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The bubble of light that floated into the Void was a brief beacon against the darkness, a light that dissipated as easily as it appeared. As the five Cures, Usami, and Hirui touched down, three things were apparent - the Void wasn’t cold, firstly. It felt like it should have been - but much like the endless darkness that stretched in every direction around them - but it existed as a paradox.The second thing was that there was not simply darkness within the Void - countless dim stars drifted aimlessly in the ever present darkness, paying no mind to their new guests. Anything that arrived here existed to be consumed, after all.

The third thing was that the Void was eerily quiet. It was the kind of silence that was unnerving - it made the Pretty Cure’s skin crawl, and Hirui clutched the Star Pact a little closer to her chest. The six ahead of her said nothing as they looked around, only sharing one glance with each other before taking the lead - Aries in front, her team behind her, while Usami trailed a little farther behind, making sure to keep in front of Hirui as they all walked.

There was ground beneath them, somehow, but it felt strange - it was firm enough to walk on, but there was something loose about it. It was as if the ground beneath them existed solely because the darkness allowed it, as opposed to it being naturally forming. Their footsteps made no sound as they walked, as if the darkness had swallowed the concept of noise entirely.

Still, they walked. While the others kept their gaze ahead at the endless darkness dotted with dim stars, Hirui looked around. Their surroundings looked the exact same in every direction - who even knew if they were even moving at all? - but beneath her fingertips, the Star Pact grew warm. From the corner of her eye, something approached - a dim star. Again, the Star Pact grew warmer in her grip, and as she noted it definitely was approaching her specifically, she found herself holding the Pact out.

Much farther ahead, Libra let out a frustrated noise. “C’mon an’ fight us, coward!” she shouted, shaking her fist at the nothing that surrounded them.

“Libra, no!” Virgo said sharply, trying to pull her partner’s arm back.

The star touched the Pact. Something jolted in Hirui’s mind - a memory that wasn’t hers. A flash of a woman with long golden hair and a young boy...

”If it’s a fight you desire, it’s a fight you’ll receive.” Omega said and it thrummed all around them - it was not just a voice, but a physical presence, something that reminded them they really were in the belly of the beast now. As Omega’s last word echoed around them, something in the air changed. The next thing happened in an instant: Libra shrieked as the ground suddenly gave out under her, seemingly shifting to water underneath her in an instant. Virgo let out a horrified cry as Libra vanished into the darkness - but then she too sunk away before she could even comprehend it.

And as Virgo and Libra sunk away, so did the others. Ophiuchus sank as Virgo and Libra disappeared, eyes still wide with horror, while Pisces shouted, sinking as she lunged to help the smaller girl. The last to fall was Aries, her desperate cry smothered by darkness before it could leave her mouth. Usami yelled and sprinted towards the Cures, only narrowly managing to grasp Aries’s lone hand before she completely sunk - and just like that, he was gone too, claimed by the darkness.

Hirui, still clutching the Star Pact, mind whirling with faint memories of a king - no, of a father who wanted to save his lost son - was alone before she could even comprehend what had just happened. And at the sight of her daughter and all her loved ones being taken from her in the blink of an eye, she did the only thing she could.

She screamed.

---

OP: "Shooting ★ Star!!" – StarSHINE 5
EPISODE 26 - "Faced with the darkness! Pretty Cure can beat anything, right…?"

---

As Aries came to, the first thing she realized was that the ground underneath her cheek was cold. As she groaned and began to sit up, her blurry sight began to refocus. The place she was in was wide - a ruined, elegant ballroom, a wide room facing large, glass windows. The world outside this ballroom - this ruined castle - was dark, clouds rumbling, winds howling endlessly, the brief bits of sky that could be seen were completely pitch dark and starless. Somewhere, waves crashed and trees swayed and snapped. Aries raked a hand through her hair as she stood up.

Lightning struck as thunder clapped, shadows casting throughout the ballroom.As the wind howled, the chandelier high above swayed lightly. Torches dotted the walls, though they were unlit. The shadows seemed to stretch more and more, the brief flashes of lightning highlighting Aries’s form - and someone else’s too.

Another her.

Well, for the most part. The other Aries shared the same physical features, had the same red hair curled into similar ram horns. A tiara of red rested on her forehead, decorated with a black four pointed star. Her high necked bodice was black and sleeveless, her gloves of the same color, decorated at the ends and at the wrists in red. A four pointed star in black was prominent on her chest, decorated with a frill of dark red and a cloth of a lighter red wrapping around her chest and arms, encircling her back. With a pleated skirt of dark red and black boots decorated with red, the whole ensemble only highlighted that she looked like a poor imitation. It was almost fitting in a sense - a shadow could never be as fully formed as the person it was cast from.

Shadow-Aries opened her eyes - red and dim with black schlera - and smirked. “So you’re finally awake” she said, and though it lacked the booming nature of Omega’s voice, it was just as sinister.

Aries tensed. “You’re not real.”

“I know what you’re afraid of.” Shadow-Aries replied, just as the lightning flashed again. In the blink of an eye, she’d gotten closer - and closer still, when the lightning flashed once more. “You brought all your friends here to their deaths. Isn’t that right, Miss Leader?” she said, smirking again when Aries shifted a little in surprise. “And deep, deep down?” she continued slyly, the lightning flashing yet again, giving her the opportunity to stand toe to toe with Aries, “You’re happy that you don’t have to watch it happen firsthand.”

All the air rushed out of Aries’s lungs - first at the shock of it being voiced, and then quite literally when Shadow-Aries punched her with such a swift force it sent her flying into the wall far behind her. The shock of the impact shook the walls, making the chandelier high above their heads rattle and sway. Aries coughed as she sat up, struggling to get her bearings as Shadow-Aries approached - and then yelped in pain when she was yanked by her hair effortlessly, the red Cure squirming to get out of her shadow’s grip.

“Still think I’m not real?”

“P-Pretty Cure Flare Blitz!” Aries shouted in response, fire exploding from her form. It was enough to separate the two, Aries stumbling backward and calling forth the Aries Scimitar. The fire crackled and raged, the red Cure taking a moment to catch her breath again - but when she rose her gaze to her shadow self, she stared in horror. The attack had hit true, it had even scorched her other self’s face - a face that was currently black shadow and horribly deformed, until it twitched and reassembled itself into Shadow-Aries’s smirking face.

“You didn’t think it’d be that easy, did you?” Shadow-Aries asked, just as a blade of darkness appeared in her hands. But she didn’t let the question hang in the air long - in the next moment, she lunged, blade poised to do as much damage as it could.



Thunder rumbled as rain fell in torrents, making Pisces’s already shaky footing on the sand even shakier. The ocean’s waves raged, waters pitch black, and amidst the chaos, Pisces grit her teeth, letting out a fierce cry as she went on the attack once more, finally managing to score a hit against her shadow, her punch hitting the other’s face with a resounding crack, sending the other skidding messily into the sand.

It didn’t feel right, Pisces realized immediately, staring at her shaking fist. It hadn’t felt like hitting a person - her shadow had gave too easily, and the punch hadn’t connected with something solid. Whatever it was, it was malleable and - and wrong, somehow, just completely wrong.

Lightning flashed down, striking the sand near Pisces and forcing the Cure to retreat a ways. Shadow-Pisces swayed to her feet and then threw her head back and laughed, a sound that rang crystal clear through all the noise, echoing in every direction and putting Pisces on edge. The blue haired shadow tossed one of her pigtails over her shoulder, mouth somehow twisted in a too-wide grin even as her face was caved in, skin giving way to living darkness. It took a moment for her face to reform properly, but the shadow didn’t care whether it did or not.

“Only ever good for fighting.” Shadow-Pisces drawled out as she sauntered forward. “Can’t rely on anyone for anyone else, isn’t that right? It’s easier to tough it out, keep everything to yourself.”

“Pretty Cure Aqua Rush!”

The burst of magic water struck true - but Shadow-Pisces didn’t stop walking forward. “You’ve always been more capable, right? You lie awake at night, thinking you deserve to lead everyone.” she mocked, cackling. “And you hate them. And then you hate yourself too.”

Pisces let out a furious snarl, summoning her Pisces Trident and swinging - only for her attack to hit open air, her shadow effortlessly dodging it just before swiftly kneeing Pisces in the stomach and then letting out a blast of dark energy, sending the blue Cure flying backwards.

As the dust settled, Shadow-Pisces sauntered forward once more, smirking again. “Don’t tell me you’re already done.” she said, eyeing how Pisces struggled to get herself sitting up. “I’d really hate for this to be boring.”



A withered tree snapped in half as Virgo crashed into it, the gold Cure flying back farther still until she skidded against the cold, dead earth. Everything hurt, her head swimming as she gripped at dry, brittle grass, seeking something to anchor herself with. Virgo coughed, tasting copper, and her lungs ached. It would have been easy for her to stop moving - her body certainly wanted her to.

But instead, she stood.

As Shadow-Virgo approached, she clapped, smiling in a manner that didn’t reach her eyes. “Bravo! Here I was thinking you’d go down in my first hit.” she said, taking a moment to flip her ponytail back. “You always were the weakest link, after all. Isn’t that why your parents don’t love you?”

“Pretty Cure Floral Strike!” Virgo yelled in response, her attack shooting at her shadow self. There was a burst of light and a showering of razor sharp petals that tore into Shadow-Virgo - and from those cuts, she bled darkness until her wounds stitched themselves up.

And she applauded again, looking no less condescending than before. “Aw, did I hurt your feelings?” she asked. “Let me rephrase it then: no one loves you.”

Virgo summoned the Virgo Staff, steadying herself with it.

“Everyone only pities you.”

Her grip tightening, the gold Cure glared as she readied herself for the moment to strike -

“These people, they’re only your friends because you’re all Pretty Cure.”

- but then she flinched, the comment cutting deep. It was only for a moment, and Virgo tried to reschool her expression into something less vulnerable - but one look at Shadow-Virgo told her she’d made a huge mistake.

“So either you’re going to all die here,” Shadow-Virgo continued, holding her hand out to summon a flower bulb of pure darkness - a mockery of Virgo’s own magic. “or once this is all over, you’re going to be alone again.” she let the sentence hang in the air, just long enough to see the way Virgo tried and failed to not tremble with fear - and then fired the attack off, relishing in Virgo’s scream in the resulting explosion.



[eyecatch 1 – A photo album opens up, showing several pictures. The first is the five girls at the park with Mei taking the lead, and the next is Sumire and Ibuki holding hands, with Ushio teasing them. Usami and Naori chase a butterfly in the fourth picture, and the last is the five girls and Usami taking a picture against the sunset sky, grins on all their faces. The photo album closes as the Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 – Aries holds her hand out, a small piece of a star appearing in her hand, red in color. She passes the star piece to Pisces, who adds a blue star piece. Virgo and Libra add two star pieces, gold and purple in color, and the star bounces over to Ophiuchus, who adds the last star piece in green. The star turns white and flashes brightly, a starry backdrop appearing. The five Cures and a human Usami pose in front of it as the Starshine logo appears in the corner.]



The wind howled in Libra’s ears as she parried another blow with her Libra Sword, the purple Cure gritting her teeth as she tried to push back against her shadow self’s blade - but no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t get on the offensive. It was frustrating - all she had done so far was take a thrashing, and the ever-present wind storm wasn’t helping her concentration.

Shadow-Libra knew this, her sword sliding off Libra’s own as she turned, effortlessly getting behind her other self. She heard Libra’s gasp of surprise - just before she reached out, seizing the Cure’s trailing golden scarf and yanking back hard, sending the purple Cure crashing into the plateau underneath their feet.

“And you call yourself a hero.” she mocked, watching as Libra gasped for air, the girl’s hands going to her throat in surprise and horror. At the glare she got from Libra, Shadow-Libra only laughed. “What, you angry that I fight dirty? You really don’t understand what being a hero is, do you?”

And then, before Libra could struggle to get up, Shadow-Libra swiftly kicked her in the stomach.

“You got so wrapped up in the idea of being a hero, and then you panicked when you realized it required more of you than you could give.” Another kick, this one more pointed. “You want to run, to give up, to go home and hide under the covers until this all passes, don’t you?”

Libra rolled away from the latest attack, panting as she willed herself to get to her knees. She wanted to scream, wanted to tell her to shut up - but she knew it was true. She’d panicked during the fight with the Serpens - and she’d opened her stupid mouth when she challenged Omega, just wanting to get this over with.

It was easier when it was Cebalrai and Rasalhague mocking her fears. Fighting someone who was a version of her, voicing thoughts she’d never shared to anyone - that was harder to deny, as much as she wanted to.

But she was going to fight anyways.

“Pretty Cure Aerial Assault!”

Magic wind cut through the howling wind storm, slashing across her shadow’s torso. Inky darkness spewed from Shadow-Libra’s wounds, and as grim as it was, Libra couldn’t help taking a little pleasure in wiping the stupid smile off the other’s face. As Shadow-Libra staggered backwards, Libra shakily got to her feet, tugging at her scarf and pulling it off, letting it get carried away by the howling winds, before she met her shadow self’s gaze with a fierce glare. “Bring it.”

As the wound stitched itself back up, Shadow-Libra grinned, eyes wide. “All right then.” she scoffed, just before retaliating with blasts of darkness. “Your funeral.”



It was unsettling, being in such a place again, this empty void of darkness. When Omega had first taken her, she’d been here then too. But before, she’d been alone.

This time she wasn’t.

Ophiuchus yelped as she narrowly dodged another blast of serpent-shaped energy - or at least, she’d thought she’d dodged it. The energy had sailed past - before abruptly zig-zagging and slamming into her, knocking the green Cure off her feet and slamming her into the ground of the empty void. The noise on impact echoed all around, but even that wasn’t as loud as the laughter from her shadow self.

“Pathetic.” Shadow-Ophiuchus said, serpentine energy manifesting all around her. “All that effort into becoming a Pretty Cure and for what?” another volley of snake-shaped blasts shot out, ricocheting off the ground when Ophiuchus dodged again, one of them ensnaring her ankle and yanking hard, flinging the small Cure like a ragdoll as she shrieked in pain and protest before slamming her into the ground again. “You should have died back then.”

“Pretty Cure Shining Wave!” Ophiuchus yelled from her place on the ground. The light that exploded from her form was enough to shake off her shadow-self’s advance, but it had a secondary effect too - healing energy flooded into Ophiuchus, the pain she’d sustained beginning to taper off. It was enough to let her get back to her feet, Asclepius Rod in hand.

“If you had died, none of this would be happening!” Shadow-Ophiuchus snapped, dark energy crackling from her form. “Do us all a favor and let me end it here and now.”

“I-I won’t!” Ophiuchus declared, going on the offensive. Her bronze cape swayed as she swung a fierce kick, managing to catch her shadow’s side - just as Shadow-Ophiuchus let out a wordless cry, hitting the Cure with a powerful blast of energy. Ophiuchus let out another shriek as she sailed upward, twisting her body and pointing her weapon downward, letting off a blast of light in response. The two energies fought for control for a brief moment, just before Ophiuchus’s attack broke through, consuming her shadow as Ophiuchus herself landed on her feet.

The light dissipated.

And then there was laughter.

Shadow-Ophiuchus stood there half formed, her legs and torso still human shaped, but the rest of her body warped with living darkness. It twitched and convulsed, that same haunting laughter echoing all the while, until finally her body reformed properly. While Ophiuchus herself was frozen with revulsion and horror, Shadow Ophiuchus only paused to dust a bit of still-writhing darkness off her shoulder before regarding her other self with a twisted smile.

“No one can save you.”

Ophiuchus felt her insides run cold. She remembered this exact phrasing…

“And when they all die, it’ll be all your fault.”



“Aries! Pisces, Virgo!”

Usami couldn’t tell how long he’d been running in this endless dark cavern, or how long his frantic steps had been echoing against the tunnel walls.

“Libra! Ophiuchus!”

He kept shouting and running, looking around even as he raced through, even though he knew there would be nothing to see. He was alone, he was alone and everyone else was gone, and Aries’s look of terror was etched into his mind and this was going to end up just like back then and he didn’t want that, he didn’t want to say goodbye again to people he cared about and -

“Give up.”

Usami’s shouting stopped, as did the echoes of his shouts. Omega’s voice seemed to have swallowed it all up and even if Usami couldn’t see it, he could feel Omega’s sinister aura permeating through everything around him.

“You all failed the moment you arrived here.”

“We didn’t!” Usami shouted, fists clenched. “We came here to stop you! And to save King Altair and Prince Deneb!”

Something in the air changed, Usami’s fierce shouting being the only thing echoing in the darkness. For a moment, Usami thought the darkness hadn’t heard him - and then there was the clacking of footsteps. Immediately, he whirled around, shields at the ready - and then he stood there dumbstruck.

The woman who approached shared his dark skin. Her hair was still that same shade of dark blue - though some of it was silvering now, given that she was closer to fifty. She was just as tall as he remembered - maybe less so, actually, now that he stood before her in a human form.

Ursa.

Usami didn’t know what to think. Her footsteps continued to clack against the darkness, but her eyes were closed, the older woman humming a familiar song as she made her way to him. It was enough to make Usami’s heart wrench painfully in his chest, a lump forming in his throat, tears welling in his eyes. Hirui had sang that song for him before, but it wasn’t the same, would never be the same.

But then her eyes opened - and while the color of her eyes was the same ice blue he’d remembered, the addition of black schlera was enough to break his heart in a different way.

A fake.

Usami didn’t even let her speak - he just let out a broken, tear-filled yell, shooting star shaped shields at her. They collided with ease, but she didn’t stop walking, her stride just as even as before, even though the shields had torn through her, even though her form writhed with darkness while her body reformed.

Once she got close enough, she chuckled softly. “You weren’t part of the plan, you know.” she said, and Usami tried not to think about how it sounded just like the mother he mourned so much, “In fact, I’m sure it would have been safer if you’d stayed behind.”

It hit him in an instant. The Pretty Cure. Deneb. All a means to the same end, the one thing they were connected to, the one thing Omega wanted above all else: the Star Compact.

In his panic, he’d gone after the Pretty Cure.

And now the completely powerless Hirui, the only defense for the Star Compact, was all alone.

---

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

---

ON THE NEXT EPISODE:

Mei: I...I don’t know how we can keep going…
Ushio: They just don’t stay down…
Sumire: What do we do?!
Ibuki: ...wait...who...?!
Naori: How....?
Usami: Everyone, you can’t give up! We can turn the tide! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: Sacrifice! A star’s wish! A miracle is on its way!

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