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Mornings at the Kousei household started early, just before sunrise. It was something Ibuki had long since grown accustomed to, and when her alarm went off this particular morning, she yawned and wrestled out of her pink and purple bedcovers, leaving them a messy pile on her bed. With a stretch, the girl got to her feet, ready to face the day, wandering over to her closet. Running a hand through her wavy hair, she glanced at both her sets of uniforms – after noticing that there wasn’t an explicit rule against girls wearing the boy’s uniform, Ibuki had cheerfully kept both – and scratched her head, debating which to wear today. The girl’s uniform was cute as always, but it was a little chilly and there were other things she had to factor in too – in that respect, pants would definitely be easier…

She sighed, feeling indecisive, and glanced around the room, trying to find something that would help her make up her mind. By chance, she noticed one of her pictures on her dresser, and smiled fondly, nostalgic.

“Ahh, Fumie-chan, Ibuki-chan, you look so alike you could be twins~!” came the delighted cry from one of their aunts as the two 6 year old cousins stepped out to model their new clothes. Both blonde and blue eyed, they definitely looked like twins at a glance. Fumie, the shorter of the two with darker blonde hair in fluffy pigtails, smiled brightly at the attention, twirling around in her blue dress.

The slightly taller of the two, Ibuki, with paler blonde hair and a short, cropped haircut, smiled as well – she wanted to show off too! She really loved this purple dress and the frilly stockings and the mary-janes and she even picked out a nice barrette to wear and –

“Ibuki-chan looks a little strange in her dress though, doesn’t she?”


In the present, Ibuki’s smile faded.

“Ahh, you’re right! Like a boy~”
“That’s right, that’s right! That’s what I was thinking too!”
“Are you sure you’re not really a boy, Ibuki-chan~?”

Fumie frowned, hands on her hips. “Don’t be mean to Ibuki!”

“Ah, Fumie-chan, don’t be upset! We’re just joking, that’s all!”
“Ibuki-chan just looks like a boy, you know?”

Ibuki growled, glaring at all her various relatives. “Shut up! ‘m not a boy, stop sayin’ that or...o-or I’ll hit you!”

But there was only more laughter.

“See, see? She acts like one too!”
“Maybe she’d be better in pants!”
“The dress doesn’t really suit her, come to think of it…”


Ibuki let out a noise of frustration, both hands tugging at her hair. “Rrrrgh, why ‘m I even thinkin’ ‘bout this so early?!” she scolded herself, muttering darkly under her breath. “Was a long time ago anyways, there’s no way anyone still thinks that stupid stuff!”

“Sort of like she’s not really a girl at all?”
“Yeah! Exactly that!”


The blonde let out another noise of anger and turned away, hurrying to get to the bathroom and start her day before all her brothers started hogging it. But when it came time to pick a uniform to wear, Ibuki found herself picking the girl’s one. Maybe she’d pin her hair up in pigtails today too, and wear an extra couple of barrettes – she had bought some new ones anyways and was dying to coordinate them with her uniform…

Yeah.

That sounded like a good idea.

---

OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" – StarSHINE
EPISODE 12 - “Ibuki a target! You don’t understand my feelings!”

---

The Void had become an all consuming darkness, and the solitary tower remained, but was no longer pristine. Instead of a pure white, perfect tower as a beacon of hope against the ruined wasteland, it had become an ugly tower of mottled, diseased gray, cracked and ruined. The stars that had been inside the tower remained, but they were no longer free floating, instead trapped inside a massive net of darkness that rustled and twitched, practically alive. The elaborate canopy bed that had once been there had been completely destroyed, replaced with an imposing throne only barely hinted at by the light of the Inner Stars held up above - and whoever sat in that imposing, shadowy throne was completely hidden from few.

The tower was no longer a beacon - perhaps it had stopped being a beacon the very second Ophiuchus had fled. No, it had been consumed and destroyed, just like everything else in the wasteland had been. But while the rest of the wasteland had been eliminated completely, the tower had been allowed to stay - perhaps as a symbol that hope could never win.

Marfik appeared at the outskirts of the tower and made his way inside. While he once would have joked around with Rasalhague or bickered with Cebalrai, he didn't even give the other two a passing glance as he made his way to the center of the room. He dropped to one knee as he approached the throne.

"You have fared better than I expected." the sinister voice of Omega said. "Not only did you bring despair, but you set your sights on one of the Pretty Cure, rendering her powerless. My only regret is that you did not bring me her Inner Star."

Marfik bowed his head. "My apologies, Lord Omega."

"Your commendable actions shall do for now, Marfik." Omega continued, then paused. "Cebalrai." he said, voice rumbling.

Cebalrai stepped forward, before also bowing in greeting. "Yes, Lord Omega?"

"You are to target the Pretty Cure. Select whatever Inner Star you believe will suffice." Omega instructed. "And if you find the Ophiuchus girl - bring her to me and me alone."

"I understand, Lord Omega." Cebalrai nodded, just before disappearing.



There was chatter from the den when Ibuki got out of the bathroom, the young girl absently tugging at her pigtails for what felt like the umpteenth time. Remembering things like that had always made her self-conscious for more reasons than one, but for some reason it felt worse today. It even made her want to use makeup for a change, something that she never really considered.

’m just bein’ stupid, she thought as she shook her head and made her way downstairs. everythin’s FINE. She’d barely made it to the kitchen when -

“Oh man, someone looks like they’re in a bad mood!”

Ibuki flinched as her older brother Yuuki spoke with that damnable grin he always had – it was the kind of expression that perfectly suited the mess of . Beside him, her other older brother, Hiro, also grinned, but something in his expression flickered when he saw her face. “You okay, Ibuki?” Hiro asked, grin morphing into a light frown.

“Little sis just needs to smile!” Yuuki sang out and with a laugh, reached forward and seized Ibuki’s cheeks, pulling the corners of her mouth upward in a silly, lopsided grin. “See? She already looks way nicer!”

Ibuki let out an indignant squawk of protest and thrashed about, wiggling out of her older brother’s grip. “Lay off, y’hear?!” she insisted. “Ain’t up for this t’day…”

The two twin brothers looked at each other. Yuuki stopped grinning, whereas Hiro only frowned even more. “Ibuki?” Hiro ventured again

“Everything okay?” Yuuki continued as he placed a hand on his little sister’s shoulder.

Ibuki sighed deeply. “You…y’guys think ‘m a girl, right?”

Yuuki couldn’t help letting out a laugh. “Well, unless the baby pictures are lying…” he said, snickering when his little sister abruptly turned bright red.
Hiro rolled his eyes at his brother’s comment. “Of course you’re a girl! Why wouldn’t you be?”

Ibuki peeked upward, hesitating. They were boys, would they really understand where she was coming from? It was something they’d never had to deal with, after all. Still, boys or not, they were her brothers – her family – and if she couldn’t talk to her family about this then… “Y’see, I - ”

“Ah, but you’re not really that girly, huh?” Yuuki pointed out before she could finish, hand to his chin in thought. “I mean, you can’t really cook or clean that well, and you’re not really one of those quiet demure types – ah, like that cute girl who walked you home the other day! Like that, you’re not really like that – you’re a girl but you don’t act like one!”

It was like he’d punched her in the stomach. Ibuki stared at him, insides running cold.

To his credit, Yuuki blinked and scratched his head. “…somehow I don’t think that’s what you wanted to hear.”

The girl only sighed, pigtails bobbing up and down as she did so. “I wanted t’be a new person when we came here, but all people see is th’ old me.” she confessed, shoulders slumping.

“Well…” Hiro spoke up, looking sheepish and hesitant. “You haven’t really changed much though?” he admitted, turning pink when both Yuuki and Ibuki looked at him. “You still act the same way, you just look cuter now.” he explained.

Ibuki looked down, hair shadowing her eyes. “So I can’t change then.” she said, voice quiet.

Yuuki frowned again. “That’s not what he said - ”

“Whatever. ’m leavin’ now.” Ibuki huffed before turning on her heel, grabbing her things, and storming on out.

The twin brothers sighed in tandem, while Hiro watched his little sister’s retreating form. “She just doesn’t get it.” he said, arms folded across his chest. “She’s - ”



" - just fine the way she is!" Chie insisted, shooing her father off as Naori readied for school. "I mean really now, you don't need to give her all sorts of hairclips and things!" she continued, tsk-tsking at him.

Her father offered her a sheepish smile. "I just can't help it, Naori-chan would really look cute." he said, rubbing the back of his head. "You were never one for things like that anyways, Chie." he laughed. "I suppose when you have a cute daughter, you just want to spoil her, you know?"

Naori blinked, startled, and paused, the girl holding her hair up as she prepared to put it in a ponytail. "Daughter?"

Both Chie and her father nodded. "Right!" Chie said with a bright smile. "You're one of the family now, you know? A daughter to papa and mama, a sister to me - we're like a big old family now, don't you think?"

Naori felt a lump grow in her throat and hurriedly avoided their gaze so they wouldn't have to see her tearing up. Nice, these people were way too nice to her! Ever since moving in with Chie's family, they'd welcomed her as one of their own - it was as if Naori was a missing glove that fit perfectly in place. She didn't want to trade this for the world - but her thoughts lingered toward the trio, and how they were doing. One of them - one of them had attacked the school, right? If she could just talk with them, maybe she could help them somehow...

Or maybe...

...maybe it would be better to seek the help of the Pretty Cure. Those stars had helped her, hadn't they? And the Pretty Cure hadn't hurt her yet, after all.

Ah, but - she'd have to explain herself too, wouldn't she? That made her nervous. More than nervous, really - it was terrifying! Completely terrifying! What if it was too complicated? What if they didn't understand?

It was something the pink haired girl continued to dwell on, even after she'd gotten ready for school. It wasn't until she and Chie had left the teahouse that Naori finally spoke up, the young girl taking a nervous breath. "Hey, Chie-chan?"

"Mm?" Chie answered, head tilting as she glanced over at the smaller girl.

Naori hesitated. This was going to be hard to put into words, much less a way that made sense, but if Chie understood about Pretty Cure, maybe it wouldn't be as difficult as she was fearing. "What - w-what would you do if there was something you really wanted to apologize for, b-but you're afraid to talk about it?"

Chie blinked, then looked upwards, hand to her chin. "Hmm..."

"Like! A really bad thing!" Naori continued. "The WORST thing, even. And it's eating you up inside but the people you want to apologize to won't understand. They might be angry, they might even attack you. And you know you deserve it, b-but - "

"I'd wait until I was ready, I think." the other girl interrupted, smiling over at Naori.

"...eh?"

"Well, of course if it's something bad, you should apologize - it's only the right thing to do. But it's something you have to prepare yourself for, since there's a chance their reaction would be a bad one." Chie paused, before gently putting a hand to Naori's shoulder. "You should never force yourself to do things that will agitate you, even if they're important things - because the person you should worry about most is yourself. Don't you think?"

Naori nodded and was about to say more when she saw a girl farther up ahead, something she wouldn't have paid attention to - but this stuck out at her for some reason. Frowning, she squinted - it was a little hard to see but... "A-ah, Kousei-san! Good morning!"

Ibuki paused, torn from her thoughts, then looked over her shoulder. "Tachibana, Pinkie!" she greeted, offering the two of them a smile and a mock salute. Naori waved back in greeting, whereas Chie offered a polite bow. "Good t'see you guys this mornin'!" Ibuki said as she let them catch up with her, practically bouncing on her heels.

"I see your wound's finally healed up, I'm glad." Chie said.

"What, that old scrape? Bah, wasn't anythin' ta worry 'bout!" Ibuki snorted, waving her hand in dismissal. "Guess I was kinda lucky that cute gal helped me out though - one o' them Pretty Cure, I guess? Never caught her name, she was all gold themed..." she laughed, brows creased as she absently ran a hand through her hair.

Both Chie and Naori frowned, but it was the pink haired girl who spoke up. "Are you okay, Kousei-san?"

Ibuki laughed again, but it sounded forced this time. " 'course 'm okay! Don't I look okay?"

"...not really, actually." Naori confessed.

Ibuki froze - then laughed, hands over her heart. "So direct!" she bemoaned with an exaggerated stagger. "I like ya, Pinkie, y'don't beat 'round the bush!" she smiled for another moment - then looked away, fiddling with a pigtail again. "Just thinkin' 'bout stuff, I guess. Hey, whatcha think 'bout what 'm wearin' today, anyways?"

Naori paused, really taking it in. The uniform was pretty run of the mill, the same Chie wore, really, but Ibuki had taken care to make her necktie into a cute bow, the star pin on the knot looking more like a cute accessory. Several different barrettes decorated Ibuki's hair, pinning her wavy bangs back, and the hairties for her pigtails were flashy and flower-shaped. It had all the ingredients for an adorable appearance, but...

But...

The pink haired girl bit her lip nervously. "It seems a bit much."

Ibuki smiled sadly and heaved a sigh. "See, that's m' problem." she admitted, shoulders slumped. "I grew up with a tonna brothers, y'know? 5 older brothers and I never knew my mom, so I always grew up 'round boys." she laughed, silently waving her hand in dismissal before Chie or Naori could express sympathy for her - she didn't want to hear it, it wasn't something that particularly bothered her. "Guess it rubbed off on me? Fer better or fer worse, anyways. I always liked the cute frilly stuff but..."

"You don't look right in that! It doesn't fit you at all!"
"Only GIRLS are supposed to wear stuff like that, you know!"
"If I didn't know any better, I wouldn't think you're a girl at all..."


"...people always said it didn't look right on me." Ibuki said, looking down. For several moments, she remained quiet, before she gritted her teeth. "An' I hated it! I always felt like I could never do what I wanted to! So when m'dad got transferred here, made a promise t'myself ta invent a new me. An' I thought I did..."

It was Chie who spoke up now, looking a little hesitant. "I'm not sure how much I can add to this, Kousei-san, however - and forgive my assumption, but...maybe you're looking to change in the wrong place? It sounds like you've changed your appearance and not much else."

Ibuki stopped. It was the same thing Yuuki said - and it hurt just as much. Chie and Naori, not noticing, continued walking - just before they realized Ibuki had fallen behind.

"...Kousei-san...?" Chie asked and turned, gaze concerned.

The warning bell at Etoile Academy sounded from farther up ahead. 10 minutes until the free time before school started was up and the rush to class began.

"Sorry," Ibuki said, head bowed and fists clenched at her sides. "I gotta go on ahead!" And she rushed past the two without so much as a goodbye or a thank you for the talk. Something glimmered as Ibuki hurried on by, a detail both Chie and Naori noticed.

Chie's heart sunk. Had she made Ibuki cry? "I said something to upset Kousei-san..."

Naori reached out, taking Chie's hand and giving it a light squeeze of moral support. "I know it wasn't on purpose. You can apologize at lunch, okay? I'll come with you."

Chie stared - it was the first time Naori had made the effort to be comforting to her in return - and nodded, giving the girl a small smile. "That sounds like a good idea."



[eyecatch 1 - Little versions of Mei, Ushio, and Sumire all fold paper, attempting to make paper stars and paper flowers. Mei makes them slowly, whereas Ushio gets increasingly frustrated with the process. Mei sweatdrops, just before the two girls look over at Sumire, who has amassed a massive pile of paper stars and various paper flowers. The two girls flail at her, shocked, and Sumire tilts her head in confusion. Usami pops out of the pile of paper stars, wearing a paper flower crown, and the girls all laugh while the Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 - A closeup of Mei, Ushio, and Sumire, each with a colored star in their hands - Mei has a red one, whereas Ushio and Sumire respectively have blue and gold ones. They close their eyes and in a flash of light, Cure Aries, Cure Pisces, and Cure Virgo all appear one by one, Aries making some fire crackle, Pisces with swirls of water around her, and Virgo with flowers blooming in her hands. Against a backdrop of stars, the three cures and Usami pose, with the Starshine logo appearing in the corner.]



"Did you see Kousei-san? She's got a scar!"
"I heard she tried fighting that monster that attacked school! Aaaa, she's so heroic~"
"Like a knight in shining armor~! She really should dress like that, or like a prince~"


Ibuki felt tears stinging at her eyes as she hurried through the crowd, desperately trying to not pay attention to the loud whispers as she stormed on past. It wasn't Chie's fault, it really wasn't! And maybe it wasn't Yuuki's fault either but -

But -

What am I doing wrong?!

She wanted to shout it desperately, but her throat felt heavy and tight and she was sure whatever noise came out of her mouth would be an angered sob. She kept her head down, hugged her sides -

"O-oh, g-good morning, Kousei-san!"

- and even though the voice sounded familiar, Ibuki just kept walking, practically running past a very confused Sumire, who had been smiling and waving just a second ago. The green haired girl, along with Mei and Ushio, looked startled as Ibuki hurried on by without so much as a hello, and the three girls looked at each other, all wearing expressions of concern.

The bell rang again, alerting the students they had to head to class before school officially started. Mei and Ushio turned to head off - but Sumire lingered behind, gaze still transfixed on the hallway Ibuki had hurried down, one in the opposite direction of their classroom.

Mei placed a hand to Sumire's shoulder. "Go on, I think she needs someone to talk to."

Ushio nodded. "Don't worry, we'll cover for both of ya!" she assured with a thumbs up.

Sumire smiled gratefully, bowing in thanks before hurrying off down the hall. Maybe by pure chance, Ibuki had ended up at the unused section of campus - and while most of the doors were locked to keep students from doing anything unscrupulous on campus, the former drama room door was slightly ajar - it was the only room that was still used on a regular basis, the Literature Club used it as their clubroom. Sumire hesitated as she came to the door - what if Ibuki just needed to be alone right now, anyways? Was it really right of her to presume Ibuki needed anyone, least of all her?

Quiet, muffled sobs could be heard from inside.

Sumire stood there for several more agonizing moments. So maybe Mei was right, Ibuki needed someone to talk to, but...

Well...

What if...?

Sumire shut her eyes and shook her head. Ibuki was her friend, why was she so worried about this?! With a shaky breath, the girl pushed the door open and stepped inside, taking a quick moment to shut the door behind her. Ibuki had curled up in an empty corner of the room, hugging her knees as she sniffled and sobbed. Sumire took a few steps forward, opened her mouth to say something comforting - but nothing came to mind. Distressed, she took another few steps forward and: "...Kousei-san...?"

Ibuki froze. Her sobs quieted, though she continued to sniffle. After an agonizing moment of pause, the girl looked up, eyes red and puffy, tears still streaming down her cheeks. "P-Princess..." she mumbled in reply, voice thick with tears. The two girls stared at each other, neither knowing what to say.

The bell rang once more. Everyone was in class now.

Neither of them moved for a moment - then Sumire's face set in determination as she strode forward, knelt down - and gave the blonde girl a warm hug. "It's okay," she said, voice gentle, "I'm not going anywhere."

Ibuki's eyes widened - before tears filled her eyes again and she let out a sob. Wordlessly, she let go of her knees and hugged the smaller girl back tight, crying into her shoulder. Neither of them was really sure how long Ibuki had been crying for, just that eventually her tears wound down into small sniffles and hiccups. Eventually the hug parted and Sumire took a seat next to Ibuki, just as Ibuki spoke up, voice shaky and nervous. Slowly, Ibuki began to talk freely, explaining the same thing she had to Chie and Naori - she expanded a little more, delving into her feelings about it all, particularly how she had never felt like a real girl, and that she had been missing something all other girls seemed to understand. When she had worked to change herself, her family had been supportive and Ibuki had been happy - but even then, it was still frustrating.

Sumire only listened. It wasn't something she could expertly weigh in on, nor was it something she could relate to - she simply hadn't grown up the same way Ibuki had and couldn't begin to imagine the struggles the other girl went through. Still, it wouldn't be right to write off Ibuki's concerns as senseless whining, and the other girl was obviously hurting. Even if she couldn't fully understand, even if she couldn't relate - Ibuki was still her friend and needed someone right now.

Once Ibuki had finished talking, the two girls sat in silence. At some point during the explanation, Sumire had reached out and held her hand, fingers laced - the blonde really couldn't recall how or why this had happened, but it made her smile softly. Sumire's hand was warm and comforting, and it made Ibuki feel warm inside too.

"I think you're fine the way you are, Kousei-san." Sumire finally said, voice soft. "The Kousei-san that likes to joke around and is rough around the edges - the Kousei-san that loves to put her hair up and wear a lot of barrettes - they're both you, they're both good, and you're fine the way you are! I can't say you shouldn't listen to what other people say, because I'm sure it hurts a lot, but..." the girl paused, thoughtful for a moment. "I don't think there's any wrong way to be a girl. And anyone that tells you otherwise is just being silly."

Ibuki felt her heart swell. With a small, heartfelt smile, she leaned toward the green haired girl, resting her head on the smaller girl's shoulder. "Ya always know the right things ta say, Princess."

Sumire let out a nervous laugh, cheeks tinted pink. "I-I try."

Ibuki closed her eyes, feeling a strange sense of peace for the time being. "Mm. Princess? Can we keep holdin' hands?"

Sumire's heart felt like it skipped several beats. Finally: "...i-if you want to!"

So they did.



While they hadn't come back to class holding hands - Ibuki had honestly wanted to, but Sumire had nervously suggested maybe rumors would start up if they did - the way the two girls held themselves around each other was something both Mei and Ushio zeroed in on. Their last class before lunch was spent with the two girls passing their shared notebook back and forth at lightning speed, and Sumire could almost feel her friends staring right at the back of her head. The second the bell rang for lunch, Sumire found herself joined on both sides by Mei and Ushio, both girls wearing matching devious grins.

"...o-oh." Sumire mumbled as the rest of the class filtered out.

"You have to tell us everything, Sumire-chan~" Mei sang out, eyes bright.

"E-very-thing." Ushio chimed in, a twinkle in her eye.

Sumire flushed, relieved that Ibuki wasn't overhearing this. "N-not here," she mumbled, gaze shifty. "A-and it's not w-what you think, honest!" she protested, only blushing more when her friends continued to grin. Mei and Ushio continued to tease her as they wandered down the hall, lunch in hand - and somehow, Sumire found herself heading back toward that unused drama room again. "Well, it was a little embarrassing and I don't think I really understand Kousei-san - " she was saying as she entered the room.

"Understand what?"

Sumire froze just as Mei and Ushio looked over, all three of them seeing a furious and hurt Ibuki. Your feelings for me, Sumire finished in her head, but the words wouldn't leave the tip of her tongue. I don't know the way you see me, I don't know if I should get my hopes up or not -

"Understand what?" Ibuki repeated, gritting her teeth, hands balled into fists.

Ushio's brows furrowed as she frowned. "Oi, don't jump to conclusions, she went out of her way to make sure you were okay - "

Ibuki let out a mocking laugh. "Why, so she could gossip 'bout me behind m'back?" she demanded. "Ain't that what you're doin'?"

Sumire felt like she'd been slapped in the face. "N-no, of course that's not it!" she insisted, tears welling in her eyes. "I-I...I-I'd never do anything like that, Kousei-san!"

"So what don't you understand?!" Ibuki demanded again.

Mei took a step forward, attempting to defuse the situation. "Kousei-san, I think you need to relax a little..."

"Shut up! This don't concern ya!"

Ushio growled. "Don't take it out on Mei!"

Ibuki and Ushio glared at each other and for several seconds - just before Sumire took a deep breath. "I - t-the thing I-I don't u-understand i-is - i-is the w-way you - " Sumire attempted to explain, only getting worse with every word. The petite girl trembled as she spoke - and when it came to the penultimate reason, she just didn't have the courage to take that step, instead letting out a miserable sob.

And as angry as she was, even Ibuki realized when she had taken it a step too far. Seeing Sumire standing there crying while Mei tried to console her and Ushio kept glaring at her...

...maybe she had jumped to conclusions.

God, what was wrong with her? Sumire had tried to think about her feelings and console her the best she could - and what, she couldn't even return the favor?! Ibuki looked down, only wanting to cry again herself, before forcing herself to look at the other girls. "...I-I didn't..." she began, but it just didn't ring right to her ears. She had meant to get angry at Sumire, but to hurt her and make her cry like that...

"...'m sorry...!"

And for the third time today, Ibuki found herself running away from herself.



"Ah, it looks like Kousei-san is over there, we should talk to her once we're done." Chie commented, seeing the blonde in the distance. She and Naori had decided to eat outside today, under the shade of one of the trees in the courtyard. The black haired girl frowned when Naori didn't respond again - the pink haired girl seemed distracted and apprehensive for some reason. She'd barely touched her food too, and really, that concerned Chie even more. "Naori-chan?"

No answer. Naori's gaze was focused on something upward, and the already pale girl seemed to pale even more.

Chie followed her gaze - and squinted. What was that in the sky, anyways...?

She didn't get a chance to dwell on it - in the next instant, the thing in the sky pulsed and black beams scattered everywhere and one hit her before she could even think about moving away. Beside her, Naori shrieked in horror and Chie wanted to assure her she'd be all right, really - but then her whole world went black.

As Naori sobbed over Chie's lifeless form in the distance, the silver-haired form of Cebalrai floated down to the earth, in front of a clueless Ibuki who was currently doubled over, the girl trying to catch her breath. Cebalrai's dead eyed, black and red gaze remained solely on the blonde girl - and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. The aura of this girl - a Pretty Cure, she was certain of it. Lord Omega's power would never steer her wrong. "Show yourself." Cebalrai demanded, crackling with power.

Ibuki coughed and looked up - before cringing and stumbling backwards. Who in the hell was this woman?! "G-get away from me!" she cried out - and there was a warmth in her chest again. It was different from the warmth she'd felt with Sumire that morning, less of a peaceful feeling and more of an instinct. Her hand flew up to her neck, resting at the necklace she wore under her uniform - for some reason, this just made sense to her.

I have to change.

Was it her thought or someone else's? The blonde wasn't sure, but this also made sense to her.

I - I'll change! And that thought was hers, she was sure, I'll change into someone everyone can accept...!

Like a candle being blown out, the warmth vanished, and Ibuki realized it at the same time Cebalrai did. Ibuki let out a breath she hadn't been aware she was holding, confused. "What...?" she whispered.

Cebalrai, however, scoffed in disgust. "You aren't even worthy." she said, anger creeping into her voice. As she crackled with power, Ibuki's eyes widened and she turned to run - just as Cebalrai fired a beam of darkness at the fleeing girl's back. The attack connected and the blonde let out a cry of pain, stuck there as the beam of darkness dug deep, searching.

"Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!"

Cebalrai let out a small noise of annoyance and a wall of darkness shielded her from the blast of flames aimed at her and yanked on the darkness that connected her to the blonde girl. When Ibuki shrieked again in pain, Cebalrai found herself smirking. She yanked harder -

"Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!"

- and the darkness found its prize.

A shining, purple Inner Star was pulled clean out of Ibuki, just Pisces's attack whooshed on by harmlessly and there was a forlorn scream from Cure Virgo. The gold Cure caught the blonde before she could hurtle toward the ground, sobbing, but the silver haired member of the Serpens didn't care about that - she merely grinned as she faced the furious Aries and Pisces. With a snap of her fingers, the purple star was captured inside a Darkness Jar - and seconds later, the jar impacted with a still open bento from nearby, becoming an inky darkness that swallowed it up. Shifting about, it absorbed the dirt and twigs from its surroundings - before it ballooned and grew, becoming a bloated, muddy looking monster that resembled an enraged bull. "TROU NOIR!"

"Have fun, Pretty Cure," Cebalrai said with a smirk, just before vanishing.

Aries and Pisces wasted no time - and neither did the Trou Noir, which immediately rushed at them, head bowed and horns at the ready. Aries and Pisces met the Trou Noir head on, each at the side of one of its horns - and though the Trou Noir dwarfed them in size, the red and blue Pretty Cure were evenly matched with it, the two digging their heels in to keep the Trou Noir at bay.

"Why - why couldn't it have been somethin' different?!" Pisces cried out, just before she doubled her efforts.

Aries let out a weak laugh. "K-Kousei-san is stubborn..." she admitted, just before she timed herself with Pisces. The result was the two girls shoving the Trou Noir away, letting it skid backward and crash into the trees. As the Trou Noir sat there, dazed, the two raced in. Aries swooped in low, scoring an uppercut on the monster - just as Pisces came from above, folding her hands together and swinging them down like a hammer at the base of the monster's skull. The resulting combo sent the Trou Noir careening to the ground again, leaving it seeing stars.

Aries and Pisces smiled at each other, giving themselves a high five - just as the Trou Noir let out a roar and forced itself to its feet once more. Again it charged at the duo - but then its form crackled with power and with another roar, it fired a beam of darkness that hit both Cures, sending them flying.

Virgo, who had been holding Ibuki's unconscious form to her, placed the girl down - and sprung into action. She caught Pisces first, then Aries, quietly making sure both girls were all right. With another glance toward Ibuki, Virgo's hands clenched into shaking fists - and with a swish of her wing shaped cape, she turned to face the Trou Noir head on.

"Give her back." Virgo's voice was deathly cold.

The Trou Noir let out a battle cry and raged forward.

"Give Ibuki back!"

The demand was enough to make Virgo's power surge forth from her, a white hot, incandescent light that shot through the Trou Noir and destroyed it instantly. It was similar to the feelings both Aries and Pisces had when they summoned their Zodiac Arms for the first time - but something about Virgo's power was much more destructive - and honestly, it worried her teammates. As the Trou Noir and the Darkness Jar it had formed from turned into nothingness, Virgo wobbled and pitched backward, only caught by Aries and Pisces at the last second.

"I...I-I don't think that was supposed to happen." Virgo whispered. "I-I think I lost control o-or something..."

Aries shook her head. "We'll worry about that later. For now..."

The three cures watched as Ibuki's purple star floated back toward her body. All around them, stars were returning to their rightful hosts, and the trio let out a sigh of immense relief, detransforming as they did so. Almost instantly, Sumire knelt down next to Ibuki, while Mei and Ushio began to check around, making sure the others were okay.

It didn't take long for Ibuki to return to consciousness. "...mmmn, Princess...? That you...?" she mumbled as her eyes fluttered open and she pushed herself up to a sitting position.

Sumire let out a sob of delight. "I - I'm so glad you're okay!" she cried out, just before hugging the other girl.

Ibuki hugged back, a tender smile on her face. "...c'mon, don't cry, I already made ya cry once t'day..." she said quietly, resting her head against the other girl's shoulder. " 'm sorry about that, by the way. I just..."

"I-it's all right, I-I understand!" Sumire sniffled. "Everything's okay now!"

Ibuki nodded, allowing Sumire to help her to her feet - but inwardly, she couldn't agree. Something wasn't okay, the blonde was sure of it - she just didn't know what.

---

ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Sumire: We just can't let Kousei-san onto the team! We can't!
Mei: Sumire-chan, I know you like her, but I think you're going overboard...
Sumire: I-it's just for her own safety!
Ushio: But what about US?
Sumire: ...w-we'll figure something out...!
Usami: Eheheh, looks like we gotta keep a secret from Sumi-chan~! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: I won't give up! Cure Libra arrives! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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