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“Zodiac Arms?”

Usami nodded sagely at Mei, attempting to look as wise and knowledgeable as a fuzzy little teddy bear could. “Mama explained lots better, but the basic idea is that they come from your strong will! There was something you wanted to do more than anything in the world, and that gives you a Zodiac Arms!”

Ushio scratched her cheek. “So since Mei and I had something we really wanted to protect…”

“…your Zodiac Arms appeared, yeah!” Usami’s eyes shone brightly. “I’m really impressed too! The last team didn’t earn theirs as fast as you did and Ruru-chan didn’t even - ”

Mei held up her hand to cut Usami off, before listening carefully. The girl had invited Ushio over for a sleepover – partly out of worry for her friend, partly to understand just what had happened back during the festival and at the aquarium – and while it was nice to get answers, she was afraid of her mother or her siblings overhearing them somehow…

…but the hallway was quiet, thankfully. Mei peeked outside her room, just to be sure, and to her immense relief, no one was eavesdropping. Her mother had been increasingly fussy lately and while Mei completely understood and appreciated it, she was worried too. How was she going to handle telling her mother about being a Pretty Cure…?

“Mei?” Ushio asked, prodding the girl’s cheek.

Mei blinked, shook her head to dispel her worries. “Ah, sorry, I spaced out for a second!”

Ushio frowned, eyebrows furrowing. “Mei…”

The pigtailed girl sighed. “…okay, okay. I-I don’t like lying to my mom like this, you know? My mom deserves to know.” she paused uneasily. “Just…just not yet.” And now she frowned, obviously troubled.

Ushio placed a hand to her chin, deep in thought. “Y’know what we need?” she asked, lips pulling into a grin. “A trip! I heard there’s a new mall that opened up on the mainland, we should check it out!”

Usami shared the girl’s sentiments, jumping up and down. “Uwaah! I wanna go, I wanna go!”

Mei smiled. It would be nice to take a trip to the mainland city of Yobaiboshi. There was always something to do there! “Can we invite Arata-kun and the others too?”

Ushio nodded eagerly – before she blinked, a sly grin coming to her face. “Arata, huh? You plannin’ on ditching us so you can have a romantic first date with him?”

Mei sputtered wordlessly, turning a vivid shade of red. “A-Arata-kun and I are just friends!”

“Then why are you turning red~?”
“Because you’re being embarrassing!
“But the only reason you’d be embarrassed is if you like him~”
“Y-you – he’s always so mean to me!”
“Ohoho, now you’re avoiding the subject~!”

Mei stared for a moment, not having a comeback for that, before she seized the nearest pillow and angrily threw it at Ushio. Really, it wasn’t nice to joke about these kinds of things! It was so humiliating…

Ushio let out a squawk of disbelief as the pillow hit her face – but when she pulled the pillow away, her expression was completely serious. “Of course you know,” she declared, seriousness fading to show a twinkle in her eye, “this means war!” She threw the pillow back at Mei just as she finished her sentence, earning a yelp from her friend and soon enough, the two had devolved into an all-out pillow fight, the two girls shrieking and giggling all the while.

Usami watched the ongoing chaos with a smile, sighing in relief. “I’m so glad they’re doing better.”

---

OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" – StarSHINE
EPISODE 7 - "A shopping excursion! We won't let you hurt our friends!"

---

"So you're serious about them being those Pretty Cure, huh?" Chie asked as she rolled over on her bed, increasingly warm cellphone pressed to her ear and cheek. School had restarted again and with it came homework and testing. Ever since the attack on the aquarium, things had fallen to a lull. There hadn't been any attacks - and subsequently, any Pretty Cure sightings. Chie was starting to wonder if Sumire's theory was going to hold any water...

"Y-yes, I'm almost positive of it!" came Sumire's slightly nervous voice. Chie smiled absently as she rolled a different way, trying to find a comfortable position. Even after a week of conversing on the phone, Sumire was still a little nervous. But it instilled her with a kind of pride too - she was already doing so much better than when they'd first started talking! "But there's no way to know for sure yet..."

"You might be in luck then, Mabataki-san. Hidama-san been organizing a trip this week - she wants Kimura-san, some of Hoshizora-san's club members and I to go to Yobaiboshi tomorrow. She wanted to ask you to come too, but she doesn't have your number, and I wasn't sure whether to give it to her myself..." Chie paused briefly. She could almost hear Sumire's inward deliberation. "You should come, Mabataki-san." she encouraged. "I think everyone else wants to get to know you better."

"I-it does sound l-like fun..." Sumire admitted, voice wavering.

"We could try and see if they really are Pretty Cure too! Maybe we could dress Kimura-san up as a monster, that'd probably do the trick." Chie teased, smiling when she heard a snort of laughter over the phone. "But if they really are the Pretty Cure though..." Chie continued and now sat up, looking out the window. "What will you do?"

There was a long pause.

"...I-I wouldn't g-go to the media i-if that's what you're t-thinking!" Sumire said, voice lightly high-pitched. "I-I just..." she murmured, trailing off. "I-I w-want to help them, you know? That, a-ah, I-I mean..." Again, she trailed off, and Chie got the distinct impression the other girl was turning red. "You - you do that, r-right? F-for your friends...?"

Chie felt her heart swell with joy. For all of Sumire's shyness and timidness, she really did like everyone else! And Chie was going to make it her mission to get everyone on the same page! The others wanted to be friends with her, Mei especially, but none of them seemed to know how to handle someone as quiet as Sumire. But that was okay, that was why Chie was there! Surely this trip would bring everyone even closer!

"T-Tachibana-san...? I didn't say something w-wrong, did I...?"

"Ah, n-no, no, not at all!" Chie laughed, waving her hand about in dismissal - before she realized she didn't have to, her cheeks tinting pink. "You just made me think how happy everyone would be to hear that you think of them as friends."

The line went quiet. "...they'd be happy...?"

"Of course they would!" Chie assured, growing concerned when the line grew quiet again. She strained her ears and heard something that sounded like - "Mabataki-san?"

"I - I'm really g-glad they'd be happy!" Sumire replied too quickly, sniffling and confirming what Chie had thought she'd heard. "So - s-so I'll definitely come with all o-of you...!"

Chie decided not to comment on it, instead nodding - and then realizing she didn't have to do that either, cheeks tinting pink again. "We're meeting at 8 am sharp at the docks. Make sure to bring money for the ferry and spending money!"

"R-right! And...a-and thank you, Tachibana-san."

Chie smiled, happily chatting with Sumire until her phone beeped in warning - it needed to get charged! And when the two said their goodbyes for the night, Chie flopped onto her bed, sighing in contentment. This was going to be a great trip. She could feel it.

7:45 in the morning in Lucente Bay meant the sun was shining brilliantly but the air was crisp and cool, no doubt due to the ocean air. The Lucente Bay docks were quiet and calm, as the fisherman had already set sail for the day, having left well before dawn to start their daily haul. And away from the business docks, in a nice little dock all its own, was the Lucente Bay ferry line, with a simple little shack and several different boats, some of which had already departed. While the bigger Twilight Line boasted a 450 passenger limit, and the Aurora Jet boasting an equally impressive 300 passenger limit, there was also the Comet Line for islanders, a smaller 100 passenger boat for those who needed to commute for work. And all the way at the end, there was the tiny, unimpressive Etoile Express, a ferry designed for the students of the Etoile Academy.

Three teenagers waited at the end of the dock for the Etoile Express to start up. The first was a girl with wavy pink hair tied back into a high ponytail with a black ribbon. While the mornings in Lucente could be chilly, the girl's outfit only felt like an overreaction - she wore a lolita styled ensemble in blacks and pinks, wearing stockings and gloves and all together looking quite out of place for a shopping trip to the mall. Her two companions - a dark haired, dark skinned girl with hair in braided plaits and a pale young man with spiked red hair and thick black framed glasses - didn't seem to mind her attire at all, though given they were much more sensibly dressed, it made the pink haired girl stand out all the more.

The dark haired girl frowned as she checked her watch. "How much you wanna bet boss is gonna be late again, Momoe?"

Momoe, the pink haired girl, sighed. "I don't want to bet on something like that, Kiyomi."

"Boooo, you're no fun!" Kiyomi grumbled, puffing her cheeks out in annoyance. "I say we almost miss the first ferry~!"

"Almost?" the boy laughed. "That's a generous estimate."

Kiyomi looked at him with bright eyes. "Eijiiii, let's bet on it!" she begged him, giving him puppy dog eyes. "If I'm wrong, I'll buy you lunch for a week!"

The boy, Eiji, grinned. "Okay, Kiyomi, okay. If I'm wrong, then I'll buy you one of those fancy cakes from the Teahouse." A pause. "Twice."

Kiyomi's expression brightened. "T-the special order red velvet one?!"

Eiji cringed, recalling the price on it, but nodded. "Yeah yeah, if that's what you want..."

"Haaa? You guys makin' bets about Ushio again?" Arata asked as he strolled over to the group, stifling a yawn. It seemed he wasn't a morning person.

"You betcha!" Kiyomi nodded. "She's always late to club meetings and she runs the club! Me an' Eiji think Ushio will get here riiiight before the first ferry takes off~"

Arata grinned. "Fine, l'll bet that we miss the first ferry waiting for her then."

"You gotta decide what you'll do if you're wrong too!" Kiyomi insisted, Eiji nodding in agreement.

"Psh, like I'd actually be wrong." Arata waved his hand in dismissal, only to be met with glares. "...a-ah. Uh..." he glanced around, gaze settling on Momoe and her attire and then before he could stop himself, "If I'm wrong, I'll model for Kirika's store! Uh, for a week!"

"Uwaaah, he's so brave!" Kiyomi cheered. Eiji had to stare at Arata incredulously, and Arata just grinned confidently. There was no way he'd lose the bet, the odds were totally in his favor! Ushio was late a lot, but never that late!

"If you're all wrong," another voice chimed in, "you all have to model for Kirika's shop."

The group turned to see a smirking Ushio, Mei trailing behind the black-haired girl. While Kiyomi, Eiji, and Arata froze, horrified, Momoe smiled a placid little smile - that didn't quite reach her eyes, which had the strangest glint to them. "I think," the pink haired girl said, "that's a very good idea, Ushio-chan. Don't you all feel the same?"

The group fell silent. Crossing Ushio was one thing - but crossing Momoe? There was a reason she was the vice-president of the Marine Life club. Even the student council was afraid of her wrath. Meekly, the three nodded, resigning themselves to their fate.

Mei smiled sheepishly, glancing around a little. The next ferry was supposed to depart at 8 and they still had 5 minutes to go - but where were Chie and Sumire? "Tachibana-san and Mabataki-san aren't here yet? Tachibana-san texted me to say she wouldn't be far..."

"Maybe Mabataki backed out on us." Arata said, straight and to the point.

Mei bristled. "Arata-kun, don't be mean!"

Okay, maybe that had come out wrong, Arata had to admit. But not one to back down without a point, he grumbled under his breath and folded his arms across his chest. "What? She always looks like a deer in the headlights, she'd probably cry or something."

Ushio frowned, eyes narrowing a little. "Knock it off. She's a good kid, don't be an ass t'her."

"I'm not sayin' I don't like her! She's just one of those super shy types, she probably won't be comfortable in big groups!" Arata countered. Chie was with her so at least she wouldn't be without friends, but from his talks with Sumire, she seemed to prefer after-hours at the Teahouse as opposed to the hustle and bustle of somewhere like a busy mall. He looked pointedly at Mei. "Someone should have thoughta that before dragging her into this - "

"I didn't drag her into ANYTHING!" Mei protested, indignant and hurt. "If she doesn't come, that's fine, but you don't have to blame me for it..."

"I'm not - !"

"Helllooooo!"

In the distance, Chie waved as she called toward the group, Sumire in tow and apparently struggling with keeping her white sunhat on as she hurried along with the taller girl. As the two got closer, the shack lit up, the employee inside evidentially getting ready to open shop. The group clustered around the sales window as Chie and Sumire finally caught up with them, the two girls breathing heavily. Still clutching her sunhat, Sumire bowed abruptly to the group. "I-I'm very sorry! I-I got lost o-on the way here..."

Mei gave the girl an encouraging smile, though Arata's words still lingered in her mind. "Don't worry, Mabataki-san, we wouldn't have left without you."

Sumire smiled gratefully, though stifled a noise of fright at the three other new faces. Goodness, this group was a little bigger than she'd thought. "I-it's nice to meet you..."

"The pleasure's all ours, Mabataki-san!" Kiyomi said with a grin. "I'm Saito Kiyomi, okay? I'm in charge of advertising in the Marine Life club~"

"Ueda Eiji, I'm the treasurer." Eiji offered a mock-salute.

"Honda Momoe, the vice president." Momoe offered a curt nod, eyes glinting again. Sumire would make a nice model too...

"Oiiii, I think they're waiting." Ushio pointed out, jerking a thumb at the expectant looking cashier. "We ready?" And when the group nodded, Ushio pumped her fist enthusiastically in the air. "Then let's go~!"

The Void was typically an unsettling place, what with its ruined atmosphere and the single lone tower, unmarred against the assault that had taken place so long ago. But now it was unsettling for another reason - whatever darkness Ophiuchus had released swarmed around the Void, poisoning and infecting the land. The tower still held out against this malicious darkness but there was something far more important at stake...

"Get out."

Cebalrai flinched at the pure hatred dripping in Rasalhague's voice, hatred only matched by the livid expression on his gaunt face. Whatever that darkness had done, it was eating away at him, making the bags under his eyes dark and his face appear sunken. Had it been the same thing that had hit her? She couldn't say, only being aware of the fact something strange had hit her just before her battle with that Pisces girl - and suddenly she was able to laugh and smile, things she'd never done since the beginning. "Rasalhague, I - "

"GET. OUT."

"Please, listen to me!" Cebalrai begged, not sure if she liked the fact she couldn't keep her emotions under lock and key anymore. The hysterical note in her voice made her sick, this wasn't who she was supposed to be. "I didn't do this on purpose!" she continued, and panicked tears slid down her cheeks. "You have to believe me, Lady Ophiuchus means the world to me!"

"And you murdered her." came Marfik's voice to her side, and the caped boy gripped Cebalrai's arm tightly, sharpened nails digging in. He stared up at the woman with wide eyes, his expression the complete opposite of Rasalhague's - his was blank, and yet his voice was still filled with utter disgust.

"She's not dead." Rasalhague hissed, and he looked over to the large canopy bed, where Ophiuchus laid. The already pale girl was even paler now, and her lifeless red eyes stared up unseeingly at the stars that dotted the entire tower. Strangely, said stars would occasionally float up to her, offering their warm light before burning out. It rose strange feelings in the dark skinned young man - pride that their star hunting had done something at last, utter disgust that their hands had been stained so much with the lives of others, anger that the Inner Stars had never offered their help before. "Technically, anyways."

"She's not breathing." Marfik pointed out, voice hollow.

"She's an empty shell." Rasalhague continued. "Those stars will keep her alive until we get that darkness back in her." And then he brought his gaze back to Cebalrai, hateful and utterly unforgiving. "This is your fault."

"I didn't know this was going to happen!" Another desperate, agonized cry. "I love her, just as much as you and Marfik do, I would never cause her harm like this, I - !" And Cebalrai couldn't finish, she simply burst into tears. These emotions would be the death of her, she was sure. She hated them, wanted them to go away - they were an inconvenience, they always were!

"Shut up." Marfik said, abruptly shoving her to the floor. "Do you know what happens if Ophiuchus dies?" he asked, voice eerie and hollow. "Everything we've worked for is for nothing. We'd be nothing but murderers, just like you." he knelt down next to Cebalrai and seized her by the hair, ignoring her whimper of pain, and stared her straight in the eyes, unflinching. "Did you forget what we swore that day, Cebalrai? That we'd find her a new Inner Star so we could free her from that darkness?"

"N-no, of course not!"

"LIAR!" And he shoved her to the floor again, smashing her face against the pavement. "Without a new Star, she's going to DIE! And it's all your fault!"

"Please - please let me fix this!" she begged, muffled, in pain. She wasn't sure how useful she was with this damnable darkness infecting her, but if she could just -

"No. You'll just get her killed." Rasalhague's voice was cold, expression even moreso even as he pulled Marfik back - just before he sharply kicked Cebalrai in the side, causing her to whimper in pain. "At this point, you're worth more to Ophiu dead than alive - but I'm not cruel enough to murder you on the spot. You'll have your chance to prove yourself, make no mistake."

Cebalrai wanted to sob in relief. A look from Rasalhague silenced that.

"Until then, get out of my sight."

And there was nothing she could do but comply, her heart filled with so many emotions it dizzied her. But one thing was perfectly clear to her even now - the darkness had corrupted them all, changed them. These were no longer her comrades, and the realization made her sob in despair as she disappeared.

[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.]

Yobaiboshi always felt like the gateway to another world to the residents of Lucente Bay, and to someone like Sumire, it almost felt like walking straight into Wonderland. The hustle and bustle of the city was nothing like the calm of the island, and the various other groups of people that milled around the mall made the short green haired girl jump in fright, even though they weren't anywhere near her. She pressed closer to Chie - who smiled in understanding - and listened as the rest of the group rambled on. Eiji took in the sights as Kiyomi chattered happily to Momoe about fashion, the two hand in hand, whereas Mei and Arata were currently speaking at length about astrology and the various constellations that were in season. To her left, she could hear Ushio and Chie talking about something or other and it all blended together, a cacophony of words and sounds, pleasant conversations and idle chitchat.

Did she really fit in with this?

Everyone seemed to know each other...

"...helllooooo, earth to Mabataki!"

Sumire blinked, torn out of her daze. "Y-yes?"

Ushio pouted. "I was askin' if you had a dream last night, Tachibana told me hers, I wanna know about yours too!"

Sumire couldn't help feeling puzzled at the strange choice of subject, before her brows creased in thought. What HAD she dreamt about last night...? She closed her eyes, concentrating. "I dreamt about a girl." she finally said, bits and pieces coming back to her. "A girl in - golds, I think. She was telling me I was going to meet her soon and that made me really happy - ah, that sounds kind of weird, doesn't it?"

"It sounds romantic, I think." Chie said with an envious sigh, causing Sumire to blush. T-the dream hadn't felt romantic, but - but she definitely wouldn't have minded if it was!

"A girl, huh?" Ushio asked, tilting her head as she glanced at the shorter girl. "Was she cute?"

Sumire only blushed harder. "...I-I guess, b-but I-I've definitely seen cuter..." she admitted nervously, then peeked over at Ushio. "...you don't think I'm weird?"

Ushio snorted. "Have you seen those two?" she motioned vaguely to Kiyomi and Momoe, who were blissfully discussing date plans farther up ahead. "If the Love Love couple over there's fine with me, don't see why you wouldn't be." she paused thoughtfully, then grinned. "Though t'be honest, me and Mei figured you two were dating."

Sumire felt her whole face burn red, whereas Chie only gave Ushio - who had begun laughing hysterically - a dirty look. "We're just friends, you shouldn't tease her."

"Eheheh, sorry. Least you're not like those two though - " Ushio motioned over toward Mei and Arata, in the middle of an argument about constellation mythology, " - the whole 'too tsundere to admit his feelings' thing is kind of makin' him a right jerk." she rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath that Sumire couldn't quite catch.

"Um." Sumire fidgeted - they were already on the subject, it was okay to ask this, right? - and took a breath. "What about you, Hoshizora-san?"

"What about - ohhh." Ushio paused, tilted her head, then finally shrugged. "Don't really put much thought into it. Not really my thing, t'be honest. Can't really see myself with anyone." she noted the guilty look on Sumire's face and waved her hand in dismissal. "Oiii, don't start feelin' sorry for me or somethin'. It doesn't make me sad, shouldn't make you sad either!" And apparently done with the subject, Ushio took a look around. "Where'd Eiji go?"

"I believe he left to the bookstore." Chie supplied helpfully. "Saito-san and Honda-san have disappeared as well..."

"A-Arata-kun, don't!"

The trio glanced over to see Mei tugging fruitlessly on Arata's arm, trying to pull him away from a shop still under construction, the door to the inside left curiously ajar. "We'll get in trouble, and I bet it's not safe!"

"C'mooon, don't be like that! Haven't you ever wanted t'see what a store looks like before it's finished?" Arata tugged back, eyes alight with mischief. Before Mei could protest even more, he wriggled out of her grip, racing into the unfinished store with a whoop of victory. Mei bristled in irritation, shouting how he could get hurt for all she cared - before she quickly changed her mind, hurrying after him.

Ushio sighed. "Hang on, lemme go get them..." she muttered darkly under her breath and hurried through the door as well. Chie and Sumire shared a nervous look, the two girls concerned for their friends - before Ushio let out a muffled shriek from inside the unfinished store. The two girls wasted no time heading for the store as well. Chie went in first, and Sumire second, but the second the door closed behind them, the entire room became pitch black -

- and then abruptly the floor dropped out from under them, thrusting them into the darkness.

Kiyomi and Momoe stepped outside of a nearby clothing store, and Kiyomi tilted her head to the side. "Did you hear something?" she asked Momoe, frowning in concern. "It sounded like it came from inside there..." Kiyomi pointed to an empty store for lease, currently being used as a display to advertise other shops in the mall, "...but there's no way to get in there..."

"I'm sure it's nothing." Momoe assured. "Let's go find the others, all right? I think they left without us."

Kiyomi was about to agree, when she squinted, tilting her head again. Then: "Momoe? Isn't that the hat Mabataki-san was wearing...?"

Usami had felt the change in the air immediately, and he wrestled out of Mei's purse as urgently as he could. "Mei-chan, Mei-chaaan!" he said as he finally got himself free, only to find himself having a larger audience then he'd thought. There was Mei, and Ushio, and then...

...uh-oh.

Mei and Ushio froze, whereas Arata stared at the little blue bear with such wide eyes Usami couldn't help but picture Arata's eyes popping out of his head. Behind him, Chie and Sumire stared at him, gazes both incredulous and afraid. "That's a bear." Arata finally stated, shoulders slumped in utter disbelief. "That's a goddamn talking bear."

Chie was the next to speak up. "H-Hidama-san." she stammered, so unlike her normal prim self. "W-why do you h-have a talking bear...?"

"Can we worry more about where we are...?" Ushio cut in, struggling to deflect the topic to something else as she gestured all around. The place they were in was expansive and cold, where their voices echoed off the concrete. It was dark, but not completely so, and the more Ushio looked at it, the more it seemed like an underground parking lot...

"I want to know a-about the bear." Sumire nervously spoke up, shivering a little. Chie and Arata nodded fiercely.

Mei bit her lip, not sure how to explain it, when Usami cut in angrily. "Who cares about that?!" the bear said, looking as angry as a little fuzzy bear could be, before he turned over to the nervous Mei. "Mei-chan, there's trouble! I can - "

" - sense it?" came Rasalhague's icy voice, finishing Usami's sentence for him.

A chill ran down Mei's spine and almost immediately she recalled the festival. Her hand went to her side as she remembered how his slash had hurt, and she couldn't find it in her to turn around or even stand up. But Ushio could - Ushio with her infuriated expression, with her gritted teeth.

"You're the one that hurt Mei!" And it wasn't just Ushio shouting this, it was Arata too, looking just as infuriated as she did, maybe even moreso considering how he was shaking with rage.

Rasalhague smiled a cold smile, red eyes alight even in the darkness, and Usami growled, fur on edge. "Something's wrong! He's different than before!" the bear shouted, and no one thought to question what he meant - not with the white haired man floating in the air menacingly, a dark aura crawling around his form. With a flick of his wrist, a mass of dark energy shot at the group, and it was only Usami's quick thinking that kept the group safe, the small bear creating a shield of light to deflect the attack.

Mei stared as Rasalhague floated down to the ground and slowly advanced on the small group. Usami was right, he was different - the smile on his face wasn't happy, and it wasn't the sad one from the last time she'd seen him either. He wasn't apologizing, wasn't upset - no, this was a completely different person, someone who smiled at the thought of violence and wanted nothing more than to kill people. Something about it made her heart twist in sadness, even if she couldn't explain why. "...l-leave them out of this!" she finally said, voice panicked. What would this Rasalhague do to her friends...?

Rasalhague smirked and with a snap of his fingers, several more blasts of energy shot at the group. Usami panicked and strengthened his light shield - but Rasalhague merely continued the energy assault, each attack slamming into the shield and making it crack and splinter. The small group had clustered together during the attacks, with Arata standing out in front, the boy prepared to take any attacks head-on for the rest of the girls. "Make me." the white haired young man challenged, as the shield began to fracture and shatter.

And that was the final straw for both girls. They pushed past Arata, despite his cry of protest, and the two girls took a breath in tandem, just before reaching for their Star Capsules.

"Pretty Cure!" Mei and Ushio declared, as the other three stared at them, jaws dropped, "Wish Upon A Star!"

The resulting burst of light was enough to shatter Usami's shield and negate Rasalhague's energy attacks completely - and the second the lightshow was over, the two Cures wasted no time going on the offensive. Aries was first, racing at him with a fierce punch, her attack hitting a shield of dark energy. Rasalhague barely had a chance to smirk before Pisces vaulted over the red Cure, swiftly kicking the white haired young man in the jaw. The young man skidded backwards, bewildered, before he got back to his feet - and eyed the small group behind the Cures, an unsettling smile on his face...

"Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!"
"Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!"

A fire whip lashed at Rasalhague and he dodged it narrowly, only to take the brunt of Pisces's attack, the jet of water slamming him into a pillar. The young man retaliated with a snap of his fingers and several blasts of energy fired straight at Arata and the others. Usami's shield couldn't take that many attacks - so the two Cures braced themselves and took the force of the attack themselves. It hurt, agonizingly so, but they refused to lose face, the two girls merely gritting their teeth and standing firm.

"These are our friends..." Aries hissed, glaring.

"...and you won't hurt them!" Pisces finished.

"That's all right," Rasalhague said, red eyes alight with cruelty, "I only need to hurt you." And with another snap of his fingers, even more energy blasts fired at the two, hitting the cures, the surroundings, destroying the parking structure all around. Dust and debris flew in every direction - and when the dust settled, the two cures still remained, hand in hand and refusing to back down. They looked worse for wear now, breathing heavily, no doubt in immense pain - but their eyes shone with intense ferocity. Together, the two cures took a step forward.

"Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!"
"Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!"

The two attacks combined together, creating a stronger attack that shot straight for Rasalhague - who smirked and returned a powerful blast in turn. The dark energy met the bright light of the combined attack, each attack seeking to overpower the other. The two cures stood firm, pouring everything they could into their blast, and Rasalhague was happy to do the same.

Usami trembled as all he could do was watch. This - this wasn't right! He was their guardian but - but he couldn't do anything! "Stop it! Stop it!" he begged, shaking as he pounded his small furry paws against the shield of light, all of a sudden reminded of that time so long ago, Hirui at his side and the two of them begging for the same thing. Arata soon joined him, the two of them begging for the cures to back off, to surrender, to stop trying to sacrifice themselves.

Sumire wanted nothing more then to join them, but she was huddled in on herself, gripping her chest painfully. Watching the two of them fight - she didn't know why and couldn't understand it, but her chest suddenly felt like something was trying to burst out. It was hard to breathe and Sumire gasped for breath, shuddering and trying not to cry. Chie was with her, trying to get her to stop hyperventilating, and yet even though she was in pain, all Sumire could think was -

Was -

"STOP IT!"

Her voice rang out, echoed against the walls, and in that instant it felt like whatever was trying to get out was released, just for that moment. Rasalhague's attention was jarred, just for a second - and it was all the cures needed to overpower his attack, blasting him with a bright energy that made him scream in pain. When the light faded, the white haired man stumbled, breathing raggedly, and he rose his gaze to the duo, something strange in his expression, as if he didn't understand what he was even doing there in the first place. His mouth opened, but he couldn't summon the right words, and when he vanished, he still had that same look of confusion.

Their surroundings disappeared when he did, and the group found themselves standing in front of an empty store. The return had detransformed Mei and Ushio - who slumped against one another, exhausted - and the rest of the group clamored to help them stay steady and on their feet. In the distance, Kiyomi called to them, holding Sumire's fallen sunhat, and the three members of the Marine Life club joined them. The entire group started talking at once, trying to get everyone on the same page.

Mei and Ushio sighed. This was going to take a lot of explaining...

The sun was setting over the ocean as the small group took the ferry back to Lucente Bay. After the initial practical interrogation of Mei, Ushio, and Usami at the mall - in hushed whispers, to not attract too much attention - the group seemed to have splintered off again. Mei and Ushio sat at the back of the ferry, napping against each other, Mei's head resting on Ushio's shoulder, Eiji, Momoe, and Kiyomi spoke about club duties, deliberating how to split jobs now that they knew their club president was a part-time magical girl, Chie and Arata spoke quietly, Arata continually looking back at Mei with worry whenever he thought no one was looking -

- and somehow, Sumire found herself sitting with Usami, the little bear nestled in her lap. Introducing herself to a talking bear had been a bit of a fright, to be honest, but she found herself strangely comfortable with the little bear, almost like she had known him for a lifetime. It was strange, but not in a scary way, oddly enough. It was like she had found a close friend after a long time, and it soothed her in a way Sumire didn't know how to put words to. As everyone talked around her, Sumire found herself staring at the setting sun, the golden hues of the sun reflecting against the blue of the ocean water, and placed her hand to her chest, just over her heart.

What had happened back there? Why had it hurt so much, why couldn't she feel anything now?

And, she found herself thinking as she glanced over at the sleeping Mei and Ushio, what happens from here, anyways...?

---

ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Mei: Mabataki-san's birthday is coming up, isn't it?
Ushio: Ah, really? We should throw her a surprise party!
Usami: Guuyyyss, there's something I really gotta tell you!
Mei: A surprise party sounds like a GREAT idea! We should get her a cake too!
Ushio: And a ton of presents~
Usami: You guys...
Mei: I'm going to call Tachibana-san right now to hash out some plans!
Usami: Rrrr, fine then, you'll just have to find out like everyone else then! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: The power of friendship! Cure Virgo's debut! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!

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Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure

May 2017

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