All this was prehistory. The unspoken pact with the monster insects that ensured humanity’s survival, and the subsequent development of the Art, is all lost to the mists of time. Not even the longest memories, not even the most complete records, bear witness.
What is certain is that, having chosen a side, mankind collaborated in the final throes of genocide. Even in these more enlightened ages unearthed bones still speak of a wealth of land vertebrates that once lived and died upon the surface of the world, and then just died, species by species, at the mandibles of the foe, and at the stone-headed spears and arrows of traitor humanity. Who is to say what races of mankind did not discover the road to salvation, and perished at the hands of their defecting brothers, and their new, armoured allies?
No records remain.
Having guaranteed its survival, indeed its dominance in the world, mankind turned inwards. Families gathered in clans, and clans into the kinden, each with its entomological patron saint. In time there arose a hierarchy amongst those kinden, specifically a ruling class, and a servant class. The distinction was in their way of viewing the world.
This was a lost age of magic (1). Modern commentators refer to it as the Age of Lore, but only amongst the descendants of the ancient master-races. Those that suffered under the lash call it the Bad Old Days, the Dark Ages.
There were those amongst the kinden who saw the universe in a certain way, as a great weave in which there were threads for the pulling, to tug the world into shape. This was magic. It was not the Art, that was, in its various forms, open to all. Those kinden who could grasp the power of magic could control the world. Great wonders, and ever greater terrors, were theirs to command. Those who could not were fit for nothing but servitude.
Magic, for the kinden, meant darkness. Magic was born from uncertainty. Its power was weakest when the heart was high, when the bright sun shone. At night, in times of fear and doubt, magic crept in. It is no coincidence that those kinden whose grasp of magic was strongest, were also those kinden most at home at night, with eyes best suited to pierce the darkness.
In those far-off days, days mourned only by the usurped conquerors, great states were formed, the thaumocracies of elder times. Greatest of these, holding sway over the vast and fertile Lowlands, was the domain of the Moth-kinden: unparalleled sorcerers, scholars without peer, for many thousands of years they ruled sternly and without love, a great domain built of the backs of slaves, enforced by the unequalled warriors of the Mantis people, swift and deadly, and themselves ruled by fear of their dark masters.
There were heroes, in those days, and great lords. There were secrets to drive the incautious mad. The Spider-kinden of the southern lands built their gorgeous palaces of gold and silk, and the Monarch of the Dragonfly Commonweal to the north ruled the fifty principalities in fairness and splendour. There were wars, in those days, insurrections, exterminations. The Moths, in their power and wisdom, saved their slaves from even worse tyrants: kinden whose names are now no more than shadowed myth, so that when mothers chide their children with tales of how the wicked Mosquito-kinden will come and drink their blood, they little realise that there was a time, once, when it was true.
It is lost to modern hands, of what span of years the Age of Lore lasted. The old races, the ancient masters, counted the years by a method as inscrutable as their supposed magics. Millennia, that much is sure. Thousands of years of lost history, abandoned philosophy, heights of glory and depths of horror that the world shall not, if it is lucky, see again.
What is sure, is that it came to an end.
A little over five centuries ago, the slaves, the dull and the ignorant and the fundamentally unmagical, found their voice.
(1) A Lost Age of Magic. It is, I admit, a stereotype, but I like it. There is something haunting and glorious about the thought. As you can see, though, this is not the “Golden Age” nor quite the “Rule of the Dark Lord” that fantasy oscillates between. It is a true dark age, a span of history, with all its plethora of deeds and dates, now lost. There are also two corresponding ways for an Age of Magic to come to an end, too. The Golden Age simply fades, until it is only a memory. The Dark Lord is defeated by the Forces of Light, who then also fade into the background. I hope that I have found a rather different spin on things.