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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. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Comma after 'up'. And I think you mean 'commanded'.

    'were' -> 'had been'

    'slowing' -> 'slowed'

    I think 'rough' is supposed to be modifying 'equivalent'? In which case it should come after 'Elenese'.

    Interesting that she doesn't list 'more capable'; with radar, the physical size of the receiver is a major limiting factor, which is why AWACS birds have those huge, awkward dish-shaped antennas on their backs. I guess scrying doesn't suffer from any similar limitation?
     
  2. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Made all the corrections, but the last, as I see rough is modifying the phrase "Elenese equivalent"

    Not as much no. (with a key exception as discussed later) Which is how there can be a Ritual Plate suit that works as an equivalent Recon bird.

    That said one of the reasons Diyu Houses will sortie multiple Recon suits (or planes) (if they have them) is they can get them flying in a spread formation where their scrying systems are doing the analog to aperture synthesis (as seen with synthetic aperture radar , sonar, and telescopes) to where they can collect signals from multiple areas to simulate a far larger platform.

    That's another reason why BlackSkyvian doctrine uses such heavy data sharing over the battle space as that allows Flight Ops to do processing to get an overall picture from the many scrying systems. (And the other Houses copy this as well)
    That said simply by being bigger and having more mass to play around with the Yaryla can have a lot more capability or be a lot less expensive for the same capability (or some mixture of the two)
     
  3. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    The suit cannot be roughly Elenese; it either is or isn't. It can, however, be roughly equivalent.

    If I understand you correctly, you are trying to say 'the design that serves the same job in the Elenese army as our Occultia, more or less'. The clearest way to phrase that is 'Elenese rough-equivalent'.
     
    averagejoe32 and Sunshine Temple like this.
  4. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    That us true, but that last phrase sounds a bit awkward. Maybe "the Elenese suits the rough equivalent" would work best.
     
    macdjord likes this.
  5. Extras: Omake on the other side: Double Demons
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Here's another one I wrote and can be read on WrandmWaffles 's A Young Vampire's Cohabitation Arrangements thread as it crosses with that story.

    Where Tauria, her... well he's still cohabiting with her, strickly speaking and her twin sister end up in a... different Chicago.


    Double Demons takes place a bit after the Battle of Chicago, in terms of both Tanya's experiences.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 19: "Old Acquaintances and Uninvited Guests" Part 2
    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 19: "Old Acquaintances and Uninvited Guests" Part 2


    High over Lacus Superum on our northern border with House Elena, my Flight had been sent to investigate an Elenese Recon Squadron watching our training exercise. It turned out they were in fact a Vanguard Strike unit of four Squadrons, including nearly forty of their latest Volos air-superiority suits.

    We were hilariously outnumbered. From Norden to Narvos to a dozen of other grubby hellholes, my troops and I had struggled against the odds. This time, it was twelve to one. I had beaten something... close to that before, but War Mistress Rodswor had been overconfident, had toyed with me, and had allowed me to defeat her forces in detail.

    I saw no such faults with Pukovnik Armin. Her Pilots' equipment was roughly comparable to ours, Elena's training was thoroughly acceptable, and they had the additional advantage of a quartet of advanced Recon suits. We had only talked briefly, but she seemed sensible enough, a far cry from the ranting War Mistress. I was counting on that.

    Backup was en route, icons from the medium carrier Hornet's escorts and RP squadrons were tantalizingly close on my map display, but moving with aching slowness. Except for a pair of Ascalon Torpedoes racing across the sky; those icons were quite fast.

    Our heading was not directly towards the Volos Squadrons. They had come in using a textbook formation where each Squadron was supported by the other. Two were spread out in staggered chevrons side by side with the third higher and in between.

    Even at cruise speed, they had impressive enough Veiling systems. At least House Elena was getting something out of the money they'd sunk into the project. However, with my Flight using Gorgon Rigs on active, we were more than able to keep our eyes on them, or close enough that it made little practical difference.

    I started to bend the course of my Flight, feigning an attempt to evade and slip past the Volos Squadrons and get to the Recon Squadron. The Elenese reacted just as I was expecting, moving to protect those four exceedingly valuable Recon suits. It amused me a bit because three dozen stealth suits were far more expensive than four Mokoshs.

    But I could respect wanting to protect your not-as-frontline comrades. That respect did not preclude me from taking advantage of their impulse, or their training to draw out more time. Anything for just that much more time.

    "What is the plan, Ma'am?" GreyDawn asked.

    "We're going to talk," I replied. It was a plan that had almost worked before. But now I had an idea what fears were driving the Elenese commander

    My Flight took a moment to process that.

    "With a pair of Torpedoes at our back?" GreyDawn clarified while VioletBlood made a gleeful noise.

    I glanced at the Display. "Oh, they're no longer at our back."

    Like all supersonic Fujiwara Torpedoes, the Ascalon cruised at a bit below Mach three. However, for the terminal phase it sprinted up to three and half times the speed of sound.

    Taking a sip of water, I made one request to the Fleet before switching to the open channel. " Pukovnik Armin. Pukovnik Armin. Are you still lost? Do you need navigational assistance."

    There was a beat as I watched the pair of Ascalons race past my Flight. The Volos Squadrons knew they were coming and had started to break into sub formations. Which was why BlackSkyvian doctrine was to fire Torpedoes carrying clusters of anti-air missiles.

    The enemy squadrons also knew this and figured they had a bit more range. Which was why I blew the Torpedoes early. A pair of miniature suns flared in the sky as enough high energy ordnance to blow through two capital ships detonated.

    The Volos squadrons were already breaking and maneuvering as if they were about to be plagued by Vel Missiles. And while forty missiles for thirty-six Pilots was not great, for an elite unit equipped with the best Elena had to offer, they had to think their chances were good. Instead, their wards flared and flashed as the shockwaves buffeted both of them.

    "They didn't expect that!" VioletBlood's glee was infectious as the three enemy squadrons took a moment to recover and get back into good order.

    "Countess, what game are you playing?" Pukovnik Emilia Armin demanded over the open channel.

    "Look, we could all fight, and waste a lot of money, lives, and equipment. You've got the numbers to run my Flight down and kill us. But it will cost you. How many of your latest Ritual Plate are you willing to sacrifice? What about your commanding Brigadir? Is House Elena willing to gut their Volos Pilot corps tonight? And for what? Observations on a cadets' training exercise?"

    And on my signal another pair of Torpedoes launched from the Kestrel.

    "What are you afraid of?" I pressed. "That this isn't a training mission. That someone with my reputation couldn't possibly be babysitting a bunch of cadets. There's just a medium carrier group behind me. The Hornet is barely enough for a raid, but... she is enough to take out your Vanguard Strike unit," I kept my tone even. From what I recalled, there were no significant forces from the First Home Fleet on maneuvers at this latitude tonight. If I were wrong and a Fleet Carrier or two or, DarkStar forbid, a Heavy Air Trinity were up north near the border with Elena then my words would be far from calming.

    Despite the risk. I put as much magnanimity in my voice as I could. "Or... you can leave with your shiny suits. And the intel you gathered tonight. In time, you can figure out what the cadets were fighting against based on how they were moving."

    Nearly forty Volos air-superiority suits had reoriented themselves and had resumed their closing course, but this time spread out on far wider frontage. It made them more likely to survive a Torpedo strike but more susceptible to being defeated in detail by opposing Ritual Plate.

    There was a low chuckle from the Elenese commander. "This isn't the first time you've used yourself as bait, Countess."

    "Far from it, Emilia. The question is: will you step into the trap? Are you no better than the wildcat Ziox or the cavalier Trosier?"

    "Yes, yes, next you'll point out that even our dissolute allies in Luxon realized the wisdom of not fighting you." Pukovnik Armin sighed. "I speak unveiled on the honor of Elena; you have my bond if I have your oath."

    "You exaggerate and flatter me, Emilia," I said as if this were a ball and we were exchanging calling cards. "But yes, Pukovnik, you have my word in the Imperatrix's name and on DarkStar's blood, that if your forces leave in good order we will not fire upon you."

    "My, the broadsheets and newsreels didn't stray too far from the truth with you, did they?" Emilia laughed. She then switched to Thokavian which Visha translated for our Flight. "All forces do not engage. Repeat, do not engage. Change bearing and take the least time route to cross the joint transit corridor. We are done here."

    There was a pause, no doubt them checking that confirmation on a secured comm channel, but then the enemy forces did a quick turn that for a brief moment left them exposed to a counter-strike.

    Instead, I remote-detonated the two inbound Torpedoes. They were still far enough away to cause no harm to our... guests.

    Watching the squadrons retreat, a shiver went through me, but I ordered my Flight to follow a respectful distance behind. Our cruising was sedate, our heading was steady and predictable, and our scrying remained on active.

    "Flight Ops this is Diamond Actual," I stated after drinking a bit of heated broth. "Elenese Recon Squadron has been investigated. Further Elena assets, Volos model RP, were discovered totaling Demi-Wing strength. We are escorting them back out of contested airspace."

    "Uh. Confirm Diamond Flight," the dispatcher said. "One moment."

    "Standby."

    "Ma'am, you are aware you were using the open channel to talk to your new friend, Emilia?" GreyDawn inquired over the Flight channel.

    "How else would we communicate? We didn't set up a private broadcast channel." I replied. While there were established procedures outlining limited comms sharing with allies, House Elena was far from an our ally, and sharing a direct comm link would have violated protocol.

    "What she means is that everyone could listen in. All the Pilots on both sides, the Fleet units, even our cadets and any civilians monitoring that channel," Visha explained.

    My tail stilled as we flew. "Ah, an excellent point."

    "It was a great feat of domination, Countess!" VioletBlood cheered. "You showed everyone who was in charge."

    I was, briefly, thankful when Flight Ops interrupted. "Diamond Actual, I have Hornet Actual."

    And then my heart sank.

    "Praefectus Commodore Lady Eliza Bellus HoofBridge, a pleasure," I greeted the carrier's commander formally. I tensed. It looked like she was not even going to wait until I got back to her ship to chew me out.

    "Primus Centurion Countess DiamondDust, I am sorry," Praefectus HoofBridge said with a mix of regret and surprised satisfaction.

    "You're... what?" I blurted out, many lessons on deportment and how to communicate with superiors tumbling out of my mind in shock.

    "Oh, it's not a formal Apology. Though knowing your mother... if things had gone..." She laughed as if sending four Pilots out to potential doom was just a part of the job. Which, indeed, it was. "Regardless, I am sorry that you did not get to wet your claws. I commend you on your restraint."

    "Ah. It was a bit trying at moments." That was the truth. I took in the map. The training exercise was long done, but the Fleet assets, both airships Ritual Plate, and many cadets had been moving to the north. No wonder Pukovnik Armin decided to take her forces back to the Elenese side of the great lake.

    "I know it must have galled you to just let them go like that, but we both know those Recon suits likely already transmitted whatever intel they had gathered from the exercise. And while you might not have been able to give those Volos suits a bloody nose, your own Gorgon Rigs have been giving us good telemetry and more on them."

    "I... I suppose we'll have to be satisfied with that," I allowed. "I do wonder just why they had a full Vanguard Strike unit out here."

    "Maybe they were testing our scrying systems to see when we'd spot their new Volos suits?"

    "That is a possibility, Ma'am. They set up that Recon Squadron. They'll learn a bit more about our training, but the real lesson was seeing when we would respond and if we would notice a few squadrons of their new stealth fighter suits lying doggo."

    "Perhaps, Countess. They could also have been going off on some other mission and were close enough to backup that Recon Squad. That's a question for Fleet Intel, or CSR if they find that level of skullduggery worth it."

    "I'd be happy to help," I replied with forced gusto. The Household Fleet Intelligence service was not so bad, if a bit stuffier than the Imperial Legion's equivalent. Both focused on military intelligence and had counter-intel branches to secure facilities and guard against subornation and infiltration. All logical stuff with focused remits. It was the Office of Cultural Reconnaissance, and their far broader charter, that worried me.

    "Good, I've sent my Second Squadron out to relieve you, though some of Kestrel's girls may beat them to the punch. After that, I request you get back on my ship and take the rest of the night off. I don't want you getting back out into the sky and trying to find your new Elenese friend."

    I gave a laugh that wheezed with all the build up stress escaping. Of course HoofBridge thought I was just as bloody-minded as she was. "We can do that, Hornet Actual."

    ++++++++++

    Early autumn was a lovely time in the City of Trees. The air was starting to grow cooler and the leaves were turning but had yet to fall. A festive air hung over the city as the various faiths present in Silvana prepared for the major holidays concentrated in the next few months. Some of the celebrations were cloyingly commercialized or overly sanctimonious and generally tedious, but the overall melange was charming enough.

    I suppose my mood was elevated by recent events. The whole incident north of the Adria Testing Range had terminated in debriefings, including a detailed review of my Flight's scrying intake. The clouds of hyped reputation and endless meetings even had a silver lining, as I got to present our findings on the Volos Ritual Plate to one of our Aggressor Squadrons. They were the dissimilar training instructors who provided simulations of enemy pilots for Pilot training.

    That my Flight had some very nice telemetry on the capabilities of those suits was a ribbon in my hair, to say the least. That it both helped the security of my House and advanced my career was a happy coincidence. Then came the debriefing of my noble cadets. They had fared well, and only took a bit of justifiable pride in winning the bet over Wencesla's Fleet cadets.

    They still had a few rough edges, but there was only so much a few months of training and a handful of live fire exercises could drill into them.

    The real improvement to my mood was due to my mother Clementia coming by for a visit. She had not been able to come by in time for the Feast of DarkStar, but she was here now. Seeing her again almost made up for how I was dressed and how we had spent the day. I wrinkled my nose. Almost.

    "You know you don't have to wear the half-veil," Mother Clementia said with a light smile as we sat down in the cafe. It was not my usual place. We had just left the annex to the Upper-Silvan DarkStar Cathedral of Our Hallowed Lady. I was not too familiar with this part of the city, as I normally preformed my obeisance at the family shrine in my Duchess's manor.

    But I had been around the Cathedral long enough to know where the better local coffee and pastries could be found. This particular cafe, and the adjacent pub, looked like they had been built out of a corner of a set of row houses. The apartments had been gutted, with the upper half now converted into a large multi-floor atrium that served as a plant nursery and the lower half left for the aforementioned businesses, as well as the and sale and storage of various botanical supplies. It all meant this cafe was still filled with the delicate scents of fresh flowers and rich soil even now, when fall was upon us.

    Just below us and down a switchback, a large hotel loomed, all brass accents and bas relief carvings. The banners of minor Houses Crocelli and Vualia fluttered from the entrance and from the heavy presence of hotel detectives and even Imperial Legionaries I supposed the building was hosting some sort of diplomatic summit. It was certainly busy enough, with knots of people out on the hotel's own cafe patio engaged in quiet conversations. I watched them for a moment and shook my head.

    "I didn't have to wear the veil during the ceremonies?" I asked, focusing on my mother.

    Laughing, she tucked back an errant lock of hair. The rest of her purple hair was hidden behind the long shiny black headdress that fell from the bandeau tightly encircling her brow. A silver four-pointed star adorned the front of the guimpe that draped down from her neck and coif. The rest of her habit consisted of her tall boots, long gloves and a dress below a bodice laced with pale red ribbons

    "You know the symbolism." She looked every part a sister of the Order of Our Hallowed Lady. And I looked just as much like a novitiate sister.

    Most of the time, it was easy to forget, or at least push aside, the fact that I had taken the simple vows and obligations to the Church of DarkStar. As a novitiate there were no vows of poverty or chastity and it did not interfere with my Legionary career or the noble games from my other mother Duchess SilverFlight.

    "Novitiates are to be seen and not heard," I stated. My status as a nun, even a glorified trainee, was hard to ignore when I was wearing my own headdress. Going down to my shoulders, it was far shorter than Mother Clementia's and thus only covered most of my hair; long curled bangs managed to escape.

    The ethereal white dress was plain enough, with only some ruffles, a ribbon tie and large black cuffs. Honestly, after having to endure gowns, the dress was more than acceptable, even if it was covered by stars and other DarkStar iconography. The half-veil over my nose and mouth however...

    "And I do appreciate you spending time with me," my mother took my hand. "And bearing with our Order."

    "Our?"

    Clementia smiled. "Dear, you didn't just take the vows to please me. And it's not pressure from the Church, they're more than satisfied with your performance as a relic-bearer. You're dressed this way because of your faith."

    I stopped fussing with my half-veil. "Well..." Could I have just not done this? Does this mean I could stop?
    My mother squeezed my hand. "What worries you, daughter?"

    I did not want to trouble her with my questions of faith. There had been more rumors of DarkStar's return, but those were seemingly evergreen. I had my doubts as to what DarkStar was actually like when she was alive, but I still tried to live my life... well I had always lived to the role set out by society.

    "I have Advanced Evasion School next week. Reinhild has been helping me train, but it is intense," I stated.

    "Is that it?" Mother asked before pulling back so the somewhat awed and diffident waitress could take our orders.

    Which I suppose was fair, given how we were dressed. I was also wearing the ruby-tear-drop ornament of the Preserver Order around my neck.

    "She probably doesn't recognize you," Mother assured as the waitress left.

    "One upside of having my hair stuffed under this thing," I noted.

    "There is a degree of anonymity, but your wings are special even if they don't know who you are," Mother Clementia said.

    Fluffing my wings, I laughed ruefully. "Indeed. These things are special enough for an Elenese commander to guess my identity after a mere glimpse of them."

    My mother gave a small smile.

    "How are things going in the orphanage?" I asked. "I'd like to come and visit for the winter holidays, or maybe the Feast of DarkStar if I'm on leave..."

    "The girls are doing well; the Tavosh twins were adopted."

    "Oh? The pale girls with short blonde hair and black wings? They did ballet."

    My mother nodded. "After learning about you. A nice couple running a tractor and golem repair ship has taken them in. They live over by the barony your VioletBlood runs."

    I smiled. "That's good." Maintaining farm equipment was vital work, and in high demand if you were skilled at it.

    "Your assistance has been very helpful." Her tail swishing, Clementia took my hand again. "And they'll be delighted to see you."

    It was hard to not be embarrassed. It seemed I was doomed to be mobbed by broodlings wherever I went.

    "Was it that battle that worried you?"

    "It wasn't a battle; I didn't fire a shot."

    Clementia waggled a finger. "Daughter, you detonated a bunch of big missiles."

    "But no one got hurt!" I did not whine.

    "If it's not you risking your life that bothered you...." Clementia observed.

    "It bothers you?"

    She gave an indulgent little smile that reminded me of when I was very young. "Of course. I worry whenever you deploy and whenever you train." Mother squeezed my hand. "But I'm proud of how you've grown."

    I looked down and tried to keep my emotions in check. She was not just being literal. I was still short for my age but I was getting taller and was feeling my fourteen years.

    "Tauria, you're not the warmonger the propaganda has made you out to be. I understand that you feel the need to wear a mask, to be a leader for of your girls."

    I fidgeted, not sure what to do. I wanted to pull my hand away. I wanted to run off, to fly off. I wanted to climb into her lap and cry. I decided to be stoic. "That's... I'm..."

    Her voice was very soft. "I did raise you dear; you're no jingoist. Just consider your Baroness. She's a fine woman but you're not like her. I suppose that's why you also have Miss Shadow, their temperaments are complimentary."

    "They are good... companions." I did not like being at a loss for words

    Mother Clementia gave me an indulgent look. "They're more than just companions dear."

    "No, mother." Intellectually, I had no objections. Years ago LoveBlood had made the case of how an arranged marriage between us would be logical, and given our personalities and interests, would in all likelihood be less than unpleasant. After some initial friction between my Vs, more on VioletBlood's part, Visha had endorsed that plan, after making a place for herself in such a future. Privately, I still felt found some measure of disquiet at the idea of my... social, and not so social, affections being plotted out before me.

    But I did not feel strongly enough to object to the whole thing. Maybe if I was being pushed, but Visha took care to rein in LoveBlood whenever she got overly enthusiastic; only occasionally did Victorious have to be literal in that duty.

    Thankfully, the waitress had returned bearing out lunches, and I could focus on something else. I was happy to have a reason to undo my veil and pin it to the side.

    Mother Clementia had gotten a savory broth, a bowl of some hard cheese, dried fruit and a bit of dried sausage, and a glass of sweet red wine. She did give a small frown at my plate of pastries and coffee.

    Her chair creaked as she moved over to sit next to me and hasted the waitress to bring out more broth and another bowl so she could share her "salad".

    "Mother, I'm fine."

    "I won't have you starving yourself," she said, making sure the second order of broth was before me.

    I managed to hold back any pouting as I did picked up the spoon, tail limp.

    Giving a satisfied nod, she began eating. "How are your studies going?"

    At least the broth was good. "I'm doing well. The classes are interesting."

    "Are you making new friends?"

    "Mother, I'm a Primus Centurion," I said sternly, without whining. "I'm training Cadets and will soon have squadron command..."I trailed off.

    "Dear?"

    "It's nothing."

    My mother looked down at me.

    "Magnus Quirinus, my squadron leader before I went here for the War College?"

    "Yes, she seemed like a lovely and competent woman when I met her at your twelve birthday party."

    "She just got her promotion to Tribune," I admitted.

    "Did you send her a congratulatory letter?"

    "Of course," I snorted. "And she'll soon be commanding a Demi-Wing."

    Mother Clementia sipped some of her broth then ate some cheese. "And you'll be promoted to Prefect Centurion after your studies here," she noted.

    "If things go to plan, in charge of one of Tribune Quirinus's four squadrons," I noted and went back to eating.

    "You don't sound too happy."

    "I'm just preoccupied with how I'll have to fill out a squadron. That'll be eight more Pilots. I'll also need three Primus Centurions, though I have ideas on two of those slots." I sipped some coffee. "Not to mention training them to be proficient with Polyxo RP, having them up to work as a team and then integrating them all with Quirinus's other Squadrons."

    "Oh, is that all that weighs your mind?" She put her arm around me and pulled me into a hug.

    As I leaned onto her, I might have started to purr.

    "I don't want to burden you with my fears," Mother Clementia said as she squeezed me a bit tighter.

    "It's... it's not a burden," I replied, my tail swishing. "I shouldn't have signed up so young."

    Clementia gave a little laugh. "I would lie if I said your age was not a part of my fears but I'll still worry even when you're fully grown with broodlings of your own."

    "Um, but..." My heart sped up. "That's a long way off."

    "Yes, I know even when you're old enough, there's regulations about pregnancy when on active duty. I'm in no rush for grandkids, daughter." There was a tiny bit of gratitude tinged with wistfulness in her voice. Given my mother's vows, I doubted she expected to ever have a daughter, let alone granddaughters.

    "There's time..." Sighing, I relaxed into the hug. "I've got time. Tribune Quirinus has her own training, and I have to finish the current set of courses at the War College." It was not enough for a degree, but I could resume my studies and distance learning was always an option. "Not to mention the rest of my Flight and our Ritualista have their own lessons."

    "And your lessons at Mima Lumina," Mother Clementia added with a tease.

    My tail stilled. "Yes, Mother. Duchess SilverFlight was very... generous in arranging VioletBlood and myself to receive such tutoring."

    My mother resumed eating. "Is it that bad to go to a school with girls your own age? Mima Lumina is a very prestigious school."

    I tried not to glare. "It's not a full course load, just some private instruction." The idea of spending forty to fifty hours a week in some sort of prissy school for nobles set my teeth on edge. It was more than just a waste of time; the limited amount of interaction was bad enough. At least with my cadets I always had the option to flog them.

    "Ah, something like finishing school? I suppose you... is the term 'sword nobles'? I suppose you do need some polishing to get along in high society." Mother Clementia's tone was playfully teasing.

    I did not growl, at least certainly not at her.

    "Is it that bad? I knew you grit your fangs at the various deportment and attitude lessons when you were a broodling, but you still volunteered to take extra classes."

    Exhaling, I calmed myself; that was easier in Mother's presence. "I agree with the utility of the classes, and I am learning from them, but I still have my private complaints that I have to take such classes."

    Clementia laughed. "Ah, the Legionary's right to complain?"

    "Something like that," I admitted before having more broth.

    I felt my mother's curiosity as we both ate. After a couple minutes I decided to explain myself.

    "It's the sinking realization that learning how to navigate the social minefields that come from dealing with spoiled teenage girls may very well aide me when dealing with noble intrigue or Legion and Fleet officers."

    "I can only speak for the social dynamics of the ecclesiastical world, but you're not wrong."

    I frowned. "Sometimes I feel like everyone is a crazy demon, or at least immature, and that everyone is really my age, they just look like adults. That I'm older than I... look." Wincing at my near slipup, I thought of Lady HoofBridge and her views on throwing my Flight at our largest rival as a bit of sabre-rattling.

    "I'll confess, daughter, most adults are faking it."

    I sighed. "That conclusion has become inescapable."

    "You have always been a very sensible and sober young girl," my Mother agreed. She left unstated that that was part of why I was never adopted when I was at the orphanage. Sometimes I wondered what my life would be like if I was adopted by more... conventional parents. If I had been raised by women of more normal jobs and status. I presume I would have been happy in some small town, maybe I'd work as a scrivener or some sort of clerk, but I still would have had my affinity for Zephyr.

    And I would have come under pressure to sign up, to do my part. I have been in a situation similar to Visha. I continued to ponder as I ate. Unless I once again found patronage, I would not have been in a cadet program, so I would have signed onto BlackSkyvian service earlier, and I would have had far less time to train.

    I could feel my mother's amusement. She rarely pestered me when I was pondering and was happy to enjoy companionable silence. It was a shame I had to wear this headdress, part of me wanted her to brush my hair. But she had a meal to eat too.

    The meal ended and I felt some regret, in part because I had to put my half-veil back on but mostly because I had to say goodbye to mother Clementia for the rest of the day.

    "We will be having dinner," she promised, giving me a hug after I paid for the lunch.

    I nodded.

    "You can tag along if you want. It's rather dry fiscal allocations of tithes and endowments, but," she gestured to how I was dressed, "you are qualified to sit in."

    My tail flicked. It was a tempting offer. Over the last two years I had learned more about how charitable donations worked under Silvan law and the tax codes that the nobility operated under. Due to our privileged status, our fiscal records were far less private than those of commoners. I could see the arguments in favor of this arrangement. Our tax code was simple in a way that warmed my heart, but it could be circumvented. I could also see it as a means for the Imperatrix to keep a check on powerful factions while also being aware of their resources and assets.

    "Thank you for the offer." I bowed my horns. "Normally, I would accept but I have an appointment this afternoon with my Logistics instructor on a project that she thinks can be presented for formal review."

    She returned the bow, then with a smile pulled me into another hug. "I'll take notes and we can go over them at dinner."

    I smiled and with some reluctance we separated. She went on her way to the cathedral and I started walking down. There was a funicular station opposite that grand hotel.

    ++++++++++

    I strode down the stone stairs with purpose, only somewhat self-conscious about how I was dressed. Normally, I wore my Legion uniform when out in the city, so it was interesting to see the contrast in how I was treated.

    Admittedly, in both cases I was given a respectful diffidence. However, a novitiate Sister of the Order of our Hallowed Lady was given more of the respect of the institution. Whereas, on the other wing, the awards, specialization, and rank of my Legionary uniform, or the hair pins I could wear when out of uniform, had people more agog at my personal achievements. Even moreso when they realized how young I was to be wearing those badges of rank and accomplishment.

    A young teenage novitiate Sister was normal. A decorated teenage Volantes Ace and Flight Leader was something else.

    I waited for the traffic to thin at the crosswalk. The funicular station was just across the street next to the small glen of a park. Before I could cross, a panicked bellhop ran up to me, her wings akimbo and her tail flailing.

    With honey-blonde hair that was pinned up in her pillbox cap, she was dressed as if she were some grand army marshal with more gold braid than a Luxon dress uniform and more frogging than a Trosic admiral. The green uniform managed to be ostentatious and servile.

    "Can I help you?"

    "I'm so sorry, Sister," the bellhop bowed her head, gasping. Held in her hands was a silver-edged calling card. She paused to gather herself and inhaled. "Are you Primus Volantes Centurion Countess Tauria Magnus DiamondDust?" she asked in the tumbling rush of someone who only recently was told something she had to memorize.

    "I am. What's this about?'

    "I'm sorry!" she repeated with another bow. "The Diyu Continental has been honored to host embassies from both Houses Crocelli and House Vualia while they discuss matters of import."

    I glanced at the hotel's grandiose frontage, all that heroic statuary made mundane by their placement overlooking a loading and unloading zone full of various vehicles. "Yes, I noticed the banners."

    While not exactly neighbors, both minor Houses were south of House BlackSky across the Gaudia Sea: Crocelli on the western side of Diyu, Vualia across from the eastern end of the continent.

    More than the fluttering banners hanging in front of the lobby, there were plenty of people sitting and talking in the little groups, as I had noticed earlier. Not to mention the abundance of security personnel from all three Houses in attendance, plus the private forces of the Continental. One woman with orange hair and sober business-wear caught my eye. She was with a cluster of people out having a smoke.

    "One of the attendees begs the indulgence of a moment of your time," the bellhop held out the card by the far corners to make sure we did not inadvertently touch when I took it.

    I opened the card and it took effort to not set it aflame, let alone to not shred it with my claws. "Ah..." I read it again and looked up at the banners. They were still just the emerald green over black of House Crocelli and the seafoam and sapphire of House Vualia.

    I did not see the banner for House Ziox: a chevron of silver wings over a wheat-gold disk on a red and blue background. I did not want to create a scene; I was already attracting some attention.

    My tail straightened. "Please give Company-Kapten Samoth Rodswor my regards, but alas I will not be able to meet with her today." I had no interest in meeting the sister of the War Mistress who had tried to abduct and brainwash me.

    "Are you sure about that, Countess?" an orange-haired woman in a sober black jacket, bodice, and grey skirt asked, suddenly at my side. She had magenta skin, neat bangs and a ponytail. Behind her gold-framed glasses her eyes twinkled. At least the librarian had done the courtesy of not actively puffing on her slim cigar as she approached.

    "Librarian Evadne," I bowed my horns and then waved the calling card. "Are you sure about this?"

    Her tail curling, the bellhop looked between us. "If there's nothing else?" She wanted out of this situation - quite the sensible girl.

    "Oh yes, the Countess will deal with the matter personally," Evadne assured.

    The hotel staffer took her chance and scurried back to the protection of the hotel.

    "I do hope you'll do me this favor," the Librarian brightly said.

    I frowned at her. "Unless my memory of Ortov is faulty, wouldn't the favor go the other way?"

    Her smile grew. "Don't you want more favors from the Librarius?"

    I stared.

    "Ah, wise for one so young." She studied her cigar and pouted; the end had gone out. "I can't force you to talk with Samoth."

    "Why is she even here? How did she get into the country?"

    "House Vualia has hired her as a consultant to evaluate their Ritual Plate Corps. She's part of their delegation at this summit as a military attaché. And as long as she stays on the grounds and comports herself, Kapten Rodswor is entitled to the protections of being part of the Vualian embassy." Evadne shrugged.

    "Oh, House Crocelli must love that." My wings twitched as I pinched the bridge of my nose. The woman who trained Diluvian separatist Pilots would be sitting across the negotiating table from House Crocelli.

    "Yes, I dare say bringing her was a way to thumb their nose at them," Evadne agreed.

    "Haven't she and her mercenary band fought Crocelli's forces directly?" I added. "They've certainly fought ours."

    "Yes, Queen Vualia isn't dueling with blunted swords in these negotiations. She's needling both Crocelli and us as the hosting House. There is some elegance as Rodswor does have an expertise and with her status as a sell-sword her actions cannot be, officially, blamed on Ziox." Evadne shrugged elegantly. "As far as we know, she has not done anything aggressive at all while in service to Vualia."

    "And you want to bring me into a spat between Minor Houses separated by the Gaudia Sea?" I asked, looking for some way to get out of this diplomatic intrigue.

    Laughing, Evadne snapped her fingers and relit her cigar. "Oh no, I don't want you to talk to the younger Rodswor to smooth over some mere trade deal. I want you to figure out why Samoth wants to talk to you."

    Frowning, I glanced at the hotel. I did not want to get further into this mess. The Rodswor family had been a problem for me for years. "This is a diplomatic event."

    "And you're being invited." The librarian looked me over. "And I suppose your garment helps make you look pious and non-threatening, Sister."

    I glared.

    "Do you have a sidearm under that dress?"

    Confusion grew as I blinked up at her. I did have a few firearms, mostly what I had to purchase as a BlackSkyvian Imperial Legionary. Despite being a Legion Flier we were expected to be proficient in small arms. My Duchess also had a fair number of hunting pieces not to mention the equipment of her non Ritual Plate mercenaries. There was also my maid Reinhild's collection.

    I rarely carried a sidearm, and the last time I had to use my Mark 36 battle rifle was a particularly bad night in FOB EmeraldInferno almost a year ago when Diluvian raiders almost snuck through the wire and into the Forward Base.

    "Do you want one?" she lightly asked in that amused inquisitiveness that seemed a hallmark of her profession.

    "What about security?"

    "What about it?" she happily retorted, tail swishing.

    "Personally, I'd rather have time to change."

    "You look good." The Librarian smiled. "I would appreciate your help in this, but if you have an appointment, please, don't let me detain you."

    I look at the sparkling eyes behind those slim glasses. My tail went limp as I sighed. "Fine, I'll do my part."

    Grinning, Evadne clapped her hands, turned on her heel, and started walking back to the hotel. I trudged after her.

    The interior lobby of the hotel was cool and I was breezed past various guards, security, and overly ornamented servants. Somewhere in the process I lost the Librarian and found myself alone by the reception desk holding the silver-edged card.

    There was a gentle gust and the air got a bit more comfortable. Before I could call to the receptionist, the nervous honey-blonde bellhop intercepted me. "Countess? If you'll follow me."

    Going through a few more layers of security surrounding the chatting diplomats, I was thankful that I wore the Preserver Order award. A couple checkpoints actually asked to verify my identification and my invitation. It was reassuring that someone could not just dress up like a trainee nun and sneak in. The bellhop led back out to a rear portico.

    There were a few people sitting at the tables. More than a few eyes fell upon me, but my attention was at the willowy woman sitting at a table shaded by a poplar tree. I had only seen photos of her from CSR and other intelligence briefings, but it was her.

    With confident air, I strode over. She already had a cup on a saucer.

    Company-Kapten Samoth Rodswor was a bit duskier than her sister with a light bronze coloration. She had the same hard amber eyes and close-cropped black hair. She looked younger than her late sister, even a bit more youthful than the dossier CSR had on her. Her frosty smile was just slightly warmer than the cold elegance Zaphania had born.

    That is until I surprised, killed, and fed upon the War Mistress.

    "Countess, or do you prefer Primus Centurion? Please, sit. I don't want to offend, I know how precious noble titles and war-like reputations are to you BlackSkyvians," Samoth flashed her fangs. Old hatred, worn comfortable by time and use, radiated from her. The pilot wore a dark purple jacket with matching slacks and a white shirt. A silver feather, a symbol of House Ziox, was on one lapel with a gold quiver full of arrows denoting her command of a mercenary company on the other. Lavender horns curled out of her brow and her wings were folded back as her tail was curled onto her lap.

    I sat and stared at her.

    "Taller than I expected, but it has been two years." She tilted her head and sipped some tea. "I sent you a calling card. No doubt it's already at that up-slope mansion of your mother's. She did reward you handsomely for what you did."

    "The War Mistress attacked me."

    Samoth gave that chill smile. "Yes. I had hoped to maybe talk to you later, but then," she gestured up to the block at a higher elevation where the cathedral and that cafe were, "but then, I saw you. And you were all dressed up for church. Maybe your Lady DarkStar wanted us to meet?"

    "If she did, wouldn't we both be in the skies in our armor and not at a diplomatic summit?" I snapped back.

    She laughed. "Oh, you almost sound like you believe that. Come Countess, do you actually fool people with this lady warrior thing?"

    "Do you? With your righteous vengeance?"

    "Oh Countess, you know that the best lies have a kernel of truth to prop them up." She gave a laugh made all the more disturbing for the genuine mirth. "I know you've been making inquiries, using your Mother's connections, maybe some of your personal networks. Good little nobles who want an honorable duel wouldn't do such things."

    I folded my hands on the table. "What is it that you want?"

    She sipped her tea. "It's not enough that we should meet face to face at least once before we settle this tawdry feud?"

    "The failings of your family have little to do with me. Any other Legion Flier would have caused you the same trouble."

    There was that laugh again. "Oh, if we're playing up to arrogant stereotypes then perhaps I should bring up my ancestors, or maybe I should have worn a headdress too."

    "What do you want?" I repeated.

    "I heard you had a spot of trouble with House Elena recently." The woman squared her teacup on the saucer and pushed it to one side.

    "I wouldn't say that." House Ziox was ambivalent at best towards House Elena. Mostly it was because the smaller great House had enough wars and rivals and could ill afford to have yet another enemy. House Elena's feelings were more complicated as they were staunch allies of House Luxon, one of Ziox's traditional foes.

    "No, you wouldn't," Samoths' tail flicked out of her lap. "Countess, yes for this, it's Countess, I'm a mercenary."

    I gave a small smile. Samoth was only a mercenary because that gave House Ziox plausible deniability.

    "Don't you get haughty to me, your own mother, the Duchess, is a sell-sword," Samoth spat. "That's why I'm even talking with you." She took out a bronze tuning fork. It had the slightly more angular engravings of Zioxan enchantments, but I recognize the device. Especially, after she struck it on the side of the table. The vibrations were prickly to my horns.

    I blinked at the little privacy generator. My Duchess often used such devices... during similar meetings.. "I'm sorry, perhaps you could clarify?"

    Amber eyes smoldered at me as she leaned back. "I know you don't trust me, and have no idea how much it galls me to come to you, of all people on Diyu." She flexed her hands and the air at her back became blustery. "But.... I am a businesswoman, thanks to you, Countess. And I have something to sell, something your mother, or maybe some of your less savory friends may be very interested in."

    I squared my shoulders. So this was Great House politics. "What do you have in mind, Kapten Rodswor?"

    End Chapter 19

    Thanks to DCG , ellfangor8 , Green Sea, Readhead, ScarletFox , afforess, WrandmWaffles and Preier for checking and reading over this chapter.

    Sorry about the back to back cliffhangers (and 19 being a bit short), but chapter 20 is well underway and shouldn't take too long to finish. And I got some new art to post.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2022
  7. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    Well this is going places. Really like seeing Tanya getting some parental love as she oh so rarely gets any in most fics and it's really sweet here. Hell I'm pretty sure that this fic is the first i've seen of parental teasing of Tanya for having a love interest or two. Also this bit
    is something the Vs are going to make Tanya make good on someday I think.
     
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  8. moon so bright

    moon so bright Shining Light

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    Family feels are the best. This was quite cute and actually showing that she's growing as a person in that she realizes there were indeed other choices. Thanks once more for crafting this tale - this new installment has been quite welcome. Also, I loved the little crossover with Tanya over in the Dresden Files. :)
     
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  9. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Daww thanks! Yeah, I wanted to show more of the influence Clementia had on Tauria over the years, and that she knows her daughter. hehe the Vs do have their plans for their Countess.

    My pleasure! Yeah I had fun getting back to Tauria's adventures in Chicago, and this time in a bit more of a peaceful venture.

    And yah, Tauria's had some time to get a breather and realize she has people who care deeply for her, and well... can also see past some of her masks.
     
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  10. CILinkz

    CILinkz Looks at you like that.

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    this story could use more tags. I have no idea what the return verse is that is mentioned in the first episode but i cant find it if its something abbreviated. maybe mention exactly what kind of crossover it is please :( maybe a nice synopsis at the start
     
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  11. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Aww nuts. I thought I took care of that. Well the good news is I do have a summary page! I just um... forgot to copy it over to this forum. But that's fixed now. Thanks for pointing it out
     
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  12. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Comma after 'Flight'. 'and' -> 'an'.

    Comma after 'daughter'.

    Missing blank line between paragraphs.

    'mother squeezed my hand' is not a dialogue tag; the comma after 'train' should be a period and 'mother' should be capitalized.

    Missing blank line between paragraphs.

    Missing blank line between paragraphs.

    This sentence reads weird - saying that she was lovely and competent then sounds like like it's implying she's not anymore. I suggest 'she seemed like a lovely and competent...' instead.

    Rogue space after the open-quote.

    Again, not a dialogue tag.

    Comma after 'daughter'.

    Single-quotes around 'sword nobles'.

    Again, not a dialogue tag.

    Comma after 'Exhaling'. Comma after 'myself' should be a semi-colon.

    'suit me when' is technically correct but sounds weird. I suggest 'aid me when' or 'be reverent for' instead.

    Comma after 'look' should be a period. Three dots in an ellipsis, not 2.

    'thought to' -> 'thought of'

    No comma after 'law'.

    Comma after 'Wheras'.

    'decorated Volantes Ace' -> 'decorated teenage Volantes Ace'

    This paragraph break is positioned awkwardly. Either merge these two paragraphs, or move the paragraph break one sentence earlier, before 'Admittedly'.

    Comma after 'frontage'. No capital on 'all'.

    Compass directions are not capitalized unless they're part of a place name or title.

    'who had tried'

    'the orange-haired' -> 'an orange-haired'

    Space after 'situation' before the dash.

    Period should be question mark.

    Either this should be 'a woman who trained Diluvian Pilots' or 'the woman who trained the Diluvian Pilots'.

    Rogue space and no period after 'Vualia'.

    Rogue italics.

    'It was reassuring'.

    'has' -> 'had'

    'bore' -> 'had born'.

    Comma after 'Countess'.

    Again, not a dialogue tag.

    Comma after 'use'.

    Either 'The silver feather symbol of House Ziox was' or 'A silver feather, a symbol of House Ziox, was'

    'Nemesis' isn't something you can cause; I suggest 'caused you the same trouble'.

    FYI, this is getting a bit as-you-know-Bob-ish again. You're trying to work too much information that both parties already know into the dialogue and its becoming stilted. Just have the parties speak to each other naturally, and if there's more information we need to know, Tauria can tell us readers directly.

    There are a couple things you can do to improve it. For instance, Tauria's first line can be rephrased as a question: "Haven't she and her mercenary band fought Crocelli's forces directly? They certainly have ours." And 'the hosting House, us' can be changed to a more natural-sounding 'and us as the hosting House'.

    Kinky~
     
  13. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    >>"What worries you daughter?"
    <"Comma after 'daughter'."

    I think you mean before, for this one. If so I added the comma.

    The rogue italics are... odd. I think I got them cleared out.

    As for the rest of the corrections I put them in. And I cleaned out that dialog section, hopefully it sounds more natural.

    Thanks so much for going through with all the corrections! And I'm sorry that there was the errors, especially the dialog tag goofs and all the formatting ones


    There have been quite a few... hints about Victorious Shadow's interests. I'm sure it's nothing that Tauria needs to worry about.
     
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  14. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    Both Vs are subs but Tanya's first one has the seniority and inclination to be allowed to be in charge of the second V. Which just sounds like fun.
     
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  15. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    I'm afraid the italics have only gotten worse.

    Right now, this is saying the people across the table are Diluvian separatist Pilots. I think you mean they're Diluvians, and she trained pilots for their separatists? I'd suggest rearranging the sentence to disambiguate: 'The woman who would be sitting across the negotiating table from the Diluvians had previously trained Pilots for their separatists.'

    Another not-a-dialogue-tag.
     
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  16. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Maaaayyyyyyybe. Though one wonders if Victorious has her own ideas. But yeah, there's a lot of flexibility with their relationships.

    Okay. I think I got the italics fixed. That's a real frustrating problem with the code tags.

    For the second one I think I'll just replace the final "them" with "House Crocelli"

    And got that line fixed as well.
     
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  17. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    Tbh I just can't see Visha as any more dominant than being top girl in a harem of Tanya's. Hell subby Tanyas just don't click in my head and the only logic i've seen of it is the usual shtick of powerful people being subs. Like maybe some 1 on 1 time between the two in this throuple could result in more equal play or maybe even Visha acting as a service top but Tanya would have to be really stressed I think.
     
  18. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Actually, I can see Sub!Tanya:
    Dom!Visha: *tells Tanya exactly what to do to please her and what Visha's going to do in return*
    Tanya: "Yes! Finally! Clear communication, an explicit set of achievable goals, and a transparent reward structure! My perfect working environment!"
     
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  19. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    That just sounds like something working off of the same sort of exaggeration that the misunderstanding field can get pushed to.
     
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  20. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    I think you both have a fair idea on where their relationship will shake out in a few years.

    One thing Tanya does like is clearly explained rules and boundaries for social interactions. Which worked for the society Salaryman lived in, until it didn't.

    And in Diyu, Tauria has found a similar thing, at least for nobility. With the whole arranged marriage dynamic, and the formalization of Visha as a Mistress with VioletBlood as a wife. It would have it be all contractual and set out.

    Going from that base, I can see Tanya enjoying a clarity and structure. Which well there are several types of play where structure, rehearsal and planning are key.

    It also helps that Visha and VioletBlood are quite patient with her, and know (to greater or lesser degree), Tauria's foibles.

    Course between GreyDawn being around as a "babysitter" and the kitsune maids, Tauria could get, another, reputation in time.

    But this is Diyu and Tauria is literally succubus nobility.
     
  21. Extras: Image: Tauria and her fave Cadets & Tauria and Clementia
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    So a bit of a status update.

    Chapter 20 stands at just over 10k words so far. I hope to have it finished before the year is out.
    Also I have a few art pieces that I plan to put up as a bit of a Feast of DarkStar reward. (Including a couple rather thematic ones)

    But to keep this post from being just a tease of upcoming things, I'll share a couple pieces. Both of these are from the excellent Scitty Kitty.

    Here we see Tauria and mother Clementia having a bit of a moment, and well Tauria is trying her best.





    And here is Tauria with her two favorite cadets. Which also serves as a good reference for Cadets Lavish RoseTalon and Pulivia VibrantFang.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2022
  22. Extras: Images: One year Anniversary Holiday Collection
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    For Little Demon it's been one heck of a year. And yes, "Victory" was first publicly posted on 12/25/2021 with mirror postings on other forums several days later. I would like to thank everyone, from editors, prereaders, other Tanya writers, commenters, artists. Everyone who has helped me refine this... ambitious story. Everyone who liked, shared, reviewed, or even simply read it. There are far, far too many people for me to name individually.

    I'm thankful to all of you for putting in the time and I hope you enjoyed it. With this story, I've found new communities, new friends, and had a part in rekindling some concepts and ideas that have been a long time coming, I'm really happy with how this crazy, original setting has still managed to pull people in, and that fans of Youjo Senki seem to have enjoyed my treatment of Tanya as a character. I have been taken away by the quality, kindness, and sheer effort in commentary that you have all brought to this story. Little Demon would not be the story it is if not for your help, and that of my editors.

    I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Yule, Hanukah, or whatever winter holiday that is applicable.




    And now... a bit of a status report.


    Chapter 20 is on its last scene and stands at 12k words. I hope to have the draft finished before New Years and we'll see how long it takes to proof.

    The next part of the Battle of Chicago Side-story " The Second Wave: Pandemonium" is about halfway done. It may be a bit shorter, but the plan is to give a Hoof-slogger's view of events, especially when a certain set of RP is called in for air support.

    Peer Rivals Part 2 is also being worked on and will show more of a one Hajime Tanya learning more of her new "friends" and what she can get out of them.




    And with that done.... onto the real core of this post: the art.


    First we start with an alternate of a piece I posted a few days ago. By ScittyKitty we have Tauria and two of her cadets but instead of being angry she's.... singing. This makes it less threatening.... right?

    [​IMG]
    Fullsize


    Next we have a work by PlayerError404 showing Tauria in a fancy dress and a bit perturbed by it all. But don't worry it'll get better for her.
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    And from Scarlet Fox we've got a few examples of them playing around with AI to make some art of Tauira. Standard limitations and cautions apply, but the overall theme and style is amusing and fan efforts are always appreciated.
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    Next from LexiKimble is the latest in showing some very serious BlackSkyvian military hardware. Here we see a Sarpedona Pilot (left) and a Harmonia Pilot (Right) taking a moment to catch-up after a long mission.
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    We then go to a fun magic card that WrandmWaffles came up with. He's made quite a few for other Tanya crosses.
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    And finally we end with another PlayerError404 piece. This one showing a future event that has been implied to happen (or at least can be deduced given who the main character is of the released stories to Little Demon) . Yes, this is Tauria and her mother meeting DarkStar. They seem happy with it, even if the redhead is a bit unsure of this whole religion that grew around her memory.
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    Once again, thank you all so much for everything, and have a Happy Holiday.

    And onto chapter 20 and from there the Off-World Colonies arc.​
     
  23. moon so bright

    moon so bright Shining Light

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    I love all the art! Also, Merry Christmas, y’all!
     
    Blehdg1 and Sunshine Temple like this.
  24. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks! I had enough to put togehter a post that was pretty special. And Merry Christmas!
     
  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 20: War by Other Means
    Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    The War Chronicles of a Little Demon

    Set in the Diyu Demons 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 20: War by Other Means

    Company-Kapten Samoth Rodswor's amber eyes burned with hate and mirth. I could understand why she loathed me. Yes, her older sister was a monster who had planned to kidnap, break, brainwash, and twist me into her daughter. But to Samoth, all of that was irrelevant; War Mistress Zaphania Rodswor had been her sister, and I had killed her.

    And I not only had I killed Zaphania, but I had done so in a way that left very little of the War Mistress to repatriate back to House Ziox. Yes, I could understand Samoth's emotions, but I had little patience for them. I was here because Samoth had asked me to meet with her. For both our sakes, I hoped she had asked me here for an actual reason instead of just a way to further sharpen her grudge.

    "What do you have?" I asked, repeating my question. We were in the back portico of the Diyu Continental. The hotel was serving as the venue for negotiations between the minor Houses of Crocelli and Vualia. She was smartly dressed in charcoal grey and black where I, due to the unfortunate timing of Samoth's invitation, was still wearing my formal habit of a novitiate Sister of Our Hallowed Lady, donned for a prior engagement.

    Samoth glanced back at the hotel and sighed. Her own Zephyr refreshed the little bronze tuning fork in its carved stand and the buzzing privacy field renewed. "It's something I learned before I found my latest client. It is, in fact, why myself, my pilots, and our support staff went to House Vualia."

    "And now you're their military attaché."

    She glared. "I'm only here because Queen Vualia wants to needle both your House for strong-arming her into these negotiations and House Crocelli by seating one of their enemies across the table from them."

    "You didn't have to work for House Vualia," I shrugged.

    Her tail flicked. "I was getting to that, Countess." It was only a momentary slip in her composure, but her ire, polished smooth, was blatant. She had grown far too comfortable wearing her emotions on her sleeve as a mercenary in the field. Her diplomatic skills had clearly suffered as a result..

    I shifted in my seat, suddenly, self-conscious of my wildly inappropriate habit. Sitting across from an enemy dressed as a novitiate sister was so awkward; worse the rougher fabric of the garment of my order kept distracting me from Samoth. At least, I told myself, I was not wearing some poofy sequined and ruffled gown to palaver with the enemy. That would have been a true embarrassment.

    "Why are you even offering this information you've gleaned?" I asked, eager to swat the conversational ball back into her court. "As far as I understand it, most mercenaries wait until they get paid before turning their coats."

    Credit to Samoth, she wasn't quite that easily drawn. Despite me giving her an amble opening for a retort, given my mother's vocation, perhaps it was too obvious. "Who else stands up to House Elena?"

    "House Irkella," I replied, "one of your staunchest allies, if memory serves."

    She smiled. "Allies." She tasted the air. "You don't really understand the triumvirate of Ziox, Trosier, and Irkella do you?"

    "Three Great Houses of moderate power banding together to offset the hegemonic blocks formed by the larger Great houses," I stated.

    "Ah, that noble officer education," Samoth replied with unlovely relish.
    "The War College really suits you, Countess."

    "Fine," I folded my hands before me. If this was an exam then I would give her a proper answer, "Irkella has lived in fear of Zioxan raiders for many years. If not for the fact that most of border between your two Houses coincides with the highest mountain range in Diyu, they would be the victims of your House's aggression, instead of Luxon or Andromache.

    "After the last Great House War, Luxon's star was ascendant. They were no longer the 'Sick Woman of Diyu'; they had gone from being on opposing sides with Elena in that war to a budding alliance with them."

    "My older sister fought in that war, you know," Samoth noted bitterly, "She told me stories when I was growing up. She did... much to help Mother raise us."

    "My condolences," I stated, the words flat and meaningless in my mouth. Try as I might, which I hadn't, I still couldn't find it in me to care that Zaphania was dead. If anything, I cared more that Samoth had to be raised by the her older sister, but even that was more academic abstraction.

    "Oh, how little you know," Samoth chided as she sipped her tea.

    An alliance between the largest and third-largest powers was natural. It's not like Elena had any interest in fighting Luxon even then. And then they could gang up to stop BlackSky. Which made Luxon stronger, and Andromachin diplomacy was working on all three of the biggest Great Houses.

    "A strong Luxon and a protected Andromache put Irkella in quite the bind."

    Samoth smiled. "It did?"

    I sighed. "Is this an evaluation? I know how these tricks go."

    "Yes, I've heard the rumors about your cadet squadron," Samoth said dismissively, "It's not my people's way of breaking privileged brats into something useful, but... well, if it works for you, then by all means, keep it up."

    "Yes," I agreed, ignoring the barb, "I think we will. I have, after all, seen your Second Assault Infiltration Wing's alumni."

    Samoth glowered.

    "Your failure to secure a command slot in that Wing wasn't the only reason you went mercenary, Kapten Rodswor," I calmly stated, "So kindly cease the farce. But back to the history lesson. Yes, Irkella had a choice of making concessions to House Ziox then or being forced to make even larger concessions later. They were already on good enough terms with Trosier so joining into an alliance was their best option."

    "So cold, so clinical, so BlackSkyvian," Samoth teased.

    "And you flip between the vendetta-obsessed raider and the cynical, realpolitik sell-sword," I noted, running my finger along the lip of the empty cup sitting in front of me. "Does neither mask suit you? How unfortunate."

    Her laugh almost felt genuine. "And now we go back to Elena." She idly adjusted her cup. "I have information. Information that is already being given to House Irkella, but... let us be honest. Who is more likely to use it?"

    "That depends on what you have," I pointed out, reserving judgment. "Why me?"
    Her eyes glinted. "Because, Countess, this is what your family does. Or did you forget what your mother had arranged to acquire two years back, south of Narvos?"

    "A Zioxan officer's notes on the Trosic Armada," I said, filling in the blank with an answer we both already knew. "Supposedly a fairly detailed collection, taken while the officer in question observed several war-games and joint training missions."

    "Ah, so you never got to read them?" Samoth shook her head. "You people and your secrets." Her tail flicked back into her lap. "Well, what if I were to tell you that Elena was making overtures to House Trosier? They are trade partners; they could be more."

    I leaned back. "That would be very interesting to House Alecto."

    Samoth sighed. "Yes, Countess. I'll be sure to do the obvious and exchange information with them as well. Please pretend you're the genius all the cloying cinema shorts make you out to be."

    That was an easy ask; less dancing around would only bring this running sore of a conversation to a quicker end. "You have information from a Trosic officer about Elenese military capability?"

    "There," Samoth smiled, pleased with herself, "was that so hard?"

    "You could have just asked to talk to a BlackSkyvian agent directly." The observation was matter-of-fact, for all that the personal element here was obvious.

    Samoth stared at me from across the table, something almost like confusion in her eyes for a quick moment. "You are a BlackSkyvian agent," she said, speaking slowly as if wary for some conversational tripwire. "You are a Primus Centurion and a noble who earned her fief by blood. Such things don't count in Ziox, but I know how the game is played here. Your family is exactly the type of go-between for such negotiations. And do I even have to point out how you're dressed? Or the earrings you bear? Quite the statement of the morals of one of your House's official cults."

    My tail stilled. She was not... wrong about my Duchess. She was a reserve officer in the Legions. She also had her own mercenary company that had done more than a few questionable jobs, but despite that still had very good standing among the Guilds.

    That made it more of a mockery that I was dressed as a novitiate nun. I really should have changed before attending a meeting with a foreign officer, but frankly, that was Samoth's problem. I had just been at an event at the Cathedral with my mother, Clementia. This whole meeting was an unexpected and unwelcome diversion, and I had almost literally been grabbed off the street by her messenger and by Librarian Evadne. Still, I had my duties and would discharge them to the height of my abilities. "Do you need a name?" I asked, "or perhaps a letter of introduction?"

    Those amber eyes fixed upon me. "That is the minimum you could offer, yes. You could choose to throw away any leverage on your part, and any considerations your mother Duchess SilverFlight might earn. Do you really hate me so enough to squander such a potential coup as personally securing a new intelligence source?"

    "I don't hate you," I replied, speaking with complete honesty. "I hated your sister. I loathed her for what she did to people I cared about, the lives she ruined, the things she forced me to do. And despite all the hassle, praise, and headache it brought me, I don't regret killing her." Behind my gauzy veil, I gave a little smile. "But you? You're just another enemy Pilot."

    Samoth's wings twitched.

    "No, you're not merely another Pilot," I said, smiling at my enemy. "You did survive your encounter with the 5th Squadron of the 156th Infantry Legion's Beta Wing over the Crocelli jungles. Not many can make that claim. Indeed, not many of your Pilots can make that claim. How many squadrons did you lose? I congratulate you for your skills as a survivor, they must be considerable."

    She folded her hands in her lap, but I could see the tips of her claws extending just a bit before she regained her control.

    "Speaking of House Elena," I continued, pitching my tone towards affected idleness, "do you know Pukovnik Emilia Armin? She commands one of their Vanguard Strike units. She managed to face me in the skies without losing a single pilot. Imagine that!"

    Samoth twitched again.

    "I have heard of her," she admitted. "Most Houses do not have such... expansive Ritual Plate formations. With them, it is easy to keep up to date on officers of note. On some level, that is why your House makes a public spectacle of certain fliers." Samoth's wings twitched and she briefly made a bitter expression. "But in your case, your reputation is not entirely unearned. And I do mean your actual reputation, not the ones perpetuated in theater, broadsheets, and cinema. Your jungle exploits alone show a marked divergence between reality and glamour."

    I almost smiled at her. We had both suffered in the sweltering green hell that was House Crocelli's interior. "And thank you for not using that nickname."

    "Ah, the Jungle Fox," Samoth laughed. "I can see how you could get such a moniker, given the poor bedraggled vulpine creatures." She tapped the fork again. "But no one actually called you that when you were stationed there?"

    "That's correct."

    Samoth gave a weary sigh as she gestured to the golden Zioxan pin that denoted her ownership of a mercenary company. "I'll admit that it would be a nice feather in my headdress if I could have killed you over there. 'Little sister makes good on vengeance. With the right melody that could have sold well back home in Troya."

    "And unlike your sister," I added. "if you had managed to take me over Crocelli, it would have been while I was armed and armored. A far more glorious affair than trying to ambush a child cadet in an unarmed suit."

    "There's no glory in war, period," the Kapten snorted. "Though taking you... and making you into one of us... Just think of the things you could have done in our name."

    "I'd rather not," I replied, somehow managing not to shiver. My mother Duchess would have been quite upset if I had been taken, and she had the resources and connections to make her displeasure known. There was also the little fact that such a capture was a gross violation of the two-party agreements almost all of the Great Houses had with each other over the treatment of prisoners of war.

    "No use pondering what-ifs," Samoth continued briskly, "And I can't say that I fully agree with my late sister's course of actions, although, I can easily understand the temptation that entered her mind. One temptation among many, I suppose."

    "The one that lead to her undoing," I pointed out. As far as threats went, or perhaps warnings, it was decidedly unsubtle.

    "We are creatures of temptation. What counts is how we manage those urges." Samoth waved dismissively, before leaning forwards, slightly, clasping her hands on the table. "Now, Countess, what would information on the capabilities of the only one of your House's many rivals that is larger and more powerful than your wretched House be worth?"

    "That all depends on the quality and quantity of your information," I replied uncommitally. "For detailed and actionable intelligence, well..."

    Her amber eyes glinted. I had not refused her. I had not passed her off to someone else. It was time to haggle.

    "First confession: I offer little data on the Volos," Samoth began, hopefully revealing her least valuable card first. "You must understand that your recent adventure was the first large-scale deployment of that platform, at least one that other Houses were able to scry on." A mix of jealousy and approval crossed her face. "Second, a lot of the data is more on their fixed wing systems: Yaryla recon birds, Kupala bombers, Semik heavy transports, and the like."

    "I won't turn my nose up," I assured her, entirely willing to buy those goods. I might have preferred data on Ritual Plate, but that was my personal desire, and in this I was acting in my House's interest. "That said, if your source has naval and ground asset intel, I would be happy to see associates are willing to trade for it."

    Her smile was all fangs. "Third, there has been some subtle, but key investment made in their RP and fixed-wing maintenance and robustness, efforts to design parts and spares last longer and the like. It's not enough to give their flight armor parity with your designs of course, but could pay dividends in the next several years. Alas, much of that information is solely from inference, based on improvements the Trosic observers noted relative to previous Elenese demonstrations."

    "And doubtless that information has already winged its way home to your Dictatrix," I noted. Most Zioxan Ritual Plate work had originated from Trosic designs and joint-House projects, which, while robust, were rarely the most efficient.

    Samoth gave me a patient, meaningful look.

    "I'll need an initial proof before I commit to any payment plans," I said, unswayed by the unspoken message. "Payment upon delivery, Kapten, not before."

    "Darn, I'd hoped I could cozen a Harmonia off you on the strength of a promised dossier alone. Even an older mark would be useful." Samoth's tone was deadpan but her amber eyes glinted with amusement.

    I stared at her, not deigning to validate her foolishness with a reply. I was here for business, not for a clown show.

    "Fine, fine. No need to get stroppy. I'm not optimistic enough to think I'd get anything from MuArc Amalgamated." Samoth reached into her coat, pulled out a grey envelope, and tossed it onto the table. "But, here. Proof of my intentions for the skeptical BlackSkyvian."

    I looked down at the envelope for a moment. It was a normal letter parcel, albeit a bit on the thicker side than typical. Using my thumbclaw, I cut the end off the envelope and shook the contents out. Those contents consisted of a pile of documents, and on a cursory glance I could see an outline, a handful of essays, some photographs, tables, diagrams, and a number of abstracts.

    "I'm amazed you managed to fit all of that into a single envelope," I mutters as I quickly shifted through eh first few pages. "That weight of paper would require additional postage, surely."

    Samoth sipped her tea and made no comment as I read the observations of a Capitaine de Fragata in the Trosic Armada's Aviation Branch. Despite her rank's title, this Capitaine did not command a frigate. Instead, she was a Hangar Operations officer, roughly equivalent to a BlackSkyvian Trierarch, reporting directly to her carrier's commander.

    The report documented improvements the Trosic officer had seen to the maintenance systems she oversaw part of her observing Elenese training missions and a tour of one of their carrier's hangars. Her notes were couched with various disclaimers about how this improvement or that change could have been part of some vast and elaborate fabrication, which indicated either paranoia or indecisiveness on the part of the report's author, but the changes noted weren't particularly drastic, nor was the resulting jump in operational tempo unreasonable. It read like a series of incremental improvements that were borne of experience. Ones that the officer wanted the Trosic Armada to implement. In particular, the report emphasized a series of updates in changing layouts of maintenance bays to allow for more efficient workflow and greater safety. The package even included diagrams of the old Elenese Navy maintenance bay layout, their new layout, and proposed revisions for the Trosic Armada.

    I gave a little sigh, and paged through the other notes and read the abstracts. If everything Samoth offered was as good, or as she implied, better, than this sample, then she was offering up and entire trove of unglamorous but rather useful information.

    Kapten Rodswor put her cup back on the saucer with a clink of china. "You seem displeased."

    Picking up the pages I shuffled them back into a neat pile. "I am no expert, but this seems genuine enough. You'll have to allow me to hand this sample over to my associates for verification."

    "That's what they're there for," Samoth replied, dismissively waving her hand. "Once they are verified, and we come to a deal, then we can do the tedious dance where I reveal where I stored the full reports and you tell me where my remuneration can be picked up."

    I tilted my head. "You want your payment tendered by hand? Why not use an Irkellan bank? That House is allied with yours and neutral to us. My associates can deposit your payment with instructions that it be held in escrow, to be released to your designated agent once the files are handed over."

    Samoth adjusted her teacup. "Very sensible. And both our families have the clout to get the Providence Bank of Nekhen to play along. But that covers only part of what I want."

    "Oh?" I kept my tone very mild. What crazy thing would she demand from me? And would the BlackSkyivan intelligence services make demands of me.

    "Don't get such a sour face," Samoth chided mockingly, shaking her head in answer to the implied question. "If I wanted to make this some personal vengeance kick, I'd lead with throwing a glove before you, snapping a dagger, or whatever tediousness was required. No, I'm looking for standard enchantments, tooling, fuel cells, and some ancillary components."

    I chuckled. "Not finding good supplies in House Vualia? Or is your logistics connection to your homeland that tenuous?"

    Samoth tried to shrug it off as she pulled out another envelope, but as I had noticed earlier, she was quiet ineffectual at hiding her emotions. I turned my attention away from my contact and focused on her second envelope. This one was much thinner than its predecessor and was gently placed in front of me.

    Cutting the side, I quickly pulled out and scanned the inventory. "I can get you Alecton export equivalents for all of these," I murmured after a few seconds, folding my hands. "Anything past that is beyond my ability or desire to guarantee."

    "Mercantile Aviation exports the power distribution systems I'm asking for to many Great Houses, including House Alecto," Samoth objected. "There is nothing on that list that could endanger your arcane edge."

    I smiled. "That you think these components would fit in your remaining Tjardu, if I had to guess, is illustrative that they are known to you. It's the principle of the thing."

    "Does sending it via a proxy really make it morally palatable?" Samoth muttered mutinously, though the undercurrent of resignation rang clearly in my ears.

    "Of course not," I replied, humoring myself by treating her question as if it has been an actual, instead of rhetorical, inquiry. "Legally, it makes it far easier. House Alecto will sell to nearly anyone. And that way, I don't have to worry about exporting military components out of House BlackSky."

    "How efficient of you." Her tone was desert-dry, to my great amusement. Lecturing a sellsword, who doubtless had a wealth of experience in negotiating questionably sourced parts and munitions about the diplomatic intricacies of military equipment transfers was in itself a veiled insult, a subtle way of talking down to her in a way I could easily play off as an earnest explanation. I suppose some of the Academy's tutelage had paid off. A petty dig, but her sister had tried to force herself upon me.

    "And with these," I said, continuing to explain things to Samoth that I knew she already understood. "I'd recommend going with an Alecton bank for the funds transfer. That way your agents can just go to Meropis Island and pick up your money and the crates."

    I affected a casual shrug as the ending note for my explanation, calculated to emphasize my youthful enthusiasm as a means of mitigating the offense. Samoth had not insulted me by asking for weapons emitters, scrying arrays, ward projectors, communications systems or anything truly sensitive. But she was asking for enough generic spares, conduits, tooling, and fuel cell systems to keep a multi squadron RP formation in operation for months in exchange for bread and butter information. I had not qualms about rubbing her nose in my position of superior power, especially after she'd spoiled the good mood I had enjoyed after meeting with my mother.

    "All conveniently located right by House Vualia." Samoth made a contented noise. Surprisingly, her contented sounded sincere. I scaled my impression of her diplomatic acuity down a further few points; she had mistaken my insult for a helpful explanation. That, or she was deliberately winding me up. Or she was sounding me out for... something. "It is such a pleasure to see that you are a reasonable woman, Countess."

    "We haven't even negotiated the currency part of it." That was the other half. She was already picking up parts from House Alecto; with an account newly flush with cash, she could purchase whatever else she needed, including any parts or supplies that BlackSky would be leery of handing over to an "independent contractor". However, the mercantile house did have a considerable markup on non-Alecton affiliated mercenary companies. Not to mention that modularity only went so far and a lot of the offensive, defensive, and sensory systems were often House specific. That just meant she had far less that needed to be shipped in from her homeland to keep her Pilots operational.

    "I put my fee at the bottom, conveniently in your own Aurei. Perhaps I should have requested it in Alecton Guilders," Samoth said.

    My eyes darted down to the bottom of the inventory, and I shook my head at the neatly written figure. "That's far too high. You could purchase an RP Flight for that."

    "Not in Guilders, not with Alecton's rates," Samoth sipped her tea. "Besides, you know this information could easily pay for itself."

    I tapped the table. "Half."

    "You didn't balk at the parts I requested. And that lot's worth half of what I'm asking for."

    "I demanded they be replaced with Alecton wares, and you agreed."

    "Three quarters," Samoth's tone was hard. She had begun to reach the edges of her bargaining margin, apparently.

    I flicked my tail. "The validity of your information needs to be verified. You're not getting anything until that happens. But judging the outline, you're massively over-valuing what you have on offer."

    "What do you care, Countess? It's not like the money is coming out of your pocket." She flicked her privacy generation fork just a bit too ahrd, petulant annoyance writ across her face.

    "I could say I want to avoid wasting my Imperatrix's funds," I mused, my tone dispassionate, "but we both know this is a test. You expected about equal amounts in currency and components. You've already agreed to your price-point in components, showing your hand. So, will you kindly cease screwing around and accept sixty percent of your original asking price converted from Aurei into Alecton Guilders."

    Samoth's cold grin returned, not an ounce of joy or even feigned friendless present in her amber eyes. That her emotions were suddenly so closed off made me wonder how many of her previous outbursts and tells were feigned. "Fine, sixty percent of my initial bid. Can you blame me? I was curious about you." She leaned back, sipping at her tea a she glared over the rim of her cup.

    "You'll be at the Continental for the rest of the diplomatic negotiations?" I asked, rising from my chair as I collected the papers and put them back in their envelopes. My dress had a couple hidden pockets that would have to suffice in lieu of a purse for the short trip back to the waiting Librarian.

    "Leaving so soon?"

    "As pleasant as it was to finally meet, face to face, I do have other appointments." If I hurried, and the debrief was not too long, I might not be late for the meeting with my Logistics instructor.

    "Yes, I remember my days at Officer's school. Hopefully next time we meet it will continue to be... civilized, Primus Centurion Countess." Samoth flashed her teeth.

    "Company-Kapten Rodswor." Standing, I gave a slight bow of my horns. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

    Samoth grabbed the tuning fork, terminating the privacy field.

    I spun on my heel and stalked off. I had to reenter through the rear entrance of the hotel and then navigate back through the various security checks, but soon I was out on the front entrance.

    An orange-haired woman with prim gold-framed glasses and a sober black suit sidled up to me. Her magenta features were open and amused. "I do apologize for the imposition," Palace Librarian Evande said, almost sincerely.

    I handed the two envelopes over. "Samoth says she has information taken from a Trossic officer about House Elena's capabilities. It appears thorough, and the sample she provided seems genuine, but I'm not an expert," I said as we walked to the sidewalk and waited to cross.

    Evande slipped the thicker envelope into her jacket pocket. "And the cost?" she asked once we were in the park across from the hotel.

    As we moved toward the funicular station, I glanced at the remaining envelope. "I negotiated her down to sixty percent of the requested fee, transferred via an Alecton bank, and instead of BlackSkyvian manufacture all the requested components and tools are to be Alecton export models."

    Balancing the envelope, the librarian made a murmur. "Both the goods and the bank transfer on Meropis Island?"

    "If it turns out to be valid," I emphasized. If the Imperatrix's agents objected to the terms of the deal, or the quality of the intel then they could just claim they suspected it to be a forgery. The station was getting closer. I wondered where she would take me for the debriefing.

    "Much depends on the veracity of the sample, but thank you for your assistance," Evande said, putting away the other envelope and retrieving a slim cigar from some inner pocket of her jaket. "We'll be in touch for the arrangements and follow up."

    "I might need to get my mother's authorization to make those purchases and set up the escrow account," I admitted as we stopped at the steps that would lead up to the station.

    Cutting the end of her cigar, Evande waved it off. "Duchess Tribune SilverFlight is familiar with the procedures. Consider it a bonding experience."

    "And if Samoth rips us off?"

    The Librarian lit her cigar. "Then your mother can teach you how to deal with that part of the business as well. Have a good afternoon, Countess."

    And with that she turned and walked down a wooded path and vanished into the wooded glen. I stood for a moment in the late autumn air but when the Librarian did not return, I sighed and went up the stairs. At least I wouldn't be late for my meeting.

    ++++++++++

    Tribune ShadowWhisper authoritatively clicked her pocket watch open. The lecture hall was deadly quiet as she peered down at the dial. "You have five minutes remaining."

    I glanced up at the projection behind me that asked if there were any questions. My eyes returned to the pale Household Fleet officer. Her white uniform, short silvery hair, and ivory wings gave her an ethereal look: framed against the darkened and empty lecture hall behind her, she looked positively wraith-like, a solitary ghost in the front row.

    "That's good," I said, dragging my mind back to the business at hand. "There's always some delay in the setup process, so a little breathing room is welcome. Besides what if one of the reviewers on my defense board shows up late?"

    Organizing her notes, the Tribune's tail flicked as she stood. "I suppose that's fair. And it's better to be a bit under than to run over time, of course."

    My own tail stilled as I tried to get a covert view of her comments. It was a silly impulse, as she was going to hand them over to me in a moment, but the urge to suss out any scrap of intelligence that could improve my performance was not to be denied This rehearsal was a great opportunity to get a fresh set of eyes on my thesis, and I needed her honest input as soon as possible so I could get to work of honing my presentation once more.

    "And you covered all your topics satisfactorily enough," the older allowed giving me a stony look before a smile touched her face. "Well done, Primus Centurion. Please take that praise in context when we go over these," she said as she handed a sheaf of pages full of notes.

    Despite her assurances, my tail drooped as I quickly scanned her comments, of which there were plenty. There were suggestions for just about every transparency slide I had made for my presentation, not to mention a corresponding amount of red ink on the accompanying manuscript of my thesis.

    "Well, I haven't printed the review copies yet," I admitted as I went over the notes.

    ShadowWhisper waved her hand. "It's nothing substantive to your conclusions, calculations, or observations. Most of the notes are in regards of formatting issues, presentation corrections, and ideas on how to make your graphs more concise. Most of them are good, but a few could be trimmed." She went to the binder next to the brass and duralumin projector that squatted on its steel cart and flipped to a slide near the middle part of the presentation. "Take this slide, where you project Elenese production numbers based on publicly available imagery."

    "Yes, there are some limitations. House Elena obviously tries to keep their sensitive facilities away from civilian air travel lanes where anyone can look out a window. And even then a lot of things can be hidden inside hangars, especially small platforms like Ritual Plate. Though that's just the obvious parts. A factory might conceal their output but they'll have a harder time with their input.

    "And then critical molds, dies, and other expensive components may be obfuscated but supplies of filament, etching compounds, basic tooling, power draw, maintenance parts, piping, wiring, all of that is a lot harder to completely conceal," I said getting back into the familiar flow. "Even watching parking lots and rail stations to see how many people are working late, extra shifts, and how many are staying in for lunch or even taking dinners..." Shaking my head I managed to stop before I got too far.

    ShadowWhisper's smile was indulgent. "You explain it well, and you clearly know the information. And your methodology and calculations are fine. However," she gestured to the slide, "it's a bit busy. And there's far too many words. Most of your presentation is concise. Normally, it takes a Fleet officer several more grades before she realizes that she's not paid by the word. Maybe the Legionaries are less likely to suffer from logorrhea."

    "Eloquence and literacy are of great value in the Imperial Legions, Ma'am," I stated.

    "A reduced supply tends to do that," the Logistics officer laughed. "Still, I think that slide could use some clearing up. You explained the process elsewhere so you can pare the graphics down to the critical parts."

    I gave a slow nod. I was rather proud of that flowchart and the supporting test explaining the methodology. Still needs must when demons, or succubae at least, drive...

    "Don't pout," ShadowWhisper chided. "Your chart works just fine within the dissertation itself, it's just too much for he presentation."

    "I do appreciate all the time you put into this," I stated as I went through her notes and the copy of the manuscript full of her corrections. It was not as bad as the first impression. Though every mistake did make me wince. "Better to find weakness and mistakes now," I admitted.

    She waved it off. "There's nothing that would kill your defense here. But I think your thesis has value more than proving your own skills. This information on Elena's industrial and supply capabilities, and more importantly the way you acquired the data and came to these conclusions should be kept as a reference."

    "It's nothing groundbreaking," I admitted. I was still dealing with the fallout of the "groundbreaking" intel breakthrough that had fallen into my lap a month ago. My mother had helped set up the transfer with various Alecton facilitators and Kapten Samoth Rodswor had surprisingly proven true to her word. Which was good for all involved, especially as her little mercenary company was now flush with funds and parts for the next quarter-year at least.

    "No, it's not." Her flat reply did hurt a bit. "But no one is expecting that from you."

    I tilted my head slightly as my tail flicked. Disbelief radiated off of me, but since I did not say anything nor did I even give a skeptical expression, I was not technically being insubordinate.

    "Fair. You might be under such high expectations." ShadowWhisper gave a sympathetic look. "But there is nothing to be ashamed of grounded, evolutionary work. Most of the time it's far more practical and reliable anyway."

    "I'm trying to get my cadets to learn that," I grumbled.

    "Youth and inexperience," she amended, "bring about that folly."

    I nodded. The Tribune was polite about it, but my age was still noteworthy. At least it was not as blatant as my previous life.

    "I did hear their last training mission went well, especially after...."

    "Despite the Elenese incursion, the cadet squadrons' training mission over the Adria Testing Range was more than adequate. They performed sufficiently in their first live-fire exercise." That none of them tried to sneak off and fly to my rescue was good. A gaggle of bloody-minded cadets would have utterly wrecked things.

    "And their most recent exercise?"

    "Last week was a simulated ground support mission."

    "Ah, I trust you found the most... pastoral and provincial hoof-sloggers to direct their fire?" Her eyes glinted. She was Fleet so she fully understood the conflict that could arise when common infantry dared to speak up to those of higher station, or at least higher altitude.

    I showed my teeth. "A few Legionaries fresh in from the colonies and some Auxilia. A Forest Person I know was in the area; he was willing to do me a favor."

    ShadowWhisper shook her head in amusement. "Please tell me that your fops weren't so sensitive that a male voice coming over the comm gave them palpitations?"

    "Only after he started yelling at them," I said, trying and failing to keep the note of cheer out of my voice. "Lares has quite the set of lungs."

    ShadowWhisper shook her head. "It's good to see you caring for your girls."

    I looked up from the corrections. "Someone needs to get them to shape up into real Legion Fliers before they get into a combat slot and get people killed."

    The pale logistics officer smiled. "Word is after you're through with them normal Flight School will be a breeze."

    "Then I'll have done my job." I bowed my horns and continued to study the notes. "Interesting, you want me to move up my talk about estimating production of Elenese scrying systems to before the portion about the size of their training programs for Ritualista."

    "It seemed to have a better flow as you use the maintainer availability to support the production numbers," she said, shrugging her wings.

    "That's fair," I admitted, making some notes of my own. I would not be surprised if a Librarian attended my thesis defense, both to see if there was anything novel in my conclusions and to make sure I was not using anything classified in an academic paper. While this report was not exactly a House secret, it was guaranteed to have a restricted distribution as it was.

    "I wonder..." ShadowWhisper glanced at me. "Have you been thinking about your next assignment?"

    My tail slowed. I would have preferred to spend another year or even two more semesters at the War College, but the needs of the House were what they are.

    "I have my suspicions," I allowed with more hesitancy than I had expected in my voice. DarkStar's blood, I was more worried about being in charge of a mere squadron than I had been about attending Advanced Evasion School. I commanded the 203rd Mage Battalion and then Salamander Kampfgruppe. A dozen Legion Fliers should be nothing. But it was a start. My future loomed before me, and I knew where this path would lead.

    "Should I congratulate you on a squadron command?" ShadowWhisper asked.

    "Congratulate Tribune Quirinus first," I replied with a shrug trying to contain my emotions.

    "Oh?" She replied, her tail quirking up. "Artemis finally got it?"

    I was not sure "finally" was the right word. The Imperial Legions had only about a hundred Volantes Tribunes. Quirinus was now in a rather exclusive group of Demi-Wing and Wing commanders; admittedly, it was a club she entirely deserved to be in. ShadowWhisper was Fleet, and the Household Fleet did had more Ritual Plate Pilots, so maybe she considered it less of an honor. "She has been very busy, and still hasn't been assigned her unit yet."

    "Good for her. I'll have to write her a note." She peered at me. "What's wrong?"

    I paused and... decided to go with an excuse that was not exactly a lie. "Still thinking about the Advanced Evasion School I completed about two weeks ago."

    "Ah." I could feel her sympathy.

    "I passed," I assured her. "While grueling, it just required enduring everything the instructors threw at me."

    ShadowWhisper raised an eyebrow.

    "Fine, a few of the scenarios, including escaping from a Spatha fuselage they crashed into a massive outdoor pool and making it to the forest were... trying. And the counter interrogation module..." My tail stilled at that. For someone looking to get information via discomfort, duress, deception, and other euphemisms, being an empath was... quite the advantage. "I passed that as well."

    "Oh? Some officers have trouble with the telepathy resistance training."

    "I um... knew the instructor." Thankfully it was not Librarian Evadne. Working with her on Samoth's exchange was bad enough. Though that did mean I was in deeper with Mira Heartwood. As terrifying as being around a telepath was, at least the experience was in the service of building up mental resistance. Even with that reassuring thought in mind, the paranoid part of me remained very concerned. "Still, it all would have been a lot more difficult, if not for the tutoring Reinhild, my maid, had given me. I really need to give her a bonus for all that."

    "Ah," ShadowWhisper smiled. "That's her name."

    "What?"

    "Oh nothing," she breezily assured. "So, you'll get a squadron. You must be excited at filling out your roster."

    "It has passed my mind," I stated in full honesty. It was more of an idle abstract consideration, as I did not know who would be made available to me. "Tribune Quirinus should be able to help, if all goes to plan-"

    ShadowWhisper gave a light chuckle at that. The Fleet and the Legions tried to organize and plan for contingencies. This was especially true for officers with my irritatingly exalted reputation. A reputation I had neither sought out nor tired to build, but had earned entirely through unforeseen consequences to unfortunately necessary actions.

    "If all goes to plan," I continued, "I'll command the multi-role Squadron in her Demi-Wing. Hopefully she can help me find some experienced Polyxo Pilots."

    "Oh, not planning on taking in some of your students?" ShadowWhisper asked with all seeming sincerity.

    Tail still, I stared at her. "It... depends. They're not rated for Polyxos yet, but in theory... If they have the talent... It that would require accelerating their qualifications and having them test out of Flight School, though," I tried to state without sounding too evasive, or horrified at the idea.

    "Oh, DarkStar forbid. I'm not being serious." The Tribune laughed.

    "They do have potential," I admitted. "And I wish them well on their military careers."

    "Well put." ShadowWhisper glanced at her pocket watch. "Although..."

    "Yes?"

    "I would never suggest filling out an entire squadron with green pilots, but there may be some political aspects you should take into consideration. Ones that may require considering your applicants with care."

    I sighed. "You are not entirely wrong there."

    "It's the risk of being in one of the more glamorous specialties," she said with sympathy.

    "Logistics is vital, Ma'am. What you do does more to win battles than anything I do," I assured her.

    "Flatterer." ShadowWhisper studied me. "No, you truly believe that."

    "It's the truth."

    She smiled. "Perhaps, but not many young Imperial Heroine Ace of Aces would say that. Ah, your wingwoman is here."

    "Tribune. Primus Centurion," Visha greeted us, saluting by baring her neck as she entered the lecture hall.

    "At ease," ShadowWhisper said, returning the salute.

    Giving a respectful nod, Visha then went to my side and started helping organize my papers.

    "I'm not too late?" I asked, my tail slowing.

    "There's plenty of time," Visha assured me with a broad smile.

    "Oh," I said, turning off the projector.

    "Busy day?" ShadowWhisper asked.

    "I have to meet up with VioletBlood for some tutoring," I admitted.

    Her tail swished. "Well, have fun," she purred.

    Opening my valise, I tried not to flush.

    "And make sure they stay out of trouble, Victorious," the Tribune added.

    "I'll do my best," Visha smiled as she helped put away the various slides, notes, and copies of my thesis, "but there's only so much I can do. This tutoring is for just the Countess and the Baroness."

    "Ah." ShadowWhisper bowed her horns. "Still, do what you can for them.

    "I will," Visha assured.

    "You don't need to worry about me." I very much did not pout as I did up the clasps on my leather valise, turning to glare at Visha once that task was accomplished.

    Visha gave me a very patient smile before turning to the Tribune. "Thank you for helping her with her thesis, Ma'am."

    "Oh, it's nothing. I'm happy to help a studious young Centurion with her work in the War College. And how are your classes going?"

    "Very good," Visha assured.

    "I think she'll make the grade for Primus without any difficulty," I said agreeing. The cadet squadron was a pain, but they were showing great progress, and they gave ample opportunity for Visha and VioletBlood to get practice in the role of Flight Leader. GreyDawn too for that matter, but she was not in the Primus Centurion track.

    "Yes, that is good for you," ShadowWhisper said as the three of us started to walk out of the unused lecture hall.

    "I don't want to disappoint," Visha said eagerly. Which, given all she had done for me in this life and the last, was quite a redundant sentiment. She had more than earned a nice easy life as a reward, but I knew she was too good, too loyal of a person to not help.

    The Tribune smiled at us and, carrying her own purple valise, gave a slight bow of her horns before going down the hallway.

    "That sounds very promising," Visha cheered as we went the other way towards a set of stairs.

    "I suppose it is," I allowed as we went down to the ground level.

    "Oh, what's wrong?"

    "Nothing, just all the pressure from the projects," I stated. We were out in the crisp early winter air of the War College's New Quad. The name was a bit of a misnomer as the quadrangle was delineated by the extension of the library extension, extra lecture halls, and a dormitory the youngest of which had been constructed three centuries ago. While that might not be too old, at least by Silvan standards, the New Quad was not the newest of the open spaces on campus, making the misnomer even more notable.

    The two of us were soon passing through the Fountain Quad, which was only half a century old. and thus the "actual new quad". And yes, the New Quad could have been renamed but by then the name was fixed in the collective consciousness of the War College. I looked at the drained-out fountain with the onyx obelisk in the center. It was another memorial to DarkStar; as far as monuments on that theme went, I quite liked it. I preferred the more subdued, abstract design, as opposed to the statuary with her looking mournful or wounded. I did bow to the silver symbols on the surfaces and felt a bit of warmth at the familiar ritual of obeisance.

    Visha gave me a smile, her question unstated.

    The companionable silence continued as we walked out through the War College's gates and down to the funicular station. The wait was minimal and soon we were in a car trundling down-slope to our transfer station and then we were on our way home. We didn't quite head straight back to the townhouse, making a few a brief detours to a butcher's shop and a bakery to pick up some odds and ends. Lilly, the head maid, had mentioned that a few of the ingredients for tonight's dinner had run perilously low in the larder, and I had volunteered to pick up the regular orders on my way back home.

    Somewhere along the way, though the quiet between us ceased to be companionable and had grown oppressive, made moreso by the subdued chattering from the other passengers as we rode a second funicular away from the stretch of shops where the bakery stood. I took Visha's hand in mine as I conceded our little game, my will finally cracking. "Fine. I may have a bit of anxiety about our future."

    "Ours?" My second's tone was coy but there was a bit of genuine concern there as well.

    "No, not that!" I squeezed her hand. "Not personal, I mean professional."

    Her tail snaked around behind me and over my hip, pulling me closer. "You're worried about Quirinus's new Demi-wing being like... the 203rd?" she lowered her voice at the last of it.

    "For a start," I moved my hand from her hand and put it around her shoulder, "I trust Quirinus; I'd be happy staying one of her subordinates, as long as I can."

    "Oh good!" Visha's cheer re-emerged as she returned the hug. "I thought you were worried about today's lessons with LoveBlood!"

    ++++++++++

    Visha was right. Curse her smooth assurances! Crossing my arms, I huffed at my reflection.

    "My lady, could you please lessen your squirming?" Reinhild SunShower gently asked.

    "I am not squirming," I airily stated.

    "You're flopping like a landed fish," VioletBlood smirked from where she leaned against the wall, clearly amused at my discomfort. "Do you want her to mess up your curls?" She wore a shiny confection of lace trim, poofy shoulders, pleated skirting, stockings, and bows. The outfit bore a passing resemblance to a legionary dress uniform, though a version heavily prettied up for the stage and screen. It was certainly gaudy enough for the latter.

    "I don't want curls, period," I muttered. My reflection showed I was similarly dressed. Though somehow with even more gewgaws and fripperies. The hair pins and ribbons were oversized but at least were regulation-proper awards, and the DarkStar icons hung from my tail were proper if not quite my style. I honestly preferred my relic earrings and my locket, but I had gotten used to wearing my religion, or at least the one I was raised, practiced, and had a cultural affinity for, on my sleeve.

    "You like mine well enough," VioletBlood smugly stated as she presented the tubular curls that framed her face.

    It was impossible to decide weather I disliked my teased curls more or less than I despised tonight's outfit. I looked between my maid and my baroness. Despite the fact that I was shorter than the haughty noble, VioletBlood had more of her legs covered by than I did. As far as skirts went, this one as wholly unsatisfactory, and yet at some point my opinion had seemingly ceased to matter.

    I suspected trickery on the part of the kitsune, but I had learned to not challenge the people who had access to your food. "Well, they look good on you, and I don't want to copy your style," I stated, attempting duplicity.

    "You need not be concerned, my lady," Reinhild assured with a vulpine grin. "Your curls will fall elegantly behind you between your wings, assuming, that is if you stop squirming, and allow me to finish," she hissed the last word out and held the wand of her hair curler in a way that was nearly insubordinate.

    "You wanted to look your best, did you not?" VioletBlood teased.

    "If I wanted to look my best, I wouldn't be wearing this parody of a legion dress uniform," I sighed, letting Reinhild shape my hair.

    "Ah, but these are regulation uniforms," VioletBlood sniffed, triumph gleaming in her eyes..

    I glared at her. She was not wrong. "Only on a technicality."

    "And petitioning by Aedile Felisia," VioletBlood said as if that settled things. Which it did. One of the Imperatrix's Daughters, Felisia was, along with Censor CloudFire, one of the chief advocates for BlackSkyvian culture.

    As an Aedile, Felisia was responsible for the maintenance of public buildings, the regulation of public festivals, and various elements of Household rites and ceremonies. If she wanted the Imperial Legions to have a uniform with a frilly skirt, stockings, and lace cuffs then she would get that. Even if the uniform was a vestigial technicality that was almost never worn. And was worn by fewer Legionaries than the most extreme dress uniform, the one with extra brocade, plumes and gold braid.

    "And Felisia just happens to be the patron of the Mima Lumina Academy," VioletBlood smirked. It was times like this that I was reminded that my baroness could be a bit insufferable.

    "I think you're ready," Reinhild said, giving my hair a final brush as she adjusted my various bows, ornaments, and other gewgaws.

    "Think positive thoughts! Our previous lesson tested our deportment, dancing and carousing, after all" VioletBlood purred, levering herself up from the wall.

    "I sort of preferred those gowns. They were more honest," I admitted giving my reflection one last sour look before I forced my painted features into a warm and pleasant smile. Based on my kitsune's and my baroness's reactions I toned my expression down a bit. Given this was the midpoint of our curriculum, I was a bit surprised we were wearing something so... casual.

    "I'll keep that in mind," VioletBlood said as she gallantly held out her arm. I took it and with a sigh let her take me out of the room.

    Visha and GreyDawn looked up from the card table in the common room. Skilled gamblers both, their poker faces remained immaculately straight at the sight of us, betraying no sign of any reaction to our getups.

    "Don't laugh," I said through gritted teeth, my tone almost saccharine enough to conceal the growl.

    "Never crossed my mind, Ma'am," GreyDawn assured me dutifully.

    "It's a shame your crown isn't ready," Visha noted, unapologetically cheerful.

    My tail flicked. My Duchess's patience had run out and after assisting with the Samoth thing had taken me to a very unassuming and sober shop on the plaza across from the bridge that served as the Palace's main entrance. The goldsmiths and enchanters inside had not been the longest in the service of Imperatrix nor had they made the most ostentatious pieces, such as various Imperial crowns, scepters, ceremonial, and ritualistic weapons. Most of those grand pieces were made in-house as it were, by BlackSky's personal crafters.

    On the other wing, the firm of Honestas and SaphireFiligree had made all of the above, often for the Imperial Family and other Household organizations. I tried to object to my mother about how much she was spending to commission my tiara from people who made wedding regalia for BlackSky's Daughters, refurbished the fittings of the highest of Relics, and formed many of the Imperatrix's everyday ornaments. It was an exempse entirely out of proportion to my lowly rank, Preserver Crown be damned.

    "It is," VioletBlood agreed, "It would look so perfect with these uniforms."

    I stared at my Vs. LoveBlood was not wrong. We had seen the conceptual drawings and the polished white-metal and glass proof of concept. As things went, it would be a, by Preserver Crown standards, rather elegant and understated piece. "I fear that's the intention."

    Shrugging, GreyDawn started absently shuffling a deck. A wise move for an NCO to get out of her officer's way.

    "You'll do great!" Visha cheered as something off to my side flashed with a bright light

    Looking a bit guilty, Reinhild lowered the brass-fitted camera. "I am sorry, Countess, but your mother was insistent." Despite her apologetic tones, my aide's tails were swishing merrily.

    "I'm sure it's a lovely photo," Visha said, her own tail moving about.

    VioletBlood gave a triumphant smile and then, politely, pulled me out of the common room, down the hall, and down the grand staircase.

    Passively, I let myself be taken across the city. This time it was a straightforward route, down one funicular to a bottom hub station and up another that rose as it crossed the Phlegethon river. I tried to make small talk with LoveBlood, but even she noticed that I was distant.

    "It's not that bad. You should cheer up," she declared as we went up the stone stairs that were connected to the station by a curved path.

    I stared at her once we reached the top. "I'm not sure it works that way."

    "I'm just applying your lessons on how to motivate subordinates," she confidently stated as she looked around. This park always left her a bit speechless.

    The glen was middling in size and, like most open spaces in this city, had the expected trees. Most of their branches were bare, but a few still bore orange and red leaves. That gave the statuary a more stark impression against branches and grey sky. In warmer months, this park, just outside the Academy, was a verdant place.

    It was full of bronze statuary, most of it life-sized and case in a variety of poses that ranged from stately to jingoistic to seductive, all with names, awards, and titles carved into the plinths. They were the Daughters of BlackSky.

    House Legate AshRain was on guard, sheathed sword in hand, sober, dignified, but with a restrained aggression. Censor CloudFire was lasciviously playful as if she had temptations aplenty. First Citizen RedStorm was captured mid-stride, confident and strong in the heraldry as the ruler of her own Great House. Praetor DawnStrike, ever the diplomat, beckoned friends with one hand but cautioned enemies with the other. Aedile Felisia stood proud in the superiority of our culture and society. And these were just a fraction of the statues.

    And yet half a dozen of the plinths stood empty, their honors and ranks chiseled off, leaving just truncated names. Most of these belonged to the traitors from the eponymous Revolt of the Daughters. Though a few had come many centuries later. It was sobering. The statues and honors were gone, but the names remained. It was a public admission that the Imperial Family, the Imperatrix, was not perfect.

    "I guess it's a good thing we're early," VioletBlood said, taking my arm and pulling me towards a statue that stood separately and apart from the others. This one was carved of pale marble and set on a black plinth surrounded by a small reflecting pool. Votive candles flickered in niches on the pool's edge.

    My eyes met the forgiving but haunted visage rendered in the white marble. Her hair was done in a scarlet stone that was carved into tumbling curls. As I bowed my head, I looked for a seam or something to show that these were two pieces of stone fitted to each other. But like every other visit, I was left with the impression that this was carved from a single piece of two-tone marble that happened to be exactly what the sculptor required.

    I fell into prayer with a lifetime's experience, or at least that of my most recent. This time I did request for mental clarity and serenity. It was meditative, reminded me of my mother, and I started to feel calmer. I still preferred the more abstract memorials.

    "I knew that would cheer you up," VioletBlood said, her tone self-congratulatory even as she took my hand again and gave it a gentle squeeze.

    "Um... How considerate of you." I hesitated, noting her cocky expression.

    "I'm happy that you're happy," VioletBlood sounded sincere, but she clearly had an ulterior motive.

    Frowning, I wondered if it had to do with the negotiations that would formalize our relationship. I was not engaged in any great rush which my Duchess seemed fine with, for now. Or it could be VioletBlood wanted to make sure she would make Flight Leaders.

    "How can someone so pious be so paranoid?" VioletBlood snorted as she pulled me out of the park and towards the academy's gates.

    I did not dignify that with a response.

    The grounds of Mima Lumina Academy were immaculate. Even with winter imminent, there were a few cold-friendly plants that leant a splash of color to the gardens and the trees looked lovely as well. The buildings had a charming, if slightly pompous, formality to them all pillars and gables.

    In a way it stood as a reflection of the War College across the river on the other side of the city. Both were grand institutions of the House and expressions of Imperial power. The War College's role was obvious, but I had gotten some appreciation for Mima Lumina's capability in polishing and training the various courtiers, diplomats, guilders and even artificers. For the latter the academy did have an impressive curriculum in the arcane sciences.

    The difference was simply that I was comfortable with the instructors and students of the Imperial War College. Part of it was that it was as simple as wearing the proper uniform and fitting in. More broadly, they represented a world and mindset that I understood entirely.

    Every time I stepped onto Mima Lumina Academy, on the other hand, I immediately felt self-conscious. I was not one of the students in their lacy blue blouses, frilly skirts and matching fluffy bows, and I certainly did not have the effortless elegance of the instructors.

    Aggressively and haughtily, LoveBlood strode in as if she owned the place. Mamy of the students did stop to watch us with something approaching awe. A few sneered and tried to make snide comments, but my baroness practically pointed me at anyone who dared to speak up.

    My reputation was helpful here. Anyone who saw me as a bloody-handed jumped-up provincial orphan knew I was dangerous because of that. I hated any time the propaganda served a purpose. After dealing with spoiled noble brats who could at the very least fight, these were almost too easy.

    "This is why we need that crown of yours to be finished," VioletBlood smugly said as she gave a smirk to a small clique of almost ethereally-alluring girls all in matching gold and sapphire leotards and little skirts who sniffed dismissively at us as one. Shouldering bladed skates, they left showing impressive synchronization.

    "Don't take it personally, my lady," a student with plaited ebony hair in a ballerina outfit apologized. She and her cohorts wore dark blue bodysuits that were more practical for practice as opposed to an eye-catching display for stage.

    "I did not. Offense was not given. And I am not so petty as to demand an Apology out of those girls," I said and then inclined my horns. "Pardon, you have me at an advantage."

    "I am Lady Laura BloodFrost, of the Emona BloodFrosts."

    "Charmed, I heard it's lovely this time of year." Emona was a large island about a thousand miles due south of here.

    "Oh, I'm used to Silvan winters by now, but if you're ever in the area my family would love to have you, and your betrothed," Laura amended.

    VioletBlood gave me a far-too-self-satisfied look. "Regretfully, I must clarify; we are soon to be betrothed," she apologized to the ballerina while the rest of the troupe tittered.

    "Does the figure skating club have a grievance or have their studies put them under pressure?" I remarked carefully and with precise diction, because that was proper and not because I had to take measure of my words before I said them.

    Laura gave a sly look with her friends. "Ah, no. The poor ice girls are jealous."

    I curled my tail and gave an inquisitive look.

    "They've always had a rivalry with Mima Lumina's ballet troupe, and now both of you are here."

    "There aren't many Imperial Heroes who were also figure skaters," one of the ballerinas giggled.

    "We would love to watch you practice, but we have our lessons," VioletBlood apologized.

    "Maybe another time?" Lady Laura aiggled, giving me a smile. There was something... eager and awed about the ballerina. Despite being the same age as me, she probably had a far more sheltered life, and thus had no context for the reality of being a Legion Flier.

    "Of course," VioletBlood promised before I could reply.

    Waving, bowing, and farewells commenced, and the ballerinas gave coy giggles when they saw VioletBlood openly taking me by the hand, and then curled her tail around mine, as we left.

    I may have let out a surprised noise.

    "Oh, don't complain, you've been hitting me with your tail for years, Countess," VioletBlood purred.

    "That's different! And I don't do that anymore."

    VioletBlood gave an exaggerated pout.

    "And we're here for etiquette lessons." I tried to free my tail.

    The baroness shrugged. "Good news is we found another Islander Girl for you. And this one's a ballerina and nobility, if barely."

    I eyed her. "I'm not replacing Visha."

    She snorted. "Of course not. Victorious is a capable Pilot."

    I sighed.

    "She has many other talents!" VioletBlood protested. "I'm happy to have her!"

    "Really, LoveBlood?"

    "The Lady BloodFrost is interested. And if she's a spare daughter or a minor cadet branch of a minor province then her mothers would be thrilled to have her be a Mistress for a Countess such as you."

    I exhaled and let my tail relax. In her way, it was thoughtful, and I'm sure my Duchess would approve of LoveBlood being so considerate towards my preferences. "Your political supposition is not incorrect. Though I think her flirting was just being polite."

    "And a bit of hero worship?" VioletBlood teased as we approached a granite-dressed building.

    "Oh, certainly that."

    "I'm not hearing you object to us taking Lady FrostBlood's offer to watch her troupe practice."

    I gave her an amenable shrug.

    The architecture was an interesting blend of sweeping curves and stolid construction. It was one of the academy's lecture hall buildings, and had a collection of circular amphitheaters of varying sizes as well as a handful of literal ballrooms.

    That its eclectic collection of curved rooms did not look like a disorganized mess showed a considerable design elegance, not to mention skill with acoustic layout. However it did render a building that, while the main rooms were all intuitively easy to find, had a veritable warren of smaller chambers of all sorts of shapes.

    "They must have an impressive cleaning staff here," VioletBlood noted as our heels clicked on the inlaid floors as we entered the building.

    "The students do it," I stated.

    VioletBlood tittered. "Really? That's something I expect from the Legions and not these pampered welps."

    "It's about learning how to run an estate. It's similar to how a lot of the cooking and serving in their cafeteria is done," I said as we went through the main hallway as it curved slightly to one side.

    Smiling, VioletBlood spotted a couple maids in blue livery cleaning a chandelier and inspecting its gas-lamps. For the latter, a woman in a jumpsuit watched them. Her suit was tailored to fit her, with periwinkle accents and little ruffles, but it was at its heart a practical uniform. That, and she had a toolbox to one side. "And I suppose taking turns as the supervisor and as the menials is supposed to teach them character?"

    "What do you think? You just had a gaggle of Fleet cadets cleaning the hangar and maintenance bays at your beck and call."

    VioletBlood's green eyes gave a wicked gleam.

    "You haven't been too mean to them?" I asked.

    "DarkStar forbid," VioletBlood smoothly assured.

    Slipping free, my tail flicked with disbelief.

    She pouted as we entered the lecture hall. It was one of the smaller ones in the building and was less a classroom and more of a stylish salon. For any other course of study, it would be odd to be taught in what amounted to a refined lounge full of tasteful art-pieces and refined furniture.

    Even by the standards of Mima Lumina Academy this particular lecture hall was rather sumptuous. There were a handful of lacquered tables that served as desks each with a couple of overstuffed leather chairs.

    There were two large sideboards under the windows at the front of the lecture hall. I frowned; normally they would have the various props and lecture materials for the day's lesson, but now they were.... empty. My curiosity at what today's lesson would be lingered as I looked at the rest of the room.

    Four other students were already sitting down. Half were in frilly Legion blacks like VioletBlood and myself, the other half in ostentatious Fleet whites. The other noble young officers ranged up to late teens while I was the youngest by far, though one of the Fleet nobles who entered behind us was about VioletBlood's age. It was a bit hard to tell because, while slender with long glossy ash-blonde hair, the Telum Prefect Centurion had strong features and was male-presenting in form.

    I gave a little bit of jealousy as the Prefect Landgrave Camillus managed to avoid wearing a skirt. On the other wing, his uniform exchanged frills for brocade and ostentatiously laced cuffs. The look was good on Camilus, but perhaps a bit more effeminate for my tastes even if it did come with pants.

    Following my eye, VioletBlood made a thoughtful murmur and pulled us over to the dashing young officer.

    Large dark purple tail swishing, the Torpedo Squadron commander bowed to us as we approached. "How can I help our graceful Ace Legion Fliers?" Landgrave Camilus's counter-tenor came out in a smooth purr.

    "My Primus was admiring your uniform," VioletBlood said without any shame. "Why her gaze was kept on everything below the sash and above your boots."

    Camilus chuckled. "You are shameless, Baroness."

    VioletBlood gave a toothy smile.

    Any further commentary was cut off by an increase in the pressure on all of our horns.

    "Baroness VioletBlood, you have been flagrantly indecorous," Dame Preceptrix Lilith Severitas GracefulGold stated, sashaying into the room as she spoke. From her curled emerald coiffure to the rubies that hung from her ears, neck, horns, and wings, to the shimmering silk gown that managed to be understated accenting whilst simultaneously overindulgently opulent. The Preceptrix managed to wear a hideously expensive gown with an effortlessness that put my Duchess's manners to shame. Despite her bearing, she was no princess. However, she was distantly related to the Imperial Family.

    VioletBlood wilted under the stern, but oh so perfect, gaze of our instructor. "Is this a recent discourtesy of mine, Dame Preceptrix?"

    "Unless you've made a habit of entwining tails in front of the student body, yes I am talking about recent events." GracefulGold's eyes went to me and her forest green lips curled up. "Though, to your credit, you did respond to the action in question with commendable serenity and did not worsen the transgression to making a scene, Countess."

    VioletBlood pouted while Camilus gave a polite laugh.

    "And you have little grounds to be amused at the indelicacies of your peers, my handsome Landgrave." Preceptrix GracefulGold gave the room a study. "Well, at least none of you are tardy. Class, if you'll take your seats."

    I had to help the bristling VioletBlood to our table. Two Fleet sisters with blue trim on their Fleet whites in the next table over were all mocking smiles at us. They were both Countesses with industrial holdings in Vordurium. Giving them a measured glare, I absently adjusted my left glove, loosening each finger as if I were about to pull it off.

    The Marcellus twins stopped cold, tails still, their grey eyes focusing on me. I then straightened my glove back onto my hand and bowed my horns before turning back to our instructor.

    Tail swishing, VioletBlood gave me a supportive, and a bit vindictive, pulse. I did not like throwing my weight around, and implying that I would threaten to duel a pair of haughty submarine communications and scrying officers. Dueling was a wasteful tail-measuring contest; besides Albina and Valeria were, in their way, extremely deadly officers. Their bond allowed them to give excellent, secure, and quiet communications between two submarines, not to mention their affinity with sonar and scrying systems.

    Even for a pair with such unique skills, doing both roles was taxing, and their Commanders had to prioritize such things. Of everyone in the room, the twins had the most confirmed enemy kills, even if it was as part of ships' crew.

    Preceptrix GracefulGold, oh so delicately, cleared her throat, and our attention was naturally drawn to her. Not quite an elder demoness, she still had great personal power and magnetism. "I wish to congratulate you," she said from the polished lectern at the front of the room, "I understand you would rather spend your time in the capital training or studying war. Your diligence to the House is commendable."

    The other students preened a bit; I was on guard.

    "However, you have responsibilities that come with your stations. Hence these lessons. Even nobles of the sword, even Imperial Heroines can use some polish. Which you have been commendable at." She gave a disarming smile that showed just a glimpse of her fangs. "That is why I want to congratulate you for reaching the halfway point of your tutoring here, and to give you a reward."

    My tail stilled. I had spent more than enough time in military organizations to know that rewards could be quite dubious. I had been on the giving and receiving ends frequently enough.

    GracefulGold's laughter was honeyed. "Do not fret. I asked you to come in uniform to reflect your commitments to our House. And these specific uniforms as a favor."

    Glancing to VioletBlood, I tilted my horns. She was as perplexed as I. Frowning, I expected our instructor to have said these uniforms were a reflection of the duality of the peerage and the sword or some other claptrap. Then I felt a presence of such power that it was an almost elemental pressure front blowing in. My horns tingled uncomfortably as if the air was pregnant with the tension of an incipient thunderstorm.

    I froze, briefly terrified at the idea that the Imperatrix herself was coming.

    The Preceptrix's smile was now all teeth. "I did not want to burden you with the formal gowns or uniforms that would otherwise be required for such an exalted guest." She held out a hand and pulled with a single finger, swinging the wooden doors to the room open.

    A force of nature in demonic form strode in. I had a moment of relief: she was not Imperatrix BlackSky. That emotion was quickly crushed as it was obvious who was visiting: one of her Daughters.

    The statue had captured Felisia's face and elegant proportions, but did little to cover the sheer awesome deluge or her presence. Shorter than many of her sisters, she had tumbling blonde hair and wore a shimmering dress that went from midnight blue at the floor length hem to indigo at the long swinging sleeves to cobalt at the decolletage.

    Diamonds twinkled as sequined trim and accents to her dress and as ornaments and jewelry. Crystalline perfection emanated from her as she inexorably approached with sublime poise. Much of her sparkled, from her powder blue horns, with the veil draped over them, to her necklace and the fins of her tail. Bright, luminous cerulean eyes studied us as platinum lips graded us with a warm smile.

    I suppose GracefulGold's training was effective. Despite the existential dread and the feeling of being a bug in a bell-jar being inspected by some inscrutable being, all of us did get up and gave proper curtseys, or bow in Calimus's case. It was a bit ridiculous given how short our skirts were, but being polite to someone who was a literal strategic asset was only sensible.

    Felisia smiled and inclined her horns to us. "It is a pleasure to meet you all. Please treat this as an informal event. My great grand-niece has said much about you and I wanted to meet you without too much pomp and ceremony."

    I managed not to stare. I suppose by the standards of the Imperial Family her gown, and our uniforms counted. While frilly, they were not the highest level of ceremonial formality. I did not even own the confection of gold and black silk that was the Imperial Legion's most formal dress. That was a garment that required a polished plumed helmet or, in my case, a crown. More than our sartorial state, my suspicions were raised. This had to be some type of midterm exam, there was no way one of the Imperatrix's Daughters would just drop in.

    "And to make things more at ease," Felisia gave an absent, effortless wave of her hand and the room filled with the scents of fresh sweet pastries, savory stews, ripe fruits, steaks, and other cuts of meat. The sidebars at the front of the room were suddenly filled with refreshments and a whole table with various carafes and bottles.

    VioletBlood made a hungry murmur, and not just at the repast before us. Either Felisia had the foodstuffs here ahead of time and had kept them under a Veil that covered both sight and smell, or she had simply teleported them in from some staging location elsewhere in the academy. Both options were disquieting as she had used that level of control as a mere parlor trick.

    Felisia smiled at us all standing in place. She then turned to our instructor. "Lilith, perhaps you trained them to be a bit too diffident."

    GracefulGold bowed her horns.

    I suppose we were all on guard, though this did not seem to be an exam. Perhaps, I should act as if it were not part of the class. Besides, this was an excellent networking opportunity.

    I took VioletBlood's hand and went straight for Felisia. "Oh, how bold," the baroness whispered as the rest of the small class watched us.

    "Your Highness, Aedile Felisia, Daughter of BlackSky, it is a pleasure to meet you," I said giving another curtsy. "May I have the privilege of introducing myself and my soon to be betrothed?" I asked as LoveBlood purred.

    The pressure was intense at this range, only an arms-length away from the Daughter. It was like being enveloped in the Imperial's presence, an experience that should have been smothering, and if she was displeased with me, likely would be. "Oh, Primus Volantes Centurion Countess Tauria Magnus DiamondDust, the pleasure is mine. You are known to the Family. You and your fierce companion, Volantes Centurion Baroness VioletBlood," Felisia assured, those luminous blue eyes boring into us. Of course she would use our full names and titles.

    "Ah, that is fortunate," I demurred after recovering my bearings. "I serve the House as best I can."

    "Quite. My younger sister AshRain has been watching you with interest." Felisia smiled as she reached out and for a brief moment took my hands in hers. I stilled. The most shocking part was that her skin felt warm. Despite there being no shock, my horns were all pins and needles and I tried to get my tail under control. Somehow I felt more... shimmering.

    "We shall talk shortly," Felisia continued, as if there was no pause. "But first I must make introductions with your compatriots. Please, get some refreshments."

    ++++++++++

    It was for the best that there were about half a dozen of us. Spending too much time with a Daughter of the Imperatrix was a bit like too much time in the sauna. It was pleasant, even relaxing, but it could turn oppressive, and even a brief respite was gloriously refreshing.

    Nibbling at something savory, VioletBlood sat next to me with a very contented and only somewhat smug smile. "And you objected to these lessons," she whispered.

    I shrugged my wings.

    "You seem less tense."

    "I could use a bath, a cold bath," I clarified. My Duchess's residence did have a full set of baths.

    VioletBlood's grin grew. "Maybe we could wash up when we get back."

    "That's not a bad idea," I agreed. We were cadets together, in the same ballet troupe, and served in the same jungle FOB and other DarkStar forsaken places; we both knew the value of simple luxuries like a good shower.

    VioletBlood's tail went limp. "You don't have to make everything so practical."

    "A proper bath isn't that practical! You don't need to have the hot and cold soaks."

    The baroness huffed and turned her head away from me.

    Albina, the longer haired of the Marcellus twins, looked to her sister before giving me a sympathetic look. "Don't take it too hard. This is stressful for all of us," she quietly confided.

    "This is a great opportunity and she is extending every courtesy," I replied. There was no doubt that Felisia could hear every word we were saying. I would be surprised if she could not follow every conversation in the room at once, but she maintained the polite fiction that we had measure of privacy. It was similar to the polite fiction that she did not possess the power to dominate and enthrall or simply subvert and distort.

    "Just look at poor Camilus," Valeria stated.

    The tall Fleet officer appeared to be having an engaging conversation with Felisia. But Camilus's body language was just brittle enough to hint at his self-conscious anxiety. Diyu Demons taking a male aspect was fairly uncommon, and, exceptional centurion or not, Camilus was talking with perhaps the staunchest cultural traditionalist in the Imperial Family.

    "Don't be so worried about him," VioletBlood sniffed. "Camilus is being proper. Remember who requested these uniforms?"

    After sipping my coffee, I bowed my horns to the baroness. Almost all of our uniforms were unisex, though tailoring could make up for a lot. However the one set of uniforms that had skirts also had a variant with pants. "Clever. She's sending a lot of messages."

    What could have been seen as a heterodox deviancy was co-opted and pulled into BlackSkyvian culture. Imperial Heroes, ones with status, rank, and honor were given quite the latitude, as long as certain forms and proprieties were maintained.

    "It's not just our military and arcane technology that needs to adapt and advance," Valeria piously said.

    "And who better to make sure our culture grows in a proper and beneficial direction than Aedile Felisia?" Albina asked.

    My first instinct was to point out Censor CloudFire's remit covered much of the same areas, that the Imperatrix herself had considerable sway, or that the height of hubris required to presume that one person, ancient demon or no, would be able to control an entire society's development was taller than the Imperial Palace.

    Instead, I simply inclined my horns in a polite, if vague, agreement. Political peril aside, I did not have the time or inclination to get into an argument. Bringing politics into the workplace, which this salon most assuredly was, was risky at the best of time.

    Felisia had finished talking with Camilus and, to my mild dread, was beckoning VioletBlood and myself over.

    The second time talking with a Daughter went a bit better. There was a bit less shock of surprise, but there was more comprehension of the magnitude of the situation. That her presence felt pleasant only heightened my internal anxiety.

    Imagine you are a small bat, like an eastern leaf-nosed bat or a red-winged Vanus bat. Some creature that, despite being small and fluffy, is, for her size, an agile flier and capable predator. And then a vast being of titanic power picks you up. The being is roughly in your shape. She has hair and wings and a tail, but the proportions are wrong, and she holds you in a cage of claws that are larger than your body.

    She could kill you with a thought, but does not. And instead of a benign, indifferent observation... this being smiles. She finds you charming and fascinating, and wants to learn all about you.

    And Felisia was not one of the older Daughters, nor was she one of the more martial ones. She was more of a proponent of soft power, social controls, and cultural means which was, in its way, worse.

    I managed to keep up a pleasant facade through the introductory small talk.

    Felisia smiled at us. "But I did want to congratulate you."

    "On what, your Highness?" I asked. My Zephyr seemed curious but calm, as if the Daughter's power while intriguing was no threat.

    Briefly studying me, her platinum lips curled into a smile. "My younger sister might have wanted the honor, or that gallant new Tribune Quirinus, and they'll get the chance to do it, officially."

    I just gave a nod. The praise felt good, but I suspected what it would be a poisoned chalice.

    "And heroes such as you, as you present yourself and as you truly are, deserve reward. Congratulations, soon-to-be Prefect Centurion." Felisia bowed her horns to me deeply. She offered drinks, more of the brandy she was drinking for VioletBlood and coffee for me.

    I returned the gesture. This was not surprising. I knew this was coming since I had started at the War College, but it was one thing to know it; it was another to have a member of the Imperial Family confirm it.

    Informally of course, but when someone from the Imperial Family says that about one's future promotion.... it will happen.

    VioletBlood smiled at me and took my arm.

    "And congratulations to you for qualifying for Primus as well," Felisia told VioletBlood. "Give Miss Shadow the same accolades, and an experienced centurion like Miss GreyDawn more than deserves her pending Signifer rank. Also I must congratulate you on a masterful instruction to your cadets"

    As LoveBlood gushed, I patted her hand but I was still pondering. I had eight pilot slots to fill. At least I had two Flight Leaders which meant I only needed one more Primus Centurion. Though between Quirinus, my Duchess, the other Legion officers I was on good terms with, and the Imperial Family, I had more than enough of a network to get my pick of qualified Polyxo Pilots. I could take some comfort that I was less of a cosmic plaything, but I was still unmistakably the plaything of beings far more powerful than me.

    Felisia sipped her drink. "If you will allow an indulgence. I am not an active officer and no expert on the ways of the Imperial Legions, but if you'll allow me some advice."

    "Of course, your Highness," I assured, trying to keep my tail from freezing in horror.

    "Your cadets. You have done much with them, especially considering the... unreasonable expectations some of them initially set," Felisia delicately said.

    I took a drink of the quite excellent coffee. That at least obscured much of my face. "Ah, I think I understand."

    "I don't mean all of them," Felisia assured, "That would be impractical, but accepting a handful for an active assignment. That... would allay the concerns of some powerful figures, and it would allow you to keep a close eye on some young Pilots. Those of great potential and skill, but lacking in experience. I believe your mentor Quirinus did much the same with you and your baroness."

    Somehow, my tail did not twitch, though it may have curled up a bit. "That is true," I allowed. Of course I could not be free of politics. Still, having only a few of those noble brats under me, instead of an entire reinforced squadron would be an improvement.

    "I have some ideas on who you can pick," VioletBlood said with a wicked smile, because of course she had thought about this.

    "Excellent!" Felisia took a dainty sip. "And I would think having both fresh pilots and experienced ones would help the cadets learn that much faster."

    I gave her a nod and a note of agreement. She was correct. That could help the novice pilots get up to speed, but at the cost of having the overall squadron take longer to grow into a cohesive unit. "I suppose the other Squadrons under Quirinus could use time to work-up, not to mention all four learning to operate as part of a Demi-Wing."

    Felisia gave an airy shrug. Not to indicate she was dismissive of such military concerns, but that they were not her sphere of interest. I suppose GracefulGold's lessons had some value.

    "Presuming there is not any great unpleasantness, it will not be immediate. Why, your tutoring here is only halfway done. And I know an industrious lady such as yourself will certainly make the best use of her time."

    Ah, that was why she was telling me early. "I thank you for this notice. I will make sure to go about my selections both for my Squadron and Cadet placement recommendations for my cadets with the least.... acrimony."

    Felisia's blue eyes locked onto me and for a moment wondered if she had peeled through my mind. "While, I appreciate delicacy in such actions. I would suggest you keep the Legion's interests in mind."

    "Naturally," I bowed my horns. That was... flexible. The Imperial Legions, as an institution, was rather pragmatic and goal-focused. Part of that came from being the smaller, less glamorous, junior service. Still that meant that Legion Brass-horns were more than willing to play political games if that was what was required.

    The Imperatrix's Daughter studied me for a moment. "Perhaps I should clarify. Make your choices with the Legion's practical interests in mind. Seek out the help of your Duchess, your Tribune and other sources. Make your selections using your best judgment, Countess. And... if you feel that some of the mothers of your cadets will be angry that their daughters were not among the ones you selected, please do not hesitate to contact my office," Felisia smoothly said as an ebony card with gilt edges appeared in her hand.

    It was warm to the touch and, at a glance, was more than done in gilt leaf. The thick card felt like it was inlaid with gold and other precious metals, not to mention the blue twinkling jewels that were set in the corners. More than being precious metals, I could feel the enchantments laid into them and the card itself. The contact information shimmered and changed with subtle illusion magic and some sort of thaumaturgical link. I was certain that this was a calling card in a very literal sense.

    Smelling faintly of sandalwood and rosewater, the hideously expensive artifact slipped it into one of the hidden pockets of my uniform. At least this frilly confection of a garment had that much going for it. "Thank you, I hope I will not need such assistance, but I shall take it if it proves necessary," I gracefully said. That was the deal then. As long as I took some number of cadets, the Imperial Family would smooth over any acrimony from the families of those who were placed in a less glamorous Flight School or Scouting Branch posting.

    I suppose I could still reject the deal, but that would be snubbing an offer of assistance from a Daughter.

    "That is most generous," VioletBlood effusively stated before going to me. "There, now you don't have to worry about offending the wrong noble matron."

    Felisia smiled beatifically at us. "It is a pleasure to meet with the flower of BlackSkyvian youth. To see those who protect us." The Daughter studied my earrings. "It is fitting."

    "Your Highness?"

    "Oh, just rumors," Felisia drank some brandy. "Mother misses her so. And she never lost hope."

    I nodded. It was a key tenet of the Church that DarkStar would return to us. I was skeptical, although not because I thought that reincarnation was impossible. Indeed, I knew for a fact that was very much a real thing, as did Visha, and besides the phenomena was hardly undocumented on Diyu. However, the wait for her return had now stretched over entire millennia of waiting. As such, there had been more than a few "false" DarkStars, and the prospect that the real article would return seemed like a mirage, always receding further and further away.

    "We all pray that she will return to us," I stated, with all sincerity, bowing my head.

    "Did you know her?" VioletBlood asked, to my quiet horror.

    Felisia gave a sad laugh. "Alas, my bloody baroness, her loss was before my time. However, my older sisters were around then and DawnStrike remembers her fondly. More than my own desire to meet DarkStar, I hope to be there to see when Dawn and Mother reunite with her."

    The ancient demoness' face flickered with melancholy but was soon banished. "But that is enough of the past, let us talk about the future, your future."

    ++++++++++

    I will freely admit that after our "lessons" I had let my mind wander and may have put too much trust in LoveBlood's judgment and guidance. I know it was just my mind, but the card from Aedile Felisia felt warm in my tunic pocket. It felt like a reminder, a tangible memory proving that the evening in the salon had, in fact, happened, and that the Daughter had apparently been observing my instruction of the cadets. I spent the funicular ride home mulling over the time I had left at the War College.

    I would have to accelerate my lesson plan. A lucky number of the cadets under me would not have the luxury of the usual route through Flight School followed by a low-tempo initial posting. Instead, they would be coming with me. Thus, for their survivability and mine, I would have to make sure they would be qualified.

    It was with those thoughts in mind that I hardly noticed as we went down the steep valley of the city, made the transfer to another line, and then that we had gotten off the ascending funicular well before our normal station.

    The schmoozing and networking with a Daughter of the Imperatrix had taken a fair bit of time. GracefulGold wanted to be sure that all of us got some time with Felisia, and our instructor had gotten in a couple lessons and refinements as to the proper ways to interact with the Imperial Family.

    "Where are we going?" I asked when we waited at an intersection. Glancing about I could see the spire of the Palace and was able to estimate our distance, and elevation. Not too far down-slope of the Imperial War College, we were in a bit rowdier part of the city, or at least the part that the various journeymen and apprentices of the guild-halls considered rowdy. The really... exciting parts of the city were to the east in the dockyards, freight yards, and stockyards.

    "I wanted to take you someplace to help you recover from all the tension of our meeting," VioletBlood assured in a tone that was only slightly sinister.

    "Without us changing first?" I felt a bit self conscious. Our clothes did not stand out with the early evening crowds, except inasmuch that few military uniforms were this frilly. I felt more like my brief time working for Luddy's cafe.

    "Oh, these uniforms are fine." The baroness waved my concerns away as we crossed the street and came to a winding street that was just full of entertainments.

    Bright signs made out of fluorescing tubes started to buzz on as we were led to an area full of beer gardens, coffee houses, bath houses, wine bars, massage cloisters and dance halls. "And where are we going?"
    Pouting, VioletBlood sighed and gestured to one of the humbler wine bars. Like the other places there was outdoor street-side seating and a whole terraced garden. There were a few squat fire pots set up with fragrant smoke puffing out their chimneys.

    Unlike the neon signage of its neighbors this place had a simple carved wooden sign. However, above the sign was a giant garishly-painted wooden lemon.

    "The Oily Lemon?" I stopped by the open entrance gate. Caved below the wine bar's name was the establishment's slogan: Come down and have a squeeze.

    "You'll have fun!"

    "Where did you hear of this place?" I stepped aside to let a couple in Fleet uniforms with two Auxilia companions enter. My tail stilled as they looked us over. The Oily Lemon was vaguely familiar.

    "Oh, around. Don't worry about it." Somehow, VioletBlood's base reassurance failed to soothe my curiosity, in fact, all it did was give me cause to wonder if I should be worried.

    "We just came from a function with full refreshments," I said, speaking slowly in case I had missed something, "and you want us to go to a bar?"

    VioletBlood shook her head at me. "We're not here for that, but we did just come from a rather... stressful lesson."

    "Ah," I said, understanding dawning, "you want us to unwind."

    "Something like that," my baroness said, pulling me into the Oily Lemon.

    Despite the rather short yellow uniforms of the wait-staff, the wine bar was fairly cozy. There were awnings over most of the tables that helped keep out the chill and the central room had a small band tuning their string instruments.

    Imperious as ever, VioletBlood chatted up the hostess and then went straight to one of the back patios. It was an intimate nook with several low couches surrounding a pair of tables that looked over a small garden; several nearby nooks were also angled to give the same view.

    The tables were already occupied. I stopped when VioletBlood pulled back the curtain. The surprise was muted but the cadets, my cadets, froze. Ah, this must be the wine bar my cadets frequented. By the count of bottles, at least they were not drinking to excess. And there were only a couple meerschaum pipes and a small amber dropper-bottle of Pixie.

    "Primus Centurion! It's a pleasure to see you!" Pulivia stammered while Lavish pulled herself up and adjusted her blouse. SkySpear and some of the other cadets chuckled, though I noticed a pair in the back also scooted apart so that they were no longer leaning on each other, and the cadet closest to the table scooped the accoutrement off the table and into her bag.

    Politely, I looked to one side. VioletBlood smiled at the cadet's actions and gave an almost approving murmur at the labels on the various bottles. The girls were off duty, and nothing they were using was proscribed for Legionaries. And for the amorous behavior, I had no place to talk and the Legions were... generous with the fraternization rules. Besides, some minor public displays of affection were extremely tame by our standards.

    VioletBlood gave me an eager look.

    "At ease girls." I waved off. "We were just coming here after a meeting to unwind."

    Evaluating our uniforms, Lavish gave me a calculating look. She suspected it had to be a rather high status meeting, to warrant such fripperies.

    The Baroness's tail swished as her green eyes sparkled. Realization hit and I shot her a glare and was even about to wave my hand to cut her off. "And we have some excellent news."

    "Has your promotion gone through, Ma'am?" SkySpear asked.

    VioletBlood simply gave me a smug look. "Maybe I should get some more appetizers?" she asked, stepping back into the hallway to flag down a waitress.

    I sighed. "Yes. It's unofficial, but it will come through. Don't worry, this should be after your training has completed. I won't be leaving you in a lurch," I promised.

    "That's not the best part," VioletBlood smiled, back after placing a rather generous order.

    "And that is?" Lavish RoseTalon inquired, having quickly regained her decorum.

    I looked around the girls, about half of my cadet squadron was here. "There will be some slots in my squadron."

    "Of course, but why..." Pulivia's eyes widened.

    "That's right!" VioletBlood's smile was all teeth.

    "What will the Squadron's composition be?" one of the erstwhile cuddlers in the back asked.

    VioletBlood sniffed as if that answered it.

    "We're not Polyxo qualified," SkySpear noted.

    "The bar will be set high, and your training tempo will increase," I stated, tone adamantine.

    "And that's why I figured we can all relax tonight!" VioletBlood cheered.

    End Chapter 20


    Thanks to DCG , ellfangor8 , Green Sea, ScarletFox , afforess, WrandmWaffles and Preier for checking and reading over this chapter.

    Special thanks to Readhead for the polish and extra editing, particularly with Samoth's part.

    And ch21 is about 3k written, so I can confidently say that the "capital arc" is over and Prefect Centurion Tauria will be taking her Squadron to the off-world colonies.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2023
  26. Rymu

    Rymu Connoisseur.

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    There's quite a bit of tail based acts of affection in this chapter. I'm kinda looking forward to seeing if Tanya will ever get up to a double hand and tail holding with both her Vs after Violetblood's little public show.
     
  27. Vealie

    Vealie Versed in the lewd.

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    Entwining tails in public! L-lewd!

    Are you sure this is SFW?
     
  28. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    'unfortuante' -> 'unfortunate'

    'as a survivor'

    Stray newline.

    'what-ifs'

    Comma after 'her'.

    Commas after 'which' and 'robust'.

    Missing opening quote.

    Double blank line.

    'read' -> 'rear'?

    'any classified' -> 'anything classified' or 'any classified material'

    This would sound better if you put the 'ma'am' on the end of the first sentence instead of the beginning of the second.

    This sounds a bit odd; ShadowWhisper basically changes course 180 on her reaction without a suitable verbal indicator. Either delete 'Flatterer' entirely, or make the second sentence 'No, you truly believe that' or 'But you truly believe that'.

    Comma after 'last'.

    Commas after 'and' and 'valise'.

    Comma after 'campus'.

    Period after 'shoulder' should be a comma (since the quoted text before and after are part of the same sentence.
    Also, stay space before 'I trust'.

    Commas after 'and' and 'city'.

    'yet half dozen' -> 'yet a half-dozen' or 'yet half a dozen'

    'chiseled' -> 'chiselled'
    Comma after 'off'.

    Comma should be question mark.

    No comma after 'uniform'.

    'anytime' -> 'any time'
    Delete 'had'.

    I get what you're going for, but 'confessed' is the wrong word here. That's an apology, not a confession.

    Period after 'not'.

    You're using a lot of said-bookisms, throughout the chapter but particularly here. Basically, any time you use a speaking verb that isn't 'said', 'asked', 'answered', or 'replied', you should stop and ask yourself 'What does using this word tell the reader that using the base verb would not?'. We don't need to be told that VioletBlood's first line is an apology; that's clear from the quoted text. Similarly, you don't need to tell us that Laura's offer is an offer. On the other hand, the fact that the first sentence was giggled, rather than being stated matter-of-factly, or offered tentatively, etc. does tell us something about tone that would not otherwise be apparent.

    Missing opening quote before 'I'm'.

    'acoustical' -> 'acoustic'

    Comma after 'that'.
    'it had' -> 'it

    'were to' -> 'were about to'

    'that would otherwise be required'

    No comma after 'dread'.
    Comma after 'curtseys'.

    Is the second line also supposed to be spoken by Felisia? If so, merge the two; if not, add a tag indicating who is speaking.

    'such' -> 'the'

    If this is supposed to be a polite offer ('Help yourself to some refreshments') then you need a comma after 'please'. If its an order ('Go get me a drink') then it's correct as-is.

    Comma after 'relaxing'.

    'infrequent' -> 'rare' or 'uncommon'

    Commas after 'is' and 'size.
    Period after 'predator'.

    'observance' -> 'observation'
    No capital on 'this'.

    Comma after 'calm'.

    Comma after 'Centurion' should be a period.
    No comma after 'me'.

    No comma after 'school'.

    Missing blank line between paragraphs.

    'date' -> 'gate'?

    Comma after 'course'.

    So, another instance of as-you-know-Bob. You're trying to use the pattern where one character goes 'You know about X, right?', the other replies 'Yes, X is [quick summary of it that they would both be familiar with]', and the first continues with 'Well, X is also [new information that builds directly from the summary]'. It's a good pattern, since its natural yet allows the author to deliver exposition.

    In this case, however, the 'quick summary of stuff they both know' drags on a but too long to feel natural. What's more, you've got too much banter and back-and-forth, which ends up breaking the sense of 'just so we're on the same page here...' that you're going for.

    Again, an as-you-know-Bob. I can see what you're trying to do: Tauria, primed by having just given a literal lecture on the topic, responds to ShadowWhisper mentioning a topic by holding forth on the subject, only to get embarrassed when she realizes she's lecturing someone who already knows. It's a very good, in-character way to have someone dump exposition.

    The problem is that, probably in an attempt to avoid a wall-of-text from Tauria, you have ShadowWhisper interject in the middle. This makes no sense; the only thing she ought to be saying at that moment is 'yes, I know, you just finished your presentation on this, remember?'.

    I suggest either meging all 3 paragraphs into one, all spoken by Tauria, or move the second and third paragraphs into narration instead of dialogue.

    Not a complaint, but every time I read a bit of dialogue from 'ShadowWhisper', I initially parse it as 'Shadow whispered' and thus read it mentally in a whispered tone, then have to recontextualize the dialogue when I catch my error.

    Huh. I was briefly certain this was going to be Ranma's entrance to the story. She would, presumably, be in need of etiquette lessons before her public debut. (I'm reading Brooding Responsibilities now, so I don't know exactly how DarkStar's return to Diyu goes.)

    Probably the two most terrifying things Tauria has heard all month~

    You know, it's really weird to have a Tanya fic where she says something like this, and have it be very likely she is broadly correct in her understanding of the situation. Tanya is usually famously bad at judging implicit social deals like that.
     
  29. Sunshine Temple

    Sunshine Temple Not too sore, are you?

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    VioletBlood has gotten a bit more forward. And they have gotten an engagement. They have been working, and Tauria is still Tauria, but give it a few years...

    Hah! Handholding *and* tails. And GracefulGold did say LoveBlood was being been flagrantly indecorous.


    But in all corrections but found a couple questions
    I'm not sure on the chiseled versus chiselled. What is the difference?


    Sunshine Temple said:
    However it did render a building that while the main rooms were all intuitively easy to find, it had a veritable warren of smaller chambers of all sorts of shapes.
    Comma after 'that'.
    'it had' -> 'it

    For this what's the second correction?


    I tried to consolidate and trim it, and offload some stuff to the narrative. I think it's a bit better.
    Nice! And that merging the 3 paragraphs works well. Glad that that way to dump exposition came off. I thought it was a fun way to show Tauria's enthusiasm, to the amusement, of her instructor.


    Hah. Whoopsie. That her name uses Camel case doesn't help as it highlights the compound word nature of the name.

    Oooh, that could have been fun. But yeah, it's a bit early for DarkStar's return.


    Hhaha, yeah having a higher up in the military and multiple members of the Imperial Family taking an interest in her should terrify her.

    Some bonus is that Tauria is an empath and has been learning to do more than just ignore it. And she has been taking lessons in social dynamics. Since the tutoring she's under is designed to help people in her situation (well, at least young noble officers who need social polish). It also helps that Felisia was trying to be fairly blunt about it.

    And thanks so much for all the corrections and help!
     
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  30. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    New stray linebreak.

    'You' -> 'Your'

    Comma after 'flow' should be a period'.

    Incomplete sentence; either complete it or end it with an ellipsis.


    I was pointing out what I thought was a spelling error, but now that I google it it turns out the version with one 'l' is just the American spelling.

    Sorry, that should have read: 'it had' -> 'had'

    It's a little better, but it's still fundamentally several disparate, interrupted paragraphs of one character explaining to another things she already knows. I don't think you're going to fix it without a substantial rewrite of that part of the scene. You'd have to cut down Tauria's summary to at most two contiguous paragraphs total, which means losing all the interjections from Samoth - no 'my sister fought in that war', no stuff about cadet training.

    This was mostly me pointing out the issue so you can bear it in mind and avoid it in the future. Basically any time you find yourself having one character telling another something they both already know, you should be asking yourself 'is there another way to deliver this exposition?'.
     
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