With vigilant steps Tsubomi set foot in the Sunflower Aegis. She kept repeating to herself that she was not Tsubomi anymore, but Cure Blossom. It was hard to give up her own identity, though, no matter how hard she tried. I do not belong here, no, not at all.

She hurried past the sentinels, avoiding their gaze. Tsubomi knew that they were judging her, she knew exactly what they were thinking; you are only here because your grandmother was a Precure as well, not because of any personal talent. She knew it was not true, she had trained for long, but even so she felt like she did not belong. Tsubomi thought of other Cures, and knew that she simply couldn't possibly compare; she was not like Moonlight, who single-handedly stopped the Desert Apostles from breaching the Aegis, nor was she like Muse, who brought peace between the Precure Kingdom and Majorland, and she certainly wasn't like Queen Beauty, elegant, powerful and wise. If she was told that she was history's weakest Precure, Tsubomi would not be surprised.

And they expected her to take Moonlight's place. What a cruel joke!, Tsubomi thought, and what else could it be but a joke? She was not the only one, she heard that two other girls were to replace Moonlight, but talented as they might be, Tsubomi thought it unlikely that they could possibly match her.

The sun shone through the glass ceilings, its rays hitting Tsubomi right in the face. She kept her head down and ignored her surroundings. Ah, how embarrassing, she just remembered how silly her outfit was, and flinched for a second. She was certain the soldiers were laughing at her, she could almost hear it, she knew they'd point at her and mock her. Tsubomi felt ashamed, weak, not good enough. I'm just a shrinking violet, a tiny flower that's not good at anything.

It was so hot; no wonder, they were so close to the desert. Tsubomi felt as if she was baking in the sun, her skin ready to boil at any second. And to think that further north it was even hotter. No wonder the Desert Apostles wanted to take their people beyond the Sunflower Aegis into cooler lands. Tsubomi would not dare to say that, though; it was not acceptable to sympathize with an enemy.

At the great atrium her companions awaited her; a twintailed girl clad in golden yellow, standing proud beside a bored-looking girl who was laying down in the ground, fanning herself and whining. The girl's white and blue outfit was soaking wet, her boots and socks were scattered around. Sunshine and Marine, her partners. Tsubomi approached to greet them, but was too nervous to articulate, so instead she tried to say five sentences at once, and said nothing meaningful.

"Ah," Sunshine turned to her, and smiled, "you are finally here, Tsubomi!"

"Took you long enough," Marine mumbled, without even bothering to look at Tsubomi. Sunshine gave her a reproving look, in vain; Marine was looking only at the ceiling.

"I-I'm sorry I was s-s-so late!" Tsubomi took a long bow. "I was just..."

Don't say you were anxious and scared and spend half an hour crying outside before you gathered to courage to step inside.

"I got lost."

"How? Y-you just had to keep going straight ahead once you got past the rear gate."

"Y-Yes, but I didn't know which 'straight' it was, haha," Tsubomi said. She wanted to disappear from the world, or at least find a nice, deep hole to bury herself in.

"I'm Itsuku Miyoudouin, but I guess from now on Sunshine is more correct..."

Sunshine turned to Marine again, as if she expected the girl to introduce herself. There was nothing but awkward silence. Sunshine gave Marine a gentle kick in the leg, and reluctantly, she got up.

"I'm Erika. Erika Kurumi. Or Cure Marine. But I like Erika better," she said, and promptly returned to the floor.

"It's nice to meet you," Tsubomi bowed again. Erika smirked at that, and Tsubomi thought all sorts of things. Is she pleased? Did she like me? Is she laughing at me? Oh, dear, she is laughing at me! I should say something smart! "It's so hot here."

"Tell me about it!" Erika got up so fast that Tsubomi was startled. "I can try to summon cold water to try to keep cool, but that doesn't help at all because it gets really hot instantly! What a bother!"

"I'm used to this climate," Itsuki said. "Well, that should be obvious, I guess."

Tsubomi nodded. She knew that Itsuki's family held Sunflower Aegis for centuries, assisting the Precure in holding the one passage that connected the Precure Kingdom with the Great Desert, the endless sea of sand that was often a threat to the safety of the Kingdom. The last invasion, spearheaded by Lord Dune, culminated in a month-long siege to Sunflower Aegis where many Precure fell defending their homelands. That day Cure Flower, Tsubomi's grandmother, defeated Dune, slaying him in the middle of the great atrium of the keep. Even so, the Desert Apostles did not die out, instead only gaining even more motivation to strike.

"Where are you from, Tsubomi?"

"Ah, I live in the Garden of Hope, in the heart of the Kingdom, close to the capital. It's a nice little palace," Tsubomi only realized how weird that sounded when she already said it, "pretty calm. And there are lots of gardens there. But, um, I guess you could have assumed that."

"Yes," Erika laughed. "I come from the far south," she pointed to a direction that Tsubomi presumed was the south, "from the great harbor city of Calmtide. My family's not nobility, though, we're just traders. My parents buy lots of cloths and dyes from Märchenland and we sew lots of pretty clothes. I planned on working on that too when I grew older, but it turns out I have lots of potential as a Precure, so it's my sister's business now," she did not seem all too happy with that, but recovered her cheery demeanor a second later.

Itsuki showed the fortress to Erika and Tsubomi; though its ceilings looked like ordinary glass, they were resistant to most attacks. When breached, the corridors of Sunflower Aegis would generate magical shields to halt intruders, and mirrors hidden on the walls would reflect the power of the sun to burn invaders.

Outside the main gate, closer to the Great Desert, were a great many towers and smaller fortresses, and scouts patrolling constantly. Tsubomi could not understand how they could spend so long under the scorching sun on these desert sands, but she supposed that they got used to it. Then she took a good look at a scout as he rode past her; his face was tired, so tired, and he seemed to be in his sixties, even though the Kingdom would only recruit soldiers under forty. Life close to desert really took its toll, and Tsubomi could only wonder how worse it was for the people who lived even farther north. She shrugged off that thought and followed Erika and Itsuki back to the Sunflower Aegis when they were done with the tour.

"Is it always this hot, Itsuki?"

"Oh, no, it gets quite colder during the night. Not as cold as in the Great Desert itself, where it gets really terrible, but it is rather pleasant, I'd say," she looked down at her exposed midriff. "Maybe not that much to me."

Later, when the sun was setting and the air grew colder, the fortress' garrison gathered to eat. Every afternoon, merchants would bring food from the farmlands to the Aegis. It was the only way to keep so many soldiers fed in these infertile lands.

Erika played with her food, while Itsuki ate as fast as she could, with proper etiquette and grace. Tsubomi was too afraid to touch her plate and eat too quickly and be judged a glutton, but she was also afraid of not looking happy while eating and being deemed an ingrate, so she ate slowly with a huge, awkward grin on her face. When Erika saw it, she giggled a little, and Tsubomi could feel her cheeks getting warm, flushing, but instead of making fun of Tsubomi, Erika grinned alongside her. Two smiling idiots, Tsubomi thought, but it wasn't embarrassing anymore.

To their disappointment, however, as soon as dessert was served and they were about to take their first bite, they were called by Iris, one of the commanders of the scouts, who hurried across the mess hall, breathless. She took a moment to compose herself, and could hardly control her excitement as she spoke:

"Lady Sunshine!" She turned to Erika and Tsubomi. "Ladies Marine and Blossom. I have urgent news for you all."

"Are we being attacked?" Itsuki asked, apprehensively.

"No, it is not that," she took another deep breath. "Our scouts have sighted Cure Moonlight in the Great Desert. A soldier was exploring the enemy's lands, and found Lady Moonlight, finally."

"Oh!" Itsuki's face brightened. "So she's safe, after all? Is she heading back?"

Iris hesitated to answer. She bit her lip.

"Moonlight was headed towards enemy territory. When our scouts tried to contact her, she quickly ran from them, and disappeared into the sea of sand."

This is a concept that I always had lots of fun with, even if it is a huge departure from typical Precure. I think the setting turned out pretty coherent, though, so I'm glad! I hope you enjoy this, and of course, reviews are very appreciated!