Author Topic: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End  (Read 165792 times)

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
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  • blub blub nya
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - Arc 8 (In progress - Sunday updates!)
« Reply #630 on: November 10, 2013, 09:11:03 AM »
The only easy part was the front door.

Jozu shoulder-barged through the entrance, the door banging against the back hinges. The Sirens raced through the opening, Satori taking point as they emerged into the first hallway.

?Leviathan will be in the throne room,? the valkyrie said, her sword already primed. ?Keep close. These corridors are quite elaborate.?

She lowered herself to the ground, deep enough that buoyancy was no longer an issue. She was faster running than she was swimming, and the rest of her allies soon followed suit. They matched Satori move-for-move, darting at breakneck speed through the palace?s hallways.

?I didn?t expect...all this exertion.? Sakuya began to trail behind, lacking in stamina compared to her allies. ?I think I need a minute to-?

Before she could fall away, Youmu grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her along. ?No complaining, Miyo. The real fight hasn?t even started yet.?

Sakuya frowned. ?No rest for the wicked, I suppose.?

?Damn right.? Jozu scouted the side corridors as she passed by them, searching for any sign of an ambush. ?Your boss might be dealing with most of the guards outside, but there are still gonna be plenty around here to-gyaah!?

As she looked to her left a fishman leaped out from the other side, bringing a claw down towards her head. The blow never landed - Satori?s blade cut cleanly through the water, slicing the beast in two and forcing it to dissipate.

?You?re getting careless,? the valkyrie said.

Jozu pouted. ?I can be fast or I can be thorough. I can?t be both.?

?And that?s why you need me around.? For a moment, Satori?s frown gave way to a private smile. ?Now, we?d better get going before the rest of his teammates find out-?

?Uh, about that...? Sango pointed down the corridor. ?They already did.?

Jozu turned back to the hallway. Her blood froze over as she saw an entire legion of fishmen barging down towards them, shoving and bashing each other in an attempt to be the first to strike the Sirens down.

?Shit.? Jozu broke to the right, running in the direction her attacker had come from. ?Detour! Now!?

The rest of the Sirens followed her lead, the fishmen trailing behind them every step of the way. In spite of their bickering, their aquatic nature made them faster in the water than the Sirens could hope for, and they slowly gained on their targets.

?Titanic!?

Komachi hung at the rear of the pack, firing round after round into the oncoming horde. For every creature she shot down, another two appeared in its wake. She was doing just enough to keep them from being overrun.

Jozu cursed. Yesterday she?d taken pride in how impenetrable this fortress was. Now she hated every ounce of it.

?Heads up, guys!? Nazrin yelled as her visor began to beep. ?Hostiles coming in down both those side corridors!?

?Roukanken!? Youmu drew her swords, pressing down on their hilts as the blades grew to impossible lengths. As she stepped out into the crossroads, both weapons swung through the air, cutting down everything that had dared to come close to her. Even then, the swipe only bought them enough time to make it past the corridors unharmed.

?Another squad, dead ahead!? the mouse yelled. ?There?s no room to get around them!?

?Well, that?s a no-brainer.? Mokou pulled ahead of the Sirens, flames licking at her fingers. ?We?ve gotta go through them!?

The phoenix extended her golden wings as she descended on the enemy formation. She pushed past them without losing her momentum, scattering the horde with well placed punches and kicks. Jozu made sure to stomp on as many as possible as she ran past, just to make sure they didn?t get up again.

?Almost there, everyone,? the shark yelled. ?Just a few more turns, and-?

As she twisted herself around a corner, she heard something click beneath her feet. On instinct alone, her neck jerked around to the ceiling.

?Oh goddammit.?

The roof gave way, revealing a metal plate laced with spikes. The trap flew downward, set to crush the girls where they stood.

?Private Square!?

Sakuya shouted. Jozu blinked. The next thing she remembered was being in another corridor, looking back on the trap that should have impaled her. Dozens of knifes littered the walls, taking out the fishmen that hadn?t been flattened by their own trap.

?You?re welcome,? the maid said, tipping her hat forward.

Jozu didn?t have time to offer her thanks. Her heart was hanging in her throat as she burst out of the corridor into a larger hallway. On the other end of the hall a giant door loomed over her, almost three times as large as she was with a golden trim running along its edges. There was no sign of a handle, or even a hinge.

?This is it,? she gasped. ?Levi?s behind here.? She swam over to a handcrank beside the door, grabbing at it and tugging. ?Hhnnngh...dammit, this thing?s stiff. Sango, mind giving me some help??

?Only if you need it.? Sango placed her hands over Jozu?s, the two youkai cranking in unison. The door began to shuffle to the side, slowly opening the way to the throne room.

?Uh, guys...? Nazrin stared at her visor, speckled with dozens of red dots. She never finished her warning, but the frantic visor-beeping got the message across.

Koishi moved towards the handcrank, set to join in. ?Sango-san, let me-?

?Don?t!? Before she could grip it, Jozu snapped at her. ?There?s no crank on the other side, and if we let go the whole thing?s gonna slam shut.?

The colour drained from Koishi?s face. ?You mean-?

Jozu nodded. ?Yeah. You?re gonna have to leave us behind.?

The room went painfully silent. Clattering feet and inhuman growls began to approach from every direction. Sango stared at Jozu in horror, her hands trembling as she gripped at the crank.

?I?m sorry, Sango,? the shark said. ?But Leviathan?s out of our league. This is all we can do to help.?

?But that?s insane!? Koishi said, arms waving about in exclamation. ?If we leave the two of you against that sort of army, then-?

?No.? Sango gulped down her fear, her expression unreadable as she pulled her head up. ?Don?t worry about us, Koishi-san. We?ll be fine.?

Koishi shook her head. ?Sango-san, you can?t be-?

?I said go!? The dolphin yelled, with an anger that Jozu had never seen from her before. She recognised it too well - it was the anger she spared for a person that meant everything to her, when she had to step in for Satori?s sake.

Koishi winced at Sango?s words. She took one look back into the hallway as the approaching crowds grew ever louder. When she turned back to Sango, her eyes were quivering.

?I swear...if you even THINK of dying, I?ll never forgive you!?

Koishi practically pushed herself through the doorway, the rest of the Sirens following behind. Many of them shot glances at the two youkai, looks of fear or pity; only Satori seemed at peace, giving Jozu one final nod before vanishing into the throne room.

As the last Siren passed through, Jozu?s strength reached her limits. She lost her grip on the crank, and immediately the doorway slid shut again. It slammed closed with a horrendous thump.

?Phew.? Jozu brushed her hands together. ?Man, that thing was heavy.?

Sango didn?t answer. She still seemed unsettled, hands opening and closing as she looked out at the hallway. The first few fishmen were arriving now, approaching tentatively, puzzled as to where their bounty had escaped to.

Jozu sighed. ?You two are an item, aren?t you??

Sango practically exploded. ?How did you- I mean, is this even the time for-?

?You mean a lot to her, right?? The shark lowered herself into a fighting stance. ?She?d really hate it if you died here.?

The dolphin?s eyes lost focus as Jozu?s statement washed over her. Slowly, confidence began to return to her, her posture straightening as she matched Jozu?s stance. She was channeling the same passion that drove Jozu - the desire to survive not for her own sake, but for someone else?s. That power would carry her further than any selfish goal ever could.

Good thing, too, Jozu thought. I could use some dependable backup.

The room filled up with fishmen, all searching for Sirens that weren?t there. With their prey nowhere to be seen, they soon descended on the two leftovers, a hundred of them charging at once.

?Bet I can take out more of them than you,? Sango said.

?You?re on.?

In unison, the two youkai hurled themselves into battle.

-----

As the door slammed shut behind her, Koishi felt as if she had crossed a point of no return. There was no handle on the other side of the door, and the wood was thick enough to stop any outside noise from getting in. From where she was standing, Sango and Jozu may as well have been on the other side of the planet.

She placed one hand on the door. Half of her wanted to draw her sword and rip it to shreds; the other half knew all that would do was make Sango?s efforts meaningless. She stared into the solid wood, as if it would somehow allow her to look through it.

For the first time, the other Sirens allowed themselves to stop. They gathered in a semicircle around Koishi, too far to reach her, but close enough that she could feel their sentiments. Satori stepped forward, placing a hand on Koishi?s shoulder. No-one said so much as a word.

At last Koishi exhaled, letting all her doubts and fear ooze out of her. There would be a time to fear for them, but not now. She still had one last duty to fulfill. She turned neatly on the spot and began slowly walking down the corridor, her fellow Sirens following on behind her.

The throne room was ornate and elegant, silken rugs running across the floor and precious gems ingrained in the walls. Fish-shaped mosaics watched her from every side as she approached the room?s main attraction - a golden throne, at the top of a small staircase, crowned with a shimmering stone. Seven Teardrop-shaped indents were carved into the rock, and it hummed as the Sirens drew closer.

Leviathan sat calmly in her chair, back straight as she looked down on her enemies. She wore a black dress that billowed freely in the water like an extra set of appendages. Even from here, she radiated an aura of immense power.

?So you?ve arrived.? Leviathan looked towards Koishi as she stroked her chin. ?I admit, seeing you here is something of a surprise. I was sure that blow should have killed you.?

?I?m tougher than you think.? Koishi drew a golden line in the water, her sword flashing into existence as she clutched at its hilt. ?We?re here to finish what you started, Leviathan.?

?Are you now?? The youkai smirked, leaning forward in her chair. ?Forgive me if I?m not that frightened. I?m older than all seven of you put together, and you think you can-?

Before she could finish the sentence, Sakuya stepped forward and flung a card towards the throne. It burst into a dozen knives, each of them aimed at one of Leviathan?s vital spots. Leviathan?s face didn?t even falter - she waved her hand, and an arc of lightning burst out of her body. The knives flew off in random directions, none of them even coming close to their target.

?How rude.? Leviathan frowned. ?Didn?t your mother teach you not to interrupt??

?Sorry.? Sakuya stuck her nose up. ?It?s just that my ears hurt whenever you open your mouth.?

The youkai didn?t even respect that with an answer. ?And what about you, Satori? Yesterday you were my loyal subject, and today you?ve come to kill me in my own home. I had no clue you humans could be so quick to change their allegiance.?

?I still hold true to my beliefs, Leviathan.? Satori shook her head, stepping beside Koishi and brandishing her saber. ?But I?ve found out you?re not the woman I thought you were. If the youkai are to live in peace, maniacs like you need to be put in their place.?

?Me? A maniac?? Leviathan?s laugh brought the currents roaring around her. ?Oh, human, you couldn?t be more wrong. I?ve just been trying to end the war no youkai was brave enough to fight - the war to put you wretched humans in your place.?

?No-one?s fighting it because it isn?t worth fighting.? Mokou was the next to step forward, her hands curled into fists. ?We know why you?re mad, but vengeance isn?t gonna solve anything. All it?ll do is put other people through the same crap you?ve had to suffer.?

??Sides, no matter what your reasoning is, a crime?s a crime.? Komachi rested the barrel of the Titanic on her shoulder. ?All your talk of saving the youkai means nothing if you?re gonna kill people for it.?

Leviathan?s humour quickly left her, replace with dry sarcasm. ?Surely this is a joke. You?re not actually trying to reason with me now, are you? After you?ve destroyed the Mindcoil, one of my finest creations, and torn my private army to shreds??

?It?s never too late to make a change.? Youmu?s ghostly form moved alongside her, nodding in sync. ?If you know you?re in the wrong but you press on anyway, you may as well have given up.?

?And you owe it to the people that have died,? Nazrin added, the last of the Sirens to advance. ?All your allies and enemies - you owe it to them to put an end to this.?

Koishi could feel her friends? conviction echoing in her mind. Deep down, she knew there was little hope of reaching Leviathan with their words - but they owed it to themselves to try.

?Please, Leviathan,? she said. ?Come with us peacefully. We don?t have to fight.?

The youkai stared at Koishi in disbelief, the offer of peace the first thing to leave her lost for words. She slumped back onto her throne, sinking into thought for a few seconds.

?...You?re right,? she said quietly. ?We don?t have to fight.?

Koishi?s eyes brightened. ?Then you?ll-?

?You?ve already given me everything I need.?

Leviathan?s mouth curled into a twisted smile. She clicked her fingers, and a magic circle shone to life underneath the rug. Koishi felt unseen hands grabbing at her feet, pinning her against her will to the floor.

?What the-?

Before she could finish, another hand burst out from the ground and snatched at her neck. Koishi leaned backwards, but the hand followed her movements precisely. Its cold, dead fingers ripped away her Teardrop, carrying it towards the throne in victory.

Moments later, six more hands emerged from the circle to rob the other Sirens. Mokou and Youmu made to strike the spirits, only for their blows to pass through harmlessly. Within seconds, all seven Teardrops had been stolen from their owners.

?Master!? Nazrin cried out as she watched her Teardrop drift away, taking Shou along with it. Leviathan let out a wicked cackle, her voice echoing endlessly through the water.

?Many thanks, girls. I don?t know why I even bothered searching for the Teardrops - you?ve saved me the trouble by bringing them right here.?

The seven stones hung above the throne, the hands that carried them fading into nothing. Leviathan casually rose from her seat, picking up the first Teardrop and slotting it into place.

?Oh, you are kiddin? me!? Komachi fired the Titanic straight at Leviathan?s chest - like Sakuya?s attempt, a bolt of lightning casually deflected it. The two Sirens did their best to stop the youkai, but nothing they did so much as fazed her.

?Impressive, aren?t they?? Leviathan drew out the entire process, savouring every moment the Sirens struggled in vain. ?So much power contained in seven tiny stones. But have you ever wondered why the Teardrops exist??

?Why else?? Mokou grabbed at the rug, tearing away a scrap and trying to rub away the engravings underneath. ?So we could wipe the floor with scumbags like you!?

Beside her Youmu was cutting up the carpet in a similar manner, with a nigh-identical lack of success. Nazrin was frozen to the spot, the absence of her master catching her entirely by surprise. Satori examined her surroundings, looking for anything she could use as a prop to pull herself away.

?You humans are so unimaginative.? Leviathan sighed, shaking her head as she twirled a Teardrop between her fingers. ?You think artifacts like this exist solely so you could play about as heroes? No, there?s a much more meaningful purpose to the Teardrops, one even your masters were hopelessly unaware of.?

She clicked the fourth Teardrop into place, still bearing the weight of the barrage Sakuya and Komachi were forcing onto her. Koishi tried to dig her sword into the ground and pull herself up with it, only for her sword to become jammed for her trouble. The circle?s light was starting to fade, but it would still take far too long for it to die out completely.

?What are you talking about?? Satori?s eyes lit up with scorn. ?You told me the Teardrops would help the youkai win the war!?

?Oh, they will, Satori,? Leviathan said, slipping in the fifth Teardrop. ?You see, the Teardrops serve as a seal of sorts. On their own they?re already powerful, but with all seven combined they can tap into a dimension separate from ours.?

?And why the hell would anyone wanna do that?? Komachi asked, rapidly reloading her gun. ?Fiddling with other dimensions generally isn?t a good idea.?

The youkai smirked. ?This dimension in particular has only a single resident. An old work of mine that I?ve been quite desperate to get back. The higher-ups locked it up just because it was too good at its job. Ridiculous, isn?t it??

Koishi felt a rock forming on the bottom of her stomach. Yukari?s words echoed in her head again, this time with clarity.

Please, Koishi. I need the Sirens to finish what I couldn?t.

She felt the pieces clicking into place. At the time she had thought Yukari was talking about the war, but the truth was something much simpler than that. Something much, much more dangerous.

?You mean...? her throat felt dry, barely able to get the words out. ?You mean the Ravager, don?t you??

The name alone struck a chord in the hearts of her allies; Mokou, Youmu and Komachi visibly tensed, and Sakuya and Nazrin went pale. Satori raised an eyebrow, the only person in the room unfamiliar with the term.

?I hate when you humans call it that,? Leviathan said. She made a deliberate point of forcing the sixth Teardrop in, practically stabbing it into place. ?Its name is 46. Always has been, always will be. I won?t demean my work with that slur of a name.?

?...You?re serious, aren?t you?? For once, Sakuya had nothing to offer in the way of quips, simply looking at Leviathan in awe. ?That creature nearly destroyed every living thing on earth, and you want to bring it back??

?Yukari couldn?t handle its power.? She snarled out the name as if it had burned her mouth. ?She couldn?t commit to her decision. She told it to kill the humans, then stopped it before its work was done. But me?? She jabbed a thumb into her chest. ?I?m different. I won?t rest until the human race has been wiped from the face of the earth.?

Slowly, dramatically, she picked the seventh Teardrop from its spot in front of her. She twirled around on the spot, ready to insert the final seal at any moment. ?And now, the moment of truth. I?ve waited centuries for this...?

Koishi wanted to scream. She couldn?t let this happen, but she had no way of stopping it. She reached out as far as she could, yelling at the top of her lungs. ?It?s not worth it, Levi! It won?t bring your family back!?

The room fell horribly silent. Leviathan lowered her hand, letting go of the Teardrop. As she turned back towards the Siren, her face had lost all expression.

?I thought I told you not to play psychoanalyst, human.?

Koishi shook her head. ?What happened to you was horrible, but killing won?t do anything to put your parents? souls at peace.? Her whole body was trembling, but she did all she could to hide it. ?You?re making a terrible mistake, Leviathan. Please, for all of our sakes-?

?Shut up!?

The youkai?s face warped into a look of fury, swinging a bolt of lightning in the Siren?s direction. Koishi barely jerked her head to the side to dodge the attack. She felt the hairs on her cheek begin to sizzle.

?You think you?re so much better than me, don?t you?? Now Leviathan was making no attempt to hide her anger, teeth clenched as she squeezed her hands into fists. ?You think that after I?ve put thousands of years of my life into bringing back my masterpiece, you can win me over with a few wise words? God, that?s just the sort of ego I hate in you humans!?

She snatched up the Teardrop again. ?I?m going to enjoy watching 46 tear you apart, human. More than you can imagine.?

Koishi?s composure crumbled, and as she reached out again she fell into full-fledged panic. ?Levi, no! I?m begging you, don?t do it!?

Leviathan smiled cruelly. ?Beg all you like, human. I?m not listening.? With a grand flourish, she brought the final Teardrop up to the stone-

Click.

And put it in its proper place.

-----

Waiting.

All It could remember was waiting. The passage of time was relentless and untrackable. It may have been here for decades, centuries, even more. There was no way to tell. All It could do was wait.

There were no walls, no ceiling. In the infinite distance, a thousand bloodshot eyes continued to peer at their prisoner. They screamed with new voices every time, the voices of Its countless victims. Perhaps this prison had been designed to bring about some sort of guilt. In that regard, the plan had failed entirely.

It paid no mind to its surroundings. Once they had seemed new, fresh, even interesting to It. Yet even the most bizarre environments could grow routine given enough time. A weaker mind would have been broken by the ordeal, but the only weakness It struggled with was boredom.

It had been created with a single purpose; to bring the kingdom of man to its knees. It had achieved that duty admirably until Its former masters had lost the will to follow through. Now It had been imprisoned for nothing more than doing Its job, in a jail that would have driven any other creature utterly insane.

Fantasy had been Its escape. For eons It had imagined Its vengeance, envisioning the traitors being torn apart limb by limb. It had reveled in Its retribution, playing out every killing method It could come up with. Every possibility had been considered and serialised - It had even made a list of which ones It wanted to test first.

But for what felt like forever those plans had only been a distant daydream, something It would focus on simply to pass the time. There was nothing else for It to do or think about.

Just waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Until today.

The shaking was like nothing It had witnessed before. The world itself was trembling, the eyes looking at each other in horror. The screams grew louder, thousands of them interlapping into a cacophonous dirge. A single crack formed in the purple horizon, splintering out gradually to encompass the entirety of the prison.

The world It had been trapped in was dying.

At first, It could only feel disbelief. How could this be? It had thought this prison was eternal; if It could not have defeated these bonds, who could have? But those thoughts soon gave way once It realised the scale of what was happening.

It would be free. Free to complete Its duty. Free to do what It pleased. Free to kill however It saw fit.

As the world shattered around It, all It could do was laugh.


-----

The earth rumbled beneath the Sirens. Koishi jerked upwards as the magic circle dissipated, its energy spent. The stone containing the Teardrops began to tremble, shuffling through the seven colours of the rainbow in time with the gems. Debris fell from the ceiling, the whole room threatening to collapse under the sheer power of the spell.

?Congratulations, humans!? Leviathan seemed unaware of any of this, her arms outstretched in wonder as she watched the stone rise from the throne. ?You are the first to witness the rebirth of the greatest killing machine the world has ever known!?

From within the stone came a bloodcurdling shriek, a million souls crying out at once. Koishi grabbed her ears, her heart set to explode in her chest. She watched on as the rock jerked about in the air, kicked around by an unseen force.

As the screaming reached its peak, the stone ruptured. A black ooze seeped out from within, dripping down the surface and onto the floor. The voices died out, and the sealing stone started to crumble as its contents were spewed onto the rug.

The ooze stirred, moving as a collective as it reshaped itself into a more concrete form. A sleek humanoid frame composed itself from the slime, ten feet tall and half as wide. Its body was encased in an insect-like carapace, two razor-sharp blades attached to its forearms. Every inch of its body was perfectly formed, designed for a single murderous purpose.

But most frightening of all was its face. Four red lights served as its eyes, none of them showing any hint of emotion. Three rows of teeth ran along both of its jaws, perpetually locked in a crippled smile. There were no other features to distract Koishi?s gaze, making its twisted expression stand out even more.

?What is that thing?? Satori put a hand to her mouth, looking ready to vomit.

?Two words,? Komachi said, already priming the Titanic. ?Big trouble.? She fired off a shot into the creature?s chest. The Ravager made no attempt to stop the attack - in fact, it ignored the oncoming bullet entirely. The shot struck it clean, only to bounce off with a pathetic plink.

?That...? Youmu and her ghost half looked at each other in concern. ?That doesn?t bode well.?

Even after the attack the creature made no attempt to approach the Sirens; it glowered at Komachi for a moment, but seemed to lose interest as it dismissed her as harmless. Its head twisted around its neck with a horrible crack, spinning a full circle as it took in its surroundings.

...Where am I?

Koishi grabbed at her head, a voice echoing within her ears. No, not just any voice, her voice. The Sirens around her reacted similarly, the Ravager?s thoughts shoved straight into their brains.

?46...? Leviathan slowly stepped forward, arms held out as if she was set to embrace the creature. ?I've done it...I've done it!?

The Ravager looked down on the youkai, its expression unchanging. Koishi wasn?t sure if it could change at all, or if the only reaction it could convey was that broken smirk. Neither possibility seemed very comforting.

You. The Ravager?s eyes flickered. I remember you. You were the scientist.

Leviathan?s eyes lit up. ?Oh, I don?t believe it! You still remember me after all this time.? She wrapped her arms around the creature?s waist, reaching up to get a proper grip. ?My dear little 46, you?re just like I remember you!?

Koishi coiled backwards at the sight of their embrace. She couldn?t believe that anyone could treat something so cruel with such affection. The Ravager itself made no attempt to respond, standing motionless and staring into space.

?Don?t worry, dear, everything?s going to be fine.? Leviathan nuzzled her face against the creature?s stomach. ?I?ll bet you?ve been looking forward to this as much as I have, haven?t you??

Reluctantly, the Ravager nodded. ...Indeed. It?s been a long time since I had a chance to do my duty.

?Well, you won?t have to worry about that any more.? Leviathan was speaking affectionately now, like the Ravager was her own child. ?Together, the two of us will wipe out the rest of those filthy humans-?

Her speech was interrupted by the Ravager thrusting its hand through her chest.

?Hhhk-?!?

Leviathan?s eyes jumped open, the colour rapidly fading from her skin. Koishi could see the Ravager?s hand emerge from out of the youkai?s back, tearing through bone and muscle with ease.

?46...? As the initial shock dissipated, Leviathan grabbed at her creation?s arm, staring up at it in hysteria. ?Why...?? Her eyes rolled backwards, her body letting out one final breath before finally going limp in the water.

The water around her turned an ominous shade of red.

?It...? Nazrin raised an incredulous finger, tail swishing wildly. ?It just...?

Koishi lurched backwards, the moment locked into her mind. Her heartbeat rose to a fever pitch, ready to give out at any moment. Without thinking, she reached out to grab at Satori?s hand.

...Hm. Disappointing. The Ravager pulled its arm back, giving the Sirens a clear view of the hole it had left in Leviathan?s chest. These creatures are much more frail than I remember. It nudged the body aside, the youkai drifting off to a distant corner of the room. There was no question as to whether she was still alive.

?You...? Koishi grabbed at her neck, her whole body heavy with disgust. When she found her voice, she was screaming at the top of her lungs. ?How could you?! ?

The Ravager twisted its neck around to face the Siren, its bulbous eyes burning into her. You puzzle me, human. What is so bewildering about a creature serving its purpose?

?But she wasn?t even going to hurt you! She was your master, wasn?t she? And you...? Koishi wanted to scream and cry all at once, looking towards the broken body of Leviathan. ?You murdered her!?

The Ravager closed its eyes, casually wiping the blood off of its hand. Last time, I was thwarted because my former allies turned against me. I will not allow that mistake to happen again.

?What?s that supposed to mean?? Satori stomped forward, her anger a perfect facsimile of her sister?s. ?So you?re going to kill the youkai too, just in case they get in your way??

Precisely. The creature brought up one of its blades, its edge glinting in the dying light. I can trust nothing other than myself, and nowhere in my programming was I told to preserve youkai life. It is the only logical option.

Koishi turned towards her sister, the same flames flickering in both their eyes. They couldn?t let this creature loose.

?You leave us no choice, then,? Satori said, pointing her saber at the beast. ?For the sake of the youkai - no, for the sake of everyone, we can?t let you leave.?

Oh? The Ravager laughed, its voice echoing in the darkest recesses of Koishi?s head. You are aware I could kill all of you without any effort, aren?t you?

?He sort of has a point there,? Sakuya said, anxiously twirling a knife in one hand. ?We really aren?t equipped to fight this thing, and there?s no point in throwing our lives away.?

?But if we don?t fight it, who will?? Youmu was the first to berate her sister. ?We can?t run away and let this thing wreak havoc. This is what the Sirens were made for, Miyo.?

The maid winced, then finally let out a long sigh. ?You?re all insane. I?d just like to get that out there.? She primed her knife, holding her deck in her other hand. ?But if you?re going down, I guess I?m going down with you.?

?Good answer.? Komachi pointed the Titanic right at the Ravager?s head. ?As for me - well, you just killed a woman right in front of me, so I kinda have to make sure you get what you deserve. No hard feelings or anything.?

The Ravager tilted its head at the show of bravery. So you admit you?re likely to perish, and yet you still choose to face me? You humans truly are bizarre.

?There?s nothing bizarre about it,? Mokou said, raising her fists. ?We?re just doing our job, same as you. It?s just that our job is making sure that you can?t do yours.?

Six of the seven Sirens had stepped forward. Only Nazrin hung behind, still seemingly in shock over Shou?s sudden disappearance. Steam hissed out of the pistons at her neck in time with her breathing.

?...You?re the reason all of this happened,? she whispered. ?Everything - the Sirens, the fire, master?s death - it was all to bring you back. I lost everything just so you could tear the planet apart.?

The Cardinal Rods formed in her hands, and she held them in a rigid cross. ?I?ve had it with this goddamn war. You?re not taking anything else from me, you understand??

Koishi nodded along with Nazrin?s sentiment. Her words echoed the thoughts of her allies - this war had pushed all of them to their limits and beyond. Now they would either end it, or they would die trying.

?Ravager. 46. Whatever you call yourself.? Koishi moved forward to lead the Siren formation. ?We?re here to end what Yukari Yakumo started in the War of Cataclysm.? She brandished her blade, ready to charge at a moment?s notice. ?Prepare yourself!?

The Ravager?s eyes stopped on the tip of Koishi?s sword, showing a faint glow of curiosity. Interesting. I suppose you?ll make a good warmup, if nothing else.

It stomped one foot into the ground, and the earth trembled beneath its might. It opened its mouth, a guttural roar echoing through the water.

Come then, humans! The voice screamed in Koishi?s head, as if her own subconscious was goading her on. Let?s see which of you will be the first to die!

-----

Next Week's BGM: Calling That Detestable Name

FinnKaenbyou

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Dolphin Rider Koishi - The Final Battle (Part 1)
« Reply #631 on: November 17, 2013, 09:34:58 AM »
Koishi charged into the fray, sword held high above her head. Before she could make it into range, she saw a red bullet fly past her shoulder.

?Eat this!? Mokou?s wings fluttered behind her as she broke ahead of her companions. She landed right at the Ravager?s feet, using her momentum to fuel a deadly uppercut at the beast?s chin.

Well, well. The Ravager brought an arm up to block the incoming punch. It looks like we have a volunteer.

The youkai quickly focused its attention on the phoenix, taking her on in a bare-knuckle fight. Both sides threw reckless hooks at the other, with Mokou swerving around everything thrown at her.

Koishi had no choice but to hang back. The pair were moving around too much for her to join in - if she attacked, she was as likely to hit Mokou as she was to hit the enemy. Youmu and Satori faced a similar dilemma, stepping around the monster in case an opening appeared. Komachi took the odd shot at the creature?s head, but it weaved away without any visible effort.

I can?t just sit back, Koishi thought. I?ve got to help her!

?Tides of Doubt!? Stretching an arm forward, Koishi willed her third eye open and caught the Ravager in its embrace. She let her thoughts pour into its mind, bogging the creature down to slow its movements.

...Eh?

Koishi blinked. She could feel her thoughts digging into the Ravager?s subconscious, but they seemed to have no effect. Its reactions were as sharp as ever, still keeping up with Mokou?s break-neck pace.

?Satori, what?s going on?? Koishi stepped backwards, twirling the blade in her hand. ?My powers aren?t doing anything.?

?Me neither.? The valkyrie clenched her jaw. ?I?m trying to read its mind, but it?s thinking too fast for me to follow.?

?Too fast??

Satori?s brow furrowed. ?It?s not like a human brain - it?s too quick and efficient for that. It?s more like a computer, juggling millions of calculations in a matter of seconds. There?s no way we can keep up with it.?

?Thanks for the good news, Satori-san!? Mokou growled through clenched teeth, blocking a haymaker meant for her head. ?You?re giving me real great moral support here!?

Koishi bit her lip. Mokou?s punches hit their target, but most of them seemed to have little effect. Occasionally the Ravager would stumble or falter, but Mokou had barely managed to make a dent in the creature?s armour. She?d tire herself out long before winning the fight at that rate.

?Nazrin-san!? Koishi yelled. ?See if you can figure out how to hurt this thing!?

?On it!? Nazrin nodded, her visor flashing green as it began its analysis. A progress bar began to slide along it at a gradual rate. All they needed now was to buy some time for her to finish her work, and-

Fun, The Ravager said. But primitive.

It sent in another jab for Mokou?s face. Like every one before, Mokou weaved forward to respond with her own counterattack.

Before she could strike, the Ravager?s foot slammed into her knee.

?Ghaaah-!? Mokou lurched backwards, the low blow taking the fist-fighter entirely off guard. Her leg flopped about, bending in a manner human bones weren?t designed for.

The setup. The Ravager raised an arm, aiming its blade for Mokou?s neck. And now, the execution-

?Stop right there!?

Youmu rode to the rescue, her ghost half helping her to attack the Ravager from both sides. The creature was pulled away before it could finish the job, devoting one hand to each of Youmu?s forms.

Mokou pulled herself away, desperately flailing through the water with her arms. Her leg still hung limp behind her, agony locked on her face.

?Mokou-san!? Koishi swam up to Mokou, carrying her to the rear of the group. ?Are you alright??

?Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!? Mokou grabbed at her shattered leg, only to promptly jerk her hands back with a grimace. ?Jesus, no-one told me we were fighting fucking Superman!?

?Not exactly a poet, is she?? Komachi bit her lip as she looked down at the phoenix. ?That leg looks pretty busted. I get the feeling she won?t be walking for a while.?

Koishi gulped. One strike had been enough to put Mokou completely out of contention. They?d have to be careful if they wanted any chance of getting out of this alive.

Luckily, caution was something Youmu knew her way around. She held the Ravager at bay with an airtight flurry of blows, her ghost half stopping it from retreating. The creature?s fighting style changed to match hers, its strikes much more quiet and subdued than when it was fighting Mokou.

?Can she take it?? Satori asked, still lingering near the battle, searching for a way in.

?Let?s not take the time to find out,? Sakuya answered. She broke into a dash, coming to a stop behind Youmu?s ghost half. Four cards hung between her fingers, and she threw them at the beast in a tightly-cut arc. With a flash they turned into a dozen knives, passing straight through the spirit and reaching their target.

Nngh-! The Ravager tensed as the daggers struck it, but none of them were powerful enough to puncture its armour. It let out a small chuckle as it fended off both Youmu and her spectre. Not bad. I see you humans can think outside the box.

?So it?s working?? Sakuya smiled, drawing another hand of cards. ?Then you won?t mind if I do it again-?

Unlike your companion here.

The Ravager stomped a foot into the ground, causing the floor itself to quake. Koishi stumbled forward, grabbing at the rug for support, but Youmu got the worst of it - her stance was completely offset, leaving her wide open for an attack.

Your style is graceful, but textbook. The creature swung. You bore me, human.

Youmu haphazardly pulled her swords around to block the attack, but her blades were caught in an awkward angle. The Ravager?s slash caught one just below the hilt, slicing the steel clean off the handle.

?Ah-? Youmu stared at the broken sword in dismay. Her eyes popped open, torn between dismay and disgust. That hesitation was long enough for the Ravager to slash again - this time, aiming straight at the Siren?s neck.

?YOUMU!?

Time crawled to a halt as Sakuya threw her arms out. She ran across the length of the hall, grabbing her sister by the waist and dragging her away. Koishi could only watch, the ticking of a clock echoing in her mind as Youmu was dragged out of the fray.

With a click of Sakuya?s fingers, time resumed its normal course. She knelt down beside her sister, one arm around her shoulder. ?You alright??

Youmu still had her eyes locked on her shattered sword. Koishi could see the doubt lingering in her expression, the gradual slackening of her shoulders. She shook it off, dropping the broken blade and tightening her grip on the other one.

?I?m fine, Miyo,? she said. ?Thanks for the save.?

?No problem. Just try not to do it again-? Halfway through her sentence, Sakuya clutched at her chest and fell forward. ?Nnngaaah!?

?Sakuya-san!? Koishi grabbed Sakuya by the shoulders, pulling her upright. ?What just happened? Are you okay??

Sakuya?s face had turned completely white, her breaths short and ragged. ?Pushed myself past my limit.? She pulled open her pocket watch, revealing that it had gone a few seconds past midnight. ?Heart stopped for a while. Body isn?t taking it very well.?

Youmu took her sister by the shoulders, their roles reversing in an instant. ?Miyo, you idiot! Stay with me!?

Koishi clenched her teeth, her eyes falling on Sakuya and Mokou in quick succession. She jerked her head around to look at Nazrin. ?Please tell me you?ve got somewhere with that analysis.?

?Just a second...? Nazrin watched as the last shard of the progress bar filled up. ?Alright, my readings are saying that the carapace is the primary form of protection. It?s much more vulnerable under that, so if we can just pierce through-?

A black bullet flew across the room, striking her in the face before she could finish. ?Kyaa!? The momentum sent her spiralling into the wall behind her in a cloud of dust.

?Nazrin-san!? Koishi quickly pulled the mouse out from the crater she?d left in her wake. Her visor had taken the brunt of the impact, but it had been shattered to pieces as a result. A single drop of blood ran down her forehead where a shard had lodged itself into her skin.

That?s enough out of you. The Ravager?s arm was outstreched, a hole in its palm still seeping with smoke. This time your precious visor won?t save you.

A second bullet fired from its hand, as quick and deadly as the first. Like the first, it was aimed squarely at Nazrin?s forehead.

Moments from impact, the bullet curved away from its target, lodging itself in the wall beside her.

?Hey, wise guy!? Komachi pulled her hand back, priming the Titanic in a firm grip. ?I?ll have you know I?m the sharpshooter around these parts.?

She fired another round at the Ravager?s chest, forcing the creature to dodge to the side. It fired back, and Komachi?s form flickered as she shifted a few feet to the side. By now she had attracted the creature?s full attention, pulling it away from the main group as she locked it in a high-speed gunfight.

Koishi could barely keep up with their pace. Komachi was moving at impossible speeds, but in spite of that the Ravager was keeping up with her. Intervening would only cause her to get in the way.

?We need a plan,? Koishi said, turning back to the group. ?Komachi-san?s buying us time, but if we want to get through that armour we need a strategy.?

?Like what?? Mokou growled, still seething from the pain in her leg. ?And why didn?t you ask this before the thing broke my fucking kneecap??

?She has a point,? Satori said, anxiously squeezing at the hilt of her blade. ?We?re already hurting pretty bad. If the Ravager catches Komachi-san, it?ll just be the two of us.?

?Then that?ll have to do.? Koishi nodded to herself. ?Satori, we?ve got to double-team it. I know it?s risky, but there?s no way either of us can take it alone.?

?What about...the knife?? Sakuya asked, still struggling to breathe. ?It?ll be strong enough to-?

?We can?t, Sakuya-san.? Koishi rubbed at her thigh, feeling Aptera hidden beneath her dress. ?If we use it, billions of people will-?

?And if we don?t, the Ravager kills every living thing on the planet.? Nazrin covered her face with one hand to stem the flow of blood. ?Whatever choice we make, it?s better than the alternative.?

?Then how are we meant to choose?? Koishi?s voice was stern, almost rock-solid. ?How are we meant to pick which race has to suffer??

That was enough to quell the argument. The other Sirens looked conflicted, but the dilemma clearly weighed just as heavily on their minds as it did on Koishi?s. There was no way they?d reach a consensus, no matter how much time Komachi bought them.

?You can start trying any time, y?know!? Komachi yelled, still working on making herself the focus of the Ravager?s attention. Occasionally one of her bullets would glance the creature, but its carapace remained unpierced.

Hm. Seems like typical ordinance won?t do the job. The Ravager grabbed at its wrist, eying Komachi with frutstration. If you want to see my best, I?ll be happy to deliver.

Komachi grimaced as the creature?s whole hand gave way, revealing a larger cannon hidden within its wrist. It took only a moment to charge up, a pale purple light the only sign of its activation.

You call that a gun? The Ravager?s eyes shone red. THIS is a gun!

Komachi was already dodging, but it didn?t matter. As the bullet struck the ground she had stood on, a massive explosion rocked the entire area. Even at her blazing speed Komachi couldn?t escape its blast radius, the fireball blowing her clean off her feet. She landed in a far corner of the room, steam still rising from her body, the Titanic falling from her hands and landing a dozen paces away.

Hm. You should be a pile of dust by now. The Ravager shook its head as it clicked its hand back into place. I?ll finish you later. For now, I have other business to attend to.

As it turned around, the Ravager faced Koishi with a manic glint in its eyes. That leaves you two. I felt you poking around in my mind earlier. It brought a hand up, stroking at its blade with a finger. Let?s see how well you fight without your cheap tricks.

Koishi?s blood felt like ice. She?d never seen an opponent so lacking in humanity, so full to the brim with killing intent. There was no doubt that given half a chance it would bring the world to its knees. This was their one chance to stop it.

Her hand fluttered over Aptera again. The temptation fluttered across her mind, a butterfly in an empty room. She would save everyone in one fell swoop.

No. She shook the thought away. That?s not saving anyone. It?s just changing the world for the worse.

She turned to Satori. The valkyrie looked toward her expectantly, as if waiting for a decision on the matter. Slowly, Koishi managed a nod, wielding her blade in both hands.

?This is it, Satori. Now or never.?

?Right.? Satori raised her saber, stepping to Koishi?s side. ?Let?s hope your faith isn?t misplaced.?

The sisters pushed forward in unison. Even without speaking, their actions were perfectly in sync. Not only were they siblings, but they?d fought each other before as enemies. Koishi knew everything Satori would do, and Satori knew everything Koishi would do. They made up for each others? weaknesses, leaving the Ravager no room for a counterattack.

Stab. Parry. Thrust. Koishi let herself fall into a trance, focusing on nothing but the battle. Thinking of the stakes would only unnerve her. Her senses felt razor sharp as she watched for cheap strikes like the one that had disabled Mokou. She had seen everything the Ravager had in its arsenal. Nothing could surprise her now.

This is more like it. The Ravager?s manic smile grew brighter. When was the last time humans pushed me this far?

Koishi ignored the thoughts lingering in her head. It was trying to distract her. She kept her mind on the fight, landing small hits to the Ravager?s side. Satori kept it busy on its other side, their blades passing by each other but never crossing. In a way their moves were as machine-like as their opponent?s.

I?m getting there. Koishi felt her hopes rising. Just a little more-

The Ravager moved abruptly, raising its arm upwards. It left itself entirely open to attack, as if to goad Koishi in.

The Siren only had a few instants to think it over. This was just the opening she needed, and it might never come again. Taking the risk was the only option. She brought her blade back, focusing all her strength on her next strike.

This is it. It all comes down to this-!

She swung with more strength than she?d ever had in her life. Channeled within that blow was every ounce of will and effort that Koishi had. She screamed as the blade crashed into the Ravager?s chest, forcing the creature to coil backwards.

As it fell away, she could see a line drawn along the carapace where she?d struck it. But there was no sign of a piercing.

What?! That wasn?t enough to-

The Ravager?s outstretched arm reached down, grabbing Koishi by the hair and tugging her in. The creature wrapped its other arm around her neck, spinning around to face Satori. The valkyrie froze mid-thrust, her sword stopping inches from Koishi?s eye.

Don?t even think about it, human. The creature squeezed at Koishi?s neck with gargantuan force, slowly choking the life out of her. Surely you wouldn?t sacrifice your own ally, would you?

Satori?s whole body quivered with fear. Koishi could see the conflict taking place behind her eyes, the cold ruthlessness clashing with her raw humanity. Gradually, her resolve began to drain away.

No, Satori! Koishi shook her head, unable to speak with the Ravager throttling her. Do it! Don?t worry about me!

The valkyrie continued to tremble, her eyes welling up with tears. ?D...Damn you...? She lowered her saber, cursing at herself as she gave in.

Good girl. The Ravager let go of Koishi?s hair, extending its palm and firing another black bullet. It caught Satori square in the chest, and the valkyrie howled in pain before crumpling to her knees.

Satori!!

Koishi flailed about in the Ravager?s grip, both hands tugging at its arm. The Ring of Breath was no use to her if she couldn?t breathe at all. Her chest ached, her body demanding oxygen that would never come.

It seems I?m done here. As Koishi?s world began to fade, all she could see clearly was the Ravager?s brilliant eyes. Fear not, humans; you are but the first of many. Know that I will not rest until the rivers run red with the blood of your kind!

Its laugh was a venom that slowly killed Koishi?s mind. She saw the vague outlines of her allies in the distance, their cries muffled as her senses began to dull. Once the Ravager was done with her, it would kill the rest of the Sirens. Then Sango and Jozu. Then Nitori, Momiji and Ran.

Then Gensouto. Japan. The world.

I?m sorry, everyone...

Her arm went limp, her hand resting just above her thigh. She could feel the shape of the metal hidden underneath, Aptera hanging just above the knee on her scar. Maybe if she?d been stronger, she?d have used the weapon as Yukari intended. But even with death staring her in the face, she couldn?t find it within herself to make that decision.

Darkness fell over Koishi. Then, silence.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2013, 09:43:43 AM by Rousaka Hiyoko »

FinnKaenbyou

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  • blub blub nya
Dolphin Rider Koishi - The Final Battle (Part 2)
« Reply #632 on: November 17, 2013, 09:35:20 AM »
?This is Aptera.?

A memory drifted into Koishi?s head, her life flashing before her eyes. Yukari looked up at her with heavy eyes, motioning at the dagger on the table.

?I?ve spent centuries crafting it, and it?s my greatest work. It draws from the power of the masquerade itself, a power stronger than anything I ever had in my time. It should be strong enough to vanquish any enemy you come across.?

There had been a hint of pride in her voice, Koishi recalled. She?d taken hundreds of years to craft a weapon that could correct her mistakes. And Koishi had squandered it.

...Wait.

The memory played in her mind over and over. With every repetition, the idea forming in Koishi?s dying brain grew ever clearer. She fumbled around in the darkness, grabbing at the handle of the knife.

As she felt it humming in her hand, she knew she had found her answer. The blade knew her intentions. It understood. And there was nothing to stop her.

That?s it!

Aptera?s blade began to shine, its light crossing through all the colours of the rainbow. With the last of her energy, she drew the dagger and stabbed it right into the Ravager?s torso.

The roar that followed brought all of her senses back to life.

NgraAAAAAAAAH!

The Ravager stumbled backwards, clutching its wound as it let go of Koishi. A black ooze seeped out from where Aptera had pierced the carapace, faintly pulsing with magical light. It froze in horror, looking at the injury as if it had never bled before.

?Haa, haa...? Koishi took a moment to catch her breath, then reached down to help Satori to her feet. ?You alright??

?Koishi, you...? Satori?s mouth hung open as she stood up. ?I thought you said we weren?t going to-?

?I did it, Satori.? Koishi?s chest puffed out as a second wind pumped through her. ?I found a way.?

?What?re you talking about?? Sakuya rose out of Youmu?s hands, still pale but strong enough to stand. "You can't produce that sort of power out of thin air."

?Remember what Yukari-san said?? Koishi answered. ?It channels the power of the masquerade. A worldwide enchantment that?s only become larger over time - how much power do you think there is in a spell like that??

Sakuya jerked her neck back in a rare display of shock. ?So...we?re fueling it with the masquerade itself??

Koishi nodded. ?It?s not very stable, but I?m pretty sure it?ll work. We just need to wear the Ravager down a little more, and-?

?Wait a minute.? Nazrin tugged the glass shard from her forehead, covering the wound with her palm. ?If you use the masquerade, doesn?t that mean the humans will remember magic??

Koishi nodded again, her expression unflinching.

?Isn?t that what we?re trying to avoid?? Mokou pulled herself upright with a flap of her wings. ?Kawashiro-sensei kept saying that we?d-.?

?She?s wrong.? Koishi stabbed her sword into the ground, Aptera still twinkling in her other hand. ?We?re better than that, Mokou-san. Maybe we made our mistakes once, but we?ve moved on since then-?

?And is that a risk you?re sure you wanna take?? Komachi stumbled across the room, the Ravager too obsessed with its injury to even notice her. ?I mean, if you?re wrong, we?d be doing just as much damage to the world as the Ravager would.?

Koishi took a long, deep breath. She could feel her companions? eyes boring into her, searching for the conviction to go along with her claims. They wanted proof she had thought this through, that it wasn?t another whimsical show of naivety.

Well, if they wanted conviction, Koishi was happy to deliver.

?Kawashiro-sensei thinks we?re evil by nature. That without some guiding hand to keep us in check, we?d rip ourselves apart and take everyone else down with us.? She looked across the crowd, eyes stopping on everyone in order. ?But how many of you really think that? How many people have we seen who?ve just been lost or misled? Are we really as cruel as she thinks we are??

The Sirens fell silent. Koishi could see the first hints of understanding rising to their faces - a nod here, a smile there.

?Maybe I?m being optimistic. Maybe we really will ruin everything if we get our magic back. But what are our other options?? She smacked her sword into the ground again to punctuate her point. ?Either the humans suffer, or the youkai suffer. But with the masquerade gone, both sides will be on even ground. It?ll be a chance to start again and build together as equals.?

She held Aptera out to the other Sirens. ?But I can?t make that world alone. Please, just this once - I need all of you to believe in me.?

Everyone?s eyes turned down to the knife. Koishi kept her face straight, but her insides felt like they were on fire. If she couldn?t convince her allies, who could she convince?

?...So you?re truly willing to stake the world on your beliefs?? Satori said, her voice careful and neutral. ?Even knowing that billions could die if your faith is unfounded??

Koishi looked up at her sister, meeting the valkyrie?s eyes. Slowly, powerfully, she nodded. Almost instantly, Satori?s expression melted into something more serene.

?You really are something, Koishi.? She shook her head, as if chastising herself, then placed her hand over Koishi?s. ?Well, if it means the youkai won?t have to hide anymore, I?ll gladly go along with it.?

Koishi?s heart felt like it was floating in her chest. She opened her mouth to thank Satori, but she never got the chance.

?Count me in, too,? Mokou said, placing her hand on top of Satori?s. ?I always had a feeling the kappa was full of crap, anyway.?

?Make that three,? Sakuya said, adding her hand to the center. ?I know I?ll regret this later, but let?s just run with it.?

?Wherever Miyo goes, I?ll follow.? Youmu squeezed at her sister?s hand. ?You have my support, Koishi-san.?

Komachi chuckled as she added her hand to the mix. ?Freedom and justice for humans and youkai...think it?s got a nice ring to it.?

Nazrin was the last to offer her hand, looking up to the distance as she did. ?Master...this is what you?d want, right? Wherever you are, I hope this makes you proud.?

Koishi felt like she was flying. She could feel the wills of her friends seeping through their hands and into Aptera. The dagger crackled, summoning up a magical force unlike anything she?d ever felt before.

?Everyone... thank you.? Her eyes misted up as she bobbed her head up and down. She couldn?t have asked for better allies.

You...

The voice in her head was quiet, almost trembling in Koishi?s head. She turned around to see the Ravager taking its first steps forward, finally pulling its eyes away from the injury.

How DARE you!? Its voice split into two, one side murmuring in horror while the other fumed with rage. A human, of all things, is the first creature to harm me? How is this even possible?!

Koishi raised her sword upwards, the Sirens fanning around her. ?Listen up, Ravager! As long as we?re here, you?re not going to lay a finger on our world! We?re going to finish what Yukari Yakumo started all those years ago, and wipe you from the face of the earth!?

Yakumo? The creature spasmed, almost retching at the sound of the name. The human who mocked me is one of Yakumo?s lackeys? It screamed, terrifying and pitiable all at once. I will not stand for this disgrace! I?ll cut you to ribbons and bathe in your blood!

The Ravager raced forward like a bull seeing red. It raised a bloodstained hand, its sword?s edge already primed for Koishi?s neck.

?This is it, everyone.? Koishi brought up her own blade, Aptera hanging ready in her off-hand. ?Get ready!?

As the Ravager swung forward, Koishi parried the strike with ease. She spun around to the creature?s side, Aptera raised for another stab. The creature had to knock her away with an ungraceful side kick, treating the dagger as the largest threat.

It?s not going to let me close, Koishi thought. We need to whittle it down first.

She brought her hand forward, her third eye popping open. ?Tides of Doubt!? Again, the aura drifted over her opponent. This time, though, its subconscious had been drastically altered, murmurings of indignation keeping it from thinking straight. Leviathan had built her monster with one fatal flaw - she?d given it a personality, and now they?d hurt its pride it had given up on acting rational.

That was a weakness Koishi could exploit.

You won?t stand for this, she thought to herself, the words passing through into the Ravager?s mind. She humiliated you. You have to kill her now.

Before, her suggestions were too weak to have an effect on the monster. Now they piled on top of the thoughts already there, tipping the Ravager into outright madness.

You can?t run! Its voice was manic, almost delusional as it charged her again. I?ll chase you to the ends of the earth if I have to!

Before it could reach its goal, Mokou flew in to block the Ravager?s path. ?Sorry, bud. Road?s closed.?

The Ravager snarled, swatting at Mokou as if she were a fly. Out of my way, pest!

Mokou bobbed and weaved through the air, dodging each attack with a flap of her wings. She made no attempt to fight back, but with each failed swing the Ravager?s frustration only grew. For a moment, Koishi wondered what the phoenix was planning.

Her question was answered when she saw Komachi circling around the Ravager, priming the Titanic as she aimed for the chink in its armour.

?Mokou-san! Now!? The lawyer yelled, sending a bullet flying towards the monster?s weak point. The Ravager jerked its head about, and Koishi swore she heard it gasp. With precise reflexes, it leaped backwards to dodge out of the way of the bullet.

At the same time, Mokou threw herself into the projectile?s path. ?Inferno Gauntlet!? The jewels on her glove shone brilliantly, and as the bullet flew towards her she deflected it with a well-timed punch. The bullet?s velocity doubled, and its new trajectory sent it right back at its intended target. This time it was too fast for the Ravager to dodge, a sphere of raw energy slamming into its exposed abdomen.

NgrAAAAAAH! The Ravager howled, its armour splintering further under the impact. Beneath the jet black shell was a pulsing grey ooze, purple sigils floating about within. Droplets seeped out into the water, and the creature visibly shrank a few inches.

That?s it! We can do this!

Koishi continued her job of leading the Ravager away, making it focus solely on her. Even then it had enough awareness to avoid any straightforward attacks, forcing the other Sirens to show some creativity.

In Sakuya?s case, that involved throwing a few more knives than usual.

?Killing Doll!?

The maid threw her entire deck in one swing, hundreds of knives forming from them mid-flight. Mokou hung over the Ravager to keep it from escaping upwards, leaving it no choice but to take the barrage head-on.

This alone would have been little trouble. Where the problem occured was in the ghost that emerged in the midst of the wall of knives, her sword shining with a pale blue light.

?Konpaku Secret Technique - Hakurouken!?

With its attention focused on the knives, the Ravager didn?t notice Youmu?s ghost half until it was too late. The specter passed straight through, its blade digging into the Ravager?s side and drawing a bloody line across its waist.

GYAAAAAH! With its focus shattered, the Ravager was left wide open for Sakuya?s entire arsenal. Only a few knives managed to strike the exposed ooze, but the others left dents and cracks across its battle-bruised carapace. More of the ooze poured out from its wounds, and it shrank a whole head in size. Koishi saw the creature?s legs buckle - only for an instant, but it was the first sign of weakness the Ravager had shown.

This is impossible! The monster screamed, both to its enemies and to itself. No-one can defeat me! NO-ONE!

For an instant, Koishi?s heart shrank with pity. What a pathetic creature, only able to find joy in killing. It was a tragic relic of a bygone age - one that she had to put away for good.

?Everyone, keep it up! We?re almost there!? Koishi kept herself in close combat with the Ravager, waiting for a chance to land the killing blow. Her whole body begged for rest, but she swallowed down the pain as far as it would go.

You wretched human scum! The Ravager swung with both hands, smacking just above the hilt of Koishi?s sword. It flew out of her grip, lodging itself in the wall beside her. The creature raised its arm again, paying no mind to its defense as it brought down a blow that would break Koishi?s skull.

?Cardinal Rods!? Nazrin threw her weapons forward, spinning through the air like a shuriken. The projectile smacked into the Ravager?s wrist, causing its attack to break to the side. Koishi felt the blade tearing at the fabric of her dress, but it failed to strike anything vital.

?Satori-san!? The mouse yelled. ?You?re clear!?

?Got it!? The valkyrie rushed to her sister?s aid, Mjolnir?s edge crackling with lightning. Before the Ravager could pull its arm back, she lodged her sword right into the creature, burying it all the way up to the hilt.

Her eyes were solemn as she drew a rune along the handle. ?Rest in peace.?

Mjolnir?s lightning shot through the Ravager, burning it from the inside out. The creature screamed, swatting Satori away with its free hand. The valkyrie pulled back, but her sword remained buried within it. The armour crumbled away entirely, revealing a red jewel hidden within the monster?s chest.

?I?ve done all I can.? Satori pulled back, her only weapon out of her hands. ?It?s up to you now.?

Koishi nodded, knowing exactly what she had to do. She pulled her sword from the wall, readying herself as the Ravager shambled towards her.

tHiS...cAN?t...bE...HApPeNinG! The creature?s voice drifted in and out of focus, torn between hatred and horror. I...aM...iNVinCiBLe!

It raised both arms, bringing them down on Koishi with a mighty blow. Koishi stepped backwards, letting the Ravager?s blades dig into the ground beneath her.

This had better work!

Without hesitation, Koishi stepped forward onto the Ravager?s outstretched arm. She ran along to its elbow, bringing herself to the height of its exposed heart. Then she leaped forward, letting momentum do the rest.

?Hyaaaaaaaah!?

She dropped her sword mid-flight, wielding Aptera in both hands. The Ravager?s eyes darkened, realising its mistake an instant too late.

The dagger plunged straight into the heart of the beast, piercing clean through the jewel that held it together. Aptera flashed every colour of the rainbow, the whole palace shaking under its raw power.

Then came the pain.

?Hnnggk-!?

Koishi?s body was on fire. Aptera?s magic was melting through her nerves, ripping her open from the inside. It was drawing power from a source it hadn?t been built for, and Aptera had no way of containing it. The excess power flowed into the closest vessel it could find - Koishi herself.

?Koishi!? Satori cried out to her, the raw energy too strong for her to approach. The other Sirens gathered around, powerless to do anything but watch. Even their voices were tiny compared to the roaring inside Koishi?s skull.

nnOOoooOOO!! The Ravager?s body spasmed wildly, hands flailing to try and remove the knife from its chest. noT LIkE ThIS! i CaN?T dIE LikE tHIs!!

The rest of the Ravager?s armour crumbled apart, leaving only the grey goo hidden within. The ooze?s form caved in on itself, amassing in the ruby heart, trying to fill the crack Aptera had made in the jewel. Koishi felt the dagger slide backwards as the Ravager tried to push it away.

No! Koishi pushed back, putting all her remaining energy into keeping the dagger in place. You?re not coming back from this!

Koishi?s whole body felt like it was made of stone. Aptera itself was starting to fall apart, and the power surging from it only intensified. Her muscles screamed, the raw force of the masquerade flaying her from head to toe. It would be all too easy to give up now, to drop the knife and leave the job undone.

Koishi fought off the temptation, forcing herself to stay conscious. She was taking no chances with this. She watched as the Ravager?s last remnants began to quiver, the ruby?s cracks deepening as its push for freedom became truly desperate.

The pain was impossible, immeasurable, unbearable. But she endured.

This is our world! The thought echoed through her head, keeping her focus from faltering. And you?re not welcome here!

For a moment, the world flashed white. Koishi heard the faint sound of the ruby cracking open.

Then the light faded away, taking with it the Ravager?s dying screams.

The room was silent.

...It?s gone. Koishi was barely conscious enough to comprehend her victory. We did it.

Aptera turned into a fine dust in her hands, the weapon itself unable to withstand the force it had unleashed. The last trace of the Ravager was blown away by the currents, leaving no sign it had ever existed.

...I?m tired. With the enemy vanquished, Koishi?s exhaustion caught up with her at last. She flopped forwards in the water, her entire body hanging limp as her eyes slid shut.

?Koishi!? Satori?s voice pulled closer, and Koishi was vaguely aware of someone grabbing her shoulder. ?Wake up, dammit, wake up!?

Koishi?s brain chugged along at glacial speed as her body began to shut down. What was Satori so upset about? They had won, hadn?t they? Surely she could afford to take a little nap now that they had finished the job.

Yes, that was a good idea. She?d help herself to a nice, long sleep...

-----

?Koishi! Speak to me!?

Satori shook Koishi by the shoulders to no response. The Siren?s eyes were hazed over, unresponsive to Satori?s pleas.

?No good. She?s out cold.? Satori made a quick check of Koishi?s pulse, watching the slow but constant movements of her chest. Her body was bruised and battered, but nothing life-threatening jumped out at Satori.

The valkyrie let out a breath she didn?t realise she was holding in. Thank goodness. The last thing I need right now is for her to die on me.

The other Sirens pulled around her, looking in on their fallen comrade. They glanced at Koishi for a few seconds, momentary concern giving way to sighs of relief.

?What the hell was that?? Komachi clicked her fingers in front of Koishi?s eyes to no avail. ?What sort of lousy knife hurts the person using it??

?She did say it was unstable,? Youmu said, frowning. ?We?re probably lucky that she?s still breathing. The amount of energy that got pushed into her body must have been absurd.?

?And she still held on until the end?? Mokou managed a weak chuckle. ?Man, now I feel like a wuss for whining about a broken leg.?

Satori nodded. She could barely imagine how much pain Koishi had put herself through. It was hard not to be inspired by determination like that.

?Coming through!?

The door to the throne room flew open from the outside, a blast of wind almost knocking it off its hinges. Nitori was the first one to slip through, with Momiji and Ran close behind.

?The circle?s been taken care of,? Nitori said, still on edge as she looked around for a potential ambush. ?Where?s Leviathan??

Satori pursed her lips, looking to a far corner of the room. Leviathan?s body still hung in place, the water around her a murky shade of crimson.

?...I see.? Nitori stopped her scan, shaking her head as she looked in the corpse?s direction. ?A shame. She deserved a chance to repent for her crimes.?

?The fishmen are retreating,? Momiji said, poking her head out from the back. ?Sango-san and her shark friend are taking care of the stragglers right now. With their leader eliminated, they?re unlikely to be any sort of threat.?

So Jozu was alright after all. Satori had been expecting as much, but it was still good to know.

?So...? Nazrin fidgeted with her rods, voice rising in anticipation. ?Does that mean we won??

Nitori smiled. ?That?s right, Nazrin-san. It?s all over.? She turned to the crowd of Sirens. ?What about you? What?s up with Koishi-san? Is she-?

?Unconscious,? Sakuya said, before Nitori could draw the wrong conclusion. ?We?re not quite sure why or for how long.?

?Let me take a look.? Ran swam over to the fallen Siren, placing a hand over her forehead for a few seconds. The fox?s palm shone with a golden light as she nodded to herself.

?Hmmm...? Ran sucked in a breath. ?She?s fine physically, but her magic circuit has been quite thoroughly abused.?

?Magic circuit?? Satori asked.

?It?s like a bloodstream for magical energy,? Nitori said. ?Every living thing has one, but obviously human circuits don?t see a lot of use.?

?And your friend?s circuit has been put through a lot of punishment,? Ran continued. ?It?s only capable of the most basic functionality right now, and the rest of her body has shut down to cope with it. She?s unlikely to regain consciousness until the circuit repairs itself.?

?So how long will that take?? Sakuya asked. Ran could only shrug in response.

?It?s difficult to tell. It?ll depend on the level of treatment she gets, but this level of damage will definitely take at least a year or two to fix.?

Satori tensed. ?A year? Surely it can?t really be-?

Ran sighed. ?I?m sorry, human. There?s nothing I can do.?

The valkyrie felt tears forming in her eyes. She looked down at Koishi again, stroking her hair into place. Her sister looked like she was asleep, her eyes ready to snap open at any moment. It was bizarre to think that she would be trapped in that state for months on end.

?But still, I have to wonder.? Ran scratched at one of her fox ears. ?I?ve never seen a magic circuit this badly damaged. What did she do to herself to end up in this state??

As Satori opened her mouth to answer, she suddenly realised the gravity of Koishi?s actions. Aptera?s power had been enough to devastate Koishi?s body, but it had also changed the world at its very core. When they made it back to Gensouto, everything would have changed.

?That?s, uh...? Komachi rubbed at the small of her neck. ?That?s a long story. Anyone else wanna fill them in??

?Count me out,? Sakuya said, taking a step backwards. ?I?m still busy trying to get my head around it myself.?

The rest of the Sirens chimed in with similar shocked responses. The weight of what they had done was finally starting to dawn on them. Satori had to murmur the fact to herself under her breath before it really kicked in.

The masquerade is gone. Humanity remembers.

All at once, a thousand emotions welled up in her. Surprise that the world had changed so drastically in an instant. Curiosity over how the humans would react to this discovery. Fear that maybe Koishi?s optimism for the future had been misplaced. She felt paralysed, unable to move for the thoughts that weighed her down.

No. She shook her indecision away, forcing herself to stay strong. This is the world we all fought for. Now it?s our job to look after it.

?I?ll explain on the way,? she said, stepping forward and raising a hand. ?But first of all, we should get out of here. We have wounded to attend to.?

?I second that motion,? Mokou said, pointing at her broken leg. ?Not to be a damper or anything, but this still really hurts.?

Nitori?s eyes narrowed, but eventually she raised her hands in defeat. ?Fine. But why do I get the feeling I won?t like what you?re going to tell me??

?Trust me,? Satori said, grinning slyly as she carried Koishi towards the exit. ?You won?t.?

She went through the story from the beginning, explaining every detail in full. She made no attempt to sugar-coat the facts or dodge the blame. The Sirens had fundamentally changed how the world worked - before anything else, they had to claim responsibility for what they had done. After that - well, she wasn?t sure what came after that, but she would tackle it head-on.

After all, that was what Koishi would have done in her place.

?...And that?s what happened,? she said in conclusion. Nitori?s expression was blank, as it had been for the entirety of the story. The colour had faded from her face.

?Let me make sure I get this straight,? the kappa said, mouth hanging agape. Then, in an instant, she let out a savage roar. ?You did WHAT?!?

Satori rolled her eyes. This was going to be an interesting discussion...
« Last Edit: November 17, 2013, 09:43:57 AM by Rousaka Hiyoko »

Esifex

  • Though the sun may set
  • *
  • It shall rise again
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - Arc 8 (In progress - Sunday updates!)
« Reply #633 on: November 18, 2013, 04:07:30 AM »
Y'know, I had a dream about a week ago that I was DRK Komachi, using her distance magic to lock targets in place/course-correct the trajectory of her bullets.

...I was shooting cans, so it was sad that I had to cheat like that.

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
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  • blub blub nya
Dolphin Rider Koishi - Epilogue (Part 1)
« Reply #634 on: November 24, 2013, 10:19:55 AM »
?Nnh...?

Koishi stirred, slowly at first. Her body felt heavy and weak from lack of use. She rubbed at her eyes, waiting for the fog within her mind to clear.

Where am I? There was an unpleasant hole residing in her memory. She remembered the battle, the Ravager, the knife - then nothing. The thoughts felt distant, even though she swore it had only been a few minutes since the fight.

When her vision cleared, she found herself seated at a familiar table in the middle of nowhere.

?Good morning, Koishi-san.? Yukari Yakumo offered a round of applause, her clapping quiet but heartfelt. The youkai had made an effort to welcome in her guest, adding a tablecloth to her otherwise drab corner of the Boundary. ?It has been a while, hasn?t it??

Koishi blinked rapidly. ?Uh...has it?? She stuck her head with her palm, hoping the impact would knock a neuron or two to life. ?Sorry, my brain is feeling sort of fuzzy. I thought I was talking with you earlier today??

The youkai giggled, her laugh twenty years younger than the rest of her. ?Ah, right. I suppose that?s how it would have looked to you.? She reached forward, putting her hand on top of Koishi?s. ?I assume you?re rather lost right now.?

Koishi nodded. She couldn?t have summarised her thoughts any more succinctly than that.

?Well, first of all, you...hmm, how do I put this?? Yukari?s face scrunched up. ?Should I ease you into it, or would you prefer brutal honesty??

?The latter, please,? Koishi said. The sooner she had answers, the better.

?Oh, good. That?s much easier.? Yukari took a deep breath, her expression hardening. ?You?ve been in a coma for the last two years.?

Koishi blinked. ?Ah.?

?Honestly, you?re quite lucky it?s only been that,? Yukari continued, trying to excavate some sort of silver lining. ?The amount of raw energy you took in should have been enough to kill you three times over. I can only attribute your survival to sheer force of will.?

Koishi nodded along, but she still felt painfully numb. Two whole years of her life, gone in an instant. How much had changed while she was gone? What had happened to Satori, or the other Sirens? What about Sango, or Nitori, or -

?Wait.? Koishi?s mouth pulled open. ?The masquerade. Is it...gone??

Yukari slowly nodded, her smile fading to become something more solemn. ?I admit, I never considered using the masquerade itself to fuel Aptera. If nothing else, I have to compliment your creativity.?

The smile came apart entirely, giving way to a deep frown. ?However, I?m not sure if you truly grasp the consequences of your decision. You gave the knowledge of magic back to humanity, a race that had nearly destroyed the world with it centuries before. Nitori warned you dozens of times about the danger, and yet you decided to ignore her advice entirely.?

Yukari rose to her feet, her dress billowing about in an unseen wind. She let off an unimaginable aura of pressure, pinning Koishi to her seat. ?Explain yourself, Koishi-san. Why were you willing to risk the lives of every living thing on the planet? What gave you such undying confidence in the human race??

Koishi?s blood was flowing backwards. She understood now why Yukari had become the undisputed ruler of the youkai. It was hard simply to blink in her presence, let alone speak.

She only managed one word, but it was the only word she needed. ?Change.?

?Change??

Koishi nodded, her neck feeling stiff and rusted. Her speech grew louder and stronger as she managed to find her momentum.

?You?re right, Yukari-san. Human history is an ugly sight. We?ve done a lot of things we?re going to regret as a species. We?ve inflicted unimaginable damage to our world, to the youkai, and even to our fellow humans.?

She shook her head. ?But I don?t think those mistakes were out of cruel intentions. They were out of not knowing any better. And it?s only by making those mistakes that we can grow to become something more.?

Koishi felt herself coming to life as she spoke, Yukari?s power over her diminishing as she tapped into an inner reservoir of confidence.

?We?re not perfect, Yakumo-san. But we?re doing our best. And I think we?ve learned enough now that the disasters from before won?t happen again.? She rose out of her chair, hanging in the air as she met Yukari?s eyes. ?That?s my answer. I hope it?s good enough for you.?

Yukari was silent, taking another second to watch Koishi?s reactions. Koishi wondered what Yukari was looking for, what traits and thoughts the youkai meant to decipher from her eyes.

Whatever she was searching for, she found it.

?I see.? Yukari smiled again, leaning backwards into her chair. ?You are an interesting human, Koishi-san. You are idealistic, but your thoughts have a thorough grounding in reality.?

Koishi bowed forward. ?Thank you. I?ve been trying not to get carried away with optimism as much as I used to.? When she rose again, her expression was uncertain. ?Was I right??

Yukari?s lips twisted into a cryptic grin. ?Hard to say. Much has changed, but much has stayed the same. I suspect it?d be easiest for you to just see it yourself.?

Koishi paused, unsure if the question on her mind was worth asking. ?And, well...when will that be, exactly??

Yukari tapped at her wrist. ?By my reckoning, it should be any second now.?

?What-?

Before Koishi could finish the sentence, a wave of fatigue washed over her. She slumped backwards in her chair, eyes heaving shut as she crashed back into unconsciousness.

?It?s your world now, Koishi-san.? Yukari?s words were the last thing she heard. ?Take good care of it.?

-----

White.

Koishi?s eyes were assaulted by the colour the moment they opened. The faint smell of disinfectant hung in her nose, clinging to the back of her throat like a bitter aftertaste. It was not the best way to wake up, all things considered.

Where am I?

It took a few seconds for her senses to properly acclimate to their surroundings. The white mass deflated into pale grey walls, floors and ceilings, scrubbed sterile and featureless. A small window offered a paltry view of the city outside, and a box-like television was hidden away in the corner. The door hung slightly ajar, and she could hear the slow beeping of a heart monitor from another room.

It wasn?t hard for Koishi to answer her question after that. She lifted an arm out from under the thick, baggy sheets of her bed. A plastic tube dug into the back of her elbow, sending a constant flow of nutrients into her body.

Yakumo-san was right, Koishi thought. I was in a coma.

Her first instinct was a demand for answers. There were a million questions to ask - what had happened to Satori? To the other Sirens? To the Pearl? She didn?t know where to start, but any answers were better than nothing.

?Hello?? She called out into the corridor, but no-one responded. Unsurprising - coma wards were hardly known for their activity. She would have walked around to find someone, but the IV tube in her arm shot down that idea decisively.

She looked to her right. Wedged between her and the wall was a small counter, seated on which was a handheld remote. A vase of flowers loomed over it - freshly picked carnations, from the look and smell of them. She wondered if they were part of the hospital decoration or a gift from a visitor.

It was probably the latter, now that she thought about it. Satori had gone through a similar regimen when their father died, visiting regularly to offer another bunch of flowers. Koishi smiled, running a finger along the petals before she snatched up the remote.

The television was both ugly and barely functioning. Most of the channels were unintelligible walls of static, and the others had a habit of cutting out every second or two. Eventually she came across the only channel on the service with a half-decent reception.

?Good afternoon. I?m Hatate Himekaidou, and you?re watching the Kakashi Report.?

Koishi narrowed her eyes. The newscaster seemed vaguely familiar, though she had risen in the ranks from the last time Koishi had seen her. She wore a respectable purple suit, and her vibrant energy had been exchanged for determined professionalism.

?On today?s headlines - fears for the Yen as national exports continue to decline; Prime Minister Miyahara retreats from the public eye after his recent affair scandals, and construction work begins on eight new stadiums as Japan prepares for the upcoming Olympics.?

The newscaster read off a series of headlines that could have come from any paper in the last twenty years. Koishi scratched her head as she watched, sitting up in her bed for a better look. Had she made a mistake? Was the masquerade still around after all?

?But first, today?s top story.? Hatate fiddled with her papers. ?The Interspecies Study for Environmental Conservation has released reports claiming that a fully renewable energy source could be functional worldwide within fifteen years.?

The camera panned out, revealing a second person sitting next to Himekaidou at the table. He had all the trademarks of the stereotypical television scientist - stick-like figure, thick glasses, and a suit that had seemingly been pulled through a bush. What was out of the ordinary, though, was that his hair was a dark shade of blue.

?With me now is Tsutomu Kisara, head researcher for ISEC.? Hatate spun around in her seat to face her guest. ?Kisara-san, could you explain your findings in a way our viewers would understand??

?Certainly.? The researcher fiddled with his tie. There was an unquestionable confidence about him that reminded Koishi of a certain kappa. ?Our team of physicists and mages have designed a hybrid engine that should serve as a self-sustaining source of electricity. Prototypes are currently under construction, and should be ready for presentation within the next eighteen months.?

He went on to drone about a variety of technologies and spells that Koishi wasn?t well-educated enough to understand in full. She managed to catch that it was half technology, half magic - the magical components kept the system renewable, while the mechanical components allowed it to run without a caster?s intervention.

?Interesting,? Hatate said, nodding with a well-trained look of interest. In truth she was probably just as lost as Koishi was. ?So what consequences would an engine like this have on the current energy crisis??

?Consequences?? The kappa fiddled with his glasses, almost taking the question as an insult. ?It?s a solution, that?s what it is. We can scale the system up to fill a power plant or shrink it down for a watch battery. You name a situation where you?d need electricity, and our engine can-?

Before he finished, the picture gave way to static again, refusing to come back on. Koishi growled at it, flicking through the other channels to see if they were any more use. After a few seconds, she determined that she was now totally televisionless.

It didn?t really matter that much, though. She had seen everything she needed to. The world had changed to the point where a kappa could waltz onto national television and talk about magic to the general public. That could only be a sign things had changed for the better.

Koishi?s legs wiggled about under the covers. Now she wanted to see the city for herself. She could barely imagine the changes Gensouto had undergone while she was asleep. If only there was some way to call for a nurse-

?...put the marker pen away, Rin.?

Koishi froze. A voice carried through into her room from the hallway, along with several sets of footsteps. There was no way she could mistake who the voice belonged to.

Satori!

She opened her mouth to call out, but a thousand words came to her at once, canceling each other out. How had Satori changed? How was Koishi meant to say hello? She felt utterly lost for words, stunned in silence as the footsteps became louder.

?Aw, come on, Satori-sama!? Rin spoke up next, and Koishi could imagine her tails wrapping around each other in annoyance. ?It?s not like she?s going to notice, is it??

?She has a point, Satori-sama.? Utsuho added her voice to the fray. ?I mean, she draws on my face all the time when I?m asleep. So why is Koishi-sama any different??

?That?s...? Satori struggled for words, stumped by Utsuho?s very special brand of logic. ?Just put it away, please.?

Rin growled. ?Fiiine.?

The footsteps drew closer to Koishi?s room, until finally she made out her sister?s hand grabbing at the door handle. Satori didn?t even look forward as she pulled the door open, her attention focused on the pets following behind. Another bouquet of carnations hung in her other arm.

?Be on your best behaviour, you two,? she said. ?I?ll just be a few minutes while I switch up the-?

When Satori looked into the room, the sentence died in her throat.

?K...Koishi??

The two sisters stared at each other with looks of awe. Satori had changed so much over two years - she?d gained six, maybe seven inches in height, and her pink hair now ran down to her shoulders. There was a pleasant weariness in her eyes that came from a job that demanded everything from her, but paid it back fully with fulfillment.

?Eh?? Rin poked her head through the doorway. ?Satori-sama, what?s up-? The cat?s ears stood on end. ?Holy mackerel, she?s awake!?

Satori remained dumbstruck, backing away from Koishi as if she were a ghost.  A little part of her still seemed to be in denial over what she was seeing. Koishi drummed her brain for something clever to say, something memorable to put an end to Satori?s two years of waiting.

?Hi, sis.?

In her defense, she?d just stepped out of a coma. She wasn?t exactly at her most verbose.

?Koishi...? Satori?s eyes welled up with tears. She dropped the flowers, forgetting them entirely as she wrapped her arms around her sister. ?You?re back...you?re really back!?

She fell into choked sobs, burying her head in Koishi?s shoulder. Koishi made no effort to resist, returning the hug as she let Satori work through all her tears in one long outburst. She shed a few tears herself, though she did her best to make sure Satori didn?t notice.

?Heh. Good to see you too.?

Rin and Utsuho piled into the room, struggling to find space between their reunited masters. Rin rubbed at her face with the hem of her dress, while Utsuho responded with a simple, honest smile. They placed their hands over each others? shoulders, neither one saying anything that could shatter the moment.

It was a few minutes before Satori?s crying stopped. She pulled away, wiping at her eyes with her palm as she caught her breath.

?I-I?m sorry. I think I got a little carried away there.?

?Don?t worry about it.? Koishi sat up, feeling like she?d never need to sleep again. ?So, what have I missed? What happened to Gensouto while I was away??

Satori?s eyes widened for a moment. ?Ah. Right. You weren?t around when all the shuffling around happened.? She rested a hand on her chin. ?Hmm...how do I word this? There?s so much to explain. It's probably best if I start from the top.?

She stepped backwards, pulling her arms out as far as they could go. ?Koishi, let me be the first to welcome you to the independent nation of Gensokyo.?

-----

?As you can probably imagine, things were quite hectic when we got home.? Satori chuckled lightly. It had probably been much more stressful at the time, but now she could look back on it with ease. ?Your boss yelled my ear off about how we?d deliberately kept her out of the loop.?

?Sounds like Kawashiro-sensei,? Koishi said. ?I guess she saw reason in the end??

?She didn?t have much of a choice.? Satori shrugged. ?I mean, it wasn?t like the masquerade was coming back any time soon. She tried to play dumb for a few weeks, but there was really no going back from there.?

?It was awesome, though.? Rin broke into the conversation, ears twitching about on her head. ?I mean, I ran into a buncha old friends I hadn?t seen in ages. We?d all switch into youkai form walking down the street, then change back a few seconds later. Really, you shoulda seen the looks the humans pulled when we-?

Satori looked back at Rin with a stern glare. The cat?s enthusiasm faded away, and she pulled back behind her master.

?Joking aside, Gensouto was more or less a focal point for the change to come,? Satori continued. ?There was a massive influx of youkai into the city after the masquerade vanished. Everyone was confused then, and apparently they?d decided Gensouto was the best place to go.?

?But why?? Koishi asked. ?I thought the whole Siren thing was meant to be a secret.?

?It was, but what wasn?t a secret was the footage all over the internet of our run-in at the zoo. When the youkai saw humans using magic before the masquerade went down, they figured this was the place to go for answers.?

?I remember when that happened,? Utsuho said, her wings closing around her. ?The streets were really full, and there were men with guns yelling at people.?

Satori sighed. ?It was a difficult transition. Youkai were suddenly popping up in cities all over the world. The government had a hard enough time keeping the rest of Japan in check, but Gensouto was practically overrun with youkai. The government tried to impose a lockdown, but that only made matters worse.?

Koishi gulped. From the sounds of things, she?d picked a good time to lose consciousness. ?So what happened??

?Your boss took matters into her own hands,? Satori said. ?Kawashiro personally visited the Prime Minister himself, and she brought most of Gensouto?s politicians with her. They spent a few days discussing the matter, but the gist of her argument was that if keeping Gensouto in check was going to be such a hassle, it?d be easier for everyone if it just dealt with itself.

?A few months later, the Japanese government officially recognised Gensokyo as its own nation. The Pearl made a point of tending to the surge of youkai, setting up shelters and homes while working to integrate them into society. It?s been a rough road, but we?re getting to the point where a large chunk of the youkai population lives relatively comfortably.?

?I see,? Koishi said, nodding along. ?So how did the races get on? Was there any conflict, or...?

?Actually? Surprisingly well.? Satori shrugged. ?It wasn?t the best start, obviously, but when the lockdown happened the two races ended up finding common ground. Some of the youkai were pets as well, and their owners wanted to keep them around. Other humans felt guilty over the ordeal we?d put the youkai through and helped out of their own volition. That forced camaraderie carried over when the lockdown ended, and now humans and youkai are generally on good terms.?

?Though now some of the youkai don?t like each other much,? Rin added, one hand anxiously tapping at the side of the bed. ?Now that humans aren?t the big bad guys, all the little grudges are coming back. Cats and dogs, lions and tigers, things like that. It didn?t help that when they set up youkai residences they split them up by race. It?s nothing dangerous right now, but you get the odd fistfight after hours.?

?And there?s the scary lady who keeps putting posters up on our door,? Utsuho said. ?Toyosapopipi-something.?

?Toyosatomimi,? Satori corrected, before turning back to Koishi. ?A human rights activist, in her own words. She?s blamed the youkai for everything from taxes to terrorism. She isn?t a very popular figure, but she does have a small following behind her.?

Koishi sucked in a breath. She?d expected teething problems, but they hadn?t been as vibrant in her head as they were in person. Satori saw through her sister?s concerns, reaching forward and placing a hand on top of Koishi?s.

?It?s alright, Koishi. The hard part is already over. All we have to do now is work through the aftermath.?

?Right.? Koishi tensed then relaxed, letting the stress ooze out of her. Maybe relations were still tentative, but overall the change had clearly been for the better. ?So what happened to the White Pearl?? she asked. ?Where?s Sango-san??

?She?s out doing recon on the coast,? Satori answered with a frown. ?There?s a patrol of aquatic youkai traveling about to make sure no-one tries to impede on our waters. I have no idea when she?ll be off duty - sometimes she?s out at sea for weeks on end.?

?Oh.? Koishi frowned. It was good to hear that Sango had survived, but she really wanted to give the dolphin a nice long hug. Hopefully she?d have the time to hunt her down later. ?What about the others? The Sirens, Yakumo-san, everyone??

?One step at a time, okay?? Satori ruffled lightly at her sister?s hair. ?Everyone?s fine, but I don?t want to dump any more on you now. You?ve already had to take in a lot of info today.?

?Yeah, seriously.? Rin rolled her eyes. ?If I got told all that stuff in one day, my brain would probably melt.?

?Unyu?? Utsuho gulped. ?Orin, does that really happen??

?You mean you didn?t know?? Rin wore a catlike smile. ?Too much new info, and your brain starts leaking out your ears. Then you turn into a zombie who lies in front of the TV all day watching documentaries about how grass grows.?

Utsuho looked ready to cry. ?T-That sounds terrible! Learning is scary!?

Rin?s mischief earned her a quick tug on the ear. ?That?s enough out of you, Rin,? Satori said. ?You know Utsuho is enrolling at the local school in a few months, right??

?Ow ow owww~!? Rin winced as her master pulled her along. ?But Satori-sama, she?ll be no fun to mess with once she knows stuff. I?ve gotta make the most of her now while she?s still a bird brain.?

Satori glared at Rin for a few seconds before sighing in defeat. She let the cat go, turning her attention back to Koishi. ?Anyway, I?ll show you around the city once you?ve got a clean bill of health. For now, you should focus on getting better. I?m figuring two years as a vegetable hasn?t done your body much good.?

Koishi nodded. Now that Satori mentioned it, she was feeling awfully tired. This was the first exertion she?d had in months, after all - it was only natural for it to leave her fatigued.

?Okay.? Koishi reached out and wrapped her arms around her sister. ?It?s good to see you again, sis.?

Satori returned the gesture, wearing the warmest smile Koishi had ever seen from her. ?Reunited at last,? she murmured to herself. ?And we only had to change the world to do it.?

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
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  • blub blub nya
Dolphin Rider Koishi - Epilogue (Part 2)
« Reply #635 on: November 24, 2013, 10:20:13 AM »
Koishi had expected her recovery period to be measurable in months, but in actuality she regained her muscle strength with incredible speed. She received a potent combination of rigorous physiotherapy and magical stimulants that knocked her body back into shape. The whole process must have been massively expensive, Koishi thought to herself. She wondered just what strings Satori had pulled to afford it.

Her physician for the rehab was a slender fox youkai who spent more time talking about himself than the treatment. After a few days of therapy, she?d probably heard more about his thesis than all of his workmates put together. The concept was intriguing - using magical agents as a replacement for chemotherapy - but the raw jargon he spewed made Koishi?s head spin. It pushed her to get out of bed faster, though, so perhaps it was deliberate.

The moment she could walk again, Koishi made her way to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. It was a surreal experience, the woman in the reflection so familiar and yet so alien. She recognised her eyes, her nose, her lips, but it felt like they?d all been pulled off of her and stitched onto someone older. Two years of her childhood - time she would have used to learn, laugh, play - were lost to her forever.

That night, she allowed herself to have a good long cry. It was utterly selfish, and she knew it - in exchange for those two years, she?d saved countless lives and changed the world for the better. But she was only human, and there was nothing to gain from denying her emotions. She let out all her grief in one long burst, crying until her eyes had nothing left to give.

When the sun rose the next day, she felt like she?d been reborn. Strength flowed into the parts of her that had been clogged up with self-pity. All the fear and doubt had been washed out of her, and she had no regrets about her decision - if she had to, she?d gladly do the same all over again.

The last few days were nothing but exercise to get her muscles back to their former state. The stimulants left her too tired for visitors, but Satori dropped Koishi a text every night wishing her well in her recovery. Those little encouragements drove Koishi on, adding a spring to her step as she made laps around her room, then the ward, then the whole wing. When the exertion finally got to her, Rin and Utsuho were waiting for her at the window, waving as she fell into a peaceful sleep. Sometimes she thought she saw other friendly faces, but by then she was too tired to be sure.

Seven days after she had woken up, her doctor strolled into her room with a puffed out chest and a prideful grin. He gave her a routine check-up, but she could already see the satisfaction in his eyes.

?Congratulations, Komeiji-san. You?re fit as a fiddle.? His tail wiggled about behind him as he placed a bag at the foot of Koishi?s bed. ?Your sister left these for you. Hopefully they fit, or you might have to hang around for a few more days.?

Koishi reached down to pull the bag closer. She pulled out a bright yellow shirt and green skirt, along with the rest of her old outfit. Everything was a size or two larger to compensate for how she?d grown, but from first glance everything looked like it would fit.

?Thanks,? she said, stretching as she stepped out of the bed. ?So am I free to go??

?Of course.? The fox?s ears stood on end. ?Unless you want to hear about my latest study on thurmacarcinogens, that is.?

?I?ll pass, thanks.?

The doctor shrugged. ?Your loss.? There was a playful glint in his eyes as he left the room, closing the door behind him to offer his patient privacy.

Koishi picked her phone up off the counter and fired off a message to Satori. Just got discharged. Where are you? She left it on the bed as she changed into her outfit, glad to finally be rid of the same old hospital gown.

By the time she was changed, Satori had sent her a reply. Wait at the entrance. I?ll send someone to pick you up.

Koishi furrowed her brow. Satori wouldn?t be coming herself? That was awfully unlike her. She wondered what had left her sister preoccupied as she made her way out of the hospital room.

The paperwork was already done by the time Koishi reached the reception desk. All she had to do was sign a few forms and she was free to go. She took a long, deep breath as she stepped out of the entrance to get her first view of the nation of Gensokyo.

The first thing that struck her was the colour. Vibrant buildings made of shining brick, tending to every taste and interest. Signs and logos jumped along the walls, beckoning in customers to spend their hard earned money. She needed a few seconds to acclimate to the sheer energy of the bustling street.

Then came the people. The sidewalks were packed with men and women of all shapes and sizes. Most were humanoid, but she saw the odd tail or wing poke out from the swarm. Overhead, bird youkai swooped through from the side alleys, ignoring the flow of traffic entirely.

She was so caught up in watching them that she barely noticed one land beside her.

?You! You?re Koishi Komeiji, right??

Koishi went stiff, jerking around to face her questioner. ?Uh, yes? Who are-?

She didn?t need to finish the question. She recognised the woman who?d fallen from the skies to pin her down. Her heart sank in defeat.

?I knew it!? Aya Shameimaru pumped her fist, pulling out a notebook and pen. Her wings were artificial, folding in with a metallic clank as she began to scribble. ?You were spying on me during the whole Red Lily business, weren?t you? Knew I saw your face somewhere before.?

She talked to herself in a monologue too fast for Koishi to follow. The Siren stumbled backwards, but there was no room for her to slip into the crowd. She didn?t know what Aya was asking for, but she could tell it was nothing good.

?You, uh...? She grabbed at her collar, trying to make some kind of small talk. ?Your wings are...nice.?

?I know, right?? Aya patted at the contraption on her back, and it let out a pleasant hiss of steam. ?Way easier than shoving my way through crowds. All it takes is a bit of wind manipulation, and I can go anywhere I want.?

She stepped forward, right into Koishi?s personal space. ?But let?s not talk about me. I wanna hear about you, Koishi-san. Is it true your sister pulled your medical funds straight from the taxpayer?s wallet??

?I, uh...? Koishi?s brain froze. She couldn?t even understand what Aya was asking, never mind how to answer it. ?Why would-?

?What about the rumours that she?s taking bribes from a hawk-run real estate firm? Surely a minister shouldn?t be getting involved in business like that, right??

With every question Aya took another step forward, finally pushing Koishi into a wall. The Siren had barely managed to comprehend one question when the journalist hit her with another. She could almost hear her brain sizzling in her skull - maybe Rin hadn?t been lying after all.

?Well, um...that is to say...?

?Hold it right there, Shameimaru!?

A figure emerged from the crowd, stomping towards Aya with violent intent. It was a woman in a close-cut black business suit, a pair of expensive sunglasses covering her eyes. Her skin was well tanned, and Koishi saw a set of gills hidden just above her collar.

?M-Manou-san!? Aya jumped back, looking around for an escape route. ?I?ve got to say, you look wonderful today-?

?Don?t try to sweet talk me,? Jozu hissed, stepping between Koishi and the journalist. ?Komeiji-san is under no obligation to answer any of your questions.?

?Aw, come on!? Aya waved her arms about, notebook fluttering around in her hand. ?I worked my ass off getting this scoop! You can?t just scare me off by-?

Jozu smacked her fist into her palm, gazing darkly into Aya?s eyes. The colour drained from the journalist?s face.

?Point taken.? Her wings pulled open, and she hastily took to the air again. Within seconds, she was nothing more than a dot in Koishi?s vision.

?Dammit, I hate it when they run,? Jozu grumbled. ?I?m never gonna get to fight someone, am I?? She turned around to face the Siren. ?You alright, Koishi-san??

?Yeah. I think.? Koishi?s brain was still trying to catch up with the events that had just transpired. Life in Gensokyo was apparently much faster than what she was used to. ?You?re here to pick me up, right??

?Got it in one,? Jozu said. ?Sorry I wasn?t here earlier. Didn?t realise Shameimaru had a lead on you getting discharged. Seriously, I?ve got no clue how the woman does it.? She thumbed at the sidewalk. ?Follow me. And stay close.?

She stepped forward, slipping into the crowd almost seamlessly. Koishi rushed to follow on behind, struggling not to step on anyone?s toes as she took the shark?s hand.

?Sorry about all the commotion,? Jozu said, yelling to be heard above the crowd. ?Satori?s got her hands tied with business right now, so I?ve gotta bring you to her.?

?What business?? Koishi yelled back. ?Shameimaru said something about a minister.?

?You mean she didn?t tell you?? Jozu smirked. ?Oh, man, are you in for a surprise. It?d be best if you heard it from her own mouth, though.?

?Heard what?? Koishi wasn?t in the mood for this sort of evasiveness. ?And where are we going, exactly??

?Where else?? Jozu pointed off into the horizon. ?We?re headed to the best damn restaurant in Gensokyo.?

-----

Lorelei?s may as well have been a metaphor for Gensouto?s transformation in general. Human and youkai alike dined on lamprey freshly fished from the coastal waters, while the owner?s ?soothing? melody echoed out from the kitchen. The reserved tables, naturally, were the ones as far away from the music as possible. For those who hadn?t been smart enough to book beforehand, earplugs were available for diners at an extra cost.

Koishi felt more at ease as she stepped into the restaurant. It was nowhere near as crowded as the streets outside, and for the most part it was as she remembered it. The only magical features she noticed were the candles, burning in colours no flame should have been able to attain.

?Moodwax,? Jozu said, noting the question in Koishi?s eyes. ?They?re meant to change colour to go along with the emotions of the customer.?

Koishi nodded. She saw two lovers at one table, making small talk as a bright pink flame hung between them. On the other side of the room, two middle-workers grumbled over a fire that was a murky brown.

As she looked around the room, Koishi?s eyes fell on a familiar face. Satori was hidden in a distant corner of the restaurant, dining with a pair of stiff-backed gentlemen in suits. One was human, while the other appeared to be some sort of dog youkai. Over all the commotion Koishi couldn?t hear what they were discussing, but the candle at the table sparked a violent red.

?Looks like we got here early,? Jozu said, leaning on the wall and keeping her distance. ?I figured they?d be done squabbling by now.?

Koishi watched on from where she stood. Satori kept her voice level, as did her two acquaintances, but even from here Koishi could feel the animosity. After another few minutes of polite bickering, the two men bowed towards Satori and made their way out, leaving their meals totally untouched.

?Geez.? Jozu rubbed at the back of her head. ?What a bunch of manchildren.?

Satori leaned forward on the table, sighing as she grabbed at her temples. The candle flickered from red to blue as she stared absent-mindedly into space. Koishi took that as her cue to step in, lowering herself into the seat across from her sister.

?Long day?? she asked.

Satori jerked back to life. ?Oh. You saw that, didn?t you?? Koishi frowned and nodded.  Satori sighed again, hissing through her teeth in frustration. ?Sorry. I didn't want your first day back to be ruined by grown men squabbling.?

?It?s fine, really.? Koishi looked to the door, making sure the two men were nowhere to be seen. ?So was that a business meeting, or something??

Satori opened her mouth to answer, but before she could Jozu stepped in with a mighty flourish. ?Good madam, it is my humble pleasure to introduce you to Satori Komeiji, Gensokyo?s Minister for Interracial Affairs.?

Satori?s face scrunched up. ?Do you have to do that every time??

?Aw, c?mon. I do it ?cause I love you.? Jozu leaned forward, giving Satori a quick peck on the cheek. Koishi felt her face heating up.

?Wait, are you two a-?

?A couple, yes.? Satori tried to bat Jozu away. ?Though some of us try not to be so open about it.?

?Muu. You?re no fun.? Jozu pouted, slipping into the seat beside Satori. ?Is it okay if we help ourselves to their food??

?Go ahead,? Satori said. ?It?s not like I can get a refund.?

Koishi looked down at her plate, eying it up before she dug in. The lamprey was going cold, but the taste was more than enough to make up for it. It was her first non-hospital meal in years, and it was a welcome change.

?But yes, what Jozu said was accurate.? Satori recovered admirably, straightening her back and regaining her formal stature. ?I?m serving as an overseer for human-youkai relations in Gensokyo. Jozu here is my bodyguard, though thankfully I haven?t had any need for her yet. For the most part business is good, but sometimes...well, you get incidents like what you just walked in on.?

?Then who were those two?? Koishi asked, absently looking at the door again. ?And what were you talking about??

?They?re CEOs for a pair of large blue-collar companies,? Satori said, fiddling with the hem of her dress. ?A few months ago, they pledged a large fund towards development of a new interracial charity. Unfortunately they haven?t performed well this financial quarter, so they?ve decided to take back all of their promises.?

Koishi raised an eyebrow. ?Is...is that even legal??

?Of course not, but they have a very selective memory when it comes to the law.? Satori rolled her eyes. ?You were right, Koishi. Humans and youkai aren?t that different after all.?

The mood-candle?s flame faded to a barely visible grey. Satori glared at it for a second before finally putting it out with her fingers. ?Sorry. Never been a fan of those things.?

?I can guess why,? Koishi said. She understood now why Satori had looked so tired during her hospital visits. ?So how did you end up in a position like this? You never struck me as the political sort.?

Satori?s expression was dark, complicated. ?When Kawashiro made Gensokyo its own country, she nominated me for the position. I think she knew I wanted a chance to atone for what I did before. What I...? She gulped. ?What I almost did.?

The shadows lifted from her face, and she looked up at Koishi with a smile. ?But that?s all in the past now. After you took down the masquerade, I did what I could to make up for it. I figured while you were unconscious, I had to stand in for you.? She held her head high. ?And if you don?t mind me saying, I think I?ve done a decent job of it.?

?Oh, really?? Jozu smirked. ?Then what about that whole incident with the American government and the bald eagle youkai??

Satori?s eyes narrowed. ?I thought we agreed not to talk about that, Jozu.?

?Prove it.? Jozu leaned back in her chair with her hands behind her head. ?I didn?t sign anything, did I??

Satori tensed for a second, but eventually she couldn?t help but force out a laugh. ?See what you?ve left me to work with, Koishi??

?It looks awful,? Koishi said with a smile. ?There?s no way you?re being paid enough for this.?

?Sure she is!? Jozu said. ?My company is worth more than all the money in the world.?

The atmosphere around the table lightened considerably. Even in spite of the severity of their discussion, Koishi felt remarkably at ease in the presence of her sister. She started to think she could get used to this new world of hers.

?So what are you going to do?? she asked, wiping the last crumbs of her meal from her cheek. ?About the CEOs, I mean.?

?Well, I can?t let them off the hook,? Satori answered, brushing at her dress as she rose to her feet. ?We?ve got to make an example of them if Gensokyo?s legal system is to have any sort of reputation.?

?City Hall, then?? Jozu asked.

Satori nodded. ?Koishi, do you mind tagging along??

?Is that okay?? Koishi asked, raising an eyebrow. ?Just poking my head into serious affairs like that.?

?It?s fine. I?ll vouch for you.? Satori winked. ?Besides, I can think of at least one person who?ll want to hear the good news...?

-----

The sun hung high over Koishi?s head as she reached her destination, trailing behind her sister and their bodyguard. Now that the rush hour had passed the crowds had diminished to a bearable level, letting her see where she was going rather than stumbling blindly along with the flock. It was comforting to be able to put one foot ahead of the other without worrying about stepping on someone?s toes.

City Hall ended up being a thoroughly-renovated version of Gensouto?s courthouse. The changes had been mostly for the better, turning a tired-looking structure into a respectable seat of power. The slightly-worn walls had been tended to, the whole building giving off an almost marble-like sheen. It had the aura of a ruin, an ancient relic that was full to the brim with power. Koishi felt humbled simply by approaching it.

A pair of lion statues stood at both sides of the entrance, and above the doorway a new creed had been carved into the stone: IN LAW, THERE IS POWER. IN JUSTICE, STRENGTH. IN TRUTH, FREEDOM. It was just forceful enough to put Koishi on edge as she stepped into the building, hiding in Satori?s shadow.

The court?s inner workings had seen little change - at least, from what few details Koishi could remember. She?d only been here once for a quick visit during the Red Lily incident, but much of what she saw wouldn?t have seemed out of place in the old Gensouto. She saw the odd youkai among the lawyers making their way around the building, but no-one who seemed to be in more than a junior position. It was too soon for that, she supposed.

?Can I help you?? A passing lawyer broke out of her step to look up at the group for a moment. It only took a second for recognition to flicker on her face, and she carefully adjusted the shako cap sitting on her head. ?Ah, Komeiji-san. Here on business, I assume??

?Good day, Raikoji-san.? Satori bowed forward towards the lawyer, as if their positions had been reversed. ?Business is all I seem to have time for nowadays. How is the district holding up??

?Fine enough,? Sumire answered. ?There was some murmuring of a new smuggling ring starting up at the docks, but we have You-Know-Who scouting the place out right now. It?ll be dealt with before the day is through.? She looked over Satori?s shoulder, only now seeing the girl behind her. ?Ah, and you must be Komeiji-san?s sister. She?s told me a lot about you, you know.?

Koishi raised an eyebrow. ?She has? What exactly has she-? Before she could finish, she saw Jozu shake her head out of the corner of her eye. That was her hint that the question wasn?t worth finishing. ?Never mind. How?s Komachi-san been??

?Oh, Komachi?? Sumire pointed towards the judge?s office with her thumb. ?She got kicked upstairs when the whole youkai thing took off. The mayor needed someone who knew her way around magic, you see.?

Koishi narrowed her eyes. ?I don?t remember Gensouto having a mayor.?

?Add that to the list of things you missed out on, then,? Satori said, pulling the discussion back on track. ?I?d like to talk with the mayor, please.?

?You do know she?s having lunch right now, I assume.?

Satori grinned. ?Since when has that stopped her from talking business??

Sumire hesitated for a moment, then sighed. ?You have a point. Go right ahead.?

?Thanks.? Satori bowed again before heading in the direction of the office. Koishi hung close behind, and Jozu crept forward as if she was her charge?s shadow. The shark was perfectly built for the role physically, but there was a childishness in her expression that seemed inappropriate for a bodyguard. Not that Koishi would ever say so out loud - it seemed like a good way to get her arm chomped off.

The judge?s office was like Koishi had remembered; small, and relatively unassuming. A few details had been added to make the room a bit more memorable - a picture here, a film prop there. It still seemed awfully plain to house the ruler of an entire nation.

?Who?s there??

Seated at the bench was a familiar face. It was hard to recognise her beneath her newer, much more ornate robes, but the head judge of Gensouto looked the same as she had two years ago. The outfit fit her well - authoritative without falling into gaudiness.

?Ah, Komeiji-san.? Eiki let out a little sigh and nodded. ?Who else would interrupt me at this hour? She edged to the side of her chair, leaving her lunch unfinished to take a look at Satori?s companions. ?And this is...?

?That?ll be Koishi Komeiji, ma?am.? Another old acquaintance spoke up, the woman standing at Eiki?s side. She was just as difficult to recognise as her superior, dressed in a well-measured suit with a perfect posture. But as she rushed forward to embrace the Siren, her old eagerness began to shine through.

?Komachi-san!?

Komachi smiled, squeezing Koishi almost hard enough to break a bone. ?Congrats on rejoining the living. I tried to say hi while you were recovering, but you were too drugged up to notice me.?

?You did?? Koishi tried to summon up her memory, but her recollection of the last week was fuzzy at best. She vaguely recalled a Komachi-shaped silhouette in her window, along with all the other Sirens she had traveled with. ?Sorry,? she said with a shrug. ?I guess I have a lot of catching up to do, don?t I??

?You bet.? Komachi looked back at her superior. ?Boss, you mind if I talk with her for a bit??

?Go ahead,? Eiki said, focusing her attention on Satori. ?I suspect I have my own business to take care of, anyway.?

Satori nodded, stepping forward to the desk with Jozu hanging beside her. Koishi stood a few feet away, too focused on Komachi to catch much of their conversation.

?So what are you doing here?? Koishi asked. ?I thought you?d gone back to being a lawyer.?

?That was the plan, yeah, but things came up.? Komachi laughed, the chuckle just awkward enough to give her emotions away. ?Seriously, though, when Gensokyo split off there was no real government holding it together. We had a couple of politicians, but there wasn?t anyone that could actually take charge of the country.?

Koishi looked back toward the desk. ?So Eiki-san ended up as mayor??

?She had a good reputation around the court. Even after the truth came out about the Morichika incident, her power was enough to make up for it.?

Komachi turned to her superior, watching Eiki listen intently to Satori?s explanation. The judge nodded to herself every few seconds, finally closing her eyes in thought. When her eyes opened again, her pupils flickered black in judgement.

?Understood,? she said. ?I?ll track down these CEOs and have them pay their dues.?

?Are you sure?? Satori folded her arms, but a satisfied grin sat on her face. ?They?ve got some very rich friends. Gensokyo could lose a lot of business if we step on the wrong toes.?

?Then it?s not the sort of business we want anything to do with.? Eiki fiddled with her collar, looking perfectly attuned with her position. ?The money isn?t everything, Komeiji-san. We need to let the people know that this sort of corporate dishonesty won?t stand in our country.?

The conviction in her eyes was so powerful that Koishi could barely face her head on. That was just the sort of ruler a small, developing nation like Gensokyo needed - the sort that left an impact and refused to be ignored.

?She was anxious when she started,? Komachi said, chest puffed out. ?Didn?t know nearly enough about youkai to get anything done. Luckily she had a good friend who was willing to get her up to speed. In fact, the friend was even willing to run as her deputy just to make sure she got the job done.?

Koishi looked up at Komachi?s expression. There was no sign of regret, only a faint nostalgia for what had once been. It hung only for an instant, replaced by her typical lazy grin.

?So how much do people know about the Sirens, then?? Koishi asked. ?Do people know about the Teardrops? Or that we were responsible for the masquerade coming down??

?Most people know the general story about the Pearl and the Claw,? Komachi answered. ?They know that a bunch of humans saved the world from the Ravager and had to take down the masquerade to do it. But most people don?t know who the Sirens actually are - and now that everyone?s got magic powers, it?s pretty hard to tell. A few higher-ups in the White Pearl still know, but they?ve been pretty good at keeping quiet.?

Koishi nodded. She?d assumed as much, given that there wasn?t a massive fanfare when she?d recovered from her coma. Admittedly, she was grateful for the anonymity - she had dabbled with being an internet icon for a while, and decided it definitely didn?t suit her.

?Still, we?re through the hard part now.? Komachi gave Koishi?s hair another ruffle. ?Good to see you?re back. I?m figuring there are a bunch of other folks who?d be happy to see you too.?

?Yeah,? Koishi said. She had two years? worth of catching up to do, and no idea where to start. ?Any idea where I can find anyone??

Komachi grinned. ?As a matter of fact, I do.? She turned back to the mayor. ?Hey, boss, I?m taking Koishi-san down to the academy. You okay with that??

Eiki didn?t even acknowledge the question. She and Satori were locked in discussion, fervently discussing a strategy for taking down the CEOs that had wronged them. Jozu looked towards the two Sirens, offering an apologetic shrug.

?Well, that?s pretty much a yes,? Komachi said, taking Koishi?s hand. ?Now, if you?ll just follow me...?

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
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Dolphin Rider Koishi - Epilogue (Part 3)
« Reply #636 on: November 24, 2013, 10:20:36 AM »
The Arcane Academy clung to the side of City Hall like the training wheels of a bicycle. There was no synergy in the architecture of the buildings - where City Hall had carried a proud and stubborn demeanour, the academy was bright and inviting. Signs on the windows promised to ?unlock your latent potential? to help ?craft a brighter future for Gensokyo?. It was so excited about itself that Koishi?s eyes stung a little looking at it.

?You get used to it,? Komachi said, patting Koishi on the back as she led her in. ?Imagine how hard it?s gotta be for the people who work here.?

I don?t think I want to, Koishi thought to herself.

The inside of the building was considerably more down-to-earth. The main hall had the same merry feel to it, but as they slipped into the deeper corridors the decor became much more generic and pedestrian. Anyone who came this far, Koishi thought, wouldn?t need any more convincing.

?So what do they do here?? she asked. ?Is it some sort of police academy??

?Close enough,? Komachi said. ?There?s a whole new dimension of crime now that magic?s outta the bag. This place is meant to teach humans and youkai how to combat it - training their own powers, and learning how to deal with troublemakers.?

?What sort of crime are we talking about??

Komachi rolled her eyes. ?A few months ago, a band of activists called the Merry Men tried to magically wipe out every financial record on Wall Street. They dubbed it the Robin Hood Incident - stealing from the rich and all that.?

?Incident?? Koishi asked, the peculiar word choice throwing her off slightly.

?We try not to use words like ?terrorism? anymore. Gets people scared and angry. So if the crime is stopped before anyone is hurt, we just call it an incident.? Komachi sighed. ?Trust me, Eiki had to ram that idea into my head before it stuck.?

Koishi nodded, looking into the rooms they passed as they walked down the corridor. Many of them had been styled after conventional classrooms, though they had been built with adults in mind. From a cursory glance the youkai and humans seemed to be evenly represented, though youkai made up a vast majority of the instructors.

After a minute?s walk, they stepped out into an open courtyard. Four trees stood in the corners, none of them matching in shape, size or colour. Perhaps it was a symbol for the celebration of diversity, Koishi thought. Then again, it could just have been lazy planning on the part of the architect.

?Not like that, kid. Follow through on your punches.?

A voice rang out from the middle of the courtyard. Stepping closer, Koishi found two distant figures locked in a brawl, the taller one bobbing and weaving around her opponent. They were both dressed in light blue tracksuits - the academy uniform, most likely.

?I would, if you?d just stay still!? The smaller girl reached out, grabbing her adversary?s forearm. Her eyes shone blue, and tendrils of ice began to creep out from her fingers.

The ice was dispeled in an instant, a flame running down the longer woman?s arm. That was all Koishi had to see to identify the two.

?I told you, kid,? Mokou said with a sigh. ?No cheating.?

Cirno pouted. ?It?s not my fault you?re so fast. And since when is using magic cheating??

?The point is so you can brush up on the basics.? Mokou stepped backwards, disengaging from the fight. She looked just like Koishi had remembered her, which could only be a testament to the phoenix?s intense regimen. ?If you use your powers as a crutch like that, you?re gonna fall apart without them.?

She craned her neck back towards the entrance, eyes falling over Koishi for a moment. ?Besides, you?ve got plenty of other students for-? When her brain caught up with her senses, she pulled a dramatic double take. ?Wait, Koishi-san? Is that you?!?

?Oh, nice try.? Cirno folded her arms and grinned smugly. ?I?m not falling for that one again. There?s no way that Koishi-san is-?

Before she could finish Mokou was already running up to Koishi, at a speed so absurd that Koishi swore she was about to be run over. The phoenix stopped abruptly a few inches from the Siren, mouth bobbing open and shut.

?You?re up already?? The revelation seemed to have caused her more exertion than her sparring. ?I figured you?d be bedridden for at least a month.?

?You and me both,? Komachi said, placing a hand on Koishi?s shoulder. ?But I reckon we should?ve given her a bit more credit than that.?

Koishi?s cheeks warmed up. ?It was all the doctors, really. I didn?t realise medical science had advanced so far.? She looked up at Mokou. ?So what?re you up to? Are you a student here??

?Not quite.? Mokou grinned. ?I?m working as a part-time instructor in hand-to-hand combat. You?d be surprised how many of these youkai have no idea how to throw a punch. I was just giving a little tutoring session to-?

?Koishi-san!? Cirno vaulted over Mokou, landing on her shoulders so perfectly it seemed almost scripted. ?Oh man, you have no idea how many cool things have happened while you were gone. As soon as they built this place I was first in line, and I studied real hard like you said to, and-? Mokou reached up, cupping her hand around Cirno?s mouth to silence her. ?Mmmhh!?

?So you know each other?? Komachi looked at Koishi, then at Cirno. ?I guess I?m the only one who?s out of the loop, then.?

?Well, uh...? Mokou paused, struggling for the right word. ?This bundle of fun is Cirno. She?s the academy?s top student, and there?s talk of her getting her own squad when she graduates. I?m just here to make sure she doesn?t cut any corners.?

As she pulled her hand away, Cirno pulled a massive frown. ?No fair, boss. I wanted to tell her that.?

?Then you should?ve waited your turn like a good girl.?

Cirno slumped forward. Even as Mokou moved away she hung in the air, crystalline wings fading in behind her back. Fortunately, Koishi knew the look of a girl who was desperately seeking a compliment.

?So you?re the top student here? That?s amazing, Cirno-san.?

?Really?? Cirno pulled her head up. ?You think so??

Koishi nodded. ?I always knew you had it in you, Cirno-san. Congrats!?

For about a second, a look of pure glee hung on Cirno?s face. Then she remembered herself, clearing her throat and lowering herself to the ground. ?W-Well, uh, of course I had it in me. You?re talking about the strongest fairy Gensokyo?s ever seen.?

?Fairy?? Koishi furrowed her brow. ?But I thought fairies were-?

?Actually, fairies aren?t their own race at all,? Komachi said. ?Turns out what we call ?fairies? are just a certain branch of human bloodlines.? She pointed at Cirno?s wings. ?Which your frigid friend here seems to be a member of.?

?Ah,? Koishi said. Her own ignorance both amazed and intrigued her. There was so much of this new world she had no idea about, but she couldn?t help but feel a charge in her blood at the thought of it. ?What about you, Mokou-san?? she asked, turning back to her fellow Siren. ?Did you ever manage to make amends with Kaguya-san??

?Uh, well...? Mokou looked away, one hand unconsciously clenching into a fist. ?In a way, yes. But we?re not exactly on speaking terms.?

?...I see.? Koishi could tell that pressing further was a poor move. There was a distance in Mokou?s eyes that said she was done with the matter. It had been two years, after all.

?Why?d you decide to be an instructor, anyway?? Komachi asked. ?I figured you were more the type to go out and actually stop bad guys.?

Mokou rubbed at the back of her neck. ?So did I, for a while. I tried that for a couple of weeks, but it just didn?t feel right. But here, I can help out people who need me and help to make something rather than break it. Rather than taking bad things out of the world, I can put good things into it.? She gave Cirno a pat on the back. ?Like my little prodigy here. It just feels a lot more rewarding, I guess.?

Cirno blushed and looked away. ?J-Jeez, it?s not that great, boss...?

?Anyway, let?s not dwell on the past.? Mokou stretched her arms to expel the dark mood. ?The kid and I were about to break for lunch. You two feel like joining us??

?I?ve gotta pass, thanks.? Komachi waved it off with a frown. ?My lunch break?s just about over, and Eiki is crazy strict about punctuality.? She looked down at Koishi. ?I figure your sister will be talking with her for quite a bit, so if you wanna go look around I can pass on the message.?

Koishi needed a second longer to decide. The offer was tempting, and her stomach rumbled in contemplation, but she wanted to see everything she could before the end of the day. After some thought, she found a way to solve both problems at once.

?About that. Is the Scarlet Bakery still around??

Mokou?s eyebrow lifted as she caught Koishi?s intent. ?I see. Checking up on the old gang, are you?? She nodded. ?Yeah, last I checked, they were still in business. Same place as before.?

?Thanks.? Koishi bowed towards Mokou before turning towards the exit. ?And it?s good to see you again, Mokou-san.?

Mokou wore a weary smile. ?Same here, Koishi-san. It?s been way too long.?

As Koishi made her way out, she heard Cirno muttering to the phoenix. ?What old gang? What?s so important about some bakery??

Spinning around, she saw Mokou wrap her arm around the fairy. ?Kid, there?s a loooong story behind that...?

-----

Koishi found her bearings faster than she had expected. Though the buildings and the people had changed the streets of Gensokyo were just as she remembered, the same canvas under a new layer of paint. She found herself taking shortcuts, slipping around corners to beat the hustle and bustle of the crowd. At least some things haven?t changed, she thought to herself.

The trip would have taken her half an hour normally, but Koishi managed to cut the time down to twenty minutes. She knew immediately when she had found her destination - a building covered in the gaudy red paint that had imprinted itself on her retinas. Magic circles clung to the walls, pulsing like neon signs. An extension at the side of the bakery offered a caf? for customers to sit in while they ate. Looking through the window, Koishi saw that the room was full to bursting. Had the bakery ever been this popular before?

Eh? On closer inspection, Koishi saw two young waitresses walking between the tables, handing out meals to waiting customers. The two girls were polar opposites, one treading gracefully and oozing charisma, the other skipping around the room like it was a playground. One opted for a simple, formal dress, while the other was dressed in full-blown magical girl garb.

If she hadn?t known better, Koishi would have never guessed they were sisters.

Remilia? Flandre? What are they doing out here? She looked up at the sun, remembering Patchouli?s story about xerodernum pigmentosa. Even this should have been enough exposure to do some serious damage. What had changed?

?It?s rude to peek, you know.?

Koishi almost dropped dead where she stood. Adrenaline screamed through her as she jerked around. Sakuya had silently slipped behind her, as if she had emerged from the ether. She wore the maid costume from the night of Flandre?s kidnapping, fitting it to a tee.

?H-How did you-? Koishi got halfway through the sentence before realising the answer to her own question. ?Oh. Right. Time stop.?

?Clever girl.? Sakuya drew her pocketwatch for effect, one finger running across the engravings. ?I saw you out the window, and I couldn?t resist a quick scare. Consider it my way of saying welcome back.?

?Could I at least get a warning next time?? Koishi said, trying to calm her stuttering heart. ?You?re going to put me back in the hospital at this rate.?

Sakuya sighed. ?You haven?t been up for a day, and you?re already spoiling my fun. You?re just like I remember, Koishi-san.?

Koishi?s body relaxed, her pulse dropping to a dull roar. She?d been caught totally unprepared by the assault. Here she was, barely able to walk, and already people were trying to scare her senseless. With friends like this, who needs the Black Claw?

?But still, you can?t blame me for wondering,? she said, looking through the window at the waitresses again. ?I thought those two weren?t allowed to be out during daylight hours.?

?They still aren?t,? Sakuya answered. ?But there are enchantments across the building that filter the sunlight coming in. So as long as they stay inside the bakery, they?ll be perfectly fine.?

Koishi?s mouth hung open. ?Wow. You can do that??

?Oh, it wasn?t my work.? Sakuya pointed into the corner. ?You have Patchouli to thank for that.?

Koishi followed Sakuya?s finger, her eyes falling on a slumbering librarian in the corner. Her face was buried in a book, her long purple hair falling all over the desk. Papers and research were strewn about in no obvious order. A sign above her read ?WAKE IN EVENT OF EMERGENCY?, as if she was some sort of fire alarm.

?She?s been researching magical countermeasures to XP for two years straight.? Sakuya?s words carried a rare tone of respect. ?She?s become a leader in the field. Not that she would settle for anything less, of course.?

Koishi nodded. She could envision Patchouli immersed in her work, studying and practicing to the point where she collapsed. She imagined the researcher had to be content with the new hand life had dealt her.

?And what about you?? Koishi said. ?What have you been up to while I was asleep??

?Hm...difficult question.? Sakuya pursed her lips, looking off into the distance. ?I suppose I?m living two lives now. I?ve got two families to look after, and I?m trying my best not to neglect one for the sake of the other. Besides that, well, not much has changed.?

?Really? I never put you down as the stay-at-home type.?

?I?m not. Given the chance I?d be out breaking the bank, but nowadays casinos have rules against magical intervention.? Sakuya frowned. ?It takes all the fun out of it if I have to play fair.?

Koishi held back a laugh. Sakuya had mellowed a little, but deep down she was essentially unchanged. She seemed content with her lot despite her complaints, a lazy smile rising to her face when she thought Koishi wasn?t looking.

?Speaking of your second family, how?s Youmu-san?? Koishi asked. ?I haven?t managed to catch up with her yet.?

?She?s been busy with her own enterprises,? Sakuya said. ?I was about to head over there myself, actually. You?re welcome to come along if you like.?

?Is that okay? I mean, aren?t you meant to be working right now??

?My shift ended a few minutes ago. Besides, Meiling is on kitchen duty, so she can probably pick up the slack-?

Seconds later, as if on cue, a pillar of smoke began to rise from the kitchen door. The diners shuffled to their feet in panic as Flandre and Remilia tried to maintain some semblance of order. The noise caused Patchouli to stir, pulling her head off the desk to reveal bloodshot eyes and a furious scowl.

?Or not.? Sakuya took Koishi by the hand, leading her away. ?Come on. Let?s get out of here before we get roped into cleanup duty.?

?Eh? But what about Meiling-san??

As Patchouli stomped into the kitchen, Sakuya wore a wry smile. ?Now, now, Koishi-san. Let?s give her a chance to learn from her mistakes.?

The squeal of horror that followed would haunt Koishi?s nightmares for weeks.

-----

After a few minutes, Sakuya judged herself far away enough from the bakery to slow to a walking pace. She caught her breath, brushing off the frills of her outfit as they stepped back into the main street.

?Is that okay?? Koishi asked, looking over Sakuya?s maid uniform. ?I mean, no offense, but that?s not exactly a normal outfit.?

?Maybe not in the Gensouto you remember,? Sakuya answered. ?But Gensokyo doesn?t have much of a dress code. Take Hakurei-san, for instance-?

?Hakurei-san??

Sakuya bit her lip, doing a poor job of hiding her annoyance. ?Reimu Hakurei. The sleazy lawyer who got Morichika off on all charges??

Now the name rang a faint bell in the back of Koishi?s head. ?I think I know who you?re talking about. What about her??

?Her fortunes took an...interesting turn.? The maid grumbled and folded her arms. ?Turns out having twenty generations of shrine maidens in your blood gives you an obscene amount of magic power. She?s the most powerful human in Gensokyo, and only the strongest of youkai would pose her any sort of threat.?

?...Really?? Koishi hesitated, looking for some sign of dishonesty in Sakuya?s eyes. For once, there was nothing to be found; besides, the story was too bizarre for Sakuya to have pulled out of thin air.

?Believe it or not, yes,? Sakuya continued. ?Anyway, she insists on dressing as a shrine maiden whenever she?s on duty. Something about honouring her ancestors.? She raised an arm into the air. ?And she never, ever changes outfits. Even when it?s raining or snowing, she dresses just the same.?

Again, Koishi looked Sakuya over for some sign she was lying. For the second time, every hint pointed towards the maid telling the truth. She remembered a cryptic conversation with Sumire about ?You-Know-Who? heading out to shut down a smuggling ring. It made sense - or at least the new, twisted sense that Gensokyo now seemed to function on.

?Point taken,? Koishi said. ?I guess dressing like a maid isn?t that unusual in comparison.?

?Your acceptance means a lot to me,? Sakuya said flatly. ?Anyway, we?re here.?

The maid came to a stop in front of a rustic-looking dojo. Koishi looked it over and felt as if she?d walked into a museum, a perfect replica of the samurai era hidden between a drug store and a delicatessen. She could hear wooden swords clashing against each other from within. The blows carried enough force that Koishi couldn?t help but feel intimidated.

?Sounds like the recruits are sparring. She?ll be available, then.? Sakuya had no such concerns, pulling the sliding door open for Koishi. ?You first.?

Koishi stepped through after a deep breath. The interior was as faithful a facsimile as the outside, all wooden floors and tatami mats. Scrolls on the walls offered Zen-like teachings in haiku form. A single open window let a dim light into the room.

She counted about a dozen students present, a mixture of humans and youkai. They had split into pairs, sparring with their partners, but with a passion and focus that wouldn?t have looked out of place in a real fight. Koishi saw two fighting styles split between the class, with some fighters dual-wielding their blades, and others fighting with sword and shield.

At the end of the dojo were two chairs, upon which sat the masters. Youmu?s expression was unreadable as she watched the students battle, her ceremonial robe making her look twice as old as she was. Momiji was more willing to show her disdain, shaking her head and muttering beneath her breath. Neither of them seemed to have noticed the two visitors popping through the entrance.

?Watch this,? Sakuya whispered. The maid stepped away, pulling out her pocketwatch and tapping at the face with two fingers. She disappeared, and in an instant she was on the other side of the room, yelling right into Youmu?s ear.

?Boo!?

The yell brought all the sparring students to a halt. Koishi saw Youmu flinch, but only barely. Within instants she was looking at her sister in disappointment. ?That was frightening the first time, Miyo. The fiftieth, not so much.?

?Hm. Good point.? Sakuya pulled back, stroking at her chin. ?I suppose I should come up with something more original next time. Maybe I could crack an egg over your head??

Momiji looked over from her seat and sighed. ?Izayoi-san. I?m not sure if you?ve noticed, but we?re trying to work here.?

?So am I. It?s my job to look after Youmu, remember?? The maid ruffled at Youmu?s hair, utterly shattering the tense atmosphere of the dojo. To her credit, Youmu didn?t even acknowledge Sakuya?s shenanigans with a response. The self-control that demanded was more than a little impressive, Koishi thought to herself.

?Besides,? Sakuya continued, ?I brought a special guest with me today. Someone you haven?t seen for a while.?

That was enough to get Youmu to raise an eyebrow. She nodded towards her students, who split apart and stood with their backs pressed against the walls. Now the swordsman had a clear view of the Siren in the doorway.

?Um...? Koishi awkwardly raised a hand. ?Hey, Youmu-san. Sorry for interrupting.?

The sight of Koishi brought about a transformation in Youmu. For lack of a better word she became more human, her emotions finally floating to the surface. The calm demeanour fell away as she put on a warm smile.

?Well, if it isn?t the prodigal daughter herself,? Momiji said, her tone a difficult mixture of surprise and relief. ?I thought you were supposed to be a vegetable nowadays.?

?I was.? Koishi stepped forward, shrugging the claim off. ?You?d be surprised what a person can recover from.?

For a moment, Youmu looked ready to jump out of the seat and embrace the Siren. She decided otherwise at the last minute, standing up but refusing to budge.

?Students!? she yelled, her voice booming through the dojo. ?Our guest is a woman to whom I owe a mighty debt. I trust that you will treat her with the respect that she deserves.?

That seemed to be all the convincing the students needed. Like components of a well oiled machine, they all moved in unison to bow in Koishi?s direction. Koishi blushed, unsure how to feel about youkai ten times her age deferring to her. She made the rest of the journey to the seats to remove herself from that awkward position. Youmu nodded again, and the students returned to their sparring.

?So this is what you?ve been up to,? she said, looking back at the pupils. ?Is this a joint venture? Between you and Momiji-san, I mean.?

?Correct,? Youmu said with a nod. ?With Gensokyo?s rapid expansion, we felt it was necessary to build a shrine of sorts to the art of swordplay. Perhaps it?s defunct in this era of magic and machines, but its beauty continues to thrive thanks to our efforts.?

?More importantly, we?re doing what we can to keep the competitive spirit alive,? Momiji continued. ?Our school teaches two wildly different styles - mine and hers. Each month we put our best students against each other to see which of our styles is strongest. The urge to win that clash convinces us both to put everything we have into our teaching.?

?The score is ten to four in Youmu?s favour,? Sakuya said without a hint of restraint. ?Don?t worry, Momiji-san, there?s always next month.?

The wolf glared at Sakuya, growling beneath her breath. Perhaps now that Youmu wasn?t reacting, Momiji was the next best target for Sakuya?s pranks. Koishi tried not to think the idea over too hard.

?What about your mother, Youmu-san?? she asked. ?How is she doing??

?She?s fine now,? Youmu answered, loosening her back as she let her emotions show again. ?She?s been training quite hard herself, actually. I think she might be planning to come out of retirement.?

?And you?ll beat her handily, I assume?? Sakuya?s voice was a little colder than usual when she spoke about Yuyuko. It seemed some grudges remained unsettled, Koishi thought to herself.

?I?d hope so,? Momiji said. ?If my rival lost in a duel with a grandmother, I don?t think my pride could take it.?

Youmu clenched her teeth, silently withstanding all the attacks on her authority. With workmates like Momiji and sisters like Sakuya, Koishi imagined this had to be part of Youmu?s daily routine by now. Perhaps that was how she?d grown such a thick skin.

?But enough about us,? Youmu said. ?What about you, Koishi-san? What are you planning to do with yourself??

Koishi hesitated before answering. She really had no clue how to answer the question. She?d assumed it would be something simple like going back to school, but now that she thought about it the idea seemed almost too pedestrian. After all her experiences as a Siren, going back to an ?ordinary? life just didn?t feel right.

?I?m not sure,? she said at last. ?Right now I?m just trying to catch up with everyone. I still haven?t managed to get hold of Nazrin-san.?

?The mouse?? Sakuya?s eyes glinted with recollection. ?I?m pretty sure she?s off in the outskirts helping the youkai get by. Shouldn?t be too hard to find her.?

Koishi nodded. ?Right. In that case, I?ll let you get back to work.?

?Already?? Youmu frowned slightly. ?But you?ve only just arrived.?

?I know, but I?m just trying to catch up with everyone. Besides, you?re busy right now, aren?t you? We can try to get the whole gang together another time.?

The swordsman let out a long hard sigh before accepting defeat. ?I?ll hold you to that promise, you know.? She made another gesture, and the fighters split apart again. The discipline she commanded was nothing short of impressive.

?You?re welcome to study here any time,? Momiji said. ?I?ll even give you a position as my star pupil, if you want.?

?I?ll consider it.? Koishi made it halfway to the exit before another question hit her. ?Ah, Youmu-san, one more thing.?

?What is it??

?You and Momiji-san...do you ever fight each other??

The two swordsmen looked each other over, sharing a private smile. ?We fight every day,? Youmu said. ?But not until after closing time.?

FinnKaenbyou

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Dolphin Rider Koishi - Epilogue (Part 4)
« Reply #637 on: November 24, 2013, 10:20:59 AM »
Sure enough, a little bit of questioning was enough to lead Koishi in the direction she wanted. Most people had trouble putting a name to Nazrin’s face, but they knew enough about ‘the charity mouse’ to help Koishi along.

By the time Koishi had arrived, the sun was beginning to set in the distance. The city grew progressively simpler the further Koishi moved from the center, multicoloured skyscrapers giving way to ordinary apartments. By the time she hit the city’s edge, she was passing by rickety flats and overcrowded apartment complexes in what could only be the lower-class district.

A quick head count showed that the youkai here outnumbered the humans about four to one. The air was tense, every pedestrian viewing their neighbours with quiet suspicion. They were dressed plainly in ragged shirts, well-worn denim and hole-ridden shoes, the sort of hand-me-downs that humans would throw away without a second thought. Above all, they seemed extremely poor compared to the rest of the city - Koishi passed by half a dozen beggars going down one street, all of them looking up at her with pleading eyes. She fumbled in her pockets, but there wasn’t a penny on her. All she could do was shake her head in apology as she walked past.

“Hm?”

Looking ahead, Koishi saw a single building that was bustling with life. People flowed in and out of it with impressive pace, squeezing through a set of rickety double doors. A hand-painted sign hung over the entrance, declaring it to be the NazRan Soup Kitchen.

Direct hit, Koishi thought to herself. She joined in with the crowd, letting the current of society guide her through the doors. A large cafeteria stood before her, dozens of tables at each side. Here the desolate atmosphere of the district seemed to fade away, and she could hear friendly banter flow freely between humans and youkai. The warm smell of food flooded her nostrils, though she struggled to identify a distinct flavour in the aroma.

“Alright, people, gather round! Dinner’s ready!”

One voice rose above all the muttering from the far end of the room. The crowd formed an orderly line without being asked, with Koishi caught somewhere in the middle. One by one they stepped forward to the counter, receiving a bowl of soup from the server before taking a seat at one of the tables. Koishi never saw money changing hands through the entire process - every bowl was completely free of charge.

After a few minutes, Koishi was at the front of the queue. The server was hidden under the counter, dumping the contents of her ladle into another bowl. Only her long grey tail poked out from below, but that was more than enough for Koishi to identify her.

“Alright, be careful with this one.” Nazrin rose up, a bowl of steaming hot soup in her hand. “This stuff is pretty hot, so give it a minute before-” She dropped the bowl when she saw who she was talking to. “W-Whoa! Koishi-san?!”

Koishi reached forward on instinct, grabbing the bowl before it could hit the ground. In the same gesture she spun around, handed the meal to the youkai behind her, and turned to face Nazrin again.

“Hi, Nazrin-san.” She paused for a moment, looking back at the growing line. “I guess now is a bad time?”

“...Slightly.” Nazrin’s ears drooped as she recovered from the initial shock. “Give me a few minutes to work through the dinner rush, okay?”

Koishi nodded, stepping out of the queue and finding herself a seat. She took the opportunity to look over her surroundings. The building was bland and featureless - perhaps because its owners couldn’t afford to furnish it - but it held a certain charm that Koishi couldn’t put words to. It felt friendly, especially in contrast to the harsh world outside. Koishi imagined that some of the poorest residents used the kitchen as a shelter, sleeping here when they had no home to return to.

Eventually the flow of diners subsided, and the counter slid shut for the day. Nazrin emerged from the back of the kitchen, almost buried in an apron three sizes too large for her. Another youkai followed behind her - another familiar face, this one in a much more sensible business attire.

“So it is you, Komeiji-san.” Ran Yakumo let her mouth hang open, one hand gripping at the hem of her skirt. “When Nazrin told me you were visiting, I was convinced she was making some sort of euphemism.”

“Thanks for your trust in me,” Nazrin said, rolling her eyes. The two youkai sank into the seats across from Koishi, the fox easily towering above the mouse. “Go ahead. Pinch her if you think I’m lying.”

“Hmm. An interesting suggestion.” A mischievous glint rose to Ran’s eyes. “Komeiji-san, do you mind if I determine your authenticity?”

“I’ll pass, thanks.” Koishi spat out the answer. Ran’s fingers extended into razor sharp nails; getting pinched by those seemed distinctly unpleasant.

“A wise decision.” The fox smiled. “Don’t worry, Komeiji-san. Yours is not a face I plan to forget any time soon.”

“If you’re done threatening our visitor...” Nazrin’s tail poked Ran in the thigh, prompting her to stop her antics. “What’re you doing out here, Koishi-san? This isn’t exactly a nice part of town.”

“I know, but I wanted to check up on you.” Koishi looked around the building again, rubbing at the side of her head. “I wasn’t expecting this though, Nazrin-san. You didn’t come across as the charity worker type.”

“Well, I guess someone’s got to do it.” Nazrin looked away, tail swishing about behind her. “Even with all the changes the city’s seen, there are still plenty of poor people who need to be helped. Besides, we need to make up for all the damage that the grandma did around here.”

Koishi tilted her head. “Grandma?”

“She means Byakuren Hijiri,” Ran said. “Former director of the Myouren Institute. She’s now the head of a pro-youkai charity who are trying to make Gensokyo some sort of holy city for youkai. And by holy city, I mean she wants to kick out all of the ‘wicked, sinful humans’. She protests around the district frequently, and she has a small but vocal following.”

“She’s a pro-youkai supporter?” Koishi furrowed her brow. “But isn’t she-”

“Human?” Ran nodded. “Correct. She says that she is aware enough of her own failings to realise the flaws of humanity, or some similar nonsense. If you ask me, the woman is utterly deluded.”

“I think the fire left its mark on her,” Nazrin said. “This is probably what she thinks qualifies as repentance for not being able to ‘save’ my master. But all she’s doing is giving the district a bad name, so even less money comes our direction.”

“Technically, we aren’t even making enough money to stay afloat,” Ran said. “Even with Nazrin running all over the city collecting donations, we’re still in the red.” The fox fiddled with her collar. “Fortunately, my talent with numbers means I can play a trick or two with our finances. We’re surviving - for now, at least.”

Koishi nodded along solemnly. It seemed that even after the transformation of Gensokyo, there were some inequalities that still needed to be ironed out. She imagined the Mayor and her Siren accomplice would solve the problem in time. Until then, it was thanks to these two youkai that the district was holding together.

“What about you, Nazrin-san?” Koishi asked.

Nazrin’s ears twitched. “What about what?”

“Shou-san. How do you feel about...you know.”

Nazrin sucked in a deep breath, her tail wrapping around itself. “That’s a pretty upfront question, Koishi-san.”

Koishi immediately regretted her choice of words. “Sorry. I just...I was worried. Shou-san got pulled away so suddenly, so I don’t know how well you took it.”

The mouse stared down at the table, one hand rubbing at the flat surface. “It was...hard. I felt like garbage when I got back and realised I was alone again. I didn’t even get to say goodbye, not in the way I wanted to. If I hadn’t found something else to focus my attention on, I’d have probably broken down entirely.” She smacked her fist down hard enough to make the table shake. “But I can’t do that. I’ve gotta keep going for master’s sake. She’d feel awful if she saw me moping about her. And, well...” She shrugged, smiling sadly. “I know she’d do the same in my position. So it’s only fair I give it my all.”

Ran nodded, her fox tails bristling behind her. “A good answer, Nazrin.” She gave the mouse a firm pat on the back. “I’m sure your master is looking down on you with pride.”

Nazrin let out a little chuckle. “Same to you. I bet Yakumo is thrilled that her most powerful apprentice has been reduced to charity work.”

“Ah, but what would you do without me?” The fox smirked. “Imagine how this place would function without my guiding hand. The city would collapse faster than you could say ‘proletariat’.”

“Is that a challenge, Ran?”

“No, it’s a fact.”

Koishi couldn’t help but break into a smile at the sight of them and their playful bickering. With these two looking over the district, she knew things would turn out alright.

“So what’s your plan, Koishi-san?” Nazrin asked, once she’d finished messing with her partner-in-crime. “The world’s changed a lot while you were gone. What are you looking to do with yourself?”

Koishi sighed. “Honestly, I don’t think I’m ready to answer that question right now. I need a few days to get comfortable before I make any rash decisions. Just sitting around the house and acclimating to how different everything is.”

Ran nodded. “Understandable. And after all the work you’ve done for the White Pearl, you deserve a chance to rest.”

The Siren nodded back. She’d have taken the chance to relax whether it had been offered to her or not. For the first time in months, she didn’t have to worry about the Claw hiding around every corner. It had been a long and difficult fight, but at last she and her friends had emerged victorious.

An idea struck her then. They’d managed a great victory, so what was the harm with celebrating it?

“Say, Nazrin-san. How available are you over the next few days?”

“Uh...” Nazrin pulled back, taken off guard by the question. “I can probably get some time off with enough of a warning. Why do you ask?”

Koishi smiled. “Well, I promised Youmu-san I’d arrange a little get-together...”

-----

“Alright, people! Let the festivities commence!”

Nitori twirled around two soda bottles in her hands, demonstrating grace and dexterity Koishi hadn’t seen since their visit to the Rabbit’s Foot. She flipped off the bottlecaps with her thumbs, sending two streams of foam across the room in brilliant arcs. The foam flew cleanly over the entire table, without leaving so much as a drop on the gathered Sirens.

“You are going to clean up after yourself, I assume?” Sakuya said, the only one not taken in by the spectacle. “I’m not getting paid to look after this place, you know.”

“Aww, don’t be such a spoilsport.” The kappa stuck out her tongue. “This is our big victory parade. Let’s leave the worrying for later.”

Sakuya continued to scowl, but Youmu’s glare was enough to convince her to drop the point. The maid took a few deep breaths, falling gradually into the party spirit. A single table ran the length of the Scarlet Bakery’s cafe, more than large enough to seat the seven Sirens and their leader. In the corner a television displayed a music channel, pop songs adding a lively vibe to the room.

There was also one additional guest at the proceedings. A guest who was making short work of the buffet.

“Mmmnn, nnfffh...” Jozu took in another mouthful of food moments after swallowing the one before. Her plate was three times as tall as anyone else’s, full to the brim with all the meat she could find. Koishi took a glance at the shark’s lean figure, wondering how Jozu ate so much without putting on a pound. She wrote it off as a peculiarity of youkai metabolism.

“How did you even find out about our arrangements, Kawashiro-san?” Satori was much more restrained, with only a few morsels which she intermittently nibbled on. Perhaps she was trying to compensate for her bodyguard’s overindulgence. “None of us could get in contact with you.”

Nitori tutted the minister, waving a finger about. “I’ll have to keep you in the dark on that one, Satori-chan. Mine is an existence of mystery and intrigue, and anything I tell you is a secret my adversaries could overhear.”

She spoke with sing-song melodrama, but her expression was so earnest that Koishi was honestly unsure whether the kappa was being serious. Then again, that was a state of affairs she’d had plenty of time to become used to.

“Who cares how she got here?” Komachi leaned back in her chair, looking immensely pleased with herself. “This isn’t a day for questions. Let’s eat, drink and be merry, alright?”

“I’ll second that,” Mokou said, having taken her fair share of the salad. “This is Koishi-san’s welcome-back party. That means all silly bickering is banned. Understood?”

“That sounds troublesome,” Youmu said. “After all, sarcasm is the only language Miyo knows how to speak.”

“Ouch.” Nazrin sucked in a breath, looking at Sakuya with poorly hidden pity. “Looks like you’ve been rubbing off on your sister.”

Sakuya shrugged. “I’d be offended if it wasn’t true.”

Koishi giggled. Mokou’s warning had gone unheeded, but there was a playfulness to the jibes that took out all the animosity they could have carried. They’d had to struggle against tight schedules to find the time, but they’d all managed to come together for her. It was Koishi’s first chance to truly appreciate the friends she had made in her time as a Siren.

But that made the one empty chair all the more obvious. Koishi looked at the seat to her right, sighing too quietly for anyone to hear.

“Thinking about Sango-san, I assume?” Satori was the only one to catch it, the other Sirens either chattering with each other or focused on dinner. Either she caught on to Koishi’s ticks, or she saw the thoughts flowing through her sister’s mind.

“...Yeah.” Koishi nodded. The dolphin was still off doing her recon on the coast. Even Nitori couldn’t get in touch with her, and the date of her return was a mystery to everyone.

“If it means anything, she visited you just as much as I did.” Satori put a hand on Koishi’s shoulder. “If it wasn’t for work, she’d have been by your side 24/7.”

Honestly, Koishi had expected as much. She and Sango had been particularly close, and near the end their friendship had reached that peculiar level where it probably didn’t qualify as friendship anymore. Koishi had always been meaning to have a talk with Sango, to figure out where they stood with each other. Now she had no idea when that chance would come.

Dammit. What am I doing? Koishi shook off the thought, puffing her chest up. This was a celebration, not a pity party. She could leave her navel gazing for another day. Her eagerness renewed, she filled up a glassful of soda and gave it a hearty chug.

“That’s the spirit, Koishi-chan.” Nitori offered her a round of applause as she raised her own glass. “Everyone, a toast to the return of our favourite Ocean Princess!”

The Sirens heeded the call, each raising a cup in Koishi’s honour. “To Koishi-san!” They clinked glasses together before downing their drinks - alcohol for Komachi and Nitori, soda for everyone else. Nitori picked up the remote, raising the volume of the television. Cheerful j-pop hung in the background of the party as everyone present exchanged small talk.

When the music abruptly stopped, everyone turned in the direction of the television.

“We interrupt this broadcast to give you a breaking news bulletin.” Hatate Himekaidou sat with her back straight, her expression grave. “Mass rioting has broken out in the island of Okinawa, with dozens already confirmed injured.”

Koishi gulped. She could almost hear the mood of the party shattering into a thousand pieces.

“The riots follow controversial protests by youkai-rights activists, who accuse the Okinawan people of illegal whaling. Though the practice was officially outlawed two years ago after the fall of the Masquerade, protestors claim that small whaling operations are still functioning. Prime Minister Miyahara has urged the protestors to appeal to common sense, as police -”

The television flickered off halfway through the bulletin. “Blech. I’ve had enough of that, thanks.” Nitori turned the television off, throwing the remote across the room. An awkward silence hung in the air for a few seconds afterward, no-one sure exactly how to react.

“It’s a real shame,” Komachi said, leaning forward with her elbows on the table. “I heard things were pretty rough over there, but I didn’t think things would go that far south.”

“Is it true, though?” Sakuya cradled her fingers, still looking at the blank screen. “About the whaling, I mean.”

“Who knows?” Nazrin shrugged. “I don’t have time for the news anymore. That soup isn’t gonna serve itself.”

“I’ll make sure to bring it up with Eiki some time tomorrow,” Satori said, fiddling with the collar of her dress. “I’m not sure if there’s much we can do, though. We have our own business to deal with, after all.”

A sad nod passed across the table. Koishi was the only one not to join in, catching onto a truth her companions must have realised two years prior. They weren’t superheroes anymore - they still had all their powers, but the rest of the world had caught up with them. They’d done their part to keep Gensokyo from coming apart, but their influence hadn’t expanded far beyond their own city.

As the other guests recovered their brevity, Koishi felt her thoughts drifting away. She nodded along and did a good job of feigning interest, but the news report had planted itself in her mind. She’d forgotten that there was still a whole world beyond Gensokyo, a world that had its own share of problems to solve.

But what am I supposed to do? Koishi dipped a finger in her drink, swirling it around. I’m not a hero anymore. She looked around the table, at the other Sirens. They’d been magical girls once, heroes who kept Gensouto safe. Now they were teachers, lawyers, charity workers, ordinary occupations she would see from anyone on the street. The White Pearl seemed nonexistent - perhaps with the war over, it simply lost its reason to exist.

For months, her work as a Siren had defined her. She took pride in fighting evil, in doing what she could to make the world a better place. Now she was just an ordinary girl, her talents unremarkable in a world of youkai and magic. The same question echoed in her ears, growing louder and louder until it deafened out everything else.

Where am I supposed to go from here?

-----

“Phweeeeeeeeeee~!”

Sango charged through the streets of Gensokyo with blatant disregard for other pedestrians. Her heart was lodged somewhere in her throat and refused to budge. Every muscle in her body felt set to snap, but she continued to dash on regardless.

“Koishi-san, what the heck are you thinking?!”

She’d returned from her time on duty to two different surprises. First was the good news, that Koishi had regained consciousness and that she was up and walking. The moment she heard that, Sango had gone straight to the Komeiji residence to give Koishi the biggest hug she could manage.

When she had arrived, she found Satori consoling the two pets. Rin and Utsuho were unusually quiet, burying their faces in their owner’s chest. It was Jozu who ended up letting Sango in on what had happened.

“Koishi-san is leaving the country,” she said. “All she told us was that she wanted to see the world for herself.”

The news had left Sango numb, and for a moment she just stood in place as if she’d been paralyzed. Satori looked her over, and Sango saw a telltale glint in her eyes. It was a sign the valkyrie had looked into the depths of her heart, seeing the feelings the dolphin had held back for two whole years.

“She only left half an hour ago,” the Siren said, one hand on the heads of each of her pets. “If you hurry, you might be able to catch her.”

In an instant, Sango’s frigid blood turned red hot. She offered Satori a small nod of thanks before running in the direction of the city’s entrance. She hadn’t slowed down since, hitting speeds that would have made a swordfish jealous.

Please be there, Koishi-san! Her brain could barely function, the same thoughts playing over and over again. There’s so much I have to tell you!

At the edge of the city was a small checkpoint, a gate that separated Gensokyo from the rest of the world. Two youkai in uniforms were present - one stood at the gate to watch for new arrivals, while the other was examining a person on her way out.

Sango would have recognised the Siren anywhere.

“Koishi-san!”

Sango yelled at the top of her voice, two years of waiting reaching an explosive climax. Koishi flinched at the sound, turning around to face her. Her expression had changed, Sango thought to herself; it was a little older, a little wiser, but still unquestionably the Koishi she knew.

“Sango-san?” Koishi’s eyes widened. “What are you-”

Before she could finish, Sango leaped forward and wrapped her arms around the Siren. Koishi went still, stiff at first but gradually melting into the dolphin’s embrace.

“What do you think, stupid?” Sango squeezed harder, holding back the urge to slap Koishi across the face. “You think I was gonna let you run off into the sunset without saying goodbye?”

Koishi returned the hug, her warm hands wrapping around Sango. The dolphin had never forgotten the softness of Koishi’s touch, the tenderness of her fingers, the earnestness of her smile.

“I’m sorry, Sango-san,” Koishi said. “I tried to get hold of you, but no-one had any idea where you were.”

“Sorry about that.” Sango pouted, pulling back from the hug. “I’m not allowed to make any contact with other people on duty.” She looked over at the border guard, who nodded as he finished his check of Koishi’s bag. “But what’re you doing? You’re barely walking and already you’re trying to leave.”

Koishi shrugged. “I know, but well...there’s a big wide world out there. Even with all the work we did as Sirens, there’s still a lot of problems that need solving. It just doesn’t feel right to sit back when I could be out there making a difference.”

Sango’s jaw dropped. Koishi had already saved the world, and millions of youkai were in her debt. Most people would have rested on their laurels at that point, but Koishi still wanted to push herself to do everything she could.

“You sure about this?” Sango said, scratching at her forehead. “I mean, you’re not a Siren anymore. If you’re going out to fight evil, everyone else is gonna be just as powerful as you.”

Koishi sighed, body tensing for a moment. “That’s true, Sango-san. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. I’m just your average girl now. There are plenty of people more qualified to make a change in the world than I am. All things considered, I’m probably pretty powerless.”

She let out a sharp breath, as if to expel her uncertainty. “But ‘probably’ isn’t the same as ‘definitely’. As long as there’s a chance I can make a difference somewhere in the world, I’ll do everything I can to pursue it.”

“And if it’s too big for you to handle on your own?” Sango asked.

“Then I’ll find somebody to help me.” The Siren smiled. “After all, I didn’t beat the Ravager on my own, did I?”

Sango had no way to hide her amazement. This was the determination that she’d come to know from Koishi, the raw passion and commitment that made her so memorable. Two years in a coma had done nothing to change her - a fact Sango was deeply grateful for.

At the same time, she knew there was no way she’d be able to hold Koishi back. Sango had come here hoping to talk Koishi out of it, but having seen her in person she knew nothing she said would make any difference. And even if it could, she felt like she didn’t have the right to tell Koishi how to live her life.

“You’re really sold on this, aren’t you?”

Koishi nodded, her posture stalwart and strong. “You know me, Sango-san. I can’t leave a good deed undone.”

The dolphin sighed. This was no time to say what she’d planned to tell her. Coming out with it now would just feel wrong. With that in mind, she only had one real option left.

“Seriously, Koishi-san. You’re a bona fide maniac.” She stepped forward, stretching her arms out to get the guard’s attention. “Someone needs to make sure you don’t get yourself hurt.”

“Wait, you don’t mean-” Koishi gasped. “Don’t you have your own job here?”

“Eh, they can survive losing one pair of hands.” The dolphin looked back with a smile as the guard patted her down. She’d brought nothing with her, so the job only took him a few seconds. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to go sightseeing,” she added, wrapping an arm around her companion’s shoulder. ”May as well have a good excuse for it, am I right?”

Koishi went bright red at Sango’s touch, but she showed no sign of discomfort. She nuzzled at Sango’s chest, looking up at her with a smile. “Thanks, Sango-san. Really.”

“Don’t mention it.” Sango would have hugged her forever if she could, but now wasn’t the time. Maybe later she’d have a chance to tell Koishi how she felt. But for now, there were other things to worry about. “Well, then. Shall we?”

Koishi nodded. She reached out, taking Sango’s hand and squeezing. Sango returned the gesture, her hand feeling more comfortable in Koishi’s than anywhere else. They looked in unison towards the gate as it rose upwards, both the guards bowing as they motioned towards the exit.

“Not gonna lie, I’m real excited.” Sango felt electricity channel through her blood. “It’s like a whole new adventure, isn’t it?”

“Yup,” Koishi said, with a brilliant smile. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Hand in hand, the pair stepped out into the open world beyond.

-----

DOLPHIN RIDER KOISHI
END
« Last Edit: January 17, 2014, 12:28:54 PM by Roukan-Chen »

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
  • *
  • blub blub nya
Dolphin Rider Koishi - A Post-Mortem
« Reply #638 on: November 24, 2013, 11:52:35 AM »
In the year 2010, the world seemed like a very different place. BP managed to screw up royally and wreck the Gulf of Mexico. WikiLeaks was the website on everyone's lips. And the world watched anxiously to determine the fate of a caved-in team of Chilean miners.

And it was also in 2010, on August 18th, that I began what quickly became a very personal endeavour.

Dolphin Rider Koishi started as a joke, based on the insane ramblings of Koishi from another story of mine. But it ended up expanding as I took it more seriously than it probably deserved, until I had an entirely multi-arc story sprawling around in my head. It was easily the largest and most ambitious story idea I'd ever had - my biggest story at the time was Rising Star, which clocked in at about 63000 words. DRK, in its final incarnation, is at least five times as long as that. Hell, there are probably entire trilogies with fewer words than what I put together here.

So now, 1194 days later, I have to look back on the whole thing and ask 'was it worth it? was this story about magical girls and dolphins worth putting three years of my life into?' And as corny as it'll sound, I feel like the answer to that question is yes.

Let me preface this with one important point - I don't like my writing from three years ago. They say you are your own worst critic, and when it comes to the early days of DRK that definitely holds true for me. The whole thing was bogged down in melodrama and exposition, and worst of all Koishi herself was a character that got on my nerves the more I tried to write her. All this frustration ultimately came to a head halfway through arc 4, where I got completely stumped during the protest scene and ended up writing absolutely nothing for about six months.

That hiatus taught me something very important about writing in general - characters grow, sometimes without you being aware of it. Much of the reason I struggled with the protest scene was that I was still imagining Koishi to be the coward she was at the beginning of the story, hiding beneath her bedsheets and trying desperately to refuse the call. I never realised that she'd done her own bit of growing up in the time between, and she was actually much more equipped to handle the scenario than I thought she was.

That realisation was what convinced me the story had to be finished. Never mind how much I learned from writing it, how much prouder I am of my writing as a consequence. I felt like after going that far into the story, I owed it to everyone to finish - not just the readers who'd stuck with the story after so long, but the characters whose arcs never made it to an end. John Green put it best when he said your responsibility is not to the people you're making the gift for, but to the gift itself.

There was also a feeling that I had to tell the story for its overall theme. There seems to be a big wave nowadays for shows where the bad guys win and everything goes wrong - shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, for example. I've never been able to get into shows like that - I feel like if I want to engage in some fictional escapism, I'd want to read something that wouldn't make me feel even more downbeat. That's why I wanted to write something that would buck the trend - there would be trouble, strife and sadness, but in the end the efforts of the heroes pay off and they manage to change the world for the better. Call it a metaphor for my world view, if you want.

Anyway, I'm glad to have finished DRK, and I feel like I've learned a lot from the experience, but one thing I really want to make clear is that this is 100% the end of the series. I get really mad when people say 'this is the end of the show/series/whatever' and then go back on it to make another one, so I decided I really don't want that to happen to DRK. So this is the end of DRK as a series unless I receive a healthy donation in the mail. Cash is preferred.

One more question I've received a lot from people is 'what are you going to do after DRK is finished?' At the time I wasn't very sure, but having thought about it there's only one way I can go from here - I'm currently trying my hand at writing my own original novel. I'm about 10k words into the first draft right now and doing my best to maintain momentum. It's got dolphins and magic in it, so you could argue that I'm writing what I know. :P

Right, I've let this drag on for long enough. I just want to finish by offering a few acknowledgements for people who helped me along the way to finish this:
-Iced: Obviously. You've been my proofreader for years and have generally helped to keep me in check when I freak out. I couldn't have done this without you.
-Esi: You were the guy who picked me up whenever I felt down. You were the one who had something good to say when I got disheartened, the one who convinced me I could make the story work. When things got rough I would just read over your comments to get myself back into the mood.
-Amra: Bro beyond bros. No particular reason, you're just awesome.
-Moerin: You're probably never going to read this, but you're the person who convinced me to write DRK in the first place. Thank you.
-Kracko: Holy crap that art you did for the Sirens was amazing. It was great seeing ideas I'd had locked up in my head for so long come to life on paper.
-Ruro: The other author writing a monumental epic revolving around the Komeijis. :P Seriously, though, your success was the challenge I was trying to match. Best of luck with White Rose when you get back to it. Hope I didn't mess up Sumire's character too badly!
-The TVTropers responsible for DRK's Trope pages. When I found out this page existed I felt absolutely amazing, knowing what I'd produced was good enough for people to put work into building a page like that. Have fun trying to summarise the last arc, though! :V
-And just generally, everyone who's stuck with this story since day 1. I wouldn't have been able to finish without all the support I've had over the last three years.

Thanks, everyone. Hope you enjoyed. See you whenever.

Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #639 on: November 24, 2013, 12:40:16 PM »
Awesome finale to an awesome story, Rou. Many thanks for writing this heartfelt tale~. I'm kinda of sad that it has to end... but everything must eventually.
Thanks once again, Rou. And I'll be sure to spread the awesome that is Dolphin Rider Koishi for time to come~.
I wish you the best of luck with your next project, and look forward to more awesome stories from you~.
*is actually a bit teary eyed right now*
« Last Edit: November 24, 2013, 01:36:29 PM by S1nZ_9001 »

Joveus Molai

  • Bear the Word, and the Word will bear you.
  • *
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #640 on: November 24, 2013, 02:37:02 PM »
It's over. 3 years running, and it's over.

It's like watching a beloved long-running TV show end; you feel sad that there won't be any more of it, but glad that everything wrapped up so neatly. All stories must end, after all.

I think Rou deserves a great big round of applause for not only embarking on, or continuing, but finishing this monster of a project.

Congratulations, Rou.  :)

*Standing Ovation*

Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #641 on: November 24, 2013, 02:49:51 PM »
The end has come!

Wow. You're awesome Rou and what you've made is awesome. A satisfying conclusion to an amazing story, I'm proud to have watched it come together so well for the years I've been following this. You've managed to go from high point to high point, always kept me guessing, and defied so many of my expectations. It may have started as a joke but it's turned out as anything but. Also very impressive that you've managed to see such a mammoth undertaking through to it's end, I've seen smaller projects left on the wayside. Can't wait to see what delicious literary morsel you come up with next. :)

Congratulations good job happy end!
« Last Edit: November 24, 2013, 02:51:48 PM by Yaersulf »

Kasu

  • Small medium at large.
  • This soup has an explosive flavour!
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #642 on: November 24, 2013, 05:50:29 PM »
Great ending to a great story. Couldn't have asked for anything better!

Congratulations Rou! Can't wait to see some more stuff from you!

Apparently, Thomas the Tank Engine isn't one to take crap from anyone.

BT

  • I never talk to you
  • *
  • People say that I should
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #643 on: November 24, 2013, 07:46:47 PM »
You kind of said it yourself, but one of the best results of doing something like this is the fact that you've done it. Congrats and thanks.

Burcaresti

  • Doll Judgement
  • Your Judgement Day has come at last!
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #644 on: November 24, 2013, 08:13:02 PM »
That was FANTASTIC.
Honestly, I don't even know what to say... everything tied up so well in the last chapter. I'll have to read this all the way through again to really get my head around the story.
As I've said before, you're a fantastic writer, Roukanken. Just follow your passion to the end~

Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #645 on: November 24, 2013, 08:52:02 PM »
I feel... a bit emotional now that this story's over. A bit sad that it's over, for one, but at the same time, happy for you and the cast that things have ended as well as they have. Congratulations on completing this, Rou, and looking forward to your future work, whatever that may be.

Esifex

  • Though the sun may set
  • *
  • It shall rise again
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #646 on: November 24, 2013, 09:04:18 PM »
Out.
Fucking.
Standing.

Roukan, you have no idea how happy I am for you that you managed to drag this story, kicking and screaming, to the conclusion you wanted it to end up at.

This, by the way, is how I'm planning on easing Jen into Touhou - you've managed to be mindful of canonical powers while still putting an incredible personal twist on everything.

You've done brilliantly. Treat yourself to a drink, on behalf of all your loyal fans, and especially me.

(PS You know Ruro did a lot of work on the character page for the Tropes page, right?)

KaiserKnuckle

  • You better stop,
  • and think about what you're doing
    • Music interests and whatnot
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #647 on: November 24, 2013, 09:56:30 PM »
Three years, eh?

I must say, this whole journey though the experiences of a place in the world called Gensouto was quite the treat for me this whole time.

You did manage to keep me on my toes for about two of them, since I found out about this (and the forum!!!) when (iirc) Mindcoil!Tewi happened. It was very hilarious, melancholic, satisfying and fleshed out the whole ride through.

Certainly, you are ascending the hierarchy of stories here.

We will root for you in the next story you will spin out for us, and who knows what after that.

Congratulations, Roukanken.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2013, 12:15:36 AM by Soichiro W.K. »
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KrackoCloud

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #648 on: November 24, 2013, 10:46:25 PM »
It's over.

I don't even know how to respond to this being done. It was a great read, and one of the only reasons I ever visit PSL. I'm super glad I came across this story, and I'm happy I could at least support you with some art. Now that it's over, I only regret not putting more effort into some of those drawings. <:U

Anyway, congrats, Rou. You stuck to it until the end - it's not every writer who gets to claim that!

Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #649 on: November 25, 2013, 06:26:08 AM »
Man, so many thoughts and feels going through my mind right now, so I'll try to unclutter them and say what I want to say.

Well... that's it. I didn't think I'd see the day where I'd scroll down to the end of this thread, and see the words "THE END" in bold, black letters, but here we are.

I'd been reading since Third Eye in Pure Waters, and I honestly didn't know what'd come of this AU fic, but I am glad to have stayed from Point A all the way up till Point B. This fic is what made me come out of lurking and tell you to keep going myself in IRC, even if a hundred more were telling you the same thing.

In the end, it seems it was worth it. The ending really wrapped everything up, and nothing was left undone, and was a fulfilling conclusion overall. Even though this is the absolute end, Koishi and Sango will always be out there, stomping out evil wherever it may arise, and the readers can rest knowing that they're out there keeping us safe.

As a writer myself, I have mad respect for the amount of determination you've showed to this story, and being able to survive all your problems on the side. Since I can't magically appear in front of you in person and give you a hug on this accomplishment, there's not much more praise I can give you at this point besides, "Congratulations, and well done."

May your future works be met with as much success, if not more. Even though I sort of came to the party late, I'll try to be there to help if you in future endeavors, if you require it.

Hanzo K.

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #650 on: November 25, 2013, 07:30:01 PM »
So, it's finally been completed...It was a good ride. Shame it's over, but as they say; "All good things must come to an end."
One does wonder what sort of shenanigans Koishi and Sango will get up to though.
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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #651 on: November 25, 2013, 10:46:34 PM »
One does wonder what sort of shenanigans Koishi and Sango will get up to though.

Maybe Rou will write those Koishi x Sango yuri fics he's kept promising

Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #652 on: December 17, 2013, 11:58:06 PM »
Started reading apparently about 2 weeks before the very end.

Hah, Jozu beat Sango in one regard :V

I was kind of hoping that the BC leader and ravager were Kanako and Hisu but ah well. Dat Komeiji and world portrayal.

These played during and after the epilogue. The melancholy... it's too strong...

PS Sorry for necro but had to catch up qq

Mеа

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #653 on: January 10, 2014, 01:48:46 AM »
Shameless necro-ing, but what a damned amazing job you've done here, it was such a great adventure from beginning to end. There were great moments all over, whether it was the humor, emotional scenes, battles, etc. There were some places that felt fanfic-y, and maybe that was the effect you were going for, but there was so much growth over the entirety of the story and characters that I can look back on the experience and know that it was an amazing ride.  Thank you, and I wish you great luck on your personal novel.

I'd hate to end on a technical aspect, but there was one discrepancy that I found near the very end:
Quote
Sango charged through the streets of Gensouto with blatant disregard for other pedestrians
Shouldn't this be Gensokyo instead?
Naked expression; purple raspberry flavour

KrackoCloud

  • I don't mean to be greedy...
  • ... but white rice is my favorite food.
Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #654 on: January 10, 2014, 04:56:04 AM »
Shouldn't this be Gensokyo instead?
It's always been Gensouto!

Mеа

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #655 on: January 10, 2014, 09:45:27 AM »
It's always been Gensouto!
Spoiler:
Until they changed it into the nation of Gensokyo
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FinnKaenbyou

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #656 on: January 19, 2014, 09:52:25 AM »
Just popping in to say thanks to everyone for all the support. I love you all. <3

Nia - thanks for the find. I've fiddled with the text accordingly.

Moerin

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #657 on: January 19, 2014, 05:08:21 PM »
I have no idea why I popped in today after my self-imposed exile, but I'm glad that I did.  It's great to see that you actually stuck by this and got it finished, Rou.  I'm really proud of you.  8)

Now I just need to binge on it at some point, ahah. :yukkuri:
« Last Edit: January 19, 2014, 05:10:00 PM by Moerin »
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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #658 on: January 20, 2014, 05:04:37 AM »
Now I just need to binge on it at some point, ahah. :yukkuri:
Man it's been a while since I last saw you.

But I need to do this as well at some point when I'm not busy as fuck with school and life and all

qMyon

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Re: Dolphin Rider Koishi - The End
« Reply #659 on: March 27, 2014, 08:51:18 AM »
I just finished marathoning the whole thing, and it was amazing. Definitely one of the best fanworks I've had the chance to read. Seriously, I was so absorbed that I felt as though some part of me was oddly missing after I had finished.  :D