The 7th Hostland Warriors of the 4th Hafner Mech Legion became her new home. After ten years of study, Relia Foster finally found her true calling.
Relia fit particularly well with the Hostland Warriors. While they weren't particularly elite, their main strength lay in their versatility.
The Warriors adhered to a balanced lineup of spaceborn, aerial and landbound medium mechs. They utilized a dizzying amount of mech models, only some of which had been developed in-house. The responsibility of developing the less important designs had been outsourced to loyal Hafner mech designers operating in the private market.
None of that was important to Relia. The best trait about the Warriors was that they mixed up their mech pilots between different roles and mech types, allowing them to slowly explore their best roles.
Her first few years as a lieutenant served as a honeymoon of sorts. She refined the lessons she learned in real deployments against real enemies. Though her first battle frightened her a bit, her training bit in and she managed to deal through the reality of serving in the armed forces of the Hafner Duchy.
"Mech pilots are trained to kill."
No matter who they fought, the Hostland Warriors always fought on behalf of their homes! To Relia, she fought for the welfare of her family. No matter what, as a dutiful daughter who has received the nurturing of all of Hafner, Relia eagerly wished to repay her debts.
So began her first tour of duty, where she rotated between the vastly different mech companies of the Hostland Warriors. Each mech company possessed their own unique quirks and worked with a different mix of mech models. This allowed Relia to sample different types of mechs and employ them in vastly different circumstances.
From piloting a landbound cannoneer, to intercepting a fleeing pirate in a spaceborn light skirmisher, Relia tried them all. In the end, she returned to her initial choice, and settled on her primary specialty.
"There is nothing better than to wield the sword."
There was a sense of purity in piloting a swordsman mech. Though the lack of shield hampered its defensive capability, from a different perspective it liberated the mech type from getting bogged down. The balance of speed, armor and agility of a medium swordsman mech turned them into exquisite warriors that required a lot of thought and finesse to draw out their potential.
Other mech archetypes did not require too much thinking to put them into use. A knight mech mainly put up their shields to guard their comrades from incoming fire, while a rifleman mech only needed to point the barrel of their guns in the right direction.
Not that Relia still had much to learn when it came to piloting those mech types, but many of her fellow Warriors already had them covered. What she truly craved was a challenge. Piloting a mech came easy to her, perhaps a little too easy for her tastes.
The lack of challenges unsettled her. What she needed was to find the perfect mech type that would slow her down and force her to learn the lessons that she hadn't been able to receive when she piloted a simpler mech.
The sword looked simple, but it allowed any mech to outplay their opponents. The effectiveness of swordsman mechs against ranged opponents depended on whether they could catch up to them. As for slower mechs and other melee mechs, it was fair game to Relia.
With the right techniques and a deep understanding of her mechs, Relia became a whirlwind of violence against the opponents of the Hostland Warriors. This predominantly meant fighting against Reinaldan pirates.
"Greedy and cowardly scum!"
No matter how hard the Hafner mech legions tried to guard their borders, the Reinaldans always managed to invade their stars! Often times, the Hostland Warriors arrived too late to save a vulnerable shipping convoy or an isolated planet. Each time she witnessed the aftermath of a pirate attack, she became more and more angry.
She stepped up her sword training, learning various styles and techniques from her fellow Warriors. Her mech regiment patrolled a vast stretch of stars and formed roving patrols that allowed their mech pilots to witness different sights. Each new star system opened Relia's eyes to what Hafner truly consisted of. These were the stars she was duty bound to protect!
Her sense of purpose strengthened with each new sight. She fit in well with the Hostland Warriors too, as her competence won over the skeptics who thought she was a bit too young to be an officer.
Still, nothing was ever certain when piloting mechs. Most of the times, the units Relia was a part of achieved some measure of success. Whether it was smashing apart pirate mechs or chasing them away, the Hostland Warriors always caused the pirates to scatter in fear.
That was until her patrol unit met a large pirate gathering composed of over four spaceborn mech companies.
Compared to the two mech companies that the Hostland Warriors sent out to their location, they were woefully outnumbered!
The pirates smelled blood and immediately moved to gang up on them! Relia fought with vim and fury in her spaceborn swordsman mech. Even as her fellow Warriors fell under the onslaught, she found a fire within herself that allowed her mech to move a little faster and hit a little harder.
"Sic semper pirata!"
This tiny difference meant everything to her, and she started to chop a succession of pirate mechs in rapid tempo. She felled so many pirates that day that she single-handedly drove them off from continuing the fight!
The loss of so many mech pilots devastated the Hostland Warriors, though. Relia didn't feel as if she achieved a victory. Nevertheless, the Warriors celebrated her prowess, and due to an opportune vacancy, even managed to push her into becoming a captain.
Ever since then, Relia sometimes called back to her amazing back then. Whenever she found herself in a challenging situation, she drew upon some hidden strength and burst out with an amazing level of performance.
For a long time, Relia thought that she was drawing upon feelings of vengeance and righteous retribution.
Yet the Hostland Warriors began to grow suspicious. When they activated all of their sensors in the next big fight, the truth astounded every Warrior, including Relia!
It turned out that she had poked a tiny hole into the barrier that barred her way from becoming something greater!
"Captain Foster, you're an expert candidate!"
Even though Relia was blessed with A grade genetic aptitude, she had never dared to dream that she would be able to advance into an expert pilot. Every expert was a transcendent figure among them. They were more than human and could even be said to have stepped on the path of godhood!
For all of those scientists to claim that Relia had the potential to join their ranks simply made her silly. How could she be so blessed? Had she saved an entire planet from annihilation in her past life?
When the Warriors offered to sponsor her entry into an elite training camp meant to push promising mech pilots into breaking through the barrier, Relia tentatively accepted this opportunity.
"At my current state, I won't be able to take revenge against every pirate. Once I become a genuine expert, it will be a different story."
As for her automatic elevation to the noble rank of baron, Relia didn't care. Mundane trappings ceased to spark her interest, though she faintly thought that she would be able to give her family an even better life.
Training Camp Quistas brought her away from the war against pirates, which she initially hated. What was the use of battling a bunch of giant tigers and other animals when there were pirates out there that needed to be stopped?
Relia quickly learned that the training camp was not as easy as she thought. They developed a rigorous training program that could push the limits of everyone who participated. Even expert candidates like her couldn't breeze through the program without effort!
"There are so many monsters on this planet!"
From reptiles to mammals to bizarre alien creatures that resembled crystals and living oozes, Relia fought against numerous mech-sized beasts every day. Sometimes she travelled in a squad, but most of the time the training camp had sent her out alone.
Only when she was alone would she face a sufficient challenge.
Due to genetic programming, adult monsters possessed a grouping instinct where they often gathered together in small gatherings. Against a standard mech squad, such a group of monsters could be deadly in the wrong circumstances.
Against a single expert candidate, this group of monsters pressured her like nothing she had experienced before. Even the fight that formed the catalyst to the transformation of her life phase, withstanding an onslaught of monster attacks was supremely challenging for her. These creatures weren't stupid and utilized rudimentary pack tactics against a lone mech.
Each battle seemed to be a struggle between life and death. She drew out her potential in each and every hard fought battle, of which there was many in her time on the Kamwin continent.
"What does not kill me makes me stronger."
Though she believed that the training camp wouldn't let her die against a bunch of overgrown beasts, she still experienced a lot of stimulation during her fights. Each time she survived another fight, it became a little easier to enter into that particular state of mind where all of her capabilities received a comprehensive boost.
"It's taking less and less effort to enter my super mode!"
Relia guessed that once she reached the point where she could sustain her so-called super mode indefinitely, she had successfully advanced to expert pilot!
According to her own judgement, she was five or six months away from that point. Though the threat from the monsters had diminished a little, she still experienced enough harvests to continue this pattern of training.
That was until foreigners invaded the Nova Migolatus System!
"Brighters are coming! The Flagrant Vandals have come to burn down the entire system!"
The Flagrant Vandals had become the entire kingdom's latest bogeymen. Their daring assault on the Detemen System and their successes in beating back the Calico Dancer Bats and Frosty Meteors had given them a formidable reputation! Vile, greedy and unprincipled, this raiding regiment was nothing different from a pirate gang!
Even as everyone in the training camp panicked, Relia instead relished an opportunity to fight against the famed Vandals.
"You're in danger, Captain Foster! Word has come that they are specifically here to deal with you!"
The camp commander prioritized the safety of their most promising seed over everything else. Against her judgement, Relia had been ordered to board her mech and run as far away as possible!
It was humiliating, yet orders were orders!
She had witnessed the events that followed after. From the unscrupulous use of artificial meteorites, to the landing of the Vandal landbound forces, Relia witnessed it all through her connection with the underground communication network.
The Vandals proved more competent than Hafner had thought. They somehow sniffed out the right direction of Relia's retreat, and sent out their fastest in pursuit.
Since Relia piloted a medium swordsman mech, she would never be able to outrun the hounds. In addition, her flight had also been severely hampered by the need to erase all of their traces. If not for that, then her head start would have been more substantial!
Still, the way the Vandals honed in the right direction was suspiciously uncanny. Was there a spy among her escorts?
It didn't matter. Spy or not, she would use her strength to smash their ambitions!
"Get ready to fight! Sic semper pirata!"
"Sic semper pirata!"
The first skirmish unfolded in a fury. The overeager mech pilots of the scout mechs that hounded her squad couldn't help but take their first bite. Their skirmishers employed hit-and-run attacks, relying on their excellent mobility to remain out of reach.
"You're not the only one who can sprint!"
Unfortunately, Relia's swordsman mech was capable of exerting a large amount of power in very short bursts! The legs of her mechs exploded into action, enabling her to close the distance in rapid tempo. Her mech instantly performed three slashes in succession as it dashed through the ranks of the Vandal mechs.
Three of their mechs instantly collapsed to the ground, each of them bearing fatal sword wounds!
"My sword will run red with Brighter blood! Sic semper pirata!"
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