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Hirui had taken the lead, shouting she knew it wasn't much farther now, and all Naori could do was comply and run along with the older woman, Usami held tightly in her arms. But even now, knowing she was so close to seeing them again, all she could dwell on was the past.

They had been so quiet in the beginning, treating her like a delicate doll. She hadn't been capable of resenting them for it then - but now that she reflected on it, she didn't resent it now either. She remembered them waiting on her hand and night, caring for her even when they didn't understand the reasons why they had. She remembered when their personalities had begun to form.

Marfik turned into someone rough around the edges, but he always made sure to tuck her in at night.

Rasalhague had given her a bright smile, and told her about the world outside the Void.

Cebalrai seemed cold, but she wasn't - she was always so gentle whenever she brushed her hair.

Countless memories swam through her mind. Marfik getting angry when someone else tucked her in. Rasalhague reading her fairytales. Cebalrai singing her to sleep when the woman thought no one else would overhear her. The three of them asking when her birthday was, and when she couldn't remember, they threw her a party anyways. The three of them bringing her new clothes from time to time, because every girl deserved to dress up. The endless promises they made. They'd take her to a carnival, or a beach, or to a concert when she was better, or whatever she wanted.

They had cried too, sometimes. When they thought she couldn't hear them.

"If you don't have your own star, Ophiu, we'll find one for you!"

She'd spent so long unable to feel anything, unable to tell them how she really felt. She'd said the wrong thing after regaining control of herself, hurt them in the worst way. But she had been wrong. They had always tried to help her. They had always loved her, even before they understood what the feeling was.

Naori could feel tears welling up in her eyes, but she quickly shook them away. Farther ahead, she could see Hirui transforming and leaping into the fray, and it was only the sight of the fallen Cures that kept her from running into battle with Hirui.

It was just a little longer now. She was sure of it.

---

OP: "Shooting ★ Star!!" – StarSHINE 5
EPISODE 20 - "A shining resolve! Cure Ophiuchus lights the way!"

---

"...Mei-chan! Mei-chan!"

The first thing Cure Aries was aware of was the distinct crackling of fire. As her vision came into focus, she could see Usami's tear-filled expression out of the corner of her eye, his small, fuzzy paws continuing to nudge at her cheek. "...Usami?" she coughed out, before she let out a soft groan. "The others, where..." she continued, grimacing as pain shot through her body. The red Cure gritted her teeth, letting out a shuddering breath.

"Naori-chan is helping the others, are you okay?" Usami cried out.

With immense effort, Aries got to a sitting position. She closed her eyes as dizziness swept through her, and the young Cure gave herself a few moments to get used to the pain. "I-I think - " she began when she opened her eyes again. " - I - i-it'll heal."

"Feel like I was hit my a truck..." Pisces groaned from nearby, helped up with Naori's assistance. Pisces swore under her breath, hand to her head as she tried to stifle the pain. "Sumire, Ibuki?"

"W-we're okay." Virgo assured, helping Libra up, the two of them leaning on each other for support and comfort.

As the four Cures tried to regain their bearings, Naori gritted her teeth, the girl reaching for her Star Capsule. Everyone was getting hurt because of her. She couldn't take it. The girl moved to stand.

"Nao-chan, you can't!" Usami said, grabbing her ankle. "What if you can't keep your transformation like Ruru-chan?!"

That caught Aries's attention. "Mama's here too?" Finally, she took note of the orange flames protecting them - and her eyes widened. "We have to stop the fight! They don't want to hurt anyone, not really - but if we keep pushing them, they'll - !"

The rest of Aries's sentence was drowned out by an explosion just beyond the wall of flames.



Leo had expected the Serpens to put up a fight.

She hadn't expected them to immediately start apologizing.

"We're sorry! We're sorry...!"

Leo had wanted to ignore them.

Leo had wanted to just torch them for daring to hurt her daughter and her daughter's friends.

But it wasn't right to ignore them. It wasn't right to want to hurt them. They were scared, the fear in their voices all too evident, and their faces were twisted up in pain. Marfik especially gave her pause, considering how young he was - he just around Kouta's age, wasn't he? He was just a child - it wasn't right for him to be suffering like this, and that thought was what had compelled her to walk forward. She didn't know how she would be able to help them, but they looked scared and then -

"Stay away!"

- that had been the only warning she'd gotten. In the next moment, darkness erupted from them - a massive beam that would take out anything in its path, she was sure. It was only quick thinking that caused Leo to create another wall of flame to absorb most of the blow, and when the flames dissipated, Marfik was already charging at her, charging another blast.

He was just a little boy, she couldn't just -

A whip of darkness slammed into her from the side and combined with Marfik's energy blast, it was enough to send her flying. Leo let out a pained cry as she skidded into the barren dirt, trembling as she forced herself back to her feet. "I don't want to fight you!" she said, and all she could think of was Naori, having been scared and alone for so long - these three had been born from Naori herself, they were just as scared as she was.

If she had extended friendship to Naori back then, would things have turned out differently? Leo didn't know. But she could make up for that now.

"We don't have to fight!" she said again, taking another step forward. The three members of the Serpens flinched and stepped back, but Leo wasn't one to give up. She took a breath, trying to focus. If they were like Naori in any way, kindness would do better in this situation. "Please," she spoke again, her gentle mother voice taking center stage, "please, there has to be something else we can do."

It worked. Marfik was the first to step forward, his eyes shining with tears. "We - " and now he flinched again, looking pained. "We can't, Lord Omega will - "

"We're his puppets..." Cebalrai spoke next, grimacing with pain as well. "Even now, h-he still has hold on us - y-you're in danger, please just - "

"We don't know h-how long we can h-hold him off!" Rasalhague finished, letting out a pained cry. "Just run! Please!"

Leo faltered, then shook her head. "You're suffering! I can't just stand by and let this happen!"

Rasalhague moved to speak again - but an aura of darkness flared up like before, causing the three members of the Serpens to cry out in agony. Dark energy crackled when the aura faded - and the three moved at once. Cebalrai summoned a whip of darkness once more, snagging Leo by the ankles and yanking hard, sending the woman upwards, where Marfik was waiting with another charged energy blast, which he shot at her, sending her flying towards Rasalhague, who delivered a powerful kick to Leo's middle. Leo careened into the distance, landing in a crumpled heap, only managing to let out weak, pained breaths.

Together, the three aimed another blast at the wall of flames -



- but the blast didn't have the effect the Serpens had hoped for. The orange flames vanished in a brilliant display, flames exploding in every direction, and the three members of the Serpens had to leap away to avoid being burned. Dust and smoke clouded the area, obscuring everything - but faintly, there was something shining in the midst of it all.

"You can't hide from me, Pretty Cure!" shouted Omega's voice from the trio's mouths and the Serpens shot off another blast that cut through the thick haze. As the clouds and smoke were blasted away, the brilliant dome-shield that Usami had created came into view. The blast impacted against the shield and despite the cracks, the shield managed to absorb the attack. Once the Serpens's blast tapered off, the shield shattered -

"WE'RE NOT HIDING!" came the rallying cry of the four Pretty Cure as they leapt out of the shield and high into the air.

"Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!"

Three brilliant streams of fire shot out of Aries's palms, each of them striking the Serpens in the chest.

"Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!"

A barrage of water followed, each attack guided by Pisces. The water attack slammed into each of the Serpens, forcing them further back.

"Pretty Cure Floral Strike!"
"Pretty Cure Aerial Assault!"

Holding hands, Virgo and Libra directed their attack, three blasts of wind and petals shooting for the Serpens. When each blast struck, the Serpens found themselves trapped in place by a cyclone of wind, the razor sharp striking numerous small wounds. When the attack died down, the three Serpens sunk to their knees, just as the Pretty Cure landed before them.

"Rasalhague...?" came Aries's timid voice as she took a step forward, followed by Pisces.

For several moments, there was nothing but silence.

Then, Rasalhague let out a soft groan. "Pretty Cure...?" he rasped, his eyes fluttering open. Beside him, Cebalrai and Marfik also seemed to be coming to. He rose his gaze to meet them, his eyes no longer dead looking, nor were the whites of his eyes black anymore. The man almost smiled at the Cures - but something else caught his attention, and his gaze quickly shifted to something behind them.

"Is that...?" Cebalrai and Marfik spoke, their eyes now the same as Rasalhague's. Cebalrai squinted, as if that would clear her vision, and Marfik crawled forward a bit.

Rasalhague's throat felt dry. "...Ophiu...?"

The Cures turned and sure enough, Naori was standing farther behind them, the pink haired girl shaking a little, before she swallowed hard and nodded. The joy that came to the Serpens's faces was enough to get Naori smiling too - but said happiness was dashed as there was another chill in the air, one that immediately put everyone on edge. Rasalhague, Cebalrai and Marfik froze in place, eyes wide.

"Lady Ophiuchus," Cebalrai cried out in fear as darkness began to emanate from the trio once more, "run!"

If the trio attempted to shout anything else, it was drowned out by the sudden cyclone of darkness that erupted from the three, loud howling winds breaking the eerie silence of their surroundings. And among the howling winds was a sinister, familiar laugh.

The Cures immediately ran in front of Naori to protect her. "You're not getting her!" Aries shouted in defiance, only for a surge of darkness to lash out and seize the four Cures, flinging the four away in a violent, painful manner.

"Return to me, Ophiuchus!"

And with another deep laugh, a wave of darkness rushed at Naori, intending to consume her whole.



[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.]



As the darkness rushed towards her, Naori froze, paralyzed with fear. After everything - after everything, nothing was going to change, wasn't it? She was going to be taken away again and -

"NAO-CHAN!"

Usami's desperate cry was what tore her from her thoughts. As the darkness bore down on her, Usami rushed in, and with a brilliant flash of light, the little bear had created a domed shield to protect the two of them. The darkness came down and it was alive, pushing and putting pressure on the shield immediately.

"U-Usami, you - " Naori whispered, horrified. " - please, p-please, you don't have to do this, t-this is all my - !"

Usami gritted his teeth, both from the exertion of keeping the shield intact and from frustration. "Nao-chan, you don't gotta blame yourself anymore!" he shouted.

Naori's breath caught in her throat.

"You don't!" Usami continued, whimpering as cracks began to form in the shield. "You don't gotta believe you don't deserve things 'cause of the mistakes you've made! Mei-chan, Ruru-chan, even me - we've all made mistakes! And it's okay to feel terrible about the mistakes you've made! It's okay to be scared you're gonna hurt others again too!" the small bear grimaced and focused harder on his shield. "But the only way to change is to do better and move forward!"

"I-I..." Naori stammered, shaking as she reached for her Star Capsule again. Her heart raced as more cracks appeared in the shield. It wasn't going to last. "...I..."

Rasalhague. Cebalrai. Marfik. Chie. Mei and her friends. Hirui. Even Usami. Everyone believed in her. They all cared for her. They all knew what she had done and had accepted her anyways.

She was the only one holding herself back now, wasn't she?

"I...!"

The shield shattered and darkness rushed in, aimed straight for the two of them.

"I make my own future!" Naori shouted, her Star Capsule shining brightly. "PRETTY CURE! WISH UPON A STAR!"

Brilliant, blinding light burst from Naori's form, green light taking over her surroundings. Holding her Star Capsule to her, she pulled the white cloth off of it and it swirled around her form in an ethereal manner, before bursting into white and green streams of light. As her clothes vanished, they were replaced by said streams of light, which all hugged her form to create a white top. Naori twirled once, green streams of light knitting themselves against her chest and with a small pop, a thin, pale green chest bow formed on her top. She swept her hands downward, the base of her frilled, muted green skirt appearing in one sweep, and the other, asymmetrical layer appearing at the second sweep. With another twirl, white tights clothed themselves on her legs, and simple muted green shoes appeared on her feet, accented with ribbons that came up past her ankles. Her Star Capsule remained in her hands and became a brilliant orb of light that she pushed to her chest ribbon, and when she pulled her hands away, a bronze star brooch appeared on her chest ribbon, engraved with the symbol for Ophiuchus. White arm-warmers frilled in pale green formed on her arms, and a pale green sash formed at her waist, tied on each side by fluffy ribbons with ribbon tails that trailed out. A bronze, off the shoulder cape formed as her pink hair came undone and grew all at once, her hair shining and turning a bright green. Two fluffy, short pigtails formed at the top of her head, whereas the longer hair cascading down twisted and reformed into four braids that came past her shoulders. Smiling now, she swung her head to the side, a pale green hairband decorated with a bronze star appearing on her head, while bronze star earrings appeared on her ears. Transformation complete, she posed gracefully, her cape billowing as she regarded everything with a peaceful expression.

The shining light she emitted obliterated the darkness completely, and with a deep breath, she opened her eyes, now the same color as her hair.

"The aether star with the holy light, Cure Ophiuchus!"

The sky rumbled around them and Omega let out an infuriated noise, but Ophiuchus paid it no mind. "I've always depended on others. I depended on the Serpens to protect me. I depended on the Pretty Cure to help me." the white and green Cure spoke, still glowing with an ethereal light as she stepped forward towards the Serpens. "But I'm not going to depend on the others to fight my battles. Not anymore." her peaceful tone grew sharp as she regarded the darkness possessing the Serpens.

The darkness writhed and twisted, trying to get away from the light shining from Ophiuchus's form. "Your talk means nothing! You can't even save yourself!"

"And that's where you're wrong." Ophiuchus said, brooch shining. "I'm going to save everyone!" Instinctively, Ophiuchus held her hand out, a beam of light materializing in her outstretched hand. It formed into a simple pale green staff with a serpent coiled from the bottom all the way to the top of the staff, where a bronze star engraved with the symbol for Ophiuchus floated - her Zodiac Arms. "Pretty Cure..." she called out, holding her staff high, "...Shining Wave!"

A brilliant light bathed the park and everything faded to white.



It was warm.

That was the first thing Leo was aware of.

As she stirred, she expected pain - and was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did nothing hurt, but that she felt more revitalized than she ever had. As she sat up, she blinked at an outstretched hand and took it, finding herself face to face with her daughter. "Mei!" she cried out, hugging her without a second thought. "Are you all right?"

Aries laughed and hugged her mother back. "I'm fine! We all are!" she said with a smile as she pulled away, gesturing to Pisces, Virgo, and Libra, who all were just as healthy as Aries looked. "But this..." Where were they? If Aries squinted, she could make out the park, but this light...where was it coming from?

All at once, it came back to her. "Naori-chan, where is she?!"

The five Cures looked around, panicked. "There!" Libra said, pointing to a shining beacon not too far from all of them - that had to be the source of the light! And if the light was there, surely Naori would be there too. The five Cures hurried to the scene, greeting with a radiant Ophiuchus shooting light at the three members of the Serpens, bathing them in a warm, healing light.

At first, it looked like Ophiuchus was winning. But when the white Cure let out a faint gasp, it became apparently she was struggling. No matter how much she poured into her attack, Omega wasn't going to be deterred. "Just a little more...!" Ophiuchus gasped out, gritting her teeth. The trio's forms stirred with new life, but the darkness that clung to them refused to release them.

The other Cures traded glances - and then, Aries reached over, gripping Ophiuchus's staff as well. "Did you already forget? You're not alone anymore." she said, closing her eyes to focus her power into Ophiuchus's attack.

Pisces took a breath, also gripping the staff. "We're your friends, right? So we're here for you!" she said with a grin, her power joining the others.

"We made a promise and we intend to keep it." Virgo said as she joined them, smile gentle.

"We're all goin' home today! We've got a celebration to plan!" Libra declared, gripping the staff.

"And together," Leo finished, placing her hand on Ophiuchus's shoulder, "we can overcome anything in our way!"

The light emitting from Ophiuchus's staff grew stronger. And with their six voices as one - "Pretty Cure Shining Wave!" - the light burst forth and consumed the trio entirely. As the powerful light bathed their forms, a mass of darkness retreated from them, a monstrous face appearing in the formless mass.

"YOU...!" Omega cried out, twisting and writhing even more, trying to avoid the brilliant light, but the attack was continuous and only growing in strength. "IMPOSSIBLE!" Omega boomed, light overtaking the darkness in a blinding display. When the light faded, the Darkness Jar had shattered and life returned to Lucente Bay, the dreary skies and withered land restored to their former glory. The sky was a brilliant blue above them, the sun shining as if nothing horrible had occured. The six Cures stumbled, weakened from their group effort, but Ophiuchus was the first to hurry forward where the Serpens lay.

"Rasalhague! Cebalrai! Marfik!"

Rasalhague was the first to stir once more. His eyes - now a deep green, as opposed to the red they had been for so long - fluttered open, and he stared at the white and green Cure before him in confusion for several moments, just before he smiled weakly. "You did it, Ophiu." he whispered, tears coming to his eyes.

"You became a Pretty Cure..." Marfik murmured, now like Rasalhague in more ways than one - his eyes were now green, but his hair had turned white, just like Rasalhague's own hair. He rubbed at his eyes, feeling tears coming on.

"Lady Ophiuchus, we're so proud of you...!" Cebalrai said with a sob and a warm smile, her appearance matching Marfik and Rasalhague's hair and eyes now.

Ophiuchus could only stare, tears streaming down her cheeks, before she let out a wail of relief and barreled into them, hugging the trio and sobbing apology after apology, something that only worsened when the trio hugged her back, apologizing just as much.

The other Cures stood off to the side, letting the four of them have their privacy, and Aries sniffled, rubbing at her eyes. "We did it." she said, pride blossoming inside of her. "We really did it."

"We did." Pisces said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"They're so happy..." Virgo sobbed, leaning onto Libra's shoulder.

Libra absently patted her girlfriend's head, unable to stop crying herself. "Everythin' will be better from now on."

Leo nodded, giving herself a moment to reign her own emotions in. "We won't need to fight anymore."

Usami looked giddy at the prospect. "Mei-chan, we gotta plan that party~!"

Aries nodded - and together, the Cures joined the others, laughter, hugs, apologies and tears all around. The long battle was done with, and there was no one endangering Naori anymore. They could breathe a little easier now.



The Void had only grown more turbulent since the disappearance of the Serpens. The sentient energy writhed and devoured any debris in its wake, stifling the air and making the entire ruined kingdom even more desolate than before. And inside the lone tower, something was changing.

Darkness returned to darkness, after all.

The canopy had long since been destroyed, but something else was rising in its place.

A throne.

And seated on it formed something else - or rather, a someone. The beginnings of a someone, to be more to the point. The darkness shifted and pulsed, the form slowly becoming more humanesque. Red eyes formed on a half-shaped face, and a mouth formed seconds later, splitting the already misshapen face in a manner that looked wrong.

"So I've lost all my puppets." it said, voice sounding rusty from so many years of being not spoken aloud. "A pity, but not a surprising one." The rasp was new, but the booming, nightmarish tone couldn't be mistaken.

Omega.

His form pulsed and writhed some more, and his neck stretched as he brought his gaze upwards. "But..." he continued.

Inner Stars filled the tower, endless shining lights that still burned, even now.

"...they've left me plenty to work with."

And Omega smiled a jagged, wicked smile.

---

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

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Mei: Naori-chan, you were so cool~!
Ibuki: That line 'bout makin' yer own future was amazin'!
Ushio: Kinda feels like it took you too long though -
Sumire: A-ah, Ushio-san, we can't go breaking the fourth wall!
Naori: T-thank you, everyone! But I get this feeling our fight isn't over yet...
Usami: Nao-chan might be right! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: A new day for everyone! Let's celebrate! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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