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The Trans-Aurelian Railway or sometimes called the Great Aurelian Railroad in a more grandiose fashion is known by a very different name within in the continent than outside it. Countries outside Aurelia see it largely as a series of iron roads (Lys. rues de fer) impressive in scale and in its pertinence to continental trade and call it thusly, while Aurelian countries themselves often call this the Gold Road (Lys. rue d'or), a name in line with the continent. This name is not completely for the sake of vanity but carries within it a certain truth. For example, timetables are often merely suggestions in Shffahkia but because of the importance of railways, trains are uncharacteristically always on schedule. Thereby, despite Aurelia being home to a multitude of different countries possessing wildly different societal structures and value systems, they are united by their shared economic interest to maintain, expand and protect the continent's impressive railway infrastructure. It goes to reason then that these countries would also hold a plethora of differing opinions about and have divergent attitudes towards this gargantuan system of rail both the good and the bad. One of these opinions can be found at the northern terminus of this rail system, Shffahkia. Shffahkia holds a chauvinistic attitude racked with guilt towards its role in creating and actively maintaining the continent's multiple-track-themed status quo. This is largely due to the origins of Shffahkia as a nation and the origins of the so-called Gold Road.

Shffahkia was first settled by religious émigrés who brought with them, alongside a disdain for religious institutions, a guilt-based morality system where bad deeds were not punished by divine fate but by one's own conscience. As a consequence, a dissenting opinion has always been present in Shffahkian public discourse. Whether or not it was ever listened to varied from one time period to another. One time period where such dissent was disregarded with great fervor took place during the Shffahkian Empire when a home-grown Aurelian attitude of Shffahkian chauvinism, that would go on to set the country up for an ill-conceived trajectory of continental domination, hegemonized this imported sense of guilt. "A Shffahkian must always look down on something" goes a popular joke in Aurelia. Yet, in one way, this misguided and factually wrong chauvinist mindset proved to be correct; the Trans-Aurelian Railway traces its origin to that period of Shffahkian chauvinism when the technology was whole-heartedly adopted by the Shffahkian Empire. The first railroads that reached southern Aurelia were built during the Eustacian Wars by the Shffahkian Empire to bolster supply lines. After having conquered its rivers, Shffahkia continued to expand by building an empire on rail. However, as this expansion drove the empire to its cataclysmic end, and Shffahkian chauvinism received an irremediable blow, something remarkable happened which would define Shffahkia for the century to come. In spite of removing almost all traces of the Shffahkian Empire, the winning powers elected to retain and adapt its railroad infrastructure. Doing so gave the nascent Shffahkian republic a decisive advantage to recover from the devastation from the war as the country found itself one of the most connected countries to Aurelian trade in the mid 1800s.

As other Aurelian countries adapted to and surpassed Shffahkia in railroad production, the country lost its competitive edge and truly became a single member of the Aurelian collective no longer the monolith it once was. Shffahkian history has had a tendency to over-emphasize this beginning part of Aurelia's railway history oftentimes downplaying the far more consequential role its Kirvinsét counterpart played in rapidly expanding its railways to match and exceed its original inspiration. Still, with the emergence of the modern era of railroad politics, came the guilt so greatly suppressed during the Imperial era. The country now found itself looking at the wild frontier through a more sympathetic gaze. This ill-defined good will manifested itself through humanitarian actions that were coupled with the chauvinistic attitudes of the previous two centuries. Shffahkia sought not to simply occupy strategic points along the railway but to spread its culture there as well. Where Shffahkian boots trod, they brought with them la bonne langue. As a result the country's interests are not only economic but also cultural. It is common place for the highly educated in a railroad state to emigrate to Shffahkia in search for an occupation or to continue their studies assuming they weren't sent to Shffahkia to study from a young age. A derogatory term roughly meaning "iron footed" exists in Shffahkia to describe people from a railroad state. Many of these immigrants that work in the country also send some of their income to support their families still living in their place of origin. Subsequently there is a clear link, a special relationship between Shffahkia and its sphere of influence. The policy of promoting welfare within the railroad states that was proving more unsustainable from day to day was in part driven by Shffahkia. The policy itself was not popular in the railroad states themselves. Not only was the agency and economical prospects of the railroad states taken from them but now a very clear instance of brain drain began to take affect as well. 

The reunification of Shffahkia and Paranne had set Shffahkia into political turbulence as the Larue administration attempted and ultimately succeeded in gathering a coalition to continue governing effectively. The administration was now entering the penultimate year of its first term. This brought down significant pressure to get results both political and economic to show to the electorate. Under this compulsion, ideas that normally not even put out for consideration gained traction and at the very least tacit approval. Such was the case with the plan to expand the Trans-Aurelian Railway to go through the Paranne Mountains. Not only would this stimulate economic growth, it would also connect Paranne's more excluded parts with the rest of Aurelia. Funding became a problem, however. The Shffahkian budget was tapped for the year and only a part of the actual costs would be covered. Marcel Tchélique, ever the opportunist, was the person who most ardently drove this project. When the news came that adequate funding was not going to be provided, the charismatic politician decided to take things into his own hands. His years of working in Pan-Aurelian projects had provided him with an impressive list of contacts spanning the continent. One of these contacts told him about a duchess in Kirvina who conveniently possessed the required funds for the completion of the project. To call this a long shot would be an understatement. Travelling to the opposite end of the continent to gather funds was downright inconceivable by some. Nevertheless, Tchélique prided himself on being a man who not only talked the talk but also did the deed. The risk was great but the prospects of being the one to realize such an ambitious project would no doubt skyrocket his career. Even if he were to fail in convincing this noblewoman to invest, he would still be known as a person ready to go the extra mile. Fully committed to his plan, he arranged for a visit to happen. Not wanting to rouse any suspicion or bring unwanted media attention to his venture, he chose to conceal it and travel with a low profile. He convinced himself that much like how Shffahkia had shown Aurelia the usefulness of the railway, he would demonstrate to this Kirvinsét noblewoman the true economic value of the Aurelian Gold Road. 

"Thank you for having me here today your grace," he began. "The reason behind my extraordinarily long voyage across the continent is to introduce you to a new and lucrative business venture. A venture truly Aurelian through and through. Not only is this investment guaranteed to pay off in the long turn but it is remarkably safe." Before continuing, he took out a small pile of papers, the technical details of the project, and handed them to the duchess. At the top of the small pile was a map of the Tans-Aurelian Railways with an area of Shffahkia highlighted. "You see with recent political developments in Shffahkia, much in terms of economic investment is being rolled out in Paranne which provides you a unique opportunity. The small community of Aïousse has for a long time been known to possess valuable minerals underneath its soil. It is a community largely based on mining but what hampers this community's growth is its exclusion from the Trans-Aurelian Railway Network. With your patronage, an ambitious new railway could be built allowing the untapped riches laying dormant to flow into Aurelia. When this community is connected to the rest of Aurelia properly, both people and cargo will be going in and out of the town at unprecedented rates. This will undoubtedly prove advantageous to anyone with a stake, in this railroad. Because after all what they say is true, the only thing better that owning a mine is owning the railway leading to the mine." 

@Kirvina

Edited by Shffahkia (see edit history)
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In strong contrast to the Shffahkian rationale behind meddling in the wasteland, flush with idealism, culture, and the notion that those who dwell the open fields of Aurelia are simply Shffahkians waiting to happen, an education and a cultural identity away, the Kirvinsét are far more dull and pragmatic. The motto of the Rangers falls in line with this: Law and Taxes, a straightforward proclamation of their primary mission. The national origin of Kirvina is very tied to the Dekatrapoleis, the Thirteen Cities. In a very exclusionary, anti-assimilationist view, the power has never tried to convince the denizens of the railroad states it controls that they have a place in Kirvina, that they are culturally similar at all, that they should learn their language for anything beyond needs of communication, or that they should even have any affection towards Kirvina at all. Let no man tell you otherwise, the average citizen of the Southland looks down on those who inhabit the railroad states as nothing better than a cesspool of luddite tribals, unable to work the lands given to them into a civilization of any worth; allergic to rule by decree, dishonorable bandits who would kill their own family for a few drachmae of silver.

But even bandits have their worth. At rifle-point, the Kirvinsét military spreads safety and protection from piracy through the steppe, shelling out the money to maintain standing garrisons in each and every town of note in exchange for tribute in the form of mineral resources and informal tribal gifts to commanding officers. While lacking in opportunities, and any sort of cultural advertisement or promotion, those lands Kirvina controls are, at the very least, safe. However, finding a Kirvinsét civilian on the railroad tracks is indeed a rarity. The Southland's presence in the brush is entirely military, carried on the back of the understatedly swollen Acranthai and Tasanthai, the elements whose charge with curating these areas has turned them over the centuries from inglorious fetch and carry battalions into the majority of the nation's armed forces. A fact which the Duchess sitting before Marcel well knew, looking at him with a halfway suppressed expression of derision as he carried on. At the terminus of his argument, she sighed, shaking her head. "Perhaps our part is 'remarkably safe'. Yours, on the other hand. Goodness." 

Chrysanthe huffed, waving a hand to the side. "However, I've no doubt in the mineral value of this mine you are describing to me. There are doubtlessly tens of others like it scattered around Aurelia, resources simply waiting to be tapped but out of our reach. But you have chosen this one because it is close to a rail hub." She rummaged around for a brief moment, withdrawing a cigarette. Not lighting it, she offered it to him, and whether or not he accepted took one for herself. "The question is whether or not the vultures have already smelled out that your corporations are producing facilities in Paranne and are massing at the railway hubs of the border. Whether or not whatever route is opened is going to be taken by six grenadier attacks a fortnight, and lose fifteen personnel and a train by the end of the second month, like the last one was."  The Duchess finally lit hers, gesturing with between her fingers. "Now, it's no small amount of money you've come to solicit me for. And I know that. I'd want some kind of proof of concept. Maybe we take a few mercenaries with us down the rail line and see if we happen to get jumped."

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Marcel was pleasantly surprised over the Duchess' interest in the topic. The opinion that she held was not entirely unfounded. Ever since the Shffahkian Collapse in the 70s, the country found itself physically cut off from its own sphere of influence. The Parannese Republic had largely been supportive in joint efforts to exert influence over this area but differences in opinion meant that direct military intervention was rare. As a result a more indirect approach was chosen. Supporting satellite regimes and arming local syndicates to create a web of influence that spanned a greater distance and penetrated deeper than that of the Kirvinsét state at the cost of pragmatic safety. Now that the two countries had reunified, the Shffahkian boot was making its come-back. The current administration had set an internal goal to return slowly to the status quo of the 50s exercising more influence and authority over its sphere. 

As Marcel accepted the offer and took a cigarette, he began "That is a delightful idea. A pleasant trip up and down the railway will serve as a good demonstration of the actual day-to-day safety of the Trans-Aurelian Railway." He thought largely of the mundane traffic through the rails in the form of both trade goods and free-moving people. Stopping a train was no small feat for a group of bandits, and when an instance of rail-related banditry could go as for as to provoke a military intervention in some parts of the network, the risk was inconceivably huge at an individual level. Even more so when taking into account the harsh punishments for such crimes. This largely creates a situation where some small to medium trains can afford to travel with minimal protection especially when schedules line up with any military related transport goods. "In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that we ought to travel with a low profile so we can see just how safe the railroad truly is. Now I won't lie and say that it is completely devoid of any danger but in my own personal experience both as an every-day businessman and a high-profile government minister, the dangers related to the railway are greatly exaggerated by the media. After all, financially a train breaking down is a bigger risk than banditry but the media rarely reports on instances such as those. Personally, I don't see a need for a grand escort. I've travelled up and down the rail countless times and I've found that all you really need is a few mercenaries or a bodyguard or two and it's as safe as it can feasibly be. That being said, I certainly wouldn't be against going with a large military or mercenary escort if it suits your preferences more." he said before lighting the cigarette. 

 

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