The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Sat Dec 24, 2016 5:50 am 
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17. Mega-Witches
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:08 am
Posts: 2520
Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
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Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13 (I know I originally rated this R back in the day, but I've come to think that's not really warranted, especially considering what real tv shows get up to with their R ratings nowadays.)
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.
Acknowledgements: If the Kitten board weren't around back then, I'd probably never have written the original She-Ra fics, and if the Kitten board weren't still around today, I'd definitely never have finally continued the series. This one's for all the kittens, wherever you may be.
Apologies: It's not the Hellebore sequel...

Notes: This is just going to be kind of an intro post to the thread, and I'll add in direct links to each episode (or the first post of each episode, if they go over the post-length limit, I forget what that is) as I post each one down below. The first will be along in a day or two, and after that I'll post one episode every week; counting the original two, there will be ten in total. Merry Christmas! (I didn't plan that timing, it just so happened I finished the art today.)
Another Note: I'll be including a full 'cast' list of all the actors I traced over at the end of episode ten, just so as not to spoil any surprise appearances. Also I should mention that while the main characters (Willow, Tara, Xander, Buffy) are their BtVS selves, a lot of the guest stars are just Buffy actors playing She-Ra characters, so to speak - so while (to pick one from the first new episode posted) Harry Groener may appear, he's not necessarily evil or going to turn into a snake (spoiler warning for BtVS season three...). Just so's nobody gets confused about why the guest stars may seem to be acting out of character, compared to the characters they played on Buffy. If the main cast act out of character, well, yeah, that's just me messing up though...
Yet Another Note: If anyone's interested, I'm posting the 'animation cels' from each episode to DeviantArt, including a little commentary on whatever I can think of to say about each one (how it was made, why I drew things the way I did, random stuff), as well as a handful of extra cels - early versions, alternate designs I ended up not using, that sort of thing.

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_________________
Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


Last edited by Artemis on Mon Sep 25, 2017 4:19 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Sun Dec 25, 2016 4:41 am 
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17. Mega-Witches
User avatar

Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:08 am
Posts: 2520
Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

Notes: I wrote these episodes in order, so this one is the first attempt at writing Willow/Tara in, well, too long. Please forgive any rustiness while I got back into my groove. The images I did in a much more random order - you’ll probably be able to spot the early ones compared to the later (think of it as another spot-the-image game once you’ve found Dawnie). Speaking of Dawnie, her moral-of-the-story this episode is lifted word-for-word from the She-Ra episode this fic is kinda-sorta adapting ('Book Burning', if you're curious; 'The Price of Freedom' is a different episode, not really related to this in story terms at all, I just liked the title more).

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Rosewood was the edge of the Northlands. Beneath it were acres upon acres of farmland, criss-crossed by rivers and canals, and travellers came and went routinely from the east and west and south, merchants hawking their wares and farmers taking crops to markets and cities. But further north there was nothing - the paths through the great Frozen Mountains were narrow and easily lost, known only to a handful of hardy and reclusive hunters and trappers who made their homes in isolated cabins in the foothills, and even they never ventured too far north. Beyond the mountains, the polar expanse, mile after mile of ice and emptiness, bleak and deadly to any incautious enough to wander so far from warmth. Travellers who sought to cross the expanse did so well-provisioned and well-prepared, or not at all.

So it was extremely peculiar for two women to be making their way south from the expanse on foot, carrying only a pair of small travelling packs, but nobody had seen the manner of their passage across the mountains, and by the time they reached the roads reaching to the northernmost farms, the fieldhands who glimpsed them no doubt assumed they had come from east or west, and simply strayed a little.

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“Here we are again - that was a lot faster coming back than it was going there,” Willow noted, pointing out a signpost she remembered as they neared the town. Tara grinned and nodded.

“A magical sleigh beats walking,” she agreed. She glanced at Willow and quirked her lips. “What for the next stage, riverboat or horses?”

Boat,” Willow said emphatically, noticing Tara mouthing the word along with her. “I horse when I have to, and only then.”

“I think it’s called ‘riding’, sweetie,” Tara pointed out. “Not ‘horsing’?”

“No, see,” Willow objected, “using all that fancy horse terminology, that just encourages them.”

“Uh-huh,” Tara nodded, smiling. “So-o, it might be a few days before a riverboat comes along... We get a room at that inn we stayed at before? Our own private room? Much horsing around?”

“You’re being extremely cheeky,” Willow grinned, narrowing her eyes, “but you’re gorgeous so kissing time is now-” she broke off as Tara did indeed kiss her, lingeringly.

“...and I totally forgot what I was objecting to,” the redhead whispered after their lips finally parted.

“Cheek,” Tara smirked.

“I have no objection to your cheeks,” Willow grinned back, kissing Tara on the cheek as proof, and reaching around her to firmly squeeze her bottom for good measure.

“Mmm... inn, room, do that more,” Tara suggested in a breathy voice. Willow nodded and they both picked up their pace towards Rosewood.

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“Hi,” Willow said to the inn’s barkeep, “do you have a room available? Is it two coppers a night still?”

“Ar,” the barkeep nodded. “Waitin’ on the boat? Can do that, room and meals. Do I perchance recognise you two, from afore the solstice perhaps?”

“That was us, yep,” Willow smiled. “Willow and Tara, of the Whispering Woods - originally. We’ve been up north.”

“The Woods, ar,” the barkeep said, eyes widening. “Now I recall - there’s a young man ‘ere from the Woods, expecting you two, been four days now, is he- there, by the fire. Sir!? Blast, I forget his name...”

“Xander!” Willow exclaimed as the ranger stood from his chair and turned. She ran across the tavern floor to hug him, with Tara quickly following behind, all three smiling broadly at one another.

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“Hey Will!” Xander beamed. “Tara! Good to see you both.”

“How’s home?” Tara asked.

“Just the way you left it,” he replied. “The solstice feast was great - great mead, we saved you some. Treat it with care, don’t make my mistake,” he added with a mock-wince.

“What are you doing up here?” Willow asked. “We sent a messenger bird as soon as we got back over the mountains, did you-”

“Got it, yeah,” Xander replied. “So it’s real? The Kingdom of Snows?”

“Queendom at the moment,” Willow said. “Real as real gets. Frosta made us an ice sleigh to get us back across the mountains.”

“Like, actually made of ice, literally?” Xander wondered. “Do you still have it?”

“It melted in the foothills,” Tara said. “Ice reindeer and all. They were magical constructs, so once we went past the limits of Frosta’s domain...”

“Wow. Uh, anyway,” the ranger went on, shaking his head in wonder, “no, I mean yeah we got your message but... There was another message before that, from Erelandia. You know Buffy still gets letters from Duplis, the orator there? The last one... It’s a rumour, but they’re saying the Horde is going to destroy the Great Library.”

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“So what’s our plan?” Willow asked, once they were underway on the road west. Xander had bought a cart from a nearby farm in anticipation of their arrival, which his horse Allegro was patiently pulling along. Tara held the reins, keeping her eyes on the road, but with Willow and Xander seated right behind her on the she could keep up with the conversation without difficulty. Xander shrugged.

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“We’ve got directions and a contact,” he replied. “Strategy though? Make it up where we get there, I guess. It’s been years since Buffy studied in Erelandia, we really only know what we’ve learned second-hand so far as the current situation goes. According to Duplis’s letters there’s an anti-Horde underground, but it’s not what you’d call a fighting force, except at last resort. Erelandia never had an army to speak of anyway, that’s why the Horde could just move in and occupy it the way they did, without a conquest. Uh Tara, you ever went there, back when...?” he asked, his voice awkward.

“No,” she said, glancing back to put him at ease with a quick smile. “Do they know who commands the Horde there?”

“The letters said, uh, Modulok? Is that...?”

“Modulok,” the blonde nodded. “We never met, but I heard about him often. He’s a xenian, and a scholar, after a fashion. Arrogant, methodical. He’s commanded garrisons in several cities. No military campaigns, but he had a reputation for keeping populations under control. I’ve read several of his progress reports, he used to boast about eradicating dissidents without having to fire a shot.”

“Sounds like he fits,” Xander agreed. “The Horde’s never built up its military presence in Erelandia. Even as strong as they are, putting their boot on the neck of the ‘great democracy’ so obviously would rouse half the planet against them.”

“But they still rule there,” Willow noted.

“Buffy explained it before I set out,” Xander said. “The official line is that Erelandia is still governed by the people, same as always, and the Horde are just there to ‘protect’ the city against unrest. Us,” he grimaced, “in other words. Everyone knows it’s a lie, but they’re not soldiers, even if they did rise up against the garrison the cost would... well, swallowing the lie seems like the better of two bad options, I guess.”

“But She-Ra could flatten this garrison in no time,” Willow suggested thoughtfully.

“Probably,” Tara agreed. “But if I did... Hordak’s not one for subtlety, and he must be furious already after we beat his army at Blackmoor. And Erelandia doesn’t have the Whispering Woods’ magic protecting it. If She-Ra showed up there, he might not care how many other cities would be riled if he bombarded the city, just to hand ‘her’ a defeat.”

“And then the Library’s lost either way,” Willow concluded glumly.

“What’s in it?” Tara asked. “I mean, books, obviously, but specifically...?”

“History,” Xander replied. “Before the Horde, every kingdom on Etheria sent copies of its records and laws and wisdom to the Great Library, and princes and princesses went there to study it all, so they’d understand how to rule when they became kings and queens themselves. That’s why Queen Joy sent Buffy there, even though it had to be in secret.”

“The Horde destroys schools and colleges,” Tara noted. “Anything that doesn’t agree with Hordak’s proclamations.”

“But the Library’s too great a symbol, to the whole planet,” Willow continued. “Until now. They think they’re entrenched enough to finish the job.”

“Or...” Tara mused, shoulders slumped.

“Tara?” Willow asked.

“We’re pushing them,” she said sombrely. “Blackmoor, then destroying the polar etherium mine - the Horde feels threatened. They’re pushing back.”

“Hey,” Willow said gently, reaching forward to hold Tara’s forearm. “They should be threatened. And I know you’d never let the Horde prosper, not for a second.” Tara glanced back from the road, smiling fondly.

“Not for a second,” she agreed. “I’ve just... seen the Horde destroy a lot of treasures. This Great Library sounds like one of the most beautiful Etheria has.” She leaned back, close to Willow, and quietly added “besides you,” while Xander looked away and feigned being unaware of the private moment.

“Well then,” Willow said firmly, smiling, “that’s why we’re going to save it.”

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“There she is,” Xander said as their cart crested a rise, and they had their first view of the city of Erelandia in the valley, great towers and domed halls surrounded by suburbs full of shops and dwellings, and the patchwork of farmland beyond. “That must be- Funny thing, when Buffy said ‘Rainbow Tower’ I kind of assumed it was just painted a bunch of colours...”

“It’s beautiful,” Tara breathed. The tower stood at the heart of the great city, a domed cylinder clad in shimmering polished stone that reflected the sunlight like mother of pearl, its silver taking on every hue of the spectrum.

“That’s the Great Library then,” Willow surmised, likewise awed for a moment.

“And there’s the Horde,” Tara added with a scowl, pointing to the ring of sentry forts around the edge of the suburbs, each flying its scarlet winged skull banner.

“That’s our road there,” Xander said, looking ahead. “The turnoff past that bridge. Two miles down and Duplis’s people will be waiting to get us into the city.”

“Let’s not dally,” Willow nodded, as the three of them donned light blue cloaks, the agreed signal for whoever would be looking out for them.

As promised, it was just on two miles down the track branching off the city road that a young man stood out from a small farm, holding up a hand in greeting.

“Well met, friends,” he announced himself. “If you’re headed to market, you should have stayed on the main road.”

“We came from the Whispering Woods,” Xander replied. “Our uncle said we’d get a better price outside the city.”

“Aye,” the man nodded, “that you might. I’m Hazar, and the Horde have no friends in my home.”

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“Likewise. I’m Xander, these are Willow and Tara,” Xander indicated the two as he introduced them.

“Let’s get you into the city,” Hazar said, climbing onto the cart and taking the reins from Tara. “There’s a lot you need to know.”

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Back on the main road the cart trundled up to the Horde checkpoint approaching the city, and Hazar made a show of collecting the stamped papers he had provided the rebels with a few minutes earlier.

“Traders from Rosewood, sir,” he said, ducking his head to the trooper who had approached them.

“Passage granted,” the trooper intoned, after its eye slit scanned the papers with a red beam. “Observe the curfew. You are required to leave the city by the checkpoint at which you arrived. Obedience brings security.”

“Thank’ee sir,” Hazar ducked again, taking the papers back, while Tara studied the trooper out of the corner of her eye, noting the blue sigil of Erelandia adorning its chestplate in place of the usual Horde emblem..

“There’s a curfew?” Willow asked as their cart rolled past the gate.

“Sundown to sunrise,” Hazar nodded. “All the gates close. There are ways to get past unnoticed, but it’s a risk. They call those things ‘protectors’, but they’re our jailers.”

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“They repainted them,” Tara noted, “but those are battle troopers, not security. How many are there in the city, all together, do you think?”

“A hundred, perhaps,” Hazar shrugged. “No more than that.”

“Not a lot, for a city this size,” Tara mused. “They want to look like a token garrison.”

“But using battle troopers means their ‘protectors’ can hit hard if they decide to throw off the pretence,” Xander agreed. He looked up as their passage through the outskirts of the suburbs brought them towards a small square, and a video screen loomed over the people going about their business. In front of a backdrop of Horde banners, a red-skinned creature with bulbous white eyes was speaking.

“...curfew is for your own safety. Citizens are reminded that energy rations take effect immediately owing to the terrorist attack against the polar etherium mine. Erelandia’s contribution to the relief effort for those impacted by this cowardly attack are appreciated by all Etheria. For the safety of citizens, gatherings of more than five people are restricted. Obedience brings security...”

“‘Relief effort’,” Willow scoffed as the screen droned on, cycling through a variety of recorded messages. “The only thing that mine supplied was the war forges in the Fright Zone.”

“So they did lose a mine?” Hazar said, raising an eyebrow. “I wasn’t sure they didn’t just make it up as an excuse.”

“The Queendom of Snows has reclaimed their lands from the Horde,” Tara explained.

“With their help,” Xander added, nodding to the two women, who looked bashful at the attention.

“That so? Our ‘beloved’ overseer left that detail out.” Hazar shook his head, casting a wary smile at the rebels alongside him. “Maybe that’s a tale you’ll tell the gathering when we get there. We don’t hear much news besides what the Horde chooses to say, it’d make a nice change.”

“How many people will be there?” Willow asked.

“Fewer than there used to be,” Hazar sighed. “After we got wind of the plan to destroy the Library... We’re not sure, but it may be the Horde learned we’d sent a message to your lot. They’ve been doing everything they can, short of open violence, to ‘discourage’ gatherings, to stop people listening to the orators and discussing the governance of the city. A week ago, they arrested a number of orators - all the ones who’d kept speaking out against the Horde.”

“Orators,” Willow frowned. “Princess Glimmer’s friend, Duplis, was he...?”

“My father,” Hazar nodded. “Aye. He’s in a cell this moment. Unhurt, but...” The young man hung his head slightly. “I used to tell him, don’t cause a fuss, you’ll only bring trouble to yourself. And he did.” He looked up at the rebels, his face grim. “But he was right. We’re none of us free until the Horde is gone. Him in the dungeon, me out here - we’re all prisoners.”

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A man and two women were waiting at a nondescript warehouse Hazar guided them to, and after checking to see the street was clear they pulled back the doors to let the cart inside.

“Tomek, Varada, Ulyssa,” Hazar introduced them. “What’s left of our resistance, such as it is. Tara, Willow, and Xander of the Great Rebellion.”

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“Is Brightmoon sending troops?” Varada asked at once, while Hazar and Tomek unhitched Xander’s horse and set about hiding the cart behind old planks at the back of the warehouse.

“If necessary we can call on them” Xander said. “And we have other allies closer at hand.” He didn’t look at Tara, but she nodded slightly in response.

“Open battle is a last resort though,” she spoke up. “If we make war, we could defeat the garrison here, but the Horde will respond by sending more troops. You’d be a city under siege as long as the Horde lasted on Etheria.”

“We’re a city occupied already,” Ulyssa said quietly. “If it’s not to be by force, how are we to throw the Horde out?”

“The Horde never invaded here, militarily,” Tara said. “Not openly-”

“We’ve no army,” Varada pointed out. “They didn’t have to.”

“But that might be the key,” Tara persisted. “The Horde doesn’t want war in Erelandia - it would fuel unrest in other nations. That’s why they took control without using overt force. If you can take control back without force, protect the Library and the city without a war...”

“Can we though?” Varada asked. “From all we hear the Horde’s never shied away from killing those who challenge it. Mayhaps any show of resistance here, force or no, will bring an army down on us.”

“If we do nothing, we lose the Library for sure,” Ulyssa said. “Is it not worth trying?”

“Aye, it is,” Varada admitted, sounding glum at the prospect. She gave the rebels a wary look. “If we can even muster that much courage. This city’s been in the Horde’s ‘care’ a long time. You’ll see soon what that’s done to us.”

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Over the next half hour people arrived at the warehouse, in ones and twos, until a group of about fifty had gathered. Hazar spoke quietly to the rebels as Varada called for the meeting to start, and the various conversations dwindled.

“This is our way, as has been since the founding of the city,” he explained. “The orators put their case forward on a matter, and the people decide. Once these meetings were held openly, in every square in the city, for all to hear. Now the Horde won’t permit a gathering without approving the topic and arguments first - just in case of ‘sedition’ - and we’re reduced to skulking like thieves in our own city.”

“It won’t always be like this,” Willow promised.

“I hope so. I’ll speak for you, and ask you to address us. It should be my father here, but...” He sighed. “Just have to hope he taught me well. Tomek will speak against. He’s against the Horde heart and soul, but there cannot be a meeting without an opposing voice. He’ll do his duty, for our honour’s sake. Don’t think harshly of him for our tradition.”

“Every man and woman in Brightmoon speaks freely,” Xander said softly. “It’s a good tradition.”

Hazar nodded his thanks, then walked forward as Varada introduced him.

“Friends,” he said loudly, “we’re gathered because the Horde means to destroy our Great Library. We’ve all cursed the Horde and wanted them gone from our lands, but kept our heads low, because we know the price of speaking up: a cell, or worse. Now staying silent has a price too, and it’s seeing our history go up in flames. I ask you to listen to our friends here, from the Great Rebellion. They live free of the Horde, and I would see us join them.”

He gestured to the trio of rebels, and after a quick exchange of glances Tara came forward.

“Th-thank you, for coming here,” she said, seeming a little surprised to be speaking to so many, but going on strong and clear. “I know the risk you’re all running.”

She glanced back at Xander and Willow, and let her eyes linger on Willow a moment, before facing the assembled crowd again.

“I know, because I was once part of the Horde,” she said. “I saw what they do to those they conquer. And I know that conquest doesn’t always happen with troopers and tanks. Sometimes they tell you they’re here to protect you. They tell you the only way you’ll be safe is with them here, with their soldiers and curfews. They tell you the only safety is being part of the Horde. That anyone who’s not loyal to the Horde is a threat to you all. Those people get taken away, locked up... disappear. To keep the people safe. Slowly it becomes simpler. You’re loyal, or you disappear, no more reason than that.”

She took a deep breath.

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“Your Great Library is a treasure,” she went on. “One all Etheria should be grateful for, and cherish. It’s unique. But what the Horde is doing here, and will do, isn’t unique. It’s happened elsewhere, many times. They don’t just lock up people, they lock up ideas, like freedom, and choice. They make them disappear. To us, the Great Library is a treasure, but to the Horde it’s just more books that don’t praise the Horde. They’ve burned books like that already, in their thousands. They won’t hesitate to burn these ones. I’ve seen the pyres.” Her voice trembled, but she went on with conviction. “I will never stay silent again, no matter what the Horde threatens me with. My friends of the Great Rebellion,” she glanced back again, “stood up to the Horde. They helped me stand up to the Horde. Now we want to help you.”

She swallowed, and looked at Hazar and Tomek.

“Thank you,” Hazar said. “Tomek?”

“What you propose is courageous,” Tomek said. “But we know the might of the Horde. You, yourself, must have seen,” he went on, “what happens to... to farmers and shopkeepers who raise up arms.”

Tara hesitated, then nodded.

“Well then,” Tomek asked, “what can we do? You say to us ‘stand up’ - very well, but how do we stand up to the Horde without being shot down in the next moment?”

“May I?” Xander asked; Tomek nodded and stepped back.

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“I lead the rangers of the Rebellion,” he said. “We train in the Whispering Woods, where the Horde can’t reach us - but we fight them, outside the Woods, every chance we can. Not in open battle, though. We ambush their patrols and their tax collectors, we sabotage their outposts and depots, and we vanish before they can catch us. We can do that because we have help. Not from soldiers - from villagers. They watch the Horde outposts, see how they’re guarded, when the patrols and convoys move, and they hide us while we plan, and when we scatter after an attack. They’re our eyes and ears, and our shields - farmers and shopkeepers, like you said. It’s not safe. We lose people, and,” he dropped his gaze a moment, “so do those who help us. There are consequences to hurting the Horde. But there are consequences to doing nothing as well, and every time we weaken the Horde - anywhere, in any way - that’s one step closer to getting them off Etheria for good.”

“Well said,” Tomek allowed. “But as you say, there are consequences. Suppose we help your rangers, and perhaps raise a few such brave souls of our own. We maybe hurt the Horde, here are there - an ore train sabotaged, mining machinery broken. The Horde may not know which of us did the deed, but they don’t have to. They can bring their tanks and crush any homes they please under their treads, burn our crops so we starve, and Erelandia is punished for what we did.”

“You won’t be alone in this,” Willow spoke up. “I know how powerful the Horde seems, but they’re not the only ones. Brightmoon is with the Rebellion, with the magic of Queen Joy and Princess Glimmer. So is the Queendom of Snows, their Queen Frosta has driven the Horde out of the polar expanse. And I don’t know if you all have heard of She-Ra? She’s, well, she’s pretty incredible,” she finished, with a hint of a blush.

“Uh, Will?” Xander prompted.

“Hm? Oh right! Yeah, also there’s me,” Willow nodded. “I’m the sorceress of Whispering Woods, so...” She held out a hand, and vines wove their way through the gaps in the floorboards, wrapping around her arm in an intricate dance of flowers and leaves, before withdrawing back beneath the earth. Willow grinned a little at the awed gasps from the crowd.

“My point, though,” she went on, “is we can put the Horde on the defensive as well. Not easily and not everywhere, we have to be careful and clever, but we can do it. They can’t send an army here if it means uncovering the Meadowlands, or leaving Talon Mountain or Moorstone unguarded. The Horde’s strong, but not strong enough to be everywhere. They know if they overextend, we can hit them hard.”

“A dangerous strategy,” Tomek said.

“The Horde’s a dangerous enemy,” Tara replied. “Fighting them is difficult. Submitting to them would be worse.”

Tomek remained silent, giving each of the three a long stare, then he turned to Hazar and nodded.

“Friends,” he said to the crowd. “We have a decision to make.”

Immediately the group broke into several discussions, quiet but intense, with speakers and listeners moving from one circle to another, nodding or frowning, interjecting at times, adding to their points with exchanges of complex hand signs. On the surface it seemed somewhat chaotic, but there was a sense of patterns at work, something more like a dance than a barroom argument.

“Democracy at work,” Xander observed as the three of them settled onto a bench against the wall to wait.

“Tomek wasn’t wrong,” Willow mused. “If they fight, the Horde could retaliate any way they choose. I wish we had more allies, more... time.” Tara slid her arm around Willow’s waist and hugged her gently.

“This was never going to be easy,” she said quietly. “But they know living under the Horde will only get worse.” Willow nodded and sighed, resting her head on Tara’s shoulder.

“I wish we could just... all live in the Whispering Woods, where it’s safe. I mean granted it’d get real crowded trying to pack all Etheria into the forest at once.” She managed a chuckle. “The twiggets would think the world had turned upside-down.” They looked up and stood as Hazar approached.

“This is too weighty a matter to settle all the details at once,” he said. “But it has been decided that the Library cannot be lost. We stand with the Rebellion in this, as best we can.” He retrieved several cloaks from hooks on the wall and handed them to the rebels. “We’d best get you to a safe house for the night. Tomorrow we’ll forge papers for you as locals, and make what arrangements we can for you, or others of your people, to come and go from the city without the Horde knowing. Our friends,” he nodded towards the crowd, slowly dispersing in small groups as they had arrived, “will sound out those they can trust, and before tomorrow evening we’ll have picked a few best suited for you to instruct, who can pass on your words to all we can count on. We believe the Horde will close the Library to visitors for a time, under some pretext or other, before any damage is done to it - that hasn’t happened yet, so we have a little time to prepare at least.”

“Do we look local?” Willow asked, pulling up her hood.

“So long as you don’t have flowers bloom in your footsteps,” Hazar grinned. “Keep your hoods up, you’ll do.” He looked up as Tomek approached.

“Friends,” the other man said, nodding his head. “We’re grateful for your help, whatever you can do for us. If you’ll not take it amiss, I’d offer you my home tonight.”

“Thank you,” Tara said, taking the hand he offered her, then Willow and Xander in turn.

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“Day one of the Great Rebellion in Erelandia,” Hazar said with a wry smile, stirring his soup as the five of them sat down to dinner in Tomek’s kitchen. The short, cautious trip from the warehouse had brought them closer to the city centre, to a two storey house standing alone in a walled garden off the main street. A blare of sirens not long after they arrived had given the rebels a start, but Hazar had explained that it was simply the signal of the evening’s curfew beginning. He was apologetic not to have forewarned them, explaining that the citizens barely thought anything of the sirens anymore. Tomek hadn’t even paused in his cooking at the sound.

“So besides meeting our council of resistance - once we have one,” Hazar went on, “what shall you be needing to start with?”

“Reconnaissance,” Xander said at once. “I’ll want to get a good look at the Horde command centre, barracks and machine shops, security posts - if we’ll be able to move freely enough around the city for that?” Tomek nodded.

“Your papers will pass,” he replied. “Their mechanical men are efficient, but they don’t use their imagination - their suspicions won’t be roused unless we make a show of ourselves. One advantage we have.”

“Are there any parks, or anything like that, where the Horde doesn’t keep watch?” Willow asked. “Or just some natural land, anything within the city boundaries? It wouldn’t have to be very large, just secluded enough for a person or two.”

“Aye, some stands of trees along the old canal here and there, or Echo Park out past the markets,” Hazar said, sounding a little surprised, but intrigued.

“I could set up a channel between here and the Whispering Woods,” she explained. “We can pass messages straight to Brightmoon that way. If we need to call for help in a hurry, that’d be the fastest way.”

“Magic,” Tomek said, grinning slightly. “I thought the tales of the Rebellion had to be exaggerated - bards playing up to the crowds.” He paused, thoughtful. “D’ye think it’ll come to that? Open fighting, and us needing Brightmoon’s shields to keep the Horde at bay?”

“The situation’s difficult,” Tara said, quiet but without hesitation. “The Library is, essentially, a target we must defend. That’s not ideal for an insurgency, having a location that can’t be abandoned if the fighting gets too hot.”

“Normally we hit the Horde where they’re not looking, and make ourselves scarce where they are,” Xander explained.

“I think knowing their goals is the key,” Tara went on. “Destroying the Library fits with how the Horde operates in general, but they waited until now - so what changed? Appearing to respect Erelandia’s freedom, if only on the surface, gives the Horde a measure of leverage over other cities they occupy, to keep rulers compliant. What made them reassess that decision?”

“Is there any chance of getting someone inside the command centre here?” Xander asked.

“I could slip in,” Tara suggested. “I know the protocols, and I’ve still got some codes I didn’t use at the polar mine. I wouldn’t be able to just walk up to the data core and start pulling locked files, but just getting in and taking a glance around... It could work, once or twice. For that matter, if we needed a sudden distraction, I could probably sabotage a few systems - throw them for a loop for an hour or two.”

“Might be worth a shot,” Xander said. “We’ll have to do something about their weapons at some point, but we need to pick our moment - and have support. The way they’re doing propaganda here, they’d probably try to spin sabotage as an attack on the city, not the Horde.” Tara nodded in agreement.

“Man alive,” Hazar sighed, “how’d we let it go this far? We had the Horde walking our streets all these years, and told ourselves we could live with it. If we’d done something sooner...”

“We’re doing something now,” Tomek said.

“Aye,” Hazar nodded unhappily. “Gods pray we succeed, and this can be a lesson to our children not to make our mistakes. If only there’s a Library left for them to learn from-”

He broke off at a hammering from the front door, and an echoing, metallic voice from outside: “Open in the name of the Horde! Public safety inspection in progress!”

“Random check,” Tomek whispered, rising to his feet and gesturing reassuringly. “I’ll see them off. If they won’t leave,” he pointed to the other door, “that’s to the back garden, and there’s a gate off to the left.”

Hazar and the rebels stood and picked up their bags as quietly as they could, while Tomek doused the kitchen lights and went through the door to the main room with a candle lighting the way.

“Coming, coming!” he called, as the door was thumped again. “Here, now...” There was the creak of the front door opening, and Hazar’s voice again: “Now then, what’s the-”

The fugitives jumped at the sound and flash of a blaster firing, and Hazar gaped as they heard a body hit the floor.

“Go!” he whispered, hurrying the rebels to the back door. “Go, now!” With metal boots already tramping into the front room they abandoned stealth and raced through the door, only to bear up short as spotlights snapped on in the evening gloom, sweeping over the back of the house.

“She-Ra,” Tara began to say, but Xander pushed ahead of Hazar and stood in front of her and Willow.

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“I’ve got this,” he said, drawing his combow. The bow’s limbs extended with a hiss and he fired quickly, one shot after another, smashing the lights before they had had a chance to home in on the group.

“There’s no-one else in the house, right?” Willow asked Hazar quickly, as shouted orders rang out from beyond the wall, and back inside..

“No,” he said, ushering them through the gloom towards the hidden gate, “why-?”

“This’ll keep them distracted for a bit,” she muttered, dropping to one knee and pressing her hand to the ground. There was a rumble, a tremor from the earth, then a chorus of creaks and groans from the house. A handful of blasts rang out from inside as the building’s timbers began to crack, then it collapsed inwards in a cacophony of breaking wood and tumbling stone, drowning out the amplified voices of the troopers calling blindly for their surrender.

“Come on,” Hazar said, his voice shaking as he pulled open the gate. “This way.” The street was lit to one side by the running lights of a pair of parked Horde transports, but the other way there was darkness, and the trio of rebels followed Hazar away, from alley to alley, as blaster fire across the ruins far behind them lit the sky.

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Willow blinked in the sunlight as she joined Tara, looking out the small attic window of the barn they had found shelter in. Following the curfew siren’s morning blare people were starting to move about the streets, and the stalls in the market square a few houses away from them were starting to fill. Across the other side of the attic, with the far window providing ventilation, Xander was frying eggs for breakfast.

“Hey sleepyhead,” Tara said quietly; Willow grinned and nudged her shoulder.

“You know how I am without my forest,” she said. “Hazar...?”

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“He said he’d be back soon,” Tara replied. “He went out as soon as the curfew finished, to find out what happened. Beyond the obvious, of course. He thought...” She sighed. “The way the Horde came right to us last night, he said it’s possible someone told them. Someone from the meeting. He’s finding out if anyone else was attacked at the same time.”

“Chez Xander is open for business,” the ranger said, serving up a plate of eggs-on-toast.

“Compliments to the chef,” Willow said as she took her slice, managing to bring a little smile back to her face.

“Look,” Tara nodded towards the square. The three of them fell silent and listened as the video screen looming over the market came to life.

“Citizens,” the alien face intoned, “for your safety increased security protocols are in effect. Rebel terrorists attacked a family home during last night’s curfew. The Horde is providing medical care to the survivors. We urge citizens not to be intimidated by this violence.” Xander swore under his breath, while Tara shook her head; the screen switched from the Horde commander’s face to a view of a city street, slowly panning from side to side, then after a few seconds another street.

“To prevent further violent incidents,” the proclamation continued, “Horde safety monitors have been placed in all public areas. Citizens are assured that the Horde is watching, and protecting. Additionally citizens who observe suspected rebel infiltrators, or their sympathisers among us, are urged to report to their nearest Horde protector. Rewards for ensuring Erelandia’s safety are offered. For added safety of citizens, gatherings of more than three people are now restricted. Obedience brings security.”

“Survivors?” Willow asked quietly, as the voice resumed reciting its usual repeated messages, over more surveillance images. “Maybe Tomek’s alive...?”

“Perhaps,” Xander said slowly. “Or the Horde just wants to sell this story about us ‘attacking a family home’.”

“There aren’t generally any healers in garrisons like this,” Tara added glumly. “We’ll try to find out, when we can...” She shook her head, and looked to Xander. “Those monitors are going to make our job a lot more difficult.”

“I know,” he agreed. “People are afraid. The Horde’s promising security, and we...” He shrugged. “What we want these people to do is frightening. They won’t have to hate the Rebellion to think maybe they’d be better off it we weren’t here. How’d they get all those cameras in place so fast, anyway?”

“They were already there,” Tara mused. “Part of the network, same as the screens. It’s standard Horde tech, everywhere. They were just waiting for the right conditions to turn them on. Probably they had a schedule of security increases; we just gave them an opening to move up the timetable a bit.” She took Willow’s hand and gently stroked her palm, looking for comfort. The sorceress leaned close and softly kissed her cheek, and Tara gave a faint smile in spite of everything.

“...The Horde monitors its own people the same way, doesn’t it?” Willow asked after a moment’s thought.

“Mm-hm,” Tara nodded. “For signs of disloyalty.” She looked at Willow, finding her face set in an expression of intense concentration. “What, sweetie?”

“Call me crazy,” the redhead said, slowly smiling, “but I’ve got an idea.”

“We know you’re crazy, always have,” Xander nodded. “Let’s hear it.”

“Okay,” Willow said, allowing a little excitement to show through. “Alright first, Tara, tell me about this Modulok, as much as you know...”

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The Horde’s command centre stood alone, at the centre of a plaza kept well clear of market stalls and traffic and pedestrians - anything which might impede the lines of fire from the sentry posts. Once a public building of some kind, now it was converted into a miniature fortress, walls clad in steel, automated turrets swivelling back and forth across the surrounding streets, and within engineering barracks for the ‘protectors’, armouries and forges, and dungeons.

The commander’s tower rising above it was dwarfed by the Rainbow Tower rising a few blocks away, but the Horde officer who stood within, insectoid claws clasped behind his back as he gazed at it, regarded the ancient building with a confident sneer.

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He turned away from the view, past banks of computers and scientific apparatus, at the arrival of the elevator from below, and raised a segment of carapace on his forehead that served as a kind of eyebrow as a Horde trooper emerged, pushing Willow, handcuffed and scowling, ahead of it.

“Commander Modulok,” the trooper mechanically announced itself. “Citizens turned in this rebel to a patrol. The officer in charge reports she matches the description of the rebellion’s floramagus.”

“Intriguing,” Modulok said in a measured, resonant voice. He raised a hand, on the back of which a mechanical implant blinked, and the front of a transparent alcove amid the laboratory slid open.

“The rebel has not attempted to utilise its powers?” he asked, as the trooper roughly shoved Willow into the cell.

“Negative, Commander.”

“Very well. Leave us.”

“Yes Commander.”

Seeming annoyed at the mechanical soldier’s mindless replies, Modulok glared after it, then turned his attention to Willow entirely.

“It was anticipated that the Great Rebellion would seek to involve itself here,” he said slowly. “But to send their prized floramagus...”

“Really, could you just say ‘sorceress’?” Willow sniped. “It’s a lot cooler. I mean, I get that you’re intensely unimaginative, with this whole police-state thing you’re doing, but do you have to suck the fun out of everything?”

“Oh, no,” the xenian shook his head. “No, it is you who lack imagination. You who rely on magic, and weapons. Mere toys.”

“Says the guy who never even fought a battle,” Willow sneered. “Just between us - how’d you convince Hordak to give you this nice easy job? Nothing more menacing than a pile of books to ‘fight’? Please don’t tell me you married his sister and it’s nepotism.”

“Oh but you do not understand. This ‘battle’ is more important than any you have fought, or ever will. Here, my genius shall set the Horde on its path to absolute dominion over Etheria, that no force of arms can prevent.”

“Really?” Willow taunted. “You’re that impressed with yourself, for half-ruling a city where you still have to pretend you’re just caretakers? They must love your reports back in the Fright Zone. ‘Dear Hordak: Today we checked the travel permits of fifteen traders on the main road. PS send more ink for our stamps.’”

“You have no idea,” Modulok gloated. “Today, we are, as you put it, ‘caretakers’. And tomorrow, and the day after that. We are part of these people’s lives. Even now they barely pay attention to why we came, why we stay. We tell them they are unsafe, and they believe us. We tell them the Horde makes them safe, and they believe us.”

“Sure, they’ll believe that the Rebellion are actually the bad guys,” Willow said archly.

“You are here, are you not?” Modulok retorted. “You came here to free these people, and already they do our work for us. And this is only the beginning. These people, dulled and cowed as they are, still remember how their city used to be. They cling to their meetings, their choices, even as we tighten the nooses around their traditions. But in time,” he chuckled, “all that will be forgotten.”

“Just like that?” Willow asked skeptically.

“Why not?” Modulok countered. “The next generation will have no memories of freedom. And once we take their Great Library from them, their history will be ours to make as we please. They will learn from Horde books. They will listen to Horde orators. Your Great Rebellion? Insurrection against the rightful rulers of Etheria, who joined together to create the Horde, to protect their people against you.”

“That’s a lie!” Willow insisted.

“Today, it is a lie,” Modulok nodded. “A generation from now, it will be the truth. Horde truth. Who will know better? You Etherians will happily stamp out their own rebellion - not just now, but any hint of resistance that will ever arise. The very word ‘freedom’ will be cursed, a rebel plot to agitate against the kind and benevolent Horde. Etheria will bow to the us for all time, and your people... our slaves,” he grinned, showing rows of shark-like fangs, “will believe it was their own idea to do so! Is it not a magnificent future?”

“Wow,” Willow said flatly. “Hordak’s going to shower you with rewards for starting all this.”

“Yes,” the Horde commander nodded to himself. “And rightly so.”

“Just one question?”

“I’m sure this will be illuminating,” Modulok chuckled.

“How is it you propose to stop me wrapping a vine around you and dragging you out of here by your scrawny neck?”

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“Do you see any ‘vines’ here?” he asked. “You are powerless amid lifeless stone. No doubt Hordak will prepare a special cell for you in the Fright Zone along just such lines. Once I present you-”

He broke off as a siren sounded - not the drone of the curfew, but a sharp, shrill alert.

“Report!” he barked, spinning around to his command console.

“Illegal gathering of citizens approaching command centre,” the system’s toneless voice replied.

“What?”

“Maybe they heard something they didn’t agree with?” Willow suggested, pointing to the window. Modulok stared at her incredulously, then slowly turned as, in the silence as the alarm cut out, his own voice drifted in on the breeze, projected by the giant screens outside: “...will believe it was their idea to do so. ...We tell them they are unsafe, and they believe us. We tell them the Horde makes them safe, and they believe us...”

“How- Surveillance system, report!”

“Override engaged,” the console’s voice calmly replied. “Central feed broadcasting to all public systems.”

“How?!” he shrieked, spinning back around to face Willow in her cell. “How have you done this?!”

“Me?” Willow said innocently. “I’ve been right here in my cell, I didn’t do anything. Sounds like you kicked off a bit of an anti-Horde protest, though. Is that going to look bad on your report card?”

“Engage targeting systems for crowd fire!” Modulok shouted, turning back to his console, only to leap aside in shock as it erupted in sparks and crumpled in on itself, revealing a mass of plantlife crushing the circuitry inside.

“Okay I did do that,” Willow admitted cheerily, as thick vines wrapped around the horrified Horde commander, and her cell split open as the stone floor buckled beneath it. “Y’see, stone looks really solid, and plants really soft, but actually plants can get into cracks in stone and force them wider until the stone literally breaks. Didn’t you learn that from your Horde books?” She shook her head ruefully, ignoring Modulok’s swearing. “You really should read more widely.”

She glanced back as the elevator opened again, revealing Tara in a Horde officer’s uniform, sword drawn.

“Hi gorgeous,” Willow greeted her.

“Hi sweetie,” she said, relaxing after taking in the scene in the control room. “Is this guy boring you?”

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“Friends,” Hazar said, beaming as he helped an old man towards Willow, Tara, and Xander. “I have the honour to present to you my father, Duplis.”

“Princess Glimmer’s comrades?” Duplis said, shaking each of their hands in turn. “I hoped she would send us aid, but this is beyond all hope.” He looked around the courtyard of the Horde command centre. Groups of men and women were coming and going from the dungeon complex, helping the prisoners there - some on stretchers - back into the sunlight that streamed through the open gates. The ‘protectors’, immobile once their command signal had been cut, lay where they had fallen, as Xander and Hazar and the citizens they had roused had simply walked up to them and pushed them over.

“Well it was mostly Hazar and your people,” Willow said bashfully. “We just, you know, nudged things along.”

“We needed the nudge,” Hazar said.

“And we will be sure not to become so complacent again,” Duplis added. “We owe you of the Great Rebellion a debt, for aiding us in our time of need. We will not squander your aid by submitting again. When the Horde comes here next, they will be turned away. Even if it must be done at the point of a sword.”

“Brightmoon is with you,” Xander promised.

“So be it,” Duplis agreed.

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The market square - the same one the rebels had looked over from their hiding place the day before - was a changed place. Packed with people the evening was full of voices, laughter, and the music of a band that had set itself up on the vacant platform where the Horde’s surveillance screen had been pulled down. Dozens were dancing to the music, while others enjoyed the food at the banquet tables - common fare, but plentiful - and on the edges of the party, where the crowd was sparser and the strings of paper lanterns decorating the square cast a gentle glow, numerous couples seemed to be feeling romantic amid the air of relief and optimism, enjoying whispered conversations, or foregoing words entirely, in half-lit alcoves here and there.

“Here she is!” Xander grinned, as Willow returned to where he and Tara were waiting. She spread the tails of the new coat she had bought that morning, during a break from exploring the Library to attend the reopening of the city’s grand shopping arcade, and spun around to show it off, beaming.

“What do you think?” she asked, sitting between the two and adjusting the tall lapels that were, the shopkeeper had assured her, the latest thing in academic fashion.

“Suits you,” Xander nodded. “It’s got a witchy kind of look, you know?”

“I’d say ‘bewitching’,” Tara agreed, putting an arm around Willow and stroking her shoulder. “What happened to the hat?”

“Might get it adjusted when we get back to Brightmoon,” Willow shrugged, with a quick grin. “I stand by my ‘wide brims are neat’ belief, but any time I moved it kept falling down over my eyes.” Tara laughed and nodded, while Willow returned to admiring Tara’s new dress, as she had been doing most of the day.

“So,” Xander asked, looking mischievously at Willow, “you two going to dance?”

No, showoff,” Willow insisted. “I’m not you, dance plus me equals spaz.”

“We all know that,” Xander laughed, “but dance plus you plus Tara...?” Willow looked suddenly thoughtful as he left the question hanging.

“I, uh, actually never learned,” Tara spoke up, blushing slightly.

“I’ll show you,” Xander offered, taking her hand. “Will - no buts, c’mon. I’ve been trying to get her to enjoy dancing for years,” he whispered to Tara, as she nervously followed him to the edge of the central square, with Willow bringing up the rear in a mix of exasperation and interest.

“Okay, so this doesn’t need to be anything fancy,” Xander explained, holding up Tara’s hand and taking her other to place it on his waist. “Will, stand right there - okay, Tara, just step forward... sideways... back... other side... and repeat. See?” Tara followed along, slowly at first as Xander patiently led, then picking up to be in time with the music.

“Seems straightforward enough,” she grinned hesitantly.

“The main thing with a dance like this is to have the right partner,” he smiled. “So without further ado...” He steered Tara around to Willow, and elegantly disengaged, nudging Willow’s hand up into Tara’s, and watching with a satisfied smile as she instinctively began to follow Tara’s motions.

“Don’t say I never do anything for you,” he chuckled as Willow glanced at him.

“You’re forgiven,” she admitted. “You’re still a showoff.”

“Can I help it if I’m awesome?” Xander said, spreading his hands in a helpless gesture before retiring in the direction of one of the feast tables, where Hazar and a number of the colleagues they had met on their first night in the city were gathered. Willow rolled her eyes and looked back at Tara, who was still concentrating slightly on her steps, but smiling warmly.

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“Dancing doesn’t seem so bad,” she said.

“When Xander says ‘dancing’ he usually means these complicated things they do at Brightmoon court,” Willow said. “You have to memorise like a billion steps or you trip over - he loves it. I used to help Buffy practice - cause royalty has to dance - and believe me everyone involved was very grateful when he took over as unofficial royal dance helper.” She smiled and nestled closer to Tara. “This, though, I think this is much more my style.”

“Mmm,” Tara agreed. “I think I like dancing.”

“All of a sudden so do I,” Willow grinned, leaning closer for a kiss.

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Even in a city the size of Erelandia word spread fast, and over the next two days it became increasingly common for the three rebels to find themselves hailed as friends everywhere they went. Gratifying as it was, even Xander was starting to blush at the attention lavished on them by the crowd gathered at the main gate, now free of its Horde checkpoint, as they prepared to set out home - though not quite enough to seek escape from the gathering, as for every man who shook his hand, there was a woman waiting to offer a warm embrace, some going so far as to press kisses on the ranger. Willow and Tara managed to avoid such forward expressions of gratitude themselves, but they were relieved to finally reach the head of the crowd, with an open road ahead.

“So we part,” Duplis said - he leaned on a walking stick, but seemed to be recovering well. “You will give Princess Glimmer my regards, will you not? She was a most vexing student, but fondly remembered all the same.”

“Of course,” Willow smiled.

“Before you take your leave of us, there is one last thing,” the old man said. “My son has told me at length of all you said when you addressed our people. Your courage and conviction touched many hearts - especially yours, Lady Tara. The time in your past you spoke of must carry great sadness, yet you shared the difficult lessons you learned that they may benefit us all. This we will not forget. Your actions freed us these few days past, but your words shall help us remain free in the future. In gratitude, and so that all may know the esteem in which Eralandia holds you champions of the Great Rebellion, we present to you a gift, as has been our tradition for many centuries: our finest steed.”

Xander, already holding Allegro’s reins beside their cart, chuckled and nudged Willow, who had a frozen grin on her face as Hazar led a gleaming white horse forward.

“This is Spirit,” he said, handing her reins to Tara. “She is powerful and wise. May she carry you far and well.”

“Thank you,” Tara beamed, gently patting the side of Spirit’s face. “Hey, girl. Aren’t you beautiful?” She looked back at Willow, giving her a hopeful smile. “Do you want to say hi?”

“Uh... o-okay,” Willow managed, letting Xander nudge her forward. She looked at Tara, smiling encouragingly, moved her gaze down her arm to her hand resting against Spirit’s cheek, and finally up into the horse’s eyes.

“Hi,” she whispered. Spirit slowly ducked her head and touched Willow’s cheek, then turned her head to look at Tara. Willow did likewise, a real smile dawning on her.

“I like her,” she said softly.

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“Do you want to ride?” Tara asked. “With me?”

“With you?”

“Always.”

“...Yes. Yes I do. Let’s go home.”

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“Hi! It's me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding? If not, take another look:

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“You know, sometimes we don't appreciate things, until they're taken away from us. Take books for example. It would terrible if they were taken away. Being free to read anything we wish is a right we must never lose. Bye now! See you next time!”

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_________________
Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Dec 30, 2016 5:17 am 
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17. Mega-Witches
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:08 am
Posts: 2520
Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

Note: I did spell it ‘Mystacore’ in Let In Snow; at the time both versions seemed to be used in the He-Man/She-Ra fandom. Recently it seems people are more agreed on ‘Mystacor’ without the ‘e’, and I’ve come to think it looks cooler that way too. (I’m resisting the temptation to go back and do a George Lucas Special Edition of old fics to fix continuity errors...)
Another Note: I’ve started uploading the ‘animation cels’ of these stories to my DeviantArt page, along with a little bit of commentary for each one, and a couple of extras (early versions that I redid, that sort of thing) as kind of bonus features. This episode’s gallery is here, and all the galleries will be listed in this thread’s first post.

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The kingdom of Brightmoon lay deep within the Whispering Woods, but it was far from hidden - from miles away the Royal Palace shone, a curved tower of brilliant gold under daylight and shimmering silver at night. Even on moonless nights Brightmoon’s light was undiminished, bathing the forest in its comforting glow; to Willow and Xander, and increasingly to Tara, the luminous beacon was a constant reminder of home, as much as the pastel rainbow of the trees, the subtle but ever-present scent of magic that drifted on the breeze, and the twiggets who had appeared every evening since they crossed the border to shyly embrace Willow, welcoming the sorceress of the Whispering Woods, and her companions, back home.

The trio were greeted in time by less mystical denizens too - it wasn’t long since reaching the Woods that Xander had noticed signs that his rangers were about, keeping watch on them, though he was pleased at how stealthily they had moved before coming into the open to offer greetings. At last, coming over the gentle rise into the royal valley, they spotted a squadron of Brightmoon riders ahead, cantering along the road with their lance points high at rest, and all three automatically looked to the sky and found the soaring figure the soldiers were, technically, an escort to.

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All three dismounted and bowed as Queen Joy swooped down, touching down lightly on the road ahead of them and folding her wings behind her back.

“Welcome home,” she said, as her lancers came to a halt either side of the road, dipping their points in salute of the travellers. Only the slightest quick in the Queen’s smile showed her embarrassment at being bowed to, but in front of her guards she gave no protest, merely extending a hand to bring the trio back to their feet, then embracing them one by one. Close up they thanked her by name, only Tara, not having known her so long as the others, sticking with ‘highness’, which didn’t diminish the warmth of the hug she received one bit.

“Erelandia is free at last, then,” the Queen said, walking with the trio back towards her realm, while the lancers spread out and kept pace either side of the road.

“Things were pretty rough under the Horde for them,” Xander nodded. “Will had a stroke of genius though. The Horde commander’s on his way back to the Fright Zone with his tail between his legs, and there wasn’t a shot fired when the people rose up to take their city back.”

“He didn’t literally have a tail,” Willow clarified, making Tara giggle.

“Quite the coup,” Joy noted. “You’ll have to tell me all about it. And about the Queendom of Snows - we received a letter of goodwill and alliance from Queen Frosta. Carried by a raven made of ice, if you please! We haven’t been idle here either: Xander, your rangers pulled off the raid you planned magnificently.”

“The Horde tax train from Greenthatch?” he asked.

“Hordak’s collaborators will find their bribes quite lean this season,” Joy nodded. “I hope I can prevail on your three to stay a little while at the palace? Buffy’s been at the camp all the while you were away.”

“I should get back there soon,” Xander said, “but it sounds like the rangers can look after themselves a little while longer.”

“They had the best teacher,” Joy smiled. “Willow, Tara?”

“We’d love to,” Willow agreed. “Actually we’d really like some time in the royal library.”

“Of course,” Joy replied. “I should’ve expected visiting the Grand Library of Erelandia would only whet your appetite.”

“We practically had to drag her out by her ankles,” Xander chuckled.

“I like books,” Willow said with a blush, nudging Xander’s shoulder, while Tara stifled another laugh. “But we’re after something specific - and unfortunately Erelandia didn’t have much, since it’s to do with magic.”

“Sorcerers have never been very forthcoming with their secrets,” Joy mused. “You’re a welcome break from convention in that regard. What are you looking for?”

“When we were up north,” Tara explained, “Frosta recognised my magic.”

“She said it comes from Mystacor,” Willow added. Joy’s eyes widened.

“Come to the palace,” she said quietly. “I’ll tell you what I can.”

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“Shadow Weaver and Hordak never spoke about Mystacor,” Tara explained, as she, Willow, and Queen Joy sat around a table in the Queen’s study. The three of them were the large room’s only occupants, Joy having dismissed her attendants, save for one - the most trusted - who was sent to the library, to retrieve several volumes from the secret chambers. “Not that they were ever forthcoming just for conversation’s sake, but....” She shrugged and frowned. “Shadow Weaver instructed me in so many kinds of magic - many I couldn’t do, even, but I had to learn about them and understand them. Anything she thought might give me more control over my power, let me draw on more energy.”

“But not Mystacor,” Joy mused.

“If they really did know you could become She-Ra,” Willow suggested, “maybe the truth about your magic scared them? If you’d understood how to unlock your potential on your own - become She-Ra before they’d fully suppressed your own goodness - you’d have broken free of them on your own.”

“Perhaps,” Tara nodded. “Everyone knows the Horde destroyed Mystacor, of course. But no details. No trophies or prisoners.”

“It wasn’t a normal battle,” Joy said grimly. “Mystacor was magic beyond magic. When it fell...” She sighed. “We all hoped it would be the end of the Horde, when they advanced on Mystacor - that not even they could survive it. For a time it seemed like there was a chance. There were tales of... of armies reduced to ash. The Horde’s machines turning on them, becoming monsters that raged against their makers. Horde bases swallowed by the earth. But there were so many of them - nobody could believe the losses they took, and kept coming. They kept rebuilding, replacing every lost army, every lost factory, ships coming from the sky every day And somehow they won.” Her gaze grew distant, as she looked out the window, seeming to see a far more troubling sight than the carefree clouds in the afternoon sky.

“When Mystacor fell,” she said, “everyone knew. The sky split in two, all over Etheria, day and night alongside one another. The stars bled and the moons became holes into... nothingness. We thought it was the end of the world.” She shook herself out of her reverie, and shrugged. “But, the world storm passed, and... here we still are.”

“How could the Horde defeat a power like that?” Tara wondered. “I mean, for all their strength - the armies, even the fleets Hordak used to boast about, all the other worlds beyond Etheria they’d conquered. Enough can overwhelm a magic user - even She-Ra, or Shadow Weaver - but a whole nation of magic?”

“Nobody knows,” Joy replied. “Mystacor wasn’t just a regular place where sorcerers lived - and the sorcerers weren’t just regular people who could do magic. They were powerful, mysterious... unfathomable. Dangerous, even, and beyond any understanding but their own, even sometimes when they wanted others to understand them.” She smiled suddenly, thinking back. “But magnificent.”

“You saw it?” Willow asked. “Before the fall?” The Queen nodded.

“Once,” she said. “Long ago. I was not much older than you were,” she smiled at Willow, “when the twiggets brought you to live among us. Mystacor never accepted travellers readily - they never had to bar any gates, people trying to reach them would simply lose their way and find themselves on another road until they gave up - but the sons and daughters of royalty would, sometimes, receive an invitation to study in Mystacor for a time. It was a great honour. I learned from a man named Norwyn. He helped me understand the magic of Brightmoon - not just how it worked and why, but how to connect with it, to become part of it. And he gave me these,” she grinned, spreading her wings behind her.

“You weren’t born with them?” Tara blurted out, surprised.

“Mother always said I was a flighty little bird,” Joy chuckled, “but no. No, they were a royal gift, a mark of respect.” Her face became sombre. “And Norwyn taught me the mysteries of light and illusion. I thought it was to broaden my understanding of Brightmoon’s power, of the Moonstone’s light. He taught me a lot of things that seemed unconnected at the time; sometimes it seemed like he’d forget I couldn’t see the world the way he did, but even when I didn’t know why, I always trusted there was wisdom in what he said. It was only when Glimmer’s powers began to manifest that I understood he had prepared me to teach her, that he saw her in my future. And maybe he saw he, or any of his colleagues, wouldn’t be there to help.” She shrugged again. “Perhaps they all knew what was coming, but knew they couldn’t stop it. Maybe they did everything they did because they’d seen themselves doing it in the future, who knows? Norwyn was a kind man, a noble man, I trusted him with my life - if he were still alive I’d trust him with my daughter’s. But the powers he wielded...” She trailed off.

“He was part of something much larger than himself,” Willow suggested. “He had responsibilities he couldn’t forsake.” Joy smiled.

“Yes, you and he are alike in that way,” she nodded. “But your forest is part of the natural world. Your power comes from a place of life and warmth. Mystacor’s power was... raw. Burning hot and cold as the void, harnessed chaos.”

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“What was the city like?” Tara asked.

“Like a dream,” Joy said. “Quite literally. Real and unreal together. I remember great towers, halls of learning, markets and shops, families - and untouched wilderness, eternal silence, beings of energy and whispers in the night. One could become the other in a heartbeat, and it would seem like the most natural thing. You could only be there if you let yourself dream, too, and when you did you became part of it - the city dreamed you. There were times I was a stranger to myself - moments I remembered lives I’d never lived. Norwyn was as much my guardian as my mentor. Without him I might have lost myself.”

She folded her hands on the desk in front of her, and looked intently at Willow and Tara.

“And now that dream is a nightmare,” she said seriously. “The ruins of Mystacor still have that power, and the fall shattered whatever good there was in it. The chaos was dangerous enough, but now what’s left in that place is... cruel. People have tried to return there, and the lucky ones turn back in terror. Those who go on... never come back, and I don’t want to imagine what they found. You really want to go to Mystacor?”

“Frosta thought Tara could,” Willow replied. “She’s a, well... a bit icy, pardon the pun, but she has honour. She wouldn’t say something like that on a whim.”

“And Hordak spent years trying to control She-Ra’s power through me,” Tara added. “Even though he and Shadow Weaver must’ve known it could turn on them - that it wanted to. Despite all the power the Horde already has, they were willing to risk that. I’ve discovered so much already, but if there’s more - a power that could free Etheria...” She lay her sword on the table, gently running her fingertips along the flat of the blade. “And maybe there are answers to more than just the power. If I could understand where I came from - why this is mine, why can I become She-Ra? If someone like Frosta thinks the answers are in Mystacor, and that I could find them...”

“And I’m going because she’s going,” Willow said, putting her hand over Tara’s.

“To nobody’s surprise,” Joy smiled, as the two shared a close look. “Well then. I can’t help but fear for you, but if there’s one thing that could save a person from becoming lost, love is it. The royal library, and any help I can offer, is yours.”

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Tara’s time under Shadow Weaver’s tutelage had been unforgiving, but by necessity she had trained her mind to sift through dry, scholarly recitations and florid legends and piece together the elements of truth - she found those same skills coming to the fore at Willow’s side as they spent days poring through all the royal library could reveal of Mystacor, and at the same time discovered that while Shadow Weaver’s regime had been a trial to be endured, performing the same tasks alongside Willow was a pleasure in itself. Few were permitted to enter the royal library’s secret chambers, where books of private and dangerous knowledge were kept, and the two were often alone; even Willow could only read for so long, and there was time for other pleasures as well.

Finally they returned at last to their home, Willow’s lakeside house by the rebel camp deep in the Woods, with Queen Joy’s dispensation to take with them a handful of the books they believed would be the most vital. Buffy had some insights to offer from her own experience of magic, and Willow, once more at the heart of her forest, found her mind opening to different possibilities that she and Tara diligently explored in the fragments of history and truth hidden away in the volumes of legend.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” Tara asked, as they lay in bed together, the books exhausted, their bags packed, and nothing left but to wait for morning to set out. Willow chuckled softly.

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“Can’t pretend I wouldn’t mind waking up tomorrow to find out the ‘all the secrets of Mystacor’ book just accidentally got mis-filed in the library and Joy found it overnight,” she admitted. Tara couldn’t help but laugh.

“But I do recall making a promise,” the sorceress went on. “About us finding out who you are together?”

“I remember too,” Tara agreed. “Everything except ‘I love you’. I don’t need anything to tell me that’s who I am.”

“Yeah,” Willow beamed, pressing her body closer to Tara under the blankets. “Well, this is part of who you are. You can transform into a magical goddess... different to your usual magical goddess self, I mean. Regular clothes magical sexy goddess and golden boots magical sexy goddess.”

“When did ‘sexy’ creep in there?” Tara wondered playfully.

“You really have to ask?” Willow grinned.

“Because if it’s just a wardrobe thing, I could get a pair of golden boots,” Tara said, feigning thoughtfulness. “Wear them whenever you want.”

“Uh, okay, let’s, let’s do that as well,” Willow agreed, trying not to be flustered, and failing as Tara’s hands worked some magic of their own. “But... wow. This is... finding where She-Ra comes from, I mean, we know it’s the right path. And if Mystacor helped make you who you are, well, that kind of good doesn’t just get erased. I don’t believe it can, not even by a world storm, oh gods you are driving me insane.”

“We’re agreed, then,” Tara said softly.

“Right now I’ll agree to literally anything you say,” Willow joked, before shifting up slightly to taste Tara’s lips, and gaze at her seriously for a moment. “But yes. We’re agreed.”

“Good.” Tara returned her stare for a long moment, then her smile became a sultry grin. “Anything...?”

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“Saying ‘be careful’ seems a bit contradictory,” Buffy said quietly, as the four of them halted their horses and looked ahead. The path they had travelled seemed to meander on through the forest much as it had for miles already, but even Xander, without magic in his blood as the others had, could feel the wrongness lurking there. It was even difficult to look at; like being too close to a fire, his eyes wanted to close or look away.

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“We’ll be careful doing this risky thing we’re going to do,” Willow promised, forcing a grin as she dismounted. Tara did likewise and gave the horse a pat, after which Spirit walked back to where Xander and Buffy waited. Both leaned down to hug Willow; Xander clasped Tara’s hand firmly, but Buffy surprised her with her own embrace.

“Bring her back,” the princess whispered, for Tara alone to hear.

“On my life,” Tara replied without hesitation.

“Is it silly to say ‘safe journey’?” Xander wondered. “I’m saying it anyway. Can’t hurt right?”

“Works for me,” Willow said. “Mind the Rebellion until we get back, okay?”

Spirit tossed her head and gave a snort; Willow managed a chuckle.

“You too, girl,” she replied, taking Tara’s hand. Together they took a deep breath, looked at one another, and started forward. Buffy and Xander watched them until they turned the next bend without incident, then, with an exchange of nervous glances, slowly turned their horses, and with Spirit giving one last look back, headed back towards the rebel camp.

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“So far so good,” Willow noted, more to break the silence than anything. “Wait. I shouldn’t say stuff like that, I’ll jinx it. Uh, the sense of foreboding is really quite ooky,” she added quickly. “No need to throw anything else into the mix to challenge us, we’re really feeling the undercurrent of dread, quite nicely as it is.” She sighed and gave Tara’s hand a squeeze. “I wish I was totally joking. They wouldn’t call it the Dark Forest if it was nice, huh?”

“Did, uh,” Tara said slowly, “did you notice... are we still in a forest, or...?”

“Ye- uh, no?” Willow said, confused. There were still the blackened stumps of what might once have been trees around them, but for miles in every direction - even the way they had come - the land was scorched and lifeless, beneath a sky choked with ash.

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“I was looking right at it,” the sorceress said in a whisper, “until you said something it just seemed normal, even though...”

“Me too,” Tara nodded. “I’m not sure how far back it changed. It was when you were speaking, you made me feel like laughing a little, and suddenly I realised the land was different.”

“Like a dream,” Willow mused. “Like Joy said - things change and it seems normal. At least there’s still a path to follow.” She frowned. “If it’s even going anywhere.”

“It’s as good a direction as any,” Tara shrugged. “I suppose- Willow? Sweetie, are you-”

“I’m okay,” Willow gasped, clutching Tara’s arm. One moment she had been fine, the next she staggered as if catching herself from falling. Tara held her by both arms and gazed into her eyes, relieved to see them clear and focused on her.

“I was somewhere else,” she explained. “Just for a second - here and there together. I could feel your hand in mine. But in the other place I was alone. Red sky, and towers of... smoke, like giant pillars. There were people, dozens... in giant cages. Cages being moved around by machines, picked up and...”

“...and taken into a factory,” Tara finished grimly. “Three black domes, and a giant furnace between them?” Willow looked at her, and nodded.

“I’ve been there,” she explained. “You know when you... you hold me, when I wake up upset, when you kiss me and help me feel whole again? That’s one of the places I have dreams about. The infantry forges.” She swallowed reflexively. “Where they make prisoners into troopers.”

“This place is... showing me your memories,” Willow concluded.

“My nightmares,” Tara nodded glumly. “I’m sorry.” Willow shook her head, and lifted Tara’s hand to press it to her cheek.

“I can beat this,” she promised. “I know I can, because you do. Every time.”

“I have you to kiss me and tell me it’ll be alright,” Tara said, managing a faint smile.

“We’re good then, you’re a phenomenal kisser,” Willow replied. “Should work better than ever. Oh... ugh, another one.” She blinked and squared her shoulders. “Not so bad. First time just caught me off guard.”

“The same place?” Tara asked gently as they walked on, amid hills that seemed to be slowly peeling back from the bedrock beneath.

“Not sure,” Willow said. “Indoors, no view. Black stone walls. Darkness and... Being watched, eyes in the dark. And red, a red hood.”

“The Shadow Weaver,” Tara surmised. “Her workshop, in the Fright Zone.”

“Hordak’s witch,” Willow mused. “I wonder if she helped defeat Mystacor.”

“If anyone could,” Tara shrugged. “Nothing else in the Horde has magic to match hers.”

“Maybe xenian magic works by different rules?” Willow wondered.

“If she even is a xenian,” Tara said. “I never met anyone - even xenians - who recognised her kind. Some of them thought she was a demon.”

“I wouldn’t recognise a demon by sight,” Willow shrugged, “but having ‘seen’ her now, yeah, could be that too. So um,” she went on, forcing a little levity into her voice, “if we’re going to be seeing each other’s memories, just forewarning, if you see the time I accidentally tied myself up in my own magical vines, just try to kind of not pay too much attention, okay?”

“I haven’t seen anything yet,” Tara replied, sounding a little surprised.

“Well there was plenty to see,” Willow muttered. “I was a growing girl, there were hormones happening, it was all very awkward...”

“I’m getting the picture,” Tara smirked. “But not literally, so,” she looked into the sky, “if Mystacor wants to oblige me with that? No?”

“Thanks Mystacor,” Willow said, feigning relief. “Owe you one.”

Both women jumped as the sky, from being smog-filled and lethargic, suddenly lit with furious lightning storms, thunder rolling over and over across the broken land.

“I saw...” Willow whispered, as the storm vanished as quickly as it had come.

“Me too,” Tara nodded.

“Someone in the storm,” Willow said. “In the sky. Not a memory?”

“Not one of mine,” Tara shook her head. The lightning flashed again - but in the earth this time, flickering beneath the ground as if they were stormclouds, and giving life to transitory silhouettes all around.

“What are we seeing?” Willow asked reflexively.

“Tanks,” Tara said at once, as the earth-storm flashed again, revealing row upon row of war machines charging, gone the instant the lightning faded. “Horde tanks.” She ducked as a roar erupted from the sky, and for split-seconds in between a strobing turmoil of energy in the clouds there were glimpses of Horde batmeks, thousands of them, blanketing the sky with their numbers, but being torn apart in wave after wave by giant, ephemeral warriors striding from hill to hill, slashing with blades that glittered like stars in the night sky.

“This isn’t anything I ever saw,” Tara shouted above the din of the battle. “I recognise the designs, but from plans, these are old machines!” She looked about for cover - none to be found on the bleak plain the land was resembling at the moment - but somehow the violence of the war seemed to be circling them without touching, as if they were in the eye of the storm.

“Twenty years back?” Willow raised her voice, watching a figure scoop up a hillside with its hand, tanks and all, and topple them over. For a moment there was silence, then the din washed over them again.

“Maybe, yes!”

“This is it!” Willow shouted, as Horde troopers charged either side of them, passing like ghosts. “The fall of Mystacor! We’re seeing it! Look!”

She pointed ahead, to where a figure, a woman, stood on a rocky outcrop, hands raised in casting a spell. Before her a massive armed troop transport, bristling with laser cannons and surrounded by the hundreds of troopers it had just deployed, rose up with a scream of tortured metal, its armour plates and treads and pistons twisting into limbs and chrome muscles. The command deck rose up like a head, glaring through eyes formed from weapon ports, and fixed its gaze on the troopers scattering before it before opening fire on them.

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“Like Queen Joy said!” Tara realised, as other war machines began to twist into living forms. “The Horde’s own machines turned on them! How did they ever win?!”

“Are they- Tara? There!” Willow pointed ahead, to where a group of creatures - loping, brutish shapes made of stone, gleaming with ghostly fire through their cracking joints - were moving towards them. Tara realised what Willow was trying to tell her - the creatures were coming directly at them - and drew her sword just in time to deflect an outstretched talon.

“So much for memories,” she gritted her teeth, as her transformation to She-Ra completed and the creatures faced her warily. One tried to rush her and she lunged into its charge, blocking it with a shoulder that shattered its torso and sent its remains flying as scattered debris.

“I can’t reach the forest!” Willow called, crouched with both palms to the ground. “The magic here’s too strong, everything’s twisted up!”

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“Stay behind me,” She-Ra replied, slashing the legs out from beneath another of the magma creatures. The remaining handful made to attack, but staggered suddenly, as if dragged back by some invisible force.

“Willow?” She-Ra wondered.

“Not me,” Willow said, coming to her side. She-Ra shrugged, touched Willow’s hand briefly, then leapt forward amid the dazed creatures, tossing them back to shatter against the rocky hillside.

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“Look!” Willow called out, pointing ahead. She-Ra raised her gaze and saw a lone figure on the hill, clad in torn, shimmering robes of azure and gold, beautiful but bloodied amid a storm of silent laser fire - the target now of the whole, ghostly Horde army. Even while the maelstrom of energy rebounded from her, its effect was making itself known; the woman fell to one knee, her staff dropping from her hand, vaporising before it could hit the ground. She looked up once - She-Ra followed her gaze into the distance, and for an instant glimpsed Hordak at the heart of the spectral army, one arm gone, his face torn and burned, not yet concealed by his iron mask, and the green-robed sorceress at his side - then there was a great rush of air, as if the world were a pool that had had a stone dropped into it, the ripples sweeping away the laser fire, even the roiling thunder and lightning, leaving a moment of perfect peace in their wake. For a moment the last defender smiled, then her body glittered, and suddenly she was a cloud of shards, bright as mirrors. Then she was gone. She-Ra and Willow stood alone on the empty plain - the storm, the ghosts of the past, everything had faded away, leaving only stillness.

“Is... is that it?” Willow said, hesitating as her voice echoed in the quiet.

“I’m not sure what we saw,” She-Ra replied cautiously. “But it looks like it’s over.”

“Yes, your journey is over,” a mocking voice said from behind them. They spun around to see a woman cloaked in darkness, smiling wickedly at them. She-Ra took a step forward, but at a wave of the dark woman’s hand her white and gold raiment blew off her like smoke, leaving Tara staring at herself in confusion.

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“You will not raise a hand against me, child,” the woman sneered. “Your soul-sorcery is an infant’s toy to me.”

“Who are you?” Willow asked, taking hold of Tara’s arm to steady her.

“You sought Mystacor?” the woman said, instead of replying. “You have found it.”

She raised her arms, and stone erupted from the ground all around them - they had the briefest glimpse of walls and towers, then they were entombed in a dank, lightless cell, shut away but for the rumbling of moving stone vibrating through the walls, and the woman’s echoing, malevolent voice:

“And now you shall stay... until you die. So speaks Mortella.”

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“You know I don’t want to be jumping to conclusions about people on short notice,” Willow grumbled, “but I think this Mortella is just plain mean.”

“She’s got a lot to learn about courtesy to guests,” Tara agreed ruefully.

The blonde’s efforts to transform back to She-Ra had been fruitless, but with considerable effort she had at least called up a little of the warm glow her empowered form generated by second nature. The cramped confines of their cell were hardly an inspiring sight, lacking as they were any windows or doors, or anything beyond the merest hint of a draught between the stones of the wall to hint at a connection to the world outside - but the light was something in their favour, at least.

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“Was she one of Mystacor’s sorceresses, do you think?” Tara wondered.

“I’m thinking yeah, maybe,” Willow nodded. “She turned evil perhaps? Or maybe she was corrupted. Joy said their magic was dangerous even at the best of times. Maybe she used to be all sunlight and sweetness, and this is what’s left of her after it all went wrong.”

“She doesn’t seem the sunlight and sweetness type,” Tara muttered. “But there’s a connection. She knew my power.”

“Right - and earlier, you weren’t affected by anything, when I got your nightmares,” Willow added.

“Maybe you’ve got no nightmares that’d make a dent,” Tara suggested, with the ghost of a smile.

“I’m not so sure,” Willow frowned. “I haven’t been through what you did, but... the connection I have with the forest, it goes deep. There are parts of me, inside my mind, that are the Whispering Woods. And forests aren’t always nice. Plants wither and die - some starve each other of sunlight, or choke with creepers. Animals starve, or freeze in the winter. There are predators and prey.” She shrugged. “It’s not malice, but there’s darkness in nature as well as light. If Mystacor - or Mortella, whichever it was - wanted to pluck something dark out of me to throw at you, there are places it could have looked.”

“You think it couldn’t?” Tara asked.

“I’m an outsider,” Willow replied. “Realms have ways of keeping outsiders out, if they want to - guards normally, but Mystacor’s anything but normal. If Frosta’s right, you’re not an outsider - or at least your magic isn’t. Mortella knew your magic, well enough to turn you back to you without breaking a sweat. At the north pole it took a whole army opening fire to do that.”

“‘Soul-sorcery’,” Tara said thoughtfully. “Have you ever heard of that?”

“It’s a new one to me,” Willow admitted. “I don’t even know what it means. Your soul is still yours when you’re She-Ra, I know that much. It doesn’t change into something else. I’d know.”

“Lots of questions,” Tara sighed. “And the only person who might know the answers doesn’t seem like she wants to talk to us.”

“I wonder... what she does want...” Willow said, starting to mumble.

“Willow?” Tara said quickly, anxious. From sitting side by side she scrambled around to hold Willow, hugging her. “Sweetie, are you alright?”

“I think so,” the sorceress said. “I felt tired. Drained, maybe? Happened so slowly I barely noticed until now.” She hugged Tara back. “It’s gone though.”

“Mortella’s magic?” Tara asked. “Could that be what she wants? To steal our energy somehow?”

“She can nullify yours, but not take it,” Willow said, sounding much more alert. “And mine’s not being affected anymore. I think it is you, you’re protected. And you’re protecting me.”

“I’m fine with hugging you as long as it takes,” Tara replied warmly. “Can we use it, somehow?”

“If I focus on you,” Willow said thoughtfully, “completely, shut out everything else...”

“I know just how,” Tara smiled, kissing Willow, very slowly, very deeply, patiently and thoroughly exploring her until they simply had to break apart to breathe, feeling each other’s soft chuckles warm against their lips.

“Best magic ever,” Willow whispered. “Gods Tara, I... look...”

Tara turned her head, following Willow’s gaze over her shoulder, towards the low ceiling of their cell. A glint of light was moving, half-seen in the gloom - a droplet of water, slowly gathering from a crack between ceiling slabs. The two watched in silence as it ballooned out, hanging, and finally fell, landing on the floor with an almost-inaudible splash, where it trickled away to the corner and vanished.

“Was that you?” Tara asked in a hushed voice.

“I felt it,” Willow nodded, “I didn’t do it, but it was forest magic - not Mortella’s, not twisted. I think there’s something else in Mystacor, besides her. I think...”

Keeping a firm hold of Tara, she reached out a hand, touching her fingertips to the stone blocks where the droplet had trickled away. In the silence there was the faintest scraping sound, then a crack, more, as green tendrils crept through cracks in the stonework, flexing and pulling. Slowly but surely, the stones were dragged back, rasping along the floor, until there was a hole big enough for someone to pass through.

“Nature wins,” Tara observed, kissing the side of Willow’s neck.

“Yeah,” Willow nodded, taking a deep breath. “Not easy... but we’re getting somewhere.”

“Let’s see where it is we’re getting then,” Tara suggested, leading the way through the narrow hole, sword at the ready.

The other side of the wall was little more welcoming, Tara’s glow revealing the dank, dark stonework of a dungeon marred by age and neglect, but the pair’s spirits were lifted nonetheless by being on the move, as they followed the only available passageway, twisting this way and that, every now and then rising by a few steps. After a few minutes they came at last to a junction; Tara looked from side to side, seeing little to suggest one way was better than another.

“We’re not splitting up,” she said firmly. “Any preference...?”

“I... did you hear that?” Willow said, tightening her grip on Tara’s hand. Tara tilted her head, holding her breath, and after a few still seconds she heard it too: a tiny tap-tap-tap of water on stone.

“There,” Willow whispered, pointing to a corner of the ceiling. Tara raised her sword to shine what light she could on a trickle of water, coursing down to a jutting stone, falling drop by drop from there to the floor, and edging towards one of the corridors.

“This isn’t just luck,” Willow said, as they crept along. “We’re being helped. Guided?”

“I’ll take whatever we can get,” Tara replied, spotting another branching of passageways up ahead. It took a moment’s searching, but again they found their route, this time a small pool of water in a cracked flagstone that was rippling to some unseen vibration, towards one of the doorways. At the next junction a patch of moss had grown on one of the archways, a splash of living green in the dreary catacomb, and again they followed this hint onwards, and upwards.

“Is it just me,” Willow wondered, “or is this all seeming less... dark and dismal? I feel more like I normally do.” Tara nodded.

“Mortella’s power isn’t as strong,” she agreed. “It’s not so much effort to make light either. The further we go forward...”

“I think I might be able to manage a bit of genuine magic. Do you think you could transform?” Willow wondered.

“Maybe,” Tara said. “But I’m guessing Mortella doesn’t know we’re out and about yet...”

“Gotcha,” Willow nodded. “The longer we can sneak around without her knowing, the better. Low profile.”

“I think there’s something up ahead,” Tara frowned. “A room.”

She steeled herself and enhanced her glow as they passed through an arched doorway, revealing a large circular chamber, crowded with cobweb-strewn furniture, tables and shelves half-collapsed with rotting wood, candelabras and strange metal frames sagging and fallen where they had rusted away.

“Somebody forgot to send for the maid,” Willow observed, eliciting a quick giggle from Tara. “I think this was a study, maybe. A sorcerer’s workshop.”

“Look there,” Tara pointed, to a stone enclosure, with a chimney vanishing into the ceiling and the decayed remains of bellows alongside it.

“A forge,” Willow said, looking closer. “There are smithing magics - creating spells in material form, rings, armour...”

“Weapons,” Tara breathed. “Willow, look at this.”

She had come to a halt before a stone block, and Willow quickly reached her side, staring with her at the design set into the top of the stone, a reflection of an object: a mold. A sword.

“That’s-” she whispered.

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“My sword,” Tara nodded, holding the weapon over the mold - the fit was perfect. “Willow... have I been here before...?”

“You’d have been just a baby,” Willow wondered. Despite the weight of their discovery, a grin quirked her lips. “Look around for portraits, if there are adorable baby pictures of you I want to see them.” Tara couldn’t help but laugh.

“Sweetie,” she said fondly, then sighed. “What do we do? Whatever happened here... it was so long ago, there are no books, no records. I feel better in this place, but I still don’t know if I could stand up to Mortella, even both of us - and we can’t just stay here...”

“No helpful drops of water to point the way,” Willow mused. “Unless...” She frowned in thought, squeezed her eyes tightly closed, then started blinking quickly.

“Willow?” Tara asked, concerned.

“Ah... there we go,” Willow said, touching a fingertip to her eyelids. “Made my eyes water. You know what they say, fortune helps those who help themselves? So if we need a helpful drop of water...”

She held out her hand and let the tiny droplet fall, and they watched as it landed on the mold, trickled into its cavity, leaving a trail through the dust, and finally came to rest in the centre of the blade, where the jewel was located.

“Ho hum,” Willow sighed. “Lowest part of the shape, that’s unfortunately normal behaviour for water.”

“Maybe,” Tara said, thinking. “Except... the jewel can’t have been forged out of metal, like the rest of the sword, so...” She crouched down, peering at the inverse shape in the stone, and gently exhaled. “Look.”

Willow crouched beside her, looking at the mold almost side-on, and nodded as she saw what Tara had seen - the space for the jewel was raised in the mould, to leave a gap in the metal, and the water droplet had rolled up to rest on top of it.

“Helpful water after all,” Willow grinned. “The jewel in your sword - it can help us, somehow?”

“I’m not sure how-” Tara began, only to yelp as she and Willow were pitched forward, painfully thumping into the stone. Scrambling around they saw Mortella emerging from the doorway behind them, seeming to drag the shadows with her as she advanced.

“What trickery brought you here?” she demanded.

“Uh... a sorceress never reveals her tricks?” Willow hazarded.

You, a sorceress?” the woman sneered. “You whose domain is the dirt, and moss growing on rocks? You’re barely more than a gardener! I’ll show you sorcery!”

She raised her hands, jagged tendrils of power gathering in her palms, but Willow leapt forward, grabbing her wrist in a hand wreathed in thorns and shoving her arm back. Tara’s light flared as she became She-Ra, at Willow’s side in a heartbeat, wrenching Mortella’s other hand up, as her dark power spat harmlessly at the ceiling, carving a furrow out of the stone.

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“You dare touch me?!” the evil sorceress roared, as shadows blossomed out of the dark around them, closing in. Willow screamed at the effort of holding her hand, while She-Ra gritted her teeth, fighting against the force trying to unravel her back to her mortal form. She caught Willow’s gaze as they strained against the woman’s inhuman strength, gripped her sword tight in her free hand, ready to strike - but at the last moment, pulled instead, her and Willow together, dragging Mortella forward the crucial step they needed for She-Ra to reach back even as she began to revert to Tara, and place her sword into the mold from which it was born.

Mortella shrieked as the shadows around her were pierced by slivers of light, dozens, then hundreds, thousands, shredding her magic as she staggered back and fell to her knees. The pinpricks of light rose from every surface, bleeding out of the stone walls and ceiling and floor to hover like brilliant fireflies, flitting energetically around one another, one joining another, then another, the points becoming solid shapes, shards of glass, mirrors blazing with reflected sunlight, swirling together into the shape of a person - and in a flash she was whole, the last guardian of Mystacor they had seen in the ghostly echo of its fall. She seemed transitory for an instant, real and unreal together, then her body solidified, her robes whipped into being out of the air and wrapped around her, and she took a deep breath and let out a clear, perfect note of song that radiated like a tidal wave, washing away the dark and decay, transforming the workshop into a radiant, unspoiled chamber of brilliantly polished stone, gleaming brass and silver, torches casting their light on shelves full of grimoires and scrolls, the forge glowing with life. Mortella’s shadows bled away into nothingness, leaving her old and weak, in tattered green robes.

“Mortella,” the guardian said gently, raising a hand to touch her forehead.

“You,” the old woman scowled, coughing. “I saw... you die...”

“Yes. And now our struggle is over. Be at peace, at last.”

Mortella closed her eyes, and suddenly it was as if she was coloured dye in water, fading away, dispersing into thin air. The guardian bowed her head a moment, then straightened, and turned to Willow and Tara. Both stared at a light that shone from her chest - the plunging neckline of her robes bared her cleavage, and set between her breasts was a flawless blue jewel, identical to the one in Tara’s sword. Tara glanced back, but saw the sword unchanged, its own jewel shining brightly, undiminished.

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“Willow, and Tara,” the guardian said warmly, looking at them in turn - the wrong way around. She paused and frowned. “Wait. Other way. Tara and Willow?” she tried again, getting it right this time.

“Uh, yes?” Willow ventured.

“Sorry,” the woman said brightly. “Sorting things out. Thinking, and so on. It’s been a while since I had a single consciousness. I think? Time. Effect follows cause, yes? Normally?”

“Um, normally, yes, that’s how it works,” Tara nodded.

“Good, I think I’m existing in the right direction in that case,” the woman said, seeming satisfied with this. “Introductions then. I am what remains of Jennicas-Tamaria. Cas-Ta. Casta? Yes, I was called Casta.”

“What remains...?” Willow asked.

“Yes,” Casta nodded. “I died, you see - or rather, Casta died. Defending Mystacor from the Horde, after Mortella’s betrayal turned the tide against us.” She glanced back at the empty floor. “Poor Mortella. She was prideful - but we are all flawed. Had fate been kinder she may have been remembered as a noble champion. She had great courage, you know. And kindness, before she forged herself into a weapon. War forces us to become weapons, even the good. Not all find their way home.” She shook herself, and looked back at Willow and Tara. “When all was lost, I did the only thing that remained to me - cast my soul into the very stones of Mystacor, so that it would never be turned to the Horde’s service. And Mortella, being of Mystacor, was held here too, unable to serve her would-be master. Consuming goodness sustain herself - but unable to leave, just as I lived on in every particle of this place, but was unable to end her.” She smiled radiantly at Tara. “Until you woke me, gave me form and clarity once more. The light of She-Ra, my old friend.”

“You know She-Ra?” Tara asked in shock.

“Oh yes,” Casta nodded.

“She-Ra, the... that I turn into, that She-Ra?”

“Your mother,” Casta replied.

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The Dark Forest was gone, as were the echoes of old wars - Mystacor’s surroundings now were the bright and peaceful glades and streams of the Whispering Woods, as had once been, and Willow practically glowed at feeling her beloved forest restored to its full health after so long. Mystacor itself gleamed in the sunlight, a palace of gold and mirrors, with impossibly slender towers soaring into the sky, all balanced on a mass of verdant land hovering over a crystal clear lake, joined to the ground by an elegant bridge.

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“Your mother was once a student of mine,” Casta explained, as she, Tara, and Willow sat on cushions on a balcony overlooking the restored landscape. “Wise beyond her years even as a child, and in time a great sorceress in her own right. And an even greater friend.”

“Did she live here?” Tara wondered.

“No,” Casta said, shaking her head. “Elberon was her home.”

“One of the villages that used to border the Whispering Woods,” Willow supplied.

“Merely a footstep away, to a sorceress of Mystacor,” Casta nodded. “She was there often. With her family.” She looked at Willow. “Used to...?”

“Lost to the Horde,” Willow confirmed sadly. “Nothing left.”

“I see.” Casta gazed out over the lake in silence, then sighed. “We hoped to stop them here. This,” she waved a hand around, “was once a mighty city. No need to bring the rest of it back now, only to lie empty. But Mystacor was great, then. With our magic we fashioned ourselves into a fortress, to halt the Horde, reverse the shadow that was spreading over Etheria. But we failed. Turning our minds to war, we wreaked great havoc on our enemy, but many of us succumbed to madness. Mortella last of all, and she betrayed us. Knowing only a miracle could save us - and all we protected - She-Ra proposed a great, desperate venture.” She turned to Tara, her eyes heavy with tears. “She forged the sword you wield, into which great power could be imbued. Her goal was to take the Sword of She-Ra to Skydancer Mountain.”

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“Skydancer...?” Willow gasped. “She... was she looking for the Crystal Castle?”

“Aye,” Casta nodded. “Such a legend was all the hope left to us. Her ways were not those of a warrior, but her courage knew no bounds. She sought the Crystal Castle, to appeal to the spirits of the First Ones, they who fashioned Etheria’s very bedrock. The sword would carry their might, to be placed in my hand, and with it defeat would become triumph, and the Horde driven from our world.” She shook her head sadly. “It was not to be.”

“What happened?” Tara asked quietly.

“Of your mother, I know not,” Casta replied. “No magic sight can pierce the veil that surrounds Skydancer. I know only that She-Ra went, and did not return. We few who remained here fought until we could no longer. I was the last. As I died, I used soul-sorcery to keep this realm from the Horde’s grasp. And Mystacor became a place of terror,” she looked apologetically at Willow and Tara. “I am to blame - but Mortella free, and Mystacor in Hordak’s hands, could not be allowed, at any price.”

“The terror’s gone now,” Willow said, reassuringly.

“Yes,” Casta agreed. “At last.”

“Mortella called my magic ‘soul-sorcery’ too,” Tara said.

“And so it is,” Casta nodded. “A most dangerous magic, to manipulate one’s own soul, but powerful beyond all others. My effort here succeeded, but was tainted by the nightmare of the war. Your mother’s soul,” she smiled Tara, “was luminous.” She sighed. “It was not her intent when she forged the sword, but it is her soul that dwells within its jewel now. Whatever transpired at Skydancer, however it came to be that she... passed from us... that was her final act.”

“My mother’s soul?” Tara gasped, caught between awe and dismay as she stared at the sword resting on her lap.

“Be at ease, daughter of She-Ra,” Casta said gently. “None of us live forever, and they are fortunate who achieve great good in their measure of life. Your mother is at peace. And what she left behind,” she laid a hand gently on the jewel in the sword, “rests well in your care.”

“Wait wait,” Willow said, “so... Tara transforms into her mother?” Tara looked at Casta as well, wondering.

“No,” the sorceress replied. “The soul of She-Ra allows your own good heart, Tara, to transform you. As your good heart,” she turned to Willow, “gives the Whispering Woods a voice against the darkness.” She looked back to Tara. “Perhaps your mother foresaw this. That the time would come, one day, when the shadow that doomed us would weaken, and our cause would be taken up once more.” She sighed. “I wish I remembered more. I...” She frowned in thought. “I remember your mother’s voice - speaking the word in our language for beauty born of kindness. Elyta-Rana.”

“Elyta-Rana,” Tara echoed in a whisper.

“Ta-Ra,” Casta nodded. “I remember the love in her voice, when she said ‘Tara’.” She sighed. “Did I see you, I wonder? As a babe in her arms? Much of Mystacor is lost forever, parts of myself with it.” While Willow hugged Tara, who was beaming through the tears running down her cheeks, Casta stared down at her hands, and suddenly seemed intrigued by them.

“I have a physical form!” she exclaimed suddenly.

“Uh, yeah?” Willow said.

“I hadn’t noticed,” Casta said. “Still reassembling my mind. On this will be fun! But later,” she added, glancing at Willow and Tara. “I believe I used to indulge in that sort of thing in private. Now your mother,” she added to Tara, “when she was an adolescent-”

“I think I don’t need to know this,” Tara interrupted her quickly.

“I’m mildly intrigued,” Willow piped up mischievously. “If there’s anything that runs in the family I should know about-”

“Sweetie!” Tara insisted, caught between embarrassment and amusement. Casta glanced between the two of them in some confusion, then shrugged and seemed to put it out of her mind.

“It may take me some time to sort my new self out,” she concluded. “To be perfectly honest I never truly expected to be restored. I owe you both a great deal. Everything I now am, in fact.”

“Um,” Tara ventured, still slightly red, “you said, this was meant to be yours...?” She began to lift her sword, but Casta placed a hand on it, holding it where it was.

“Once, perhaps,” she smiled. “But that time is gone. And I can think of no more worthy champion of She-Ra than you. Besides,” she went on, “sentiment aside, I am not what I once was. My soul is rebuilt, but I am not truly alive. I could never do as much good in this world as you shall. I cannot leave this realm, even - although,” she added, “I believe I can project myself where I am welcome. In the Whispering Woods, and Brightmoon,” she promised, “you, and your friends of the Great Rebellion, shall have my counsel for the asking.”

She reached out and took Willow and Tara’s hands in hers.

“You have awoken Mystacor,” she said. “And she will ever be your ally.”

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"Hi there! It's me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding today? If not, take another look:

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"In today's story, Tara looked for clues to her past in a scary place, but she had Willow with her, so it didn’t seem so scary. A lot of things seem difficult, like learning to ride a bike, or studying for school, but if you do them with friends, you’ll find they’re not so bad after all. See you all next time, bye now!"

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Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2017 11:15 am 
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10. Troll Hammer
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 1:49 pm
Posts: 1159
Topics: 12
Location: Seattle, WA
OMG, Chris!! These are so good!

Takes me right back to the "good old days"

I am so excited to see us old timers finding our way back here. I think the next four years (at least) will bring with them a need for fantasy and escape to a "simpler time".

I love that you've included artwork, like you used to, as well. It really brings the Saturday morning cartoon element to life.

I look forward to where your "season arc" is heading.

Thank you again for this!!

Cheers
DW

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Check out some of my most popular works: Special ... Leave It to Giles ... The Inimitable Giles ... Giles at Christmas

Challenge Fics!: You Could Be Her ... Glasses ... Graffiti ... Pizza Day

Forbidden Fics?: Check out the Litterbox!

Oops, I made a mythtake... wt4ever


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2017 7:34 am 
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17. Mega-Witches
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Topics: 4
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Thanks! :bounce I'm really glad it works, as a continuation - I didn't stop writing (lot of Mass Effect) but it's a long time to have been away from a series, to then come back to it and try to find the mojo again. There were definitely some moments of "Do I still remember how to do this?" (compounded by never having really 'planned' writing in any case). But it was rewarding to get back into, particularly for the reasons you mention - Etheria's been a welcome respite from the real world, grand in scope but free of cynicism, so I'm glad reading it has similar results. (Speaking of the real world, a harsher-in-hindsight thing for me is the whole propaganda-vs-truth argument in Price of Freedom - that was the first episode written, months ago, so looking back to it now it's different to how it felt then.)

There is indeed an arc to things, so I hope you enjoy that journey too - everything will be revealed in the end. :wtkiss

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Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:53 am 
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Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

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“Okay I’m done,” Willow proclaimed, firmly closing the book she had been reading. “Done. Had my fill of treaties, and precedents, and protocols. If there’s anything else, I’ll just have to wing it.”

Tara leaned back on the bed and put her own book aside with a smile. As befitting some of the closest friends of the royal family of Brightmoon, the quarters they had been given in the Royal Palace were expansive, easily large enough to host the desks and shelves needed for intensive study of diplomatic relations. With Queen Joy’s conference between Brightmoon and its allies - all those realms still resisting the Horde, whether openly or under cover of secrecy - set to begin the next day, the pair had done little but read during their waking hours for the past week, learning much that was sure to be useful, but also testing even Willow’s capacity for research. Tara reached out a hand and smiled as Willow took it and joined her on the bed, shedding her night dress and lying half on top of her.

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“I can think of something I’d rather be doing,” the blonde murmured.

“So can I,” Willow agreed, straddling Tara and leaning down to kiss her, pressing her gently into the soft pillow.

“Hmm-mm-mmm,” Tara purred in the back of her throat. She let out a slow breath, lightly biting her lip.

“What’re those beautiful thoughts you’re having?” Willow asked, intrigued by Tara’s shy blush.

“Beautiful thoughts?” Tara echoed, smiling.

“Rest of you’s beautiful, makes sense the thoughts would be too.” Tara chuckled, and craned her neck up to kiss the tip of Willow’s nose.

“Love you,” she said. “I was thinking... uh, now and then I think about... how it was, the first time we kissed...?”

“Just now and then?” Willow teased.

“Well we’ve kissed a lot,” Tara protested, smiling. “It takes time to think of all the kisses, and you keep adding more to the list-” She broke off as Willow did just that, and sighed with content.

“First kiss huh?” Willow prompted her.

“Uh-huh,” Tara nodded. “You remember... my hands were cuffed?”

“I uncuffed you,” Willow pointed out.

“Yeah,” Tara replied, pleased Willow was remembering what happened that night without her mind going the morning after when Shadow Weaver’s enchantment had taken hold again.

“Sometimes,” she went on, “I think about how it... might have been if you didn’t.”

“Didn’t... uncuff you?” Willow asked. Tara nodded. “And uh... the kissing proceeds then?”

“I’d never felt like that before,” Tara explained in a whisper. “Before you - I mean I was with the Horde before, it was unthinkable to be vulnerable, even for an officer. But with you... even before I knew you, before I realised I wanted to stay with you, I felt... there was no fear.” She gave a shy smile. “It was confusing to be honest - I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t in danger - and then, you know...”

“We got to know each other,” Willow grinned, and Tara chuckled and nodded.

“I had other things on my mind,” she agreed. “But now and then I think about that, and how I felt - I imagine how I would feel, now.”

“Restrained?” Willow murmured. Tara met her gaze, and smiled at what she saw.

“And you, un-restrained.”

Willow glanced at where one of Tara’s hands rested, beside the pillow, and held her breath as a vine snaked out from beneath the bed to gently stroke her wrist. “Like, this?”

“Yes,” Tara breathed. “If, if you want...”

“We can try?” Willow whispered, her heart racing. “If you change your mind, I mean anytime, just, right away-”

“Yes,” Tara nodded. “I know. I’ll, uh... I’ll say ‘bibbet’.”

“Bibbet?” Willow repeated.

“Not likely to come up in conversation any other way,” Tara chuckled nervously. She took a deep breath, looking up. “Willow?”

“I love you,” the redhead beamed. Then her smile became a grin, as vines found Tara’s wrists.

“Oh, oh-h yes,” Tara moaned. She stretched out her legs, and smiled in dazed pleasure as Willow sensed what she wanted, and her ankles were firmly gripped as well.

“And now the kissing,” Willow murmured in her ear.

“Ye-es,” Tara groaned. Willow chuckled.

“Might even kiss you on the mouth,” she added. “Eventually...”

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If Buffy and Xander noticed Willow and Tara were late to rise, and somewhat sleepy, they were too polite to point it out. A heart breakfast had revived them, and they were very nearly as alert as usual once they stood as part of the group in the palace courtyard, watching the arrival of the dignitaries, each greeted in turn by Queen Joy. Buffy, with much complaining, had been included in the royal party - as her mother had pointed out, being both a princess and leader of the Great Rebellion trumped ‘not liking all this royal occasion stuff’ - while the others watched the ponderous series of official greetings from afar. Hazar of Erelandia they knew by sight, and likewise Duke Kristian of Blackmoor, Brightmoon’s nearest neighbour, while the others they identified by their pennants: Prince Highcliff of the Blue Mountain, sharp-featured with pale-dyed hair; Baron Condor of Sand Valley, barrel-chested and scowling darkly behind his extravagant beard and moustache; and Prince Arkion of Vargon, young and seemingly carrying himself more as a tourist than an ambassador.

“Why do they all have to kiss my hand?” Buffy protested quietly as she joined her friends, once the official greetings were over. “What is it with princess’s hands, what do they all think’s so special about them?”

“Requirement of rank,” Willow said teasingly.

“Requirement of my butt,” Buffy shot back, which made Xander choke with sudden laughter in the middle of eating a muffin from the buffet table that had been set up in the courtyard. “At least Hazar’s dad told him to skip protocol and just say hello like a normal person.”

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“It’s over and done with now,” Tara said, while Willow patted Xander on the back.

“Yep,” Buffy agreed. “No more hand-kissing. Or this coronet, it makes my hair look huge. Until the next royal occasion, anyway. Thanks the gods it takes so long to set one of these up...”

She broke off as gasps sounded from the crowd, and a great shadow fell over the courtyard, looming out from behind the palace.

“He made it!” she smiled, gazing into the sky. From beyond the sheer height of the city’s great dam, a stately sailing ship emerged, sliding through the air as easily as if it were the ocean. Sunlight blazed from the iridescent solar sails fixed to its three masts, which flickered and shifted their alignment to bring the vessel around in a gentle arc, casting its shadow over the courtyard as it reached the palace and approached the mooring tower atop the observatory, where royal guards were waiting to catch the guide ropes tossed to them by the ship’s crew. Carefully managed, the ship slowly closed the last few feet to the tower, coming to rest nearly touching it as the gangplanks clattered down, and all but the topmost sail on every mast folded in on itself and fell dark.

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“Want to reconsider that no-more-hand-kissing thing?” Willow asked Buffy innocently.

“Well maybe one more wouldn’t hurt,” she replied, trying and failing not to grin.

“She’s been through some fights,” Tara noted with a frown, noting the spots where the polished wooden hull had been patched.

“The Sea Hawk’s a tough old girl,” Xander said, though he nodded as he studied the same evidence of damage.

“And Liam’s the best sky captain on Etheria,” Buffy said proudly.

“He’ll tell you that himself, too,” Xander added with a chuckle. “But he’s not wrong.”

“I’d like to meet him,” Tara went on. “He risked a lot to openly turn on the Horde, after spying on them so long. If he hadn’t,” she looked at her friends, lingering on Willow, “you might never have rescued me.”

“He’s got thanks coming from all of us,” Willow promised. “Once Buffy lets him up for air. It’s been a while since he made port.”

“So to speak,” Xander added, picking his moment just as Buffy was taking a sip of her drink. Tara couldn’t quite help a smile, while Willow once again took on back-patting duty.

“I’m fine,” the princess gasped, mock-glaring at Xander. “There will be a reckoning, later on when you’re not expecting it.”

His response was interrupted by shouts from the palace walls, but before the guards had a chance to do more than look to their officers for orders, a dragon made of pure ice swept over the walls, circled the courtyard once, and landed atop the central fountain, freezing its water in midair. The dragon craned its neck down to the ground, allowing its rider to disembark, head held imperiously high.

“Hold!” Willow called to the guards, forestalling any activity on their part, as the dragon dissolved into a cloud of ice that flowed around the woman like a miniature storm, coating her for an instant like a second skin of frost, then melting away into her skin; in her wake, the fountain resumed normal operation.

“What?” Frosta asked, coming to a halt before them. “Nobody’s ever seen an ice empress before? Willow, Tara, hi. You’d be Princess Glimmer?”

“Uh, yes,” Buffy nodded. “Queen Frosta, then? Obviously.” Joy, who had taken to the skies at her man-at-arms’ insistence upon the unexpected arrival, touched down a few feet from the group, and approached Frosta with a guarded smile.

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“Welcome to Brightmoon,” she said levelly, holding out her hand for a clasp, one monarch to another. Frosta took her hand, and - to Willow and Tara’s surprise - gave a slight but noticeable curtsey.

“Queen Joy,” she said. “Your emissaries did you credit.”

“As expected,” Joy nodded, casting a warm smile Willow and Tara’s way. “We’re very glad you could attend. I wasn’t sure our invitation would arrive in time.”

“It’s a bitch to get a letter to the north pole in a hurry, yeah,” Frosta said blithely. “No big deal, we’ll work something quicker out, schedule ice birds on a regular basis or something. And who is this fine figure of a man?” the ice empress added, turning her entire attention to Xander.

“Xander,” Willow supplied. “Leader of the rangers of the Great Rebellion. Xander, Queen Frosta of the Queendom of Snows.”

“Charmed,” Frosta said, holding out her hand, palm down in the typical manner of royalty towards a commoner.

“Don’t worry,” she added with a glittering smile as Xander, somewhat nervously, bent to kiss her hand. “Your lips won’t stick to me. Unless I want them to.”

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“Here he is!” Buffy beamed, bouncing out of her seat in the common room adjoining the guest suites as the connecting door opened, revealing the Sea Hawk’s captain, a tall man with bronzed skin and a roguish air, who immediately opened his arms to hug the princess rushing to him.

“And here he is glad to be,” Liam grinned, bending to kiss her. They parted, with obvious reluctance on both parts, for Liam to greet the others.

“Miss Willow,” he smiled, shaking her hand, “Xander, good to see you both well. And...?”

“Queen Frosta,” Xander said, indicating the Queen.

“Majesty, deeply honoured,” Liam bowed, giving Frosta’s hand the brief kiss that courtesy demanded, but obviously not missing how she was staying close at Xander’s side, nor Buffy’s possessive arm around his own waist.

“And you would be Miss Tara, then?” he finished. “It’s an honour to finally meet you, the princess has written much of you in her letters. Not to mention,” he added, shaking the hand she offered, “lately whenever we land for supplies, the bards are full of tales of She-Ra.”

“Plenty of bardic exaggeration, no doubt,” she smiled, with a slight blush.

“Aye,” Liam agreed, “tis part of a bard’s trade - but it can’t be coincidence they all agree on her courage.”

“Uh, w-well,” Tara replied, her blush taking full flight as she felt Willow’s adoring gaze on her, “I should thank you - and you deserve a part in those tales, too. If you hadn’t risked yourself spying on the Horde at Blackmoor...”

“A man needs no thanks for doing what’s right, but you’re most welcome. Shall we be at ease then?” he went on, nodding towards the lounges, while Tara happily retreated back to Willow’s side with a shy smile.

“How’s the Hawk? She’s got a few new dents since last time?” Buffy asked as they seated themselves - she passed off the observation lightly, but there was an undercurrent of concern in her voice.

“The Horde’s made the skies a bit hot of late,” Liam admitted with a nod. “But we’re keeping our heads above the clouds. Doyle’s proven himself a steady hand at the wheel, and a good first mate.”

“You promoted Doyle?” Buffy asked. “I thought he didn’t much like being a rebel...”

“Aye,” Liam said. “He has no love for the Horde, but subterfuge never agreed with him. I can’t blame a man for that, ‘twas always a test of nerves putting into a Horde harbour and acting carefree while we spied on them. It’s different now, though. Despite the chases it’s easier for a lot of the crew, in a way - we see a Horde flag, and we turn tail, or run out the guns. No more letting them in close, just to seem ‘loyal’.” He gave Buffy an apologetic look. “I only wish we were doing more to help the Rebellion. Lately seems we’ve done little but look after our own arses.”

This rebel’s very happy the way things are,” Buffy smirked. “Including the condition of your ‘arse’.”

“She really likes his accent,” Willow giggled, speaking softly into Tara’s ear.

“Does she now?” she whispered back, doing a passable imitation of Liam’s brogue. Willow’s eyes widened, then she grinned.

“Vixen.” Tara chuckled, snuck a kiss to Willow’s earlobe, then sighed and composed herself.

“Do you think we should rescue him?” she wondered, glancing Xander’s way - Frosta had seated herself practically in his lap, and judging by his expression he was torn between nervousness and not believing his luck.

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“He’s a big boy, he’ll be fine,” Willow decided.

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“I’d like to thank you all, again, for attending,” Queen Joy said, looking around the circular table where the various rulers and leaders were seated. Portraits of her ancestors looked down from the high walls of the Lunar Hall, where for generations the kings and queens of Brightmoon had been crowned. Though daylight filtered through the glass windows, it was outshone by the silver radiance of the great gemstone set in the hands of the towering statue that overlooked all, beneath a ceiling of lovingly crafted frescos of Etheria’s ancient gods.

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“I’ll come straight to the point,” she went on. “For many years Brightmoon has defied the Horde, and remained free. We’ve been fortunate in so doing, having both the Whispering Woods, and the Moonstone’s magic, to protect us. We have been a place of refuge for many fleeing the conquest and destruction of their homes. But it’s past time we did more.”

She looked proudly at Buffy, seated beside her, then again at the rulers, and continued.

“My daughter Princess Glimmer, as founder of the Great Rebellion, has dedicated her life to Etheria’s freedom from the Horde. Last year they won their first true victory against the Horde, defeating the army sent to destroy Blackmoor. We do not intend to wait for another army. The Horde cannot prevail against an Etheria united against them, and that is what I propose: unity, between ourselves, and other realms who will be inspired by our example.” She looked towards Frosta. “Having discussed the matter earlier today, I am proud to announce to you all Brightmoon’s alliance with the Queendom of Snows in this great undertaking.”

“Thanks to Brightmoon - and the Great Rebellion,” Frosta said, allowing a brief smile for Willow and Tara through her otherwise haughty visage, “my people are free once more. And we will never again suffer the Horde’s presence in our realm.”

“All very well,” spoke up Baron Condor, leaning forward, “and I was as pleased as any to hear of the Horde’s defeats. But Brightmoon is guarded by powerful magics, and the land of snows similarly protected from all I hear.”

“It is,” Frosta nodded smugly.

“Sand Valley is not so fortunate,” Condor went on. “Nor the lands of others here. You’ll find no well-wishers of the Horde among my people, but were we to close our borders to their convoys, their next ‘visit’ would leave us in ruins. We’ve little wealth to pay soldiers of our own.” He looked around at his fellow rulers. “Even attending this conference is a risk...”

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“You’re not suggesting anyone here would betray us to Hordak?” Prince Arkion interrupted.

“The Blue Mountain has been a friend of Brightmoon for generations!” Highcliff snapped.

“Aye, and you pay the Horde’s taxes, same as us,” Condor retorted. “I’m calling no man here - or woman,” he added belatedly, “traitor, far from it. But we know our enemy’s temper, and it’s a fool who doesn’t tread wary. Hordak needs little reason to make an example of any of us he pleases.”

Tara noticed Queen Joy glance her way, holding her gaze a moment, and she nodded and stood.

“If I may, my lord?” she asked. “Whether it’s today or tomorrow, the Horde will come in force - as soon as Hordak believes he’s strong enough to fully subjugate one more realm. That’s what the Horde wants.” She looked at the gathered rulers. “Not to gather taxes, or influence through coercion and bribes. Hordak wants only one thing of us, all of us: slaves, no less. If the Horde is allowed to endure, and continue to grow in power, that day will come.”

“It is true,” Hazar spoke up. “We heard as much from our ‘overseer’s’ own mouth. And with the Great Rebellion’s help, we saw the Horde’s backs as they left Erelandia, and though we have no ice sorcery nor moonstone shield, they have not returned. They have not the strength to make an example of us now, not while they fear to stretch themselves too thin, lest other realms follow us.”

“Together, we can show the Horde they are right to fear,” Joy promised. “We are proud to stand with Erelandia - and,” she added, after a pause just long enough to fully capture everyone’s attention, “should the need ever arise, Brightmoon pledges itself to Erelandia’s defence against the Horde.”

“As do we,” a new voice sounded. There were oaths and shouts of surprise from the rulers as a figure glittered into being beside Joy, although they subsided at seeing the queen take her hand calmly in greeting.

“I am Casta, Mistress of Mystacor,” the sorceress said, meeting each ruler’s gaze in turn. “The realm of magic sleeps no longer - and will ever come to the aid of the Great Rebellion. This we swear.”

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“Did I come in at the right time?” Casta asked, once the meeting had recessed, and the rebels and their allies had gathered in Joy’s private study.

“Just right,” Joy said. “Gave them just the jolt they needed.”

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“You were expecting that bickering?” Willow asked. Joy shrugged and nodded.

“Nobody wants the Horde here,” she explained. “People have been proposing a united uprising for years, but the same arguments always come up. The Horde hasn’t been idle in stoking divisions between realms, and as brave as you all are,” she sighed, “they’re not wrong to fear for their lands and their people. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

“So what’s the plan?” Buffy asked.

“Getting everyone in the same room is a success, for today,” Joy said firmly. “That, and impressing them with the presence of our new friends - for which I thank you all,” she added to Frosta, Casta, and Hazar. “We’ll leave well enough alone this evening, and start to talk concrete details tomorrow, when they’ve had a chance to digest what we’ve shown them, and decide where they stand. Tara, you look worried?”

“Oh? Uh, sorry,” she shook her head.

“Speak your mind, dear,” the queen urged gently. Tara nodded and leant forward.

“The baron was right about one thing,” she said. “Hordak will view this conference as a provocation. How he’ll respond...” She shrugged. “He was never open with his plans, even to his own people. But he’ll learn what we’re doing here, if he hasn’t already.”

“True enough,” Joy agreed. “We knew we couldn’t call on so many in secrecy.”

“I know everyone who came weighed the risk of Horde reprisals,” Tara said. “I’m worried about Brightmoon.”

“Here?” Buffy asked. “We’re already Horde target number one - of everyone here, we’re the only realm that doesn’t really have anything to lose.”

“I know,” Tara agreed. “And there’s the Whispering Woods and the Moonstone guarding us. All the rulers being here together, though... If there is a way, any way, for Hordak to hurt us - especially now, with everyone sympathetic to the Rebellion here to see - he won’t think twice.”

“Good counsel,” Joy said. “We must all be on our guard.”

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“So, teleportation, or...?” Willow wondered, once she and Tara had retired to their quarters, with Casta their guest. She had apologetically admitted that little else of her mortal memories of She-Ra had returned than what she had already shared, but was happy to discuss her magic, in which both women - particularly Willow - were interested.

“Not precisely,” the sorceress explained. “I’m not here, as such - although,” she mused, looking suddenly thoughtful, “I’m not exactly there, either. Parts of me are here and there, facets. With Queen Joy’s permission, of course. Brightmoon has powerful magical wards.”

“The Moonstone?” Tara asked.

“Yes,” Casta nodded. “A rare and subtle jewel. I remember some of what I used to know of it, but it would never bow to any but its mistress. And her daughter one day, of course. Princess Glimmer’s magic is an impressive testament to her mother’s tuition, especially having no other mentors to turn to.”

“Is there anything you could teach her?” Willow wondered. “Not that she’s asked, I was just wondering - the tradition Brightmoon had of going to Mystacor for mentorship, and all that.”

“Perhaps,” Casta said thoughtfully. “In Mystacor, at any rate - my senses are somewhat fractured being in two places at once, and guidance requires total concentration. I may mention the idea to the Queen?” she asked, and Willow nodded. All three looked up at a knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” Willow said, handing her hot chocolate to Tara and rising. Expecting a page, she was surprised to find Frosta at the door, and more surprised to see her looking somewhat awkward.

“Hi,” the arctic queen said. “So I... are you guys busy? I was just at a bit of a loose end and...” She sighed, seeming more vulnerable than her usual blunt demeanour. “You two are the only people here I know. Except Xander, and I can’t really drop into his quarters in the evening.” A thoughtful expression crossed her face. “Or could I...”

“Come in!” Willow said quickly. “Casta’s here, we were just talking about magic. Hot chocolate?” She frowned at a thought. “Hot drinks are okay, right?”

“I’m not made of ice,” Frosta replied, although without the bite Willow remembered from their first meeting.

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“Highness,” Casta greeted her, making room on the couch she was sitting on opposite Willow and Tara.

“Mistress,” Frosta replied casually.

“I have you to thank for sending our friends to Mystacor,” Casta went on.

“Glad they made it,” Frosta said, with a quick smile by way of acknowledgement. “I figured they’d rise to the challenge. So what’s up, you teaching Willow how to talk to flowers some more?”

“I’d enjoy sharing my knowledge on any matter of the Whispering Woods,” Casta replied, looking to Willow. “But her connection to her magic is far deeper than Princess Glimmer’s. To offer to mentor her would be presumptuous.”

“How so?” Willow asked. “I mean, the forest is very different to light magic so I know it’s hard to compare - we never really managed to work on our powers together in the same way - but Buffy’s no slouch.”

“No,” Casta agreed. “The difference is one of perspective, rather than ability. Your magic is a connection to the forest, something beyond your own self. While you and the Whispering Woods exist within each other, the woods are not merely an extension of you. This colours your relationship to your magic. Loving the Woods as you do, your understanding of your magic is also based in love.” Tara nodded, and gave Willow an adoring look as Casta continued: “Princess Glimmer’s magic is an aspect of herself. She is a good-natured woman, but to her, her magic is a faculty she possesses, not an expression of love.”

“So Glimmer needs more self-love?” Frosta suggested. Tara, taken by surprise, let out a snort of amusement before covering her mouth with her hand and going as red as Willow, who opened and closed her mouth trying to think of a reply, while Casta seemed to be considering the notion, and Frosta looked from one to another.

Before anyone could speak, though, there was a commotion from outside. Tara quickly got up, with Willow on her heels, and opened the door, to see Brightmoon guards taking up station along the corridor, outside the doors of all the occupied quarters.

“What’s going on?” Willow asked.

“Will!” Xander called, hurrying towards her. “Tara - come quick, guest wing! The Baron’s been attacked!”

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The palace’s guest wing afforded important visitors ample space of their own, with a wide, spacious hall running the length of the wing so that no suite of rooms was tucked away behind any other. It seemed just as well as Willow, Tara, and Xander arrived, since every ruler’s bodyguards were clustered around the entrances to their lords’ chambers, with Brightmoon guards between them to keep them apart, and Baron Condor’s voice raised in anger above a background of nervous muttering and dark looks at one another.

“I saw him I say!” the Baron was insisting as the group arrived, nearly running into Queen Joy and her personal guards as they did.

“My lords,” she said, raising her voice over the hubbub as she entered the hall. “Baron?” Buffy turned from the Baron and his men, her face set in an anxious frown, and as the bodyguards stood back to allow the Baron to address the Queen they saw his shirt was torn, and blood oozing from beneath a bandage he was holding tightly to his side.

“Highness,” he said, ducking his head curtly. “I would see Prince Highcliff in chains for this outrage!”

“What?!” Highcliff exclaimed, pushing past his own guards, seemingly oblivious to the hostile glares of Condor’s men directed towards him. “The man’s raving!”

“Hordeling!” the Baron roared, seeming ready to attack Highcliff despite his injury; one of his bodyguard whispered desperately in his ear, getting a glare for his troubles, but Condor seemed to take the hint regardless and stood his ground.

“My lords!” Joy said sternly, stepping quickly between the two groups and spreading her wings, casting shadows from a sudden burst of radiance in spite of the many candelabras burning in the hall. “Hold your tempers, if you please. Is the guest wing secured?” she asked her man-at-arms.

“Yes Highness,” he said gruffly. “Every man accounted for.” He glanced over his shoulder as one of the guards admitted the royal healer, who followed the Queen’s nod and approached the Baron.

“Now, Baron Condor,” Joy said, speaking with deliberate calm. “Would you be so kind as to describe the attack against you?”

“Gladly,” he rumbled, shooting Highcliff a glare. “The Prince came to my chambers not five minutes ago-.”

“It’s a lie!” Highcliff protested. “I’ve not left my rooms since dinner!” His men nodded, but the Baron growled in response.

“Is every man of my guard a liar, then?” he snorted. “Your face was seen, traitor.”

“I did let the Prince pass to the Baron’s suite, Highness,” Condor’s chief guard said when Joy turned her gaze on him.

“He shook my hand,” the Baron went on, “then the moment I turned my back to offer him a drink, he tried to stick his dagger in it! Had I not seen his move in the glass of the drinks cabinet, he would have had me dead to rights.”

“Highness!” Highcliff burst out, again shaking off his guards. Buffy was at her mother’s side in an instant, glaring protectively, and Willow and Tara both followed suit by instinct, but Joy held up a hand and met the Prince’s fierce stare.

“What say you, my lord?” she asked, her voice neutral.

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“I say, I have not seen the Baron this evening until this very moment,” he insisted, “nor have I attacked any man! Who ever knew me to do such a thing? And why would I?”

“Maybe I spoke too plainly for your liking at the conference table today,” the Baron glowered.

“If every man you offended tried to kill you,” Highcliff snorted derisively, hands on hips, “there’d be a queue a mile long!”

Tara gave a quiet gasp as Highcliff spoke, and without a word snatched something his belt, beneath the short cape he wore, that he had brushed back with his elbows.

“Highness?” she said, before anyone else could speak, or the Prince do more than turn in surprise. In her hand was a dagger, still stained with blood.

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“Is it possible he’s innocent?” Tara wondered. She, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Casta were gathered in Queen Joy’s study, quietly sharing a late-night tea the kitchens had prepared. Highcliff had blustered his blamelessness, but with the Baron and his men flatly certain, and the knife, he had at last consented to place himself ‘under the Queen’s care’ - which meant allowing her guards to take him into custody. Baron Condor, to his credit, had declared the matter to be rightly in Brightmoon’s hands, which along with Joy’s calm poise throughout had kept the other rulers from interfering beyond sullen glares at one another. The queen had shed her pretence once the study doors were closed, allowing those closest to her to see her weariness as she sat at the desk, her hand toying fretfully with her teaspoon.

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“He had no explanation for the dagger,” she noted.

“And it was right there in his belt,” Xander pointed out.

“I know,” Tara sighed. “That’s just it - who attacks someone when witnesses have seen him go into the room, then walks out in the middle of everyone saying he’s innocent, with the knife still on him?”

“A madman?” Buffy wondered. “I don’t get it either. Okay it’s been two years since he was here last, but we got on pretty well then.”

“Of all the people to do something like this, not him,” her mother agreed. “I ran the rule over him before I let him court you-”

“Wait, what?”

“He asked, it’s protocol,” Joy said. “I didn’t want to say anything that would’ve influenced you. And you hadn’t met Liam then.”

“Yeah, well... that explains the poems actually, I wondered what that was about,” Buffy said, obviously taken by surprise. “He didn’t seem to take it badly...”

“No, he didn’t,” Joy agreed. “And he’s been a loyal supporter of his father’s friendship with our kingdom. I find it so hard to credit this.” She fell silent, then looked up at Casta. “Is there anything your magic could tell us?”

“I’m sorry,” the sorceress shook her head. “This portion of me that can be outside Mystacor is limited.” Joy nodded.

“Xander,” she said, “I’d be grateful if your rangers would join the palace patrols. I’ll speak with my man-at-arms.”

“Of course,” he agreed. “What are we looking for?”

“Anything a ranger would notice and a guard wouldn’t,” she replied, with a faint grin. “You train to be silent and unseen, and attack from the shadows. You’ll pardon the expression, but, ‘set a thief to catch a thief’...?”

“On it,” Xander said, returning her grin, then frowning. “You think the Prince had accomplices?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Joy shrugged. “His bodyguards will be watched every step they take, and they must know it. He didn’t arrive with anyone else, but... To be honest I’m not entirely convinced, even with the evidence, that we know anything for sure yet. Something doesn’t add up.” She looked up, her gaze level. “But someone in this palace is a would-be killer. If that someone isn’t in a cell already, they must be caught. The Rebellion’s fortunes may hinge on that.” She looked glum, then squared her shoulders. “And with that, you should all get some sleep. We’ll need our wits tomorrow.”

“You too, mom,” Buffy said. “Let the men handle the investigation tonight. You know hovering over them won’t make it go faster.”

“Not even if I literally hover over them?” Joy asked with a faint smile. She stood and hugged Buffy. “I need to speak with Queen Frosta about tonight; she shouldn’t be kept unaware of what’s going on, especially since everyone else knows anyway. Then I’ll get some sleep, I promise. Go cuddle your sky captain.”

“Mom!”

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“I want to say ‘worst opening day of a conference ever’,” Willow mused, settling into Tara’s embrace as they lay down to sleep. “But knowing noblemen, it might not even be. I have to be more appreciative of Buffy handling all this political stuff for the Rebellion normally. Looking after the Whispering Woods is easy by comparison.”

“I’m glad I’m not Queen,” Tara agreed. Willow nodded, then smiled and turned her head to kiss Tara’s cheek.

“You’re my Queen,” she murmured.

“Well that’s different,” Tara chuckled. “I only have one noblewoman to deal with - and she’s perfect.”

“Gods bless the Queen,” Willow countered, rolling half over to entangle their legs.

“They do seem to be,” Tara smiled.

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Next morning the mood was sour in the Lunar Hall. Baron Condor sat stiffly in his chair, well enough to attend thanks to the attention of the royal healer, but obviously still in discomfort any time he moved. Prince Arkion, yesterday the most relaxed of the attendees, sat with a frown on his face, listening without much interest as Hazar and Duke Kristian spoke quietly to one another beside him. Frosta sat alone, tapping her fingers on the tabletop. Tara noticed veiled glances being directed her way, and was glad of the comfort of Willow beside her.

All looked sharply up as the main door opened and Queen Joy entered, with a pale-faced Buffy alongside, but then the gathered rulers frowned in surprise as a troop of Brightmoon guards followed, adding to the handful already positioned around the perimeter of the chamber, the last closing the door behind him and standing guard in front of it. Joy met the wary gazes, but remained silent until she and Buffy had taken their places.

“My lords,” the Queen said, remaining standing with all eyes on her. “I have grave news. Prince Highcliff of the Blue Mountain was found dead a short while ago.”

She waited out the sudden uproar of questions from around the table, and rose her voice above it.

“The Prince was under guard in the palace cells,” she went on. “My man-at-arms and I are satisfied that he did not take his own life. I have therefore decided,” she met each gaze in turn, “to seal the royal palace until such time as our enemy is discovered and brought to heel. The power of the Moonstone will allow no-one to leave until I will it.”

“You’ve trapped us in here?!” Arkion protested.

“I have,” Joy replied levelly.

“This has to be the Horde’s work,” Buffy spoke up. “If their agent, whoever it is, is free to leave-”

“It’s not them leaving that concerns me,” Arkion interrupted. “We’re their targets!”

“We’d be no safer on the road home,” Hazar pointed out. “At least here, with Brightmoon’s guards...”

“A lot of good they did Highcliff,” the Baron spoke up. “If he didn’t kill himself, somebody did it for him, under Brightmoon’s very nose.”

“Why kill one’s accomplice?” Kristian wondered. “To silence him?”

“Or punish him for being caught so easily,” Condor suggested. “The Horde doesn’t reward failure.”

“It bothers me his attempt was so clumsy,” Arkion said thoughtfully. “Are we sure he was involved?”

“I’m sure!” the Baron said hotly. “You saw my blood on his knife!”

“I saw blood on a knife,” Arkion shrugged. “What’s more likely, Highcliff was the world’s most careless assassin, or he was framed, then killed by that same person?”

“You’re suggesting it wasn’t Highcliff who attacked the Baron?” Frosta asked, speaking up for the first time.

“It can’t have been disguise,” Condor protested. “He wore no hood, I saw his face plain as day.”

“You said you saw his attack in a reflection,” Kristian pointed out. “Are you sure-”

“Well he was the only one in the bloody room until I turned my back!” Condor growled.

“Illusion isn’t unknown,” Arkion suggested. “If the assassin merely looked like Highcliff - enough to pass at a glance by candlelight,” he said to the Baron, who glared at him, “to lay the blame on him...”

“And, what, put the knife back in his belt when he wasn’t paying attention?” Hazar asked.

“Did anyone see the knife before Captain Tara produced it?”

Tara blinked in surprise, and she heard Willow’s gasp as the redhead’s hand tightened reflexively in hers.

“She was a Horde officer, you know,” Arkion went on.

“My lords!” Queen Joy snapped. “That is quite enough. We will not be reduced to accusing one another out of paranoia.” Tara carefully moved her hand to Willow’s elbow, stilling her; until Joy had spoken, she had been ready to leap out of her seat. Buffy, she noticed, had half-risen, and even as she settled back while her mother spoke, there was a noticeable glow in her palms, slowly fading.

“The fact remains, a killer is at large,” the Baron said. “Each of us trusts his own men - and your Highness, of course,” he added, “- but what can we do but suspect? Until some proof is discovered...”

“Quite so,” Joy nodded confidently. “I suggest we all return to our quarters, accompanied by our own men. I have ordered a constant guard on the guest wing. Obviously this can only be a temporary state of affairs; my investigation of last night’s attempted attack, and the death of Prince Highcliff, will proceed throughout the day, and I shall meet with you all this afternoon to keep you fully appraised.”

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“I don’t believe it!” Willow exploded, as soon as she and Tara were alone in their room. “He practically accused you!”

“Sweetie,” Tara said, hugging her.

“How could... how could anyone think that?” Willow asked, her anger dwindling into upset.

“They don’t know me,” Tara said gently. “Arkion, Condor - remember how Queen Frosta was when we first met her?”

“I- Yeah,” Willow nodded unhappily. “Yeah. But it shouldn’t matter, after everything you’ve done, for the Rebellion, they should-”

“I know,” Tara agreed, offering a smile. “But this is... it’s just going to happen, in situations like this.”

“It hurts you,” Willow said in a tiny voice. “Nobody should, ever...” Tara nodded, and gently held Willow’s cheeks, lifting her gaze which had dropped to the floor.

“We can’t change my past,” she said quietly. “But I know I don’t have to, to carry that weight on myself, not anymore. When something like this happens - I can move past it. That’s from you. And Xander, Glimmer, Queen Joy, all our friends - but you most of all.” She kissed Willow’s lips lightly. “Move past it with me?”

Willow gazed into her eyes, and nodded.

“Like I could ever say no to you,” she chuckled softly. “I mean, I reserve the right to call Arkion ‘Prince Meany-Pants’ in my head from now on, that’s understood right?” Tara laughed.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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The Sea Hawk, still berthed alongside the observatory, echoed to the sound of sawing and hammering - rigging had been lowered down over either side of the vessel, allowing the crew to climb down and improve upon the temporary repairs they had made to the hull during the last few months’ evasion of their Horde pursuers. Liam leaned over the stern rail to study the new rudder his crew had just finished fixing into place, then glanced down and frowned at the glitter rising from the ground, the iridescent curtain surrounding the palace like a second wall.

“Kinda pretty, eh cap’n?” one of his crew observed.

“Aye, but it bodes ill,” Liam muttered.

“Major repairs are about done. But if ye wanted a reason to hang around the Princess a while longer, we could get about slapping on a new coat of paint?” Liam gave the man a mock glare, and shook his head.

“Quiet your gossip, Doyle,” he ordered with a grin. “I’m goin’ down to speak with her highness.”

“Aye cap’n.”

Liam crossed the gangplank between his ship and the tower, his footing steady despite the dizzying drop beneath, and let his frown darken as he reached the spiral stairs inside and began to descend. He peered at the sound of approaching footsteps from lower down, but relaxed when he saw Xander climbing the stairs towards him.

“Xander,” he greeted the ranger. “What’s the news?”

Xander remained silent, and Liam had barely a moment to frown in puzzlement before he drew his sword and lunged. The angle of the stairs saved him - after years of striding about the deck of an airborne vessel he had no trouble balancing as he leapt back to a higher step, the sword clattering against the stone where his legs had been.

“What are ye about, man?!” he shouted as he backed up, and Xander advanced on him. Liam drew his own sword, just in time to parry a swipe at his knees, and ducked through a narrow doorway opening onto the staircase to gain room to move.

“Bollocks to this,” he swore, as Xander reached the same level and came on again. Both men swung their swords, but Liam’s suddenly blazed with unearthly light, shearing through Xander’s as if it had been a twig.

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“Now you back the hell up!” he demanded, as his attacker fell back in the face of the glowing sword, drawing a dagger uncertainly.

“What’s- the heck?”

Liam looked up, and his adversary spun around, to see Xander - another Xander - standing in the doorway, staring at his double in shock. For a moment all three stood motionless, then the double sprung back towards the door.

“Guard yourself!” Liam shouted, giving Xander just enough warning to leap back and take his duplicate’s attempted stab on the metal band around his wrist, before the man was away and down the stairs.

“What was that?” he demanded as Liam ran up to him.

“Doyle!” he hollered up the stairway. “Let nobody aboard, nobody! Not even me! Sentinel!”

“Aye aye, cap’n,” drifted back, after a confused pause.

“Come on,” Liam urged Xander, turning back down, “we’ve got to get to the Queen!”

“The guest wing!” Xander replied, taking the stairs two at a time behind him.

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“Highness!” Xander called, skidding into the guest wing’s main hall with Liam and half a dozen guards on his heels. The Queen, who had been speaking with Duke Kristian and Hazar, while an assortment of the visiting guards loitered around and glowered at one another, came to her feet.

“What’s happened?” she asked sharply.

“A shape-changer!” the ranger said, catching his breath as he came to a halt. “It’s a shape-changer - it attacked Liam.”

“Looking like Xander at the time,” he nodded. “I saw them both at once with my own eyes - this assassin can take another man’s form.”

“How do we know this is the real one?” Baron Condor said, glaring suspiciously at Xander.

“This one didn’t try to stick his sword through me innards,” Liam snapped.

“Are you alright?” Buffy asked quickly, coming to his side.

“Aye lass - that light rapier of yours saw him off.”

“So it could be any one of us!” Prince Arkion asked in a shrill voice.

“How long ago?” Joy demanded.

“The time it took us to run from the observatory to here,” Liam said.

“We’ve all been here that long,” the Queen said loudly.

“Highness?” Willow called, coming through the door with Tara and Frosta after her, and bearing up short as the nobles all backed away from them.

“You’ve been in each other’s company this past ten minutes?” Joy asked quickly.

“Uh, yes?” Tara replied, confused. “A-at least an hour - we were in our room, then the dining hall with-” She broke off as Casta materialised beside them, looking curious.

“With Casta,” she resumed, “and then a guard said Xander had come past shouting at him to find us and get us to the guest wing?”

“Our assassin is a shape-changer,” Joy explained. “Liam fought him off a moment ago in the observatory.”

“An illusionist?” Casta wondered.

“Techno-sorcery,” Tara said, realisation dawning. “Hordak can reshape his weapon-arm - it’s magic, but set into machinery, not living magic.”

“Hordak?!” Kristian gaped.

“He can’t change his whole body,” Tara said quickly.

“But maybe the Horde used the same trick on an assassin,” Frosta guessed.

“Can this ‘techno sorcery’ be pierced?” Condor demanded. Tara opened her mouth to reply, but before she could speak the ground shook, and a muffled blast sounded through the walls.

“Something tells me he’s done playing spies,” Frosta remarked.

“Mom!” Buffy exclaimed, catching Joy as she stumbled. The Queen righted herself with a beat of her wings, but let her daughter support her arm over her shoulders.

“The Moonstone,” she said, her voice strained. “Its power is fading...” She grimaced.

“You and you, guard her Highness with your lives!” Buffy snapped at a pair of Brightmoon guards, while lowering her mother to a couch. “Lunar Hall, come on!”

“My lords, stay- dammit,” Joy cursed, as the nobles rushed to follow Buffy and the rebels. She turned to the remaining guards. “Go with them - two to a man, leave nobody out of sight!”

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“I need to change!” Tara said urgently as they hurried along the palace’s winding corridors. Xander spun around and halted, glancing back at the nobles bustling along in their wake, and ahead as Buffy and Liam hurried on.

“There, now,” he said quickly, pointing to an alcove. “You’ve got a few seconds.”

“All I need,” Tara smiled wryly, around the corner along with Willow. In a blaze of light she was She-Ra, striding forward into view of the noblemen, who had drawn up at the sudden glare from in front of them.

“Stay back,” she warned. “I’ll deal with this Horde creature.” She turned ahead, leaving them staring and exclaiming ‘She-Ra!’ in amazement behind her, and led Willow, Xander and Frosta in chase of Buffy and Liam towards the Lunar Hall.

“There!” Buffy yelled, drawing up, as a figure emerged from the doors ahead - it was Tara, but She-Ra didn’t break stride.

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“It’s the assassin!” she shouted. The Tara double’s features seemed to melt, skin and clothes alike shifting, becoming a grotesque, bestial mimicry of a human form. It spat a jet of something that hissed where it splashed against the flagstones at She-Ra’s feet as she skidded up short of it, then darted away as a shot from Liam’s warplock pistol missed it by inches.

“I’ve got it!” She-Ra called out. “Tend the Moonstone!”

Buffy nodded as She-Ra leapt past her, and wrenched the Lunar Hall’s doors open, finding the great statue’s hands shattered into stone debris that lay on the floor at its feet, the giant gemstone among the rubble.

“Damaged?” Liam asked from behind her.

“Can’t be,” she said quickly. “It’s too powerful - but it needs light. The palace draws it in, focuses it, magical veins through every wall.”

“Can it be fixed?”

“Not quickly enough. Well,” Buffy said, “better hope I had a big enough breakfast. Honey, you may want to stand back.”

“Aye?” Liam asked, taking a step back. “What’re you- Gods almighty!” he yelped, shielding his eyes with his arm as Buffy put her hands either side of the fallen Moonstone and unleashed a blinding torrent of pure light into it.

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The creature raced into the open and across the courtyard, only to draw up short as She-Ra vaulted over its head and landed in front of it, blocking its escape to the main gate.

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“You’re not going anywhere,” she declared. The creature hissed, spitting its corrosive venom again, then leapt across the grass as She-Ra dodged the spray and gave chase, taking a great vault to cling to the stonework of the palace wall, scuttling towards the top. She-Ra leapt after it, springing off a buttress, driving her sword into the wall to anchor herself, and swinging her legs in a double kick that caught her foe in the chest, knocking it back to the ground.

It scrambled to its feet and, as She-Ra pulled her sword free of the stone and dropped towards it, transformed both fists into massive spikes maces. She-Ra flung her sword out to black the blows, but the impact tossed her back through the air, driving the breath out of her as she hit the wall and fell to the ground.

“Hey!” Willow shouted from the far side of the courtyard, where she and the others had just caught up. “Hands off!” She pushed both palms into the grass, and a mass of gnarled roots erupted beneath the creature, carrying it into air in a struggling tangle. It broke free, blades sprouting all over its body to slice through the tendrils wrapping around it, only to land waist-deep in a snowdrift as Frosta threw her magic against it.

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“Resilient little imp,” she muttered, as her snow began to melt away from the creature, now glowing red hot from within. It crouched and spread bat-like wings behind it, leaping for the sky, but as it rose sparkles of light appeared in the air, surrounding it, disorienting it, until an arrow from Xander’s bow pierced its wing. It tumbled back to the ground in a lurching spiral, flinging up limbs suddenly made of steel as a shield as She-Ra charged in again, swinging her sword in a gleaming arc.

The creature tumbled back into the fountain, its limbs thrashing great gouges into the stone as it staggered and changed from form to form, searching for some counter to the attacks against it - the water gushing from the cracked fountain turning to razor-sharp ice around it, arrows whistling by its head, vines writhing up from beneath, and She-Ra pressing her attack. Its back hit the fountain’s pedestal, and it changed again, becoming short and massive, spinning around and slamming spiked fists into the stonework to send the top of the fountain toppling down on She-Ra, forcing her to her knees as the falling statue smashed against the arm she threw up to shield herself.

In the split second the distraction gave it the creature raced for the gate; Willow’s vines chased its steps, Frosta and Xander’s projectiles flew after it, but it darted from side to side, cackling - until at the last second, the fading Moonstone barrier flared back to its full strength, catching the creature half-in half-out as it materialised over the gate. It howled in rage and agony, twisting and distorting as the energy coursed across its body, then with a blast of light it was hurled back, rolling to a halt on the charred grass.

She-Ra rose from the debris of the fountain, but amid the cloud of dust hanging in the air, Casta was suddenly crouched beside her.

“Let them see Tara do this,” she whispered, nodding encouragingly as She-Ra glanced at her in surprise.

On the far side of the courtyard, the din of battle having ceased, the crowd of noblemen and their guards shoved their way through the main doors, coming to a halt behind the rebels in time to see Tara, sword drawn, standing over the fallen creature, which was stirring feebly and now barely the size of a dog.

“Is that it?” Condor demanded. “That thing? Good gods!”

“I say, good work milady!” Arkion called out.

“And you thought she was a traitor,” Kristian chuckled.

“No such thing! Purely heat of the moment, perish the thought.”

“Darn tootin’,” Willow whispered to herself, beaming proudly.

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“My lords,” Queen Joy declared, seated on the throne of Brightmoon with the rebels spread out to either side of her, “I am pleased to inform you all that the Moonstone has been restored to its proper place. Much to my daughter’s relief,” she added, with a quick smile for Buffy, who was seated beside her, and looked ready to sleep for a week. The royal physician and Casta had both concluded she was unhurt by her exertion, but it had taken several cups of coffee to ready her for even a brief appearance before the assembly. The nobles laughed politely at Joy’s humour.

“It is appropriate, though,” she went on, now solemn, “that, while our artisans restore the Lunar Hall, the palace’s radiance will be dimmed. We mourn the passing of Prince Highcliff, a good and noble ruler and ally of Brightmoon, taken from us by the Horde. We are grateful to our friends of the Great Rebellion - and to you, my lords, who courageously rushed to confront our foe and thus saw its true form with your own eyes - that the truth is now known, and the Prince’s good name endures. This will be a time of great sadness in the realm of the Blue Mountain and for King Storm, who has lost his son and heir, but this will perhaps be some small consolation.”

She stood, spreading her wings, and her audience stood with her and placed their hands over their hearts.

“My lords, Prince Highcliff,” Queen Joy said, closing her eyes. “Etheria remembers.”

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“‘Courageously rushed to confront our foe’?” Buffy mimicked Joy, once they were in private, away from the noblemen.

“It made them feel good about themselves, that’ll help when we get back to talks,” the Queen replied, with a mild grin that mixed amusement and embarrassment. “Besides, courage and leaping before looking go hand-in-hand so often - as you constantly remind me.” She seated herself at her desk and reached out to pat Buffy’s arm. “Powering the palace shield by yourself?” Buffy shrugged and looked bashful.

“Best idea I could think of?” she admitted.

“Why must you always pick the most reckless ways of making me proud of you?” her mother asked. “Now go on, get some sleep. Liam, would you?”

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“I’ll see she gets up to no mischief, Highness,” Liam promised, taking Buffy’s hand. Joy smiled as her daughter bent to kiss her cheek, then watched as Liam gave her her arm and walked her out of the study, her face slowly growing sombre.

“I wish we didn’t have to use the Prince to rally them like this,” she admitted quietly.

“He came here to help bring the realms together,” Frosta offered.

“I suppose. I promised Brightmoon’s protection to him, though.”

“It’s not your fault, what happened,” Tara added. “Probably only a handful of people in the Horde know about this creature - you couldn’t have.” Joy met her gaze, then nodded, accepting the point.

“Are we going to see more of these?” she wondered. “We don’t even know how it arrived. It could have been anyone.”

“Not a lot more, I think,” Casta said. “I’ll know more once it’s brought to Mystacor, but I’ve already determined that the machine parts of it contain chaos quartz.”

“The Horde uses that in the Fright Zone,” Tara said, surprised. “It’s central to the shattercore, the power plant. I didn’t think there even was any more.”

“There’s no rarer substance on Etheria,” Casta nodded. “Creating this ‘imp’ was a massive undertaking.”

“Could be why it went for the Sea Hawk, once the palace shield went up,” Xander mused. “The Horde getting it back intact was more important than risking itself any further.”

“Too resource-intensive to use in suicide attacks?” Tara suggested.

“Let’s hope Hordak sees it that way,” Joy said. “They hurt us - but the Horde might have hoped for much more damage.”

“I’ll learn all I can about it,” Casta promised. “Chaos quartz has various unique properties - I may be able to devise an enchantment that will reveal creations such as this one.”

“You’ve been invaluable,” Joy said. “All of you - my warmest thanks. We may forge a true alliance out of this conference yet, in spite of the Horde’s efforts.”

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“Ugh,” Willow exhaled, sinking onto their bed back in her quarters with Willow. “Trust the Horde to keep coming up with new and ingenious ways to be a menace to everyone.”

“At least now we’re just back to nobles arguing,” Tara said, undoing her tunic and sitting by Willow’s side. “Doesn’t seem so bad now.” She heaved a heavy sigh. “If only I hadn’t seen Highcliff’s dagger...”

“Hey,” Willow said, reaching for her hand. “You just got done not five minutes ago telling the Queen nobody could’ve predicted this, remember?” Tara met her gaze, then let herself smile, and nodded.

“I should take my own advice, huh?” she murmured.

“Really should,” Willow agreed. “Haven’t I told you enough how smart you are? I can do that more often.” Tara smiled, and lightly ran her fingers through Willow’s hair.

“Flattery doesn’t hurt,” she chuckled, “but no - you do everything I need. You are everything I need.”

“Likewise,” Willow said, slowly sliding her leg over Tara’s lap to straddle her. “So no second-guessing.” Tara nodded, and gazed up into Willow’s eyes.

“Willow,” she whispered, “you’re my safe place. Where my past doesn’t matter. Where nothing anybody says can change who I am now, and who I am is good enough, kind enough, to be yours. To love you as much as I know you deserve to be loved. Here,” she rested her hand over Willow’s chest, “here, nobody can hurt me.”

“I’m... I know how much...” Willow breathed. “I’m really all that, to you?”

“All that and more,” Tara smiled. Willow opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head, unable to find the words for a moment.

“I-I’m really... just... happy,” she said at last.

“Makes two of us,” Tara murmured, tasting Willow’s lips.

“At least we don’t have to worry we’re imposters with each other,” Willow said. Her tone was mischievous, and Tara quirked a grin at her.

“Oh, how’s that?” she teased.

“We’ve got a special word only we know, remember?”

“Oh... yeah, we do,” Tara agreed. “But if I say it...” Her gaze drifted to Willow’s lips. “...you’d stop doing naughty things to me.”

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“Oh yeah,” Willow replied, leaning forward to nudge Tara down to the bed. “Can’t have that.”

“No we can’t,” Tara agreed.

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"Hi there! It's me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding? If not, take another look:

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"I don’t think I’m old enough to know about everything Willow and Tara were doing today, but I do know they agreed on a safeword. You don’t need to be really serious about BDSM to have a safeword, and having one doesn’t mean you have to make a big deal of your scene and can’t goof around and have fun. It just means you and your partners are being responsible, and that’s part of caring for each other. See you next time, bye now!”

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Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2017 9:26 am 
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10. Troll Hammer
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Chris!

Oh man this episode was fun. I take it that Anya = Frosta, yes? She is hilarious.

Also, enjoyed Dawnie's "safe BDSM" PSA at the end.

And holy doppelgangers, Batman! (sorry, tried to think of a better line, but I'm all out thanks to proofreading the next installment of Giles at Xmas).

Sounds like the Horde are gearing up for a serious offensive... can't wait to see how our favorite girls take them on.

Cheers!
DW

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Oops, I made a mythtake... wt4ever


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2017 6:19 pm 
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Thanks! :bounce

I have to admit, that whole bondage thing started out from the joke of the end-of-episode PSA being safewords, and the actual scene in the episode then got worked out just to justify that happening. :laugh I had a lot of fun messing with the conventions of a very innocent (mostly) kids' show. Similarly (though not saucy), making the villain Imp this week - far and away the most laughably childish member of the Horde, so I found it very amusing to make him into this near-unstoppable badass.

Frosta is Anya, yes - she's kind of half-and-half on my scale of She-Ra vs Buffy characters. On the one hand there's the main characters, who (I hope) are very much themselves with regard to BtVS, and actually somewhat of out of character for She-Ra as a result - Tara's not a bad match for Adora, but Willow's barely Madame Razz aside from her wardrobe, cartoon Glimmer (Buffy) is a ditz (with pink hair, too), and Bow (Xander) tended to be either the comic relief or damsel in distress for the ladies to save. Frosta's an easy fit for Anya, she's got some of the same directness of personality (and also libido, she was not shy hitting on He-Man when they met), and having the 'team mum' role I think Queen Joy and Queen Angella are fairly similar as well. I suppose Liam's more Angel than Sea Hawk, in that he's into Buffy rather than Adora/Tara, and Casta has the same kind of magic-adviser role as Jenny. But a lot of the more secondary cast are really just She-Ra characters, with Buffy appearances for fun's sake - in fact ones like Hazar and the Erelandians, the various rulers this episode, and Mortella (Glory) last week, I initially drew using the cartoon cels as originals, and only later, after the stories were written, did I decide to go back to the art and replace them with actors. (I did add in the joke about Highcliff writing Buffy poetry after that, though, just for fun.)

Thanks for the feedback, next episode will be along promptly Saturday morning :wtkiss

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Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2017 5:23 am 
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Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

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“Stars are bright tonight.”

“Mmm,” Willow agreed, taking a moment from gazing at Tara to take in the sky as they lay on the roof of their lakeside house. On the horizon Brightmoon’s glow bathed the forest canopy in silver, but the magical light did nothing to dim the panorama of stars decorating Etheria’s rich purple night.

“King Gruff,” she said, pointing to a constellation. “Always liked him.”

“Gruff?” Tara asked.

“He’s from stories,” Willow explained. “All about a secret kingdom hidden in Greenvale, full of talking animals. Gruff was their ruler - he was a rabbit. They had adventures, and got into mischief, and you know, stuff talking animals do. My first book was a storybook all about Greenvale, the twiggets brought it from Brightmoon for me.”

“Do they all have stories?” Tara wondered. “There’s so many stars.”

“Most of ‘em,” Willow nodded. “Probably all, somewhere or other. There’s a lot of stories too.”

“The Horde doesn’t name the stars,” Tara mused. “It’s strange. They come from there, but the stars are just numbers to them.” She turned over to stroke Willow’s arm. “Tell me all their names?” Willow looked at her, smiled, and settled into her embrace when she offered.

“Okay, well,” she began. “There’s the Laughing Dragon... the Unicorn King... I don’t actually know those ones so let’s say Magicat Getting A Sponge Bath...”

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“Uh-huh,” Tara chuckled.

“I mean if you think about it,” Willow protested, “someone made all of them up, at some point... The Crystal Falls.”

“Which one’s that?” Tara asked. Willow blinked, and sat upright.

“No, I felt something,” she said, as Tara rose. “At the Crystal Falls, to the east. Something’s entered the Whispering Woods there, some new magic.”

“Horde?” Tara asked, on alert.

“It doesn’t feel hostile,” Willow said. She stood and walked to the peak of the roof, beneath the branches of the massive tree that grew up against one side of the house. She placed her hand up against it, and the old, weathered grooves in the bark rippled like water, rearranging themselves around her palm.

“It’s natural, I think,” she said, eyes closed. “Almost familiar - but I’ve never felt it before, either. Not the Woods, but like it. A convergence.” She opened her eyes, suddenly startled. “Like me - nature magic!”

“Should we wake the others?” Tara asked, at Willow’s side.

“Not yet,” Willow said, shaking her head. “The forest isn’t upset. No fear. Curiosity.”

“How far are these Falls?”

“Three hours, maybe, on Spirit,” Willow said.

“Then let’s go see what’s got your forest curious,” Tara suggested.

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As She-Ra, Tara had no need to rest; Willow slept in the saddle, held securely between She-Ra’s arms, as Spirit carried them through the Whispering Woods along the path Willow had shown on one of her maps, following one of the many streams that led into the lake back towards its source.

“Sweetie?” She-Ra gently roused Willow, not long after the two moons had passed their peak in the sky. “I think we’re getting close.”

“Wassat? Um-hmm... Oh?” Willow blinked herself awake and looked around, taking in the terrain they had reached, the forested valleys and glens that were the first sign of World’s Peak mountains, towering into the clouds far in the distance.

“Yep, this is it,” she nodded, accepting She-Ra’s help in lowering herself to the ground. She-Ra dismounted behind her as she walked to the nearby stream, bubbling quietly across an uneven bed between moss-carpeted rocks, and let her fingertips trail through the water.

“Just up ahead,” she said, standing.

“All refreshed?” She-Ra asked as they set off, with Spirit following a little way behind.

“Yup, good as new,” Willow smiled. “The Whispering Woods don’t mind lending me a bit of nocturnalness in a good cause.”

“So that’s where all that nighttime energy you have comes from,” She-Ra said with a soft chuckle.

“No, that’s just being with you,” Willow grinned back. “No extra magic needed.” She reached out to brush aside a veil of fern leaves, and nodded. “Here.”

She-Ra led the way, walking slowly and marvelling at the sight before her - a tiny lake, nestled between banks dotted with wildflowers and trees, every hue of lavender and azure, green and cyan and magenta bathed in light from a waterfall which cascaded over glittering rocks, smooth like glass and glowing like a rainbow.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.

“After we’re done with whatever this is, we’ll come back for a picnic,” Willow suggested.

“Deal. Is it close?”

“Hard to say... I’m picking up the Woods’ awareness, they’re not always great with locations except in general terms. Maybe- Wait, did you...?”

“Hear something,” She-Ra nodded, pointing to the little lake. “Over there. A splash - something’s in the water.”

“I see it. Here.” Willow closed her eyes for a second, then opened them and raised her hands. As she did a cloud of tiny glowing motes rose from a group of bushes nearby, and drifted as one gently across the surface of the water, revealing a form swimming to and fro beneath the white water of the falls. It seemed to pause as the light fell on it, motionless, then it rose. Before Willow and She-Ra’s startled eyes a woman broke the surface, staring around herself at the glowseeds circling her, and then at her two watchers on the bank..

“Hello?” she called.

“Hello,” She-Ra called back. “This is Willow, sorceress of the Whispering Woods, and I’m She-Ra.”

“Sorceress? And She-Ra?” The woman covered her mouth with her hands in surprise, then splashed back into the water and swam under the surface towards them. There was a smooth boulder half-submerged not far from the edge of the water; she pulled herself half out of the water onto it, rising up on her hands. Even out of the water her long hair seemed to float a moment before settling over her shoulders.

“Eyes up, breast gal,” She-Ra whispered to Willow, at the sight of the stranger’s naked torso.

“I, wha, no, I’m not-” Willow protested under her breath; She-Ra shot her a grin to let her know she was teasing.

“You are the Great Rebellion, yes?” the woman asked as they walked to the edge of the water.

“Yes,” Willow nodded. “Yes, that’s us. Part of it, I mean we’re not the whole Rebellion by ourselves.”

“I am Mermista of Salineas,” the women said. “I have come seeking your aid.” With a kick she lifted the rest of her body out of the water and sat on the boulder - from the waist down her skin slowly faded to scales, and instead of legs her lower body was a glittering tail, ending in an iridescent fin.

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“It is no surprise you do now know of us,” Mermista explained. “We merfolk have been a hidden people, for age upon age. Fearful of the surface world - perhaps wrongly so once, but when tales began to reach us of this Horde, we clung to our secrecy, as our only true defence. All but one of us.” Her eyes fell to the water. “Octavia - our general. That she was fierce and driven, this we knew - how else should a great warrior be? Treason we never suspected. Our soldiers, thank the fates, stood loyal to the royal line, but Octavia had allies from the Horde, and before she was driven away...” She sighed, muttered an untranslated curse. “She stole the Great Pearl. It is the source of all that we are, the lifeblood of our city, our very nature. Even now our power wanes, and once gone, we shall no longer be as you see me now, creatures of the water. I mean no insult to you who walk upon land, but for us... the ocean is our home, we love it as, as... as you, sorceress of the Whispering Woods, love this realm of yours. Soon it will be lost to us forever.”

She took a deep breath, and looked up at Willow and She-Ra, her eyes heavy with tears.

“We hear of this Great Rebellion,” she said imploringly. “We hear of kindness, and magic. I beg of you to help us.”

“Of course,” Willow said at once.

“We’ll help,” She-ra agreed. Mermista looked from one to the other, as if hardly daring to believe.

“Truly? Oh, thank you!” She leapt forward from her seat on the boulder, splashing into the shallows and rearing up to hug both Willow and She-ra, sobbing with relief onto their shoulders.

“Oh, I am sorry,” she said, drawing back. “It is... I had hope - this place, you understand, its beauty, surely its mistress and her companions would be beautiful in kind - but we fear the surface for so long, I...” She took a breath, steadying herself, and smiled. Willow noticed She-Ra blushing vividly, and gave her a playful poke in the side.

“How should this great thing be done?” Mermista asked. “I know so little of your land, and your ways.”

“How long do we have?” She-Ra asked. “You said your power was fading?”

“We have a little time,” Mermista replied. “Those of us with magic are doing all that can be done to sustain what power remains in our city. It buys us this chance, but without the return of the Pearl, there can be but one end.”

“Princess Glimmer of Brightmoon leads the Rebellion,” Willow explained. “She’s at our camp, on the great lake - it’s not that far from here.”

“I sense this lake,” Mermista nodded. “All the waters are kin to my ocean.”

“We’ll bring her here - and Queen Joy as well, if we can.”

“Oh, I can come with you, if you wish it?” Mermista offered. “This stream from here, it becomes wider and deeper soon? From there I can swim to your great lake, as fast as you might ride, if that suits?”

“It’s not far to where the next big stream meets, yeah,” Willow nodded. “But-”

“To there, I use legs,” Mermista said. She closed her eyes, ran her hands down her body, and as her palms caressed her hips and down her tail the scales glittered in the moonlight, shifting. All of a sudden, without seeming to have changed at all, the scales were a long jewelled skirt, sitting low on her hips, slit up one side to reveal a pair of legs, on which she slowly stood upright.

“Well,” Willow said, trying not to stare in surprise, “let’s get going then.”

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True to her word Mermista had made quick work of the trek down to where the stream joined others and widened. Once she returned to the water she kept pace easily with Spirit, on the path by the bank, until the river made a bow to the south, while the path kept on straight. Willow had called Casta through the forest during the ride back, and she had in turn woken Buffy and Xander, and appeared in Brightmoon to rouse Queen Joy, all of whom were waiting by the time they returned. Mermista’s energy hadn’t flagged, it seemed - despite the longer path the had swum, it wasn’t long before she appeared, darting vigorously through the water from the south where the river fed into the great lake.

“Hello my friends!” she called, rising from the water as her tail turned to legs once again, on which she ran the last few metres up the bank to hug Willow again..

“Hi again,” Willow said, gathering her wits as She-Ra got hugged next, venturing a friendly pat on the back as she glanced at Willow in mild confusion. “How was the swim? Do you need to rest at all?”

“Oh, no,” Mermista shook her head, releasing She-Ra. “These Whispering Woods, there is such vitality and love in them - yours without a doubt,” she added, giving Willow an adoring smile. “In the waters of such a place, I could swim forever.”

“Uh, good. Well then?” She held out her arm, presenting Mermista to the group gathered to meet her. “Mermista of Salineas - Xander, leader of our rangers, Casta of Mystacor, Princess Glimmer and Queen Joy of Brightmoon.”

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“Majesties!” Mermista gasped, falling to her knees so quickly Willow and She-Ra were alarmed that her legs had suddenly stopped working, but as she ducked her head and lay her arms along the ground it became obvious it was intentional.

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” Joy said gracefully. “You’re most welcome in our realm, Mermista.”

“I am honoured,” the Merwoman said, getting back to her feet, casting a bashful smile at the Queen, then turning to the others. “Lady Casta, Sir Xander.”

“Uh, just ‘Xander’,” the ranger smiled, eyes fixed on Mermista’s face as if afraid to look anywhere else.

“I brought these from the palace library,” Joy said, ushering the group to a boulder, which served as a table on which she unfurled a bundle of maps, each detailing parts of Etheria’s oceans.

“Here,” Mermista said promptly, pointing to one. “The Sea of Sighs. Salineas is here, far beneath the waves. And here,” she indicated part of the coast, “Octopus Cove. It is here Octavia now dwells, with these Hordesmen. For long we neglected the surface, even the shallow waters, and were ignorant of what transpired there. Our scouts have seen great construction here, walls in the sea, armoured vessels, and terrible weapons of war.”

“A harbour stronghold,” She-Ra nodded. “There are several around the Growling Sea, supporting the Horde navy. This must be a new one, to secure the Sea of Sighs.”

“Did you swim all this way?” Buffy asked. “That’s half-way round the world.”

“Oh, no,” Mermista replied. “I use old magic. Long ago there are paths, magic places where one may move between the realms. Near Salineas there is one such, in a grotto beneath a place we call the Mystic Isle, and your Crystal Falls, this is another. This is an old tale among us, but the place is known, and I study the old ways and old magic. The passage was very difficult. I do not know if I can return,” she added, looking down at the map forlornly, “but for my people, I come here.”

“The royal paths,” Joy said thoughtfully. “Brightmoon’s lore mentions them, in our oldest texts. I had no idea they were real.” She looked at Casta, who was nodding.

“Perhaps this magic can be reinforced?” the sorceress suggested. “As the monarch of this realm, your magic has great sway - and you, Willow, as guardian of the Woods. I shall return part of myself to Mystacor to study this.” Mermista gazed at her in wonder as she shimmered, a pulse of light growing then fading from the jewel set into her chest.

“Could others use this path?” Willow wondered. “Besides merfolk?”

“Perhaps,” Casta said. “And there are spells to allow one to breathe beneath the water, for a time.”

“If it works, we could get there faster than even the Sea Hawk could carry us, even if we got a message to Liam right away.”

“Time is of the essence,” She-Ra agreed. “Princess?”

“I guess those swimming lessons are going to come in handy after all,” Buffy said. “How heavily defended are these Horde harbours?”

“Massively,” She-Ra replied. “Heavy fortifications, and warships at anchor.”

“It’s where Octavia took this Pearl?” Buffy asked Mermista.

“Yes. Many times I have performed the rituals. I feel the Pearl as if it is part of my body.”

“Hit and run?” Xander suggested.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Buffy nodded. “We can’t make a simple frontal attack, even with She-Ra leading the charge. And... is it possible Octavia might try to destroy the Pearl? Rather than lose it?”

“It would be a terrible thing,” Mermista said quietly. “But in her madness... Yes, she might do this.”

“That’s our goal then,” Buffy decided. “Go in by stealth and diversion, get the Pearl out of there before the Horde have a chance to use it as a ‘hostage’, or worse. Cause a ruckus to keep them off balance, and get away before they’ve got their act together. A small group, but powerful. Casta, any chance you could project that far?”

“Doubtful,” the sorceress said apologetically.

“Willow?” Buffy said, looking to her friend.

“Oceans are full of life,” Willow replied. “Not quite what I’m used to, but close.”

“Your magic of the Woods will be welcome in our realm,” Mermista promised. “I shall make it so.”

“She-Ra, naturally,” Buffy went on. “Xander - you’re in charge here. I’ll be going as well.”

“Aw man, I never get to see underwater kingdoms,” Xander complained with a grin.

“But you are royalty!” Mermista protested. “I cannot ask you to risk yourself!”

“I’m a rebel,” Buffy countered politely. “We’re all in this together.”

“My daughter never got the knack of sitting idly by,” Joy added proudly.

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Evening was falling by the time the rebels returned to the Crystal Falls, having made all the preparations they could, along with Xander and Joy, to see them off, and in Xander’s case lead the horses back to camp afterwards. Mermista had gotten a head start up the river, and despite swimming against the current was already waiting in the small lake, deep in conversation with Casta.

“We are prepared,” the sorceress said, rising from the water. “Willow, your Majesty, if you’d like to begin?”

“Of course,” Joy nodded. “The middle of the lake, as we discussed?”

“I shall support you both,” Mermista said. Willow handed her jacket to She-Ra and started taking off her boots; with only friends about the rebel camp she had never seen the need for a swimsuit there, so she had borrowed one from Buffy, worn under her clothes on the ride out. Queen Joy had simply changed into a short dress before flying to the Falls, reasoning that it would dry out by itself on the flight back in no time.

Together they waded out towards Mermista, who held her hands out to them, summoning tiny ripples in the lake around their legs. When they were immersed to their waists they exchanged a glance, then Willow stepped gingerly forwards first, grinning as she sank no further.

“It’s working, I’m not touching the ground,” she smiled, moving a little further out as Joy followed her.

“Alright then - as the good lady said,” Joy said, giving Casta a quick wave. The three stood together in the centre of the lake, and at a wave of Mermista’s hand Joy slowly rose up until only her feet were in the water.

“Yours is moonlight and stars,” the merwoman intoned. Joy nodded, and steadied herself with her hands on Willow’s shoulders as the redhead took up position in front of her, leaning back slightly to rest against her hips.

“Yours is the forest, sustained by water below and sky above,” Mermista continued, swimming close to Willow and resting the back of her head against her stomach. “And mine is the deep, that moves beneath and within all things.”

The three women closed their eyes, Joy lifting her arms towards the sky, Willow reaching out towards the banks of the lake, Mermista lowering her arms into its depths. Energy began to emerge from the forest, spectral vines snaking out towards the trio, swimming like ephemeral snakes towards their mistress, rising to coil first around her arms then tightly around her body. They reached up, gripping Joy’s legs and hips as a gleam in her palms intensified into a beam of silver light that soared into the velvet evening sky, and down, around Mermista’s shoulders as the water of the lake trembled and began to pulse with concentric waves. The shine of water seemed to flow up Willow’s magic, while the moonlight beam coursed back down, joining their three together in a blinding coalescence of light that even She-Ra had to shield her eyes from.

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Then in an instant it was over - the light vanished, Willow sank at once down to her neck, and Joy gave an un-regal squawk as she fell backwards with a splash, emerging a moment later, to the others’ relief, to push wet hair out of her eyes and chuckle ruefully.

“I am so sorry, Highness,” Mermista said as they swam back towards the bank. “And Willow - I give everything to the spell, and-”

“No harm done,” Joy assured her.

“We’re going swimming anyway,” Willow grinned. “Did it work, though?”

“It... it worked,” Mermista said, suddenly sounding awed. “I feel it! Before the path was like, like a storm, so many currents I must struggle against, but now, so calm!”

“It’s impressive you were able to navigate the path after so long in disuse,” Casta offered. “The first rulers must have done such rituals every so often to sustain them.”

“Will it last long?” Joy asked.

“Years, I believe, until we must tend to it again,” Casta nodded. “I must study more, but from what I sense it has been dormant for... hundreds of years, perhaps more. It’s no wonder even Willow didn’t sense it here, until Mermista used it.”

“Could there be others?” Willow wondered, struggling not to grin too obviously as she noticed She-Ra covertly taking an interest in her current state, her suit clinging to her.

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“The old lore speaks of royal paths as if there were many,” Joy mused.

“If there are more within the Woods,” Casta said, “knowing what to look for, we may be able to discover them.”

“Another day, though,” Joy suggested. “The water spells?”

“Of course,” Casta nodded, as Buffy disrobed down to her swimsuit as well, and stood with Willow and She-Ra, each taking a satchel from the horses’ saddlebags.

“Until this moment tomorrow, you shall breathe the water as if it were air,” Casta explained, as she touched Buffy and then Willow on the shoulder, her hand glowing as she did so, “and know no harm from the depths. I have rehearsed this magic with Mermista, she can cast it again as often as you need.”

“You do not need the spell?” Mermista asked She-Ra.

“My magic sustains me,” she replied. “We experimented some time ago, in the great lake - I was under for a good few hours, and just fine.”

“Miracles upon miracles,” Mermista murmured, shaking her head.

“Come back safe,” Xander wished, hugging Willow and She-Ra together around the shoulders, while Joy held Buffy for a moment, before swapping.

“Look after the Woods, okay?” Willow grinned.

“You’ll find ‘em right where you left ‘em,” Xander chuckled. “Promise. Good journey.”

“Good journey,” Joy echoed.

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After a few minutes for Willow and Buffy to get used to the strange sensation of inhaling underwater, overcoming the instinctive belief that they would end up swallowing a lungful of water rather than the fresh air Casta’s magic provided, the quartet joined hands, with Mermista in the lead. Her powerful tail dragged them easily down as she submerged and swam towards the bottom of the lake, and then there was a sensation like being carried along with a current, magnified a thousand-fold, rushing at incredible speed - and then it was over, and diving down had become rising up, there was light filtering through the water from above, and they broke the surface. Willow and Buffy, and even She-Ra, took deep breaths by reflex as soon as the air touched their faces, then looked around, finding themselves in a pool surrounded by water-smoothed rock faces, glittering with exposed veins of quartz, and beyond the grotto’s opening, daylight spilling in.

“Did we really just travel all that way?” Buffy wondered.

“This is the Sea of Sighs,” Mermista confirmed.

“The other side of Etheria,” Willow shook her head in amazement.

“We’ll definitely have the element of surprise,” She-Ra noted with a faint smile. “I don’t think we could possibly be further from where the Horde thinks the Rebellion is. Which way’s Octopus Cove?”

“To the south,” Mermista replied. “You go at once?”

“Every minute the Horde has your Pearl is a risk,” She-Ra nodded, as they made their way to the grotto entrance, and emerged onto the beach beyond, with the island’s peaks rising up behind them. “I can swim us there quickly.”

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“My illusions will get us close without being found,” Buffy added. “If it looks like we can snatch the Pearl and get away, that’d be ideal. At the least though, we can get a good look at what we’ll be up against.”

“No need to tire yourselves swimming, though,” Mermista said, holding up a hand. She walked a few paces to the edge of the water, cupped her hands around her mouth, and voiced an eerie, echoing song that sounded as if it came from underwater even above the waves.

“We have our steeds, as you of the land do,” she explained, walking back. A moment later a pair of heads emerged from the gentle waves off the shore, long, equine snouts and gleaming golden scales.

“Seahorses?” Buffy said in surprise.

“Why else call them ‘horses’?” Mermista giggled.

“They’re not that big back home,” Willow noted with a grin.

“Sundancer, and Seaharp,” Mermista said, indicating each of the two seahorses. “They will carry you quickly and quietly. No Horde machine we have seen can match them, so at need, you shall have a swift path to safety.” She looked to Willow. “And we shall gather all that we can from Salineas, and be at your heels with all speed. We have not such power as you, but I am at your side in this, and all my people that I can rally as well.”

“Don’t take any risks,” She-Ra warned. “The Horde won’t have come here just for Octavia’s benefit, and I doubt they’re counting on the Pearl’s capture alone to defeat you. There’ll be a force at the harbour ready to fight merfolk.” She took Mermista’s hand. “But we’re grateful for your help. Willow knows our signals. With luck I’ll be able to sabotage the harbour’s defenses, and make it safe for your people to attack - we may need the diversion to get to the Pearl.”

“We are forever in your debt,” Mermista said, embracing She-Ra warmly, then Buffy.

“Be careful,” Willow whispered, as She-Ra hugged her in turn, holding her close for a long moment before standing back.

“I’ll look after her,” Buffy said softly, as she gave Willow a quick hug of her own.

“You do that,” Willow smiled. “See you soon.” She waved to the pair as they waded out into the shallow surf, and watched as they figured out how to get astride their patient seahorse mounts and moved away, gaining speed as they left the shore behind.

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Willow wondered if Mermista would summon up another seahorse for her, but this proved unnecessary - holding the merwoman’s hand as she sped through the depths of the Sea of Sighs, Willow found she was not being so much dragged along as guided: some subtle power of Mermista’s creating a cocoon of calm water around them both that allowed her to swim, and Willow to be carried along, at incredible speed with little apparent effort.

Marvelling as she was at the display of magic, and the sights under the ocean - massive schools of fish rippling along like gigantic ribbons, mountains and canyons beneath, and increasingly a rainbow array of coral as the plain seafloor nearer the Mystic Isle transformed into a vast reef - it seemed no time at all until Mermista pointed ahead, and Willow got her first sight of Salineas, a gleaming dome set amid peaks of coral, like a pearl itself. As they drew closer Willow saw the dome was translucent, and began to be able to pick out buildings, torus-shaped halls and spiral towers like huge shells, and everywhere the gleam of water, rivers and lakes and pools threading through the heart of the city.

“Do not take it amiss if my people are surprised at you,” Mermista said, as she led Willow down towards the edge of the dome - her voice had something of water’s muffled quality, but was strong and clear nonetheless. “Not since the time of our grandfathers has a surface dweller walked among us here, and even then, so few. But you are my guest,” she went on, bringing Willow in gently to land on a broad platform extending into the sea, “and I make my home yours. I shall allow no-one to show you disrespect.”

“It’s fine, I understand,” Willow said, finding her own voice somehow carried as clearly. “I’m a new face, it’s natural... wow.”

Passing through the wall of the dome was like walking through a silk curtain, and on the other side, seeing the city clearly without the sea and the gleam of the dome between them, she realised she hadn’t yet taken in its scope. The building she had seen were not just spread out ahead of them, but above and below, on land bridges rich with grasses and flowers gently dipping and weaving above and below one another, so that they could see down to the roofs of tall towers below, and above them the foundations of others - some even extending through the land they were built on, extending down into open space with balconies and windows. And the waterways followed suit, reaching every avenue and building, rivers lifting off the land to flow across empty void to reach the next island of city, great columns of water suspended by nothing, and merfolk coming and going as casually as if walking along a street, using the waterways as paths.

“How...?” Willow asked, unable to find the words for it.

“Our paradise,” Mermista said proudly. “Now you know how I felt, when I saw your forest, yes?”

“Mermista!” a voice called, and Willow turned to see a merman approaching them - a soldier of some kind it seemed, his broad chest covered by ornate armour, and a trident in one hand. He rose from the stream beside their platform, tail turning to legs, switching from swimming to walking without skipping a beat.

“You have brought an outsider?” he asked. “What madness-”

“This is Lady Willow, the sorceress of the Whispering Woods!” Mermista retorted, advancing to meet him and poking his armoured chest fiercely. “She is radiant as the Pearl itself, and she shall know only warmth from our kind! Is that clear?”

“Yes, Princess,” the soldier said, after a moment’s shock at the vehemence of her response. Turning from her he faced Willow and dropped to one knee, bowing his head. “Forgive me, highness.”

“Uh... no problem?” Willow hazarded, taken aback.

“I shall herald you to your father,” the soldier promised Mermista, retreating back to the water and diving headlong.

“Come,” Mermista said, extending her hand to Willow. “We walk to the palace, this way.”

“Did he call me ‘highness’?” Willow asked quietly, as Mermista led her by one of the land bridges, towards what seemed to be some kind of market square, beyond which a gleaming golden tower rose.

“I... thought it best,” the merwoman replied, seeming bashful. “So that you should be made welcome, even by those who cling to our secrecy, I... indicated to him that you are of higher status than myself. As I am of the royal line, thus you are worthy of all consideration here.” She risked a look at Willow. “I did not presume too much? You are a great sorceress, it is only right.”

“I, no, it’s fine,” Willow smiled, a little dazed. “Good thinking, I mean about the secrecy thing - if it helps me help you... Princess Glimmer will think it’s hilarious you know, after all the times I teased her about being ‘your majesty’.” She giggled, and Mermista laughed softly along with her.

“This is the palace,” she said after a moment walking in silence, amid the curious stares of shopkeepers and passers-by who paused in their activity to watch them pass - either they were less wary than the soldier, or he had passed on word of Mermista’s endorsement, since many inclined their heads, and parents lifted their children into the arms and onto their shoulders to see. Willow found it odd to be the focus of such attention, but having been on close terms with Brightmoon’s royal family for so long, it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar ground.

Streams of water flowed into the facade of the palace, part of the building itself, and from them a quartet of guards emerged, armoured and armed similarly to the one they had encountered before. They stood aside at once though, two opening the great doors while their companions presented arms, and within Willow found herself looking up into a dome that was like a liquid diamond, rippling facets refracting light in an ever-changing rainbow from the sky above, lighting golden pillars and coral-like sculptures in the throne room beneath.

“Daughter,” a deep voice sounded from the far end.

Mermista strode forward ahead of Willow, meeting a figure that rose from his coral throne - towering, broad-shouldered, face framed by a great white beard, and alone of all the merfolk Willow has seen thus far, who seemed to wear little besides the skirts their tails somehow reverted to while walking, he was dressed in rich blue robes, decorated with bronze metalwork.

“Father,” Mermista said, giving him a hug, which he returned somewhat grudgingly.

“You used the old path, didn’t you?” he complained. “Did I not forbid such a risk?”

“Actually no,” Mermista pointed out. “You said it could not be done, not that I should not try.” The king shook his head, and Willow was reminded of Queen Joy’s expression of fond resignation whenever Buffy did something impetuous.

“Father,” Mermista went on. “May I present the sorceress of the Whispering Woods, kind and noble champion of the Great Rebellion, the Lady Willow. Willow, my father, King Mercia.”

“Highness,” Willow said, kneeling politely.

“Rise, sorceress,” the king said. “I thought my daughter’s proposal foolhardy, but here you stand, in our hour of most desperate need.”

“Two other great warriors came with us,” Mermista added. “She-Ra, and Princess Glimmer of Brightmoon. Even now they make for Octopus Cove, to reclaim the Pearl if they may. We must send all help we can.” Her father looked levelly at her for a moment, then squared his shoulders.

“Let it be so,” he nodded. “The army shall muster, for what good it may accomplish. Daughter... the light grows weak. I fear we were over-optimistic of how long Salineas would endure without her Pearl.”

“It shall be enough,” Mermista said, her voice strong with determination. “I can marshall the magic of the sea, you know this.”

“I might be able to help,” Willow offered. “Your daughter explained the magic surrounding the Pearl and the city to me. All the plant life under the sea here - it’s different to the Whispering Woods, but not that different.”

“If you can do this thing, and your companions reclaim our lost treasure,” the king replied, “your names shall live forever among us. I shall see to the army. Daughter, cast what spells you and Lady Willow may.”

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“Normally, we give to the ocean, the reefs and all that lives beneath the waves,” Mermista elaborated, as she and Willow entered the chamber she called her ‘focus’, where her magic was strongest. She had offered to show Willow the way by land, but, intrigued by the water bridges, Willow had opted to swim, and marvelled at the view as they moved down through the city, past level after level in their translucent stream. On first entering the water - with the ground reassuringly just beneath - she had reached out a hand from within to test the edge of the stream, and felt a subtle but pressing current urging her back towards the centre; Mermista had explained that the magic that suspended the water in midair also kept anyone from breaching it and falling.

Finally, at the base of the city, the merwoman showed her to their destination, a chamber fashioned from living coral, where they sat on soft sponge-like cushions half-submerged in a pool of gleaming magic water. Simply being in the room gave Willow the sense of the vast spread of sea life somehow connected to this place - once seated as Mermista showed her, immersed to the waist, she could feel the energy and vitality almost as strongly as she did her Whispering Woods at home.

“The Pearl is a treasure we use to maintain our city and our way of living,” Mermista went on, “but it is not ours to hoard selfishly, so we spread its power throughout our realm, for all to share. Now,” she sighed, “with it gone, it is our realm that shares with us.”

“I feel it,” Willow nodded. “Compassion, in the energy.”

“Your forest would do the same for you, I have no doubt,” Mermista smiled. “You and I shall give guidance to our realm - give focus to its kindness, to best sustain the dome. It cannot replace the Pearl - even if such a thing were possible, we could never sacrifice so much of our realm for ourselves - but it will give us precious time. Do you feel what is needed?”

“Yes,” Willow replied, resting her hands in the water, as Mermista did. “This is your forest, really - so much like mine. I can feel your magic. I know how to help.” She grinned. “It’s an odd feeling, you know? All the way over the other side of the world, and this feels familiar, like home.”

“As it was for me at the Crystal Falls,” Mermista nodded. They remained silent for a moment, their breathing settling into a shared rhythm as tiny patterns moved through the pool around them, then the merwoman swallowed, and added, in a soft tone: “Perhaps, this could be a second home to you?”

“Second home?” Willow asked, surprised.

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“Our magics harmonise so effortlessly,” Mermista whispered, “and I... when I say you are radiant, I do not exaggerate. Oh, I have,” She laughed and shook her head, making her buoyant hair spread out around her, “minnows in the stomach, like a small girl!”

“Oh! You mean-”

“We could be so much more than magic. And it is fitting, yes?” She met Willow’s gaze, yearning and - now Willow understood what she was seeing - sultry. “The forest and water are joined always, a cycle of life. All my bounties, yours, to-”

“Uh hey, wait,” Willow shook her head, smiling nervously. “Hold your horses... seahorses, maybe... It’s not that you’re not... I mean, look at you, and you’re lovely and- but I’m, uh, spoken for, you see?”

“There is another?” Mermista asked in a tiny voice. Willow couldn’t help but feel for her, even under the circumstances.

“Tara,” she said gently.

“Tara,” Mermista nodded, taking a deep breath. “I... could wish for myself, but I hear you say her name and... I know this is right, you and her.” She smiled to herself, then looked back at Willow anxiously. “I have not offended...?”

“No! No,” Willow insisted. “You’re right, our magics harmonise, your ocean is beautiful and - you’re beautiful. If we were... well I’d be a lucky woman. Really.” She reached out her hand. “Friends, right?”

“Yes,” Mermista said, taking her hand and holding it tightly. “Friends.” She giggled. “Maybe I tell your Princess Glimmer this, she can tease...?”

“Don’t!” Willow protested, laughing. Mermista laughed too, and as they calmed, and their hands returned to the water, she met Willow’s gaze, with great warmth, and no sadness.

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Buffy peered over a barren ridge, taking in the view beyond.

“The Horde doesn’t do pretty, really, huh?” she mused quietly. Tara gave a wry grin.

“Not unless your idea of ‘pretty’ is industrial and lots of red banners,” she replied. “What do you think?”

“I think that’s a lot of ships.”

Tara nodded - the harbour, a steel and concrete blight on the already barren cove, was crowded with troopships and destroyers, protected by armoured booms across the mouth of the harbour, and a dozen automated turrets.

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“It’s an invasion force,” she agreed. “They must have planned this ahead of time, to have all this ready. Steal the Pearl to weaken Salineas, then send these in to finish the job. How many soldiers did Mermista say they had?”

“Not enough to fight off this lot,” Buffy grimaced. “Well, just as well we’re here. What do you think - I grab the Pearl, you smash stuff, we head for the hills as fast as we can?”

“Between your cloaking and my codes, we might make it inside unseen,” Tara said thoughtfully. “We’ll keep She-Ra in reserve as long as possible - I could make a heck of a mess down there, but not stand my ground indefinitely, not against that army once they realise they’re under attack. As soon as I transform, we’re on the clock.”

“Best plan we’ve got,” Buffy agreed. “Is that ship moving out - the big one?”

“A battleship,” Tara said. “It’s still rigged for cargo transfer, not battle - must just be moving to another pier.” She peered at the distant vessel, as it moved out from behind a row of cranes. “Can you give me a closer look at that?”

Buffy obliged, holding her hands steady as the air in front of Tara’s face warped into curved discs, forming a magical telescope.

“Recognise anything?”

“Yes,” Tara said, eyes wide. “That’s Dreadnought - General Sunder’s flagship!”

“Your old commander?”

“Hordak handpicked him to train me as an officer,” Tara nodded. “He must be in charge of this army.”

“What’s that mean for our chances?”

“Little bit good, and a lot bad,” Tara frowned. “He’s not a monster, like some of the others - he won’t be aiming to massacre the merfolk just because they’re in the way. But he’s an experienced commander, he won’t make any easy mistakes, or leave things to chance.”

“Let’s hope us turning up here didn’t factor into his plans,” Buffy muttered. She took Tara’s hand, concentrated, and the two of them faded from view.

“C’mon,” her voice came from seemingly thin air. “Let’s get this done.”

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Quiet footsteps and the occasional loose stone were the only signal of their passage down the slope towards the harbour’s fortified land side - nothing visible enough for the sentries or the automated turrets to spot. The Horde troopers patiently gazing back and forth across the open paved-over approaching path saw nothing either; only once hidden in the shadow of a power feed did Buffy drop her illusion shroud, so Tara could see her hands to work at the service hatch low on the wall.

“We’ll have an hour before this registers on their security,” she whispered, prying an electrical panel open and carefully repositioning several of the wires inside. Buffy nodded, and led the way once the hatch opened with a quiet scrape of dry hinges, following Tara’s whispered directions through the maze-like maintenance shafts until they emerged on the other side, in the darkened corner of a repair slip.

“Disable the guns and we can swim out,” she suggested, pointing to the glimmer of sunlight through the water at the far end of the slip, where the sea-doors closed off only the above-water portion of the entrance.

“Maybe,” Tara murmured, edging around the bulk of the Horde gunboat resting in the bay and peering into the gloom beyond. Spotlights formed pools of light in an otherwise vast, shadowy chamber, dotted with windows and catwalks on the far side, and echoing with the distant mechanical tramp of troopers. Buffy joined her, and drew back with a start as loud footsteps suddenly sounded from just beyond the door, and a squad of Horde troopers marched past.

“Aquatroopers,” Tara whispered. “Those helmets feed air to... what’s left of the people inside.” Buffy grimaced.

“Any ideas where a giant magic pearl would get stashed in all this?” she asked quietly. Tara studied the layout of the fortress’s interior, then nodded.

“That’ll do for a start,” she replied, pointing off in the distance. “Power control. Anything as important as the Pearl will have forcefields around it. That’ll show us where that kind of power’s being diverted to. And you okay to cloak us again?”

“Ready when you are,” Buffy nodded, squaring her shoulders.

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Protected by Buffy’s invisibility they reached the power control room without being spotted. Tara glanced warily at the automated workers overseeing the flow of power through the massive conduits, but concluded they had no awareness of what was going on around them, and patted Buffy on the shoulder to let her know she could drop her illusion.

“This should do it,” she whispered, approaching the central lectern and cautiously putting in a code. A series of displays flared to life in the air around her, but she hadn’t had a chance to touch more than a couple of them, zooming in on particular areas, before a siren sounded.

“Damn it!” she swore. “Go invisible!”

“What about you?” Buffy protested, fading from view.

“Not ready yet,” Tara shook her head, quickly paging through screen after screen. “Eastern block... above ground...”

“Tara!” Buffy warned, hearing footfalls from outside, some way off but nearing.

“They know someone’s broken in!” Tara whispered back. “If they find me and don’t know about you, we could still do this.”

“Let them take you?” Buffy asked, incredulous. “Change now!”

“Tara’s a spy, She-Ra’s a military assault,” Tara said. “They’d lock the whole base down.”

“They’re not going to just let you keep your sword so you can change later!”

“Sunder will question me, it’ll buy time,” Tara insisted. “He doesn’t mistreat prisoners - here it is, the Pearl! East level five, central isolation! Standard Horde forcefields, you can get through that. Go! I’ll be fine, get the Pearl, then come back - they’ll put me on the battleship, make a distraction and I’ll go for my sword then.”

“I don’t like this plan!” Buffy complained. “Willow’s going to kill me for one thing...”

“It’s the best odds of saving the merfolk,” Tara said resolutely. “I’ll open a bunch of files so they won’t know what I was after - slip out now, before they fill the room up and bump into you!”

“You... keep yourself safe, okay!?” Buffy whispered, almost in Tara’s ear. “I’m coming back for you.”

“I know,” Tara nodded. Buffy remained invisible, but she could almost see her exasperated shake of her head, then she had the feeling that the empty space beside her really was empty. Working quickly she opened up pages showing the power feeds to the base’s communications, weapons, fuelling systems for the berthed ships - everything a saboteur might target - then, steeling herself with a slow breath, she placed her sword on the console, stepped back, and put her hands behind her head, just as Horde troopers barged into the room, surrounding her in a ring of blasters.

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Shrouded from sight, Buffy watched from a high catwalk as Tara was marched out of the power control room at blaster point, one of the troopers carrying her sword. She shook her head and crept away, careful not to let her boots make too much of a sound against the metal floor.

It was the work of a few minutes to find her destination and make her way there - guards and checkpoints blocked her way, but true to Tara’s word her capture didn’t seem to have sparked any additional alert, and nothing prevented Buffy from sneaking past the troopers and clambering carefully over the guard walls and barricades. At last she found central isolation, a chamber protected by a squad of troopers outside, but within empty save for the layers of shimmering forcefields surrounding the central dais, where the Pearl waited, a gleaming sphere glowing with a complex internal radiance. Buffy checked every corner thoroughly for cameras, or any angle that could be seen from outside, then let out a quiet sigh and decloaked.

“Alright,” she whispered, gazing at the forcefields. “Look on the bright side, Casta’ll be over the moons when I tell her I managed this.”

She steeled herself, then reached out a hand towards the energy barrier, her skin beginning to glow. As she touched the field, instead of its power repelling her, her own glow and the forcefield began to flow into one another, and in the space of a few heartbeats her entire body had transformed into the same spectrum of light as the field itself.

“Score one for magic,” she quipped, a grin on her now semi-translucent face, as she walked through the forcefield and reached for the Pearl. “Okay now, let’s get you home quick. Hang in there Tara.”

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General Sunder picked up the sword and studied it thoughtfully, before placing it in a holding field and turning to his prisoner, confined behind a larger field.

“Captain Tara,” he said levelly.

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“General,” Tara replied. She had been surprised to see his right arm missing, replaced by a robotic limb, but in every other respect he was exactly as she remembered: calm, measured, deliberate, the epitome of a disciplined commander. He turned slightly to the aquatrooper at the helm station, and at a tilt of his head the trooper saluted and left the bridge. Sunder turned back, removing his helmet and setting it aside.

“It was a respectable attempt,” he allowed. “But I studied the records of your attack on the arctic mine. You used a parallax code to enter the facility there - which you shouldn’t have had access to as a Captain. Clever. But it led me to wonder what other security files you may have unearthed before you turned your back on us. You were detected as soon as you overrode the maintenance sensors on the outer perimeter.”

“I never belonged to the Horde,” Tara said firmly.

“You were the finest officer I ever trained,” Sunder said, frowning. “A credit to your rank. I never thought to hear you, of all people, had betrayed us. You were loyal.”

“I was used!” Tara insisted. “Shadow Weaver was controlling me - I was ‘loyal’ only because I had no more choice than the poor souls the factories mutilate and turn into troopers.”

“Impossible!” Sunder snapped.

“I swear it!” Tara shot back. The General glared at her for a long moment, then turned away, staring out at the commanding view from Dreadnought’s flag bridge.

“I’ve never known you to be false to your word,” he muttered.

“You never knew my word,” Tara replied. “Only Hordak’s and Shadow Weaver’s, out of my mouth like I was a puppet.”

“You know I don’t care for their sorcery,” Sunder insisted. “But these insurgents you’ve thrown your lot in with, the ‘Great Rebellion’, they’re no better. Witches and agitators-”

“They freed me!” Tara raised her voice. “After I’d led armies against them, helped enslave their people, they should have had every reason to hate me. Instead they treated me kindly, and when they found out what the Horde had done to me, they sheltered me - they forgave me long before I could forgive myself-”

“We do what needs to be done,” Sunder said flatly. “It’s not ours to beg forgiveness, from peasants who think only of their little kingdoms and squabbles - without the Horde, what would Etheria be? Petty royals bickering over borders and taxes, as if this one little world’s troubles compare to the powers that rule the stars. Etheria is strong under the Horde. The Horde is Etheria.”

“Maybe we’d argue,” Tara allowed. “Better that than to be slaves. The Horde isn’t peace, or order, or even strength - it’s slavery at the point of a blaster, nothing more. You know that.” She shook her head. “Even when I was enchanted, I knew you didn’t believe in everything the Horde does. The brutality, the cruelty. My mind was twisted then - I thought it was commendable you didn’t give in to your doubts.”

“And now?” Sunder asked.

“Now I wonder why you give in to the Horde,” Tara said. “You’re not a monster, and you’re not under any spell. You’ve got more in common with the Rebellion than you do with Hordak.”

“Never. I am loyal.”

“To what? Conquest for its own sake? Enslaving people? Exterminating?”

“To the Horde!” Sunder growled. “I swore an oath. If serving alongside beasts and murderers is what I’m commanded to do-”

“You can’t believe that-”

“I gave this,” Sunder interrupted her, holding up his metal arm. “When you betrayed the Horde, an officer of my command, I faced the consequences.”

“I’m sorry,” Tara said quietly in the silence that followed.

“You don’t understand,” the General shook his head, his voice calm. “I went willingly - when the order came.” He met her gaze without flinching. “I am a Hordesman.”

“Hordak doesn’t deserve that kind of loyalty,” Tara protested.

“Perhaps not,” Sunder agreed. “But I don’t get to decide that. Nor do you.”

“What the Horde does is wrong,” Tara replied. “It’s evil. We have to oppose that.”

“Just words,” Sunder said.

“So is an oath,” Tara pointed out. “They have meaning because we decide they do.”

Sunder opened his mouth to reply, but before he could there was a roar of noise from outside, and he staggered as the deck rocked.

“Report!” he barked into his console, gripping it to remain standing.

“Harbour power plant under attack,” an automated voice replied tonelessly. “Tidal disturbance affecting vessel stability.”

“Tidal- the ocean people,” Sunder growled. “Activate main battery, set fuses for subsurface detonation. Is this-” He turned back to Tara, and frowned to see her eyes closed, concentrating fiercely, with her hand outstretched.

“What are you doing...” he said uncertainly, turning to where her hand was reaching - her sword, suspended in the holding field, but trembling, the gemstone in the blade pulsing with light.

“Stop!” he barked, lunging for the sword, but before he could reach it the holding field ruptured with a crack and a flare of energy, striking the field around Tara and breaking it as well. The sword leapt into her hand, and in a blaze of light she was She-Ra.

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“You!” Sunder gasped. “It’s you!”

“I’m sorry it has to be this way, General,” she said, lifting him with one hand and pinning him to the wall, while her other worked the command console. On the battleship’s forward deck stretching out ahead of them the massive turrets ceased their slow turn towards the ocean, and swivelled back towards the harbour base.

“What are you doing?!” the General shouted, as She-Ra touched a final control, watching the turrets belch fire, their shells blasting apart the port’s defensive guns.

“The merfolk are taking back what was stolen from them,” she said curtly. “I won’t allow you to hurt them. I won’t allow you to conquer them.” She turned back to the General as the guns fired again, this time at the smaller warships riding at anchor alongside Dreadnought.

“Come with me, General,” she said.

“As your prisoner?” Sunder asked. She-Ra shook her head, as the great ship’s guns lowered again, this time aimed at its own deck.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she insisted. “You’re a man of honour. The Horde hasn’t taken that from you, not yet.” She held him securely as the ship shook with explosions, sirens blaring, and the deck began to tilt forward.

“Take me in chains if you wish,” Sunder sneered. “I’ll not abandon my post.”

“This ship is dying!” She-Ra pleaded, releasing him.

“So be it,” he nodded, gripping the console to keep upright. “This is my choice. Make yours.”

She-Ra stared at him, and finally dropped her gaze and nodded.

“Alright,” she said quietly. She let out a sigh, then dug her fingers into the metal of the bulkhead, ripping off part of it, and bent the thick panel around the General, pinning his arms and legs.

“Come on then,” she muttered to herself, picking up the warped metal, and her awestruck prisoner, with one hand

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With one leap She-Ra cleared the gap between the sinking battleship and the dock, fracturing the concrete where she landed as the hull erupted in flames behind her. Debris bounced off her back as she carried the General in his metal prison over to the shelter of a bunker and set him down on his side, glancing around to be sure there was no immediate danger to him. She looked up as a beam of light erupted from the clouds of smoke billowing from the base’s stricken power plant, gave a last backwards glance, and ran towards it.

“Glimmer?” she called, whirling around to create a brief mini-tornado, which cleared the smoke away around her.

“Hi!” Buffy shouted, appearing from the smoke. “Could use a hand!”

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“Rebel thieves!” a voice roared from behind her, as she skidded to a halt beside She-Ra. Her pursuer emerged and checked her advance at the sight of them - a tall, green-skinned woman, balancing on a lower body of tentacles, brandishing cryo-blades in each of the four longer tendrils that grew from her back. She reared back and brought all four blades together, and She-Ra leapt between her and Buffy to block the frost beam they unleashed.

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“Octavia, I take it?” She-Ra said.

“Yeah I think I may have made her angry blowing up the power plant,” Buffy said, staying by her side. Octavia shrieked and swung her swords, which She-Ra darted forward to block with her own, the waves of ice energy within them flaring off the glow of her magic.

“The Pearl?” she asked, as Buffy lunged forward and fired a pair of light blasts, which Octavia blocked with her tentacles, grunting with the effort.

“Mermista’s people have it,” she explained as they drew back. “How was the distraction?”

“Perfect timing,” She-Ra replied.

“I’ll drown you all!” Octavia yelled, attacking again. She-Ra leapt in front of her, blocking two of her swords, catching a third in her palm, gritting her teeth with the effort of forcing back the wave of energy trying to freeze her hand.

“Get away from her!” Buffy shouted, lunging in to grab at the woman’s tentacles, releasing bursts of light directly into them through her hands. Octavia screamed in pain and rage, pulled back her blades from She-Ra, and swung all four at Buffy. She-Ra darted in between them, smashing away two swords with her charge, a third clanging against her own sword, but missing the fourth as Octavia’s tentacle snaked away from the kick she launched at it - only to be jerked back as a golden trident flew into the melee, catching the cryo-blade between its points and pinning it to the ground.

“The ocean protects her allies!” Mermista proclaimed, rising from the water, the glittering scales of her tail remaining as her legs formed, covering her body like armour, beneath a polished jade breastplate.

“Royal brat!” Octavia spat, “I’ll-” She was cut off as a mass of vines burst through the ground, picking her up and carrying her into the air, wrenching the remaining swords from the grasp of her tentacles.

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“I don’t like when people insult my friends!” Willow frowned, climbing out of the water, with slightly less grace than the merwoman, at Mermista’s side. Seeing Octavia capably held, She-Ra sheathed her sword, and quickly came to Willow’s side.

“Hi sweetie,” she said, as Willow hugged her.

“Hi gorgeous,” she replied, planting a kiss on her lips before fixing her with a stare. “You got yourself captured on purpose?”

“I had a plan,” She-Ra replied, looking repentant.

“You’re lucky I’m the understanding type,” Willow smiled, shaking her head. She noticed She-Ra casting a sombre glance at the sinking wreck of Dreadnought, followed it, and moved closer to her.

“Are you okay?” she asked quietly. She-Ra nodded.

“We’ve got someone to pick up,” she said, shifting her gaze back to the bunker where she had left Sunder. Willow raised an eyebrow in surprise, then followed, absently waving a hand at the mass of greenery that held Octavia, lowering her into the grip of the waiting merfolk soldiers following Mermista.

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Having returned to the Mystic Isle the next day with the sun at its peak, it was again nighttime when the four emerged from the waters of the Crystal Falls, half a world away. The grove around the lake seemed deserted, but while they were drying off and Buffy was retrieving the bags Xander had left for them, a blur amid the foliage resolved into a twigget, who gave the group a shy wave before vanishing again.

“Your friends will arrive soon?” Mermista asked.

“The twiggets can talk to one another across the forest,” Willow nodded. “They’ll know at the camp that we’re back.”

“I must return,” the merwoman said, with slight regret. “As heir it is my duty to preside at Octavia’s trial, and oversee the arrangements for the General to be brought here. But I am never far away. As you have allowed my magic to dwell within the waters of your forest, so you may call me through them, and I shall answer.”

“You’re always welcome,” Buffy assured her.

“As are you in Salineas,” Mermista smiled. “The merfolk shall not forget what the people of the surface have done for them. But beyond the gratitude of a people,” she added, rising from the water to stand before the three rebels, “for your kindness, friendship, and courage, I am pledged to the Great Rebellion, from this moment until eternity. If you would do me this honour?”

“The honour is ours,” She-Ra said. Willow squeezed her hand, and, at She-Ra’s glance, gave her a tiny nod. She-Ra nodded back, took a breath, and before Mermista’s amazed eyes transformed in a glow of warmth.

“...Tara?” the merwoman asked.

“Yes,” she nodded. Mermista laughed softly, and reached forward to hug her.

“But of course,” she smiled. “Who but one so lovely could capture the sorceress’s heart?” She drew back and looked to Willow, who opened her arms to her.

“And Princess Glimmer,” Mermista said, offering one more hug, which Buffy accepted readily. “True companions all. I am proud to stand beside you. Or swim, as the case may be?” She stepped back, returning to the water. “Until we meet again, you all shall remain in my heart.”

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“I’m sorry, if I worried you,” Tara admitted, as she and Willow lay once again on the roof of their house, gazing at the stars.

“I’d say try not to make a habit of it,” the sorceress replied, “but us being in the rebellion business... I did kind of the same thing in Erelandia, after all.”

“Thanks,” Tara smiled, lifting Willow’s hand to her lips. “I wish it had... achieved more, though.”

“Buffy got the Pearl right out from under their noses,” Willow pointed out. “General Sunder... Maybe, in time, he’ll come around.”

“He gave the Horde everything,” Tara said sadly. “That’s how he always was - once he committed, to a decision, to a battle plan, anything, he followed it through to the end no matter what. I admired that about him.” She shook her head. “He was wrong to follow the Horde - the Horde is evil - but he lived by the code of honour he’d chosen for himself. Doing his duty, no matter what it demanded of him. I took that choice away from him.”

“This isn’t you versus him,” Willow replied softly. “The Horde took away his choice, a long time ago. Just like they did yours. It wasn’t sorcery, but being raised the way he was - indoctrinated - they made him only think in ways that served them. I don’t think that’s ‘choice’. And if there’s any chance that, maybe, the man trapped in him might one day be free, like you are, it’s because you had the courage to try to save him from the person the Horde made him into. No matter how difficult it was. Will be, too.”

“Like you saved me,” Tara noted.

“I wouldn’t say that was a difficult choice,” Willow said, with a faint grin.

“You had to face the... the Horde me, the me under Shadow Weaver’s control,” Tara said. “I’ll never forget. You believed in me, even when I was standing right in front of you and trying to shatter everything we shared that first night.” Willow raised a hand to stroke Tara’s cheek.

“I’m glad I did,” she said quietly. “Not just because it worked - I’m glad I found out how much I believe in you. I still do. If I ever couldn’t choose for myself, I absolutely trust you to make the right choice for me. And I think you did for the General. I don’t know if he’ll come around - I hope he will, I think he will, in time. Even as a prisoner he’ll see Brightmoon - be treated well, honourably, and he’ll see with his own eyes, not just what the Horde claims about its enemies.” She swallowed, and went on: “But I know we don’t know that.”

“We can’t just choose because we know how things will pan out,” Tara agreed.

“Right,” Willow nodded. “We just have to do what we believe is best, and the consequences... we live with them, own them.” She gazed into Tara’s eyes, which seemed to glow in the faint illumination of the stars.

“You’re a good person,” she insisted quietly. “I’ll always trust your heart. Your honour.”

Tara smiled at last, and shifted closer to rest her forehead against Willow’s.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You know I trust you too?” Willow nodded, and a grin tugged the edge of Tara’s lips. “Why else would I let you go hugging half-naked merwomen with a crush on you?”

She hugs!” Willow protested with a laugh. “I don’t initiate, I just let her- it’s only polite.”

“I know,” Tara said, without hesitation, and shared Willow’s laugh. “Honestly I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more, you are gorgeous beyond belief.”

“Aw, well,” Willow giggled, blushing, “whatever, but I only need one person to complete me.” She leant forward the fraction needed to give Tara a slow kiss.

“Besides,” she purred, “I can get you as naked as I want, whenever I want.”

“Oh?” Tara murmured.

“Nobody can see us up here...”

“Vixen...”

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"Hi there! It's me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding today? I’ll give you a clue, Glimmer’s not the only one who can cloak herself! Take another look:

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"In today’s adventure, Mermista really liked Willow, and wanted to kiss her, and probably other things that Willow only does with Tara. But that didn’t bother Tara when she found out, because she trusted Willow to do the right thing. So not only were Willow and Tara happy, they both ended up with a great new friend. See you all next time, bye now!”

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2017 10:38 am 
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Another great episode!

I really enjoyed how you underlined the dynamic of trust between Willow and Tara. No unnecessary jealousy or drama, they're made for each other and there is no risk of "interlopers" between them. It further underscores their connection.

I found Mermista very child-like, despite her very adult appearance; she was charming rather than concerning.

I wonder if Tara will ever have luck in changing Sunder's mind.... time will tell.

Thanks for another awesome story!

Cheers
DW

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2017 5:57 pm 
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Thanks! :bounce

I'm glad Mermista came across that way - she doesn't show up that often in the cartoon, but she's kind of a favourite of mine, for being unusual and having a French accent (I tried to copy her speech patterns without writing the accent itself, I thought that would've been distracting). I did spend a lot of time working on her, to try to express her attraction to Willow in a way that'd seem genuine, and coming from a place of offering the potential of a real relationship, rather than her just being hot for Willow and wanting to get to business with her. Hence the magic thing, them both being nature sorceresses, water/plants, to justify an instant connection between them - I felt like, if there's the (hypothetical) basis for them being a really good match, Willow for her as well as her for Willow, it means a lot more that Tara's not threatened by her.

(Also with the way I, let's admit it, idolise Tara all over the place, I thought it was a neat bit of something different to have the sexy guest star zero in on Willow.)

She is kind of childlike - innocent in a lot of ways (not all ways, obviously...), I think because of her people's isolation, she's unfamiliar with the surface world. And from the mindset I had of her cartoon self she's got this all-emotion kind of behaviour that holds nothing back, says and expresses exactly what she feels for everyone to see. I didn't really imagine it in more detail but that might be a merfolk thing, not making a big deal of privacy or stoicism. Also it kind of justifies (cough*excuse for*cough) her having no nudity taboo, although that actually came from the art first - her cartoon look with the stereotypical mermaid shell-bra (which I did end up using for her 'armour') I thought was a little goofy, so I started thinking about alternatives, and mermaids being mermaids it didn't take long to think "What if her hair just happens to cover up what needs covering?" and now here we are. But as you say it helps her be charming, not a threat to W/T's happiness - she's not hiding anything more devious under the surface, she is just what she appears to be.

There will be more of Sunder, but not a full resolution any time soon - he's kind of on my list of 'possible future plot threads' (I should admit, having finished off this 'series', I'm already laying out plans for another episode or two). Fun (not ha-ha fun) fact, he was going to die in the first draft of this - in the cartoon his move from bad guy (albeit with more integrity than most) to good guy is very clear, so my first thought for him here was to go the opposite way, that he'd rather go down with his ship and stay loyal to the Horde than be saved. Which made for a powerful moment for Tara, that she couldn't save him no matter how much she wanted to, but I couldn't get it to ring true in my head that she'd leave him - the notion of her letting him stay on the ship, and keep his sense of duty that he cared about so much, just didn't stack up to the fact that he's clearly been indoctrinated into seeing duty and honour that way, and Tara would never accept that he's making that choice with a clear mind. Plus which, the way I was imagining him was much more the strategist and commander than some kind of Klingon-style warrior who'd see being captured as a fate worse than death - it didn't seem like him being taken prisoner by someone like She-Ra, who clearly outmatches him in every way, would be so dishonourable to him that Tara would feel like it was such a terrible option, once it became clear he wasn't going to come with her willingly. I think it worked out for the best in the end, the message is still there - Tara's still got to face how she couldn't talk him into turning good, but nobody's out of character just for the sake of a 'big dramatic moment'.

(Also making it more of a long-term struggle to change his mind avoids the problem his cartoon self kind of raises, which is why doesn't the Horde just fall apart, since it seems to be composed of obviously-evil monsters, and a bunch of officers - Sunder's not the only one - who are equally obviously just misguided, and inevitably switch sides almost as soon as they show up.)

Thanks for the feedback, the next episode will be along as soon as midnight's passed and it's properly Saturday :wtkiss

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 3:36 am 
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How I've missed you Chris, how I've missed the whole darn Kitten Board.

Glad you are back, and now I find myself like I was 12 years ago, up reading the board when I should be sleeping because I have shit to do tomorrow.

And after re-reading your first She-Ra episode, I feel like a big arse, not entirely sure if I was re-reading or just reading for the first time. I guess I could scan the comments to see if I said anything. I know I was around for the series.

I did have a tendency to not get too into crossovers if I didn't know the other series. I know I watched He-Man and She-Ra as a child, but I'm at the edge of that generation. Whatever my excuse, I'm glad I'm reading it now and I'm glad you are back to continue it.

I'm also glad I wasn't wrong when I pictured Frosta as Anya. Also, while I remember very little about the mythology of the series you definitely make me curious to find some episodes.

So I'm not going to keep reading, I'm stopping before The Pearl, so that I can get a bit more sleep, but I thought I'd stop by and say hello.

I'm guessing the lack of commentators is that everyone is so in awe they don't know what to do with themselves.

Delayne

ETA: I lied, after posting, I went ahead and kept reading.

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 5:24 am 
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Thanks! :grin It's a quieter board than it used to be, but I'm glad to be back among friends nonetheless - I remember well the feeling of "I'll just read a little bit more, oh look it's 3am" :laugh Some things never change. Thanks for stopping by (hope you did get some sleep eventually), and I hope you enjoy the next episode as well, which'll be posted right now :wtkiss

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 5:30 am 
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Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

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“Here we are!” Willow announced proudly, leading the way into a clearing lit by the soft glow of lanterns, every colour of the rainbow, hanging from branches all the way from near ground level up to the massive boughs that covered the sky, their leaves forming a huge living dome above the clearing. Dozens of twiggets were present, milling around in groups, and at the sight of Willow they rushed over and greeted her in an excited hubbub of voices.

“It’s beautiful,” Tara said. “Feels like... I don’t know, a temple?”

“I know right?” Xander nodded at her side. “Magic in the air.” He glanced at Tara, and frowned slightly at the way she seemed transfixed by the sight of the enchanted forest, swallowing nervously.

“You okay?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Tara nodded, whispering. “Yes. Just... I mean, Willow told me all about this, it’s just, being here... This is a sacred place.”

“I felt the same way, first time - like an outsider,” Xander nodded. He looked over to Willow, who was in the middle of an animated conversation with the twiggets gathered around her. “You’re right, it is sacred - to the twiggets, to her. But you know you’re welcome, right? The twiggets adore you - and look, I know Will’s told you already probably a zillion times, but from someone who doesn’t go all googly-eyed whenever you look at her, trust me.” He took Tara’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’re not an outsider - not to her, or me, or any of us.”

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“Thank you,” Tara smiled, her eyes misty. “That - that means a lot. Not that you’ve ever made it feel like I wasn’t, but...”

“Good to hear it said in a place like this,” Xander agreed.

“Yeah. And, the non-googly factor.”

“And that,” he laughed. “Not that you’re not pretty stunning and all, just being realistic, you know. You and Will.”

“And you and a certain Snow Queen?” Tara probed gently. Xander blushed, and nodded with a grin.

“Yeah - early days, but yeah,” he agreed. “Looking forward to the next royal visit.”

“You ready?” Willow asked, coming over. Tara beamed at her and nodded.

“Absolutely.” Willow glanced between her and Xander, seeming to sense something, but seeing Tara’s smile she simply smiled in return and extended her hands to both of them. They seated themselves on cushions the twiggets had brought, on the edge of a wide circle of grass that had been coaxed to lay down flat, where the forest sprites were taking their places. After some jostling and muttered arguments about who would stand where they formed a spiral, and following a moment’s hush the twigget at the centre began to sing, a long, low note. One after another the twiggets joined the song, their voices joining together in a chord that grew and grew, until the boughs of the trees overhead trembled with its power. Tara felt her chest tighten as the sound washed over her in ever-building waves, but at the moment when it seemed it would become too much Willow’s hand closed over hers, and suddenly she felt calm in the midst of the storm of song and magic, like the eye of a hurricane. She glanced at Xander, noticing him likewise affected, holding tightly to Willow’s other hand, then she looked at Willow herself, who had her eyes closed, leaning forward slightly, as if welcoming the cascade of forest magic thundering around her.

Then in an instant the song ended, so suddenly Tara gasped - only then did she realise she had been holding her breath. She heard Xander inhale deeply, and gave a little laugh, part relief, part exhilaration, as the silence of the night rolled back over them like a blanket, fragrant with the scent of flowers and leaves.

“You okay?” Willow asked her quietly, as the twiggets began to talk amongst themselves. Tara nodded.

“Yeah. Yeah, just... wow. I mean it was like you said, but...”

“I know,” Willow grinned. “Can’t just be summed up in words.”

“They do this every year?” Tara asked. “To renew the forest?”

“In a sense,” Willow said. “I mean, the forest is the forest - trees grow either way - but the twigget rites sort of... connect them to the Whispering Woods. And strengthen the bonds everything in the Woods has with everything else. They help life and magic flow through the whole thing, make it all... all one thing, one life, in a way. I remember my first time - actually one of my earliest memories, when I was three years old. I thought it was the whole forest singing - which it kind of is. The most beautiful sound in the world. Hey guys!” she beamed, as several twiggets approached her. “That was brilliant!”

Tara glanced Xander’s way, and grinned as he smiled and rolled his eyes, managing to encompass in a quick expression much the same as Tara was feeling: feeling the reminder of how intertwined Willow and the magic of the Whispering Woods were, how it made her in some ways something more than human, something other - and love for her, the person and the magic as one.

“Miss Willow!” one of the twiggets called, hurrying over from the edge of the clearing - he seemed agitated, and as Tara glanced around she noticed other twiggets, that had been drifting back into the forest after the rite’s completion, returning to the sanctuary with anxious stares towards their sorceress.

“What’s the matter?” Willow said.

“It’s the stars, Miss Willow!” the twigget said. Tara and Xander glanced up, but the canopy above them was too thick to see through. Willow got to her feet, and they followed her back through the trees to more open ground. The twiggets followed in a crowd, all gazing up nervously at the night sky, where pinpoints of light were silently flashing.

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Buffy was just riding into the rebel camp when Willow and Tara reached it, and Willow gave her a hug as he dismounted.

“You’re good?” she asked. “Your visit to Blackmoor?”

“Fine, they’re good,” the princess nodded distractedly. “What’s happening up there?” Willow shook her head, as both of them stared skyward.

“Not a clue,” she muttered.

“Xander’s on his way to Brightmoon,” Tara added, “to see if the Queen can shed any light.”

“Is it Horde?” Buffy asked. Tara shrugged, slipping an arm around Willow’s waist.

“There are orbital bases,” she said. “That could be them firing - but at what? The Horde never bombards the surface, it’s one of the few rules even Hordak has to follow.”

“Something else up there?” Willow wondered. “Does the Horde have enemies who can, can travel in the stars like they do?”

“I don’t know,” Tara replied. “Hordak speaks with other worlds, but he never shared anything about them - not even when I was his protégé. The others... Even the xenian officers, who come from other worlds, don’t know how the Horde operates in the stars, how their empire works, what else is out there - they’re just taken from their worlds, brought here.”

“Other worlds,” Buffy mused. “Maybe other rebellions?”

“That can fight the Horde in the stars?” Willow wondered, awed at the idea.

“Look!” Tara pointed. A speck of light was moving - not a momentary flash, but a constant gleam, creeping across the sky, in an arc that seemed to be slowly dipping away from the silent conflagration behind it.

“A ship,” she said, gazing at it. “But I’ve never seen that colour before - Horde stardrives burn orange. That’s different.”

“Is it getting closer?” Willow asked, peering into the dark. Tara’s eyes widened.

“It’s coming down!” she exclaimed. The pinpoint had become a tail of flame, violet against the night sky, and even as they watched it soared far overhead, falling towards the darkened forest. A flash from the horizon reflected off the few scattered clouds that were about, and a distant impact echoed on the night breeze.

“That was inside the Woods!” Willow said.

“Ten, fifteen miles?” Tara guessed, both of them starting towards the stables and pasture where the rebellion kept its horses.

“How’s Moonbeam?” Willow asked Buffy as she joined them.

“He’ll keep up,” she promised.

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True to Buffy’s word, Moonbeam kept pace with Spirit as they galloped towards the crash site. Willow’s grip on Tara tightened reflexively at the sight of broken treetops and branches flickering with spots of flame, but she kept her attention focused ahead, where a glow was filtering through the tree trunks. An acrid smell wafted through the air.

“There,” Tara said, reining in Spirit as they passed through a grove of trees into a clearing. A strange golden craft lay tilted up on its side, half-buried in a pile of earth it had driven up before it as it ploughed into the ground, leaving a furrow through a stream, which bubbled erratically into the broken ground and pooled under the crash before flowing back into its bed on the far side.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” she went on, dismounting.

“From another world,” Willow breathed. “I mean, I know the Horde is too, but... wow. Is there... does it have a pilot? Someone inside?”

“That bit looks like a... head, kind of,” Buffy pointed to what appeared to be the front of the craft.

“Stay back,” Tara said, feeling the heat as they slowly neared. “I’ll- down!” Willow and Buffy leapt to the ground by reflex, while a burst of light surrounded Tara, transforming her just as a blue beam flickered from the far treeline and sparked off her vambrace. She drew her sword just in time to deflect another beam, while a third speared to one side, boring a white-hot hole through the rocks near where the others had taken shelter, invisible beneath Buffy’s cloaking illusion.

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“We mean you no harm!” She-Ra called out. “But I won’t allow you to hurt my friends!” She held her sword ready, waiting through the long pause that followed.

“No Hordesman ever said the word ‘friend’,” a woman’s voice replied.

“We’re not the Horde,” She-Ra said, gesturing to Willow and Buffy, who reappeared and slowly stood, staying behind her.

“This is a Horde world! We were attacked as soon as we arrived!”

“The Horde conquered many of our realms,” Willow called back. “But the Whispering Woods remain free. You’re safe from them here.”

There was another long pause, then a figure appeared, slowly and warily revealing herself from the cover of the trees - a woman in gold, over which she wore strange metallic armour pieces, empty-handed but aiming her gauntlets like weapons as she slowly approached. As she came into the glow of the ship’s heated hull, the trio saw that the gold colour was in fact her skin, and two long, thin antennae extended from her forehead.

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“If you are not Horde,” she said warily, “what are you?”

“I’m She-Ra. These are Willow, and Princess Glimmer. We’re part of the Great Rebellion, who hope to free Etheria of the Horde.”

“She-Ra? Willow and Glimmer?” the woman frowned, lowering her gauntlets. “We don’t know these words.”

“They’re our names,” Willow volunteered.

“Identifiers. Non-literal. Yes, we understand.” The woman approached to stand in front of them, folding her arms behind her back. “This one is Scout Three. We are the Hive.”

“You said the Horde attacked you?” She-Ra asked. “There are more of your people above, in space?”

“Yes,” Scout Three nodded. “The Horde seeks to capture the Hive, to enslave us. Scout Three was damaged and forced to land.” She looked away. “We apologise for firing on you. This one did not understand your world is not one, that not all are Horde. We know this is sometimes the way with other kinds, but it is alien to us. This one acted out of fear.”

“No harm done,” Willow said, managing a quick smile. “Can we help, somehow? We don’t want anyone to become Horde slaves, if there’s anything we can do about it.”

“It will be much time before our gravity drive recovers,” Scout Three said, turning to her ship. She lifted a hand, and the heat from the hull faded away, its glow dimming to be replaced by lights from beneath the folded wings.

“Can it be fixed?” Buffy asked. “Brightmoon’s got some pretty nifty blacksmiths, but I doubt anyone’s seen anything like this.”

“This is... is this alive?” Willow asked, taking a few tentative steps closer to the ship.

“We are alive,” Scout Three replied, looking a little confused by the question.

“You and your ship are... joined?” Buffy asked.

“This one is Scout Three,” the woman said, looking from one to the other of the rebels, seemingly in the hope that someone would explain why they were asking odd questions.

“Your ways are very different to ours,” She-Ra explained.

“We are the Hive. We understand not-Hive are different.”

“I think... I can help,” Willow said, slowly reaching out a hand to the ship’s hull, finding it cool to the touch. “This is like, a kind of healing? The ship’s healing itself?”

“We can repair ourselves,” Scout Three nodded. “But this one used much power to survive the descent. Our ‘healing’ is slow.”

“Can I try to help?” Willow asked. “I think maybe I can share energy from the Woods. Is that okay?”

“We... do not know of such abilities,” Scout Three said slowly. “If you can aid this one... please?”

“I’ll try my best,” Willow promised, placing both her hands on the hull and closing her eyes. A breeze stirred through the nearby trees, and the ship’s lights seemed to pulse in time with it.

“We are healing,” Scout Three whispered, her glowing green eyes wide. Willow stood back as the ship trembled, then, in a smooth motion, it lifted away from the ground, righting itself in the air as clumps of soil and grass slid from it, and floated across to the unbroken ground where it gently came to rest.

“That worked?” Willow asked.

“This one is restored,” Scout Three nodded. “Emergency systems fully charged. Healing can now focus on the gravity drive. Thank you, Willow.”

“Any time,” Willow grinned.

“You can return to your people?” Buffy asked.

“A day, perhaps two,” Scout Three said, approaching her ship, which dipped its insect-like ‘head’ to meet her. “The zero turbine cannot repair faster. But this is only possible through your aid, we are very grateful!”

“If you’re stuck here until then anyway,” She-Ra suggested, “perhaps you could come with us to Brightmoon, to meet Queen Joy? Maybe we can do more to help your people than just heal your ship?”

“You have a hierarchy?” Scout Three said. “A leadership caste?”

“Uh, kind of,” Willow said. “Queen Joy rules the realm of Brightmoon. And some others of our friends will be there too. If there’s anything we can do to help you against the Horde, we’ll figure out what it is.”

“We are indebted to you,” Scout Three said. “This one shall follow.” The top of the ship’s head slid open, allowing her to climb inside, then the craft straightened its neck and lifted up into the air.

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Brightmoon’s guards watched in wonder as the strange vessel approached the palace, but with She-Ra, Willow and Buffy riding ahead, they stood aside as it landed in the courtyard, and Scout Three joined them on their way to the observatory tower. Queen Joy and Xander were waiting there, along with Casta, deep in conversation with the royal astronomer.

“The Hive knew for many years the Horde would come,” Scout Three explained, once introductions had been made. “The world that bore us was very distant from them, but distance alone did not deter them. We did not have the means to defend our world, so we transformed ourselves - the Hive became spaceborne, and escaped. We heard rumours, among stargazers and fortune-tellers, of this world Etheria. Whispers of the power of the good and the way of the magic. We did not fully understand, but we hoped for freedom. We folded space to come here, but we were unprepared for the Horde to be present also.”

“We hope to one day free all of our world from the Horde,” Joy said. “But that day has not yet come. Can your people escape the Horde again?”

“We can journey on,” Scout Three nodded. “But we cannot fold space while the Horde attacks. Our energy is needed to maintain the barriers protecting the Hive from their weapons.”

“I think we might be able to see,” Casta said, looking up from the great telescope. “With your majesty’s permission?”

“Of course,” Joy said, as the astronomer nodded his agreement. Casta stood back and raised her hands, bringing to life streams of energy in the air, which formed into a complex web around the telescope. The huge instrument moved on its own, settling into a new position, and amid the haze of light in the air an image formed, a portion of the sky, stars glittering in the blackness. For a moment it seemed empty, then the view was lit by a blaze of fire, a colossal blaster discharge tearing across it. Casta altered her spells, and the stars swam until a shape came into view, a sheer wall of gleaming gold, dotted with scorch marks. A further adjustment zoomed out, revealing the metal to be part - just a tiny part - of a vast construct hanging seemingly motionless against the stars, massively armoured, sustaining blast after blast on its hull. Each impact tiny in comparison to the vessel’s monumental scale, but the bombardment was constant, from dozens of sources, barely visible as Horde fortresses and space cruisers, tiny by contrast but vicious in pressing their assault.

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“Home,” Scout Three whimpered quietly, staring through tear-filled eyes.

“What can we do?” Joy asked in the hush.

“How long can the Hive last like this?” Xander asked.

“We have strong barriers,” Scout Three said, swallowing her anguish and setting her jaw. “And we can be warriors, where there is need. We resist. But the Hive is not warlike. We don’t have warships, or terrible weapons, to unleash in reply. Eventually the Horde must wear us down.”

“We have to stop the attack,” She-Ra said. “At least long enough for the Hive to disengage and... fold space?”

“If the guns fell silent, yes,” Scout Three nodded.

“What can we do down here?” Willow wondered. “Do the Horde’s weapons up there need power from the ground, or something?”

“They’re self-contained,” She-Ra said, thinking. “But perhaps... Beast Island.”

“What is Beast Island?” Scout Three asked.

“Apart from the least imaginatively named place on Etheria,” Xander replied, “it’s a Horde gulag. Prisoners sent there never come back.”

“It’s also the location of the Horde’s space control centre,” She-Ra supplied. “Hordak’s too paranoid even to keep it in the Fright Zone - too many officers around. Only a handful ever go to Beast Island, the most reliable - the ones who aren’t just too afraid to betray Hordak, but literally won’t.”

“Did General Sunder ever serve there?”

“No,” She-Ra shook her head. “He was loyal, but Hordak didn’t trust him all the same - his sense of personal honour made him stubborn.” She hesitated, and spoke more quietly to the Queen: “How is he?”

“Still holding true to the loyalty he believes he owes the Horse,” she said, with a little shrug. “But comfortable and in good health.” She looked back at the scene being played out in space. “An attack, then? Take Beast Island by force?”

“This one could fly there?” Scout Three suggested.

“Not openly,” She-Ra shook her head. “It has massive air defences, on a hair trigger. A few years ago the pilot of a Horde air cruiser bringing cargo misspoke a security password. They got blasted out of the sky before they could say another word.”

“And they wouldn’t need sea defences,” Willow mused. “The creatures there are viciously territorial, and big enough to drag a ship under.” She frowned intently for a moment, then ventured a grin. “Although...”

“There is a way?” Scout Three asked.

“We have a friend who might be able to help,” Willow said. “Your ship’s good to fly, right? Just not reach the stars?”

“This one can’t reach orbital velocity without the gravity drive,” the woman replied. “But atmospheric flight is fully restored.”

“Well, if my idea works, technically we’ll be in the air the whole way.”

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“This is... beyond our science,” Scout Three whispered, eyes wide.

“This is magic,” Mermista replied with a smile.

“Think of it as science you haven’t met yet,” Willow suggested, before adding in an undertone to Mermista: “You’re sure they’re not going to try to eat us?”

“The displacement discourages them,” the merwoman said cheerfully. She-Ra gave Willow’s hand a comforting squeeze.

The four of them were seated in the now somewhat cramped confines of Scout Three’s ship (or, as she seemed to regard it, the half of Scout Three that was a ship rather than a woman), hurtling along some distance beneath the surface of the Growling Sea, cocooned within a pocket of air that Mermista was creating ahead of them, and allowing to collapse into ocean again in their wake. The sea monsters that were part of the reason for Beast Island’s name were thus far giving them a wide berth, although Willow had admitted to regretting having the idea ever since they had ‘flown’ directly underneath a squid the size of a building, with scimitar-like teeth running the length of its colossal tentacles.

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“On the plus side,” She-Ra had noted, “there is no way the Horde will see this coming.”

“Crazy ideas do have that benefit, yeah,” Willow said, managing a chuckle.

“Landmass ahead,” Scout Three reported.

“The aerial defences won’t see anything below about ten metres off the surface,” She-Ra said.

“Acknowledged. It may be advisable to hold onto something.”

Willow chose to hold on to She-Ra, who braced herself against the sides of the cockpit as Scout Three tilted the nose of the ship up, so close to the shore that Mermista’s air pocket brushed along the ground, briefly confusing various small creatures scavenging the bottom until the familiar water rushed back in after them. The holograms surrounding Scout Three inside seemed to give her reactions faster than sight, as the ship erupted from the surf, skimmed over the rocky beach, and veered sideways between the towering spiked palms beyond, finally slowing in a cramped clearing a hundred metres from the shore.

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“Negative sensor echoes,” Scout Three said calmly, settling the ship down on the uneven jungle floor. “This one believes we remain undetected. By mechanical means, at any rate. There are a number of large heat signatures.” On her words the ship trembled.

“That’s not us, is it?” She-Ra asked.

“No,” Scout Three shook her head, as the trembling resolved into audible thuds, footsteps reverberating through the ground. All four watched, holding their breath, as a colossal, scaly form pushed through the dense foliage, towering over their ship and gazing down at it from narrow reptilian eyes. Willow gulped and closed her eyes, whispering inaudibly to herself, and after a moment the creature’s eyes seemed to lose focus, its horned head tilted as if something elsewhere was catching its attention, and it slowly backed away and turned, thudding off into the jungle.

“Hence the name ‘Beast Island’,” Willow sighed, opening her eyes.

“What was that?” Mermista wondered.

“I don’t know, but it wasn’t here to make friends.”

“You influenced its thoughts?” Scout Three asked, as the canopy slid open and they looked around.

“I shifted the jungle’s aura a bit,” Willow explained. “Changed the space we seemed to be occupying, made us seem like part of the landscape. I kind of hoped if we didn’t feel unfamiliar, and weren’t obviously a threat or something it recognised as food, it’d move on. Everything here’s eat or be eaten, doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for idle contemplation of mysteries.”

“You can work with the magic here?” She-Ra asked.

“Not easily, but yeah, enough to scrape by,” Willow frowned. “It’s flora so I’m connecting, but this isn’t the Whispering Woods - this jungle’s pure survival of the fittest. Mermista, you should stay with the ship.”

“You will be alright...?” the merwoman asked nervously, as the other three climbed out of the ship.

“My magic will protect me,” she replied. “I’m getting a feel for it. Also She-Ra’s, well...”

“She is She-Ra,” Mermista giggled. “Scout Three...?”

Scout Three nodded, tapping a control on her gauntlet. For a moment a bubble of energy flashed into view around her, fading to a barely-visible aura.

“Personal shield online,” she said calmly. She looked to Mermista, still in the cockpit. “This one shall engage vessel stealth. Should danger arise, our systems will obey your spoken commands.”

“Thank you,” Mermista smiled. “But I hope to be waiting here for you when you return.”

“We won’t keep you waiting long,” She-Ra promised.

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“Passive scan resolution boosted,” Scout Three said, pointing her palm at the Horde tower visible in the distance between treetops, jutting from the side of the island’s central peak. “The complex extends throughout the mountain. Several potential access points at ground level.”

“They’ll be secured,” She-Ra guessed, “but probably only standard force shielding. The Horde won’t expect anyone to be able to survive the jungle, even if they got onto the island to begin with.”

“Lucky you’ve got me, huh?” Willow grinned. They had dodged a number of Beast Island’s infamous inhabitants, glimpses of scaled hides and spines and massive limbs through the trees, their footsteps reverberating through the ground, but so far Willow’s influence had kept any from approaching them.

“Don’t I always say so?” She-Ra murmured quietly in Willow’s ear, making her shiver.

“Later,” she whispered, “I’m- wait.” She frowned, and spoke loud enough for Scout Three to hear. “Up ahead, there’s... I don’t know what.”

“A threat?” Scout Three asked.

“No,” Willow shook her head. “No, it’s... This whole place, it’s all in competition - everything fighting for survival. Except this one patch of harmony.”

“Oddly colourful,” She-Ra mused, gesturing to a gap between two walls of foliage ahead, where an array of tropical flowers had sprouted, their soft pastel petals quite unlike the stark splashes of red and yellow the rest of the jungle plants used to signal danger to potential predators. Cautiously the trio moved ahead, ducking through the opening to find themselves in a tiny glade, like something from a storybook, the ground carpeted in soft green grass, the trees festooned with cheerfully bright flowers, the dark trunks decorated with intricate patterns in pigment, the gloom beneath the forest canopy lit by glowing fronds.

“What is this place?” Willow wondered.

There was a rustling from the bushes, and a face appeared, framed by pink hair, smiling cheerfully at them.

“Hi?”

The stranger emerged, revealing herself a slim woman wearing a dress that seemed to have been improvised from large leaves, and a metal collar with a Horde insignia on it. She approached without any caution, and the flowers in the hidden glade seemed to bend towards her, spreading their petals wider as she passed.

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“Are you new here?” she asked innocently. “Welcome! I’m glad the critters didn’t eat you, there’s like, nobody here to talk to.”

“Critters?” She-Ra asked.

“Yeah you know,” she replied. “The thingies out there? Stompy, bitey, real big?”

“They don’t bother you?” Willow asked.

“No, I smile at ‘em, and they’re fine,” she said airily. “But they seem to like stomping around and getting into ruckuses with each other, so I stay out of their way. You know, if it makes them happy...” She shrugged. “You’re not Hordies are you?”

“We’re from the Great Rebellion,” She-Ra explained. “We came here to try to shut down the Horde base here.”

“Ah, didn’t think you were with them,” the woman nodded. “They’re mean. I mean the robots are robots, so y’know, robots, but Grizzly’s mean, so I snuck out of their castle. Hey, can I come with you? It’s kind of boring here. Are you gonna go tell off Grizzly?”

“Grizzlor?” She-Ra guessed. “He’s one of Hordak’s henchmen,” she explained to the others, while the woman nodded.

“Do you know a way back into the base?” Willow asked. “The ‘castle’?”

“Yeah sure,” the woman said easily. “There are spiky vines to keep all the critters out of the passageways, but they let me through. I usually don’t bother though. C’mon, I’ll show you!” She skipped over to the entrance to her little glade, peered out, and waved the others after her.

“Is she a forest sorceress?” She-Ra asked Willow.

“Not exactly,” she replied. “She’s... I think she’s some kind of nature magic, in a human form.”

“That’s a Horde prison collar. They must’ve brought her... and she’s survived out here somehow.”

“I don’t know how, but she’s generating a kind of, calm zone. The plants, even the animals I think, they wouldn’t attack her. Uh, hey, just curious?” she asked their guide. “The magic you do, where did you learn it?”

“Oh I don’t know any magic,” she smiled. “I’m Perfuma, by the way.”

“Willow. This is She-Ra, and this is Scout Three.”

“Scout Three?” Perfuma asked. “That’s a name?”

“It is this one’s function,” Scout Three said politely. “This one does not have a name. We are the Hive.”

“Oh you’re like a queen bee? Cool.”

“Where are you from?” Willow asked. “I mean, before the Horde brought you here?”

“Well, before here,” Perfuma explained, “they took me to this place that was, all metal and fire and smoke, total disaster-”

“The Fright Zone?” She-Ra supplied.

“-and there was this really angry guy there, metal face, he wanted me to do magic for the Horde. Only I don’t do magic, I’m just me. And I don’t wanna do anything for the Horde anyway, they’re mean. So he shouted at the others to take me here to get rid of me. And before shouty guy, I lived in the Meadowlands. Near a village. I never learned its name, but it was the only village there, so I guess it didn’t need one. Or I didn’t need to know it,” she pondered. “Anyway. They let me live in the woods near the village. They said that’s where flower children live. Maybe they thought I was weird, I dunno. But they tried to protect me.” A shadow of sadness fell over her face. “When the Horde came. They all died, though. And the robots took me to shouty guy. I think that’s about the whole story. Where are you from?”

“The Whispering Woods,” Willow explained. “It’s a huge forest, a long way away. And there’s no Horde there.”

“Cool! Is it a nice forest? Can I come live there?”

“Uh, sure,” Willow nodded; She-Ra gave her a quick smile and shrug. “Are there other ‘flower children’, that you know of?”

“I never met any,” Perfuma said. “In the village they said I hatched out of a flower in the woods. I don’t actually remember doing that, but it makes sense, right? Are you part tree, is that why you’re called ‘Willow’?”

“Uh, not exactly,” Willow grinned bemusedly.

“Oh. We’re here, by the way. The castle?” She led them through a dense stand of trees, on the other side of which the ground rose suddenly in a steep cliff. She pointed to a narrow crevasse, filled with spine-covered vines which writhed slowly. “It’s in there. I mean, that leads to it - you go through there, left, right... wait... I forget. But it comes out in the castle.”

“Bloodvine,” Willow said, frowning. “Not native - the Horde must’ve put them here, to block the tunnels. They’ll shred anything they touch.”

“Yeah, on a scale of nice plant to mean plant, they’re over on the mean side,” Perfuma agreed. She strode forward and put her hands on her hips, glaring. “Hey! Knock it off!” To the amazement of the other three, the vines shrank back against the walls, withdrawing their spines.

“Better,” Perfuma nodded. “C’mon.”

“Let’s stick close to her,” Willow suggested, as they followed the woman into the narrow tunnel. “I can hold the vines back if need be, but she seems to have nullified all their hostility for the moment. A kind of innate defence mechanism.”

“This planet’s capacity for paranormal powers is considerable,” Scout Three noted.

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Led by a combination of Perfuma’s erratic memory and a holographic map Scout Three’s armour was able to generate as they moved, the four eventually reached the base proper, where the claustrophobic natural tunnels had been widened artificially, and strung with lights and power cables. Patches of bloodvine remained omnipresent, even once they entered the lower levels of the prison complex, blocking the passageways until Perfuma approached.

“Shock rings on the walls,” She-Ra noted grimly, pointing to black bands riveted into the stone every few metres. “They must use them to repel the vines whenever they need to come down here.”

“No need for guards or bars,” Willow agreed. “Just switch off the power, and nobody’d dare leave their cell.” She grimaced at a thought. “Bloodvine can be attracted to heat sources in the cold. Even the cells wouldn’t always be safe.”

“The Horde wouldn’t care,” She-Ra nodded. “This place was never really to hold prisoners - it’s a threat to everyone in the other prisons.”

“I, uh,” Perfuma said quietly, “I thought maybe, there’d be some others who’d want to come with me, when I snuck out. But I couldn’t find anyone.” She frowned at a thought, then looked imploringly at the others. “Do you think I should’ve stayed? Like maybe, if they eventually brought someone else down here...?”

“It’s just as well you escaped,” She-Ra assured her. “If the Horde realised you could get past the vines, they’d have chained you up.”

“Brr!” the woman shook her head. “Not into kinky stuff. So,” she went on breezily, missing Willow and She-Ra sharing a brief blush, “this is where they put me, I don’t really know the way anymore to... where are we going now?”

“Space command will be in the most heavily fortified part of the complex,” She-Ra said. “Same layout as the command centre for a prison, top of the tower. Whatever technology is critical to controlling the orbital bases will be there.” She gave a shrug. “I don’t really know exactly what that’ll be, but breaking it should be fairly straight-forward. I don’t have security codes for this place though, so we’re going to have to fight out way in.”

“Stay behind me if we run into troopers,” Willow advised Perfuma. They fell in behind She-Ra, leading the way, and Scout Three, keeping alongside with her gauntlets raised.

“Power sources beyond,” Scout Three said softly as they approached an armoured door sealing off the cell block.

“Troopers,” She-Ra nodded.

“You have weapons?”

“My sword will do”

With a slight grin she drew back, whirled around, and delivered a kick to the door that sent it crashing through the guard room beyond, tearing through a console and several unwary troopers in a shower of sparks and metal. She was through the remains of the doorway before the others had recovered from the surprise, her sword slashing through their armoured casings as if they were cloth; only the furthest had time to raise its blaster, managing a single shot that she deflected casually with the flat of her blade, before finishing it with a punch that shattered it against the wall.

“To your left,” Willow called helpfully, seeing another door slide open out of She-Ra’s view. She spun around ready to defend, but as the door opened to reveal a trio of troopers lined up in the corridor beyond, Scout Three raised her hand, and points of light formed on her fingertips, joining in front of her palm into a pencil-thin beam that transfixed all three in the instant it formed.

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“Handy,” She-Ra quipped; the pun seemed to escape Scout Three, who simply nodded acknowledgement, but Willow couldn’t help but snort a giggle, which she quickly stifled as more troopers appeared at the far end of the connecting corridor, and the two warriors leapt into action again.

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In the control nexus at the top of the command tower, a massive, fur covered creature stared at the security feeds from inside the base - many reduced to static - and glared furiously.

“What’s happening down there?!” he roared, slamming a clawed fist onto the console, denting it badly. He spun around at a knock from the emergency stairwell door behind him, then flinched as it was torn off its rails and crashed to the floor.

“Mind if we drop in?” She-Ra asked.

“You!” he growled. “The warrior witch!”

“I quite like the sound of that,” she admitted. “But I’m not surprised to find you here, Grizzlor - you always did like helpless captives. So much easier than someone who fights back, right?”

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“I’ll show you fight!” the beast man bellowed, gripping the handle of a massive morningstar that belched sizzling jets of flame in place of spikes from its armoured head, and swung it wildly. She-Ra leapt high in the air, flipping over Grizzlor’s shoulders as his swing demolished a support column, and kicked him squarely in the back as she landed, sending him reeling.

“Stand still!” he roared, whirling around and raising the morningstar for another swing, only to howl as Scout Three fired both her hand beams into his back, leaving charred flesh and the unpleasant smell of burning hair.

“Careful!” She-Ra warned, as Grizzlor turned towards her. Instead of retreating she tapped another control on her gauntlets, and a pair of dazzling energy wings erupted from the back of her torso armour, lifting her easily out of the reach of the morningstar, which crashed into the floor beneath her. Grizzlor hauled at the weapon to free it, then abruptly staggered back as Scout Three’s beam neatly sliced through its chain. From gazing in enraged surprise at the harmless handle in his claw, looked back at She-Ra in alarm.

“Can’t win them all,” she said with an apologetic grin, winding up for a punch that sent him flying across the room to crash into the wall and slump in a heap.

“Can we shut off the space weapons?” Willow asked, hurrying over with She-Ra to the main console, Scout Three drifting back down to join them, while Perfuma looked around the high-tech chamber with blank incomprehension.

“Better,” the blonde smiled. “Grizzlor’s left his security codes in active memory - very careless!” she called over her shoulder to the unconscious creature. “We can access the telemetry. Where’s... ah, here.” She pushed a button, and the main monitor switched from the various security feeds to a dizzying array of curved lines and icons, all centred on a massive glowing shape.

“The Hive,” Scout Three said, pointing to the shape, and the handful of points of light moving near it. “These must be our other scouts - so few remain.” She took a breath, then set her shoulders and studied the display again. “These, Horde attack boats - gunships. These, ramships - they strike our hull, board us with troopers so we must fight them inside the Hive. These, the Horde platforms, the most massive cannons.”

“We can’t override the ships,” She-Ra said. “They have their own crews of troopers. But the platforms are being controlled from here. So if we...” She typed quickly. “Cease fire. Override friend-or-foe recognition... and set the profile of a Horde stardrive as the primary target...”

“They’ll destroy each other!” Scout Three finished. As they watched the red circles highlighting each Hive scout, and the massive ship itself, vanished, reappearing around the Horde ships instead. One by one the platforms fired, the Horde icons flashing red as they were damaged, vanishing as they exploded.

“Can you communicate with the Hive?” She-Ra asked Scout Three, who nodded tentatively and tapped a few controls.

“This one can establish an encrypted frequency through these systems,” she replied after a moment, generating a hologram from her gauntlet. “This is Scout Three. Kindred? This is Scout Three.”

“Kindred?” a male voice replied. “This is Megacomplex Eight. These ones feared you destroyed.”

“This one crash-landed and was discovered by friends,” Scout Three said, casting a quick smile at the others. “They have assisted this one in assuming control of the Horde orbital platforms. Please advise, Megacomplex Eight.”

“Can Scout Three maintain control of the platforms?” the voice asked.

“The Horde will send reinforcements from the mainland,” She-Ra said, shaking her head.

“Negative, Megacomplex Eight. This location is not defensible.”

“Understood. Advise Scout Three deactivate orbital platform defences, neutralise control linkages, then abandon site prior to hostile counterattack. Scout Kindred will destroy platforms once shields are down.”

“Will comply, Megacomplex Eight,” Scout Three nodded. “Lowering shields now.”

“Is Scout Three able to return to us?” the voice asked, its efficient manner suddenly betraying emotion.

“Gravity drive undergoing self-repair,” Scout Three replied.

“We shall await return.”

“Prioritise the many,” Scout Three insisted. There was a pause.

“Agreed.”

“What was that?” Willow asked, as Scout Three waved away her hologram communicator.

“The Hive is no longer under attack,” she explained. “Barrier power can be redirected to charging the cortex, that allows us to fold space. This will take two hours. This one’s ship cannot restore its gravity drive in that time.” She swallowed and looked out of one of the control room’s windows, gazing into the sky. “The Hive cannot remain - the Horde will muster new forces and resume its attack. We must leave.” She shook her head. “They must leave. This one cannot rejoin us in time.”

“Maybe you can,” She-Ra said, also looking out the windows, but lower down, towards the base’s landing platform.

“The Horde shot your ship down,” Willow grinned, spotting what She-Ra was looking at - a Horde cargo transport parked on the landing pad. “Seems only fair they lift it back up, right?” Scout Three followed her gaze, and a slow grin spread across her face.

“This one will go home!” she laughed.

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“Kindred, this is Scout Three, aboard appropriated Horde vessel. Transmitting verification. Please permit approach.”

“Scout Three, approach granted,” the male voice replied from the transport’s communicator. Two more scout ships pulled alongside, identical to Scout Three’s ship now held in the transport’s cargo bay, and escorted it towards the massive Hive, silhouetted against the purple nebular clouds and starlight.

“That’s... the whole world,” Willow whispered, gazing out of the forward port where she, She-Ra, and Mermista were huddled, staring out at the view. Scout Three had suggested they take the forward seats while she piloted, seeming to expect their reaction. Only Perfuma seemed unmoved, accepting the view of Etheria from orbit with the same mild interest as always, and returning her attention to decorating the interior of the Horde ship with pastel pigments, which she seemed able to create out of thin air on her fingertips.

“There’s the Whispering Woods,” She-Ra breathed, pointing. “Look - the mountains there, and the sea on the other side. That’s Brightmoon!” A pinpoint of silver light was glittering in the dark as night slowly crept across the face of the planet.

“So small from up here,” Willow said, touching the glass longingly. She jerked back in surprise as the view suddenly swam sideways, and gave a little giggle of relief as she realised it was just the transport steering.

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“The Hive,” Scout Three said, almost reverently, as the vast spacecraft came into view. Under her guidance their transport dipped down, beneath mile upon mile of hull, to reach a colossal opening, more like a harbour than a docking bay, at the base of the continent-sized vessel. Rising up again the expanse of space was lost, the tiny transport surrounded now by the Hive on all sides, ascending through strange clouds flickering with silent energy, enclosed on all sides.

“It’s alive,” Willow said in wonder. “Isn’t it? Like your ship?”

“The Hive is organic in nature,” Scout Three nodded, gazing up towards a distant arrangement of gantries, like huge buildings stretching out into the interior void. “On the world that bore us, the Hive was not just the bodies like yours, but the land and sea and air, and all creatures therein. Much was lost,” she admitted sadly, “but all that we could save, we recreated into our current form.” She returned her attention to the controls as the transport reached one of the gantries, and drifted forward into the waiting grip of a trio of huge limbs which closed around its hull and held it steady.

“Local atmosphere will accommodate your needs,” she said, rising from her seat. They followed her to the hatchway, finding that a platform had extended beneath the transport to connect it to the interior of the Hive. Willow looked back to see more giant arms, seemingly mechanical but moving with the fluidity of living things, reaching into the transport’s cargo bay to retrieve Scout Three’s ship. Ahead a group of beings similar to her, with the same golden skin but a variety of different segments of armour and equipment fixed to their bodies, was waiting for them - one of them, a thin male, walked forward to greet them, and hugged Scout Three warmly.

“Scout Three was feared lost,” he said.

“This one was shown great kindness,” she replied. “These are members of the Great Rebellion, who oppose the Horde on this world. Theirs is the power of the good we heard spoken of.”

“There has been a new development,” the man said. “Come - you all should learn what we have discovered.” He ushered the group onto a hexagonal platform, waiting for them to reach the centre where Scout Three indicated they get a firm grip on the various rails and consoles clustered there, before the entire platform lifted away from the gantry and rose, slowly spinning, towards a distant valley-like structure, where towers extended sideways. Gradually, as it neared, the platform spun over in mid-air, its own direction of gravity turning with it, until the valley and the conical building-like extensions rising from it were on the same orientation.

“This is a Megacomplex,” Scout Three informed them, as the platform neared one of the towers. “The Megacomplexes serve as focal points for the thoughts of the Hive relating to specific scenarios.”

“My people will never believe this when I describe it to them,” Mermista said, eyes wide in wonder. “How can such things be?”

“Think of it as science you have not yet met,” Scout Three said with a grin. The merwoman glanced at her, then giggled.

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A man in robes, wearing an intricately-decorated mantle across his shoulders, was waiting for them as the platform joined with one of the tower’s balconies, and ushered them inside after Scout Three introduced him as Megacomplex Fifteen. The rebels had to pause a moment in the doorway, at the sight of a seemingly endless void inside the building, larger even than its colossal exterior could contain - only when they noticed dozens of Hive people walking to and fro across an unseen floor did they realise they were seeing a projection of outer space. Willow glanced over her shoulder as they walked in behind Scout Three, and tapped She-Ra’s shoulder to draw her attention to the view behind, concealing the wall through which they had entered - the image of Etheria itself.

“Our Farseers detected this as Scout Three was docking,” Megacomplex Fifteen said, pointing far off towards the edge of the planet. “It was concealed from us until our orbit brought us nearer.” At a wave of his hand the view zoomed in, bringing a distant object into clear focus: a giant ring of metal, suspended in space, composed of dozens of segments, each bathed in the red glow of a Horde reactor mounted on its outside.

“What is it?” She-Ra wondered.

“A space gate,” Megacomplex Fifteen said.

“The Horde cannot fold space as we do,” Scout Three said. “For their ships to reach other worlds, they must journey for months, or years. Space gates connect Horde worlds, allowing them to travel as if there was no distance at all between them.”

“And it is active,” Megacomplex added. “We are monitoring the gate’s warp capacitors. It will soon open.” Scout Three swallowed.

“How soon can we fold space?” she asked.

“Not soon enough,” Megacomplex Fifteen replied..

“Can you stop the gate opening?” Willow asked. “Shut it down, or blow it up, or something?”

“Or could we go back to the surface and disable it, like we did the weapon platforms?” She-Ra added.

“We have seen such gates before,” Megacomplex Fifteen said. “They are wholly self-sufficient, and heavily fortified. We have no great weapons that might damage it from afar, and no vessel that approaches could survive.”

“Gate capacitors at fifteen megacycles,” one of the other Hive people reported.

“No vessel,” She-Ra pondered.

“What?” Willow asked her quietly. “You’re having an idea?”

“You won’t entirely like it,” the blonde replied, with a rueful smile.

“Is it all about you personally jumping into danger to protect everyone else?” Willow said, shaking her head, but managing a grin.

“Megacomplex Fifteen?” She-Ra said out loud. “What if something smaller than a ship went near the gate?” The man glanced at another of the Hive, who worked quickly on a holographic console for a moment, then turned back.

“We believe the anti-vessel weaponry has a lower mass limit for targeting,” he said. “But anything less than a flotilla of war vessels, concentrating fire at close range, could not disable the gate.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” She-Ra grinned.

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“This one’s harness has been configured for your physiology,” Scout Three explained, presenting She-Ra with a palm-sized device her chestplate had retracted into. She-Ra took it and, copying Scout Three’s motions, held it to her chest, where six metal bands extended from it, wrapping around her sides and shoulders and securing it. Scout Three nodded, then crouched to attach a pair of metal bands around the ankles of her boots.

“Since your body cannot be regrown incorporating our technology,” she went on, “we have made alternatives. These will secure you to the surface of the Horde space gate. Downward force akin to jumping will overcome the effect if needed. The central jewel activates your wings. This one has embedded a portion of its consciousness in the device to guide its functioning, but primary control will be physical. The muscles of your torso, particularly shoulders, will generate gravity fields to impart velocity. This one suggests a moment to practice?”

“First time for everything,” Willow grinned. She-Ra caught her eye and flashed a smile, then pressed her hand to her chest, starting slightly as a pair of energy wings burst into being on her back. Tentatively she jumped, holding her arms wide as she rose, and lowering them slowly, brought herself to a halt in mid-air.

“I see why Queen Joy likes flying,” she smiled, trying a couple of gentle swoops from one side to another, then a somersault. She let her boots touch the ceiling of the shuttle bay they had come to, where the soles caught hold and held her, then ‘jumped’ back down, flipping end over end, finally coming to a halt next to Willow, albeit overshooting her rotation and ending up upside-down again.

“Well, I won’t be over there to show off,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It’ll do.”

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“Your skirt’s flipped,” Willow whispered, grinning mischievously. She-Ra glanced ‘up’ at herself, then blushed and flipped herself back over, landing gently on the deck.

“Maybe I need to start wearing trousers,” she murmured.

“Let’s not be hasty now,” Willow said quickly. She-Ra laughed softly, gave her a quick kiss, then strode over to the front of the bay, where Scout Three was settling into her ship.

“Don’t get too close to the gate’s perimeter,” she warned. “Just put me close enough to reach it, and I’ll do the rest.”

“This one will remain as close as possible,” Scout Three said stubbornly. “This course of action is exceedingly dangerous.”

“Not as much as letting the Horde bring in more warships,” She-Ra pointed out, making a guided jump-glide to reach the back of Scout Three’s ship, where she took a firm hold of the edges of the wings. “Sweetie? See you soon.”

“Make sure you do,” Willow called, blowing her a kiss to hide her nervousness. Mermista took her arm and gave her elbow a comforting squeeze as they watched the ship rise from the deck and slowly drift towards the shimmering curtain of light that separated the bay, and its atmosphere, from open space.

She-Ra took a deep breath, out of habit’s sake, as they passed through the containing field, then looked around as the vast wall of the Hive’s hull fell away on all sides, leaving them a tiny speck in the vastness of space. Her skin tingled slightly in the vacuum, but it was nothing compared to the forces she knew she could survive in battle; the absolute quiet was even calming in a way. She looked back and, moving carefully so as not to dislodge herself, lifted a hand and gave a wave to the tiny figures quickly receding into invisibility in the Hive’s open bay.

Turning her attention ahead, she watched as the space gate grew gradually nearer, the vast distance making their approach seem painstakingly slow, for all that she could feel the incredible power of Scout Three’s engine through the pressure on her grip on the wings. At last though, a hologram from her chestplate flashed in front of her face, Scout Three’s signal that they had reached the far edge of the gate’s weapon range. She glanced down into the cockpit canopy, and gave a nod to Scout Three, who looked back at her over her shoulder, worried but resolute. She-Ra lifted her head towards the gate, and a new set of displays appeared before her, showing the path she would need to take as a glowing trail in space. Steeling herself, she let go of the ship and pushed away, triggering her wings.

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Alone in space the quiet and solitude was no longer calming - she felt the emptiness press in on her, and fought off a wave of nausea by focusing on the holographic path, pushing everything else out of her mind, concentrating on shifting her shoulders to make the minute adjustments needed to stay on course. There was nothing to breathe but she went through the motion of drawing in a deep breath as the gate loomed ahead of her, her path taking her across its face towards the far edge, a segment the Hive had identified as most vulnerable to direct physical attack. The reactors built into each gate segment cast a baleful red glow over her, and she tried to ignore their slow pulsing - each cycle a fraction faster than the last.

A red shape suddenly flashed in front of her face, a warning, followed by red markers drawing her attention to other parts of the gate. Hatches were opening, and as she watched slim, segmented metal bodies emerged, insectoid machines that spread their spindly limbs and flexed their laser stingers as they turned towards her and began to accelerate. She grimaced and drew her sword, thankful at least that her wings - or the part of Scout Three’s mind embedded within them - seemed to understand her motions weren’t intended to change direction, and kept her on her steady path even as she readied herself to fight.

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The waspoids formed quickly into waves, manoeuvring with tiny jets of gas from their limb-tips, and swept silently in towards She-Ra. The first attempted to grapple with her, and quickly fell to her sword, their torn shells drifting away and spilling mechanical innards and tiny globes of oil and fluid, but those that followed were more cautious, readying their stingers and circling, testing her. She felt lasers impacting on her back as she deflected those from the waspoids in front of her, and prayed the wing harness would hold against anything that hit it; the machines were staying carefully out of reach of her sword, but each laser shot gave her the opportunity to reflect it back on one of them, thinning the swarm around her. She risked a quick glance at the gate’s defensive segments, thankful at least that the great anti-ship blasters remained motionless - the waspoids, she guessed, were an automated response, not a sign that whatever controlled the defences had recognised the true threat she posed to it.

The flashes of laser fire had distracted her from the pulsing of the gate’s reactors, but suddenly she was bathed in a volcanic outpouring of fiery light. Forgetting for a moment the machines still aiming their stings at her, she turned to face the gate itself, gaping as the vast circle of space within it seemed to cave in on itself. The tortured, twisted refraction of Etheria’s night sky parted to reveal another space, one far from empty: bathed in the eldritch glow of a scarlet nebula, mile after mile after hundreds of miles of machine, a fortress factory the size of a world, reactors like miniature stars burning amid containing metal. And everywhere, in their countless thousands, Horde vessels - troop transports and shuttles barely visible, even the warships she had once thought colossal now revealed as minnows, moving in schools of dozens in the shadow of the true titans, the Horde planet ships.

Frozen in shock for a moment, She-Ra shook herself and put on a burst of speed, sweeping her arms back and ramming head-first through the waspoid in her path, ignoring the others in her race to the gate’s surface; on the edge of her vision she could see a dark shape moving towards the gate from the other side, slowly eclipsing the view of the Horde’s vast inner empire. Her target rushed towards her, and she flipped over and landed with a crunch, buckling the metal beneath her boots, but feeling the magnetic grip take hold and steady her. She took a second to grab at a waspoid that had strayed too close, ripping it in half and hurling the pieces at two of its fellows, then drove her sword to the hilt into the gate’s hull, tugging back to tear a huge gash through it.

Broken machinery spewed out into space, but still the segment’s reactor burned, and she flinched as a wave of pressure washed over her - in the distance, across the plane of the gate’s open surface, the prow of a Horde super destroyer had begun to emerge. She-Ra smashed again at the metal beneath her feet, but again the damage was too little against the machine’s vast size. She sheathed her sword, looking around, and her jaw set as an idea came to her - pushing away from her boots’ magnetic grip she flexed her wings and flew to the junction between one segment and the next. She landed and took hold of the join, a massive column of reinforced metal, digging her hands into it and pulling, twisting. Slowly she felt the structure give, and with a soundless shout she wrenched it loose, opening a gap in the gate’s edge. Behind her the destroyer was rushing forward, the full width of its hull barely fitting through the gate, almost close enough to touch - She-Ra braced her hands against one half of the torn joint, her feet against the other, and began to push them apart.

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A sliver of light formed in the gap she was opening - the edge of the space distortion, no longer bound by the gate itself, a raw tear in reality. She-Ra grimaced as it rippled and lashed out, burning across her like fire, disintegrating the gate’s metal wherever it touched, but still she pushed outward, forcing the gap wider until she was at full stretch. A wave of energy rushed over her, blinding her, and then it was gone - the reactors, the gate itself, fell dark and lifeless. Her strength spent She-Ra lost contact with the gate and drifted slowly away, watching as the super destroyer fell too, listing to one side - severed cleanly across the middle, emptying a thousand internal decks of troopers and tanks and gunships into space in its wake.

Then a flicker of light from somewhere in the bisected hull flared, and the ship exploded in a fireball like a sun, blasting the dormant gate to dust, and hurling She-Ra into deep space. Etheria swam across her view, tumbling, darkness grew at the edges of her vision and began to encroach - she searched for the distant Hive, somewhere out there, where Willow was, but couldn’t find it, as her mind receded from the buffeting and her vision darkened... then someone was holding her arms, pulling her out of the void, and she had a brief impression of a soft seat beneath her, and Scout Three’s anxious face staring at her as her ship’s canopy closed over them.

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Willow scrambled through the gap as soon as the ship’s canopy had opened wide enough, straight into Tara’s arms.

“You changed back?” she asked nervously.

“After Scout Three got me into her ship,” Tara assured her. “I’m fine, sweetie. Not that I’m in a hurry to do that again.”

“The structure she severed was coated in neutronium,” Scout Three said, awe in her voice. “And the spatial flux should have prevented the gate from being disrupted once activated. It should not have been possible.”

“She’s all about the impossible,” Willow smiled, giving Tara a kiss. She looked over her shoulder to see Mermista and Perfuma peering over the rim of the cockpit.

“It is wonderful to see you well,” Mermista smiled. “When we saw the explosion, we feared... Except for Willow, of course. Her faith did not waver.”

“I’m not saying I wasn’t worried,” Willow said, blushing. Tara chuckled softly, and hugged her tighter.

“So is there more stuff to blow up?” Perfuma wondered.

“I think we’ve done our quota for today,” Tara smiled. “Let’s go home.”

“There’s a quota?” Perfuma asked Mermista.

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“We are monitoring Horde vessels on the far side of the planet,” Megacomplex Fifteen said, as they watched their appropriated Horde shuttle being refuelled. “However they are maintaining an opposing orbit. We are nearly prepared to fold space; even if they move now, they shall not reach us.”

“Where will you go?” Tara asked.

“There are many stars,” the man said. “More even than the Horde knows. Though it may take a thousand years, we shall find a home. But we will not forget Etheria, and you who risked so much for our freedom.” He turned, gesturing. “For this reason, we wish also to remain - to join you, who are the power of the good, and the way of the magic. The one you knew as Scout Three has chosen this, if you would allow it.”

“You want to stay?” Willow asked, as Scout Three walked forward.

“This one does,” she nodded. “This one has shared its experiences as Scout Three with the Hive - all Hive will remember your courage, and friendship. And though this one, the Hive will stand at your side. If you will permit?”

“Of course,” Willow agreed, taking her hands. She smiled nervously, then stepped forward, nodding at Tara, who put a hand on her shoulder, and Mermista and Perfuma who moved closer, welcoming her with smiles. Finally she turned to Megacomplex Fifteen, meeting his gaze.

“This one is ready,” she said. “Scout Three no longer.”

“You need a new name?” Perfuma piped up. “Queen Bee! Called it.” The Hive woman tilted her head.

“This is an acceptable name?” she asked the others.

“Uh, sure,” Willow said. “If you like it. It’s your choice.”

“Very well. This one,” she said, then paused. “I, am Queen Bee.”

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“Five... four... three,” Queen Bee counted down, pointing upwards. “Two... one.”

The group gathered in the clearing at the centre of the rebel camp watched as a new star flared in the sky, then slowly faded from view.

“Good journey,” Buffy said loudly, a call echoed by the dozens of rebels who had paused to watch the departure of the Hive, and now slowly went back to their business, finishing the day’s tasks, talking with friend, preparing dinner, or simply relaxing as the day wound to a close. Everyone had been naturally curious about Queen Bee when her ship had landed in the middle of camp, but for the moment kept a respectful distance, while Buffy took the lead in introducing her to life on Etheria, and Mermista held Xander and several of his rangers enthralled with her descriptions of the Hive. Willow glanced across to a neighbouring glade, where Perfuma was playing hide-and-seek with the twiggets - she had taken to them at once, and they in turn seemed to have adopted her - then settled alongside Tara on an old tree stump, staring into the night sky.

“Thoughtful?” she said, and Tara glanced at her, offered a smile, and nodded.

“It’s a lot to process,” she admitted. “I mean, being told about other worlds, meeting a xenian here and there, is one thing - but something like the Hive, a whole people migrating across the stars... and the Horde...” She shook her head.

“How do you think losing the space gate will affect them?” Willow wondered.

“The Horde can still reach Etheria in their ships,” Tara mused. “But you heard the Hive - months, or years. Hordak won’t be able to just call in reinforcements as he pleases. Whether that’ll make him more cautious, or more desperate...” She shrugged. “He craves power - this will hurt.”

“Either way, he’s weaker today than yesterday,” Willow surmised.

“Hmm,” Tara nodded, her eyes still on the sky.

“That’s not the only thing on your mind?” Willow prompted gently. Tara drew in a breath, then nodded again.

“Wherever the other side of that gate led to,” she whispered, “it was like...” She sighed. “In the Fright Zone - there’s no nature, nothing of, of Etheria. The Horde razed the ground, and built a part of their world. No harmony, no co-existence. That’s what I saw: where that ends. No worlds, no people - no life. Just a war engine. A sky full of stars, and every star was a warship. It was endless.” She dropped her gaze, and looked at Willow.

“How do you stand up to something like that?” she asked quietly. Willow nodded gently, then leaned forward and very slowly kissed her.

“With hope,” she murmured. “You feel it?” Tara breathed out slowly, eyes closed from the kiss, then nodded.

“That’s what She-Ra is,” Willow went on. “That’s what everyone feels, when they see you. And what I feel, when I see you - Tara. You’re magnificent. But all hope really needs is the tiniest little thing. It comes from everywhere, and it’s endless, too.”

“A kiss from you is not a ‘tiny little thing’,” Tara protested playfully.

“Yeah, well,” Willow chuckled. “Those lips of yours inspire, you know.” Tara laughed softly, and nuzzled her neck.

“I like how hope feels,” she whisper, drawing a pleased murmur from Willow.

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“Hi! It’s me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding today? If not, take another look:

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“Today Willow and Tara met a new friend, who looked and acted really different to them. Lots of people seem different to what we’re used to, even if they don’t have wings or lasers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not nice people, or that you can’t be friends with them. Remember, everyone’s different in some ways, and it’s just as well - it’d be a really boring world otherwise. See you next time, bye now!”

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_________________
Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 10:09 am 
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Let me just say, Tara with wings = ADORABLE!

Really enjoyed this episode, Chris.

Glad to see our favorite heroines have struck another mighty blow against the Horde!

Looking forward to the next installment :grin

Cheers!
DW

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 11:33 am 
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This whole thing is awesome!

And it strikes just the right note for an 80's cartoon :)

[Edit: Actually no. I never watched the original, but i just watched the intro. No. No. Goddess, no. This is much much better than the original!]

And Mermista's costume, or lack thereof is pretty risque :)
Awesome work, i look forward to more :bounce

Dunno of i mentioned it, but this was one of the first W/T stories i ever read, maybe the 10th one?

Good to see more :)

R

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2017 5:45 pm 
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DarkWiccan: Thanks :grin Not the first time I've given Tara wings, albeit just borrowed this time (actually it's not even the second time, if you count Queen Tarah - I don't think I'll make a habit of giving Tara three heads though) - I kind of backed into the idea in this case, starting out with Queen Bee's wings not being just part of her (well, they are part of her insofar as she's a cyborg, but they can be taken off), and then wanting to have a scene of She-Ra fighting in space (because she does that sort of thing all the time in the cartoon) and needing a way to keep her from just floating off. (Speaking of her little wing episode, the shot of her flipped over wasn't entirely gratuitous, that was also my nod in an oblique way to the cartoon's 'roundhouse kick' animation, which likewise involved She-Ra flashing her panties at the audience.)

I did welcome the opportunity to have the rebellion make concrete progress in weakening the Horde - the cartoon by its nature wasn't very big on ongoing continuity, She-Ra would just thwart whatever scheme Hordak had come up with that week, but leave the overall political landscape unchanged. Nice in that it made the Horde occupation seem more of a challenge than just something that could be undone in one fight, but looking back as an adult it does kind of feel a bit lackadaisical that the series ended with by all appearances no change in how much control the Horde had over the planet. (Them having a space gate, and She-Ra wrecking it, was another plot point I arrived at more by luck than design - initially I just needed something 'final' to blow up to signify that the Hive could safely escape.)

Azirahael: Thank you :grin I think looking back at the first two episodes, with these new ones I wanted to stick closer to the style of the cartoon, rather than reimagine more heavily - possibly part of it was planning it in episode form, with these more contained stories, whereas the first one in particular sprawled out like a movie. (I wonder in hindsight if it might've been fun to plan the 'movie' out as several regular-length episodes smooshed together, as the original Secret of the Sword was? Not that I mind how it turned out as it is.)

I admit I did get a bit taken with Mermista's sexiness as a character trait - not that the original design of her was modest either, she's covered but aside from the breastplate it's plainly just a body stocking. And what with She-Ra's shortest-possible-skirt, Adora going pantsless all the time, and seemingly everyone else in the world just wearing tights and a swimsuit, it's no mean feat that Mermista stood out as 'the sexy one' (being French helped though).

Well folks, it's Friday, and in just under twelve hours it'll be past midnight and technically Saturday, and therefore time for a new episode (it's like the Gremlins rule, but in reverse). See you then! :bounce

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Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 5:46 am 
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Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

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Liam scanned the sky, frowning.

“Maybe we gave him the slip, cap’n?” Doyle suggested quietly, coming up to his side at the ship’s rail. Liam shrugged, but kept his eyes on the clouds surrounding Sea Hawk, searching through the grey haze and the rumble of distant storms.

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“He’s a wily one, this Hordesman,” he said at last. “Maybe we have and maybe we haven’t, but I’ll not rest easy ‘til I see clear skies and nothing else.”

“Been a while since we took bearings,” Doyle went on nervously. “But we’ve come a long way west of where we were headed.”

“We’ll find our way by night,” Liam shrugged. A cloud caught his eye, and he stared intently at it, his frown darkening even further.

“Son of a spidasaur!” he barked suddenly. “Hard about!”

Doyle spun the wheel by reflex, and no sooner had the flying ship begun to bank than the cloud burst, revealing a Horde jetcopter, which charged and opened fire.

“Clever bastard’s got a cloud generator!” Liam swore as the ship shuddered under the laser impacts. “Full sails men, and run out the guns! Get above him!”

On the heel of his words another volley of laser fire struck, and this time there was a crash of breaking timber from beneath the deck. An explosion shook the ship, and the crew lurched as the stern dipped, and they began to lose height.

“Doyle!” Liam shouted.

“He’s hit the solar energiser!” the first mate shouted back, gripping the edge of a hatchway to keep from being thrown off balance.

“Can you patch it?”

“It’s blown clear through!” On his words the ship sank out of the bottom of the cloud bank, revealing an arid red landscape beneath.

“Ah hell,” Liam grimaced. “Doyle, get to my cabin, send the kowl! Now man, before we get too close to the ground! Boys, grab hold of something, this landing ain’t going to be pretty!”

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Tara opened one of the cupboards and peered at the collection of jars and vials within, raising an eyebrow.

“How many spices do you have?” she asked wonderingly.

“All of ‘em,” Willow replied cheerfully. “Or as many as possible. Lesson thirty-seven, you can never have too many spices. To choose from, I mean. Never put them all in the same dish at once.”

“Speaking from experience?” Tara wondered, noticing the little shudder in Willow’s shoulders as she stirred the large bowl she was holding.

“Just one time,” the redhead grumbled. “I was curious, it wasn’t good. All in all it’s just as well sorceresses can displace the worst effects of an upset stomach.”

“Explains why you’re teaching me to cook,” Tara quipped. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

“You’ll be fine,” Willow insisted. “It’s not difficult, just takes practice. Try, try, try again, the occasional embarrassing failure that becomes a funny anecdote later on...” Tara chuckled and took the bowl Willow handed her, stirring the mixture gently, while Willow gently hugged her from behind, resting her chin on her shoulder.

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“I’m glad you trust me with your kitchen, at any rate,” the blonde smiled.

“I trust you with my everything,” Willow murmured. They shared a moment of contented silence, until a muffled thump from beneath the counter made them jump.

“Twiggets?” Tara wondered.

“I don’t sense any nearby,” Willow frowned, pulling open the doors. A furry head, with wide eyes and a tiny beak, poked out, blinking in the light.

“What the heck is that?” Tara asked.

“A kowl,” Willow said, reaching slowly in to stroke the broad ears folded warily behind the creature’s head. “It’s... oh no.”

“What?”

“Get Buffy,” Willow said quickly, gathering the kowl up into her arms.

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“It belongs to Liam,” Buffy explained, once Tara had brought her back to their house from the nearby rebel camp. “Kind of - they’re not pets, they sort of ‘adopt’ people. They’re empaths, they sense people’s emotions, and sometimes they bond.”

“His ears were bright red when he appeared,” Willow said, her voice heavy with worry. “Strong emotion nearby makes the colour change - whoever sent him was afraid.” The kowl was perched on the kitchen table, its ears now a muted green.

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“How’d he end up in our kitchen?” Tara asked.

“They can teleport,” Buffy said. “We taught him to home in here, after he attached himself to Liam in Seaworthy - in case he needed to alert us to something in a huge hurry.”

“The house is near enough right on top of the centre of the Woods’ magical aura” Willow added. “Easy to use as a beacon.”

“There was no message though?” Buffy asked. Willow shook her head, then all three looked up as Casta materialised in the middle of the room.

“Highness,” she said to Buffy. “I’m sorry to say I have no idea where the Sea Hawk is. The Pool of Vision cannot see ship or crew anywhere on Etheria.”

“Nowhere...?” Buffy asked, her voice trembling.

“That is not to say they have been destroyed,” Casta replied quickly. “If that were the case, the Pool would reveal something - but there is no trace at all. I believe their location is shrouded somehow.”

“That might be why they sent the kowl without a message?” Willow suggested. “If something unexpected happened, maybe there was no time to prepare one?”

“How do we help them if we can’t find them?” Buffy asked.

“This creature is our only link,” Casta said. “Please bring him to Mystacor - there I am at my strongest. If there is any chance of learning from where he came, I shall find it.”

“We’ll come right away,” Willow nodded.

“I’ll send a message to mom and catch up,” Buffy said. “We need to be ready, whatever we find out.”

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Several hours later Buffy stood on a balcony, looking out over the forest surrounding Mystacor. Beneath the palace, and its improbably airborne grounds, the great lake sparkled in the last light of day, the clouds turning magenta. She turned slightly at a presence beside her, and gave Tara a brief smile.

“They’re still magicking,” Tara said in reply to the unspoken question. She leant on the rail alongside Buffy, gazing out silently over the dusk landscape.

“Every time I see that ship coming over the horizon,” the princess said after a moment, “it’s like... that’s my guy. My hero. Swooping down out of the sky, freeing slaves, breaking blockades, bringing food and supplies... I feel so proud of him. Plus he’s easy on the eyes, you know...”

“Not forgetting the accent?” Tara suggested.

“I don’t mind that either,” Buffy admitted with a grin, before sobering. “And then - every time - the ship comes in closer... I see the damage, where they’ve fixed the hull up, patched the solar sails...”

“I know,” Tara offered quietly. Buffy nodded.

“I know you do,” she agreed. “Willow, Xander, my mom - Liam as well. We’re all in the same ‘business’ here, I know he worries about me just as much as I do about him.” She turned to Tara. “And I wouldn’t do anything different - even if I could. But still, every time, there’s this little voice in me saying, if only he could just stay here. Not go out again, just be safe.”

Tara put a hand on her shoulder, and seeing Buffy accept the gesture, pulled her into a quiet embrace.

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“Guys!” Willow called out not long after. “We got something!”

Tara and Buffy hurried in, finding Willow, Casta, and Queen Joy standing around the Pool of Vision, a large circular basin encased in carved stone. The water within seemed calm at a glance, but on closer inspection there were tiny ripples in its surface that moved oddly, as if invisible creatures were swimming to and fro, disturbing the water in their wake.

“Good news, bad news,” Willow said to Buffy.

“I’ll take good,” she replied at once.

“We know why Casta can’t locate Sea Hawk,” Joy explained. “It’s nothing to do with the ship - the geomancy spells are being deflected.”

“So they could still be in one piece,” Buffy said, squaring her shoulders. “Okay. The bad news?”

Casta waved an arm over the pool, revealing an image within it, a vast, dry wasteland.

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“My spells failed because the vessel is somewhere here,” she announced. “The Crimson Waste.”

“Oh, damn,” Buffy said, her face falling.

“The Waste is a dead zone,” Willow explained to Tara. “There’s no magic there - that’s why none of Casta’s spells to find the ship worked, and probably why Liam hasn’t sent us any messages - he’s got a few artefacts that could do it, normally. Our friend here,” she gestured to the kowl, who had curled up asleep on the edge of the Pool, “must’ve teleported out while Sea Hawk was still in the sky, above the Waste’s effect. We couldn’t narrow in on a location relative to the ground - Queen Joy had the idea to scry where he teleported from relative to the moons, and that got us here.”

“The Pool can’t refine its vision any further,” Casta said apologetically. “The dead zone does not permit it.”

“What causes it?” Tara wondered. “I know the Horde thinks there’s nothing of value there - but no magic at all? How did it happen?”

“Nobody can say for certain,” Joy replied. “There are ancient legends from the dawn of Etheria - about a Great War between the First Ones who created this world, and the Unnamed, a force of pure evil. It’s said the First Ones’ greatest fortress was the Castle of Eternity, built at the heart of what is now the Crimson Waste. Though the war was won, the fortress was lost in the final battle, and its fall destroyed all magic in the lands around it.” She sighed. “The Waste is not entirely lifeless - some plants grow, there are even some nomadic tribes, according to tales told by travellers - but no magic arises from the land there.”

“If Sea Hawk flew too close...?” Tara asked.

“The magic is crafted into the ship,” Buffy said, shaking her head. “She wouldn’t just drop out of the sky like a rock - but it’d weaken her. Liam wouldn’t just sail in there for no reason.” She looked around the group. “We have to go - find him, and the crew, if they need help-”

“We will,” Willow agreed at once. “We’ve got an idea.”

“Your new ally, Queen Bee,” Casta continued, “has been kind enough to allow me to study some items of her technology. I do not believe her vessel would be affected by the dead zone - with her permission I could apply certain tests, but I am confident.”

“I’ll fly over to the camp and find her,” Joy offered.

“What about the Horde transport?” Buffy asked.

“Can I see a map?” Tara asked. Casta nodded and gestured again at the pool, which changed to a watercolour map of the continent, and the blonde shook her head.

“Too far,” she said. “Not enough fuel left.”

“We’ve been putting together a plan to hijack a tanker truck from a Horde depot,” Buffy told her mother glumly, “but that needs more time than we’ve got now.”

“Well, we go with what we’ve got,” Willow said.

“I’ll stop at Brightmoon on the way back,” Joy added flexing her wings. “The library might have some records about the nomads - probably out of date, but better than nothing.” She gave Buffy a quick hug, then strode to the balcony and leapt from it, soaring into the sky.

“Crimson Waste,” Willow said to Tara, taking her arm. “We go to the funnest places.”

“We could always go sightseeing in the Valley of the Lost next,” Tara grinned. She gave Willow’s waist a gentle squeeze, then looked at Casta. “Will I be able to transform there?”

“I believe so,” Casta said. “She-Ra is created from your sword, via your own spirit - you need nothing from the land.” She looked apologetically at Willow. “You will have no magic there, however.”

“I figured,” Willow nodded. “Before anyone says anything, I’m coming anyway.”

“I figured,” Buffy echoed her, with a slight grin, while Tara sighed and nodded. “What about me? Same caveat, going anyway.”

“Your power is contained within yourself,” Casta said, “however it is replenished by the bond between yourself and Etheria’s moons. That bond will be tenuous once within the Waste. In effect, you will find it difficult to ‘recharge’.”

“We’re doing a rescue, not a battle,” she shrugged. “I’ll manage.”

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Willow stared out at the mile after mile of sand and rock as the ship sped on, and suppressed a sigh.

“Can’t say it’s poorly named,” Tara mused, noticing the redhead’s unease. “It’s red, and wasteland-y.” Willow nodded, managing a faint grin.

“Still nothing?” Buffy asked quietly, and Queen Bee shook her head.

“Visual scans detect no trace of a vessel,” she replied. “Longer range sensors are limited - I believe the thaumaturgic disruption in this region is causing a degree of signal degradation as a side-effect.”

“The ship’s okay though, right?”

“Drive systems are unaffected,” Queen Bee said confidently. “As is celestial tracking navigation. According to the Brightmoon maps, we remain on course for the location marked ‘Tomb Rock’.”

“Lovely name for a trading outpost,” Willow observed, studying the terrain.

“Intermittent thermal readings,” Queen Bee noted, touching several controls in front of her. “I believe the outpost may be sizeable.”

The ship crested a rise, and at a wave of Queen Bee’s hand a segment of the canopy became a lens, revealing a hazy, magnified view of the horizon ahead. In the shadow of a great outcrop of rock, dozens of squat buildings spread out, almost a city, the mass of domes and sloped roofs blending in with the rocky desert at the edges. Tiny specks were moving to and fro along rough tracks leading through the wasteland, human figures, and larger shapes, carts and pack animals.

“Tomb Rock,” Willow said.

“Let’s stay down behind that ridge,” Buffy suggested, pointing a little way away from the town. “We can go in on foot from there. No need to spook the locals, we’ve got no way of knowing how they’d react to a ship like this.” She studied the lines of caravans. “That’s a lot of traffic - maybe someone’s seen or heard something that could point us to Sea Hawk.”

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Even with cloaks to protect them from the sun and sand, there was no disguising that the rebels were outsiders - but the people of Tomb Rock seemed to pay them no heed as they made their way through the winding, narrow streets, with the exception of the owners of various stalls who seemed to consider anyone within earshot a potential customer no matter what they looked like.

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“Are there any taverns, or anything like that?” Willow wondered.

“These people don’t seem to go in for shop signs in a big way,” Tara noted. “Everyone just seems to know where they’re going.”

“We are being followed,” Queen Bee said quietly to Buffy. “A female. She has maintained a constant distance from us for several streets, not conforming to what appear to be the typical routes of pedestrian traffic.”

“Guys,” Buffy said to Willow and Tara, without turning. “Tail. Only one. Alley ahead?”

“Ready,” Tara nodded slightly.

“Queen Bee, when we’re out of sight, can you go high?”

“I shall.”

“Alright, let’s meet a local.”

The four drifted, seemingly casually, towards a narrow alleyway, and turned in. Buffy flattened against the wall in the shadow of some old crates, while Queen Bee slipped off her cloak and leapt up, wings unfurling to carry her to a perch on a jutting roof beam. Willow continued on, staying in the open, with Tara trailing behind a little, and after a moment a slim figure in a cloak and hood appeared in the mouth of the alley.

“Alright,” Tara said calmly, turning around, as Queen Bee dropped to the ground behind their pursuer. “You wanted to meet us?”

The figure glanced behind herself, and at Buffy stepping out of hiding alongside, but made no move to run, instead turning back to Tara and taking a tentative step forward.

“Yes,” she said in a soft voice. “Yes... by the Gods, you...”

She reached up and took down her hood, revealing her face, and Willow gasped in shock. Her hair was cut short, boyish, but her face was Tara’s.

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“Who... who are you?” Tara managed, eyes wide.

“I am Adra,” the woman said.

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“I saw you arrive,” the woman explained, once the group had huddled around a table in an alcove, in a nondescript building Adra had led them to which proved to be an inn. “Outsiders are not so rare, but... I saw your face,” she went on, staring intently at Tara. “Where do you come from? What land?”

“The Whispering Woods,” Tara said, wondering. “You...?”

“My father brought me here,” Adra replied. “I remember nothing else - but he told me a name, where I was born: Elberon.”

“Elberon,” Tara echoed.

“You think...?” Willow asked, hushed.

“My... my mother, came from Elberon,” Tara said. “Y-your father?”

“Passed, four years ago,” Adra said quietly. “And...?” She trailed off.

“She died,” Tara said. “A long time ago.”

“Is it possible?” Willow asked. Tara gave a helpless shrug.

“I don’t remember anything of home,” she admitted. “And Casta’s memories of her are just fragments. But...” She gestured to Adra, who leaned forward; slowly, Tara reached out, and touched her face.

“I do not understand,” Queen Bee said in the silence. “Such resemblances are uncommon?”

“They’re twins,” Buffy said. “Sisters?”

“This isn’t, unusual, to you?” Adra asked.

“In the Hive, physical forms are altered according to need,” Queen Bee said casually. “My body is considered optimal for reconnaissance and independent action. Any Hive taking the role of Scout would look as I do.”

“She’s not from Etheria,” Willow explained, still gazing at the resemblance between the pair. Adra nodded absently, still focused on Tara.

“You’ve lived here your whole life?” Tara asked.

“As long as I remember,” Adra nodded. “Not here - in the desert. I come here to trade. You lived in the, the woods?” Tara shook her head, and dropped her gaze.

“Only since last year,” she replied. “Before that... when I was a baby, the Horde took me.”

“The Horde?” Adra gasped. Tara nodded.

“They came to Elberon,” she said. “Destroyed it. And my...” She paused, and looked up again, meeting Adra’s stare. “Our mother... died, fighting them.” She let out a slow sigh. “The Horde took me, and made me serve them, used magic to control me.” She looked around at Buffy, and settled her gaze on Willow. “These people saved me, freed me. I’m part of the Great Rebellion now, trying to drive off the Horde, and free Etheria.”

“We know the Horde well,” Adra said darkly.

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“They’re here?” Buffy asked sharply.

“For seven months now. They have a base at Scorpion Hill. Tomb Rock has little to interest them, it seems, but they send machines out through the desert, mining the rocks. Anyone who strays into their path, they kill.” The rebels exchanged worried glances.

“We’re here looking for friends of ours,” Tara said, her voice firming. “They travelled on a sky ship - we think they were forced down somewhere in the wasteland.” Adra’s eyes widened.

“I spoke with a Dryl merchant this morning,” she said quickly. “Yesterday he was on the Spikeheart road, where he saw a shooting star fall from the sky. He said he heard the sound of its landing, but he did not look - Dryl think such things bad omens.”

“It could be Sea Hawk,” Buffy said. “How far away is it, can you show us?”

“A day, by horse,” Adra suggested. She took a deep breath, and looked at Tara. “These people from the sky, they are your friends too?”

“Yes,” Tara said.

“Then they are mine,” Adra nodded. “Come, I will show you the way.”

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Adra did her best to hide her amazement at Queen Bee’s ship - the people of the Crimson Waste, she explained, were used to tales of the strange powers that flowed through the rest of Etheria, and to her the ship seemed like just another kind of magic - but she stared wide-eyed at the landscape passing by below, pointing out landmarks and giving directions in a whisper.

“Is that them, up ahead?” Willow asked, spotting a dust cloud rising on the horizon. Adra looked, and shook her head.

“The Horde machines make those clouds,” she said. “The falling star came down there, behind that ridge. Where the Horde are, there are no rocks to mine, and no road. They must be searching.”

“Reducing drive power,” Queen Bee said, bringing the ship down closer to the ground.

“What kind of forces does the Horde have here?” Tara asked.

“Troops, transports, skycraft,” Adra said. “It’s difficult to say how many. Nothing taken into Scorpion Hill ever escapes.”

“There they are!” Buffy pointed, as the ship rounded the edge of the ridge. In the shadow of the cliffs beyond Sea Hawk had carved a long furrow in the sand, and come to rest tilted over against a dune. Sand was piling up against its windward side, but tiny figures were visible moving around it.

“Liam!” Buffy called, jumping to the ground as soon as the canopy opened, before the ship had even finished settling.

“Princess!” the captain shouted, appearing on deck and jumping down to the ground.

“Don’t you ‘princess’ me!” Buffy protested, laughing as he ran to her and hugged her. “What the heck happened to ‘good journey’, huh?”

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“Ah, the journey disagreed,” Liam said, shaking his head. Buffy looked at the grounded Sea Hawk, as the others hurried over to them.

“Miss Willow,” Liam went on urgently, “Doyle’s hurt - inside. He’s awake and all, but he’d be glad of your attention.”

“I’ll do all I can,” she promised, giving Tara’s hand a squeeze before hurrying over to the ship.

“What happened?” Buffy asked.

“Damn Horde jetcopter,” Liam scowled. “Shadowed us from Dark Edge. I thought I’d shaken him, but...” He looked back at the ship and sighed, then cast a curious glance at Queen Bee and her vessel. “You’ve been making new friends then?”

“Uh, Captain Liam, Queen Bee of the Hive,” Buffy introduced them. “And this is Adra.” Liam shook both their hands warmly, seeming unsure whether to be more astonished at Queen Bee’s alien appearance, or Adra’s resemblance to Tara.

“There’s a Horde search party not too far from here,” Tara said. “Did the ship that attacked you get away?”

“We got off a lucky shot on the way down,” Liam replied, shaking his head. “But he’d have had plenty of time to tell his masters where we were before that.”

“Can you get Sea Hawk flying again?” Buffy asked. Liam grimaced, and waved them over to the rope ladder that had been dropped over the side of the deck to the ground..

“Three days,” he said, “maybe two, if some benevolent deities happen to be watching over the repairs. The solar energiser’s a mess. I’ve got the boys mending the frame and charging up replacement rods for the core, but if the Horde comes afore they’re done, we’re no more flying than Brightmoon palace.”

“Having a battle here’s not going to help repairs,” Tara observed. “But maybe we can keep them tied up elsewhere.”

“You have more men?” Adra asked. “The Horde considers everyone here hostile - they don’t move without numbers.”

“We’ve got... special skills,” Buffy said, with a grin.

“Come on,” Tara said to Adra, leading her towards the cabins. “There’s more I need to tell you.”

Image


She-Ra looked over her shoulder, just able to make out the rocky ridge marking Sea Hawk’s current resting place, then turned her attention forward, down a sandy slope to where a Horde convoy was making its way along the narrow strip of solid ground between the dunes. A pair of batmeks were hovering overhead, acting as outsiders, but She-Ra was confident she and Adra remained unseen - her twin had led her to a cache not far out of their way, and they both now wore desert cloaks that blended almost seamlessly with the sand.

“That’s about the usual size of the Horde convoys here?” she asked quietly. “No rearguard further back?”

“That’s all of them,” Adra nodded, still sneaking occasional disbelieving glances at her, as she had since Tara transformed. “They rely on those drones to act as scouts, the ground vehicles never spread out much.” She hissed a breath between her teeth. “I shadow the mining convoys when I find them - in case there’s an opportunity to hamper them. But they stay close together, there’s never any chance.”

“Close together is good for me,” She-Ra grinned. “None of them will be able to fall back and organise quickly enough.”

“There must be thirty of their robot men down there,” Adra said, shaking her head. “And those guns on the vehicles will fire at anything that moves - they can blast through solid stone!”

“Lucky I’m not made of stone,” She-Ra joked. “Stay here, stay down - I’ll handle this.” Adra looked at her incredulously, then sighed and nodded.

She-Ra tensed, then leapt high into the air, shedding her cloak as she went. The batmeks spun to face her, but she was already reaching for one of them - her fingers dug into its wing as she drew and swung her sword, tearing through the middle of the craft, and as she began to fall she spun and flung the wing in her hand towards the other, obliterating it in a fierce explosion. She held her feet together as she fell, boring through the sand as she landed and smashing into the rock beneath, sending out a shockwave that tossed a cloud of sand into the air around the front of the Horde convoy.

The turrets on the vehicles finally fired, but they had lost sight of her, and the blaster shots exploded on rock and sand as they strafed wildly in search of a target. A line of troopers formed up and marched ahead, blasters raised, only to scatter as the lead tank was lifted up and tossed back along the line of the convoy, crashing end over end through the troops and crushing the tracks of the vehicle that had been following it.

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She-Ra followed in its wake, slashing at nearby troopers as she passed, but focused on the remaining vehicles, using the crumpled front of the next as a ramp to sprint into the air and bring her sword down into the main cannon barrel of the command crawler at the centre of the formation.

As she tore the cannon from its housing and flung it lengthwise at the squad of troopers closing in from behind, something clanged against the command vehicle’s buckled hatch, then it was forced open from inside. She-Ra turned to see a snarling woman wearing Horde colours, with an insectoid carapace covering her scalp and back, ending in a huge scorpion tail that rose above her head, brandishing its stinger. The woman raised her arms, ending in powerful claws instead of hands, and charged, grabbing She-Ra’s blade as she used it to parry the attack.

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“I don’t think we’ve been introduced?” the blonde grimaced, as the pair pitted their strength against one another - the scorpion woman slid back, but her small frame concealed considerable power. In response to She-Ra’s taunt she opened her mouth and hissed, revealing a stinger on the end of her tongue, which lashed out, spraying toxin into the air.

“Uh-uh, no tongue!” She-Ra snapped, ducking and lifting the woman over her head. She brought her crashing down on her back on the remains of the crawler’s turret and wrenched her sword free, but her foe scrambled to her feet in the blink of an eye, lunging again with both claws. She-Ra grabbed the claws in her hands, and gritted her teeth as she began to squeeze. The scorpion woman’s face changed, concern beginning to filter through her rage, as she tried and failed to pull free, while the carapace of her claws shifted and cracked in She-Ra’s grip.

The massive tail rose up behind her, rearing back to strike, but before it could Adra was there, leaping behind the woman with a defiant cry, catching the stinger in the crook of a curved fighting staff and pulling it down. The scorpion woman shrieked in shock and lashed blindly, catching Adra across the stomach with the edge of the tail, but the moment’s distraction was all She-Ra needed to push both her claws into one hand, grab a leg in the other, lift the woman above her head, and throw her towards the few remaining Horde troopers.

“Are you alright?” she cried, taking Adra’s arm and pulling her to her feet.

“Had worse,” the woman grimaced, holding her stomach.

“Here,” She-Ra offered, lifting her, then leaping down from the ruined crawler and sprinting away, shielded from the troopers by the column of wrecked vehicles between them. A few poorly-aimed blaster shots sailed over their heads, but in no time She-Ra had crested the nearest dune, and ducked down behind it.

She slid to a halt and lay Adra down, sighing in relief as she saw the blood on her twin’s torn shirt was from only a shallow cut across her stomach, the flow already slowing. There was no sign of the scorpion woman’s green toxin, or burned skin around the edges of the cut, that she had feared.

“She just knocked the wind out of me,” Adra grunted. She-Ra nodded, rose up to peer over the top of the dune, then sank back down and transformed back to Tara.

“They’re moving away,” she said. “What’s left of them - they’ll go back to their base and get more vehicles before they return. You didn’t have to risk yourself like that.”

“I know,” Adra sighed, propping herself up on her elbows with a wince. “Ow. I just... I’ve seen that, that person, that thing - she’s their leader here. I’ve seen her kill people before, when the mining convoys stumble across a camp, or a caravan in their way.” She sighed and shook her head. “I didn’t want you to get hurt. I didn’t want to just do... nothing.”

Tara nodded, and touched her cheek comfortingly.

“I know,” she replied. “I know the feeling. Are you alright to walk? We should get back to the ship.”

“Sure,” Adra said, rising.

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“Okay,” Buffy said, lowering herself to the deck inside Sea Hawk’s cargo hold. With the ship tilted chairs were useless, so the group sat cross-legged on cushions around a tabletop propped up at one end to make it level. “Where are we at?”

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“Doyle will be alright,” Willow started. “I can’t do any healing magic worth a mention here, but Liam’s stores have plenty of regular medicines - and there’s nothing critical going on, he just took a bad fall in the crash. We can move him if we have to, but he won’t be getting around under his own power much. And I checked Adra, there’s no sign of venom or anything. She’s resting, but she’s fine.”

“We were successful in purchasing a number of horses at Tomb Rock,” Queen Bee said next. “Captain Liam’s crewman remained with the... collective noun for horses? Flock?”

“Herd, if there are enough,” Tara shrugged.

“Herd,” Queen Bee nodded. “We were told this region’s horses move swiftly at night. They should arrive here before midday tomorrow.”

“If worst comes to worst, we’ll be able to get everyone out,” Buffy noted. “Queen Bee, if we’re evacuating, you’ll take Doyle in your ship, the rest of us can ride.” She quirked an eyebrow at Willow. “You think Doyle will need a nurse with him?”

“I’ll be okay on a horse,” she protested. “I mean ideally Spirit, but I’ll be fine, no need to crowd the ship up.”

“If you say so,” Buffy grinned. “Liam’s last update was still two and a half days fixing the Hawk - no lucky breaks on the repairs, but nothing’s gone wrong either.” She looked to Tara. “How likely are we to get that time?”

“I don’t know the woman they’ve got commanding the Horde here,” Tara admitted. “Aside from to say she needs a serious manicure, but that’s not especially helpful... The convoy we saw, and everything Adra said about their mining activities, seems to suggest standard operating protocols for a remote base like this. Throwing She-Ra into the mix, they won’t risk being picked off one by one - they’ll mount an attack, but it’ll be a large force, not fast moving. We should be able to see it coming, and we can decide whether Queen Bee and I can tackle it and slow it down, try to lead it away from Sea Hawk if they still seem unsure where exactly we are... or just evacuate, if it’s too big. I’d like to take a look at this Scorpion Hill, before dawn tomorrow. No attack, just a scout, to know more about what the Horde’s got out here.”

Buffy nodded, then hesitated, looked around the group, and leant in to speak quietly.

“What about Adra?” she asked. “When we go?”

“I...” Tara hesitated. “I still, honestly, I don’t know what to think. I mean yes, of course, I’d like her to come - if she wants to, but from what she’s said she’s kind of lived on her own out here since... our father,” she said after a pause. She looked at her hands, then met Willow’s gaze. “I never even considered this - I thought whatever family I might have had, the Horde- I never thought I could have a sister.” She took Willow’s hand, and then looked around, giving Queen Bee a smile and settling on Buffy. “You’re my family. But she is too. I uh... if she wants, I’d like us to be together.”

“She’s certainly proved herself as an ally,” Buffy nodded. She looked slyly at Willow. “And hey, you could have two of her around, ever think of that?”

“What?” Willow said, confused. “Two of- oh! Hey!” She picked up a cushion and threw it at Buffy, blushing, then laughing, which Buffy and Tara joined in; Queen Bee observed the trio with the same polite calm she always displayed when her new friends did something perplexing.

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“Um... hey?”

Tara and Willow looked up from securing their hammock to a beam, to find Adra peering around the corner of the stack of crates that separated their ‘room’ in the cargo deck from the others.

“Hey, come on in,” Tara smiled. “How’s...?” She gestured to Adra’s bandaged stomach.

“Good,” she nodded. “Willow, thanks again.”

“Least I could do,” Willow said warmly. “Also kind of the most I could do, without magic. No more jumping on scorpion women, okay?”

“I’ll leave it to the professionals,” Adra grinned, glancing at Tara. She opened her mouth to speak again, then paused.

“You know,” she said at last, “I never saw magic... until today. Just stories about things that happen in other lands.” She sighed. “Actually I always thought it sounded a bit scary.”

“Some of it is,” Tara admitted with a nod.

“The Horde?” Adra guessed.

“Back then,” Tara said, “it would’ve been me leading that convoy, not fighting it. It... I wouldn’t even have thought about whether it was wrong, what the Horde does. Just obeyed.”

“Hard to imagine,” Adra said quietly, gazing at Tara. “You’re so...”

“She is, isn’t she?” Willow said warmly. Tara glanced at them both, smiling bashfully.

“Do they do that to people just... all the time?” Adra asked. “Control them?”

“No,” Tara shook her head. “I don’t know of anyone else who they...”

“The enchantment was really precise,” Willow said as Tara trailed off into silence. “Magic can’t actually change a person’s mind, really - they had to suppress part of her thoughts, the part that would question the Horde, and know right from wrong.”

“They wanted She-Ra,” Tara explained. “They knew about the magic our mother left in the sword - the Shadow Weaver, Hordak’s witch, was always trying to get me to draw more power from it. I’m sure she knew what was there, if I ever unlocked the potential.”

“But you never did?” Adra asked.

“Not until Willow,” Tara said, taking Willow’s hand in hers. “When she set me free... Before then I could never hear the sword calling me. She-Ra comes from love, I think. There’s none in the Horde, with them I had no way to find my way to her.”

“There’s not a lot out here either,” Adra admitted. “After my- our father... passed, I didn’t... We never got too close to the city folk, or the other nomads.” She shrugged. “Maybe he was afraid the Horde would come here, find us. After, I kept my distance too. Princess Glimmer said, uh...” She trailed off, looking hopefully at Willow and Tara.

“If you want to come with us, of course you’re welcome,” Tara assured her.

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“To the Whispering Woods?” Adra said, her smile trembling. “I’ve... actually never seen trees.”

“They’re lovely,” Tara told her. “If you want them to be your home... with us...”

Adra wiped the tears from her eyes, then took a tentative step forward, letting Tara embrace her, while Willow watched fondly. She took a deep breath and stepped back after a moment, gathering herself.

“I uh,” she said, “should get some rest. If you want to go scope out Scorpion Hill tomorrow morning, early start, and all that?”

“I’ll be ready,” Tara promised.

“Okay. Tara. Willow,” Adra said haltingly. “Good night, um. Thank you. Both.” She smiled, then retreated, vanishing into the dark. Tara blew out a slow sigh, then turned to Willow.

“My sister,” she said softly.

“Yeah,” Willow grinned.

“So do you think she’s pretty...?”

“Oh gods, don’t you start!” Willow groaned, rolling her eyes. “Buffy’s never going to let up on this as it is.”

“But you’re so cute when you blush!” Tara protested. Willow huffed, and swatted her bottom playfully.

“Well you just think up some other way to make me all flushed then, missy,” she instructed. Tara grinned.

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“A few come to mind...”

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“Probably don’t want to get much closer,” Adra advised, as she and She-Ra reached the top of a high ridge just before dawn, looking down across the plain beyond. “We’re safe here, but the Horde sees anything approaching on the plain.”

“Sensor perimeter,” She-Ra nodded. “So... Scorpion Hill. Can’t think why they called it that.”

Queen Bee had dropped them off to meet the horses being led towards Sea Hawk, and they had borrowed two to ride through the pre-dawn hours towards the Horde’s base. From their vantage point they had a clear view across the plain, to where the land fell away in a sudden steep cliff. On the edge, perched on a high outcrop, was a crouching stone monument fashioned in the rough shape of a scorpion, claws framing the road into its main gate, leg-like buttresses either side, and a jagged tail rising up behind. Horde armour and turrets had been bolted onto the stone, turning the huge statue into a fortress.

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“The nomads say the scorpion witches have lived here since the dawn of time,” Adra said. “Mother to daughter, through the generations. They say they kidnap a man from the nomad tribes when they want to mate. The mother keeps him paralysed with their toxin until the daughter is born. Then the daughter eats him.”

“No love lost between them and the nomads?” She-Ra muttered.

“Maybe why this one decided to serve the Horde,” Adra guessed. “Does that happen elsewhere?”

“Some rulers do serve Hordak,” She-Ra replied. “Mostly out of fear, or to protect their realms from reprisals. Some just for power, though.”

“Look,” Adra pointed. “The gate!”

She-Ra nodded as the scorpion’s maw slid open, revealing silhouettes in the angry red glow within. Rank after rank of Horde troopers advanced, followed by tanks, skimmers, and siege engines. As the pair watched the army turned onto one of the roads spreading out from the scorpion’s claws, and gathered speed, the powerful limbs of the mechanical troopers letting them keep pace with the vehicles.

“That’s no scouting party,” She-Ra frowned.

“That road leads to Tomb Rock,” Adra gasped.

“We have to get back to the ship,” She-Ra said, turning her horse. “We don’t have much time to come up with a way to defend the city!”

“They’re going to occupy it?” Adra asked, riding alongside her.

“No transports,” She-Ra said, shaking her head. “Not occupy - they’re going to destroy it!”

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“The Horde’s going to attack Tomb Rock!” Tara called, as soon as she had ridden within earshot of Buffy, hurrying out to meet them.

“Seriously? Damn it!” she cursed. “Here too!”

“What?” Tara asked as she and Adra dismounted.

“Queen Bee saw a convoy coming from the south,” Buffy explained, as they hurried with her back to the ship, where Willow and Queen Bee were waiting. “We didn’t see the dustcloud until daylight. A couple dozen heavy vehicles, on a trail that’ll bring them straight to us - they’re not searching, they know where we are.”

“Blast,” Tara shook her head, accepting Willow’s hug gratefully.

“How big’s the force going for Tomb Rock?” Willow asked.

“A small army, near enough,” she said. “I could delay them, maybe - cause some havoc in the desert. If we warn the people in time-”

“I’ll send the horse-coper back,” Liam offered, hurrying off to round the hull to where the horses were being kept, out of the wind.

“What about here?” Adra asked. “Your sky ship, the crew?”

“I could mount a defence,” Queen Bee offered, but her voice lacked its usual certainty.

“You don’t have She-Ra’s resilience,” Tara said, shaking her head. “That many vehicles, and their troopers... too many.”

“Likely,” Queen Bee admitted unhappily.

“You must defend yourselves here,” Adra insisted. “She-Ra must! Your rebellion matters to all of Etheria, you must not allow the Horde to harm you!”

“But we can’t abandon Tomb Rock,” Tara countered. “Everyone matters - the Horde can’t just destroy a city while we do nothing.”

“Damn magic dead zone,” Willow muttered.

“Hell,” Buffy sighed. “We have to leave the Hawk - there’s no choice. I mean, unless you can both turn into She-Ra and take one battle each.” She half-turned, then paused, noticing how Tara’s gaze had fixed on Adra.

“What?” she asked. “You- Seriously? Is that an option?”

“I... don’t know,” Tara whispered.

“Me?” Adra asked. “But... you’re She-Ra. I mean, the sword, it’s yours... Our, our mother, she wanted you to...” Tara shook her head.

“I only have the sword because of the Horde,” she said, “because they wanted me to use it for them. Perhaps...?” She drew her sword and looked into its gemstone.

“Do you think?” Willow wondered.

“I... don’t know how,” Adra said helplessly, staring at the sword.

“Shadow Weaver spent years trying to teach me,” Tara said. “All kinds of magic, to try to call on the power - even before I could, it felt like second nature. I can try to help you.” She looked to Buffy, and Willow.

“You can do anything you set your mind to,” Willow said, smiling. Tara let out a relieved sigh, and looked back at Adra.

“Okay we might all want to... back up a bit,” she suggested, leading Adra away from the hull. “The first time I transformed was a bit of an event. Uh, so this might be a bit startling, or... I really don’t know.”

“I trust you, sister,” Adra promised.

“The magic helps you understand it, in a way,” Tara went on. “At least that’s how it was for me, I hope that’s how it is for you too because we’re kind of about to get struck by lightning.”

“Literally?”

“Basically yes,” Tara nodded. “It’ll be okay - the magic won’t hurt you, I’m sure of that at least. Take the sword.”

“Yes,” Adra whispered, accepting it. Tara put her hands around Adra’s on the hilt, and lifted it above their heads.

“Do I... say magic words?” she asked.

“Think magic thoughts,” Tara suggested. “Think of those you love. Our father. I think of Willow, always.” She smiled, then lifted her eyes to the sky.

“Look,” she murmured. “It’s happening...” Above the sky was darkening, the high clouds coiling, descending in a massive swirling column reaching towards the ground.

“I feel it!” Adra exclaimed.

“Yes!” Tara shouted, as the wind picked up around them. “Hold the magic! Bring it into yourself!”

“I feel it!” Adra shouted again, elated. She gave a cry of laughter as energy rippled along the sword, leaping pure white into the funnel of storms above - then let out a wild yell, wrenching her hands away from Tara, spinning around to kick her in the chest, sending her sprawling away.

I have the power!” she bellowed, as the storm answered, sending the full might of its power down to crash over her. Tara shielded her eyes instinctively, unable to grasp what had happened - only when she felt hands on her, knew at once that it was Willow, did she start to move, scrambling up and away from the cloud of dust that had whipped up around the blast.

“What happened?” Buffy asked, racing over to them, helping Willow drag Tara to her feet.

“I-I don’t...” Tara stammered. “She...”

They looked back at the sound of footsteps, boots on the crater of glass the lightning had blasted into the sand, as the dust began to settle. A figure emerged, carrying Tara’s sword - tall, powerful, black hair billowing behind her, blood red armour on her chest gleaming as the clouds parted.

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“You?!” Buffy gasped.

“No,” Tara shook her head. “No!”

“Surprise, sister,” Faith sneered, pointing the sword at the trio. She ran her free hand over her face, and gave a dry chuckle. “No more ‘Adra’. Shadow Weaver did a good job on the face, didn’t she? It hurt. And the thoughts were worse. All that simpering turned my stomach. But it was worth it, for this.”

“Faith,” Tara said.

“Oh, no,” she laughed, shaking her head. “Not anymore. Cat-Ra.” She chuckled again. “I always hated you. Hordak’s perfect protégé.” She licked her lips. “I’m gonna take my time eating you...”

She took a step forward, then gave a startled cry as a beam of energy stabbed into her hand. Another struck her chest, and she glared at their source to see Queen Bee, both palms raised, advancing on her.

“What-” she snapped, her face contorting in a snarl, then Buffy quickly moved in front of Willow and Tara and unleashed the full might of her magic, a massive blast of light that slammed into her, sending her tumbling through the air, crashing into the edge of the cliff above, and through it in a shower of broken rock into the sky beyond. A crack sounded from the glassed over crater, and Tara saw her sword had fallen from Cat-Ra’s grasp, landing point-down in the glass.

“Is she coming back?” Buffy asked, suddenly slumping in Willow’s grip, as Tara scurried forward.

“I don’t see her,” Willow said. Queen Bee unfurled her wings and hovered upwards cautiously, looking for any sign of Cat-Ra’s return.

“Good,” Buffy muttered. “Because Casta was right, I’m out of juice - we have to get out of here.”

“Sweetie?”

Willow hurried over, half-carrying Buffy, eyes brimming with tears at the sound of the despair in Tara’s voice. She was holding her sword, kneeling, staring helplessly into its gem.

“She’s gone,” Tara cried. “She-Ra - I can’t transform. The power’s gone.”

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The rebels rode in single file along the ridgeline leading south. Liam cast a last glance back behind them, to where a column of smoke was rising - Sea Hawk’s pyre - then turned his gaze east, to where the others were staring as they moved slowly through the rocky terrain, following Queen Bee’s ship. The sun was beginning to set on the other horizon, and towards Tomb Rock there were flashes reflecting off the clouds. Tara flinched at the echo of explosions on the wind, and tightened her hold on Willow in the saddle in front of her.

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“They can scatter,” Willow said quietly. “The horse seller said so - they’ve known the Horde could attack for months. They’ll vanish into the desert.” Tara nodded sadly.

“I’m sorry,” she said, catching Buffy’s eye; the blonde was staring at the horizon, her face red with anger.

“No,” she shook her head quickly. “This isn’t your fault.”

“If I hadn’t-”

“Don’t go there,” Buffy insisted. She turned and stared at Tara, her gaze softening. “You can’t take this on yourself. The Horde did this - not you.” Willow held the reins in one hand and gripped Tara’s hands firmly with her other, looking over her shoulder at her.

“We were all right there,” the sorceress said softly. “We all believed her.” Tara tried to smile in reply, and managed, her lips trembling, as Buffy nudged her horse close enough to put a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s a long way home,” Tara said, with a heavy sigh.

“But we’ll make it,” Buffy said firmly. With one last look at the destruction on the horizon, they turned their horses away, and followed the path south.

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“Hi, it’s me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding? If not, take another look:

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“Man, that was a rough one! Today Tara trusted Adra was who she said she was, and got tricked by her. Sometimes people pretend to be someone else to trick you, in places like internet chats, and that’s why you should always be careful - don’t tell people your home address, or give them your password, even if they seem really nice. You can make good friends online, but be sensible. See you next time, bye now!”

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 11:50 am 
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Oof... Chris... this was a dark one.

I have to say, my eyes went squinty at the appearance of Adra. I never really trusted her from the start. I'm glad my instincts were correct, but also sad for our girls. Especially Tara.

Welp, Faith has the Sword... Tara is powerless... owie owie owie.

Willow's got her work cut out for her reassuring Tara that it wasn't her fault. Adra played a good con, and took advantage of the good guys trusting natures. ... ... ... bitch.

Ok, well, now I'm REALLY curious to see what happens next.

Cheers
DW

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:22 am 
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Nasty.

I hope it doesn't take too long for Tara to get her mojo back.

Also, hey, it's like a Doctor Who two-parter :)

And on a side note, some of the pics were extra-cute toaday :)

I especially liked the one where willow rested her head on Tara's shoulder :clap

Looking forward to more :bounce

R :flower

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 8:43 pm 
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This is a true hero fic. The good guys don't automatically win all the battles. Keeps them humble or something.

I must say I was confused by the presence of Tara's look-alike. I remembered it was said (or hinted?) that Faith was her sister. So I began to think triplets or some other crazy explanation. Seriously did not think about Faith being in disguise. Glad to see I can still be thrown for a loop.

Plus I had just re-read the Smut Bunnies one-off with Chance and was amused with Tara look-alikes already.

But yes it is a quieter board than it used to be. I did not sleep enough but I did make it through my day, made it home, only I didn't go straight home and met my wife in town and we had a late evening. It was a good day though.

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2017 8:51 pm 
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Thanks all :bounce

DW: Yep, this is kind of the Empire Strikes Back episode - next we're off to Tatooine to try to repair the damage from this one, and then on to the season finale where, Ewoks or something... okay the analogy isn't exact. Obviously it's part of an overall story arc here, but I also wanted there to be a moment where the Rebellion has to just plain back away and leave the victory to the Horde. To its credit the cartoon did do that ('The Price of Freedom' - unrelated to the episode I used that title for here - is probably the biggest example, where even with He-Man visiting, She-Ra 'wins' only insofar as she keeps refugees alive as they flee a Horde attack), although having She-Ra around did tend to offset the enormous advantage the Horde had (also Glimmer kept forgetting had magic powers, which can't have helped). I didn't want to make things too dark though - I remember back when I started this with the first episode back in WTTV I was thinking very much along the lines of Lord of the Rings, and nowadays I feel a bit more inclined to preserve more of the cartoon's cheerful optimism, and keep the reimagining to more cosmetic aspects that don't make things too dark and gritty.

'Adra' did play it well - I didn't want the rebels to seem too gullible, so I wrote her exactly as if she was who she said, without any little tells that she might be lying even though I have way too much fondness for sticking in little hints and clues like that. (I did indulge myself in the graphics, and always had her face half in shadow, even when the lighting isn't so severe on others around her - it's especially obvious in the one of her and Buffy just after they all meet.) I ended up feeling like that made her out of character once you find out it's really Faith - Faith isn't what you'd call a subtle one - so I slightly rewrote her boasting to include the bit about Shadow Weaver changing her 'thoughts' as well as her face to pull off the con. And then that in turn brought to mind how I'd said in episode one that full-on magic mind control wasn't supposed to be possible (it seems like I spend a lot of time writing myself out of problems I've written myself into to begin with); I decided she wasn't being 'controlled' as such, more like she had a magical 'script' in her mind for Adra's thoughts, and she just had to let it guide her to 'be' Adra.

Azirahael: Well I don't want to get into spoiler territory, but definitely nobody among the rebels is wasting time trying to figure out how to get She-Ra back - nobody's tuning in to a Masters of the Universe cartoon to see non-powered people milling about being ordinary after all (although as I say that jokingly, it did occur to me that's exactly what I did in the very first new episode here... but never mind, besides Tara's never 'ordinary' anyway :heart ). Funny you bring up Doctor Who - it wasn't intentional (and isn't nearly as dark) but looking over this and the final two episodes to come, they do follow quite a similar pattern conceptually to the Face the Raven - Heaven Sent - Hell Bent 'trilogy'. There were even some plot threads and so on in my original plans that I ended up altering or streamlining in a way that made things more similar, so it may well be that was in the back of my mind nudging me in that direction - I did think they were fantastic episodes.

Glad you liked that over-the-shoulder cel - that was one of the early ones of just tracing a Buffy screenshot as-is, rather than pasting actor photos onto She-Ra body outlines. The first one (I think, if memory serves) was the semi closeup of Willow in episode three, where she's doing her bit of taunting Modulok into ruining his own plan - after that one turned out okay I got more into doing shots that were closeups, rather than action shots more reminiscent of the cartoon, and that led inevitably to picking out particularly memorable moments from Buffy and cartooning them - this one, and also Tara's sexy grin this episode, plus others like the bed scene in The Magic of Mystacor, Willow leaning over Tara (from 'Under Your Spell') in Power Play, stargazing in The Pearl and so on, even the dancing in The Price of Freedom (to pick one that wasn't a closeup, just a sweet moment). It's something I never really thought to do back in the original two episodes - except right at the end of Let It Snow, with the big kiss - and I ended up really liking how those cels came out, and trying to include as many as I could do.

dtburanek: When I started planning out this series in detail (this time, not originally) I actually didn't remember that I'd outright revealed that Faith was Tara's 'imperfect' twin - I'd always planned for there to be this arc of Faith stealing the power (and becoming 'Cat-Ra', although in that first episode I was using everyone's Buffy names anyway, so that's why she wasn't called Catra anyway - Frosta started the trend of me using people's She-Ra names) but it was only when I finally sat down to write it all out that I decided I wanted it to be Tara being duped into sharing the power, rather than Faith just outright stealing it, and that'd only make sense if Tara thought there was a reason she'd be able to share the power, which she obviously can't do with anyone else. So, sisters, and the awkward situation of trying to make it a surprise reveal that the character pretending to be Tara's twin is in fact the character I'd said years ago was Tara's twin. Hence her being called 'Adra' and having Prince Adam's costume and haircut, all misdirection to try to make it seem like I was setting up the introduction of She-Ra's canon sibling He-Man (but female), and distract anyone from thinking "Wait a minute, wasn't there something about Faith...?" as soon as the Tara's sister idea came up. Of course that supposes everyone's as into Masters of the Universe as I am and would recognise Adam's costume right away... eh, sometimes you just accidentally write yourself into a corner. Glad it still worked enough for the surprise though.

Well folks, not long until midnight, and then the next episode will be along. Thanks again for the feedback :wtkiss

_________________
Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2017 5:13 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:08 am
Posts: 2520
Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

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Willow, Tara, Buffy, Xander, and Queen Joy stood patiently in Mystacor’s forge room, waiting as Casta cast spell after spell at the sword once more resting in the stone mold that had created it years ago. Beneath the chords and wails the spells created, whispers sounded on the edge of hearing, and the shadows in the room seemed to move of their own accord. Finally the sorceress lowered her arms, picked up the sword, and turned back.

“The gift your mother placed within the sword’s jewel had not been lost,” she said, handing it to Tara. “However, the power remains connected to another - to Faith, exactly as it did to you when you became She-Ra.”

“Can it be undone?” Tara asked quickly. “Break the link?”

“I’m sorry,” Casta said, shaking her head. “It may be - but I do not know how. Without the sword Faith would be unable to transform at will, but until she returns to her mortal form, she will remain as she is, this ‘Cat-Ra’.”

“She can be overpowered, though, right?” Xander asked. “She-Ra could - I mean, you had limits.” Tara nodded.

“Mortella accomplished as much,” Casta agreed warily. “If Cat-Ra were here, in Mystacor, I could... perhaps... attempt it.”

“At what cost?” Willow wondered. “Her magic drove her mad.”

“The danger would be great,” Casta said sadly. She waved a hand, causing the wall of the forge to shimmer out of existence, revealing a balcony looking over the lake and forest beyond the palace. Her throne formed behind her, and she sank wearily into it.

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“She was fuelled by rage,” she said eventually, gazing out. “I could only try. I do not know.”

“What about a conventional attack?” Buffy asked. “My magic’s recovered from the Waste.”

“It took practically a whole army at the polar mine,” Tara said. “From all sides. And I did a lot of damage before they wore me down. The Horde can take losses like that.” She took Buffy’s hand gently. “She’d kill you. Please, don’t.” Buffy looked unhappy, but nodded. Tara nodded too, then looked to Casta.

“What about destroying it?” she asked quietly. “Destroy the sword?” Willow tightened her grip on Tara’s hand.

“That is beyond any magic I command,” Casta replied. “The sword of She-Ra was forged here, but its magic was wrought by another power, that of the First Ones.”

“Skydancer,” Queen Joy said.

“Yes,” Casta nodded. “Legend says that on the peak of Skydancer Mountain stands the Crystal Castle, the resting place of the spirits of the First Ones. Even Mystacor knows not the secrets of Skydancer, save that the power that surrounds it and shrouds it is beyond ancient. There She-Ra went, in the desperate hope that the legend was true. This sword, and its impossible magic, is all that remains of her. Whatever dwells atop Skydancer may be the only power capable of controlling the sword’s spell - or destroying it.”

“I’ll go,” Tara said firmly.

“Baby,” Willow said pleadingly. “Nobody’s come back from Skydancer - ever. Even your mother...”

“I know,” Tara said, taking both her hands. “And I don’t want to go, because I know you’re going to insist on coming with me and I won’t be able to talk you out of it-”

“Of course!”

“-and putting you in danger is the last thing I’d ever want to do,” Tara went on. “But you of all people know what She-Ra’s power can do, in the hands of the Horde and a monster like Faith. I have to stop that. The whole Rebellion - all of Etheria - needs me to do this.”

“I’ve got a ranger from Galebreath,” Xander offered. “Vasser - he’s known mountaineering since he was old enough to walk. He can lead you.”

“You need everyone you’ve got,” Tara said, shaking her head. “Until we succeed, the Horde’s advantage is too great. But anything he can teach us...”

“You’ve got it,” Xander grudgingly nodded, accepting her point.

“I don’t suppose Queen Bee’s ship could get up there?” Buffy wondered.

“The Horde tried with their flyers during the battle for Mystacor,” Joy replied. “The storms around the mountain turned deadly in a heartbeat - some were flung out of the air and crashed, others torn apart by lightning.”

“The First Ones are beings of myth and legend,” Casta said soberly. “If it is they who dwell on Skydancer, all that can be said for sure is that they do not welcome strangers.”

“They made an exception once,” Tara said, weighing her sword in her hands. “I’ll convince them to do it again.”

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Tara looked up as Queen Joy landed, near the edge of the rocky outcrop not far from the lake she and Willow had been using for practice over the past two days; the longest they had decided they could delay. The Queen nodded a greeting to Vasser, Xander’s ranger, and put down the coil of rope she had been carrying.

“The finest in the realm,” she said, giving Tara the best smile she could muster. “Its owner promises it’s never slipped, and I can feel the magic in it.”

“Thank them for me?” Tara asked.

“Of course. Where’s Willow?”

“Back at camp. There are rituals she’s been conducting at specific times to try to enhance the Whispering Woods’ aura - a kind of blessing. Just on the off chance the First Ones care whether a forest thinks we’re good people or not.”

“Can’t hurt,” Joy agreed. “We-” She turned at the sound of footsteps approaching at a run, her brow furrowing with concern as Buffy burst through the bushes.

“Tara! Hi mum,” she panted.

“What’s wrong?” Tara asked.

“Message,” Buffy replied. “Willow’s getting a message, through the forest - one of the enchanted groves she set up.”

“Let’s go,” Joy said.

It took a few minutes to reach the camp, where Xander was kneeling beside Willow. The sorceress was sitting cross-legged on the grass, which had grown to cover her in a network of green ribbons, wrapping around her body and winding through her hair. Her eyes were completely covered, and she was talking as if hearing the other side of the conversation out of nowhere.

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“You’re sure,” she said as Tara sprinted over to her. “Good, that’s something. Yes, I’m afraid so. What else have you seen?”

“Which one?” Joy asked, landing behind them; Xander shrugged.

“There’s enchanted groves in Blackmoor, the Queendom of Snows, Erelandia,” Tara said, “Salineas, although she hasn’t tested that conduit yet, she and Mermista were still working to properly connect a coral grove in the city with the Woods. Mystacor as well, but Casta could just-” She broke off as Casta appeared out of thin air nearby.

“How many?”” Willow went on. “Right. Three days? Okay. I’ll tell everyone here, we’ll send help. Alright.” She suddenly took a great gasp of air, while the grass retreated from her.

“Sweetie?” Tara said, stroking her arms to steady her.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I was a talking tree on the other end, that’s all. Erelandia,” she said, looking around the group that had gathered around her. “That was Hazar - there’s a Horde army approaching, five regiments of troopers, with tanks. Hazar’s people are breaking the bridges to slow them down, but he thinks it’ll only be three days before they reach the city.”

“The western division can reach Erelandia in three days,” Joy said. “I’ll instruct the army at Brightmoon to follow us, then fly west right away and lead the division. We’ll try to hold the Horde until the rest of the army catches up.”

“Did they saw who was leading the Horde?” Buffy asked. Willow shook her head.

“I asked if they’d seen anyone new,” she replied. “There’s been fighting at the outlying villages. Nobody reported anything that sounded like Cat-Ra.”

“Small mercies,” Buffy said. “Still, I’m coming too.”

“Buffy-” Joy began.

“You need a heavy hitter, mum,” Buffy insisted. Her mother set her shoulders, then sighed and nodded.

“Yes, I do,” she admitted.

“We’re stripping Brightmoon bare,” Xander warned. “If this is a diversion, to draw us out...”

“Could they move an army through the Woods?” Buffy asked Willow.

“Faith never trained in magic the way I did,” Tara said. “Her panther form was innate, not learned. Even as Cat-Ra I don’t think she could nullify the Woods’ magic the way I did.” She swallowed. “I hope, anyway.”

“We haven’t had word of any armies massing on the borders,” Joy said. “We can’t let fear keep us bottled up. Our allies need us.” She opened her mouth to continue, then paused, looking away in discomfort.

“What?” Willow asked.

“Sweetie,” Tara said quietly.

“What? Oh- no, no way!”

“You have to,” Tara said gently. “I know - I know - but you have to go with them. Your magic can make a big difference there.”

“It’s true,” Buffy said unhappily, sitting next to Willow. “You know I don’t want it to be this way, but...”

“...but it is,” Willow muttered. She looked at Tara, eyes welling up with tears. “I don’t want you to go alone.” Sensing she had made up her mind, the others moved away, to give the two some privacy.

“I’ve never been alone since you found me,” Tara promised. “I won’t be now.” Willow leaned closer, searching for a kiss, which Tara provided without hesitation.

“I want to be strong for you,” Willow whispered. “But I just want to make you promise you’ll come back even though that’s just words and it’s impossible to know-”

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“Shh,” Tara soothed, hugging her tightly. “I don’t need you to be strong. I just need you.”

“You’ve got me.”

“And you’ve got me,” Tara echoed. “That’s a promise.”

“It’s a good one,” Willow said, sniffling but managing a smile. She took a deep breath, and sighed. “You know what, after we’re done with this and the Horde’s been kicked off Etheria entirely, how about we put a sign up saying ‘no evil invaders allowed’? This whole rebelling thing kind of sucks, I think once is enough for me.”

“Let’s do that,” Tara agreed, laughing softly.

“There we go, optimism in a crisis,” Willow joined her laughter. “We’re doing good.”

“We,” Tara said, bringing both of Willow’s hands to her lips and kissing them, “are doing good.” Willow sighed, and stared into her eyes.

“You know,” she whispered, “sometimes - pretty often actually - I have these moments where I think, I love you so much, before right at this moment did I even understand how much I love you? How do you do that?”

“Same way you do,” Tara smiled. “Magic.”

“Makes sense,” Willow agreed, kissing her. “How... soon do you... have to set off?”

“You don’t have a lot of... time to reach Erelandia,” Tara replied, savouring her lips.

“I know. Darnit. I love you.”

“Darnit,” Tara agreed with a grin. “I love you too.”

“You take Spirit,” Willow said. “Queen Bee will get us there faster.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. In fact - Casta?”

The sorceress came over and knelt beside the pair, looking attentive.

“You can’t project as far as Erelandia, right?” Willow asked.

“Regretfully no,” Casta shook her head.

“Will you go with Tara?” Willow asked. “As far as you can?”

“I shall,” Casta said. “To the very edge of Skydancer, and await her return.”

“Thank you,” Willow said. “Okay?” she asked Tara. “Best I can do for you.”

“Thank you,” Tara smiled.

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With every mile the pair rode - Tara on Spirit, Casta riding a horse she created as an extension of her own projected form - Skydancer loomed taller in the distance, a lonely titan towering over the lesser heights of the World’s Peak range, its summit shrouded as always in stormclouds. Tara felt a sense of foreboding from the mountain that went beyond the daunting prospect of the climb, and was glad of Casta’s company; the sorceress talked endlessly, recounting every scrap of fact and lore she knew about the mountain, the First Ones, repeating every memory she still possessed of She-Ra and the creation of the sword, leaving nothing unsaid lest the least nugget of information in some ancient tale prove useful.

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At last, having climbed the winding paths through the World’s Peak, they reached the foot of Skydancer itself - even without Casta’s sense that she could go no further it would have been obvious, as the hardy grasses and trees that clung to the rocky mountainsides abruptly vanished, the path ended in a jagged wall of stone, and Tara could feel the tension in the air, a mystical force subtly pushing against her senses. Dismounting, she made one last check of her climbing equipment, petted Spirit and gave her a kiss on her forehead, then stood forth.

“There is one last thing,” Casta said, walking with her to the very edge of the mountain’s baleful aura. “Something I have not told you about your mother.” Tara’s eyes widened in surprise - Casta had shared, she had thought, every detail she still possessed, down to the tiniest memories.

“None remain who knew this in life,” the sorceress went on, her voice soft and resonant. “Only I remember - and it is time I passed this knowledge to you, as your mother’s heir.” She took a deep breath. “When she was my student, your mother bestowed upon me a... nickname.”

“A nickname?” Tara repeated, confused.

“‘Castaspella’,” Casta said flatly. Tara frowned in confusion, then abruptly pressed a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. Casta sighed and rolled her eyes.

“You can see why I don’t tell people.”

“Is... is that going to be important, somehow?” Tara wondered.

“I very much doubt it,” Casta shook her head. “But it made you smile. Willow would be pleased, I am sure.” Tara blinked in realisation, then reached for Casta and hugged her.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she whispered.

“Here I shall remain,” Casta promised. “Until you return.”

“I’ll try not to keep you waiting long,” Tara agreed. Casta watched as she picked up her pack and her rope, squared her shoulders, and began to clamber up the rise.

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Rain pelted down on Tara as she pulled herself over the crest of a rise, swung a leg up onto level ground, and knelt, catching her breath. As She-Ra she would never have tired, nor felt the cold and the lashings of the storm that even the alien weave of her Horde-manufactured undershirt was unable to keep out; the irony was not lost on her as she had huddled beneath whatever overhangs she had been able to find in the past two days of punishing progress, sleeping as much as she was able, which was still less than she knew she needed. All that drove her on was Willow, the knowledge that somewhere - beyond the storm, which cut off all view of the lands beneath Skydancer - Willow, and the friends who had saved her from the Horde and welcomed her like family, were risking their lives, and needed her help.

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A dozen times she had believed she had found the summit, only to drag herself up over a ridge to see another slope looming above her, and her heart sank as she pushed her hair out of her eyes and saw dark rock, not open sky, above. But as she straightened up she realised what stood before her now was no mountain. The towering shape was formed of black rock, shining as the rain poured down its face in waves, but the interwoven curves were no work of nature - it was fashioned, and Tara’s heart leapt as she took trembling steps towards the colossal fortress, rubbing her arms for warmth.

Coming up the rise towards the structure she saw indentations in its wall, and quickened her pace, her heart racing as she saw her guess had been right - a door, fashioned of the same stone as the fortress, but clearly a way in. She fell against the surface and pushed with all her might, straining her muscles, but for all the good it did it may as well have been the mountainside. Again she tried, to no avail, until she found herself pounding her fists against the door, shouting wordlessly, and drew back before her frustration could overtake her completely.

“There is a way,” she told herself fiercely, ignoring her shivering. She reached over her shoulder and drew her sword, unwrapping it from the bundle she had put around it while she climbed.

“That belongs to me,” a mocking voice sounded from behind her. She spun to see Cat-Ra emerging from the rain, stalking towards her, laughing, wisps of steam trailing from her bare skin as the rain burned on touching her.

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“It was never yours!” Tara shouted back, the horror of every memory of Faith’s savagery welling up inside her. There was a scraping sound from behind her - the door was opening - and she darted inside, fleeing blindly into the dark with Cat-Ra’s growl following her. She knew, with She-Ra’s power, she could be overtaken in an instant, but that wasn’t Faith’s way - she would toy with her first. Tara ran in the few seconds more of life that gave her.

She skidded as the ground beneath suddenly became smooth, then crashed forward as Cat-Ra tackled her from behind, ending up pinned beneath her.

“No more running, meat,” Cat-Ra snarled. Her jaw gaped open, fangs growing, but before she could strike the floor shook, and a tremendous force hurled both of them into the air, away from each other. Tara cried out as she landed, the wind driven out of her, and struggled to roll over and reach the sword that had clattered to the floor beside her as Cat-Ra howled in fury not far away.

“What trickery is this?!” she bellowed, lunging out of the dark towards Tara, but again at the last moment they were hurled apart, and this time a wall of flame followed, bursting out of the floor, its light revealing the chamber a grand hall. Tara squeezed her eyes shut and turned away, shielding herself for all the good it would do, as the flame billowed out of the centre to consume the entire hall, collapsing in the middle to reveal a volcano beneath the floor. The flames surrounded her, burning her clothes, turning the air into a furnace it hurt to breathe - but after a few terrified seconds, she realised she was unharmed. The air was stiflingly hot, she could barely see through the flames, and the last vestiges of her clothes were falling in smoking tatters around her, but her skin was unmarked, her hair unburned.

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No!

She spun around to see a silhouette across the chamber - Cat-Ra, whirling in a panic as she too burned, the blood-red armour and thick cloak disintegrating off her, and, Tara realised, with it the aura of power, leaving Faith behind, staring desperately around herself.

“No!” she roared again. “It’s mine! The power is mine!” Tara felt her toes touch something, and quickly scooped up the sword at her feet - as always she had the sense of something more than mere metal in her hands, but the power remained locked away, unresponsive to her silent plea to it. She looked back up as the flames receded, forming a wall between her and Faith, but retreating from the rest of the chamber.

“Give it to me!” Faith howled, advancing on the flame wall, but halting as the heat drove her back. Before she could do more than recoil and snarl the flames burst into renewed life, rising up into towering figures.

“You have entered the Crystal Castle!” the beings bellowed, in voices that shook the ground. “You have no power here unless we grant it!”

“Who are you?” Tara shouted into the flames. The forms within turned, the hints of eyes gazing down on her, and she had the feeling she was being scrutinised in minute detail.

“We are the spirits of the First Ones,” the voices said. “Those who wove Etheria from the formless dark.”

“Return my power, or I will return with an army and reduce this whole mountain to rubble!” Faith demanded. The spirits looked at her, and the sound of the flames burning became strangely like a chuckle.

“Weigh your words, child,” they said mockingly. “We are not subject to any force at your command. But... what was taken, shall be returned. You both lay claim to the power of She-Ra?”

“Yes,” Tara said at once, echoed by Faith. The faces in the flame turned back to her.

“Yet you gave that power to your rival,” they said, and again there was the mocking edge in the voices. “Why should she not keep what you gave her?” Tara almost replied at once, but hesitated, sensing somehow that the First Ones would have little interest in how she had been deceived.

“You helped She-Ra create this power,” she said instead. “She did that out of hope. I shared it out of hope. But I was wrong.” She swallowed, her lips parched in the heat. “I appeal to you to help me undo what I have done, before it harms others.”

“And you?” the spirits said, turning their attention to Faith, who had glared her hatred at Tara throughout, but held her tongue.

“She-Ra is mine,” she growled. “Her power is beyond this pathetic weakling. I will take what is mine - if I have to tear this place apart with my bare hands! - and be the burning goddess that crushes all of Etheria beneath me!”

“Perhaps that is Etheria’s fate,” the spirits mused. The floor shook again, like an earthquake, and before Tara began to collapse - but the blocks of stone fell into the shape of a staircase, leading down into a lightless catacomb, framed by a doorway sculpted in the form of a tormented face, the stairs vanishing down its screaming mouth. Between the flames she glimpsed an identical stairway opening up before Faith.

“Enter the Jaws of Darkness,” the First Ones commanded. “The Underworld will decide the victor... and consume she who falls.”

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Tara moved as quickly and stealthily as she could through the labyrinthine tunnels the stairway had led to. She hadn’t yet seen Faith, but she had heard her growls echoing through the passageways, and she wasn’t willing to bet that anything separated them now except distance. The roughly hewn stone of the floor scratched her feet, but she didn’t dare linger - even temporarily deprived of She-Ra’s might, she knew Faith could overpower her in her panther form, and even human her senses remained unnaturally acute. If she picked up Tara’s scent...

She paused for a second at a junction to weigh her options - whatever challenge the First Ones intended her to find, she guessed, running blindly wouldn’t prevail. One way was an open hallway, reassuringly lit by the glow of torches further on, but devoid of turnings or anything to hide behind if she had to; the other way looked like a natural fissure in the rock, barely visible in the gloom, but offering concealment. She glanced back only to find the way she had come sealed - the stone behind her was smooth and featureless, as if the tunnel had never existed - and with her heart in her mouth, took a gamble and headed into the dark.

A low hiss sounded ahead of her, and she silently cursed herself as she flattened against the uneven wall. Ahead patches of luminescent moss clinging to the ceiling cast a pale light, and a feline shadow was being cast, moving steadily closer. Tara retreated as fast as she dared, her mind amplifying the tiniest scrape of her feet against the ground - until suddenly her hand, feeling along the wall behind her, lost contact with the rock. She bent to find a crack, barely wide enough to crawl through - but maybe too small entirely for Faith, in panther form at least. She knew she would be run down easily in the open.

Pushing painfully between the rough edges of the crevice, she stilled as her feet sank to the ankles in gravel, unsettling the tiny stones in miniature cascades. Moving as little as possible she shrunk back into the shadows, hugging her knees as she sank down against the rock wall, already hearing the soft sound of paws outside.

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“Come heeere,” the feline voice purred in the dark. “Come... here! Now!” The voice became a roar, then subsided again, and her next words sent a chill down Tara’s spine.

“I can smell your blood. Blood... so thick... I’ll... sink my teeth into your heart...”

Tara expected her at the crack in the wall any moment, but instead the voice trailed off, seemingly muttering to herself.

“Where are you hiding? Why... so much... where is it...” The paws scrabbled fitfully outside. “Get away... no! Get away!” To Tara’s amazement the feline growl became a human sob, and the next thing she heard, she had never known Faith to say: “...help...”

Before she could wonder the growl was back, and with a roar the great cat thundered away down the passageway.

Tara stood on shaking legs, then froze in shock as she realised the rock wall in front of her was gone - in its place a great chamber stretched off into the gloom, its edges picked out by a dull red glow that slowly bloomed until she recognised the place well enough: Hordak’s throne room, in the Fright Zone. She spun around at a sound - the massive factory-fortress stretched away behind her too - and backed away as a Horde trooper advanced on her. More footsteps, and there was another trooper, and another, emerging from the shadows, forcing her back towards the dais until the back of her foot hit the first step and she stumbled.

The troopers surrounding her raised their arms, but instead of aiming weapons, they reached for their helmets. WIth a hiss of escaping pressure the closest removed his, revealing the head beneath - skin pale and sickly, a few last strands of hair hanging in wisps from a scalp mottled with blemishes and implants. The other troopers followed suit, revealing the people they had once been, staring at Tara with blank, bloodshot eyes.

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“I had a family,” the first said, in a rasping voice distorted by the breather tube puncturing his cheek.

“I had a husband,” said another, taking a step closer, forcing Tara slowly back up the stairs.

“I had a wife.”

“A child.”

“A name.”

“Where are they? Why did you take them away?”

“Why did you make us into this?”

“Into you?”

Tara shook her head, wanting to protest, to apologise, but the memory of what happened in the infantry forges, to the cages full of terrified prisoners - prisoners she had taken - silenced her; there were no words that could undo it. Her sword was heavy in her hand, but she couldn’t bring herself to attack. She retreated, eventually reaching the top of the dais, until she stumbled into a figure behind her, and feeling a sick sense of dread she turned.

She had half-expected Hordak, but what she saw was worse: the rich scarlet cloak, the mastercrafted battle armour, the accents shaped like bones in gleaming silver, were all familiar, but the figure was slender, human, and the steel mask left parts of the face exposed: her face.

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“Look how small you’ve become,” the duplicate said sadly, shaking her bald head, closing her crimson eyes for a moment before opening them again to bore into Tara. “Have you forgotten me?”

“I... I was never-” Tara gasped.

“But you knew,” her Horde double insisted. “You knew your path would lead here. As you became stronger, more powerful - and the strong conquer the weak. You would eclipse even the mighty Hordak. You wanted this.”

Tara looked away - the chamber behind her was empty - but didn’t deny the accusation.

“All the promises they never made,” her double went on. “Hordak, the Shadow Weaver, all the secrets they kept from you - but not well enough. You knew you were no mere soldier, and your magic was greater than any other. You wanted to become what you were born to be. Your destiny.” She moved closer, whispering. “Ruler of Etheria. First of the Horde. In time... even Horde Prime would bow to you. A Master of the Universe.”

She studied Tara’s face for a long moment, then abruptly turned away, giving a disgusted snort.

“And now look at you,” she snapped. “You gave up your destiny - allowed yourself to become what others wanted of you. Their ‘hero’, but in your heart, a mere servant. A vessel for others’ dreams. You never bent She-Ra to your will - never made her power yours. And now... not even that. Weak, fragile, weighed down by guilt. Afraid of the merest fraction of the power you once craved. Tell me,” she went on, lifting her gaze to the red sky beyond the throne room, staring at the warships hovering in formation, “in truth... did you wish to share She-Ra’s might? Or be rid of it? Let another be the champion, so you could hide... Never more have to stand in front of human beings, afraid they would see the blood dripping from your soul?”

“No,” Tara said at last, and her double flinched, and turned back to her.

“I hid all my life,” Tara insisted. “Even under Shadow Weaver’s enchantments - I could feel the conflict inside, and I hid from it, until good people saved me. Not to be theirs, not even to be their hero. Because they saw someone who needed their help.” She took a step forward, and her Horde reflection backed away from her.

“I do feel the guilt,” Tara went on. “For all of this - for what I did. For what I wanted to be. For you. I always will. But I stopped hiding. This place, the Horde, does not tell me what to be. Guilt doesn’t tell me who I am. I know who I am.”

“I will always be here,” the duplicate whispered, slowly receding into the shadows. “In your past...”

“I know,” Tara agreed. “But never in my future.”

She took a shuddering breath as the illusion of the Fright Zone faded away around her, leaving her once more in the catacombs. There was space ahead - a tunnel, uneven stairs leading down. Fighting off the weariness in her limbs, she moved on.

The dim illumination of the patches of moss on the walls was growing brighter, she realised after a few minutes - the patches of growth were larger, healthier, now and then even a tiny flower here and there. To the relief of her sore feet the bare stone was soon carpeted with soft soil, then grass, and the stone walls were receding to either side of her, giving way to boulders half-covered by greenery, shrubs and bushes, even trees off in the distance, spreading their branches in a light that filtered down from somewhere above, hidden by the canopy of leaves. It was almost as if she had never left the Whispering Woods.

“Hey, baby,” she heard from one side, and the sense of familiarity in the voice was so strong that she didn’t even start, but smiled, and when she glanced over her shoulder she saw Willow nearing her.

“I’m not even going to ask where your clothes went,” the redhead grinned, and Tara had to laugh.

“No?”

“Might remind you to go find some more,” Willow pointed out. “I like this better. You’re tired?”

“Yeah,” Tara admitted, letting Willow gently take her shoulders and seat her on a moss-covered boulder that felt like a cushion beneath her.

“I... know you’re not real,” she added, wishing she could ignore that. Willow just nodded.

“Mm,” she agreed. “Still though, better than the last illusion, right?”

“Yeah,” Tara ruefully agreed.

“Oh hey,” Willow said excitedly, sitting next to Tara. “She’s feeling active today... wanna feel?”

Tara frowned in incomprehension as Willow took her free hand, then suddenly understood, as the sorceress placed her palm on her skin - her tunic open beneath the breast to reveal the swell of her rounded stomach. Tara gasped, and gave a soft little laugh, as she felt the life moving inside.

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“Frisky little thing, ain’t she?” Willow chuckled. “Gets that from you.”

“Like you’re never excitable?” Tara replied without thinking.

“Well whose fault is that?” Willow mock-protested. “Can’t help it if you excite me... in fact...?” She raised her eyebrows, glancing at Tara’s lips.

“I... have to go,” Tara shook her head, trying not to feel her heart break at the disappointment on Willow’s face.

“Do you have to?” she asked in a small voice. “You could stay... you know? This won’t all just vanish - not if you don’t want it to.”

“I have to,” Tara nodded. “You’re out there, somewhere - you need me. I need you.”

“There’s no guarantees out there,” Willow said quietly, looking down at her stomach. “This might not be where we end up.”

“There’s only one way to know,” Tara replied. She couldn’t help but lean forward, capturing Willow’s lips in a fiery kiss.

“I’m going to find this,” she promised, feeling Willow’s breath hot on her cheek. “This future, with you. I’m going to go through whatever I have to to reach this.” Closing her eyes she took a deep breath, steeling herself, and stood, feeling Willow’s hands trail down her naked sides to her hips, then just her fingertips, and at last, nothing. When she opened her eyes the forest was gone.

There was a dull glow ahead, and Tara began to walk towards it, clambering awkwardly through the gaps between densely-packed stalagmites. She jumped at the sound of a half-animal howl far behind her, and quickened her pace.

“Illusion has its merits,” she muttered grimly, forcing herself on as fast as she could.

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Tara raced through the last fissure in the cavern wall, with the sounds of pursuit barely a heartbeat behind her. Heat blasted her as she stumbled forward, along a narrow rock bridge hanging over a vast lake of fire, flames leaping up to either side, thundering around her in deafening waves. There seemed no way out, but she went on, half-running half-climbing along the rock spar to its end until there was nowhere else to go, only the inferno on all sides, and as she turned, Faith snarling behind her, staggering as her limbs refused to properly change into her animal form, but advancing.

“No more running!” she bellowed. “Give me the sword!”

“Never!” Tara shouted back.

“I need it!” she insisted - and as she neared, Tara saw to her amazement tears streaming down her face. “I need it - the power! I need it to be mine!” She lunged at Tara, who backed up as far as she could, feeling the burning void behind her.

“Stop being She-Ra!” Faith snarled. “Give her to me - get out of my mind! What did you do to me?!”

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“What do you mean?” Tara demanded, raising the sword between them, keeping Faith at its point.

“You’re inside it!” the brunette roared, her face half-changing, then reverting again to human. “In the power, in the strength - you put you into She-Ra, into me!” She tried to grab at the blade, but drew back from its edge as Tara warded her off.

“You stole her!” she accused.

“I can’t live like this!” Faith yelled. “This place - it’s in my head, and you’re there, inside me - all the blood, the flesh, you’re making me hate it! I remember every death, and I can’t love them anymore - you,” she snarled, “you’re inside me, and I want to tear my skin off! Give it to me - I need the power! To burn you out of me!”

“That’s not what She-Ra is!” Tara insisted.

“Then finish it!” Faith shouted. Dropping her hands. Tara drew back her sword, as Faith, defenceless, took another step forward, felt her arm tense.

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“No,” she said, her words almost lost in the roar of the inferno. “This sword wasn’t made to kill.”

No!” Faith howled, lunging, as Tara spun around and flung the sword into the fire. Faith crashed into her as the blade spun down out of reach, and without a thought Tara pushed herself after her, her hands closing on an ankle as Faith fell, reaching desperately for the sword of She-Ra as it plunged into the sea of magma below, melted, and vanished. Faith gave a wailing cry of rage and loss, and twisted in Tara’s grip, almost dragging her off the rock herself.

“Let me go!” she demanded, kicking at Tara’s hand.

“No!” Tara shouted, without even thinking why. Slick with sweat and grime Faith’s ankle began to slip, and she forced her grip tighter.

Out of nowhere she felt herself being lifted up, as if in a sudden tornado - her grip on Faith slipped but she too was being whirled into the air, vanishing above Tara, as the fire vanished and darkness closed in on all sides, and she tumbled without knowing which way was up or down, until finally she landed with a bone-jarring impact on a cool, smooth surface. Wincing from her bruises she rolled over and pushed herself up to her knees, finding herself once again in the great hall of the Crystal Castle. Across the floor was Faith, unconscious, but breathing - then the flames burst from the floor, rising to their living forms, which seemed to stare at her thoughtfully for a moment. Then they withdrew, and as they vanished entirely she saw Faith had vanished with them.

With a shuddering breath Tara got to her feet, looking around. The hall was cold and empty, but there was light in the distance - the door, open again. She looked around the hall again, one last time, but saw nothing else, and slowly she turned and made her way back to the door.

The rain had slackened outside, drizzling fitfully down the sides of the castle and pooling among the rocks in the half-light of the storm rumbling in the night sky. Tara walked down the slope from the doorway to the edge of the mountain - her pack had burned up with her clothes, but the rope she had climbed the last way to the top was still there, coiled on the ground, and with a weary sigh she picked it up and began winding it around her arm, staring into the dismal fog that surrounded the peak.

A sound caught her attention, and she turned back - there was a tone in the air, soft, singing, like the edge of a glass being stroked, barely on the edge of hearing. She took a few steps away from the precipice, and stopped as a glow formed in the air in front of her - shifting colours, like a rainbow being born, growing until she was staring up at a column of light reaching far into the sky, through the clouds. Around her the rain had stopped.

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“Tara,” the light said.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I am Light Hope.” Behind the column there was a crack, and Tara watched, first in shock then awe, as the black stone splintered and fell away from the fortress, revealing shining gold beneath, a beacon of beauty growing out of the summit of the mountain, glowing with its own sunlight.

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“The Crystal Castle,” Tara whispered, turning back to Light Hope. “Are you a First One?”

“I was,” the being replied. “I have become Light Hope, the spirit keeper of this place. The custodian of the Crystal Castle - as you have been chosen to be its defender.”

“If you have that power...” Tara began, staring at the castle, finally revealed in all its glory.

“Yes,” Light Hope said. “The Horde - war itself - all could be swept away. There are reasons we do not interfere. Trust that while our gaze encompasses more than mortal understanding ever could, our actions are guided by wisdom, not whim.”

“That’s a lot to ask,” Tara said quietly.

“It is,” Light Hope agreed. “If the power were yours - would you force love into the hearts of all men and women on Etheria? Many turn from love, for far lesser reasons than the Horde’s might. Would you change their hearts?”

“That’s not the same as resisting an invasion,” Tara said.

“How far along that path is too far?” Light Hope asked. Tara frowned, then took a deep breath.

“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “Alright. I don’t understand - not all of it. But I’ll trust you.”

“Good,” Light Hope said. Tara gazed up at the castle.

“My mother came here once,” she said.

“Yes,” Light Hope replied. “She too sought the power of the First Ones - out of compassion, as you did. And she too found her claim contested by a champion of evil. At the last, she gave her life, not to hold power, but to give hope.”

“She cast her soul into the sword,” Tara nodded. “And now it’s gone. It was the only way to keep it out of the Horde’s hands.” She looked back at Light Hope. “What happened to Faith?”

“Her path does not end here,” the spirit said. Tara waited, then, seeing that was all the answer she would receive, tore her gaze away from the castle, and looked again down the mountain, into the clouds shrouding its slope.

“Would you face Skydancer again?” Light Hope asked. “Without food or shelter?”

“My friends need help,” Tara said stubbornly, gripping the rope. “Even if... all I have is myself.”

“You are not alone.”

“I know,” she whispered. “Willow. I have to try.”

“Not only her,” Light Hope said. “Metal and spells may perish, but a soul offered in hope cannot be so easily undone.” Tara turned, feeling her hand rising of its own accord, reaching into Light Hope’s glow - and something was forming in her grip, coalescing out of the light. With a gasp she withdrew her hand, and a new sword, identical in form to the old one, but brilliant white silver shining like the sun, and the jewel set into it glowing more radiantly than ever. Trembling, she raised the sword over her head, and felt the glow of transformation sweep over her.

“The Sword of Protection,” Light Hope intoned, as Tara became She-Ra, the gleaming blade bestowing its radiance on her. “A weapon - and a promise.”

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Spirit looked up from her grazing, and Casta from the book she had summoned an image of, as a light shone in the night sky far above them. A shooting star burst through the clouds, crashing into the ground as they ran towards it, and they rushed through the trees to find a figure rising from the crater her landing had blasted out of the ground.

“She-Ra?” Casta cried in wonder. She-Ra nodded and strode forward to meet her, hugging her with one arm and Spirit with the other, the horse nuzzling her head against She-Ra’s golden hair.

“You’ve changed,” Casta said, staring at her. “Your armour... your aura, everything about you is brighter.” She glanced back up the mountain, and whispered: “The Crystal Castle...?”

“Yes,” She-Ra nodded. “It’s real.”

“The First Ones? What... fabulous secrets were revealed...?”

“Later,” She-Ra said. “We have to hurry - our friends need us.”

“I... cannot reach so far,” Casta began to say, but She-Ra reached for her hands.

“You gave my mother a gift, long ago,” she said. “To help her on her journey. She would wish these to be yours again.”

Casta took her hands, confused, then gasped as a wave of energy flowed over them. She-Ra released her hands and she held them up, gazing at the golden vambraces around her wrists, decorated with ornate sigils.

“The Bands of Enchantment,” she whispered. Taking a slow, trembling breath she brought them together, crossing her arms and touching the bands in front of her chest, and from them a wave of energy erupted, covering her whole body, slowly dissipating as she laughed with joy.

“I am whole!” she exclaimed. “I... I can feel... the air, on my skin, in my lungs, warmth and light and, and...” She stopped herself, then took She-Ra’s hand.

“I shall not fail our friends,” she promised. “I shall ride on sunbeams, swift as the wind.”

“You won’t be alone,” She-Ra smiled, reaching to Spirit. “Will you accept a gift, too, my friend? Carry me to Willow?” The horse tossed her head, then leaned down for She-Ra to kiss her forehead.

“Then let it be so,” She-Ra whispered, light surging out of the jewel in her sword.

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Willow looked up as Frosta gasped with effort, and another volley of artillery fire exploded against the ice shield protecting the Great Library. The city stretched for miles around them - fires burning here and there amid collapsed buildings, but so far the citizens had kept them from spreading out of control. Beyond the city walls, and the ramparts of earth and forest that Willow had raised, the Horde army kept up its ceaseless bombardment of shells and laser fire.

“Do you need healing?” Willow offered, keeping one hand on the ground, hardening the distant barrier against the blasters tearing into it. Frosta shook her head.

“Save it for where you need it,” she grimaced. “I’ll be fine. Not my first time doing this.” She cast a baleful glare over the rooftops at their distant enemy. “Love to see these bastards try this up north where I’ve got some real ice to work with.”

Willow nodded automatically, and cast a worried glance at the battlefront, where beams of light were lancing out at the masses of Horde troopers, tearing through their ranks and scouring great gouges in the armoured hulls of the tanks behind them. For all the destruction wrought by Buffy’s magic, and the smaller blasts of the enchanted bows of Erelandia’s archers, they seemed pinpricks against the force stretching from horizon to horizon.

Frosta and Willow looked over their shoulders as Queen Bee hurried over, on foot - constant fighting with no time to rest had drained her wings, and she had had to fall back from the front line, conserving the energy in her palm beams to deal with the periodic aerial assaults of batmeks.

“Princess Glimmer’s reserves of thaumaturgy are running low,” she reported.

“I know,” Willow nodded; she had noticed the bursts of light becoming steadily less intense.

“A great war engine is approaching,” the alien woman went on. “Larger than any we have yet seen, powered by hover drives.”

“A Monstron,” Willow frowned. “I guess it was too much to hope they wouldn’t have one in reserve.”

“How bad?” Frosta asked.

“I don’t know if my plant wall will hold,” Willow admitted.

“A controlled overload of my zero turbine would produce a significant explosion,” Queen Bee said, wringing her hands together uncomfortably.

“Destroy your ship?” Willow replied. “Would... Can you do that without being in it?” The woman looked away, then shook her head.

“We’re not that desperate yet,” Willow insisted.

“We’re not rich with options,” Frosta pointed out, gritting her teeth as another salvo exploded against the shield. “That’s not an occupation force out there - they’re willing to burn this whole city to the ground if that’s what it takes.”

“Can you shield the open ground to the river?” Queen Bee asked. “Stop them firing on evacuees, if we abandon the city?”

“I can try,” Frosta said, clearly unhappy about her chances.

“Wait,” Willow said, looking past them, into the sky. “Look...”

A silhouette had appeared against the rising sun on the far horizon, and while the others peered in confusion as it neared, Willow stood, and laughed with joy.

“Is that a flying horse?” Frosta asked.

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“It’s Tara!” Willow shouted, as Spirit - soaring on rainbow wings - swept across the city, over their heads. In an instant she was beyond the front line, and the mass of batmeks keeping station over the Horde army flocked towards her as one. Their laser fire exploded harmlessly off Spirit’s golden armour, then horse and rider were plunging through the swarm, leaving a tide of wreckage falling out of the sky in their wake.

A beam of sunlight suddenly lanced out of the sky in front of Willow, and before her eyes a shape composed of light stepped out of the glow, taking colour and shape in the blink of an eye.

“Casta?” Willow said in amazement. “How can you be here?”

“By the grace of She-Ra,” the sorceress replied calmly, surveying the army beyond the city. “The Horde once feared the name of Mystacor. It is past time they were reminded why.”

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She lifted her arms, and a huge glowing rune shimmered out of the air behind her. Before the defenders’ startled eyes the storm of blaster and artillery fire flying into the city froze in mid-air, as if becoming stuck in an invisible barrier, laser bolts and shells hovering motionless. The cloud of destruction grew denser and denser as the Horde redoubled its fire, trying to overwhelm the new barrier before them, then Casta lifted her chin, and thrust her hands forward. As one, every bolt and shell was flung back towards the army that had fired it, obliterating troopers and tanks in their hundreds as they landed in a storm of detonations.

In the sky above, She-Ra leapt from Spirit’s saddle, leaving the horse to wheel back through the remaining batmeks, smashing them out of the air. She-Ra fell like a meteor, the ground shaking as she landed at the centre of the Horde army, throwing troopers from their feet with the shockwave. She kicked a tank out of her way with ease and looked ahead, to see the colossal Monstron rumbling towards her, its hover jets hammering the ground beneath it with pure force, and the great battle cannon on its turret swivelling towards the tiny figure in its path.

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The cannon fired, and at the last second She-Ra raised her hand, letting the massive shell explode on her palm. The plasma detonation engulfed her in a roiling storm of green flame, but then she emerged unharmed, took one look at the war machine in front of her, and leapt towards it, sword held out, plunging through its armour like a javelin. The Monstron shook with internal explosions, starting to slew around to one side, then one by one the hover jets failed, and it carved a great furrow as it smashed into the ground, breaking apart from within. With one last explosion the hull ruptured, and She-Ra emerged atop the broken turret on top, reaching down to tear the massive barrel loose and hurl it into the flank of the nearest tanks, sending their formation into disarray.

The remainder of the army opened fire on her, but again Casta’s magic caught the blasts and missiles in mid-air, freezing them in a sphere around She-Ra that hovered motionless for a moment, then burst back on the attackers, tearing through their ranks as She-Ra herself leapt away from the burning wreck of the Monstron and landed behind the shattered vanguard, facing the bulk of the Horde force. As the roar of explosions died away she sheathed her sword over her shoulder, held both arms out to the ranks upon ranks of machine troopers, and the panicked officers commanding them, and beckoned them to come to her.

For a moment there was silence, and nothing moved but the wind sweeping across the battlefield, dragging the plumes of smoke through the ranks of troopers. Then a command was shouted from somewhere in the Horde army, and with the crash of thousands of robotic footsteps the troopers turned, and the tanks backed away, spinning their treads to turn away from Erelandia. The Horde was in full retreat.

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By the time Willow reached the city gate She-Ra had crested the wall of plantlife, and both broke into a run at the sight of one another. Heedless of the militia and rebels watching Willow leapt into She-Ra’s arms, smiling brilliantly as her golden tiara and flowing mane receded to reveal Tara, who swept her into a searing kiss that drew a number of cheers from the crowd gathering around them.

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“You came back,” Willow whispered, as their lips finally parted.

“To you,” Tara smiled. “Always to you.” Willow gave a ragged laugh of relief, then looked back over her shoulder as Buffy approached. She was breathing heavily, staring in confused wonder as Spirit landed not far from her and folded her wings by her flanks, then looking at Tara.

“Sweetie?” Tara asked, feeling the sudden tension in Willow’s embrace.

“Joy,” Willow said. “They... she’s been captured.”

“Where?” she asked.

“They put her on a transport,” Buffy said. “After the first assault, she broke their air vanguard but they got her with stun beams.”

“It was headed for the Fright Zone,” Willow said, her voice trembling. Tara looked from her to Buffy, and nodded, taking a deep breath.

“Then I know where to find her,” she said. “I’ll bring her back.”

We,” Buffy said at once. “I’m coming too.”

“All of us,” Willow agreed, as Casta and Frosta and Queen Bee gathered around them.

“Together.”

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“Hi there, it’s me, Dawnie! Did you find where I was hiding today? If not, take another look:

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“It wasn’t her fault, but Tara made a mistake when she shared her power with Faith, and this week, she went to the Crystal Castle to fix that mistake. Getting something wrong can feel bad and make you want to just ignore it, but the best thing to do when you get something wrong is own up to it, and fix it. It may seem like hard work, but in the end, you’ll feel a lot better about it. See you all next time, bye now!”

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2017 9:31 am 
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CHRIS!!!

That. Was. SO. AWESOME!!!!

I don't... I don't have other words right now... so...

I'll... yeah, I'll come back later when my head had stopped spinning.

DUDE!!!

Aaaaaaannnnnndddddd: BACK.

I really enjoyed the "vision quest" Tara had to undertake to get the sword back. It really helped to showcase just how far Tara has come... from pawn of the Horde to sweet, loving, girlfriend to strong, independent - yet fair and thoughtful - woman warrior.

The "future-perfect" vision with pregnant Willow was particularly touching, and showed Tara's immense strength that she was able to resist such an enticing fantasy.

Made me really wonder what encounters Faith had on her quest.

I'm not going to comment on the nudity except that it didn't matter. What I mean by that is that it wasn't titillating... it was just an element of the quest and nothing more. Which is an impressive line to walk... especially with the addition of visual aides.

The battle was so intense and beautifully rendered. She-Ra coming in kicking butt and taking names with fricking AWESOME.

And that kiss when W/T were reunited... WOW.

Another awesome chapter, Chris!! I can't wait for the finale!!


Cheers
DW

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2017 8:05 pm 
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Thanks! :bounce

That kiss was far and away my favourite of all the images from the entire series (not to undermine the next episode - it's got quantity on its side at least, most episodes got 16 or 17 images, the finale will have 36). Obviously it all comes from the original moment on tv, acted with all that want and passion and nothing held back - so far as tracing and colouring goes, I'm mainly just pleased I didn't muck it up. But I think it's a factor as well that it's Tara in the She-Ra costume, with the bright gold, but without the crown and big mane of hair obscuring her Tara-ness. Of course that's also to work around the issue that if she fully turned back to Tara she'd be naked again, since her old clothes got burned away (it's not a major plot point or anything, but she will have a different outfit next time we see her in 'civvies') - I came to think it also showed her mastery of her powers, in that not only is she more army-wrecking and her horse has wings, but she can control her transformation to just un-She-Ra her head, rather than it being all or nothing. I did imagine there being some cute dialogue between her and Willow about how she wasn't changing back because she wasn't wearing anything 'under' She-Ra, but once I'd plotted out that Queen Joy had been captured by then it didn't really seem to fit the moment (illusion-Willow kind of got a version of it, with teasing Tara about nakedness earlier).

Speaking of, I'm very glad the nudity didn't seem gratuitous - I'm not saying I was struggling for motivation to draw nekkid Tara, but I did hope it'd come across more as part of this big symbolic journey than just 'this is the episode where they go to the beach and wear swimsuits' (although, that was kind of the episode with Mermista anyway). Plotwise it also came about from the need to level Tara and Faith out so there could even be a confrontation between them, without Cat-Ra just overpowering Tara in no time. I did originally plan for there to be more of a running battle between the two of them, but as I was writing it became more vision-quest-y, as you say. Faith did have encounters of her own, and you can see a bit in her lines how she didn't deal with them as healthily as Tara did - that'll come up again in a fashion. Future-Willow was an interesting bit to write, because the degree to which that was temptation got toned down a lot - obviously it's the 'stay here, it's nice here' part of the vision quest, and there is some acknowledgement of that, but I kind of felt like that's something Tara wouldn't be so troubled by, compared to 'dark Tara' (BTW I didn't actually trace Amber's face for her - I used Huntara from the cartoon, and liked the expression she had already so I didn't muck with it; Huntara in turn was based on Grace Jones). The reasoning was something like, this is a healthy part of Tara's life, so it's not an obstacle for her, which is where it came from that future-Willow admits up front she's not real, rather than making it more difficult for her to go on.

It's worth saying, this was based in part on an episode of the cartoon, 'The Stone in the Sword' - the main difference being Tara has to deal with Faith, whereas Adora was on her own (although she had Kowl with her) and just has to pass various trials, which were pretty straightforward, climb the mountain to show determination, figure out how to get past this trap to show intelligence, and so on (she was doing it because her sword's gem got cracked by Hordak's Doom Balloon - yes, really - and she needed the First Ones to fix it for her). And there were clothes too.

Well, season finale later tonight/technically tomorrow morning, what it's all been leading up to. (But if you're thinking "No more after that?, well, I don't want to commit to an exact date, but I've been kinda sorta working on a follow-up story, not a whole new season, more a tv movie kind of thing. That'll take a while though and I don't want to say too much too early.)

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Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2017 9:31 pm 
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Awesome series so far!

And i can't wait to see what's next.

and ooo, naked Tara is good.

Hmm, pregnant Willow?

Something to look forward to.

More! More! :bounce

R :flower

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2017 5:43 am 
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17. Mega-Witches
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:08 am
Posts: 2520
Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
Thanks :grin

I can't promise pregnant Willow - in reality - right away, that's more a long-term future thing. But I don't want W/T to not be progressing as a relationship, so there are things that happen and plenty to look forward to (and while it's not on screen as such, I'm sure a lot of it involves naked Tara as well).

And now without any more ado, it's time for the season finale! :bounce

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Chris Cook
Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2017 5:54 am 
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17. Mega-Witches
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Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:08 am
Posts: 2520
Topics: 4
Location: Sydney, Australia
Author: Chris Cook
Email: alia@netspace.net.au
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy. She-Ra: Princess of Power characters and concepts are the property of Mattel/Filmation. Actor likenesses are the property of the people in question, although given my haphazard art skills I can probably use the 'any resemblance is coincidental' disclaimer too.

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The deep shadows of the throne room of Doom Tower slowly receded to the angry glow of the polluted sky, as the huge shield walls retracted to reveal the Fright Zone - mile after mile of war factories belching smoke into the sky, the vast sprawl of the shipyards with batmeks patrolling the skies over the refuelling space cruisers in their landing frames, the massive walls and cannon turrets. Normally the vast scale of industry and power gave Hordak a welcome sense of accomplishment, but today the Fright Zone’s master found little comfort in his domain.

“Mantenna, report,” he growled, turning his back on the view and surveying the ranks of troopers at their operations consoles, spread in ceremonial order before the dais of his throne. The wiry red creature cringed at Hordak’s voice, then turned from his station, his bulbous eyes darting about.

“Three further officers have reported innn,” he replied, his voice buzzing nervously. “Loss estimates of troopers and hardware are being reviiised. It is confirmed that the Erelandia army was routed byyy magic.”

“What magic?” Hordak demanded. “Whose!?”

“Reports are incomplete,” Mantenna said, his voice rising in panic. “But Captain Lohni has confirmed the Monstron was destroyyyed by She-Ra!”

Hordak looked away, then without warning lashed out at Mantenna, backhanding him across the face and sending him sprawling among the consoles. The alien dragged himself back to his feet and, trembling, resumed his station, as Hordak stalked back to his dais..

“You already knew as much,” the Shadow Weaver rasped, hovering out of the shadows behind the throne.

“You would do well to remain silent, witch,” Hordak snarled.

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“Your obsession with the powers of the First Ones has ever been your undoing,” Shadow Weaver said, untroubled by the implied threat.

“Your scheme has failed, then.”

“I suggested Faith could succeed,” the witch corrected him. “I did not guarantee. You yourself failed to master the Crystal Castle. You will recall it was my recommendation that we simply utilise the power she had already wrested from Captain Tara. The First Ones need not have concerned us.”

“Anything on this pitiful world that does not bow to me,” Hordak insisted, “is my enemy, and will know my wrath!”

“And yet,” Shadow Weaver observed, “the power of She-Ra has, once again, slipped from your grasp.” Hordak rounded on her, his eyes blazing red, and in a swift motion drove his arm, its length unfolding into a serrated blade, into her stomach. The yellow eyes in the darkness of her cowl dimmed slightly, then narrowed.

“Remember even in undeath, you can be made to suffer,” Hordak warned, withdrawing his weapon-arm from her.

“I remember,” she replied, her voice subdued.

“Then remember your place, witch. Your powers have worth to the Horde. Your insolence does not.”

Hordak turned from her and stalked to the edge of the dais, glaring balefully at the Horde transports slowly returning to their home.

“Take into custody all returning officers from the Erelandia army as they arrive,” he ordered. “And... stand the Blue Mountain and Sand Valley forces down to a defensive posture. We will... postpone further conquests, until our intelligence regarding the assets aiding the rebellion is more complete.”

“Yes, mighty Hordak,” Mantenna quailed.

“...Hordak,” Shadow Weaver said, drifting over to her master’s side.

“Do you try my patience further?” he snorted.

“I sense something,” she said, ignoring his glare. “A power I have not felt since... I lived.”

“Where?” Hordak demanded.

“Close,” she whispered. “Nearing... there.” Her thin hand rose, pointing a clawed finger at one of the transports crossing over the Fright Zone’s perimeter wall. “There!”

“Identify that transport!” Hordak ordered Mantenna.

“Yes mighty Hordak... transponder reads as... Beast Island. Records list it as missiiing-”

“Destroy it!” Shadow Weaver insisted. “Do it now!”

“Target that transport and fire!” Hordak barked.

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With mechanical precision a dozen cannon turrets swivelled to bear on the lone transport and fired, engulfing the craft in a fireball. The explosion didn’t dissipate, though - as the remains of the hull fell away to crash onto the armoured factories beneath, the fire seemed to coil in on itself, crushing into a tighter, hotter blaze, until all at once its power was unleashed again, crashing down on the turrets beneath in flaming spears that drilled into their magazines and blasted them apart.

As the explosion finally faded from the sky Casta was revealed, drifting down to land amid dozens of parked tanks lined up in front of their deployment carriers. Before they could react she swept her arms up, tossing the vehicles away from herself in a great wave, sending the front rank tumbling back into those behind. As the remaining vehicles tried to manoeuvre through the sudden chaos she reached for the sky, and shafts of sunlight lanced down through the polluted clouds in reply to her, bathing the concrete ground in pure daylight for the first time in decades.

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Obedient to Casta the light gathered in the air in front of her, then she knelt and slammed her open palm onto the ground, and the light too crashed into the ground, spreading into a huge sigil that blazed with magical fire, and for an instant became a whirling vortex of energy. Before the blank gazes of the thousands of Horde troopers marching towards Casta’s position, and the horrified stares of the living officers, She-Ra and Spirit erupted from the portal, soaring into the air. Diving back down, she leant from the saddle and tore her sword through the roof of a foundry, carving a great gouge through the building that erupted in flame in her wake.

With sirens howling across the breadth of the great fortress, She-Ra tearing through its industrial heart and Casta now dragging stormclouds out of the sky to batter the troopers trying to shoot her down, only a few of the robotic troopers noticed the small craft skimming over the wall on the opposite side of the main tower, and they were quickly silenced by precision beams slicing through their armoured chests. Queen Bee opened her ship’s canopy as soon as it touched down, allowing Willow, Buffy, Frosta, Xander, and Liam to clamber out of its cramped confines and jump down to the concrete.

“Snug ride,” Liam quipped, then grinned at Buffy. “Not that I mind having you in me lap...”

“Cover the walls, funny man,” she shot back, giving him a wink, and the sky pirate laughed and unholstered his warplock pistols.

“I’ve mapped the primary features of the facility,” Queen Bee noted, studying a hologram hovering over her forearm. “However the approach to the high security detention block remains overlooked by a significant number of defensive emplacements mounted on the central tower.”

“Tara’s got it covered,” Willow promised, as the group quickly moved as far forward as they could, peering around the corner to the open ground separating them from Doom Tower and its surrounding buildings.

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“Concentrate fire!” Hordak bellowed, smashing his armoured fist into a console. “Where are the troopers?!”

“Vultak regiment losses abovvve eighty per cent!” Mantenna wailed. “Communications links to Duke Dreer’s reserve commaaand post have failed, Entrapta and Keldor regiments...” The alien gulped fearfully. “Entrapta and Keldor are withdrawing their regiments, mighty Hordak - troopers retreating!”

“Cowards!” Hordak bellowed. “General signal, all troopers to remain at their posts - this order cannot be countermanded!”

“As you commaaand-”

“And get those cruisers in the air!” Hordak went on, glaring out at the shipyards. “Bombard any sector with a rebel in it, if that’s what it takes!”

“Darkblaster cruiser disengaging from docking frame-” Mantenna reported, his eyes extending to peer over the edge of his console towards the yards, where one of the ships was beginning to rise.

“Finally!”

“But mighty Hordak, that vessel isn’t fuelled yet!”

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Its engines still cold, the cruiser nonetheless rose from its bay, tearing through the docking arms with a screech of tortured metal. Barely visible beneath the huge ship’s bulk, She-Ra strained to lift it, fingers gouging into the armoured hull as its internal supports groaned under the massive concentration of weight, the ground beneath her boots fracturing.

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With a yell of effort and exhilaration she lifted the spaceship above her head and threw it. Already weakened, the ship broke in half in the air, the engine crashing back down into its sister ships still in their docks, but the prow sailed straight ahead, plunging into the base of Doom Tower itself, shaking the giant citadel to its core.

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“Power spikes throughout main grid,” Queen Bee reported, her voice rising in excitement. “Chain overloads spreading through secondary systems - the Fright Zone is offline!”

“And not a scratch on the detention block,” Frosta noted. “Good aim. Well, if that’s not our cue I don’t know what is!”

She broke cover and sprinted towards the bulk of the detention facility, leaping into the air and casting an ice bridge beneath herself that curved over the inner walls, a whirling drill at its head punching into the skybridge leading to the prison, while Queen Bee, Xander and Liam ran up the ice in her wake.

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“Hey Will,” Buffy said, watching them go, “your girlfriend just threw a spaceship through a building.”

“Yup,” Willow said proudly.

“I mean I don’t want to be nosy but I’ve got to ask, have you and she ever, you know, while she’s powered up...?”

“Mind your own business, stickybeak,” Willow replied, trying very hard not to blush, but failing. “You ready?”

“I’d kind of rather be in the action too, but sure,” she said, taking Willow’s hand and cloaking them both. “Let’s do this.”

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“Where are my troopers!” bellowed Hordak, clutching his throne for support as Doom Tower shook from internal explosions.

“Power griiid collapsing!” Mantenna wailed. “Communications have faaailed! Overloads feeding back to the shattercore-”

“Isolate the core!” Hordak ordered.

“Shattercore blast shields closiiing - but mighty Hordak,” Mantenna trilled, “troopers are failing to contain She-Ra and the rebel sorceress, and-”

“They’re here for the prisoner!” Hordak said, lurching to his feet. “Muster the Terror Guard!”

“But communications...”

“I don’t care!” Hordak roared. “Converge on the detention facility!”

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Mantenna cringed as Hordak swept past him, then cast a furtive glance over his shoulder as he was left alone, with only the silent troopers at their stations. Carefully he slipped out of his chair, and scuttled away.

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At the head of a dozen elite Terror Guards - all those he had been able to find amid the wreckage of the barracks - Hordak marched through the massive halls of Doom Tower, ignoring the fires and wailing sirens, intent only on the skybridge ahead. He drew up, then gave a mirthless chuckle, as the ceiling burst inwards and a shining figure dropped onto the bridge in his path.

“She-Ra,” he sneered.

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“You always were predictable, Hordak,” She-Ra shot back, drawing her sword. Hordak snorted and waved his troopers ahead - She-Ra held her ground at the entrance to the bridge, forcing the machine soldiers to face her in a bottleneck. The blasters built into the arms proved as ineffective against her as those of the regular Horde troopers, but her sword in turn rebounded off the forcefields sheathing their armoured bodies instead of cutting through them. She-Ra gave a little shrug and flipped the sword over her back, clenching her fists instead - again the forcefields flared at the impacts, but nothing could absorb the punishing power of her punches and kicks. One by one the Terror Guards fell, their defences failing as the machinery inside them broke apart under the terrific assault.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” She-Ra taunted, kicking the broken shell of the last trooper out of her way, sending it tumbling down through a rent in the floor left by a collapsing pillar.

“I shall,” Hordak promised, advancing slowly. He held up his left hand, and shadows bled out of the air, taking the form of a fighting staff, wickedly sharp axe heads on either end shaped like the Horde’s winged skull emblem. “You forget, Captain Tara, Shadow Weaver is not the Horde’s only sorcerer.”

“I’ve forgotten nothing,” She-Ra said, drawing her sword again. “Least of all the lessons you tried to teach me when I was under your control. But now I know how hollow they were.”

“We shall see,” Hordak countered, spinning his staff, while his weapon arm converted into an energy cannon, burning plasma glowing in its depths.

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The armoured door to the cell block glowed red as Queen Bee’s beams cut into it, then fell inwards on melting hinges, and the two troopers standing guard beyond quickly fell, one blown apart by an explosive arrowhead, the other collapsing in a wreath of electricity as two warplock discharges fried its circuits.

“Your majesty?” Liam called out, stepping gingerly over the cooling door.

“Are we sure this is the right block?” Frosta complained. “This place is huge, and they’re bound to get their acts together eventually.”

“Tara never saw this far into the prison,” Xander said.

“There are no other organic lifesigns within my scanning radius,” Queen Bee said. “Judging by the disarray of the troopers’ defence, we may assume they remain significantly distracted by She-Ra and Casta.”

“Here!” Liam called, waving them over. The lock holding one of the cell doors closed was smoking slightly from a pencil-thin hole, and as they hurried over to it hands appeared in the tiny grille that was the only opening in the door.

“It’s her,” Xander said. “Your Majesty? Stand back please!”

The hands disappeared, and at Xander’s nod Queen Bee carefully sliced the door out of the wall, stepping back as it fell.

“Are you alright your majesty?” Frosta asked as Joy stepped through. A heavy nullifying collar was fixed around her neck, reaching up to encase her jaw, and she gestured at it, looking imploringly at Xander.

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“Of course,” he replied, retracting his bow and carefully prying open the casing on the collar. After a moment’s work the restraint across her jaw fell open, and Joy gasped and patted him on the shoulder.

Very glad to see you,” she said, then pointed further into the cell block. “The others, down there - there are other prisoners!”

“On it,” Liam nodded, striding towards the doors and taking close aim with his pistols, blasting out the locks of one after another. “Ladies and gents, everyone sick of the Fright Zone, let’s be on our way!”

“Thank you,” Joy said, flexing her wings as Xander gave a final twist and the collar broke off. She broke into a run towards the dozen or so prisoners staggering out of their cells, searching among them.

“Giles!” she cried, spotting a man in tattered clothes leaning against the frame of his cell door, blinking in the light.

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“Your majesty?” he said, as if unable to believe his eyes.

“I knew I heard your voice!” she said, throwing her arms around him. “We thought there we no survivors from Green Glade - you’ve been here all this time?”

“Regretfully so,” he nodded. “Is this... a rescue? The Rebellion has flourished?”

“Come on - Xander, a hand?”

“Good heavens, young Xander?” Giles said, as the ranger put his shoulders beneath his arm to support him.

“Good to see you sir,” he replied, shaking off his surprise, as shots sounded from up ahead where Queen Bee and Frosta were keeping the guardroom clear for their escape.

“Where are the others?” Joy asked. “Glimmer, Willow...?”

“They’re setting up a little surprise to keep the Horde busy while we get out of here,” Xander explained. “Casta’s causing mayhem in general as a distraction, and if everything’s going to plan She-Ra will be blocking anything trying to get towards us out of Doom Tower.”

“She-Ra?” Joy exclaimed. “And Casta? Casta’s here? I thought she couldn’t travel?”

“She can now,” Xander grinned. “And She-Ra’s got a flying horse.”

“You’re pulling my leg!”

“Honest!”

“We’re too many for Queen Bee’s ship now,” Liam pointed out.

“Yep,” Xander agreed. “Frosta? Plan B!”

“On it!” she promised. “Queen Bee, which way?”

“There,” the alien woman pointed, consulting her holographic map.

“Let’s make us an escape route,” Frosta grinned, summoning another ice drill to bore through the wall.

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She-Ra dodged a blast from Hordak’s cannon arm, and spun her sword to block a bolt of dark magic from his staff.

“You cannot win,” Hordak boasted, pressing his attack as the magic reflecting from She-Ra’s blades tore through the walls around them. “Even your power is nothing compared to the Horde. Every pinprick of damage you inflict will be repaired, every soldier replaced - even the space gate will be rebuilt.”

“Etheria will never submit to you!” She-Ra spat, readying herself for the next attack.

“The Horde commands the stars,” Hordak gloated. “What weapon do you have against such might?” He feinted to one side, parried away She-Ra’s sword, and drove the bladed staff at her body, grunting as she caught it and held it in place.

“Hope,” She-Ra replied. “Always, hope.”

“This weapon killed your mother,” Hordak snarled. “Even her sorcery could not save her.”

“She wasn’t trying to save herself,” She-Ra said. “She gave her life for Etheria!” She gripped the staff tightly, then with her free hand jammed her sword between the wing blades and twisted, shattering the staff in a blaze of released energy.

“This world is mine!” Hordak roared, rearing back and raising his cannon arm. With no time to dodge, She-Ra flung up her palm, bracing her wrist with her sword arm as the plasma beam hammered against her.

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“Why!” Hordak bellowed, forcing more energy through his weapon arm, as She-Ra advanced step by step, the scorching plasma erupting in showers of burning sparks off her skin. “Won’t! You! Die!”

“I don’t obey you anymore!” She-Ra yelled, forcing herself forward the last crucial inch. Her palm closed over the muzzle of Hordak’s cannon arm, and with no escape left for its energy the weapon exploded, tearing open Hordak’s shoulder and throwing him back, through the disintegrating floor, to topple down into the depths of the Fright Zone.

She-Ra sagged back against a column, supporting herself with her sword and taking a deep breath, then stood tall as a ghostly rendition of Casta materialised nearby.

“Are you well?” the sorceress asked.

“Sore but standing,” She-Ra replied with a grin. “The others?”

“Queen Joy has been freed, with other captives-”

“There were others?”

“A number of political prisoners, it seems, some held for quite some time. A facet of me has joined them. Most of me is near the armoury complex, which is burning quite satisfactorily. Willow and Princess Glimmer have not yet returned, but I sense Willow’s spell building.”

“Good,” She-Ra nodded. A fleeting shadow on one of the levels beneath caught her eye, and she peered, trying to see through the flames.

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“What?” Casta asked.

“Can you tell if anyone else is in here?”

“There is much dark magic,” the sorceress shook her head. “My remote senses are dulled beyond the proximity of our friends.”

“Get Spirit clear, and tell the others,” She-Ra decided. “It’s time to leave - the rest of the Fright Zone won’t matter much longer.”

“You are not coming?” Casta asked.

“Not yet,” She-Ra shook her head. “I’ll make my own way out - when you see Willow, tell her to begin, and promise her I’ll be with her soon. There’s one more thing I need to do.”

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Two Horde troopers stood to black Mantenna’s path as the alien hurried towards the docking port adjoining the throne room complex.

“Access to Velvet Glove restricted to Hordak only,” they recited in their mechanical monotones.

“Hordak haaas... ordered his vessel prepared, in case of further emergency!” Mantenna insisted.

“Access to Velvet Glove restricted to Hordak only.”

“My orrrders come from Hordak!”

“Access to Velvet Glove-”

Trembling with panic the alien drew his sidearm and blasted both troopers through the chest, head whipping from side to side to see if he had been seen as they collapsed. Seeing nothing he scuttled forward and opened the docking port, passing through the luxury frigate’s passageways at a run to reach the bridge, where he began hotwiring the launch controller. So intent was he that he didn’t notice a figure approaching from behind, until someone tapped him on the shoulder. With a panicked cry he spun around, only to find his adversary already ducking around his blind side, knocking the pistol from his hand and pushing him away from the controls.

“Are you stealing Hordak’s personal transport?” Xander asked, bow pointed between Mantenna’s bulbous eyes.

“Surrender, rebel!” the alien wailed, entirely by reflex. Someone cleared his throat behind him, and he spun around again to find himself staring straight down the barrel of one of Liam’s warplock pistols. Frosta and Queen Bee flanked him, while behind them Joy led the other prisoners into the passenger seats behind them.

“Do you think maybe you want to rephrase that?” Xander asked.

“...I yield?” Mantenna ventured, raising his hands.

“Good boy,” Frosta nodded, freezing Mantenna’s hands to the ceiling. “Now keep quiet.”

“What do you think,” Xander asked Liam, as he strode over to the master control station.

“Piece of cake,” Liam grinned. “There hasn’t been a ship built I can’t fly.”

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She-Ra picked her way through the lower levels of Doom Tower, pushing past half-collapsed walls and burning debris. The passageways twisted and turned, but she knew the way well - hidden in the heart of the fortress, far beneath anywhere mundane troopers or officers ever saw, she reached a dark sanctum, a chamber seemingly cut off from the world where even the explosions and sirens sounded muffled and far away, and an unnatural stillness hung over the shelves of black tomes, the twisted plants wound around barbed wire frames, and the concoctions bubbling fitfully in vats of oil.

“Faith!” She-Ra called. For a moment only silence answered her, then a raspy chuckle from the shadows, and she straightened and held her sword tight, ready to defend herself.

“She need not concern us,” the Shadow Weaver said, casting off a shroud of shadows to reveal herself in the dull red light. “I have long awaited your return, Tara.”

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“I’ll never return to you,” She-Ra said flatly, pointing her sword.

“You never left,” the witch replied. “Have you not succeeded in all I wished for you? Unlocked the power of She-Ra, and opened the Crystal Castle?”

“Not for you.”

“Destiny takes strange turns,” Shadow Weaver said calmly. “Even I can be... surprised. All that matters is the end. Reunited at last - your potential, and my wisdom. Would you ever have come as far, without my teaching?”

“Perhaps not,” She-Ra said. “But I will never serve the Horde again.”

“The Horde,” Shadow Weaver chuckled. “You know well how easily such... petty warlords are surpassed by the truly strong.”

“Yet you serve Hordak.”

“We bend to crude force,” the witch replied. “As a reed does to the wind. It is the nature of things, that no power is immovable. We beings of destiny bend, transform... and remain, when the so-called strong have crumbled to dust. The Crystal Castle showed you as much, did it not? Your future, with the mighty Horde bowing at your feet?”

“I saw,” She-Ra nodded. “But that will never be my future. And I will never again be your student.”

“You are far more,” Shadow Weaver said, drifting closer. “You know. You must know, now.”

“No more riddles,” She-Ra demanded.

“As you wish,” Shadow Weaver agreed, raising her hands to her cowl. “Perhaps you are right... the time for secrets between us is past.”

She pulled back the cowl, and She-Ra gasped in shock - but not at the dry, dead skin, the parched remnants of hair hanging from her scalp, or the decaying edges of her wounds, within which technology gleamed amid the rotting vestiges of her flesh. What made her fall back a step was the witch’s face: dead and aged, but so familiar.

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“See what I sacrificed for you,” she rasped, “daughter.”

“No,” She-Ra said, shaking her head and backing away.

“Oh, yes,” Shadow Weaver said. “I was She-Ra, once. I even thought as you did, that passing fancies like hope and love were eternal. Blind to the truth that they are as easily snuffed out as a candle’s flame.” As if to demonstrate she raised a clawed hand, watching a flame burn on her fingertip, until it flickered and died.

“Is it not a beautiful irony,” she went on, “that one so... brutish as Hordak freed me? Oh, not on purpose. I still valued love, then - thought it my greatest strength, the core of my soul. And so I cast it into that sword you hold, as I died at his hands. But when he resurrected me, thinking merely that my corpse would become a servile witch to aid his conquests, I awoke to find myself... more. Unchained. My eyes opened at last.”

She floated forwards, stopping only when She-Ra held her blade ahead of her, the point nearly touching Shadow Weaver’s neck.

“For this I have trained you,” the witch continued. “Prepared you. You, who possess the magic I once wielded... and are tainted by the soul that was once my prison. You too can be free, as I am. We would be together, again, at last... my daughter.”

“And what am I?!”

She-Ra and Shadow Weaver both spun around to see the source of the yell - Faith, pale, exhausted, one hand wrapped around the shaft of a broken spear, clutching it to support herself.

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“Ahhh,” Shadow Weaver nodded. “The sister crawls back at last.”

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“And that’s the last of them!” Liam triumphantly declared, detaching a security module from within the helm and tossing it over his shoulder.

“Mom!” Buffy cried, decloaking in the entrance to the bridge, making Mantenna yelp in shock as she ran past and hugged Queen Joy.

“I knew you’d come,” her mother said, sobbing with relief. “I knew.”

“Everyone helped,” Buffy said, sniffling and grinning. “I- Giles?”

“Yes,” Giles nodded. “Hello Princess.”

“Giles? Giles!” Willow leapt the row of empty seats between them, and nearly knocked him over with her hug; Joy laughed as she steadied them.

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“Willow!” Giles smiled, tears running down his cheeks. “My goodness!”

“Oh my gods!” Willow gasped for breath through her own tears. “I thought... Gods, it’s really you!”

“They know each other then?” Frosta asked Xander quietly.

“Giles was Queen Joy’s prime minister,” Xander explained. “When the twiggets brought Willow to the palace, he raised her - adopted her, in all but name.”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Mantenna pleaded, “I’d be happy to disembaaark...?” Willow looked over at him, and gave Giles another hug before turning.

“No, I don’t think you would,” she warned. She looked across the bridge as an image of Casta materialised.

“We’re done,” she said.

“I felt the circle complete,” Casta agreed.

“What have you donnne?” Mantenna asked nervously, as a tremor ran through the ship’s dock.

“Something that’s been a long time coming,” Willow said, glaring at the Hordesman. “You blasted the life out of this land when you built the Fright Zone - but you know what, it’s really difficult to make a land completely dead. Life hangs on, always - tiny lives, eking out a living in the corners, hiding in the cracks. They’re just waiting though, and when they’re nourished again, they’ll grow. I have a friend who’s good with water - she’s been saturating the soil beneath your fortress. And me?” She gave Buffy a pat on the shoulder. “We’ve been cloaked this whole time, unnoticed, while you all tried to fight She-Ra. I’ve been setting up a magic circle, a big one, right around the core of this place. All the little leftover life you ignored is about to start growing.”

“My word,” Giles whispered to Joy. “Her powers have grown that much?”

“Anything flora loves our Willow,” Buffy said proudly.

“B-but,” Mantenna shook his head, “if plantlife grows... from beneath...”

“We know,” Xander smirked. “You never thought of it, did you? Tara told us - the shattercore’s the lowest level of the Fright Zone. Its blast shields only protect it from above.”

“If it breaches-”

“The Fright Zone burns,” Willow said, silencing the alien with a glare. “Some forests do that. Burn away the old, so something new can take its place. It’s time this place went away.” She grinned suddenly. “Still want to get off the ship?”

“Didn’t think so,” Buffy nodded, as Mantenna remained silent, darting panicked glances at the bridge’s viewports, looking out over the expanse of the Fright Zone.

“How long?” Liam asked, as the others joined him around the helm.

“Any time,” Willow replied. “Casta - She-Ra?”

“She will join us outside,” Casta promised. “She said to begin the spell. I am riding Spirit to the rendezvous in the hills, with Queen Bee’s ship alongside.” Willow took a breath, then nodded, and closed her eyes.

“Alright,” she said. “It’s starting. Let’s get out of here.”

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A massive quake shook Doom Tower, causing half the damaged structure to sag, beginning to collapse, the huge supporting columns twisting loose, tearing walls and floors away with them as they fell. Half the throne room was gone, open to the sky, and parts of the ceiling had caved in to crush several of the troopers dutifully watching their stations, oblivious to the chaos around them.

Hordak pulled himself the last few feet to his throne and slumped into it, haltingly pulling a medtech unit from the armrest and pushing it into the stump of his missing arm, slowing the flow of blood down his side.

“Re... report,” he muttered.

“Structural collapse,” the Fright Zone’s mechanical voice replied calmly. “Fright Zone foundations compromised on multiple vectors. Shattercore destabilising.”

“Shields...”

“Negative power to structural shields.”

“Troopers...”

“Negative power to communications.” Hordak glared around at the ruined throne room, his breath rasping.

“Prepare... my ship...” he ordered at last, lurching to his feet.

Velvet Glove no longer docked,” the Fright Zone replied. “Security protocols overridden.”

“Traitors,” Hordak muttered, swaying. “No matter. We will... rebuild. We will...”

He looked up at the sound of tearing metal, and threw up his remaining arm to shield himself as the giant winged skull broke free of the remaining ceiling beams and crashed down onto the dais, pulverising the throne, smashing through the raised platform, before finally settling, pinning the Horde’s master amid the debris. Gasping through his broken mask, he reached out his one bleeding, broken arm to the troopers at their stations.

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“...help... me...”

But the troopers, obedient to their orders, remained at their posts.

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She-Ra glanced around as the quake rippled through the sanctum, but Faith seemed not to notice, her hateful gaze fixed solely on Shadow Weaver.

“What am I?” she demanded again, advancing unsteadily.

“An experiment,” Shadow Weaver replied unfeelingly. “When I explained to Hordak what my... former self had done, we sought out my child. Razed her home, and took her.” She gestured to She-Ra. “The power was hers to unlock. But enciphering her spirit to unleash She-Ra without her... sentimentality attached, proved difficult, and Hordak was impatient. You were created. Forged of the same blood, born of the same womb, but without soul. We infused you with the gifts of the D’Riluth, the feline metamorphs, in the hope that a facility with transformation would be beneficial.” The witch shrugged, and looked away. “To no avail. You were a failure. Only once Tara had awakened the power herself, did your... potential become of any value. And that too was wasted.”

“You are my sister,” She-Ra said, staring wide-eyed at Faith, who seemed to notice her for the first time, recoiling in shock, before turning again to Shadow Weaver.

“How?” she demanded. “Who bore me?”

“I did, of course,” Shadow Weaver replied. “Those... parts of my body are intact. Dead, of course. As were you, when you were delivered. But you were never intended to be a natural thing, so it was not difficult to animate you.”

“Oh-h,” Faith sobbed, staring down at her body in its tattered Horde uniform. She pressed her free hand to her stomach, and retched, gasping for breath as she sagged to her knees. “Oh gods...”

“Why distressed?” Shadow Weaver wondered. “We gave you no such feelings.”

“But you sent her to me,” She-Ra said, suddenly realising what she had half-suspected. “To take my power - to become She-Ra!”

“Ahh,” Shadow Weaver smiled grimly. “And She-Ra has left her mark. Woken some... vestigial trace of soul.”

“And you’d made her a monster!” She-Ra said. “Her soul has to live with what you made her be!”

“It matters not,” the witch replied. “She has no part in our destiny. The power is yours, daughter.”

“Don’t call me that!” She-Ra yelled, advancing with her sword raised. “You’re no mother!”

“And you are no killer,” Shadow Weaver spat back.

I am,” Faith snarled, rising. Before She-Ra could react she was shoved aside, and Faith leapt into the attack Shadow Weaver summoned, crashing into her even as tendrils of darkness punched through her body. Screaming in agony and defiance she sank her teeth into the witch’s neck and tore, and as She-Ra reached to pull her back Shadow Weaver’s body erupted in magical flame, filling the sanctum in a maelstrom of black fire.

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“Faith!” She-Ra yelled, whirling around to beat back the flames, then reaching in to tear at the collapsing rubble that covered where the pair had fallen. Her hand closed on Shadow Weaver’s red cloak and she pulled it away, throwing the torn cloth into the flames behind her to reveal what remained of Faith, broken and burned.

“Sister!” She-Ra called to her, lifting her gingerly.

“Got... her?” Faith gasped. She-Ra nodded, and Faith managed a raspy chuckle.

“I... think I... did... something good,” she muttered. “Never... done that... before...”

“Faith,” Tara whispered, as the woman’s eyes fluttered closed. She looked around the flaming sanctum desperately, as another earthquake shook parts of the ceiling loose, crushing the cauldrons and arcane instruments as they fell, then she looked back at Faith, gripped her sword tight in one hand, and placed the other over the burned, seeping wound in her chest.

“What’re you... doing...” Faith murmured, as the sword’s gem gleamed, and a glow began to form around her.

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“This power was meant to heal,” She-Ra promised.

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A blue light leapt from the heart of the Fright Zone into the sky, swelling at its base to become a ball of energy that slowly expanded, consuming everything in its path in a roiling firestorm. Doom Tower vanished in a heartbeat; factories, foundries, tanks and aircraft in their thousands, the whole vast military engine that had been feeding off Etheria for decades, all fell to the oncoming wall of its own core’s self-immolation.

The rebels and freed prisoners watched from a hillside some miles away as the energy wave finally petered out, leaving only the furthest reaches of the walls standing, only for them to slowly topple inwards without the support of the superstructure behind. Great mounds of burning ash and melted steel filled a crater five miles wide, their smoke the last gasp of the torrent of smog the Fright Zone’s industry had pumped into the sky.

“She’s okay,” Buffy said quietly, at Willow’s side. “Right?”

“She’s okay,” Willow whispered - her voice tiny as she gazed at the destruction, but unwavering. The rest of the group stayed a little way away, unwilling to intrude.

“There!” Willow said at last, her voice rising in excitement as she pointed. “There!”

Buffy held up her hands to generate a lens in the air, and a part of the devastation leapt into view - the edge of the flames, where a silhouette was appearing. As they watched - Willow with a great sob of joy, the others gasping in disbelief - She-Ra emerged, carrying a limp, naked form in her arms. Willow gave Buffy a tight hug then ran, grabbing Xander’s hand briefly as she raced past him, and vaulted onto Spirit’s back.

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“Tara!” Willow called out, as Spirit landed and she jumped from the saddle and ran to her.

“Willow!” She-Ra cried in return, craning her neck to welcome her kiss, then following Willow’s gaze down, to Faith, held securely in her arms.

“What happened?” Willow asked.

“When she took the power, it changed her,” she said. “She’s not what she used to be. Casta?”

“I am here,” Casta said, materialising in solid form alongside them.

“She needs healing,” She-Ra said, gently handing Faith to her. “I did what I could... I sensed I could help her, but she was nearly dead. I don’t know how long what I did can keep her alive.”

“I shall take her to Mystacor,” Casta nodded, runes forming around her hands as Faith lifted into the air above them. She gave the pair a worried glance, as She-Ra transformed back into Tara. “I cannot be certain she will recover. I will do my best.”

She and Faith vanished in a blaze of magic, and Tara turned her gaze back to Willow, who closed the space between them and hugged her like she never meant to let go.

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“Did we really do it?” Tara asked, closing her eyes. “It’s gone?”

“We did it,” Willow said, smiling radiantly. With a deep breath she stepped back, kissing Tara on the lips and cheek in passing, then took her hands. “C’mon back to the others - there’s someone I really want you to meet.”

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“Giles!” Willow called, dismounting Spirit and hurrying over, hand in hand with Tara, to where the former prisoners were gathered near Velvet Glove.

“Giles, this is Tara,” Willow beamed. “Also She-Ra sometimes.”

“Willow’s told me so much about you,” Tara said, offering both her hands.

“Tara,” Giles nodded, accepting the hand-clasp. “Xander, and our new friends, have told me... I’m very happy for you both. Of course Willow deserves a remarkable woman, and by all accounts - and what I’ve just witnessed - you most certainly are that.”

“She is,” Willow agreed, which only made Tara blush all the harder.

“Which makes them a pair,” Joy said, sauntering over to Giles’s side. Tara gave a sigh of relief at seeing her, and offered her hands again; Joy shook her head lightly with a grin and hugged her instead.

“Your majesty,” Giles said as they parted, ducking his head. “Um, I’m told you never appointed a new prime minister...? If you wish, I’m at your majesty’s service.”

“I do wish,” Joy agreed. “However my immediate concern is a position rather closer to the throne.”

“Majesty?” Giles asked, confused.

“After the Horde razed Green Glade,” she said, moving closer, “and it seemed you’d... I realised I’d been a fool to let protocol stand in the way of what we both wanted.”

“In the way... oh! I... see,” Giles nodded slowly, eyes wide. “Of course I- But, as a commoner...”

“My daughter has developed a very wise attitude to situations where royal rank limits what she can do with her life,” Joy said, glancing at Buffy.

“Don’t care,” Buffy said succinctly, grinning at Giles. “So you two... you know what I’ll leave you two alone.” She turned back towards Liam, shaking her head and smiling.

“Well,” Giles said, taking a deep breath, and suddenly with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. “I’m at your majesty’s service.”

“Oh get a room,” Buffy muttered to herself, making Liam laugh out loud.

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Willow gazed down at the lands passing by far beneath Spirit’s wings, afternoon slipping gently into dusk, then closed her eyes and nestled comfortably into She-Ra’s hair.

“Not far now,” She-Ra said.

“Mm,” Willow nodded. “I can feel home, up ahead. Never realised I could sense the Woods through the air like this, without being on the ground myself.”

“You’re really taking to flying?” She-Ra asked, smiling.

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“So long as it’s you and Spirit,” the sorceress replied. “I don’t mind sky ships, but I never felt... you know, in the sky, like this.” She ran her fingertips over the smooth metal of She-Ra’s golden armour, then down over the thin fabric of the dress just above her belt. “Besides, I’ve developed this theory that anything you do is amazing. It’s looking pretty solid so far.”

“I’ll try to keep that up,” She-Ra grinned, then she set her eyes on the horizon, where the expanse of the Whispering Woods was just coming into view, and her voice softened. “Hopefully there’ll be a lot more of this sort of amazing... less of the fighting kind.” She put a hand over Willow’s and squeezed gently. “I’m sorry I worried you - letting the Fright Zone go up around me like that. I didn’t want to delay, give the Horde to have a chance to stop you and the others escaping...”

“I know,” Willow said, pressing a kiss to her shoulder. “It’s... not the greatest feeling - even though truth be told, seeing you walk out of something like that is kind of elating, you know? You’re forgiven.” She shook her head gently. “Besides, you’re safe and well. If you’d left Faith, not tried... I know that would’ve hurt you. I’d never want that.”

“Thank you sweetie,” She-Ra smiled, glancing over her shoulder.

“What do you think will happen with her?” Willow asked after a moment.

“I don’t know,” She-Ra sighed. “Shadow Weaver said she was... created soulless. I can believe that. As long as I knew her, back when I was with the Horde, she was... like there was nothing inside her, except this endless hunger to hurt. She obeyed Hordak - commanded her forces well, she wasn’t mindless - but it was as if, if nothing was stopping her, she’d have just torn apart everyone she ever saw.” She swallowed, grimacing. “I wonder if maybe trying to take She-Ra’s power... might have been the worst thing that could ever happen to her. To suddenly start feeling, start being aware of a life that’s more than just killing - and have to live with what she’d done, what they made her be...” She trailed off.

“But you think there’s hope?” Willow asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” She-Ra admitted. “If she even recovers, we don’t know that... Maybe? In the Crystal Castle, when we fought, she said I was inside her - part of the power she’d taken. If that’s true...” She took a deep breath. “...if any of me, Tara me, was part of what transformed her, then on some level she felt what it’s like to be loved by you.” She half turned in the saddle, enough to kiss Willow on the lips. “Your love broke me free of Shadow Weaver - and keeps me free, even though everything I did then is still with me. That kind of power can... do anything.”

Willow nodded, and leaned back into She-Ra’s hair as she turned ahead again.

“She is my sister,” she said, and went on to tell Willow everything, as she held her, and their home grew larger on the horizon.

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Not far from Willow and Tara’s house, and the rebel camp near the lake, was a quiet grove. Away from the trails where travellers and wildlife moved through the Whispering Woods, it was rarely disturbed, but Willow visited every now and then, to sit in the shade of the blossoming Meadowlands maple growing by itself in the small clearing. Not long after Tara had joined the rebellion Willow had shown her the grove, and explained its meaning to her. The twiggets knew humans put markers in the ground to commemorate those who had passed away, but they knew little of the stonework needed to create such a thing. When Willow’s mother had died, giving birth to her after fleeing the Horde, the twiggets had planted the maple tree for her - made her, in their way, part of the forest, so she would never be forgotten, and the baby left in their care would be able to see her mother’s spirit watching over her. Even now there were always little gifts of flowers around the tree whenever she visited, and there were always tiny twigget lanterns glowing among the leaves of the surrounding trees to cast a soft light at nighttime.

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One was waiting as Willow and Tara entered the grove, a familiar face - the twiggets had a way of knowing what was occupying their forest’s sorceress mind, and somehow Tara wasn’t surprised to see a sapling held in her tiny purple hands.

“Thank you Cecile,” she whispered.

Willow prepared the soil, far enough from the maple to give the tree room to grow, but side by side nonetheless, and Tara helped her plant the sapling, and sat down in front of it as Willow knelt behind her, arms gently encircling her shoulders.

“I know Shadow Weaver wasn’t her,” Tara said eventually. “Not really. But I feel like... maybe in some way, she’s resting easier now.” She turned her gaze to Willow. “We’ve got more to do - but her battle with the Horde is over, finally.”

“She’d be so proud of you,” Willow said softly. “I don’t mean the power. The person you are.” Tara smiled and rested her head against Willow’s forearm.

“Remember,” she said, “when we talked about finding out who I am...? After you’d freed me from the Horde, and I said-”

“-you love me,” Willow finished for her. “The rest we’ll find out together.”

“Yes,” Tara smiled. “And now... I know where I came from, my family. I know why the Horde made me what it did, before you freed me. I know what the magic of She-Ra is, how it came to be part of me. I know what my future might have been - I even glimpsed what it could be. What I hope it will be.”

“So do I,” Willow whispered, remembering the vision of herself Tara had described.

“But,” Tara said, turning and rising up on her knees to face Willow, cupping her cheeks to brush their lips together in an almost-kiss, “the most important thing... I love you. It was always that simple.”

Willow nodded, and kissed her, very slowly, until finally their lips parted and a gentle breeze through the treetops seemed to echo her contented sigh.

“I love you,” she whispered into Tara’s lips.

“Willow,” Tara said, smiling. “There’s something I want to do tomorrow...”

“Mm?” Willow nodded. Tara leaned a little closer to whisper in her ear; Willow’s eyes went wide, then she sighed again, tilting her head to kiss Tara, on her cheek, then her lips.

“Tomorrow?” she asked softly. Tara nodded, and her smile turned sultry.

“I have other plans for us tonight,” she murmured. “If you’re interested...?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Willow purred in agreement.

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The next morning found the rebel camp busy as always - leatherworkers and fletchers and smiths at work fashioning and repairing equipment, carpenters piecing together the frame of a new storehouse while a group of woodsmen steadily worked on the planks that would become its walls, rangers at practice with their bows, or on horseback in the paddock, and spare hands clearing away the long breakfast tables in the centre of camp.

“You do realise flying ships don’t have to be made out of wood?” Buffy asked Liam with a grin, sidling over to him in a pause in the discussion he was engaged in with a Brightmoon artisan regarding his newly-acquired ship.

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“You know me, I’m a traditionalist,” he smiled, gesturing at the former Velvet Glove’s hull. “Now the frame and the engines, they’re all well and good, but the giant metal skull on the front? Not me style at all. A majestic bird of prey, now...”

Sea Hawk II?” Buffy asked.

“Aye,” Liam nodded. “She may not’ve been born on Etheria, but we’ll make her one of our own, and she’ll be all the better for it.”

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“You do have a way with the ladies,” Buffy smirked, giving him a pat on the seat of his leather pants.

“Only room for two in me life, Princess,” Liam laughed. “You and the Hawk. In that order.”

“Good boy.”

“Oh hey?” Perfuma said, pausing on her way past with an armful of carved beams from the camp’s wood shop. “Are you making that thing into a pretty ship? Can I do some flower patterns on it? I’m good at painting.”

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“Well, if you don’t get too carried away,” Liam replied. “But sure, she could use brightening up.”

“Yay! Queen Bee, what about your ship?” Queen Bee looked up from where she was recharging her internal power cores, reclining atop her ship, which had its wings spread in the morning sun doing likewise.

“The offer is appreciated,” she said politely, “but I am already extensively decorated.”

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“Really?” Perfuma said, frowning in confusion at the alien ship’s unmarked gold hull.

“The differing hues are visible only in the ultraviolet range,” Queen Bee explained.

“No kidding? Neat.” Perfuma smiled, and headed back on her way, towards the decorated bower she had begun constructing with the twiggets’ help on the edge of the camp, exchanging greetings with Mermista along the way, coming from the path leading to the lake.

“Lady Casta, my lord,” the merwoman said, curtseying, as Giles appeared on the main trail into camp, leading his horse, with Casta strolling alongside.

“Good morning,” he replied. “It’s Princess Mermista, isn’t it?”

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“If you wish,” she nodded, smiling, “although for me, my title is for home - here, all are my friends, and I am simply Mermista.”

“Of course,” Giles replied. “And you know, you needn’t call me ‘my lord’ either, there’s no title attached to the prime ministership.”

“For the moment,” Mermista grinned. “But before long, you will be prince consort, no?”

“Good heavens,” Giles said, “word gets around quickly.”

“The twiggets,” Casta explained. “The father of their sorceress has returned, they’re very excited.”

“They adore her so, they talk of little else today,” Mermista added.

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“Really?” Giles said, somewhat taken aback, but smiling in spite of himself. “My word. Not that it should be any surprise, she’s a remarkable young woman.”

“She is indeed,” Mermista agreed. She looked curiously at Casta. “What of the Horde captain Tara saved?”

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“I believe she will live,” Casta nodded. “A facet of me is watching over her. Her injuries were magical as well as physical, and I cannot yet say what turmoil her soul may face. For now I am keeping her in a mystic sleep, while her body heals. Excuse me - I’ll catch you up,” she said, leaving the trail to approach the edge of the archery field, where Frosta was watching the rangers at practice.

“Highness,” she said.

“Mistress,” Frosta replied. “What’s the word after yesterday?”

“I have kept the Pool of Vision trained on our enemies,” Casta nodded. “The captains of the two regiments that retreated from the Fright Zone during the battle seem to have had a disagreement regarding who should follow whose orders. They have split apart now, but not before doing notable damage to one another’s forces.”

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“Horde versus Horde,” Frosta noted. “All the better for everyone else. Still, that’s not the last of them.”

“Indeed not,” Casta agreed. “There remain many bases - even whole armies. Yet there is promise. The news of the Fright Zone’s fall will take time to spread, but already those who know are acting. King Storm has ejected the Horde garrison from Blue Mountain, and declared that no Horde soldiers nor collectors will be welcome within their borders. The Rebellion’s praise is being spoken openly in the Meadowlands.” A grin quirked her lips. “Queen Joy tells me her new xenian guest has been extremely eager to share all he knows, as well.”

“The fear of the Horde is dying,” Frosta concluded. “People are seeing this as a fight that can be won.”

“You have all done much to make it so,” Casta said. “Even before yesterday’s battle, those seeds were being sown. The age of the Horde on Etheria is entering its twilight.”

“Not before time,” Frosta replied, returning her attention to the rangers. Casta followed her gaze, and smiled as she noticed Frosta’s eyes dwelling on Xander specifically, and quite intently, as he leant against a tree, playing a gentle melody on a lute while watching his rangers train. After a moment he noticed the pair watching him, and sauntered over to them.

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“Ladies,” he said warmly. “Majesty.”

“Hiii,” Frosta beamed. “Musically inclined as well? You’re a man of many talents.”

“You never know what’ll come in handy some day,” Xander grinned. “It can even be useful camouflage - lots of Hordesmen never look twice at a musician strumming away in the corner of a tavern, he’s just part of the scenery. And it’s good for the fingers, keeps them nimble.”

“Mm,” Frosta nodded, unconsciously licking her lips. “You know we used to have rangers of our own - the Wardens - up north, and now we’re reclaiming the lands the Horde destroyed, we’re rebuilding the order. Obviously the survival skills are unique, but I bet you could teach them a lot about infiltration, stealth... stamina...”

She absently reached out to run a fingertip along Xander’s bicep, and he had to suppress a grin at the sight of Casta, behind Frosta, silently laughing behind her hand.

“Well Highness,” he said, “I’m sure Queen Joy will agree strong and stable allies benefit us all, and I’ve got capable deputies here who can command the rangers if I’m away for a spell.”

“Uh-huh,” Frosta nodded, leaning over the fence closer to him.

“We’re not talking about riding one of those ice dragons of yours up there, though?” Xander asked. “It looks very impressive, but I have to admit I’m more of a ground-level type.”

“Oh no,” she shook her head. “No I think an ice coach would be much more appropriate, a nice leisurely journey. And of course the interior would be very warm and... inviting.”

“Consider that invitation accepted,” he replied with a winning smile. “I’ll speak with the Queen about taking some leave... oh hey, good timing,” he pointed, noticing Joy, with Willow and Tara alongside, appearing on the path that led down to their house on the lake.

“Friends,” she called, as the various members of the rebellion noted her arrival and gathered around her. “Let me say it again, now you’re all here together: you have my endless gratitude for your courage, in venturing into the heart of the Horde. On behalf of myself and all those you saved - thank you.”

“Hear hear,” Giles added, drawing a warm smile from the queen.

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“Let us not lose sight, too,” she went on, “of what you all accomplished for all of Etheria. At a time when the Horde seemed poised to sweep all of us away - had subjugated realm after realm, defeated the magic of Mystacor, when even Brightmoon within the Whispering Woods’ sanctuary feared our days were numbered - my daughter proposed this great rebellion. This was her dream - bolder than any ruling monarch, myself included, dared.” Buffy smiled with pride and embarrassment together. “And now that dream is realised. There will be difficult times ahead - even without its capital, the Horde will not easily give up all it has stolen, nor will the path to peace and prosperity be an easy one for all our realms so used to conflict and isolation. Ushering in this new age will be a great challenge - but one I know you shall all rise to meet.”

“Well we don’t want life to get boring,” Buffy said.

“Nothing ever is with you around,” Xander quipped, as the group laughed, and Joy reached out to hug her daughter.

“There is one more thing,” she said. “A duty I have been asked this morning to perform - one of the happiest of those given to a ruler.” She spread her arms, and wings, to encompass the gathering. “Would you all please join with me, in honouring the union of Willow and Tara in marriage.”

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Really?” Buffy squeaked, her face lighting up.

“Magnificent!” Mermista said, leaping forward to wrap both Willow and Tara in a hug.

“Giles, I... uh,” Willow beamed, as Buffy hugged her as well, leaving little room for Xander to get an arm around her shoulders. “Would you witness for me?”

“I would be proud to,” he nodded, his eyes misty.

“Can I witness for you?” Buffy asked Tara, disengaging from Willow to hug her. “If you want?”

“Would you?” Tara asked through her smile.

“Of course,” the princess replied. “You’re family. Mom, do you-”

“Here,” Joy said, handing Buffy her coronet. “I thought you might want it.”

“You’re voluntarily wearing it?” Xander asked as Buffy put the coronet on. “Now I’ve seen everything.”

“This deserves a Princess of Brightmoon,” Buffy said, arranging her hair.

“Hello girl,” Willow said, noticing Spirit had wandered over to the group; the horse dipped her head to allow Willow to kiss her forehead, in amid the hugs and hand clasps being showered on her and Tara.

“So are you going to, you know, go all superpower?” Perfuma asked. “Is that like a wedding dress?”

“Uh, actually, we don’t really have specific dresses lined up,” Willow admitted. “This wasn’t planned way in advance, just, you know...” She looked lovingly at Tara.

“...the time is right,” Tara finished.

“Perhaps I could be of assistance?” Casta offered.

“A spell?” Willow asked.

“I believe I have just the thing,” she said. “If you would both...?” She offered her hands, and Willow and Tara took them, while the others stepped back a little.

“Let your thoughts dwell on one another,” Casta intoned, “and your love shall shine for all to see.”

Spirals of golden light swirled around the couple, and Casta stepped away, watching as the spell took hold and transformed them in a blaze of sunlight, fading to reveal them both clad in gleaming white.

“Wow,” Frosta said.

“Is, uh,” Xander said to Casta, as Willow and Tara looked down at themselves, then at one another. “Is that how Mystacor does wedding dresses?”

“The spell is crafted by the participants,” Casta said, trying not to stare herself.

“You did tell them to think of each other,” Frosta pointed out. “Honestly it’s surprising they’re wearing anything at all now.”

“So uh,” Tara said softly, blushing and moving closer to Willow.

“Yeah,” the redhead agreed.

“You look beautiful.”

“So do you,” Willow smiled. Tara nodded, glanced down at herself, and smiled back.

“Perfect,” she whispered.

“Yep,” Willow murmured. They both looked at Joy, who nodded and moved to stand alongside them, while Giles stood at Willow’s shoulder, and Buffy at Tara’s.

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“Friends,” she said aloud, “we gather not to create this bond, nor presume that mortal laws hold sway over it. Love needs no decree to be born, nor ceremony to thrive. We are here to recognise the light that love brings to our friends, and to cherish their gift to us, in sharing with us this moment of their lives. The love between Willow and Tara has grown in all the days leading to this one, and shall continue to grow in all the days to come.”

“So it is witnessed, so shall it be,” Giles and Buffy recited.

“The power to unite your souls is yours,” Joy said, placing her hands on Willow and Tara’s shoulders.

Tara took a deep breath.

“I feel like this moment is bigger than just us,” she said. Willow nodded, and she looked around at the friends gathered about them.

“All of you welcomed me,” she said, “showed me compassion, generosity, and love. From the dark place I came from, here I found what it’s like to have family. This life is... is something I never knew was possible, I never dreamed about, before you all showed it to me, and made it mine. I wouldn’t be the person I am without all of you.” She gazed back into Willow’s eyes. “I’m yours, Willow - all of me, all the love I have, and all the love I’ve been given by everyone here. I’m so grateful,” she looked around, “that you’ve given me so much,” and again her eyes returned to Willow, “that I can offer all this to you.” She gently touched Willow’s cheek. “Because you’re more than beautiful, and you deserve all the love in the world.”

“I feel it,” Willow beamed, tears rolling down her cheeks. “You, you’re... I’m joined to everything in this forest, all the life, it’s all a part of me, and part of me is everywhere around us. And, and I’m so glad I have this connection to this whole wonderful world because I need this much heart to love you as much as I do. I’ve seen you transform into a magical goddess and change the world, but...” She shook her head, and cupped Tara’s cheeks in her hands. “Your real magic is this, just you - gentle, wonderful, kind, beautiful... you.”

She leaned forward, Tara did likewise, and their lips met in a kiss that began soft, innocent, and deepened and deepened until they were utterly lost in one another. Joy, feeling her cheeks flushed, cleared her throat unobtrusively, getting their attention, and they parted - a fraction - blushing and smiling at one another.

“As Queen of Brightmoon,” Joy declared, “it is my honour and privilege to swear that this realm shall from this day recognise and celebrate that which you both already know to be true: that you are joined in marriage, for the honour of love.”

“For the honour of love,” Willow nodded, gazing into Tara’s eyes.

“For the honour of love,” she replied. Once more they kissed, surrounded by the applause and cheers of friends and family.

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“Hi there! It’s me, Dawnie. Did you find where I was hiding today? I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t in the Fright Zone, that place is scary! Take another look:

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“Okay, so I wasn’t really hiding very much that time. Well folks, they did it: She-Ra and her friends of the Great Rebellion freed Etheria from the evil forces of Hordak. I knew they’d get there in the end, and you know why? Because while they started out all on their own, they found people everywhere who had the same dream they did, and when they all came together, they made their dream come true. Now I think we’d better let Willow and Tara have some privacy for their honeymoon, but look out for me - I’ll always be hiding somewhere around here! Bye now!”

Image


The Adventures of She-Ra starred:


Sir Anthony Hopkins as Swen
DB Woodside as Hazar
Harry Groener as Tomek
Bianca Lawson as Varada
Musetta Vander as Ulyssa
Kristine Sutherland as Queen Joy
Clare Kramer as Mortella
Robia LaMorte as Casta
Emma Caulfield as Frosta
David Boreanaz as Liam
Harris Yulin as Baron Condor
James Marsters as Prince Highcliff
Marc Blucas as Prince Arkion
Glenn Quinn as Doyle
Amy Acker as Mermista
Stephanie Romanov as Octavia
Charisma Carpenter as Queen Bee
Mercedes McNab as Perfuma
Larry Bagby III as Megacomplex Fifteen
Juliet Landau as Scorpia
Eliza Dushku as Faith
Anthony Stewart Head as Giles


Nicholas Brendon as Xander
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Princess Glimmer


Alyson Hannigan as Willow
and Amber Benson as Tara/She-Ra


Image


Image

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Through the Looking-glass - Every world needs a Willow and Tara.


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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2017 9:29 am 
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10. Troll Hammer
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Chris,

That was such a delightfully satisfying finale! It had everything! :bounce

I totally see what you mean about the Star Wars-ian reference with the whole "I am your [spoiler]", bit between She-Ra and that other character.

And Faith really is her [spoiler]! Wow! Must admit, I didn't see that coming. I was appropriately "squicked" at the description of how she was born as well. **Shudder**

The ending reminded me a lot of the end of A New Hope also... but way more romantic. :wtkiss :heart

It was funny when I saw Dawnie in the group shot I was like, "Well, she didn't hide very well, did she?" and then she went and admitted the very same in the wrap up. LOL.

I am super excited for whatever comes next in your She-Ra-verse... whether it's a fresh season or a one-off story here and there.

This was truly a fantastic adventure to behold.

Thanks, Chris!!

Cheers
DW

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 Post subject: Re: The Adventures of She-Ra
PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:03 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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Great finish!

And yeah, i agree with DW, well done about the birth discussion.
Very creepy. Excellent work.

I look forward to whatever comes next. :bounce

Hmm. Sorry about the short post, i had added a long post, but it vanished into the aether.

Good series :)

R :flower

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