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If Aries was being honest, her head was still spinning from everything that had just happened. What had begun as a simple training session had spiralled into something completely unrecognizable. They had all split up to fight Trou Noir that refused to die, then there had been a brilliant burst of light, and a voice saying she’d finally reached them. And now they were on the roof of Etoile Academy, the Cures holding each other up, barely able to understand what had just happened in the past several minutes.

And then there was the matter of the introduction they’d just had. Usami gasped as Vega spoke, eyes sparkling as he prepared to greet her and agree wholeheartedly - when Hirui held her hand out. Truth be told, this was much more confusing for her, considering she hadn’t been near any of the battles that had taken place, but she squared her shoulders anyways, giving the being a hardened look.

“I understand your concern, Leo.” Vega said. “The fact I am able to hold this form here is a miracle in and of itself. There is much to speak of, but I’m afraid it cannot be done here. You’ll have to return to Via Lactea.”

Hirui’s shoulders slumped in relief. If Vega knew who she was, then it couldn’t be a trap. She turned towards the Cures and Usami. “Well?”

“I don’t think we have a real choice.” Aries said, frowning. Beside her, her teammates nodded.

“We’ll stay behind.” Rei said, offering an encouraging smile.

“Someone has to keep guard while you’re gone!” Masao added with a wink.

“Be safe, all of you.” Celes finished.

The three siblings watched as the Cures, Usami, and Hirui walked towards Vega - and with a final burst of light, the group was gone, leaving only Rei, Masao, and Celes on the roof of the school, sparkles of light floating where the group and Vega had been moments ago.

---

OP: "Shooting ★ Star!!" – StarSHINE 5
EPISODE 24 - "To the stars! A visit to Via Lactea!"

---

Via Lactea had been beautiful once. Usami remembered this firmly, even though he couldn’t remember the last time he had properly been home. After the Pretty Cure had been created, surely, but it mattered little. He’d been looking forward to the beautiful crystalline structures, the Star Fields where Inner Stars were born, the rivers that shimmered like diamonds - and to some extent, they still existed, broken and worn down after so many years, a shell of its former glory. The Star Palace fared worst of all, shambling and broken down, though not completely so.

It was hard to not feel a little upset at everything, though Usami reeled that in. Now was not the time for anguishing over how his home had ended up, especially when he knew he didn’t have it the worst. Beside him, Ophiuchus kept her head down, unable to look at the wreckage of Via Lactea head on. Wordlessly, he reached over to take her hand, giving her a smile when she looked up at him in surprise.

As the group marveled over the sights before them, there was a radiant, pulsing light from up ahead. With a shimmer, another form appeared - a beautiful, ethereal woman with long, flowing golden hair and eyes in the same striking shade. Gentle light radiated from her regal form, perfectly complimenting her dark blue dress, making the silver stars in it shimmer and flicker. An ornate crown of silver and stars rested on her head, and as the group walked up to the woman, she smiled warmly - and bowed to them, something that made Aries blush as red as her hair as the rest of the group sputtered in embarrassment and confusion.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you properly, Pretty Cure.” the woman - Vega - spoke amidst their noises of protest. “I apologize for being unable to meet you sooner, and I apologize again for the nature of this meeting. I wanted to speak with you at the first opportunity, and had I not seized my chance then, we might not have ever spoken to one another. I...” she paused now, uncertain of how to phrase herself, before opting for simple honesty. “I simply couldn’t allow that to happen.”

Usami was the first to regain his composure, pausing to give Ophiuchus’s hand a reassuring squeeze before he spoke up. “Queen Vega, where’s the King…?”

At that, Vega’s smile grew sad. “...to tell that story, I’m afraid I must tell another story first. Come, I have something to show you. Something you all need to know.” she gestured ahead, towards the shambles of the Star Palace, and not knowing what else to do, the group simply followed her. The once pristine and beautiful halls of the palace were cracked and demolished, looking less like the eroding of time and more like impassioned, all consuming anger.

Ophiuchus kept her head down and her eyes shut as they walked. Hirui placed a hand on her shoulder, whereas Usami gave her hand another squeeze.

When the group reached the throne room, Vega finally stopped. The thrones themselves had been completely torn apart - and there, in what appeared to be a crystalline coffin, was the prone form of a man with weathered brown skin and black hair, an ornate crown of golden stars on his head. Seeing the stunned looks on everyone’s faces, Vega spoke up again. “Altair is sustained by my magic - without it, he will perish. I...I hope you understand why I was unable to contact you sooner, I did not have the magical capability to spare for quite some time.”

Ophiuchus spoke up at last, shaking. “Did I…?”

Vega shook her head. “I assure you that was not the case, Ophiuchus. This was...a choice he made.”

“Why?” Aries asked.

At that, there was another sad smile. Vega gestured farther back, past the demolished thrones. Higher up on the wall, with shredded curtains having hidden it away from view once upon a time, was a large portrait depicting the royal family. To the left was King Altair, warmth and joy in his brown eyes, a tender smile on his face. To the right was Queen Altair, beautiful as ever, her golden hair cascading elegantly down her shoulders, the smile on her face making her even more radiant.

And there, between them, was a young boy with olive brown skin no older than 13, though he looked much frailer than those his age ought to be. His pale blue hair was at odds with his golden colored eyes, the circlet on his head less intricate than the headwear the other two wore, but the beaming smile on his face, the gentle hands on his shoulders, and the loving looks on Altair and Vega’s faces told the story clear as day.

“Before the Pretty Cure, before our Ursa and Usami, before any of that...” Vega began, gaze transfixed on the portrait with an indescribable expression of anguish. “our son Deneb was taken away from us by Omega.”

The sentence hung in the air, heavy and tragic. Hirui staggered back, a hand flying to her mouth. To actually lose a child…

Vega turned to face the group again, tears in her eyes, that same sad smile on her face. With another shimmer of magic, two items appeared before her - one was a leather-bound journal, shabby and worn out to the point it nearly fell apart at the seams. The other was a strange, star-shaped compact. “This portrait and these two items are all I have left of my son. I...will you listen to my selfish request, Pretty Cure?”

The response was immediate - the group nodded. Vega took a shaky breath, gave herself a moment to compose herself, then opened the journal and began to read aloud.



As crown prince of Via Lactea and being surrounded by nothing but stars, it was no surprise that Deneb had grown up loving them. He immersed himself in stars and their mythology, and with it, it had imbued him with a love of history, magic and legend. History books were always found in his room, and more often than not, the young boy would be found with his nose in a book.

Today, however, was the day that was going to change everything.

“I did it!” came his jubilant cry from the halls of the Star Palace. “I did it, I did it!” the cry echoed, just as Deneb burst into the throne room, face flushed and breathing heavily. One of the attendants hurried to help him - he was frail, health always precarious - but Deneb attempted to shoo them off, hurrying up to the center of the room. “I did it!” he declared yet again, still breathless, but eyes shining with wonder all the same.

Altair chuckled lightly. “And what exactly did you do, Deneb?”

At that, Deneb grinned brightly, holding out both his hands. Concentrating, the young prince began to shimmer with power - and there, in his hands, a green light appeared, letting off a gentle light.

“An Inner Star?” Vega asked.

“Not just any Inner Star!” Deneb said, bouncing on his heels. “I’ve figured out how to call on the powers of the Pretty Cure!”

That certainly got both their attentions. Altair and Vega rose to congratulate their son, while Deneb excitedly explained the process. The legendary Pretty Cure needed something powerful enough to sustain their power - something to anchor them. Constellations, as it turned out, were the perfect thing to do so.

“And which is this one?” Vega asked.

“Ophiuchus!” came Deneb’s proud reply. Then his bright smile faded a little. “But it’s not as strong as I thought it’d be - maybe because it’s the first one?”

Altair paused. “First one? Son, how many do you plan to call on?”

Deneb laughed. “The whole zodiac!”

The king and queen traded glances. They didn’t want to diminish the incredible accomplishment he’d made - but such strenuous magic usage would surely only harm him in the long run. Even with his incredible magical prowess, his health was...

It was Vega who spoke. “We’re very proud of you, but we don’t want you doing this alone in the future, all right?”

Deneb’s shoulders sank a little. “All right, I promise...”

“Now,” Altair said, smiling as he ruffled his son’s hair, “tell us how exactly you managed that, son, we’d love to hear it!”

It was enough to perk him right up again. As Deneb excitedly explained the specifics of the process, Vega kept her gaze on the glowing Ophiuchus star, and tried not to wonder how many attempts it had taken Deneb to do such a thing.



Deneb, however, was not good at keeping promises.

He learned to stagger his attempts, and once the first few stars had been summoned, he slowly got better and better at it. It became more and more second nature to him, almost as easy as breathing. His magic was getting stronger…

The first problem was that he didn’t know how to hide the stars he was creating. Being powerful anchors for legendary warriors, he couldn’t exactly leave them out for anyone to take! Putting them inside something was certainly an option, but it had to be strong enough to hold that power too.

In the end, what ended up working was a star shaped compact. 13 star shaped indentations decorate the inside of it and with a little bit of magic, he managed to get the glowing stars to fill the empty spots. He smiled at the sense of satisfaction he got, seeing his work in a tangible form.

The second problem was something more difficult - his magic usage was taking a toll on his body. It started small, aches and pains, some drowsiness, spots that dance at the corner of his vision on bad days. He can feel the worried gazes of his parents, and learned to be more careful, to hide the star compact so no one asked questions, to not think too hard about coughing up blood or searing pain in his chest.

The third problem was that he could swear he could hear a voice sometimes. It was indistinct, granted, but tangible, just like the compact, just like the stars were. A voice on the wind that whispered to him, calling his name in the dead of night. Deneb tried to ignore it - but as his health continued to get worse, the voice continued to get louder.

And when the final star rested in the compact, Deneb felt his weak body seize up, coughed until his lungs ached, until he tasted copper in his throat. Everything hurt all over, and hazily, he remembered his mother’s words as he collapsed in his study.

He awakened in pitch black darkness.

“Hello?” Deneb called out, his voice swallowed by the darkness around him. Something thrummed around him.

He realized he wasn’t alone.

”You and I are alike, child.”

The voice that spoke came from nowhere and everywhere at once, echoing and hissing all around him. It sent chills down Deneb’s spine.

”You seek power, and so do I. But for what purpose?”

Something about the voice compelled him to be honest. He voiced the one thing he had always been afraid to say. “I don’t want to die.” he admitted, voice shaking. His parents were afraid of that very thing, and so were the palace staff - and while Deneb had tried his very best to stay positive, the truth still remained: he was a young, scared boy trapped in an ailing body, merely a child who did not want to die.

In response, there was a chuckle from the darkness.

”Then I believe something can be arranged.”



[eyecatch 1 – With a pile of books beside him, Deneb creates stars around him that hover around in the sky above him. As more appear, he gets excited - until he summons too many and the stars crash all around him, making him laugh sheepishly. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 – Deneb, Altair, and Vega all hurry into the Star Gardens, a picnic basket in hand. As Vega lays out a picnic blanket, Deneb excitedly gets food out. As the royal family enjoys themselves, shooting stars streak past, making them all smile. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]



“I-I...I apologize, Pretty Cure.” Vega said, stopping to dry her tears. “I am certain you have questions.”

“Tell us what Omega is.” Pisces said, then flinched, realizing what her tone sounded like. “...please.”

Vega nodded, closing the journal. “Omega is...a concept, to best describe it.” she said. “Inner Stars are not only the living essence of beings - they also represent hope and goodness. And where there is light, there is always darkness - they exist together. Omega is the personification of the darkness that lies inside everything.”

“...how th’ hell do we beat somethin’ like that?!” Libra asked, horrified.

Virgo shook her head. “I don’t think we can.”

Aries laughed weakly. “Pretty sure defeating it would destroy the balance of the universe?”

Hirui stayed quiet as the rest of the group talked, mulling the current facts over. The compact had been written about in Deneb’s journal, and Vega had both items now. And with Altair currently unconscious, some other piece of the puzzle was missing.

The answer to that, however, required a difficult question to be asked. And though Hirui didn’t want to be the one to ask it, she cleared her throat.

“What happened to Deneb?”

Vega’s gaze dropped to the floor. “We found Deneb unconscious and nothing we did would wake him. There was a nearby kingdom and we were hoping doctors would be able to help, but...”



Vega had known something was wrong the moment her son stirred and woke up. Something about the way he held himself was wrong - the look in his eyes, the smile he had, none of them were quite right. He had sat up just after waking, despite the doctor warning him otherwise, and when Deneb smiled at Vega and Altair, there was a sudden chill in the room.

“Deneb?” Vega ventured, reaching out to place a hand on her son’s shoulder. He felt cold to the touch, and the unsettling smile hadn’t left his face. Then he laughed, and the two realized there was a very different voice coming out of their son’s mouth.

And then he spoke.

”Give me the power we agreed upon.”

The voice was thunderous, too loud and deep to be coming from such a young boy. Deneb’s body trembled as he spoke, face twisted in pain, though it didn’t meet the unsettling nature of his eyes.

Altair was the first to move, protecting his wife on instinct - and then Deneb’s gaze locked onto his, just before his lips curled up in a wicked smile. All at once, a pulse of dark energy erupted from the small boy, demolishing the room they were in completely. Windows shattered as Deneb floated, more dark energy tearing into anything it could touch and soon enough, the building had exploded.

Chaos broke out in the kingdom as more and more energy shot around. Buildings were struck, people collapsed, screams of terror echoed all around. In the midst of it all, Deneb floated high above and laughed with that same voice, relishing in the destruction he’d wrought.

Amidst the wreckage, Altair and Vega managed to get themselves out of the rubble, the two breathing heavily and badly wounded. “Deneb!” Altair called, voice lost in the cacophony of chaos all around. “Deneb!” he shouted again, more desperate as he and his wife raced in the best they could.

Another bolt of darkness shot out, tearing the very ground out. More screams echoed in the air. Deneb laughed again, even though his face was still twisted in misery, tears streaming down his cheeks all the while.

”If you won’t give it to me, you’ll watch everyone die!”

A burst of light sailed past Deneb’s face. Down on the ground, Altair and Vega glared, and in response, Deneb laughed again.

”As long as I inhabit this body, you won’t do anything.”

“Then we’ll just have to get you out!” Vega yelled, and another burst of light shot out. Deneb scoffed, easily deflecting her attack, and when Altair attempted an attack of his own, Deneb blasted both Altair and Vega with darkness, sending them careening into the ground. Deneb smirked at their prone bodies, readying another blast - but try as he might, his arm wouldn’t move.

“...stop it...” Deneb spoke now, body trembling with the effort to speak in his real voice, more and more miserable tears streaming down his face. “...stop it, I don’t want this…!”

”Do you really think your pitiful feelings mean anything to me?”

Deneb only trembled more, doubled in on himself as he floated towards the ground, shaking with the very effort to keep his own body and mind under his own control. It was a battle he was losing by the second - and he knew this.

“...then….then I’ll just....” he grimaced with pain, body thrumming with dark energy that began to engulf him, “...then I’ll just take you out myself!”

The dark energy that engulfed him began to expand more and more, absorbing anything it touched into itself - and at the center of it all, Deneb was sinking farther and farther into the depths of the black hole that had been created.

”Deneb!”

Altair and Vega floated, each seizing one of their son’s hands, faces grimacing with immense effort as they tried to pull him out of the black hole. But try as they might, Deneb continued to slip away, sinking farther into the darkness. The black hole continued to expand, consuming anything it touched, screams of terror echoing all around as the residents of the Centauri Kingdom were destroyed by the darkness.

“Deneb, honey, hold on!” Vega begged.

“We’ve got you! We’re all going home together!” Altair yelled.

Tears rolling down his face, Deneb only smiled. “Mom, Dad?” he asked, taking in their faces and memorizing their features, hiding it behind a weak laugh.

The star compact shimmered into existence -

“I love you both so much.”

- and blasted both Altair and Vega backwards, the compact and the two of them shooting away from the rapidly crumbling Centauri Kingdom. Deneb watched as they were carried away, smiling even as he sank completely into the darkness - and as he disappeared, the rest of the kingdom was swallowed up with him.

For a moment, there was silence - silence that was pierced by Altair and Vega’s screams of anguish echoing into the nothingness where their son had once been.



To say the others were horrified was an understatement. Vega kept her head down, hugging her sides. For all her radiance, now she just looked weary - a woman who had lost the one she loved most in an instant and relived the pain of that every day. When she finally rose her head to look at the group, the weak, sad smile had finally left her face, replaced by unimaginable sorrow.

“Altair and I thought Deneb had sacrificed himself to seal away Omega and to keep it from taking the power of the Pretty Cure. We used the compact to call upon the legendary warriors - but the Ophiuchus star was weaker than the rest. Lady Proxima, who inherited the star, grew angry she could not wield the power of the Pretty Cure.” Vega explained, voice hollow. “Omega sought her out and...” she trailed off, shaking a little.

Ophiuchus held a hand up. She knew this story.

Vega nodded weakly in understanding. “When...when the last attack happened,” she began again, as delicately as she could, “Altair was wounded. However, even with his injuries, something else had awoken inside of him. He - we- already watched Omega claim our child, and to see another child trapped in the same predicament...” she looked at Ophiuchus sadly, then trailed off, casting a glance to the prone Altair nearby. “An Inner Star can survive anything, surpassing the limit of the body it inhabits. Knowing this, he decided to send out his Inner Star to seek out Omega himself, and bring Deneb home. But he hasn’t returned.”

She held out the Star Compact.

“The power of the Pretty Cure were housed in this - the stars that were your teammates have returned to this compact.” It flipped open, and sure enough, seven indentations were full. “This power was split between twelve of you before - it stands to say that with the six of you, maybe -.”

“Five.” Hirui interrupted, just before she gingerly took the compact. “These girls are the future.” she assured - and it seemed the compact itself understood her intentions. There was a shimmer of orange light - and then inside the compact, an eighth slot had been filled.

“Mama, you can’t!” Aries started, stopping as she saw the look on her mother’s face. It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t a weary resignation, it wasn’t even sorrow.

It was pride.

“Ruru-chan, you...” Usami trailed off, eyes welling up. There had to be some other solution, right? For Hirui to just give up her powers after regaining them...

Hirui only smiled. “This was going to happen eventually. I believe in all of you - make it count, all right?” she said, handing the compact to Aries. The mother and daughter stared at each other - and finally, Aries nodded.

Vega cleared her throat, bowing low to the group once again. “I have no right to ask this of you.” she admitted. “This fight is something you never asked for, and as long as you and the compact exist, Omega will come after you to claim your power as its own. However…” And now her breathing was shaky.


“I have no way of knowing if Altair and Deneb are alive out there. For all I know, Omega consumed them entirely. But. Please, if you’re at all able to do so, if there’s even a chance of it - bring my son and my husband home.”

There was no hesitation.

“We will.” Aries said, grip tightening on the pact.

.”Definitely.” Pisces added.

“You’ll see them again, we promise.” Virgo nodded.

“And we’ll beat Omega too!” Libra boasted, grinning.

“Because we’re the Pretty Cure.” Ophiuchus finished, “Saving people, protecting them - it’s what we do.”

---

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

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Usami: Christmas is almost here - but something dark is in the air! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: The brilliance of stars! A miracle on the holy night! Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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