Here it is, the map for The Unending Nightmare! Lots of shout-outs in this one.
Life is an interesting thing, unique in the universe. A series of chemical processes conducted in such a way that it serves as a conduit for élan vital, a form of "energy" which exists beyond the physical universe. In tiny quantities and in simple systems, élan vital has virtually no effect, but when a critical density is exposed to a very specific set of electrochemical reactions, it confers upon the living thing the gift of consciousness.
Élan vital is special in that it is not of the material universe. It is native to another universe "adjacent" to physical reality, an alternate dimension called the Etherium. Élan vital can only exist in conjunction with the particular chemical systems that exist in all living things; indeed, life is defined by the presence of élan vital within a chemical process. When these chemical systems fail, élan vital becomes unstable and is punted back into the realm from which it came; this process is more commonly known as death. Every return damages the local spacetime barriers in which the return occurred. A single return in one place at one time is minimal, several in a short amour time will weaken the veil between the worlds enough to let some élan vital “souls” to manifest themselves temporarily and in short bursts.
Several million in a short time will weaken the barrier permanently.
1918. The world was plunged into darkness by every horror mankind could suffer. The most overt horrors were those created by Man himself. The Great War tore Europe asunder, the Russian Empire fell to revolution, China was wracked with civil strife and an invasion from Japan, the armies of the United States and Mexico clashed in the frontiers of the West and South America’s dreadnought race became a full-blown war. The wonders of technology, from the diesel engine and the machine gun, to poison gas and the mechanical cogitator, made death easier to deal on the battlefield. But the true killers were inhuman in nature. The Spanish Influenza brought countless millions to their graves, particularly the young and healthy. The famines caused by war-ravaged supply lines and the poisoning of soil, water and air by the great powers’ conflict killed and weakened those that the Spanish Flu did not kill. By the middle of the year, a hundred million people had perished. The fuel for a total barrier collapse was ready. All that was needed was a spark.
Deep in Siberia, the Bolsheviks held prisoner Nicholas Romanov, former Tsar and Autocrat of All the Russias. Now, he was nothing but a captive in his own kingdom, beaten and abused by his former subjects. With him were his entire family, his heir apparent, Tsarevich Alexei, and over two hundred soldiers that had followed the Tsar and his generals in their campaign against the revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks had the opportunity to extinguish the Romanov line forever. In July, they did so, executing Nicholas II, his family, and the two hundred prisoners of war. The slaughter of the prisoners of war was conducted quickly, using machine guns, but the royal family was saved for last. They were killed in order of “authority,” so that the last surviving Romanovs could learn that they had truly been broken.
Last to fall to the Bolsheviks’ bullets was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, now a grief-stricken wreck. At first, the Bolsheviks’ bullets could not penetrate her clothing, something that put supernatural fear in the executioners. However, this was soon determined to have been caused by Anastasia wearing much of the family’s jewelry under her clothing. With the jewelry removed, the executioners tried again. This time, they succeeded. But not for long.
Anastasia’s soul was, by sheer coincidence, the straw that broke the camel’s back. The hundred million deaths that had occurred up until that point had weakened the barrier between the material universe and the Etherium. Anastasia’s soul broke the barrier, and allowed the souls of the dead a chance to rush back into the material world and to free themselves from the madness of the afterlife. Contrary to the beliefs of man, the afterlife was neither a paradise nor a place of eternal torture. The Etherium is a place of nullity, where the total lack of senses leaves souls with nothing but memories. Millennia of nothing to do but feel regret for past mistakes, pine for loved ones forever gone, and a maddening desire to sense something again.
The souls of the dead, sensing an opportunity to reenter the material universe permanently, tried to do so through Anastasia’s soul the very instant it breached the threshold. Already grief-stricken from watching her family die before her eyes, Anastasia’s consciousness was torn apart. But a soul is a resilient thing. As souls rushed around Anastasia, accreting around it in their mad attempt to reenter the physical world, her consciousness reassembled itself. The separate souls fused into one, their memories and thoughts consumed by Anastasia’s consciousness. These thoughts, the memories of countless millennia of suffering in life, memories of dying, and the endless regret of the afterlife, drove Anastasia further into madness. The trauma of her personal grief and death was now amplified by the pain of hundreds of millions of perished souls, all of which now felt like her own experiences.
The process destroyed any humanity Anastasia had left. Only a few directives remained: to avenge her family by destroying those who destroyed the Russian Empire from within and without, and to prevent such a disaster from happening ever again by extending her dominion over the entire universe. Anastasia was no more. All that remained was the Pearl Empress.
Anastasia’s body rose from the dead a few moments after the execution. Her physical form could not contain the élan vital surging into it in its original state, and so the biological processes in her body went into overdrive. Her body twisted and contorted itself, quickly maturing. Organic materials, such as the wooden planks on the ground, were infused with excess élan vital, came back to life and fused with her body. The terrified guards, too, were consumed by this growing mass of flesh, their souls torn asunder and used to fuel the Pearl Empress’ “ascension.” For miles around, the trees grew and flowers bloomed. All thinking creatures in this area, both the animals in the forest and the corpses of the dead, had their souls destroyed and were placed under the control of the Pearl Empress. They marched to their new master to become one with her immortal body.
When the Pearl Empress’ ascension was complete, the area around Anastasia’s body was a “forest” of necrotic flesh and plant matter. Massive “organs” dotted the landscape, rivers of life-giving ichor pulsing through root-arteries fanning out through the ground. “Animals,” in truth artificial constructs of flesh and bone operated by the Pearl Empress directly, guard the forest from those who would destroy it. At the center of it all, Anastasia’s body, and those of her family, retained some of their original form, but only some. Fused to the fleshy “floor” from the waist-down, these bodies are nothing but mouthpieces for the Pearl Empress. The entire forest was the Pearl Empress, the largest single lifeform on the planet.
The Pearl Empress’ ascension further divided the Russian people. While some White generals elected to follow the Pearl Empress, mostly because they were foolish enough to visit the Pearl Empress themselves and had their souls consumed by their “monarch,” most saw the Pearl Empress as an abomination and called for its destruction. These White factions aligned themselves mostly with foreign intervention forces, such as those of the Entente, Central Powers and the Japanese. These forces are diverse and often fight one another as often as they fight the Red Army and the Pearl Empress. Kolchak, Denikin, Yudenich, Wrangel and Ungern-Sternberg: former servants of the Tsar, now ruling their own private empires with the blessing of foreign armies.
The emergence of a god-empress that sought to motivated the Bolsheviks further, and rallied more horrified men to their cause. With the aid of Nikola Tesla, a Serbian American who fled the United States after a falling out with former employer Thomas Edison and his dissatisfaction with American capitalism, the Bolsheviks have upgraded the factories they control to manufacture devastating war machines armed with weapons like the directed-energy teleforce projector or the feared Tesla coil. Even in the face of unspeakable horror, the spirit of the worker will not break.
Beyond Russia, the nature of reality changed. Supernatural phenomena, once restricted to sites where many deaths occurred, now encompassed the entire planet reaching up to the upper stratosphere. A “bubble” of weakened reality, bound to Earth by its gravitational pull, tore its way through the universe as Earth moved around the Sun, and the Sun rotated with the rest of the galaxy. In battlefields and hospitals around the world, the constant deaths further broke down the barriers separating material reality from the Etherium. The dead rose from mass graves and trenches, attacking all they encountered as these dead souls felt the ceaseless pain of decay. Empowered by élan vital, either ambient around the Earth or due to exposure to particular areas, life around the world mutated. Viruses and bacteria mutated at increased rates, making them deadlier, harder to eradicate, and painful to suffer. Plants and animals changed, sometimes being possessed by intact souls that attempted to manipulate the growth of the creature to more closely resemble the soul’s original form. Even humans were not immune: possession was not unheard of, when the soul of one man is taken over by that of a dead man, their physical appearance warped by the soul as it attempts to regain the body it had in life.
Throughout the world, the mad and forbidden arts were more useful than ever. Ever since the discovery of élan vital during the turn of the century, men of science have tried to harness it as a form of immense energy. Many machines, built on the principles of élan vital were made, but they were not widely used because the necessary amounts of élan vital were unobtainable. Prior to the ascension of the Pearl Empress, material reality around Earth was still too divorced from the Etherium to make access of élan vital in that dimension simple. Only Tesla and Edison unlocked the secret, and for decades only Edison’s General Vitalic could provide the power for advanced weaponry the United States used in its war against Mexico. But when the threshold was weakened, it became easier to access élan vital. The great powers, desperate to be the first to have access to the wonder weapons they knew their opponents were quickly developing, engaged in an arms race as their armies fought the unending stalemate that was the Great War. Slowly but surely, new machines of war emerged: the trench walker, the heat-ray, the suncaster, the applied cogitator. It was still necessary to power these systems with élan vital from a dying creature, to provide a localized breach that allowed the weapon to access more élan vital from the Etherium. Most basic tools needed only a weak catalyst, while the greatest machines needed human sacrifice to work.
Souls themselves became tools. They were bound artillery shells, so they could possess men in the enemy lines, they were bound to cogitators to increase their processing power, and in extreme cases they were bound to war machines and set loose in enemy lines to reap their dark harvest. Soldiers became a resource that were recycled over and over again. Men carried vitalic batteries with them into battle, so if they fell, their souls would be captured in these machines and prevented from entering the Etherium. Once captured, they could then be used as puppetmasters for various vitalic war machines, such as trench walkers. Their bodies could then be grafted onto more basic machines, so it could serve as a conduit for a numbed soul taken from the Etherium.
The unrest from the Great War further escalated after the emergence of the supernatural. Fortunately for the still-extant governments of the world, vitalic technology allowed them to continue fighting the war. New technology allowed for fewer soldiers to do more, and with the unstable conditions on the home front, the top brass of the various armies were eventually convinced to send some men home. As the dead were recycled and new war machines stepped into the trenches, living soldiers were sent back home to work in the factories, pleasing many soldiers and their families. In America and Britain, General Vitalic and its British subsidiaries had a vested interest in continuing the Great War. The development of weaponry for the conflict turned General Vitalic into one of the richest and most powerful corporations on the planet. Furthermore, the war served as a great source of élan vital, the distribution and conversion of which was dominated by General Vitalic. An extremely profitable business model emerged: militaries would send élan vital from the battlefields to General Vitalic for refining, and then buy the refined élan vital from General Vitalic to power war machines manufactured by General Vitalic. As vitalic technology seeped into the civilian market, non-military demand for élan vital grew, further increasing demand on General Vitalic.
Edison determined that, in order for his company to survive, war on Earth could never end. Fortunately for him, General Vitalic had the resources to take effective control of the Entente governments. General Vitalic funded the political campaigns of pro-war politicians, or any politician they could reliably control. It was not long before no politician could win an election without General Vitalic’s support, and new legislation allowed the government to arrest any dissenting voices. Education became propaganda, and propaganda became ubiquitous in these societies; the War could not end but with the total eradication of the enemy, which will happen only though the sacrifices of every man, woman and child. By the 1930s, General Vitalic had total control over the governments of the Entente powers, and its German counterpart, Krupp, had control of the governments of the Central powers.
In the year 2018, a century after the Pearl Empress’ ascension, the Great War continues. As the governments of the world focused all their energies to fighting an eternal war, they let chaos spread through all non-essential areas. While life is different depending on what place one lives in, they are merely different sorts of suffering. In the civilized world, life is controlled from sunup to sundown, from cradle to grave, by callous authorities. Vitalic technology has allowed surveillance of virtually every member of society. The most advanced systems can even read a person’s soul, giving the authorities knowledge of a person’s most intimate thoughts. Those that entertain thoughts of dissent or criticism are severely reprimanded through imprisonment and corporal punishment; those that translate said thoughts into action are tortured and killed as a source of élan vital. Virtually any government worth that appellation has these surveillance systems in place. Conscription for war can happen to anyone, with antiquated exceptions for women and children done away with in the war’s third decade. Infirmity is no obstacle; even the weak and crippled can serve on the front in some capacity. The starving and sickly are offered no shelter or succor; those on the verge of death are executed in vitalic chambers in order to extract as much élan vital from them as possible, and their physical remains are either reduced to a protein slurry to feed the troops or used as parts of vitalic machinery.
In those areas of the world with no effective government, life is dominated by the need to survive. The untamed wilds host uncountable horrors, from roaming groups of men who have become addicted to the taste of human flesh, to cults worshiping megalomaniacal entities that demand sacrifices only to increase the amount of suffering in the world, to the monstrous, discarded experiments of a local mad scientist. In the wasteland, nothing goes to waste: corpses are picked clean for any edible meat, their bones fashioned into tools that could be used or traded. The living who are too weak to defend themselves and have no other protection are treated as commodities: slaves in life, food and fuel in death.
The old religions have been discredited in most of the world, their theologies disproven by the science of vitalism. And at any rate, it is clear to all that if there were a god, he is a malicious or apathetic entity. Instead, the people turn to newer religions. In the “civilized” world, they are those supported by governments and corporations, typically placing historical or current leaders in a place of virtual godhood. Meanwhile, in the chaotic zones, the people tend to worship any entity that manages to convince the locals that it is a deity, often by killing and torturing any who would disagree with the proposition.
The border between France and Germany, and the entirety of the Low Countries, is a war-torn hellscape. Networks of trenches and tunnels stretch through the desolate landscape, countless pillboxes and bunkers litter the battlefields. The air, soil and water is poisoned by all manner of chemical and biological weapons; to be exposed to these toxins and contagions, even for a moment, is a guarantee of a long and painful death. No natural life continues here, but life of a sort persists. Mutated animals, rendered pale and blind by life underground, burrow through the acidic mud, breaking into trenches and bunkers to look for their favorite prey: human soldiers. Discarded war machines roam no man’s land, repairing themselves with any metal and flesh they could find, their cogitators gaining a sense of self-awareness and an unremitting hatred of their creators for imprisoning them in a sarcophagus where they cannot feel any sense of accomplishment unless they are triumphant in battle. Corpses do not stay dead in this blighted land, as the ambient élan vital is so strong that the dead will be possessed by a wandering soul almost instantaneously. This has led to dismemberment being a necessity at the front, and soldiers will often have to hack apart comrades at arms as soon as they incur a mortal wound.
France has become nothing more than a staging ground for the next great offensive, one that is promised to end the war but is always defeated. French democracy was abolished in the 1980s, when a soul proved to be that of Napoleon Bonaparte was bound to a cogitator and given the title of Emperor. Indeed, this is the soul of Napoleon I, but centuries of undeath in the Etherium gave him nothing to focus on but the fall of his empire. Bitter and vengeful, Napoleon wants nothing more than to reconquer Europe and avenge Waterloo by betraying his “ally,” the British, at the most opportune moment. But, at the moment, the British are very useful in dying in their futile advances against the Germans. Napoleon would also like to be free of General Vitalic, but unfortunately the cogitator they have bound his soul to does not allow him to disobey General Vitalic’s directives.
If France is a staging ground, Britain is nothing more than a war factory. The United Kingdom lost her colonial empire long ago, and now the sceptered isle has isolated itself from the rest of the world. Its only interactions with the outside are trade with the United States and the shipment of soldiers and war machinery to France. Most of the United Kingdom is covered in factories, housing the enslaved descendants of Irish and colonial populations working endlessly to make weapons for the Great War. The monarchy and Parliament are ceremonial institutions, whose existence is largely unknown to the population at large. Britain is instead run by a group known only as the Party, a group founded by intellectuals and industrialists backed by General Vitalic. Under the Party’s direction, the United Kingdom has been transformed into the most pervasive surveillance state on the planet, where advanced spy technology allows the government to directly read the thoughts of ten percent of the population.
Germany is still under the nominal rule of Wilhelm II, despite the fact that he died sometime in the 1940s and his corpse has not been revived by various means. The true rulers of the German Empire are the generals, the successors to men like Luddendorff and Hindenburg. They rule Germany and its puppets with an iron fist, using the military abroad and various paramilitary organizations, the Freikorps, at home. Composed of thugs who for various reasons have been relieved from military service, Freikorps organizations such as the Stahlhelm and the German Workers’ Party enforce the will of the generals and the Krupp family, and spend their free time cracking the skulls of those they deem “un-German.” After the mass discrediting of Christianity, the German government adopted a warped version of Nordic mythology. The new Reichskirche preaches that the gods reward those who draw blood for the Fatherland with a warrior’s paradise, while everyone else is doomed to the nothingness that is the Etherium.
Emboldened by its victories against Austria and the Ottoman Empire, Italy gained pretentions of rebuilding the Roman Empire. However, the Italian state did not survive the waves of unrest that swept the world in the 1920s, and the Italian peninsula is once again divided into many different political entities. Run by corrupt military dictators, callous princes and doges, and the fanatical remnants of the Catholic Church, the Italians now spend more time fighting one another than they do the Germans. Alliances form and break constantly, and every Italian state knows that it has no real allies beyond its borders. The wars between the Italian states are relatively low-scale, but they are just as ruthless and hard-fought as the Western Front. The focus of these wars are often stealing resources, ranging from grain to children, from neighboring states.
Yet, the Alpine war continues. Fought by battle automata that were never reassigned during the collapse of the Italian state. These tireless war machines continue to fight the war against the Germans, whose own efforts against Italy are half-hearted at best. Untold thousands lie beneath the snow, occasionally reviving when the ambient élan vital reaches a high enough level. Tales of soldiers being pulled beneath the snow by mummified hands are common in the Alpine Front.
The former Russian Empire remains in a state of civil war. The Bolshevik-controlled Soviet Union has a secure hold over much of European Russia, but the Soviets’ desire to take control of all Russian territory keeps it in war against its neighbors, who for their part want to wipe the Soviet Union off the face of the planet. The Soviet Union is ruled by the Communist Party, a now-hereditary organization who live lavish and decadent lives like the aristocrats of old. Workers toil endlessly in factories, and peasants work endlessly in the fields, under the cruel and merciless eyes of Party-appointed commissars. Those who show any semblance of resistance are brutally punished and deemed an enemy of the people. Though an officially atheistic state, unorganized worship of Tesla is common among the factory workers, something that the communists turn a blind eye to so long as it does not get in the way of work.
Fighting the Soviets are the remaining White armies, who have taken to nomadic warfare to sustain themselves. The White armies attack defenseless villages, killing the men and taking the women and children for themselves before there could be any retaliation. Children are drugged and encouraged to fight alongside White soldiers during their raids, so they would grow up to know nothing but loyalty and war.
In the heart of Siberia, the Pearl Empress’ efforts to dominate the planet are kept in check by Soviet and Chinese efforts, but occasionally the Pearl Empress’ servants break through the endless network of trenches and bunkers surrounding the Pearl Forest. The hordes of shambling corpses and twisted flesh constructs that make up the Pearl Empress’ armies feel no fear and no remorse; indeed, they have no independent will, and are puppets of the Pearl Empress. The same fate befalls any who wander too far into the Pearl Forest, for their soul will be torn asunder by the Pearl Empress’ indomitable will and replaced with her own.
Across the Atlantic, the United States dominates the North American continent. Canada has been absorbed into the Union, the end result of decades of eroding sovereignty. To the south, the war against Mexico continues, although it is a one-sided conflict perpetuated by Washington to justify the severe repression it subjects its citizens to. At any rate, the Mexican military and the border towns provide a cheap, easy source of élan vital. The United States has “embraced” refugees from the Old World, only to keep them in hovels, ghettos and company towns, the de facto property of industrial combines. Racism is prevalent, and any who are not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are kept as second-class citizens, if they are fortunate.
The American government is controlled by General Vitalic, with the government serving as a rubber stamp for General Vitalic’s initiatives. The military does have some say, given their essential role in keeping the Great War going, but General Vitalic has its own, private military that it uses for missions it deems important. Managing General Vitalic, and by proxy all of the Entente governments, is the immortal Thomas Edison. In the 1930s, the dying Edison constructed an advanced cogitator that would be used as his corporeal body once he died. When the moment arrived, the machine did indeed capture Edison’s soul, but the system was imperfect and gave Edison a glimpse of the Etherium. Edison emerged from the afterlife determined never to enter the Etherium again and face the horrors he faced. Edison perpetuates his control over the United States and General Vitalic, knowing that if he were ever toppled from power, he would be killed.
South America is the site of a separate, three-way conflict concurrent to the Great War. Sparked by an arms race between Brazil, Chile and Argentina, the war has become one over the fate of all South America. After over a century of war, the initial reasons for the conflict have long since abated. Now, the war is an endless conflict in the Amazon and the Andes, where men are just as likely to be killed by the elements as they are by enemy action. The conflict has raged on for so long because, as soon as any one country gains too much of an advantage, the other two make an agreement to stop them. War propaganda has engendered a culture of hatred between the three countries. The Argentines, Brazilians, and Chileans believe that their mixed heritage is a source of strength, while their enemies see this as a sign of mongrel weakness. This belief is justified by each country believing they are “just the right mix.” Culturally, the most militaristic aspects of native and European culture are fused with new ideas stressing obedience and racial superiority. This has resulted in ethnically-motivated massacres in the common borders between the countries, actions that sometimes mistakenly lead armies to attack their own citizens.
The Middle East fell to chaos as the Ottoman and British empires collapsed. Ever since then, the Middle East has been a war-torn chaos zone. The Middle East is unique in that the Abrahamic religions have only gotten stronger, not weaker, in the region. Many fanatical Islamic, Christian, and even Jewish and Zoroastrian groups arose in response to the emergence of undeniably supernatural activity. Believing this is the work of a great evil, these religious organizations seek to destroy vitalic technology, but first they must destroy the closest heretics: each other. Underlaying the religious conflict is an ethnic one; prior to their departure, the British encouraged “national sovereignty” in order to weaken the Ottoman Empire. Now, these nationalist organizations wage war on any who do not meet their stringent standards, often leading to entire communities being put to the sword.
The European colonial empires drained Africa of all the blood and treasure they could before ruling over the continent became far too costly. The sudden withdrawal of European forces created a power vacuum that was filled by various warlords. Ethnic, religious and political conflicts fused and have become mere pretexts for strongmen to loot and pillage as much as they could. Vitalic technology has made its way to Africa through various channels, paid for by warlords with precious metals, gems and slaves. As most warlords are too poor to afford refined élan vital, they instead resort to the more inefficient practice of direct human sacrifice over massacre sites. Famines are commonplace, as the soil and water are poisoned by weapons of mass destruction enterprising warlords purchased from foreign arms dealers. A few remnant colonial governments persist in Africa, despising their homelands for abandoning them and using any and all means available to them to avert their destruction.
In the Far East, Japan and China continue their eternal conflict. Although initially fought throughout Asia, the Sino-Japanese war is now largely confined to Korea. There, the Chinese and Japanese armies fight in an eternal stalemate, with Japanese high technology countered by superior Chinese numbers. Both sides use élan vital extensively, with the Japanese using it in their war machines and the Chinese using ancient spells powered directly by human sacrifice. The Korean people have become nothing but slaves and a source of élan vital for the two armies, and their resistance only prompts harsher oppression. Still, try as they might, neither side could gain enough of an advantage over another that it would definitively end the war in their favor.
The Chinese, after a brief experiment with republicanism, are once again an empire. Under the Li Dynasty, the Chinese are back under the Mandate of Heaven, and any who challenge the Li’s claim to the throne is arrested and sent to fight in one of China’s many wars. The Chinese have successfully modernized to an extent, but only by emulating the early Industrial Revolution in the West and by using unstable and inefficient vitalic technology. However, given China’s massive population, its leaders still have immense resources at their disposal, even if this only means that they have more peasants to work to death in factories or sacrifices to power vitalic machinery. On the Asian mainland, China reigns supreme, although its rule in Indochina and Burma are challenged by Japan and India. The jungles of Southeast Asia are slowly bleeding the invading Chinese armies to death, but the Chinese have plenty of men and women to throw at the problem. To the west, warlords and remnants of the Chinese Nationalist and Communist parties fight against Li rule and one another, but they are more of a nuisance than anything else.
Like the British, the Japanese have isolated themselves, but Japanese isolation is even stricter than that of Britain’s. Having developed vitalic technology independently, the Japanese have never been under the thumb of General Vitalic, and the war against China has always provided them with enough élan vital. Indeed, a primary reason Japan continues its war in China and the rest of Asia is the need for more slaves and sacrifices. Apart from its wars in Asia, the Japanese have no interaction with the outside world. Outsiders who manage to wander into Japanese waters are killed for their élan vital without question. Shintoism has become more relevant in Japanese society with the discovery of vitalism, and the government has overlain Shinto with an imperial cult that reveres the emperor as a god. Of course, no mortal could ever see the emperor in person, save for the military generals who rule the country in his name.
The British attempted to hold onto India for as long as possible, as it was a major source of men and materiel that they believed could help win the war. News of India’s sons being used as fuel pushed discontent with British rule over the edge, and after a short but brutal attempt at securing their rule, the British retreated so as to focus more of their energies on the Great War. Even after the British retreat, the various factions in India could not agree. There were those that wanted a truly united India, others that wanted to split it along religious grounds, and others on a linguistic basis. Unable to agree and compromise, these factions turned against one another, plunging the subcontinent into an endless civil war. Chemical and vitalic warfare, both during the war against the British and the conflict after the British left, ravaged Indian agriculture and led to mass famine. By 2018, the only resource India has remaining is manpower, which the Indian factions sell to any willing to give them food and weapons to continue fighting and surviving.
Australia has been scoured of most human life, and much that remains could hardly be considered “human” anymore. Australia was the site of the Entente’s premier bioweapons experimentation facilities. The continent’s already-deadly life was exposed to extreme levels of élan vital, warping their forms and creating horrible monsters to be unleashed in the trenches of Europe. As the British government grew increasingly bankrupt, they could no longer afford to maintain these facilities, and they were simply abandoned. It did not take long for the monsters to escape, devouring and destroying anything that lay in their path. The élan vital these creatures emanated mutated plants and animals they encountered, and in some cases raised them from the dead. Australia’s own forces were depleted, as most of Australia’s young men were fighting in the Western Front. With the British unwilling to help, the Australians that could fled to whatever islands they could find, or onto “floating cities” made up of groups of ships. Those that could not make it to shore were destroyed by the monstrous fauna and flora of Australia, or became part of this fell ecosystem themselves.
Even the parts of the world uninhabited by man has been affected by its activities. The runoff of chemicals and pathogens into the oceans, combined with the increased rate of mutation due to élan vital, has filled the oceans with all sorts of unimaginable monsters. Ships making the journey between the old and new worlds have to deal with the possibility of jaws and tendrils pulling them beneath the waves. In their quest for more knowledge and power, the governments of the world devote considerable resources into unlocking the secrets of ancient sites found by various pre-War explorers beneath the oceans and the ice sheets of Antarctica. These ruins, signs of an ancient and advanced civilization, could have secrets that would turn the tide of the war and allow one side to conquer all of mankind. That these civilizations fell for a reason, and that they may contain secrets man was never meant to know, is never considered.
The events on Earth have changed the Etherium itself, or at least the points in the Etherium corresponding to Earth. Once a realm of nothingness and hopelessness, the constant interaction with the material universe has given souls sent back to the Etherium an overarching goal: find a way back to material reality as soon as possible. Binding to dead flesh and machines have allowed souls to exist in both the material world and the Etherium, bringing new experiences and senses to the once-empty reality. Because of the unspeakable horrors experienced on Earth, the Etherium changed to reflect those experiences. Souls now have the privilege of experiencing the pain of death multiple times, only being pulled back into the material universe to serve the living or to fight in their wars. The most unfortunate are rendered down into a form of fuel, a process which effectively tears a soul apart, only for it to reform in the Etherium as the fuel is spent. Pain, hatred, sadness and bloodlust dominate the Etherium, and these emotions are so strong that they are beginning to coalesce into sapient form from ambient élan vital and bits and pieces of soul. What these “gods” will do on Earth once they reach maturity is unclear, but one thing is clear: they despise mankind.
If Anastasia is basically the Eye of Terror combined with a Madoka-esque Witch (all those despair finally transforming a cute girl into an eldritch abomination, reminds me of Kriemhild, aka a version of Madoka who fell to absolute despair and mutated to destroy the world and assimilate everything into her Utopia) why does she have such a small dominion compared to Australia and the Sahara, instead of dominating all over a depopulated Siberia? With the Pearl Empress being basically a God on Earth obsessed eith assimilating all into her disturbing Utopia her Eldritch familiars won't be confined easily by primitive Russian forces. Instead, have the Soviets and Whites fortifying the Urals with the latest Tesla weapons to defend themselves from the Empress' revenge (Soviets could be Moscow-based while Whites could have Petrograd, and all Siberia is a Witch Barrier with its captives mutated beyind reason yet thinking their fate as Paradise)
Also, kudos for out-grimdarking 40k, at least there a guardsman gets the Emperor's Peace in thr form of a blam to the head, unlike here where the only form of death is a fate worse than death, though it would be more satisfying if the discovery of Elan Vital led to the return of the Aztec Empire, these folks having refined Human Sacrifice in OTL and sacrificing thousands in festivals before Europe even modernised.
The areas of black-and-green aren't uniformly chaotic. Australia and the Sahara is mostly desert and wasteland, while the Pearl Forest is entirely Anastasia's body. The reason Siberia is doing "so well" is because Edison and the Japanese are propping it up with their own forces, though you are right in that the Pearl Forest should probably be much larger.
Thanks, the idea behind this was to create the most grimdark TL imaginable. As for the Aztecs, that would be an interesting twist....
Speaking of twist, make it so the Aztecs are the Good Guys by comparison to Edison. While the Aztecs do sacrifice souls, they do treat it as the highest honour imaginable. Sacrifice volunteers in Aztec society are treated as Gods (in OTL, those who volunteer to be Tezcatlipoca are given with all the luxuries and sex he demands before volunteering to be sacrificed) meaning that Soul-Technology is revered and kept in the best possible maintenance to minimise discomfort unlike Edison's AndIMustScream tech, and the Aztecs despise the Orwellian soul-surveillance that Edison invented. While Edison is a complete monster with no justification for the eternal paralysus and torture of the world besides selfish profit. In this TL, even being sacrificed as Tezcatlipoca or assimilated into Anastasia's Witch-utopia is a gift of eternal rest though don't mind the pleasurable mutations, than be fed to Edison's machines of conscious paralysis.
Depending on your assessment of Combine military prowess, they'll either roll over the planet like they did in Half-Life's timeline or they'd sustain appreciable losses and fight for a while before finally establishing planetary rule. The world of The Unending Nightmare doesn't have access to nuclear weapons, but in all other respects they're far more capable militarily than OTL Earth. There is also the issue of The Unending Nightmare's humanity being used to total war; it's likely that Half-Life Earth's leadership didn't want to risk the total destruction of their countries even if Breen hadn't preempted them with his surrender proposal. In The Unending Nightmare, the leaders are more than happy to devote all of their resources to a challenge against their power.