Everyone was supposed to be asleep at this time of night. The moon was high in the sky, which was a dark blue-velvet, with no one awake to appreciate it.
No one save for one young man, that was.
Shylock held his scarf closer against the chilly air, walking the familiar path he'd laid out. Go through the forest. Hop over this stream. Climb the footholds in the hillside and--
Shylock suddenly froze when he reached the top, breath catching in his throat.
The figure standing at the cliff side seemed to sense him, for he saw their shoulders tense for a second before they turned to look at him.
“Oh. I didn't think anyone else knew about this place.”
Shylock just stared.
“I'm sorry. I should go, shouldn't I? It's your secret place, after all.” The person turned fully, and started to walk towards him to go back down the hill.
“Wait.” Without thinking, he grabbed their sleeve. The person stopped, but they didn't seem angry, or put off. Shylock took that as minor encouragement. “You've found it. You can keep it if you want.” And then just as he was preparing to go down...
She grabbed his wrist. “How about we share this spot?”
Moments later, they stood side by side, staring up at the moon and the stars – more stars gathered in one place than either had ever seen before. One star briefly shot across the sky as they watched.
“Were you the one who made the trail? The one through the bushes?” the girl asked.
Shylock nodded. “I suppose you were the one who dug the footholds that just appeared one day.”
She nodded, smiling faintly. “Looks like we really should share this, hm?” Suddenly she let out a small laugh. “Oh, my. Here we are, sharing a secret spot, and I don't even know your name yet.”
“...Shylock. It's Shylock.”
“Lovely to meet you, Shylock...My name's...”
Shylock's eyes opened. He was lying on his back on the loveseat, one leg bent at the knee, one hand on his stomach. He blinked lazily, still facing the ceiling.
OP: "Love and Joy PreCure" - Entwined Hearts Duo
“And here's the sandwiches Emma made...”
“Uwaaaah~!” Coffee's eyes shone brightly.
Aki grinned, moving her index finger a little to the left. “And over there's the cookies Sebastian made...”
“And here's some of the leftover chocolates...”
“And this is my personal favorite – triple chocolate cupcakes!”
Coffee squealed her loudest yet, covering her face and doing a strange 'shimmy-dance' before she lunged for the cupcake in Aki's palm. But at the last second, Aki smiled and held the cupcake high over her head. “Ah-ah-ah~ There's a little thing you gotta do to get this cupcake...or any other treats here~”
“Whaaaa?” Coffee blinked, her joyful expression immediately turning into one of shock. “What? What what what?!”
Aki grinned. “You gotta tell us the whooooole story of where you guys came from, what's up with the rings, and the bad guys...all of it. Then, and only then, will you get this delicious cupcake.”
Hiromi sat off to the side on the picnic blanket, holding Ti in her cupped hands. Both were staring with deadpan expressions at Aki. “...I want cupcakes too, datchu.”
TODAY'S EPISODE: 'Why We Fight! For Our Love!'
“Alright.” Coffee cleared her throat, trying to look as dignified as possible as Aki set the chocolate confectionery down between them.
The four of them were in a nearby park, seated on a small blanket spread out under a tree. It was still early morning, the sky a hazy and soft pink-purple. Sure, it was a little chilly, but that was fine! Sometimes it was nice to just sit back and enjoy an early morning, before everyone else. Hiromi shifted a bit, scooting closer to Aki.
“Now then...I, Coffee, am employed by the royal family of Kokoro, and it is my sworn duty to protect the young Crown Prince. That'd be Ti, over there,” she added, gesturing at the little fairy.
“Coffee, what's so special about Kokoro exactly?” Aki asked, leaning forward like a little kid in story-circle.
“Kokoro's very special, datchu!” Ti chimed in suddenly. A dreamy smile appeared on his face as he went on. “Th-there's lots of pretty flowers, and the sky's the prettiest blue I've ever seen, and the castle is so pretty...And there's the festivals, and the flower-watching nights, and everything feels so happy, datchu.”
His smile faded, replaced by a melancholy look that didn't fit his young age. Slowly, he looked down, shoulders slumping. “And Cure Ariel protected us all, datchu...”
“Your Highness, where are you?!”
“Where could he have gone?”
Prince Ti giggled quietly to himself, hiding amongst some large, flowering bushes. The royal tutors didn't seem to notice him, too busy frantically running this way and that, urgency reflected in their eyes, the way they held their limbs.
“He knows that he has an important history exam today!”
“It's not like the young prince to wander off!”
No, indeed it was not.
“Oh, and on this day, of all of them!”
And yes, this was why he'd chosen to skip out on his lessons today.
Today was a special day. And gosh darn it, there was no way he was going to stay inside a stuffy old room with boring books and parchment, when he could be outside, having fun!
“Ah, Cure Ariel!”
Ti stiffened, a choked gasp escaping him as he sensed someone right behind him. Almost afraid to look, he slowly peered over his shoulder and up. There, right behind him, her hands clasped demurely in front of herself, was the famed Cure Ariel herself.
The aqua Cure smiled gently up at the tutors. “Yes, is there something wrong?”
“Yes! Indeed there is!” cried one man, wringing his hands. “Prince Ti has gone missing! And he has a history test today! He can't miss a test!”
“Oh, my! Indeed he can't,” said Cure Ariel, her eyes growing wide and a hand coming to cover her mouth in shock. “Well, don't worry, Takawa. I'll find him, and he'll be quite safe with me.”
Ti started to back away nervously, wondering if, if he could just run fast enough, he'd be able to escape from a Pretty Cure.
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, very! Don't worry. I'll find him.”
“If you're sure...” the balding man mumbled, wringing his hands one more time before bowing, and then leaving with the other tutors.
Ariel smiled still, waving goodbye. And then, after a moment of holding that pose, she suddenly crouched down, her smile looking a little more mischievous as she looked directly at Ti. “Well. Playing hooky, aren't we, Your Highness?”
Ti froze, sweating a bit. “D-Datchu...” he squeaked weakly.
Ariel scooped him up in her hands and held him at face-level. “So, since you're already out...shall we enjoy today's festivities? I assure you, you're quite safe with me,” she added with a wink.
“Good morning, Cure Ariel!”
“Good morning,” she called back with a smile.
“Cure Ariel! How nice to see you!”
Cure Ariel walked through the kingdom, her high heels making satisfying clicks against the brick ground. The main square was full of people, many off to the side and hanging up decorations and lights. They all greeted Ariel as she passed, and received a greeting in return.
Hidden in the ribbon on her chest, Ti took in as many sights as he could, his eyes wide and sparkling. Oh, he'd seen this from his window several times, from a distance. But it was nothing to seeing it being set up. It gave a sort of...familiar feeling, of sorts, to see something being prepared instead of just looking at the final product.
“Ah! Granny, please...” Ariel started forward, causing Ti to let out a small squeak and duck back into her chest-ribbon.
An elderly woman was about to climb onto a small stepping stool, bright ribbons in her hands. She looked over at Ariel as the girl jogged up to her and gently took the ribbons. “Granny, it's too dangerous for you to do that – you know what the doctor said. Let me handle that, please.”
A few minutes later, the lamp-post before them was sporting bright pink and blue ribbons at the base of the lamp, criss-crossing all the way down to the bottom. Cure Ariel knelt down and secured the ribbons' ends to each other with a pin, then stood and nodded her satisfaction. “There.”
“Oh, thank you, Ariel, dear,” the elderly woman said with a small chuckle.
“It was no trouble, Granny. Do you need any more help?”
“No, no, dear, that was all my grandson would allow me to do for decorating. He's a bit like you, it seems. All that's left is to go to the market for the cake tonight, and that will be all.”
“Do you need my help with--”
“Oh, dear, no, you've helped enough! Enjoy the festivities, dear, you work too hard!”
Ariel laughed as she walked off, waving goodbye to the old woman as she walked further into the square. “See, Ti, I'm not sure if you've seen those up close, but the ribbons catch the light when we light the lamps. There are some small crystals woven into it to create a shimmery effect too. I can't wait for you to see up close!”
Ti poked his head out again, blinking up at Ariel. “Hey, Cure Ariel? How come you're doing this, datchu?” he whispered.
Ariel's smile softened. “Because I think you deserve to see the festival of love up close, Your Highness.” At his surprised squeak, she carefully took him out of hiding and held him in her cupped hands, closer to her face. “You've only seen it from the window, haven't you? I saw you last year...”
Prince Ti stood on a windowsill, pressed against the glass. He stared out at the bright lights below, the largest one glowing in the middle of the town square.
Behind him, Cure Ariel stood in the doorway, brows tilted downward.
“The royal family of Kokoro has a lot of responsibility. But that doesn't mean you should miss out on one of the best nights of the year, Your Highness,” Cure Ariel said. “It's especially unfair of them to expect you to take lessons on this day...
So I'm letting you enjoy the festivities with me tonight, and then tomorrow, after your birthday party, I'll talk to your parents about allowing you to enjoy it on your own, okay?”
Ti's eyes were shimmering as he nodded. “O-Okay, datchu...” he whispered.
Ariel chuckled quietly and kissed him on the nose.
“Now then...let's go, Your Highness! You're going to enjoy this!”
Eyecatch 1: Hiromi and Aki lean over a small box, watching in anticipation as Ti and Coffee turn the handle. It appears to be a small jack-in-the-box, but when the lid suddenly pops open, it sends a spray of heart-shaped confetti all over them. The four of them laugh, and the Entwined Hearts logo appears in the corner.
Eyecatch 2: Cure Capulet and Cure Montague run at each other from opposite sides of the screen. The slide across the floor, intending on strike a pose together, but while Montague stops, Capulet keeps sliding. She briefly flails her arms in panic, and Montague grabs her around the waist to stop her. The momentum results in Capulet being held in a dip as she and Montague lock eyes. Montague laughs while Capulet blushes, and the Entwined Hearts logo appears in the corner.
Indeed he did, too! He perched on Ariel's shoulder as she walked all around the festival areas.
They had first gone to a waffle vender, Ariel sharing her chocolate-strawberry one and Ti sharing his cinnamon-brown sugar.
Next was the maypole; Ariel walked around with Ti held the ribbon. The laughter of the people seemed to flow all around him, and he couldn't help but join in.
There was a tent for people to make simple jewelry for those they loved. Ti held up a bracelet as big as he was, a gold heart charm dangling in the center. “This is for Mama!” he cheerfully declared. “Hm? Who's that for, datchu?”
Cure Ariel was putting the finishing touches on a necklace. It was a loop of cream-colored seed beads, with two larger, burgundy beads in the middle, and a large, bright gold heart. Next to her was another just like it, but the burgundy beads were a soft aqua green.
She smiled fondly. “It's a present for someone special.”
As the sun slowly started to go down and turn the sky orange and red, they enjoyed the rest of the festivities. A ball-tossing game, pink ice-cream, joining in a small crowd singing about a warrior whose heart was his greatest weapon and greatest weakness. Ariel helped more people light the lanterns as the sky turned to a dusky purple. She helped a small group of children make paper boats, little pink and white candles inside. Ariel had laughed when Ti himself sat in one to drift downstream.
Finally, it was truly nightfall, and the air was getting chilly. “To the square, everyone!” someone called, and the throng of people started to move from their tents and stalls, and towards a large structure in the middle of the town square.
Ariel lowered her voice, so she could speak to Ti and Ti alone. “This is the best part, coming up.”
“Better than the waffles, datchu?”
“Much better,” Ariel laughed. “You know, Your Highness, it's pretty lucky your birthday's the day after today. That means you'll get double the celebration, and double the reminder someone loves you.
“You know, that's what this is about, right?”
“Not really, datchu...” Ti mumbled sadly, curling up into an embarrassed ball. “Mama and Papa only told me that this was about love, but not much else. And all the tutors said was that it started centuries ago, when Kokoro was first formed, datchu.”
“Well, they're both right, but that's not the whole story,” Cure Ariel said, stopping at the edge of the town square. “Your Highness, as the heir to Kokoro's throne, you'll be in charge of keeping this land safe, and making sure that love isn't cheapened or destroyed. Love is a very powerful thing, you see...It makes people do great things, stupid things. Selfless things and irrational things. It's like the song about the warrior – your love can be your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. It may sound fickle, but it's something that has to be treasured – without it, we would never be able to have relations, or friendships, or families.”
“Eh?” Ti blinked. “But love's about romance, right, datchu?” he asked, gesturing to a few people nearby. A man and a woman stood shoulder-to-shoulder, hands clasped. The woman nuzzled her boyfriend's shoulder.
“No. That's only one side of love. And this festival is about celebrating all of it. See?” Cure Ariel motioned past the two lovers. Beyond them stood a man and two children, a boy and a girl. The kids were clinging to his pant legs, and he himself was patting their heads.
Nearby them stood a larger family, only some of them looking like they were actually blood-related. Two girls – sisters, Ti realized – were talking excitedly to one another. Near them were three of their brothers, one of them shoving the other in the shoulder and being scolded by the third. The shover sighed and ground his knuckles against the younger boy's head, muttering “C'mon, you know I'm teasin.'”
An old couple greeted their child and her children.
A group of five friends ran from opposite directions to meet, cheerfully gossiping as they walked off together.
Ariel moved Ti from her shoulder to her chest, lightly squeezing him in lieu of a hug. “Love's everywhere, Your Highness. That's what this celebrates.”
Everything went dark as the lights were all extinguished. Ti briefly panicked, but only for a moment as the large, spire structure in the middle of the square slowly began lighting up from the bottom up. Small dots of light that ran from purple, to red, to pink, to white, ran all around until it reached a giant white prism. The prism alighted, throwing sparks and dots of pale pink and cream-colored light onto the people below. The citizens started cheering in hushed voices, nudging each others shoulders and pointing to various parts of the square – Ti looked to see what they saw.
The ribbons that Ariel had helped hang were catching the light and reflecting it back down. The chains of small prisms were doing the same, raining little glows onto everyone. The prism's own light seemed to constantly shift, changing which direction it threw the small glows. A light wind that blew the ribbons and prism-chains made them move and shift; this combined with the bright stars above made Ti feel like they were all standing inside a dark, glittery light-globe. Or perhaps standing among the stars themselves. He stared, eyes wide and shimmering, mouth slightly open.
Ariel just smiled. “These are the people and feelings we protect.”
“Ariiieeeel!” came a shrill, panicked voice. A moment later, Coffee ran up Ariel's body to perch on her shoulder. “Cure Ariel, it's awful! Prince Ti still hasn't returned home, and the tutors are all-- eh? Y-Your Highness?!” she shrieked, fur bristling a bit.
“Hi, Coffee, datchu.”
“Y-You were here the whole time! Oh, Cure, Ariel, thank you so much for finding him!” Coffee sighed as she patted Ti's head.
Ariel laughed behind her hand. “It was no trouble.”
Ti yawned widely, snuggling into Ariel's cupped hands.
The festival was over, and Ariel was walking back to the palace, on the darkened streets. Hardly a soul was still out, they'd all gone home to get a good rest and attend the prince's birthday party the next afternoon.
“Did you have fun tonight?” Ariel asked, jarring Ti out of a half-sleep.
“M-hm...” he mumbled softly, eyes closed.
“He better have!” Coffee hmph'd, her paws at her hips. “Honestly, the tutors were all beside themselves! I didn't tell your parents you were playing hooky, we all knew you were, Your Highness – admittedly, I enjoy a good hooky myself from time to time – but you could have at least left us a note!”
Ariel just chuckled – and then she stopped walking. Her posture stiffened slightly as she stared at something in the distance, a hard look on her face. “Ti, wake up.”
Her voice wasn't raised, but there was such a sternness to it that Ti had no choice but to immediately wake, on alert. “Datchu?”
She knelt down, depositing both fairies onto the road. “Go with Coffee to the palace, quickly. There's someone here.”
Coffee's eyes widened as she nodded, scooping up the prince in her arms. “Come on, Your Highness,” she whispered.
Ti looked between them fearfully. But what was happening? This had been such a fun night and now-- “Cure Ariel?” he whimpered.
Ariel just smiled briskly. “It's alright, Ti. I'll be along soon. Just...” Her smile looked a bit strained. “Get to bed. I'll see you tomorrow at the party.”
“C'mon, Your Highness. You need the energy to eat cake!” Coffee chirped as she jogged towards the palace, Ti resting his head on her shoulder.
Behind her, Ti could see Ariel stiffly approaching some shadowy form.
He didn't see Cure Ariel that morning when he woke up.
He didn't see her at breakfast; and she was usually standing in the doorway, chatting with either a guard or the king.
“She's probably just making sure everything is in order for your party, Ti, dear,” said the queen, gently brushing his fur with a soft brush.
Ti studied their reflections in the mirror. He didn't look like his Mama at all – especially since she was in a human form and he...well, wasn't. This wasn't so unusual, he'd been told. Some of the citizens of Kokoro never grew out of their adorable fairy forms – they just didn't have the right amount of magic. Others, like Coffee, simply chose to stay in those forms for convenience's sake. Coffee herself had been heard saying more than once that this was easier to carry Ti around and be on his level when they spoke. Meanwhile, his parents were constantly in human forms because they thought it looked more dignified.
(Ti had to agree, privately. He always thought the portrait for Great-Great-Grandpa, a fat old mouse fairy with a handlebar mustache, looked rather silly.)
“Or she could be fetching the cake,” Queen Meringue said with a light laugh, rising and carrying Ti to the banquet hall.
“The cake, datchu?” Ti's eyes grew wide.
“I made sure the bakers knew to get you coconut, just as you like,” Queen Meringue said with a smile. As she approached her husband, who was already seated at the head of the table, both of them heard the man make a gagging noise in his throat. “Oh, Cider, dear, don't fuss. When it's your birthday, then we can have cake you like.”
Ti laughed at the look his father gave. So far this was turning out to be a good day.
Of course it wouldn't last.
Midway through the breakfast, just as Ti was about to sample his favorite lemon tarts that he so rarely got to eat, there was a loud boom. It sounded quite a ways off, but the suddenness of it, the wrongness of its presence made the entire court stiffen. Had...had perhaps one of the citizens arrived early and brought a noisemaker?
Such an optimistic thought was dashed when another explosion rocked the castle, and a large hole was blown in the wall. Several Kokoro soldiers crashed to the floor, having been blasted into the walls from outside. One managed to pick himself up out of the rubble, scrambling for his sword and locking eyes with King Cider.
“Your Majesties! Your Majesties, it's Shitsuren! It's as they threatened, they've come back, they've--!”
His next words were nothing but choked cries of terror as a large, shadowy creature with cruel, glowing red features pounced on him, and seemed to swallow him up inside itself.
Everyone at the table had been frozen in fear before, but now they were shocked back into moving. They threw themselves away from their seats, screaming as they fled for the doors. But only more explosions sounded, more holes blew apart the walls, more of those horrible creatures burst forth.
Ti hid under a small section of the tablecloth, watching with large, terrified eyes as more people were swallowed up. He dimly heard his mother shouting his name: “Ti! Ti, where is Ti?!”
“Ti, where are you?! We can't go without you!” Cider shouted.
He couldn't come out. If he came out, those things would get him. They'd get him and eat him like they ate the soldier before. He hiccuped loudly.
The tablecloth was whipped away from him as the entire table was overturned, sending plates, cutlery, food crashing and shattering apart onto the floor. And Ti locked eyes with another of those horrible creatures, his mouth wide open and his lips quivering.
The creature roared in...pain? Annoyance?...as the king flung a saltshaker between its eyes. The glass shattered, salt getting into its eyes and momentarily blinding it. Cider stood firm, drawing his sword from its sheath at his belt. “Coffee! Take Ti and run!”
Coffee, whose presence Ti hadn't even noticed til this moment, scooped him up. “Yes, Your Majesty!” she shouted.
“But Papa! Mama!” Ti screamed as he saw his mother too, producing a sword of her own and standing with her husband.
“Ti!” Queen Meringue shouted, looking at her son over her shoulder. “You have to go!”
“B-But the monsters...!” Ti sobbed. Despite orders for Coffee to move, he wasn't being taken anywhere just yet. Perhaps she was scared too. “The monsters'll--”
”Ti, you will do as your mother and I say!” Cider yelled, also glancing over his shoulder. Ti was startled to see something shining in his eyes. “Coffee, take him and run! Run away and don't let them catch you!”
“Mama! Papa!” Ti shouted.
Coffee ran for it. Her back was turned to the royal couple as they faced forward, their opponent being swiftly cut down...only for three more to run in instead. Ti only had time to see his mother's sword flash before Coffee turned the corner, and his parents were out of sight.
“Papaaaa! Mamaaaa!” he sobbed the whole while.
“And then we came here...Ti and I haven't seen or heard from the king and queen, or Cure Ariel, since then,” Coffee explained morosely.
Hiromi looked down at Ti, who had gone quiet and sullen around the point of his birthday party, and Coffee'd had to take over. He wasn't even eating the cupcake anymore, just staring.
“Who are Shitsuren, though?” Aki asked with a frown. “You didn't mention that part.”
“That's because...there isn't a lot known about them.” Coffee frowned herself. “They just appeared one day – we thought they were just another family, a weird one. They just appeared outside of Kokoro, in this real gloomy spot. We just thought they were weird, so we ignored them.
Well, that's not wholly true – we of course extended welcomes and greetings and they were always invited to our functions! But they just waved us off. We didn't think they could...”
Coffee drew in a deep, shuddering breath.
“One day, a month before the Festival of Love, they said how love was flawed. Fickle. It could easily be warped, and twisted, and cruel. We told them this wasn't so, but they insisted. They said...they said someone named Break had given them the power to twist and taint love, to cast it aside and drop people into despair instead. Despair was less fickle; it was a constant, and we'd all be happier if the constantly-shifting love didn't exist.
“We told them they were wrong, and they just...left. We believed they were finished with us, that they'd just move away but...Well, you've seen them. You heard what they did.”
Ti reached into the ribbon at his neck and pulled out one last Signet Ring. “That's why we have to find Pretty Cure, datchu...We found you, and we need a third. To make up for...for C-Cure A-A-Ariel, s-swallowed u-up....d-datchu....” he started to cry, much to Hiromi's panic as she quickly lifted him to her face and nuzzled him.
Aki's expression was stern.
“Don't worry,” she said. She reached over Coffee, and gently took the last Cure Signet. Stared at it a moment before folding her fingers over it. “...love isn't fickle. Love is beautiful.”
“Love is a weakness,” Break said.
Shylock knelt before Break, a shadowy figure with a pair of glowing eyes – the only thing that could be seen of them. “Yes,” he intoned.
“Because it makes the heart soft. It makes one do terrible, foolish things, and it affects one's head.”
“That is right, Shylock. You know, sometimes I think you're my best soldier. You answer me so readily.” Break laughed, a sound like rasping leaves. “Not like Tamora. What am I to do with that girl?”
“I am not sure, My Lord,” Shylock said simply.
“Ah, well....My dear boy, why don't you face the Pretty Cure next time? After all, you'd done so well with one before.”
There was a pregnant pause before: “Yes.”
ED: "Hummingbird" - Mana Ogawa
ON THE NEXT EPISODE:
Hiromi: “Coffee? Coffeeee?”
Miho: “Hey, Hiromi! D'you wanna drink?”
Hiromi: “A-Ah, it's not that!”
Miho: “Man, you guys're thirsty!”
Aki: “Next time on Pretty Cure Entwined Hearts: 'Our Fairies Are Gone?!' Let love heal your heart!"