AN: If you aren't familiar with Youjo Senki (The Saga of Tanya the Evil) I would highly recommend checking it out. The anime is available for free on crunchyroll and the light novel is reasonably priced on amazon. Both are very good. If you want a summary you can check out the wiki. If you want an extremely brief summary so you can get on with this story I'd go with this: loli isekai Flashman.
AN2: I'm mixing manga, anime, and LN canon together a little bit based on what I like. Anything past the current translations (anime season one, LN volume 2, manga 30) is only provisionally canon. For the purposes of this fic not!Germany lost not!WWI after getting dogpiled by everybody but not!Russia.
AN3: This fic was inspired by The Leader by lord of the land of fire, but aims for a very different feel. Most notably I'll be going for a more canon flavor Tanya instead of broken-by-war Tanya.
Eight years was a long time.
Eight years was time enough for an Empire to fight off an invasion, to win battle after battle against enemy after enemy, and to lose a war under the unrelenting pressure from all the world. Eight years was time enough for a young girl to go through officer training, serve with distinction, graduate from war college, command a battalion in countless battles, and then be discharged without a pfennig to her name.
In eight years, the orphanage hadn't changed at all. When I was a child, it had to scrimp and save to scrape together enough food to satisfy the gaggle of children under its care. Through the deprivations of war time they had to scrimp and save just to get by. Now, as the nation shuddered under the crushing pressure of the peace terms imposed on the Empire, the nuns no doubt intended to scrimp and save and do their best to feed the latest batch of orphans.
I had never expected to see this place again. Between my magical talent and my knack for managing bureaucratic rules I thought a successful military career was in the bag. I had every intention of rising through the ranks and securing a cushy posting near military headquarters. Government provided housing, a guaranteed salary, and, in due time, a government pension would all be mine.
It didn't work out quite the way that I planned. Well, I did rise through the ranks. And while the government provided housing was often a tent near the front rather than an apartment in the capital, I never did have to worry about paying rent. The problem was with the salary and the pension. By the end of the war the Empire was paying us in scrip rather than cash. It spent well enough on the front, but once the war ended all of the demand vanished overnight. My savings from the previous years of service had been deposited in a bank that had had all of its assets seized by the invading forces. As for the pension, well, the newfound Republic of Germania refused to take on most of the debts incurred by the Empire.
I had done everything right to rise to the top of the organization. Unfortunately, the organization had come crashing down around my ears. I was in the same position as a salaryman who put decades of blood, sweat and tears into securing a corner office just in time for my company to declare bankruptcy and disappear.
The Imperial military still existed. Sort of. Under the draconian provisions of the Treaty of Triano the Republic of Germania had a hard limit on the size of its army and the number of tanks, airplanes, and artillery pieces it could field. When it came to aerial mages, the permitted number was zero. Not only that, but the military was not allowed to employ any individual who had served as an aerial mage in the past. Nor was any other branch of the government allowed to hire such a person.
Major Tanya von Degurechaff. Only living recipient of the Silver Wings Assault Badge. Youngest graduate of the Imperial War College. Highest confirmed kill count of any aerial mage in the Great War.
With all of that and ten marks I could buy a loaf of bread. No, actually, ten marks was the old price. It's fifteen marks now. The idiotic fiscal policies of the new government are already starting to bear their poisonous fruit. That's nothing to do with me, though. I can only hope that some day the nation's economists will figure out that printing enough money to buy foreign currency at any price will lead to unsustainable levels of inflation.
Now I was just stalling. Procrastination was beneath the dignity of an Imperial soldier or a salaryman. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and knocked on the door. It didn't take long before the door opened to reveal a familiar face, albeit a face with more worry lines than I remembered. Perhaps the orphanage hadn't been as untouched by the war as I had thought.
"Sister Margaret. It has been a while."
She took a moment to look me up and down. I knew exactly what she was seeing. A girl, seventeen years old but with the appearance of a tween, barely cracking five feet in height. Messy blonde hair hanging down to her shoulders in compliance with military regulations. A jacket and pants combination that was tailored to military specifications but with all unit and rank insignia removed. A duffel bag held in one hand the only sign of luggage.
It took longer than I had expected, but eventually recognition flashed in her eyes. "Major Degurechaff!"
"Just Tanya, now," I said, shaking my head, before explaining my dismissal from the military.
The flash of disappointment that crossed her face was unmistakable. I could hardly blame her. A moment ago she thought that the orphanage could boast of a distinguished alumni, and now she'd discovered that what should have been a pillar of support was as destitute as any of her charges.
"To think that such a thing could happen," she said. "And you're here, now..."
"This is a haven for underage children, is it not?" I said, putting on my most professional smile. "I don't turn eighteen for another few months."
I could see her wince as I made my request. It was soon followed by a practiced expression of sympathy as she prepared to turn me down. Hardly unexpected. The orphanage was not flush with cash at the best of times. Adding a teenager would stress their finances without any corresponding benefit flowing back to them, as I was unlikely to be adopted by a well off family. I couldn't expect them to agree to such an unequal exchange. I pressed on, intent on making my pitch before she could give me a final rejection.
"I can help out with whatever needs doing," I said. "I had to turn in my computation orb but I can still do little bits of magic like body reinforcement. I'm stronger than I look."
The famous White Silver, throwing away her dignity? I preferred to think of it as saying what I needed in order to make a sale. Besides, while a reputation was a valuable thing, it wasn't worth much to someone freezing to death by the side of a road. Some day I would get my career back on track and work on spitting in the eye of Being X. Before that, though, I needed to make sure I survived the coming winter.
Sister Margaret visibly bit back the first thing she was going to say, then took a moment to study my expression before she spoke. "Of course you can stay with us. Come with me and I'll get you sorted out."
I smiled as I followed her inside. Let Being X set the whole world against me. I was never one to just curl up and die because it would be convenient for somebody else.
A week later I found myself staring with some frustration at a tree stump.
I was in the process of clearing a field in order to expand the space the orphanage could use to plant vegetables. Besides proving my own usefulness, I expected the field to prove quite practical if the country continued along its current path towards hyperinflation. I'd already moved all of the rocks scattered through the field with a shovel and a healthy application of reinforcing magic.
Body reinforcement and reflex enhancement were the foundation of a competent aerial mage. Without a firm grasp on both spells you'd snap your own neck in evasive maneuvers or find yourself shot out of the sky without even knowing what had happened. If I had any kind of combat rated computation orb I could maintain both spells as easy as breathing, leaving the rest of my mind free to fly and fight.
I did not have a computation orb. That made body enhancement a chore and meant there was no way that I was going to rip this stump out of the ground with my bare hands. If I was going to get rid of this stump and complete my appointed task I was going to have to do something stupid and reckless. Something that was nigh suicidal for anybody who wasn't me.
I was feeling nostalgic already.
Taking a deep breath, I took a few steps away from the tree stump and held out my hand with my palm pointing towards my target. With one part of my mind I started running through a set of mathematical equations while with another I focused on gathering magical power and directing it toward my hand. Gently at first and then with an increasingly firm hand as the power began to flow quickly enough to bleed into the visual spectrum. I felt sweat beading on my forehead. While this spell would be a joke on the battlefield it was still more than powerful enough to blow off my hand if I lost control of it now.
There was nothing for it but to grit my teeth and carry on. The spell continued to come together and began afflicting me with the tension headache that indicated I was reaching my limit. If I had taken this much time to gather power with a computation orb the resulting spell would have been able to knock out a tank. Now, I wasn't sure if it would be enough to take out a tree stump. Only one way to find out, though. I grunted slightly as I pulled the mental trigger that released the spell.
The ball of light flew from my hand too quickly for the naked eye to follow. It hit the tree stump and created a gratifyingly dramatic explosion of dirt and splintered wood. The blasted debris was sent away from me, which was nice. I took a moment to catch my breath before taking a few steps forward to confirm my success. The tree stump was gone. A shallow crater in the dirt the only sign of its passing.
It's funny. I never really took pride in my craft. I was proud of my career and proud of my accomplishments, but I never really thought of myself as simply being good at magic. That spell, though... I was pretty knowledgeable about who could do what in the world of combat mages, and I could count on one hand the names of the people who could maybe pull off an orb-free explosive spell.
There was one person who I knew for sure could have done it, but I'd killed her.
Really, when you came right down to it, I was one of the best in the world when it came to magical violence. But thanks to the Treaty of Triano I couldn't sell my services. What a horrifying affront against the principle of the free market system. Being X must have laughed himself silly when he set up that situation.
Maybe I shouldn't blame everything on Being X. After all, even in my old world there was no end to the government's interference in the free market. And while I was no student of history, I was pretty sure that the treaty that ended the first world war was just as punitive as the Treaty of Triano. That treaty hadn't been the result of supernatural interference.
Even so, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you, right? Even if Being X didn't intervene to set up this situation, he was certainly enjoying the show. While I didn't remember all the details of my original world's history, it was easy enough to see the broad strokes of what was coming. Tanya von Degurechaff survived the great war only to be left penniless and cast adrift to endure hyperinflation, the great depression, the rise of a bunch of fanatics, and an even more dangerous second world war.
Really, I should try not to worry about things that are outside of my control. Sister Margaret was pleased with my work from my first week and rewarded me with a bit of pocket money, which meant that I could finally check off a milestone that had been on my mind for a while: my first drink in this world. While my unit had been getting free drinks everywhere we went, everybody was very conscious of the fact that I was underage. I probably could have ordered them to let me drink anyways, but the Imperial military was very strict and rule abiding. The last thing I needed was a note in my file if somebody complained that I was using undue influence as a commander to force people to break the law.
In the end I guess it didn't matter, but I had held onto the hope throughout the war that I would have a long term career in the military.
Now, though I was still underage I didn't expect the bartender to care. He wouldn't have any reason to know me. More than that, he wouldn't want to turn away a paying customer. I also made sure to wear my jacket with the Silver Wings Assault Badge pinned to it over my dress just in case I could milk a little sympathy from a fellow veteran.
The orphanage was in a sleepy part of Berun, but there was still a bar within easy walking distance. I say bar, but perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as a beer hall. The whole thing was a single enormous room, bigger than any drinking establishment I'd seen back in Japan. Customers were seated at wooden picnic tables that were set up in rows in the middle of the room. The bar ran along one side of the hall while a stage was set up on the other. Instead of a band the stage was occupied by some guy rambling on about politics. I ignored him and made my way to the bar.
As expected, the bartender barely glanced at me before taking my money and sliding me a pint. The beer itself was a surprise. To be honest, I wasn't a big drinker in my previous life. Even so, fitting in to a big corporation requires attendance at social events. I had had enough alcohol to know what I liked, which was sake, then wine, then spirits, then beer as a last resort. This beer, though, tasted good. I couldn't say whether it was due to some change in my palate or just that the beer here was better, but either way it was easy to drink.
I started feeling pleasantly buzzed about halfway through. This was also unusual, but it wasn't hard to explain. Even after having gone through puberty I had yet to crack ninety pounds and this was my first exposure to booze. In all likelihood I'd find myself plastered if I dared to have a second drink.
I was contemplating whether to risk it when my train of thought was interrupted by a boy sidling up to my spot at the bar.
"Hey little miss, where'd you get that medal?"
I blinked, confused, before I followed his gaze to the silver wings pinned to my jacket. "I killed six people over Norden. Early in the war they thought that was impressive."
While I was speaking I started to think through the implications of his question. Did he think I was some child playing with her parent's medals? The boy in front of me was barely old enough that he might have been drafted to serve in the rear lines at the tail end of the war, but he was far too young to have been involved in the trench warfare on the Rhine. And he wanted to question my service? By the time I finished speaking I had fixed him with my best glare.
He responded with a somewhat gratifying expression of panic. "You're... Argent Silver?"
I nodded and shooed him away. It wasn't until he made his way back to a table filled with his friends that a more chilling thought occurred to me. Had he been looking to break the ice in order to hit on me?
If there was one thing that left me grateful for the low impact puberty had had on my body it was that it left me with almost no libido. Despite my appearance I still maintained my preferences from my previous life. Fortunately, I didn't feel any particular drive to act on them. The Empire might have been relatively progressive in allowing female aerial mages to serve in the military, but it had its limits. Besides that, I needed to focus on keeping myself alive and my career healthy.
Now, though, despite my own restraint, was I going to have to deal with teenage boys every time I headed out in public? The only way I could respond to that thought was to return to my drink.
The guy up on the stage kept droning on and on about scientific socialism. It was strange. I was used to a world where capitalist societies had stolen the best ideas from every other system and drowned the world in a tide of consumerism. Here, though, everybody thought that some kind of socialism or communism was the wave of the future and people were all too eager to debate the pros and cons of various systems of government.
People also felt free to air their personal beliefs even when they veered into what sounded like crackpot theories to my modern sensibilities. Like the guy sitting at a table near my bar stool who could barely wait for a pause in the lecture before announcing his own opinion.
"I'll tell you what we should do. We should join hands with Ildoa. A greater Ildoa could dominate the continent!"
I couldn't help but snort at the idea. I must have drank enough that I wasn't as subtle as I thought I was, as the man swiveled around in his seat to glare at me.
"You disagree, little girl?"
I took a moment to size him up. He looked to be in his late thirties, and I'd eat my hat if he had served a day in the army. Everything about him made me think of an academic who had never had to deal with a practical problem in his life.
I didn't really want to get dragged into a political discussion in a bar, but I could see that the people around us had noticed what was going on. I couldn't bear to back down from this guy without a fight. Honestly, the most merciful course of action is probably to crush his crackpot idea so thoroughly that he'll reconsider and adopt some more sensible beliefs.
I shook my head in response to his question. "I don't think Ildoa wants to ship its treasury off to the Francois Republic."
He smiled, clearly having anticipated this line of argument. "That's the clever part. The treaty of Triano only applies to the Republic of Germania. It says nothing about Ildoa."
I couldn't help but laugh out loud.
"You think the Francois would be satisfied with a name change? Would they take their boots off our necks so easily?" I asked, before polishing off my drink. I set the glass down on the table more forcefully than I had intended, but fortunately nothing broke. "Would you like to go to Parisee and beg them to let us off? Get down on hand and knees and ask for our pride back?"
He looked around him for support as he found himself on the back foot. Finding none, all he could do was throw out a weak question in response. "What would you do, then?"
I smiled. The problem with the academic mind, besides an over reliance on things like the letter of the law, is that it has no understanding of how to appeal to the average Imperial citizen. For all that we were now under a republican form of government, the people were still the same. They naturally gravitated towards the person who sounded like the most die hard patriot and the most gung ho battle maniac.
I was neither a patriot nor a battle maniac, of course. But I'd spent the last eight years honing my ability to sound like both.
"There's only one thing to do! The Germanian people need to throw off their shackles and come together in the Empire! We must stand on our own two feet!"
That prompted murmurs of agreement from the men seated near us. My opponent was reeling now, grasping at straws as he attempted to find his equilibrium.
"You're talking about war."
I couldn't help but sneer. What kind of a fool publicly admits he doesn't have the belly for a fight? I mean, I'm all in favor of running from a fight you can't win, but I don't go around talking about it. Even if it was obvious our country would be crushed if we actually violated the treaty, there was no real risk in just talking tough in a bar. Time to bring this on home with the most absurdly over the top posturing imaginable.
"If need be," I said. "Would you rather die on your feet or live on your knees?"
A chorus of cheers and stomping feet broke out around us. I looked around, startled away from my focus on my opponent. I hadn't realized that we had such an enthusiastic audience. By the time I looked back the man I had been arguing with had left. I had other things to worry about, though.
The guy who had been up on stage had made his way to the bar. As I watched he spoke a few words with the bartender before leveling a meaningful look in my direction. Looks like I was in trouble for starting a ruckus while he was trying to talk.
Man, I did not want to celebrate my first drink by getting kicked out of a bar. Worse, what if this guy was politically connected and decided to get me into trouble with the law? If word got back to the orphanage I could wind up out on the street. What a disaster. I knew I should have kept my stupid mouth shut.
Busy with my internal recriminations, I was caught by surprise when the man I was worried about approached to within arm's length. I was even more surprised by the friendly smile on his face.
"I couldn't help but overhear your spirited conversation," he said, sliding a fresh pint of beer in front of me as he took a seat on the neighboring bar stool. "Tell me, are you interested in joining the Germanian Workers' Party?"