An ASB Alternate Hisstory setting with low fantasy tones, that started from a very basic question: what if dragons appeared in the early stages of humankind?
Most human civilizations share similar mythical accounts of the coming of the dragons. Of course, details vary. For Ashii, the Sun sent them to the Middle Domains to prevent Humans to reach the Heavenly Vault. For the Empire of the Floral Death, a scar opened in the skies that riddled the world with demons. All of them account that their origin is not common. And it's understandable: their intelligence is only below that of humans, they spit a flaming material that not even water can put out; their scales and bones, that not even gunpowder ballistics can easily trespass, seem to be made of unnatural materials... and most importantly, human history is one of the struggle of civilization, of destruction and reconstruction, against those hostile beasts. If it were not because they prefer places with low concentrations of oxygen, humanity wouldn't stand a chance.
In spite of it, cumulative knowledge of the world is starting to advent a scientific revolution, in those countries where superstition is not deeply ingrained. By OTL 2014, there are still unexplored parts of the world, and parts where probably no human will survive unless a definite advantage over dragons is reached, but the nature of the universe is better understood. Heavily fortified citadels defended by anti-aerial cannons and administered by clockwork machinery defend their right to see another day.
What we would call Europe is dominated by a handful of alliances. There are the Frank Cities, a trade league of aristocratic city-states where guilds have lots of power and bards celebrate the obscene deeds of hundreds of gods that are looked down upon as more flawed than humans. The Kingdom of Geowyrn, a caste system with an influent professional military and an infamous tradition of courtly and dynastic backstabbing, hailing from the dragon-free island that we would call Ireland. The Penitent Shores, home of a gloomy maritime culture know for its power struggles between the naval merchant militia and a fatalist female clergy that thinks a single God chose them over all peoples to send them calamities and face eternal damnation upon death. The hardened and diverse Blizzard Tyranny, with its bloodsports and privateers, not to tell its brutal Northern penal colonies. The jingoistic Gatekeeper Empire, its sacral prostitution and its bureaucratic mazes. Legends of a hidden land in our Po valley, totally surrouded by dragons and where impalement for the lesser infractions and necro-cannibalism are not the most unpleasant aspects of everyday life.
The city of Gnomonorror, head of a legalistic Roman-like republic, with an architecture that profusely uses spikes and where Tripoli is IOTL, struggles for domination of the Mediterranean with the Frank cities and the Trickster Valley, closer to a mix of Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia than to our Egypt, and developers of a quite existentialist philosophy: the Gods are laughing at them, and they should admire the magnificence and the twistedness of the joke... something they carry with a surprising religious real. Valik Tir claims the sky is the source of all evil, and that humanity was conceived from the bowels of the Underground to fight the dragon threat: their royal line performs both military and religious functions. Their cities are an enclosed whole without streets, and only the peasants of their fertile valleys expose themselves to the outside, something they consider an unpleasant duty. They are not interested in the outside world, but their hospitality to foreigners is well known, and their intrincate tapestries are a very priced luxury article. In our Africa, the hedonistic and dark-skinned people of Akab is experiencing a golden age of the arts and the sciences, and their current king has a legendary status amongst the northern civilizations.
Not less legendary is the Sylvan Caucus, a forestry civilization hiding in the jungles of South America that deals with the oustide world with extreme hostility. The only really known civilization native of our America is the hydraulic Varanit empire and its tributary satrapies that provide their slave supply. The Varanit religion would remind us of Hinduism, a mix of anthropomorphic polyteism and an outlook that we would call dharmic and that demands animal sacrifices to keep the equilibrium of the cosmos.
In the Indian subcontinent, two very different states wage a perpetual war. The Well Constructed Republic, with no notion of intimacy and a language comprised of no more than 800 words, is the closest to a totalitarian society we will find. The Order of the Porcelain Scale, OTOH, is a unique theocracy in the sense that they think the dragons are gods themselves, and they willingly offer human sacrifices to them. To the south of them, the cities of the Clove League are the only example of democracy this world has. In some of them they even let women participate of the political life. The cannibalistic and brutal Empire of the Floral Death has subdued South East Asia through terror tactics, and are well known by their full tattooed bodies. They are constantly raided by the Shark Men, called like this because they sharp their teeth, in a sea guerrilla of sorts. The queens of the Ashii Throne claim to be the result of humans copulating with dragons and indirect daughters of the Sun in consequence, and their dominance over East Asia is based on debt slavery contracts with subsidiary kingdoms. Only the Light Bringers, pantheistic and who would vaguely remind us of the Ainu people, stand against them. They think the ashii are not human, and that the dragons will leave the world when the Throne is exterminated. At the same time, the Ashii are terribly scared of the Light bringers, due to their long distance weapons that use hallucinogenic and anxiogenic drugs.
The works of a scholar from the Valinate of Akab, who claims that species origin from natural selection, are being rapidly divulged and slowly accepted in the more advanced societies. A patrician biologist from a frank city that we would call Lisbon, has made a surprising discovery: dragons don't seem to be linked to any other species. In his damp private garden, he writes a hypothesis that will shock the civilized world...