"The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
The year is 1912, and Europe is at the apex of its power. Never has the continent flourished so wondrously: art is blossoming, with expressionists and the nouveau style the greatest of a wide field; writers pen books of depth, spectacle and imagination; music is everywhere, from sweet salon music to riot-starting Russian operas. The steady march of progress of the last century has continued unabated, bringing with it new technology: automobiles, cruise liners, the telephone, aeroplanes and airships, electric lighting, cinematography; and new advances in every field from biology to physics to Marie Curie's radiology. Paris is a city of culture renowned the world over. London is a hub of commerce, the queen of the world's greatest empire. Berlin rises in grandeur to match the nation's pre-eminence. In Vienna, intellectuals, philosophers and radicals such as Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, and Ludwig Wittgenstein sit in coffee houses, broaching ideas thought-provoking, scandalising and world-changing over cup after cup. Moscow stirs within the firm grasp of its Tsar. The nations of Europe are stable, their armies are powerful, their influence endless; European ideas- and European power- spread to every corner of the globe. It is the Belle Époque, the Beautiful Era, and the lights of Europe have never been brighter.
But Europe, restful in her heady dream, is soon to face a dark awakening.
Within the capitals of empires, pride, opportunism and nationalism dictate decisions like never before. Every state is a rival, every achievement to be boasted of at the detriment of others, every chance to humiliate a foreign people taken. Nations forge secret alliances of convenience, promising the flesh of enemies as compensation. National interests must be defended, and to defend them the great powers raise military forces of obscene size, each bigger than the other, larger than any ever seen in history. New weapons, capable of slaughtering dozens of men in seconds, are made on unending production lines. Europe's stability masks the grinding of massive cogs that slowly, yet inexorably, set the great powers on a collision course with the only opposition that they cannot overcome: each other.
Europe is mighty, but power attracts power, and the machinations and proclamations of emperors, kings, presidents and chancellors paints a picture irresistible for beings long thought gone. For all the pomp and splendour of empire, it is what lurks in the dark, forgotten alleys, twisted sewers and brooding forests that sends chills down spines. Europe's light casts a deep shadow, and within those shadows move unseen entities and monstrous visions. Dangers from humanity's past stir once again; threats that are known only in folklore and legend quietly return to their places of power to plot the downfall of the world of humanity; and in the darkest places of all lie horrors beyond the comprehension of the sane. All this breeds in the darkness, reaching out to twist the ideals of humanity, to prey on greed and pride, to set the grand snares, and then give toe world the final push into chaos and devastation.
Europe is bright, and full of lights, but one by one the lights are going out, and it remains to be seen if anyone lives long enough to see them lit again.