Pre-history covered the time from the creation of the world to the end of the Dawn War, about 25,000 years before the Cataclysm (BC). This article covers the time between the end of the Dawn War and the Cataclysm. All times until the 3rd Age are approximate.
The Fallow Time (~25k BC)
For the first few thousand years, Quartus was quiet. The ancestors of the current races struggled with the loss of most of their power and numbers. As time went on, two races rose to power, creating civilizations and enslaving (or ignoring) the other races cowering around their crude huts and fires. These two were the Titans and Wyrm.
The Titans are covered in Racial Phylogenetics--Titans. In short, they were earth-aspected gigantic humanoids, covered in runes and wielding runic power. There were also Lesser Titans, those about the size of a human who dug and tunneled and built for their larger brethren. Claiming to be "uplifting" the lesser races, they enslaved them with runes and forced them to do tasks that the Greater Titans were ill-suited for or unwilling to sully themselves with, like farming.
Note: In light of recent discoveries, this description may not be entirely true.
Wyrm is the name given to all the scaled folk, the ancestors of current dragons. Elemental in nature, they wielded raw sorcery in the spoken word and their will imposed their power onto reality. Unlike the Titans, they were more solitary and individually powerful. They tended to be worshiped as gods by the lesser races, demanding tribute.
The other land-bound races (the Lightbound and the Proteans) were unable to compete with the larger races. Lacking power to match either the runes or elemental sorcery, they were enslaved and crushed underfoot.
The 1st Age--The Tyrants at War (~20k BC)
The war was inevitable from the first meeting of the Tyrant races. Neither would budge or give place for the other; their habits of life were incompatible. For nearly ten thousand years this war raged--titans destroyed wyrm, wyrm obliterated titan. And the lesser races (including the Lesser Titans) suffered. After about eight thousand years, the lightbound had mostly disappeared under the "civilizing" influence of the Titans, becoming the aelvar race.
Scions of the lightbound, descended from the servants of the Primordial of Light, the aelvar maintained their grace and connection to the Astral plane. Long-lived and intelligent, they were the overseers and palace servants to the Titans. They chafed under this rune-bound fist--why should the sons of Earth rule over the sons and daughters of Light?
Twisted and cursed, the proteans were the servants of Change, locked into the Material Plane by decree of the Dreamer. They retained some of the mutability of their past, but their intellect was reduced to slightly above that of animals. They formed the brute labor of the Titan empire. Did they dream of freedom? Who knows.
The 2nd Age--The Age of Wizardry (~10k BC)
The Tyrants' War came to an abrupt end with the First Wish. A nameless aelvar used the power of the Cosmic Forge, locked in the Eternal Library, to write "Sound and shape combine to upset the tyrant's power." Runic power (power in shape and writing) and sorcery (spoken words of power) were merged and reshaped to be accessible to mortals--this combined power is the basis of wizardry. In exchange, the powers of runes and of elemental sorcery were broken and locked away, cursing the Titans and Wyrm in consequence. Within 500 years, the Lesser Titans had degenerated into the current Dwarven race[*], while the Greater Titans decayed into modern Giant-kin. Wyrm degenerated into True Dragons (chromatic, metallic, and astral) and Lesser Dragons (wyverns, drakes, and proto-dragons).
With this wish and the fall of the Tyrants, the aelvar took the reigns of civilization. They built empires, tamed the wilderness, and enslaved all the lesser races that they could. Theirs was an empire built on wizardry--any aelvar who could not wield the arcane power was stripped of rank and title and banished into the wilderness. By 8,000 BC these outcasts had rejected the tie to the Astral Plane and had begun searching for a power that could match the arcane power of aelvar wizardry, taking the name of Wood Elves. That search took four thousand years.
[*] caveat: this is the common tale. New evidence suggests that dwarves were created slightly before the 2nd age dawned.
The 1st Interregnum--Dawn of Primal Power (~4k BC)
The wood elves turned to the natural spirits that pervade the landscape, the spirits of rock and tree, of river and storm, of animals and forest fires. Forging an understanding with these spirits was a long and arduous process, with limited success. The thoughts and desires of the primal spirits were simply too alien to those of the elves. Then came the breakthrough. Remembering the First Wish, a band of wood elves slipped into the Eternal Library through the city that encircled it. The guards were lax--after all, what could those powerless fools do? The aelvar in their hubris had forgotten that the Cosmic Forge did not require wizardry--merely a soul willing to sacrifice everything to cause change.
That band gave their own souls to make the Second Wish--"The spirits of all things heed our call and will strike bargains." The nascent druids quickly forged pacts with the greatest spirit they could find--the Third Moon. They brought that ill-omened sphere down on the center of aelvar power, creating the circular ring of mountains and craters that still exists in south-central Noefra. The aelvar empire crumbled under druidic power, but the wood elves were too weak and ill-inclined to replace them. Instead, the continent returned to barbarity. After 500 years of this, meddling (by forces unknown, but probably the remnant aelvar population) with the proteans (who had since become the goblinoid races) created a race of fixed-form hobgoblins that became known as humans. Further meddling (by wood elves seeking to create primal soldiers) with the humans created the orcs who escaped into the fringes of the continent.
After this point, the aelvar were known as gwerin or high elves.
The 3rd Age--The Age of Gods and Men (2504 BC)
Only fragmentary written evidence exists of the time before the end of the 1st Interregnum. The 3rd Age marks the dawn of comprehensive written history.
The human race, created out of hobgoblins, spread like wildfire. Faster breeding and more adaptable than the gwerin, wood elves or dwarves, they began sticking their fingers in every pie, investigating every corner. They shared some talent for wizardry (but nothing to match the astrally-fueled gwerin) and some talent for spirit-dealing (but without the patience or understanding of the wood elves), but had something that the other races lacked. A willingness to look outward--a desire to worship. Up to this point, the gods had been mere ascended spirits, meddling and propitiated by tradition, but lacking significant influence. The First God-King changed this with the Third Wish on the Cosmic Forge--"Faith brings power."
With this wish, the races of the world gained access to divine power and the gods became powers of their own. They chose clerics, priests, and founded religions. With this power, and with a willingness to learn from other races, the human species created two continent-spanning empires on Noefra (called East and West). A few recondite civilizations persisted outside these empires in the jungles and mountains of the southern half of the continent--the Fanged Kingdom ruled by gwerin and the Dragon Wastes.
These two empires persisted for nearly two thousand years. The Eastern Empire was ruled by a God King and was ruled theocratically. The Western Empire developed the sciences of magic (of all sorts), leading to magitek and amazing powers. Discovered during this time was the transfer and binding of the Spark itself to power and animate machinery. Nothing lasts forever, though.
In 753 BC, as the Western Empire headed toward civil war due to the failing Imperial bloodline and ambitious families, a second attempt at creating super-soldiers succeeded. The Dragonborn were created by infusing unborn humans (many of whose parents were unwilling) with draconic blood and power. When this became known, the Fall of Empire began as the provinces rebelled at this blasphemy. Using weapons forged of demonic power that ripped and tore at the fabric of reality itself, the Western empire destroyed itself completely, leaving the successor kingdoms to pick up the pieces.
By 600 BC the war was over, and the nations tried to rebuild. The Eastern Empire had fallen into complacency and decadence and so was little competition. The Fanged Kingdom's rulers attempted to ascend to become gods, but their attempt failed. In the process they created the race known as Serpent-kin--humans twisted with snake blood, some of whom had more than cosmetic changes.
The 2nd Interregnum and The Cataclysm War (1 BC)
As is well known, the Nameless was liberated from his abyssal prison by a sorcerer who had locked himself away from the Fall in a time-warped bubble. Raising an army of monsters (including orcs, giants, and goblins, as well as undead, fiends, and demons), this conjoined Evil swept across the land and the armies of Order were hard-pressed. As a last ditch effort, they sent teams of adventurers after every powerful artifact known to the Eternal Library. One team succeeded, but instead of bringing the Eye of Qa'desh (a piece of the Great Mechanism rivaling the Cosmic Forge) back to the Army of Order, they used it themselves. Their wish was not recorded, but the after-effects were evident to everyone. The Eye exploded, consuming all free anima (and all life) within several hundred miles. In the after-shock, magic failed and the Great Mechanism teetered on the edge of ruin. The gods used the Teeth of Mercy and the Cosmic Forge to sacrifice themselves to a two-fold purpose:
- Maintain the mechanism. The Four (gods of the Empire) were chosen to fuse with the Mechanism to give it direction and all available anima went into maintaining and supporting the planes.
- Incorporate the Nameless into the planes as Free Will--the ability of all races to choose their path. This was recorded as the Fourth Wish--"All must choose their own destiny."
As a result, no magical power functioned--not primal (the spirits were hiding and broken), not arcane (the anima patterns were disrupted), nor divine (no gods existed to hear the call of faith). This state of affairs lasted for 50 years, during which 80% of all intelligent life perished (either in the cataclysmic upheavals attendant to the Eye's destruction or of hunger and wild beasts) and the races retreated behind the highest walls they could find.