacat clenched her teeth. Her friend was still fighting - mowing down half a dozen Horde scum. But a dozen had her surrounded, shock rods out. And even more were coming.

    “Adora! Jump!” Seacat yelled, turning the wheel to keep the boat alongside the pier for a little longer. “Jump!”

    The idiot wasn’t listening!

    “Adora! Jump!”

    She saw Adora’s head snap towards her as the blonde parried a blow from a huge minotaur.

    “Jump!”

    Then Adora raised her blade, then brought it down and drove it into the ground - and the pier broke apart.

    As Seacat stared, Adora jumped off, landed on a chunk of the pier as it slid onto the water, and jumped off again - to land on the deck next to Brain Boy and the shrimp.

    “Huzzah!”

    Seacat started breathing again and threw the wheel, turning the gunboat away from the collapsing pier.

    They needed to get away before the Horde brought artillery to bear on them.

    Which would be damned hard, what with the Horde’s fortifications dotting the river - even the witch was aware that they had to protect one of the Horde’s most important supply lines.

    They needed a new plan, and they needed it right now.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2020
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 15: The Return Part 3
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 15: The Return Part 3

    Without sails, the gunboat was slowly going - the current pushed it, which made steering it a little tricky, but they couldn’t go any faster. “We need to set sails!” Seacat yelled - the wind was blowing from a favourable direction. One piece of good luck so far.

    That would change at the first bend - but with their current speed, they wouldn’t reach the first bend, not with the Horde giving chase.

    “I’ve dismantled the guns in the fortification,” Adora yelled. “But there’s another gun emplacement further down the river.”

    Seacat knew that already. The captain was rushing to the mainmast, but he wouldn’t be able to set the mainsail by himself. “Help Seahawk!” she yelled. Brain Boy was treating whatever wounds the princess had suffered, but Adora was so strong - at least as She-Ra - she could probably carry the sail up the mast if she tried to. Not that it would be of any use.

    But they needed to pick up speed. As slow as they were, the Horde scum could keep pace with them on foot, and if they… She drew a hissing breath through clenched teeth. Skiffs! Horde skiffs had appeared on the banks of the river.

    Worse - those were the artillery skiffs she had heard of. “Watch out!” she yelled. “Artillery!”

    “What?” Adora whirled.

    The skiffs were already setting down to deploy the guns. And the Horde soldiers with them didn’t look like the dregs of the service. At this distance, and with how slow the gunboat was going, they wouldn’t miss.

    “An artillery duel! Huzzah!” Sea Hawk was rushing towards the gun that hadn’t been immobilised by Horde scum stuck to it. “Follow me!”

    “Can you even shoot the gun?” Adora yelled - but she was running after the captain anyway.

    Seacat hoped her friend had received some training in gunnery in the last four years - she knew they hadn’t received any while she had been a cadet in the Horde.

    She corrected the course a little - she wanted to hug the river bank opposite the Horde guns, but she couldn’t get too close, or she might end up running aground - and clenched her teeth as she watched the four guns set up. A few more minutes, tops, and they would be under fire. And Sea Hawk was talking Adora through loading the gun. Apparently, she had stayed on the command course. Damn!

    “Don’t worry, it’s really easy! Just open the breech like this, put the shell in, then the powder charge… yes like this! Slam the breech closed, aim and… FIRE!”

    The gun bellowed. Dirt was thrown up in front of the Horde guns - they had missed.

    But at least part of the crew looked rattled. Oh, one soldier was down, too - must have caught some shrapnel. Seacat hoped that they had been the main gunner.

    Then she saw the guns move. The Horde gunners were aiming!. Cursing, she pulled on the wheel, pulling away from the river bank - and slowing down. If she timed it right…

    The guns fired - smoke and flames shot out of their muzzles, followed by the sound of the shots rolling over the river.

    Two missed, throwing up water in front of the slowed gunboat. The third didn’t, hitting the foredeck - and wrecking the gun there, with the Horde scum still stuck to it. Seacat winced as she saw the mangled, bloody mess left - that could’ve been her friends! Or herself.

    But Sea Hawk was unfazed - and Adora, stubborn as always, had already reloaded the gun. Once more, the captain returned fire. Seacat tried to track the shot with her eyes - but this gun fired too fast.

    One of the horde gun emplacements blew up in a giant explosion, throwing pieces and body parts all over the other guns and wrecking the skiff behind the gun.

    “Huzzah! We hit their ammunition!” Sea Hawk cheered.

    “Yes!” Seacat hissed.

    One gun down, and the explosion had hurt two more crews - including the slower one. They fired, but their shot went wide - Seacat had steered the gunboat back on the fastest course.

    Now it was a race between their gun and the remaining ones. And Sea Hawk and Adora beat the Horde - their next shot wrecked the fastest gun remaining on the river bank, toppling it and shredding the crew with shrapnel.

    That left two wounded, shaken crews. And the distance was opening. The Horde fired before Adora managed to reload, but both shots missed - the near-misses must have thrown their aim off.

    Sea Hawk missed in turn, but close enough to kill a few more soldiers - and one skiff was smoking. The Horde scum had had enough and started falling back - or fleeing.

    Seacat took a deep breath. They had gained a little time. She hoped it was enough to find a way to escape - they couldn’t stay on the river. The next gun emplacement would be ready for them. And those guns wouldn’t be artillery meant for the field, but rifles meant to sink ships.

    But they couldn’t get off the river either - not without getting spotted and run down by half the Horde. There were skiffs following them on both sides now - fortunately, there were no artillery skiffs among them, but the scouting skiffs would ensure they couldn’t slip away, not without the shrimp teleporting them.

    Seacat glanced down at the deck and clenched her teeth. The princess was awake now, but she didn’t look in any shape to stand, much less use magic. Damn. Although… She grinned. They could set the gunboat on fire - make it look like the shot that hit them had caused it - and then escape by diving. They could probably scrounge up makeshift snorkels to stay underwater longer… with all the smoke and fire, the Horde soldiers would be unlikely to spot them, and then all they needed was a good spot to sneak up the riverbanks unseen. And Catra remembered such a spot from a past exercise as a cadet.

    She nodded. Yes, this was a doable plan. All they needed was a little luck and some…

    She blinked. Down on the deck, Adora was glowing. And pointing her sword at the shrimp. What the…? She almost hit a sandbank in the river.

    In front of her eyes, a glowing beam shot out from the tip of Adora’s sword and hit the shrimp. And the princess shuddered, then stood, smiling and hugging Brain Boy and Adora - who had shrunk down to her normal size, too.

    Well, using magic to heal their teleporting princess worked as well, Seacat had to admit. And they wouldn’t need to cobble together snorkels. But they still needed a distraction - even the Horde scouts wouldn’t miss the sparkles if they teleported from the deck.

    “Hey, princess!” she yelled. “Can you teleport us to the riverbank in a few minutes? Or do you need to nap a little?”

    “I can teleport you right now!” the shrimp yelled back.

    Yes, she was back to normal. “No need - we need to pass the right spot, yet,” Seacat told her. “Remember the exercise where we dunked Lonnie in the river?” she asked Adora.

    “You did that!” Adora replied. Then she nodded. “Yes, I do.”

    “Good. That’s where we’ll get off this boat.”

    “Yes!” Sea Hawk yelled. “I’ll prepare the distraction!”

    “The distraction?” the shrimp asked Adora in a low voice - she probably didn’t intend Seacat to hear her.

    “We’ll set the ship on fire so the smoke will mask our exit,” Seacat yelled down. “So, get ready.”

    “He’ll set the ship on fire?” Brain Boy looked shocked. He really should’ve expected that. This was Sea Hawk, after all.

    “No, of course not!” Sea Hawk’s head popped up in the open hatch in the middle of the deck. “I’ve already done that!” he added as he climbed out, followed by the first wisps of smoke. “Huzzah! This will be our most dramatic rescue, yet!”

    Which meant he had cut the fuse a little short - so to speak. Seacat steered the gunboat a bit closer to the riverbank as the next bend appeared. They would need all the speed they could get to reach the exit spot before the fire reached the magazine.

    “Why exactly did we have to rescue her again?” Seacat heard the shrimp complain to Brain Boy. She better not be serious!

    “Because Adora and Sea Hawk were rushing off with or without us and someone had to be sensible here?” Brain Boy replied.

    Hey! Seacat was the most sensible of the group!

    By now, steering had become a little tricky since smoke was covering most of the foredeck. In fact, Seacat couldn’t see much of the river any more - but she could see the first flames licking the deck from below. And the spot with the bushes and dense underbrush leading into a patch of woods was still about a minute away.

    Adora climbed up to the bridge. “Are you sure about this?” she asked in a low voice.

    “Do you have a better idea?” Seacat briefly turned her head to flash a grin at her friend.

    “I had a better idea - before we ended up on this…” Adora shook her head as Sea Hawk started to throw bags of powder over the railing. Yes, the captain had cut it a little close.

    “Hey! My plan was to sneak onto a river barge.” And that had been a much better plan than using the same route that you used to get in to get out again.

    She turned the wheel - it was getting a little hard now, in this current - and winced when pain flared up in her shoulder as a result.

    “You’re hurt worse than you said!” Adora sounded aghast.

    “I can still walk, run and steer the ship. A little pain is nothing compared to Shadow Weaver’s punishment.”

    She heard Adora gasp and felt guilty about the low blow - but they really couldn’t afford to talk right now. “Alright! See the green bush there? We need to teleport right behind that one!” she yelled.

    “What bush?”

    Oh for…! “Get up here and take a look!”

    “Glimmer!”

    But the shrimp was already climbing the stairs. And she managed to catch a glance before the billowing smoke blocked their view.

    “Alright! Everyone off the ship now!” Sea Hawk yelled, running towards the bridge.

    Seacat cursed. That meant they had a few seconds left, tops. She grabbed the shrimp’s arm. “Let’s go! Now!”

    They scrambled down the ladder to the deck, where Sea Hawk and Brain Boy were waiting, coughing in the smoke.

    “Go now! Now!”

    Seacat saw the flames in the hatch suddenly grow much brighter - and then the whole boat vanished.

    *****​

    She landed on a steep slope and barely managed to grab the closest branch to keep from falling down and into the river. Looking around, she held her breath, then relaxed - everyone was with her, too: Adora, Sea Hawk and Brain Boy. And the shrimp, but that was a given seeing that the princess had teleported them. In the last second, actually.

    Seacat hadn’t heard an explosion, though - had the boat…? Turning around, she saw the smoking remains spread over the river, a number of smaller fragments still in the air. No, the gunboat definitely had blown up. Completely. That must have been a big powder magazine. But why weren’t her ears ringing? Had the ship exploded in mid-teleport?

    “A harrowing adventure, indeed!” Sea Hawk commented as he got up and brushed off some dirt from his pants. “But well-timed!”

    “You cut that far too close!” Adora protested. “We almost died!”

    “I had faith in Princess Glimmer,” the captain retorted, unfazed. “And the closer, the better - the Horde will surely assume we died with our brave little boat.”

    The gunboat had been larger than the Dragon’s Daughter IV. But with everyone glaring at Sea Hawk, Seacat wouldn’t point that out.

    “Guys? We need to move. They’ll cover the riverbanks!” Brain Boy said.

    He was right, of course. “Are you strong enough for another teleport?” Seacat asked the shrimp. She did look a little under the weather. Not as bad as before Adora healed her, but not well either.

    “No, she isn’t,” Adora replied.

    “Hey!”

    “Glimmer…” Brain Boy’s hand on her shoulder apparently shut the princess up.

    “Let’s go, then. We need to be deeper in the forest when the Horde starts searching the riverbanks,” Seacat said. The skiffs couldn’t navigate the forest here, but there would be squads on foot coming - or by barge.

    She started climbing up the rest of the slope. The soft soil made it a little tricky, especially with one arm - her claws weren’t as useful as usual.

    “Ca-Seacat! How badly hurt is your shoulder?”

    Damn. “I’ll manage,” she replied to Adora without looking back.

    “I can carry you.”

    Like hell she would let Adora carry her! This time, she glared over her shoulder at her friend. She wasn’t an invalid - she had escaped from prison by herself, hadn’t she?

    Her friend flinched for a moment, then that stubborn expression set in. “I can carry you.”

    “I’m fine,” Seacat spat, clearing the last part of the slope before the more even part of the forest.

    “But you’re hurting!”

    “A little pain never hurt anyone,” she retorted.

    “What? That makes no sense! Catra!”

    It made perfect sense! Seacat huffed and quickly moved ahead. There was a road cutting through the forest near the river - they had to cross it unseen.

    “Don’t be so stubborn! We’re here to help you!”

    She turned and hissed. “I don’t need your help! I am fine!”

    Sea Hawk cleared his throat. “We’ll treat all our wounds once we’re safe - relatively safe.”

    She glared at him, but the captain simply smiled at her. Huffing, she turned around and continued towards the road.

    “Why is she listening to you? She never listens to me!”

    Really, had Adora forgotten how good her ears were? And it wasn’t true - Catra listened to Adora, as long as Adora wasn’t being dumb. Or no fun. Or needed to get taken down a peg or two.

    “Why, she’s my first mate, and I’m her captain, of course.”

    That, too, of course.

    “But… I was a force captain, too!”

    Seacat rolled her eyes.

    *****​

    They reached the road a few minutes later, at which point Adora stopped complaining in a not-low-enough voice to Sea Hawk. Unfortunately, as Seacat could see from a bush overlooking most of the road, Horde soldiers were already deploying there - and they would start sweeping the forest between the road and the river soon.

    “We can take them,” the shrimp muttered next to her.

    “That would alert them to our survival - and to our escape route,” Adora, on Seacat’s other side, replied.

    It was getting a little crowded here.

    “Letting them find us will do the same, anyway,” the princess retorted. “And we can’t exactly hide.”

    “We could, actually,” Seacat informed the shrimp. “We could dig holes and hide there. But we don’t have the time to do that.” Catra had managed to hide like that a few times as a cadet.

    “That makes no difference then,” the princess told her.

    “We could take out the soldiers and take a skiff!” Sea Hawk suggested. “A fast skiff - fast enough to escape their net!”

    “And we’d need two skiffs,” Seacat pointed out, “unless there’s a cargo skiff around. Or an artillery skiff.” And no Horde commander would send either into the woods.

    “We could ambush a patrol and take their uniforms,” Adora said.

    “They would still miss the patrol.” Seacat would prefer a method that wouldn’t let the Horde figure out that they hadn’t died in the gunboat’s explosion.

    “Do you have a better idea?”

    Seacat didn’t need to look at Adora to know that she was frowning at her. Like she used to frown at Catra when they disagreed about a plan of action.

    She scowled. “No,” she admitted. “Unless the shrimp can teleport us across the road.”

    “Uh…”

    “I’ll take that as a no,” Seacat said. “I guess plan ‘strip the guards’ it is.”

    “And then we can commandeer a skiff or two!”

    Sea Hawk wasn’t one to drop a plan easily; Seacat knew that very well.

    “It’s not ‘plan: strip the guards’!” Adora shook her head. “You make it sound as if we want to see them naked!”

    Seacat grinned at her. “But we do want their uniforms, don’t we?”

    “Yes, but…” Adora shook her head, then suddenly smiled. “I’ve almost forgotten how you…” She trailed off.

    But Seacat knew what she meant. Catra had loved needling her like that. “Let’s get into position,” she said with a grin.

    “Position?” Brain Boy asked.

    “Standard Horde tactics are to start at one end of the forest, not both. It cuts down on friendly fire. They’ll keep the road secure with the main force and send a smaller force in to sweep the forest to flush us out,” Adora explained.

    Seacat wouldn’t do it like that, but Catra had learned long ago that unless it came from the top, the Horde wasn’t very keen on new ideas. “So, we’ll set up a little towards the middle,” she said. Far enough so the patrol won’t be as sharp as at the start.

    “It’ll also give us time to camouflage us,” Adora added as she rushed through the underbrush.

    “But we’ll be further from the skiffs,” Sea Hawk protested.

    “That won’t matter,” Seacat told him. “We can fake having wounded who need to be evacuated.” At least, she hoped they would have to fake the wounded.

    “Ah, yes, that would work - very cunning!” Sea Hawk nodded as he ducked under a thick branch.

    *****​

    When the Horde patrol finally showed up, they weren’t as sloppy as Seacat had hoped, but they certainly weren’t sharp. They had been at this for the better part of half an hour, and it showed - they had split up a little too much, which would make them lose sight of each other frequently.

    Good. That meant they had a chance to take out the patrol without the rest noticing. That would allow them to change into the uniforms to fool the Horde forces outside the forest.

    Perched on a branch, she grinned as she saw them come closer. And they weren’t looking up - they never looked up.

    “This is a waste of time,” she heard one of the Horde scum grumble. “You saw the explosion. No way anyone could’ve survived that. Magazine went up.”

    “I didn’t know that you were a sailor, Jens. Got lost on the way to the sea and followed us into the woods?”

    “Friend of mine is in the fleet, arse!”

    “Cut the bloody chatter! The rebels could be hiding behind the next bush!”

    Seacat mentally marked the apparent leader of the group. His position - second behind the point man - matched the Horde tactics, too. Predictable, really. Which meant that this patrol would be made up of five soldiers. They could take five Horde soldiers without splitting them up - but Seacat would take any advantage she would get. Especially with her hurt shoulder.

    She looked to her right, where Brain Boy was in another tree, then down to the others and signalled five enemies, wedge formation.

    Adora nodded - but then had to explain to the others, who didn’t recognise Horde signs. Great. Seacat made eye contact with Brain Boy and tried to communicate the plan to him. After two repetitions, he nodded.

    She hoped he had understood, or they would have to improvise - Sea Hawk style.

    But then the patrol was too close to say anything, and Seacat took a deep breath before moving a little further ahead on her branch. She and Brain Boy would take the two Horde soldiers on this side. And since she didn’t have a trick bow, she had to do it the hard way.

    The semi-hard way, she corrected herself as her target - the complainer she had heard before - started to make his way around the trunk of her tree. And he wasn’t looking up at all!

    Perfect. She glanced towards Brain Boy and snapped her hand downwards. Then she pushed off and pounced.

    She hit the idiot’s helmet with her feet - heels first - and drove him face-first into the soil. Before he could react or even cry out, she sneaked her good hand under his chin guard and opened the strap. He started to groan as she pulled the helmet off, but she grabbed his hair and slammed his face into the closest root a few times until he stopped moving.

    And her shoulder only hurt a little more.

    Then she looked up. Brain Boy had shot an arrow through the faceplate of his target. Messy - but then, they planned to fake a wounded or two, right?

    And Adora, Sea Hawk and the shrimp were already moving towards the three remaining Horde soldiers. Seacat jumped up and followed the shrimp - Adora and Sea Hawk wouldn’t need any help dealing with a single soldier each.

    “I don’t need help,” the shrimp whispered.

    “I don’t care,” she hissed back. “You can’t teleport, can you?”

    The princess huffed, then fell silent as they crawled through a dense bush.

    “Hey, Jens, did you drown?”

    “I said cut the chatter!”

    “Jens?”

    Damn. Time was running out. Seacat dug her claws into the soil, getting traction. Good.

    “Sibon, go check on Jens and Lori!”

    “Alright.”

    Adora and Sea Hawk should be close enough now. Seacat licked her lips. Almost…

    The Horde scum stumbled over a root, and Seacat shot forward, ramming her good shoulder into his gut, and tackled him to the ground. With his breath knocked out of him, he couldn’t yell - and there was the shrimp, hitting his helmet with a staff. Again and again. With enthusiasm.

    The soldier didn’t recover until he was out. Or dead - there were a few dents in the helmet.

    Adora and Sea Hawk had finished their soldiers more quickly, though Sea Hawk had run his target through.

    Well, good enough for a second wounded.

    “Hurry! We need to change!” Adora snapped. “Pick a soldier close to your size and strip them!”

    Seacat snorted, which earned her a glare.

    “You know what I mean!” Adora told her.

    Of course she did. But teasing Adora was fun.

    Stuffing your tail down the leg of an already uncomfortable uniform wasn’t fun, though. Nor was squishing your ears flat with a helmet not made for you. But the worst was the smell. “I don’t think that their commander enforced the hygiene regulations,” she spat while trying to breathe through her mouth.

    “They are loosened in the field,” Adora told her. “Don’t you… oh.”

    Seacat rolled her eyes. Catra hadn’t really cared much about regulations on her first and last field deployment.

    “I look ridiculous,” the shrimp complained.

    She did, actually - the uniform really didn’t fit her body. “You can be one of the wounded, then,” Seacat told her.

    “What?”

    “And you’re the other one,” Adora said. “You’re already wounded.”

    “I’m also the only one who knows how to act as a Horde soldier,” Seacat replied.

    “Except for me.”

    “No. You know how to act as a Horde captain, not a soldier.” Seacat grinned.

    Adora opened her mouth, but closed it again, obviously trying to find a counter-argument. “That’s…”

    “You can be a walking wounded,” Sea Hawk said. “That means we have three wounded. Princess Glimmer, Bow and you.”

    “Why us?”

    “You would stick out with your height,” the captain told the princess.

    “Or lack of height,” Seacat added.

    “And Bow perfectly fits the damaged uniform, but not the others,” Sea Hawk went on.

    “Ah.” Brain Boy nodded.

    “But…” The shrimp wasn’t giving in easily.

    “Glimmer!” Adora interrupted her. “Sea Hawk’s right. I’ll carry you.”

    The commander of the patrol wouldn’t carry a wounded, Seacat thought. On the other hand, some officers might - at least if everyone else was already wounded or carrying a wounded. “Let’s go, then!” she said.

    Time to nab a skiff.

    *****​

    A few minutes later, they were nearing the road and Seacat started screaming: “Help! Help! We need help!”

    “Ambush! Rebel ambush!”

    “Help!”

    “We need support!”

    The first squads were already entering the forest when the group stumbled onto the road. A huge minotaur - a squad leader according to the rank tabs - confronted them. “What happened? Report!”

    Adora actually straightened, saluting with the shrimp still hanging on her shoulder. “We were ambushed in the area straight behind us with overwhelming force. We managed to retreat with our wounded, but they were right behind us.” She gestured at Brain Boy, who was leaning on Sea Hawk, faking a gut wound.

    Seacat tensed. If the Horde scum knew the patrol leader…

    But the minotaur nodded. “Get the wounded to the skiffs. We’ll hunt the rebels down!” He started bellowing orders to the Horde soldiers gathered around them, and Seacat relaxed. A little - they still had to overpower the guards at the skiffs and escape. And then lose the inevitable pursuit.

    But for now, they had fooled the Horde soldiers. As the Horde scum broke into squads and entered the forest to the screaming orders from the Minotaur, Seacat and the others staggered towards the skiffs parked further back, towards the edge of the forest.

    “We need two,” Adora mumbled. “One won’t carry all of us.”

    “Even if it could, we’d be too slow,” Seacat agreed.

    “Three would be better,” Sea Hawk said.

    “That would leave one of us alone on a skiff,” Adora pointed out. “And how many of you know how to handle a skiff?”

    “I do,” Seacat said. Catra had paid attention. Mostly. It couldn’t be too hard.

    “I can steer everything!” Sea Hawk added.

    “We’ve been testing some captured Horde vehicles,” Brain Boy said.

    Adora, once more, closed her mouth and pouted for a moment. “Still, two are better than three - we can protect each other better.” She turned towards Seacat. “And you’re still wounded!”

    “I can handle it,” Seacat retorted. Of course she could - she had steered the gunboat, after all!

    Then they were too close to the skiffs to keep talking. There were three skiffs, with two squads standing guard. But Seacat couldn’t see the crews - were the soldiers both guards and crew?

    “Hey!” Adora snapped. “Some help here! We’ve got wounded!”

    The soldiers standing guard - some of them sitting - started moving towards them. Only one guard stayed behind - the squad leader, Seacat noted.

    Good.

    “What happened?” the first Horde scum asked as they reached the group.

    “Rebel Ambush,” Adora replied. “In the woods.”

    “Really? The rebels survived?”

    “Hah! I told you! Pay up, Hana!”

    “But…”

    All the soldiers were now there, two reaching for Brain Boy. Seacat drew the shock rod dangling at her hip and buried the tip in the stomach of the closest soldier, straight under her chest plate.

    She collapsed with a scream, and Seacat jumped over her, sprinting towards the leader at the skiffs.

    “For the Honour of Grayskull!”

    A Horde soldier flew past Seacat, crashing against a nearby boulder. Adora was showing off again.

    More screams sounded behind her, but Seacat had only eyes for the horde leader in front of her. He was climbing onto a skiff! He was trying to escape! And alert the others!

    Snarling, Seacat pushed herself. Not on her watch! Her shoulder started hurting from the movement, but she wouldn’t let the bastard escape! She was almost…

    The Horde leader suddenly jerked and screamed. As he slowly turned on the ladder and started to fall, Seaca saw an arrow sticking out of his back. Brain Boy.

    She huffed as she turned. “I would have had him!”

    The others had subdued the Horde squads and were already rushing towards her. “Get on the skiff!” Adora yelled.

    Well, what did she think Seacat was about to do, take a nap?

    Seacat had barely begun to start up the skiff when Sea Hawk climbed on board. “I’ll handle the skiff,” he told her. “Keep an eye out for trouble.”

    She nodded, stepping away from the controls, and looked around. Adora was wrecking the third skiff, while the shrimp and Brain Boy were boarding the other skiff they were taking. The Horde… Damn! It seemed that the Horde soldiers had noticed something amiss - they were moving towards the bodies on the ground. Even with the Horde uniforms the group was still wearing, they wouldn’t take much time to connect the dots.

    “Hurry!” Seacat spat. “They’ll be coming at any moment!”

    “We’ll be moving in a moment!” the captain replied.

    Adora looked at her, then rushed to the second skiff, jumping on board - Seacat could almost hear the deck crack as She-Ra landed on it with all the grace of a falling mast. Just how heavy was Adora in that form?

    Something to tease her about later, Seacat decided - the Horde soldiers had reached the skiff guards. And one of them was pointing at the body of the skiff commander Brain Bow had shot.

    Their cover was blown. And Adora was just starting up the other skiff. Damn.

    But Sea Hawk was already moving theirs. “Hold on tight!” he yelled. “Huzzah!”

    Seacat gasped and grabbed the railing as the skiff turned and raced towards the Horde soldiers, scattering them. And sending one scum who was too slow flying into a tree.

    But more were coming out of the woods. Seacat ducked as the minotaur threw a pike at them which struck the skiff’s hull with a dull thud. Others brought crossbows up. No guns, fortunately - if the Horde had deployed artillery, they would be done for already. But she could see grappling hooks in the hands of other Horde soldiers. If they managed to board the skiff… it wouldn’t take many hanging onto it to drag it down.

    She looked back to Adora. The other skiff was finally starting to move. “Let’s get out of here!”

    “Adventure!”

    Their own skiff took a sharp turn, scattered the minotaur’s squad - and sent the burly leader flying into the forest when he tried to grab the vessel. Then it shot down the road, following Adora’s skiff.

    A few more Horde scum took potshots at them, but most didn’t even come close to hitting the hull before they were out of the woods and racing over the plains.

    It didn’t take long to catch up to Adora. Not only was the other skiff carrying three people - and one of them was She-Ra - but Sea Hawk was handling the skiff expertly. The captain could pilot any vessel, after all.

    Seacat sat down and rubbed her aching shoulder. While keeping watch for pursuit - or Horde ambushes. It was a long way to the mountains.

    *****​

    “That’s the Cold Peak!” Adora announced.

    “Are you sure?” The shrimp looked a little sceptical.

    Adora nodded. “Yes. I remember it clearly - this was one of the last field exercises I did with… Ah.”

    Seacat, leaning against the railing of her and Sea Hawk’s skiff, rolled her eyes at her friend. “Damn it, Adora, I’m not going to break down if you mention ‘field exercises’.!”

    “Sorry.” Adora looked sheepish. “Anyway - yes, I’m sure. We can reach the pass west of the peak in a few hours from here.”

    “Good.” Seacat nodded. “We’ve been lucky so far, but the faster we’re out of Horde territory, the better.”

    “Occupied territory,” the shrimp told her. “We’ll liberate it.”

    Seacat snorted. The Horde held it, and it would be Horde territory until they were driven out of it. A storm didn’t suddenly turn into a squall if you refused to accept reality. Any sailor knew this.

    “And our ruse fooled the enemy!” Sea Hawk announced.

    Seacat snorted again. It wasn’t much of a ruse. They had headed straight for the eastern passes at the start until they had left pursuit behind. Then they had taken a wide turn towards the northern mountains, in the hope of throwing off the Horde soldiers searching for them. At least that had been the plan.

    Travelling through what passed for plains this close to the Fright Zone, they’d had to balance speed and safety. The more open they travelled, the faster they were - but the greater the risk of being seen by some field worker or patrol. The uniforms helped - Adora had shrunk down so she could wear hers again - but sooner or later, an officer would compare reports and sightings with deployment orders and find an unaccounted for skiff patrol.

    Seacat hoped that this wouldn’t happen until they were past the pass. They had decent odds - with the Alliance pushing down along the Eastern Coast, going east would be the obvious route to take. And any forces covering the mountains to the east would be too far away to block their escape up north. Though the Horde had enough soldiers to send substantial forces to both mountain ranges. Perhaps they should’ve tried to double back, cross the enemy lines, and make directly for the Whispering Forest?

    No. They were committed now, anyway.

    She rubbed her shoulder.

    “Cat-Seacat! Does your shoulder hurt again? I can transform and…”

    “It’s fine,” she told her friend before Adora could climb over the railing and hop onto their skiff. “Just an itch,” she lied - during one of their breaks, Adora had transformed and healed Seacat’s shoulder, but she still felt a twinge now and then.

    Adora looked suspicious but nodded.

    She really needed to understand that Seacat could take care of herself. “Let’s go - the longer we stand here and chat, the more time the Horde has to catch us,” she said.

    “Hah! Even if they tried, we’d beat them in a daring chase up and down the pass!” Sea Hawk announced.

    Seacat would rather sneak out of Horde territory than be chased out, but either way sounded fine as long as they made it out.

    She leaned back as the skiffs started to pick up speed again and headed towards the mountain pass Adora had discovered as a cadet.

    *****​

    The pass was, as Adora had said, too narrow and too steep to be of much use. Even the skiffs had trouble navigating it - Sea Hawk had scraped the paint off the left side in a particularly tight bend. Seacat couldn’t imagine the Horde transporting supplies through it. Perhaps with lots of skiffs, but that would gut the screening and scout forces of the Horde - they didn’t have enough of the things to keep up with demand as it was, what with the Horde fighting on all fronts.

    But… “The Horde could’ve been inserting small groups easily through this pass,” she said, standing next to Sea Hawk.

    “That’s not their style,” the captain replied.

    “That doesn’t mean they haven’t done it. Or won’t do it,”

    “If they had, we would have heard of more acts of sabotage and attacks behind the lines,” Sea Hawk told her. “And we already know they have spies in our ranks.”

    And traitors like the bounty hunters who had come after Seacat. She pressed her lips together, not wanting to remember the fight. She almost had them!

    “But you are correct - we should use the pass ourselves to infiltrate the Fright Zone!”

    “We can always sneak in through the Whispering Woods,” Seacat pointed out. “Or land forces at the coast.” Not even the Horde had enough soldiers to guard the entire border against infiltrators.

    “Indeed! But having more options is always better!”

    She couldn’t argue with that. Certainly not when making their way up a narrow pass. “I just wish we were over the pass already,” she muttered. “We’re hemmed in here. If Adora’s skiff breaks down, we’ll have to walk since we can’t pass it.” She wouldn’t risk flying over a wreck. Not with a chasm to their right and a cliff to their left. Unless Adora could push the wreck over the side of the road, down the chasm. “It’s an ideal spot for an ambush.”

    “Of course it is,” Sea Hawk agreed. “But they’ll be waiting on the top of the pass, where they can keep an eye on both sides. And we’ll scout it out on foot, so they won’t spot us.”

    That was the plan, at least. But Seacat still hated their position.

    *****​

    “As expected, the Horde reinforced the pass,” Seacat said, hiding on a ledge on the cliff, and looking at the top of the pass. “They didn’t forget about it.”

    “Those are field fortifications - and rather shabby ones, at that,” Adora, also hiding on the narrow ledge after managing - with help, of course - to scale the cliff, protested. “They can’t be old. So, the Horde had forgotten about the pass.”

    “Until we were about to use it?” Seacat raised her eyebrows at her.

    “Uh… yes?” Adora blinked.

    “It’s a trap. They’re probably already moving to block the exit behind us,” Seacat said. Which meant the Horde forces would be rolling up the road soon enough.

    “Oh.” Adora frowned. Then she set her jaw. “That won’t help them - we can push through the line there.”

    “They’ll be expecting us,” Seacat pointed out.

    “But they can’t have enough troops up there to stop us. The fortifications would be better,” Adora retorted, “so they can concentrate their forces behind us to catch us between the fortification and them.”

    She was probably correct. That didn’t mean that Seacat had to acknowledge it - or like it. “Well, we either turn around and go back, and hope there’s no blocking force, or we push on.” And hope it wasn’t a more complicated trap.

    “We push on!” Adora said at once.

    “I knew you’d say that.”

    “Hey!”

    Seacat snorted, shaking her head. To be honest, she preferred to push on herself. Smash through the line, and show the scum that they couldn’t hold or stop her. And she really couldn’t see many troops. Perhaps one, two dozen. Nor were there traces of a larger force - which would have had to rush up the pass, and the dust thrown up by their marching would have been visible from afar. But why would the Horde send so few troops… She blinked as she spotted a Horde squad leader at the gate.

    “Lonnie.”

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2020
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 16: The Escape
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 16: The Escape

    “It’s Lonnie,” Seacat said.

    “What?” Adora replied.

    “There. The squad leader at the gate. Still has the same stupid hairstyle.”

    “I need binocs for that.” Adora pulled a pair of binoculars out of her pocket.

    “Give me a good telescope any day of the week,” Seacat mumbled. Better magnification - and you could use one as a club in a pinch. And the Horde used binocs a lot.

    “I like them… wow, you’re right - it’s Lonnie!”

    “And there’s Kyle, which means Rogelio can’t be far,” Seacat pointed out.

    “Yes… look at the gun pit on the left. My left.”

    Seacat narrowed her eyes. The loader did look like the lizardman. “Right. I didn’t know he went into the artillery.”

    “He didn’t. But we cross-trained a lot,” Adora said. “I, uh, wanted to have the best squad in the Horde.”

    That was a rather low bar, in Seacat’s opinion. And pretty much impossible if she kept Kyle on.

    As if Adora had read her thoughts, she continued: “And we were the best cadet squad - I checked the results of all tests.”

    “And now we’re fighting them,” Seacat replied.

    “Uh… yes?” Adora laughed in that forced manner of hers that showed she was embarrassed. “But we’ll beat them!”

    “Of course we’ll beat them.” Seacat snorted. Adora could probably just fling them over the side on her way through the pass. “So… hit the gate or the wall?” Though it was questionable if the flimsy barricade deserved that title.

    “Hmm…”

    Seacat glanced over. Adora was wrinkling her forehead - she was thinking. “The gate’s the obvious weak spot. Lonnie will expect us to hit it. She’ll have something prepared there. So we’ll hit the weaker wall between the gate and the cliff.”

    “Sounds good.” Catra would have prepared a trap at the wall, expecting Adora to avoid the obvious weak spot - but Lonnie had all the imagination of a particularly dense brick. Even worse than Adora. “Let’s get back to the others; we can’t wait much longer, or we’ll be caught between the camp ahead and whatever forces are coming up the pass now.”

    “Right.”

    They crawled back until they reached the end of the ledge - out of sight of the Horde fortifications - and climbed down the cliff to where the rest of their group was waiting with the skiffs. Or, in Adora’s case, failed to climb, slid down and jumped the rest. But she stuck the landing.

    “Alright!” Adora cleared her throat as Seacat touched down behind her. “The Horde has been fortifying the pass, but they couldn’t do much so far. It’s just standard prefab barriers - and not many of them - with barbed wire. We can break through there; I can cut either with my sword.”

    “Can we fly over them?” Brain Boy asked.

    “Not really - they’re high enough to block skiffs, and they’ve got two cannons in the camp,” Seacat pointed out. “So, even if you managed to jump over the wall, you’d have to hope they won’t hit you. And Lonnie will have grapple hooks ready as well.”

    “So, we’ll attack on foot,” Adora continued, “then either go back for our skiffs or take theirs.”

    “Huzzah!”

    “And we’ll be so quick, the Horde forces coming up the pass behind us won’t catch up before we’re gone,” Seacat said.

    “Uh…” The shrimp stared at her.

    “Ah! A cunning if simple trap!” Sea Hawk nodded as he pounded his palm with his fist. “And we’ll turn the tables on them!”

    “Right!” Adora spoke up again. “So, Bow - cover fire. Take out the gun emplacements. I’ll charge the fortification and cut a hole into it. Then the rest of you follow, and we take out their centre on the way to the skiffs. We board them and get away. Straightforward.”

    “And what about me?” Brain Boy asked.

    “You rush after us,” Seacat told him. “And make sure you’re not too far behind.”

    “You can jump and hold on to the aft of the skiff, getting dragged behind as the Horde shoots at us and we barely manage to pull you in before you fall off!” Sea Hawk beamed at Brain Boy. “It’ll be an adventure you will tell your grandchildren at the hearth!”

    “That sounds exciting indeed,” Brain Boy replied with a grimace.

    The captain, of course, ignored this and nodded. “Yes, it does! Huzzah!”

    Seacat snorted. “Let’s go! We need to sneak close enough so we can rush them before they start shelling us from afar.”

    Or their charge would end in a bloody mess - Seacat doubted that even She-Ra could shrug off cannon shells.

    “Oh, I’ve just thought of a better plan! A perfect plan!”

    Sea Hawk beamed at them.

    Seacat suddenly knew they wouldn’t be going back for their skiffs.

    *****​

    “This is crazy. This won’t work.”

    Seacat scoffed at Adora’s comment. “This will work.” The captain knew what he was doing. Well, most of the time. But when it came to handling ships - or setting them on fire - he was the best. She leaned into the controls as her skiff took the next narrow turn at high speed, hot on the heels of Sea Hawk’s.

    “If you’re so convinced, why aren’t you on the other skiff?” the shrimp asked from where she was holding tight on the railing.

    “Someone has to steer this skiff,” Seacat replied, not taking her eyes off the narrow path. Two more turns, and then they would be headed straight towards the fortifications.

    “Adora could do it!”

    “She’s got another task.” And Seacat was better at steering skiffs. Or handling any ship.

    The next turn was even tighter. And Sea Hawk hadn’t slowed down at all. Seacat clenched her teeth as her skiff moved a little too far towards the cliffside, bouncing off after scraping the paint off the left side. She cursed as she fought to keep it on the path, away from the chasm on the right side.

    “AHHH!”

    “NOOO!”

    “CATRA!”

    Seacat ignored the screaming and tilted the skiff to the side. That was enough to make the turn. After a few seconds, she let the vehicle right itself again. One more turn.

    You are crazy!”

    No, she wasn’t. And she was focusing on the next turn. That one was to the right, so they didn’t run the risk of tumbling into the chasm - but they could ram the cliffside.

    Well, the skiff could handle a few more bumps. Add some character. And she had to catch up to Sea Hawk.

    She accelerated.

    “Catra!”

    “No!”

    This time she tilted the skiff to the other side, and they went up the cliffside a few yards, tilted sideways, like a sledge in some of the races the Kingdom of Snows loved so much.

    More screaming.

    “Pipe down! We’re almost there!” Seacat snapped, flashing her fangs.

    “You’re crazy!” the shrimp repeated herself.

    Then they were on the last leg, headed straight towards the Horde camp. And straight towards the two field guns the Horde forces had. Seacat moved behind Sea Hawk, using the other skiff as a shield, but she could still see the gun crews struggling with the piece on the right as a siren sounded in the background.

    “Huzzah!” Sea Hawk yelled and pushed his skiff even more.

    “Adora!”

    “On it!”

    Adora, in her She-Ra form, rushed to the bow of the skiff. ”Sea Hawk!”

    “Watch out!” Sea Hawk yelled, and his skiff suddenly veered to the left.

    Seacat pulled to the right at once.

    And one, then another shell flew between the two skiffs, detonating behind them. “Hah!”

    “Watch the chasm!”

    “Catra!”

    “No!”

    Seacat was already turning to the left - really! As if she’d forget this!

    And a few seconds later, they were behind Sea Hawk again. “Jump!” Adora yelled.

    “Huzzah!”

    Sea Hawk released the Skiff’s controls and ran towards its aft. Towards Seacat’s skiff. “Adventure!” He jumped on the railing, then off, towards the waiting arms of Adora. She-Ra had to reach - but she managed to grab his hand and reel him in as Seacat slowed the skiff down.

    And, lightened a little more, Sea Hawk’s skiff, its controls fixed, shot towards the enemy gate. If Lonnie had prepared a trap there… The vehicle hit the gate, crashing through it - and the gate and skiff vanished in a fireball as Sea Hawk’s fuse reached the powder stashed in the bow.

    Seacat sped up again, heading straight into the smoke cloud. The gun crews had been shaken by the explosion and were just getting up again from where they had dived for cover when the skiff entered the smoke - too slow to bring their guns to bear.

    “Everyone out!” Seacat yelled as they left the smoke and dust cloud, and she tilted the skiff to the side, sliding over the ground as she braked.

    “For the Honour of Grayskull!” Adora had already jumped off, racing towards the gun on the chasm side.

    “For adventure!” Sea Hawk jumped off as well, followed by the shrimp and Brain Boy.

    Seacat sped up again - and turned the skiff towards the second gun emplacement. The crew was struggling to turn the gun around - it hadn’t meant to fire into the camp - and scattered as she rammed the gun, toppling it.

    She jumped off before the skiff ground to a halt in the remains of the gun emplacement, the cutlass she had taken from the horde flashing. It wasn’t magical, but it was enough. She cut down the gun chief before the goatman could get up, then kicked the soldier next to him in the head before the man could draw his own blade.

    Stepping on the fallen, struggling man, she stuck her blade into his mouth, then turned to the four remaining gunners on the other side of the skiff.

    They had managed to form a shaky line, blades and shock rods drawn, and seemed torn between charging and fleeing.

    Seacat hissed and charged them. One broke, turning to run away. Another counter-charged her. She met his blade with her own, twisting it to the side, then buried her free hand in his stomach - with her claws out.

    The man collapsed, bleeding and screaming, and she pounced on the two remaining gunners. Ducking under the wild swipe from the one on the left, she kicked out with her foot and raked her claws over the legs of the other. He went down yelling and holding his ruined legs as she rolled over her healed shoulder, avoiding the other horde scum’s stab.

    She came up behind the man and slashed his back with her cutlass, then rammed its pommel into the man’s head. He collapsed, knocked out. A quick cut to the throat finished the other, and she turned around. There would be infantry in the camp - if they hadn’t been killed at the gate.

    “Traitor!”

    And there was Lonnie. Charging straight at her with a shock rod.

    Seacat side-stepped the first lunge - the woman still telegraphed her moves - and took a swipe at the rod with her blade.

    Lonnie blocked it. That wouldn’t have worked against Seacat’s old cutlass, of course. The Horde soldier followed up with a riposte. Or tried to - Seacat jumped back before Lonnie managed to align her rod. But her own strike was blocked as well.

    She scoffed. Time to distract and rile up the Horde scum. “Fancy to see you here. Is that punishment detail, or did Shadow Weaver give you special orders?” She flashed her fangs at the other.

    Lonnie clenched her teeth in return and struck at her again, trying to hit her arm with the shock rod.

    Seacat parried the first two strikes, then riposted. Lonnie twisted her body out of the way, but the blade still nicked her upper arm.

    “Oh, did that hurt?” Seacat chuckled and cocked her head. “Why are you using a shock rod, anyway? You always were better with a polearm.” She glanced around. No one else was near them - the cloud of smoke from the burning skiff was blocking the rest of the camp.

    Good. Dealing with an entire squad and Lonnie would be a little tricky. Not really dangerous, though.

    Lonnie growled, gripping her biceps for a moment before withdrawing her hand, trailing blood.

    “On the other hand, you need both hands and arms for a polearm, and that might be a little difficult right now.” Seacat laughed again as she looked for an opening. Lonnie was a decent fighter - or a good one, now - and guarded herself well, but she couldn’t avoid Seacat’s cutlass forever.

    But she could avoid it for a while longer, Seacat found out as she closed with the Horde soldier. She forced Lonnie back with a few lightning-quick strikes that broke through her guard, but the woman managed to dodge at the last moment, and what should’ve opened the artery in her inner thigh merely nicked her leg.

    And not deep enough to make her fall. “You damn traitor!” Lonnie spat.

    Seacat scoffed in return. “Me, a traitor? I wasn’t the one who got an entire company killed to get rid of me!” Lonnie’s bleeding leg slowed the woman down now. If Seacat started circling her, then sooner or later she would slip up - or slip.

    “I’m not listening to your lies! I’m not Adora!”

    Seacat’s eyes widened. “What?” Lonnie couldn’t mean… She laughed. “Oh, that’s rich! Shadow Weaver decided that it must have been me who made Adora desert? And you believed it? Did you ever know her, really?”

    Lonnie growled and attacked again, wildly swinging her rod, followed by lunges. But she was tiring - and making mistakes. Seacat drew her into a corps-a-corps, then lashed out with her free arm when Lonnie tried to overpower her.

    This time, she saw blood fly as her claws slashed into the woman’s shoulder, barely missing her throat. Lonnie stumbled back, swinging her rod back and forth to keep Seacat at a distance.

    But she was done for. She couldn’t use that arm any more, and she couldn’t stop the bleeding without dropping her weapon - at which point Seacat would finish her off.

    And she knew it. “Damn you!” Lonnie spat, hefting her rod.

    A last, hopeless charge? That sounded like the Lonnie Catra knew from training. Had known. She grinned as she raised her blade in turn. This time, she wouldn’t miss the vitals.

    “Lonnie!”

    Damn! Seacat glanced to the side, towards the smoke, and cursed. There was the rest of the squad - Rogelio and Kyle. Only, Kyle was propping up Rogelio, who looked even worse than Lonnie.

    Seacat could handle this. Could handle them.

    “Kyle, run!”

    Seacat whirled to face Lonnie. The woman wasn’t even trying to guard herself, any more - she was coming at Seacat with the shock rod raised high above her head, screaming like a stuck pig.

    “No! Lonnie!”

    Kyle’s shout made Seacat glance to her side. If the other soldier charged her… but Kyle wasn’t. He was standing there.

    Snarling, Seacat dodged to the side, avoiding Lonie’s blow, then kicked her, sending her sprawling - and making her drop her weapon.

    A moment later, Seacat’s blade was at Lonnie’s throat. The other woman froze, caught in the middle of trying to get up, and stared at her.

    “No!” Kyle yelled.

    A little push, and it was done. Would be done. Just a flick of her wrist, and the Horde scum would be dead. Dying. Bleeding out.

    Lonnie bared her teeth and didn’t look away. “Kyle, Rogelio, run!”

    “No!”

    Seacat glanced to her side. Kyle was lowering Rogelio to the ground. The lizardman all but collapsed, groaning.

    And Kyle was drawing his own shock rod. Idiot.

    “Kyle, run!” Lonnie spat.

    “No!”

    And the idiot took a step towards Seacat, brandishing his weapon.

    Seacat clenched her teeth. Did the idiot think he had a chance of beating her? He was shaking in his boots - literally, actually; the boots were a little too large for his scrawny figure. “Surrender,” she said with a glance, keeping her attention on Lonnie.

    “N-no!”

    “Surrender or Lonnie dies.”

    “Traitor!” The woman spat through clenched teeth.

    Kyle gasped.

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “Hey - what do you think happens if you attack me? I kill her so I can kill you without having to worry about getting stabbed in the back.” She bared her teeth. “Something of a thing in the Horde, you know? Shadow Weaver sabotaged a weapon test to kill me. Get rid of me and a rival with one blow. Lose an entire company, but the Horde has more, right?”

    A glance showed her that Kyle was gaping, the shock rod pointed at the ground. “No!”

    “Liar!” Lonnie said.

    Seacat snorted. “Why should I lie?”

    “To get more of us to desert.”

    She rolled her eyes again. “I couldn’t care less whether or not you desert. I didn’t even remember you until Shadow Weaver used me as a lightning rod.” She scoffed. “You surrender, or I kill you all. I don’t care.” It wasn’t as if Lonnie had too much time left anyway, the way she was bleeding.

    “Seacat! Seacat!”

    That was Adora!

    Seacat cursed herself under her breath - she had gotten caught up in this stupid banter while there was a battle going on! Stupid! Best to end this now.

    “Seacat! There you… Lonnie?”

    Oh. Adora stepped out of the smoke and stopped.

    “Hey, Adora,” Seacat told her. “We had a little reunion here. Lonnie thought she could stop me, and Kyle doesn’t want to surrender.”

    “Traitor!” Lonnie glared at Adora.

    “I’m not…” Adora cut herself off and set her jaw. “Surrender!”

    Kyle dropped his shock rod to the ground and raised his hands.

    “Kyle!” Lonnie snapped.

    He shook his head. “Lonnie! This is Adora; she won’t kill us.”

    “You thought I would kill you?” Seacat shook her head at the idiot.

    “You said so!”

    “I said I’d kill you if you didn’t surrender!” That was how things were done - the law of the sea was clear on that. “Idiots!” She scoffed and took a step back and turned to face Adora. “Did you secure the other skiffs?”

    “Yes! But we need to leave - more Horde troops are coming!” her friend replied.

    “Let’s go then!” She took a step towards the smoke, which hid the rest of the camp.

    “But…” Kyle was still staring at them.

    “What?” She glared at the idiot.

    “What about us? We surrendered!”

    Seacat scoffed. “Yes, you did. And we’re leaving.”

    “Cat-Seacat!” Adora gasped.

    “What? We can’t take any prisoners with us. They’d slow us down too much.”

    “That’s not the point!” Adora knelt down next to the still breathing and bleeding Lonnie.

    Oh. Seacat sighed. That was so like Adora. Even though Lonnie and the others were probably the reason that the Horde was even here to stop them. “Just stop the bleeding. The Horde will soon be here.”

    “How can you be so…” Kyle shook his head. He looked as if he was about to cry. Like when Catra had eaten the ration he had been hoarding, “We were your friends!”

    “And now you’re our enemies,” Seacat replied. “Fighting for the Horde - who tried to kill us. Fighting for Shadow Weaver!” she spat the last words.

    “You deserted!” he replied.

    “Technically, I was left for dead - after Shadow Weaver tried to get me killed.” She flashed her fangs at the idiot. “Don’t worry, as long as you blindly obey her, you’ll be fine. Unless she needs a few expendable troops for a plot or so.”

    He gaped.

    “Alright, you’ll be fine, Lonnie.” Adora got up.

    “Traitor!” the woman on the ground spat, holding her shoulder.

    “You need to learn more words than ‘traitor’, ‘run’ and ‘Yes, Shadow Weaver’,” Seacat told them. “Let’s go.”

    Rogelio groaned something as they passed him, but Seacat was sick of listening to Horde scum.

    *****​

    “Get on board!” Sea Hawk yelled as soon as they approached the skiffs. “A harrowing escape awaits us!” He beamed at them from the controls of the first skiff, next to the shrimp and Brain Boy. All of them looked unhurt, Seacat noted.

    “That means the Horde reinforcements will be here any moment,” she told Adora before she grabbed the ladder hanging down from the second skiff and started climbing.

    “I’m aware of that!” her friend replied. “That’s why I was looking for you!”

    “Oh, not because you were worried about me?” Seacat laughed and quickly started the skiff moving.

    “Of course I was worried!”

    Seacat smiled, then reminded herself that Adora didn’t need to worry about her - she could take care of herself.

    “Hold on!” she snapped, then accelerated. As she neared the first turn, she just caught a glance of the Horde skiffs behind them. Damn.

    Seacat took the turn while still accelerating, but didn’t scrape the paint off this time. Nor did she come too close. At least the paint wasn’t in any danger of getting scraped off. Nor did she have to pull a stunt to avoid going over the edge and into the chasm in the next turn. Adora had no reason to complain, really.

    But she wasn’t gaining on Sea Hawk, either. The Captain handled his skiff too well. He was probably even holding back a little.

    Seacat growled and accelerated a little more - she wouldn’t slow the group down!

    “Uh…”

    “What?” she snapped without taking her eyes off the road.

    “That was a little close,” Adora said.

    “We didn’t crash,” Seacat replied. She watched how Sea Hawk’s skiff took the next turn, then copied him. She had to quickly compensate for the difference in weight, but otherwise, it worked well. Decently well.

    “Oh!”

    “What?” They hadn’t even come close to ramming the cliffside, this time!

    “Pursuit. Looks like… one, no, two scout skiffs.”

    So they had pushed through instead of stopping to check on the Horde remains in the camp.

    “How many crew per skiff?”

    “Looks like… watch it!” Adora complained as they took the next turn. “...standard complement. Two,” Adora added.

    “I know the standard complement,” Seacat told her. “Just the two skiffs?” They could handle two skiffs with two Horde scum each. Hell, Seacat could handle them all by herself!

    “They’re scouts.”

    Which meant the Horde scum would shadow them, leading the rest to them. They couldn’t have that - they had a long way before them once they were through the pass. And they couldn’t have a Horde force chasing them all the way to Bright Moon.

    “Can you lose them?” Adora asked.

    “I’m trying,” Seacat yelled. This time, she did hit the cliff a little as she took a turn.

    “It’s not working!”

    “I know!” It wasn’ as if she had driven this particular skiff before. Or this road. And the Horde hadn’t caught up either, yet. But what could they do? Use the skiff to block the pass? Sea Hawk’s skiff would be slowed down, and the Horde could just push the remains off the cliff into the chasm.

    “I’ve got an idea,” Adora suddenly said.

    “You’re not going to jump off and hold them off while we escape!” Seacat snapped. If the stupid idiot did this, she’d run her over with the skiff herself!

    “What? No, no. But I need to get off the skiff.”

    “No!”

    “Just slow down at the next turn - it won’t take long!”

    On the next straight part of the road, Seacat glanced over her shoulder. Adora was smiling at her. Confidently. She didn’t look like she was about to sacrifice herself, but…

    “Alright,” Seacat spat and slowed down.

    “Thanks!” Adora jumped off as soon as they weren’t travelling at a breakneck speed any more.

    And Seacat kept braking until the skiff came to a stop. Then she jumped off and ran back.

    Her friend was already climbing the cliff rising above the road. What would she… “Oh, no!” Seacat blurted out.

    Adora looked down. “What are you doing here?”

    “Helping you.” And keeping you honest.

    “You can’t help here. Get back!”

    Seacat looked at the cliff, then at Adora. She was the better climber. But she wasn’t as strong as Adora. On the other hand, Adora was an idiot. “Shut up!” she yelled, dashing towards the cliff.

    “What are you doing? Get back!”

    “No,” Seacat spat, quickly catching up to the idiot. “I know what you’re planning!”

    “Then you know you can’t help!”

    “I can help by saving you from your own stupidity!” She passed Adora on the right side and eyed the protrusion Adora was going for. If her friend the idiot wanted to cut that off, she’d have to… there!

    “Get away!”

    “No!”

    Adora glared at her, but Seacat wasn’t budging. Huffing, Adora cleared the protrusion and started to swing her sword, slashing and stabbing at the rock next to her.

    After a few blows and swings, the sword got stuck - and Adora grabbed it. Then she suddenly glowed and groaned.

    The next moment, the cliffside exploded. Seacat managed to lunge and grab Adora’s belt before a cloud of dust engulfed them as an avalanche of rocks and rubble buried the road below. She held her breath and clung to the cliff, digging her claws into the rock, a moment before Adora lost her hold on the crumbling cliffside.

    If the whole face crumbled… but it didn’t. One of her feet lost purchase, but Seacat kept her grip with her hand and the remaining foot, and not even Adora dangling from her hand was enough to make her lose her grip.

    It was a close call, though - Seacat’s arms and shoulders hurt. “You need to eat less!” she spat as she did all she could to keep her friend from falling into the cloud below.

    “Hey!”

    But they were alive. The idiot was alive.

    At least until they got down and Seacat could talk to her about how incredibly stupid she had been. With her claws!

    As soon as they’d reached the road again - Adora slid the cliffside down more than she climbed, which was the only reason she was first - Seacat rounded on her. “You stupid idiot! What were you thinking? If I hadn’t been there, you’d have fallen down! Can you survive a rock avalanche, huh?” She grabbed Adora’s shoulder and shook her. Well, she tried - as She-Ra, her friend was too tall and too heavy to be shaken. Which was so unfair.

    “Uh… yes? I think so. Most of the rocks were below me…”

    Seacat narrowed her eyes and growled. “‘Most of the rocks’? There was enough left to bury you! And can you survive without air, huh?”

    “Uh… I haven’t really tried…”

    Oh, no! “If you even think of trying that, I’ll kill you myself!” Seacat spat.

    “Hey! I had to do something! And it worked out!”

    “You almost got killed, you idiot!” Couldn’t Adora understand how stupid she had been? “You…” She shook her head.

    “Sorry,” Adora said in a small voice. Then she gripped Seacat’s shoulders. “I just thought…” She trailed off.

    Seacat stared at her. For some reason, she remembered the Princess Prom. The dancing. They were almost as close. She would have to move her hands, though. And Adora was taller in this form. And buffers. Her eyes wandered down for a moment, against her will, before she looked at her friend’s face again.

    Which didn’t help.

    “So…” she licked her lips, swallowing.

    “So…”

    “Adora!”

    “Seacat!”

    She released Adora’s shoulders and whirled. The Captain, the shrimp and Brain Boy were running towards them. “What?”

    “We noticed you weren’t behind us any more and came back to check! What happened?” the shrimp blurted out.

    “Oh! You caused a landslide!” Sea Hawk beamed at her. “Ingenious! What a great idea - it could’ve been one of mine!”

    Seacat glared at the captain. That was the completely wrong thing to say! He shouldn’t encourage Adora!

    Huffing, she walked past him. “Let’s go before the Horde scum decides to send infantry climbing over the rubble!”

    “But…”

    “Let’s go!” she spat.

    They boarded their skiffs again and continued to drive down the pass - though not at a breakneck pace any more. Which cut down on the complaints and shrieks as well. In fact, neither Seacat nor Adora had said anything since they had started following Sea Hawk again.

    Well, Seacat had to focus on piloting the skiff. Idle chit-chat - or a deserved chewing out, in this case - would only distract her.

    Yes.

    *****​

    “Leaving behind perfectly good skiffs…” The shrimp sighed, looking at the two skiffs in the clearing.

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “They’re not perfectly good. They’ve got no fuel left.”

    “Actually, the fuel cells are good - the engine’s damaged from overheating,” Adora told her.

    Seacat sent her a glare. “It doesn’t matter what broke them - the point is, they’re broken and won’t work anymore.”

    “I’m just saying that with a little more care…”

    Seacat cut her off. “When you’re chased by the Horde isn’t the time to be careful with your stolen skiff. It’s time to push it as far as it can go!”

    “Which,” Brain Boy said, “seems to be this clearing and no further.”

    She narrowed her eyes at him. The man sounded a little too bland. “Yes, this clearing - so far away from the pass that the Horde will have to spread out over a huge plot of land to find us.”

    “Indeed! And now we can evade their search parties on foot by sticking to trails and paths where no skiff can pass - all according to plan!” Sea Hawk said, nodding.

    “Exactly.” Seacat smiled at the captain. He knew the score.

    Then she noticed the others exchanging rather doubtful glances.

    “I vote that next time we steal skiffs, they don’t get to drive them,” Brain Boy said.

    “Seconded!” Adora said.

    “We’re not voting on things!” Seacat told them. “What do you think we are, a pirate crew?”

    “What?” Adora stared at her.

    “Pirate crews vote on their officers and captains,” Seacat explained. And that wasn’t how you ran things. The captain was the captain. You didn’t command a ship by asking the crew.

    “That’s…” the shrimp shook her head.

    “But we’re not voting on officers,” Adora pointed out.

    “Same thing,” Seacat said,

    “I don’t think so,” Brain Boy retorted. She glared at him, but he didn’t lose his stupid smile.

    “Anyway, let’s set the skiffs on fire and set off!” Sea Hawk announced.

    “No! The smoke will tell the Horde where we went!” Adora snapped.

    “Ah, but they would know that we know, and expect it to be a diversion!” the captain retorted.

    Seacat winced. “The Horde officers are generally not smart enough to fall into that trap.” Catra was well-aware of that. “And they have enough troops to still send a group to check.” It was the perfect punishment detail, too - something Catra also familiar with.

    “Ah…” Sea Hawk slowly nodded. Then he coughed. “I’ll be right back, then!”

    He ran towards the skiffs, pulling out a flask of water.

    Seacat sighed and didn’t look at the others.

    *****​

    After hours of walking, they finally set up camp in another clearing with a small pond. Seacat groaned and sat down, rubbing her legs. Sailors weren’t meant to hike.

    “Are you alright?”

    She glared up at Adora, who was standing next to her, smiling weakly at her. “I’m fine.”

    “I mean… you were kidnapped, and you had to fight, and you starved yourself to get away, and Shadow Weaver... “ Adora bit her lip as she trailed off.

    Seacat scoffed. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. Like all of us.”

    “Right.” Adora nodded.

    She didn’t look tired at all, Seacat noted. So unfair. “I’m fine,” she repeated herself.

    “Of course.”

    “Alright, let’s get a fire going - a smokeless fire,” Brain Boy said. “I’ve seen suitable wood nearby.”

    “And we can hunt!” Sea Hawk said. “Or fish in the pond.”

    “Fishing!” Seacat snapped. After eating Horde rations for so long, she needed fresh fish!

    “Are there fishes in this pond? Big enough so we can actually eat them?” The shrimp looked doubtful

    Seacat scoffed. “If there are only small ones we can make soup. Wait… we don’t have a pot.” Damn.

    “I can rig something up,” Brain Boy said. It figured that the bowman would be a woodsman as well.

    Not that Seacat was complaining - having someone who knew how to survive in the forest was a good thing, in her book. At least if you were unlucky enough to end up in a forest. Which a sailor shouldn’t have happen to her often, if at all. Stupid Horde.

    She leaned against the trunk of the tree behind her and closed her eyes. A little rest would do her good. And the Alliance territory couldn’t be too far now.

    Taking a deep breath, she listened to the others work.

    “You carry bait with you?”

    “Always, my friend! You never know when you might end up stranded on an island and fishing is the only way to feed yourself!”

    “Oh.”

    “And you can eat the bait in a pinch.”

    “Ew!”

    “Would you rather starve, Glimmer?”

    “Yes!”

    Laughter followed. Seacat grinned.

    “Is this the right wood?”

    “Adora! Did you rip out the entire tree?”

    “Uh….”

    Seacat chuckled as the voices faded.

    *****​

    “Seacat?”

    She opened her eyes. “What?” Then she gasped. “I fell asleep!”

    “Uh… yes.”

    Adora was standing in front of her, bent over, smiling down at her. And behind her, Seacat could see two tents and a fire.

    “You let me sleep while you set up camp?” Seacat clenched her teeth. Why would they do this?

    “You looked exhausted.”

    “I was just napping,” she snapped. Everyone else had been working? She was about to complain when she smelled fish. Roasted fish.

    “Fake trout, according to Sea Hawk.” Adora was smiling at her as if this was amusing.

    Seacat growled and got up, fast enough to startle Adora and sent her stumbling back to avoid knocking their heads together.

    “Hey!”

    “What?” Seacat cocked her head and smirked. It was a small, petty victory, but she’d take what she could get. “Getting a little tired yourself?”

    Adora huffed.

    “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t let me nap while you worked,” Seacat told her with a sniff. The fish smelled really good.

    Adora frowned in return and looked at her weirdly for a moment, before grinning. “You looked too cute to wake up.”

    What? Seacat stared at her friend. That wasn’t how things were supposed to go. No comment about how the poor prisoner needed her rest? Or how she couldn’t be expected to work after her ordeal? Or how she was too weak to help? She was at a loss for words.

    So was Adora, apparently. The woman cleared her throat. “Uh…” She trailed off again, blushing slightly.

    Seacat felt herself blush as well. “So…”

    “Come on! Dinner’s ready!” Sea Hawk yelled.

    Seacat turned and stalked towards her captain. She could think of a comeback when she had her fill.

    The others were already sitting around the campfire - which was mostly smokeless, as Brain Boy had promised. And there was a… “How is that bag not burning? Or melting?” Seacat pointed at the bag hanging over the flames from a piece of wood.

    “The liquid inside is the key,” Brain Boy, looking far too smug, replied.

    “Does that mean that you don’t know the actual answer, either?” she shot back.

    “What?”

    The shrimp started giggling.

    “Glimmer!” Brain Boy shook his head. “It’s a simple trick.”

    Seacat snorted, grabbed a spit with a fish on it from the fire and sat down on a free rock. She took a deep breath to savour the smell, and, with her mouth watering, bit into it. It tasted as good as it smelled, and she moaned a little as she chewed and swallowed. “This is great!”

    “Thank you,” the captain said with a smile.

    “I didn’t know this fish lived in a pond,” Seacat added.

    “They don’t - but we found a stream a little further ahead.”

    “Oh.” She smiled before taking another big bite. That meant fresh water, instead of pond water. And a possibility to wash without ending up with algae and pond scum on your fur.

    Fresh fish, fresh water, and a comfy… She looked at the tent behind her. No mattress, but someone had gathered a lot of moss. It wasn’t a hammock, but it would do.

    Things were looking up.

    *****​
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 17: The Queen
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 17: The Queen

    “...and then, the princesses, realising that Hordak wouldn’t surrender and that the Horde was too strong to be defeated by any one of them, banded together to once and for all wipe out the threat to their unjust rule. Half a dozen of the closest kingdoms allied under one banner - the banner of the Rebellion.”

    Catra rolled her eyes. They had heard this before. Many times. She elbowed Adora. “Hey, Adora,” she whispered, “do you think they’d notice if we sneaked out?”

    Her friend gasped. “Catra! This is a mandatory training lesson!”

    She snorted in return. Adora always took things so seriously. She knew the lesson by heart already - had learned it after the first lesson, Catra knew - and yet paid attention as if it was the first time and there would be a test.

    Not that Adora would fail the test, anyway. Catra snorted.

    “..so the war started in… Catra? Do you think this is somehow amusing?”

    Uh-oh. The instructor was glaring at her. Well, that was nothing new - all of them hated her anyway. Shadow Weaver probably told them to. Although… well, if she already had caught the instructor’s attention, might as well go for broke. “I have a question, actually.”

    “Catra! No!” Adora whispered.

    She smiled and ignored her friend.

    “Really?”

    “Yes, sir! I was wondering why the Alliance was called ‘Rebellion’. They’re the attackers, aren’t they? We never controlled their territory before the war, did we?”

    To her surprise, the instructor laughed. “Actually, no one knows why they’re calling themselves that.” He shrugged. “I think they don’t know either.”

    Adora raised her arm.

    “Yes, cadet?” Of course the man would smile at Adora.

    Catra’s friend stood and assumed the parade rest position. “Could it be propaganda? To make it appear as if the Horde’s the aggressor in this conflict?”

    “That’s a good hypothesis. The Alliance certainly lies to their people, keeping the true state of the war from them and using only loyal troops and their evil princesses in battle.”

    “Unlike us, where everyone fights!” Adora parrotted the usual propaganda.

    “Exactly! Very good, cadet!”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    Catra rolled her eyes. “Suck-up,” she whispered as Adora sat down.

    “Catra!” Adora whispered back. “Be glad I distracted him!”

    She scoffed in return. She didn’t need a distraction. And it was useless, anyway - she’d get punished anyway.

    “...the first battles at the then-borders of the Fright Zone soon showed that…”

    *****​

    Seacat woke up warm and comfy. Much warmer and comfier, actually, than she had expected - the moss mattresses weren’t as soft as Brain Boy had claimed, and the tents barely more than pieces of sail cloth draped over sticks.

    But she was warm, and her head was resting on soft pillows that... Wait. She hadn’t had pillows when she’d gone to bed. And her mattress seemed to move… She blinked. Oh.

    She was lying on top of Adora. And her head had been resting on… Oh. Seacat must have moved in her sleep, and climbed on top of her friend as if they were still Horde Cadets sleeping in the barracks. No wonder she’d had such a weird dream. Or was the dream the reason for her sleep-moving?

    She took a deep breath. Did it matter? Probably not. But she really should remove herself from Adora’s bed. The shrimp - she glanced at the third bed in the tent - was still asleep, as was Adora, so this would be best to avoid awkward explanations. That morning in the Kingdom of Snows after the Princess Prom had been bad enough.

    Taking another breath, she carefully raised her head and started to crawl back - only to feel a strong arm wrap around her back and pin her in place. What the…?

    “Hmm,” Adora moaned. In her sleep. Before she wrapped her other arm around Seacat.

    Well, she hadn’t changed into She-Ra, so it wasn’t as if Seacat was really trapped. She just needed to carefully wriggle out of Adora’s grasp. No sweat.

    But the moment she tried to get some leverage, Adora clamped down as if she were a barnacle on a wooden post. And moaned again. Twice. First in apparent protest, then in that satisfied manner of hers she usually did when she got the good rations.

    Damn. It didn’t look like Seacat would escape without being noticed. Plan b, then. “Hey, Adora,” she whispered.

    “Mhhh.”

    “Hey, Adora! Wake up, Dummy!”

    “Hrngh.”

    Seacat rolled her eyes. Really. Well, she had other means at her disposal. She might not be able to move her arms without getting crushed against Adora’s chest, but her tail was free - and Adora’s face was close.

    A little wriggling and she was rubbing the tip of her tail right against Adora’s nose. Now she just had to keep this up until…

    Adora sniffed. And sniffed again. Yes! A little more, and…

    Her friend sneezed. Right into Seacat’s face.

    “Ack! Gross!” Seacat tried to scramble back, shaking her head while her hands sought purchase to push against Adora’s arms. One of her palms ended up in Adora’s face.

    “Huh? What?”

    Seacat pushed Adora’s face to the side. “Release me!”

    “What? Oh… what are you doing?” Adora grabbed her hand, which allowed Seacat to slip out of her embrace.

    “What am I doing? You grabbed me! And when I tried to get away, you sneezed in my face!” She furiously rubbed her fur. Gross!

    “What were you doing in my bed?”

    “What? You grabbed me!” She needed a wet cloth and soap or something.

    “I grabbed you and dragged you into my bed?” Adora got up on her elbows.

    “I woke up like this!” Seacat retorted. This was all Adora’s fault.

    “I don’t remember grabbing you!” Adora blinked. “Wait - you used to sneak into my bed!”

    “What? There was no sneaking involved! I didn’t go to bed in my bunk and woke up in yours!” Seacat wouldn’t let Adora blame her.

    “Can you shut up? People are trying to sleep here!”

    Oh. The shrimp had woken up.

    “Sorry, Glimmer,” Adora said.

    “It was her fault,” Seacat added.

    “Was not!” Adora protested.

    “Well, if I grabbed you, you would have woken up, wouldn’t you?” Seacat pointed out.

    “I’m a deep sleeper!”

    “So am I.”

    “See? You were probably sleep-grabbing!” Adora huffed.

    “Ngh! If I could teleport, I’d drop you both in the pond right now! Shut up and let me sleep!” The shrimp yelled at them. The princess had a good set of lungs, at least - she would make a good bosun.

    “Glimmer? Adora? Seacat? Are you awake? I’ll prepare breakfast!”

    Brain Boy. Seacat sighed. So much for sleeping a little longer. She glared at Adora. “That’s your fault.”

    “What? No, it isn’t!”

    “Both of you are at fault!”

    “No!”

    *****​

    “Let’s take a break here,” Brain Boy told them.

    Seacat groaned and sat down where she stood. Sailors weren’t meant to walk. “Stupid Horde and their stupid cheap and flimsy skiffs,” she mumbled.

    “They’re actually quite durable - if you don’t push them over their limits.”

    She raised her head, glaring at Adora. “People who use magic to cheat don’t get to talk. Besides, we had to push the skiffs to escape the Horde.”

    “Exactly!” Sea Hawk nodded from where he was sitting on a rock. “It was a necessary sacrifice. I know everything about necessary sacrifices, trust me - they’re an integral part of any harrowing adventure!”

    “I’m not cheating!” Adora claimed. “Besides, you never had trouble on marches as a cadet.”

    “We didn’t march halfway to the end of the world as cadets,” Seacat retorted.

    “And you haven’t kept up marching since you became a sailor,” the Captain added.

    “How much longer?” the shrimp asked - she was on the ground, spread-eagled, staring at the blue sky above them. She probably never walked in her kingdom but always teleported.

    “We’re about a day from Bright Moon’s borders,” Brain Boy told them. “So… unless we march through the night…”

    “We won’t!” the shrimp snapped. “I’m not going to stumble blindly through the forest at night.”

    “And light would give us away,” Sea Hawk pointed out.

    “Seacat can guide us - she can see perfectly well in the dark,” Adora said.

    That was true. On the other hand, Seacat wasn’t looking forward to marching for another day without rest. She would probably fall asleep walking and end up leading the others in circles, or something.

    Or, worse, Adora would carry her. So how to avoid that without looking weak? Ah!

    Seacat pushed herself up. “Well, we can do it - and then we all collapse upon arriving. Fine by me - I’m not the one having to report to the Queen.”

    “Ugh…” The shrimp groaned. “No, let’s spend another night in the forest, then arrive at Bright Moon fresh and awake!”

    That sounded a little too easy to Seacat. She looked at Adora and frowned, signalling a question.

    “Queen Angella doesn’t know about our mission,” Adora replied in a voice so low, only Seacat could hear her. “There was no time to contact her, and…”

    “Ah.” Seacat started to grin, then frowned. It wasn’t her fault, was it? Or, rather, they wouldn’t blame her for this? Seacat had let herself be captured by second-rate bounty hunters, after all.

    Damn.

    She groaned. This wouldn’t be a fun visit. And Bright Moon was landlocked. If you didn’t count the river. But no sailor worth their salt would count rivers, of course. In any case, there wouldn’t be decent harbour taverns to hi... visit.

    She blinked. The last time she had visited a tavern, she had been kidnapped. On the other hand, she hadn’t been to Bright Moon before, so no one would be able to know her favourite taverns, anyway. Although… “Does Bright Moon have decent taverns?” she asked.

    Why was everyone but the Captain looking at her as if she had gone insane? It was a perfectly logical question. After all of this, she really needed a drink or three!

    *****​

    “So… You remember your former life.”

    Seacat didn’t wince when she heard the Captain speak up. But she kept staring into the smokeless fire. Well, almost smokeless - she could still smell the smoke, and had to move around twice so far on her watch to avoid it when the wind turned. “You should rest. Your watch is coming up soon.”

    “I can sleep in Bright Moon,” he replied, sitting down next to her.

    “If Mermista isn’t there to have words with you.” It was a cheap shot - without the Captain and the others, Seacat might not have escaped the Fright Zone. Might - she’d already been on her way out, after all, when she heard about their intrusion.

    He laughed. “Oh, that’s just because she cares.”

    Seacat made an agreeing noise and kept staring into the flames.

    And he waited in silence. Damn.

    After a while, she sighed. “Yes, I remember my whole life.”

    “Mhhh.”

    “And it sucks!” she hissed.

    “Really?”

    “Yes! I was a stupid Horde cadet! Happy to serve! I’m Horde scum!” she spat, looking up for the first time.

    He smiled at her. “You certainly are no Horde scum - I would say everyone agrees about that.”

    She scoffed in return. “I’m a fake. I wasn’t a victim - I was a murderer. I was glad to be sent to the frontlines!” She bared her teeth at him. “I wanted to attack the village!”

    “You were a kid,” he replied. “Doing what you were told to.”

    “I knew the Horde wasn’t… was evil. But I didn’t even think of defecting.” She clenched her teeth. Afterwards, everyone had fawned over her, thinking she had lost her family in the attack. If they had known she was a Horde soldier…

    “Neither did Adora for four more years.”

    She scoffed. “Adora’s great, the best friend you could want, but she’s not the brightest lantern on a ship. She trusted Shadow Weaver. I should’ve known better.”

    “Really? You knew how things were in the Alliance?”

    “No, but…” She scoffed again. “I should’ve known that the Horde was lying about that as well. And it’s all my fault! Shadow Weaver wanted me dead - and she sacrificed an entire village for it!”

    “That’s her fault, not yours,” he corrected her. “And I think she had other motives as well - the second in command of the Horde doesn’t strike as someone who has simple plans.”

    She snorted. “She’s twisted, yes.” She knew that better than anyone else. “But I knew that as well!”

    “But you never actually did anything wrong, did you?”

    She opened her mouth to contradict him, then closed it again and glared at him. “I didn’t have the opportunity! I would have!”

    “But you didn’t. And now you wouldn’t, would you?” He smiled and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. In a lower voice, he added: “No one’s going to blame you. We understand. Trust me.”

    She drew a shuddering breath, then hugged him. Hard.

    And cried.

    *****​

    Brain Boy had lied - it took more than half a day to reach Bright Moon. It was mid-afternoon - according to the sun - when they finally reached the kingdom. By literally stumbling out of the woods and onto a field from which the spires and palace on top of the cliff were visible.

    And, as Seacat had expected, a dinky riverport. Well, it was a clean and shiny riverport, but rather tiny. But it was not on top of a cliff, but very close by to their position - which meant there were no endless stairs to climb to reach it. And there wouldn’t be a Queen waiting in the port. “Alright!” she said, trying not to sound as exhausted as she felt, “I’ll find a tavern in the port while you go and explain things to the Queen.”

    “What? No!” Adora protested. “You’ll be lodging in the palace with m... us!”

    “I don’t want to be a bother.” Nor did Seacat want to explain to the Queen how she had been captured.

    “You can’t stay in a tavern while we sleep in the palace!” Adora insisted.

    “Of course I can! People do it all the time!”

    “That’s not what I mean! You know what I mean!”

    “All I know is that I want the closest bed so I can rest after my ordeal!” Seacat shot back.

    Adora stared at her. Then she set her jaw. And grinned.

    “What?” Seacat asked. “You…”

    “For the Honour of Grayskull!”

    Seacat gasped. “Oh, no, you’re not going to…”

    But Adora scooped her up before Seacat could say anything else. “I’ll carry you to the palace!”

    “Let me down! I’m not entering Bright Moon like this!”

    “Seems to me that you are!”

    “I’ll claw you!”

    “Just relax, Ca-Seacat!”

    “I’m not kidding!”

    *****​

    “You clawed me!”

    “I told you I would!” Seacat scoffed. Adora was being a baby - she had barely scratched her. And she had warned her! Twice!

    “I was just trying to help!”

    “You were embarrassing me!” As if Seacat would allow herself to be carried into Bright Moon as if she were helpless. Or a baby.

    Adora huffed. “See if I care next time!”

    “I will!” She turned away.

    Sea Hawk cleared his throat. “Now that we’ve arrived, shall we go meet the Queen?”

    Ugh. Seacat clenched her teeth, then forced herself to smile as she turned back to face the others. “Of course, Captain.”

    At least the shrimp seemed to be as looking forward to the meeting as Seacat herself. Shared misery was halved misery or something.

    Unless the Queen would blame Seacat for this.

    Great.

    At least the street leading to Bright Moon was broad and sloped up the hill; it would take them a while. A stay of execution, so to speak.

    And the city was looking nice. Far too clean to be taken seriously, and full of landlubbers, but nice. “This city needs a proper harbour,” Seacat said as they passed a bakery.

    “We’ve got a harbour,” the shrimp replied.

    “No, you’ve got a pier trying to pass as a port. That’s no harbour.”

    “Well, Bright Moon isn’t on the coast,” Brain Boy cut in.

    “Exactly!” Seacat nodded. “A major fault.”

    “It’s a very nice city. And they have horses!” Adora apparently had finally gotten over her scratch. She could heal herself, anyway, by transforming.

    Horses. “Pf!” Seacat shook her head. Four-legged farm animals. Who needed them? A skiff was better, faster, didn’t tire, could transport more, and didn’t need feed and other care, and it could…

    “Adora!”

    She blinked. “Since when can horses fly? And talk?”

    “Swift Wind!” Adora waved at the beast.

    Seacat took a step back when the great beast landed - and she still had to dodge the wings before they folded. “Hey!”

    “You went on an adventure without me!” the horse complained.

    “I’m sorry - there was no time to call you!”

    Seacat turned to Sea Hawk and pointed at the beast. “What is that?”

    “Swift Wind, stalwart mount and comrade of She-Ra!” the Captain told her.

    “And what is it? Horses don’t have wings. And they don’t talk.”

    “Ah… I don’t exactly know, actually.” Sea Hawk rubbed his chin. “I assume he’s like the sword, part of She-Ra’s magic.”

    “Actually, when Adora was experimenting with the sword, she accidentally turned a horse into Swift Wind,” Brain Boy explained.

    And Seacat had let her friend heal her with her sword? She stared at the… at Swift Wind.

    “And this is Ca-Seacat!” Adora said, pointing at her. “Seacat. This is Swift Wind.”

    “So, you’re Adora’s old friend with the brain damage.”

    What? “My brain’s fine!” Seacat spat.

    “Seacat remembers everything now!” Adora said with a beaming smile.

    “Ah.” Swift Wind sniffed.

    Seacat narrowed her eyes. What was this… mount thinking? She took a step closer to Adora. The horse sneered at her - behind Adora’s back. Hmph.

    Then it turned to Adora: “So, come on, I’ll fly you up!”

    “Oh, but…” Adora glanced at Seacat.

    She forced herself to smile. “Go on!” she told her friend. Go on your dumb horse and fly!

    She wasn’t jealous. Not of Adora getting to fly, and certainly not of a stupid animal.

    *****​

    “So, this is Bright Moon’s palace!”

    “Ah.” Seacat didn’t really pay attention to the shrimp as she looked around. Tall rooms - very tall. Wide hallways. Everything was clean and bright. “Looks a little bigger than Mermista’s, but not as big as the Snow Kingdom’s palace.”

    “It’s older than both,” the princess told her with a frown.

    “It’s not a competition,” Brain Boy added.

    “Of course not.” Seacat smirked.

    “Princess Glimmer? The Queen’s expecting you in the throne room.” A guard - or a guard captain; Seacat didn’t know the rank markings - told them. The shrimp winced, and Seacat was about to wish the shrimp luck when the guard continued: “With all your companions.”

    Which, fortunately, didn’t include the flying horse, as Seacat found out. It wasn’t much, but it was something. “Hey, Adora.”

    “Yes?”

    “You’ve met the Queen before, right?”

    “Yes.”

    “How is she?”

    “Oh, she’s nice!”

    That would’ve been reassuring - if the shrimp didn’t look like a prisoner headed to the gallows. After all, Adora wasn’t exactly the best judge of character.

    Before Seacat could ask for details, they reached a huge door - almost a gate, which was already opening for them.

    And there was the throne room of Bright Moon. And the Queen.

    She was tall, even seated on the throne that was obvious. Seacat couldn’t help but wonder how the king had looked, seeing that the princess had a rather stocky build. She knew who’d she trust not to lose their balance and get blown overboard in a storm.

    Then again, she doubted that the Queen would ever be on a ship in a storm. She looked rather… well, ‘airy’ or whatever. That the throne was floating in the air, with hovering steps leading up to it, reinforced the impression. As did the fact that the throne room was open to the air behind her. Must be using magic to keep the rain out, Seacat thought as they approached.

    The shrimp knelt down. Seacat quickly followed her and the others’ example. She was very much aware that she was still in the now rather worn clothes she had been wearing at the time of her kidnapping. Not the best way to make a good impression. On the other hand, her torn top might garner some sympathy for an escaped prisoner. If the Queen felt like giving any.

    “My Queen. We’ve returned successfully from our mission.”

    Did they really speak so formally to each oth…?

    “That would be the mission you undertook without my leave, right? Glimmer?” The Queen wasn’t amused. At all. She made Shadow Weaver sound downright friendly.

    “Your majesty, there was no time to send for your leave,” Adora, always ready to protect others, spoke up, her hand on her chest. “We had to act quickly to pursue the kidnappers before they could escape.”

    The Queen wasn’t impressed, though. “Yet, that’s exactly what they did - they did escape, didn’t they?”

    “Yes, but we were close - and we managed to rescue Seacat from the Fright Zone,” the princess added, smiling.

    “So I see.”

    Seacat didn’t flinch when the Queen stared at her. She even managed to smile. “That’s me.”

    “I know.”

    This time, Seacat winced.

    “So, what happened? Adora?”

    Seacat saw the shrimp close her mouth and frown as Adora stood at parade rest and spoke up: “We heard about the kidnapping in Seaworthy about two hours after it had happened. Despite immediate action being taken, the culprits had already left the town on a skiff. Charting their probable course, we set out in pursuit while sending forces down alternative routes. We were correct in our assumptions, but since we had to track the kidnappers and they had a lead on us, we didn’t manage to catch up to them in before they reached the Fright Zone, at which point we switched from pursuit to infiltration, using my knowledge of the location to sneak undetected into the Fright Zone. When we were detected inside the Zone, we set fire to several factories as a distraction and breached the prison. We subdued the guards and were about to interrogate them to find out where Seacat was kept prisoner when Seacat arrived on the scene, having escaped a secret prison. We regrouped and moved to the main river port of the Fright Zone. We took the port and a gunboat and escaped downriver, where we destroyed the gunboat, stole two skiffs and escaped into the Eastern Plains, then to the mountains, where we broke through a Horde fortification on a small pass before using a rockslide to hinder pursuit. The skiffs broke down afterwards, so we had to walk through the woods to Bright Moon.”

    “See, Mom? Everything went as planned.” The shrimp beamed at the Queen.

    But the Queen wasn’t amused. “Princess Glimmer. I know a redacted report when I hear one - I’ve heard enough from you.” That caused the princess to flinch. And Adora as well. “Now, tell me again what happened - and don’t skip the details this time.”

    Seacat saw Adora swallow. That was a bad sign. She cleared her throat. “I was ambushed and poisoned by four bounty hunters in a tavern,” she said. “I tried to get away, but they followed me, and we fought in the kitchen. I got two of them, but the poison took me out before I could finish the other two.”

    The Queen looked at her. “I meant She-Ra’s report. I already heard about your kidnapping from trusted sources.”

    “Ah, sorry…” Seacat forced herself to smile.

    The Queen seemed to return the smile for a moment before turning back to Adora. “She-Ra?”

    “Uh..” Adora took a deep breath and started again. “As soon as we heard about a commotion in Seacat’s favourite tavern, we moved there, but when we arrived, it was already over, and the witnesses told us that she had been kidnapped. There were two bodies in the kitchen, which were identified by others as bounty hunters, so we deduced that…”

    *****​

    “...and then we arrived in Bright Moon.” Adora hadn’t relaxed during her report - the perfect soldier.

    “Thank you, Adora.” The Queen, though, had leaned to the side and propped herself up with one elbow on her throne’s armrest during Adora’s very detailed report. The idiot hadn’t even left out getting scratched by Seacat!

    Not that Seacat had dared to protest - the Queen’s smile had slipped quickly into Adora’s recount. Obviously, Bright Moon’s Queen wasn’t as fond of ‘harrowing adventures’ as her daughter. Especially if it involved her daughter.

    “To sum it up: You went on this mission without permission, support or proper preparation. You achieved your objective only because Seacat here realised you had infiltrated the Fright Zone and decided to look for you instead of fleeing to safety on her own.”

    Seacat bit her lower lip. That sounded… well, it wasn’t exactly wrong, but it wasn’t exactly fair to the others, either.

    “But Mom!”

    “Glimmer! This is your Queen speaking to her commander!”

    “But… Fine! We did have a plan, and we adapted it to changing circumstances! We weren’t stupid!”

    “I didn’t say you were stupid - I said you were lucky. If Seacat hadn’t found you, you would’ve been caught looking for her. Caught, possibly killed, because you rushed into a mission without thinking. A mission that had turned out to not have been needed in the first place, as your report shows!”

    Alright. That was going too far - this had been the Captain and Adora’s mission, after all. Seacat couldn’t let them suffer the Queen’s wrath. Certainly not for saving her. She cleared her throat. “But that’s not true, err, your Majesty...”

    “Yes?”

    That wasn’t a friendly look. Not at all. Mermista’s frown had nothing on the Queen’s. Seacat swallowed and took a deep breath. “They acted according to the best information they had, and I might not have escaped on my own, since I was wounded in my battle with the bug princess.”

    The Queen’s eyebrows rose a little. “Your wound didn’t seem to have slowed you down much in the subsequent fighting, did it?”

    “I would’ve done much better if I hadn’t been wounded.” Seacat blinked and clenched her teeth. That was, well, true, but not helping. “And I might’ve succumbed to my wounds on the way out of the Fright Zone,” she quickly added, forcing herself to keep smiling. Might’ve - she was tough. She had escaped on her own, after all.

    “Ah.” The Queen slowly nodded. “That doesn’t change the fact that the rescue mission was rushed and done without either support or planning.”

    “Your Majesty!” the Captain - finally - spoke up. “In war, there are times for planning and preparing - and there are times when time is of the essence, and one can but rush ahead and trust one’s wits and blade since any delay will mean doom!” He raised his chin and pointed at the sky behind the Queen. “This was the latter - there was no time to plan; the enemy escaped, this is true, but only by chance. With a little luck, we would’ve caught them before they reached the shelter of their cowardly employers. And when we reached the enemy borders, we had to press on since any time lost waiting for reinforcements would’ve put the life of my brave first mate at risk and would have given the enemy commander more time to prepare a trap. It was only by rushing in, far swifter and more daring than the despicable creature calling herself Shadow Weaver would’ve thought possible, that we were able to foil her dastardly plans!”

    He pushed his chest out.

    “And foil them we did! We set their factories on fire! We wrecked their main river port, we sunk their barges and gunboats, destroyed their gun emplacements and fortifications, and lured them into a futile chase, exhausting both soldiers and materiel! This was a great victory for the Alliance! And a great adventure!” he yelled.

    The Queen winced - and she wasn’t the only one who winced, Seacat noticed. She shook her head. Really - it was as if the others had never heard someone speak passionately. They would be useless in a storm, their voices lost in the wind. She nodded emphatically. “Yes, your Majesty. We hurt the Horde - and we recovered valuable information as well. I remember how Shadow Weaver sacrificed an entire company to kill me and sabotage a rival.”

    The Queen was still frowning. What did it take to make her see reason? Should they blame everything on the shrimp? She wouldn’t really punish her daughter, would she?

    “I see. You make some good points.” The Queen slowly nodded with obvious reluctance. “But you did take considerable risks. Risks I cautioned you against. And while I cannot fault you for rushing to rescue your friend, I can and must fault the commander of my forces for rushing in as if she had no other, important and crucial duties to the Alliance.”

    Oh. So, no need to blame everything on the shrimp. The Queen was already singling out the princess. Seacat blinked. Well, that was an acceptable loss. Whatever light punishment princesses suffered would probably build character, anyway.

    “But Mom!”

    “I’m talking as your Queen, not as your mother, Glimmer!”

    “No, you’re not!”

    And it seemed that the shrimp really needed that character building, too.

    *****​

    “So… is that normal?” Seacat asked as soon as they, except for the shrimp and Brain Boy, had left the throne room.

    “What?” Adora frowned at her.

    Instead of answering, Seacat nodded towards the closed doors behind them.

    “Oh. No, not really. I mean… it’s rare. Pretty rare. Queen Angella is a nice leader, and she means well, and Glimmer does her best, but…”

    “The Queen’s a little overprotective,” the Captain cut in. “And Princess Glimmer is passionate for adventure!”

    Seacat glanced around, but the guards standing at the gate hadn’t reacted to Sea Hawk’s outburst. Either the Captain had been here before, or people yelling in the palace was normal.

    She would’ve known if the Captain had been a frequent visitor to Bright Moon. So, this was normal - well, if she cocked her head and moved her ears just right, she could faintly hear fragments of a row from the throne room.

    That sounded familiar. Smiling, she folded her hands behind the back of her head. “So… tavern now? I really need a drink.” And a rest.

    “‘Tavern’? Don’t be stupid!” Adora blurted out. “You’re staying at the palace, of course!”

    “What?” Seacat narrowed her eyes at her friend. “Do you think I’ll get kidnapped again?”

    “What? No, the palace is great! You need to see my room!” Adora beamed at her before frowning. “And it’s also safer than a tavern.”

    Aha! Seacat scoffed. “I’ve been in palaces before.” Hell, Mermista’s palace almost felt like home - not that anything other than a ship could ever feel like home!

    “But not in this one! Come!”

    Before Seacat could respond, Adora grabbed her hand and started dragging her away. It was a good thing her shoulder had been healed, or this would have hurt. And short of scratching Adora’s hand again, there was no escaping this grip.

    She looked over her shoulder at the Captain, but Sea Hawk was smiling while following them at a slower pace.

    Fortunately, they didn’t have to go far, so Seacat’s arm was still attached to her shoulder when Adora stopped in front of a large door - without guards, Seacat noted. “This is my room!”

    And the room was huge! Almost as big - no, not close to the throne room. But it had huge open windows - didn’t Bright Moon ever get any storms? - and a bed bigger than Mermista’s. Hell, the entire room was about as big as Mermista’s bedroom! And… “You’ve got a waterfall in your room?”

    “Yes?”

    “What for?”

    “Uh… I don’t exactly know? It’s not for bathing; that’s this room.”

    Ah. Well, it wasn’t as if Seacat couldn’t understand the desire to have a waterfall in your room if you were stuck on land. At least the sound of the water would help you relax as you fell asleep - it wasn’t as if in Bright Moon, you’d ever be tired enough from a day’s work on a ship. At least not in the palace. They probably used magic to serve the food, too.

    “That’s a very nice room. Almost too big for one person.”

    “I know, right?” Adora beamed at Sea Hawk. “I couldn’t believe it when they gave it to me!”

    Seacat narrowed her eyes at the Captain behind her friend’s back. He wasn’t half as subtle as he thought he was. “And where will we be staying?” she asked.

    “Uh…” Adora blinked. Then she smiled at Seacat, though it looked a little forced. “Well… you could stay here. I can get another bed - I know where to get one since I had to replace mine; it was so soft, I almost drowned in it!”

    That sounded ridiculous. The drowning, at least.

    “I mean… we have a lot to talk about, don’t we?” Adora started fidgeting. She was twiddling her thumbs and avoided looking at Seacat. “It’s, well… on the way here, we didn’t really have any opportunity to talk about, you know…”

    “My past.”

    “Yes, exactly!” Adora nodded so rapidly, her ponytail whipped around her face. Unfortunately, her stupid poof didn’t even budge. “And, well… It’s more private here. Except for Glimmer and Bow, no one comes here, and Glimmer won’t be allowed to leave her room for tonight, maybe longer, which means Bow will be with her, and…”

    “Wait - the princess’s being sent to her room as punishment?” Seacat had heard of such customs from Mermista, but to hear that this actually happened, and to a princess?

    “Err… probably?”

    “You mean this isn’t the first time this happened,” Seacat said with a frown.

    “Glimmer’s very brave,” Adora replied.

    “And her thirst for adventure cannot be quenched without adventure!” Sea Hawk added, raising his hand to point at the ceiling. “Speaking of, I shall take my leave to secure transportation back to Seaworthy for us. I’ll be back later! You stay and rest, First Mate! Captain’s orders!”

    And he was gone - through the door, not the window, at least. Then again, they were a little too high up above the cliff for the Captain’s favourite exit. Well, his orders were clear.

    “So… you’re going to leave again?”

    Adora looked as if someone had told her that her favourite rations were banned. “I’m a sailor - I need to get back to the sea,” Seacat told her. “We need to get our new ship and take it on a shakedown cruise.” And, unlike other times, this would likely be quite the adventure, what with the new ship using an engine built by the Purple Princess.

    “But so soon?” Adora looked crestfallen. “You just remembered your - our - past, and now you’re leaving again…” She sat down on her bed and looked at the floor.

    “Oh for…” Seacat rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed before sitting down on the bed as well - though behind her friend. “I’m not leaving right now, dummy. But we need to keep the pressure on the Horde. And I am a sailor - I need to get back on a ship.”

    “But…”

    “That I remember my past life doesn’t change that.” She was the best damn first mate on all the Seas, and no one could take that from her!

    “I hoped that you’d… you remember what we planned when we were kids?” Adora turned to look at her.

    “Yes.” Seacat was tempted to add: ‘fight for the Horde’, but that would’ve been... She wasn’t like that. “But things changed.”

    “I know, just…” Adora sighed. “It’s like losing you again.” She gasped. “I don’t want to sound as if I meant… it’s not your fault. I totally understand that you want to get back on a ship. You don’t need to feel guilty for that!”

    Adora looked like a kicked puppy. “I’m not feeling guilty,” Seacat lied.

    “Ah, good. I mean… you went through so much! And I’m being so selfish, wishing that…”

    “Wishing what?” Seacat leaned forward.

    “Err…” Once more, Seacat’s friend looked away. “To stay with me for a while. Catch up, you know? I really missed you,” she added in a whisper so low, Seacat almost missed it despite her keen ears.

    “I missed you as well,” she told Adora.

    “You did? But you didn’t remember before!”

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “I mean, I missed being together like this, you know? Now that I remember.”

    “Oh.” Adora didn’t look like she understood what Seacat had said.

    That was fine. Seacat wasn’t sure that she did, either.

    But sitting here, talking… it felt good. Really good. She leaned forward and put her hand on Adora’s thigh, squeezing it reassuringly. Just like old times.

    *****​
     
  13. RubberBandMan

    RubberBandMan I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    This has big 'what are you going to do, stab me?' energy.

    And Adora suddenly wanting to Bridal Carry seacat into her new home sure is a thing.

    Typically it seems Seacat is very much focused in the 'here and now' of what she's dealing with right now. Time to sleep, time to buy supplies, time to tend to the ship, time for a mission, time to relax like a pro.

    But now she's suddenly going 'We gotta get ready to go, got to get a new ship, going to sail away' instead of just living in the moment. It's not like her talking about the future is going to get it to happen faster, she's just... deflecting if anythings changed with Adora and her. I suspect that Seacat wants to not think about it, but good on her for not bolting right this moment.
     
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  14. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    That was intended.

    That wasn't intended, but fits :)

    Well, as Sea Hawk's First Mate, she had to do some long-term planning, too. It's just that short-term problems tend to crop up for her.

    Indeed.
     
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  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 18: The Broken Bot
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 18: The Broken Bot

    Seacat squeezed Adora’s thigh again. Just like old times. The two of them, in Adora’s bed, together, about to take a nap, she’d curl up with her and…

    OK, it wasn’t like old times. She pulled back and cleared her throat. “So…”

    “So?” Adora stared at her.

    We need to talk. But Seacat didn’t say that. “You heard the Captain. I need to rest.”

    Adora blinked, then nodded. “Yes. Of course. We did a long march. And dinner’s a few hours away. Resting is… good.”

    Seacat nodded in return.

    Neither she nor Adora moved, though. Seacat really should go to her room for a nap in peace. But Adora would, well, she’d look crushed again. Seacat reached out and patted the woman’s shoulder. “So… you mentioned a second bed?”

    “Oh! Yes, of course!” Adora jumped up. “I’ll be right back!”

    And she was out of the door before Seacat could say anything. Snorting, Seacat shook her head and looked around the room. You could fit a courier boat in here with room to spare. And there was ample storage room, too. Certainly far more than Seacat was used to on a ship. Hmmm…

    She could go and take a peek at Adora’s things. Her friend was bound to have more stuff now than before.

    Or she could just lie here a little longer, relax and…

    *****​

    “Hey! Seacat! Dinner time!”

    “What?” She blinked, propping herself up on her elbows and turned her head. Oh, no - she must have fallen asleep. On Adora’s bed. And she had drooled on the pillows. Fortunately, actual pillows, this time. But…

    “It’s dinner time - well, it’ll be dinner time in a bit.” Adora was standing there, next to the bed, smiling at her. “I thought you wanted to, ah, ‘freshen up’ a little? Glimmer said that’s how you call it when you clean up for an inspection before meals. Only, there’s no inspection.”

    Seacat closed her eyes and sighed. “I know what ‘freshen up’ means, Adora. I’ve spent four years outside the Fright Zone, remember?”

    “Oh…”

    Snorting, Seacat rolled on her back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m not the cadet you knew any more. I’m a sailor, you…” She blinked. It felt a little drafty. Oh. Her battered top had ripped completely during her nap. “Oh, bother. You wouldn’t have a spare shirt?” She blinked again.

    Adora was blushing furiously. And, apparently, caught between staring at Seacat’s chest and looking anywhere but at her chest.

    Oh. Seacat started blushing as well. That was… no! This wasn’t embarrassing. She was a sailor. You couldn’t live on a ship without such things happening. “So, can I borrow a shirt from you?”

    “Uh… sure?”

    “Thank you.” Seacat rolled off the bed and pulled the remains of her shirt off. “I think that is beyond hope - unless you can magically repair it?” She held it out to Adora, who was now looking as if all her blood had ran to her head.

    “Ah… I’ve never… I mean, I never tried… err...”

    Seacat started smirking. “Well, see if you can manage it? I’ll go take a bath.”

    She dropped the torn shirt on the floor and walked to the bathroom. A glance over her shoulder at the door told her that Adora hadn’t moved a finger since she had left her there. She grinned when she closed the door behind her. This was fun! Just like old times - or not like old times. Adora was more susceptible to teasing about her performance in training, back then. Not about...

    And now Seacat was blushing. For some reason.

    *****​

    The bathroom was great - roomy, warm, with as much hot water as you wanted, and a bathtub large enough to float a dinghy in it. Seacat purred when she dried herself with a towel large enough to double as a spare sail. Did Bright Moon have anything that was normal-sized?

    Not that she didn’t appreciate it, anyway - her fur certainly needed all the care she could give. “I’ve used up your shampoo,” she yelled as she wrapped herself in a smaller towel and opened the door. “You should get more bottles… Oh. Hi, Brain Boy.”

    “Hi, Seacat.” The guy was standing next to Adora at the small table, looking at something.

    “What’s up?” she asked, walking over and peering at the table herself. Just some letters. “Did the shrimp send for help? Do we need to break her out of her room?”

    “No!” Adora sounded scandalised.

    Brain Boy, though, laughed. “Glimmer will be joining us for dinner. With Queen Angella.”

    She felt her stomach drop. “Oh, how nice.” So much for a peaceful dinner.

    *****​

    “This is very good,” Seacat commented. It was true - the steak was perfect; just how she liked it. And the spicy butter on it… Mhhh!

    “Yes, indeed!” Sea Hawk agreed. “Our compliments to the cook!”

    “I will tell her,” Queen Angella said with about as much honest emotion as a frozen ice shark.

    No one else said anything. Seacat glanced to Adora as she cut another slice off her steak. Her friend was sitting slightly hunched over and focusing on her food. Brain Boy mirrored her. And the shrimp was silently steaming in her own seat and attacking her steak as if it was an enemy to be dismembered. Or the Queen.

    Seacat had to suppress a snort at the thought. The food was the only good thing about this meal. It was also the only thing anyone had talked about so far - and they were on the main course! She looked at her Captain. Usually, he’d entertain the entire table - or tavern - with a tale or three. She didn’t know why he wasn’t his usual self, but he probably had a good reason for it.

    Which meant she’d better keep her head down, too. Damn. No, that couldn’t stand. “Do you have news from the war? About the offensive south of Seaworthy?”

    “The offensive is progressing according to plan, last I heard,” the Queen replied after a moment.

    That didn’t tell Seacat anything about the war - she didn’t know the plans, after all. But she nodded with a smile anyway. “Thank you.” Princesses were prickly about respect, and Queens, from what Seacat could tell, doubly so.

    “At least something’s going according to plan,” the shrimp mumbled - rather loudly.

    Seacat drew a hissing breath through clenched teeth and resisted the urge to duck.

    “It’s impressive that the offensive is continuing despite the fact that our commander left her troops to go on an unauthorised rescue mission,” the Queen replied with as much warmth as an arctic storm.

    “It shows that I made the right decision!” the shrimp snarled, putting down her cutlery.

    “It shows that you were lucky - twice over.”

    “We weren’t just lucky! We struck hard at the enemy! And we need to keep striking until they break down!” The princess hit the table.

    “Rushed and sloppily planned attacks are an invitation for a devastating counterattack. We cannot afford to underestimate the Horde. We did, once - and paid the price.” The Queen remained unmoved - almost like a statue.

    “We cannot afford to cower in fear - we just struck at their heartland and escaped without any losses! If you had your way, we would only defend our borders - but nobody ever won a war by sticking to defence!” the shrimp retorted.

    “Too many lost a war by overextending their forces.”

    “But we aren’t! We have the strongest alliance, ever! Troops are massing, and we control the sea! It’s time to strike on multiple fronts! The Horde can’t be everywhere!”

    “You won’t strike until you’ve shown that you understand your duty as a commander!”

    “Mom! I understand my duty perfectly! I need to win this war!”

    “That proves you don’t understand your duty at all!”

    Seacat hastily swallowed the last of her steak and glanced at Adora. Her friend was staring at her empty plate. “Hey, Adora!” she whispered.

    No reaction.

    Frowning, Seacat repeated herself: “Hey, Adora!”

    Still no reaction. She scoffed, checked if anyone was looking, then kicked out with her foot.

    Adora jerked and gasped, then turned to glare at her. “Why did you kick me?” she whispered.

    “You were ignoring me!” Seacat whispered back.

    “What? I wasn’t!”

    “Anyway, can we leave the table without offending the Queen? I don’t want to watch this.”

    Adora blinked. “Oh…” Seacat could almost see her thinking. Then Adora’s eyes widened, and she started smiling. “Your Majesty!”

    “Yes, Adora?”

    “Ca-Seacat is still tired from her ordeal. Can I escort her to her room to rest?”

    Seacat opened her mouth to protest that she was fine and didn’t need any rest, but her friend had kicked her in the shin, and all that left her lips was a gasp.

    “Payback,” the traitor whispered.

    “Of course! Please - you need your rest.”

    “Thank you, your Majesty!”

    Seacat stood up before Adora could reach her - she didn’t need help to walk!

    Adora offered her her arm anyway. “Take it, or the Queen will notice that we’re lying.”

    That was… Seacat huffed and took the arm. And ignored Adora’s triumphant smile.

    “Rest well,” the Captain called after her. Brain Boy probably said something as well, but the Queen and the Princess were already going at each other again, so not even Seacat’s ears caught the boy’s words.

    How did Bright Moon manage to defend itself against the Horde with such leaders? “They seem to fight each other more than the Horde,” she commented - after checking that no guard was near who might overhear her.

    “What?”

    “The Queen and the Princess,” Seacat explained.

    “No! They’re just… they just have a disagreement,” Adora said. But she didn’t look at Seacat as she replied.

    “Well, it’s not exactly filling me with confidence in the Alliance’s leadership,” Seacat said after a moment. Although Mermista wasn’t too bad. The princess knew how to wage war on the sea, at least - even though that was mostly Sea Hawk’s doing. But the Snow Princess was a kid and what Seacat had seen of the Plant Princess hadn’t impressed her. And the Purple Princess… no, that was no leader at all. Unless you were talking about bots.

    “They’re doing their best,” Adora replied as they reached her room and she opened the door.

    Seacat stopped. “Aren’t you supposed to show me to my room?”

    Adora’s face fell. “Uh… I thought… you know…”

    Seacat laughed and elbowed the idiot. “I’m joking, you dummy.” She sauntered inside.

    “Oh, you!” Adora closed the door. “That was mean!”

    “Was it?” Seacat grinned and sat down on the bed, then leaned back and stretched a little, arching her back.

    “Yes, it…”

    “Hmmm?” Seacat glanced at her friend. Adora was so cute when she was flustered.

    And when she huffed, like she just did. “Oh, you!” Adora stalked over to the bed and let herself fall on it. “They’ll work it out.”

    “Do you think that or do you hope that?” Seacat asked, then pressed her lips together. That was a quote from one of their old instructors.

    Adora thankfully didn’t comment on her slip. “Bow said so.”

    “And he’s the expert?” Or had Brain Boy just been trying to reassure Adora?

    “He’s Glimmer’s best friend. They’ve known each other for a long time.”

    “Ah.” Which doesn’t mean that he was truthful. On the other hand, Brain Boy was about as good a liar as Adora was, in Seacat’s opinion. Meaning, he sucked at it.

    For a few moments, neither of them spoke. They just lay there, staring at the ceiling. If the mattress had been harder and the ceiling duller, lower and dirtier, it would’ve been like back in the barracks.

    She pushed the thought away. She wasn’t… She was Seacat, not Catra. “I’m Seacat,” she mumbled. Not Catra. Not Horde scum.

    “Hmmm?” Adora shifted around next to her, Seacat could hear her.

    “I’m Seacat. Not Catra,” she repeated herself.

    “Oh. But…”

    She turned her head. Adora was on her side, looking at her with her mouth stuck half-open.

    Seacat closed her eyes and suppressed a curse. “I’m not Catra any more.”

    “Oh. But you…”

    “What?” Couldn’t Adora just say what she wanted to?

    “You do remember, right?”

    “Of course I do! I told you so, didn’t I?” Seacat rolled her eyes.

    Adora sighed. After a moment, she said: “I kept telling myself that, you know. That you’d remember, and you’d turn back to…” She shrugged. “Back to the Catra I knew.”

    “Fourteen years old and dumb?” Seacat raised her eyebrows at her.

    Adora snorted, which seemed to surprise her. “No! Yes? I don’t know!” She raised her arms and let them fall on the bed. “This is complicated.”

    And there was no manual for her to read about it. Seacat pushed that nasty comment away before she could blurt it out. Her friend was already feeling bad enough. “It’s not complicated,” she replied. “I was Catra. Then I left the Horde and became Seacat. Just like you became She-Ra.” Well, in principle. And with memory loss. And a few years spent at sea, living a lie. Alright, it was mostly the same.

    “But… I’m still Adora when I’m She-Ra. I’m just stronger, tougher and can do magic.”

    Yes, rub it in. Seacat sighed. “But you’re not Force Captain Adora any more, are you?”

    “Of course not!”

    “See?”

    “Uh… no?”

    “I’m not Cadet Catra any more. I remember being her, but I’m a sailor now. Seacat. That’s who I am.”

    “Ah.” Adora slowly nodded. “I knew that already.”

    “Really?”

    “Well... “ Her friend grimaced. “I knew it after you told me?”

    “Oh, you…” Seacat rolled her eyes again.

    Adora wasn’t looking at her, though. She was staring at the wall. “I wasn’t talking about Cadet Catra. I meant Catra. My friend.”

    Oh. Seacat blinked. Then frowned. “I’m still your friend, you dummy. Hell, I was your friend when I was Seacat. Or do you think I would go carousing with just everyone?”

    Adora broke out in a wide smile, and her eyes grew wet.

    And then she tried to break Seacat’s ribs by crushing her chest in her arms.

    “Ack!”

    *****​

    A little later, they were both sprawled on Adora’s bed, and Seacat had stopped rubbing her ribs to make a point.

    “You know, I was wondering…” Adora trailed off.

    “I bet you are,” Seacat replied.

    Adora started to nod, then frowned for a moment before shaking her head. “Anyway, do you have any sailor friends? I mean, except for Sea Hawk and Mermista.”

    Sea Hawk was her Captain. And Mermista was… his girlfriend. Neither was a friend, not in the sense Adora probably meant. Not like the shrimp and Brain Boy were for her. “What do you mean?” Seacat asked.

    “I mean, a friend… like me.”

    “I doubt that there’s another one like you in Etheria,” Seacat smirked.

    Adora blushed a little, “Thanks! I was just wondering…”

    “I didn’t replace you if that’s what you mean.”

    “I didn’t mean it like that!” Adora protested. “But… hadn’t you forgotten all about me?”

    “Yes.” Seacat shrugged. She hadn’t made any friends, but that was normal. Sailors roamed the sea. “So, you don’t need to be jealous.”

    “I’m not jealous!”

    Seacat snickered in return. “Gotcha!”

    “Oh, you!” And now came the pout. Just like old times.

    “You’re too easy to rile up,” she told Adora with a grin.

    “And you’re impossible!”

    “I know.”

    Her friend sighed. “I just… I feel guilty. I thought you were dead, and I just accepted Shadow Weaver’s lies. I should’ve investigated! If I had, I might have...”

    Seacat rolled her eyes and interrupted her friend. “Don’t be stupid. A cadet, investigating a battle? What would you have done? You weren’t there, anyway - by the time you could’ve reached the village, I was already gone.” And the dead had been taken care of.

    “I know that, but… I can’t help feeling guilty for not doing anything.”

    Seacat sighed. That, too, was typical for her friend. “You dummy. Not everything is your fault.” She reached over and grabbed Adora’s chin, pushing it up so their eyes met. “And you can’t save everyone.”

    Adora looked into her eyes, blushing slightly. Then she pulled back. “But I’m She-Ra. It’s my duty to save everyone.”

    “What?”

    “Yes. Light Hope told me so.”

    “Light Hope?” Was that a new friend of Adora? Why hadn’t she met her yet? And was that why Adora had asked about friends of Seacat? Had she been checking if Seacat had replaced her because she had replaced Seacat?

    “Oh… She’s, like… this hologram program.”

    “A what?”

    “That’s how she explained it. She’s like… a bot, but very smart, and she doesn’t have a body, but she can project an image. Like a ghost. And she knows all about She-Ra.”

    “A bot?”

    “Sort of… not a bot from the Horde.” Adora sighed. “It’s… complicated.”

    “And she knows everything about She-Ra?” Seacat had heard such claims before. Usually by con-men.

    “Yes.” Adora nodded emphatically. “But she’s a little damaged, so she can’t tell me everything.”

    How convenient! “I think I need to meet her,” Seacat said with a tight smile.

    “I can take you to her tomorrow.”

    “Good.” And if Seacat didn’t like what she saw, there would be consequences.

    “So… you weren’t like the sailors we hear about?” Adora’s comment interrupted Seacat’s thoughts.

    “What?” She frowned. “What do you mean?”

    “You know, a lover in every port.”

    “Really?” She narrowed her eyes at Adora. “Where did you hear that?”

    “Uh… I read it somewhere. When I was researching.” Adora was looking quite embarrassed now.

    “Researching?”

    “I, uh, wanted to know more about ships and other nautical things. After, you know, we had met again, but you didn’t remember.”

    “And you focused on lurid stories about sailors?”

    “No! That was just… well, I didn’t want to read them, but I didn’t know they were, well… like that.” Adora looked like someone had painted her head red.

    Seacat laughed as she shook her head. “And how many such stories did you read?”

    “Only a couple.”

    “Do you have some here? I’d love to know what landlubbers write about sailors.”

    “No! That is, I don’t have any here.”

    “Really?” Seacat narrowed her eyes at her.

    “Really!”

    “Ah, well.” She sighed with fake disappointment. “In any case, I don’t have a lover in every port. That only leads to trouble.” As the Captain’s past perfectly demonstrated - not that Seacat would discuss that with anyone, not even with Adora.

    “Ah.” Adora nodded emphatically.

    “Disappointed that I’m not the kind of sailor you read about?” Seacat raised her eyebrows at Adora and grinned at her.

    “What? No, no! I like you just fine as you are!”

    “Well, you better!” Because Seacat wasn’t about to change. Certainly not back into Catra.

    *****​

    Seacat woke up half-sprawled over Adora again. How the… Oh, right. They had fallen asleep talking last night. On Adora’s bed. Though she wasn’t caught in her friend’s grip again. And she hadn’t drooled on Adora. Not much, at least.

    Sliding off her friend, then off the bed, she looked around. The sun had gone up a couple hours ago, judging by its position on the sky. That meant it was soon time for breakfast. Or would be in an inn - in a palace, it was always time for whatever the princess wanted, after all. And She-Ra was a princess, wasn’t she?

    But Seacat needed to freshen up. She couldn’t really head to breakfast looking like she had just kicked off her pants and slept in her clothes - which she had. Which reminded her to get proper clothes. Adora’s taste in clothing had improved, but her style was still… not Seacat. She needed proper clothes for sailing. Not for running around in the woods.

    And clean clothes, a sniff informed her. Well, Adora had a few more clothes she could borrow until she got her own.

    “Ngh.”

    Ah. Of course the woman in question would wake up just now. “Morning, sleepyhead.”

    Adora blinked, then stared at her. “You’re up already?”

    “I slept half the day yesterday,” she reminded her friend.

    “Crazy…” Adora sat up and started stretching. Which stretched the fabric of her top, Seacat noticed.

    “Ca-Seacat?”

    “What?”

    “I asked if you want to use the bathroom first, since you’re already out of bed.” Adora frowned slightly.

    She had missed that? Perhaps it was a little early, still. But she was up, and heading back to bed would make her look weak. Or lazy. “Yes,” Seacat replied, heading to the bath. She could always nap later, after all. When the rest had a meeting or so.

    *****​

    Breakfast wasn’t as awkward as dinner had been, but that was a low bar to clear. The food was great, though - fried and grilled fish! Seacat filled her plate for the second time with choice pieces. Bright Moon might be a kingdom of landlubbers, but they knew how to eat.

    “I thought you’d love that,” Adora told her. “So I told the kitchen staff yesterday to make some.”

    This was a special treat for her? Seacat stared at her plate, then at Adora. That was… sweet, she decided. And thoughtful. She beamed at her friend. “Thank you.”

    Adora nodded, a little blush on her cheeks, Seacat noted.

    “So, what’s the plan for today?” she asked after a moment, looking at Sea Hawk.

    “We have a meeting in the afternoon concerning the next phase of the war,” the Queen informed her.

    “Indeed! As the ranking naval officer, I’ll represent my dear Mermista! Oh, how I long to see her again, hold her in my arms!” He stood, pointing to the ceiling. “But duty is a harsh mistress, keeping us apart a little longer!”

    The queen looked a little nonplussed, Seacat saw. She wasn’t used to the Captain, yet - unlike the others.

    “I planned to show Seacat the Whispering Forest,” Adora said.

    She hadn’t mentioned Light Hope. Was that a secret? Or implied? Adora wasn’t the type to keep secrets from her friends, but Seacat would have to ask to be sure she wouldn’t accidentally reveal anything that was supposed to be secret. And it was good policy to keep secrets - loose lips sank ships, after all.

    “The Whispering Forest?” Brain Bow looked confused. “Ah!” He nodded.

    Well, it seemed he knew about Light Hope. But did the Queen?

    “Be careful. Those Horde forces who chased you might still be in the area,” Queen Angella cautioned them.

    Adora grinned. “In the Whispering Forest? They won’t last!”

    Seacat frowned. That sounded… concerning. Catra had been told about the forest, but those had sounded like the usual tales to scare recruits who didn’t know better. Just how dangerous was the forest?

    *****​

    As Seacat found out an hour later, quite dangerous - if you weren’t familiar with it. Or had a guide. Or She-Ra.

    “Hah!”

    Her friend was currently enthusiastically hacking a bug the size of a courier ship into dinghy-sized bits.

    “Hah!”

    Very enthusiastically.

    Seacat shook her head as she leaned against the closest tree - after checking for more dangerous wildlife, of course. “Having fun?”

    “Uh…” Adora jumped back when the bug lashed out with one of its huge limbs. “I’m almost done!” She charged in again.

    “You know, if you kill every monster in the forest, the Horde can simply walk through,” Seacat pointed out.

    “I’m… Hah! … just driving it off!”

    “Really?”

    “It’s being stubborn!” Adora planted a kick in the head of the bug which flipped it over on its back. The monster quickly recovered but seemed warier now.

    “Hah!” Seacat’s friend moved in again, this time hitting the bug’s head. That seemed to do the job - the bug turned and started to flee.

    Panting but smiling wildly, Adora turned back to Seacat. “See? No sweat!”

    Seacat shook her head with a grin. “And how far is it to Light Hope’s den again?”

    “It’s not a den!”

    “Then what is it? A dungeon?”

    “Not a dungeon either! It’s… a bunker?”

    “That’s like a dungeon,” Seacat retorted. “See, I was correct.”

    “No, you weren’t!”

    *****​

    “A friend?” Light Hope sounded very doubtful for a bot. And a little insulting. Not that bots could talk, anyway. But this one could, and it sounded far too condescending for Seacat’s taste. Not quite like Shadow Weaver - Seacat clenched her teeth at the memory - but it was far too calm and polite to be honest.

    “Yes. My best friend, Ca-Seacat!” Adora repeated herself.

    Seacat waved at the spooky ‘projection’. “That’s me.”

    The thing ignored her. “You’ve mentioned her before. She has defective memory.”

    That definitely sounded like an insult. Seacat frowned at the thing. “Not any more. I recovered my memories.”

    “Yes!” Adora nodded with a smile. “She remembers me!”

    “I see.”

    Seacat doubted that. “And what about your memories? I heard you can’t access most of them.”

    The projection glanced at her. “That is irrelevant. I fulfil my duties to the best of my abilities.”

    “And what are your duties?” Seacat asked with narrowed eyes.

    “Supporting She-Ra in her duties.”

    “Yes,” Adora nodded. “She’s been very helpful in figuring out what I can do!”

    “With your personal problems solved, I presume that we can resume your training without further distractions, then.”

    “Uh…” Adora sounded taken aback. “I was kinda hoping you could show her what you showed me, about She-Ra. And that we could have a nice talk.”

    “The information in my memory is classified,” Light Hope replied. “Only She-Ra has the right to access it.”

    “But if I have the right to access it, I have the right to share, right?”

    “Negative.”

    “Negative?” Adora looked surprised. “But… if it’s my information - I’m She-Ra, after all - I can share it!”

    “That would be ill-advised,” Light Hope retorted. “She-Ra’s secrets need to be kept safe from everyone, for your own safety.”

    “I trust Ca-Seacat with my life!” Adora declared, raising her chin in that stubborn way of hers.

    Seacat smiled at the display - that was her best friend.

    “Irrelevant. She-Ra’s duty takes precedence.”

    Seacat really didn’t like Light Hope.

    “What does my duty have to do with this?” Adora asked.

    “You have to restore balance to Etheria.”

    “I know. I have to beat the Horde.” Adora shook her head. “But I can’t do that without my friends!”

    Light Hope didn’t reply to that. Which, Seacat thought, was answer enough.

    She really didn’t like the thing.

    *****​

    Light Hope’s training was surprisingly - and suspiciously - similar to the training used by the Horde: Lots of bots to be defeated. Light Hope’s bots were magical, though, not mechanical. That probably saved on maintenance, Seacat thought as she took a seat on a smashed bug the size of the bug princess and watched Adora.

    Her friend was having fun smashing bug after bug. It was an impressive display, too. But… Seacat shook her head. That wasn’t a topic to be discussed in Light Hope’s base. Dungeon, she corrected herself with a smirk.

    And watching Adora go all-out was nice as well. Her friend looked very impressive as She-Ra. She probably could smash the bugs without her sword, too. So much power…

    A movement to the side drew Seacat’s attention, and she reacted without thinking, jumping off the broken bug a moment before another bug crashed into it. “Hey! Watch it! I’m not She-Ra!”

    But the bug didn’t react - it turned its head towards Seacat, and clicked its mandibles. Then it charged at her.

    “Hey!” Seacat snarled as she dodged the charge. “She-Ra’s that way!” This was Adora’s training session, not hers.

    But the bug turned around, ignoring Adora to focus on Seacat. Well, if the damn thing insisted, Seacat would oblige her, as the Captain called it.

    Then she noticed more bugs coming towards her. Encircling her.

    Damn!

    “Hey, Adora! Some help!” she yelled as she backed away from the first bug.

    “What?”

    “Those bugs are after me!” Seacat added a curse as the closest took a swipe at her, and she had to duck under the blow. If only she had her old cutlass… Well, you fought with the weapons you had, not the weapons you wished you had.

    She drew her blade and parried the next blow - but the force behind it sent her back a few steps.

    “No parrying, got it,” she told herself, then somersaulted over a charging bug and slashed at its back. Its armoured back, which her blade didn’t damage much if at all. Great.

    “I’m coming!” Adora yelled. “Just a… oh, no!”

    That didn’t sound good. Seacat risked a glance as she ducked under another swipe - Adora was getting swarmed herself. “Light Hope! Stop the session!” Adora called out.

    No answer. Damn and damn!

    Seacat rolled over the floor, away from the two closest bugs, but her new shirt caught on the debris left by Adora earlier, and instead of gracefully coming up in a crouch, she was suddenly in a dead-stop on the floor. Looking up at a pouncing bug.

    Cursing, she rolled to the side, tearing her shirt, as the pincers barely missed. Scrambling away on all fours, she darted towards Adora, but two more bugs blocked her way.

    “Light Hope, stop the session!”

    Seacat scoffed as she glanced around. Two bugs in front of her. Two behind her. Fanning out. If those were bots… She faked a lunge at the bugs in front, then fell back - and a glance told her that the other two were charging her.

    Perfect. She dashed towards the two in front of her, waited a moment, then jumped up and to the side, landing on all fours while the bugs crashed into each other behind her. “Hah!”

    She moved in, slashing at the flailing limbs, but her cutlass was standard Horde issue - almost worthless against a well-armoured enemy. And the bugs were already recovering!

    This wasn’t good. She glanced over her shoulder and gasped. Adora had vanished under a mound of twitching bugs!

    “No!” She froze for a moment - what could she do? Then cursed and sprinted towards her friend. She couldn’t do nothing!

    But before she reached Adora, the mound of bugs suddenly exploded, bugs and parts of bugs flying in all directions - one almost squashing her like a… well… bug if she hadn’t dodged.

    And Adora stood there, glowing brightly, sword raised above her head and a pissed-off expression on her face.

    She looked… Seacat shook her head after freezing for a moment. They were in the middle of a battle. And there were half a dozen bugs after her!

    She quickly dashed towards her friend, jumping over a twitching bug, and landed next to Adora. “Hey, Adora! There’s more behind me.”

    Her friend didn’t reply. Adora merely turned, lowered her sword, and charged the remaining bugs.

    Her sword had no trouble cutting through their armour, of course. Seacat frowned - she really needed a better cutlass. Perhaps the smith in Seaworthy had a good one in stock. Otherwise, she would have to ask Mermista; the Salinean Royal Armoury contained several excellent blades.

    “Ngh…” Adora snarled before kicking the last bug into a pillar hard enough to break both. “Light Hope! End training session! Now!”

    A moment later, the room lit up, and they could see the broken bugs - bots - starting to vanish one by one. Like Magic.

    Seacat clenched her teeth together. “What was that?” she asked, scowling. “Why did the bugs attack me? This was supposed to be a training session for Adora!”

    “And why didn’t you stop the session when I asked you to?”

    “I don’t have any memory of the incident.” Light Hope’s voice rang out from the ceiling. “It must have been a malfunction of the security system. This area is restricted to She-Ra, and your friend might have been mistaken for an intruder.”

    Yeah, right. That was totally convincing - not! “Really? A malfunction?” Seacat scoffed. And memory loss? How convenient!

    “How could that happen?” Adora asked.

    “My data banks and systems are damaged,” Light Hope replied in that annoyingly calm voice of hers. “It has been a thousand years since I was last maintained.”

    “Please ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” Adora said.

    “I cannot guarantee this. The best way to avoid a similar incident is to refrain from bringing others with you.”

    Ah, that was her game! Seacat scowled. The damn bot wanted Adora alone with her! She blinked. That sounded a little… whatever. She shook her head. “Well, I’ll say we leave now before another ‘malfunction’ happens,” she said, staring at Adora.

    “Uh... good idea,” her friend replied, though looking like she wasn’t sure about it.

    “That would mean leaving your training session unfinished. This will hamper your efficiency as She-Ra,” Light Hope objected.

    “Bah! She can smash bugs perfectly well already,” Seacat said. “It won’t hurt to cut that one short.” It wasn’t as if the Horde employed such bugs. “Let’s go, Adora.”

    For a moment, her friend looked torn. Then she nodded, her jaw set. “Yes, let’s go.”

    Seacat smiled, then, behind Adora’s back, stuck out her tongue at the ceiling.

    *****​

    “‘Malfunction’ my ass!” Seacat spat as soon as they had left the clearing in which the entrance to Light Hope’s bunker was hidden.

    “What?”

    “That wasn’t a malfunction,” she explained to her friend. “That was an attempt to get me!”

    “What?” Adora repeated herself, gasping this time. “Light Hope wouldn’t do that!”

    Seacat rolled her eyes. “Really? A mysterious bot that is supposedly a thousand years old wouldn’t do that?”

    “Yes!” Adora nodded. “She taught me so much about being She-Ra - she wouldn’t do such a thing.”

    Her friend’s logic hadn’t improved, Seacat realised. Well, what else could’ve been expected, with Shadow Weaver training her? “It was a very convenient malfunction, wasn’t it? Light Hope doesn’t like me, and suddenly, her bugs attack me.”

    Adora gaped at her. “She wouldn’t try to kill you! And why wouldn’t she like you? You’re my best friend!”

    “Exactly!” Seacat replied.

    Her friend frowned. “What do you mean?”

    “She’s jealous, duh.” Seacat scoffed.

    “Jealous? But… She’s a teacher, not...” Adora shook her head. “You’re wrong.”

    “I didn’t mean jealous in that sense,” Seacat said, rolling her eyes. “But she wants you to be alone with her.”

    “Well… she’s there to train and help She-Ra…”

    “So? Is there a rule that says She-Ra can’t have friends?”

    “Not exactly, but…”

    Seacat cut her off. “She wants you alone, so no one can contradict her. Sound familiar?”

    Adora blinked, looking confused, then frowned as she worked it out. And scowled deeply at Seacat. “Light Hope isn’t like Shadow Weaver! She’s helping me!”

    “So she says,” Seacat retorted. “But she doesn’t want anyone to know what she’s teaching you.”

    “She never told me to keep my training secret!” Adora shook her head. “She’s been nothing but helpful. You’re wrong - not every teacher is like… her.”

    Seacat scowled at her. “She tried to get me killed in an accident. Looks very similar to me.”

    “That was an accident!”

    “So she says.” Seacat didn’t believe the damn bot. And Adora really needed to wise up. “I don’t believe her.”

    They stared at each other for a moment. Then Adora sighed. “Let’s return to Bright Moon.”

    “Yes.”

    They didn’t talk on the way back.

    *****​

    “Ah, there you are!”

    Seacat didn’t cringe, not really, upon hearing the Captain’s voice. But she didn’ turn around and kept staring down at Bright Moon from where she was sitting on the tallest tower’s roof.

    That didn’t stop Sea Hawk, of course. She heard him approach, then saw him sit down next to her on the edge of the roof. “Great view,” he said. Apparently, the planning meeting had ended already.

    She made a noncommittal noise.

    “I looked at the pier first, then the taverns,” he went on. “Then I was told to look on the roofs.”

    By Adora. She clenched her teeth. Stupid Adora.

    “She seemed a little… off.”

    Seacat sighed. Unless the Horde decided to invade right this moment, she wouldn’t get out of this. “We had a disagreement about her choice of mentor.”

    “Oh?”

    “She’s listening to some stupid broken bot who tried to get me killed in an ‘accident’!” Seacat snapped, turning her head to glare at him. “And she’s falling for its lies!”

    “Ah.” Sea Hawk nodded. “And you’re absolutely sure that it wasn’t an accident?”

    “Yes!” She spat, then sighed again. “Mostly. I’ve got a gut feeling.” Light Hope might be broken, but she was still too smooth.

    “Ah.”

    She rolled her eyes at his tone. “It’s a good gut feeling.”

    “Well, I’ve always trusted my gut - it told me to pursue my dear Mermista, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me - but… Are you sure it’s your gut feeling, and not… Catra’s?”

    She pressed her lips together and glared at him. He met her eyes with a smile. A far too understanding smile for her mood.

    “If you’d have met the bot you’d think the same,” she said.

    But she couldn’t help wondering, now, if this was Catra’s doing and feeling.

    Damn.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020 at 10:34 AM
  16. ArKFallen

    ArKFallen _____

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    This is quality "Show, don't tell" writing.

    You are very good at writing inexperienced protagonists. If she had explained the entire encounter instead of her conclusion I am pretty sure Sea Hawk would quickly share her suspicion.
     
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  17. RubberBandMan

    RubberBandMan I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I was honestly waiting for lighthope to call her Ca-Seacat since that's all that she was called while at the dungeon.

    But seacat is right. It's not paranoia if they are all out to get you
     
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  18. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Thanks!

    Well, he might - but he's also aware that Seacat just recently recovered her memory. And her tale might be biased,

    Adora mentioned her to Light Hope before this visit.

    Indeed - however, Light Hope is bugged, so to speak.
     
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  19. Scherazade

    Scherazade Probably oughta continue writing something

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    Ooh is this further updated here than on SB? Seems like the latest chapter is a bit further along than I read there the other week. Ah well, time to reread anyway!
     
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  20. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Nope. I update all on sites at the same time. Actually, the drafts of the next chapters are generally posted in spoilers on SB before they're collected in a chapter and posted there and here with threadmarks.
     
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