Beep. Beep. Beep.

Stop that.

There were mornings when she wished that she could just will the alarm clock to turn off and bury her head in the pillow. She tried it out of desperation, sending a psychic message through the air towards the machine. 'Turn off. Turn off. Turn off.'

It didn't work.

"Come on..."

It was too late now - Koishi was awake, whether she liked it or not. She stayed in bed for a few minutes out of spite, but eventually she rose up in response to the cacophony of the alarm clock. She'd slept badly, of course - the same dreams as always were haunting her, pulling her back into the world of the waking with a desperate scream and a face soaked with sweat.

She went through her daily motions with as much - or little - enthusiasm as usual. Leaving her pyjamas in the heaping pile of dirty washing she left beside her bed, to be washed at the end of the week. Lazily putting on one of her identikit yellow shirts, and picking out a green skirt to match. She hadn't cared about the school uniform for...how long had it been now? She didn't want to think about it.

"Nyaa..."

A cat made its way around Koishi's obstacle course of dropped books and discarded food wrappers. It rubbed up next to her leg, purring with something resembling a whine. Koishi sighed as it looked up at her with a concerned stare, its tail wagging absent-mindedly behind it.

"Rin, I'm sorry. I don't have time for this right now. I'm late enough as it is..."

Koishi disregarded her pet's concern as she quickly set out a bowl of food for her. Above her head, a cage had been carefully hung, and its feathered resident was just as concerned as Rin was. Unlike Rin, though, the raven had learned that these metal bars would stop her from making contact, so she just didn't try any more.

"Utsuho, don't do anything crazy while I'm gone, 'kay?"

Koishi did her best to sound enthusiastic as she gave her bird a bowl of seed to feed on, but she couldn't stop her words sounding horribly forced. Enthusiasm was an alien substance to her now, something that just didn't belong.

It was hard to think this place had been in order once. Every room was filled with various fallen tidbits that Koishi just hadn't cared about enough to put back into place. It required some serious dexterity on her part just to make it to the front door with her bag and shoes.

"Ah, there's the-"

Reaching for her keys on the ground, Koishi froze in place for a moment. Something was looking back at her, something that shouldn't have been there. It seemed harmless enough - it was nothing more than a picture frame, a photo that had been taken years ago when Koishi was still a kid.

Yet she despised it.

"...Rin, I told you to leave that thing alone. Do I need to make you skip dinner again?"

A mumbled 'nyaa' sound made its way out of Koishi's room. It was strange - some days she almost felt like she could understand them, like they were speaking her own language. Maybe she just needed to get out more if she was forming that sort of relationship with animals.

She placed a hand on the picture frame, and silently turned it face down. She hadn't had the nerve to throw it away yet. Maybe she never would. It was all she had left now, wasn't it?

"...Well, that's me out. See you guys when I get back from school."

She waved goodbye to her pets as she closed the front door behind her with a dramatic thump. Took too long to close it quietly, she figured, as she left the almost uninhabitable abode behind. She would grab something quick on the way to school, something cheap and just about edible. It would keep her conscious, and that was all that mattered.

Dammit. Rin had done it again. Every time it felt like she was finally forgetting about it, she'd see that picture and everything would come flooding back to her. That picture of herself, smiling with a bright and innocent grin, while over her shoulder another girl looked on proudly. The memories of how things had been a few months ago, back when there had been two girls in that household. She hung her head down as she slowly trudged to school so no-one could see the tears starting to form in her eyes.

Why? Why can't I just act like I never had a sister...?

The worst part was not knowing what had happened to her. She had simply stayed late at school one night, and apparently disappeared. No traces of her could be found, no witnesses came forward, and none of the teachers were charged. It was almost as if she had simply never happened to begin with.

So why couldn't she make herself believe that? Why did her heart keep trying to tell her that Satori Komeiji had really existed? Why did she keep forcing herself to remember something so painful?

Onee-chan...either get out of my head, or come back to me. Don't leave me like this...

Her eyes never looked up as she made her slow, deliberate walk towards the school grounds. Gensouto was a large city with only one high school, and it was on the other side of the city from Koishi. She'd move closer, but the inheritance from her parents was barely enough to cover the rent as it was. And she couldn't touch Satori's portion either, because until she was found one way or the other she would simply be classed as 'missing' rather than...the other classification. She refused to even think that word in terms of Satori.

The path took her past a simple confectionery store called the Scarlet Bakery. She walked in, bought herself a sandwich to keep her essential functions going, and walked out all without looking the attendant in the eye. She heard murmurs of concern from the other side of the counter, but that was nothing new. They would always mutter worries, but they would never actually care enough to ask her if there was anything wrong.

People like that were useless. She couldn't depend on them for anything. They wouldn't look after her like Satori did.

Koishi munched absent-mindedly at her sandwich as she continued to trudge along to the schoolyard. She walked past the coast now, around the city's beach - technically there was a shorter path, but it wasn't like punctuality mattered to her anymore. She let her shoes leave careful, precise imprints in the sand beneath her, making a mark on the world around her as if to prove she still existed. There was a pier here, though it was never used anymore - boats always stopped at the larger docks, so in their absence someone had come up with the idea of building a shrine on it. It was a ridiculous idea, and as a result it failed miserably, so all that remained was a rickety-looking donation box and a few mossed-over statues.

Her head finally pulled itself upward when she suddenly heard a clicking sound coming from nearby.

"Huh?"

It didn't sound artificial, and the clicks were soon followed by whines and whistles. They were coming from further down the beach, and Koishi decided to approach it and find out what was making the sound. It was curiosity, she told herself, nothing more and nothing less.

"Hey, is that a...?"

Something grey was lying in a distant corner of the beach, just off the shore. As it came into view, Koishi looked down on the fluid and graceful form of a dolphin, trapped in an environment where it was anything but. It flapped its back fin around uselessly in an attempt to push itself back into the water, but all it managed to do was send itself further into shore. Its clicks and whistles grew more desperate, more strained.

"Oh, that poor thing..."

Koishi didn't realise how quickly she was moving until she had arrived in front of the dolphin, seeing it look up at her with friendly black eyes. Her arms reached down and wrapped themselves around it, before she heaved and lifted the creature in one motion.

"Gah...! Y-You're heavy..."

The dolphin gave off an angry sounding click at that one. Koishi's eyes widened slightly - did it...understand what she was saying?

"Nah, what am I thinking? It's a dolphin, of course it's got no idea what I'm talking about. It's like saying that Rin and Utsuho know what I'm saying to them back home."

It took a lot of heavy lifting, and a lot of wet sand in her shoes, but Koishi finally managed to drop the dolphin into deep enough water for it to swim again. The creature let off a series of overjoyed clicks as it swam around in front of Koishi, before coming back in to float just in front of her. Its eyes looked up at her in a wordless thanks.

"Don't go doing that again, okay? I only have so many pairs of shoes for you to ruin-"

The school bell rang in the background, and almost immediately Koishi's face turned back to its default, frowning state. Had she been smiling? She hadn't noticed.

"Oh. Sorry. Guess I need to go."

She turned on the spot, and started heaving her soaked shoes up off the beach again. She didn't really care if she was late, but she at least had to make some sort of effort to make it to school. If she didn't they would call her up as some sort of delinquent, and that wasn't worth all the trouble it would cause.

Koishi didn't notice the dolphin's eyes following her as she trekked onward to Gensou High, and she certainly couldn't tell what it was thinking of as it watched her.

She would soon enough.


Class time was a blur for Koishi nowadays. Her eyes would simply look dully at the blackboard as the teacher muttered on about subjects she didn't care about. She took in just enough to keep her grades from slipping too far down, but for all intents and purposes her brain was in the off position.

The only time she ever really paid any attention to her surroundings was in between class and during lunch break. It was a matter of survival, trying her best to keep her head down and avoid anyone who would give her trouble.

Unfortunately for Koishi, that was a rather large chunk of the school's population. Her attempt to avoid making eye-contact backfired miserably as someone in front of her stopped in their tracks, allowing her to walk right into them.

"Aah!"

Koishi toppled down onto the floor, with the books she had been carrying falling at her feet. She started to pick them up, still gambling on the off-chance it had been an accident and she could get away before anyone took advantage of the opening, but it was far too late.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Are you okay down there?"

The student she'd walked into turned around, looking down at the fallen student. Koishi should have guessed who it was from the tattoo on her left arm - a picture of a 9-ball from a pool game.

Of all the people, why did it have to be Cirno?

She was one of the school's problem kids, and the head of a small-time gang of thugs known as the Fairies. Her brunette hair had a series of blue streaks - wait, were they extensions? They couldn't be natural, but no-one else seemed to pay them any mind. She looked down at Koishi with a twisted grin, reminding her that this was no time to ponder about hair.

"Aw, grandma fell over again, didn't she? Isn't it about time someone went and put you in a care home or something?"

Cirno let out a little laugh as she stamped her foot onto the closest of the books. This was their favourite jibe at her - grandma, as a result of her silver hair. Her hand reached down to tug at it.

"This isn't a wig, is it? Never seen an old lady with as much hair as this. Let's put it to the test."

With that, she yanked at Koishi's hair violently, prompting a little squeak from her victim.

"S-Stop it! That hurts!"

Koishi's eyes looked out onto the crowd passing by, hoping that someone, anyone would look on and intervene. But Cirno wasn't the sort of person any student would mess with willingly - word was that she'd brought the Fairies to power by beating down everything that stood between them and the top spot, so anyone who valued their life stayed as far away as possible. They were street-smart, too - keeping these incidents to corridors where the teachers wouldn't see them.

So the students of Gensou High simply turned a blind eye to the goings on, and allowed Cirno to continue her little 'test'. Koishi's eyes were watering from the pain, and her arms were trying in vain to pull Cirno away.

After what felt like an age, the Head Fairy decided she'd had her fun and let go. Koishi rubbed at the sore spot on her scalp, hoping that the floor would open up and swallow her.

"Well, looks like you passed that test, grandma. I'm gonna be checking up on you now and again, though - I don't want you tripping up in the middle of the hallway again when I'm not around, y'know?"

A cruel cackle slipped out of her mouth as she darted back into the crowd, leaving Koishi to pick up her books again. She sat on the floor for a few seconds, numb, as her head sunk into her knees.

She'd always been a target for being picked on thanks to her hair colour, but it had never been this bad when Satori was around. Unlike her, Satori was brave enough to stare these bullies down, and she would always come to Koishi's rescue.

But now that she was gone, Koishi was helpless. She was too weak to defend herself, and too much of a coward to confide in anyone. That'd just get them mad, after all, and things would only go downhill from there...

The bell rang in the distance, pulling Koishi back into reality. She realised that her face was soaking wet and wiped at it with her sleeve. She clumsily picked up the fallen books, straightened her skirt as she stood up, and tried her best to merge into the crowd again.

She felt smaller than the people around her, afraid that someone would step on her and crush her under their heel at any given moment. She didn't belong here. She was a level below these people. She was too weak to fit into this crowd.

Please...someone, somewhere...help me...

Deep inside Koishi's heart, something began to glow with a faint orange light.


Math. Koishi hated math. She hated most classes nowadays, but math outright had to be one of the worst for her.

"And as you can see, when you integrate the derivative you get the original function...wait, that's what's meant to happen, anyway. Sorry, I think I've made a mistake somewhere..."

The teacher was doing her best, admittedly, but it was blatantly obvious that Professor Kawashiro wasn't trained to teach mathematics. She was a physics teacher by definition, and physicists left most of their number crunching to calculators, so when it came time for arithmetic she was hardly very trustworthy.

Koishi buried her head in her textbook. How was she expected to pass this class when even the teacher had no idea what she was talking about?

"...Hey, you hear that story that's going around?"

Koishi twitched slightly as a whisper reached her. It wasn't aimed at her - it was part of an exchange between the two girls in front of her. Koishi couldn't remember their names - one of them was a higher-up member of the Fairies, and the other was a timid-looking librarian. Koishi could see green and red streaks in their hair respectively - apparently the hair-colouring thing was all the rage nowadays or something. Even the teacher seemed to have those blue streaks, though hers were slightly darker than Cirno's.

"Um...you mean the one about the shrine on the pier? But aren't they telling all kinds of stories like that nowadays?"

"Hey, we only need one of them to be right, don't we? They say if you drop a 1000 yen bill into the donation box and make a wish, it's guaranteed to come true! We've gotta try it, really! You can get the day off library duty, right?"

"M-Maybe...but I don't exactly have 1000 yen to spare at the moment. I don't get much of an allowance, and I had to return a lot of overdue books yesterday, so..."

The big Fairy frowned at her friend's poverty, putting her head back onto the desk to catch some sleep between classes. She used her textbook for cover, though with the way Professor Kawashiro was darting around the chalkboard she had no reason to worry about being noticed.

"Ah...reduce the power, carry the three...I didn't forget the C constant, did I? Aah, it all looks right to me, but the numbers aren't adding uuuuuuup!"

The class let out a collective giggle at the teacher's misgivings. She was popular enough, and in physics classes it was more than clear she knew what she was talking about, but here she was very much out of her depth.

Koishi more or less paid no attention to the teacher, her mind caught on the discussion she'd overheard. True, it was probably nonsense, but in her situation it was a risk that was infinitely worth taking. If it failed, she might be 1000 Yen poorer, but if she succeeded...everything could be better again. She wouldn't have to go through this masquerade she called life anymore, and she could live for real.

The bell rang, signalling the end of class and the end of the day. Professor Kawashiro slumped onto her desk, defeated.

"Uh, well...read your textbooks so you understand what I was trying to teach you here! I'll see you next week when we move onto the quotient rule! (...Ugh, how do I do that again...?)"

Koishi wasn't even paying attention to her professor's mumblings as she walked out the door. Her feet were still damp from her earlier escapade, but she started to make her way back to the beach regardless. Maybe she'd have to go hungry for a little while if she was wrong, but she could live with that.

The light inside her shone a little brighter.


Fortunately, the trip out of school was relatively uneventful. The occasional shove, a cry of 'grandma' from down the corridor, and one outstretched foot she managed to step around. She'd been through a lot worse, so she managed to emerge from Gensou High with her spirit still intact. Her path quickly broke away from the one taken by her fellow students, leading her back out to the coast she'd walked past this morning. The shrine was still standing, assuming 'standing' was even the right word for it any more.

She stepped across the planks of the pier with care, hearing them creak audibly under her feet. She was afraid for a moment they would collapse under her weight, but she managed to make the journey across unharmed. She took a glance into the donation box, and found that it was empty save for a few cheap coins hanging around the edges.

Who would even build a shrine around here, anyway? Gensouto had two shrines already, the Hakurei and the Moriya, so there was hardly any room for a third. No wonder it had been abandoned.

But still...it can grant wishes?

Now that she'd come all the way out here it sounded even more like nonsense to her. A broken down shrine, making people's dreams come true for the low price of 1000 Yen? That was class-A crazy, no doubt about it. She was an idiot for even considering that it might be true, and now was when she should have just turned around and headed straight home.

But she couldn't bring herself to do it. Her feet were glued in place, and she stared intently down at the donation box. Even if it was ridiculous, absurd, a trillion-to-one chance, disregarding it when it could be true would be absolutely horrific. Her hand reached into her bag, where she'd stored a purse along with her school equipment. It came back out, holding a weathered 1000 yen note, fingers trembling slightly.

Please work...whatever god this shrine is meant to praise, I'm begging you...!

She held the note above the box, her whole hand shaking now. She was terrified, but at the same time placing her whole heart into this. She already knew exactly what she would wish for - she could recite it with perfect clarity. In fact, she would, just so that this gracious deity didn't misinterpret her.

She dropped the note into the donation box as the words flooded out of her.

"Please, more than anything...I want someone who can look after me! Someone who I can depend on, who'll defend me for the rest of my life! Someone strong, someone brave, someone who'll always care about me! Please!"

The girl made a heartfelt wish known to the world.

The orange light within her exploded into life.


A single eyebrow was raised.

"So, it's begun."

The woman put a finger to her head, whispering something in a language no land-dweller would understand.

The Siren has sung. Retrieve the Teardrop, and bring it to me.

No need to do the dirty work herself, she thought. After all, the girl was not even aware of her own strength. All it would take was a few helping hands off the pier, and she would be one step closer to her goal.

"Heh, an abandoned shrine that grants wishes? If only I could make them all this creative."


A voice jumped into its mind.

The girl had made her wish already? It was not meant to have happened so quickly. But that was irrelevant. It seemed that she was waiting at the pier.

...Which'll put her right in harm's way. Dammit!

No time to be lost. It was a long swim to the pier, but there would be a life at stake. This would put another teardrop in the hands of the enemy if she was too late.

It swam like a creature possessed, desperate to stop a tragedy from occuring.


...Nothing?

Koishi continued to stare down into the box, waiting for some sort of spirit to emerge and grant her wish. Like something out of a bad children's movie, a genie trapped in the box would give her a wish in exchange for his freedom or something absurd like that.

But no puff of smoke popped out from inside the box. No kind spirit appeared to reward her generosity. The box was exactly the same as it had always been, except it had now swallowed 1000 extra yen.

Koishi slumped down onto her knees.

"What's wrong with me? Why did I...Why did I think something stupid like that was going to work?"

She was crying again. She'd been an idiot, and absolute moron. Maybe they'd deliberately dropped a rumour like that in front of her just to see if she'd fall for it. Well, she'd given them what they wanted, just like she always did.

Stupid. So stupid. Satori would have told her to think straight if she were here.

...But she isn't, is she?

Koishi continued to weep, too far out for anyone to notice her. She heard something fall to the floor with a strange jingling sound.

"...Eh?"

She opened her eyes, wiping tears away in order to see properly again. Something was lying on the wooden plank in front of her, and her hand instinctively reached down to pick it up. It glinted in the light of the setting sun, shining a beautiful shade of orange.

"Is this...some sort of jewel?"

It was shaped like a teardrop, without a flaw or a crack within it. It was only as large as her pinky, but it was made of a clear substance that Koishi had never seen before. It was firm to the touch, but it was warm in a way that metal shouldn't have been.

This is...weird. Maybe I should take it into school tomorrow and ask Professor Yagokoro-

A splash.

"Huh?"

Did something fall into the water behind her? Koishi looked out to sea again, checking if the shrine had finally collapsed and fallen into the coast.

Her heart stopped as she looked more closely.

Nothing had fallen in. Something was coming out.

"K-Kyaaah!"

What was it, what was it, what was it? Her brain told her that a creature like that couldn't exist, it was absurd, just look at it, it had the figure of a man but the scales and head of a fish, what sort of animal looked like that, that's right, none of them, and now it was climbing up onto the pier in front of the shrine and looking at her with those ridiculous eyes...

Koishi's brain did everything in its power to deny the creature in front of her. It was unnatural, it was impossible, it was outright wrong. If denial were a force in and of itself, it would have been enough to kill the creature a dozen times over. But it stayed standing regardless, and trudged along towards Koishi with its huge webbed feet.

"S-Stay away from me! What do you want?"

Koishi got to her feet and stepped backwards, trying to edge herself off of the pier. The boards continued to creak again, and now the fear of them collapsing beneath her was felt doubly so. She couldn't run - a sudden movement could just make it strike out at her. It had to be slow and precise...

Bump.

"Eeh?"

Her back pressed against something. Something cold and slimy.

And scaly.

A-Another one!

Before she could turn around to confirm her fears, the creature grabbed her by the shoulders and held her in place. Her legs kicked around in the air, but she was too far away to hope for any contact.

"Aaaah! Let go of me, please! Don't hurt me, please!"

She sounded pathetic, and she knew it, but how else was she meant to react? The other creature yanked at her bag, tearing the straps and pulling it off of her body. It looked inside, clearly searching for something, but after a quick examination it dropped the bag on the pier unfulfilled.

What are they looking for...?

Her thoughts turned to the gem she'd found, now clasped tightly in one hand. Was she supposed to just hand it over to these...creatures? They refused to offer her a response.

The fishmen looked at each other, silently arranging a plan. They nodded to one another, before the first creature grabbed Koishi's feet. Its companion locked its hands around Koishi's wrists.

"H-Hey, what are you...?"

They dashed down the pier, with speed that no human could possibly hope to match. For a moment it looked like they were going to crash into the shrine, but they leapt over it with impossible agility, rising at least twenty feet in the air. Koishi was their unwilling passenger, struggling in vain to break their grips as they started to lose height.

The trio descended into the depths of the sea, unnoticed by the people of Gensouto.


"Mmh! Mmgbl!"

Let go, let go! Please, don't do this!

The fishmen ignored Koishi's desperate flailing, holding her with iron grips as they descended deeper and deeper into the water. Her chest was already aching, and despite her best efforts air seeped out of her nose and upwards into the distance. The surface was only barely visible now - even if they let go, it'd be almost impossible for her to reach the surface.

Why? What did I do to deserve this...?

It wasn't fair. All of it, losing Satori, being so powerless, so gullible, so foolish, and now this - none of it was fair. What had she done to deserve this sort of punishment? Had she broken some divine law? Was this some god's way of striking her down?

"Onee-glan! Onee-glaan!"

Panicking, Koishi cried out for her saviour, praying that someone would rescue her from these...things. She couldn't look after herself - she needed a hero to defend her in her time of need.

No-one was following from the surface.

"...G-gglbl..."

Of course. Who'd waste their time trying to save a loser like me...?

She was starting to feel faint now. The world around her started to dim, and her eyes began to close as her air seeped out of her. She went limp in the arms of her captors, on the brink of unconsciousness.

"Click, click!"

Hmm...?

That noise sounded familiar, and Koishi just about pulled her head back far enough to see where it was coming from. It was hard to make out, just a grey dot in the distance, growing larger and larger by the second-

Wham!

If she'd had any air left in her, that impact would have knocked it right out. The fishmen were knocked aside as the grey projectile charged, carrying the ailing Koishi on its back.

...Huh? You're the dolphin from earlier...

Her brain was too oxygen-deprived to think straight right now. She was hearing things now, voices in her head that didn't have people to go with them.

"...ring..."

Koishi's eyes lazily looked down, still ready to pass out at any moment. There was a small ring on top of the creature's fin, shining faintly in the darkness.

"...wear the ring..."

She didn't know where the voice was coming from, and frankly she was too tired to care. Wherever this voice was coming from, she decided that she would obey it as her last act. Her right hand still held the gem from earlier, but she balanced it in the palm of her hand as she picked up the ring and - with some difficulty - lodged it on the ring finger of her left hand.

There. Now I can-

Her body reached its limit, and forced her to take a breath in. This had to be it, this had to be the end of her.

...

So why did she feel better?


She cursed in the empty air to no-one in particular.

"The damned Pearl made it there first? Son of a submariner!"


"Jeez, I didn't cut that half-close. You okay?"

This was beyond surreal now - this was definitely water she was breathing now, but there was no choking or drowning. She was breathing it like she'd breathe regular air. And even now, she was still hallucinating this voice in her head.

Wait. Is that voice...

It took her a few seconds to work up the nerve to speak underwater, but the words came out with perfect ease.

"Um...hello? Is that you?"

She looked downward, seeing her mount look up at her with a smile.

"You sure look fine enough from here. What a relief - the boss would have me served for dinner if I let you die like that."

The dolphin stopped in its tracks, turning back the way it had come. The fishmen from before were coming back, and they looked ready to finish what they'd started.

"OK, kid, here's the deal. I'm going to ask you to do some something that'll make absolutely no sense to you. I need you to trust me on this one, got it?"

The dolphin's glance at her looked sterner now, as stern as a dolphin could possibly look. Koishi blinked once before replying.

"Let me get this straight. I'm riding a dolphin while I'm breathing water and being chased by two fish-man...things, and you think there's anything here that makes sense?"

"Huh. Good point."

The fishmen came closer still. They weren't armed, but their fingers unveiled claws that looked set to turn Koishi and her ride into a nice little pile of bits.

"...Alright. What do I have to do?"

Koishi was still running on adrenaline from her near-death experience. By now any semblance of rational thought had flown out the window in her head - she was ready to do just about anything now.

"Good. See that gem in your hand? Squeeze it really hard, and then just let out any words that come to mind."

Well, the dolphin had been telling the truth when she'd said this would make absolutely no sense to Koishi. Still, if it was a choice between following a ridiculous order and getting sliced up, there wasn't really a choice at all. The gem was still in her right hand, and she squeezed down on it with all her strength.

W-What is this?

The jewel started to shine with a pale orange light as she pressed at it, and before she even realised it there were words seeping out of her mouth. The light of the gem started to pour across her own body, surrounding her in an orange aura.

"Wherever evil forces be,
On the land or in the sea,
All who sin should cower and flee
From Dolphin Rider Koishi!"

The light enveloped her entirely, running across her entire body. She felt her clothes falling away, but the light was gracious enough to stop her from being exposed. Something else began to run across her body, clinging carefully to her like a second skin. Looking down, she saw a white fabric forming around her, covering her torso like a swimsuit while leaving her bare legs exposed. A pair of gloves appeared on her hands, a perfect fit. Her hair began to flow freely behind her, floating naturally in the water without so much as a hair moving out of place. Her outfit began to grow more accessorised - a ribbon appeared around her neck, and her gloves gained a pair of dolphin emblems. The orange gem reappeared on her chest, fused with her clothing and shining with a brilliant glow.

In her hand, she felt a sudden weight, and something cold entered her grip. Looking down, she realised that she was now holding onto a golden trident, its tips glistening with deadly sharpness. The orange tint around her began to fade, and she became one with the world again, holding her weapon towards the enemy with a dramatic pose.

"Halt, villains! I, Dolphin Rider Koishi, have emerged to put a stop to your evil deeds! In the name of the sea, prepare to be punished!"

Then her brain turned back on again.

"Wait, what the hell am I wearing!"

"No time for talk, kid! Two overgrown tuna, twelve o'clock!"

The dolphin's voice in her head reminded Koishi of her priorities. The creatures didn't look any happier for having witnessed her transformation, and they continued to charge at her with their claws at the ready.

"These guys should be no problem for you. Just give 'em a little beamy goodness and you'll be fine!"

"Beamy...goodness?"

"Just point the trident, and let the magic do the rest!"

Koishi wished the dolphin would give some more precise instructions, but when there was so little time to work with she decided to be content with the cryptic crossword version. She pointed the trident towards the oncoming enemies, and willed her power into it.

The tips of the trident hummed as tiny dots of light began to emerge from them. They shone a light orange, growing in intensity as Koishi focused her mind on it. The fishmen dashed forwards regardless, either unaware or unafraid of her attack.

"Now, disappear beneath the waves and never return!"

Words were flowing out of her mouth again, and subconsciously Koishi flinched as she realised the nonsense she was spewing. Then again, if it kept her alive, it was an embarrassment she could handle. The trident was now pronged with three orbs of pure orange light, and letting off a loud humming noise. The creatures were almost in range.

"Now!"

"IRUKA BEEEEAM!"

The three spheres merged into one, forming on the centre tip of the trident. For a moment, the ball turned white.

Then it exploded forward into a pillar of light, almost blinding its owner as the blast knocked Koishi back. The resulting magic encased a huge area in front of her, as wide as she was tall. The fishmen barely had time to realise what was going on, let alone avoid the attack. They were caught in Koishi's onslaught, collapsing into a dozen fish of various breeds and darting multiple directions.

The light faded, and Koishi turned the trident away. She looked on in amazement as her mind processed the outcome of her actions.

"...I...won?"

She struggled for breath, panting heavily. The dolphin looked up at her with concern.

"Crap, you really went all out on that one, didn't you? I should've told you to start off a little smaller..."

Koishi continued to pant, giving off a faint smile.

"I...I did it..."

Her body fell forward, resting on the dolphin's fin. She suddenly felt fatigue weigh her body down, and her eyes fell shut without a hint of resistance.

"Dammit, don't pass out! ...Great, now I have to take this girl home..."

The dolphin started heading for the surface, carrying its exhausted passenger in tow. Koishi slept soundly on its back, dreaming for the first time of something other than her sister. She saw visions of herself, flying through the air without wings, soaring through the sky like a free bird.

It was a welcome change.


"Ma'am, this is Agent Sango reporting."

"Did you manage to extract the target?"

"Confirmed, ma'am. Contact has been made. The Siren has become aware."

"Combat abilities?"

"I haven't seen enough to be sure, but she has definite potential."

"Excellent. Get her informed ASAP. We don't have a minute to lose on the other Sirens."

"Yes, ma'am. Agent Sango out."

The call ended, and the woman placed her phone to one side. She groaned to herself, looking at the board behind her.

"I can get all of that running, but I can't get this to come together right..."