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Königreich Rhodellin - Rhodellia


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History:

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The Late Colonial Period (17th century)
It was the turn of the 17th century. The Rhodellian Colonies were growing richer and larger than ever before. Now industrial powerhouses in their own right, the Colonies were exporting all sorts of goods back home to Derthalen. Farms supplied the homeland with shiploads of wheat, corn, and potatoes. Plantations produced beet sugar, tobacco, and cotton. Artisan guilds manufactured swords, armour, muskets, cannons, and warships to feed the Derthaler war machine. Meanwhile, the Colonies pushed their own aggressive expansionism to new heights; through the power of gunpowder and cold steel, generations of well-armed pioneers had personally seen to the ‘physical removal’ of most hostile tribes from their own lands. They tamed the wild frontier into a countryside of agriculture and industry. It was hard to imagine that, mere decades before, natives and settlers waged bitter wars of extermination for the exact same soil. Waves of pioneers continued to settle further and further inland. The pioneers eventually split off from the Coastal Colonies, forming the Inland Colonies of Westfalen and Ostmarken. The Coastal Colonies would continue their own territorial growths further along the Rhodellian coastline. Derthaler colonial expansion continued until 1608, when Derthalen finally ran out of ‘unclaimed’ land to grab. Rather than scattered, primitive tribes, on all sides the colonists now faced down the borders of actual countries. Things would be different from here on out.

Friendship ended with Kimsantinsuyu 

Spoiler

Derthalen came as both a blessing and a curse for the indigenous countries of Rhodellia. On one hand, these foreign colonisers spread the Renaissance and exported up-to-date firearms. On the other, the ‘Pale Demons’ fought endless wars to drive out their tribal neighbours. The colonisers forced untold thousands natives from their homes. Waves of bitter and mentally-scarred refugees would flee into neighbouring countries, whether their new hosts wanted them or not.

Though other countries shared the same struggle, it was the Valley Kingdom who took the brunt of the refugee crisis. Throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries, many Woodland and Great Plains tribes escaped the Derthaler hell march by fleeing up the Westfluss and Ostfluss rivers. By 1541 - barely 50 years after Martin Waldseemüller first opened up Rhodellia to colonisation - the colonists were already sending enough refugees upstream to spawn dozens of tent cities. Tens of thousands of people, hundreds of different Woodland tribes, and dozens of radically different cultures and languages were struggling out there, forced into an uneasy 'co-existence'. Food supplies dwindled. Disease reached epidemic levels. Violence erupted between feuding rivals. Chaos reigned. Relief came with the outbreak of the Great Plains War in 1542; tribes united and emptied their entire camps for one last shot to drive out the Pale Demon. The Valley Kingdom thought that this would be the end of their refugee troubles. It was not. Walthari of the Wind lost the Great Plains War in 1550. Lajos’ Rebellion gave some hope, but even his bid would finally fail in 1571. Not only were the Woodland tribes returning to the Valley Kingdom’s borders, but this time the Plains tribes were joining them too. Even worse, the Derthaler were on the way as well; it was only a matter of time until Derthalen’s pioneers would reach the border. If the Valley Kingdom’s guards didn’t let the refugees into their kingdom, then the refugees were guaranteed to try and fight their way in. 

In the Summer February 1572, a rumour began spreading across the tent cities that someone heard gunfire in the distance. Nobody, not even hunters, claimed responsibility for the sounds. Everyone jumped to one conclusion: the Pale Demons had finally come for them. All hell broke loose in the refugee camps. Desperate warriors overwhelmed the border guards, stormed outposts, and besieged the great fortresses of the Westfluss and Ostfluss Bottlenecks. The floodgates had opened for an invasion. A near-endless tide of refugees flowed across the opened border, into the Westfluss and Ostfluss river valleys. Most refugees couldn’t speak the local languages; most first-generation refugees had to rely on travellers, merchants, and other refugees who could. ‘Westfluss Rhodellian’ and ‘Ostfluss Rhodellian’ were the two languages adopted as lingua francas for traders operating along Rhodellia's two largest rivers, so most refugees tried to learn one of the languages and pass the knowledge to their children. Most refugees were happy to integrate and live peacefully. Some weren’t, and had to be dealt with. The first month of the ‘invasion’ saw violence, arson, and looting break out in unfortified rural towns and villages near the border. Marcher lords summoned their retainers and raised levies to contain the situation. Cavalry scoured the countryside, hunting down roaming bands of refugees that turned to banditry. Hundreds were killed before the violence could subside. 

Most denizens of the Valley Kingdom, especially those who lived close to the border, were initially distrustful of the refugees. After all, they overran the border in a literal invasion of the country. However, all that changed when everyone found out what started the refugee crisis in the first place. Everyone knew the legend of the ‘Pale Demon’, of white, foreign devils who came from across the sea, spreading war and plague to all the land. Most people felt suspicious about the Derthaler from the start, but at least these foreigners were happy to do business. Though the Derthaler never started a plague for some reason, - with all the excruciatingly detailed first person accounts flooding in about the Colonies’ exploits in the past century - no sane person could deny that war was the Derthaler’s biggest export. Time would only affirm this. Decades passed. Caravan after caravan of traumatised and vengeful refugees continued to flee into the Valley Kingdom. All of them were escaping the pale demons seizing their lands in a never-ending war of conquest. Derthalen’s aggressive expansion had gone out of control.

By 1608, Derthalen had a large presence at the Valley Kingdom’s border. The pioneers built heavily-fortified towns, villages, and trade posts. They also constructed these strange yet intricate star-shaped fortresses. Even more concerning was how practically everyone openly carried a sword or firearm in case hostile tribes raided them. If the Valley Kingdom’s border guards didn’t know any better, they’d have mistaken the settlers for an invasion force. However, to the lords governing the border marches, the Derthaler were not just invaders, but the biggest threat to their kingdom’s entire existence. It was hard to imagine that, a hundred years ago, the Derthaler were just eccentric-sounding, beer-obsessed foreigners that nobody took seriously. Now, the Derthaler warmongers had overstayed their welcome. Nobles from across the kingdom called on their ruler, King Manco III, to take the initiative and declare war on the pale demons before they could grow too strong for containment.

Manco III weighed up the situation. Initially, the Rhodellian Colonies made for profitable trade partners. The Valley Kingdom’s biggest exports to the Derthaler were black powder and metal ores. In exchange, the Derthaler exported up-to-date arquebuses, muskets, cannons, and munitions and plate armour. As of the 1600s, this economic interdependence was disappearing. The Derthaler had plenty of their own powder mills on the Westfluss, Ostfluss, and their many distributary rivers. As more and more tribal enemies were expelled into the Valley Kingdom, the demand for gunpowder declined, and so did the Derthaler’s need to import it from foreign sources. However, the Derthaler still relied on the Valley Kingdom for the majority of its iron ore. Tariffs on ores and taxing arms and armour sales (both exports abroad and internal sales) were some of the Colonies’ most important sources of income needed to fund their infrastructure, military, and expansion projects. Meanwhile, a war would cut off the Valley Kingdom’s imports of Derthaler weapons and armour. The Valley Kingdom’s own artisans couldn’t reverse-engineer Derthaler technology to make their own superior home brands; the Derthaler artisan guilds fiercely guarded the secrets to their metallurgy, metalworking techniques, and military engineering to keep a competitive edge over neighbouring countries. Cancelling trade with the Derthaler meant having to use outdated weapons. The kingdom already had enough enemies breathing down its neck. Why add another to the list, especially when trade with the Derthaler gave them a competitive edge against neighbouring rivals? A war would be disastrous for both sides. And so, Manco III commanded to his vassals that the Valley Kingdom was not going to pick a fight with Derthalen.

When the King turned them down, the lords instead found support in the King’s eldest son, Prince Túpac. Túpac was a progressive: he believed that the continent’s problems could only be resolved if its native countries and peoples rose up to drive out all foreign colonisers. ‘These white men are dangerous’, he would often tell people. The Derthaler, even if they did have their benefits, were no exception: they were ‘Savages. Barely even human’. He sympathised with the plight of refugees stuck in his country. They lost everything. The pale demons, in their bottomless greed, stole everything they had. The refugees didn't deserve their fates. So that future generations may not suffer the same, foreign imperialism had to be stopped.

On October 3, 1609, Manco III ‘died in his sleep’ mere days after his proclamation that he wasn’t going to make an enemy out of Derthalen. Túpac was next in line for the throne; his coronation took place in the Summer of January 5, 1610, making him King Túpac V. Túpac and his generals immediately began planning an invasion of the Derthaler Colonies. He began recruiting, training, and arming an unusually large number of refugees with pikes and imported arquebuses. Derthaler-aligned spies sent word of this training programme back to the Colonies. Shocked, the colonial governors all signed a petition to Túpac demanding that he cease building a new army out of refugees. He declined. By this point, Túpac’s intentions were obvious. The Colonies began a recruitment drive, reforming their militias into actual armies. Arms and armour exports intended for the Valley Kingdom consumer base were halted; smiths, gunsmiths, and merchants that formerly catered to the Valley Kingdom immediately started making the switch to find buyers in other states around Aurelia, Alharu, and Marenesia. The Valley Kingdom predictably cut their ore exports, driving up the prices of iron, steel, and associated products. Stuff was about to go down, and everyone felt it.

The situation grew even tenser. In the Summer of December 28, 1609, the military leaderships of all the Rhodellian Colonies met in Friedrichstadt to discuss a war plan. War with Kimsantinsuyu, or the Talreich (Valley Kingdom) as the Derthaler called it, was inevitable. It would be their first conflict against a fully-fledged Native Rhodellian nation.

The New Rhodellian Army

Spoiler

Related imageAt this time, the Imperial Army of Derthalen had no presence in the Colonies. All units were deployed on the other side of the world, fighting some war in Argis. No support could be expected from Derthalen; the Colonies had to fend for themselves. And so, rather than wait for one that wouldn’t arrive, the Colonies would form their own independent army. They wouldn’t just band their myriad Colonial Militias together in some ‘coalition of chaos’, but create a distinct, single, and united organisation. Even more, its soldiers would not disband at the end of a campaign, neither would they disband for harvesting and planting seasons. This would be a volunteer standing army. In the Autumn of May 5, 1610, the Colonies of Friedrichstadt, Janbourg, Grauhagen, Rabesheim, Westfalen, and Ostmarken met at the First Rhodellian Congress in Friedrichstadt. After a series of talks, they worked together to establish the New Rhodellian Army. The first Commander-in-Chief to be appointed was Herrick Seidel, a battle-scarred veteran of the Westfalen Colonial Militia. A progressive ‘New Guard’ of military theorists and intellectuals, including Rudolf Jäger and Willem von Strauß, also played a large role in shaping the New Rhodellian Army into an innovative fighting force.

The New Rhodellian Army sought to embody the ‘military revolution’. It organised its troops into regiments, subdivided into companies, and split into platoons. There would be an increased number of junior officers and subofficers. That made it easier to manage the smaller unit sizes and link enlisted soldiers to army commanders. It built up an advanced administrative and bureaucratic apparatus to raise and manage a massive number of troops. It cooperated with artisan guilds to achieve peak standardisation: in service, there were was one length of pike, one calibre of musket, one calibre of falconet, one calibre of demi-cannon, one calibre of culverin, one calibre of generic cannon, and one calibre of mortar. Military treasuries were set up, and the original ‘Bank of Rhodellia’ was founded on September 19, 1610, to help finance the growing military.

If the Colonies didn’t have quantity on their side, then they’d be damned if quality wasn’t. The soldiers of the New Rhodellian Army would be rigorously trained to such a high standard that they would outclass not just the warriors of their native neighbours, but the soldiers of the Imperial Army too. Officer schools were set up with codified systems of meritocracy and a curriculum dedicated to the scientific study of warfighting. Purchases of commission were abolished. Any colonial citizen, regardless of ethnicity or social class, could take a formal examination to be admitted. Training regimes for enlisted men were standardised through mass-printed training manuals utilising both words and detailed illustrations. Published in 1611, the step-by-step ‘Arms drill with musket and pike’ authored by Ardal Meier instructed readers through 32 positions for the pike and 42 positions for the musket. Recruits would be sent to active garrisons for approximately one year to train in arms drill and combat discipline. In practice, the vast majority of recruits were already proficient with firearms. Plinking was the average colonist’s favourite past-time, with many being avid shooters since childhood. Furthermore, practically every village, town, and city held popular marksmanship competitions called ‘Schützenfests’. Trainers didn’t see a point to teaching recruits what they already knew. This allowed more time for recruits to study military theory and practice formations. They would master the ‘tercio’ and ‘column’ formations used by the Imperial Army. They would master ‘countermarch’ and the ‘line’ formations advocated by the latest generation of military theorists. They would also not forget the lessons learned throughout Derthalen’s colonisation of Rhodellia: the ‘skulking way of war’ would remain a pillar of the Colonies’ military doctrine. The concepts of cover, concealment, mobility, marksmanship, and unconventional tactics - adapted from Native Rhodellian warfare - were nowhere near forgotten. The ‘skirmish order’ and ‘square’ formations used by colonial militias were still taught. Born from the unique circumstances of the Rhodellian Colonies, the colonial soldier would be a force unlike any other.

The New Rhodellian Army demanded much from its recruits. However, those demands were not really ‘unreasonable’, even for the times. The Colonies’ enjoyed some of the highest literacy rates on Eurth. Ever since the Derthaler first started colonising Rhodellia, practically the only demographics of people allowed (and willing) to settle there were free citizens, burghers, and minor nobles. Most of them were educated to varying degrees, but for all intents and purposes they were literate. By the 1510s, each Colony had laws in place requiring parents to teach their children to read and write to a practical standard. By the 1550s, the vast majority of children - even those living out on the frontier - had access to a school of some sort. These ranged from private schools (either crowdfunded by the local community or financed by a wealthy sponsor), to public schools funded by a Colony’s government, to religious schools run by the Ecclesiarchy. Even tribal Native Rhodellians sent their kids to school; special Ecclesiarchy-run institutions existed to integrate native children into Derthaler colonial society, allowing them to live more prosperous lives than their parents. Besides that, the Ecclesiarchy still continued to kidnap, indoctrinate, and educate ‘stolen generations’ of Native Rhodellian children to punish hostile or rebellious tribes. Once primary and secondary educations were completed, people could then pay to study at one of many vocational schools, colleges, and universities. This allowed the New Rhodellian Army to innovate faster and harder than many of its contemporaries.

In the present day, the Rhodellian Wehrmacht traces direct descent to the New Rhodellian Army. ‘Armed Forces Day’ is celebrated annually on May 5.

The First Valley War, and the Battle of The Bottleneck

Spoiler

As of the 1615 census, the Colonies’ had a population of 885,871 souls. Compare that to Talreich’s estimated population of 8 million. The Talreichers outnumbered the Derthaler nine to to one. However, war was not a contest of who had the biggest population, but a contest to see who was better at mobilising their population to fight a war. The Colonies had the benefit of modern administration, logistics, and finance. They could safely afford to mobilise roughly 5% of their population without negative repercussions on their economies. Meanwhile, Talreich was a feudal monarchy. Historical data showed that, on average, a feudal nation that raised armies from vassals, retainers, and levies could only mobilise up to 1.2% of its population for a war. The Colonies could theoretically raise up to 45,000 men, whereas Talreich could theoretically raise up to 96,000 men. The 52,000-man gap was massive for sure, but not unmanageable. There were still ways to close the gap, or at least make up for it.

Seidel gave out a mobilisation order on September 27, 1615, not long after he got the results for the 1615 census. He set a target size of 45,000 troops. Heralds went around the cities, towns, and villages, shouting ‘The Colonies are in danger!’. By 1615, wars against hostile native tribes were a thing of the past. The last ‘big’ war was Lajos’ Rebellion, which ended over forty years ago. Most young pioneers of the early 17th century had never experienced so much as a ‘raid’ in their lives. Unlike their parents or grandparents, they didn’t know the adrenaline rush of battle. They didn’t know the thrill of struggling to reload their muskets while a tattooed warrior charged to scalp them with a tomahawk. They didn’t know the joy of gunning down their first assailant - some unknown native’s father, brother, son, husband, or lover - and laughing at his corpse. They didn’t know the excitement of waiting for the next raid, another legal and socially-acceptable chance to murder someone in cold blood and brag about it. They didn’t know the satisfaction of having the highest kill count in the entire settlement. Those were good days to live in, and the newest generation of pioneers was born too late to enjoy them. Without stuff to kill every now and then, life on the increasingly peaceful frontier was getting boring and monotonous. The New Rhodellian Army offered the excitement they were missing. Mobs of young Derthaler and Native Rhodellian men - and more than a few women - swarmed every recruitment office. So many people queued up to enlist that Seidel had to form a distinct reserve force to supplement the regular army.

Meanwhile, Seidel received a response to his latest request for Imperial Army reinforcements. The Emperor still couldn’t reinforce the Colonies; he needed all the troops he could get in Argis. Seidel had been getting for the same response from the Imperial Senate for the past five years. This was getting old. However, something was different this time around: for compensation, the Colonies had been granted permission to appeal to other countries to loan their soldiers. And appeal the Colonies did: appeals flew out in all directions, but only one country answered: Kirvina. Kirvina was generous enough to rent out 15,000 of its own troops, led by a seasoned general called Florian Unbáram. With this, the Colonies now had a total of 60,000 troops to campaign with.

60,000 troops was more than enough to invade Talreich, crush its armies, and force profitable terms of surrender. Seidel began his preparations in earnest. The military campaign was probably going to take five years to complete. And so, the New Rhodellian Army secured the appropriate loans from the Bank of Rhodellia to finance it. Massive quantities of troops and supplies were transported up the Westfluss and Ostfluss rivers to designated staging areas near Talreich’s border. Artillery pieces that were too heavy for river transit made it to the border via the Colonies’ highway and military road network. The Colonies sent an ultimatum to King Túpac V. They ordered Túpac to cease his trade embargo and pay reparations for six years’ worth of lost revenues. In a move that surprised no one, Túpac declined. In the Summer of December 29, 1616, the Colonies declared war on Talreich. With no other appropriate casus belli, the ‘official’ reason stated for declaring war was that the Talreichers were heathens who did not conform to Derthalen’s atheistic Imperial Truth. And so began the First Valley War.

Talreich could be divided into three main regions. The first two, Ika and Chincha, were situated in the Westfluss river valley. The third, Anqash, encompassed the entire Ostfluss river valley. The Ika region held Talreich’s political capital (also called Ika), and was situated in the upper half of the Westfluss river valley. Getting to Ika meant having to pass through the Chincha region, which comprised the valley’s lower half. Anqash didn’t need much attention; any Talreicher strategic flanking manoeuvres coming from the Ostfluss river valley would be blocked immediately by Derthaler bastion forts. The plan was to defeat the Talreicher army, capture the capital, and occupy lots of land in the Chincha and lower Anqash regions. At the negotiating table, the Derthaler could then use their newly-acquired bargaining chips to annex all Talreicher provinces around the entrances of both the Westfluss and Ostfluss river valleys. Even more, they could extort the kingdom for most if not all of its treasury.

The Colonial forces divided themselves into three groups. The first group, the Army of the Westfluss, had 30,000 troops under General Bannan von Kleist. Its task was to spearhead the invasion of Talreich and beeline towards the capital. The second group, 15,000 Kirvinska troops under General Florian Unbáram, would act as support. Their goal was to eliminate stragglers and secure the Chincha region while Kleist pushed into Ika. The third group, the Army of the Ostfluss under General Garvyn Sommer, had 15,000 troops. Its objectives were to invade Talreich from the Ostfluss river valley, discouraging the eastern Talreicher lords within it from crossing the central highlands to bolster friendly forces in the Westfluss river valley.

The invasion of Talreich took place on January 1, 1617. Four medieval fortresses stood guard over the bottleneck-like entrances to the Westfluss and Ostfluss river valleys. For centuries, their walls had halted numerous invasions in their tracks. No rival of Talreich had ever breached them. Derthaler engineers sized up the fortresses. They were centuries old, designed well before the age of gunpowder. Nevertheless, engineers of either Argic or Europan origin were definitely involved in the design and construction process. Each fortress was surrounded by artificial moats created by water redirected from the closest river. Behind those were two concentric layers of tall curtain walls and round towers. Archers had plenty of arrow slits to shoot from, but there were a few bigger-than-usual windows that seemed to house stationary cannons. The main entrances were multiple gatehouses bolstered by drawbridges and barbicans. At the centre of each fortress was a grand keep. Even if these fortresses were outdated, it was still suicidal to assault them with the fortifications still intact. Trying to starve out the defenders was impractical too, as they could be safely resupplied via river. If the fortresses could not be captured, then they had to be destroyed. 

Generals Kleist, Sommer, and Unbáram set up their own camps, fortifying them with ditches, stakes, trenches, and palisade walls. With that done, they began encircling the Talreicher border fortresses the best they could. Newer positions were also heavily-fortified with stakes, ditches, stockades, trenches, and even traps in preparation to repel an enemy relief force. Engineers started work on massive ports on the banks of the Westfluss and Ostfluss rivers to better supply the besieging armies. Expansive depots and warehouses were made to stockpile provisions and ammunition. Dry storages were built to shield muskets and powder from rainfall. Troops that didn’t bring their own tents with them started building wooden shelters. Some started building log cabins, guard towers, and even wooden castles out of boredom. Entrepreneuring merchants, pioneers, artisans, and prostitutes who weren’t even there for the initial invasion began showing up to service the troops. With no apparent issue from either party, even villagers from surrounding Talreicher villages started doing business with the invaders. It looked to the fortress defenders as if the tens of thousands of enemy troops and camp followers invading them were building new cities from the ground up. They weren’t wrong. As all of this was going on, the artillerymen were busy doing some military landscaping and setting up their cannons and logistics for a heavy bombardment. On January 3, all commanders finally commenced their artillery barrages. 

Meanwhile, King Túpac V summoned an emergency war council. The pale demons were at their doorstep. Not only that, but the Derthaler had somehow raised a bigger and more professional army than they thought was possible for their colonial population. Nevertheless, they had to defeat the enemy; the survival of the kingdom depended on it. If the kingdom was to lose territory this war, especially the strategic border provinces of the Chincha and Anqash regions, then there was nothing stopping the Derthaler from gradually annexing the rest of the kingdom in future wars. If his own kingdom, Kimsantinsuyu, could fall to foreign imperialism, so could other nations. The very freedom of all the continent’s indigenous peoples was at stake here. And so, Túpac called on his lords to cancel their summer planting seasons. Every retainer. Every militia. Every levy. They were going to throw the full might of the kingdom into a single all-or-nothing counter-offensive to drive out the pale demons, once and for all.

Riders sped to every corner of the kingdom. Within a month, the King, his lords, and numerous mercenary companies had collectively assembled 60,000 men in the royal capital of Ika. Of all the lords present, none came from the Ostfluss river valley. The Anqash lords were too busy protecting their own fiefdoms from the Derthaler ‘Army of the Ostfluss’ to answer their king’s call to muster. This enraged Túpac. Did these eastern lords not see the bigger picture? Were they really so disloyal to The Great Cause as to doom the whole continent to foreign slavery with their selfishness? Nevertheless, he had no choice but to make-do with the forces he currently had. He would deal the eastern lords later.

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Túpac left Ika on February 4. Even by Derthaler standards, Kimsantinsuyu’s sophisticated network of roads and highways were marvels of engineering. It wouldn’t take long for Túpac’s army, even with its massive size and logistical trail, to reach the frontlines. A week into the march, they began hearing the boom of Derthaler artillery. Man-made thunder lit up the horizon. Enemy cannons drummed in the distance. Lots of them. At night, many would turn in their sleep, their eyes wide open, and hands cupped around their ears. The roars would only grow louder, brighter, and more intense the closer they marched to the frontlines.

On February 13, Túpac’s heart collapsed. The grand fortresses of the Westfluss Bottleneck, the great bastions that have protected Kimsantinsuyu for centuries, lay in ruins. Smoke rose from charred debris. Not a single wall or tower was left standing. Even the great keeps had crumbled away. If Derthaler cannon reduced the kingdom’s two strongest fortresses to nothing, what did they do to the garrisons manning them? His question would be answered. A breathless scout alerted him: a pale band of ‘ghosts’, wearing the dress and colours of his kingdom’s warriors, were heading towards the camp! As Túpac saw, they were not ghosts, but alive. However, to call them ‘alive’ was not entirely accurate… Túpac rushed to receive them. They did the best they could to delay the enemy. He saw the ruins. These men went through hell, and survived. However, Túpac noticed something… ‘off’... about this silent procession: they didn’t march out with pride for having survived their ordeals, but limped and swayed like a breeze could knock them down. A month of ceaseless cannonades had reduced them to sleepless, hollow husks. Their bandages soaked in red. Many had lost their limbs. Their eyes stared for a thousand yards. Corpses convulsed on stretchers, crying, kicking, and screaming as if possessed by demons. But, from these empty shells, what souls were there to possess? The pale demons of old legends were real, and now it was their turn to face them. Few slept well that night.

On the morning of February 14, Túpac and his generals finished reviewing maps and reconnaissance reports of the battlefield. The envoy he sent earlier at dawn returned with news that neither the Derthaler nor their Kirvinska and Native Rhodellian allies had any intent of surrendering. There was definitely going to be a battle. His army went about their usual pre-battle routine. They marched around in formation, taunting and parading to the entrenched enemy forces on both sides of the Westfluss river. Flaunting their discipline and superior numbers usually worked on lesser nations and hostile tribes. However, rather than flee in terror, the enemy smiled: they whistled, applauded, and... laughed... How dare they. For mocking Kimsantinsuyu’s traditions and warriors, the colonisers had nothing but hell to pay. Túpac had to go on the offensive. He had to avenge his people, and get justice for all the suffering foreign imperialism has wrought upon the continent.

He split his forces to fight against the two separate fronts presented to him; the enemy was also split, with one force on either side of the river. 40,000 men would crush the Derthaler colonisers on the East Bank. Túpac would personally command this force. Meanwhile, 20,000 men would be sent across the river, where they were to crush the Kirvinska colonisers on the West Bank. He sent one of his most senior generals to lead that force. They estimated that the Derthaler and Kirvinska totalled 20,000 to 30,000 troops, judging from what he, his generals, and their scouts could observe with the naked eye. Kimsantinsuyu possessed the clear numerical advantage.

The Battle of The Bottleneck commenced on the eastern front. Túpac set up his artillery to soften up the enemy defenses and create openings for friendly infantry and cavalry to exploit. The cannons moved into position. Cannonade after cannonade was fired into the Derthaler lines, which appeared to be at least three layers of ditches, stakes, stockades, palisades, and trenches. 

At the same time, the Derthaler weren’t just going to let the Talreichers hammer away at their positions. Unlike their adversary, the Derthaler had a trick up their sleeve: telescopes. Practical telescopes had only just been invented in the previous decade. Theorists within the New Rhodellian Army, particularly Rudolf Jäger, were quick to see their potential in military applications. Telescopes allowed Derthaler artillery officers to clearly observe the Talreicher artillery positions (which were uncamouflaged and exposed in the open field) and see where their shots were landing. General Kleist then ordered his long-range culverins to perform what may have been the first recorded example of deliberate counter-battery fire.Related image

Túpac’s cannons were now getting bombarded themselves. Neither him, his scouts, or his artillery crews could pinpoint the positions of the Derthaler artillery. They couldn’t shoot back. At the very least, none of the enemy’s shots were hitting them; a smoothbore cannon could only be so accurate at extreme ranges. However, the risk of taking a direct hit was still there. The more time they allowed the Derthaler artillery to play trial-and-error and correct their aim, the higher that risk became. Within the next hour, a Derthaler cannonball came dangerously close to striking one of Túpac’s artillery crews. Good cannons, and well-educated recruits to man them, were very difficult to come by. Unwilling to lose a single one, Túpac withdrew his artillerymen, cutting his bombardment short.

Túpac’s scouts then did a new assessment of the Derthaler defenses. They reported breaches on the left flank, centre, and right flank. The damage on the left flank appeared to be the most severe. However, they had no information on how many enemies their artillery managed to kill before withdrawing. Nevertheless, Túpac found his opening.

His kingdom’s military doctrine centred on the decisive application of overwhelming force. Three columns would advance in ‘oblique order’, concentrating the most force on the left flank. 6,000 infantry would advance on the right flank, by the east bank of the (Westfluss) river. 6,000 infantry would advance down the centre. These would fix most of the enemy in place while 9,000 infantry advanced on the left flank, towards the biggest breach created by the artillery. The attack would be led by General Ukumari, an old veteran who had spent the prime years of his life conquering the Ostfluss river valley for King Manco  III.

The battlefield consisted of relatively flat farmlands, some terraces, some patches of leftover forests, and the occasional hamlet and village (all of which had been abandoned before the battle). The only things out of place were these large piles of stone debris (probably from the nearby fortress ruins) scattered around. Túpac watched this one lead column moving up on the left flank; it was about to march past one of the piles. The pile exploded. Shrapnel flew in all directions, tearing into densely-packed formations of men. They killed, maimed, and knocked down hundreds in nearby columns. From that point, Túpac didn’t have to tell his troops to avoid the gunpowder-rigged debris piles. Officers then started leading their troops through the gaps between the piles, maintaining safe-looking distances. Then the ground exploded beneath them, killing many more unsuspecting warriors in massive blasts of smoke and fire. All over the battlefield, explosions were decimating his infantry columns. Not only were the piles set to explode, but the grass too? Nevertheless, Túpac’s troops were highly disciplined soldiers. The survivors would get back into formation, close the gaps, and carry on marching.  They triggered even more explosions the further they went. Barely a few hours into the battle, and some nefarious weapon - an unseen weapon that killed both indiscriminately and without honour - had slaughtered well over a thousand of Túpac’s men. Historians attribute these explosions to the ‘Fladdermine’, an early tripwire-activated fougasse-type landmine invented by a Derthaler military engineer called Samuel Zimmerman.

Ukumari looked left, right, and over his shoulder. Even if Derthaler bombs were decimating his force, over 18,000 men still marched beside him. He could easily storm a stone fortress with this many soldiers. Could wooden barricades and fieldworks really stop him?  He’d take heavy casualties for sure, but would he lose? Unlikely.

Most of Ukumari’s troops were melee specialists. They wielded shields, spears, axes, and maces. Besides that, they were supported by plenty of archers and arquebusiers. All of them, even the levies, were adept warriors who spent years learning their craft. The Derthalers’ well-armoured pikemen and halberdiers were problems, yes, but scout reports (dated from the beginning of the Derthaler invasion) revealed that melee specialists only made up a minority of Derthaler forces; musketeers comprised the vast majority of Derthaler troops. Compared to his warriors, Derthaler musketeers barely trained with their swords and axes. That was because the musketeers weren’t supposed to get into melee anyway. Once the pikemen were overwhelmed and wiped out, the musketeers were on their own. Their muskets took between 15 and 20 seconds to reload. In the confines of the trenches, that was more than enough time for a warrior to close the gap; the Derthalers’ technological superiority would mean nothing. They’d be obliterated in hand-to-hand combat. The moment the battle turned into a melee with the musketeers, victory was certain. Therefore, all Ukumari had to do was achieve a breakthrough in one area, funnel most of his units through it, infiltrate the enemy trenches, and then envelop and overwhelm the rest of the defenses in a massive flanking manoeuvre. Ukumari looked ahead. Suddenly, red flashes blinked across the horizon. The sky cracked with thunder. The ground erupted. Blood flew in all directions. 

Smiling with glee, Kleist chuckled at the carnage through his spyglass. A monsoon of solid shot tore through the densely-packed enemy formations… literally. Each cannonball would punch clean through forty (maybe fifty) men, and still go on to maim countless more. Bodies vanished in clouds of pink mist. Blood geysered from stumps and corpses. Many writhed on the ground, crawling over bodies in search of their missing limbs. Meanwhile, morale was high for the Derthaler and Native Rhodellian troops in Kleist’s army. Officers cackled as they spectated through their own telescopes. The enlisted men laughed, howled, and waved their helmets in the air. Meanwhile, the artillery crews - manning a mix of cannons, demi-cannons, culverins, and falconets - fought exhaustion and tinnitus to keep the cannonades going. They whistled as they worked. They would eventually start running low on supplies. Dozens of horse-drawn wagons shuttled back and forth from the depots, delivering cannonballs, wadding, and gunpowder directly to the crews. The barrage was both devastating as it was unrelenting.

Even as Derthaler artillery massacred their men, Ukumari and his officers did their best to hold their units together. Troops stumbled and stepped over bodies to maintain formation and cohesion. They were shook, but not yet broken. After what seemed to be the longest 10-minute march of their lives, the lead elements of the force finally got within running distance of the Derthaler lines. The Derthaler were rushing to plug the breaches with prefabricated stockades. Ukumari had to stop them, otherwise all of his sacrifices he made thus would become meaningless.

Arquebusiers screened the assault, exchanging fire with entrenched Derthaler musketeers. Archers, whose war bows outranged the Derthalers’ smoothbore muskets, loosed volleys of arrows to suppress the enemy. Every time the archers loosed, the Derthaler ducked into their trenches to avoid the arrows. The arrows created a suppression effect that stopped the enemy from firing, even if only for a brief moment. These lulls in combat gave friendly melee infantry the chance to close the gap. They rushed through gauntlets of stake-filled ditches and hidden punji sticks, wounding many. Finally, walls of sharpened stakes funnelled them into narrow alleys, killing fields where multiple ranks of defenders concentrated rapid, rotating volleys of fire. These chokepoints would get so congested at times that a single musketball could penetrate through multiple men. Even worse, Derthaler falconets were perfectly angled to shoot through them. The bodies stacked. Stacks grew into piles. Piles grew into hills. Hills grew into mountains. Soon enough, Ukumari’s men had to literally clamber over the corpses of their fallen comrades just to reach the final stretch to the enemy stockades.

Eventually, a few bands of survivors started nearing the enemy lines. Too focused on their uphill charge to the enemy, many failed to notice another obstacle: steep ditches filled with sharpened stakes. Many fell inside and were skewered. Many were even shoved or pulled in by accident. Nevertheless, the bodies piled so high in some areas that they could be trampled on as bridges. In other areas, troops started jumping over the ditches, or building makeshift bridges out of spears, shields, and their own comrades. However, Derthaler pikemen and halberdiers - sheltered in a wide trench behind the stockades, safe behind the reach of their weapons - would stab up at survivors who made it to the stockades. Many Derthaler soldiers were even tossing grenades. A few had even fashioned slingshot catapults to launch longer-fused grenades into clumped masses of attackers. Overall, Túpac’s forces at the front were taking catastrophically heavy casualties. With their officers dead, and entire units being slaughtered to the last man, many survivors began to rout.

Related imageMeanwhile, from the Derthaler perspective… General Kleist saw that the battle was progressing rather smoothly. Things were hectic at the frontline, but his regiment, company, and platoon-level officers in the field were faring just fine without his intervention; the New Rhodellian Army’s officer schools were paying off. Every now and then units would rotate in and out of the trenches. This would happen either because the men were exhausted or because they had run out of ammunition. While they rested and resupplied, fresher units would rotate to the front to take their places. The musketeers had already withdrawn to the second layer of trenches and stockades. Pikemen, halberdiers, and swordsmen rushed to contain breaches all across the first layer. The Talreichers knocked down some sections of stockades, creating more holes for his overstretched melee units to fill. Some enemies climbed over corpses to jump straight into the trenches. Swordsmen crawled under friendly pikes to intercept enemies that got too close. Brutal melees ensued. Troops struggled to secure their flanks and rear. Kleist’s men an upper hand in melee thanks to their superior steel armour and weaponry. Talreicher arrows, spears, maces, and axes bounced off steel armour and had trouble dealing with underlying gambesons. While Kleist's men were hard to kill, they were still human, and therefore not invincible. Kleist’s men held the first layer of defenses for a good while, but the hordes kept on coming no matter how much lead his men shot into them.

Eventually, the first layer of trenches began brimming to capacity with enemy troops. The Derthaler were slowly withdrawing to the second line of defense. Seeing this, Kleist would unveil another weapon. Imported (read: stolen) from the Orient, and reverse-engineered for domestic production in the Colonies, he finally found the perfect chance to field test some experimental equipment. If it could devastate wooden warships in the seas of eastern Europa, then it was definitely going to work on human flesh… With spring in their steps, teams of engineers began running up to the trenches. They hauled long hoses, each connected to pumps and metal cylinders some distance behind them. First there was oil. And then there was fire.

Ukumari watched in horror as whole swathes of his army burned alive. The screams. Those terrible screams. The laughter of the devils responsible... Terrified by this demonic sorcery, the rest of his army fell back. Cannons and gunfire Ukumari could handle. But this? A weapon that literally breathed fire like the mouth of a dragon? The landmines and grenades were horrible (and unsportsmanlike) weapons, but still fair enough in his opinion. But having flamethrowers too was just plain overkill. 

As the Talreichers fled to regroup, the Derthaler forces advanced. They recaptured the first line of trenches within minutes. They repaired stockades, knocked down piles of bodies, and renewed their first line of defense with fresh reserves. Meanwhile, cannons continued to harass the enemy. The experimental flamethrowers worked, but Kleist already ran out of fuel for them. It was one thing to be able to make flamethrower fuel. It was another to economically mass-produce them. The Colonies’ industries were still far away from achieving that. At the very least, Kleist could confirm that flamethrowers still had potential in modern warfare.

Ukumari sent an envoy dashing back to Túpac to explain the situation. He demanded the king to order a full-scale retreat. It was barely past midday and between a third and one half of his force was already dead. By this stage, the battle was unwinnable. Instead, Túpac ordered not only another assault, but for Ukumari to fight to the death as well. The kingdom had to win this battle. Túpac insisted that a Derthaler victory would ensure foreign supremacy over the whole continent. If Ukumari retreated now, he and all of his men would be summarily executed as traitors.

Ukumari looked around him. Derthaler cannons artillery culled his remaining men. His officers panicked and argued over ‘back-up plans’. He asked one officer if he could borrow his white cloak and tie it to a spear. The Derthaler artillery officers watched this with  their telescopes. They ordered their batteries to cease fire. Ukumari held up his makeshift surrender flag, and approached the Derthaler lines, accompanied by an Alemannisch-speaking translator from his own feudal retinue. Derthaler infantry officers let them inside to negotiate with General Kleist. The enemy lost the morale to fight. It was over.

When Túpac was informed of Ukumari’s surrender, he threw a fit of rage. He cursed Ukumari, all the traitors that surrendered with him, and his entire army for not fighting hard enough in the continent's greatest time of need. All was lost. In desperation, he ordered his royal bodyguard, cavalry, and even his artillerymen to charge the Derthaler lines and kill everyone. One of his generals promptly knocked him out. Kimsantinsuyu’s armies quickly withdrew from the battlefield after that.

Talreich suffered severe casualties on both the Derthaler and Kirvinska fronts that day. Túpac started the morning with 60,000 men. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon, that number had whittled down to under 20,000. No reliable historical records distinguish how many of those losses were fatalities, wounded, or taken prisoner. Meanwhile, the Derthaler and Kirvinska forces are recorded to have suffered a total of 2,263 killed, wounded, or missing. The Battle of The Bottleneck concluded as a decisive victory for the pale demons. 

For Talreich, the war only went downhill from there. The remnants of Túpac’s army marched back towards the royal capital of Ika. Many lords in the Ika and northern Chincha didn’t show up in time for his first muster call. If he could call up a second muster and told them to rally at the capital, then he should be to replenish his losses.  However, he noticed something amiss with his capital city: foreign flags flew from the walls. Derthalen’s banner hung from his own royal palace.

While Túpac’s army was on campaign against the Army of the Westfluss and Kirvinska, the Army of the Ostfluss was conducting a strategic flanking manoeuvre up the Ostfluss river valley. Using a simple demonstration of modern artillery on a river fortress’ curtain wall, General Garvyn Sommer convinced the lords protecting the Ostfluss Bottleneck that they stood no chance. Some immediately defected to Derthalen. Others followed suit. Soon enough, this started a chain reaction of defections across the Anqash region. Sommer managed to travel up the valley, cross the highlands, and advance on the capital virtually unopposed. On the contrary, most of the Anqash lords joined him, adding 30,000 Talreicher troops to his force. When he finally did reach the capital, Sommer found it almost completely undefended; Túpac even enlisted the city’s garrison to join him in retaking the Westfluss Bottleneck. Sommer flaunted his artillery and newfound allies outside the walls, convincing the terrified garrison commander and his skeleton crew to surrender.

A few weeks later, on March 4, 1617, Túpac delivered his unconditional surrender to General Florian Unbáram. Unbáram had the surrender document transported via boat back to the Colonies. Seidel called all colonial governors to meet in Friedrichstadt, where they discussed what to do next. They accepted the surrender. Their reply reached Túpac on March 22, 1617. 84 days after it started, the First Valley War was over.

Annexing Talreich

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Related imageAt the end of the First Valley War, the Colonies bled dry practically the entirety of Talreich's treasury. They also annexed the southern half of Talreich’s Chincha region. Rather than place it under the administration of the Colony of Westfalen, this new territory became the Colony of Oberthal. Bannan von Kleist was appointed as its Governor-General. The New Rhodellian Army would continue to occupy Oberthal as a peacekeeping force, committing its resources to counter-espionage and preventing Separatist uprisings. Kleist would eventually establish the ‘Commission of Public Safety’ to root out local separatism. Rhodellia’s present-day Ministry for State Security (Stasi) traces direct lineage to this organisation. The Ecclesiarchy lent its personnel to help govern the Colony until it could fully build up its own non-military civil service institution. As was standard procedure throughout Derthaler colonisation of Rhodellia, the Imperial Truth wasn’t immediately forced on the native populace: when the Ecclesiarchy and Inquisition moved in, they were deliberately slow and gradual in spreading the Imperial Truth. Parents were encouraged to drop their children at new kindergartens and schools, where the Ecclesiarchy could teach them to read, write, count, and praise The Emperor. Colleges, vocational schools, and a university were soon to follow.

Besides the usual influxes of Derthaler pioneers, Oberthal’s first settlers also included 8,000-10,000 troops from the allied Kirvinska force under General Florian Unbáram. Both Kirvina and Derthalen permitted them to stay and help colonise the region, as thanks for their services (but really, the Kirvinska were mostly put there just to help Derthaler pioneers outnumber the native population). Kirvinska troops imported many friends and family to join them. A lot ended up settling down with female camp followers who accompanied them during the First Valley War. In the present day, Rhodellia has a bustling Kirvinska community centred in the State of Oberthal; most of its members trace direct descent to veterans of the Valley Wars.

Meanwhile, the peoples of the Ostfluss river valley rose up in rebellion against their overlords in the Westfluss river valley. Talreich slowly degenerated into a perpetual state of unrest and civil war. There is strong evidence to suggest that the Colonies sowed discontent among the populace, funded rebels, and even supplied them with modern weapons. Over the next century, the Colonies would take advantage of Talreich’s weakness to annex more territory. These were done by waging even more invasions of the crumbling kingdom, called the Valley Wars. Long truces separated each war of conquests. The Derthaler would use the allotted time to integrate their newly-acquired territories and prepare for the next war. By the year 1736, after seven so-called ‘Valley Wars’, most of Talreich’s former territory in 1617 had been annexed by the Colonies. The rest were taken over by neighbouring Native Rhodellian countries. The Colony of Oberthal would grow to encompass the entire Westfluss river valley. The entire Ostfluss river valley gradually became The Colony of Grünthal, and Garvyn Sommer would live to become its first Governor-General. Túpac's worst nightmare would become reality.

The Birth of the Rhodellian Commonwealth 

Spoiler

Related imageAfter 1617, the remainder of the 17th century would see the Eight Colonies of Friedrichstadt, Janbourg, Grauhagen, Rabeswald, Westfalen, Ostmarken, Oberthal, and Grünthal experiencing periods of peace, some periods of low-intensity conflict, and several periods of war. Quite a few big developments happened in this time.

A very important development was the emergence of an ‘internal market’ shared between the Colonies. This was facilitated by the natural interconnectedness created by the Westfluss river, Ostfluss river, and their many tributaries and distributaries. With a barge and map of Rhodellia’s natural waterways, a merchant could cheaply sell his wares anywhere from the Coast, to the Great Plains, to the ends of the Westfluss and Ostfluss river valleys. For overland travel, the Colonies continued to upgrade and maintain networks of roads and highways. Even more, the Colonies didn’t have internal tariffs, tolls, or customs barriers to get in the way of business and freedom of movement. Alemannisch also began to replace the native Westfluss and Ostfluss Rhodellian languages as the region’s mercantile lingua franca. The large coastal cities of Friedrichstadt and Janbourg sat on the Westfluss and Ostfluss river deltas respectively, playing major roles in driving the economies of their respective rivers.

The rise of free market capitalism and the internal Rhodellian market facilitated the Rhodellian Agricultural Revolution. From the beginning of Derthaler colonisation, colonists and pioneers claimed and enclosed as much land as their colonial governments would let them get away with. More secure control of the land allowed landowners to make innovations that improved their productivity and crop yields. Thanks to the internal market and liberal ‘free market’ laws, businesses on the coast could find themselves competing with other businesses as far away as the river valleys. Incentive to innovate remained high. Farmowners began implementing items such as newer windmill designs, better irrigation, four-course crop rotation, new plough designs, compost, and organic manure on larger scales than before. Vocational schools, colleges, and universities spread awareness and technical knowledge of improvements as they came along.

The growth in productivity and commerce gave the Colonial governments plenty of opportunities to profit off Rhodellia’s prosperity. They experimented with new ways to raise taxes. For example, the Colony of Janbourg introduced stamp duties in 1628. In 1634, the Colony of Friedrichstadt implemented a bracket-based income tax system on its citizens and businesses. An even more successful yet controversial example was the Colony of Oberthal’s 1637 ‘Arms Tax’, which made bank on the Colonies’ flourishing gun culture by charging modest excise taxes on the import, retail, and export of firearms (individual parts included), musket balls, and gunpowder.

In the 1640s, the Colonies performed their greatest ever exercise of autonomy; this would be their most significant development of the 17th century. From October 1, 1642, to February 10, 1643, the Colony of Friedrichstadt hosted the Second Rhodellian Congress. The aims of this Congress were to find ways to promote cooperation and better political, legal, economic, educational, social, and cultural integration between the Colonies. The delegates brainstormed, consulting prominent military veterans, merchants, teachers, lawyers, scientists, theorists, and other people they considered ‘experts’. 

At the end of the Congress, the Colonies united together to form the Rhodellian Commonwealth: an official political and economic union between the Eight Colonies. They would standardise their educational, legal, and taxation systems. They would also facilitate the growth of an ‘internal market’ where people, services, labour, goods, and capital could move freely between the Colonies. The Council of Nine was created to decide the Commonwealth’s political direction as well as its priorities. It consisted of nine representatives. Each Colony would have one seat on its ‘Round Table’. However, the Ninth seat would always be a representative of the Emperor. The Parliamentary Assembly of Rhodellia was established to exercise the Commonwealth’s legislative function. Members of Parliament (MPs) would be directly elected by landowning male citizens above the age of 18. Government departments were set up, along with a civil service to run them. The New Rhodellian Army was renamed simply to the ‘Rhodellian Army’, subordinated to the newly-founded Ministry of Defense, and restructured accordingly. Also subordinated to the Ministry of Defense was the ‘Rhodellian Navy’, which was formed to better protect the coast, trade, sea lines of communication, and any overseas interests. The Commonwealth’s headquarters was set up in Friedrichstadt. As time went on, the Commonwealth would go through varying degrees of centralisation. As of the present day, February 11 is celebrated annually as ‘Commonwealth Day’. Historians generally mark the birth of the Commonwealth as the beginning of a distinct Rhodellian identity; although, all colonists at the time (including most Native Rhodellians living within the Commonwealth) still identified as citizens of the Holy Empire of Derthalen, or at least as subjects of The Emperor.

Meanwhile, the few profitable trade partners left in the local region were getting oversaturated. As large as the Commonwealth's internal market was, it wasn't big enough for every single merchant involved; its interconnectedness competition was fierce. Luckily for the less-established trading companies, Rhodellia didn't have everything. What Rhodellia couldn't provide for itself, the rest of world could. By this point in history, colonial merchants had been sailing over the globe for a long while. International trade networks saw further development alongside Rhodellia's internal market. the Commonwealth still traded with its colonial overlords in Derthalen. Almost all of the exotic spices enjoyed by the Commonwealth's populace were already being imported from the Grand Duchy of Pallamara's Vereenigde Oostzees Compagnie (VOC). In its early days, the Colonies conducted limited trade with the Yellow Empire (before the latter collapsed). Out of all the Commonwealth's trade relationships with the former Yellow Empire, the clearest one emerged with the Sultanate of Fuligiyan. Fuligiyan bought plenty of rifled and smoothbore firearms from the Colonies, along with other weapons. In exchange, the Commonwealth, found plenty of exotic goods, especially cheap labour, that were worth importing. Commonwealth trade fleets kept in regular contact with Aurelian nations, especially Kirvina (because of the Commonwealth's growing Kirvinska community) and Shffahkia (for goods only found in tropical climates). Attempts were made to go into Thalassa, but Thalassan nations were not yet ideal markets. Both the Empire of the Setting Sun and Kipan had isolationist policies towards foreigners. In Kipan's case, the Kipanese Emperors were only willing to conduct limited trade with Variota at Nakazami Bay. The Variots were unwilling to give up their monopoly too, so that was unfortunate. Overall, the Commonwealth was managing a decent amount of progress tapping into international trade.

Related imageFor the rest of the 17th century, the Commonwealth would fight through many conflicts, both at home and abroad. Several Native Rhodellian tribes, disgruntled by ‘Derthalerisation’ and ‘infringements on their autonomy’, would take up arms in rebellion against the Commonwealth. Inspired by the legends of Walthari and Lajos, they aimed to create their own independent tribal states. If local colonists or 'Derthalerised' tribes didn't demolish the rebels first, the Rhodellian Army would crush the insurgencies as they cropped up. They'd be used to research and develop effective doctrines for future counter-insurgencies and low-intensity conflicts. Wars of expansion against other neighbouring countries were treated both as scientific studies and as opportunities to test out the newest innovations in military science. They were also excellent opportunities to extort money. Besides that, many volunteers would line up for Derthalen’s ‘blood tithe’, joining the Imperial Army just to kill stuff on other continents. Since variety is the spice of life, others would go on to become mercenaries. The Commonwealth rarely found the chance to deploy its own units overseas. But when they did, they made the most out of it. The colonists would always find an excuse to go to war. They had guns, and it was fun to shoot them.

 

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Culture

Military Culture

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“Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori.

It is sweet and honorable to die for The Fatherland”, Wilfred Owen (Dulce et Decorum est)

Why do young people - in their prime, having not yet lived a full life - enlist in the military? Why do they volunteer to die for the profits of oil conglomerates and the games of amoral politicians? War leads to so many anti-climatic ends, lost futures, and wasted potentials. When you think of the industrialised slaughters of the past century, how could war be anything but a senseless waste of human life? It’s reasonable to say that most countries on Eurth see war as this massive tragedy. Rhodellia isn’t one of them.

Rhodellians have made their mark on the world; they’re a forward-thinking people of pioneers and innovators. Yet, despite all the advances they’ve made, Rhodellians still hold an archaic view of war: war is an inevitable fact of life, military service is a patriotic duty, and combat is a thrill coveted by many. They’re not blind to the reality of the battlefield; the issue is that they’re the polar opposite: Rhodellia has waged war in 498 out of the 536 years since the first Derthaler settlers arrived to colonise it. Native Rhodellians had been fighting each other and earlier foreign colonisers for far longer. Most of the land’s history has been one bitter struggle after the other; it never had the chance to appreciate peace in the way many others have. The result is an entire society desensitised to violence, acceptive of militarism, and willing to fight for their goals. In Rhodellian dictionaries, the formal definition of “peace” is merely “the time used to prepare for the next battle”. With all the terrorist attacks, civil wars, interventions, and Derthalen’s recent diplomatic errors, global “peace” is crumbling in the eyes of every Rhodellian; they can hear the countdown timer ticking.

Hatched from a cannonball, the Kingdom of Rhodellia is a modern-day warrior society. A strong martial tradition has emerged from its violent past. Rhodellians learn military science, first aid, survival skills, fieldcraft, marksmanship, and martial arts from an early age, all so that they may protect their freedoms and liberties at the “moment of truth”; the line between “civilian” and “threat to any invading army” is illusory at best. This is perpetuated by the Spartan Protocol: a government initiative that seeks to enhance national security by giving citizens the skills and know-how to fight back against foreign invaders, tyrannical governments, and violent non-state actors. It also doubles as a way to prepare citizens for National Service, where they’re then given the expertise to win conventional wars. The Department of Defence, Department of Education, Department of Health, and many other Rhodellian organisations all have a vested interest in maintaining a combat-ready population.

The Rhodellian military and civilian worlds are closely intertwined. 90% of the adult population has completed at least 18 months of National Service. Throughout National Service, conscripts are stationed alongside professional volunteers; this includes plenty of career soldiers who have been around for a long time. Conscripts pick up a lot from their more experienced peers; volunteers (who are, more often than not, former conscripts themselves) are generally quite helpful towards conscripts (whenever they aren’t asking them for boxes of grid squares). This leads to plenty of cultural exchange. Conscripts often adopt the values and mannerisms of other personnel before returning into the civilian world. Meanwhile, 8% of the total adult population is comprised of veterans who served at least 4 years in active duty outside of National Service. Rhodellian civilian culture - from slang, to humour, to (hopefully) ironic worship of the Murder Cube - is almost indistinguishable from its military counterpart.

Warrior traditions

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“I am a Soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight.”, George S. Patton

Rhodellians take pride in their military history. With the help of their local archive, citizens generally keep good records of their family trees; they know which relative or ancestor fought in what war. Most know their ancestry as far back as the First Anéantic War (1914 - 1919). Some can verifiably trace their ancestry all the way back to 1485. Archives can lead to some surprising revelations. Records reveal that every native-born citizen has at least one relative or ancestor who fought in either (or both) the First or Second Anéantic Wars (1939 - 1948). Many know about ancestors who fought in the Eustachian Wars or the War of the First Grand Alliance (1794 - 1799).

Furthermore, every native-born citizen personally knows at least one friend, family member, or relative who is either a veteran or is currently serving in the armed forces. In a sense, everyone comes from a military family with a long lineage of service to Rhodellia. The vast majority of Rhodellians feel that they have a strong military tradition, and - following in the footsteps of their family - are naturally inclined to maintain it.

Native Rhodellians

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3efe4884d1f10abfa52cfef90de05fb7.jpgNative Rhodellian warriors terrified early Derthaler colonists. Their blood-curdling war cries, their sheer martial spirit, and their unique methods of waging asymmetric warfare were unlike anything the Derthaler had ever seen. Natives either allied themselves with colonists or fought bitterly to defend their land.

Many of the native tribes inhabiting Rhodellia boast strong warrior traditions. Rhodellian Plains and Woodland tribes followed this policy of training each boy into a warrior; this was their rite of passage into manhood. They devoted their time to practising with clubs, spears, bows, axes, and - especially after the Derthaler arrived - even guns. They embarked on hunting trips and long-distance journeys (often alone). They decorated themselves in war paint, ritual scars, tattoos, piercings, and feathers. Some tribes even had their teenagers take down bears on their own as a rite of passage. Teenagers were regularly sent to raid rival tribes to earn reputations as formidable fighters. Native Rhodellians were normally battled-tested in raids against enemy tribes and Derthaler settlements by the time they were 14 to 16 years-old. Tribes placed immense value in a warrior’s martial prowess.

The tribes were highly-militarised communities, giving rise to the warrior society. Back in the Colonial era, warrior societies were groups of warriors organised to defend their tribes, territories, and ways of life. They punished anti-social crimes, protected villages, performed ceremonies, organised hunting parties, and fought against enemy tribes. They held positions of great power within their tribes, with many rising to become among the more well-respected elders and chieftains.

In the present day, most Native Rhodellian communities still form their own warrior societies. Like their historical counterparts, they promote Native Rhodellian culture, host community events, encourage combat-ready physiques, train with weapons, and play active roles in local politics. They also function like conventional citizen militias in that they’re prepared to wage a brutal guerrilla war against invading armies.

Of all the weapons historically used by the various Native Rhodellian tribes, the Tomahawk axe shines as the most iconic. Though they were used as general-purpose tools for the most part, they also doubled as versatile and deadly weapons; nothing scared a Derthaler pioneer more than a howling warrior trying to scalp him with an axe. The Plains and Woodland tribes used to wield tomahawks made of stone, but began upgrading to metal axe-heads with the arrival of Derthaler colonists. Rhodellians descended from the old Plains and Woodland tribes have adopted the tomahawk as their cultural icon, putting tomahawks on their flags, logos, and heraldry to show pride in their heritage.

Approximately 39% of the Rhodellian population identifies as being of Native Rhodellian descent.

Derthaler

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51a8hfpbLpL.jpgDerthaler military traditions may not be as old or ritualised as their Native Rhodellian counterparts, but they are no less distinguished. Early Derthaler colonists militarised in order to stand toe-to-toe against hostile native warriors. And so began their notorious (and almost pathological) obsession with guns and martial arts.

Colonists learned a lot from the natives they allied with. They adopted the Native Rhodellian ‘Skulking Way of War’, they learned to hunt and navigate in local terrain, and they began training their children (both boys and girls) to shoot from an early age. Colonists also started to value martial prowess beyond what was considered ‘normal’ back in Argis; they emulated and paid respects to the best fighters in their frontier communities. This was further facilitated by how thrilling it felt to battle enemy natives, how fun it felt to brawl their friends every now and then, and how satisfying it felt to hit a target right on the mark. This reached the point that shooting competitions and fighting tournaments became the most popular recreational activities among colonists and pioneers, even in times of relative peace. To fight monsters, they created monsters. By the 1500s, Derthaler colonists were already conquering land from hostile Native Rhodellian tribes at a steady pace. They affirmed their reputations as “pale demons” (named for their white skin and penchant for death and destruction); this nickname would endure, even up to the 19th century.

Centuries later, and Rhodellians would begin to prove themselves on the international stage. They would perform meritably in the War of the First Grand Alliance, the Eustacian Wars, both Anéantic Wars, and every subsequent war fought by the kingdom. Rhodellian private military contractors have shown up to other conflicts, justifying their reputations to sceptics all over Eurth. However, it is the “Greatest Generation” of Rhodellian troops that fought in the Second Anéantic War that everyone harps on about. Panzer and fighter aces proved to be near-literal murder machines. Snipers’ confirmed kills numbered in the hundreds. Ordinary troops with bolt-action rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, semi-automatic rifles, and “sturmgewehre” operated with unyielding tenacity and utmost professionalism. They set a high benchmark for future generations of Rhodellian warriors. Today’s Rhodellians are more than up for the challenge.

Approximately 56% of the Rhodellian population identifies as being of Derthaler descent.

Knights

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What use do warriors have in times of peace? With no wars to fight, many samurai turned into jobless, wandering ronin. Many would hang up their katanas to become teachers, writers, poets, and artisans. The Derthaler knights of Colonial Rhodellia avoided such a fate: someplace, somewhere, there was always some fighting to do. The wars - their purpose and source of income - would never stop coming.

In the Age of Feudalism, kings granted fiefdoms to knights in return for military service. As young pages and squires, they devoted their childhood and teenage years to the study of warfighting and chivalry. They trained to be elite soldiers and able commanders from the very beginning. Encased in steel, these masters of martial arts were nigh-unkillable metal murder machines; tales of knights’ martial valour are among the most famous examples of medieval literature.

Minor, landless knights were among the first Derthaler colonists to arrive in Rhodellia. They made a living protecting the fledgling colonies against native attack. Spears, axes, swords, and pollaxes, they displayed mastery over many weapons and techniques. They were quick to earn the mixed fear and admiration of Native Rhodellian warriors, which really says something about their ability.

Surprisingly enough, the Age of Gunpowder did not obsolete them. They adapted to the times, fighting either as elite shock units, elite light infantry, or as officers. Compared to the average worker, they had more time and resources to devote to studying warfighting (just as they historically did). Except this time, they practised less with swords and more with guns, grenades, and bayonets.

Knights still exist in the present day, at least in the Kingdom of Rhodellia. The purpose of the knight as elite murder machines never changed. Most young boys of “Junker” lineage still train as pages and squires, intent on earning knighthoods as adults. They train with a variety of small arms and light weapons (automatic rifles, anti-materiel rifles, recoilless rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars, ATGMs, MANPADS, you name it), and other military equipment such as drones. They study both historical and modern warfighting. They study on how to be effective leaders both in military and business contexts. They’re often instructed by ex-special forces operators outside of school. Even today, they are extremely dedicated to being the deadliest warriors on the battlefield. Just like they were in the Middle Ages, knights are born and raised to kill.

All of this preparation goes towards passing ‘Knight Academy’, an extremely rigorous selection programme run by the Department of Defence. It’s a series of trials and tribulations meant to ascertain whether or not an individual is a warrior worthy of sharing the same title as the metal murder machines of old. Knight Academy is open to any Rhodellian citizen, regardless of ethnicity or lineage. However, those who spent most of their life training for it are generally the only ones capable of passing. If ordinary Rhodellian soldiers are demons, then Rhodellian knights are devils.

Approximately 0.025% of the Rhodellian population possesses a knighthood. Knights can be identified by having the “Ritter von” nobiliary particle in their name.

Reverence for the military

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure”, Thomas Jefferson

Graveyard from WW1.JPG?la=enVictory can not be achieved without sacrifice. Rhodellians know this better than anyone. The very liberties and freedoms they enjoy today were built on a mountain of corpses. Countless war memorials dot the landscape; they serve as testament to the millions of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice across numerous conflicts. Strangely, the memorials do not grieve the deaths of the fallen, but venerate them, along with all currently living servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans. Memorials inspire children with legends of battlefield heroism and martial valour. They challenge the newest generations of aspiring warriors to surpass their ancestors. They offer guidance on what it means to be a true Rhodellian. It’s blatant glorification. However, Rhodellians consciously choose to embrace it. Citizens credit their safety and prosperity to all warriors who take up arms for the Fatherland.

The average Rhodellian has a personal reason to respect the armed forces. Most people also know a friend, family member, or relative who has died in the line of the duty, or paid dearly in some other way. Active duty troops on deployments regularly receive video calls, letters, parcels, and other gifts from the folks back home. Companies regularly donate money to veteran-supporting charities, as do many high-profile celebrities. Schools, colleges, and universities often hold fundraisers. When Rhodellians say “Support The Troops”, they do so with unmatched sincerity and passion. On December 19, 2018, “Thank You” - a charity concert organised by the Rhodellian Veterans’ Association to raise funds for veterans with amputations, mental trauma, and other complications that came as a result of their service to the kingdom - was held in Janbourg’s St. Rommel Stadium. Over 100,000 people physically attended the event. Over 40% of Rhodellian households watched the broadcast on television. The amount of people who viewed paid livestreams numbered well into the millions. People also sent money by donating online, by phone, and by text; the donation website crashed within the first two minutes of donations becoming available. All-in-all, the Rhodellian Veterans’ Association has managed to raise over $118,000,000 for its cause, making it the single most successful charity event in the kingdom’s history. This is seen as a reflection of how much people actually care for the veteran community.

Rhodellians revere Wehrmacht personnel, regardless of occupation or specialty. You wouldn’t be underrated for being the crewman scrubbing the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, the cook who prepares hot meals for the troops, the mechanic who keeps the tanks in operable condition, the rear echelon truck driver who delivers supplies on time, the intelligence analyst with his eyes in the sky, the administrator who keeps the war machine running, or the General Staff officer who manages operations. Rhodellian children benefit from mandatory Military Theory classes in school. During National Service (after completing basic training), Rhodellian adults are assigned a military occupational specialty (MOS). Combat roles are few and limited, and are only given to the most motivated and able warriors; they are hotly-contested by recruits. Most conscripts end up in support roles such as logistics, communications, intelligence, and administration. The average Rhodellian is well aware of how modern militaries work; everyone will still recognise your importance and respect you so long as you are honest. Being a combat veteran is just a prestige bonus, since they generally tell the stories that sell the most books and movie tickets. Millions of ordinary, relatable people have signed their names on the dotted line, and swore an oath to protect the Constitution of Rhodellia against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Very few of them have ever seen a battlefield, yet - through specialisation and division of labour - still played an important role in making the Wehrmacht the efficient killing machine it is; they’ve undoubtedly done their part in keeping Rhodellia and its people safe from harm.

Video games, books, and cinema

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Ask Rhodellians to imagine a ‘superhero’. Their first thought wouldn’t be a caped vigilante with super strength or the power to shoot lasers out of his eyes; it would be of a firefighter, a paramedic, or a police officer. Their second thought would be a member of the armed forces. They see a company of soldiers storming a hill. They see a fighter squadron afterburning into a sky full of bandits. They see a tank platoon in hull-down position. They see a carrier group laying waste to an entire invasion fleet. They see a guerrilla cell haunting the nightmares of an occupying army. Those are what count as heroes in Rhodellia.

Military personnel and paramilitary fighters prominently feature as the heroes in Rhodellian media. They’re portrayed as relatable underdogs confronted by seemingly-impossible odds. Yet, no matter how much the odds are stacked against them, they still tackle their problems head-on. They endure through many hardships. They make heavy sacrifices. Even when on the verge of defeat and everything seems hopeless, the protagonists will continue to drag themselves towards a light at the end of the tunnel. Their struggles are desperate, but they’ll still pull through no matter what. It’s a predictable and unoriginal formula, albeit a popular one.

Analysts and critics have identified these underdog stories as a reflection of the Rhodellian psyche. They’re raised to admire the Spartanism, Stoicism, and Rhodellian Virtues exemplified by their heroes on the big screen to the point of emulation. They strongly believe in a “Fatherland under threat”, and are deeply invested in its security. They see themselves as warriors fighting by each other's’ side in an uphill battle for their country’s survival, yet never giving up until they conquer the summit. If National Service is anything to go by, the lives of soldiers are seldom as action-packed as they are in the movies. Nevertheless, the media helps to reinforce the fact that it’s still the military who fights the bulk of the battle.

It’s no secret that Rhodellia’s Department of Defence invests in patriotism. It funds nationalistic films; broadcasts military recruitment commercials in movie theatres; and loans military advisers, surplus equipment, and even troops to directors. However (contrary to popular belief abroad), it has never issued a directive to filmmakers forcing them to glorify the military. Nobody was ever shut down just for critiquing the country’s militarism: filmmakers are mostly free to film what they want; they just choose to produce what’s most likely to resound in audiences, be profitable, and please investors. Underdog stories that perpetuate Rhodellian martial values and patriotism just sell extremely well. So long as the kingdom’s stuck in its vicious cycle of violence, patriotic films aren’t likely to go out of fashion.

Storytelling tradition

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The reverence for the military is also perpetuated by Rhodellians’ love for storytelling (a custom shared with Derthalen). They tell stories to entertain their friends at parties. They tell stories to kill time at work. They tell stories around fires to make camping trips more memorable. It’s a centuries-old tradition for veterans to inspire their descendants with raw, unfiltered stories about their military service. They talk of the thrill of combat, the satisfaction of killing, and the sense of purpose and belonging unique to military circles. They talk of the shenanigans soldiers got up to when bored, the cool stuff they’d never see in the civilian world, and the secrets certain individuals are better off not discovering. They talk of banter of the darkest, vulgar, and most inappropriate nature thinkable. When they reveal their stories, what else can Rhodellian children feel but empathy and nostalgia for memories they’ve never even experienced? That’s how strong Rhodellian oral tradition is, even in the age of books and instant messaging.

They see themselves waking up to a throbbing headache. They hear the one working fan in their tent buzzing at its max setting. The floor is a minefield of beer bottles. They stumble their way to the latrine, shut the door behind them, and - not minding all the dicks graffitied all over the walls - proceed to do their business. The moment they walk out, one of their mates jumps from out of nowhere, wrings them in a chokehold, and pretends to stab the victim in the throat. They laugh it off together. Some time later they’re on sentry duty, trying to figure out whether or not that one so-called “civvy” they’re scoping outside the wire is spotting them. They (ironically) debate whether or not birds are real. They ponder if “Space Shuttle Door Gunner” will ever be a real MOS. When they’ve exhausted every other conceivable topic, they start a civil discussion on the artistic merits of each article in their private porn collections. All the while, they’re praying to the Murder Cube just for insurgents to bum-rush their FOB.

They see themselves riding in an APC, (poorly) singing SHOT THROUGH THE HEART and other classic rock songs blaring from the driver’s CD player. They hear an IED explode up ahead. Bullets ping off the APC’s hull. The driver halts, munching on some Skittles. The driver clicks away at pixels on the screen of his gaming laptop, while complaining about “aimbot”. Even through the electronic ear protection and tinnitus, the chaingun’s roar is deafening. The APS blasts an incoming RPG out of the sky. The sergeant yells for the squad to disembark. Smoke screens deploy. The squad filters out. They dive for cover in a roadside irrigation ditch, where the LT and the rest of the platoon are already picking off targets through their IR goggles. Once the smoke’s done clearing, they drown every muzzle flash and wisp of movement on the horizon in an even heavier monsoon of lead. Enemy machine guns and grenade launchers focus fire on the platoon. A guy gets dinked in the helmet; he’s bleeding profusely. A medic rushes to treat him, only to pause at the last moment. Concern turns to relief upon discovering that the casualty was That Guy in the platoon, the one nobody was going to miss. The LT laughs, telling the distressed casualty not to “lose [his] head” before actually calling in a medevac. The other two platoons in the company scramble to flank the enemy positions in a pincer attack, only to be stalled by the unexpected arrival of enemy reserves. They realise how grossly outnumbered they are, and start pulling back in turns. The CO lists a set of coordinates into his green gear. The XO clarifies to the rest of the company that it’s a ‘Danger Close’ mission. The CO takes another sip from his mug; it reads “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”. Everyone ducks their heads. Howitzers hammer the horizon. The ground tremors. Hot shrapnel slices the air above. More explosions are heard, followed by the roar of an unseen jet. Everyone would probably be deaf by now if it weren’t for their hearing protection. The platoon cheers. Peeking out of the ditch, they see the enemy positions engulfed in a maelstrom of smoke and flame. They call the strike the ‘coolest shit [they’ve] seen this entire deployment’, even if the only thing they actually witnessed was the aftermath. Blood rains down from the sky. It’s refreshing, like lemonade. The other platoons move up to renew their pincer attack and sweep for survivors. The battle continues.

Even if it is “shit” 99.9% of the time, kids and teenagers can’t wait to enlist.

Fitness

“There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim”, James Mattis

20170801-BLewis-Dear-Trail-Curmudgeon-1-1080x675.jpgThe battlefield is no place for the weak. It takes far more than marksmanship skills to be an effective soldier; it takes strength and endurance too. During basic training, recruits are expected to haul at least 45 kilograms of equipment across miles of tough terrain. On patrol in a combat zone, dismounted Rhodellian infantry will carry no less than 30 kilograms in equipment; that figure can be higher, depending on role and mission. If you can’t pull your own weight, then what use are you? On the other end of the scale, obesity is such a resource drain that - if left unchecked - it can threaten national security. The unfit don’t make for ideal soldiers. The government wants 100% of all new civilian enlistees - whether they be National Service conscripts or volunteers - to already meet the Wehrmacht’s demanding fitness standards before they even begin basic training.

The Department of Defence, Department of Education, and Department of Health maintain high fitness standards among the civilian population. A key part of the Spartan Protocol, the Citizen Athlete Initiative (CAI) works to prevent physical weakness, overweightness, and obesity from ever becoming a national security threat. It instils a drive within Rhodellians to maintain healthy nutrition, perform regular exercise, and engage in outdoor activities. This way, nearly all of Rhodellia’s adult populace would be physically prepared for military service should the draft ever be activated again.

Nipping bad habits in the bud

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Studies have shown that children's’ brains are like sponges: they absorb the most information when they’re still young and developing. That works both ways. Just as a kid can pick up good habits, a kid can pick up bad habits too. Therefore, the best way to prevent them from becoming unfit for National Service as adults is to ingrain good habits from the get-go while smothering bad habits in the cradle.

This concept is outlined and explored in “How to be a Successful Parent”, the peer-reviewed guide issued to all expectant mothers and fathers in the kingdom. Rhodellian parents understand that their children are very likely to follow their example as they grow older. If they keep fit and lead a healthy lifestyle, then their children are very likely to do the same. Parents often exercise in full view of their children. Just as they pick up language from their parents, kids are likely to imitate their parents’ exercise habits too. It’s common for parents to bring their babies or toddlers to the gym, where they can then exercise in full view of their children. Kids often work out alongside their parents until they start doing exercise on their own or with their friends. The point is to imprint good exercise habits until they become an automatic routine.

Every school - from Kindergarten to Sixth Form college - has mandatory Physical Education (PE) classes every week. The vast majority of Rhodellian school teachers come from a military background; they know the value of fitness and the self-discipline involved to maintain it. This is especially the case for PE teachers, sports instructors, and coaches; many are former Drill Instructors. They are instructed to hunt down “physically unfit” children as early as Kindergarten and Primary School, giving them the special attention they need to make a change in their lives, before bad habits are set in stone. Educational institutions also promote healthy nutrition, thinking up all sorts of creative ways to market it. They mark healthy stuff with labels such as “performance-enhancing”, convincing kids, teenagers, and young adults that a healthy diet fuels their bodies to achieve great feats. Cafeterias also brand unhealthy stuff with discouraging labels like “performance-limiting”. This system actually works. All schools also offer this popular youth award programme called the “King Frederick Award”. Part of it involves hauling an assault pack’s-worth of food, water, spare clothing, camping equipment, and survival gear in an expedition spanning several dozen miles of rough foothills and highlands. It’s suffering for sure, but it builds character, along with lasting bonds and unforgettable memories with friends; most students look forward to the King Frederick Award solely for the expedition part. There are also fairly frequent school retreats and field trips to national parks, campsites, and activity courses to supplement the work done in optional programmes. The general fitness of a school’s student body is reflected in reviews, reports, rankings, and government inspections; therefore, schools are deeply invested in their students’ physical capabilities.

Students are graded for their performance in PE. At the end of each school year, students undertake mandatory a ‘Physical Health Assessment’. The “bare minimum” passing grades for PHAs escalate with each progressive school year, gradually preparing students for when they start National Service after finishing college. Since this is a matter of national security, students who receive failing grades in their PHAs get punished for it; they are forced to take intense remedial classes over their summer vacation so that they may catch up with their peers by the start of the next school year. An especially unfit and unmotivated underachiever can also be threatened with grade retention, even if said student is a highly successful academic. In Rhodellia, even the laziest of students prepare well in advance for their PHAs. Of course, you can be exempted from PHAs for medical purposes, but that’s if you can’t perform basic motor skills. The average student doesn’t need to specifically train for it, seeing the PHA as “just another formality”.

The vast majority of kids, teenagers, and young adults sign onto youth clubs. It’s not mandatory, but it’s an old tradition everyone is willing to get behind; it gives people something fun to do after school, on the weekends, and during holidays. Every school, college, and university offers a wide variety of afterschool activities. These include competitive sports such as basketball, football, rugby, hockey, cycling, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, baseball, and - where there’s a big-enough body of water available - rowing and sailing. There are also plenty of clubs that aren’t about competitive sports, but interests and hobbies; these include: hiking, camping, cross-country running, parkour, and - depending on geography and time of year - mountain-climbing. Outside of school, the most popular youth organisation is the Wehrmacht’s Cadet Force, which is subdivided into the Heer Cadet Force, Luftwaffe Cadet Force, and Kriegsmarine Cadet Force. Like afterschool clubs, they promote fitness (albeit in a more military context). Rhodellia’s myriad cadet units host their own programmes and expeditions, intent on maximising their members’ physical readiness for combat. Club activities are also useful to put on a CV: according to surveys, employers are far more likely to pick candidates who actively participated in club activities over candidates who did not. It’s extremely rare - and even abnormal - for a student to go their entire school career without joining a club.

Deterrence against obesity

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If Eurth had a Fat Acceptance Movement, Rhodellia would be its final boss. This is because - no matter how many change.org petitions are signed, no matter how many rallies are held abroad, no matter how much the kingdom is demonised by foreign left-wing media outlets - being obese is explicitly illegal in Rhodellia. A common misconception foreigners throw around the internet is that obese people are thrown in jail and left to starve. They’re not. First of all, that's unethical. Second of all, jailing them entails making taxpayers fund both the medical treatment for obesity-related health issues on top of the costs associated with keeping someone incarcerated. There’s no way the government can justify the costs a fitness-obsessed public, especially when you consider that it could theoretically cost tens of billions of dollars per year just to keep a large obese population alive. The reality is that overweight and obese citizens are taxed for their condition until they either improve, move out of the country, or die. At least the budget they spend on junk food can go towards a set of exercise equipment, a gym membership, or a personal trainer. This policy won’t change, at least not in the foreseeable future.

This attitude extends to the kingdom’s Health sector too. In general, the Rhodellian Health Service will not pay for the treatment of any ailments or conditions that come as a result of overweightness or obesity. That money is better-spent on other stuff, like giving amputees the most advanced prosthetic limbs or giving cancer patients the best treatment modern medical science can offer. GPs, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, and surgeons seldom deal with overweight or obese people, but when they do, they’re not happy about it. Not in the slightest, especially when they have far more pressing concerns to deal with. Health insurance companies are just as unsympathetic.

Gun culture

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”, The 2nd Amendment

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Rhodellia has such a high rate of gun ownership that Wiki editors often mistake its ‘guns per capita’ statistic for a typo; nobody, not even God himself, truly knows how many firearms there are in civilian possession. The most conservative estimates are upwards of 60 million (as of 2017). The average household in the kingdom has a ‘modest’ arsenal of multiple firearms along with a stockpile of ammunition to feed it; it’s easy to mistake your average Rhodellian household for a diehard clan of doomsday preppers.

It comes as no surprise that Rhodellia boasts a thriving gun culture; shooting is the kingdom’s most popular recreational activity, surpassing any other sport by far. It’s the common denominator that unites all citizens, just as it’s supposed to be: the government promotes first-rate weapons handling skills as part of the Spartan Protocol’s Citizen Warrior Initiative (CWI). Contrary to popular belief among hippies, daisy-chaining together and singing ‘Kumbaya’ will not stop an invading army. A rifle behind every blade of grass is scientifically proven to do a far better job. In Rhodellia, it is every citizen’s patriotic duty to learn to shoot from an early age. This, along with the kingdom’s permissive gun laws and mandatory weapons handling classes, are deliberate countermeasures against successful foreign invasion and the installation of a tyrannical government. Therefore, guns are held to be an important symbol of freedom. To take them away, or refuse to wield them, is akin to promoting slavery.

Anyone with average intelligence can learn to shoot well. A gun is a gun, not a sword or a fighter jet. The gun obsoleted swords and self-bows for a reason: its comparative ease of use allowed lowly soldiers with only a few weeks of training to easily kill highly-trained warriors that dedicated their entire lives to mastering other weapons. Guns empower the weak to prevail against the strong; guns are the great equalisers of man. Therefore it is perfectly possible for a country’s entire (healthy) adult population to become proficient at shooting. The Kingdom of Rhodellia - with its Spartan Protocol, CWI, and long-standing military tradition - takes pride in having achieved this ideal: when push comes to shove, every Rhodellian is a combat-qualified rifleman. The Department of Defence and Department of Education maintain this status quo.

In Rhodellia, practically everyone carries a gun. You can walk through a busy city centre, and there'll be plenty of people casually walking around with an automatic rifle or carbine slung from their soldiers. Same with students, who also regularly to sling their rifles to school. When they're not open carrying a rifle, they're most likely conceal carrying a semi-automatic pistol. Most people tend to go plinking or field shooting with their friends after work or school. Kids and teenagers are often enrolled in after-school shooting clubs and cadet programmes. Rhodellians consider their country to be safe; the concept of carrying a gun for self-defence is more of an afterthought.

Recreational McNukes

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maxresdefault-2-660x371.jpgTo a Rhodellian, any country where you can’t buy an automatic grenade launcher from the local supermarket may as well be a Communist dystopia. In this age of attack helicopters and main battle tanks, an automatic rifle won’t be enough to repel an invading army or the henchmen of a rising dictator. You’re going to need a lot more firepower to safeguard your freedoms, liberties, and inalienable rights.

This is where the kingdom’s liberal gun laws come in. So long as you’re a Rhodellian citizen with a valid gun licence (and aren’t a felon or fugitive), you’re allowed to purchase, own, and carry, a wide variety of small arms and light weapons. Handguns, shotguns, selective-fire carbines, automatic rifles, general purpose machine guns, anti-materiel rifles, recoilless rifles, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, grenade launchers, flamethrowers, mortars, MANPADs, ATGMs… you name it. Half of the stuff on this list might not be economical for the average citizen of modest income, but militias are still free to crowdfund their purchase. Want to get your very own operational main battle tank, attack helicopter, or fighter jet? If you’re rich enough, you can pay to enter a training course and earn an Operator’s Licence. You could get a custom-order UAV (with the capacity to fire Hellfire missiles) through the mail, and nobody - not even the mailman - would bat an eyelid. Citizens can purchase and sell gear through a variety of channels, so long as the transaction pays the required excise taxes to the government. These include gun stores, conventions, gun shows, and even online retailers.

Rhodellians normally obtain their first gun licence in primary school. Students are issued Provisional Gun Licences (PGL) for their weapons handling classes and recreation. PGLs allow them to purchase, own, and carry semi-automatic pistols, selective-fire carbines, automatic rifles, ammunition, accessories, spare parts, and maintenance kits. PGLs are normally upgraded to full gun licences when the licence-holder completes National Service (where they’re familiarised with more specialised equipment).

History of Rifles

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Rhodellia’s history with rifles goes way back: Derthaler gunsmiths have been producing rifles since the 15th century. That knowledge was exported to the Rhodellian Colonies, where future generations of colonial gunsmiths manufactured both smoothbore and rifled firearms. At first, they used polygonal rifling that spiralled inside the barrel. By the mid-16th century, it became widely understood that helical grooves imparted a spin on bullets, creating gyroscopic stability, improving their aerodynamic properties, and thus increasing accuracy. Some colonists wielded rifles for hunting, plinking, and warfare. Some militia, soldiers, and mercenaries also equipped themselves with rifles. But, in general, rifles were not too common. They were expensive weapons to purchase and maintain; they wouldn’t become financially viable investments for the average colonist for a long time. That would change by the early 18th century, when innovations in metallurgy and production processes allowed Rhodellian rifle manufacturing to reach a new peak. Growing economic prosperity meant that rifles were becoming more affordable for the average working-class citizen. Meanwhile, the Rhodellian military was beginning to officially embrace the rifled musket’s battlefield potential.

Rifles vs Smoothbores
main-qimg-17a462b2a456ab28387e47d19c28b6b3.webpBut now, you may ask, if the Derthaler understood the advantages of rifling ever since they first started colonising Rhodellia… why did the majority of mercenaries, militias, and soldiers prefer to use smoothbores even if they had the option to use rifles? Rifled muskets have excellent accuracy for sure, even more than smoothbores. However, you got to remember that rifles back then came with their own disadvantages. Just like most other guns of the day, they were muzzle-loaded: bullets still had to be pushed down the barrel with a ramrod. Rifle bullets were made to fit matching calibres of rifled musket, and then had to be pushed through the rifling inside the barrel. Because of this, it took far longer to reload a rifled musket than it did to reload a smoothbore. As important as it was to actually hit the target, firepower was also very important in deciding the victor of firefights. The more bullets you could fire, the higher the chance that at least one of them will put an enemy out of action. The overwhelming firepower desired by military commanders was easier to achieve with a smoothbore’s superior rate of fire. Contrary to popular belief, smoothbore muskets were not horribly inaccurate either: using the smoothbore 1669 Krieger Pattern musket or its variants, the average Rhodellian infantryman could consistently hit a man-sized target at ranges of up to 100 yards (91 metres) before luck started coming into play. The interior of a decent rifle barrel was an intricate and delicate piece of work; despite all the extra hours and craftsmanship put into it, a rifle’s barrel still degraded faster with repeated use under battlefield conditions than a smoothbore did. It took longer and was more expensive to get a highly-skilled gunsmith to produce a rifle barrel and replace it when it gets worn out. Rifles were very costly investments. Because of the aforementioned reasons of cost-effectiveness, it was impractical back then to equip every single infantryman with a rifle. It wouldn’t be until the mid-19th century that industrial and technological advancements made it feasible for a country to mass-produce standard-issue rifles for the average infantryman.

However, privately purchased rifles were still used by some ad-hoc skirmisher units. Rifles are known to have been fired in many Early Modern battles, such as the Battle of the Horseshoes (1571) and the Battle of The Bottleneck (1617).

The Jäger Korps
Prussian_schutzen_jagers.jpgThe Native Rhodellian ‘Skulking Way of War’ was still a central pillar of the Commonwealth’s military doctrine. The average Rhodellian line infantryman still exploited terrain, camouflaged himself, made effective use of cover, aimed at individual targets, and acted independently if needed. Shooting was by far the Commonwealth’s favourite pastime, a nation sport enjoyed all; Rhodellian soldiers possessed an uncanny proficiency in killing anything caught within their sights. On open terrain, with friendly cavalry to protect them from enemy cavalry, they regularly used spread-out skirmish lines to monstrous effect against more tightly-packed lines and columns of enemy infantry. Sometimes, Rhodellian line infantry even performed reconnaissance duties at the request of their officers in the absence of friendly light cavalry. For skirmishing duties, many troops equipped themselves with privately purchased rifles. As Rhodellian soldiers understood the importance of a chain of command, it was also common practice to deliberately target enemy commanders, officers, and other high-value targets. With the abandonment of armour for fancier-looking uniforms, officers only became more obvious targets for sharpshooters. Essentially, Rhodellian line infantry could double as light infantry. They were jacks-of-all-trades. However, since they weren’t specifically trained to specialise in anything, they were also masters-of-none.

At first, the Rhodellian Army held off from officially forming specialist units of light infantry for reconnaissance, skirmishing, infiltration, and other roles we associate with early 19th-century skirmishers and modern-day snipers. The popular consensus was that doing so would rob ordinary line units of their best marksmen and scouts. That was going to change. In 1697, an enlisted line infantryman named Wahchintonka Zimmermann wrote his own article for Mit Feuer und Schwert, another popular military academic journal. Before enlisting in the Rhodellian Army, Zimmermann worked for a construction company. Like all competitive enterprises operating in the Commonwealth’s internal market, the company he worked for practised ‘division of labour’. Production processes were divided into different tasks and stages. Teams of workers would concentrate on performing one task (bricklayer, carpenter, tiler etc.). This allowed for specialisation, increasing overall efficiency. Zimmermann argued that there was room for improvement in the Rhodellian Army’s approach to division of labour. He complained about the Rhodellian Army’s ‘generalist’ approach to how it trained and organised its artillery, cavalry, and infantry units. For the infantry, there were no units specialising enough as ‘light infantry’ to perform scouting, special reconnaissance, reconnaissance-in-force, infiltration tactics, raiding, observation, or surveillance to peak mastery and efficiency. He argued that relying only on ‘Jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none’ without any specialists to supplement them actually limited the variety of options available to officers and commanders rather than increased it. The Army was not operating as efficiently as it could be doing. Line infantry were also unlikely to outcompete actual specialists in certain roles. Zimmermann was not the only one who supported better division of labour in the military; many other leading Rhodellian military theorists and writers of the day also argued for the same thing.

The Rhodellian Army noticed these calls for reform, and it was going to deliver. An entire host of characters were enlisted in advisory roles to get the reforms right. For the creation of dedicated light infantry units, their doctrine, and their training regimes, their equipment, and so on, the Army were advised by more than just the prominent military theorists of the day: hunters, gamekeepers, mercenary sharpshooters, bounty hunters, and veteran infantrymen who unofficially operated as light infantry all took part and offered very insightful input.

On 23 March, 1702, the first dedicated jäger (light infantry) units were created. Jäger battalions and companies were flexibly attached to other formations as needed. Divisions generally had at least one independent battalion of Jägers, where they could perform missions at the behest of their divisional commander. Additional Jäger companies were normally attached to infantry regiments, where they could carry out missions at the request of the regimental commander as needed. Gebirgsjägers are an elite variant of jäger that formed their own independent regiments. However, they were flexible in attaching individual battalions or companies to other formations as needed. Gebirgsjägers were initially created to suppress tribal uprisings in the remote highlands of Rhodellia. However, the Gebirgsjäger’s importance increased as more of the Commonwealth’s borders began encroaching on highlands, and the need for elite mountain warfare specialists to defend them became more apparent. Throughout the 18th century, Jägers would go on to forge their own legends. They proved to be especially useful assets in the Fifth Valley War, the Third Coalition War (1725 - 1727), the Fourth Coalition War (1750 - 1753), several counterinsurgency operations, a few overseas wars where the Commonwealth joined in support of Derthalen, and other conflicts. Jägers’ camouflage, infiltration, and intelligence-gathering mastery were also crucial for winning the War of the First Grand Alliance (1794 - 1799). The fame and prestige of the Jäger Corps captivated the imaginations of millions across the Commonwealth. They were invisible killers who dispensed death from afar. They were the ‘skulking way of war’ incarnate. Stories of them would feature in newspapers, books, and fictional short stories published in magazines.

Rising civilian market

Inspired by the feats of marksmanship regularly displayed by jägers, massive numbers of people began purchasing rifles for their plinking games and Schützenfest competitions. More Rhodellians began to realise that hitting targets beyond the maximum effective range of smoothbores felt more satisfying. Sales of rifled muskets would skyrocket. Documents regarding the Commonwealth’s ‘Arms Tax’ (an excise tax on the sale of firearms, parts, and ammunition) suggest that, by 1770, nearly every Rhodellian household owned at least one rifle.

The 19th century was a good century for firearms development. The arrival of bolt-action mechanisms was widely embraced; it meant that less time and effort was spent on reloading, and more time could be devoted to the fun part: shooting. Individual marksmanship began to matter more than reload speed. On average, Schützenfest scores saw massive levels of improvement across the entire Commonwealth. Skip forward several decades, and semi-automatic rifles would begin appearing on the Rhodellian civilian market. Detachable box magazines further simplified the reloading process, adding to the fun of shooting. The second Industrial Revolution enabled the mass production of newer rifles and their ammunition, driving down costs and allowing workers to spend more of their income on ammunition. It was a good time to be a Rhodellian.

Eustachian Wars

prussian_army.jpgThe Eustachian Wars saw the rise of conscript armies. Rhodellia was one of the few combatants who never enacted conscription to bolster its numbers; it held a strong belief in “quality over quantity”. This meant that the Commonwealth’s mustered forces would never match the manpower of Kirvina and other opposing forces.

Instead, the Commonwealth’s government did the next best thing it could. It convinced every citizen that their Fatherland was under threat, as were their freedoms, liberties, and lives. The only way to defend them was to have every man, woman, and child know how to fight. Schools were tasked with teaching every student how to load, shoot, and maintain a gun. Weapons Handling classes became mandatory.

Reactions were largely patriotic and supportive of this. Some weren’t as supportive. They saw this decree as “redundant” since shooting was already well-ingrained tradition in Rhodellian society; practically everyone and their grandmother went target shooting every week. They believed that the government had better uses for its resources. Nevertheless, it was a nice return to old pioneer culture, back when every Derthaler colonist had to know how to shoot lest their settlement be destroyed in a Native Rhodellian or bandit raid.

The Army sticks with bolt-action rifles

8d6e2f4fb7b4d8026a948e59ac777ad3.jpg?resize=560,413&ssl=1Semi-automatic rifles were met with mixed reception by the Kingdom of Rhodellia’s Reichswehr (Military). The Reichsheer (Army), Reichsmarine (Navy), and Luftstreitkräfte (Air Force) each had their own opinions. The Navy and Air Force embraced semi-automatics with open arms. The Army wasn’t as keen.

Even though semi-automatic rifles were readily-available, the Army didn’t find semi-automatics to be practical for the average infantryman. The rate of fire and ease of use was acknowledged, but semi-autos at the time came with their disadvantages. They were complex machines with many small, moving parts. Field tests were conducted during the Nordwalde Revolutionary War (1901 - 1903). Every available model of semi-automatic rifle tested during the conflict ran into problems when exposed to the dirty conditions of trench warfare. The most common issue was that they tended to jam in the worst of times. Also thanks to their mechanical complexity, they were also expensive to purchase for the common infantryman. The more reasonable investment was still accurate bolt-action rifles. Bolt-actions were much cheaper to purchase and maintain. They were also simple, rugged devices that seldom jammed, even when stuck in the mud or left out in the rain. This is why bolt-action rifles remained standard-issue for infantrymen throughout the First Anéantic War, the Interwar Period, and for the first few years of the Second Anéantic War.

Interwar Period

The Accursed Treaty left a bitter taste in Rhodellians’ mouths. It downsized the millions-strong Rhodellian Army to a meagre 100,000 men. This, along with the economic hardships caused by the 1927 Market Crash, delayed their plan for vengeance against the Second Grand Alliance. While the Accursed Treaty gutted the army, there was no mention of restricting paramilitaries or youth organisations...

Children inherited the bloody revenge fantasies of their parents. The torch had passed on to them; it would be their duty to avenge their country when they came of age. And so, millions of kids joined militarised youth clubs, organisations, and programmes. Of course, there was a lot of shooting to be done. Lots, and lots, and lots, of shooting.

The Second Anéantic War

stg44-large-56a61c453df78cf7728b646d.jpgAt the start of the Second Anéantic War (1939 - 1948), the Heer was still making the switch to semi-automatic rifles. It had more troops than there were semi-autos to issue them with; most troops at the beginning had to be trained and equipped with bolt-actions. As Rhodellia’s industrial capacity for total war developed, newer models of rifle could be sent to the frontlines

Battles were primarily fought in bocage, woodland, highland, and urban terrain. Semi-automatic rifles enhanced the overall effectiveness of Rhodellian infantry squads at medium to long ranges. Their high rate of fires created a superior suppression effect to bolt-actions and increased the likelihood of hits. By 1945, most Rhodellian riflemen were equipped with semi-automatic rifles. Their firepower at the squad and platoon levels would be unmatched.

However, the mass-adoption of the semi-automatic rifle revealed its own problems. Rhodellian semi-automatic rifles - which were designed for combat at ranges of 400 metres and above - were not the most efficient weapons when it came to the confines of urban warfare. Submachine guns, with their pistol-calibre ammunition, dominated close quarters combat but were useless beyond 200 metres. If you had to push up a fairly long street, you needed a longer weapon. It was a hassle to drive the APC back to the depot to fetch enough rifles and ammunition for the whole squad. Holding position or falling back also risked your unit losing the initiative or a good moment to strike. There was also the problem of increased ammunition expenditure. To compensate, troops had to carry extra spare 7.92×57mm magazines. That led to another problem: encumbrance. The Heer discovered a new need for a middle ground between submachine guns and semi-automatic rifles.

This led to the “Sturmgewehr” - a type of selective-fire rifle that used the 7.92×33mm intermediate cartridge - being issued to more Rhodellian troops. It combined the firepower of the submachine gun with the accuracy of a rifle; they could be wielded effectively at any range up to a limit of 300 metres. That was boosted to 600 metres when switched to the semi-automatic fire mode. It was a versatile weapon that saw great relevance to the majority of combat scenarios encountered by the infantry. The Sturmgewehr weighed only slightly more than the standard-issue semi-automatic rifle, but its intermediate-sized ammunition was much lighter. Troops could carry twice as much 7.92×33mm as they could with  7.92×57mm, allowing for more suppressive fire and prolonged firefights. The rifle would perform admirably in combat.

After the war, newer models of Sturmgewehr would replace the semi-automatic rifle as the standard-issue primary weapon of every branch. The semi-automatic rifles of the war were replaced by ‘battle rifles’;  they still used full-powered rifle cartridges, but benefited from longer effective ranges and an automatic fire mode. Battle rifles were mainly used by an infantry squad’s designated marksman. Some decades later, battle rifles would give way to more specialised Designated Marksman Rifles. Selective-fire automatic rifles would remain on top.

The Great Plateau, and The Future

No rifle we have today would surprise weapon designers from the 1940s and 50s. Firearms development would plateau over the next several decades. Across Eurth, weapons manufacturers haven’t given up on innovating, but when it comes to rifles and such they haven’t made any major strides. We’ve just seen small, incremental changes here and there. Honourable mentions go to polymer frames for weight reduction, rails for attachments, and modular designs for versatility. They were nice improvements to be sure, but not all that groundbreaking when compared to the innovations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We aren’t quite yet at the age of railguns, plasma guns, and lasguns.

In the decades following the Second Anéantic War, Rhodellia’s Department of Defence, its contractors, and civilian companies would try to circumvent the plateau by seeking to pioneer in other fields. Visionaries willing to diversify, exploit untapped markets, and satiate the DoD’s addiction to the future would funnel their creative energy towards: night vision devices, body armour, homing weapons, precision-guided munitions, caseless ammunition, smart bullets, exoskeletons, ballistic drop compensators, virtual reality simulations, and so forth. Technology marches on.

As of 2019, Rhodellia has more rifles than it has people. They’re omnipresent in people's lives: kids carry them to school and afterschool clubs, adults carry them to work and shooting ranges… they’re open carried anywhere and everywhere. Nobody (except for foreign tourists) bats an eye, because it’s just considered normal. Cultural attitudes from the Colonial Era haven’t changed. Practically everyone still gets a kick out of shooting guns. People still see the gun as a tool with which they are to maintain their liberties and freedoms; they would rather fight to the death than surrender them.

Martial Arts culture

“The true spirit of martial strategy requires that you train to be useful at any moment and teach men so that they become useful in everything”, Miyamoto Musashi (The Book of Five Rings)

zoetiiucvtz01.jpgThe age of the sword is long gone; the infantry of today fight with grenades, automatic rifles, and machine guns. It’s an accepted fact that no competent enemy would ever let you within stabbing range. With that in mind, is there a point in knowing how to kill someone in over seven hundred ways with just your bare hands? Is it still practical to learn martial arts when you can just whip out a gun and end a fight in an instant? As anachronistic as it sounds, Rhodellia’s Department of Defence, Department of Education, Department of Health, and Department of Culture firmly believe so.

The Spartan Protocol’s Citizen Warrior Initiative (CWI) promotes the study and practice of martial arts. Rhodellian students undergo mandatory martial arts class starting from Kindergarten. They mostly focus on Bajonettkampf, but a variety of others are taught to prevent monotony. It’s not the footwork, strikes, grappling, joint locks, throws, pins, and disarming techniques that the government finds useful, but the way martial arts changes one’s character. Martial arts instills: discipline, confidence, situational awareness, controlled aggression, improvisation, adaptability, and efficiency. It’s meant to give people the courage and ability to push the offensive or hold their ground against aggressors. Philosophy, meditation, and philosophy (adopted from Oriental (Yellow Empire) and Thalassan martial arts culture in the 18th century) are also important for instilling composure, stability, self-reflection, and mindfulness. These have proven to be useful traits and abilities for the average citizen to have.

Thanks to the Oriental inspirations of Bajonettkampf in the 1790s, the ‘Kung Fu Craze’ of the late 1960s and 70s, and anime, present-day Rhodellian martial arts culture traces plenty of descent from the Orient. Rhodellians have written their own philosophical treatises on martial arts with clear Buddhist and Taoist undertones. They’ve created their own distinct fighting styles, with renowned masters going on to found their own schools and academies. Rhodellians’ martial arts training teaches them to strive towards ideals of physical perfection, mental clarity, and enlightenment. With no “belt system” to be found, (just like in the Orient) martial arts is seen as a lifelong commitment; “mastery” comes from decades of study, practice, and application. Thanks to Rhodellia’s military traditions, this is a commitment most are willing to keep.

As of 2019, there are 65,684 certified martial arts schools around the Kingdom of Rhodellia.

It’s good to have a population with fighting spirit. Rhodellians recognise that the most practical weapon for self-defence is a concealed carry pistol. However, not every country on Eurth is as free as Rhodellia when it comes to gun laws. They can’t always just pull a trigger and be done with it. What would they do if they were on holiday abroad and some guy tried to mug them with a knife, and they had no gun to kill the mugger with? Fold and hand over their wallets like weaklings, thereby condemning themselves to be the laughing stocks of their home country? As dumb as it sounds, Rhodellians are trained not to comply or run away: should negotiations fail, they’re hardwired to face their problems head-on. They’re raised to say “DON’T TREAD ON ME” before “beating the ever-loving shit” out of their would-be assailant. For this situation, they are taught that “might makes right”. The same rule can apply back home in Rhodellia: if both parties consent, then duels and brawls are also considered perfectly lawful and acceptable ways of settling disagreements. Rhodellians train accordingly; their reputations, and perhaps even their lives, may depend on how well they can fight. The result? The average Rhodellian doesn’t need a gun to be ‘dangerous’.

Bajonettkampf

“Weapons should be sturdy rather than decorative”, Miyamoto Musashi (The Book of Five Rings)

The most famous (and perhaps unorthodox) martial art ever to come out of Rhodellia is Bajonettkampf (Bayonet-fighting). It teaches its practitioners how to kill with bayonets, on instinct, with minimal wasted thought, movement, and effort. They train with bayonets fixed to their rifles or gripped in their palms. They are also trained to disarm or disable bayonet-wielding opponents, even when unarmed themselves; there are plenty of pins, joint locks, grapples, and throws involved. Bajonettkampf also instils many qualities desirable in soldiers, such as discipline, physical aggression, and versatility. It pick-and-mixes moves and techniques from fighting styles across the world (sometimes altering them) to form an efficient, practical martial art tailored for realistic combat scenarios. If better ways of doing stuff are discovered, then changes are made in order for the martial art to keep its integrity and remain relevant. Rather than 'self-defence', Bajonettkampf (or at least its ‘Military’ variants) has the express purpose of making Rhodellian soldiers better at ‘killing the enemy’. It is Rhodellia's answer to Jūkendō.

In Rhodellian culture and society, the bayonet is symbolic of egalitarianism and the working class. The Rhodellian Labour Party incorporates a bayonet in its emblem, just like its direct predecessor, the Rhodellian Workers' Party. Bayonets are mostly used as utility tools. In everyday life, they're used as pencil sharpeners, letter openers, and bottle openers, for example. While hiking or camping, they're used for making kindling, splitting firewood, and removing splinters, for example. They've got a wide variety of useful applications; as a result, practically all Rhodellians walk around with a bayonet sheathed somewhere.

Psychological warfare

Spoiler

A notable thing about Bajonettkampf is an emphasis in the ‘war face’ and battle cry. The practical purpose of a bayonet charge is to demoralise a battered and ill-prepared enemy into retreating from a position. Bayonets are scarier than bullets; you won’t see a bullet coming, but a howling wave of warriors rushing to stab you is a different matter entirely. Even if you do have a gun, it takes balls to hold your ground against a bayonet charge. Bajonettkampf practitioners are aware that a bayonet charge’s effect is more psychological than physical, so they devote plenty of time and practice into perfecting their psychological warfare game.

They do this in a variety of ways. They get advice from their instructors and practice in front of a mirror to contort their expressions into the most terrifying war faces possible. They read up on vocal techniques to make their battle cries as loud and ear-piercing as humanly possible. If their hardened instructors laugh instead of shiver, then students can expect a lot more learning and practice ahead of them. Most Bajonettkampf schools base their war cries on traditional Native Rhodellian war cries, which can be described as whooping, howling, or roaring noises.

Martial arts styles and schools

Spoiler

Within the kingdom, there are thousands of dōjō-like martial arts schools solely dedicated to teaching bayonet-fighting. Hundreds of distinct ‘schools’ and ‘styles’ exist. Each of them offers their own set of philosophies and techniques. There is no single ‘greatest’ style. For example, one specialised style might perform better in a certain scenario than another, which may take a more ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ approach to combat. Different people have their own ways of doing things, so the ‘best’ style to learn for yourself is up to personal preference.

Categories of Bajonettkampf

Spoiler

Rhodellian bayonet-fighting is split into two main categories: ‘Military’ and ‘Non-Military’.

The first and original category is ‘Military’ Bajonettkampf. It is specifically optimised to kill enemies in the most efficient, practical ways possible. Though it has many off-shoots, the Department of Defence only recognises two official styles of Military Bajonettkampf; both of them are developed and regulated by the Wehrmacht's ‘Bayonet Commission’. The first style is taught to conscripts when they first enter National Service, with more practice and techniques offered to volunteers when they re-enlist. The second style incorporates more advanced techniques that can't be mastered in a matter of months; it is only taught to more elite units, such as special forces operators.

The second and most diverse category is ‘Non-Military’ Bajonettkampf. Only a minority of Non-Military bayonet-fighting styles are optimised to kill, and for good reason. Most Non-Military styles deliberately miss the entire point of the martial art: their purposes range from self-defence to competition sports (where the goal is to disable or incapacitate the enemy, not kill him). Different fighters have their own preferred ways of doing things, so here you will find a lot of variation in philosophy and technique. All Rhodellian schools from Kindergarten to Secondary are required to teach Bajonettkampf to their students. Exactly how and what they're taught is dependent on the instructors these institutions choose to hire. Students' fighting abilities are examined and graded each year by a panel of judges working for the Department of Defence. The results affect a school's overall rating, and even whether or not a student can progress to the next school year.

History of Bayonets and Bayonet-fighting

Spoiler

Ask any Rhodellian ‘What was the most important invention of the 17th century?’, and 99.9% of the time their answer will be ‘the bayonet’. For a device so simple, the bayonet turned out to be revolutionary: what need did an army have for pikes when you could turn muskets into spears at a moment’s notice? For the Rhodellian military, the days of the pike were now far behind them. The Rhodellian Army fully embraced plug bayonets on July 2, 1671. The Rhodellian Navy followed a few weeks later. Pikemen embraced their obsolescence. Their pikes had served them well throughout the years, skewering both cavalry and infantry alike. However, with bayonets, they could both stab and shoot. With the full adoption of socket bayonets on April 19, 1701, they could finally do both at the same time. They could finally follow their dreams and shoot people for a living alongside their mates. The Rhodellian Army revised its military doctrine accordingly. The last pike formations were decommissioned in 1684. Meanwhile, musketeers and grenadiers became part of the ‘line infantry’. Rhodellians maximised firepower to the extreme. War had changed.

As guns became more lightweight, powerful, and widespread, armour declined in inverse proportion. A steel breastplate couldn’t reliably stop a bullet fired from a musket. Plate armour could not save its wearer from a cannonball. ‘Hard’ armours did not offer enough protection for their weight, and were a liability on long marches. By the mid-17th century, most Rhodellian soldiers had ditched their munitions plate for standardised uniforms. Only lancers, cuirassiers, and other heavy cavalry units had steel armour as standard-issue. Development, production, and sales of soft armours (such as gambesons and silk vests) continued, but were not standard issue.

The need arises

In 1686, a non-commissioned officer named Garrick Bauer wrote an article for the 1686 edition of ‘Totaler Krieg’. In the present day, Totaler Krieg is one of the leading military magazines consumed by the Rhodellian working class. It publishes the latest in military news, developments, and innovations. It did the same thing back in the 17th century, albeit as an annually-published academic journal read by the Rhodellian middle class and intelligentsia. At the time, Bauer was a Platoon Sergeant in the Rhodellian Army. By 1686, he had served during the Fourth Valley War (1672 - 1677) and the Second Coalition War against the Rhodellian Commonwealth. He also took part in counter-insurgency operations against rebel tribes and Separatist factions from 1681 to 1685.

Bauer saw with his own eyes how, with no armour to protect their flesh anymore, Rhodellian soldiers now died to pikes, swords, and bayonets as easily as they did to bullets. From the Knights’ Charge against King Penrod in 1489 to the Battle of The Bottleneck in 1617, Rhodellian soldiers used to be feared as metal murder machines. They carried this illusion of invincibility, one that struck terror in the hearts of their Native Rhodellian adversaries. Rebellious tribes and neighbouring countries then began upgrading their warriors with modern muskets, armour, and tactics with the support of Derthalen’s enemies. The armour that helped make Rhodellian troops nigh-unkillable was now obsolete. The technological gap between the Commonwealth and its local enemies shrank by the year. With the playing field being evened, Rhodellian soldiers were now dying in larger numbers than ever, and people could clearly see that. Rather than the ‘pale demons’ of ancient lore, Rhodellians were starting to be seen as ordinary human beings. The illusion that Rhodellian troops had fought so hard to maintain was being whittled away, one casualty at a time.

The increased mortality faced by the newest generation of soldiers bothered Bauer. Lightweight armour that could stop musket balls was not yet on the horizon. While the Commonwealth couldn’t do anything about bullets, Bauer pointed out that the Commonwealth could do something about enemy swords and bayonets. He noted how a lot of Rhodellian tactical victories hinged on the success of decisive bayonet charges. For the vast majority of soldiers, it was one thing to stand in a line and hope that enemy bullets missed them. At least you couldn’t see a fatal bullet coming. It was a completely different thing to stand your ground when a howling wave of soldiers charged you with sharpened steel. Death looked very certain. Rather than stick around and be gutted by a bayonet, most soldiers preferred to fall back or retreat. It turned out that humans have an instinctive desire to not be impaled through the chest. Soldiers ran away from bayonet charges most of the time. When soldiers did stand their ground, and neither side wore armour, bayonet fights turned into very bloody affairs.

At the time, Rhodellian bayonet training could practically be summed up as yelling, charging, and stabbing a mannequin. Even if it was economical, Bauer urged for that practice to be dropped as soon as possible. Bauer believed that casualties could be greatly reduced if Rhodellian soldiers received better training with bayonets. Being significantly better than their opponents would allow them to win more melees, and inflict more casualties on the enemy than the enemy could inflict back. To achieve this, Bauer called for the creation of a ‘military martial art’, one that taught Rhodellian soldiers to kill with bayonets in the most efficient and practical ways possible.

A lot of high-ranking members of the Ministry of Defense, the Rhodellian Army, the Rhodellian Navy, and various colonial militias subscribed to Totaler Krieg. Many nodded their heads while reading Bauer’s article. Agreeing with Bauer’s logic and arguments, they sought to make his idea a reality. Enemies still feared Rhodellian soldiers as indisputable demons on the modern battlefield. Their reputations as some of the most lethal warriors in existence had to be maintained. And so, the Ministry of Defense set up the ‘Bayonet Commission’ on June 14, 1687. But first, they needed to form a solid, practical base for the martial art to develop from.

Martial traditions

19419c7abbfffe780907c130e80de82d.jpgThe Rhodellian Colonies were lucky. Thanks to their high literacy rates and book production since the start, colonists were able to document practically every martial art they came across before gunpowder took centre stage on the battlefield. The battles against the Woodland tribes in the 15th and 16th centuries called for great strength and ability from each individual colonist and pioneer. Native Rhodellian warriors, both enemy and allied, scared early Derthaler colonists. They were ferocious, musclebound killers decorated with war paint, tattoos, or ritual scars; not only did they yell like demons, but they fought like them too. Even worse, they were masters of stealth who could exploit the environment to their advantage. When ambushed in the forest, militia could usually only get one shot off with their guns before enemy warriors could charge or sneak up on them; fights came down to hand-to-hand combat in nearly all cases. And so, many entrepreneuring Derthaler ‘Landsknecht’ mercenaries and Imperial Army soldiers set up schools to teach the average colonist how to win melees against their tribal enemies. Many published books and training manuals, and competed with other martial arts masters for apprentices. As more Native Rhodellians allied themselves with the Derthaler and learned the colonists’ language and customs, they too began bringing their own traditional fighting styles to the table. They too got their own books and training manuals published.

As time went on, some apprentices would become masters. Newer generations of martial arts masters would go on to found their own schools, teaching the next generation of colonists/pioneers how to fight with swords, spears, axes, pollaxes, bare hands, and so on. Thanks to Colonial Education laws, all colonists and pioneers could learn from the masters and read books on martial arts if they wanted to. When the Bayonet Commission was founded in 1687, the Commonwealth still had a martial arts community. The Age of Gunpowder and stability definitely put a dent in the popularity of martial art schools and academies, but nevertheless the Ministry of Defence still had plenty to work with. Renowned masters from various Derthaler (both Argic and Colonial) and Native Rhodellian Schools of Spear, Sword, and Dagger-fighting joined the Commission. Techniques were compiled and stress-tested in simulated combat scenarios based on actual events observed in previous wars, from the claustrophobic trench fighting at the Battle of the Bottleneck (1617), to the surprise encounters between small units of skirmishers, to the chaotic massed melees that typically happened when two disciplined line infantry formations clashed.

Foreign influences

0260b4e6a1fadd400cd603658be1af6f.jpgPersonnel would also look at many other foreign influences, searching as far away as other oceans and continents. There was increased contact with the Orient (Yellow Empire) and Thalassa. This led to many members of the Ministry of Defence taking an interest in the martial culture and legend of the samurai. Where they could, they consulted masters from certain Schools of Bōjutsu, Sōjutsu, Naginatajutsu, Tantōjutsu, Kodachijutsu, and Jujutsu for the ongoing project. Trade significantly rose with former member-states of the Yellow Empire, especially the Sultanate of Fulgiyan. This allowed the Ministry of Defense to seek the expertise of many ‘kung fu’ masters. Dozens of different ‘wushu’ fighting styles were subject to scientific analysis and stress-testing, especially those that dealt with polearms, shortswords, knives, and daggers.

The Birth of Bajonettkampf

The martial art had to be pragmatic, efficient, and simple enough to be easily recallable by instinct in the chaos and confusion of close quarters combat. With no frills or aesthetic considerations, it would be a straightforward martial art for the express purpose of killing the enemy. However, that did not stop Rhodellians from recognising the ‘philosophical’ side of martial arts. Primarily inspired by the teachings of martial artists from throughout the Yellow Empire, the Ministry of Defense (and even Ministry of Education) began widely promoting martial arts as a way to strengthen the mind, body, and soul. By 1694, new bayonet-fighting manuals and training regimes were being implemented by both the Rhodellian Army and Navy. The earliest form of ‘Bajonettkampf’, the Rhodellian military martial art of bayonet-fighting, was born.

Some 100,000 soldiers, sailors, and reservists received formal training in Bajonettkampf by the end of the Samosetian Deluge in 1699. Whether it be on the field, attacking towns, storming fortresses, or clearing the lower decks of ships, Rhodellian troops consistently outfought their opponents in close quarters combat. Slaughtering their enemies in hand-to-hand combat got their adrenaline pumping in a different way from just shooting them from afar. They felt the rush of chaotic, massed melees, a thrill seldom seen since the Middle Ages. It also felt morbidly satisfying to soak in the blood of their enemies. Rhodellian troops in the final years of the Samosetian Deluge showed far more enthusiasm than before in executing aggressive actions. Bajonettkampf worked wonders on the battlefield, building a zealous aggression in Rhodellian troops even into the 21st century.

Introduction to civilians, and the rise of “Non-Military” Bajonettkampf

Bajonettkampf leaked back into the civilian world through returning veterans. Quite a few taught the martial art, its techniques, and its philosophies, to their wives and children. Some veterans put their own personal spins of Bajonettkampf and sought to spread it to others. After proving their martial arts mastery to a panel of Bayonet Commission judges, they would go on to found the first civilian Schools of bayonet-fighting.

Some even started up bayonet-fighting leagues and competitions. The ‘realistic’, fast-paced combat inspired awe in the Commonwealth’s working and middle classes, overtaking boxing and wrestling in drawing crowds of spectators. The idea of a competition sport where the contestants fought using a martial art specifically tailored to killing as quickly and efficiently as possible amused the Ministry of Defense. It went as well as you’d expect. Even though the contestants obviously used ‘safe’ wooden weapons, some still managed to end up crippled. A few fighters even died in more ‘heated’ matches. Sure, the crowds may have loved watching this stuff in all its gruesome glory, but having fighters be permanently disabled or even killed in matches wasn’t sound as a long-term business strategy. It cost time and money to manage and promote them. Unlike gladiatorial fights in Aroman amphitheatres or in modern wrestling, these fights could not be staged; while modern pro wrestling is popular for weaving captivating narratives and drama, Bajonettkampf quenched that primitive part of our minds that thirsted for raw, unfiltered violence. 

The solution was to develop a safer 'competition' variant of the martial art, with fighting styles where fighters wouldn’t immediately kill or maim each other with their instincts and muscle memory. It would have the rules, guidelines, and regulations the Bajonet Commission sought to avoid from the very start. It would be an ‘ingenuine’ spin-off of Bajonettkampf, but at least fighters wouldn’t be critically wounded or die in every single tournament. From here on out, competition-oriented Bajonettkampf styles would split off and develop in their own separate directions, away from the killing-focused styles propagated by the military.

The effectiveness of this schism is debatable. Every now and then, 'unfortunate accidents' still happen in leagues where extensive safety precautions aren't mandatory. People have pointed out that fatalities still happen at a 'high' rate comparable to NASCAR (before the introduction of additional safety features in the early 2000s). However, it is undeniable that participants die less frequently than they used to.

The Golden Age of Martial Arts

Bajonettkampf’s popularity chain-reacted into a Commonwealth-wide interest in martial arts. When most upper and middle-class Rhodellians still fenced with longswords, most working-class Rhodellians in 1710 sparred with bayonets. Potential students were enticed by engaging philosophies, the proven increase in battlefield survival rates, and how fun it was to greet your friends by putting them in a joint lock and pretending to stab them in the throat. Knife-sized bayonets also doubled as good general purpose tools, much like the Native Rhodellian tomahawk. More people than ever before were becoming avid practitioners of martial arts. Historians mark Bajonettkampf’s birth as the starting point of Rhodellia’s ‘Golden Age of Martial Arts’.

Working-class icon

Partei-des-Volkes-Rhodellia.pngIt was around this time that the bayonet pinned itself as a symbol of the Rhodellian working class. The Golden Age of Martial Arts witnessed the peak of the kingdom’s duelling community and the widest variety of martial arts schools and fighting styles. The two most popular duelling weapons were rifles and bayonets. This was because the majority of duellists were not actually middle-class gentlemen or upper-class knights (who primarily fought with pistols and longswords), but ordinary working-class people. Quality swords were not too expensive, but years of expert training under certified swordmasters was not economical for the average rural farmer or factory worker. The only other affordable way to get this level of training was to join a monastery or convent that followed more militant interpretations of the Imperial Truth. In contrast, bayonets were much cheaper and more accessible. The skills to properly use them were taught at an affordable price by Bajonettkampf schools; most of them primarily catered to the working class. Knife-sized bayonets were also more convenient to carry around; they were easily concealable in working clothes, and doubled as convenient utility tools for everyday life. It’s no surprise that bayonets caught on so quickly.

Dietrich Schäfer is famous for having led the Workers’ Revolution of 1770. Under his leadership, a sea of angry (and well-armed) workers flooded the streets of Friedrichstadt, united in a campaign for radical political, social, and labour reform. Both the Rhodellian Army and Navy refused to intervene, seeing as most soldiers and officers hailed from a working-class background. The revolutionaries succeeded. Property ownership was abolished as a requirement for voting in General Elections. The Commonwealth Parliament was restructured into a bicameral system, now comprised of the Reichstag and Reichsrat. The deletion of legally-recognised social privilege and classes became a reality. Working conditions in factories and workshops were to improve. Schäfer’s Rhodellian Workers’ Party would win a landslide victory in the 1770 General Election, making him the first Chancellor of Rhodellia.

Before he got famous, Schäfer was an avid duellist. He was trained in the Anderson School of Bajonettkampf; it’s a fighting style that wielded a bayonet in each hand. Schäfer would go on to challenge dozens of middle and upper-class opponents - people who thought that the superior reach of their swords would prevail - and defeat them. It’s no coincidence that Schäfer adopted a pair of crossed bayonets as the Rhodellian Workers’ Party emblem.

To Rhodellians, bayonets are representative of change: they symbolise the victory of Rhodellian egalitarianism against an entrenched political and social elite. During the Workers’ Revolution of 1770, the working class rallied under red flags emblazoned with a yellow pair of crossed bayonets. The Rhodellian Workers’ Party would keep this emblem until the year 1900, when it merged with other working class-oriented political groups to form the Rhodellian Labour Party. The Labour Party would retain the symbolic use of bayonets in its iconography. The Rhodellian Suffragette Movement also included a bayonet in its official emblem. The bayonet was no longer just a weapon, but the official symbol of the Rhodellian working class.

Eustachian Wars

Rhodellian defeats in The Eustachian Wars slammed Rhodellian national pride like an express train. Battles against Kirvina revealed that Rhodellian soldiers were not as undefeatable as the War of the First Grand Alliance made them out to be.

The biggest surprise was that there were many Kirvinska units that could actually best Rhodellian infantry in bayonet-fighting. How could Rhodellians lose in melee… when they had a century-old tradition of Bajonettkampf, an optimised, codified system of martial arts dedicated to bayonets? It was understood that the Kirvinska were an older martial culture, and that they practiced martial arts as well. However, that still can’t have been the full story.

The Bayonet Commission struggled for answers. It needed one, fast. In this age of slow, muzzle-loaded firearms, the bayonet was an important weapon on the battlefield. Rhodellian tactical victories still hinged on decisive bayonet charges to push the offensive. The Commonwealth could not afford to repeat the disasters of the Eustacian Wars in the future.

The Bayonet Commission eventually did come up with an answer. It theorised that the Kirvinska won bayonet fights because their soldiers had spent more time practicing with the bayonet. Therefore, Rhodellian soldiers needed to devote more time to bayonet training. The Rhodellian Army thought this wasn’t viable. The basic training period was already several months-long, and as rigorous and intensive as it could reasonably be. True proficiency with martial arts could not be cultivated within a year.

Many Rhodellians still trained in martial arts as their ancestors did in the 18th century. The problem was that there weren’t enough of these martial artists to go around. Very few of them enlisted in the military; most preferred to either focus on their duelling careers, found their own schools, or pursue other paths of life.

The solution was to introduce mandatory Bajonettkampf training in all Kindergartens, Primary schools, and Secondary schools. This would nurture strong ‘warrior spirits’ in Rhodellian children from an early age. This way, the military would have more recruits with prior training in bayonet-fighting. No longer would Rhodellian troops be defeated so badly in melee.

Reactions were largely supportive. Many popular and high-profile martial artists vouched for this policy. They believed that all children would benefit learning the philosophies and values of martial arts. This consensus was further spread by practically every popular magazine and newspaper. Schoolchildren themselves thought that learning martial arts would be a fun and rewarding experience. They were right. Native Rhodellians were especially sentimental about the idea, since it reminded them about “ye olde days” when their tribes trained young boys to become warriors. They were the most vocal supporters of the policy, since it meant that their martial heritage would survive.

Machine guns, howitzers, and trench warfare

4D12D5A200000578-0-image-a-20_1528539152666.jpgThe invention of recoil-operated machine guns brought the Golden Age of Martial Arts to a bloody close. Rhodellians have a history with repeating weapons. They’ve produced volley guns and revolving muskets as early as the late 16th century. They’ve faced Puckle Guns in the early 17th century, Mitrailleuses in the mid 19th century, and Gatling Guns in the late 19th century. Small, incremental changes were made to tactics in response to these weapons. However, it wouldn’t be until the Nordwalde Revolutionary War (1901 - 1903) that Rhodellian troops found themselves at the receiving end of Maxim Guns. Recoil-operated machine guns were a real game-changer; never had it been easier to mow down entire formations of soldiers. How were troops going to get close enough to make use of their melee skills? What use did spears and swords have against such power? Rhodellians began to question whether or not martial arts still had a practical military application. The Golden Age of Martial Arts was over.

The Nordwalde Revolutionary War was Rhodellia’s first real experience with trench warfare (as most people know it). The Reichsheer’s General Staff expected a swift war of manoeuvre, only for their forces to be bogged down by mud, barbed wire, landmines, trenches, machine guns, and howitzers. Revolutionary Forces were putting up a far better fight than expected. In response to new conditions, the Reichsheer began to innovate new raiding, assault, and infiltration (stormtrooper) tactics. Newer service rifles were shortened to carbine-length. However, it would take until the end of the First Anéantic War (1914 - 1919) for these innovations to be fully developed.

Bajonettkampf fared better than other weapon-based martial arts. It was able to adapt to the new reality of modern warfare. Before the Nordwalde Revolutionary War, Military Bajonettkampf was oriented towards fighting as part of a larger formation on open ground, and making extensive use of a fixed bayonet’s superior reach. The standard-issue rifleman’s knife bayonet had also been lengthened into a shortsword during the Eustacian Wars. Military Bajonettkampt in 1903 almost mimicked historical pike combat. This fared poorly in the confined, claustrophobic, and chaotic conditions of trench-fighting. Many soldiers just used the knife bayonet-fighting styles they learned as civilians. As soon as the first After Action Reports (AAF) started flooding in, the Bayonet Commission knew that it had to change its doctrine.

Military Bajonettkampf changed significantly over this 16-year period. Sword bayonets reverted to knife bayonets. Knife-fighting techniques once again took centre-stage. New fighting styles emerged, incorporating pistols and improvised trench weapons (such as entrenching tools, brass knuckles, maces, and clubs). Ground fighting was included, since many trench scuffles turned into wrestling matches as soon as one combatant slipped on mud or got knocked over by a blow. Disarming and additional wrestling techniques were later added at the troops’ popular request. Troops were also trained to silently kill sentries by approaching from behind and stabbing them through the carotid artery. Teamwork now consisted of watching your friend’s back, isolating opponents from reinforcements, and ganging up on them. Footwork became optimised for turning sharp corners and clearing dugouts and bunkers in assaults, and quiet approaches during raids and infiltrations. Fighting dirty and extreme combat pragmatism remained the focus of Military Bajonettkampf. Rhodellian troops once again became demons both at range and in melee.

Interwar Period

Even with the renewed success of Military Bajonettkampf, Rhodellia and its allies still lost the First Anéantic War. The sudden yet severe downsizing of the military as part of the Accursed Treaty left millions of veterans desperate for a job (or at least something to do). Many devoted themselves to the full-time study and practice of martial arts. A lot of them became certified instructors of their own martial arts schools. A few would rise up in society as recognised bayonet-fighting masters.

At the same time, the Accursed Treaty left tens of millions of Rhodellians eager for revenge against the Second Grand Alliance. However, the Treaty, its forced downsizing of the military, and the 1927 Market Crash meant that vengeance had to wait. People knew that another war was bound to happen eventually, but when? Rhodellians began to push their dreams of revenge onto their children, hoping that they would succeed where the last generation failed.

The Accursed Treaty may have restricted the army, but didn’t say anything about youth clubs and paramilitaries. Millions of Rhodellian children and teenagers would voluntarily enroll in militarised youth clubs and programmes. Bajonettkampf was an integral part of their training regimes, and there was no shortage of quality instructors to teach it. Rhodellians sharpened their bayonets and geared themselves for war.

Second Anéantic War

bayonets.jpgWhen the Second Anéantic War broke out in 1939, Rhodellia was more than ready for payback. A lot of Rhodellian soldiers spent their entire childhood or teenage years preparing to avenge their country. Many veterans of the First Anéantic War shook off their rust and re-enlisted for combat. They wondered how would 20 years of preparation translate on the battlefield.

Against most people’s expectations, the Second Anéantic War did not immediately devolve into a repeat of the First Anéantic War. The opening stages saw a war of movement, not a stalemate of trenches and bunkers. Combined arms assaults with infantry, tanks, artillery, and aircraft fighting in concert were the order of the day. Coherent battle lines only started forming in the middle stages of the war. Battles were fought in urban, woodland, hilly, and highland settings. In close quarters combat, Rhodellian soldiers preferred to wield flamethrowers, submachine guns, sturmgewehrs, and grenades rather than fix bayonets. The later stages of the war progressed into penetrating and enveloping layers of defensive lines. Rhodellian troops were once again storming trenches, pillboxes, bunkers, and forts. Again, soldiers used other weapons besides their bayonets. Rhodellian bayonet-fighting skills seldom got their chance in the spotlight.

However, when Rhodellian troops did get to fix their bayonets, they were terrifying affairs for any enemy conscript caught on the receiving end. Enemies heard more than enough horror stories from the First Anéantic War. Rhodellian troops were well-trained in the stealth, infiltration, and assault tactics they pioneered in the Nordwalde Revolutionary and First Anéantic Wars. They had the skills to bypass defensive lines, sweep trenches, and clear bunkers. When assaulting enemy positions, they aimed to achieve local superiority in numbers, isolate smaller enemy forces, infiltrate close to their positions, and defeat them in detail. Bayonet-armed Rhodellian troops managed to storm many positions this way.

The Second Anéantic War turned out to be an interesting case study for the Department of Defence. Even if Rhodellians rarely got to stab their enemies, the merits of Bajonettkampf manifested in a different way. It was noted how Rhodellian troops were especially willing to take the initiative, press the offensive, and get up close and personal. In defensive actions, they were stalwart and eager to meet the enemy’s attack (with bayonets if they had to). The Bayonet Commission made a convincing case to the Department of Defence, attributing the increased courage, confidence, and physical aggressiveness of Rhodellian troops to their years of Bajonettkampf training. From here on out, Military Bajonettkampf would place extra emphasis on building even fiercer ‘warrior spirits’ and ‘killer instincts’ within the troops.

The decline

Military Bajonettkampf advanced thanks to the Second Anéantic War. Non-Military Bajonettkampf was hit pretty hard. Martial arts was still a compulsory subject in schools, but compared to shooting, students weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as they used to be before the war.

The Second Anéantic War showed the full power of technology at the time. The various ‘Wunderwaffe’ deployed by the Wehrmacht; the prevalence of tanks, aircraft, and artilery; the average firefight happening between the ranges of 300 and 500 metres; and the lack of actual bayonet-fighting… they all had the unintended side effect of shaking Rhodellians’ faith in their hand-to-hand combat skills. What was the point of learning martial arts if it was no longer going to be useful in modern warfare? It had a good run, Rhodellians thought, but it looked like martial arts was now truly obsolete.

Faced with a nationwide decline in students, many smaller martial arts instructors were out of business. The Department of Defence considered this to be a national security disaster. The employees of the Bayonet Commission suffered a collective panic attack; they couldn’t come up with a solution, not this time. How were they supposed to reinvigorate interest in martial arts?

The Kung Fu Craze

moma_brucelee_thewayofdragoHOMEn-1.jpgMartial arts was dying once again. But everything changed when Fulgistani cinema attacked. ‘Kung fu’ and ‘Wuxia’ flicks from the Madrian area of Fulgistan’s Wulumuqi region came and roundhouse-kicked every Rhodellian in the face. Rhodellian cinema would never be the same. Millions crowded cinemas, and bought U-Matics, VHS, and DVDs, just to watch musclebound badasses utterly destroy their opponents (along with the surrounding environment) with their bare hands, feets, and a variety of other cool weapons.

To emulate their heroes on the big screen, Rhodellians everywhere started taking up an avid interest in martial arts, much like their grandparents did before the Second Anéantic War. They no longer cared if they were never going to get the chance to bayonet someone on the battlefield, they did martial arts for the sake of martial arts. It was fun. It was cool. Once again, learning it was a necessity of life. Cashing in on the trend, martial arts schools would explode again. Martial arts from across the Orient skyrocketed in popularity, with many ‘dōjōs’ being set up across the kingdom.

Bajonettkampf - which started out being highly-influenced by Oriental martial arts - in general would reconnect with its roots. To keep up with the times, many Non-Military Bajonettkampf styles would more explicitly advertise the use of Oriental martial arts techniques and philosophies. This strategy worked.

The Renaissance of Martial Arts

In the present day, wuxia flicks and anime are still influencing the newest generations of Rhodellian warriors. There are plenty of kids, teenagers, and young adults going around doing hand signs, attempting wall-runs, and roundhouse-kicking their mates for a quick laugh. Though Madrian cinema still packs seats in Rhodellian theatres, the prevalence of kung fu and bujutsu on the Rhodellian martial arts scene isn’t as strong as it used to be in the 1970s and 80s.

Non-Military Bajonettkampf styles and schools that took a hit following the Second Anéantic War have made a resurgence in the 1990s, and are going strong as of 2019. Rhodellian students are generally enthusiastic about their Bajonettkampf classes, thinking them to be one of the more exciting school lessons outside of Weapons Handling (shooting) class. Bajonettkampf is at its strongest point, ever.

Historians call this current era the ‘Renaissance of Martial Arts’.

Recreation and Sports

"War has never been so much fun", Cannon Fodder

Recreation and sports in Rhodellia have a distinct, military flavour to them. They can double both as ‘fun pastimes’ and ‘preparation for SHTF scenarios’. This is attributed to Rhodellia’s prevalent military culture, martial traditions, and abundance of guns and ammunition. There’s that, and how Rhodellians are generally jingoistic and desensitised to violence.

While sports such as football and basketball are often played, they’re not quite considered ‘national sports’; they haven’t had as much of an impact on Rhodellian culture as rifles and bayonets have. Video games are popular too. Rhodellia even has its own eSports tournaments. However, they’re not really distinctive of Rhodellian culture.

Schützenfest

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Schützenfest is a traditional festival celebrated all over Rhodellia. In Anglish, they’re called ‘Marksmen’s Fairs’. They were originally held by Derthaler colonists to practice marksmanship and maintain combat readiness in case of attack by Native Rhodellians or marauding bandits. Now, they’re massive funfairs with an open-to-all target shooting competition as the main event.

As different towns and cities organise their own Schützenfests, their content varies widely from locality to locality. A variety of shooting competitions can be entered. Most Schützenfests have conventional field shooting, long distance shooting, and practical shooting tournaments, with participants firing at the usual human-depicting paper targets used by schools and the military. The larger ones can afford to spice things up, throwing in more events such as multigun and clay target shooting. The difference between Schützenfest and your average day/night out is that, with Schützenfest, you can flex on more people than usual with your marksmanship skills and earn a neat-looking medal or trophy should you win the tournament.

Multigun

Spoiler

3-Gun_Bethany.jpgMultigun is the most popular variant of practical shooting in Rhodellia. It is a shooting sport where players transition between handguns, shotguns, and automatic rifles, shooting from different positions at targets of variable distance. Scores are based on time, precision, and accuracy.

In Rhodellia, multigun has a more distinctly military feel to it. The courses players speed through are simulated battlefields. They can take the form of an indoor room clearing scenario, a tunnel clearing scenario, a trench sweeping scenario… basically any combat scenario Rhodellian soldiers might face in the present day. The targets used in Rhodellian multigun are usually the same pop-up paper targets with human images used by schools and the military. Some of the more expensive Multigun courses use mannequins dressed either as enemy guerrillas or soldiers.

Multigun has recently exploded, becoming even more popular than it already is. This is thanks to the release of a certain movie about a legendary hitman. The film includes a scene where the protagonist clears a catacomb with a handgun, shotgun, and a rifle, killing upwards of 50 armed men trying to assassinate him in quick succession. Rhodellians think that the film is “peak operator” or “/k/ino as f*ck”; many of them want to emulate the feats portrayed in the film.

 

Field shooting

Spoiler

Five-Field-Shooting-Positions-8.jpgField shooting is a popular national sport done in a temporary, outdoor shooting range. Targets are set up at varying locations and distances relative to the shooters. The targets are most often shot with pistols and automatic rifles. Field shooting is a discipline as old as Rhodellia itself; the first shooting ranges set up by Derthaler colonists in 1483 were outdoor ones.

Field shooting is more popular than shooting at indoor Known Distance (KD) ranges. KD ranges in Rhodellia are mostly used by school students and military personnel to measure how precise and accurate they can be at different ranges. They are also useful for zeroing gun sights. However, target shooting at a KD range - where you shoot from level ground, at stationary paper targets, under controlled conditions - does not translate very well into real-life combat scenarios. Field shooting - with its unpredictability, differing locales, and variety of environmental conditions coming into play - is thought to do a far better job.

Long range shooting

Spoiler

balprec18-starting-maynard.jpgLong range shooting has players aiming to hit targets at extreme ranges. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Players actually have to use mathematics, science, and geography to calculate ballistics, taking into account factors such as: wind speed, wind direction, spindrift, barometric pressure, Coriolis effect, mirage, you name it. Targets are often non-standard, and distances aren’t always known beforehand. Targets don’t have to be stationary either. Rhodellian long range shooters have fun by challenging themselves, often to the point that they have to remind their friends that they aren’t masochists. It is basically the Dark Souls of shooting sports; the challenge aspect and satisfaction of actually hitting your targets makes it attractive to a fairly large number of people. However, their main barrier to entry is cost.

Rhodellian long range shooters are famous for their dedication and attention to detail. They'll bring more to the range than just their rifles, ammunition, and databooks: they lug around laser rangefinders, ballistic calculators, anemometers, barometers, global positioning systems, maps, compasses, aerial drones, binoculars, you name it. You're not going to hit anything without them. Gunsmithing is another famous aspect of the hobby. Many Rhodellian long range shooters do their own gunsmithing. They shoot with custom-made rifles and fire custom-made ammunition, perfected only through endless experimentation.

When someone from outside the hobby attends a Rhodellian long range shooting competition featuring many veteran marksmen, it is called a “test of sanity”.

Plinking

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Plinking is a popular national sport and pastime, especially out in the countryside. Players shoot at natural or homemade objects, in random places, at non-standard ranges. Players generally increase the difficulty of their shots as they age and improve their marksmanship.

Plinking has been the most popular pastime in Rhodellia since the start of the Colonial Era. It’s universal for a reason: it’s quick, easy, and convenient to get into. There’s a broad variety of locations to go plinking in. You only pay for your own guns and ammunition, unless you’re also renting out a location. You can go plinking whenever you have the time. You can shoot at whatever purchased or homemade targets you bring with you. Shooting at 3D targets in an outdoor setting is also closer to real-world hunting or combat scenarios than shooting at 2D paper targets. Overall, plinking makes for an effective way for the average Rhodellian to maintain good marksmanship skills.

Firefight

Spoiler

abc_smith_wide_ll_110527_wmain.JPGFirefight is a national sport where two teams of squad, platoon, company, or battalion-sized units simulate an infantry firefight. They fight each other using Simunition bullets and rubber bayonets. The difference between firefight and airsoft is that getting hit by Simunition hurts a hell of a lot more than airsoft pellets. With this, it’s suddenly justifiable to wear MilSpec helmets and body armour. Players are more inclined to slow down, fight realistically, and think about their actions rather than run-and-gun like an airsoft player. The resulting similarity to real-world combat scenarios makes firefight a popular sport among Rhodellians; It's also the closest thing to an infantry battle the vast majority of Rhodellians will experience in their lives.

The vast majority of players have real military training in the Wehrmacht, either as conscripts, volunteers, or both. Many are even combat veterans, having built up experience over multiple deployments. They use real guns, real training ammunition, real body armour, and real tactics. They communicate and coordinate with other units with real radios. Officers even set up field headquarters, plan with underofficers during the preparation stage, and pass down orders through a chain of command. However, everyone is still having fun in the end. Thus, they can’t really be called ‘LARPers’. Rhodellian Firefight videos are often mistaken by foreigners for actual combat footage.

The average firefight match

Though no two firefight matches are ever the same, they often play out in similar ways. The most common game modes are Team Deathmatch (where both teams fight until they're the last one standing) and Capture The Flag (where both teams fight for control of strategic locations across the area of operations). Matches often have a time limit. Smaller CQC/Urban matches average at an hour. Larger matches in outdoor settings have time limits ranging from 6 hours to multiple days. 

The 'Early Game' has both teams setting up for the rest of the battle. Recon troops and snipers are deployed ahead to conduct ground reconnaissance and surveillance. In competitive matches, teams supplement their battlespace awareness with ground and aerial drones armed with cameras. Alternatively, they can run ahead and skirmish with the OPFOR; this delays the enemy, buying more heavily-armed and armoured BLUFOR more time to capture and dig in at strategic positions. They can also infiltrate past enemy lines to strike at the OPFOR Field HQ, hijack enemy logistics, or search-and-destroy enemy scouts. Meanwhile, the remainder of the teams are usually running towards their objectives. Competitive matches often have JLTVs, APCs, or transport helicopters acting as taxis.

The 'Early-Mid Game' has both teams encountering each other. The majorities of either teams are locked in a stalemate; they're usually camping out in ridgelines, trenches, compounds, and buildings. Combat is slow-paced; players are normally hunting for muzzle flashes and camouflaged OPFOR from 300 to 600 metres away, while simultaneously trying not to get spotted or hit themselves. In urban-dominated maps, typical engagement distances are significantly lower. Both teams are essentially playing 'whack-a-mole' with each other. Ammunition expenditure can be high; players assigned as logistic troops often walk back and forth from the HQ with pack mules loaded with spare ammunition. Meanwhile, officers and non-commissioned officers are trying to assess the situation.

The 'Late-Mid Game' is where both teams' officers and their non-coms have figured out their next courses of action. If they think they're at a disadvantage, they'll probably double down on their defence. They'll assign sentries, conduct patrols, and fortify their perimeter against attack. If they think they're at an advantage, they'll probably press the offensive. They'll attempt probe attacks to ascertain the OPFOR's remaining strength. Diversions will be made to distract enemy manpower from the main assault. The bulk of the BLUFOR will then use infiltration tactics or fire and manoeuver (whatever is more appropriate to the situation) to assault and capture positions. Flanks and encirclements may happen, depending on the OPFOR's response. When combat goes into close-quarters, fighting suddenly becomes a lot more fast-paced. Players are either camping in rooms or doing the room-clearing themselves. Expect a lot of door-kicking and grenade spam; players often toss flashbangs and grenades before clearing a corner or storming a room. In some buildings with thinner doors or walls, players either crash or shoot through them.

The 'Late Game' is just the one team mopping up the remnants of the other team. OPFOR survivors can either retreat to referees beyond the Area of Operations, surrender to the BLUFOR, or prolong the match by fighting as insurgents conducting hit-and-run attacks. If the OPFOR has withdrawn back to a fallback position (usually their HQ), then both teams can expect another fierce assault.

If a match reaches the time limit, then referees will just fly over the AO in a helicopter informing everyone that the match is over. 

Getting into it

Behind football and basketball, firefight is currently the third most-played team sport in Rhodellia. Compared to multigun, long range shooting, and panzerfahren, firefight is way more affordable to get into: all you really need to start playing is a single gun, about 7 magazines of simunition, and eye protection that can stop a direct hit.

You can save up to buy other gear, such as helmets, kevlar/plate carriers, load-bearing equipment, night vision goggles, smoke grenades, and portable radios as time passes. A few ludicrously rich players have shown up to matches while wearing military-grade exoskeletons and Augmented Reality (AR) helmets.

Most Rhodellians enter a firefight match with their friends and/or family once every few months. Hobbyists usually enter a firefight match once every month, but a dedicated few manage to play every week. Overall, the sport is continuing to grow.

Panzerfahren

Spoiler

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Panzerfahren is a national sport where two platoon or company-sized teams battle each other using replica tanks that fire ‘Simunition’ shells and bullets. Yes, you read that right. Rhodellians have a national sport where players simulate tank-to-tank combat with munitions that explode.

When a shell impacts a tank’s armour, an onboard-computer calculates how much damage it would have done if it were a real shell. If the shell would have knocked out or killed the tank, a white flag pops out of the tank to signal to others that it’s out of the game. If the shell would have killed a crew member, then the computer also relays that information to the crew.

A variety of armoured fighting vehicles from different countries and eras are represented in Panzerfahren. You can view Leagues and tournaments for everything. Most of the AFVs date from the 1930s and 1940s. Tanks (both real and experimental) from before the 1950s have their own designated league, separate from those containing more modern main battle tanks.

Panzerfahren teams use a variety of tactics, both conventional and unconventional. These depend on many factors: their AFV line-up, the opposing force’s possible AFV line-up, the battlefield, the crews and their commanders, and so on. Most teams operate by-the-books, using established combat doctrines. However, some teams throw doctrine out the window, surprising both spectators and the opposing team with crazy, unorthodox manoeuvres. Overall, Panzerfahren is a fun show to spectate.

As strange as it sounds, a lot of girls play this sport. The concept of “cute girls in tanks” dates back to the Second Anéantic War (1939 - 1948), where the Rhodellian Wehrmacht started drafting women to bolster its numbers. Women were mostly put in support roles such as administration, logistics, signalling, and medicine to free up more men for the frontlines. However, tens of thousands women still made it into combat roles. Many actually saw combat, rather than be relegated to the rear echelon. Rhodellia had female fighter pilots, snipers, bomber crews, machine gun crews, artillery crews, and even tank crews. Today, the vast majority of Rhodellian women (even if they do train a lot as per the Spartan Protocol) can’t meet the demanding physical standards of the Heer, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe’s respective infantry branches. Even if they do, they’re always outcompeted in the selection process by more physically-able men. Rhodellian women in combat roles are usually found operating aircraft, artillery pieces, and armoured fighting vehicles. Many Rhodellian women aspire to become professional Panzfahren players. This way, plenty of well-dressed women in tanks end up on television and the internet. This adds a lot to the sport’s appeal and viewer ratings.

Panzerfahren broadcasts are also known for making extensive use of Augmented Reality (AR). AR allows spectators to track stuff such as a tank's status (whether or not its been knocked out, where it's damaged, what speed it's moving at etc.), crew member statistics (e.g average reload speed, hit rate, kills/knockouts etc.) the flight paths of tank shells, and who is crewing what tank. This allows spectators to absorb all the information they need, whether it's because they're new to the sport and don't know what is going on, or because they're keeping track of statistics for their Fantasy Panzerfahren leagues.

The appeal of Panzerfahren is that it’s so unorthodox that it sounds as it were ripped straight of an anime plot. What other countries have this kind of sport televised and streamed on the internet? The vast majority of Rhodellians watch this sport, along with many military fanatics abroad. The sport’s peculiarity, unique action, and abundance of women makes it profitable. Combined revenues from sponsorships, advertisements, TV deals, paid livestreams, merchandising, ticket sales, and prize money more than make up for the exorbitant cost of purchasing, maintaining, and operating functional AFVs.

Martial arts tournaments

Spoiler

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Rhodellians take pride in their centuries-old tradition of martial arts. Beating up other martial artists for prizes isn’t really a new concept; the earliest confirmed ‘prizefighting tournament’ in Rhodellia took place in 1485. Since then, they’ve been extremely popular to watch. Many organisations run Local, State, and National-level leagues and tournaments. The State and National-level ones generally draw massive crowds and plenty of internet views.

The biggest mixed martial arts tournament in Rhodellia is the ‘King of Fists Tournament’. Here, champions of various fighting styles from across the world -  Kickboxing, Kung Fu, Bajonettkampf, you name it - duke it out to see who’s the greatest warrior in all the land.

Rule-heavy competition sports such as boxing and professional wrestling never managed to catch on in Rhodellia. They’re too ‘safe’, and not ‘raw’ or bloody enough to satiate the average Rhodellian or please the Murder Cube. Rhodellian mixed martial arts is nowhere near as rule-heavy as its counterparts in other countries.

There are also plenty of combat sports that involve weapons. Obviously, these have the same safety precautions you’d expect anywhere else. The most popular is HEMA. Contestants dress up in replica medieval armour and fight with replica medieval weapons. Ever wanted to see an actual knight duel another actual knight with greatswords? You can do that in Rhodellia.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R

Spoiler

ws_Stalker-_Call_of_Pripyat_1440-770x430.jpgIn 2007, a foreign video game called S.T.A.L.K.E.R hit the Rhodellian market, and it was a game unlike any other. The game challenged players with surviving the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. The resulting wasteland, ‘The Zone’, was fraught with far deadlier dangers than just radiation: the land was littered with lethal supernatural phenomena called “anomalies”. They could burn you to a crisp, tear your body to shreds, or worse, bringing your miserable existence to a gory end. Why would anyone ever want to approach them, you might ask? These anomalies produced physics-defying wonders called ‘artifacts’. Artifacts were beyond human comprehension, each with limitless scientific potential; outside the Zone were numerous parties seeking to buy them should you live to smuggle them out. However, as The Zone is an ecological disaster zone cordoned off from the outside world; it is illegal to trespass on its irradiated grounds. Illegal inhabitants of The Zone - ‘stalker’, as they’re nicknamed - lived short and brutal lives; they braved gauntlets of radiation, bandits, mutants, soldiers, and anomalies just for a quick ruble. Despite the game’s numerous bugs and glitches, S.T.A.L.K.E.R quickly amassed a cult following in Rhodellia.

The game’s NPCs add to the players' experience and immersion. The NPCs wander about the in-game world, doing their own things independently of the player. They even relax during down-times: they gulp down vodka, roast sausages over campfires, tell stories, make jokes, and play guitar. The game’s guitar culture has leaked into Rhodellia’s own real-life musical culture, leading to marked growths in the kingdom’s now-burgeoning guitar industry. More Rhodellian youths than ever are learning the acoustic guitar. They regularly bring guitars with them to parties, camping trips, and even military deployments. ‘He was a good stalker’, a very famous song from the game, has practically become the youngest generations’ version of the Last Post; it is often played after military funerals, especially if the deceased was a S.T.A.L.K.E.R player himself.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R has cemented its place in pop culture: the deadliest hellscapes of Eurth are pilgrimage sites to countless vodka-addled Rhodellians in gas masks. Though they're an elusive (and extremely dangerous) bunch, they can be encountered scavenging ‘artifacts’ and memorabilia from ecological disaster zones, old battlefields, abandoned ruins, derelict industrial parks, and other dangerous sites forbidden to the general public. They bring assault packs full of anti-radiation drugs, food, water, spare clothes, gas mask filters, Geiger Counters, medicine, survival equipment, cooking equipment, camping equipment, navigation equipment, maintenance equipment… you name it. Where they can, they’ll even smuggle in military-grade weapons and ammunition. Artifacts are either brought back home for display or sold on the black market. Rhodellian stalkers put all of the skills they’ve learned at school and in the military to the ultimate test, just so they could live out their deepest Innawoods and SHTF fantasies.

Consumption of Anti-War media

Colonel: ‘You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be? Some kind of sick joke?’

Private Joker: ‘I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man… The Jungian thing, sir.’

Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket)

FullMetalJacketDeluxeEdition_85391186274_2-1525275736-726x388.pngThough strict media censorship laws are enforced during ‘national emergencies’ and times of war, freedom of speech is a protected human right. People are legally allowed to criticise the military and speak out against the government’s policies. However, calling soldiers “murderers” or “baby killers” in an anti-war demonstration will get you crippled by every bystander in a five-mile radius. Rather than separate you from your assailants, Rhodellian police are far more likely to take selfies with them and livestream your near-death experience for likes on social media. This makes it surprising - and oftentimes even confusing - that Rhodellians consume a lot of anti-war media.

Plenty of anti-war comics, books, video games, television shows, and films have achieved mainstream popularity in Rhodellia. Many have even cemented themselves into Rhodellian popular culture. For example:

  • Attack helicopter pilots commonly blast “Flight of the Valkyries” from loudspeakers while engaging ground targets.
  • “I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill” is an acceptable interview answer to “Why do you want join the military?”
  • “I’M DOING MY PART” is the traditional reply to every Wehrmacht recruitment advert that gets posted online.
  • “Do you feel like a hero yet?” is a popular joke said after combat personnel score their first kills.
  • “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning” is the most common quote found on coffee mugs
  • “Im Westen nichts Neues” (better known abroad as “All Quiet on the Western Front”) is still a bestselling book almost a century after it was published.
  • “POLICE THAT MOUSTACHE” is common slang for “Get your appearance in order”

Nobody - not even the government - has a problem with this. People in other countries do; they see Rhodellians as ‘living contradictions’: Why do Rhodellians consume so much anti-war media when they act so patriotic and militant?

Sociologists infer that Rhodellians are actually self-aware when it comes to their military culture. They’re not the one-dimensional warmongers others stereotype them to be; their feelings towards war are more complex than what meets the eye. They know that war isn’t all fun and games; they’ve seen enough gorey footage online and in the news, read enough soldiers’ memoirs in schools, and attended enough military funerals to know that war can be a horrible thing. They know that not every serviceman or servicewoman is a saint. They’re aware that the politics behind their wars aren’t always as moral as the news makes them out to be. It is believed that - deep down - Rhodellians are not too different from their counterparts living in more peaceful countries; they are ordinary people who would rather live in peace, but are forced to take up arms just to ensure their own survival. Yet, why do Rhodellians continue to perpetuate their warlike stereotype? Their education system is highly militarised. Their most popular recreational activities and sports all mimic warfare to varying degrees. Their military is never short of able volunteers, even in the worst of times. Rhodellians know that they’re not living in times of peace. They are only alive and free because of their military traditions and hawkish policies; the only thing standing between Rhodellia and oblivion is a patriot with a gun. And so, they are locked in a vicious cycle of violence.

Of course, if you tell them that they're peace-lovers on the inside, at the very least they'll call you a "pussy-ass hippie-communist cocksucker".

Edited by Rhodellia (see edit history)
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    • By Rhodellia
      Chapter One - S.S.D.D
       
      It’s late in the afternoon when Sergeant Alarick Schäfer tells his squad that they’ve reached their next waypoint along ASR Blue Lagoon. They’re located in a small patch of forest somewhere in rural Nordwalde Province; as far as most of this band of average 18 to 20 year-old Rhodellian conscripts is concerned, they’re somewhere south of Camp Bergenstein, north of the provincial capital of Schwarzwald, and west of MSR Spirytus - the main road connecting Bergenstein with the rest of Rhodellian civilisation. Judging from the rotting picnic benches, leaf-littered public toilets, and shuttered ice cream stall, Schäfer determines that this place is indeed the derelict campsite he marked on his map. Although one of his fire teams, Fire Team Alpha, has already scouted out the area, deemed it safe, established an observation post 100 metres from the entrance, and is currently maintaining a triangle-shaped perimeter around it, he makes a few quick sweeps of the area with his thermal weapon sight, and confirms that nobody has slipped past their cordon and is preparing to ambush them.
      “Rest up while you can on your turns, gents, we’ve got twenty mikes each. We’re Oscar Mike in thirty!” he folds up his map and turns first towards his team leaders “Meier, your team’s on perimeter watch. Be stealthy about it in case the enemy's nearby. Collins, rotate with Meier's team in ten. Jung, with Collins's team in twenty.” and then to the rest of the squad “Maintain your weapons. Have Doc check your feet for blisters and rashes. Reapply any face paint that might’ve worn off due to face-rubbing or sweat. Add some more local vegetation to your helmet bands, helmet cover slits, and combat webbing. And if you still have time after all of that, eat whatever chow's left in your MREs.”
      The squad breaks their patrol column formation to do whatever they have to do. While maintaining a reasonable level of noise discipline, they complain about the objective, the ROE, the stones that somehow got into their boots, how much they’d rather be back at base sweeping the motorpool, or sleeping through a SHARP training, and how their mission may end up being yet another waste of their valuable time if they - once again - end up not killing anything. The one exception is the automatic rifleman of Fire Team Bravo, who’s asking around to see if anyone has a spare can of energy drink before he goes off to watch his sector of responsibility. Schäfer notifies his platoon leader of his location over the radio before checking over his equipment. He is in the middle of changing the batteries on his rifle's thermal weapon sight when Fire Team Alpha is relieved from sentry duty by Fire Team Bravo. He notices Alpha’s team leader, Corporal Rolt Jung, approaching him. 
      “Schäfer, interrogative...”
      “Yeah, Jung?”
      “Why the f*ck are we here?”
      “Can you expand on that question?”
      “Okay… Why are the fourteen of us out here in the middle of bumf*ck nowhere, spending our entire afternoon rucking up and down all these steep-ass hills in full gear?”
      “Well... That’s easy, Jung. Somewhere, in this…” he looks around to see that he is no longer surrounded by the beautiful vistas of Nordwalde’s hills, just a long-disused campsite and the densely packed trees and foliage of an unnamed forest “...beautiful expanse of Rhodellian countryside, a bunch of Native Aurelian Liberation Army assholes are up to no good. Our job and patriotic duty as soldiers of the Rhodellian Army is to hunt them down and f*ck ‘em up for daring to trespass on our territory. Ideally before they do something nasty.” 
      “I know that’s our mission, but I mean... I was asking about the reasons why we’re doing all this shit in the first place. Like, what’s the rationale behind this whole war anyway? Has it ever hit you that this entire thing’s been going on since way before any of us were born?”
      “Did you fail history class, or is National Service the first time you’ve crawled out from under your rock since the Cambrian period?”
      “Nah, dude.” Jung chuckles, “It’s just that, I swear to God, my grandpa patrolled through this exact same ASR and stopped in this exact same picnic area while hunting for NALA insurgents back in the Sixties. And maybe his grandpa before that too.”
      “Well, Jung…” Schäfer rubs his mouth as he tries to think up a satisfactory answer “This land of ours is a diverse and multicultural one. Rhodellia’s only like what, 89,000 square kilometres? Yet, within these tiny borders of ours, for thousands of years, hundreds of different peoples and cultures have been living in and dying over the same patch of dirt. You’ll see evidence of that painted across almost every cave wall in the country. As for us Rhodellians and the f*ckheads in the Native Aurelian Liberation Army... We just happen to be the latest generation of retards bleeding over who gets to call this land rightfully ‘theirs’. And for NALA, who still haven't gotten over colonialism, sharing was never an option.”
      “So which side do you think is in the right, Schäfer?”
      “In the opinion of this conscript, it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. None of that shit’s worth caring about. Not to me at least.” Schäfer shrugs his shoulders. He turns his head to admire the trees and shrubbery around him. “I live here. I like living here. And I can’t be arsed to move out. If anyone has a problem with that, they can talk to the business end of my rifle.”
      “So who do you think is in the right anyway?” 
      “Jung, I could write you a whole f*cking essay on the damn thing.” Schäfer removes his helmet to inspect the camouflage paint on its NVG plate “But again, that’d be a pointless-as-f*ck exercise.”
      Jung shrugs, supposing that Schäfer wants to change the subject.
      “Alright, I guess…”
      “Let me ask you a question, Jung.”
      “Hit me with it.”
      “Why do you think this country is still called ‘Rhodellia’ and not something more... Native Aurelian-sounding? Why are we still here?”
      “Just to suffer?” Jung smiles to himself. A few nearby squad members overhear the two and start cracking up, also recognising the reference. Schäfer chuckles, acknowledging that he set himself up for that.
      “Yeah, that’s one reason Goodsprings has us rucking through the countryside today. But that's not exactly the answer I'm looking for.”
      “Uh…” Jung pauses to think of an articulate (or at least smart-sounding) answer “Because of the rule of law? Legally speaking, Schäfer, our country must own the rights to these lands.” He sweeps his finger across the forest around him  “And a good chunk of the international community agrees with that. By most counts, the Rhodellian government in Friedrichstadt is considered the ‘legitimate government’ who exercises sovereignty over this territory. That, and because the N-A-L-A is a violent-as-f*ck terrorist organisation with one hell of a grudge. I swear to God, bro, those psychos will try to genocide all the white people the moment they step foot in our government offices.”
      Schäfer nods a few times.
      “A good answer, Jung. But that’s only part of the story.” He breathes in and out as he tries to collect his thoughts and think of what to say next “In the opinion of this conscript... it’s mostly because we are capable of superior violence, and NALA is not. It doesn’t matter how many articles some self-hating, guilt-tripping, latte-slurping liberal hippie ethnic minority-cocksucker publishes on their blog...”
      Every nearby squad members squad smiles. Even its two Native Aurelian members are trying to contain their laughter in keeping with noise discipline. Schäfer continues.
      “Those self-righteous pseudo-intellectual assholes can screech into the void all they want about social justice, native land rights, and how our country’s entire existence is technically an illegal occupation of stolen land. But in the opinion of this conscript, all of that shit’s irrelevant. So long as the Rhodellian government has tanks, fighter jets, and the continued will to fight, it doesn’t matter how much other people b*tch and complain about us being here. We’re not budging off this land. And that’s that.”
      “Can’t you come up with a better justification than ‘Right of conquest’ or ‘Might makes right’? What’s next, Schäfer? The f*cking ‘discovery doctrine’?”
      “Maybe.” Schäfer shrugs while readjusting the camo netting and foliage secured by his helmet band “This country is imperialist to the core, and we’re too proud of that to let go.”
      Jung shrugs as well. He shifts his attention to the squad medic, Corporal John Mark ‘Doc’ Garcia, who’s applying some kind of cream to the foot of someone from Fire Team Charlie. As physically fit as all able-bodied Rhodellians are legally mandated to be under the Spartan Protocol, Jung supposes that not everyone’s an avid hiker. He supposes that near-non-stop marching across several-dozen miles of hilly terrain while hauling over 100 lb of gear is starting to take its toll on some of his squadmates. He looks down at his own combat boots, and wriggles his toes to revive the blood flow to his feet.
      “Okay… Next question: Why, in his infinite wisdom, is Goodsprings making us do this whole search-and-destroy mission on foot?” Jung frowns, referring to his battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Emory Schreiber. Schreiber’s callsign is ‘Goodsprings’, after the starting location of his favourite video game. 
      “Hm?”
      “Just for f*cking once, I just wish he’d give us a mission with non-retarded orders, orders that won’t put us all in unnecessary danger or at least expend more effort than needed. I mean, you saw the motorpool, right?”
      “What about it?”
      “They’ve got a shitload of perfectly good APCs and other armoured utility vehicles back at base. Plenty of helicopters too. Despite that, they just dropped us outside the AO and told us to walk the rest of the way. Can’t we cover more ground more quickly if we actually had some transportation?”
      “I can think of a few reasons.” Schräfer unfolds his map, spreads it across the picnic bench, and beckons Jung to look closer. Schäfer plants his finger on a single carriageway roughly 500 metres to the east of their current position. On Rhodellian military maps of the AO, that specific road is called ‘MSR Spirytus’; it’s a common route for supply trucks delivering supplies up north to Camp Bergenstein from the nearby city of Schwarzwald. 
      “Whatcha got?” Jung leans closer, resting his arm on the picnic bench for support.
      “Ride in an APC, and our movement will stay restricted to the roads, and our sight will be confined to what we can see from those roads. That, and the enemy can more easily anticipate our movements. They’re more likely to prepare an ambush for convoys driving down a main road than for random dismounted conscript squads chasing animal trails in the surrounding hills. Logistics vehicles are way juicier targets. You get to shoot people AND get piles of neat shit out of it.”
      “And the helicopters?” Jung looks up at the overcast sky, imagining himself manning a rotary machine gun, spraying streams of 7.62×51mm tracer rounds into the woods below as Ride of the Valkyries blares from the Bluetooth loudspeakers he recently ordered online. He looks ahead to see Schäfer looking up as well, correctly guessing that he’s imagining the same thing. 
      “Well…” Schäfer snaps from his daydream “This whole operation is supposed to be kind of a secret, stealthy one… Only BCT headquarters, Intel, and our battalion knows why we’re really out here. For all the rest of the wurld knows, we're just on a regular training exercise. The enemy might not know that we’re aware of their presence. If they see random dismounts like us walking across the hills, they might just think I’m a lost butterbar leading my men while failing at LandNav, and let us pass out of pity. All without suspecting a damn thing.” he then points up at the sky “But if we ride in with helicopters, searchlights, and Wagner playing, that just screams that we’re on to them. And they’ll escape by hiding in one of the local woods where we can't see them with binoculars or thermals. If we’re especially unlucky, they might even shoot us down. At least that’s Goodspring’s logic.“
      “Fair enough.” Jung shrugs. “You know, I get that commissioned officers tend to see things from a radically different perspective than the grunts under their command, but… uh…  sometimes, I swear to God, the bars they graduate with at officer school must be prime breeding grounds for dementia-inducing brain parasites.”
      “I sure f*cking hope they're not.” Schäfer sighs.
      “I mean, where else would our COs get their advanced retardation from?”
      “You know, I actually want to enroll in Gottesberg Military Academy after I do my Master’s, grab a commission, and make a difference out here.”
      “When you do, please, for the love of God, don’t be the kind of douchebag who prioritises petty workplace politics and career-climbing over the mission and well-being of the men under his command. The Rhodellian military's already got more than enough of those.”
      “I’ll try to get my priorities straight.”
      “Christ… You know, Goodspring’s actually a really good guy in person and all, but what turns a well-meaning Rhodellian into something like that anyway?”
      “I dunno. Some ‘Sword of Damocles’ shit?”
      “F*ckin’ Goodsprings, man.” Jung shakes his head.
      “Alright…” Schäfer pats Jung on the shoulder before removing his rucksack “You can go back to your team now. Tell them what's up. Meanwhile…” he exhales as he unzips a side pocket, retrieves a pack of baby wipes, and starts heading towards the campsite's public toilets “I gotta go take a shit.”
      “Aight.” Jung nods before rejoining his team. 
      Fire Team Alpha is busy gathering pieces of foliage with their bayonets, using breezes of wind and leaf rustles to mask their sound, when their team leader returns to them.
      “What it is, hoes?” Jung takes off his helmet and starts comparing the shape and colour of the local plants with those already attached to his uniform. He opts to start swapping them out.
      Alpha’s automatic rifleman, Private Garrick Wolff, rubs his fatigued eyes with his sleeve.
      “Hey, Jung.”
      “Yeah, Wolff?” 
      “We’ve been rucking for like… almost five hours now. Where the f*ck even are those NALA infiltrators we’re supposed to be looking for?”
      “F*ck if anyone knows, dude.”
      “With four companies of soldiers patrolling the AO on foot, you’d think at least one squad would’ve run into them by now. The AO ain’t even that big.”
      “Think about it this way, Wolff: every square meter of ground we cover is one less they could be hiding in.”
      Wolff shakes his head, feeling even more tired “That’s… still a lot of ground left that our squad needs to cover…” 
      “Then think about it this way, man. Every step we take is one step closer to us kicking the absolute shit of them for making us waste such a fine afternoon.”
      “I guess...” Wolff shuts his eyes for a brief few moments, stewing in bitterness and rage, imagining all the creative ways he could take revenge on the NALA infiltrators for making him leave his room “Bro, I could be playing Warzone right now… I swear, I’m finna scalping each and every one of them. No cap.”
      “Good! Use your aggressive feelings, boy.” Jung smiles as he cuts some leaves off a bush he knows is not poisonous “Let the hate flow through you!”
      “Goddamnit.” Wolff laughs. The thought of scalping fellow human beings brought another question to his mind, this time addressed to one of the two Native Aurelians in the squad. He also happens to be Alpha’s rifleman.
      “Yo, Wickwash.”
      ‘Wickwash’ is the nickname for Fire Team A’s rifleman, Private Puhihwikwasu'u Geldfeld. Despite being half-Native Aurelian, he’s proud of his mother’s native heritage but ashamed of his Dolchic surname. When he first introduced himself, he asked his squadmates to use his forename instead; they all respected his wish without question. Problem was, most of them kept mispronouncing it. The squad eventually shortened his name to ‘Wickwash’ after watching him snuff out a row of candles with his rifle.
      “Sup.” Wickwash nods up.
      “Aside from being half-Dolchic, ironic as that is for you, you’re basically a Native Aurelian in every way, right?”
      “Nʉmʉnʉʉ.” He corrects Jung. At least in Rhodellia, Native Aurelians prefer to be known by their specific tribal affiliation instead of a generic term. “And f*ckin’ A I am. What about it, you cream-faced, culture-destroying, genocide-happy Dolchic coloniser?”
      “So I’ve been wondering, bro… When you started your National Service, you signed up to be an infantryman, right?”
      “Yeah, dude. What does that have to do with me being from one of The Tribes?”
      “So when you wanted to become a rifleman, you knew full-well that you’d be sent up North to Nordwalde... to help The White Man, er... slaughter your fellow Native Aurelians, lay waste to their cities, and re-colonise your ancestral lands?”
      “Man, I don’t get why all you white people keep lumping us all together like that.” Wickwash smiles as he inspects his newly re-camouflaged helmet, puts it back on, and examines his head's increasingly certainly-not-human outline in the mirror.  “Not every shithead in the N-A-L-A is from my tribe, so it ain’t like I’m specifically out to kill my own people. I just came out here to scalp some motherf*ckers, maybe earn an eagle feather or two, and go home to watch some anime. You feel me?”
      “Yeah, I feel you, bro.”
      “And just as we overheard Sarge saying 10 mikes ago: we’ve been smoking each other long before any of your pasty asses first set foot on this continent. Heck, even after Dolchic settlers came along, we accepted your money in exchange for scalps claimed from other tribes.”
      “That’s hardcore.”
      “Yup. And three-hundred years later…” he flourishes his bayonet and taps on the tactical tomahawk on his belt. He shakes his head and smiles in reassurance to his Dolchic squadmate “That time-honoured tradition ain’t dying with me, bro.”
      Private John Adebayo, Alpha’s grenadier, budges closer to Jung, Wolff, and Wickwash. He’s a second-generation immigrant who has neither Dolchic nor Native Aurelian blood in him. 
      “And it’s all thanks to that tribalistic attitude that The Dolch managed to divide-and-conquer the shit out of your lands. I know how you feel, brother. That aside, don't you guys have any sense of Native Aurelian solidarity?”
      Wickwash hands Adebayo some spare vegetation, which Adebayo heartily accepts and adds to his combat webbing.
      “I’m a Rhodellian first. Nʉmʉnʉʉ second. Native Aurelian third.” Wickwash shrugs.
      “And that brings us to the wonderful f*cking SNAFU we have today...” Adebayo chuckles as he uses a mirror to help gauge the new changes to his equipment’s leafier, grassier, and increasingly inhuman outline.
      “It really do be like that, dawg.”
      Seeing the lull in the conversation, Wolff re-inserts himself into it.
      “So yeah, Wickwash, what anime are you watching at the moment?”
      “Right now, back at the base?”
       “Yeah.”
      “So I’m watching this long-running Rhavan anime called ‘Now I’m here, now I’m gone.’ It’s just been rebooted with a whole new animation studio. So I’m trying to get up to date with the eleven seasons that came before it, so I can compare the original anime with the new one.”
      “Jesus Christ. Eleven f*cking seasons? Just how many episodes is that?”
      “Around 270ish episodes, not counting filler episodes or the reboot. I’m binge-watching the original seasons while waiting for the next episode of the reboot to come out. I just finished Episode 172 this morning after chow, and I’m telling you bro…” he smacks his lips “This shit’s A-grade classic material, dude.”
      Taken aback by the episode count, a long whistle filters through Wolff’s mouth.
      “What’s the anime about? I only see episode counts like that from long-running Shounen anime.”
      “Well, allow me to subvert your f*cking expectations, my guy.” Wickwash chuckles as straps his helmet back on. “It’s actually not a Shounen. No power-ups, jutsus, bankais, stands, or anything like that. It’s a drama show with romance and stuff. Like a... live-action soap opera, but animated. We can watch the first episode when we get back to base.”
      “Damn, bro. From all your talk about doing hardcore shit, like scalping motherf*ckers and keeping their heads as trophies, I’d never have thought you were into that kind of anime.”
      “Eh, they’re nice to watch once in a while.” Wickwash shrugs “Even for us Rhodellians, there’s gotta more to life than just violence, right?”
      “Wickwash, my friend… I can not believe that beneath that blood-crazed ice-cold warrior exterior of yours, you’re actually a massive f*cking faggot holy shit!”
      The whole team bursts into laughter. Wolff continues once it dies down.
      “So should we start with the earlier seasons first, or do we start with the reboot?”
      Wickwash pauses in thought before nodding a few times.
      “Yeah, we can start with the reboot. It basically follows the original story, but with nicer-looking visuals. You can watch the original in your own time.”
      “Sounds cool to me, bro.” Wolff nods as he opens his mirror, noticing that perspiration has caused some of his face paint to fade. “f*ck, man. I gotta redo my face again. My skin's shinier than f*cking silver.”
      Having already repainted his face, Wickwash tosses a pack of tissues and his own face paint kit to Wolff. While Wolff's busy, Wickwash continues the conversation with Jung and Adebayo. 
      “How about you, Jung? You watching any good anime either?”
      “Nah, dude.” Jung shakes his head as he finishes redoing his camouflage, and very carefully takes a sip from his canteen to avoid accidentally washing away his new coat of face paint. “I don't have the patience to sit all the way through a single 24-minute episode nowadays, so I just read manga and webcomics whenever I feel like it.”
      “Like what?”
      “Well, for starters, there’s this Kirvinian one I’m reading called ‘Like In Those Days’...”
      Upon hearing Jung mention that last title, Adebayo perks his head up.
      “Hey, I’ve been reading that one too!”
      “No shit.” Jung chuckles, “Your patrician taste never fails to impress me, bro.”
      Adebayo and Jung bump fists and start talking about the newest chapter.
      “Nice.” Wickwash nods, trying not to get left out of the conversation “So what’s it about?”
      Adebayo takes it from there, raising his bayonet for a flashy performance.
      “It’s a story set in a fantasy version of 16th-century Aurelia…” he shuffles backwards, creating a safer distance between himself and his fellow teammates. With the grace of a professional fencer, he thrusts, swings, and flourishes his bayonet in all directions. Some squadmates from Bravo, returning from their watch, quietly cheer on and clap to his knife-play. Adebayo is encouraged by this and continues doing knife tricks with enhanced vigour.
      “It’s about a guy, named Constantine. He goes around hunting monsters in the woods, getting into sword fights with people, getting caught in political intrigue, and just being an overall cool guy. A guy from Haus Rödel is even one of the guy’s nakama! The art's great, and the action is badass as f*ck, my dude. You gotta see it to believe it!” 
      Adebayo spins his bayonet one last time before sheathing it. Wickwash nods as Adebayo speaks. He imagines his squad ganging up on a dragon with spears, swords, and magic missiles 
      “Damn, bro. That sounds so much cooler than whatever the f*ck we’re doing right now.”
      “Yeah brother, the whole webcomic’s f*cking awesome.” Adebayo laughs, more eager than ever to get back to base so he can show Wolff the webcomic “Whenever Constantine goes into a forest, he gets to duel spriggans, werewolves, and all kinds of other crazy shit with f*cking swords and magic. That’s badass. Meanwhile, if we go into a forest, we don’t even get to slay wolves or bears. Y’know, because we drove all the local ones extinct. Nah, dude. Instead, we just get blown up by landmines. Or shot.”
      Wolff’s ears wriggle at the mention of landmines, and interjects. It appears that he just finished re-applying his face paint.
      “Speaking of landmines, y’know, I grew up near a Red Zone as a kid.”
      In Rhodellia, a ‘Red Zone’ is an area of land so devastated by past conflicts (usually either the First or Second Anéantic Wars) that they’re no longer safe for human habitation. This is generally because they’re still littered with uncleared landmines and unexploded artillery shells. And so, to protect the populace from the explosive remnants of war (ERW) inside them, Red Zones are either fenced off or marked with warning signs.
      “Oh shit. Really?” Wickwash gestures to Wolff that he has the whole team’s undivided attention. Wolff nods, pauses to gather his thoughts, and continues.
      “My family couldn’t go camping in the woods behind my backyard because it’s sealed off behind three thick-ass rows of razor wire. But whenever I did sneak in there, say, because the other boys in the hood wanted to f*ck around in old trenches and ruins, we always, ALWAYS had to watch our step for unmarked unexploded ordnance. Kids still get blown up in there every year! Did you know that, at one point in the First Anéantic War, both Rhodellia and the Grand Alliance fired like a million f*cking shells per day back there, just in that one sector.? 
      Wolff’s teammates are amazed by the figure.
      “That’s a f*ckload of ordnance, brother.” Adebayo whistles, mimicking the sound of a falling (subsonic) artillery shell.
      “I wish I could drop that much shit on NALA headquarters.” Wickwash wishes out loud.
      “How the hell does your Red Zone still have ruins left standing in it?” Jung raises an eyebrow.
      “The wonders of Rhodellian engineering, I guess.” Wolff shrugs, unsure of the answer himself. His figure about artillery shells was probably just an exaggeration, unless a major battle actually was fought over his hometown. The team imagines just how much industry and logistics it would take for a group of artillery batteries to even sustain that rate of fire. It’s an amusing thought. Wolff continues.
      “So yeah, back home, we still use discarded shell casings as house decorations. Flowerpots, fence posts, you name it. And now, on top of unexploded ordnance potentially lying outside of the marked Red Zones, we gotta look out for signs of potential ambushes too. I’m always too busy staying frosty to feel like I’m going on some big adventure like the dudes in fantasy anime, manga, and webcomics. Ain’t no magic up in this b*tch. This sucks major ass, I tell you.”
      Wickwash shrugs.
      “As long as we get to make motherf*ckers bleed by the end of the day, whether it be with tomahawks, bayonets, rifles, or magic spells, it’s still all good, right?” 
      “Yeah, I guess so, man.”
      Jung stands up, brushes the dirt off his knee pads, and looks around him. He pulls up his glove to look at his watch, checking how long it will be until his team is supposed to take over perimeter watch from Fire Team Charlie. It should be about time, but neither Charlie or its team leader, Corporal William Collins, have returned from perimeter watches.
      “Well, look on the bright side, Wolff.” Jung pulls down his glove “If an unexploded mine gibs any of us before NALA does, at least we’ll get to become cyborgs.” He pats his right arm “Have you seen the Cyberpunk-looking shit the VA’s rolling out nowadays? A Military Police vet in my neighbourhood lost his right arm when NALA raided Camp Kirstein a few years back. According to him, the f*ckers dropped a 155-mike-mike arty shell right on top of his mortar emplacement using a civilian drone.” He taps his right arm again, and swings his hand away while mimicking the sound of an explosion. “Shrapnel severed his arm. And now the VA’s hooked him up with a cybernetic arm with five independent fingers and the capacity to feel. He ain’t exactly shouting ‘Hocus Pocus’ with a wand, but at least he can still say ‘Avada kedavra’ while pulling a trigger. That’s still pretty magical, ain’t it?”
      “Rhodellian healthcare’s nice and all…” Wolff shrugs “But imagine dedicating years of your life to getting swole... imagine building up the discipline to stick to a strict diet and workout routine, and suffering through extreme lactic acid build-up day after day to grow all this muscle mass in your arms and legs... just to get them replaced.”
      He pauses.
      “And once you get past all those ‘initial reaction’ marketing stunt videos that keep showing up on everyone’s Volkscast recommendations… You’ll see that the prosthetics we have commercially available right now aren’t exactly at 'Sci-Fi' levels yet. They’re still nowhere near as good as the biological limbs we’re born with. So losing a limb is still as much of a downer as it’s always been.”
      “You seem pretty knowledgeable on prostheses.” Jung whistles.
      “I’m not, but my older brother has one. Two years ago, while he was still doing his National Service, he volunteered to help some combat engineers demine part of the Red Zone back home. Thing is, their demining robot broke down on ‘em. And… You know where I’m going with this?”
      “Oh f*ck, dude.”
      “Yup.” Wolff nods “He and the engineers had to go in themselves and do shit the old-fashioned way. My brother missed an unmarked landmine he didn’t catch with his detector. Apparently, the mine was partially unburied by a recent rainstorm. But by some f*cking miracle, my brother survived. He was fine everywhere else, but he lost his entire left leg.” He then taps his thigh to show where his older brother’s stump is. “The mine ripped it clean off."
      “Jesus…” Adebayo wipes his mouth. Wolff pauses to recall more of his memories regarding the event.
      “The Red Zone incident made the local headlines. Before we knew it, this prosthetics start-up came knocking on his hospital room door. They asked him if he’d like to take part in a PR stunt. If he agreed, he’d get a fancy new leg out of it. And that's how he got it.”
      “Was it a bad leg?”
      “By 2019 standards? Nah, bro. It’s one of those state-of-the-art myoelectric legs that pick up muscle impulses, with electrodes, microprocessors, motors, and shit. It’s definitely a direct upgrade from the usual prostheses most amputees are issued by the RHS or the VA. But it ain’t the cyberpunk techno-wizardry the advertisements hype them up to be. My brother was very happy at first, estatic even, but he’s moved past that. I mean, his leg’s still gone. Poor guy still copes with phantom pains from losing a literal, tangible part of himself that's been with him since birth.”
      “Damn, man, I’m sorry to hear that.” Jung pats Wolff on the back.
      “Sorry, bro, if I crushed your transhumanist fantasies.”
      “Ah well... It's no biggie.” Jung shrugs as he tries to figure out where Charlie is; they’re running slightly late on their rotation. “Maybe we’ll get some really cool developments, like, five years from now, and another five years until they become affordable enough to be widespread. At least our kids will be shooting lasers from their eyes!”
      “Looking forward to it, man.”
      Meanwhile, at a close-by picnic bench, the boys in Corporal Koen Meier’s Bravo team are talking about magic and slaying fantasy creatures because they overheard their friends in Alpha talking about it.
      Bravo's rifleman, Private Waltz Fischer, has scooped up a long stick from the ground and is switching between a series of longsword guard stances. 
      “You know, I went to Dolchic longsword fencing clubs back in primary school, secondary school, and college…” Fischer boasts at length about his swordsmanship prowess, backing it up with well-rehearsed footwork and a swift Zornhau cut “Hey Kowalski, think I can solo a dragon?” 
      The team’s automatic rifleman, Private Jakub Kowalczyk, shakes his head “Your stupid ass would get eaten in three seconds. Tops.”
      The team’s grenadier, Private Robert Powell, laughs with Kowalczyk as he inspects his weapons. “I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t.” He taps his rifle’s underbarrel grenade-launcher “If I had magic, I’d cast a spell to turn my 40-mike-mikes into Davy-f*cking-Crocketts. A dragon’s hot shit, alright, but I’d like to see how they’d do against seven tactical nukes-a-minute.”
      “You’d still f*cking die before shooting your second shot, Powell.” Meier chuckles at the surreal thought of Powell running up to a dragon, screaming like a banshee, and unintentionally blowing everyone at.
      “You shut your pussy lips, Meier! Kamikaze’ing a dragon with a nuke has still gotta be one of the most hardcore ways for a man to go out! That’s gotta be worth some award, right?”
      “Yeah, a Darwin Award!”
      The lads in Bravo laugh until they notice half of Fire Team Charlie jogging behind them, with excited smiles across its member’s faces. Specifically, they see Collins and Charlie’s rifleman, Private Danuwoa Catawnee.
      “Oh shit! Look who’s finally back from their combat circle-jacks!” Meier calls out to the two. Catawnee politely responds with a wide grin and middle finger.
      Seeing as Charlie’s automatic rifleman, Private Ludwig Zimmerman, and grenadier, Private Abdul Hamid bin Faisal al-Latif, are both missing, Meier takes this as a very good sign.
      “Look at ‘em.” Meier slings his rifle “They look like kids wanting to show their parents a cool toy they saw through a f*cking store window.”
      “Think they found those NALA pricks we’ve spent the past five hours looking for?” Powell checks the status of his face paint in the mirror, one last time, to ensure it properly blends with the local environment and masks the natural shine of the human skin. He seems proud of all the camouflage he's attached to himself throughout the day (without compromising his range of movement, ability to perspire, ability to move quietly, or turning his combat uniform into a full ghillie suit). Fischer crouches next to Powell and checks the ammunition in his magazine.
      “After all the rucking those shitheads made Goodsprings put us through today? God, I f*cking hope so.”
      Kowalczyk squats on the grass next to Fischer, eagerly waiting for Schäfer (who just returned from the biological weapon called the campsite’s ‘public toilets’) to announce a pre-combat inspection.
      “If we actually get some today bro…” he looks up at Fischer and clenches his fist around his squad automatic weapon’s pistol grip. “I swear to God, all of the bullshit we took today would’ve been f*cking worth it.” 
      Meier nods, knocking on the side of his helmet.
      “Especially if we get eagle feathers for this. They’d look so badass on my helmet band. B*tches love feathers.”
      They see Collins and Catawnee briefing Schäfer on something urgent. Schäfer absorbs what information he can, and relays it back to his platoon leader over the radio. Once that's done, Schäfer starts jogging between the different fire teams, flanked by Doc, grabbing their attention with kicks, nudges, and creatively verbose threats of grievous bodily harm. 
      “Everyone in the squad who's not busy, form up around this table!” Schäfer beckons the squad to his picnic bench. Jung, Meier, and Collins take out their ballpoint pens and notepads as their sergeant unrolls his map of the AO, and plants his finger on their grid square. Wolff, Kowalczyk, and Catawnee walk off to maintain watch while their team leaders note down the plans for them, and Zimmerman and al-Latif are away monitoring what potentially could be the possible enemy. 
      “Zimmerman and al-Latif have contact on a squad-size element of eleven unidentified foot mobiles setting up cammie nets 500 metres to the east of our pos. They’re at the edge of the forest on the west side of a hill overlooking MSR Spirytus, fifty metres directly east of the T-Junction at Checkpoint Niner at Grid Bravo Sierra Four-Five-Niner-Five Four-Five-Three-Two!”
      Schäfer shivers, barely able to contain his excitement or maintain a serious, stoic exterior.
      “Get ready for pre-combat inspections, we're going into REDCON-2! If Goodsprings doesn’t f*ck us in the ass by calling in an airstrike instead, we might actually get to kill some motherf*ckers!”
      And so they all cheered for war.
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