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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility · She-Ra Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Her Way
“Alright, enough! That was… ugh, terrible.”

Catra leaned back in her chair, putting her feet up on the terminal in front of her. She closed her eyes, pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger and let out a long, irritated sigh.

Ever since she’d usurped Shadow Weaver as Hordak’s second-in-command, things had changed. With the exception of the leader himself, there was no one above her within the Horde’s chain of command, and that meant she was afforded special privileges. When she spoke, people listened. When she gave an order, it had to be obeyed. She never had to wait in line, no one screamed at her every time she made a miniscule mistake, and, best of all, she even got Shadow Weaver’s old room!

Basically, she had everything she’d ever wanted.

...And some things she didn’t.

The room wasn’t the only thing she’d inherited from Shadow Weaver. As it turned out, being Hordak’s second-in-command came with responsibilities beyond coming up with overcomplicated (and, somehow, extremely poorly thought out) schemes and brooding over the Black Garnet. Though she’d done her best to delegate most of these responsibilities to Scorpia and the other force captains, occasionally she still got stuck doing something she really, really didn’t want to do.

Today, that something was overseeing training exercises.

While she was no stranger to overseeing these exercises from above, there was something weird about watching them from a monitor. It all felt so… fake, which was strange because the exercises had always been fake. Princesses weren’t robots, and they used magic, not Horde tech. Maybe the disconnect came from her inability to hop in and do something to influence the exercise, or maybe seeing real combat had left her jaded, but whatever the reason, it made watching the exercises absolutely unbearable.

“Oh, come on, I thought they did pretty well!”

Catra opened her eyes and glared at Scorpia, who wore a sincere (if a little goofy) smile and was sitting in a chair that was just a little too small for her hulking, chitinous form.

“Were we watching the same feed?” asked Catra, waving flippantly at the monitor. “They were awful! My team did that same course in, like, two minutes. This group didn’t even make it out of the treeline!”

“We can hear you!”

The voice blared from the terminal, and on the monitor Catra could see the assembled cadets looking around in confusion, undoubtedly searching for the PA system that Catra had just accidentally triggered by resting her foot on the broadcast button.

“I know that!” snapped Catra, before sheepishly lifting her feet and placing them firmly back on the floor.

“But that wasn’t fair!” came another voice from over the speaker, this time from a younger cadet with leathery, bat-like wings and whose hands were cupped over her mouth, shouting in what was distinctly not the direction of the camera that Catra watched them through. “The princesses were, like, way harder this time!”

Catra scowled and pressed the button again. “No, they weren’t.”

“Yes they were!”

This time, the dissenting (and somewhat nasally) voice came from behind her. Catra spun in her chair, fixing her ire on Entrapta, who waved gleefully at her with a lock of her prehensile purple hair. She was flanked on one side by Emily, her personalized robot, who greeted Catra with a chirping sound that she promptly ignored.

“What do you mean, ‘they were’?”

“Well,” said Entrapta, brushing past Catra and beginning to type feverishly on the terminal’s interface, “I’ve been tinkering with the training bots, implementing tactical data from our recent skirmishes with the Rebellion.”

She pressed another button with her hair, bringing up side-by-side footage of the training exercise and a recording from the siege of Brightmoon. Sure enough, the robots’ movements were strikingly similar to those displayed by the Princesses themselves. Entrapta continued.

“Now, while I can’t conclusively say that the test is harder, I estimate that the tactical reasoning of the ‘bots has increased exponentially. Therefore, I hypothesize that the difficulty of completing the exercise has—”

“Enough already, I get it!” Catra shoved Entrapta out of the way, before addressing the cadets once again. “Training exercise completed unsuccessfully. Everyone hit the showers, or whatever!”

There was a chorus of groans and complaints from the cadets that only served to make Catra’s blood boil. She was about to press the button again, when she felt a heavy claw rest itself gently on her shoulder.

Instinct took over. She practically threw herself out of the chair, pulling away from Scorpia and loosing primal hiss.

Scorpia raised her arms, a disarming gesture that was somewhat less effective for someone with big, scary claws instead of hands. “Whoa, personal space, I remember!” Scorpia’s surprise melted into concern, her voice softening. “Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on them?”

Catra couldn’t help but laugh. “You think that was hard? If Shadow Weaver caught me talking back like that—which she did, regularly—she’d have gone ballistic! She’d start yelling and threatening to… I don’t know, torture me with her dark powers, or something! I’m nothing like her!”

“I didn’t say you were,” said Scorpia, in a tone that Catra assumed was supposed to calm her, but was only managing to stoke her anger. “Look, I’m not telling you to go easy on her. No one went easy on us, and look where we are now! But they’re cadets—junior cadets. Even if they were seniors, you couldn’t exactly compare their time to yours. Your team had you and Ado—”

Scorpia cut herself off, but it was too late. Catra had fixed her with a glare that threatened to bore through her and into the wall behind her. She narrowed her eyes, as if to further focus her fury.

“Me and…?”

A tense silence filled the room, but it didn’t last long. Entrapta stepped between them, wearing a look of utter confusion.

“I have no idea what’s going on,” she said.

“Oh!” announced Scorpia, her careful demeanor vanishing as quickly as it had arrived, and she continued cheerfully, as if nothing had happened. “Let me explain! You see, Catra gets angry when we mention Adora.”

“What?!” exclaimed Catra, her voice cracking.

Entrapta stroked her chin thoughtfully with her hair. “Ah, of course!”

“No!” said Catra, emphatically. “Mentioning her does not make me angry! I’m not angry!”

Entrapta drew close to Catra until their noses were mere inches apart.

“Adora,” she said.

Catra snarled.

“Teeth bared, pupils contracted, ears folded back, breathing quick and erratic. All classic signs of anger!”

Catra put her hands on Entrapta’s shoulders, holding away at arm’s length.

“Fine, I’m angry, but I was angry before we talked about Adora! And, for the record, talking how talking about Adora makes me angry makes me angrier than talking about Adora!

There was a brief pause before Entrapta replied. “So, talking about her does make you angry?”

Catra let out a strangled cry of pure frustration.

“Look, we get it!” said Scorpia, taking a step forward. “Talking about your old best buddy in front of your new best buddies can be a little awkward.”

Catra let go of Entrapta and looked back at Scorpia.

“Seriously?”

“Yup! You don’t have to worry about us, Catra, we’re with you. And you don’t have to worry about the cadets, either. No one is expecting you to fill Shadow Weaver’s shoes right away. You’ll get used to it!”

Catra’s ears flattened against her head. “Fill her shoes?” She scoffed. “I’ve done more than fill her shoes. I don’t even wear shoes!”

As both Scorpia and Entrapta’s eyes darted downward to examine her feet, Catra made the executive decision that she was one-hundred-percent done with this conversation.

“Okay!” she said. “Since the two of you obviously have nothing better to do, you’re going to take over watching the training exercises.”

“You got it, boss!” said Scorpia, still smiling as if Catra hadn’t just saddled her with an excruciatingly boring assignment.

“It would be a good opportunity to study how the new programming fairs in a simulated environment…”

Catra rolled her eyes. “Sure, have fun with that.”

She made for the door as Scorpia called the next group of recruits over the PA. Exiting the small observation room into the hallway, Catra couldn’t help but wish the automated doors had an option to slam them. She stormed down the corridor, head down and shoulders slumped, grateful of its emptiness yet simultaneously yearning for someone to yell at—someone who wouldn’t try to make her feel better, thereby making her feel worse for yelling in the first place.

“Fill her shoes…”

Catra growled and shook her head. Scorpia didn’t know what she was talking about. Catra had accomplished more as force captain than Shadow Weaver had in her whole miserable life, and now that she was second-in-command the sky was the limit. She didn’t need to get used to anything, because Shadow Weaver’s duties—while boring—were easy! Make plans, yell at people, and tell the cadets how they’d never amount to anything.

Yeah, Scorpia, so much to get used to.

Catra had been so caught up in her own brooding that she hadn’t even realized where she was going. Before she knew it, she found herself standing outside of Shadow Weaver’s old room.

No. Her room.

She opened the door and stepped inside. Things were different since she’d taken over: the Black Garnet was still there, of course, only now it was surrounded by tools and gadgets that Catra couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Having to share her room with Entrapta’s research project was annoying, yes, but it meant that whenever she made a discovery Catra was always the first one to hear about it, which meant she’d have plenty of time to turn it to her advantage against the rebellion.

But there were changes besides the Black Garnet. The monitors Shadow Weaver had broken throwing her little tantrum had been fixed or replaced, and the little sconce she’d used for her magic had been removed entirely. There was a bed now—she wasn’t sure if Shadow Weaver had ever slept, but she did—as well as a desk and a punching bag.

Well, if she was being entirely honest, it was less of a punching bag and more of a scratching post, not that she’d let anyone else call it that. There were long gouges down and across the leather bag, and taped to its surface at eye-level was a photograph of the Horde’s greatest enemy:

She-ra.

Okay, so it wasn’t technically She-ra. The photo was of Adora, and it was a little out of date. It had been taken for an ID card when they’d made senior cadet, long before either of them had made force captain. Long before Adora had betrayed her.

Anger took over once again, and Catra lashed out at the bag. She raked her class across it, shredding the leather and exposing tufts of stuffing that did their best to escape the tight confines of their prison.

The picture remained, as it always did, completely untouched.

There was nothing sentimental about it, Catra assured herself. She couldn’t look at the picture without wanting to shred Adora’s pretty little face, but having to print a new picture every time she wanted to use the bag was simply uneconomical. Besides, if anyone caught her printing a bunch of pictures of Adora, they might start asking questions.

Catra groaned. She couldn’t even take a swing at a punching bag without it being weird. What was wrong with her today?

Sleep. That’s what she needed. She was tired from running around doing second-in-command things all day, of course she needed a catnap! She’d feel better after a little sleep, and then she could get through the rest of her duties without strangling anyone.

The bed wasn’t anything special. The Horde didn’t bother with luxurious four-posters even for its highest-ranking officers. In fact, the bed was not only identical to the ones in the force captain barracks, it had once been one of those beds. Catra had enlisted Scorpia’s help to drag the thing what at the time had felt like half the length of the fright zone. It had been a lot of work, yes, but the resulting privacy was more than worth it.

Or so she told herself, anyway. Laying in the bed, staring up at the barren ceiling, she couldn’t help but notice the silence. After years of sleeping in the barracks, surrounded by cadets, the change was unnerving. Even the force captain barracks had been manageable due to Scorpia’s incessant snoring (though, if she thought about it, she’d been fairly annoyed about that at the time, too), but here there was just… nothing.

After a few minutes of tossing and turning, Catra threw off the covers with a huff. She gathered them at the foot of the bed and stuffed a pillow underneath, before curling herself into a tight ball and laying next to them. It was a poor use of space, she knew, but that hadn’t mattered when she was a cadet, and it didn’t matter now. It was only natural to seek out the familiar when faced with an unfamiliar place, and though a rolled up pillow was a poor substitute for the warm, bony feet of a friend, Catra finally managed to get some sleep.




There was someone in her room.

Catra was awake. There was no mental lag, no grogginess or wondering where she was. She was a Horde soldier, trained to be ready for battle at a moment’s notice.

The intruder (Catra guessed there was only one) crept lightly—too light for Scorpia, who at her quietest moved like a well-laden tank, and without the telltale swoosh of Entrapta’s hair or Emily’s accompanying skittering. But if it wasn’t them…

Catra leapt from her bed, landing silently and dashing to the Black Garnet, which lay between her and the mystery intruder. None of the guards would be foolish enough to sneak into her quarters, and no one else would have any reason to be there, meaning that whoever it was must either have been daring or stupid enough to risk her wrath for trespassing.

She could only think of one person who fit that description.

She didn’t know it was Adora for certain, but who else could it be? She’d already snuck into the Fright Zone once, and even though they’d since doubled the patrols and changed many of the security measures, Adora wouldn’t be so easily deterred. Maybe she’d found out about Entrapta’s current residency and was here to perform a rather late extraction, or maybe she was after Catra herself. Whatever her plan, Catra wasn’t about to let her get away with it.

The intruder moved, and Catra moved with her, carefully sidestepping to keep the Garnet between them. From the sound of things, she hadn’t been alerted to Catra’s presence, giving her the advantage. She stopped near the punching bag, and Catra felt a blush creep into her cheeks. There was nothing out of the ordinary about putting a picture of one’s enemy on one’s punching bag, but Catra just knew that Adora would take that and make it weird.

But as deeply embarrassing as that promised to be, it gave Catra the opportunity she needed. She deftly circled the Black Garnet, her pace quickening with her heartbeat as she prepared to pounce. She leapt out from around corner, raising her sharpened claws and bringing them down on the unsuspecting neck of…

…the young, bat-winged cadet.

Catra stumbled, fighting her momentum that threatened to send her tumbling into the cadet. She managed to stop barely a foot away from the cadet, but her stealthy approach was completely ruined. The cadet whirled around, tearing her eyes off the punching bag and looking at Catra with abject horror.

She screamed.

Catra clapped her hands over her ears. They weren’t that sensitive, but there was no sound more piercing than the shriek of a terrified child. “Hey,” she said, “cut it out!”

The cadet clapped her hands over her mouth. “I’m sorry!” she said, though the words were somewhat muffled.

Catra took her hands off her ears and put them on her hips. The girl didn’t look a day over ten, but Catra had always been horrible at guessing ages. She had a mop of stringy brown hair, and before she’d covered her mouth Catra had noticed she was missing one of her front teeth, the same one Adora had been missing when the two of them had…

A blind rage took over. Catra stepped forward, the cadet cowering beneath her baleful glare.

“What do you think you’re doing in here?!”

“T-the door!” said blubbered the cadet, stammering over her words. “It was open—I knew I wasn’t supposed to come in, but I saw the p-picture on the punching bag and I wanted to—”

“To what?” demanded Catra.

“I thought it might be a princess! I’ve never seen a real princess before, but she’s really pretty! Is she—”

Catra reached over the cadet, grabbing hold of the picture and crumpling it in her hand, leaving nothing behind but the corners where it had previously been taped.

“That’s none of your business!” she snapped. “Now, get out of here, before I put your face on the punching bag, and I’m not talking about a picture!”

The cadet turned, tripping over her feet as she fled desperately to the door. Catra followed her, ensuring that she was gone before punching the door’s terminal, which she once again wished she could slam.

Now it was Catra’s turn to scream. But this wasn’t a scream of terror, but a guttural expression of anger and frustration. She stalked over to the punching bag, embedding her claws deep into the top and dragging them downward until its fluffy innards spilled out onto the floor.

It wasn’t enough. She suddenly wished Adora was there, so she could punch her stupid, pretty face. She whirled about, searching for something else she could destroy, when she caught a glimpse of her reflection from within the Black Garnet .

Except it wasn’t her reflection. It was Shadow Weaver’s.

When she looked again it was gone. She stepped forward, resting a hand on its glassy surface. The reflection that stared back at her was dark and distorted, but it was undoubtedly her own.

Catra’s shoulders slumped. What was she doing? She’d told Scorpia she was nothing like Shadow Weaver, but the moment some cadet had snuck into her room she’d exploded at her. And why? Because she’d gone somewhere she wasn’t supposed to? Catra did that all the time. Because she had the same tooth gap as Adora had had literally a decade ago? That was way more pathetic, even if that particular wound had been reopened by their shared experience in the First Ones’ hologram chamber.

Her chest felt tight. She took a deep breath, but it didn’t help. She needed air. Not the recycled air that was pumped through every building in the Fright Zone. Real air.

She slammed her fist against the door’s terminal. It didn’t open. She hit it a second time, then a third, and was prepared to hit it yet again when the door finally slid open. She practically fled through it, but forced herself into a slower, calmer pace. She wasn’t calm, of course, but part of her brain that was still somewhat rational reminded her that it wouldn’t look good if the new second-in-command was seen running through the halls having a panic attack. So she walked, each step an agonizing test in resolve as she slowly made her way through the labyrinthine halls. She’d almost made it outside when she heard a familiar voice calling out to her.

“Catra, hey!”

She froze. Heavy footsteps echoed from behind her, and after a few seconds Scorpia entered her field of view.

“I was just looking for you!”

If Catra’s heart wasn’t racing she was certain it would have sank.

“Why?” she asked through gritted teeth.

“Oh! Well, Entrapta and I had just finished overseeing the training exercises when we got to talking. Did you know she was working on a robot that makes tiny food?” Catra didn’t respond, but Scorpia didn’t seem to mind. “Anyway, she was saying that her recent prototypes were making mostly edible food, when I thought ‘hey, who do I know who likes mostly edible food?’”

She looked at Catra expectantly, but still received no response.

“That’s right! You!”

Catra resumed walking.

“Hey, hold on!”

To Catra’s immense displeasure, Scorpia matched her pace.

“Are you okay?”

No.

“I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? Because if it’s about earlier—”

“It’s not!” hissed Catra, which was at least partially the truth.

“Do you want to talk? I’ve been told I’m a great listener!”

“No!” Catra stopped abruptly, turning on her heel to look Scorpia directly in the eyes. “I just want to be alone, okay?”

Scorpia hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Got it. Entrapta and I will be in the lunch room… or the infirmary, depending on how things go. Come find us when you’re ready.”

Catra waited until Scorpia’s plodding was barely audible before continuing her march, a fresh helping of guilt added to the pile that weighed down her every step. She could clear things up with Scorpia later, right now she had to push forward.

And then, she was outside.

Real air stank. The emissions given off by the Fright Zone’s various factories and industrial complexes flooded the air, giving it a truly awful smell. It filled your lungs, sticking to your insides and making them feel itchy. It was nothing less than an extremely unpleasant experiences that Catra wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy, and it was exactly what she needed right now.

Despite the suffocating stench, climbing the exterior of the building was child’s play. It was built in the Horde’s typical style, twisting and jutting, emphasizing function absolutely over the primitive notion of aesthetics. When there was nothing to leap to she scrambled up sheer surfaces, digging her claws into the almost imperceptible cracks between massive steel slabs. It was a path she’d taken hundreds of times before, and though it might look next to impossible to an outsider, Catra could follow it with one hand tied behind her back.

The top of the building jutted out like a balcony over the Fright Zone. Catra walked to the edge, sitting down and dangling her feet over the industrial abyss below. Now that she was here, there was just one thing missing.

Catra opened her clenched hand, gingerly unfolding the crumpled paper within.

“Hey, Adora.”

She sighed, looking down at the picture cradled in her hands. Yeah, she’d carried the picture all the way up here, but that was nothing new. Sometimes it felt like Catra dragged Adora everywhere with her—not literally, of course, though when they were kids it might as well have been. They’d been inseparable, doing everything together, until…

Catra shook her head. Adora had always been a weight dragging her down, she just hadn’t realized it until recently. She’d achieved so much since Adora’s betrayal, become more than anyone had ever dreamed of her. Now that she was free of that weight she could accomplish anything, and there was no one to steal her glory or take what was rightfully hers!

“But, despite all that, I’m still up here talking to you.”

It was stupid, Catra knew that. The picture was about as ‘Adora’ as the pillow had been, but nevertheless there was something comforting about it. Maybe it was because the picture couldn’t talk back, or maybe it was because it was from a time before everything had become so… complicated.

“Look, I’m just going to start talking. Don’t make this weird, okay?”

She groaned. It was already weird.

“I got a new job—Shadow Weaver’s old one.” She smirked. “I’m a higher rank than you ever were.”

The smile faded.

“But things are different. I have responsibilities now—me being responsible, can you imagine? Probably not, I was always just an unreliable sidekick to you, wasn’t I? Well, not anymore.”

A light breeze wafted over the rooftop, tugging at the torn edges of the picture and carrying with it a fresh (or not so fresh) dose of the putrid air. Catra continued.

“I’m getting distracted. The thing is, everyone is expecting things of me now, you know? No, it’s more than that. They’re expecting… ugh, they’re expecting me to be the new Shadow Weaver!”

The anger began to bubble up within her once again. She felt her shoulders tense, and her grip on the picture was such that it was pulled taught between her hands, the points of her claws threatening to poke through the other side.

She took a deep breath of the rancid air. This time it did help, if only a little.

“You wouldn’t understand; you always were her favorite. You didn’t have to suffer through the years of abuse that she dished out on me! Not sweet, perfect Adora, no, you never—”

Another deep breath.

“I’m not like her. At least, I don’t want to be, but then this cadet snuck into my room and I totally lost it! I pulled a total Shadow Weaver: freaked out, threatened her, the works! And earlier I blew up at Scorpia and Entrapta just because they were talking about…”

Catra bit her lip.

“…nothing.”

Now she was lying to pieces of paper, too. Perfect.

“I’m not like you, either. You can talk to people; people like you, and if you were here, you’d know exactly what to do.” She looked up, looking past the picture toward the red, bloated sun that hung hazily over the Fright Zone.

“But you’re not here.”

She sighed again.

“Ugh, this is stupid! I can’t be like you, and I won’t be like Shadow Weaver, so what do I do? If you were here, you’d say something like ‘stop worrying about what everyone else would do’ or ‘you’re a good person, Catra, do it your way!’ But how do I even know what my way is?”

The picture didn’t respond.

“I guess I’ve got to figure that out for myself, huh?”

She supposed that had always been the answer. And although she’d needed to climb to the very top of the Fright Zone and have a heartfelt (if one-sided) conversation with a photograph of her ex-best-friend to find it, next time she wouldn’t have to.

“It was nice, catching up, but we can’t keep doing this. People might talk, you know? Besides, in the end, I didn’t really need you, did I?” She looked back at the picture. “Maybe I never did.”

The breeze welled up once again, and this time Catra didn’t resist it. She let the picture slip from her fingers, watching as it twisted and tumbled through the air, before getting caught up in a gust that carried it off towards the Whispering Woods.

She waved.

“Bye, Adora.”




“What are we even doing here?”

The junior cadets shifted nervously in their spots, each of them wondering the same thing. Normally at this hour they would be going through weapons drills, but today was different. Instead of their normal weapons instructor, the group had been met by Force Captain Scorpia and lead somewhere called the ‘observation room’.

The observation room was a large, empty room, unremarkable save for one wall which was made up entirely of one enormous monitor. None of them had ever been in the observation room before, but given the interruption of their normally extremely consistent schedule, paired with their abysmal performance at that morning’s training exercise, speculations were running wild.

“Maybe they’re going to show us a recording of the exercise, then point out everything we did wrong,” said one cadet, a red haired boy with a generous smattering of freckles.

“Or maybe it’s a video of what happened to the last group that did as bad as us,” said another, a lanky girl with short, blond hair.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said another, “no one’s ever done that bad.”

But as the group continued offering guesses—each more dire than the last—there was one among them who stayed silent. The cadet with the bat wings and messy hair, known to the others as Screech, didn’t share in the gossiping. She stood still, her eyes glued to her feet, wishing more than anything that she could simply disappear.

While the others assumed that they’d been taken aside over the training exercise, Screech knew better. No, this wasn’t about anything as simple as a poor performance, it was about something much more serious: she’d broken into second-in-command Catra’s chambers, and this was to be her punishment.

She hadn’t done it on purpose, but in her heart she knew that didn’t matter. The excuse that the door had been open was a flimsy one at best, as any cadet with half a brain could tell you that poking your nose where it doesn’t belong will only lead to trouble. But she couldn’t help herself, no, she could never help herself, could she? Her darn curiosity had gotten her written up more times than the rest of the team combined, so she couldn’t even use the excuse that this was a first offence. But this, this was worse than the other times. She’d managed to get on the bad side of the second-highest ranking person in the entire Horde.

They were going to throw the book at her, she knew that, the only question was how.

Screech was fairly certain she knew where they’d begin. First, second-in-command Catra would arrive and have her step forward. She’d tell everyone about how Screech had broken into her room, and how such an egregious offence could only be met with the most serious of punishments. Then, Lord Hordak himself would appear on the big monitor (that’s why they’d come to the observation room) and personally give the order to have her stripped of her rank and banished forever from the Fright Zone. Her former teammates would look on in shame and horror as she was dragged off to the Whispering Woods, where she’d spend the last, miserable hours of her life fleeing from packs of savage princesses.

Oh, and at some point Catra would take her face and tape it to her punching bag. She just wasn’t sure where that would fit into the timeline.

Screech’s morbid thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening. She looked up, expecting to see the second-in-command’s furious visage, only to be met instead by the smiling face of Force Captain Scorpia.

“Hi, everybody!”

The cadets, silenced by their collective confusion, didn’t respond.

“Sorry about the wait, we’re just having a few technical difficulties.” A scuffling sound came from the hallway, and Scorpia poked her head out to investigate. “Oh, nevermind, here they come now!”

Scorpia stepped out of the way of the door, allowing two other figures to enter. The first Screeched recognized not by name but by reputation. She was an engineer of some kind, and from all accounts she was quite mad. Her long, purple hair moved unnaturally, dragging along a tangle of wires to a terminal on the wall, ignoring the interface entirely to wire them directly into the system. Behind her, scuttling along the ground was a large security robot, though there was something… off about it. It moved strangely, less like something following strict programming and more like an animal happily plodding along after its master.

This did not bode well for Screech. Everyone knew that these were to of the second-in-command’s best. If they were here, there was little doubt in Screech’s mind that it was at Catra’s bidding.

Perhaps her punishment would be more complex than she’d thought.

“Got it!”

The engineer withdrew from the terminal, lifting the metal mask covering her face and gracing Scorpia with a toothy grin.

“Great!” said Scorpia. “I’ll let Catra know we’re ready to start!”

Scorpia reached out with a claw, grabbing a communicator and pressing it to her ear.

“Hello, Catra?” she spoke into the device. “Yeah, it’s me. Uh-huh, yup, Entrapta just got it set up, so we’re good to go when you are. Anyway, how are you doing? I know it’s only been a few minutes, but it feels like hours since we’ve—hello?”

Scorpia lowered the communicator. “She hung up. It’s funny, you know, she gets me with that one all the time, but I never see it coming! Classic Catra. Oh, it’s starting!”

The cadets’ attention was torn away from the bizarre spectacle as the giant monitor flashed to life. Displayed upon it were images of the training room, taken from all sorts of angles covering every inch of the facility. Princesses (or their robotic equivalent, anyway) patrolled the simulated woodland, preparing to blast the next Horde soldier that dared get in their way.

“I knew it,” muttered the red haired cadet, earning him a volley of glares from the others. Talking out of turn would only get them in more trouble… though in Screech’s case she wasn’t sure that would matter.

A voice came through the speakers. “Training exercise initiated.”

One of the video feeds showed the door to the training room opening, but instead of the group of cadets unaware that they were about to get the worst time in the test’s history, there was a figure, standing alone with her hip cocked, practically dripping in confidence.

The blond cadet gasped. “Is that—?”

Begin,” said the voice, and before anyone could ask why second-in-command Catra was taking the test alone (or why she was taking it at all), she was gone.

“Did she just turn invisible?” asked a portly, black haired cadet.

“No,” said the redhead, “look! She’s up there! No, shoot, she’s gone again!”

Catra’s silhouette darted from feed to feed, never staying still for more than a second or two as she moved silently from tree to tree. The princesses seemed as confused as the cadets: some of them simply carried on their patrols, unaware that their quarry was among them; while others fired wildly into the air, none coming anywhere close to hitting their target.

It didn’t take long for Catra to reach the edge of the simulated forest and enter the clearing where the final battle (a battle the cadets had heard of but had failed to reach) was set to begin. She changed her strategy, abandoning stealth in favor of a mad dash to the center, where the final robot—the queen—rose ominously into the air. It fired upon her, but Catra nimbly dodged between the beams of energy and danced over the hexes on the floor that threatened to give way beneath her. She leapt into the air, extending her standard-issue electric quarterstaff and plunging it deep into the queen’s mechanical heart.

The robot shook and sputtered, sending out gouts of sparks from its fatal wound. Catra sprung off, sending the queen tumbling back into the pit below as she flipped through the air, landing gracefully at on the precipice.

Training exercise successfully completed.

The cadets stared, mouths agape.

“What was that?” asked the blond cadet.

“That,” said Scorpia, “was a successful training exercise. And a new record, too! Oh, Catra’s going to be so excited!”

“Wait, hold up!” exclaimed the redhead. “How did she complete the exercise? She only blew up, like, one robot!”

The black haired cadet cleared their throat. “The objective of the exercise wasn’t to blow up all the robots. It was to infiltrate an enemy controlled area and eliminate eliminate a key target. So she—”

“Eliminated the target.”

Every head in the room turned as they heard Catra’s voice. She stood leaning on the doorframe, her arms folded and her tail drifting lazily back and forth behind her. She was smiling, but it was a cocky, almost predatory smile that only served to deepen Screech’s unease. Had that all been a display of power? An excuse to show the cadets (and Screech in particular) exactly who they were dealing with? There were rumors in the barracks that Catra was a poor replacement for Shadow Weaver, that she was promoted not on her own merits, but due to the failings of her predecessor, but after what they’d just seen, Screech doubted anyone would ever dare voice those rumors again.

“Catra!” said Scorpia. “That was incredible! All the jumping and sneaking, and then that flip at the end! Just wow!”

“Thanks, Scorpia,” said Catra, rolling her eyes, “but the point of that wasn’t just for me to show off. Does anyone know what it was?”

Screech bit her lip, keeping her theories on mass intimidation to herself.

When no one else spoke up, either, Catra sighed. “Look, I’ve observed a lot of these tests since I became a force captain, and I do mean a lot. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve watched cadets—juniors and seniors—just run in and get blasted by the princesses?”

The blond cadet raised her hand. “A lot?”

Catra snapped her fingers and pointed finger-guns at the cadet. “Bingo.”

“So, what?” asked the redhead. “You’re telling us we should be sneakier?”

“What?” said Catra. “No. I did it that way because moving quickly and quietly is what I’m good at. If Scorpia was taking the test, she’d probably have an easier time smashing all the robots with her claws, and if Entrapta took it she’d probably… I don’t know, hack all the robots and make them fight each other, or something.”

The engineer, or Entrapta, as she’d been called, let out a snorting laugh. “If I’d hacked them all I wouldn’t make them fight, because they’d all be under my control! Instead, I would—”

Anyway,” said Catra, cutting her off, “the point is that you’re going to come up against a lot of problems in your life, and you’re going to have to make decisions. Sometimes someone will tell you the best thing to do, and other times that person will be dead wrong.

“Things are changing around here. You don’t know who’s going to fall from grace or who’s going to step up. I’m not like Shadow Weaver, I used to be a cadet just like you. I got in a lot of trouble because I’d do things differently, because I wasn’t perfect.” She practically spat the last word, her voice dripping with venom.

“...But look at me now: I’m Lord Hordak’s second-in-command. Not because I was the perfect little soldier, but because I wasn’t. I did things my way, not anyone else’s, and I’m better off for it.”

Catra closed her eyes and scratched the back of her neck. “Look, I’m not good at making speeches, or whatever. I just wanted to say that sometimes it’s okay to mess up. It’s not easy figuring out what your way is—trust me, I’m still working on it—but if you need help… well, unlike some people, I’m not going anywhere.”

Catra paused for a moment, as if lost in thought, before continuing.

“Anyway, that’s pretty much all I wanted to say. You can all go back to your… what was it, weapons drills? Yeah, that was it. Dismissed.”

The cadets didn’t need to be told twice. They swarmed the door, already abuzz with conversation.

“I knew we weren’t in trouble.”

Uh-huh.”

“I did!”

“Sure, whatever. But what was all that stuff about doing it your way? Isn’t that, like, the exact opposite of what they taught us in basic?”

Screech spared a glance over her shoulder as they filed out of the room. Catra appeared to be fending off Scorpia, who was doing her best to wrap her superior in a big, almost assuredly bone-crushing hug. Screech tried and failed to stifle a laugh, and to her horror accidentally locked eyes with the second-in-command herself.

Oh no. She turned, making a desperate dash out the door when she heard it.

“Cadet Screech,” said Catra, “a word.”

Screech’s shoulders slumped. Almost immediately her team distanced themselves from her, like she was carrying some sort of plague. She couldn’t blame them.

She walked back towards Catra, dragging her feet on the floor as she approached her inevitable doom. With a wave, Catra dismissed Scorpia and Entrapta, who followed the rest of the cadets out of the room, closing the door behind them.

Catra placed her hands on her hips, looking down at the young cadet before her.

“Do you—”

“I’m sorry!” Screech blurted out. “I know I shouldn’t have gone in your room, but I swear I didn’t know it was yours! The door was open and I saw the big gem thing and the punching bag and I—”

“It’s okay.”

“—please don’t banish me to the whispering woods, I’m too young to—wait, what?”

“It’s okay,” repeated Catra.

Screech blinked. “You’re not mad?”

“Oh, I was really mad,” said Catra, “but that wasn’t your fault. Not entirely, anyway.”

Screech rubbed her face on her sleeve. Through all that blubbering she hadn’t even realized she’d been crying. “A-am I in trouble?”

Catra shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, if you get caught snooping around places you’re not supposed to again, you’ll definitely get in trouble. So,” she said, and shot Screech a playful wink, “don’t get caught.”




As Cadet Screech disappeared out the door of the observation room, Catra let out a long sigh of relief.

She wasn’t sure that anything she’d said had gotten through to them—heck, she wasn’t sure if any of it had made sense at all!—but it didn’t matter. When Hordak had promoted her to his second-in-command, she received more than just power, she received an opportunity. Shadow Weaver had used that opportunity to torture, to punish, and to hurt. She’d spent years chipping away at Catra, and who knows how many others before her, and where had it gotten her?

Catra wouldn’t make that mistake. She wouldn’t run from her problems like Adora had, no, she would take the opportunity she’d been given and she’d use it to make sure no one would ever have to suffer like she had. She’d take that opportunity—that responsibility—to turn the Horde from something she’d spent her life resenting into something she could actually be proud of. She might not always know exactly what to do, but that was okay.

She’d figure it out, and she’d do it her way.
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#1 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
(Typed late at night while still suffering from jet lag. Please forgive any typos.)

So, my reviews are neither as long nor as insightful as Raisin’s. Fortunately, all four of these stories are excellent in their own way, and excellent stories are much less stressful to review.

I’ll be going in opposite order from Raisin, starting with the longest: Her Way.




Let’s start by talking about characters and characterization.

We discussed this story at some length in the chat last night, and for the most part everyone seemed to be in agreement in their view that the characterization in this story is nigh flawless. The three main voices - Catra, Scorpia and Entrapta - were pretty much perfect with the show, and the inner thoughts and dialogue of Catra we’re exposed to reflect her pretty perfectly as well.

From the other characters, we don’t get as much. The cadets are painted in pretty broad and, it must be said, shallow strokes. Even in the second-to-last scene, which is presented from Screech’s perspective, we don’t learn all that much about Screech herself. From the other cadets we get even less. I’m not even sure we get their names.

In a story that is so centrally about Catra and her inner conflict, the lack of characterization in the supporting characters isn’t a serious a serious problem for me. However, compared with the exceptional characterization we saw in Entrapta and especially Scorpia, Screech’s relative blandness stuck out to me. My suggestion, author, would be to spend a bit more time filling Screech out for us - specifically, give us a real reason why she was sneaking around inside Catra’s quarters. Not just “I saw a picture and I was curious,” but something that really explains to us why she was so interested in what she saw that she was willing to take the exceptionally fraught step of invading her superior’s bedroom.

(Also, who doesn’t lock their door in the Fright Zone?)

Alternately, if you don’t like the idea of shifting the narrative focus away from Catra because this is, after all, supposed to be a story about her, then maybe go the other way and de-personalize Screech a bit. The perspective shift to Screech in the second-to-last scene makes us want to know more about her as a person, but at the cost of shifting the story’s focus away from Catra.

I think either route you go will work, but right now you’re just kinda going down the middle, giving Screech a whole perspective scene (in fact, the most critical one, with the climax), but not giving us much Screech-the-person. Either give us the whole cake, or don’t present it in the first place.

That was a lot more than I expected to write about the characters! Let’s turn to the plot and story arc next.

I really like the central conceit here - that Catra, having been put in Shadow Weaver’s place, now gets some of Shadow Weaver’s less thrilling duties, including the training of the cadets. Although the Catra in the show is turning into a good leader, she’s still obviously working on some of the finer points of teamwork, so the tension you’ve identified is absolutely fertile ground for storytelling. I could even see this story being the germ of an entire She-Ra fanfic genre, if the fandom ever develops that much.

I saw two lines of conflict in this story. The first, immediately apparent one, was Catra’s difficulty executing her duties and her internal frustration with herself for that failure. The second was Catra’s continuing rage at Adora for her betrayal. This second line got quite a bit of play, and it was where I had some trouble. Not because it wasn’t well portrayed or implausible, but that it was too plausible - we’ve seen it before. It was very similar to some of the conflict Catra went through in the show, to the point that it felt like a replay of the show in a few places.

Now, there’s a solid argument to be made that one shouldn’t make assumptions about how much knowledge the reader has of the source material, and to write broadly for all audiences one should include enough background and context for us to understand why Catra is so furious with Adora. But I don’t think it’s necessary or the best use of space to so faithfully reprise Catra’s evolving feelings for Adora and decision to let go of her.

I’m absolutely happy to see Catra still wrestling with her feelings for Adora. The punching-bag with her picture on it is a great touch, but I don’t know that it needs to be so central to the story. Likewise her monologue with Adora’s picture, which could have been written as a dialogue with any of the other characters. Perhaps even a confrontation with Shadow Weaver (presumably in the Fright Zone dungeons, though it’s not really clear from the show) over Catra’s perceived inability to fulfil Shadow Weaver’s duties. Just tossing out alternatives.

Anyway, back to the first line of conflict. It’s solved, I think, when Catra comes to the realization during her monologue with Adora’s picture that she needs to do things her way. The next scene, from Screech’s perspective, is a realization of this ‘new way,’ via a demonstration of her own kick-ass potential. And that’s pretty cool. But I wish those two moments could’ve been closer together - the epiphany and the moment of realization, the discovery that she must do things her way and the putting it into practice. Instead she essentially completes her mini-quest in the monologue with Adora, and then it takes the entire next scene to… demonstrate it, I guess? But that demonstration seemed effortless and entirely for the benefit of the cadets, whose perspective we see it through. (Though I definitely appreciated the second demonstration of ‘her way,’ the decision to go easy on Screech. Even if it felt predictable by that point).

There’s a reason the climax in most stories comes when the hero is forced to take some dramatic action or make a fraught decision while at the moment of greatest peril, when the stakes are highest. To abuse an overused example, in the original Star Wars, Luke has his epiphany that he must trust the force mere moments before turning off his targeting computer and blowing up the Death Star. It would be a very different climax if Luke had realized he needed to trust the force hours before during a quiet bit of self-reflection in the Rebel base, then went up and blew up the Death Star without much exertion.

I’m probably not explaining that very well, and I’m always hesitant to say that stories must be this way or should be that way. Let’s just leave it by saying that I feel like the climax and resolution could have had more impact if they occurred together, in the same scene, and led into each other more directly.

In summary:

Of the four entries, I felt like Her Way had the best characterization. Some of that can be chalked up to more space, but even leaving the word-count aside, these were perfect realizations of Catra and the others. I had absolutely no trouble reading this in Catra’s voice, and nothing about it caused me any dissonance.

I think you need to pick a direction for Screech. Either pull back from her perspective and give us all-Catra, all-the-time, or give Screech more meat. I think either way could work.

Plot- and narrative-wise, I felt like there was more overlap than necessary with material already presented in the show, particularly with Catra’s conflicted emotions over Adora. Things also felt a bit predictable in places, particularly the resolution with Screech. If I had one, final bit of advice, it would be to find some way to confound our expectations in some way. Raise the stakes for everyone. You’ve written Catra so perfectly that we’re guaranteed to care what happens to her - now use that to challenge the reader in some way.

Thank you for writing.
#2 ·
·
Alternate Title: The Real Catwoman

We're finally here, folks. On the final entry, in my final review for this round, in the final hours of this... thing. I don't even know what to call it. Is it fair to call something a contest if there are only four contestants?

I guess so.

But I've finally arrived at "Her Way," a story that, despite what I'll be saying later on, has a lot going for it; more specifically it specializes in one key quality. Unlike the other entries, which try to reach for several goals with admirable but less-than-perfect results, "Her Way" is far more single-minded in what it wants to achieve.

Assuming you've already read this story, I don't have to tell you how good the dialogue is. In fact, the dialogue is not just good, it's almost perfect. I say this as someone who recently watched the show and who has a fresh memory of what these characters (especially Catra, Scorpia, and Entrapta) sound like. I think capturing a characters' inflections, quirks, and so on, in how they talk and how they converse with other people, is an often undervalued quality in fanfiction. When we talk about someone being "in character," we usually mean their actions and what they say, but not necessarily how they say those things.

"Her Way" is so faithful to the source material that said faithfulness arguably works against it... but I'll get into that much later. Basically, as much as I enjoy and respect this entry, I do have a very subtle but unnerving problem with it, a problem that will require a good deal of explanation.

In fact, this story is so special that I'm going to break up my criticisms into chapters. This is honestly more to help me out, because taken in a vacuum, each of these criticisms (well, except for like two) are not in themselves problems that I have with the story; but they all contribute to the central issue, as I'm going to try to point out.

Just as a reminder, I like this story quite a bit; I admire it for how far it goes to excel at one particular thing, and how it succeeds at excelling in that aspect. So before you jump me for being too hard on this entry...

Also, as with my last review, I'll also be responding to >>Cold in Gardez on occasion.

So, with that in mind, let's go.

CHAPTER 1: SOME GRIPES NO ONE SHOULD REALLY CARE ABOUT

For as long as it is (7,000 words, baby!), "Her Way" is actually very well-polished with regards to typos and such. But because it's absurdly hard to make a short story entry 100% error-proof, there are a few small cracks in the armor.

Okay, so it wasn’t technically She-ra.


There are only a few instances of "She-Ra" in this story, but it should be noted that the "Ra" in "She-Ra" is capitalized. It's in the title of the show, it's the title of the magical warrior, etc.

She pressed another button with her hair, bringing up side-by-side footage of the training exercise and a recording from the siege of Brightmoon.


"Bright Moon" is two words.

The first Screeched recognized not by name but by reputation.


Her name is Screech.

It was to infiltrate an enemy controlled area and eliminate eliminate a key target.


A classic case of typing the same word twice by accident.

Okay, I think that's it for technical errors and such. Also, combing through this entry in search of these errors is a fucking nightmare, so I'll stop there, for the sake of my health.

You may have also noticed that for someone who likes to pay quite a bit of attention to prose style and quality, I haven't really brought it up in this review yet.

That's because...

CHAPTER 2: THE TELEPLAY MASQUERADING AS PROSE FICTION

For those of you who don't know, a teleplay is like a screenplay for a television episode. A screenplay is almost always written within the boundaries of specific guidelines, and will often convey action to the reader in pretty much the same way. That is to say: concisely and plainly.

The action in "Her Way" seems to have been written with a similar mindset; it's definitely concise, and definitely plain. You could say it's robust, in that, on a strictly functional level of getting our characters from point to point, the prose does its job fine. At the same time, though, I can't give it any more significant a compliment. There are hints of colloquialisms, of Catra's (and also Screech's) inflections bleeding into the action, but it's still very by-the-numbers. There is not a single line of action or description I can think of that made me go, "Hey, that's pretty nice."

Now, before people get on my case about this, I want to make it clear that plain prose is not in itself a bad thing. In fact a lot of famous real-life authors are quite boring if you just judge by how they describe action or characters' feelings; such robust prose is how guys like Dan Brown and Tom Clancy (well, when he was alive) are able to make the big bucks and keep up a consistent and prolific body of work at the same time.

However... if you rewrote "Her Way" as a teleplay, or more likely as a subplot in a teleplay, how much would you have to change? Aside from formatting, obviously. The answer is: Not a whole lot.

This superficiality in how action is described, and how this could easily be an actual episode of the show, leads me into...

CHAPTER 3: HAVEN'T WE BEEN HERE BEFORE? I'M FEELING DIZZY

This story takes place shortly after the conclusion of She-Ra season 1. Spoilers: Anakin Skywalker has officially joined the Dark Side, and is now the second-in-command of a galactic empire. Catra has more power now than ever, and with that comes the obligation to actually act like a leader and not a reckless meat-head of a cat-person. She has to put her unresolved feelings for Adora aside and make her own path as Hordak's right-hand lesbian.

And that's... basically the entire story. I just summed it up. Right there.

Don't get me wrong, some things happen. Like... the scene with Screech, the curious cadet. But I'll get to her at a later time. All you need to know right now is that for a very long and winding entry, not a whole lot actually happens here that either didn't occur nearly word-for-word in the show, or doesn't tread over territory that was already covered in the show.

Am I sensing a pattern here?

It certainly gives one a sense of deja vu, or to quote Gardez in his review:

I saw two lines of conflict in this story. The first, immediately apparent one, was Catra’s difficulty executing her duties and her internal frustration with herself for that failure. The second was Catra’s continuing rage at Adora for her betrayal. This second line got quite a bit of play, and it was where I had some trouble. Not because it wasn’t well portrayed or implausible, but that it was too plausible - we’ve seen it before. It was very similar to some of the conflict Catra went through in the show, to the point that it felt like a replay of the show in a few places.


The conflict of Catra becoming a responsible leader is actually one that wasn't given much room to breathe in the show, so it's a great point of reference for the author to get creative with character explorations. The conflict with Adora, however, has been played out to fucking death in the show, and we really don't need more of it unless the author does something special or insightful with it.

But guess which conflict feels like it gets more attention... and guess what the author decided to do with said conflict...

CHAPTER 4: CATRA IS STILL A BIG BITCH AND I DON'T LIKE HER

I understand that Catra has a lot of fans, and that she's easily one of the most popular characters to come out of the show. I can even see why she is so popular. Personally, though, I'm not too fond of her.

I would give her more of a chance, though, if her character was explored with creativity and compassion in fanfiction. As a matter of fact I've written characters I normally don't like in-show, and instead of using the medium of fanfiction as an excuse to shit on them, I decide to give (what I believe to be) their best qualities, or the parts of their personas that have the most potential, more room to breathe than in the source material. It's amazing how you can improve a character from a writing perspective without totally trashing what the original creators were doing.

With that said, it legitimately frustrates me how little insight we given into Catra's character that wasn't already made apparent in the show. Even if you just watch the series it can be sometimes maddening how obsessed she is with Adora and how she "betrayed" her, and how at every chance Catra has to save their friendship she seemingly goes out of her way to ruin it. Again, this could be explored and grant us more perspective on why she does these things, and how this "complicated" relationship with her friend contributes to her overall personality.

But it's not. Not in this story.

This might be a bad time to bring up the apparent homoerotic subtext between Catra and Adora (actually it might be a very good time), but I wanna get this out of the way. Because I think it's important that we all be honest with ourselves here. You can personally try to ignore the homoerotic subtext, if you really want to, but to deliberately miss the subtext of their relationship would be to miss a vital part of it. This is the case, even if you aren't aware of what Noelle Stevenson (the current show's creator) has said on the topic.

So are we given some spicy details about how Catra really feels towards her friend that weren't already present in the source material? Not really. There are faint droplets of subtext sprinkled throughout the narrative, like trying to scoop out the very last bits of peanut butter at the bottom of the jar; it could hardly be said to make a satisfying sandwich spread.

Okay, so Catra herself doesn't get much development. Who's the second most important character in this story, then?

CHAPTER 5: SCREECH? BUT I DON'T EVEN KNOW HER!

I could go into Scorpia and Entrapta as supporting characters, but truth be told they're not in the story that much, nor do they provide much thematic substance for Catra to chew on. They're there, and they're well-written, but they're not important.

They're basically flavor text, which in itself is fine.

But inevitably, especially in a story of this length and thematic focus, there has to be at least one character for Catra to bounce off of, and to help her realize her goal by the end.

And that character happens to be Screech. Now, this is another time where the author has made an original character, and indeed Screech has some things in common with our previous OCs, Sophia and Keira. First, Screech functions as a sort of either foil or object of thematic importance for a character who's from the show. Second, she is not as well-defined as said character from show, but her purpose as a plot device is more important than her personality, and that's fine.

What isn't so fine is the change in perspective that occurs in the last third of the story. Up till this point, we've been firmly planted in Catra's point of view, which makes sense since this story is about her development, what little of it there is, and we know Catra enough already to be invested in her character from the outset. But then, suddenly, we get placed in Screech's shoes, and what follows is easily the worst scene of the story. I ragged on "The Castle Courtyard" for having kind of a sucky scene, but at least said scene was short, and in the middle of several much better scenes.

But the scene where we follow Screech around is so fucking long, and it precedes the final scene (which also happens to be only four paragraphs long) of the story. On a second reading, this was low-key hell for me. It was the one time in the whole story where the narrative felt confused, and by extension so did I.

Screech is a mook who we're not exactly inclined to care for, and the fact that her ounce of development feels so rushed in her solitary scene makes her lack of character all the more noticeable. This would be forgivable, and even good storytelling, if Screech's thematic purpose was conveyed from Catra's side of the confrontation. But it's not.

So considering how little development Catra gets, due to a number of factors, what do we get?

CHAPTER 6: LESS AN ARC AND MORE A SHOT IN THE DARK

Catra's road to doing things "her" way is kind of a rocky one, and the sad part is that a lot of it didn't even need to happen. How she starts at the beginning, as an irresponsible and quick-to-anger leader, and how she evolves into a responsible and compassionate one at the end doesn't feel so much like an evolution of character.

The reason why a character arc is called an "arc" is because it's a gradual change that the reader can track, almost in a step-by-step process. The protagonists of the other entries, regardless of each story's chronology, go through tangible and measured changes; whether the story happens over the course of one hour or ten years, the reader has a good idea of how and why the protagonist changes.

I'm gonna use Gardez's words for this problem, and then expound on them:

Anyway, back to the first line of conflict. It’s solved, I think, when Catra comes to the realization during her monologue with Adora’s picture that she needs to do things her way. The next scene, from Screech’s perspective, is a realization of this ‘new way,’ via a demonstration of her own kick-ass potential. And that’s pretty cool. But I wish those two moments could’ve been closer together - the epiphany and the moment of realization, the discovery that she must do things her way and the putting it into practice. Instead she essentially completes her mini-quest in the monologue with Adora, and then it takes the entire next scene to… demonstrate it, I guess?


Certainly the switch in perspective contributed to Catra's "arc" feeling wonky. Even unearned. But I think the real problem is not the timing of Catra's realization, followed by how it's put into practice, but the fact that... much of this story doesn't actually involve Catra changing.

Let's think about this.

It takes a while for the reader to understand what Catra's internal conflict is; we know she's still hung-up on Adora and that she might have anger management issues, but it takes a while for Catra herself to acknowledge this. Once she finally does, though, she spends a lot of time angsting over Adora, and as I've said before we're not given much to chew on here that we weren't already aware of. Then, when Catra finally comes to a conclusion, we don't see this from her perspective.

What's bizarre is that you could cut out much of Screech's scene, rework so that it happens from Catra's POV, and you would have a much tighter conclusion. And if you reworked her angsting over Adora (or at least be insightful about it, instead of feeling like stating the obvious), you could make that work too.

The transition between beginning and end states for Catra's character would be a lot smoother; it would certainly feel more like a proper "arc" and not like bumps in the road.

But then that would require this story to feel more like a fanfic. Now what do I mean by that?

CHAPTER 7: THIS IS NOT A FANFIC

Obviously "Her Way" is a fanfic, but only in the loose sense that it is fiction that unofficially adapts licensed material. Let's think about that for a second. What even makes a fanfic what it is?

I have a theory, and I don't even know if anyone's done criticism like this before, but I'll go for it.

Fanfiction is, along with what I had previously mentioned, speculative fiction at its core. It's speculative fiction in the sense that it asks a very simple but crucial question: What if?

What if Mara fell from grace as She-Ra because she couldn't let go of the love of her life?

What if the Whispering Woods were created by Angella as a defense measure against the Horde?

What if Frosta used to be more sociable, but became cold-hearted (lol) as she took on more princess-y responsibilities?

The other entries in this round speculate on what was not already made explicit in the source material. This applies to about 99% of fanfics (assuming there is even a 1% that doesn't), because, serious or shitpost-y, good or bad, handsome or ugly, just about every fanfic you've ever read has been speculative.

And "Her Way" doesn't really do this. Or at least it keeps speculation to such a minimum that at times it feels like it ripped its lines from the show word-for-word. Entire exchanges and monologues (especially Catra's monologue about Adora) strikes one's eyes as being a little too familiar. That's not to say that the author plagiarized or anything like that, but then saying the author didn't plagiarize is like saying The Force Awakens didn't plagiarize. It's technically true... but it also runs the risk of seeming hollow.

Like I said, I enjoyed "Her Way" a fair bit, and I am absolutely convinced that the author spent countless hours polishing the dialogue and pacing to a mirror shine; it wholeheartedly succeeds in an area where the other entries need some more work, to varying degrees.

Yet at the same time I can't put this entry higher on my slate than any of the other entries, for that precise reason. This is a story that seems to me like it's suffering an identity crisis. Get it? Cuz it's ironic, cuz it's like meta, cuz Catra is having a sort of identity crisis within the narrative...? It needs to not latch itself onto the source material so completely, and it needs more creativity that only the author could supply; not stuff we're already seen in the show, but fabrications of the author's own making. I like to encourage creativity, almost regardless of the situation, but I think that encouragement is especially warranted here.

I wish the author the best of luck, and for contributing a damn fine story to one of the first batches of She-Ra (2018) fanfiction ever published on the internet. It's kind of a low-key historic moment, if that means anything. I would also like to thank every author who contributed to this round, as all these entries would undoubtedly make it to finals into a more populated round; they're seriously that good.

And with that, my work here is done. At long last...
#3 ·
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With just fifteen minutes to go at the time I start writing this author, I want to say a few very quickly that this is without a doubt my favourite entry this round—it hits every single note for me, despite its flaws, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. My biggest problem with this entry is a criticism that can be just as strongly leveled at the show itself: the contradictory portrayal of the Horde as evil vs the people within the Horde as not is a potential goldmine of meaning and discussion that both this entry and the source material have seemed, to me, to skip over entirely. As I've said in chat, this isn't really a fair criticism—I am, in a sense, asking you to take a story I loved and tell an entirely different one, or at least to potentially take away from its central arc—but I find it frustrating how close this entry in particular skates to touching on these ideas (particularly with the almost reformation-like ending) without actually dealing with them.

I still love it, though. I disagree with the criticisms above about the resolution of Catra's arc here—don't get me wrong, it could be stronger, but I don't think it needs quite as significant a rework as suggested to do achieve that. I think switching away from Catra at the climax of her own arc is a good thing, myself, and I think the structure of the piece is stronger for it. Thank you for writing this, author. It was an absolute pleasure to read.