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The War Chronicles of a Little Demon (Youjo Senki alt)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Sunshine Temple, Dec 25, 2021.

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  1. Threadmarks: Prologue: Victory
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    The War Chronicles of a Little Demon

    Set in the Return Verse
    A Saga of Tanya the Evil fic thingy.
    By Sunshine Temple

    Naturally, I do not own Youjo Senki. So here's the disclaimer:

    Saga of Tanya the Evil its characters and settings belong Carlo Zen, Shinobu Shinotsuki, and NUT Co., Ltd.

    Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.
    http://www.fukufics.com/fic/


    Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku
    http://fukufics.com

    C&C as always is wanted.

    Prologue: Victory


    No matter what happened next, no mater the burdens, no matter the indignities, I would forever treasure the look on Being X's face when I jabbed my sword bayonet into his guts and pulled the trigger.

    Putting me there where I could hit him, where I could kill him took everything.

    I promised the men of the 203rd that we would win no matter the cost. With a, self declared, omnipotent creature like Being X pulling the strings, there was no way the Empire could win the war while he still lived.

    In the end, the cost was less than I expected. Visha and Weiss would be able to get the survivors back... well... back home. I gave Major Weiss specific instructions to blame me for taking the 203rd battalion and the rest of Salamander without orders. Though, with the way the war was going, defecting might be better. If I were an optimist I would think the Empire could still turn it around. And maybe they could, but they would have to try without me.

    And without Being X interfering.

    After acquiring vital weapons, we picked up the trail up north, not far from where I won the Silver Wings Assault Badge. From there our pursuit went south west.

    To the Rhine. It was no longer an active combat zone, but it still bore the scars. I hated that place. I hated the nickname I had earned there.

    So of course, that was where Being X made its stand with its puppets.

    Letting out a ragged breath, I fell to my knees. My rifle and its long bayonet clattered to the concrete but I didn't care. I put a hand to my chest.

    There was no blood.

    My eyes widened and I scooped up my rifle and stood. My computation orb, I had modified the cursed one that Being X had forced me to use, flared and I was ready to take to the air.

    This wasn't the mud and broken terrain of the Rhine sector.

    This was a train station. It was the train station.

    I had died here. The first time. A man, who could not react to being fired with any degree of rationality and proportionality, had pushed me onto the tracks.

    And that was when Being X first interfered with my life. He had not taken well to me debating him on the points of worship and the desperation required for it. And in a pique of rage Being X decided to force me to his way of thinking.

    The station was empty. There were no people to act as his mouthpieces and certainly were no people in the train or on the tracks.

    I looked down the rails; they went off into the distance. But once they were past the station they were the only thing. Everything beyond the platform itself was a white void. Looking behind me, I could see the stairs that went down to street level but they ended into the same void. To one side was a black glass door that I did not remember, but it had been years since I was here.

    I tensed and a bit of worry fell into me.

    I had beaten Being X. I had put all the power of my computation jewel, the sword bayonet I had purloined from a Unified States depot in Albion, the research I had taken from Doctor Schugel, the modifications to the Type 95. It was a gamble, a glorious risk.

    But a calculated one.

    "Be not afraid," a calm voice said as a man approached. He wore familiar blue jumpsuit and was pulling off a white hardhat. His hair was a pale blond and his features were old. The lettering on his hardhat and suit marked him as working for a garbage collection service from my childhood.

    My first one.

    "Who are you?" I kept my rifle pointed down, but ready to level it. I realized that I was no longer in my torn, bloody flight suit but instead in my uniform, and that my computation jewel was no longer a molten chunk of slag.

    He gave a warm smile and pulled off a pair of gloves and put them into the upturned helmet. "I must thank you."

    "Eh?"

    "Few are willing to adhere to their principles in the face of overwhelming power. Being X, as you called it, tried everything to defeat you. Not just you but had treated billions of souls as playthings." The man's voice hardened. "That was an utter affront. Rectifying and rebalancing has been an immense task, and I apologize for keeping you waiting for so long."

    I paused; I had just woken up in the train station, right?

    "How do you know that name?" My fingers clenched and I saw that the blade on the end of my rifle had regained its silver sheen.

    The old man smiled. "How do you think?"

    "What are you some other being? I knock off Being X and you step in and claim that no you're the real god?"

    A stern, hideously absolute, expression crossed his face. "No. I could never claim that. No. I am a simple servant. I clean around the edges and restore the balance. I ensure mortals have a choice. That they can freely associate, decide, and use their Free Will. The idea of a being extorting a soul with 'pray or die' offends my very core."

    I gave a skeptical snort. That was more my style of cosmology, but I had not spent years fighting Being X to be taken in by some new being. "Right, where was your help when I had to spend a new life as a girl?"

    The old man quirked and eyebrow and looked meaningfully at the blade.

    "Lovely, well thanks for the help. Are you going to make with the psychopomp thing and tell me what my afterlife options are?"

    He laughed. "I suppose that's one way to look at it."

    "But who are you?"

    "Ah," he bowed to me. "My name is Uriel."

    ++++++

    Ingrained lessons in protocol from a lifetime ago had me return the bow. I will admit, claiming to be an archangel was less egotistical than claiming to be god. "You will have to pardon my caution, Mr. Uriel." As a show of good faith I shouldered my rifle.

    "Understandable."

    "If you'll forgive me for asking, why didn't you intervene against Being X? If he is so anathema to your values. While I appreciate your stated position of valuing choice, I do wonder as to your actual actions."

    "I am limited in my remit."

    I tilted my head. "By your superior?"

    The old man gave a wry smile. "You could call it that. It is more accurate to say it is a fundament of my nature."

    I let that slide for the moment. On the one hand, saying "that's not one of my duties" is a classic excuse of shirkers. On the other hand, to have any organization, groups have to have some adherence to order. I also tabled my own actions in taking my battalion out to kill a god.

    "In what ways did your remit allow you to act?"
    Uriel nodded. "In balance."

    I motioned for him to go forward.

    "Ah. If one party were to violate the rules regarding interfering with mortal souls, then I am authorized to act in an equal manner. Thus restoring balance while giving the opportunity to exercise choice. Free will is the greatest gift of mortal souls."

    I gave a half smile. "Mr. Uriel, you need not flatter me." Though if Uriel were correct that would mean my initial supposition that Being X was not god but instead was some sort of demon was correct. Though Being X had also complained that administering the reincarnation of seven billion souls was beyond its capacity. Which was worrying on several levels.

    Uriel shook his head.

    "If I get it right, Being X interfered here." I gestured to the train station. "And caused me to reincarnate into a new world and this body." I gestured to my petite, feminine form. "He also interfered with Doctor Schugel which gave me..."

    I looked down at my quad core computation orb. The cursed thing gave me great powers, but I had to pray to Being X to enable it to work to its fullest. And that came at the cost of a lack of... mental clarity. Though we had managed to turn that into a liability for Being X.

    "You arranged for me to get that big bayonet. It was no Unified States project to take out Mary Sue when she inevitably went rabid."

    Regret crossed his face. "Hers was a troubled soul, consumed by revenge and grief."

    "Yes, yes add her to the list of lives ruined by Being X."

    The archangel, if that was what he was, gave me a cross look.

    I held up a hand apologetically. "I'm not being flippant. As another plaything of that bastard I can sympathize, and I do hope you can do something for her."

    Uriel sighed, seemingly in agreement.

    "You know you could have given me a bit more help, my men took well... the casualties could have been worse. Sure putting a sword bayonet into Being X was the most satisfying thing but-" I swept my arms around the train station. "Clearly, I didn't make it out either.

    Uriel gave me a look that was sympathetic but also somewhat disturbed "The point of the Sword is to give the wielder a chance against the darkness. It does not make victory inevitable, only possible."

    "Worked out great for you then. Being X is gone; you can fix all the people he wronged."

    "As much as I can."

    I waved a hand. "Yes, yes, we do not want an Archangel getting too creative. That probably leads to negative externalities." I knew enough from theology that Satan was once the brightest among the angelic host.

    Uriel seemed to acquiesce to that.

    "Now, if we presume I trust all that you are saying, what will you do with me? What would you consider to be a balancing act?" A bit of hope fluttered in me. Maybe I could go back to early twenty-first century Japan. Maybe I could go back to being a male.

    Many of the organizational and decision making skills I had learned as an Aerial Mage for the Empire could be applied to the corporate world. After surviving the Rhine, building up and leading a rapid response battalion, and developing combined arms tactics should make dominating the corporate world trivial.

    "What do you think I would do?"

    I tapped my chin in thought. Sincere or not, Uriel was at least more pleasant than Being X to converse in. "Let us presume your remit is to provide balance when another violates the rules, and that Being X's interfering with my first death was a violation, then you would be free to a proportional reaction."

    He gave an encouraging nod.

    "However, you also state that you value free will and mortal choice. This implies that if there were multiple options available then I would be given the opportunity to pick one."

    "Sound reasoning." Uriel agreed.

    "What are my options, then?"

    There was a heavy chugging noise as a train came down the tracks. I had not see it appear and for a moment I tensed. A fear that Uriel would push me in front of it. Instead, the train stopped at the platform.

    The doors opened. It was empty.

    "Take the train and you'll ride it out to the end of the line."

    "End of the line?"

    "What comes after. Judgment."

    I frowned. From his tone there was not any more I could get out of that option. I might not have been the best of people. I had done things to survive in the War, and done more to ensure my men did as well. The more of them that lived, the more bodies I had between me and the enemy. And being a better commander made my superiors feel more favorably towards me.

    Also preserving my troop's lives was a nice counterpoint to the idea that I was some bloodthirsty warmonger who cared not a whit to casualties.

    "It is an option," I agreed. In its defense, destroying Being X had to be worth something. Though that hardly seemed like balancing the scales given what Being X did to me.

    "Next is working for me." Uriel gestured to the black glass door in the wall behind us. The glass turned translucent and I saw an office full of white uniformed men and women working about. A few had feathery wings.

    "Like some sort of guardian angel squad?"

    Uriel gave a slight smile. "Not quite. But you have proven your capabilities and I can always use those with your talents."

    "How long of a hitch?" I asked.

    "Until you're ready for one of the other options."

    I tapped my chin. Interesting. Depending on the workload, doing jobs for an archangel could have its upsides. Though it sounded like it would instead be delaying the real choice.

    Still, Door Number Two had advantages. Maybe, I could lean more about the system. My work could improve my odds of getting the good result out of Door Number One. Though, this option still didn't have Uriel balancing the first violation Being X did to me.

    And that was a heck of a marker to leave off the table.

    "It has its advantages. And Door Number Three?"

    Uriel pointed to the stairs. "Take those and you'll be reborn. You will get the chance that Being X denied you."

    I managed to keep the smile off my face. "That does seem to be the most equitable of options. Can I have a moment to think?"

    "Please take all the time. It's the least I could do, given the time it took for me to get to you."

    I nodded but frowned. That was the second time he had alluded to a long wait on my part. I will admit that the first option terrified me. Even if I presumed that Uriel was being utterly sincere the idea of Judgment was... daunting.

    Worse, if this was some scheme then getting onto that train would be the worst mistake of my life, well afterlife.

    Door Number Two was the safe bet. Yes, it would kick the can down the road, but it gave me time to learn more working for Uriel and whatever his project was. Still, I was not sure I wanted to be a heavenly agent.

    I'll admit the Third Option tempted me. If Uriel was sincere then it was exactly what I wanted. A chance to restart without Being X's interference. While I had gotten used to being female, being a petite and young female still grated, even if in part that was due to the early twentieth century society I had been reborn into. Not that Japan was not without its own patriarchal attitudes.

    The chance to rectify that.... was tempting. Also it would spit in the eye of Being X. It said I would have no second reincarnation. But I had defeated Being X, why not get another chance?

    I would miss Visha and my men, but none of the options included them. And it would have bee wrong for me to demand such a thing. She was... err they were still alive.

    "Do you have any other questions?"

    "Did I get Being X? Really?"

    Uriel gave that little shake of his head. "Yes. You did. Any questions about your options?"
    "X is gone then? Good, I'd hate to have to deal with him in my new life." I bowed to Uriel. "Thank you. It's nice to see that not all inscrutable beings are prideful and unreasonable."

    Looking a mix of baffled and amused. He returned the bow.

    "I wish you well on your cleanup efforts." And with a wry smile I unshouldered my rifle and sword bayonet and held it out.

    His amusement growing, he took the weapon. The silver on the blade glowed brighter.

    "I'm sure you'll need this more than me," I said and turned heel and without looking back marched down the stairs.

    End Prologue.


    AN
    As I've said those of you familiar with the Return verse, especially some of the supplemental material on my DA page have an idea where this is going.

    That said, no knowledge of the Return is required to enjoy this story.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2022
    Armana, illerayn, Solconbur and 76 others like this.
  2. ioriangel

    ioriangel Mysterious Angel of Incalculable Mayhem

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    I am interested! Please continue.
     
  3. ProxyProx

    ProxyProx Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Sounds intriguing, since this seems to be SFW I suggest cross posting your story to SB and/or SV as well since good Tanya the Evil fics regularly receive attraction there.
     
  4. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks! The first chapter will do a lot of setup showing the world Tanya finds herself in.


    Oooh good idea. I may wait until I have a draft of ch1 written.

    Really I put this here because my fics never got much commentary on SV, maybe it's the Ranma part, maybe not.

    But I would get good commentary here, and I figure giving you guys an early view into this was a nice thing for hte holidays.
     
    Dapperlurker and moon so bright like this.
  5. Guardian Box

    Guardian Box gremlinous slav squatting child

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    A promising start.

    Tanya must feel super good and smug about herself right now. It's not every day one shanks a god.
     
  6. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks! And yeah that high totally won't bite her on the butt when she finds out what world she ended up in for her 3rd try. Still I felt it was good to open this on a genuine high and achievement for Tanya.
     
    Corvus 501 and moon so bright like this.
  7. Guardian Box

    Guardian Box gremlinous slav squatting child

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    Well of course not. This time she's going to enjoy a slow and peaceful life with nothing ever endangering her peace (and life), ever again.
     
  8. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    I love how in your sarcastic comment you don't even entertain that Tanya will get back to being a guy.

    I am making good progress on ch1 which will show just how much of an oppsie Tanya did. Though she'll make the best of it and we all know how well /that/ works for her.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Chapter 1 Hail Imperatrix


    I woke up to crying.

    A young nun in a black habit with purple hair held out a spoon. Her words were soothing though I did not understand them. which meant I was not in the Empire nor Japan.

    One word stuck out: Tauria.

    I sighed. I should have expected reincarnation would go this way.

    Then I looked closer at the nun. A pair of curled horns came out of her forehead. When she smiled reassuringly I could see that her canines were long and pointed.

    No more than a babe cradled in the nun's arms, I looked down and saw a pale purple spade-tipped tail flicking out and a set of wings folded on her shoulders.

    Hushing reassuringly, the nun got me to eat the broth from the large spoon. I looked back and saw my reflection in a mirror.

    Seeing my own set of tiny horns and little wings, I was too busy cursing Uriel to notice I felt comfortable in the demon nun's arms and had resumed feeding.


    ++++++

    As a result of an ill-thought deal with an Archangel, I found myself in yet another world in a nunnery that took care of war orphans.

    At least the conditions were better than in the first orphanage I had grown up in. Part of that was that the Household Fleet and Imperial Legions made sure to keep facilities like this well supplied.

    Another part was the generous patronage of the noble families, particularly Duchess SilverFlight.

    During lessons, I learned that we were subjects of House BlackSky, one of the Great Houses on the Continent of Diyu. The Orphanage was in the far eastern part of the House, outside the city of Bovitar.

    The Nuns tried to keep us happy, but we were those whose parents had died fighting for Imperatrix BlackSky and who had no extended family to take us in.

    I spent most of my first years thinking this was merely the girl's dormitory of the orphanage until I realized the truth.

    I was shocked at how young we were when Sister Clementia took us all around and read us about the birds and the bees. Yes, the lessons were done by a cartoony young woman called Silva but it did explain why there were only female demons around.

    That was another thing to get used to. Though, I'll admit I did like it when Sister Clementia took the time to bush my hair and preen my wings.

    A few of the other girls teased Sibyl and I. We were the only two orphans who had feathered wings. The rest, and the sisters, had membranous bat-like wings.

    The more I learned about the jingoism and aggression of House BlackSky and the fear our neighbors had of us the more disquieted I got.

    At least House BlackSky only had land borders with two rival powers. Though the longest border was with House Elena which was also the one great demonic House larger than ours. Though, in local concerns we were relatively close to the grassy steppes that defined our border with House Luxon.

    I had worried about being a powerless orphan.

    It was something I had experience with.

    I was also worried about being a powerful orphan.

    I also had experience with that.

    To my relief, it turned out that everyone seemed to have some magical talent, which made sense. I had been born into a people who were, for lack of a better term, demonic. We had wings, tails, horns, fangs. Some of us had more demonic features, like hooves, and different talents. A few things were universal like having retractable claws and an affinity for pyromancy.

    I also sympathized with the Sisters. Raising children was hard enough. The trouble magnified greatly when dealing with children who, figuratively, always had matches and knives.

    Still, if everyone had magic, than any talents I had would make me less of a standout. Reading between the lines of the popular stories we were read and the plays we would sometimes go into town to see, the BlackSkyvian military had an insatiable appetite for manpower.

    I was pondering my moves. Joining the Household Fleet or Imperial Legions seemed low on my list of future options. If I had magical talent, then something in the civilian world could suit me, presuming there was no conscription to worry about.

    I would still do my patriotic duty; there were plenty of artificer guilds making things for the war effort.

    Every month or so, potential parents would come and visit. I had gotten used to seeing pairs and even larger groups of young women talking with the Sisters and watching us play.

    Such relationships were becoming more accepted in Japan before my first life ended. And they were quite on the quiet end in the Empire in my second life. Here they were the norm, and apparently a biological necessity.

    It was not something I paid much attention to. Beyond my age, I had already gone through life as a young woman and I failed to see how being a young demon girl would be all that different from a young human girl.

    That would turn out to be a mistake on my part.

    Before the prospective parents left, they would make comments and talk with some of the girls and then our orphanage would get a bit less populated.

    I was not sure if I wanted to be adopted or not. It was a way to get some higher social status and maybe get a room to myself. But I was not too attached to that.

    I did spent a lot of time with Sister Clementia brushing my hair and reassuring me after the prospective parents had left.

    Not that I wanted to be adopted, but that the other girls who were not as cute as I was, which seemed unfair. My blonde hair was far prettier, and my horns were neither ungainly nor tiny.

    I suppose it could have been my wings but then Sibyl got adopted and she had hooves in addition to grey feathers on her wings.

    The regular visits of Duchess SilverFlight were a bright spot. I suspected she had ulterior motives, but I had my own reasons for getting in good with a member of the noble families.

    Her hair was dark, almost cobalt, blue and ran between her wings. And she normally wore a backless gown with frills and ruffles. Except when she was giving flying lessons.

    I'll confess to impatience. Being part of a species where everyone could fly, except for the very young, meant I could indulge without fear of conscription. Well, once my wings grew strong enough.

    Duchess SilverFlight always brought little puzzles that ether required dexterity to solve, either by using your hands in the right spot or by the right magical push. One puzzle was a set of wind chimes in a glass jar and we had to try to get them to chime without touching the jar. She was also generous with teething rings, chewing sticks, and other treats.

    Something the Sisters were a bit stingy with for the younger girls.

    I was able to blame the Duchess for our uniforms. It was nice to have warm and clean clothes. The Nuns at my previous orphanage tried their best, but having a Duchess take a personal interest did make a difference. Though the green beret and tan and green plaid uniform was not exactly the most flattering.

    Still, wearing pleated skirts with ribbons holding up the sleeves and little ties was a bit humiliating. I swallowed my pride and tried to be the most apt and eager pupil whenever the Duchess visited.

    Based on my past experiences, begin adopted into her family was a long shot, but getting some patronage from her as I grew up was more likely. Beyond bellicosity, House BlackSky had some other similarities to my old Empire.

    In both, a strong meritocratic sentiment balanced with an imperial family and a noble class. Though many of the nobles were bestowed titles for achievement as much for blood.

    It was a heady combination, and one I was prepared to leverage.

    ++++++

    By the time I was five years old, I had started to get used to my new life. I was able to focus on concrete plans. Of all the new units and bits of timekeeping the thirteen month year was the strangest, but I got that past that.

    It helped that Sister Clementia never looked at me like I was strange or off kilter. She was always there for me.

    I may have felt a bit guilty for pursing the Duchess' good graces, but Clementia wanted me to find a happy family. I had learned that our horns were not just decorative. They were a sort of antennae and part of a sense organ that allowed us to feel the emotions of others.

    I was happy that I had become practiced in managing such emotions and their feedback whenever Sister Clementia brushed my hair.

    "This is very... interesting needlework," Duchess SilverFlight said. "Your attention to detail is impressive."

    "Thank you, your Grace," I said, trying my most courtly tone. Silvan Latin was a complicated language. It had some similarities to the Ildoa I never learned more than a smattering of, and while I knew a bit of Latin I was never conversant in it.

    The Duchess smiled and sipped her tea. "Though, I find your engraving to be exquisite." She ran a hand over the three thumb-thick crystals I had etched patterns onto. When hung, they would gently attract air spirits, or kami, and thus they would never stop chiming.

    It was a simple enough trinket but if it impressed the Duchess then that was a good mark.

    "Have you enticed a Zephyr of your own?" the Duchess asked. I could feel that she was projecting hope and interest.

    I had learned to not trust my horns too much. I could mask my own emotions to the level that even Sister Clementia seemed to be fooled most of the time.

    And if I could do that as a mere child, then it was obvious adults could as well. And it would be laughable if a demonic noble was not in utter control of herself.

    "I have not. That might be a bit beyond me."

    The Duchess smiled and placed her hand near mine, but was sure to leave a slight gap. Physical contact was complicated for us. It made the empathic link even stronger. Even having your hair brushed could do it. "I'm sure you'll get it. You are a very determined young girl."

    I smiled and nodded. I would prefer to focus my attention on less martial skills. It took a bit to swallow my pride and ask for dance lessons or things like needlepoint. Enchanting and communing with spirits had their martial applications.

    But they were safer than showing great skill in fire, explosives, or evocation magic.

    If being talented in more feminine arts and arcane would get me the patronage of a Duchess then so be it.

    "I see you're wearing the new dress."

    I plastered on a smile and twisted a bit. It was more of a romper and was even frillier than our uniform. "It's great Duchess SilverFlight!"

    She sipped her tea. "You look like a little princess."

    I nodded and managed to get my tail to swish. It was galling to play pretty princess but there was a method to my madness.

    Yes, like the old Empire, House BlackSky is a meritocracy in promotions. And obviously, BlackSkyvians would put women in command positions. What alternative was there? About only one fifth of our house were non-demon subjects. They could not all be our commanders.

    Still, I felt comfortable from past experience that going in a more feminine arena could keep me from the eyes of military recruiters. Surely, they would look askance at the idea of a princess officer.

    Still, I did have some regrets for this course of action. I had yet to see one in person, but House BlackSky had their own version of Aerial Mages. Though instead of a simple harness, skis, or a mount, they used a full plate bodysuit.

    It gave even more performance and offensive power. Ritual Plate was a primary means of offensive firepower in the Household Fleet and a major branch of air support in the Legions.

    That versatility made the suits highly in demand. There was considerable specialization for a variety of roles. Thus the House needed thousands of recruits to keep the Fleet and Legions staffed.

    If I showed too much talent, or worse interest, in that area my plans would crumble.

    "Tauria?"

    On the other hand.... the Fleet and Legions need even more Ritualista maintainers and support staff for each Ritual Plate Pilot. So, if I had to be pulled into the military world, then being a maintainer, and then a developer on the production line and an efficiency expert would be a far more likely path to give me a comfortable career.

    Especially as the Duchess had influence in guilds and even owned some artificer lines. She had great pull in many areas. I would prefer to work as a civilian, but I was not one to shirk from duty if it came to that.

    "Tauria DiamondDust?"

    I looked up and mortified bowed my horns in submission towards her. Ignoring the Duchess was a major breach of protocol. "Please forgive your Grace, do you need my Apology."

    The Duchess blinked then laughed. "Oh, there is no need for that."

    "I insist," I said recalling one of the protocol lessons we had been given. though it was more of an analysis of an opera we had seen the previous day. I will give House BlackSky this, their theater was less stodgy than the bloated productions of the Empire.

    "There is no need," the Duchess assured. "But if you will give me an indulgence."

    "Anything!" I gushed.

    "The Feast of DarkStar is coming up next month."

    "May we remember her loss," I automatically said. It was part of being ruled by an ancient demonic empress. The things that were important to her were important to us.

    Thus her granddaughter, who was betrayed and murdered during an invasion, from what I had learned so far we had been the ones invading, that happened millennia ago, was still honored.

    In fairness, the subsequent battles after DarkStar's death and us turning on the traitors of House Vephar expanded our House's holdings to the entirety of the Vanis subcontinent, and laid the foundation for House BlackSky's primacy.

    In a realpolitik sense, I could understand our Imperatrix making a point to celebrate the time she wiped out a rival nation for daring to betray the Imperial Family. It also made me acutely aware of the kind of nation-state that angel had sent me to live in.

    And while the House was admirably pluralistic when it came to faiths, there was something of a civic religion. Nothing so much as a mandatory doctrine, more a collection of almost secular holidays, rituals, festival, and events. House BlackSky did pride itself on the superiority of their values and culture. One of them was readily glomming onto anything that could strengthen the House.

    "Have you thought about anything you would like for the feast?"

    I shook my head. "I was merely going to pray for loving homes for the rest of my sisters here and failing that have the Sisters of the Order of Our Hallowed Lady continue to take care of us, with your generous Patronage of course."

    The Duchess's silver lips turned. "My, you are a cynical little one."

    I flushed. "That's not um.... what I really wanted sounded too frivolous..." I grasped at straws to backfill and keep her favor.

    "Oh, what did you want then?"

    I choked and blurted out the most girly thing I could think of.

    And that was how I got a pink puffy gown and matching tiara for my fifth Feast of DarkStar.

    ++++++

    I was a happy girl when I outgrew that damn gown. Though given my slow growth rate, I was worried I would be about the same diminutive size I was previously.

    Better, it had been over eight years and I had not seen either Being X or Uriel.

    The former hopefully meant that bastard was good and dead, the latter hopefully meant that Archangel was done meddling with my life. Though to my concern, Being X renewed meddling in my life me after I turned nine and was forced to test that horrible quad core computation jewel prototype, but I would take what I could get.

    I was still miffed at the trick Uriel had pulled.

    ` But it had been my fault for assuming that someone dedicated to balance and the minimal interference in mortal lives would try to put me into a 21st century Japan as a guy, and not into another belligerent imperial nation as a slight blonde girl with magical powers.

    I tried to make sure my abilities did not stand out. Or at least not in a destructive way. While other orphans needed to be given lessons on how to control their abilities to generate fireballs and spent supervised time in a gravel pit down the hill from the nunnery burning rocks and practicing other feats of marksmanship, I was trying to attract little air kami.

    While the other girls had the occasional accident had to be cleaned up with buckets of water and timely intervention with the Sisters, I got a precise control and then stopped trying to show off.

    Sister Clementia did help me as I had a fair skill with lobbing magical napalm or lances of fire. But that struck me as the kind of thing that would get Legionary recruiters after me and I was trying to show the Duchess how good I would be under her wings.

    Raiding the nunnery's library got me started, but then I begged Sister Clementia to pick up books down in Bovitar when she went to get supplies so often that she brought me into the city to get me a library card.

    Years before any of the other orphans in my age group.

    This had an unintended bonus that library cards served as a de facto national ID in House BlackSky. Which made a sort of sense while the Empire was big on paperwork, the Unified States like its counterpart in my first life was settling onto using a motor vehicle lessens as a de facto ID.

    Also the Japan I left was just starting to give out personal identification numbers to supplement their own somewhat at-hoc identification system.

    All and all, that meant I could do more than borrow books with the little card in its leather folder. If I wanted to get on a train, or a flight, to the capital about eight hundred miles to the west I could. Sure, it would take me using most of the money I had been scrimping and saving, and sweet-talking the ticket taker and conductor, but if I had to I could escape to the City of Trees.

    I did not think it would come to that.

    For one, I was more than willing to put in the effort and was able to read well above the level people expected of me. Rounding out that image of a young, eager prodigy were finding books to do more lessons in attracting and caring for Zephyr and doing enchantments of basic items.

    Again, I avoided the more aggressive and openly destructive arts. This engendered less supervision, the books were easier to get from the librarians, and fit in more with the image I was presenting. That of the studious autodidact.

    The problem came with the other lessons. I was used to swallowing my pride and learning skills to impress a boss. I had even dressed up for a propaganda tour of cheerful speeches and film-reels after I won the Silver Wings Assault Badge.

    While signing in a choir for the sisters was... troubling, I took comfort that there were plenty of secular songs, and those to the other faiths common in this part of the Empire. Though many of the ancestor worship ones were....odd given we were a race of demons. And the more animist ones reminded me a bit of Shinto.

    Which I suppose was not too shocking, given I spent most of my days giving offerings and enticements to kami.

    However, the ballet was more humiliating, almost as much as the dresses. Still, I took a bit of pride when I ended up having some of the other girls agreeing to go into the city to take lessons too. As they were loath to be shown up by me in such things.

    The worst part was that while I eventually outgrew "that gown", the Duchess had gotten me other finery. At least they were more complimentary. Pink was not a good color for me. And they were not overly endowed with frippery.
    It also was a cost savings; every dress the Duchess got me was one less the Sisters had to buy, saving them money to spend on the other girls.

    They also represented a tangible investment the Duchess was putting into me. It would be impolite and imprudent to not wear them, especially to the formal occasions, such as the opera nights or showing off us orphans to guild masters at the various artificer halls in the city.

    This was the exact business environment I had been dreaming of returning to. If I had to wear a little green dress with bows on my tail and my wings perfectly turned out, then so be it.

    This was also when I met a few of the humans and other subjects of this new empire. They were polite enough and it was heartening to see that our Imperatrix valued their input and contribution to society and the war effort.

    Despite the propaganda spread by our enemies, the last empire I lived in also valued the contributions of our various client states and minor groups. It made economic sense. An angry, and potentially rebellious, faction was a net drain on a polity, while a contented one with a path of advancement and degree of self determination was a productive one.

    Regardless of the species, I tried to be the most charming and played up the bright orphan willing to do her part for House BlackSky and who was full of skills that would be useful.

    And if part of that meant I had to swallow my pride and act interested in art and culture and feminine things to ensure the patronage of a noble supporter of the arts, then I would do that.

    It was nice that the Duchess clearly favored me.

    Alas she was a very busy woman.

    But Sister Clementia was always there for me. Most of her wards had been adopted which gave her plenty of time to deal with me. And we were fortunate that... to be honest not too many new war orphans had been produced.

    Or at least ones that had no choice other than to go to us.

    Flying was an area where I let my competitiveness show. I was less worried as the vast majority of the citizens of the House could fly. And skill of flying unaided seemed to be something that was more useful for sport than war. Another reason why marksmanship lessons were something I was shying away from.

    It was nice that my wings had grown strong enough and while it was different than being an Aerial Mage being able to take to the air was a treat. I was also able to try to adapt my skills and what I had learned.

    One side effect was that whenever I flew the air kami were interested and would nip around in the vortices of my wingtips. It was worse if I had been caring for Zephyr right before taking a flight.

    No one mocked me for it, but I could tell by the looks from the other orphans that they were judging me. Still the Sisters watched us like hawks during flight lessons. And made it clear that there were consequences for unsupervised flying.

    Thus one has to add ladders, climbing equipment, and wings to the things you can't take away from baby demons. It was amazing that the Sisters managed to deal with us and not go crazy.

    Holding Sister Clementia's hand, I followed her down the hallway toward the back portico of the orphanage. The building was a three story stone construct which the Sisters tried to make homey. To one side was the dormitory for the Sisters and to the other side was the temple.

    The broad porches on both sides of the orphanage had roofs to protect them which meant that in all but the most inclement weather we could get some time outside. Which was good for the other girls as they tended to get a bit stir crazy.

    I knew Sister Clementia was worried for me before she spoke. I rarely saw her out of her habit but her figure reminded me a bit of Visha. Though as a demoness of course. Not that I could judge. Though I had all the more reason to curse that whole "Devil of the Rhine" nickname.

    "Duchess SilverFlight is a very busy woman," her tone was cautious and delicate. "She has many interests in this whole province. And we are not the only orphanage she is a patron of."

    Nodding, I tried to mask off my concerns. I was less worried about the Duchess rejecting me than I was being left with having to go into the Imperial Legions. The Household Fleet was also a big risk. The vast majority of fliers went to them. In the Fleet I might not be slogging in the mud, but I would be more likely to be in a major deployment.

    "And," the Sister squeezed my hand as her tail flicked. "At these other orphanages there are other special girls she watches for."

    I put on a reassuring smile and tried to make her feel more comforted. "I am realistic, Sister. I do not expect to be adopted and besides no one could replace you."

    It was then that we exited the back doors and stepped onto the portico. Wind whipped around as we crossed the threshold and my wings ruffled and spread a bit. That was a moment of reassurance.

    And then my heart sank.

    I thought the Duchess' surprise for me would be another dress. I was prepared to gush over them and talk about how pretty the lace or ribbon or whatever frippery was. I felt that coming off as too much of a tomboy can be risky.

    At the worst, the Duchess would insist I get my her hair styled though having my wings preened and the feathers cleaned did feel nice.

    I did not expect the Duchess to be wearing flight armor.

    For the most part she wore gowns. They were reasonably sensible ones, formal events excepted. And she did dress in a more practical bodysuit when she gave us the occasional flight lesson.

    During those lessons her long cobalt hair was plaited and tied up.

    She bore the same hairstyle today. She also seemed to wear a type of bodysuit. At least there were hints of it under the fitted segments of articulated metal armor that she wore.

    Gold filigree and glittering runes were engraved on most of the armored sections. particularly around the greaves, gauntlets, and contoured breastplate and the bits of armor that protected where her wings met her back.

    Even on the ground, I could feel the Zephyr surrounding the Duchess eager to take flight. For a moment, I was considering a similar action. I knew how futile that would be. The Duchess was in Ritual Plate; I was not. Even if we had the same flight skill, she would be much faster than me.

    That there were no evocation pods on her gauntlets or other weapons flasks attached was very reassuring. As was the open stance and emotions she was giving off. I knew a noble like the Duchess would be skilled at hiding her real mental state, but it was reassuring that she was not openly hostile.

    Even idled, power radiated off of her. I knew a single Ritual Plate represented an investment in industrial and arcane might. Given the precision required in the components. The man-hours of artificer work alone...

    Showing the wisdom of our Imperatrix and military leaders, interchangeability, standardization and mass production were used as much as possible. Which was reasonable given each Ritual Plate needed to be custom fitted to a specific Pilot. A maintenance team could resize a suit for a different pilot as a field expediency, but at a cost of time and performance.

    Also given Ritual Plate was the House's main form of aerial combat power, both offensive and defensive, there were tens of thousands of the things. It was a major commitment for even a demonic empire of our size.

    Despite all that, it was like someone walking up to me wearing an attack helicopter or a fighter plane with emphatic purpose. As an Aerial Mage in another life I could see how intimidating this could be.

    A servant in a purple and gold uniform stood by the Duchess' side carrying a metal helmet with a full face mask.

    Sister Clementine gave my hand another squeeze and stepped aside. "Do your best, Tauria, but don't hurt yourself."

    "Duchess SilverFlight, how may I serve?" I asked bowing my horns.

    Silver lips smiled as purple eyes studied me. "You brought your Zephyr? Good. Eager. I like that."

    Oh. I guess they had come to me when I stepped outside. I simply nodded.

    "I know you've been looking forward to this day for a long time. Now, don't feel any pressure or worry about today's results. Most don't even try synchronizing for their first time until they're twice your age. And there's no shame in not syncing until you're Cadet age either. We'll always be able to try again in the spring."

    "Yes, your Grace," I automatically replied. I could not feel any of the other girls around. But there were a bunch of people in the Duchess' livery working around something strapped to a metal chair.

    My tail went straight. It was another Ritual Plate Suit. There was less adornment and enchanting; it looked a bit more rugged and... simple. More ominously: it was tiny.

    I then realized the servants were Ritualista and were checking the enchantments and adjusting the fit of every component.

    I kept from clenching my teeth. This was why the Duchess had me do ballet lessons. It helped with the grace and footwork, and everyone knew Ritual Plate was difficult to walk around in on the ground.

    I glanced to the Duchess and saw despite the armored pointed boots she was walking as nimbly as if wearing stilettos on the ballroom floor.
    And that explained all the dresses. She knew all my measurements.

    Diabolical.

    I managed to look eager as she lead me out to the grass and where the Ritualista were working. The suit was open with many of the front plates removed or rotated out of the way. There were cables going from the suit to various containers providing fuel and telemetry. Dials were being read off and adjustments were made.

    This was a test I could not refuse. Not if I wanted to keep in the Duchess' good graces.

    It was clear to me why she had been spending so much time helping me learn and giving me things. A noblewoman wouldn't care for a war orphan out of just kindness. Clearly, she saw the potential in me.

    I gave some small hope that I would fail the test. Being able to Pilot a Ritual Plate suit was a rare talent. Not the rarest talent the BlackSkyvian military coveted. Those who had the magical affinity towards teleportation or walking through walls or remote viewing were even rarer and yet more valuable.

    General sorcerous and arcanist talents were also useful from things like evocation grenadiers to combat engineers.

    Telekinetics were also valuable. While a kinetomancer with great precision could be very useful at taking out high value targets or one with exceptional strength could be devastating especially in urban fighting...

    Mostly those with the more common range of those talents was in making sure cargo was properly loaded, stowed, and unloaded. House BlackSky extensively used air resupply, but even transferring material from one ship to another involved the transport of a heavy object from one moving platform to another moving platform.

    Having a Load Mistress with an intuitive understanding of the physics involved, formal training on how to control such cargo evolutions, and a magical ability to nudge said cargo if things went wrong was unglamorous but exceptionally useful.

    I had some regrets that I did not have talents in that area.

    All in all, being able to pilot Ritual Plate was a one in a hundred ability. And one in a thousand could fly one of the armored suits with great skill. Which... was why both the Fleet and Legions did their best to entice recruits with said capability.

    I stared into the open suit. It was mostly an unpainted metallic silver but there were some purple accents and script with broad orange highlights noting it was a trainee model.

    It lacked the lethal grace of the Duchess' armor, which was somewhat reassuring, but I would be lying to myself if it was not enticing.

    On a platform next to the arming chair was the matching helmet. The faceplate was simple and I could see the catches that would open it up to allow someone to put it on around my horns.

    "It's okay to be nervous," the Duchess said. "I wasn't much older than you when I first Piloted."

    That did not reassure me.

    "When did you first fly into battle?" I asked before I could catch myself.

    "My you are an eager one." Silver lips turned into a smile. "No, I was much older when I entered the Legions. Though I did spend three years as a Cadet Pilot before the Legion proper."

    "Then why test now? Surely a suit, even a trainee one, in this size is a great expense."

    "Is it?"

    I paused. While a Ritual Plate suit had to be customized to a given Pilot. That was not a permanent change. It could be reconfigured to allow someone else to fly it. Modularity was also designed to allow for a suit to continue to be refitted with new parts. With this many in service in so many roles, it was vital to be able to maintain, repair, and upgrade... to keep a given suit in service as long a possible.

    A Ritual Plate suit could be in service for decades. Though the suit at the end might only retain a trivial number of its original parts.

    A training suit would be designed for greater simplicity and robustness. Its only concerns for battlefield capability would be ensuring a pilot starting on one could acquire skills that would be relevant when she transferred to a combat suit.

    Thus, one could amortize the massive initial cost of a trainee suit over many years. Maintenance would be a regular operating cost but for an organization like the Fleet or the Legions the extra marginal cost of having Ritualista maintain and fit out a few trainee suits, even in such a diminutive scale would be low. As would ordering trainee suits in all sizes.

    Though there was one flaw in that logic. This was the Duchess' trainee suit and these Ritualista were in her livery.

    "You have your own mercenary company?" I asked. That... was not something I had considered. Was the Duchess looking to recruit me into her personal military force?

    When compared to being in a state military there were pros and cons to being a mercenary.

    The Duchess gave a warm chuckle. "Technically, yes. But I am in good standing with the Guild. I am also an Imperial Legion Volantes Tribune in the Rorarii."

    I nodded. She was a mid-level active reserve officer. And her rank would put her in charge of a Ritual Plate Wing or a similar level of authority.

    "What kind of contracts do you take on?" I asked, letting some eagerness come out. If I was to be roped into being a mercenary pilot by my patron it would do to figure out what tasks she did.

    Being in the Legions might be the better option.

    "Oh, nothing so glamorous," she assured.

    I was skeptical.

    "My family has interest in many artificer Halls and industrial and research concerns that make components minor and major. Thus I retain about a squadron of Pilots for testing and evaluation of new components."

    I perked up. That was exactly the kind of rear-echelon, nay civilian, job that would suit me. Especially if it was a way for me to fly without getting any risk. Potentially. I had bad experience the last time I was a test pilot. Hopefully, the House had saner researchers than Doctor Schugel. "That sounds like fascinating work."

    "It is the least I could do, and is a way to allow veteran Pilots to keep flying."

    My tail drooped. Of course. The Duchess finds new recruits, and then sends them to the Fleet or Legion to get trained up, and then after their term, she reaps the rewards.

    I nodded thoughtfully. "Very generous, your Grace."

    The Duchess waved me off. "I've been keeping you too long. Shall we get you suited up?"

    My first step was not into the flight armor. One of the Ritualista, who had pink hair cut into a bob, took me back inside where I changed into one of the bodysuits.

    This one was also cut in my size and by my guess was fully custom. At least it was not pink, though it was lavender with some painted-on ruffles. The material was thick and stretchy, but thankfully it was not skin tight. Though, it was a bit less baggy than the flight suit I wore as an Aerial Mage.

    There were padded sections and a few ports and areas that had locking points. Being dressed in it was uncomfortably personal and it did not help when the Ritualista assured me that since this would be a short flight I would not need to use any of the other features.

    I was an Aerial Mage for the Empire. I knew about the embarrassing biological necessities that came with long-duration flight. Though, again one nice thing about being an Aerial Mage was our sortie time was usually too short for that to make a difference.

    Regaining my dignity, I held my tail and head high as I walked back outside. Sister Clementine gave me a hug, her wings folding over mine.

    The Duchess once again came over and took me to the arming chair. The Zephyr that followed me around were buzzing with anticipation.

    Ritualista fussed over me as they let me sit down into the armored flight suit. Though in this case, a trainee suit was more armored against bumps and light crashes than enemy fire.

    Quiet professional hands locked the plate and hatches over and went down a checklist. My feathers tingled as power grew into the suit. It jumped up when the back and wing sections were bolted into place. I controlled my breathing.

    This was not the most risky thing I had done. Thankfully, I did not have much claustrophobia, though each piece added in did make me feel more... disconnected.

    Soon, I was fully encased in the silver and purple armor. I looked over at the helmet resting on its stand. That looked like the last part. The pins and needles sensation started to grow as the suit's crew turned off some of the governors and fed more power.

    The Duchess knelt before me. "Tauria, it's going to be okay, you're doing great."

    I was?

    "Just keep at it, that you've brought your own Zephyr makes this much simpler. We now have to get them to like the suit, instead of getting some air spirits to like you."

    I lifted a gauntleted arm and gave a thumbs up. My shoulders, hips, and legs were still locked into the arming chair. Unlike the Duchess' suit, my gauntlets only had a bit of plating on the back of the palm and forearms. Instead of fully articulated armor, my gloved hands were exposed. The muffle feeling grew.

    "We're about to initiate primary link," one of the Ritualista said.

    There was a tingling flash that suddenly went numb. Feeling leaked back into my limbs. I lifted my arm and looked at it and then poked my other gauntlet. It was not that I could feel though the suit, but more that the suit was not an impediment.

    More was the feeling, the urge, the dream, of flight. Fed by the suit, anchored to it, my Zephyr were pushing. the air spirits eager to fulfill their nature. Even with my Ritual Plate idling, the amount of power fed into them had engorged the little whispers of air into something far more forceful.

    The Duchess squeezed my hand and smiled. Then she took her helmet from the waiting servant and locked it onto place. It was the contoured almost-death mask like face that then peered at me and took up the smaller helmet and locked it into place.

    My vision went dark for a moment as the helmet got into place and the hatches were adjusted to allow my horns to pass through. The vision though the eyeholes a bit restricted at first.

    But then a few runes came up denoting the activation sequence and the vision expanded as my view grew out.

    The bolts holding me to the arming chair retracted and I flew to my feet. I felt floaty as my wings were pushed up. I stepped forward and hand to remember my ballet lessons on how to balance in this position.

    The problem was that while the Zephyr wanted to put me into the air, I still had the same amount of inertia. From what little I knew was that Ritual Plate Pilots walked one of two ways. With the primary link active and the Zephyr pulling one's wings up, there was a floating gait that was prone to over-corrections and swaying motions. Without it active, there was a lot of exaggerated heavy stomping as one walked bearing the full mass of the metallic suit.

    The Duchess was still holding my hand.

    "Are you ready?" she said, her voice echoing from a speaker crystal in the suit's choker.

    "Yes, your Grace." With the helmet on my smirk was hidden. I pulled my wings out and timed my leap and the push of my Zephyr. The spirits wanted to go fast, that was their purpose.

    I might have overdone it.

    But I did get off the ground.

    The blast of air behind me may have bowled over a couple of the Ritualista as I shot up. The sense of accelerating and freedom came to me. Here one first learned to walk, then to swim, then to fly. A lot of swimming lessons actually were basic flight lessons in how to move one's wings and built up strength.

    But as much as flying as a demon girl was a joy, it had nothing on the pure speed and power of being an Aerial Mage.

    The Duchess gave a whoop of delight and pulled her own wings to dart up into the sky.

    For a moment I was lost in trying to show the wrong skills to my patron. Now I wanted to show off. I waited for her to meet my current altitude, then went into a dive and began accelerating.

    Besides, if a Duchess had decided I was to be a Ritual Plate pilot, then it was my best option to show her the wisdom of her decision and just how good I could be.

    I glanced back and saw that she had caught up. Trimming my wings I turned out of the dive and tried to give a level acceleration. I was not as fast as with my Computation Orb, but I was sure that this particular suit had some version of training wheels.

    Either way, having wings and a magical of thrust was a nice combination. I tried to up my maneuvering but it was hard to shake the Duchess.

    Not that I had any plans to beat her. Short of falling on her and trying to bite and claw and use my tail I had no weapons.

    Granted, I had done something like that in my first battle. But I had no intention of self destructing this flight armor.

    Despite the distance and despite her mask, I saw the Duchess slow down slightly, and tilt her head at me.

    I got the feeling of mirth pulse towards me ad the duchess rocked toward me in a blur.

    "Oh, come on!" I cried as I rolled and poured on the power to gain attitude. While I had the distance I could get more sped and room to maneuver. Of course she was toying with me.

    The Duchess shot past me and the wake nearly destabilized me as she stopped and in a maneuver that would make me wince in my 203rd days, rapidly decelerated to match my heading.

    "You truly are gifted," she transmitted her voice coming in though my helmet's internal speakers.

    I took a moment to compose myself. "Thank you, your Grace," I gave as warm of a response as I could. She had me. The Duchess utterly had me.

    "Let us go down and have a celebratory lunch," she happily said and then took off back to the Nunnery.

    Part of me wondered how far I could go on a borrowed Ritual Plate suit, but I knew she would catch me. Also, while there was technically less sausage in my diet than in the Empire, the food was still very... Alpine. Though the meats and sausages did seem of a better quality here. But I did spend most of my previous life on military rations.

    I followed her and at least had the pleasure of sticking the landing despite these cursed boots.

    Taking off the helmet was a bit more challenging and I needed some help.

    The Duchess had removed her own helmet and did not even wait to get either if us out of the suits before having lunch where she could discuss my future.

    ++++++

    The Prefect Volantes Centurion in her black Legionary uniform eyed us. Her face was lean and her dark eyes scanned over the crowd. For a ceremony like this she wore a ceremonial helmet with a red crest. The handful of us stood before one of the titanic hangars of Castra Bovitar.

    Wings of Ritual Plate were on maneuvers above us, VTOLs of various sizes were transporting Legionaries and armored vehicles, and vast airships were being maneuvered. I was familiar enough with the later in my previous life. The Empire was fond of Zeppelins, and had even used them to transport Aerial Mages.

    Which made sense, one of the main limits on an airship was lift capacity, speed and controllability and sheer size were a few others. But when it came to firepower per pound Aerial Mages were extremely efficient.

    Ritual Plate had a similar dynamic of extremely powerful, but expensive, per pound. Thus, it was natural for House BlackSky to develop the capability of supporting Ritual Plate Pilots via airship. It fit in well with our mobility doctrine.

    Near the far Eastern frontier of House BlackSky, this base served as a major forward operating position for elements from First Home Fleet and had several Legions assigned here. There was even lift capacity to deploy a full Legion.

    Compared to the facilities in the capital of Silvana, Castra Bovitar was a bit lacking in true heavy firepower. Thus, a pair of Battlecruisers, two fleet carriers, and a fleet torpedo boat tender were assigned here. They were all capital ships, but smaller and faster than the true heavies of the Household Fleet. Plus all their escorts and supporting forces. And with the capital only eight hundred miles away this base should keep House Luxon from thinking twice about attacking our eastern boarder.

    And it would reassure our ally to the North the, barely a great house, House Andromache. To our South was the Gaudia Sea, making this province a bit of a finger sticking out of our empire's territory.

    That we were, relatively, close to the capital and bordered with multiple bodies of water, the Gaudia Sea, Lacus Superum, and the Great Bazala Lake, which other houses also had access too, kept this from being a sleepy frontier province: unlike other areas in our sprawling Great House, let alone some of the offworld colonies.

    "Step forward, recruit number one!" the centurion bellowed. "This is your chance to get out. Will you take it?"

    The mousy-looking girl shook her head no. She had pixie cut white hair. Despite her meek posture her tail was straight. She was a few years older than me. I doubted she needed special dispensation.

    The centurion nodded. "Then swear."

    "I swear by the various gods and unbreakable oaths that I will follow my commander wherever she may lead me. I will obey orders enthusiastically and without question. I will relinquish the protection of BlackSkyvian civil law and accept the power of my commanders to put me to death without trial for disobedience or desertion," the white haired girl said clearly and without stumbling at the end.

    This would not be the first time I had dealt with an Imperial military with such strict rules of obedience.

    "I promise to serve under the Legion's standards for my allotted time of duty and not to leave before my commander discharges me. I will serve BlackSky faithfully, even at the cost of my life and respect the law with regard to civilians and my comrades," the mousy girl concluded, her tail curled behind her.

    "Congratulations!" the centurion boomed. "You are now a soldier of House BlackSky." She went to the amber-skinned girl with a shaved head. "Next!"

    "And the same goes for me!" that girl declared.

    The Centurion chuckled and then gave her congratulation.

    After a few more recruits went through she looked down at me. Her tail swished.

    I went through the whole oath with my full gusto.

    I was eleven. And just after the Feast of DarkStar I had volunteered as a Legion Cadet Pilot.

    Yes, I am aware that I had done the very thing I had spent my short life trying to avoid: joining an imperial military as a young girl.

    I had my reasons.

    It came down to two primary ones: the perils of having a Legionary flying officer Duchess as my patron, and how the BlackSkyvian military calculated time served.

    Duchess SilverFlight was a great teacher and valued my skills. That training suit basically became mine as I used it more and more over the few years I had access to it. I had honed my skills and had become a fixture of her talks and among the young potential pilots she had found.

    I learned the ins and outs of controlling an intricate collection of arcane enchantments which gave me an advantage over those who did not have regular access to such an expensive piece of equipment.

    The problem was that the Duchess saw me as an investment.

    As I got older there would be a pressure to enlist.

    I did not begrudge her for this. She had put a lot of time and money into an orphan and wanted to see a return on her investment. Especially, if said orphan demonstrated skills that the House could use.

    I may deplore war as a waste of lives, resources, and economic output, but if a nation-state must have a military then it does need skillful personnel.

    The Duchess had no legal recourse to punish me if I did not enlist. In theory, once I emancipated myself, I could leave the Nunnery and get a job anywhere I wanted.

    I had the skills.

    Unfortunately, most of my contacts were through... the Duchess.

    She never once brought up the possibility of her using her pull to blackball me. She didn't need to.

    In trying to show my soft skills to Duchess SilverFlight I ended up trapping myself. I had taken this realization with my usual stoicism.

    The situation would get worse the older I got. And if a major war kicked off, the pressure would become untenable.

    It was not a question of if I would be forced to join the military, but of when.

    Thus my choice was enlist in the Imperial Legion, Household Fleet, or an Auxilia.

    The Auxilia would be a lesser commitment, but I worried that might offend the Duchess more than if I had simply skipped out on military service entirely.

    The Household Fleet had far more Ritual Plate which gave me more options in finding a calm rear-posting to serve out my term. Though they also used Ritual Plate far more frequently. As again that was the Fleet's main striking force. The large Fujiwara aerial Torpedo was powerful, and gave the Fleet a great offensive punch, but they were expendable munitions. They were also heavy and weight was everything when it came to Fleet logistics.

    Where a Ritual Plate Pilot could do many sorties, provided she survived.

    In fairness, both the Legions and the Fleet did a lot of cross training for their Pilots. They even had the same equipment and models of Ritual Plate. Well, there was some specialization for those who served on submarines and other postings that risked an excessive amount of sea spray.

    Both salt and water had a metaphysical grounding effect on magical enchantments. Thus saltwater was a nightmare to proof systems for. That we even had a submarine fleet, small as it was, showed the ingenuity desperation could bring.

    That and one of our rivals to the southwest, House Trosier, was a major naval power. And they had an impressive submarine fleet. Fortunately, our ally House Alecto disliked Trosier more than we did, and was also a Naval power, and willing to help us with technical expertise.

    I have to admit: I came down to the Imperial Legions because that was where the Duchess had her commission.

    I knew what service to join.

    I knew my joining was inevitable.

    The question was: When would I join?

    And this comes to the second point. Being in the Legions, or the Fleet, is a twenty year term.

    If I waited until adult hood and succumbed to pressure, I would expect to have nearly two decades of risk of dangerous duties. The year or so of training and light duty would eat into that.

    And that was if I did not sign up during a major war as an adult. Someone personally trained by Duchess SilverFlight? I could see myself being thrown into combat right after the Ritualista got a suit fitted during my oath.

    However, the clock on that twenty year term includes Cadet programs.

    House BlackSky recognized that training makes a vast difference for a Pilot's performance. The Cadet program is a way to attract potential pilots of special talent and train them up. This gives them a leg up over other recruits who might be wearing an RP suit for the first time. Instead of the minimum age of sixteen, though they seem to prefer a little bit older, for the Legions, the Cadet program allows people two or three years younger.

    Thankfully House BlackSky was not so desperate that they would send children into battle. Things are not quite so dire as they were for my previous Empire.

    This means that there was every benefit for me to get into the Cadet program as early as possible. If I have to be in the Legions then it is in my best interest to showcase my abilities.

    And this was best done by showing off my skills at the youngest age. Further bonuses were that this gave me more time to train before I end up in active service. And every year as a cadet was one less I have to be an active pilot.

    Really, being a cadet at eleven was not so bad, by this time in my last life I was commanding a battalion.

    Further, volunteering for the Cadet program at such a low age requires the Duchess to petition for an exception. She has to put her reputation on the line to advocate to the Legions why I, in particular, deserved special dispensation.

    Thus she had to spend some political capital so I could show the Duchess just how gung ho I was. And how right the Duchess was for finding me and giving me this chance.
    Thus I turned a situation where I could have lost her patronage into one that strengthened it.

    All in all, my plan was to spend few years as a cadet then, hopefully, get into full training rotation. And, if I am lucky, we can be in relative peace. What would mean maybe another year knocked off my obligation.

    Even better, the standard route for new Pilots was to spend a term or two in Scouting Branch getting seasoned. Sure, the duty involved a lot of long, boring recon patrols, but I was well aware of how good a boring billet was. That most Scouts were deployed as half squadrons on tiny, cramped Venture class scout airships that had limited amenities was a downside, but it beat slogging in ground support operations.

    And after all that, I would get my first combat posting. And that was only if I didn't get some sort of rear posting as a flight instructor.

    If I play my cards right I could have at least quarter, likely a third, of my term spent in various training posting. And maybe get out when I'm barely over thirty. If I got lucky maybe I could use my connections with the Duchess to get a position testing equipment for the Legions.

    I might have ended up stuck in the military again, but this time, without Being X's sabotage, I was not worried about complications.

    I smiled as the last of the cadet recruits swore in and we all saluted the BlackSkyvian banner. "Hail Imperatrix!"

    End Chapter 1


    Poor, poor Tanya.

    She's trying her best but in many ways she's her own worst enemy. Especially when Being X is out of the picture.

    And buckle up. This is a new project of mine. I've already got six chapters written and posted as drafts, so once I get some more editing to those you can expect them here.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2022
  10. moon so bright

    moon so bright Shining Light

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    So much yes- I love this concept. I adore both The Return and Youjou Senki, and this seems a grand way to see her flourish. The only thing that would make this better would be if she was able to turn Visha and the 203rd later!
     
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  11. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Devil of the Rhine indeed.

    And yeah this was a concept I had floating around and the idea of what Tanya would be like in this verse. Over the last couple days the idea of the start of hte story solidified.

    As for Visha and some of the 203rd well.... Uriel did give some hints.
     
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  12. ioriangel

    ioriangel Mysterious Angel of Incalculable Mayhem

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    I really liked this, you did a lot of research for this, I can feel it. Seeing Tanya misunderstanding things is always fun.
     
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  13. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed. And yeah I did a fair bit of developing House BlackSky (and their rivals) and it seemed a verse that Tanya could work well in (that is she would have so many misunderstandings).

    And yeah that's a great part of her character, how a lot (but not all Damn you Being X) of her problems are self-inflicted.
     
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  14. Guardian Box

    Guardian Box gremlinous slav squatting child

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    So if I get this straight, the horns are like emotional broadcasters and receivers. Am I wrong to assume that Tanya controlling her emotional output, so to speak, was the cause of why no one ever adopted the little gremlin? They all thought she was some kind of emotionless psychopath?
     
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  15. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Bravo. Got it in one!

    Yes, the species she is now is very empathic. Which has cultural implications. (For one how they don't do casual physical contact with strangers.) And was a delightful place to put someone was guarded, remote and unemphatic as Tanya.

    Now there is some of both perspectives. Tanya is nothing but one to overestimate her cleverness. As some of the potential parents saw the emotionless gremlin, others saw through the mask but well... a Duchess had claimed her by that time. And anyway a little girl who needed such a masks might be a bit cute in a (aww she thinks she's getting away with it way) but is also a bit worrying.
    This is also why Sister Clementia stayed with her. As she spend enough time with Tanya and got close enough to see beyond Tanya's mask. And was able to feel her emotions and get a bond. Similarly, the Duchess, as an Imperial officer and pilot valued that level of self control and saw the potential. (Though Tanya was being paranoid thinking she would be blackballed if she didn't enlist).
     
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  16. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    Well this sure is a very interesting race. Quite a collection of powers are available to them naturally in various degrees and I can't help but to agree with Tanya's sentiments that raising the kids of the species must be very trying. Getting basically adopted by that noble is a nice touch for Tanya getting a nicer 3rd life and I can't wait to see how she deals with higher society stuff in between military stuff.

    Also I'm not sure if I was reading Tanya's comments on her sex ed right or not, but am I wrong in thinking that magical pregnancies are a thing here?
     
  17. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Oh yeah, broodlings can be quite trying to raise up. Hehe, and yeah the Duchess as a patron/maternal figure is a fun good-news/bad-news/ for Tanya.
    And she wanted to get into high society to escape the military, well... she got half her wish.

    I might need to revise it. The short is that this species of demon is all female. And they have two ways of reproduction (pregnancy and turning other species, mostly humans into them) So pregnancies are magical, in as much as they are a magical species. Add that to more of their nature. I'll reveal this, Tanya's new species was an artificially created race. With qualities to help with their original purpose. They rebelled and long story short their descendants ended up forming the various demon Houses.
     
  18. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    I think i can see shades of how they turn other species. It's in the variance in features that shows what they were turned from if I'm not mistaken? The sheer magical ability and tech base they got do stink of artifical creation to me so I think you've nailed that pretty well. Anyways by pregnancy means of reproduction do you mean they gotta find males from elsewhere and/or that they got some means of reproducing within their own population be it pure lesbian magics or options to be not biologically female (temporarily or otherwise)? Cus those are the options that I can think of.

    Anyways yeah, Tanya getting her wishes in ways she didn't expect is basically how she lives. Wonder if anyone will ever beat that lesson into her head.
     
  19. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Indeed they have a lot of variance and adaptability, in part with how they can take in "new blood". And so there's a huge amount of coloration, horn style, hooves, talons, wing style, ect ect.

    Excellent! Yeah their nature and history is why this breed of demon is... prickly when dealing with other infernal creatures. And one reason why they are /very/ defensive of their homeland territory. There's the whole promised land dynamic of them rebelling. And there's the other reason that their "homeplane" is strategically placed.

    As for how they impregnate. You're on the right track. To be utterly clinical: they have many forms of intercourse, the impregnation one involves the preparation of a tail (or tails) to be used as ovipositors. The exact mechanics aren't relevant to the plot. Though this and other factors does mean that their species can rapidly increase their population. Which was intentional in their creation.

    It's also one reason why establishing organized societies for them can be... challenging.

    Duchess SilverFlight will try to get it out of her mind.... once she's gotten Tanya to the place where she wants her first.

    The Duchess is nowhere near as cutthroat as Tanya fears, but she's still a demonic noblewoman.
     
  20. PaiRho

    PaiRho Not too sore, are you?

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    Those tails have many fun uses. If your on good terms with your succubus giving the tail a pat or stroke is a very naughty or flirting hello.

    If your close she may drop it across your lap wanting attention and fun.

    If your a stranger or they don't like you it turns into a chainsawblender that has an issue with your face.

    Of course if they really really like you. That's it own set of problems.
     
  21. Guardian Box

    Guardian Box gremlinous slav squatting child

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    ...in other words, it's not lewd if the tails don't touch.
     
  22. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Hah! I mean there's a few things that Tanya is in denial over. Part of that is due to her age, part of that is well... she's Tanya.

    Also she was raised by a group of nuns who took a vow of celibacy (something rare but not unheard of in House BlackSky). So while they taught her the birds and the bees, Tanya, being Tanya, might have gotten a few things wrong.
     
  23. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    Hopefully her new parental unit will clear things up before Tanya does something foolish.
     
  24. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Well.... the Duchess hasn't formally adopted her.... yet. But yes there will be lessons on social expectations.

    And we all know Tanya won't do anything foolish.... or that will come around and bite her.

    We can all take comfort that she'll have a few calm hears as a Cadet where she'll show herself as exceptional and slowly build up credibility and get a safe rear echelon posting.
    And there won't be any complications or rivalries with other Pilots.
    Clearly, her plan will go off without a hitch.
     
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  25. wasprider

    wasprider Experienced.

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    I enjoyed this, watched. There are a lot of Tanya standard shenanigans here. Don’t know the BlackSky setting. Or rather, I didn’t get that far into The Return.

    Looking forward to where you take it.
     
  26. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks! And yeah, this is basically going right into the whole House BlackSky setting. At the moment it's a bit before events in Return, but that's a minor issue of the whole timeline and not too relevant.
     
  27. Threadmarks: Chapter 2: Allegro with Aplomb
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    The War Chronicles of a Little Demon

    Set in the Return Verse
    A Saga of Tanya the Evil fic thingy.
    By Sunshine Temple

    Naturally, I do not own Youjo Senki. So here's the disclaimer:

    Saga of Tanya the Evil its characters and settings belong Carlo Zen, Shinobu Shinotsuki, and NUT Co., Ltd.

    Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.
    http://www.fukufics.com/fic/


    Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku
    http://fukufics.com

    C&C as always is wanted.

    Chapter 2: Allegro with Aplomb


    Prefect Volantes Centurion Artemis Magnus Quirinus inspected her Cadet Squadron with flickering orange eyes. Her green hair was pulled back in a tight braid. There were a couple tattoos on her dusky cheeks. Her tall, voluptuous form was in contrast with the obvious expectation of an experienced warrior.

    Well... present company excluded. And it was true that the average beauty of the Household Fleet and Imperial Legions would be high.

    Her black uniform was crisp and the awards on her chest and hair pins were easy to read. Impressing someone like Prefect Centurion Quirinus would look good in my file. But if I impressed her too much I would be sure to be given posting on the Front. Probably some colonial hotspot in an offworld backwater.

    Thankfully, that was still years away. I had plenty of time. We were meeting in a hangar. Unlike the cavernous airship hangars this one, while still large, was more sized to maintaining and storing VTOLs.

    "I am pleased to say that you have managed to, eventually, not embarrass yourselves with training suits. Congratulations on family connections, scholarship, patronage and many Aurei being spent to give you this opportunity."

    The Centurion's tail flicked as her eyes went over us. "Most of us are lucky to get a few months in a training suit and our betters hope that we can learn the ropes to not damage a real Ritual Plate too much with our mistakes."

    She gave a fanged smile. "You girls will not have that luxury. I know Imperial edict waives the cost of Ritual Plate in most circumstances. But if I deem you broke something because you were too cocksure and were showing off, being stupid, or anything other than the paragon of BlackSkyvian virtue deserving of this chance, then the repair costs will come out of the stipend the Imperatrix so generously bestows upon you."

    I nodded slightly. A Legionary purchased her personal kit. It was an old tradition, but one that had adapted to the modern House. Namely, that the Legionary's bonus upon enlistment covered those expenses. Still, that allowed for a Legionary to get some customization, and upgrades, to her gear, provided her Centurion approved of it. It also meant that upon the end of her term of service any such small arms and kit were her property.

    The expectation was that gear was to be maintained, especially if she took the financial enticement of reserve service. Another side effect was that far more expensive equipment could also be personally purchased for service. It was rare for a Legionary, or Fleet Officer, to bring her own Ritual Plate, but a few noble families kept up the tradition.

    I even heard rumors that some madwomen, apologies... when you have that much money you are eccentric, bought and then brought their own tanks. But that seemed just barracks room gossip. It was not that a tank was more expensive than a Ritual Plate suit, quite the contrary, it was that an armored vehicle was so much larger and heavier.

    The Centurion's eyes went past me and to the young Baroness VioletBlood on my left. "And no, those of you who could have Mommy buy you a suit will not be ale to beg on family to get out of this debt. Am I clear?"

    "Yes, Centurion!" we shouted and saluted.

    "Good. The Imperatrix in her generosity, via her youngest daughter House Legate AshRain, and through her Castra Legate Evanda, commander of this base, and Volantes Legate Aucto, commander of us Pilots, have seen fit to allow you to continue training."

    Standing before us in racks that looked like vertically-upright and open caskets was a line of Ritual Plate suits. Which explained why we had been ordered to appear in our sub-armor bodysuits.

    The Ritual Plate were a matte silver and looked like they had been refitted several times. Still, they were in good working order and I could feel that their runes, while very rugged, were in good order. Compared to other models of Ritual Plate, they looked relatively plain, but many of the bare spots on the armor had the clear locking points and connectors for mission modules

    "These are Polydora Mark 5 suits. Or at least that's what their Ritualista have sworn they've been updated to. I'll admit I might have worn one of these myself, though an earlier Mark, back when I didn't have the luxury of spending a few terms merely training in one." Despite her harsh tone, the Centurion looked at them fondly.

    She looked over us with another sharp smile. "Don't be so disappointed. If you want a suit that can do Strike Missions, Air Superiority, or Ground Attack then these will do it."

    For my part I was not disappointed. Half a year of cadet training had been very useful, but I had long gotten to the limits of the trainer suits. With the possible exception of the haughty VioletBlood, I had more hours in a Ritual Plate than any of the other cadets, and I was the youngest.

    Though, VioletBlood was only a year and a half older than me. Like me, she was an orphan. Unlike me, she had extended family, and her parents were nobility. But I could not hate her.

    She used her wealth to invest in flying lessons and time in her own trainer suit. And while I doubted her motives for enlisting in the Legions were as pure as mine, she was a competent flyer and a worked hard in her studies.

    "Why go with a Telephe, Harmonia, or Sarpedona model RP that can do one thing when you can have a suit that do all three of the major Ritual Plate roles?" The Centurion paused. "That was a question. Cadet Optio FangStrike?"

    Cadet Optio was, functionally, a courtesy rank. Ritual Plate Pilots started as Centurions of the Volantes specialization. Pilots who were not cadets at least.

    We cadets were given the rank just below Centurion, but with the Cadet prefix to make it clear to even the most meat-headed hoof-slogger that we had no authority to order her around.

    The mousy girl who had sworn the oath at the same time as me braced. "Because a specialized suit does not have the deficiencies of a multi-role platform."

    The Centurion nodded. "What are those deficiencies?" she turned to me "Cadet Optio DiamondDust."

    "A fully updated Polydora with a Strike Package does not have the same Lance power as a Telephe. While ranges are comparable, the Polydora lacks the systems to allow for the same level of evocative power and number of shots. In its defense, a Polydora with such a configuration does still have a longer range and more powerful strike capability than non-Telephe suits."

    If the Ritual Plate Wings were the Household Fleet's main form of power projection, then the Telephe Squadrons were their main form of strike power. An attack from these suits had the ability to take out major, and well defended, targets like capital ships or ground faculties. The downside was the Pilot had to be comfortable carrying the hilariously, worryingly, energy-dense conformal flasks that powered those Lance Batteries.

    That they were not flying deathtraps despite that was a sign of the value and expertise put into developing the Telephe. If command wanted a strike platform that could only be used once, then there was the Fujiwara Aerial torpedo.

    The Centurion motioned for me to continue.

    "Similarly, a Polydora configured in an Air Superiority, or Interceptor, role has weaker performance curves when compared to a Harmonia. Though the Harmonia line of Ritual Plate has their own specializations. Again, if a Harmonia is not available a Polydora in this role is better most other suits."

    She grunted in mild approval. "What suits would be better?"

    "Strike Flight Leaders often have stronger Zephyr and their Telephe suits tuned with greater agility. In the right hands, that would be a not unacceptable understudy to a Harmonia. And a Polyxo Advanced Multi-Role Suit is superior to a Polydora in nearly every way, but that is their purpose."

    Quirinus smirked. "And for Ground Attack?"

    I straightened. "In overall firepower, a Polyxo configured in that role is rather close to a Sarpedona. However, it is lacking in capacity of firepower and in protective systems and full low speed capability. The Sarpedona is designed to soak up a lot of ground fire, at the cost of high speed and altitude performance. But with the same exceptions as before a Polydora can fill that need as well."

    "The same exceptions?"

    "A Telephe strike can provide an unforgettable ground support run, Centurion. It might not be the most efficient, but a enemy armored formation would not forget it."

    She laughed at the image of a squadron of RP suits using ship-killing weaponry on a tank brigade. "Good. Given those failings, why do we eve bother with Polydora? It sounds like a second fiddle suit. Are they cheaper to field?"

    "On a per suit basis, yes. But the cost does go up when one has to include the various mission packages to give a Polydora muti-role capability."

    "Again, I must ask why."

    "Their flexibility. Consider some small craft: the Kolibri Patrol Carrier only carries two light squadrons and a Damocles Light carrier only has three squadrons. Having all or most of those squadrons configured with Polydora allows for mission flexibility. This applies to full wings where a handful of squadrons can be set aside with Polydora suits. Such an arrangement will require more training for the Pilots as they will have to be skilled in multiple roles but it greatly enhances the power of such smaller ships."

    The Centurion nodded then pointedly looked down at herself. "I'm sorry Cadet, I seem to not be wearing a white fleet uniform. Pretend I'm a Legionary and I actually work for a living. Why do the Imperial Legions use Polydora?"

    My tail straightened as I worked to keep my composure.

    VioletBlood and some of the other cadets kept straight faces but I could feel the mirth emanating from them. I had to keep the Centurion's attention if I wanted to save face. Having her ask another cadet would show she was unsatisfied with my answers.

    "The same dynamic applies to the Legions, Ma'am"

    "Please elaborate."

    "A typical Legion has a Reinforced Wing of about thirteen Squadrons. Most of them are Sarpedona Ground Attack Squadrons, which also give a measure of local air defense capability. Then there are two Harmonia Squadrons for dedicated air superiority, and there are three Multi Role Squadrons to take whatever major role required."

    The Centurion gave me a dry look. "Do tell."

    I frowned to myself. My previous Empire could only dream of having such a ratio of air assets to ground troops. A Legion Wing was three times he size of my old battalion.

    At ten cohorts, a Legion was not an insignificant force, but it was still only four to five thousand hoof-slogging Legionaries. Support staff, maintainers, vehicle crew, and other supernumeraries added roughly another two thousand.

    There were many days on the Rhine when a force that size would be a rounding error.

    However, BlackSkyvian doctrine was different. The Legions were an extremely mobile force, that was typically deployed via air. In a military where nearly everyone had wings, it was easy to have paratrooper style insertions.

    And most of our enemies also had such an innate ability with flight. Thus ensuring a large amount of mobile firepower that could also protect against air attack was vital. A Legionary RP Wing was a major expense for a Legion, however by our doctrine it was considered a vital component.

    Ideally, every Cohort would have at least two RP Flights to call upon for their direct air support. Five Squadrons would be retained to the Legion HQ for reinforcement or deployment as needed. Pilot fatigue, maintenance downtime, and combat losses would reduce this ideal.

    However, that fit with a combined arms doctrine even at the Cohort level. A Pilus Prior Centurion would have access to, on average, six centuries of Legionaries, a handful of Nyx light scout vehicles, some Nymph light transports, a number of Arachne artillery pieces, and the aforementioned Ritual Plate Flights.

    And for most cases, that support came from various marks of Sarpedona Ritual Plate: Flight Armor designed for the lower speed, lower altitude, ground attack role, with the corresponding optimization of protective warding against ground fire.

    This applied to the generic "infantry" cohort. There were several more variants such as those built around supporting two troops of Vestal scout/light tanks, two Troops of Triarii IFVs, one Troop of Lavin battle tanks, two Squadrons of Umbra Medium VTOLs to give the six centuries ready airborne transport, or the classic double-strength First Cohort of Evocatus Veterans with even more generous RP and artillery support.
    House BlackSky made the calculated decision to eschew conscription and focus on a smaller, more well funded, professional force. As a proponent of individual freedom this heartened me. Though I knew how well focusing on quality over quantity worked for my pervious Empire.

    On the other wing, House BlackSky did invest in considerable firepower and capabilities with the aim of going after numerically larger forces. Also by ingenuity, industry, adaptation, and a heartening adherence to free market principles House BlackSky was economically powerful.

    Currently there were about 75 active Legions, a third of them were armor legions, the rest infantry and a number of Logistics Legions. About 25 more Legions were on First Reserve status that could be quickly brought into the fold. Even more were Second Reserve that would take longer to organize, equip, and retrain, but would serve as vast pool of manpower.

    That added up to a strong force, if far smaller than my previous Empire. Mitigating this was that the Household Fleet was a quarter again larger than the Imperial Legions. Though much of their capacity was devoted to logistics and legionary lift.

    Though our enemies were aware of our Doctrine and made their own counters. And we would have to learn how to counter them. So it goes.

    I nodded to Centurion Quirinus. "If not for the Polydora then a Legate would have to be limited in how much Ground Support versus Strike versus Air Superiority her Legion would have. One of the biggest advantages of Ritual Plate is its flexibility."

    "And the Polyxo?"

    "Overcomes the limitations of the Polydora." I crisply replied before she could direct the question to anyone else. "It is an advanced multi-role suit that gives near parity with a dedicated RP Suit in the three common roles."

    "Then why don't we all use Polyxo?"

    I laughed. "Last I checked the Palace in Silvana wasn't built out of ten Aurei coins. The Polyxo gets that capability by being one of the most expensive and maintenance-intensive suits. Yes an Occultia or a Svalinna cost more, but that's not much comfort."

    Even an Empire that put a breathtaking amount of resources into air power, or perhaps especially one, would spend those resources efficiently. If going to a less costly, but less flexible suit resulted in a few extra Air groups then it would be money well spent. Same with retaining older suits and having a system to keep them upgraded even for second line use.

    "Is that all?"
    "No, Ma'am," I shook my head. "Unless one is a master Pilot in multiple disciplines, a Polyxo would be a wasted asset. That said, a Legate would give her eyeteeth to have her three multi-role squadrons filled with qualified Polyxo pilots."

    The Centurion laughed. "You are not wrong."

    She gave me an approving look and took in the rest of us. "Okay girls. I seem to have misplaced my Ritualista so you will have to help each other fit, check, and power up your suits. Consider it a refresher in the basics. And a lesson that you are Legion Fliers; you won't always be fitting out on a nice carrier embarkation deck. Yes, I will be personally checking over each suit before we fly. Pray I do not find a fault you should have caught. Questions?"

    "Where are the fuel cells?" the mousy girl asked.

    "Down in the vault over there," the Centurion pointed down the hangar past a couple hulking Gladius heavy VTOLs that were being refitted. The giant craft had wings that could fold back for storage and used four rotating nacelles for lift and thrust which was required to transport a light tank, IFV, an Artillery Tormenta, or two Centuries of Legionaries. "You've just volunteered to get them. Pick a Flight-worth of girls and borrow a cart to bring them over."

    I watched the four girls quickly walked off.

    "Don't the rest of you wait. I want you to get fitted out and ready for some real flight lessons. The moons are out. Emuria is full while Lantia is nearly; it will be a beautiful night." The Centurion clapped.

    Next to me, Optio Cadet Baroness VioletBlood gave a smile. Her pale features were crisp and her dark red hair was fine. Since we swore in, she had gotten a growth spurt and the newly willowy girl looked down her aristocratic nose at me.

    "Well Diamond, it shall just be like getting ready for ballet. Would you like me to help you suit up? I know you have problems with the footwear," her tone was sweet though she did show a bit of fang, and I could feel the mirth behind her words.

    I gritted my teeth. I was not enthused with my last name, less so when it was shortened into a nickname. "Are you sure, my Lady? Perhaps you could benefit with more time to get familiar with your suit if you get dressed first."

    VioletBlood twisted her head to me. I could just imagine what her perfectly curled black horns were sensing of my emotions. To drive it home, I walked past her and slapped her thigh with my tail as I did so. I made sure to keep my tail filaments withdrawn, there was no need to draw blood.

    Not breaking stride, I went to one of the standing Ritual Plate suits and pulled up a smoked glass plate and started running a diagnostic.

    She almost snarled but then her expression became cold. "You impudent, grubby, social cli-"

    "Ah, I see the two representatives from our beloved noble families are eager to get into their training," Prefect Volantes Centurion Artemis Magnus Quirinus stated, walking up to us.

    "Ma'am, I am but a common citizen raised by the Sisterhood of Our Hallowed Lady."

    The Centurion gave me a dry look. "As you say, citizen Cadet. You and Lady VioletBlood still volunteered to be the opposing force for today's lessons. And please note we are not doing close quarters combat today. If you have to go to hand to claw to tail to fang combat in a Ritual Plate, then things have gone very wrong."

    I simply nodded while the young baroness gave a tiny pout.

    "Are we clear?"

    "Yes Centurion!" both of us cried and saluted in the BlackSkyvian fashion: head tilt then tapping index and middle finger to our exposed necks before extending them to just in front of our eyes.

    The centurion laughed. "Consider it a vote of confidence in your abilities. Mind, if you prove my confidence unwarranted." She gave a fanged smile. "I shall have to reevaluate both of you."

    ++++++

    Clubs can be an important way of devolving group cohesion and skills. In my first life, clubs were a vital part of the educational system. In my second life, they were less important but were still a factor in officer training.

    Thankfully, the Imperial War College I attended in Berun did not have to deal with such fripperies.

    Unfortunately, I was once again a cadet.

    And while the enlisted, non-com, officer dynamic is a bit different for the Imperial Legions, I was still training to become a Centurion.

    I would have preferred to be in a club for something like marksmanship, war gaming, pyromancy, or even care of spirits.

    But I had studiously avoided skill in most of those at the orphanage, all in my misguided attempt to downplay my martial skills.

    Unfortunately, there was one activity I had not avoided. In a very considerate move, with my best interests at heart, Mistress Verity, my ballet teacher had drafted a letter of recommendation to my instructors in the Cadet Program.

    Sighing in the locker room, I massaged my feet. That was the worst part. Well the costumes were the worst part, but that was not a physical pain.

    It had been explained to me that if I were to join, I would be smallest person in the troupe. Which meant I would had a special role of the aerial parts of Allegro movements.

    Demonic strength, my small size, and my wings meant I could do very impressive acrobatic work. And that had me shoot straight up to a Soloist position.

    Unspoken was that such skill would make the troupe look good, and thus would make the Air Group, the base, and the House look good.

    I acceded to their logic and showcased my skills.

    Even if I had to wear frills and sequins and....

    Okay the worst part was performing on stage. Much of the audience were Legionaries, Fleet, and their families.

    Though seeing the Duchess in the audience did make up for it. She was a patron of the arts, and she could see her protege being a proper young example of BlackSkyvian class and prowess.

    It was also nice to see Sister Clementia watching me too. VioletBlood's expression when she saw them looking at me was also a treasured moment when she nearly stumbled.

    Yes, my squad mate and fellow ballerina was noble herself, but a Duchess was still far higher than a mere Baroness.

    After unlacing my slippers, I continued to frown at my toes. We healed faster than humans. Which our trainers took advantage of, and the ballet troupe relished. Dancers who could recover from ankle injuries in days were very handy.

    There was also the fact that soldiers who could survive trauma and heal from grievous wounds with greater speed and recovery were quite useful.

    I had stripped out of the ballet leotard and dressed into my black Cadet Optio uniform. I had the flashes and silver wings of the Volantes specialty and green trim to denote my cadet status.

    The other girls in the troupe, most of them Centurions, were also changing. VioletBlood was at the other end of the locker room and avoided my gaze.

    "Will you be ready to for flying lessons tonight?" IvyBlade asked. She had pale green skin and silver hair and often had my wing.

    I shook my head. "Prefect Quirinus has us doing night landings tonight. The New Dawn is doing maneuvers and we're scheduled to take advantage of that."

    The HFV New Dawn was one of the Nova class Fleet Carriers assigned to this base. It could support two Ritual Plate Wings (nearly two hundred Pilots), twenty-two Fujiwara aerial Torpedoes, a Century of Legionaries for shipboard security and a set of strong backs, and a mixed reinforced squadron of Spatha Light and Umbra Medium VTOLs. The latter were used for various Search and Rescue, Resupply, and personnel movement roles.

    With its Destroyer and Light Carrier escorts and Venture scouting force, the New Dawn and her sisters represented a major capability of House BlackSky to place an airbase at a location of a Praefectus Commodore's choosing. They and the Kanabo class Battlecruisers were, in many ways, the backbone of the Household Fleet's power projection.

    The Avalon Class heavy Carriers were even more monstrous being able to deploy a whole Air Group, but House BlackSky only had six of those. Though the real power was the massive number of various fleet cargo ships.

    "I wish I could have done carrier landings at your age," IvyBlade smiled.

    I took in her genuine-seeming reassurance with my own ambivalent mood. Ritual Plate was maneuverable enough that landing was not too challenging. Even if your target was say size of a frigate's flight deck or the receiving bay of an airship.

    "Well, it won't be the same without our little mascot," she patted me on the head.

    I managed to not bite her hand off.

    Patronizing, and scheduling conflicts aside, that was the real reason I stayed in the Troupe. It was more than ballet. We also did formation and acrobatic flying.

    Yes, it was all a lot of pomp, smoke trails, and colorful pyrotechnics that were glorified fireworks. But it was high-status precision flying. And the more hours I clocked in Ritual Plate the better things would be fore me.

    IvyBlade smiled as her tail swished.

    I finished dressing; she waved to me as I left.

    I made my way down the base to the cadet office to pick up my mail. After checking out at the gatehouse I stepped off base and took the short walk into the northern side of Bovitar.

    From here, the city sloped down towards the Lethe river. There were considerable port facilities. Bovitar was the major trade city of Eastern Province and the Lethe drained into the Great Bazala Lake.

    I found a nice cafe that overlooked Victory Plaza at the heart of Bovitar. We were a few stories up on a part of the plains that had not been cut down by the river.

    The plaza was near the Lethe and had the central train station on one end and the passenger terminus for river transits at the other.

    I took my seat outside and exhaled. It was a nice fall day. I was nearly twelve. At least as House BlackSky reckoned it. The years were slightly longer than in previous lives, but with shorter months.

    Bonus, I had I had yet to hear from Being X or that Archangel during this life... so far.

    I was tempted to have some optimism as my coffee and a little plate of chocolates was given to me by a waitress who seemed to find that my uniform was too cute.

    While I had not avoided military service, I was distinguishing myself in a safe environment. It would be embarrassing to make a career out of ballet, even the mix of stage production and acrobatic flying done here. But it would be far safer than say repeated tours on the Rhine Front or even Norden.

    I sipped the coffee and watched people walk about. There were a few ways to go down from North Bovitar to the city center. There were lovely stone stairs, a couple switch-backing roads. Or there was simply walking to an overlook and flying down. Or up.

    Even with me trying to tamp it down, I could just feel the press of other people. The emotional mass of folks going about their lives: workers, Legionaries, Fleet Marinii, artificers, children going to school and play, many being watched by their mothers. There were even some humans and a few of the broad demographic catch all of "other".
    I saw one of the Forest People, his shaggy pelt brushed and gleaming, as he walked down the street pulling a cart full of fine-grained, seasoned lumber. Large feet plodding on the cobbles, the massive fellow towered over the press of people by several feet and seemed to ignore other vehicles.

    The Forest People were normally not this far East. They tended to live in the remote high forest areas of the North-South Vyhraj mountain chain to the west that divided House BlackSky into eastern and western halves.

    Eastern Province did have many forested lands, especially to the northern end near the border. He was probably from an enclave out there.

    The Forest People served well in the Auxilia. Yes, their great size and strength was a considerable advantage, but their true role was in woodland scouts. In those locations, they were far stealthier than people a quarter their size and had innate magic that made them very effective at reconnaissance in force.

    Bovitar had nowhere the size nor cosmopolitan nature of Silvana. But few cities compared to the capital, the City of Trees. However, Bovitar was a trade hub and the major population center of the Eastern Province. It was also about as densely populated as I was currently comfortable with.

    No wonder large cities tended to be rare on Diyu. Smaller settlements were far more common. There were also logistical reasons, feeding millions and millions of demons was strategically vital, especially given our special dietary needs.

    Thus the large cities that did grow had some industrial, cultural, political, military justification.

    But if I wanted to get a nice rear-echelon position, then Silvana had the highest number of billets. From the vast Fleet Port complexes to the War College to Castra Argentum: the headquarters of the Imperial Legions and the Household Fleet.

    I suppose there were also staff positions in the Palace as well. But that seemed both too ambitious and too high profile.

    My mail would at least give me a diversion while I relaxed in the cafe. The biggest was the latest Journal on Air Combat from the Imperial War College of Silvana. As a generally-available publication, there was nothing sensitive in its contents, but it was good to keep up to date with what was openly known.

    There was a periodical about the care and binding of spirits. The contents of which, especially their article on mass farming of Zephyr, had me consider writing a rebuttal.

    There were a few administrative missives that dealt with the paperwork that accrued even as a cadet. Though in fairness, I was responsible for my Polydora suit, which included keeping up on its service logs and ensuring the Ritualista in the maintenance pool had kept it up to date.

    This was complicated that my suit got more used than most of the other cadets as it was both used for my training and for the ballet Troupe.

    Finally, there were two pieces of personal correspondence.

    First, I tackled the letter from Sister Clementia. The money I was sending back to the orphanage and the nunnery was helping. Well, she was being very polite.

    Being a Cadet came with room, board, and a small stipend. And, my personal costs were low, the periodicals, and cafe trips were my few expenses. Though Bovitar did have some remarkably pleasant bakeries.

    We were kept busy with lessons and training. And not just flight training, there was marksmanship, ground maneuvers, orienteering, wilderness survival. The whole suite of paramilitary scouting and camping.

    Though we did have downtime. Cadets were not, officially, full time trainees.

    It was nice that Clementia was proud of me.

    I would see about getting her, and the other orphans, some tickets to the ballet. It would be humiliating for them to see me, but it would show them what I had achieved, and would be a way to help culturally enrich them.

    It was only proper to return the effort she put into me. The nuns in my second life were not deficient nor negligent; they were merely lacking in material resources. It was not their fault that they did not have time to deal with me on a personal level.

    Purring a bit, I made some notes about my response in the margins. The back of this letter was the one I had sent to Sister Clementia. Being a practical and frugal woman, she would write her reply on the back page of the letter I sent her.

    The second piece of correspondence was from Duchess SilverFlight. She took the opposite approach with her own wax seal, custom purple envelope and watermarked pages.

    She was also effusive. Which made me suspicious. Yes, the Duchess would be proud her investment in me was making dividends. Yes, she should be proud of seeing me excel in many of the ways important to her.

    Yes, I was prime example validating her policy of patronizing orphanages to look for talented girls.

    But there had to be something more to this letter.

    I read on and smirked.

    There it was, one of her friends was opening a new business and the Duchess was wondering if she could purchase some assistance in the marketing. Well, that was something I had some experience with.

    My first life was more spent in Human Resources, but I knew how to sell a proposal. And some extra money would be good to funnel back to the orphanage.

    ++++++

    House Andromache was to the North of Eastern Province. As they were an ally the border was relatively open and had considerable rail and road links.

    It was not just connecting to Andromache, but to locations beyond. House RedStorm was to Andromache's North. First Citizen RedStorm was one of Imperatrix BlackSky's Daughters. And if things went right, the Troupe would be visiting there to show off our skills.

    Such relations were not uncommon among the Diyu Houses. BlackSky and Elena were sisters. Grand Admiral Trosier was Dictatrix Ziox's mother and Eminence Andromache's aunt.

    It all came back to the history of our species. A race created to serve, in war and in other capacities. And in rebellion we overthrew our masters and fled to this world. It was a nice creation myth. As a bonus it seemed true enough. All of the eponymous leaders of the Great Houses traced lineage to that revolt.

    Which was not too surprising. Our kind had many means of adoption, both as a civil matter and as one of blood. Still, that pride in our homeland and desire to never be enslaved again contributed to our aggressive and fractious nature. There were also all the realpolitik reasons for Houses to go to war.

    Being once again cast into a world with imperialistic and related heads of state was not exactly reassuring.

    This did mean that House BlackSky not only had strong allies that divided the continent of Diyu into western and Easter halves, but that House Elena's land borders were all with BlackSky and BlackSkyvian allies.

    No wonder House BlackSky was seen as a belligerent by many powers.

    Mitigating this was that House Andromache was also allied with Elena, and Elena was on good terms with RedStorm.

    What this meant was the BlackSky-Andromache border was a busy place with a lot of trade crossing.

    Though parts of the border region were quieter. To the western end of the border were the final sputtering foothills that were once the Romwell Alps. Thinly populated, a good part of the airspace there was set aside for training.

    As it was on the border, and House Andromache was rather small, they also used it.

    Which ended up with BlackSkyvian Cadets training against Andromachin Cadets.

    It was a form of opposing force training. Despite our alliance and transfer of technical and arcane methods, Andromache had a different few of air power. It was not as divergent as some of our other rival powers, but it was something.

    These events also had true dissimilar training on occasion. Using House Andromache and House BlackSky's small number of attack craft built to mimic such roles. They were mostly surplus obsolescent craft purchased by Andromache from Elena or Luxon and given performance upgrades.

    The central concept of Ritual Plate was somewhat like Aerial Mages in my last life. Each power had their own spin on the doctrine and differences in equipment, lift systems, and computation jewels, but there were also similarities.

    House Andromache used what was frankly a disturbingly invasive form of bonding their spirits and enchantments to a given Pilot.

    "Today, we will be training one on one recon patrol versus an airspace defense patrol." Prefect Volantes Centurion Artemis Magnus Quirinus said as she flew a bit above our cadet formation. Her Harmonia suit went from gleaming to muted colors that roughly matched the sky as she switched on her camouflage system.

    We also matched the motion and our colors turned to a more muted two-tone that from below looked like sky and from above matched the ground. It was not perfect camouflage; it was not even instant reacting, but it was adaptive. That said, those Pilots who could Veil their presence, even at low power output, were also very valuable.

    Flying a bit apart from her but at the same level was Senior Lojtnant Annelise Sorensa of House Andromache. She.... was not wearing flight armor. She had a chest piece and a helmet but those were more as backups in case her warding shield failed.

    She was flying as the same speed as the rest of us and using Zephyr for propulsion. Functionally she was a Ritual Plate pilot, but without the plate.

    She was intimidating to me in a way that few other powerful demons were.

    Fundamentally, Andromache going this route came down to them being the smallest Great House. House Andromache had one-eighth the population of House BlackSky. And they were centrally located with many powers bordering them.

    However, the majority of House Andromache's territory was on the Moon of Lantia. The smaller of the two moons, it still represents considerable, if distant and limited, holding.

    Keeping trade and lines of communication between Andromache's lunar and Diyu territories was vital. They had a small air fleet, mostly BlackSkyvian surplus, equipped with teleportation runes, and an impressive merchant fleet, especially for a small landlocked power.

    "You should all be getting the boundaries for today's exorcise on your map display." Senior Lojtnant Sorensa said. She spoke Silvan Latin with a melodious accent.

    "Please keep out of the restricted zones, we do not want to have to explain to RedStorm flight control let alone Luxon why one of our cadets drifted off."

    All her students and most of ours laughed at that.

    Though an errant BlackSkyvian cadet driving into Luxon Airspace would be met very differently than a mistaken Andromachin Cadet.

    Andromache made extensive use of teleport gateways: monstrously expensive paired devices that enabled point to point teleportation. They had none of the uncertainty that was a key limitation to teleportation runes, but could only teleport between those two specific gates.

    It was a property of their construction. A pair would be built as a set by he same artificers and Ritualista at the same time, from the same components, of the same design, everything to enhance their thaumaturgical link.

    After construction, the gateways could even be placed onboard an airship that could use its own teleportation runes to deliver a gateway to, say a colony world or moon, but that required careful work to ensure it stayed entangled with its matching gateway. Another limitation was that only goods that could fit inside the "transport chamber" within the gateway could be moved.

    Eve with those limitations, Gateways had massive logistical implications. Due to their expense, they were more of a strategic asset, but were very useful for keeping lines of communication and supply open between critical facilities.

    Gateways were still supplemental to various air, sea, and land resupply methods. All of which were less expensive, tended to allow for larger and more oversize cargos, and had greater flexibility.

    For a small House with little focus on power projection and few far flung bases, House Andromache had a disproportionate number of gateways. But they were almost all set to keep rapid contact with Lantia.

    "Cadets, you will take the defender role. You will go to point Echo, turn down your scrying systems, including your Gorgon Rig Optio VioletBlood, and wait until the set time." Centurion Quirinus told us.

    I pouted. I had been planning to accidentally leave my Gorgon Rig on so we could get a leg up on tracking the Andromachin cadets. The Gorgon Rig was an augment to Ritual Plate that increased the range and detail of our sensor input.

    It was something like a miniature Occultia. Less capable in recon, but less expensive. It was still a pricey enough piece of kit, and one that required a fair bit of concentration, or talent for a Pilot to use. Thus it was not standard. Typically, a Flight would have one member equipped with a Gorgon Rig.

    Since they augmented one's abilities and interwove with our horns, those who were the best with those sense organs made for the best reconnaissance Pilots.

    Quirinus continued "Then you can disperse and perform a search pattern. Your primary goal is to detect the rival scouting force. If you can do that before they find their own target then good, if you don't' find them at all, then I will be cross."

    Fortunately no one in our training Squadron fell out of formation at that last bit.

    "I will leave it to you to pick a Squadron Leader for this exercise. Don't embarrass me, compared to training on Lantia, this should be a milk run for you"

    Even without the Gateways, Lantia could acted a redoubt and, while it was technically self sufficient, Andromache depended on constant trade between the surface and the smaller moon. Lantia was not impregnable, it had been invaded before, and House BlackSky had committed a major effort to help liberate it in the past.

    Thus, the smallest Great House, Andromache had two main prongs to maintain their independence. The second of these prongs was why their Ritual Plate was... not exactly plate armor.

    The first prong was to cultivate good relations with the three largest Great Houses.

    "Cadet Korporals, you are to go to Point Whiskey, similarly you will also shut down your own scrying and sensor systems for the prescribed blackout period. " Senior Lojtnant Sorensa stated. Her body thrummed with power and she wore a fur-trimmed bodysuit under her vest armor that reminded me a bit of a more form fitting version of the flight suits I used to wear as an Aerial Mage.

    I sipped some water from the tube that snaked up near my mouth. Hydration was vital; even as an Aerial Mage we would carry canteens. As an incompressible fluid a given water supply would take up the same volume on a Ritual Plate suit. But it was one of the many support systems.

    There was even another tube that could supply what could, generously, be called broth. Reconstituted and heated from a stock of compressed cubes, the broth was nutritious and energy dense, everything a young demoness needed. And was not exactly inedible. Some of the cadets swapped out the enriched broth stock cubes with ones that would make tea or hot chocolate instead. A regulation violation I could almost sympathize with.

    "Afterwards you will be given a randomized list of targets. Both ones of approximate locations and descriptions of various landmarks. Your priority is to get the required targeting information from your set locations. That is the minimum task. If you do not want to make others question our place as a Great House you will avoid detection by our esteemed allies."

    For all the talk, House Andromache was very close to BlackSky. They are one of our closest allies and even allow us to maintain a major fleet base on Lantia, host of Primus 3rd Fleet, Emurian Eighth Landing Fleet, and Corpus Incursio Vigilance.

    However, I could still see a lesser power being prickly over having to depend on a greater power.

    Not that Andromache had nothing to offer. The Lantia Primus Anchorage gave House BlackSky a global capability to place, teleport rune equipped, fleet elements anywhere we wanted. BlackSky in turn sold them our older hulls, traded with Ritual Plate technology and our protection.

    For the other two largest powers on Diyu: House Elena and House Luxon, Andromache courted their support via facilitating trade. Both Lacus Superum and the Great Bazala Lake and their navigable rivers represented major interior trade lanes.

    However Lacus Superum drained to the North, while Great Bazala drained to the South. Being one of the few Houses that bordered both great lakes, House Andromache allowed the construction of a canal facilitating transit between them.

    Where before goods traveling between House Elena and House Luxon had to use expensive gateways, travel overland across rival houses, or circumnavigate the Diyu landmass, now there was a direct path.
    By having patronage of the larger powers, Andromache hoped to have a bulwark against aggression from the medium powers. And by helping with logistics, trade, and critical basing they leveraged their position on the world stage quite well.

    The other prong of the Andromachin independence was maximizing the power and flexibility of their forces. Without having to worry about power projection or long logistical trains they had more options.
    This prong was why Sorensa did not need a Ritual Plate, but her Cadet Squadron were wearing Polydora Mark 4 suits nearly identical to our own.

    They were enthusiastic in their reply to their instructor's order. Which made sense. We were both cadet squadrons. Which meant that we would have far more experience than most new Pilots.

    And while House BlackSky had the greater number of Ritual Plate pilots, House Andromache liked to think their equivalent air units were to a higher standard.

    "Any questions? No. Good. Okay both squadrons to your rally points. You will be informed when the blackout period starts," Centurion Quirinus ordered.

    We gave our agreement and saluted before banking off and splitting up.

    Their plan was to maintain enough mobile defenses and direct attackers to bleed anyone who tired to take their main territory while funneling in reinforcements from Lantia. And waiting for support from their larger allies.

    Their enemies, specifically House Ziox, would plan to overwhelm Andromache and hold the canal and presume Elena and Luxon would consider it fait accompli. Especially if they kept the canal open for Elena and Luxon to use.

    I would also presume that Ziox would also offer to cease their encroachment onto House Luxon's northeast frontier. Even ceding some territory in that area would be a net win to secure the bridge between the lakes. Not to mention Ziox was a mostly mountainous House and would greatly desire the fertile lands of the Andromachin heartland.

    House Ziox would depend on such an act of aggression being quick, and to grab territory before the complicated web of alliances of the other Houses would be pulled against them.

    It was likely that these girls would be going under the knife to become full Andromachin Pilots, and in a few short years would be readying for the inevitable invasion from House Ziox. Under their Polydora suits I knew they already had many of the precise tattoos that marked the first stage of their work.

    When I saw the interlocking treaties, alliances, and trade deals binding the nine Diyu Great Houses I nearly cried. It was a diplomatic powder keg that once lit would split various powers into blocks in unpredictable ways.

    It was something I had seen in both of my lives, and... had happened here as well..

    Hence why Andromache was quite willing to get whatever stronger allies they could.

    And why their version of Ritual Plate was... different.

    Ritual Plate had an inherent inefficiency.

    The various magical systems and spirits were anchored to the very plates of the Ritual Plate. Meanwhile the Pilot had to have a bond with the spirits and synchronize with the enchantments.

    There would always be a slight reaction delay, the tiniest of air gap.

    Andromachin Arcansits eliminated the gap. Many of their enchantments were tattooed on, but the key ones, the most powerful ones, were engraved and inlaid into their bones.

    It was an extremely invasive procedure, and one that if not done properly would be excruciating. The results were breathtaking, an Andromachin Pilot had quicker reaction times, more efficient power usage, and greater synchronization.

    The process was not without cost. It was more expensive, required a higher level of skill in the Arcansits and Surgeons doing the procedures. It was also less flexible, as system upgrades and modularity was far harder.

    Maintenance was also... complicated. While the psychical structure of the tattoos, bone engravings, and inlays did not change. Well not appreciably, the magical enchantments laid into them did need refreshing and adjusting. Also the various spirits bonded into the Pilots enchantments and powers systems for weapons propulsion and such also needed upkeep.

    To use a metaphor form my first life, the hardware did not change, but the software needed continual support.

    A further complication was that they only did the procedure on volunteers who they already knew would be skilled Pilots. This was why Andromache still used ritual Plate, mostly for training. But also for evaluating hardware and special missions.

    Still, I would admit that for a small House that wanted to maximize the individual power of their small air troops. It was a way to accomplish it.

    Andromache was a small power and one that was determined to do what it took to keep from being taken over. If they needed to make allies with the 3 biggest Diyu Houses, if they needed to submit to enchanting their very bones, they would do it.

    That was why Senior Lojtnant Annelise Sorensa disturbed me. She had been willing to sacrifice her body for her House. And why I was thankful that I was BlackSkyvian.


    End Chapter 2

    AN Cut this chapter a bit short. I had originally planned this and ch3 to be one chapter (including the ending POV shift) but it was running a bit long.

    So a bit more setup, world building, and Tanya's cadet days. Chapter 3, A Night at the Opera, will have the payoff. Or ch4 to be more honest.

    There is also some art of Tauria in Ritual Plate in the works and some already made.
    That can be found on my deviant art page, and more talk of the lore and background of this verse can be found on the Spacebattles forum thread for this fic.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2022
    Vealie, illerayn, Neo3932156 and 45 others like this.
  28. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    Poor Tanya is not only a shortie but has a rival who delights in her shortness. That's bound to result in something interesting eventually. As is Tanya's potential full adoption and maybe being used for a marriage treaty if those are a thing here.

    Anyways, minor correction I noticed needing making was that you used "wave" instead of "waive" near the start of the chapter.
     
  29. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Hehe Baroness VoiletBlood is a fun foil for Tanya. And yeah, Tanya doesn't quite realize things with her Duchess.

    Oh wooopsie! Thanks for the correction
     
    Rymu and moon so bright like this.
  30. ioriangel

    ioriangel Mysterious Angel of Incalculable Mayhem

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    I like the background lore you are building for the story, when are we going to get pov from the people around Tanya? She's not a reliable narrator lol.
     
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