“How could I be late?!” a woman yelled at herself as she ran up the empty stairs. “Me, a teacher! To be late for her own class! How scatterbrained can I be?”
The clicking sounds her heels made echoed around her as she ran. They were the only sounds to be heard.
“Hm?” She stopped on the landing, turning towards the large mirror that stood on the wall. The students didn't like it much, she remembered, because of some silly school ghost story. But... “Did I hear something?” she mumbled, stepping closer to it. Gently, she rested a hand against the glass surface, experimentally pressing on it a few times. “Perhaps it's coming loose...I'll have to call maintenance and--”
The woman froze, face paling. “Wh-wha--?”
A voice. A masculine, distorted voice echoed from the mirror's surface. “Heeeeaaar...meeeee...”
OP: "Pretty Cure, Hands Meet" - SHE
Hiromi and Aki were quiet as they sat at their desks, staring at the polished surface. Their friends were all exchanging concerned glances, but couldn't seem to bring themselves to say anything. And even if they did, there was no guarantee the girls would even register their words.
Tamora didn't come back... Hiromi thought.
The group had waited as long as they could. Until it got dark and the street lights turned on. Until a patrolling police officer spotted them and escorted them to Aki's house. They'd stayed up late, staring at the window, keeping the lights on to be sure.
Still no Tamora.
Aki's hands had been clasped patiently on her desk, but now they gripped hard until her knuckles turned white. Something happened. And we can't even find out what because--
“Hyaaaaaaaaaa! Miss Matokoooo!”
Everyone jumped as the door suddenly slammed open and another teacher, a blue-haired young woman with red eyes and thick, rectangular glasses, charged into the room. She staggered all the way to a startled Mrs Matoko and fell against her, her hands tightly gripping her upper arms as the other woman hugged her. “M-Miss Shinobu?” Mrs Matoko gasped. “What's the matter? Shouldn't you in your classroom?”
“Th-the mirror!” she shrieked, glasses slipping down her nose as she looked up. “The mirror spoke! The one on the stairway!”
Aki and Hiromi looked at each other across the room, their eyes wide.
TODAY'S EPISODE: Long Live the King!
“I'm telling you, it spoke!” Miss Shinobu was yelling later, a hot cup of tea between her trembling hands. “There was a voice, i-it – it said 'hear me!' It's trying to communicate!”
“Miss Shinobu, really,” the principal said in a gentle tone. He leaned forward and rested a hand on the woman's shoulder. “You're probably just overworked. You're starting to hear things.”
“I'm telling you--!”
It was a half hour later, and Miss Shinobu's charging into the classroom had pretty much ruined any thoughts of a peaceful class day. Miss Matoko had managed to yell that it was 'free study day' before escorting her colleague out the door and to the infirmary. Of course the students, both in her own class and Miss Shinobu's, opted to gossip about what had just happened instead. Aki and Hiromi had taken advantage of the disorder by slipping out the door and quickly calling up Miho's house.
And now the four Cures stood in front of the mirror, Otome at the front. She frowned as she reached out, placed her palm against the glass.
“But the mirror in Kokoro shattered. We saw it. How can someone be trying to contact us?”
“Could it be the one in Heartbreak Manor?” Coffee offered.
Miho shook her head. “Doubtful. If any of them knew we had one of the other mirrors here, they'd be here themselves right now.”
Hiromi blinked, then looked around at the others. “What if the mirror's fixed?”
This earned a quiet gasp from the others, and Aki looked at Otome, her eyes wide. “Otome! Try calling out to the other side!”
Otome nodded at Aki, her eyes narrowed and her mouth in a thin line. She turned back to the mirror, looking past her reflection and instead focusing on Ti's. He was staring with wide, hopeful eyes, and she could tell he was holding his breath. If that other mirror was repaired...they could go back, they could find his parents, perhaps. Maybe it was his parents trying to contact them right now. She shut her eyes, drew in a deep breath. “Here goes.” Otome leaned forward, her mouth centimeters from the glass's surface. “Hello! Hello, can someone hear me out there?”
The glass rippled slightly under her breath.
Punch carefully fit a jagged shard into the frame. He paused, leaning back on his haunches and wiped his brow. “How long have I been at this...?” he muttered, picking up yet another shard.
The mirror was only a fraction of the way repaired. It was rather difficult to get a good, large part of it put back together when one was less than a foot tall. He might have finished earlier, but he hadn't even realized the mirror had been broken! It was pure dumb luck, and the fact he'd emerged from the shelter to see if there'd been any change outside, that he realized this had happened at all.
Suddenly he froze, eyes widening. Was that--
”...there? Anyone.....hear me...?”
Punch gasped and nearly dropped the glass shard he was holding. Hastily, he pressed it into the frame, the glue holding it fast, and yelled against the glass. “Is someone there?! Can you hear me?!”
The girls had stood there silently, tense, for several minutes. Otome pressed her hands harder against the glass, her fingers trembling slightly.
Finally, Coffee sighed. “I don't think it's--”
“Sh!” Otome said, eyes growing wide. A second later, they heard it.
“Punch!” Coffee yelled. She was quickly shushed by the others.
A second later, they heard Punch's voice. “Coffee!.....ty Cure....here?”
“Punch, we're having trouble understanding you!” Otome called back. “Try getting closer to the glass!”
A moment of silence. ”Not...can do...Still repairing...”
Repairing? The girls looked at each other hopefully. Miho was the one to speak, however. “Does this mean we can go back to Kokoro? We can go back to Heartbreak Manor, we can try to--”
”--es!” Punch's voice sounded ecstatic beneath the distortion and faded quality. ”Yes! We need...something wrong outside....”
”Storm...about to rain...Black water...”
Otome's eyes widened at this. Black water...Just like the water of the River Despair. And if Punch had seen it...there were storms, if it looked about to rain...
“The river's going to overflow and fall to Kokoro,” Otome realized, with a feeling that she'd been thrown into a bucket of ice water. “Kokoro's going to drown in despair...”
This was met with shocked gasps and whispers from the others. “Then we've got to do something!” Aki yelled.
“That's right! We should go right--” Hiromi began to say. But then something else happened.
Punch suddenly yelled in alarm and fell backwards. The glass had began to glow, ripple, and a dark shape was forcing its way through. He stood up, about to tell the girls they should have waited, but--
“Punch!” everyone screamed, crowding against the mirror. “Punch, what happened?!”
There was nothing.
For several long, agonizing minutes there was nothing.
Ti was the one to finally voice what everyone was thinking. “Something's wrong, datchu...Something is really wrong.”
“Let's go.” Otome's words were immediate; she didn't hesitate or falter once.
“But the mirror's bro--” Coffee began.
“So we'll force our way through!” Aki snapped, a hand running through her blue-black hair. “At least part of it's fixed, we can still--”
“I can't hear Punch anymore.” Otome turned around to look at the others, face slightly pale. “Guys, we have to go now!”
No more questions or words were spoken. Everyone nodded as one, charging forward. Hiromi rested her hands protectively, reassuringly, over the fairies, a silent assurance that things would be okay on the other side. One way or another.
The room hadn't changed much from the last time the girls had left. The only difference was shards of glass littering the floor, most of which had been gathered nearer the mirror frame.
The glass glowed, and the two fairies flew out, tumbling a little when they hit the floor. Ti pushed himself to his paws and looked at the mirror, brows lowered.
It rippled a bit more, and--
“I'm trying! I'm trying!” Capulet's head and arms emerged from the small portion of glass, her hands gripping the carpet as she tried to move forward. “I-It's not a lot of space to work with!”
“Hurry uuuup...” Portia's voice growled, clearly agitated.
Ti and Coffee ran forward, grabbing one of Capulet's hands. Her other hand still gripped the floor, pulling herself forward as the fairies helped. A second later, Capulet yelped and tumbled forward, the other three Cures following.
“Owwwwowowowow...” Portia stood shakily, placing her hands on the small of her back and bending backwards. “I never want to do that again...Not through such a tiny door, anyway.”
“Now I know how Alice in Wonderland felt...” Montague added.
“Punch!” Ariel yelled, catching everyone's attention. “Punch, are you here?!” Of course there was just silence. Ariel left the room, the others close behind. She glanced one way, then the other, before picking a direction and running towards it. “Punch!”
There was no more being quiet, or stealthy, or anything like the last time they visited. Punch could be in serious danger, he could be... Ariel swallowed the lump in her throat that arose at the mere thought of that. No, she wasn't going to consider it.
Everyone gasped, skidding to a halt. There, in a dark hallway that looked familiar to Capulet, was Punch, his eyes wide. In his arms were several vials and jars of herbs, and aside from that he was fine!
“Punch!” Coffee cried, launching herself from Capulet's shoulder and into Punch's arms. The force of momentum, plus the fact that Punch was really not expecting a projectile hug, sent both of them crashing to the floor. Punch let out an 'oof' but Coffee didn't notice, nuzzling his shoulder. The jars and vials he'd been holding had been launched into the air when he fell, but Portia caught them in her cupped hands.
As Coffee began babbling and sobbing thank-goodness's and so-glad-you're-okay's, Portia held up the items to inspect them. “Punch...what are these? What happened, why'd you scream?”
“Coffee, my love, I'm fine, please--” Punch gasped as Coffee finally relinquished her hold on him, and sheepishly adjusted his glasses. “Right. Girls, you'd better come with me...”
Eyecatch 1: Coffee and Ti hold a giant heart-shaped bubble wand, the breeze sending out a stream of bubbles. Inside four of the bubbles are tiny versions of the girls. In a flash of light, the girls twirl around and transform into Pretty Cure, their bubbles immediately becoming heart-shaped. The Entwined Hearts logo appears in the corner.
Eyecatch 2: The four girls hold a large, pink heart-shaped cookie between them; Hiromi taking the left arc, Aki taking the right, Miho and Otome firmly holding either side of the bottom half. They snap the cookie apart and there is a bright pink flash of light. When it fades, the quartet are in their Cure forms, happily eating their cookie pieces. The Entwined Hearts logo appears in the corner.
Punch had led them all down the hall and through that door that had been locked when Capulet found it. Through it was a long stone staircase, without any light to guide the way. Or so it seemed – Punch hopped onto the first step, and the girls found that each step light up when touched. This way anyone hiding could see, but not give themselves away with light. If they were quick enough, that was.
After the staircase was another, locked door, and inside there...
“Cure Ariel!” a group of fairies yelled, launching themselves at the twin-tailed girl.
Ariel smiled, hugging them to her chest. “So you've all been hiding here?” she half-laughed, half-sobbed.
“Not everyone,” said one of the human occupants. “But yes, we've been using this place as shelter.”
Unlike the stairway leading to it, this room was particularly well-lit. It was wide, spacious, divided into sections for the sick and injured, and Ti pointed out that the many jars and urns down a small hallway held food.
“Girls, over here!” Punch called, catching their attention again. “Bring the herbs over to me.” He was standing by a curtained-off area, someone's silhouette able to be vaguely seen. The girls followed to see--
“She arrived just a little bit ago,” Punch explained, adjusting the blanket that covered the girl up to her chest. “That's what this medicine is for.”
“Medicine?” Montague muttered. “Why does – Our attacks don't do this, do they?”
“No, that wasn't it.” Punch's tone was grave as he dropped some of the herbs into a steaming cup and gently pressed the edge to Tamora's mouth. Some of the liquid trickled around the corners of her mouth, but most of it was swallowed, even if she wasn't conscious for it. “I had the physician look at her...She was pale, freezing cold, and had too slow of a heartbeat; I thought she was dead at first.
“Tamora's been poisoned.”
“I'd been speaking to you...” Punch explained, knowing what one of their next questions would be. “When...”
Punch yelled and drew back, eyes wide in first alarm...and then terror as Riche crawled out of the small portal he'd made. Thinking quickly, he seized a nearby piece of glass, prepared to defend himself the only way he knew how--
But then his expression softened and grew confused as someone else appeared, dragged by the wrist. She fell unconsciously to the floor, and Riche gathered her up in his arms, shooting Punch a desperate look.
“I beg you,” he said. “I beg of you, I don't know where else I can – Something's wrong with Tamora, I beg you to save her. I'll do anything if you save her and don't punish her for what we've done! She's just a child, she--”
Punch held up one paw, looking sternly at the older man. They stayed there, locked in a staring match, a moment longer before Punch turned. “Follow me, quickly. When I reach a hallway, stay where you are, and one of our doctors will meet you.”
“I couldn't abandon either of them,” Punch sighed, setting the cup back on the table. “Regardless of what Shitsuren did to our land, Tamora is a child. And even knowing Riche is an adult, I couldn't condemn her because of him.”
“Where's Riche now?” Ariel asked, holding Tamora's limp, still cold hand.
“He...He left the castle entrance,” Punch said, sounding confused. “I don't know why, but he went to walk back instead of using the mirror...”
“He knew we would be here,” Portia muttered. “He figured Punch was trying to speak to us, and knew we'd come. He wants to meet us directly.”
“Good,” said Montague, frowning. “Because we want to get to the River Despair.”
“What?” Punch looked up, eyes wide. “Girls, no! No, it's too dangerous for--”
“Punch, there is little other choice!” Capulet cried, face turning red. “Look at Tamora! You said yourself there are storm clouds gathering, it looks about to rain...Something's going on with the river, and we have to stop whatever it is to protect Kokoro!”
“We're not taking no for an answer,” Portia added.
Punch stared. Then he looked to Tamora. And then he sighed.
“....very well then.”
”Go straight as soon as you exit the castle. Keep running until you find an arch – that's the entry to the kingdom. Continue straight, and you'll find the river.”
None of them knew how that would even work, but they were willing to try. They had to try.
That was why the four Cures were racing across the ruined, blackened landscape that was once Kokoro. Punch had been right – up above were dark storm-clouds, churning and threatening to burst any second. And thought it wasn't raining per se, a few noticeable drops fell to earth. Some were close enough for the girls to see that the water was indeed pitch-black. And when one grazed Capulet's cheek as it fell, it burned.
This had to be stopped.
Ariel led the way, knowing the area better than the others – even in its current state. Her expression hardened as she recalled what had just happened in the castle.
”We'll come too, datchu!” Ti yelled, paws curling into fists. “We should help!”
“No, Ti,” Capulet said. Despite her soft, gentle voice, there was a bit of steel beneath it. Something that said she was not to be argued with here. “We need you and Coffee to stay behind with Punch.”
“Capulet's right.” Montague put a hand on her shoulder. “It's dangerous out there. We don't know what to expect or what will happen...we'd feel a lot better if you were here, safe.”
Before either fairy could protest, Punch reached out and gently held their paws. As the two looked at him in surprise, Punch just stared up at Pretty Cure, resolute. “I'll look after them with the others. Good luck, Pretty Cure.”
“We're nearly there, look!” Ariel shouted, pointing straight ahead.
Sure enough, they were. They could see something in the distance – like black lightning over the ground. Drawing closer, they saw it wasn't over ground, but over something else. The ground seemed to indent, and inside that indentation was--
“The River Despair!” Montague yelled. “We made it!”
The girls stopped on the riverbanks, gasping at the familiar voice.
In their haste, they had failed to notice Riche on one of the rocks piercing the water's surface.
He fixed them with a hard look, shoulders tense but no other outward sign of aggression. “You want to get to the River Despair? To Heartbreak Manor? You must get past me.”
“What are you even going to make an Usotsuki out of?” Portia demanded. “There's nothing here!”
“No Usotsuki this time,” Riche said flatly. Before everyone's eyes, he reached up and clasped the Heartbreak Brooch on his chest.
And tore it off, tossing it into the water below. The girls gasped in horror as the waters had an adverse affect on it; before their very eyes it turned blacker than pitch, briefly trembled, then burst apart into pieces. Pure despair had been too much for it and made it shatter.
This would happen to anything that fell into the river.
“Today I'll face you...” Dark energy materialized in his open palm, swiftly elongating and becoming snake-like. He grasped it, and in a purple flash, it became a crackling whip. “With my own power!”
Riche flung the whip outward, and before anyone could react, it snaked around Ariel's wrist. She was yanked forward, yelling in alarm as she saw she was about to fall into the churning waters--
--Then slammed her feet down, digging her heels into one of the rocks dotting the surface. She stood her ground, teeth grit as she pulled her wrist back, keeping Riche from trying it again. “Don't think it'll be that easy!” she snarled.
The other three launched themselves across the river next. Portia landed beside Ariel, grabbing her wrist with one hand and the whip with the other to hold the people on both ends steady. In the very next instant, Capulet's arms snapped around Riche's middle as she intended to shove him off-balance.
“Nor for you!” Riche yelled. He didn't let go of the whip handle, but he did turn himself around suddenly. Capulet spun with him, the force of the swing forcing her to let go.
She shrieked in alarm as she sailed through the air, feet pointed to the water--
“Gotcha!” Montague intercepted her in mid-air, having landed on a rock nearby earlier and jumped back up when she saw what Riche was going to do. She held Capulet in one arm, swinging her free one at the water as they began to fall towards it again. A blast of blue energy surged from her hand. It struck the river and the sudden opposing force sent her upward again, enough time and height given to allow her to land on another rock. The only problem was it was further from the battle than before.
This didn't deter either of them, as they linked hands and faced Riche together. ”Entwine! Our hearts are one! Pretty Cure...Dual Heart Strike!”
Riche swung his arm harder than ever--
--Flinging the other two Cures into the path of the attack.
”Hyaaaaaaaa!” they shrieked as one, something like lightning dancing over their skin.
The attack didn't even stop, however. It kept going, surging around and past the girls. Towards Riche.
Having an obstacle in the way meant he didn't take a direct hit. But the force and the strength it held still affected him. Riche was shoved backwards, his eyes widening, heart jumping into his throat as he felt his feet slip out from under him. He was too far backwards now, he couldn't regain balance...
He didn't even feel the whip he still held go tauter than ever.
Tamora... he thought, eyes closing.
Riche's eyes opened wide when he felt the weight on his wrist. He craned his neck to see Pretty Cure, all four of them, standing in the same rock as himself. All four of them holding him by the wrist, determination in their features. Riche was literally balancing on the edge of his heel, the four girls being the only thing keeping him from falling into those churning, frothy waters.
“Pretty Cure?” he gasped.
“We're not letting you go!” Capulet yelled.
“We're not letting anyone get hurt, no matter which side they're on!” Montague added.
“We might not have been able to save Shylock or Tamora...but we can save you!” Portia declared.
“Because despite everything, we love you too!” Ariel yelled.
At those words, the girls gave one mighty pull, and Riche was back on the relative safety of the rock, dropping to his knees in a mixture of shock, exhaustion, and relief.
“I...found her. In the hall,” Riche admitted later, after they'd all returned to the bank. He still knelt, head bowed, refusing to look at Pretty Cure directly. “I saw her there, just lying there...”
He recalled how his steps had faltered when he saw her, and then he'd run forward, dropping to his knees and dirtying the knees of his pants. “Tamora!” he had cried, holding her, one hand behind her head. “Tamora, can you hear me?! Tamora!!!” he'd screamed, shaking her.
“She was breathing, but just barely...It was enough. I couldn't take her to Break, I knew he must have intended this. I didn't want to get Lady involved, so I took her to the only place I knew...”
“You knew we'd come too, did you?” asked Capulet gently.
Riche nodded. “I wanted to save her, and have her be pardoned...But I knew I could not be. So I waited here for you...Thinking you would surely--”
“We didn't. We wouldn't.” Montague was firm. “Riche...we don't know what's going on, but this isn't the time to ask. Right now, we need to make sure the River Despair doesn't rain its water into Kokoro. Can you--?”
He shook his head. “I cannot stop it. I don't know how to do that, I don't have any of that sort of power.” Finally he looked up. “But you, perhaps...No, you're Pretty Cure. You I know have that power.”
He stood up, not smiling. “Follow me,” he said, walking forward.
Portia raised an eyebrow and planted her hands on her hips. “Riche? That's just the wall of a cliff.”
“Is it now?” Riche waved a hand over it--
--and a few stones slid to the side, revealing a tunnel.
He finally did smile, seeing the girls' surprised expressions. “This way.” And he went inside.
Pretty Cure all exchanged glances. This was it...Montague grabbed Capulet's hand, squeezed it reassuringly. Capulet squeezed back, and took Portia's hand with her other. Portia in turn held Ariel's hand. They smiled at one another, and moved forward.
They entered the tunnel the same way they would enter any situation, any environment.
ED: "Rainbow-Colored Future" – BoA ft. Entwined Hearts 4
ON THE NEXT EPISODE:
Hiromi: “The River Despair will not rain despair on Kokoro!”
Miho: “We'll destroy it, once and for all! Drain it all!”
Otome: “Wait, something else is here... Wh-What is this?!”
Aki: “Next time on Pretty Cure Entwined Hearts: 'Drain the River! Break Finally Appears! ' Let love heal your heart!”