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"Okay, you can open your eyes now, papa!"

Tetsuya Hidama had to bite back a laugh at how enthusiastic Mei sounded, though as the web-camera came into view, he could understand why. His three children were dressed in rather lovely yukatas, no doubt modeling them before the town festival started up. Mei's he noticed first - wine-red and white with a design of purple roses and dark pink leaves, with the obi around Mei's waist being a pale pink in color - and he smiled before focusing on Kouta's - a dark green, almost black yukata with a faint pinstriped pattern and a golden dragon design that wrapped all the way around the garment, giving the illusion of a rising dragon - and moved onto Miyo's - a cute bright red yukata with a cherry blossom design. He sighed in content at seeing his children, applauding them. "You all look lovely."

Mei preened in delight as she stared at the computer screen, the pigtailed girl grinning from ear to ear. "You really think so, papa?" she asked, biting back a squeal of delight at his chuckle and nod. Kouta looked rather pleased with the assessment he looked cool, but Miyo looked a bit sad.

"I still wish you could be here..." the small girl said with a frown.

Tetsuya smiled sadly, the video chat program on the computer screen barely doing justice to the sadness he felt at Miyo's words. "I wish I could be there too." he admitted. "But I'll make it up to you!" he promised. "We'll all have a family outing when I get back home, all right?"

Miyo only looked down, whereas Kouta looked to be biting back a remark. Mei loved her father to death, but it'd be another few months before he could hold up his promise, and though video-chats were fine and dandy, they wouldn't replace a meeting in person. Still, Mei felt the need to rally the troops. "Sounds like a plan, papa!" she said with a grin and a thumbs up, injecting as much cheer into her voice as she could. "I can't wait!"

Tetsuya smiled gratefully. "Same here, Mei. All of you, I hope you have fun during the festival. Will your mother be going?" he regretted the question a second later, seeing the looks that came over each of their faces. "...I'm sure you'll still have fun! The news said there was going to be a meteor shower on that night, after all..." Tetsuya paused to check the time, before offering them an apologetic smile again. "Ah, sorry, I think I'll need to cut this a little short. I need to go in early tomorrow..."

Even Mei couldn't stop the disappointment from coming to her face, though she quickly stamped it down. "Okay papa, talk to you later!" she said, forcing even more cheer into her voice. Even though she didn't really feel it, it still did its work - Kouta and Miyo seemed to cheer up too. The three bid their father off with the best smiles they could - smiles which dropped the second the video chat had ended. "I'm going to change," Kouta grumbled in that tone Mei only knew as leave me the hell alone.

Miyo sniffled, prompting Mei to pat her head. "Mama tries, but sometimes I think you're our real family, neenee."

Mei shook her head. "Don't say that!" Even if it can be true...

---

OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" - StarSHINE

EPISODE 5 - "Attack at the observatory! Aries's burning rage"

---

As it turned out, Etoile Academy took its attacks very seriously. The door to the roof had been closed off, whereas the entrances and exits were now staffed with guards. Said guards identified everyone before letting them in or out - it made lunch a hassle, to say the least of it. Mei and Ushio found themselves in the courtyard, both girls rather disappointed at having given up their roof spot, but managed to track down a lone table in an undisturbed corner near one of the flower gardens. The fact that it had been piled with gardening supplies had warded potential table stealers from it - though the second Mei headed towards it, Chie Tachibana peeked out.

"Ah, good! I was worried someone else would be bothered by that. Kimura-san, I think y - ?" Chie paused, seeing Ushio there as well. "...ah."

Arata poked his head out. "Oh good, she's - " And he too saw Ushio, face falling. He bit back a few choice words, before moving toward the table. "Room for another?" he asked as he plopped himself down, not even bothering to wait for an answer. "Chie's here too." he said, jerking a thumb in Chie's direction.

Ushio shrugged, not caring either way. Mei smiled in greeting toward the two. "I guess I don't mind. What brings you here anyways, Chie-san, Arata-kun?"

Chie abruptly blushed, whereas Arata bit back a grumble and glanced off to the side, cheeks faintly turning pink. "Chie was helping me with something. Didn't turn out as planned though." he answered, vaguely annoyed. "You two?"

"We had t'find a new spot." Ushio answered with a pout, before glancing over in Mei's direction. "Also Mei wanted to tell me something that happened last night. Mei?"

It was Mei's turn to blush. "You guys don't mind, do you?" she asked, biting back a sigh of relief when Chie and Arata assured they didn't. Uncertainly, Mei told the trio what had happened when she'd had the video chat with her father, as well as how disappointed her siblings had been afterward.

At the end of her story, Arata had to sigh. "So they got upset your dad can't make it and your mom's working. It's not like that's anything new." he pointed out, prompting Mei to look a little hurt. "What? It's true." Beside him, Chie flinched, silently trying to warn Arata that this probably wasn't the path he should be taking. Arata hadn't noticed.

Ushio frowned before stretching her legs, jabbing a chopstick in Arata's direction. "There's a thing called tact, yanno."

Arata shrugged. "Tact, schmact. Mei's been on parental duty as long as I've known her." Chie flinched even more.

Mei shook her head. "It's not that I mind it or anything, but - it just upsets me seeing them upset."

"Ha!" Arata laughed, whereas Chie seemed to be resisting the urge to facepalm. "Spoken like a true mom. Careful Mei, you'll turn into an old crone before you know it~"

"T-that - !" Mei stammered, both hurt and angry. Chie cleared her throat, cutting Mei off.

"I think what Kimura-san means, Hidama-san, is that you seem to worry more about your siblings than yourself sometimes." the girl lied through her teeth, giving Arata a look through the corner of her eye and making the boy shift slightly in guilt, before offering Mei a friendly smile. "It's nice of you to do that - and very responsible, I'm sure your parents appreciate it - but you should have time to be a normal girl too, you know? You can't fret over them so much that you forget about yourself in the process."

Mei folded her arms across her chest, expression doubtful. "Somehow I don't think that's what Arata-kun meant." she said, puffing her cheeks out. Arata jumped when she side-eyed him, proving her suspicions correct. "But," Mei continued, glancing over at Chie, "I think you have a point though, Chie-san! I guess I kinda do forget to be a normal teenager sometimes..." she laughed. "Speaking of the festival though, are you guys going?"

Ushio grinned. "You know I am! I'm dragging Kai too~"

Chie chuckled. "Our teahouse will have a stall there, but my parents already told me I'm not allowed to help." Given the way Chie's shoulders sagged in relief, she definitely appreciated it. Glancing over at Arata, the girl blinked, seeming to recall something. "Ah, Hoshizora-san?" she prompted, gaze flicking toward Ushio. "Don't you have a club meeting today?"

Ushio paused mid-swallow, eyes widening as she struggled to finish eating and nod viciously at the same time. Once she could breathe, she hurriedly grabbed her things. "Damnit damnit damnit, you're right! Agghhhh, Momoe's gonna KILL me - !" she raced off with a cry of "If I don't see you after school, I'll see you at the festival...!" before disappearing around the corner and into the crowd.

Arata shook his head. "She's got to learn to manage her time better."

Mei laughed. "Maybe just a little..."

Chie nodded in agreement, blinking as she recalled something else. "Ah, that's right! I need to take these things back to the gardening shed." she moved to silence Mei before the girl could even offer her help, "I'm stronger than I look, don't worry!" But Chie turned toward Arata, offering him a wink. Good luck! she mouthed before taking off, leaving Mei and Arata alone.

After an uncomfortable silence, a red-faced Arata summoned all his courage. "L-listen, Mei, about the festival - "

"Ah! It's Mabataki-san!" Mei gasped, cutting him off as she noticed the petite green-haired girl wandering aimlessly, untouched bento still in hand. "She must be looking for a new place to eat too..." she theorized, before waving frantically to get Sumire's attention. "Mabataki-saaannn~!" she hollered, oblivious to Arata's look of utter heartbreak. "You can come sit with us, Mabataki-saaannn!"

Sumire stared back in bewilderment - but then offered a small nod, uncertainly shuffling toward the pair. "...h-hello, Hidama-s-san, Kimura-s-san..." she stammered as she bowed in greeting and took a seat. "T-thank you for the invitation..."

Mei grinned. "No problem! Hey, the festival's tonight, you know, you should come!" she encouraged. Sumire always looked so lonely - maybe she could help the girl get friends. "It'll be super fun!"

Sumire glanced down at the floor, biting her lip. "I-I guess..."

As Mei continued to encourage Sumire to come out of her shell, Arata bit back the urge to sigh. Damn it all, he should have just left a letter in Mei's locker instead of trying to enlist Chie's help...



Rasalhague found himself wondering how he'd gotten into this mess.

Cebalrai and Marfik had encouraged him to try a different tactic, insisting that he blend into their surroundings and strike when the Pretty Cure least expected it. But how did you blend into a festival? You dressed up, that much he'd managed to gather from research, but in what? Everything seemed to point toward a strange, robe-like outfit, but that seemed more than a little constricting. He wandered Lucente Bay in hopes of finding someone to give him advice - and then someone latched onto his arm with a cry of "Oh, you're the PERFECT model!"

Rasalhague blinked. The someone was a willowy girl with blue hair curled into ringlets and she was dressed in a dark, frilled outfit that reminded the young man of intricate doll clothes. The woman's petticoats rustled with her every move and she stared adoringly up at Rasalhague with her uncovered eye, the other eye covered by a rose shaped eyepatch. Rasalhague shifted in slight discomfort. "Excuse me...?"

"Come on, come on, we haven't got a moment to spare!"

Half an hour later, Rasalhague found himself dressed in some strange ensemble. The shop owner kept crowing about it being "visual kei" or whatever that meant, but all the white-haired man knew was that his clothes looked absurd. His top consisted of nothing but a short, skintight, sleeveless black cloth that had obviously been cut or something, considering the fact it bore his midriff for all to see. Black and green slightly looser pants had been forced on him, mostly detatched but hooked together by something Rasalhague could only think of as garter belts. A long strip of cloth connected from his ankles to his wrists - something the owner called "bondage pants", which just seemed obscene - and somehow he was now wearing a spiked collar as well. He coughed as he reached for the strange eyepatch the owner had insisted on throwing on him, giving the woman a pleading look. "I'm afraid I'm not really interested in..." the man paused, searching for the right word, "...this," he stressed, gesturing to the whole outfit, "but I'm looking for..." A sigh. It was either this fashion disaster or the robe things. "...a yukata."

The woman looked heartbroken, making Rasalhague immediately feel guilty. "Can I at least take pictures? I'd hate to let a model like you go to waste..."

Though he wasn't quite sure he felt comfortable, Rasalhague nodded anyways. "Sure."

An hour and much incessant squeeing later, Rasalhague was finally free of the woman's clutches. Her name, as it turned out, was Kirika, and apparently she had just opened up some "alternative fashion" store. Rasalhague couldn't help feeling even guiltier as Kirika explained she hadn't had any luck with customers - though what could he do about it? He had a mission already...

...and yet he found himself agreeing to come back and model clothes for her again anyways. Maybe that was what he needed - a deep undercover mission? Or...or something. With a sigh, Rasalhague stepped out onto the streets again, blinking as he realized the sun had set and evening was approaching, considering the reds and purples of the sky. That...that town festival was starting soon, wasn't it? The young man picked up the pace, following the yukata-dressed crowd. The streets had emptied as Lucente Bay natives and tourists alike shuffled to the park at the base of the observatory hill, chatting happily as they walked. Yukata-clad and normally dressed people mixed into the crowd, making Rasalhague feel a little relieved - at least he wouldn't stand out too much. As he stepped into the park, however, he couldn't stop the gasp escaping from his lips. While the stalls themselves were nothing special, there was something about seeing so many people earnestly enjoying themselves that warmed his heart and brought a smile to his face. There were stalls for food and fortunes, games and purchases, vendors of every shape and size. He watched a small family walk past him, the family's daughter chattering happily with her mother and father, a brilliant smile on her face.

I wonder if Ophiu would like something like this.

The thought almost made him chastise himself. He couldn't be thinking about get-togethers and the like, he had much more important things to do! Still...

"Ah! It's you!"

Rasalhague turned, greeted with the sight of a girl in a wine red yukata. He blinked once, able to place her voice, but... "...Miss Hidama, right...?" he asked, sighing in relief as the girl nodded. "Your hair threw me off." he added with a laugh, motioning to the half-ponytail that Mei's hair was in. After a slight pause, he spoke again. "I'm glad you're doing better." It wasn't quite true, but that was the sort of thing you said, right?

Mei nodded fiercely. "U-um! I - I wanted to thank you!"

The man tilted his head. "For?"

"F-for helping me out that day!"

Hm. So that Pisces girl hadn't told her about what had happened with he and Marfik. Rasalhague glanced around, trying to spot the bear that had been with Pisces, to no avail. Were Pisces and that bear watching them anyways?

"You listened to all my f-fears and stuff and I-I didn't even catch your name!"

That stopped Rasalhague's thoughts in their tracks. "I'm R - " he began, then paused. He doubted a name like "Rasalhague" would fly over well. " - Rei." And as soon as he spoke his fake name, Rasalhague had to blink a little, startled - the girl was bowing low to him, as if he was royalty. The young man scratched his cheek, not comfortable with this, and let out a nervous laugh. "Please, you don't have to..."

Mei twiddled her thumbs, cheeks pink as she rose from her bow. "U-um, Rei-san! P-Please let me repay you for your kindness!"

Rasalhauge stared. He desperately wanted to confess it hadn't been kindness, merely convenience and that had he been able to, he would have left her for dead - but instead, the brown-skinned young man cleared his throat and surprised himself: "That's fine by me, Miss Hidama."



Sumire Mabataki was starting to think this had been a terrible idea. Not because of the festival - no, she loved things like this! But there were just so many people. The petite girl felt out of place with all the townfolk milling about - and, admittedly, she was a little envious too. There were so many people here with their families - it made Sumire wonder when the last time she'd spent time with her own parents had been. Gaze rooted downward, Sumire tugged a little at her yukata sleeves - her own yukata being yellow in color, with wings and feathers as decoration - and tried her best to brave the crowd, shuffling over to a stall selling tea. She briefly recognized Chie and Arata and the girl took a deep breath, ready to tentatively greet them and -

"I can't BELIEVE this!"

- she promptly fell over, only caught by a swift Chie. "T-thank you..." Sumire mumbled, too surprised to properly be curious.

Chie gave Sumire a tiny smile. "No problem, Mabataki-san." she responded, before turning to give Arata a dirty look. "Apologize!"

"N-no, it's okay..." Sumire assured, weakly waving her arms about in dismissal. While Arata mumbled to himself, Sumire took the time to take in her surroundings. It seemed she'd ended up at the Tachibana Teahouse stall - that was Chie's family business, wasn't it? - but that didn't explain Arata's outburst. The green-haired girl looked around some more -

- ah, it was Mei!

With...with another boy? He definitely didn't look like someone who went to Etoile. But with the way Mei seemed to be leading this other white-haired boy around - and factoring in Arata's reaction -

"Were you planning to go on a date with Hidama-san...?" Sumire asked quietly.

Arata whirled on her, making Sumire shrink back. "And it would have worked if you hadn't interrupted!"

I-interrupted? Sumire didn't know what he was talking about. The girl stared up at Arata, hurt by his remark, and tried to think back. Mei had invited her to the festival, but before that -

- before that, Mei had called her over and Arata had been there and...

"I-I'm sorry." Sumire said, more as a reflex than anything else. Inwardly, her mind was still racing. How could it have been her fault? She couldn't have known! All she'd done was come to sit with them - if she was interrupting something, he could have easily told her to go away! She wanted to tell Arata this, but the words wouldn't come. It only served to frustrate her and she could feel her eyes beginning to well with tears.

Chie glared, before elbowing Arata hard. "Don't pin it on Mabataki-san! You don't even know if Hidama-san would have said yes, right?"

Arata quickly blushed and looked down, muttering incoherently.

"Then it's no one's fault but yours!" Chie said, glaring, before she looked back at Sumire, offering the smaller girl a pleasant smile. "Just ignore him. Oh, are you with anyone else tonight?"

Sumire, still not quite sure how to process this whole situation, only shook her head meekly.

"Then you and I should look around together!"

Sumire paused for a few long moments. It - it would be less crowded if she left with Chie, right? And maybe Arata wouldn't keep glaring at her too? Sumire shuffled in place, fumbling with the sleeves of her yukata before nodding timidly. When Chie didn't respond, Sumire took a shaky breath. "O-okay, Tachibana-san..."

Chie's smile widened as she took Sumire's hands in her own. "Great! C'mon, there's a taiyaki stand I want to try out~"

And when the two girls leave, Arata finds himself standing there, debating going after them. Damn, he hadn't even told Sumire he was sorry for yelling at her too. The boy frowned, taking a step forward - before he found himself looking away, back toward where Mei was with that strange white haired guy. Arata's frown only deepened - and he went to follow them, leaving Chie and Sumire to their own devices.



[eyecatch 1 - A close up of Cure Aries, flames dynamically surrounding her. Eyes narrowed in determination, she looks as if she's going to attack an enemy and she sends off a volley of flames - only for the scene to pan out and reveal Usami and Cure Pisces at campfire, and that Aries is simply building the fire up. Pisces and Usami hold skewers with marshmallows on them and roast them over the fire, while Aries grins and makes herself a s'more, winking playfully at the viewer. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 - A close up of Cure Pisces, water trails surrounding her. She winks and then spins, sending the water flying out in a fierce attack - and the scene pans out to reveal that she's working as a fountain to a chute-like waterslide (which has a sieve and a bucket at the bottom to catch the water and excess noodles.) Sending water down the chute with one hand and holding a bowl of somen noodles with the other, she adds the noodles to the chute, watching them slide down. Aries and Usami pluck the sliding somen noodles with chopsticks before dipping them in tsuyu sauce. The three of them laugh. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]



Not too far from a taiyaki booth, Ushio found herself standing in line with Miyo and Kouta. For the most part, she didn't mind - Mei always had her hands full, it would be nice to give her best friend a break for once - but if there was one thing Ushio didn't quite know how to handle, it was kids. She and Kai were the only two daughters of the Hoshizora family, being twins and all, but it did mean they'd grown up together and...

...well, dealing with little kids was a whole different experience for her. At the very least, they were well-behaved, which made standing in line fairly painless, but as the trio got closer to the cashier...

"Ushio-nee~! We should get mitarashi dango!"
"No way, Miyo! I want yakitori!"
"Dango's BETTERER!"
"Nuh UH, yakitori is better!"

Ushio flinched as the two began to squabble, sorely wishing her sister was around for a few minutes. Kaiyou had the student council to deal with, off running a booth to raise some last minute money for the yearly sealife show. Ushio had been in charge of that too, being the person in charge of the Marine Life club and all, but...well, she'd never been good with selling things. Heck, she was barely able to keep any allowance she'd get! Kai and her parents often grumbled about how irresponsible she was with money, but Ushio couldn't help it! There was just so much tasty food to buy and there were books and videogames she wanted and...

"Yakitori!"
"Dango!"
"Yakitori!"
"DANGO!"

Okay, her patience was starting to wear thin. Expression one of disapproval, the black haired girl wedged herself between the two siblings. "You're not getting EITHER!" she said - and too sharply, it seemed, as Miyo started to tear up and Kouta scowled at her. Ushio froze, inwardly panicking as Miyo began to sniffle. Several other people in line turned to glare at her, making Ushio just want to melt into the floor. The girl swallowed briefly. "H-hey, I didn't mean it - "

"USHIO-NEE IS A MEANIE!" came Miyo's angry sob, just before she turned and fled, Kouta sticking out his tongue out at Ushio before he ran after his little sister. Ushio stood there as several people whispered and scowled at her, mind racing, her desire to melt into nothingness becoming more and more apparent...

"Wait!" Oh man oh man, if Miyo and Kouta vanished, Mei would totally throttle her...

In the time it took Ushio to push off her back foot to sprint after them, two things happened:

The first was that someone let out a gasp of awe. "A shooting star!" they said, causing many of the festival goers to look up. Sure enough, a star streaked across the sky, eliciting more gasps of awe. Even Miyo and Kouta stopped running, the two children pointing upward as another shooting star streaked on by.

The second thing was that the observatory began to pulse with a dark energy. It was only Ushio who noticed this, as she felt a strange chill down her back, hairs on her neck standing on end. She gasped once, recognizing this feeling from when Cebalrai had attacked the school - and then the observatory pulsed again and several beams of energy shot out toward the festival. One was aimed for Miyo and Kouta...

"LOOK OUT!"

She acted unthinkingly, sprinting toward the two children and tackling them to the ground, the beam shooting overhead. As the three laid on the ground, dazed, it was then that the screams started - a chorus of terrified people screaming and others trying to bargain for their lives. It was Ushio who rose first, trembling with the effort to get back up, and her eyes widened when she saw the unconscious mass around her. But more importantly...

Stars.

Floating everywhere.

Stars that had been stolen from the crowd around her...

There was a shriek from nearby, forcing Ushio to wake Miyo and Kouta up - oh thank goodness, she had gotten there in time - and as she helped the two children to their feet, she took their hands. "Let's stay together, okay?" she whispered, squeezing both their hands for support. The two children looked upon the unconscious mass in a daze and Miyo whimpered, evidently on the verge of tears - but they nodded. Together, the three followed the sound of the shriek, only to find a terrified Sumire shaking an unconscious Chie's body.

"T-Tachibana-san, Tachibana-san!"

But it was no use. Like the others, Chie's star had been stolen, explaining her gray pallor and her near lifelessness. Sumire sobbed as she tried to wake her new friend, only stopping when Ushio placed a gentle hand on the smaller girl's shoulder. "Just breathe, all right?" she coached the green haired girl, giving her a small smile. "It's going to be all right."

"B-but she's not moving!" Sumire protested.

"Just relax." Ushio replied patiently, then paused, listening for the signs of a Trou Noir. When she heard nothing, her shoulders sagged in relief and she turned to look at Miyo and Kouta. "I need you to stay here with Mabataki, okay?" she instructed. "It's safer here."

"But what are you going to do, Hoshizora-san?!" Sumire found herself asking. She didn't like the way the other girl was speaking, like she was going to go do something crazy...

"I'm gonna keep you guys safe." Ushio winked, then paused. "And I need to find Mei. I want to make sure she's safe too."

"But - !" came the chorus of Miyo, Kouta, and Sumire, only for Ushio to shake her head, effectively silencing them.

"No buts. Just trust me, all right?" Ushio smiled at the trio, then turned on her heel to race toward the observatory. Once she was out of sight, she fiddled with her collar, pulling her necklace off to reveal her Star Capsule. She pressed a kiss to the golden star and -

"Pretty Cure! Wish Upon A Star!"



Mei had repaid him with a tour around the festival, spending the better part of half an hour talking all about the various stalls and the people that ran them. Living on a small island like Lucente Bay meant that she'd grown up knowing almost everyone around her. "Rei's" commentary had been kind and polite, but she couldn't help worrying that she was boring him somehow, or being too overbearing. She'd fretted so much she didn't even notice Arata tailing them - it was probably a good thing, considering how embarrassing it would be if she started yelling at him like she usually did!

When they'd arrived at the observatory, Mei smiled and gestured to the building with a flourish. "And this is the Lucente Bay lighthouse and observatory! Since we're not part of the mainland, it makes stargazing a lot easier at night, since the sky's super clear and stuff. And since everything has to be shipped in, the lighthouse is here to guide the way!" she grinned - but then it faded and she scratched her cheek, blushing a little. "A-although in retrospect, that's really obvious..."

"Rei" chuckled, attempting to stifle his laughter by politely covering his mouth. When Mei looked at him curiously, he waved it off. "Please don't worry, Miss Hidama! I think you're a very good tour guide. I had a lot of fun with you tonight!" he smiled at her, prompting the younger girl to flush a bright red. But he only continued to smile. "You're very honest and friendly! It's such a change of pace from what I normally deal with."

Mei was sure her face was practically glowing. "M-maybe we could m-meet up again sometime!"

At that, his smile faded and he averted his gaze, pausing for several long moments. "Since you were honest with me, Miss Hidama, I think it's only fair I be honest with you as well." A pause. "My name is Rasalhague. My friend Marfik attacked you recently."

Mei froze. Just the name was enough to send chills down her spine. She stared at Rei - no, no his name was Rasalhague - with wide eyes, heartbeat thudding in her ears.

"My friends and I make up the Serpens. A girl named Ophiuchus leads us."

Ophiuchus. The same person who had killed Ursa and all of the other Pretty Cure. He worked for HER?

"And we need everyone's Inner Stars."

Rasalhague finished his confession with a sad, pained smile, just as his outfit switched over to what he normally wore in the Void. With that same sad smile, he pulsed with a dark energy that shot out toward the festival and the air quickly filled with screaming - just before it filled with glowing stars, all floating toward Rasalhague and the strange jar of darkness he'd suddenly created.

"I'm sorry I have to do this to you, Miss Hidama - "

Why was he apologizing?

...come to think of it, hadn't Marfik apologized as well to her?

" - but I'll need your star as well."

A tendril of dark energy shot at Mei - and all she could do was stand frozen in fear. It was going to happen again. She was going to die this time, there would be no Rasalhague to save her or listen to all her fears about dying...

"NO!"

...and all Mei could do was watch as Arata came out of nowhere, taking the blow for her. His lifeless body slumped to the ground as the tendril of energy ripped out his star again. She didn't even have the energy to cry this time - her whole mind felt like it was in a haze. There was just too much to take in at once. Rasalhague was a bad guy. Rasalhague had attacked a bunch of people just now. Rasalhauge was willing to kill her. Rasalhague had hurt Arata. Rasalhague had probably hurt her friends, hurt her family. Her hands twitched as she regained some semblance of control, gaze still rooted downwards, toward Arata's fallen form. "I don't - " she whispered, voice trembling. "I don't understand!" And with that she looked up, gaze tearful and hurt. Rasalhague only looked away again, gaze flicking toward the ground.

"I'm sorry, Miss Hidama. I took advantage of your kindness."

Tears streaming down her cheeks, Mei reached for her necklace, fingers shaking as she undid the clasp, barely able to press a kiss against the silver star. "Pretty Cure!" she began, "Wish Upon A Star!" A burst of red light enveloped her, leaving Cure Aries standing when it faded. "...the fire star with the determination of a ram, Cure Aries..." Her heart should have been in it, but it wasn't. This person - he - he was her friend too, right?

But he had hurt so many people, he had willingly taken advantage of her good nature...

He had to admit, he was surprised she too was a Pretty Cure. And he couldn't help feeling guilty, given how she held herself now, looking at him like he'd completely shattered everything she knew about him. He took a shaky breath, meeting her gaze with a pained smile. "I really don't want to fight you."

"I..."

"I really don't!" he continued, for reasons he didn't quite understand. Why was he explaining himself to her? She'd never understand anyways. "I just want to bring these stars back to Ophiu - "

"You - you can't!" came Aries's sudden protest. If he left, all these people would die and - and that couldn't happen! She couldn't allow that!

"I have to!" Rasalhague shot back. It was true, it was the only way to help Ophiuchus now...

No.

No matter what his reasons were, no matter what his intentions were - Aries knew she couldn't allow it. Her hands balled into shaking fists and her star shaped brooch began to shine. "Then I won't let you!" she declared, a burst of red light erupting from her brooch into her palm. When it faded, she too held a sword. A curved blade of silver - a scimitar, to be precise - with a red colored grip and a cross-guard that mimicked ram horns. The pommel was shaped like a silver star, not unlike her brooch, and it too was engraved with the symbol for Aries. While she normally would have panicked about such a new thing - why was it here, where had it come from?! - all she did was lunge at Rasalhague, not knowing what else she COULD do.

"I don't want to fight you!" he tried to protest once more, fending her off with a blade of dark energy. When she swung at him again he fended her off once more, lunged - and cut deep into her side. Her pained cry was enough to make him nearly drop his own sword - and when her Cure outfit began to stain with blood, he had to swallow another apology.

Aries stumbled backward, eyes wide as her hands flew to her side, the girl desperately trying to stem the blood. "You..." she whispered, uncertain how to explain it. They were in a fight, of course she was going to get hurt! But she'd never expected to bleed and somehow that just hammered the intensity and seriousness of it all into her head all the more. Rasalhague was willing to seriously injure her...

It was then that Pisces arrived. The cry of pain had spurned her to run faster - and as she took in the scene, there was only one thing she noticed - the fact her best friend was wounded. Her shocked look slowly became one of intense anger - and with a hysterical cry of "GET AWAY FROM HER!", Pisces launched herself at Rasalhague, deftly avoiding his sword swing to fiercely kick him in the chest, sending him flying into a nearby tree.

Rasalhague grimaced, coughing weakly as he slumped to the ground. "I-I really don't want to fight you..."

Pisces snarled, ready to go on the offensive again - when Aries weakly seized her friend's shoulder and shook her head. Pisces relaxed - but only slightly, glaring fiercely at the white haired young man. "Then why are you stealing everyone's stars?"

"I have to, okay?!" he shouted, desperation creeping into his voice. "It's the only way we can help Ophiu!"

"You mean the nutter that murdered the last Pretty Cure?" Pisces laughed. "All the reason to stop you, it'd be better if she died - "

It happened in an instant. Rasalhague got to his feet, lunged at Pisces, and slapped her. The blue cure's eyes widened in surprise - before she growled and punched him in the stomach, shoving him to the ground. Before she could advance on him, Aries intervened again, putting herself between both of them. "Stop, okay?! This isn't going to fix anything!"

"I'd feel better, though." Pisces grumbled.

"We've reached an impasse, I-I think." Rasalhague laughed weakly as he sat up, unsure what to think of Aries continuing to stick up for him. "Please, I won't even summon a monster - I don't even like the blasted things. I just need - "

Pisces was ready to give this guy a piece of her mind - but Aries beat her to the punch. "ENOUGH!" the red cure shouted, finally looking angry. "You're like a broken record! Listen, I don't care what your excuse is, it's not worth murdering a bunch of people over!"

Silence followed her words. Finally: "Then we're never going to be able to see eye to eye, Miss Hidama." She barely had time to comprehend what he'd said before dark energy erupted from his form, knocking she and Pisces away effortlessly. As the two cures struggled to sit up, Rasalhague conjured the Darkness Jar, expression saying it all: he was planning on escaping...

...and something in Aries just snapped.

The air around her began to fluctuate again as she trembled, forcing herself to her feet. It was just like the last time she fought - but this time she could control it, had words to put behind it. Before Rasalhague could speak any words of departure, Aries spoke, her sword disappearing from her hands. "Pretty Cure..." she began as flames sparked at her feet, slowly enveloping her. "Flare Blitz!" Fire exploded from her form, a massive fire whip that crashed straight into Rasalhague and the jar he held. The white-haired man was knocked down yet again as the jar was shattered, sending all the stars flying. As the flames faded, Aries fell to her knees, only kept from collapsing by a fast thinking Pisces, who helped her friend back to her feet, the blue cure glaring at Rasalhague the whole while.

Aries was silent for a moment - then held out her hand for Rasalhague to take, earning a look of surprise from both Pisces AND Rasalhague. "I - I don't think you're a bad person, okay?" she said with a small, weak smile. "And I might not be useful at all, b-but - but you and Miss Ophiuchus sound like you're in trouble, so - so please let me help you!"

Rasalhague stared at her hand, expression unreadable. Bangs shadowing his eyes, he reached out - and pushed it away. There was no malice behind it, however - all he did was smile sadly to both girls, just before he vanished.

Pisces had expected it - it had happened before, after all - but Aries just stared ahead, expression one of shock and immense hurt. When Aries's gaze sank downwards and her shoulders trembled, Pisces reached out, clapping a hand to her friend's shoulder. "You really want to help him, don't you?" And when her only response was a sniffle, Pisces gently reached over to give Aries a hug. "Don't worry, Mei. We'll figure something out."

Together, the two detransformed and, when Arata finally woke up again, the trio headed back to the festival to make sure everyone else was all right.



Ophiuchus stirred when she heard heavy footsteps and a chair scraping against the floor, and she awoke to a badly hurt Rasalhague sitting at a chair beside her bed. The purple haired girl grimaced as she sat up, for once looking actually alarmed. "Rasal!" she gasped, horrified.

"It's all right." came Rasalhague's response, his voice hollow. "This is nothing, really."

"But you're hurt..."

He shook his head. "I couldn't bring back any stars for you, Ophiu."

"That's not important."

It was Cebalrai who said this, surprising both Rasalhague and Ophiuchus. The two turned to see the woman approaching and Marfik tagging along, Cebalrai's gaze as blank and indifferent as ever. And yet - she was definitely concerned, somehow. Wasn't she? Even Marfik looked worried and for once, the two weren't squabbling either.

"Your safety is more important. I believe that is what Lady Ophiuchus is trying to say."

"Yeah! You're just going to worry her, you jerk!"

Rasalhague looked away. They both were right, of course, but he'd failed. He hadn't brought back anything, and with Ophiuchus still recovering from her sickness, who knew how much time she had? How much time they all had? It wasn't that big of a deal in retrospect, he supposed, because they all went star hunting and if one of them failed, someone else could pick up the slack - but it hurt. It felt like he'd betrayed Ophiuchus somehow.

As if sensing this, Ophiuchus reached out, putting her tiny hand over his. He jumped in surprise - and was even more surprised when she smiled at him. In 35 years, he'd never actually seen her smile before. "I'm just happy you came back. That goes for all of you, okay?" she looked over at the other two, her gentle smile growing warmer. (Cebalrai quirked an eyebrow, whereas Marfik abruptly started blushing.) "And no more star-hunting tonight, okay? I want all of you to stay with me tonight. The bed's big enough for all of us!"

Rasalhague paused, looked over at the other two. Cebalrai only shrugged, whereas Marfik only blushed harder - and when they met his gaze, they both only nodded. Feeling a bit like his old self, Rasalhague met Ophiuchus's gentle smile with a smile of his own. "All right, all right, just this once..."

The four of them sharing a bed was awkward, but they all managed. It was Marfik who fell asleep first, followed by Cebalrai, then finally Rasalhague. Ophiuchus hummed a little, pleased at being surrounded by what essentially was her family, smiling all the while.

But just before sleep claimed her, there was a faint whisper from the back of her mind:

No one can save you. And when they die, it'll be all your fault.

---

ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Usami: H-hey, I wasn't even in this episode!
Mei: Eheheh, it's okay Usami, you'll be in the next one! You've got stuff to explain, you know?
Ushio: Bah, nevermind that! We're going on a field trip next episode! I'm so excited~
Mei: You're always excited about stuff like this, Ushio-chan...
Usami: Uwaaaah, this all looks so cool! But I'm getting a bad feeling...
Mei: O-oh, that's the lady that attacked the school! And she's...!
Ushio: Raaarrrgghh, I'm SO gonna end her and her stupid smug face!
Usami: Ushio-chan is scary, just like Mei-chan...
Mei: H-hey! ...a-anyways, we gotta wrap this up! So! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: The aquarium in danger! Pisces's ocean fury. Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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