Time: more than 10,000 years ago, less than 65 million years ago
As described in the rantings of H. P. Lovecraft, the ‘pallid gods of Earth’ were no match for the mind-numbing power of the Old Ones. At least not individually or in their existing pantheons. After getting smacked around a bit by Cthulhu and crew, deities with eons-old antagonisms resolved their differences and aligned themselves into the alchemically potent configuration known as ‘The Five-Fold Court’. Arranging themselves by their mystic element, the gods formed a ‘court’ to guard one of the four specific directions, with a fifth to hold the center and co-ordinate. This was the core of the civilization that would become known as Atlantis.
The Five Courts were:
- The Court of the North, aligned with element of air, was ruled by Eight Dragon Kings, with air maidens, storm giants and other aerial creatures.
- The Court of the West, aligned with the element of wood, was ruled by Nine Sidhe Queens and a Fae King, with dryads, mandrakes, ents and other such sylvans creatures.
- The Court of the South, aligned with the element of fire was ruled by twelve Djinn Lords, with salamanders and other pyrotics under them.
- The Court of the East, aligned with the element of water was ruled by seven Triton Kings, with merfolk, undines and other watery denizens under them.
- And the Court of the Center, aligned with the element of earth, was ruled by Mother Gaea and her seven daughters. The Court of the Center imposed definition on the other courts, coordinated efforts between them and stabliized the empire.
The Five-Fold Court expelled the Old Ones, and established a golden age that is only remembered now in the vaguest racial memory. Humanity was part of the empire of the Five-Fold Court - not a MAJOR part, but a part.
During this golden age, contact was even made with extra-terrestrial civilizations. “Ways” were opened, and trade was established. Unfortunately, this contact also included cults that worshiped the Outer Gods, as the Old Ones were sometimes called. Worshiping in secret, the power of the cults grew, in the very heart of Atlantis.
Even golden ages have their problems, and the Atlantean civilization was no exception. There were selfish, insane, irresponsible, and evil beings and spirits that plagued the Five-Fold Court. These were hunted down and jailed in Hells, over the millennia. There were rumored to be over a thousand separate and distinct Hells.
However, that which has a beginning also has an end. In time, the Court of the Center became inward looking, self-serving and rigidly conservative. In time, the Outer Courts began to see to their own interests.
Then, Mother Gaea, the Earth Empress fell into a deep torpor. Exactly why is still unknown. A vicious civil war that lasted for centuries ensued between the five courts. In the conflict, the primordial continent of Pangaea was shattered into lesser land masses. Reduced to a single grand city, Atlantis survived for a time, but only through the most heroic efforts (both technical and mystical). From this shining city, it was possible that civilization might be rebuilt.
Unfortunately, the opportunity never came. The great disaster that had shattered Pangaea was followed by an even greater catastrophe. The power that had sundered the continent had cracked the prisons of the Old Ones. Boiling from their shattered jails, the Old Ones and their spawn returned to finish the job they had begun so long ago. They cast Mother Gaea down into the heart of the planet and erased all signs that the Five-Fold Court had ever existed.
There are different explanations for the aftermath. The most common says that with other battles to fight, the main body of Old Ones departed Earth, leaving behind a token ‘garrison’. Other stories claim that the greatest prisons were never cracked, and they remain as a looming threat. Less likely stories claim the gods triumphed completely, sealing away the Old Ones for all time (such as the Greek tales, which mis-identify the Old Ones as “titans”).
Whatever the truth, the gods rallied and again strove against the remaining Old Ones. First they closed the “ways”, sealing Earth off from the greater galaxy, and preventing the servitors of the Old Ones from seeking reinforcement. Then, one by one the gods managed to subdue the remaining forces.
When the dust settled, the great races of Atlantis were gone. The great cities and civilizations, the mighty edifices, the great magical constructs, all were destroyed, or drowned beneath the waves. The gods of old were decimated, only a tiny fraction of their number remaining, slowly declining in numbers and power. The planet now belonged to the primitive humans who crawled over every inch of its surface, impressed with themselves and their recent mastery of fire.
Here and there, bits of the old glory survived, like outposts in a jungle. Entire human civilizations grew up around these fragments, until they crumbled too, sealing ancient secrets away in the tombs and relics of a thousand lost civilizations.
But the Old Ones and their servitors were not destroyed, they were merely imprisoned. And they were infinitely patient.