Excerpt from upcoming "Choosing a Path" by NotasboredasIlook
The ground shook once more, causing trees to collapse around them. Instinctively, Bow grabbed Glimmer and yanked her away, narrowly missing a large falling branch. The princess smiled gratefully at her friend.
Around them, the tremors continued. The nearby wall, which to this point had helped keep them more or less hidden, began to buckle.
"He-Man!" She-Ra yelled as she ran to the wall, pushing up against it with her back. "I could use some help here!"
Her brother complied and ran to the wall as well, pushing against it with his muscular arms. Their troubles were just beginning. As they fought to keep the wall upright, the trees on the other side of the village gave way, revealing several armed Horde tanks. Both champions strained against the weight of the massive stone barrier. Both also knew that if the wall fell, it would crush everyone and everything near it. Now that the Horde was cutting off the only possible escape route, they were essentially trapped.
"Talk about being between a rock and a hard place," He-Man grunted as he struggled to maintain the wall.
Nearest to the woods and the tanks, Castaspella turned to find the Rebellion in a disastrous situation. The tremors stopped as the tanks came to a halt, each one of them lowering their blasters at the enchantress and her friends. She could see across the village where He-Man and She-Ra were fighting with all their beings to maintain the mighty wall that had, to this point, served to disguise them all. She could also see by the way the wall was cracking and crumbling, that the duo were fighting a losing battle.
"You know how to stop this, my wise girl," she heard Norwin's voice echo in her mind. "Tragedy is not inevitable."
Castaspella closed her eyes and dug deep within herself, drawing on every molecule of strength and power that she had. Unbeknownst to Glimmer and Madame Razz, she reached out through mystic tendrils and tapped into their magic as well. Hoping they would forgive her for the intrusion later, the queen of Mystacor silently apologized to her friends for the invasion.
Letting the magical energy fill her, she reached out her left hand and created a force field between her friends and the Horde tanks. She struggled for several moments to reinforce it as best she could. The magic of the field flickered and faded before gaining momentum and strength. When it finally stopped wavering and Castaspella felt secure that it was holding, she reached out her other hand and pointed her open palm at the other side of the village toward the wall.
"Wall of stone, giving way, I command you disappear today," she spoke through gritted teeth. It wasn't the most creative spell she had ever conjured, but the moment called for improvisation.
Her body felt like it was being ripped apart from within as she fought to both maintain the force field and put enough strength into the spell to dissolve the wall. She swallowed hard against the pain as she turned her head back and forth to make sure her magic was holding in both locations.
"Norwin, please help me," she begged softly. Soon, she felt her power rejuvenate, but only slightly.
It was enough though. After a few seconds, the wall faded away, catching both He-Man and She-Ra off-guard as they fell to the ground. Shaking her head to clear it, She-Ra looked at her brother.
"What happened to the wall?" she asked, but as they both stood, they discovered their answer.
Castaspella felt her magic penetrate the wall. She didn't need to see that it was gone, she instinctively knew. So she shifted her stance, focusing all her energy into blocking the tanks.
"We have to help her!" She-Ra yelled as both she and He-Man took off running.
"You think?!" He yelled back as they cut across the village square. In the space of a second, they were both by her side. He-Man was immediately alarmed at Castaspella's physical appearance: She was terribly pale and sweating profusely. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut as she held her shaking arms and hands out in front of her.
Despite the fact that she looked like she was weakening by each breath, she continued to fight on.
"You have to get everyone away from this place," she ground out. "I will hold the field until it is clear, then I will transport myself out of here. I will catch up with you."
Even as she said it, He-Man knew she was lying. On the other side of the force field, the tanks all aimed their blasters at her. The second she let the barrier down, the Horde would incinerate her. And he knew that she knew it too.
He looked at his sister and could tell by the look on her face that she had come to the exact same conclusion.
"Not a chance, my friend," she scolded as she drew her sword. "In fact, on my command, I want you to drop the force field."
Castaspella's eyes popped open wide and she stared at She-Ra in disbelief.
"You can't be serious!" she argued even as she continued to strain herself. "If I let go, those tanks will roll right over us, if they don't blast us into oblivion first!"
He-Man drew his own sword and took a defensive stance.
"Which is precisely why we aren't leaving you here to deal with it, your highness," he responded as she glanced at her out his peripheral vision. "Besides, She-Ra and I have a plan. You've gotta trust us."
"You've gotta trust me."
The words echoed from her memory, but she shook them away, knowing now was not the time to dwell on them and how they had made her feel. As she considered her options – neither looking overtly encouraging – she found herself greatly saddened by the idea that there was a good possibility she would never see Ariel, Adora or Prince Adam again.
But, the two warriors had never failed her before. And she did trust them. She could feel her power start to fade, and she knew she had to make a decision soon or the Horde would be able to break through her magic.
"Okay," she fought to speak. "What do you want me to do?"
She-Ra looked to He-Man, who nodded in return. Tossing his sword from hand to hand, he rolled his neck and seemed to prepare himself for the inevitable attack.
"On the count of three, drop the field, the get down on the ground," She-Ra commanded. Then turning around, she yelled back to the rest of the Rebellion. "Everyone, head for cover!"
Bow, Glimmer and everyone else scattered, jumping into empty buildings and running into the nearby woods to hide within the trees.
She-Ra looked back to Castaspella and He-Man.
He-Man nodded. Castaspella, nearly tapped out of her power, merely groaned. She-Ra held out her sword and yelled "One, two, three! Sword to shield!"
Instantly, the Sword of Protection transformed into a giant shield, which she held in front of all three of them as Castaspella dropped her magic and fell to the ground. As predicted, the moment the force field was down, all of the surrounding tanks fired, striking She-Ra's shield.
She-Ra held the barrier as He-Man leapt out from the side and rolled a good distance away. Finding that the tanks were still focused on his sister and friend, he pushed himself back up and ran to the nearest tank. He then lifted it in the air and tossed it with ease, destroying two other tanks.
Realizing they were under attack, the tanks shifted their blasters and aimed at He-Man, who averted the laser fire by deflecting it with his sword before jumping out of the way. She-Ra, sensing it was the right moment, called out "Shield to sword!" transforming the shield back to the Sword of Protection. Then she ran to the nearest tank, and with a strong roundhouse kick, sent it flying, smashing it against several trees.
At the same time, He-Man was finishing off the last three tanks. Lifting one by the cannon, he swung it around. When he let it go, it crashed into the other two tanks, effectively destroying them.
The crisis averted, He-Man dusted off his hands and examined the wreckage. She-Ra walked up next to him and propped her elbow up on his shoulder.
"Well, that was …"
Her words were cut off by a blood-curdling scream from behind. Both she and He-Man whirled around to find Castaspella suspended in the air, her body was arched taut with pain, and, though her head was thrown back, the twins could see her face was locked in an expression of total agony.
Behind her, using her dark magic to suspend her former colleague in the air, Shadow Weaver laughed mercilessly as Castaspella's screams filled the vicinity.
He-Man was instantly in motion, running towards the witch, followed by She-Ra, but Weaver continued to laugh until the two were almost on top of her. Then, with a great flair of power, she shouted at them: "Take one more step and she will die! I swear it!"
Both champions halted in their tracks, but He-Man's legs twitched as he fought to keep control. With a set jaw, he glared at Hordak's second-in-command.
"Let her go, you evil witch!" he seethed. "Or so help me I'll …"
The green embers that served as Weaver's eyes flared brightly as she pointed at him with her free hand.
"You'll do nothing Eternian! Except watch this woman suffer!"
As she said it, the dark magic that bound Castaspella increased. She screamed again and again, the evil magic felt like hot blades ripping through her body. Though she would never give Weaver the satisfaction of doing it out loud, silently, she began to beg for death.
Horrified, He-Man watched the witch torment his friend. Also frustrated by their apparent helplessness, She-Ra intervened.
"Stop it Weaver!" she yelled. "What do you want? We'll give it to you, just let her go!"
Shadow Weaver tossed her head back and howled maniacally. "What do I want? I already have what I want. To watch this wretch perish! Say hello to Norwin for me, Castaspella!"
No longer able to control his anger, He-Man prepared to pounce, the cost to himself be damned. Before he could move, however, there was a bright, white flash that forced him to clamp his eyes shut. She-Ra too was blinded and forced to cover her eyes.
The magic that held Castaspella disintegrated and she dropped to the ground with a sickening "thud." A lifeless heap, blood trickled from her mouth and nose. Her auburn hair draped over much of her face.
"Take that you bitch! I'm sick of you hurting my friends!"
He-Man forced his eyes open to see Shadow Weaver encased in what could only be described as a small mountain of thick, solid ice. Behind her, Frosta stood smirking, with her hands on her hips, looking very annoyed.
But his attention was quickly diverted to the still female form on the ground next to him.
"Castaspella!" he yelled as he crouched down to check on Mystacor's queen. She wasn't breathing. He frantically felt for a pulse on her neck, before lowering his head to her chest, all the while praying to whatever deity would listen that she would have a heartbeat.
She-Ra, having finally regained her vision, instantly dropped to her brother's side. He-Man, now beyond distressed, cradled Castaspella's head in gently in his hands. The sight of her blood glistening on her face heightened his anxiety.
"She-Ra, she's so cold," he muttered angrily as brushed the fallen woman's hair away from her face. "She's bleeding."
Then he looked up, and the despair in his eyes nearly brought his sister to tears herself.
"Is she … is she dead?" he asked hollowly.
Refusing to accept such a thing, She-Ra closed her eyes and placed her hands on her friend's body. Focusing the power of Grayskull, She-Ra sent forth healing waves into Castaspella through her glowing fingertips.
"No," she said, trying not to break her concentration. "She is in shock. I can heal her, but she will still be very weak. Shadow Weaver did a hell of a lot of damage."
Frosta approached as the rest of the Rebellion came out from their hiding places. Though the twins were both focused on their friend, the sounds of whispers and muffled sobs broke through to them.
"Oh He-Man, is Castaspella going to be okay?" Frosta asked, fighting the lump in her throat. "Please say that she will be. Please."
Regretting the angry exchange she had with her friend earlier, Frosta wrung her hands nervously, praying that she would get a chance to apologize for her previous behavior.
Without looking at the upset ice empress, He-Man nodded his head. "Yes, Frosta, She-Ra is trying to heal her now."
"This was too close," he thought to himself. "Shadow Weaver was out to kill. If Frosta hadn't captured her, Castaspella would be dead right now."
He looked up at Frosta with a new appreciation. "You saved her life, you know," he told her. "If you hadn't frozen Weaver, she would have killed Castaspella."
Frosta blushed slightly at the hero's acknowledgement, but her concern for her friend didn't waiver.
"And if it wasn't for Casta, the Horde would have captured or killed all of us," Frosta said solemnly. "I was just returning the favor."
Castaspella groaned and moved her head slightly, but did not wake up. He-Man instantly refocused his attention to the mystical woman as She-Ra lifted her hands away. He-Man noticed his sister was sweating and breathing heavily: Healing Castaspella had taken a lot out of her.
"She's going to be fine, but she needs to rest," She-Ra said slowly, taking deep gulps of air. "And she's probably going to feel awful tomorrow, but she's alive. That's the main thing."
He-Man smiled gratefully at his sister. "Are you okay? You look pretty drained yourself."
She returned his smile, though nodded rather than respond verbally. They both knew it was nothing the Sword of Protection wouldn't fix.
Bow scratched his head and cleared his throat.
"As happy as I am that Castaspella is okay, we still have a big problem. We're no longer safe here."
Next to him, Glimmer nodded and wondered why she felt so tired all of a sudden.
"Bow's right," she said sadly. "The Horde troopers in those tanks probably called for back up the minute He-Man started wailing on them. And that's assuming the rest of the Horde didn't know we were here to begin with. Reinforcements could get here any time."
Bow looked pointedly over at Mount Weaver.
"Not to mention the fact that we don't want to be here when Weaver gets free." He put his hands up defensivly as Frosta glared icily at him. "I'm not questioning your powers, Frosta, but this is Shadow Weaver we're talking about here. It's going to take more than ice to hold her for an extended period of time."
He-Man shook his head, suddenly wishing Man-At-Arms with all his medical expertise was here. He tried to think of what his mentor would say in this situation.
"Casta's in no shape to travel," he replied sternly. "I don't think we can afford to move her too far."
She-Ra placed a hand on her brother's arm and looked at him warmly. She could feel the affection he had for her friend and the worry he was experiencing as well. She knew that Adam cared about everyone and valued all life. He hated to see anyone suffer.
But there was something more to what he was feeling for Castaspella. Something that went beyond his normal compassion, though she was positive that he himself hadn't fully realized or accepted it yet.
This wasn't going to be easy.
"I don't think we have a choice," she said to him with conviction. "Bow and Glimmer are right, we can't stay here. We're not far from Mystacor. Take Swiftwind. If you can get Casta home, Ariel will know how best to help her. We'll continue on foot and hopefully we'll be there by nightfall tomorrow."
"But She-Ra," He-Man started. She-Ra however, put her hand up to silence him.
"I know these woods better than you, my brother," she pleaded. "And I am more familiar with the way the Horde works. You know this plan makes sense. Please don't argue with me."
Looking back down at Castaspella's sleeping form, He-Man sighed resignedly, then nodded in agreement with his sister. As She-Ra whistled to Swiftwind, He-Man reached underneath the fallen queen legs and gently lifted her. He handed her to his sister, taking special care with her head, then quickly climbed atop the pegicorn.
She-Ra lifted her friend to He-Man, who took her back in his arms, cradling her in a sitting position in front of him. Her legs draped over the side of the steed and her head nestled again He-Man's broad chest. He wrapped one strong arm tightly around her to hold her steady while he grasped Swiftwind's mane with his free hand.
"Swiftwind, do you know how to get to Mystacor?" He-Man asked as he made sure Castaspella was completely secure against him.
The pegicorn whinnied and gave She-Ra a withering look.
"He's kidding, right?"
With that, Swiftwind kicked up and took off into the air, leaving a smirking She-Ra and a frowning Frosta behind. Rubbing a hand over her face, Frosta turned and looked at the ice prison that held Shadow Weaver. The anger she felt over what the Horde witch had done to her friend caused her to grind her teeth and for a moment, she considered putting another layer of ice on.
"Okay everyone," Bow yelled sternly to the other rebels. "Let's head out."
Looking back up at the sky, Frosta could barely make out the speck that was Swiftwind carrying He-Man and Castaspella away.
"Oh frostbite," she thought, kicking a small rock away as she followed Bow and Glimmer out of the village.
Nearby, She-Ra watched the snow queen's quiet turmoil.
"Could this get any more complicated?" she thought glumly before she, too, left the vacant square.