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Ushio had forgotten how much she enjoyed nightly walks, especially lately. With her stressed parents arguing and Kai being absolutely no help in the emotional support department thanks to being too busy, there really wasn't much choice lately. She could call Mei up, or maybe Chie but - there were just some things you learned to take care of yourself.

The cool night air breezed past the black haired girl as she made her way to the local park. The renovators had long since gone home for the day - there was a beautification project going on, one Chie was involved in - and Ushio made her way over to the old swingset, taking a seat and absently swinging herself back and forth, the only sounds being her quiet breathing and the squeaks of the swing going back and forth for several minutes.

Crack. Someone had stepped on a twig. Ushio halted her movements, turning in the direction of the noise...

"Ushio-chan?"

Out of the shadows came Mei, which made Ushio smile. "Hey there." the girl paused, then tilted her head, "What're you doing here, anyways?"

Mei laughed weakly, bangs shielding her eyes as she walked closer. "I just needed to be out of the house for a while. You know how it is, eheheh."

Ushio nodded, falling silent. With her best friend here, there was so much she could talk about - but nothing really came to mind. Instead, she looked up at the moon and the twinkling stars, enjoying the company of her friend.

"Hey, Ushio-chan?"

"Mmm?"

"Remember that last fight we were in?"

Ushio began to nod, then paused. That had been the fight against Rasalhague and she had...

The image of her blood-soaked best friend flashed into her mind. Aries badly hurt, Aries sobbing in pain -

No, no that wasn't right! She had...

Mei placed her hand on Ushio's. It was only now that Ushio realized it was stained in blood and badly injured. The black haired girl froze in fear as Mei knelt down to look at her, the girl's dead eyes bloodied. "Why didn't you save me, Ushio-chan?" Mei said with a strange voice, not unlike that of a crushed throat.

Ushio tried to pull away, but Mei's grip was iron clad. "I - I did! I know I did!" she desperately protested.

Mei only leaned closer, an unhinged smile on her face, laughing quietly. "That's okay, we'll be together soon~" she assured, hands clamping around Ushio's throat -


- and that was when Ushio woke up with a start, thrashing out of bed and abruptly rolling right off. She hit the floor with a thud, her stomach twisting and turning in revulsion. She wanted to scream - but with the bile rising in her throat, then girl instead pushed herself to her feet, flinging her door open and raced down the hall. She skidded into the bathroom, barely able to open the toilet lid - then she threw up, Mei's quiet, crazed laughter still ringing in her ears.

---

OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" - StarSHINE
EPISODE 6 - "The aquarium in danger! Pisces's ocean fury"

---

"You don't look like you slept well."

Kai's comment only made Ushio wince. It was true, she hadn't been able to sleep much after throwing up like she had - every time she closed her eyes, she saw new mental images of Aries badly hurt or dead, and it was only her body's natural need for sleep that she'd even nodded off at all. The fact she'd been roused out of bed was a miracle in and of itself, and she was almost sure she wouldn't have bothered if it wasn't for the fact that today was the field trip to the Lucente Bay aquarium.

"Ushio?"

Ushio winced again, laughed weakly, tried not to think about the burn in the back of her throat. "Had some bad nightmares, that's all." she explained, though she could feel her sister's inquisitive look boring holes into the side of her head. "It was about the festival." she added with a defeated sigh - Kai would never let her hear the end of it if she didn't explain. "I didn't get there in time and Mei - " she shut her eyes tight, shook her head to dispel those mental images.

"I had a nightmare too, strangely enough." Kai said after an appropriate amount of silence, gaze focused straight ahead.

Ushio snorted. "What, about failing a test? Not getting into a good college?"

"No." came her quiet reply. "I watched you and Mei-san try to protect me from a monster." Kai didn't even look at her twin, but Ushio could see the way Kai's shoulders tensed, her jaw tightening for a moment. "You weren't able to."

Ushio found herself staring at the ground, hugging her sides. "...I'm sorry." she finally said, not quite sure what she was apologizing for more - her insensitive way of brushing her sister off, or for probably watching both she and Mei die a horrible death. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her sister nod once, and the rest of their walk was in an uncomfortable silence. Ushio wanted to say something - anything - to break the tension, but just like in her nightmare, the right words wouldn't come to her.

The twins arrived on campus to find students milling around out in the courtyard, several teachers shouting instructions of what teacher to group up with. The student council was part of its own group, being in charge of planning activities for the student body at large, and Kai moved to group with her fellow council members - when Ushio reached out, seizing her sister's hand and shakily squeezing it.

Kai paused, turned to look at her sister. For a moment, neither of the twins said anything - and then Kai squeezed back, just as clumsily. "My sister will be helping us out today, considering she's the president of the Marine Life club. This trip is practically catered to her, after all." Kai told to the small group with a smile, earning a chorus of agreement and nods.

Ushio laughed nervously, letting go of her sister's hand and rubbing the back of her head. "I - I hope I don't disappoint you guys!" she stammered, returning any greetings given her way, before she turned over to look in the distance, toward the group Mei was in. She could see her pigtailed friend looking just as down in the dumps as she was - and she really wanted to go and talk to her.

But she couldn't even look at Mei in the face right now. Not with her nightmare still lingering around in her head. There was a part of Ushio afraid that she was still IN a nightmare, and that Mei would try to choke the life out of her the second she got close enough. It was a stupid, irrational fear, even stupider given the fact that Mei was her best friend in the whole wide world and would never do anything to hurt her, but...

...maybe it would be okay to be away from her for a while.

Just to clear her head.



Cars were a rarity in Lucente Bay, and buses were completely unheard of on the small island. Anything you needed was in walking distance - there was only one real city on the island after all - and it was a rather nice day anyways, so what was the harm of a walk? While the sight of so many school children would have baffled any tourist passing by, such a thing was commonplace for the students of Etoile Academy - and really, for the people living in Lucente Bay as is.

Sumire typically kept to herself when the school went on field trips, often tuning out the chatter of her peers and lagging behind the group as a whole, but there was something she noticed today - there was no chatter to tune out. In fact, everyone was just as quiet as she was - and it deeply bothered the green haired girl, a small frown coming to her face. It was eerie, seeing everyone so quiet and kept to theirselves - it was as if there was a funeral she hadn't heard about.

"A-ah. Tachibana-san...?"

And she wasn't alone today either. Ever since the festival, she and Chie had become fast friends, even if Sumire had no way of really understanding just what had happened at the festival. Ushio had gone off to keep everyone safe but she didn't know how that could have happened. Ushio was brave and headstrong, sure, but she was normal too, right?

Though there had been that flash of blue light - and there had been a flicker of something toward the observatory too. Like...fire? Sumire didn't know, and it was hard to piece the details together. It reminded her of the strange dreams people had mentioned after the attack on Etoile, or the rumors of a girl in blue and a girl in red who had fought off something attacking the school.

Faintly, Sumire realized Chie hadn't answered. Timidly, the girl reached out, placed a hand to the taller girl's shoulder. Chie jumped, and Sumire bit back an apology. "Mabataki-san?" Chie asked, confusion clear in her voice and expression.

Sumire gave her friend a weak smile. "Was there something I missed...?" she asked before she could stop herself, gesturing out to her fellow peers in front of her.

Chie shook her head, confusion fading to a troubled expression. "No..." she murmured, distracted, then sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry, Mabataki-san, I just - I had a really bad nightmare last night and I can't stop thinking about it..."

Now Sumire had to blink. Come to think of it, she'd had a nightmare last night too - but she was used to them by now, to be honest. Curious, she gazed out to the others - and couldn't help noticing everyone had the same kind of troubled expression Chie did. In the time it had taken to look around, Chie had already looked away again, making Sumire bite her lip. As much as Sumire wanted to make things better for her friend, she didn't know how - it made her stomach twist in guilt. Maybe it was just one of those things you left alone? It didn't feel right though, leaving Chie burdened with such thoughts...

Close ahead, Mei and Arata walked together, both as quiet as their fellow classmates - but for different reasons. Just like the others, Mei too had a nightmare - one about her little brother and sister being seriously injured. Ushio had gotten hurt too and then - she had to shut her eyes to keep the rest of the nightmare from playing out, shoulders tensing as she tried to huddle into herself.

Arata watched, quietly summoning his courage, swallowed hard. "Mei...?"

She twitched once, but didn't answer.

Arata took a deep breath, struggled to piece his thoughts together. Mei had been there when he'd woken up from the attack that first time at school - and again, she had been there when she'd been attacked by that mysterious white haired guy. And both of those incidents had been ones where the mysterious red and blue girls had shown up...

...and now he isn't sure he trusted himself, but he was almost certain he saw a burst of red light coming from Mei after he saved her...

"Mei." he tried again, injecting more seriousness into his voice. "You weren't hurt during the festival, right...?"

Another twitch. Mei kept her gaze down, struggled to keep her mind off the fact Rasalhague had slashed her side the way he had. It had healed after battle, but - sometimes she thought she still felt the lancing, sharp pain. Quietly, the girl shook her head. "No, I was safe." she peeked up, offering him a warm smile. "I'm glad you're okay too, I was worried about you! A-and you definitely shouldn't have done that, you know!"

"You were just standing there, I had to!" Arata responded automatically, sharper than intended. "You're the kind of girl that has to be protected, I can't leave you alone at all!" he continued, wanting to kick himself all the while - Chie had made him painfully aware of the scathing way he talked, and he hated himself for it now. God, why was he SAYING this? This wasn't what he wanted to tell her at all! He wanted to say he was worried about her and that of course he'd helped her because he cared about her and ugh, what was he even thinking with that other line? He respected and admired her, he always had...

Mei looked hurt, staring at Arata with wide eyes. Head bowing forward, bangs covering her eyes, the girl noddled, sniffling briefly. "I...I-I guess that's true. I can't do much on my own, right?" her voice wavered as she laughed and smiled at him, before she turned to look down at the ground, huddling into herself even more.

God, if there was a competition for completely stupid and terrible things to say, Arata was sure he'd be crowned the champion. He watched as Mei quickened her pace to get ahead of him, took a deep breath to say something -

i'm sorry i hurt your feelings
i'm sorry i'm so insensitive
i'm sorry it seems like i hate you, that's not true at all
i'm sorry i have too much pride to tell you how i feel
i'm sorry i'm a bad friend
i'm so so sorry

- but the apology just wouldn't come forth, leaving Arata to stare at her retreating form with nothing but feelings of intense self hatred.



You've been a bad girl.

Ophiuchus awoke with a start, pushing herself to a sitting position. Her pale hands trembled as she glanced around, uncertain where the voice had come from. It had sounded like someone had harshly whispered in her ear - but the more she looked about, the more she realized she was alone. Swallowing nervously, Ophiuchus looked upward, glancing at all the shining stars that filled her tower - and her gaze focused on several differently colored stars. She remembered those ones - they were the ones she'd stolen from the Pretty Cure.

A searing pain lanced through her head, causing the young girl to grimace and gasp in pain.

a bad girl
a very bad girl
don't you remember what you did

Were the stars from the Pretty Cure...talking to her...?

everyone dies because of you

Sudden, violent images of Rasalhague, Marfik and Cebalrai being murdered flashed before her eyes, earning a pitiful moan from the girl.

you'll kill them just like you killed us

And then suddenly it wasn't just those Pretty Cure stars, but every single star in the tower whispering to her, telling her she was evil, telling her there would be nothing for her. She was a bad girl, a rotten girl, pure evil - and evil was never forgiven, never given another chance. She willingly let the others murder innocents for her sake, and didn't that make her completely repugnant? Wasn't that completely unforgivable?

The whispers grew louder, forming a haunting chorus that picked away at every single shred of her. The voices were making her remember things too, things she didn't want to recall anymore...

She stumbled out of bed, swaying as she forced herself away from the tower, going as fast as her trembling steps would let her. Her head hurt and she just wanted the voices to stop. She - she didn't like this! It was scary, it had never happened before, it...

"I can't BELIEVE you!" came Rasalhague's furious shout as he walked inside, the young man glaring at Cebalrai. "You shouldn't tamper with things like that, it could seriously hurt someone!"

Cebalrai only shook her head. "I only wished to prey on the fears of those humans, I had no idea the area of effect would be so massive." she paused briefly. "...I also did not think we were capable of such things as nightmares."

"Well DUH!" Marfik added, giving the woman a glare of his own. He was about to say more when a soft sob caught his attention and he turned to see Ophiuchus standing there and trembling, looking as pale as death. "...Ophiuchus...?" he asked timidly, reaching out to place a hand on her shoulder, only for her to violently jerk away from his touch. "H-hey, you shouldn't be up..."

Rasalhague gave Cebalrai a pointed glare. "Go fix this." he ordered, and couldn't help feeling slightly satisfied that she mildly shrank away, muttering an apology before teleporting away. When she was gone, he turned to look at Ophiuchus. "Ophiu? You okay?"

Ophiuchus felt like her entire being was going to split in half. Her breathing was erratic and shaky and the voices wouldn't stop, she just wanted them to stop...

And it was with that thought that she opened her mouth and let out a desolate, agonized scream. As she screamed, power began to swirl around her, and darkness erupted from her mouth and her eyes. The tower trembled and shook as she kept screaming, a seemingly endless stream of darkness spilling from her. The darkness began to swirl even more before splitting into three separate tendrils - one disappeared, while the other two shot straight for Rasalhague and Marfik.

The two boys gasped in pain and stumbled backwards as their bodies absorbed the darkness, whereas Ophiuchus swayed, seemingly free of it given her normal looking eyes - the same red color as the three members of the Serpens - and then the young girl promptly collapsed, crumpling into a heap on the floor.



[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.]



Kai had promised Ushio would help out the student council because of her marine life knowledge, but Ushio hadn't done a good job of that. In fact, the second they'd gotten to the aquarium, Ushio had taken advantage of the crowds to duck away, not really sure what she wanted right now. Any other day she'd be leaping for joy at the idea of talking about ocean life, but -

- her heart just wasn't in it today.

She knew the aquarium like the back of her hand by now. She always visited the place, ever since her parents had brought she and Kai here when they were both little. And so Ushio found herself drawn to her favorite part of the aqaurium - the sprawling overhead aquarium tunnel. It was a quiet place, the perfect place to make sense of her thoughts and her confusion. With a sigh, Ushio turned to look at the fish as they swam around. Sturgeons and surgeonfish, scissortails and goodeids, eagle rays and manta rays...

She placed her hand to the glass, watched as a school of clownfish swam past her. She hated the fact she was avoiding people like this, hated the fact she was running away from her problems! It was just a silly nightmare, it shouldn't have mattered so much! But Ushio just couldn't shake it from her mind, and it was no use pretending she didn't know the reason for it. Mei was her closest friend, practically a second sister.

The thought of losing her - the thought of failing her - it just...hurt too much for words.

"Ushio-chan?"

The black haired girl paused for a moment, hands balling into fists out of apprehension - but it was followed by a quiet sigh of relief. It was the tiny voice of Usami - not Kai and definitely not Mei. She kept her gaze on the glass, trying to school her expression into something normal, not trusting herself to speak just yet. Dimly, she realized if Usami was here, it meant no one else was nearby - and the girl wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed by this fact.

Behind her, Usami carefully walked closer. "Ushio-chan? Are you okay?"

It was the one question she didn't want to hear. All at once, she wanted to ask a thousand questions. Why had she been chosen as a Pretty Cure? Why did Mei have to be a Cure too? Why weren't there other Cures out there anymore? Who were the strange people they were fighting against? What were their motives, why did they have to hurt people? If she hadn't become a Cure when she had, what would have happened? Would Mei have died? (A lump began to rise in her throat at this point and Ushio furiously blinked her eyes to stem back the tears that threatened to spill otherwise.) If she hadn't shown up when she had last time, would Mei have been hurt worse? Killed, even? If neither of them had gone to the festival, would everyone there have died?

What if they couldn't be there next time?

What if those strange people weren't just attacking Lucente Bay?

What if something horrible happened next time?

What if Kai's dream came true? Or her own?

...what if she had to watch her best friend die? Her family?

The sound of broken sobbing floated to Ushio's ears and she only realized seconds later it was coming from her. She'd sunk to her knees at some point, shoulders shaking as she desperately tried to curl into a ball, hot tears streaming down her cheeks. She could dimly hear Usami trying to calm her somehow, though his attempts only seemed to make him frustrated and upset, and she could hear him starting to cry too. She sobbed again, reached out and held Usami to her chest, and cried.

There was no reason to pretend to be strong right now. There was no one she had to impress, no one she had to protect. And there was simply no avoiding it - she was scared. As much as she loved the abilities of being a Pretty Cure, knowing the past that surrounded it only terrified her - if there was evidence of mass death before, who was to say it wouldn't happen again? Would she and Mei die in a horrible battle, leaving nothing but a traumatized Usami and Hirui again?

How was that fair to her family? To Mei's?

She wished they'd never found that stupid Star Capsule. Why did they have to ask about what had happened to the others? It had been completely idiotic of them, foolish beyond belief. It had made them both cry then and it made her cry now and if she was so scared then surely Mei was too, wasn't she?

The mere thought slowly stilled her crying, until there was nothing but the occasional sob and sniffle coming from she and Usami. Of course - of COURSE! What kind of friend was she, assuming she was the only one suffering from this?! Hirui was obviously affected by it, and Usami too! And Mei...

...Mei would hide her worries behind a smile, just like she always did. Ushio had known her long enough to know this as fact, and now her fear had turned to become utter self-hatred. How could she have been so selfish?

"A-are you okay now?" Usami hiccuped.

Was she okay? Ushio swallowed hard, rubbing her eyes. "...I'm not sure yet." she answered weakly, cracking a weak smile. This - this was something she and Mei had to tackle together, assuming Mei forgave her for outright avoiding her and ignoring the fact she might be suffering from Usami's revelation. "But thank you for looking for me." she added, ruffling the little bear's head.

"Miyo-chan brought me along today but she dropped me in the crowd when we all got here." Usami supplied helpfully, before pausing. "...And Mei-chan thought you were angry with her over something, so I wanted to see if it was true." His wide-eyed, upturned gaze toward the black haired girl was enough of a question, as was his expectant pause.

Ushio tried not to think about the intense stab of guilt she felt. Oh, she'd have to grovel immensely for this... "I'm not mad." she assured, offering the bear another smile. "I was just..." Cowardly? Insensitive? Stupid? "...scared."

"Did you have a nightmare too?" Usami asked, that wide-eyed gaze never leaving him. When Ushio - too startled to comment on it - nodded, Usami nodded back in understanding. "...I had one about Mama. And the Cures." he admitted, though his tone was distant, and not really all that fearful. It was more than likely a dream he had often, and the faint note of resignation in his tone suggested he'd simply gotten used to it.

Ushio couldn't even imagine the magnitude of that. And here she was getting worked up over one nightmare! She wanted to apologize profusely but nothing she could think of seemed adequate - or appropriate. Forcing herself to her feet, Ushio took a deep, shaky breath, about to suggest the two of them find Mei -

- when she felt a sudden chill in the air, followed by Usami letting out a whine that trailed off into a low warning growl. The little bear's ears flattened against his skull, and his fur bristled.

Ushio didn't even wait for the sounds of screaming and chaos, instead reaching for her Star Capsule, expression one of grim determination.

"Pretty Cure! Wish Upon A Star!"



The Lucente Bay aquarium was known for its outdoor exhibit as much as its indoor aquarium tunnel - the hourly performance show with the dolphins was a popular stop, and the allure of the yearly sealife show was the performance in the larger arena - a choreography show with its killer whales, a show that was different every year, and never quite the same twice. Most of the Etoile Academy students had clustered into the larger arena -

- and that was when Cebalrai had appeared on the stage, followed by a tendril of darkness that struck her down the second she'd arrived. Aries recalled being concerned for the woman - she looked like she was in pain! - but any thought of helping her flew right out the window when the woman only rose to her feet with an inhumane grin on her face. The darkness onslaught that followed had resulted in chaos, and she'd only barely managed to duck away and hide long enough to transform.

But she'd been expected - the second she'd made her presence known, Cebalrai had shot several tendrils of darkness at her, restraining her completely and trapping her in a dome that reminded Aries briefly of a birdcage. The red cure scowled as she wriggled fruitlessly, trying to shake off her restraints, while trying not to think about all the lifeless bodies lying around, their Inner Stars floating above their bodies. Occasionally Aries snuck a glance at Cebalrai, feeling her stomach twist more and more in apprehension as she looked at the woman. She'd only seen her once, back when she'd attacked the school but...

...the smile on Cebalrai's face just looked WRONG. She recalled what Ushio had mentioned later - that the woman had barely ever changed her tone, much less changed her expression. Did that darkness that hit her have something to do with it?

...had that darkness affected Rasalhague too?

Aries quietly cursed for even letting her thoughts stray like that - this was a dire situation, why was she thinking about the guy that had refused her help? She shook her head to dispel the mental image of him from her, glaring upward toward Cebalrai, who lounged on the arena stage like a diva too good for anyone surrounding her.

"Why aren't you creating a monster...?" The question left Aries's lips before she could stop herself, and the unsettling grin on Cebalrai's face only grew. Aries paled in fear, especially when Cebalrai shifted into a standing stance - but the woman's focus was elsewhere.

"So she finally arrives," Cebalrai drawled out with a laugh as Pisces ran into the arena, still carrying Usami with her. "Cure Pisces! I've been waiting for you~" she announced, a dark aura crawling around her form.

Pisces didn't even consider Cebalrai's strangeness, her blue eyes widening at the sight of her trapped cure partner. "ARIES!" she cried out as Usami wriggled out of her grasp to run toward the red cure. Pisces gritted her teeth and prepared to follow - only for a blast of dark energy to fire at her, forcing the blue cure to windmill backwards and barely avoid the blast.

"I can't let you do that, Cure Pisces~!" Cebalrai instructed, shaking her finger in a tsk-tsk motion. When Pisces glared at her, Cebalrai only laughed, sweeping out her arms toward the lifeless people all around them. "Ah, you should have witnessed it! All of these foolish people, so wrapped up in their fears! I should have plagued you all with nightmares much sooner, I think~"

"That was YOU?!" the two cures chorused together. Aries looked horrified, whereas Pisces felt like she was five seconds from storming over and punching that smile right off Cebalrai's face.

"Quite a great plan, wasn't it? I learned so much about your fears in the process, Cure Pisces~"

Pisces swore her heart stopped.

Cebalrai smirked and with a grandiose gesture, several of the lifeless bodies began to float upwards, just enough to make Pisces take notice.

Chie. Arata. Miyo and Kouta. Sumire. The members of the Marine Life Club. The student council.

Kai.

Pisces wasn't sure which of them had screamed - she or Aries - only that it felt like her entire world had fallen out from under her feet. She stumbled backward, heart racing, as she suddenly understood why Aries was trapped and restrained.

Cebalrai was going to kill her.

And she's going to make me watch.

It should have made her furious. It should have inspired overprotective rage in her. But all she could do was stare helplessly at the woman, tears streaming down her cheeks. "...please don't." she begged, voice wavering. "Please."

Cebalrai laughed at her. "Look at you, you coward! Completely powerless - the second you think you can't win, you just give up!"

She's right, I'm not strong at all, she's going to take everything away from me and I can't handle it and I'm going to watch Mei die and she's going to kill me and -

"SHUT UP!"

Pisces looked over at Aries in surprise, as did Cebalrai. The red cure looked absolutely livid.

"JUST - SHUT UP!" Aries continued, angry tears streaming down her cheeks, face flushed in anger. "Stop - stop talking about Pisces like that! Stop saying she's a coward!"

Pisces stared.

"Stop acting like she shouldn't be scared! She - she has every right to be scared right now! I - I'm scared too! I'm so scared I don't think I could move even if I could! I'm scared of dying or losing all my friends or never seeing my mama and papa again! But I want to keep fighting anyways!"

Pisces felt her breath catch. Their feelings were the same. They were both terrified and yet -

"Because it's the right thing to do! Because no one else can do it! Because all the people here are important to me and I want to protect all of them! But it doesn't mean it's not scary! So I won't stand for it - I won't stand for you belittling my best friend's bravery!"

Cebalrai's eyes narrowed and she fired off another blast of dark energy - this time aimed at Aries. Pisces was too far away to even be able to intercept it -

- but Usami was there and with a burst of light, the little bear created a shield to take the brunt of the damage, shielding the red cure from harm.

For several seconds, there was silence. Pisces let her friend's words sink in. It was all right to be scared, it was all right to feel like their next battle might be their last. But Mei was right - there were people she wanted to protect too, no matter how scared she was. And with that resolve, Pisces's hands balled into fists. When she looked up at Cebalrai, there was nothing but steely determination in her blue eyes.

It was all the warning the other woman got.

In the next instant, she'd practically flown at Cebalrai, viciously uppercutting Cebalrai in the stomach before the woman could even think about blinking, much less dodging. The woman was knocked clear off the stage, hurtling into the bleachers, before retaliating with a mass of darkness tendrils, all aimed at the blue cure. Pisces weaved through the crowd of attacks to punch at Cebalrai again, her fist meeting Cebalrai's and the resulting impact blasting them both back.

Cebalrai dragged herself to her feet and snapped her fingers, creating a Darkness Jar to collect the various Inner Stars with. Pisces let out a wordless shout of retaliation before charging at the woman again - and the resulting explosion of darkness tendrils kept her too far away from getting rid of the jar herself. For every tendril she smacked away, two more came up in its place, and several ensnared themselves around her arms and legs to disrupt her balance and send her careening into the ground hard.

But she kept getting back on her feet and fighting, no matter how much it hurt, no matter how futile it seemed.

"You failed, Cure Pisces." Cebalrai stated as the last of the stars were sealed in the jar.

"NO I HAVEN'T!"

A burst of blue light erupted from Pisces's star brooch, reforming as a trident nearly as tall as she was. The shaft was blue and the trident three pronged, however the other side was sharpened to a spear point, allowing her to attack from both ends if need be. Like Aries, she couldn't find it in her to question this development, and instead used this new appearance to her advantage, using her weapon to slice through the crowd of dark tendrils like a hot knife through butter. Clearing the crowd with ease, she raced for Cebalrai, who vainly tried to send another crowd of darkness tendrils at her, but Pisces only gritted her teeth, stabbing the trident end into the writhing mass of darkness, and used the momentum to vault herself forward and up, delivering a devastating kick to Cebalrai's jaw.

The darkness tendrils waned and vanished. All that was left was the Darkness Jar, and an experimental stab with her trident yielded no results. With Cebalrai still seeing stars and Aries still trapped, Pisces knew she had to do this herself. With a deep breath, the blue cure concentrated, focusing on everyone important to her, on all the bodies Cebalrai had shown her.

Her trident vanished as quickly as it had appeared and just like that very first time, back when she and Usami had been confronted by Marfik, Pisces could feel power building inside of her. "Pretty Cure..." she began, as water tendrils began to hover around her "...Aqua Rush!" A massive burst of water fired out of her hands, destroying the Darkness Jar and setting all the stars inside of it free, and Pisces allowed herself a small smile of victory - just before she turned on her heel to look at Cebalrai.

Cebalrai wordlessly forced herself to her feet, glaring at Pisces the whole while. "This isn't over." she hissed before vanishing, Aries being freed as the woman vanished to parts unknown

The blue cure barely had time to comprehend everything that had happened when there was an excited cry from behind her. She turned - and was greeted with a joyous hug from Aries, who was sobbing in relief. "U-Ushio-chan, I'm so glad you're okaaayyyyy!" Aries said, burying her face into Pisces's shoulder. Usami sobbed in relief as well - and Pisces felt a lump in her throat again, eyes misting over with tears.

"C-c'mon guys, you're gonna make me cry again..."

"B-but I'm just so happy!!!"

Pisces sniffled, hugging her friends back, and smiled through the tears. It had been scary, but they were all right now.

And that was all that mattered.



Tachibana Teahouse was quite the popular after school spot, but with school being canceled for the rest of the week yet again, the Teahouse had lost its regular customers. Despite this, Chie Tachibana anxiously gazed at the front door every few minutes while she brewed a new pot of tea. The emptiness of the Teahouse didn't bother her - with Lucente Bay being as quiet as it was and the tourists more attracted to the casinos and moneymaking areas, there were plenty of times it had been quiet and dull.

No, she was anxious for another reason...

When the bell chimed to announce new visitors, Chie instinctively looked over - and grinned. "Kimura-san! Mabataki-san!" she greeted cheerfully, ushering Arata and Sumire over to a table. In several moments, she'd brought over a pot of tea and some cookies, before she primly took a seat at the table as well. "I was worried neither of you was going to show up!"

Arata's brows creased in irritation. "I'm not that unreliable, you know..." he muttered, before frowning. "So what were you so gung-ho about over the phone anyways?"

Chie paused thoughtfully - then looked over at Sumire. "This was Mabataki-san's idea." she said with an encouraging smile.

Sumire fumbled with her skirt briefly, carefully deliberating her words. With a shaky breath, the green haired girl finally looked up at the other two, expression as serious as the timid girl could make it. "This may sound crazy, but..." A pause. "I-I think Hidama-san and Hoshizora-san are those Pretty Cure we keep hearing about."

---

ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Usami: A-ah! I still didn't get to explain things!
Mei: ...don't worry, that's what next episode is for, Usami!
Usami: Uwaaah, you sure?
Mei: ...maybe...?
Ushio: Bah, who cares about that! After this episode, we totally need something relaxing!
Mei: Ah! We could take the ferry to Yobaiboshi, there's a new mall that just opened up!
Ushio: Sounds like a plan! We can invite Arata and the others too~
Usami: ...your friends are acting kind of weird though...
Mei: Hnnn, I hope it's not anything bad! A-anyways! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: A shopping excursion! We won't let you hurt our friends! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!

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