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The past few days had been a blur. Cebalrai didn't remember returning to the hideout, nor did she remember if Rasalhague or Marfik had been worried about her. The Pretty Cure were getting stronger - that she had witnessed personally when Libra had gone against her Trou Noir.

When was the last time she had slept? She didn't remember - had any of them slept since then? Vaguely, she recalled training with the others, and even more vaguely, she knew they really didn't need sleep, even if she couldn't quite remember why. For a moment, the hazy image of an overly large canopy bed came to mind - and there was a stab of pain in her chest a moment later.

"It's time." Rasalhague's voice was calm as he spoke, the young man's gaze focused on the expanse of sky before them. The sun was just peeking out over the horizon - it would have been a lovely sight, if he'd had the capacity to comprehend that.

Marfik nodded, stepping next to Rasalhague. "One way or another..."

"...it ends today." Cebalrai finished, joining the other two. Though all their faces remained impassive, the mental link they shared meant they could all feel each other's thoughts of confusion and hesitance.

What were they fighting for? Their time away from Omega had only made their goal more muddled. Still, they had to fight - as the three understood this, they each closed their eyes, the three of them conjuring powerful darkness that shot from their forms and up to the early morning sky.

And as the three descended on Lucente Bay, the sky above began to darken, clouds rumbling ominously.

---

OP: "Shooting ★ Star!!" – StarSHINE 5
EPISODE 19 - "A collision of stars! The Pretty Cure face off"

---
Arata supposed he ought to be upset when he opened his door in the morning only to be greeted with an overcast sky, but he'd woken up rather listless, and could only stare at the dreary weather with a bit of a yawn. There was a tiny part of him still irritated, but...

[sorry guys, practice is cancelled]

...for the most part, he didn't really care. He read the text message just as the clouds rumbled and it began to rain, standing at his doorway to watch the weather for a little while longer. It didn't make sense. The forecast said clear skies for the next three days, so what was going on, anyways? It had been a clear sky just yesterday, and there hadn't been any talk of storms rolling in...

[arata? you awake?]

He blinked, checking his phone. The realization it was Mei texting him - and so early at that - seemed to jolt a little life into him. She wasn't much of a morning person either, so this must have been important. He tapped his screen to type out a reply -

[i'm not sure if you're awake yet, but i wanted to tell you something while i still have the chance.]

- and then swallowed hard, immediately both much more awake and at a loss for words. What was she...?

[we're all going to fight for everyone today. it's gonna be hard, and i dunno what's gonna happen, but i'm scared. we all are.]
[in case something bad happens, please take care of miyo and kouta for me. mama and usami too.]

He stared, seeing the words but not comprehending them. He typed back, fingers shaking as he wrote.

[mei thats not funny]
[dont joke like that]

The rain started coming down harder.

[please stay safe, arata.]
[goodbye.]

Arata stared again, rereading her messages over and over again. Each time, he kept focusing on the last message.

Goodbye?

Why – what was she – how could she even –

His vision blurred, tears streaming down his cheeks. They had been friends for years – ever since elementary school. He’d seen Mei at her best, and he’d seen her at her worst too. He’d marveled when she’d revealed she was a Pretty Cure, and now…

Frantically, he hit the call button. It wasn’t going to end like this – he couldn’t just allow himself to let his friend march to her death. He tried to calm his breathing as the phone rang three times, but then: “The number you are trying to call is unavailable at this time. Please leave a message at the tone.”

He swore, hung up, and tried again.

”The number you are trying to call is unavailable at this – ”

Goddamnit, why?! He called again, resolute. He couldn’t let it be like this – not without hearing her voice, not without trying to talk her out of it, not without trying to figure out something, anything

”The number you are trying to – ”

The skies rumbled even more. Arata let out a choked sob, feeling his strength beginning to leave him. What was he going to do? What could he do at all? Mei and her friends were powerful warriors, while he was just…

“Arata-kun!”

Tears still streaming down his face, Arata looked up. There, in the distance, he could make them out – Hirui and Usami running towards him. The rain hadn’t deterred them at all – and given the anguished look on Hirui’s face, Arata had to assume Mei had disappeared without telling her mother.

Sure enough, Hirui only had to take one look at Arata’s face. “Where is she?!”

“I don’t know!” Arata answered, just before showing his phone to the two of them. “S-she sent me this a-and…”

“We have to find them.” Hirui said, shaking.

Arata and Usami nodded – and together, the three of them took off.



The strange listless feeling hadn't let up, even at the Tachibana Teahouse. Even stranger still, it hadn't affected Naori at all.

"Are you all right?" Naori asked for what felt like the tenth time that morning.

Yuina Tachibana offered the girl a half smile, yawning. “It's nothing, Naori-chan, we just didn't get much sleep.” Absently, the woman looked out at the empty tables of the Tachibana Teahouse, then down at her cell phone. “We ought to close down for today. The weather doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up at all…”

"...maybe.” came the distant reply of Daisuke Tachibana, expression blank.

Chie blinked, looking between her parents in shock. She was tired too, but - "You never want to close up shop though!"

The two parents only shrugged in response, yawning in tandem. The dullness in their eyes was becoming more noticeable, and Naori and Chie traded concerned glances. Leaving her parents be, Chie moved to join Naori at one of the tables, the two girls looking out at the rain. "Something's happening, isn't it?" Chie asked after a moment.

Naori paused decisively. “...I think so.”

Chie frowned, taking note of the Star Capsule Naori was gripping. She wanted to ask if Naori was going to fight - but she already knew that answer. She didn't want her to fight though - not in this weather, not at all. But before she could say anything of the sort, she gasped, seeing a trio of figures rushing straight for the Teahouse. Before either girl could greet them, they’d practically flung open the doors, and the two found themselves staring at the soaking wet forms of Hirui, Arata, and Usami.

Yuina and Daisuke didn't even move, their dull gazes kept straight ahead. Chie had to repress a shudder as she realized this. “Hidama-san…?”

“My daughter…” Hirui coughed, looking up at the two girls in anguish. “…have you seen her come by here…?”

Naori felt her stomach drop. Chie shook her head, even more concerned than before. "We haven't."

Hirui swore under her breath, frustrated, but more with herself than anything else. "They must be out there. Arata-kun, did - ?" she began, trailing off as she noticed the state of Chie's parents, before turning to the doorway where Arata stood. Whatever will the boy had finally petered out - he stood frozen in the doorway, eyes just as dull as Chie's parents. Nervously, the three led him in, Chie struggling to shake off the listlessness the best she could.

As Arata was seated, Chie yawned, drowsily shaking her head again. She could feel it creeping in, trying to take hold of her, and she tried to keep hold of herself for just a while longer. "...you're going to go out there, aren't you...?" she finally asked, voice slurred. Hirui moved to answer, but Chie forced herself to shake her head and point at Naori.

Naori froze on the spot, swallowing hard. "Y-yes. I don't know what I can do, but..."

"...be careful." was all Chie could muster, before she fell silent, eyes dulling.

As Hirui and Naori stood there in silence, Usami could feel a chill in the air, and the weather outside only served to get worse. As the skies darkened, the storm grew - and Usami's eyes lit up in recognition. Of course, this was the Trio's doing - if Cebalrai had been able to cause the town to have nightmares, it wouldn't be beyond the Trio's power to cause something like an island wide case of lethargy. Hirui and Naori didn't seem affected - was it because of their Cure abilities?

He didn't know. But it was something he was thankful for, at the very least.

"...let's go, Hidama-san." Naori's voice was quiet, gaze downcast.

"It'll be dangerous." Hirui frowned.

"I know."

"You're not even sure if you can transform yet." Hirui added.

"I know."

The woman regarded the girl for a long moment, gaze calculating, before she finally nodded. With everyone else in that strange, lethargic trance, it stood to reason they'd be safe for the time being. And if Mei and the others hadn't contacted anyone at the Teahouse, it stood to reason they hadn't stopped anywhere on the way either. The three ventured out of the Teahouse and back into the storm, clouds rumbling all the while.

Please, Hirui thought, please don't let me be too late!



The rain was coming down even harder as they walked to the park - and the empty streets only heightened the dreary, chilly atmosphere.

But all Aries could wonder was if she should have done more. They hadn't planned this - but when they'd each awoken to see a blast of darkness shooting into the sky, the four girls had no choice but to transform and follow the chills in the air. The four Cures held hands as they walked, and it was easy to see that each girl wasn't thrilled about this. Aries was distant, Pisces was gritting her teeth, Virgo's red-rimmed eyes suggested she had been crying, and Libra's hands were shaking.

It wasn't a surprise when Libra broke the silence first. "G-guys - " the purple Cure stammered out, expression twisting into something panicked. "Guys, I - "

"Ibuki-chan." Aries spoke, voice as calm as she could muster. "It's okay." she assured with a smile. "We're all scared."

Libra shook her head, feeling a lump in her throat forming. "N-no, 's more than that, what if we - "

"We're not!" It was Pisces now, letting out an angry shout - but her voice cracked, and she made a noise that sounded almost like a sob.

"B-but Hidama-san said - !" And now it was Virgo's turn, her voice thick with emotion.

Aries stopped. Took a breath. Let her smile drop from her face. Right now, they needed honesty, not kindness. She turned to face the others and then nodded, closing her eyes. "I know. Mama - she asked if we could do it. Sacrifice ourselves like the last team did. Leave everything behind for everyone else's safety." she struggled to keep the trembling out of her voice, but it came through anyways. "And I'm scared to do that. I don't want to do that." she said, opening her eyes. "So we're not going to do that today."

The clouds rumbled again. The storm was only getting stronger. But Aries merely faced her team with a serious expression.

"No one is dying today. We made a promise to Naori-chan, didn't we? To save her friends. And we're going to keep it. But no one is dying today." she said, and it was with a conviction she could finally feel. Confessing her fears had been hard, but in the days since, it was a weight that was good to be off her shoulders. She could finally be a real leader to her team - one not held back by her own fears.

"M-Mei..." Pisces murmured, rubbing at her eyes.

Aries smiled again. "After this is over, let's have a big party, okay? We'll invite everyone!"

The three other Cures traded teary glances, before finally giving her watery smiles and nodding. Together, they kept walking - but they didn't have to walk far. The chill in the air intensified even more, and several feet away from them, the Serpens trio stood.

All at once, it stopped raining.

"So you've decided to join us, Pretty Cure." Cebalrai said.

"We were starting to think you weren't going to show up at all." Marfik chimed in, almost sounding annoyed about it.

Rasalhague merely stood silent, surveying the group for a moment. "Where is Ophiuchus?"

Aries shook her head. "We told you. We don't know where she is." It was the technical truth, anyways.

For a moment, Rasalhague looked almost disappointed. "Lying until the end. I can't be certain if that's bravery or stupidity." he said, before nodding to the others. For several seconds, nothing happened - and then abruptly, darkness exploded out of the three of them, rushing towards the Cures like a tide threatening to consume them all.



[eyecatch 1 – Mei and Ushio wait on the roof as Sumire and Ibuki arrive with bento boxes and a large cloth fit for a picnic. The three other girls crowd around excitedly as Sumire opens a box up – only for the four to find that Usami has eaten all the food inside! The four girls sigh and then laugh. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 – Aries shoots a blast of flame at the screen, which is followed by Pisces shooting a jet of water. It’s chased away by Virgo shooting a blast of petals, which are blown away by Libra shooting a jet of air. The camera pulls out as the four Cures pose together against a starry backdrop. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]



It should have terrified them, honestly. And for a moment, it did - before each of the Cures made up their minds.

"Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!"
"Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!"
"Pretty Cure Floral Strike!"
"Pretty Cure Aerial Assault!"


The four attacks combined into a brilliant burst of light that struck the wave of darkness, and the resulting explosion sent the darkness scattering. Once the light had faded, the true purpose of the darkness became clear - everything around them had become a withered wasteland. It had happened before, when Marfik had attacked the park, but this time was different.

It had affected the whole island.

Anywhere the team looked, barren devastation stared back at them. The whole island had gone silent in the transformation, giving the island an eerie stillness that unsettled each of them in different ways. There should have still been life - and yet there wasn't, there weren't even birds singing. The sky above them was dark, as if the sun had never once shone on this world, and though the ground had been slick with rain before, it was dry now, full of cracks.

"T-this..." Aries whispered, eyes growing wide with horror. Beside her, Pisces was speechless with fright, covering her mouth as tears began to well up in her eyes.

The Serpens only looked at the devastation with impassive expressions, before turning their gaze to the Pretty Cure. "It doesn't have to be this way." Cebalrai spoke again. "We simply want Ophiuchus."

"L-like hell we're giving her back to you!" Libra shouted with a glare. From behind her, Virgo stood there shaking, trying to process what was happening.

"How can you care about that?" Marfik countered, just before snapping his fingers. The dreary wasteland that Lucente Bay had become began to shine - but not for any good reason. All around them, Inner Stars began to gather towards the Serpens - far too many to count - and as they floated, a large Darkness Jar began to absorb them all. "All life in this place is worth less to you than one girl?"

The phrase hit the Cures like a ton of bricks. All life. That meant - that had to mean...

"How can you consider yourselves proper Pretty Cure when you're willing to throw everyone else away for h - " Marfik continued, only to get cut off when Virgo, of all people, charged at him and swung as hard as she could - the resulting punch hit fast and hard, sending him sprawling several feet away. Virgo's wing cape fluttered as she came to a stop, and she regarded the Serpens with a deadly stare.

"...we don't want to fight either." Virgo admitted, and though her voice was quiet, it made up for it with sheer intensity. "But I won't stand by and let you keep doing this to yourselves! We're going to save everyone," she said, voice loud now, "even if it means we have to fight you to do it!"

Virgo's declaration was enough to make the decision for the others - in an instant, the other three Cures joined her on the offensive. While Libra and Pisces teamed up to fight Cebalrai, Aries immediately gunned for Rasalhague, and if Virgo considered whether she ought to pair up with Aries, it was something that quickly fled from her mind when a tendril of darkness shot out at her, wielded by a very angry looking Marfik. She'd only managed to dodge by chance, and the moments she was off balance was enough for Marfik to close the distance between them.

"We don't want to be saved!" came Marfik's cry as he sent more tendrils at her. "We don't need any of you!"

Virgo gritted her teeth as she dodged tendril after tendril, a blossom of light forming in her hands. "That's a lie!" she said, hurling the blossom at him, causing it to bloom and send petals of light shooting at him. "You're just being used! None of you were like this before!"

"You don't know anything about us!" Marfik conjured a shield of darkness to guard him from the oncoming petals, before sending a dark blast straight back at Virgo. She shrieked as she was hit, and Marfik took the opportunity to close the distance once more, swinging a punch at her. Virgo swung back, and as their fists made impact, a burst of light and a burst of darkness exploded from them, sending them both skidding back.

Virgo took several shaky breaths. "You're right." she said with a wince, massaging her hand. "We don't know anything about you. That's why we're going to change that! Please, we just want to help!"

Marfik flinched, and the same expression appeared on both Rasalhague's and Cebalrai's faces. The fighting stilled as the Serpens all stumbled backwards, each of them clutching their heads.

It was Aries who took a step forward now, and her Zodiac Arms vanished as she walked. "We've wanted to help you for so long. If there's something we can do, we'll do it!"

"Shut up..." came the pained hiss from Rasalhague - but it didn't sound like he was speaking to the Cures. "J-just shut up..."

There was a deep chill in the air again, one that the Cures felt even in their bones. Flickers of shadows began to form around the pained trio - something was wrong. Aries attempted to step forward again, only for Pisces to grab her arm to pull her back. Before Aries could question why, there was a pained cry from the trio - and like wild animals, the three of them went on the offensive once more.



Whatever second wind the Trio had been granted wasn't one the Cures understood - but it was something that alarmed them, as each of the trio had gotten more aggressive and fast. It was taking everything the team had just to stay on even ground, and the idea of fighting back was getting less and less likely by the second.

That being said, both Pisces and Libra weren't the type to take a fight laying down.

"Double Pretty Cure Punch!" they shouted, both swinging at Cebalrai. Their dual attack hit solidly, accompanied with a burst of light - and though Cebalrai went flying, she didn't stay down for long. Within moments, she was back on her feet, shaking and gazing at her two opponents with a half deranged expression.

"You really are imbeciles, aren't you?!" she shouted, shooting blast after blast of darkness at the two Cures. "You could sacrifice everything for her and she'll still throw you away anyways!"

"You're only saying that because Omega did something to you!" Pisces cried out, summoning orbs of water to shoot at and cancel out Cebalrai's attack. Beside her, Libra rushed forward, sword drawn.

"Pretty Cure Aerial Assault!"

Fierce gusts of wind followed Libra's sword swing, and Cebalrai cried out as the wind buffeted her backwards, sending her crashing into a nearby tree. "You know nothing of Lord Omega!" she said, forcing herself forward again.

"And neither do you!" It was both Pisces and Libra that yelled it out, but the words seemed to pierce Cebalrai deeply. Again, the Trio stopped and looked to be in pain all at once - worse than before, even. Their bodies were already racked with the pain of battle, but whatever was happening was making them shake and cry out in anguish. The flickers of shadows returned, darker and more intense than before...

"I can't - I can't just watch this! We have to help them!" Aries said, tears in her eyes.

Libra swore under her breath. "But what th' hell can we even do?! If we use our attacks, wouldn't that jus' make it worse?!"

"We have to still try!" Aries insisted. "If we don't, they could - !"

Pisces put a hand to Aries's shoulder. "And if we do, they still might."

The shadows were growing more pronounced, and the Trio's cries of pain only intensified - only for their sounds of pain to stop as sudden as it started, the Trio falling limp like puppets with their strings cut.

And then there was a cruel laugh from nowhere and everywhere all at once.

Virgo felt chills down her spine. "Who's there?!"

"You really are more perceptive than I gave you credit for, Pretty Cure." the Trio's mouths moved as one, but the voice coming out of their mouths was like nothing the Cures had ever heard before. It was a sinister tone, like nightmares given a physical voice - deep and frightening and wrong.

"Omega..." Aries whispered. The voice Naori had described - that had to be it.

"Forgive me for my lack of grandiose entrance. My puppets will have to suffice." Omega's voice was dry for a moment, as if he was attempting sarcasm.

"They ain't yer puppets!" Libra snarled. "And neither is Ophiuchus!"

There was only another bout of cruel laughter in response. It echoed all around, mocking the four of them for even daring to suggest a thing - and when it stopped, the chill in the air returned with a vengeance.

"And that is where you are wrong."

The Trio rose to their feet in unison, eyeing the Cures with blank, lifeless eyes. The shadows surrounding them morphed into a powerful dark aura - and before the Cures could do anything about it, a powerful blast of darkness shot at them, knocking them all off their feet.



Rasalhague's head felt hazy, and his vision was still blurry even as it was returning to him. What had happened? The Pretty Cure had been talking about help and helping them one moment, and then there had been immense pain again...

His head still hurt too. He grimaced, finally looking ahead. The Pretty Cure - they were all sprawled on the ground, breathing weakly.

Each of the Trio looked down at their hands. Had they done that? Why couldn't they remember it? And that pain, that had been...

Finish them off.

The thought rang through their heads all at once, followed by an even worse bout of pain. Omega, that was right, he had spoken to them before and - and wasn't this what they were supposed to want? Omega had saved them, they were loyal to Omega, and if that was the case, why did it hurt so much? Why did every fiber of their beings want to fight against that?

They hadn't wanted it to come to a fight. Maybe at first, but the past week, it had only brought hazy memories to light. Things Omega had wanted to hide from them, things Omega had even been wrong about. Ophiuchus wasn't someone to hate, she was - !

FINISH THEM OFF.

The pain was agonizing. Cebalrai and Marfik were driven to their knees, whereas Rasalhague felt something else forcing him forward. His steps were awkward and slow, and Rasalhague gritted his teeth, trying to resist. Whatever was making him walk - it wasn't in his control.

"You three cost me my puppet. And as I cannot replace her, you'll have to suffice as my replacements."

They remembered now, even though it hurt to remember, but Rasalhague was still walking. Once he was close enough, he knelt next to Cure Aries, and though his movements weren't his own, his voice still was. "I'm sorry - " he choked out, just as his hands reached for Aries's throat -

"Get away from my daughter!"

- and a rush of orange flames hit him, forcing him back in order to avoid being scorched. The fires blazed even more as they formed a wall between the Serpens and the fallen Cures, and a lone figure walked through the curtain of flames. Their form was hazy for a moment, becoming clearer as they stepped into the Trio's view.

It was Cure Leo.

And there was nothing but murder in her gaze.

---

ED: "Across The Sky" – Claris feat. StarSHINE 5

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Hirui: Everyone, I'm sorry! I'll protect you now, no matter what it takes!
Naori: No! There has to be another way!
Usami: Nao-chan...
Naori: I don't want anyone to keep fighting! There has to be something I can do!
Usami: Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: A shining resolve! Cure Ophiuchus lights the way! A-ah, your wishes might have been heard after all!
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