Empires and fallen kingdoms and upstart states, Oh My!
The first scene I wrote in the æsterverse was a slugfest between ships in the sky. "The Tomahawk Incident" was born from that scene. From that it was clear that the world I needed was one where empires were ready to start taking pot shots at each other at the drop of a hat. So, as I began fleshing it out, competing imperial powers had to be a centerpiece.
If the physical geography of the world was drastically changed by the cataclysms of the Rise, the changes in political geography were catastrophic. Nations that had known centuries of prosperity were all but obliterated, others that had no place at the world table were suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
Amidst all the chaos, the fall of empires and rise of others came down to two factors. Darkness encroaching from the poles to eventually engulf the upper latitudes and rising ocean levels.
I did a lot of research on sea level rise as I was building the world of the æsterverse. I was surprised to find out just how many capitals around the world would be catastrophically affected by a hundred foot rise in sea levels. It's strange and disturbing that my research for the æsterverse is suddenly being mirrored in the real world. What's below is a projection for a 30 meter sea rise around London. The areas in red are land that has been flooded. It's a stark image. This sort of inundation happened to many capitals around the world during the rise as they lay along major rivers or near the sea. As far inland as Paris was, it too saw flooding. Anything along the Seine's long route was affected. And yes, I'm a cartophile if you must know. I love maps.
The world's a big, complex place. For simplicity I'm going to concentrate on the æster's effects in the northern hemisphere. That's where the seat of empires were in the 1860's, after all. The effects were mirrored in the southern hemisphere, but the politics below the equator were largely driven by the empires north of it. As darkness encroached from the north and places like London and Paris were being inundated, imperial powers were forced to make decisions for survival. For those capable of it, that meant moving their capitals to possessions along the equator. The capitol of the British Empire moved from London to Darwin (now New London), Australia, and the French decamped from Paris to Dakar in West Africa. At the time these decisions were made, the imperial governments had no idea that the encroaching æster clouds would stop. They moved their capitals as far away from the danger as they could with no guarantees. This thinking precipitated the British bypassing India as the seat of the British Empire, even with the considerable problems incurred by having the capital so remote from its possessions. And this kind of survival-first thinking was repeated again and again by widely disparate governments, sometimes with disastrous results.
The battle to escape the northern latitudes spawned some of the most horrific human catastrophes of the Rise era. For empires with no possessions along the equator, there was nowhere for them to run. The Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires were torn to pieces in the melee. Austro-Hungary's many internal conflicts ripped it apart in a series of conflicts that were given the blanket name, "The Wars of Austro-Hungarian Disintegration." Russia had no choice but to try to move south, marching into the meat grinder of the Ottoman Empire, the British along India's Northwest Frontier or the Papal States holding Italy in the west. Worst case estimates say that as much as ninety percent of the Russian population perished during the Rise. And of course there are the empires of China and the Ottomans. The Chinese capitol now resides in Guangzhou (Canton). The Ottoman Empire is the only empire whose capital resides under the æster's clouds. Constantinople, at forty one degrees north latitude, sits firmly in the darkness of the Nyx, a brooding symbol of the the empire's implacable will. Ottoman possessions stretch to North Africa and throughout the Middle East, but they have stubbornly refused to shift the seat of power from the darkness. To their west stands the bulwark of European defense against the Ottomans, the Papal States. Ruled by the Pope from the capitol in the expanded, walled city state of Vatican City, the Papal States are a not considered an empire but a coalition of independent kingdoms. The Papal States straddle the Mediterranean like a titan against the Ottomans. From the Alps in the north, and across the heavily fortified islands of Sicily, Malta and others known as the Iron Chain that stretch from the toe of Italy to Tunisia, the Papal States cut the Mediterranean in half, trapping the Ottomans in the east.
Other groups made new alliances to survive. The Low Countries, Scandinavian countries, the German Empire and those who split off from Austro-Hungary came together to form the New Hanseatic League, their capitol is in Jakarta, Indonesia. Spain and many of her possessions formed the Hispanic League whose capitol lies in Bogota, Columbia. Some Kingdoms remained independent, largely due to alliances with larger empires. The Kingdom of Abyssinia in East Africa and Kingdom of Siam stand in strategic locations, supported by the British and the Hanseatic League as checks against the Ottomans in East Africa and Chinese in Southeast Asia.
For fledgling America, the Rise was the anvil the country was broken against. In the throes of the Civil War, the federal government was ill equipped to face the rampant flooding and impending doom rolling down on them from the north. In 1862, amidst the chaos of rising waters and oncoming æster, the Union lost the battle of Antietam. The Confederacy took Washington and forced a surrender, then separated themselves from the Union. The Confederacy may have won the war, but they lost the peace. Within just a few years, the Confederate government was drowned under the flood of refugees from the north fleeing the æster darkening skies. Since that time, the southeast of North America has been labeled the Former Confederacy, an administrative no-man's land. It is neither British America nor under any real authority from it's former owners. In the Former Confederacy law only extends as far as an artillery round can be fired from the walls of the remaining city states and walled cities.
With no possessions along the equator, America's citizens had no place to run. What began as humanitarian requests of the British Empire to allow Americans to emigrate to British possessions eventually turned to the Federal government requesting reintegration into the British Empire. And British America was born. Encompassing all of Canada and extending far into Mexico, British America has become one of the largest and most powerful British possessions in the world. The fact that most of it lies under the darkness of the Nyx does little to blunt its industrial might. The last vestiges of the United States now lives on as the Republic of California. Occupying the west coast of North America from the Baja Peninsula to the Columbia River, California is an ally British America must keep on good terms with. They are the gateway to the Pacific. Without California, British America's only Pacific ports are in British Columbia.
In the fifty years since the æster has settled, the empires have returned to the upper latitudes, building the Cities of Light, night train lines and retaking abandoned cities. Some of this was done as a show of defiance in the face of the world turned against humanity, some of it was done as an expression of imperial might. But like so many other things, it's easy to see the real reasons as economic. There are resources in the darkness of the Nyx that the empires need.
Where there are empires, there is conflict. In the æsterverse, the primary threats to the British Empire are the Ottoman Empire and the Empire of China. The last several major conflicts fought by the British Empire have been against the Ottomans. And everyone expects another is in the offing. The tension between the two empires is at a constant low boil, only rarely dropping to a simmer. With the two empire's allies entrenched in low level conflicts almost constantly, another war is just one misstep away. Britain and the Empire of China have been in a proxy, not quite Cold War for decades, playing out primarily in the Kingdom of Siam. Siam is supported by both Britain and the Hanseatic League - it has to be. With the British capitol in Darwin (New London) and the Hanseatic League capital in Jakarta, Southeast Asia is not a region that can be ignored. The possibility of a conflict that could be catastrophic to all parties involved has largely kept things from boiling over there. But should China invade Siam or cross into India... all bets are off.
With the changes to global weather systems, places that had been seen as having little value suddenly became critical to the empires survival. The "Green Sahara" was turned from desert into lush fertile soil during the upheavals of the Rise. It is a constantly contended resource between the Ottoman Empire holding the eastern half of North Africa and the Middle East and the French Empire who hold the west. Similarly, the outback of Australia has turned into a bread basket for the British Empire. What was arid, has turned green and fertile.
With the loss of sunlight in the northern latitudes, all the great boreal forests of North America, Europe and Russia went extinct. Wood has become one of the highest value commodities worldwide. And no countries cash in on that as powerfully as those in South America and Central Africa. The Portuguese have stepped forward onto the world stage as a power player primarily because of their control of the vast forests of Brazil. Every empire has its footholds in Africa, but the Zulu Empire controls areas of south central Africa wielding iron clad control over the resources of that region.
"The Tomahawk Incident" and other stories take place in the spaces between Britain, her allies and her enemies. There is a lot of unexplored world out there. And there are a lot of stories to be told in the darkness of the Nyx, the æster's corrosive, supercharged clouds, or even in the Aureus along the equator where the sun still shines.