*Prologue*

The First Great Epoch of mankind is mostly guesswork and occurred from six to ten thousand years ago.  Tantalizing hints of great and sophisticated civilizations have been found, but very little knowledge of those times has come down through the years.

The Second Great Epoch occurred along the ‘Ufrates River‘, and is the earliest recorded civilization.  This three thousand year record, though vague, is fairly well known.  Throughout the world, wandering tribes gathered together, built towns and then cities, planted and tilled crops, herded and domesticated cattle,  and grew in size and power.  Knowledge was gained, then lost, then gained again.  Warfare was discovered and refined.  It moved progressively on to the next .

The Third Great Epoch of Man began with the ascension of the Roman Empire roughly four thousand years ago.  Great strides were made in medicine, warfare, politics, and technology.  For almost two thousand years, in many parts of the world, mankind grew in knowledge and power, only to lose it again for hundreds of years and slowly find (most of) it again.  Great swaths of the planet were involved in brutal wars of conquest that claimed millions of men, women, and children’s lives.  Kings and Prophets led the way through rivers of blood.  Finally an uneasy peace was established, though the fighting never died down completely. This Epoch ended with the creation of the first known electrical motor roughly 1200 years ago.

The Fourth Great Epoch of Man began with great strides in the foundations of free thought, learning, and medicine.  Freedom of the masses let to fantastic growth in Science, Mathematics, Literature, Philosophy, Medicine, Agriculture, Warfare, and every other field of study.  Population exploded into the many billions around the globe.  There were few places that did not know the footsteps and sounds of Man.  The highest peaks to the deepest ocean depths were plumbed and recorded.  Several world-wide conflicts were endured, which only seemed to spur mankind on to even greater cognitive leaps and greatness of spirit.  Weapons of terrible power were developed that threatened to destroy all.  Eventually Mankind seemed to grasp their imminent danger and draw back from their killing madness. .  Air, earth and sea gave up their secrets willingly. At the end of the third century of the Fourth Epoch, mankind even walked upon its celestial neighbor and occupied space! Great expectations were held worldwide by all peoples.

In the 354th year of the Fourth Epoch, mankind’s hopes and dreams were to be dashed.  A small but fervent minority in a small and powerless country developed a sickness beyond anything science had seen so far.  Combining the sturdiness of a bacterial mold with the vicious effectiveness of a virus, it was truly the unstoppable finger of death.  As tends to happen with isolated groups of fervent believers, a charismatic, if arguable insane leader came to the fore.  He led them to condemn all others as evil and unrepentant and prayed for their utter destruction. After a short time, at the maniacal urgings of their ‘prophet’, they each wrote their manifestos, covered themselves with the spores of the sickness, and spread throughout the world in order to facilitate the return of their Deity by the cleansing of “sin“ from the Earth.  They never bothered to create an antidote, believing that they would be protected by their ‘prophet’ and their God.

Since travel at the time was nearly instantaneous, the sickness was everywhere before anyone knew what it was.  It was only after the zealots had died in their tracks and were examined that the leaders of the world knew the true horror they were faced with.  Rushing to the compound of this sect, they found everything destroyed and the ‘Prophet’ sitting in a small shrine, dead of the disease he had set loose upon the world.

The zealots almost got their wish for a world-wide cleansing.  The plague was almost always 100% fatal.  Countries tried closing their borders and isolating their citizens, but it was far too late.  Nothing tried slowed its spread.  Within 35 days from the first reported cases, one fifth of humanity had died, and yet the plague burned on.  Prince and Pauper, Saint and Sinner, all fell to the invisible reaping blade of death.  Scholars of all fields quickly knew that the end of their era was upon them.  When the citizens of the world discovered the truth, madness took hold.  Some still served the common good, but most were lost in the mazes of their own madness.

While most physicians struggled to aid the hordes of dying, most often dying of the disease themselves, a few of their colleagues saw the writing on the wall early  and began, with the aide of the militaries of the day, to archive all of their knowledge and lore in seven great, but hidden centers around the world; one for each major land mass and the many islands of the Far East.  Originally intended for protection from mankind’s seemingly unstoppable aggression, now these subterranean crypts would fulfill another role and shelter love and life.  Finally the hate and war of Mankind’s youth would prove beneficial to the species as a whole.  As well as technology and knowledge, cattle, seeds, great works of art, and medicines (and the secrets for making them) were stored for the future. In these places, the greatest minds and learning of the Epoch , along with enough men and women to run and continue their existence, were to be stored and maintained through the dark years that would soon follow.

Each center was hundreds or thousands of feet underground and completely self-contained.  Each held two or more thousand human souls and would be sealed for many turns of the planet against the invisible enemy and madness that was raging across the land.  The doctors and scientists estimated that the Sinner’s Plague, (which it had now come to be called,) would stay virulent for hundreds of years even without a host.  Due to this, even those inside the Centers would not be able to open the doors until the threat of the plague had fully passed.  People were selected and secreted at a feverish, but analytical pace, and then the doors were shut and locked against opening for those many, many years.  As the sickness burned and billions more were lost, the great Centers in Africa and the Far East were somehow lost to the Plague.  Unable to check on or help them in any case, the other Centers carried on.  Even more billions died.  Untended plants, reactors and energy centers exploded and burned, spreading great clouds of radiation and death across the world.  Much of the water, key to all life, was contaminated and wildlife untold also succumbed to the sickness of Mankind.  There were now whole continents where very little with less than six legs walked or lived under the now clear blue skies.

*Note: It was later found that the Center in Africa had collapsed under its own weight due to faulty construction and an attempt by the left behind military to breach the ceiling and get to safety.  The Center in the Far East  was found to have been lost to the evils of the Sinner’s Plague.  According to logs left behind, and later retrieved, one of the women selected for rescue was already infected and, due to the close quarters inherent in the design of such places, had already infected many of the survivors before discovery.  Although she was the first to die in a Center, she was by no means the last. The Guardians in that Center locked down all of their knowledge, killed all of their animals, and died, hoping that someday others might use what they had been denied.*

Small pockets of survivors in rural areas, quick to take precautions and completely cut themselves off from the outside world, survived.  Not all were successful. Those closer to the great cities fell to the madness that seized the millions of ill and dying. Hard choices, and even harder actions were taken by some and they survived.  Always rural and close to the land, they waited out the madness of the “advanced world” and then went back to their patient tilling of the land and their herds and flocks.  Their children and children’s children were warned away from the great cities and things of the past and mostly obeyed. Those that didn’t, died.  Thus ended the Fourth Great Epoch of Mankind.

As the Fifth Great Epoch of Mankind began, silence reined once more in and under the heavens.  As the world turned, mankind very slowly  began to expand out of these few hidden pockets.  The great cities of the world decayed and fell down.  The seas rose and fell and rain and snow came in their seasons. After three hundred years, the Center doors began to unlock and open.  Even though the land was much the same, the old names for the countries and places no longer held sway.  Shortened or changed through the many days, they became new again under the cleansing sun.

Each Center was in contact with every other, and things there were still mostly based on a system devised by the academics that had founded them.  Many of the great things of the Fourth Epoch of Man were available or could be made, though they were precious and rarely left the Centers.  The great pollution and destruction of the Fourth Epoch world had slowly healed, though a  few scars still remained. After great debate, the Centers decided that they would guide mankind into a kinder and more responsible future.  They would avoid the mistakes of too rapid expansion and the unchecked aggression of the few, but powerful.  Flying vehicles surveyed the world from upon the winds and photos from a few still working ancient sky eyes were studied.  The remaining pockets of mankind were located and analyzed.  Long range plans were laid in, Rules and codes of conduct to be followed, written.

When the Centers were ready, Earth would bloom again under mankind’s hand.

Each Center still maintained a force for their protection and security, and from this force men and women were selected to go forth and manage the people and lands.  These stout souls were taught science, art, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, and the many ways of war.  They were fearsome adversaries.  Few could stand before them in battle, and fewer still challenged their knowledge.  They rode forth from the secret halls of learning with sword and shield, bow and ax, and magical weapons from the previous age. Most of these ancient icons were to be used only at great need, for many of them could not be replaced. (Nor did any at the Centers want to see the knowledge of their creation or use become once more widespread.)

Down through the years these shepherds in Crimson, Black, and Grey tended humanity like herds, steering their growth, laws, and society.  Guiding from the shadows for the most part, killing when deemed necessary, they saw to it that the many mistakes of the past would NOT be repeated.

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~ by daveprime on February 1, 2012.

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