It's October, my favorite month of the year! 90% of what I like about October has to do with its signature holiday, Halloween, and I like Halloween so much that I've set a goal for myself: one "scary" scenario for every week of October. Since dystopia is par for the course here, my criteria for a scary scenario is a bit stricter: supernatural horror. So, here's week one's entry, a Napoleonic, steampunk version of Vivere Militare Est.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a man of many accomplishments. He stabilized France after the Revolution, he created the French Civil Code, and he conquered almost all of Europe. However, perhaps the greatest change he affected upon the world, the one act which would etch his name in human history forever, is his visit to the pyramids. In 1798, after defeating the Ottoman Turks in Egypt, Napoleon took pause in his conquests to study the legacy of the pharaohs. Drawn by the enigmatic power of the pyramids, Napoleon entered the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There, he would have an experience which would change everything.
In the King’s Chamber, Napoleon convened with none other than the Black Pharaoh, an enigmatic being which claimed to be more ancient than the stone walls of the chamber. Sensing great potential in Napoleon, he granted L'Empereur gifts that he denied even Alexander the Great. The Black Pharaoh gave Napoleon knowledge of things man was not meant to know, mysteries that to this day remain known only to the greatest sorcerers on Earth. What is known, and well-documented, is that Napoleon augmented his abilities and those of his mortal servants with the paranormal. Upon his return to France, Napoleon took over the government and proclaimed himself Emperor of France. After crushing the Haitian revolt, Napoleon proceeded to launch a campaign of conquest which pitted him against every other major power in Europe.
By 1812, it seems that Napoleon is the uncontested master of Europe. Austria and Prussia have been crushed, the Russians retreat from France’s seemingly inexhaustible armies, and the British remain weary of a possible invasion from across the Channel. This invasion happens in October of 1812, when Napoleon’s sorcerers raised from the Channel the sunken fleets of those who attempted to invade England, but failed. These rotting ships, held together with preternatural energy and crewed by the tortured souls of their former sailors, sailed alongside modern ships powered by a new technology: steam engines. These ships succeeded in forcing their way past the Royal Navy and establishing a beachhead in England. French forces, both mortal and paranormal, fought their way through British forces and marched toward London. It appeared as though Napoleon would become the unchallenged master of Europe.
But unbeknownst to Napoleon, the opposing Coalition had preternatural weapons of their own. Using forbidden knowledge from the ancient temples of the Indus River valley, the British had their own spells of their own to use, and the greatest opportunity to use them presented itself in Napoleon’s siege of London. Using prisoners and slaves as a sacrifice, the British summoned a blasphemous demigod, an avatar of the Blood God, which tore apart the French forces. The cloven-hoofed monstrosity carved a path of destruction all the way to the coast, where the French saw their fleets being sunk by the massive tentacles of krakens. The French were slaughtered to the last man, and the Channel ran red with blood for a week.
Napoleon’s luck elsewhere was just as bad. Using the power of the loa, the Hatians revolted once again, this time successfully taking over all of Hispaniola and even spreading their revolution to neighboring Louisiana. In Russia, the “Mad Monk,” a disheveled Siberian “holy man,” led the Tsar’s forces to victory by aiding them with “angels,” multi-winged entities seemingly made of light and flame. Sensing a chance to overthrow the French, the Prussians and Austrians revolted against the paltry occupation forces left in their countries. By 1813, the British launched an invasion of guerrilla-wracked Iberia, and had soundly defeated France’s co-belligerents, the Americans. Napoleon wanted to use more powerful supernatural entities against his enemies, but he noticed his body growing more monstrous by the day, and the blasphemous whispers in his mind growing louder with every sacrifice. When a great clash between French and Russian supernatural forces temporarily tore a hole in the fabric of reality somewhere in Germany, both sides saw the potential for a worldwide disaster that would enslave mankind to dark entities. At Vienna, Napoleon himself approached the leaders of the Coalition for an armistice. The Congress of Vienna hammered out an agreement which divided Europe between Napoleon and his opponents, an order which has persisted throughout the 19th century and into the 20th.
By 1914, the world is roughly divided into three camps. The old Coalition broke in two over disputes between the more liberal and secular British and the religious, authoritarian Russians. The Sixth Coalition, the British-dominated bloc, rules the seas and, as a consequence, most of the Americas, southern Africa and Southeast Asia. The British Empire is, in fact, two entities. In the West, the crown and Parliament rule, while in the East, British affairs are dominate by the East India Company. A strange amalgamation of state entity and multinational corporation, the East India Company dominates affairs in London through its economic might, and at times their will in Parliament is unchallenged, but it only has direct rule in the East. The East India Company’s private military is even larger than that of the British Empire proper, and they have their own independent supernatural security force. The greatest British allies are New Spain and the Kingdom of Portugal, now relocated permanently to Brazil. Both monarchies have taken to their new homes quite well, although they have not relinquished their claims to their old homelands.
The Holy League, forged by Tsar Alexander I at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, dominates Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. As a bloc, these authoritarian monarchies despise the supernatural as affronts to God, with the notable exception of their own “holy” magic. The Russian Empire is certainly the most dominant of the three main Holy League states. Their heavy use of “divine arts” to allow their barely-industrialized economy to compete with Britain and France, and the dominance of the Tsar’s court by the Daughters of the Dreamer, descendants of the Mad Monk, makes their leadership of an ostensibly Christian alliance the stuff of mockery and derision outside of the Empire’s borders. The Kingdom of Prussia has truly become an army with a country, being highly militarized by necessity. Almost the entirety of the Prussian economy is dedicated to keeping its military operating even during a global war. The “Empire of the Danube,” what is left of the Austrian Empire, desires to expand westward and gain dominance over Italy and southern Germany. To aid it in this “holy mission,” the Danubians have turned to exploiting the studies of one Dr. Viktor Frankenstein, to create an army which will continue to serve the Emperor even in death.
Napoleon’s France has largely withdrawn within the shell of his Continental System, although he still has more independent allies in the United States and the Ottoman Empire. France is still under the rule of Napoleon I, the Eternal Emperor, whose monstrous body has become a desiccated mass of flesh and bone attached to a great steam-powered life support system. L'Empereur no longer rules France directly, delegating this power to men he appoints for life, but he is awoken from his state of half-death for important decisions and for appointing new leaders. To the east, the Ottoman Empire has turned more to esoteric steam and oil technologies, creating an army of machines to augment their mortal forces. The Ottomans have even built a massive thinking machine deep in the deserts of Babylon, as part of an ongoing project by elements of the Ottoman government and military to “create” a demigod to challenge those which threaten mankind. To the west, the United States desires to forge and Empire of Liberty which controls the entire North American continent. Worshiping the Founding Fathers as prophets of Columbia, the Goddess of Liberty, the Americans see their mission to spread their particular system of republican federalism as a holy one. While claiming to be a democracy, the United States is in fact dominated by the Order of the Founders, the leaders of America’s official cult.
In the meanwhile, supernatural forces have taken control of various groups throughout the world, from small bands of malcontents to entire empires. Groups such as the Cult of the Supreme Being seek to overthrow existing governments and replace them with their own, while others such as the Cult of La Santa Muerte are content to cause havoc wherever they can. Several organizations have arisen to challenge them: the Ministry of Magic in the United Kingdom, the East India Company’s “Oddities Department,” the Holy League’s Order of Christ, and France’s Department of Supernatural Affairs. However, as these organizations are beholden to the interests of geopolitics, they just as often fight one another as they do the supernatural. In all likelihood, there is no one force that could challenge the dark entities which prey on mankind should they emerge, especially if humanity’s empires are too busy fighting each other at the time. With occult organizations increasing in power throughout the early 20th century, and state sponsorship of some cults, it is possible that a war between the great powers could be set off and bring an end to mankind.