NATIONS OF THE WORLD
Once a significant world power, Wind Bloom has lost status over the generations thanks to a number of ineffectual rulers, but nonetheless retains much of its influence on the world stage thanks the existence of Garderobe within its borders. The previous king and queen were considered capable rulers with a chance of restoring Wind Bloom to its former glory, but died in mysterious circumstances along with the king’s Otome, Rena. Although the cause of death was ruled to be an accident, there are those who suspect that Prime Minister Sergey had something to do with it.
Since Princess Mashiro is currently underage and without an Otome, Sergey serves as the country’s regent with Aoi as a Jade in place of a contracted Meister; Mashiro is scheduled to ascend to the throne and choose an Otome on her eighteenth birthday.
A democratic nation ruled by President Yukino and her ministers, Ealis was once a close ally of Wind Bloom, although relations have cooled since Sergey became regent. Nonetheless, the country still retains close links with Garderobe, and often acts as an arbitrator for other countries’ disputes thanks to its domestic stability.
Once a comparatively insignificant power, Artai has gained influence under the ruthless command of Archduke Nagi. Although Nagi has yet to make an overt move, many suspect him of planning an aggressive agenda, and rumours persist that he has allied himself with Sergey with the intention of marrying Mashiro and gaining control of Wind Bloom. Nagi currently has no Otome, however a special training program grooms Artai girls and selects the most capable to be sent to Garderobe. Nao and Nina are the first two girls from the program to be trained as Otome.
Previous world wars have not been kind to Aswald, leaving the country poor in resources and highly dependent on trade, whilst much of the populace suffers from an untreatable degenerative disease. Under the leadership of First Minister Reito, Aswald has pinned all its hope on reviving the country through technology, specifically nanomachines.
Aswald has begun forging links with Garderobe by providing Natsuki with firearms and sending Yohko to share her medical expertise, however they are one of the few countries not to use Otome, for both moral and economic reasons.
An ambitious country ruled by High Priest Joseph Greer, Schwarz labours under an oppressive regime that has grown out of the once-benign theocracy. The church is now little more than a tool used to keep the populace in line whilst the government makes their forays into illegal technology.
Relations between Garderobe and Schwarz have always been poor, hence Schwarz has no Otome. Their Slave and Valkyrie research is an attempt to create an alternate technology that is equally versatile.
Nominally ruled by King Takumi, Zipang is one of the greatest forces in the east, but it has recently fallen prey to the conflicting agendas of ambitious ministers.
Other countries and characters will be highlighted as they appear in the story.
THE GREAT CONVENTION
After the last great world war and the subsequent rebuilding, the countries listed above all agreed to uphold the articles of this convention. Those who do not may face sanctions and retaliation from other signatories, although the enthusiasm for enforcement decreases as time passes and new political regimes comes into power.
1. Garderobe, its staff, and students, will be considered an independent state and must maintain a politically neutral stance unless directly threatened.
2. Nanotechnology can only be developed for Otome-related pursuits at Garderobe; no other country may pursue nanomachine research.
3. Any Otome contracted to a state leader or their proxy must swear loyalty to her state over any previous ties to Garderobe.
Year One: Coral
As a child, Arika Yumemiya was always enthralled by the stories her grandma told, especially the “Legend of HiME”, and even more so by those real-life fairytale women, the Otome. After Wind Bloom Otome Rena visited her village, Arika became determined to enter Garderobe, and began the long, hard process of saving up.
For Nina, her formative years were very different. Growing up in the slums of Artai, she learned how to protect herself thanks to an older girl named Nao, at least until Nao was whisked away by the Artai enforcers. A couple of years later, the same thing happens to Nina herself, and she ends up in a government sponsored education program, in which she excels in all subjects. Due to this success, she finds herself brought before Duke Nagi, who informs her that she is to be sent to Garderobe to train as an Otome.
At the beginning of the next academic year, both Nina and Arika enrol in Garderobe, along with Erstin, Tomoe and Mashiro, who is studying to be an effective ruler and Master. Nina quickly rises to the top of the class, with Erstin holding firmly in the middle, but whilst Arika can hold her own in physical education, academically she hovers somewhere near the bottom. Tomoe is managing to keep up with the class, but clearly at great cost- she continually skips out on sleep or free periods to study or train; Mashiro, meanwhile, is just uncomfortable at not being waited on hand and foot!
Around this time, Nina is also reunited with Nao, who picks Nina and Tomoe as her soeurs. Nao confides to Nina that she doesn’t care about Nagi’s sponsorship program or his plans for Artai; she plans to graduate as a Jade and use her qualification to land a highly paid job in some faraway country. Arika and Erstin become Akane’s soeurs, whilst Arika also befriends Mashiro and learns that Rena and the old king died under suspicious circumstances.
Meanwhile, in Aswald, Reito, the country’s leader, goes to visit Midori at her research lab. He explains that the doctors have told him that his degenerative muscle disease is getting worse- in another year or so he may well end up confined to a wheelchair. Midori assures him that Yohko’s work at Garderobe will soon uncover a medical application for the nanomachines, but Reito tell her that won’t come fast enough. Thousands of his people are suffering from the same disease, and in desperation he has made a risky gamble- an alliance with Schwarz.
To this end, Midori accompanies Reito to meet the ruler of Schwarz, Joseph Greer, his daughters, Miyu and Alyssa, and liaison John Smith. Greer explains that in recent years Schwarz has made a technological breakthrough and cites his daughters a living proof- both of them are cyborgs with abilities beyond those of normal humans. Schwarz is willing to hand over their research for Midori to study, but in return she must help them with a separate project- Slave research.
At Reito’s urging, Midori agrees to cooperate, and is filled in on the details of the Slave project. Each Slave Master (drawn from army conscripts, ‘volunteers’ and prisoners) is given a gem with imaging data on a particular Slave, and a “REM” hand implant that contains nanomachines but keeps them sealed away from the bloodstream. Once the nanomachines materialise the Slave, power requirements are steadily drawn from the Master’s life force until they expire.
Naturally, Midori is curious as to how Schwarz got their hands on nanomachines, and so they reveal their trump card- the captured Otome Mai Tokiha. Unfortunately, one Otome isn’t enough- Schwarz wish to capture more, and to that end, they want to send a Slave Squadron on a raid to Garderobe. With little other choice by this point, Midori agrees to assist with the project, but secretly sends a message to Yohko informing her of Schwarz’s plans.
On receipt of the information, Natsuki gathers the Garderobe staff together to decide a plan of action. Natsuki decides that a full-on confrontation with Schwarz could destabilise the world’s already tenuous political balance, and asks Sarah and Maya to infiltrate the country and destroy their Slave research facilities after gathering proof that Schwarz was breaking the Great Convention by carrying out nanomachine research. Whilst they accomplish their mission, Garderobe will prepare for the impending raid by sending the Corals and prospective Masters away on a field trip to Aries under the care of Maria and some of the lower-ranked Pearls, whilst Natsuki, Shizuru, Aoi and the most able Pearls and Jades will stay to defend the school.
Whilst the Coral and noble students are kept in the dark about the impending raid and consider the field trip just another part of the curriculum, Natsuki and Shizuru tell the Pearls exactly what is going on. They explain that although the assistance of capable Pearls would be a help on the battlefield, no one should feel obliged to put themselves in danger. Akane, Chie and a large proportion of the Pearls do indeed agree to stay behind, but Shiho and Nao decline.
With all the preparations complete, the Coral party departs for Aries. On arrival, Maria meets up with President Yukino and her Otome Haruka to update her on the situation at Garderobe. Haruka wants to assist Garderobe, but Yukino restrains her, reminding her of the political consequences. To distract Haruka from trying anything on her own, Yukino assigns her to help Maria with the field trip.
Despite their attempts to enjoy some free time sightseeing and visiting Aries’ beaches, Maria keeps the students on a tight leash. The first few days of the field trip are spent with Haruka, learning about what it means to be a meister, and also visiting the Jades that work in various capacities throughout the country. Despite having learnt about democracies in school, Mashiro is more than a little incredulous to see one operating firsthand, and declares the monarchy to be a much a better idea.
Meanwhile, with a little help from Shizuru’s underground agents, Sarah and Maya make it into Schwarz. They complete the first part of their mission by gathering evidence of Schwarz’s research and are more than a little disheartened to see that Aswald are working with them. They are also too late to prevent the departure of the raiding squad, but nonetheless resolve to destroy the research facilities.
After formulating a plan of attack, Maya and Sarah begin their assault on the Slave research centre; unfortunately, whilst they do manage to destroy a large chunk of the facility, Maya runs into Miyu before they can reach the secure area where Mai is being held. Caught off guard by Miyu’s advanced abilities, Maya is captured by Schwarz forces, and Sarah makes the difficult decision to retreat with the crucial evidence rather than attempting a rescue.
With Maya in custody, it becomes clear that Garderobe were forewarned; both Miyu and Reito advise calling off the attack, but Greer refuses- he wants definitive data on the Slaves’ performance in battle. He does, however, task a group of enforcers with finding out just who tipped Garderobe off; on hearing this, Midori decides to free Mai and Maya and flee the country with them, leaving a note behind to indicate that she acted on her own and that Aswald should not bear any of the consequences of her actions.
At Garderobe, defence preparations are complete when the Schwarz forces are sighted- a number of deceptively innocent parties of civilians overseen by John Smith. A flawless negotiator, Smith has already arranged legitimate passage through several countries, with the ease of his progress suggesting that Nagi and even Prime Minister Sergey may not be entirely unsympathetic with his aims.
After assessing their relative numbers and Midori’s information about the Slaves, Natsuki and Shizuru set up a plan of attack; instead of stretching their defences by confronting the enemy at the border of Garderobe’s ground, they will stage a number of feint attacks to drain the Slaves’ energy before initiating a full-on engagement at the main school building.
After the meeting, Akane and a delegation of Pearls confront Shizuru and Natsuki, accusing them of being too euphemistic about the Slaves’ energy source; they are, after all, linked to people. Natsuki begins to justify their actions as the course with the least overall casualties, but Shizuru cuts in; morally questionable activities are an unfortunate but integral part of life as an Otome.
Back in Aries, the Corals are facing a different challenge in the form of a survival trek through a reserve used to train Ariean military forces. The goal is simple- each pair of Corals must protect their designated ‘Master’ whilst simultaneously trying to disable one other team’s Master. Every participant must wear a ‘life counter’ that will decrease if they get attacked by an enemy, and also remotely record their success at finding food and avoiding obstacles. Based on a match-up of relative abilities, Nina and Arika are assigned to Mashiro; Nina protests this as she believes Arika and Mashiro will hold her back, but Maria tells her that this will be a good lesson in teamwork.
The trek starts badly, with Mashiro complaining sorely about the lack of creature comforts, and neither Nina nor Arika keen to listen to her grievances. Finally, tempers flare when Arika refuses to contemplate attacking other Masters, and an annoyed Nina resolves to go off and launch an offensive on her own- unfortunately, it ends badly and she loses all her ‘life points’. With Nina now out of the game, Mashiro tells Arika that she should quit too; anything that can take out the number one Coral will have no problem with a dunce like Arika. Arika refuses to give up no matter what the odds, and a reluctant Mashiro decides to think up a strategy to increase their odds.