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"Are you sure you're going to be all right today?" came Hirui's voice from the doorway, the red-haired woman peeking in as Mei was changing into her school uniform. The woman ignored Mei's squawk of embarrassment--they were both girls, there was nothing to hide--and eyed her daughter with concern. It had been four days since the attack on the school and Hirui had fussed over Mei's health every single day since then. "You can skip school again, you know..."

Mei hurried to make herself look presentable. "It's fine, mama." she assured for what felt like the millionth time. "I told you, I just hadn't eaten anything since breakfast--"

"--and your school was attacked by someone that ruined one of the science labs." Hirui interrupted sternly. "Ushio-san said she found you unconscious..."

"...which isn't related, really! I didn't even hear about what happened until I woke up..." she insisted, puffing her cheeks out in annoyance. Really, they'd gone over this already! Still, she supposed she couldn't blame her mother for being so worried either--plenty of students hadn't shown up and Mei herself had already skipped three days of school. Still, she was starting to get antsy, not leaving her home, and the constant texts that her mother was sending wasn't really endearing her to the concept of staying home again anyways. "Don't worry about me! You've gotta get to work, right?"

Hirui frowned. Mei was right. "I want you to call me if something happens again, all right?"

"I will, I will! And I'll make sure Miyo gets picked up before I leave too and that everyone has lunch and I'll make sure Kouta and I leave on time and all that..." she assured with a wave of her hand, a note of exasperation in her voice. "Go on, I've got this!" she insisted, squeaking when her mother laughed and kissed her forehead.

"All right, all right, I see how it is. See you tonight." Hirui smiled, smoothing out her outfit one last time before heading out. It wasn't until Mei heard her mother leave, however, that she sighed in relief.

"Okay Usami, the coast is clear!" she assured--quietly, her siblings were still asleep!--and frowned when Usami comically fell over and let out a loud overdramatic sigh, apparently not enjoying pretending to be so still for so long. "If you keep doing that, you're gonna wake Kouta and Miyo up--and then I won't be able to make anything for you." she warned.

Usami's lip trembled. "But you said you were making pancakes today..."

"Are you gonna be good?"

Usami nodded fiercely.

"Okay! Then let's head toward the kitchen so I can make breakfast for everyone~"

Usami let out a whoop of joy. "YAY!"

Mei clapped her hands over Usami's mouth, hastily listening for either of her siblings waking up. But the house was filled with nothing but silence. Mei heaved a sigh of relief, before she shot a glare toward Usami. "Quietly!" she insisted.



OP: "Purikyua ✰ Wish!" - StarSHINE
EPISODE 3 - "Cure Aries on the scene! But the duo is divided?!"


In the ruined surroundings of The Void, Rasalhague was struggling to keep pace with a fuming Marfik.

"I can't believe you!"

Rasalhague didn't even flinch at Marfik's furious cry, meeting his angered expression with an apologetic smile. "I've been trying to explain, Marfik..."

"SCREW your explanation!"

"Honestly, I wouldn't have stepped in, but that Pisces girl..." Rasalhague tried to protest, to which Marfik tried to punch him. Kind or not, Rasalhague wasn't the kind of person to take something like that, seizing Marfik's hand at the wrist and ignoring the boy's protests. "Listen." he pleaded, voice having an edge of sternness. "Remember what that girl called herself? Cure Pisces?"

"Who cares what she's called?!" came Marfik's heated response, the boy gritting his teeth as he tried to break out of Rasalhague's grip, to no avail.

The white-haired man sighed, about to explain what it meant, but then--

"It means that the Pretty Cure have returned."

Both boys turned as a woman stepped into view. Slender and curved, she was definitely older than Marfik, though slightly younger than Rasalhague. Like the others, she shared their red eyes, though the woman was much paler than the two boys. Her gray hair was cropped and cut short, her straight-cut bangs obscuring part of her left eye. Like the others, she too wore black and subdued green, though her outfit was much more form fitting, exposing no other skin. Her expression betrayed nothing and she eyed the two men blankly, brows furrowed ever so slightly in annoyance. "I assume the reason the Pretty Cure bested us was due to Marfik's incompetence?"

"Who are you calling incompetent?!" Marfik screeched.

The woman regarded him blankly, seeming slightly confused. "You, of course. Did I not make myself clear?"

"You frigid b--"

"GUYS." Rasalhague interrupted. "Let's not start, please." he said, before sighing. "But Cebalrai is right--"

"Of course I am." Cebalrai interrupted, folding her arms across her chest.

"--but that isn't the point." Rasalhague continued, brows creasing somewhat as his patience was being tested, "The point is--there are Pretty Cure again when there shouldn't be. Ophiu took them down, didn't she?" he looked toward the other two for confirmation, frowning when both Marfik and Cebalrai nodded. "But the girl called herself Pisces..."

Cebalrai cleared her throat. "Perhaps we were wrong in assuming the stars that were left behind had simply been destroyed."

Rasalhague frowned. The Leo one had fled and four other stars had gone missing. If there was a Pisces, was there a chance the other three stars would become Pretty Cure too? He really didn't like the thought of having to deal with five Pretty Cure, especially since one of them had managed to punch Marfik out of a building. "It sounds like that might be the case."

Marfik, stubborn as he was, didn't like the odds either. "So let's just find them and kill them!"

Cebalrai snorted, though the amusement didn't reach her face. "We are not prepared to deal with them, as recent events have indicated." she pointed out, the woman pointedly ignoring Marfik's glare, before falling silent.

Rasalhague and Marfik traded glances. What were they going to do?

The woman continued to keep her silence, expression unreadable, before finally taking a breath. "However." she continued, as if she'd never stopped talking, "I believe I know how to combat them." And the ghost of a smile came to her face, making her even more unsettling than usual.

It wasn't until the pancakes were done that Mei finally spoke up again. "So, ah, Usami?" she asked, still somewhat unused to speaking with her teddy bear so plainly. "Can you explain that, erm, Pretty Cure thing again?" she asked as she served two pancakes on a plate, making a grab for the butter and syrup.

Usami tilted his head. "Explain what?"

"Well--well, the everything of it!" Mei answered, blushing slightly. "I mean, you didn't really explain it in detail and I bet you didn't tell Ushio-chan much either..." she racked her brain, trying to remember the things that Usami had mentioned. "Like...what's that Inner Star thing you mentioned? Or the transformation thingy or..." she trailed off. "I mean, I don't even know how to transform! Ushio-chan told me she doesn't know either, since it sort of happened instinctively for her..." she frowned.

Usami paused, clearly debating what to say. Then: "Well! Inner Stars are something everything has! They all come from this place called Via Lactea--it's a kingdom in the sky!" he grinned. "But if it's alive, it has an Inner Star. With people, it's what gives them their hopes and joys and happiness and all that good stuff in your life! That's what makes you feel happy. Without it..."

Mei hadn't noticed the uneasiness in Usami's voice, recalling what had happened to her. "...you lose all that good stuff. And you die without it, right?" she applied the butter a little harder to keep her hands from shaking.

Usami nodded once, more than a little uncomfortable. "N-not right away!" he was quick to assure.

It didn't make Mei feel any better. She started pouring the syrup, hurrying to change the subject. "That transformation thing..." she began.

"It's a Star Capsule!" Usami said with a grin. "You kiss it, hold it in a prayer and go 'Pretty Cure! Wish Upon A Star!' Easy to remember, right?"

Mei blushed again, busying herself with slicing up the pancakes before voicing her horror about it. "Kiss it?! Why would you--why can't we have cellphone or a mini PC or a pendant or--?" she demanded, embarrassed. Who ever heard of kissing a transformation item to activate it? What if they were in the middle of something important?!

Usami's shoulders slumped. "That's the only thing I know how to make..." he mumbled, that strange look Mei had noticed in the nurse's office coming to his face again. "I never really learned how to--" he continued, blinking when Mei gave his head a pat. "Mei-chan?"

"Don't worry, okay? There you go, pancakes for you~" she said with a wink, sliding the plate over to Usami, the girl giggling as Usami happily chowed down. Mei wasn't sure what had happened to the bear to make him have such a face--but she wanted him to be happy. "But now I'm wondering..." she continued, brows furrowing. "That boy--Marfik--who WAS he? I mean, he's a bad guy, but..." she trailed off, gray-eyed gaze focusing expectantly on Usami. If she was a magical girl or whatever, that meant the mascot always knew about the bad guys! That was how it worked, anyways.

Usami stopped mid-chew, shoulders slumped again. "I...I dunno." he confessed after swallowing, voice sad. "I've never seen them before--him or that Rasal guy..."

Mei bit her lip, hoping her troubles didn't surface on her face. If Usami didn't even know what they were in for, what challenges would be ahead of them? That thing Marfik had done to her--she didn't want that happening to anyone else. Would she even be strong enough to fight them though? Ushio had mentioned punching that Marfik kid out of the building window, but Mei wasn't quite sure she'd have that power behind her. Shaking those thoughts away, she smiled at Usami again--and then stared. "You're done already?!"

"It was really tasty, Mei-chan~!" Usami replied, beaming. "The syrup made it the best part! Ruru-chan never lets me have sweets~"


The doorbell rang before Mei could finish. Hastily she motioned for Usami to stay hidden as she made her way over to the front door, greeted with the sight of Arata Kimura, her childhood friend. Arata's black hair was in messy disarray as usual, his normally sun-kissed skin tinted pink, no doubt aided by the surgical mask covering his mouth. The last Mei had heard, he'd been recovering from a nasty cold... "Arata-kun!" she gasped. "Y-you're really early!" she glanced around, expecting to see Arata's mother or older sister around. "Miyo isn't even up yet..." On the days her mother went in early, Miyo went over to the Kimura household.

Arata's brown eyes narrowed, the boy sniffling as he scratched his cheek. "I figured I'd get here early today." he grumbled, cheeks tinting pink a little more.

"But THIS early?" Mei asked, flabbergasted.

"Yeah, this early!" he shot back irritably, anger lessened by his cough. "You gonna let me in or what? It's freezing out here!"

Mei's lips pursed, before she sighed. "You're right, come on in..." she said, stepping aside, frowning in concern as Arata coughed again after stepping inside. "You sure you're ready to go to school again, Arata-kun?"

Her concern earned a grumble from Arata, who shrugged and muttered under his breath, making himself at home by pulling a chair out, the dark-haired boy taking a seat at the table. "More to the point, are you?" he suddenly asked, eyeing Mei out of the corner of his eye.

"Of course I am!" she replied with a grin, before eyeing Arata with a sly smile. "Don't tell me you were worried about me..."

Arata bristled, cheeks turning even pinker. "S-so what if I was?!" he yelled, indignant comment broken by more coughing. An awkward silence followed his words, making Arata blush. Stupid, stupid! "I-I didn't mean it like that! Just--"

"Neesaaaan! Is breakfast ready?" came Kouta's sleepy call.

"Yeah!" Mei responded, cheeks lightly flushed,before she turned back to the stack of pancakes. It looked like there'd be enough for everyone--Arata included. She briefly looked over toward where Usami was hiding, smiling in apology at the little bear--he hated having to hide away like that. But still! Neither of them could risk being found out or anything like that. Hiding her disappointment with a friendly smile, Mei went to go grab plates to serve everyone.

Any more questions about Pretty Cure would just have to wait until later.

Ushio Hoshizora was used to doing "errands." Her homeroom teacher loved assigning them to late students, feeling it affected them more than simply getting detention. Or maybe Mikado-sensei was just a pushover.

Or maybe she just didn't want to deliver all the handouts on her own, so she had students do it.

In any case, constant "errands" were how Ushio learned to travel the school so well--when you were always late to school, you picked up a few things when doing constant handouts to other classrooms or to the main office. The funny thing was, Ushio hadn't even been late today--Kaiyou finally got sick of her tardiness and insisted on getting her to school on time for once--but had ended up volunteering anyways.

Well, mostly for Mei.

Who was busy glaring at Arata.

Who was glaring right back at her.

Ushio wedged herself between the two, laughing nervously. "So, guys..." she began, trying to break the tension in the air. "What do you guys think about the weather today?" Ugh. That had to be the lamest conversation opener ever. What was she going to do next, comment about how the sky was blue? "I think it's...nice..." she continued, voice dying a little as the tension seemed to increase, rather than decreasing. "Guys...?"

"I think the weather would have been nice if we hadn't been racing all the way to campus." Arata said in a huff, coughing weakly.

Mei bristled. "And WHOSE fault was that? Because it wasn't mine!" she shot back, glaring daggers. Ushio shifted a little in discomfort.

"It was too your fault! You're the one that couldn't pry yourself out of the kitchen long enough to go and get ready!"

"Well, you're the one that kept begging me for more pancakes, what was I supposed to do?!"

Arata bristled but was at a loss for words. Face turning red, he looked away. "W-well then don't make such good food next time!"

"How am I supposed to control something like that?!" Mei countered, compliment lost on her. With a noise of frustration, she too looked away. "And I have to go all the way across campus too..." she muttered bitterly.

Ushio laughed again. "It's not that bad. We'll all be back to class in no time!" she encouraged, offering a grin.

Mei smiled weakly in reply. Ushio was right. There was the matter of her ruined attendance record too, but...

"Switch with me!" Arata abruptly said, holding out his stack of papers. When Mei pointedly ignored him, he grumbled in irritation. "Don't be like that! Just switch--the class I have to deliver to is way closer than yours!"

"Well, okay..." Mei mumbled, switching stacks with Arata--and gasping a little as he took off as soon as he'd switched with her. "Arata-kun, you're still--!"

"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Arata called back, secretly pleased she was worried about him. Still, man, she wasn't really all that bright about things! Or maybe he'd just made her mad--he reminded himself to apologize properly to her later and bite back any urges to snap at her when she teased him about it. Slowing to a light jog, he made his way down a hall, then another, then another. "Man, Mei is so..."

He trailed off, something catching his eye from the double doors leading outside toward the P.E. areas. He stopped and peeked out the window, seeing a strange woman in greens and blacks walking toward one of the P.E. groups. He'd never seen someone like her be--

--wait, was she glowing?

And now she was shooting the glowy dark stuff at people and they were falling over and--

Arata growled, angry at this turn of events. It was a little scary, but--but it wasn't right to go attacking people! Not at all! Still holding the stack of papers, he pushed the double doors open, racing toward the strange woman. "HEY YOU!" he yelled as he got closer, getting even angrier at hearing the various screams of pain as the woman shot that weird darkness at the various students. Glowing lights began to appear as the students collapsed... "LEAVE THEM ALONE!"

The woman turned to him as Arata raced for her--and without hesitation, shot a tendril of darkness at him. Papers flew in every direction as the darkness pierced right through Arata's chest, making the boy cry out in pain, his eyes widening as it felt like the strange darkness had seized something deep inside of him. "S-stop..." That's MINE...

And whatever it was, it was yanked right out of him. Arata collapsed, watching the bright light hover above him before being sealed in a strange dark jar. "That..." he whispered, but couldn't find it in him to reach for it. What did it matter? Nothing mattered. There was nothing that made his life good.

The woman turned her gaze toward the open double doors of the school. "I believe," she said, heels clacking as she walked forward, "it is time to deal with some pests."

[eyecatch 1 - A close up of Cure Aries, flames dynamically surrounding her. Eyes narrowed in determination, she looks as if she's going to attack an enemy and she sends off a volley of flames--only for the scene to pan out and reveal Usami and Cure Pisces at campfire, and that Aries is simply building the fire up. Pisces and Usami hold skewers with marshmallows on them and roast them over the fire, while Aries grins and makes herself a s'more, winking playfully at the viewer. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

[eyecatch 2 - A close up of Cure Pisces, water trails surrounding her. She winks and then spins, sending the water flying out in a fierce attack--and the scene pans out to reveal that she's working as a fountain to a chute-like waterslide (which has a sieve and a bucket at the bottom to catch the water and excess noodles.) Sending water down the chute with one hand and holding a bowl of somen noodles with the other, she adds the noodles to the chute, watching them slide down. Aries and Usami pluck the sliding somen noodles with chopsticks before dipping them in tsuyu sauce. The three of them laugh. The Starshine logo appears in the corner.]

Mei and Ushio hadn't thought much of it when Arata hadn't returned to class, both assuming that the boy was taking his sweet time heading there and getting back. But as the social studies lecture wore on, Mei found herself glancing toward the door. Worried, she made a grab for the notebook she and Ushio used, flipping to an empty page.

He should be back by now...

Ushio shot her friend a concerned look. Maybe he went to the nurse's office. Dummy probably overexerted himself. Don't worry, okay?


A series of yells from a nearby classroom sent the entire classroom into alarm, the teacher abruptly stopping her lesson, gaze fixed on the door. After a moment, the older woman nodded, turning her sharp gaze toward the classroom at large. "Students, please study amongst yourselves for a bit." she instructed, quickly making her way out. The second the door had shut, however, the classroom came alive with gossip, everyone whispering to themselves.

"Omigawd, what do you think happened?"
"You don't think it's a shooting or anything, right?"
"Or some crazy person attacking the school?"

Another yell--this one closer--shook up the room. As the classroom began to shuffle away from the doors out of fear that there really WAS some kind of threat lurking outside the hall, Mei and Ushio traded glances. "U-Ushio-chan and I are going to see if they need help!" Mei announced, the classroom looking at her in alarm. But even though they were looking at her like she and Ushio were absolutely crazy, no one made a move to stop them, the classroom didn't even voice confusion at why Mei suddenly grabbed her schoolbag before leaving the room.

Once the two were out in the hall, the two girls--and Usami, who had wiggled his way out of Mei's bag--stiffened at the clack of unfamiliar footsteps. The two girls traded glances again. "Go find out what's happening," Ushio instructed, frowning at the crestfallen look on Mei's face. "I trust you," Ushio added, taking a stab at Mei's worries, "but we gotta know how big the scope of this is. Don't worry about me, okay?" she winked to relieve the tension, watching as Mei agreed and hurried off, disappearing with Usami down the hall and out of sight. Stay safe, Mei.

The ever approaching footsteps made Ushio tense as she tugged at the chain around her neck. Mei had mentioned their transformation phrase after Arata had disappeared--now it was time to see if it worked. Taking a deep breath, the black-haired girl clasped her Star Capsule with both hands, closing her eyes and pressing a tiny kiss to the star at the center of the large ribbon.

"Pretty Cure! Wish Upon A Star!"

The hallway exploded into a bright blue light as the chain around Ushio's neck vanished, leaving her with the Star Capsule in her hands, which the black-haired girl pressed over her heart. She pulled at the oversized ribbon and gold star to untie them from the bottle, the two items floating and swirling around her head and reappearing as a headband in her hair. As her clothes melted away, the girl pulled at the cloth covering the bottle, the cloth growing longer and wider and covering her form in a simple, glowing dress. A five pointed star appearing at Ushio's feet, the girl twirled once, the Star Capsule's cork popping off, the cluster of bright lights inside shooting out and turning into countless water ribbons that swirled around Ushio's entire form. With another twirl, the water ribbons formed her top and two-layered skirt first, a second stream of water ribbons forming her chest bow, the sash around her waist and the frills on her skirt. The girl pivoted on her heel, stockings and boots appearing with another flurry of water ribbons, cuffs and cloth appearing on her wrists as well. A tap to her chest ribbon and sash made both gold brooches appear,the two items gleaming as the Pisces symbol etched itself on like magic. The water ribbons combined now, swirling and splashing over Ushio's form, creating her gold cape, star earrings and choker. Ushio flipped her hair back, black hair turning cyan as her hair grew longer, forming the two low ponytails she wore as a Cure, her green eyes turning the same cyan shade as her hair. With a deep breath, she leapt, arcing up and coming down--a wave of water crashing as she landed--before posing, a hand on her hip and a cheeky smirk on her face--the very expression of determination.

"The water star with the grace of the sea life, Cure Pisces!"

Pisces wasn't about to wait for whoever the mystery person was to take her off guard, the blue-themed Cure immediately pushing off her back leg and sprinting forward, swinging a punch at the mystery person as they came into view--

--and said silver-haired, red-eyed, mystery woman didn't even flinch at the attack, catching the punch with her palm. "Ah," the woman said, giving Pisces a quick once-over, expression betraying nothing, "I presume you are Cure Pisces." her fingers clamped down on Pisces's punching fist, the woman regarding the Cure much like someone dealt with a nuisance. "My name is Cebalrai--"

Pisces growled, swinging her leg out in a fierce kick: "I didn't ask for your name!"

"--and I do not plan on this meeting taking long." Cebalrai continued without missing a beat, grip tightening on Pisces's captured arm as she dodged the kick--and pulled Pisces along, manipulating the blue Cure's momentum and using it against her. She yanked and swung, letting go of Pisces's fist and watching boredly as the blue Cure hurtled straight into the wall. Cebalrai turned to walk away--

--and Pisces forced herself to her feet. "Is that all you've got?!" she shouted, racing toward the woman. Cebalrai turned to lash a kick out at Pisces's stomach--but the blue Cure wasn't there, Pisces abruptly ducking down as Cebalrai's kick lashed out. She smirked and swung her entire body up, her fierce uppercut smashing right into Cebalrai's jaw, sending the woman flying backwards and skidding against the floor. The Cure grinned as she righted her balance, clearly pleased with herself.

Cebalrai got back up with little issue, seemingly unfazed by the hit, even though it clearly had injured her. Her expression was the same stoic, blank as always--but something in the woman's eyes had changed, acknowledging her opponent as a threat as opposed to a nuisance. "Perhaps my previous analysis was hasty." she said, her posture shifting. The dark aura writhing around her form was the only tell the woman gave--in the next instant, a whip of darkness shot out from Cebalrai's still form, circling around Pisces's waist--and with little effort, slammed the water Cure straight into the ceiling. The darkness slithered away from her waist a few seconds later, leaving Pisces to hit the floor of the hallway hard. "Will this be all?" she asked Pisces's trembling form, not a single hint of mocking behind the woman's words. "There are other matters of importance I must attend to, Cure Pisces."

In response, Pisces pulled herself to a sitting position and swung her leg out, sweeping Cebalrai's legs out from under her.

As Cebalrai hit the ground, her brows creased ever so slightly, as if she was trying to deduce a mathematical equation. Then: "I see." With a snap of the woman's fingers, several Darkness Jars appeared in front of her. With another snap, they combined together, forming an extremely large Darkness Jar--and with a third snap, said Darkness Jar sank into the floor, darting away like a runaway shadow.

Somewhere further away, there was a loud rumble.

Pisces's gaze was one of half horror, half fury. "What did you do?!" she hollered.

"An experiment." was Cebalrai's response. "It would be in your best interest, Cure Pisces, to investigate the m--" she instructed, cut short when Pisces swung her fist out again, the silver-haired woman only narrowly dodging it.

"I'm not done with you yet." Pisces declared, eyes narrowing. Inwardly though, she was worried. Be careful, guys...

"This way, this way!" Usami instructed as he continued to dash ahead of Mei, the blue bear glowing faintly, seeming to follow something only visible to him. "Hurry! If we get there fast enough--"

"--we'll what?" Mei shot back, feeling a surge of irritation. "Get attacked by a kid with my telescope?"

Usami shook his head, frustration lost on him. "You're a Pretty Cure!" he reminded her, "You can fight off whoever's doing this!" He scurried through the open double doors, picking up as much speed as he could with his tiny form. As the two headed outside, Mei gasped. Unconscious students and teachers were sprawled all over the P.E. area, and the closest form was--


Mei nearly hurtled into the ground as she ran over toward Arata, a cry of horror escaping her when she realized he'd had his star stolen just like everyone else. The papers scattered all around made her stomach drop--Arata must have seen what was happening and tried to stop it. "You--you're so stupid!" she shouted, sniffling as she realized he couldn't hear her either. That glassy, dead look in his eyes just made her stomach churn--had she been like that too? Sniffling again, Mei looked over to Usami. "How do I--?"

The ground beneath them began to rumble, cutting the pigtailed girl's question short. Mei felt a sudden chill, whereas Usami cowered and whimpered, the small blue bear not liking this feeling. "Mei-chaaannn..." he whined, blubbering a little.

A large, runaway shadow darted past them erratically, before it latched onto the shadow of the partially toppled stack of handouts. The new shadow writhed, growing larger before it rose from the ground, swallowing the stack of papers whole. With that, the stack of shadow-consumed papers grew larger and larger, taller and wider--when it reformed, it had become a strange monster that looked like a stack of papers, smaller papers forming its arms and legs. Absurdly oversized googly eyes lessened the impact of it slightly, though it only served to make the shadowy mouth of sharpened black "teeth" look all the more menacing. As the monster rose to its full height, it let out a bellowing cry: "TROU NOIR!"

Mei felt sick to her stomach at seeing the Trou Noir--it was the size of a 4 story building! How on earth was she going to fight that?

The monster grinned at seeing the unconscious students. It rose its arm and swung down--


--and Usami created a faint dome shield--a thin layer of glowing light to protect those in the immediate area. The Trou Noir's arm impacted against the fragile shield, cracks rocking through the tiny thing. Usami trembled, both in fear and with the effort to keep the shield there, but refused to back down. "I won't--I won't let you hurt Mei-chan or any of her friends!"

Mei sat there, stunned. "Usami..." she whispered. The Trou Noir rose its arm again, swinging down once more on the shield--and the pigtailed girl made up her mind. With shaking hands, she seized her Star Capsule and pressed a tiny kiss to the center star.

"Pretty Cure! Wish Upon A Star!"

Red light erupted all around, Mei's pigtails abruptly becoming undone as the chain around her neck vanished, leaving the girl to hold the Capsule above her head. With one hand, she pulled away the ribbon around the neck of the capsule, said ribbon and gold star vanishing in a flicker of flames before reappearing on her head as a pale orange headband with a gold star in the center. In a single movement, Mei's clothes melted away as she pulled the pale orange cloth, the cloth also vanishing in a flicker of flames before reappearing as a simple dress. A five pointed star appeared at Mei's feet as she wrapped her fingers around the Star Capsule, pulling off the cork as she spun. A whip of flames erupted from the small bottle, seeming to melt her Star Capsule into nothing, before rings of fire appeared over each of Mei's wrists and ankles. The rings around her wrists spun, getting closer and closer to Mei's skin, and the second they touched, a flicker of flames flashed, creating pale orange, elbow-length arm warmers, scalloped edges at the knuckles whereas the other end was decorated with red frills, red ribbons decorating the wrists of the arm warmers. The rings around Mei's ankles repeated the process, reforming into pale orange stockings with red frills, a second burst of flame creating ankle-length red boots, the toes and ankles of which were decorated with silver stars. Fire formed in Mei's hands and she combined it into an orb of fire, which she then pressed to her chest--and in an eruption of fire, the rest of her outfit began to appear. Her square neckline top was pale orange in color, cut three times in the front and twice in the back to resemble a star. The neckline was lined in a bright red, tying into a fluffy chest bow with long bowtails that almost reached her waist, a silver star brooch at the center of the bow, engraved with the Aries symbol. Another flash of flames formed a simple silver cape with scalloped edges off her shoulders, held in place by her brooch, two other crackles of flame creating a silver choker around her neck and a pair of simple silver star earrings. A bright red sash appeared around Mei's waist, the right side tying off into another bow as a silver brooch clasped it into place, the brooch also engraved with the Aries symbol. A dark red two layered, asymmetric skirt--with the top layer longer on the left side--appeared around Mei's waist, a small ribbon of flames creating bright red frills to decorate the skirt. With a final spin, Mei's auburn hair grew longer, parting low and curling into large, horn-like curls on both sides of her head, before turning red, her eyes turning the same color as her hair. Mei flipped forward, her surroundings exploding into flame the second her feet hit the ground again--and she charged through the flames, cape swaying and the girl unharmed by the flames...

"The fire star with the determination of a ram, Cure Aries!"

The Trou Noir swung its arm down again, fully intending to crush Usami right then and there--but Aries raced in, swung her arms up to stop the blow...and like magic, she'd caught the offending hand with both arms. Aries's red eyes widened, both ecstatic and horribly surprised by this. "Uwawawawawa--Usami, l-look, I caught it!" she exclaimed, smiling nervously at the bear. The smile was cut short a second later, when the Trou Noir grinned wickedly and yanked its arm up--and with Aries still gripping its arm, she was yanked up too. The fire-based magical girl shrieked, instinctively swinging her body forward. Her heel slammed straight into the Trou Noir's face--and the sudden force of the impact sent the monster flying backward. Aries shrieked again when gravity sent her forward with the monster--and she let go of the Trou Noir's arm...which earned another shriek as she plummeted toward the ground, only managing to land on her feet at the last second.

The ground rumbled again as the Trou Noir hit the ground. Aries stared at the monster's fallen form, mouth agape and eyes widened in disbelief. "I--I did that...?" she asked, voice weak.

"Of course you did!" Usami said, "You're a Pretty Cure!"

"Wow..." Aries gasped in awe, staring down at herself. She hadn't really taken in how she looked either--the outfit was sort of cute, if a little mystifying. Were all Pretty Cure like this? She wanted to ask--but the Trou Noir was shifting, moving to get up again. Aries swallowed hard, afraid, though her body instinctively turned in the monster's direction, her stance widening to allow her to go on the offensive.

"Trou Noir!" the monster shouted once on its feet--before punching the ground. The resulting shockwave destroyed the monster's paper formed arm--but instead of the papers disintegrating into nothing, they became razor sharp and shot straight for Aries and the unconscious students and teachers.

"Oh no you DON'T!" Aries shouted, eyes blazing in utmost fury. The air began to crackle and fluctuate around her--and then, abruptly, Aries exploded, a searing wall of flame generating from her form, rushing toward the Trou Noir like a tidal wave. It incinerated the razor sharp papers, reducing them to cinders--but kept going as well, consuming the Trou Noir's form. It screeched and wailed in agony, trying desperately to put itself out to no avail--and soon enough, it left nothing but an extremely large Darkness Jar in its wake. The fire focused entirely on the jar next--and the second the jar shattered, the fire vanished. The darkness vanished and Inner Stars spilled out of the jar like fireflies, each star zooming back to its living host. Light shimmered all around, repairing some of the damage--not all, but some.

Aries heaved a sigh of relief--which turned into a cry of surprise as two forms hurtled through the open double doors a ways away. The silver-haired woman Aries didn't recognize, but the blue themed magical girl--that was Ushio, wasn't it? Or Cure Pisces, anyways.

The two hit the ground in a tangle of limbs before the silver-haired woman kicked Pisces off. Pisces grimaced in pain--and Aries's eyes narrowed. "Leave my friend alone!" she ordered, moving to get in between the two of them. As the silver-haired woman stood up, she eyed both Cures warily, before seeing that the previously unconscious students and the like were beginning to stir. Though her face remained neutral, her body language shifted ever so slightly, implying disappointment.

"We will have to do this another time, Pretty Cure." the woman announced before abruptly vanishing without a trace.

Aries and Pisces traded glances. What was going on...?

"Due to the second attack on Etoile Academy, the school will be shutting down for the remainder of the week..."

Hirui Hidama frowned, changing the channel. Mei had indeed called her, just as she'd asked her to, and the mother of three hadn't been pleased to find out there was yet another attack on the school. Lucente Bay was such a peaceful place, what deity had decided to change things up now? The reports had stated it was a school-wide gas leak, but that just didn't make sense to the woman. That Kimura boy had mentioned something about a strange dream he'd had too...

With this in mind, Hirui crept into Mei's room, finding the prone Usami there. Mei, Miyo and Kouta had all gone to bed hours ago--and Hirui didn't feel she could rest until she spoke to the bear. "Usami," she whispered carefully, worried about waking her oldest daughter, "it's me."

Usami jumped, before smiling at the older woman. With a small smile of her own, Hirui carefully seized the little bear and brought him out of the room, taking him to the dimly lit kitchen. "Ruru-chan~" he sang, snuggling close to Hirui as he was carried along.

"Yes, yes..." Hirui answered with a chuckle, placing the bear down on the kitchen table. "We haven't had the chance to speak lately--but there's something that's bothering me." A hesitant pause. "Those incidents at Etoile--they weren't just incidents, were they?"

Usami's shoulders drooped. "Something's appeared." he admitted. "I don't recognize them--they aren't the same as from last time..."

Hirui's lips pursed. "The Pretty Cure?"

Usami's eyes lit up now, the bear clearly proud of himself. "Two new ones. Ruru-chan, not all of the stars disappeared! There's at least an Aries and Pisces--" he said, unable to contain his excitement--and then stopped, seeing the pained look on Hirui's face. He placed a fuzzy paw over Hirui's hand. "You could help them!"

The woman shook her head. "I can't. I..." she trailed off uncertainly, "I'm a mother now and a wife, and..." she shook her head again. Even if she'd wanted to, she wouldn't be able to bring herself to do it. What if the new Cures died because of her, just like last time? "But there's one last thing..." she paused again, biting her lip. "Miyo and Mei, they're not...?"

Usami was silent for a long time, the little bear struggling with an answer. Hirui would never forgive him for lying--but she'd never forgive him for allowing Mei to be a Pretty Cure either. Finally, not trusting his voice, he shook his head--and felt an immediate stab of guilt at the utter relief that washed over Hirui's face.

"Thank goodness..."

The bear could only watch as Hirui excused herself to go to bed--and when he was left alone, he felt even guiltier than before. Sadly, he looked out the window, gazing up at the stars in the night sky and the bright moon. "Mama," he whispered, "I did the right thing, right?"

There wasn't an answer. Usami knew there wouldn't have been--

--but it would have been nice if there was.


ED: "Twinkle Twinkle" - Yui Horie



Usami: Ruru-chan's gonna be so mad...
Mei: Nnn, what are you talking about?
Usami: Nothing, it's nothing! Really!
Ushio: I dunno, you sound kinda shifty...
Mei: Ushio-chan's right! What aren't you telling us, Usami?
Usami: I-I don't know where you're getting that idea from!
Ushio: Hey, Mei, isn't that another Star Capsule...?
Usami: ...
Mei: The plot thickens! Next time on Starshine! Pretty ✰ Cure: Mama was a Pretty Cure?! Usami's sorrowful story. Don't forget to make a wish next time too!
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