A Concise History of Asheron's Call
As you embark on this new adventure in the world of Asheron's Call, you may want to know a little about why you are here. This chapter was contributed by Chris Pierson, Eri Izawa, and Thomas Ragaini, Jr. You'll find a similar version on Microsoft's Web site for Asheron's Call. If you have already checked that out, you can skip ahead to the next chapter.
It all started with Asheron, the most powerful mage among a powerful race known as the Empyrean. The Empyrean were a long-lived people who flourished on the island known as Dereth. Their magical abilities were immense and they prospered for many centuries. But their very power was to prove to be their undoing. Despite their rich culture and vast arcane knowledge, their empire was doomed to end.
Not much is known about the catastrophe that engulfed the Empyrean. It is suspected that it came as the result of a magical experiment that went awry. It is further suspected that the great Asheron himself was responsible for unleashing the scourge of the Olthoi upon the Empyrean Empire. Whatever the cause, the fall came swiftly.
There is little record of the Olthoi's origins, but it is certain that they came from a world other than the one you are about to enter. These giant insects are driven by a single-minded and relentless imperative: to expand their colonies. Efficient and nearly unstoppable killers, they spread like a pestilence across the land. Even the advanced sorcery of the Empyrean could not stop them, and many were slaughtered as the Olthoi proliferated across the island. Cities that had stood for millennia were cast into ruin. The catacombs where the Empyrean conducted their mystical experiments were overrun. The Olthoi would have exterminated them utterly, had it not been for the bravery and sacrifice of Asheron himself.
Whether Asheron was responsible for bringing the Olthoi or not, he was able to use his considerable powers to save his people, though not without a significant cost.
Asheron spirited his surviving people away from the world on the wings of magic and remained behind to keep the Olthoi from following. The surviving Empyrean were safe, yes, but trapped in a magical space, unable to return—for now. When the others had fled, Asheron returned to his great tower, where the enemy could not reach him.
This spelled the end of the Empyrean Era. With no resistance, the Olthoi completely overran Dereth, riddling the ground beneath with their twisting, labyrinthine warrens.
The same enchantments that had called the Olthoi to Dereth also brought other creatures—beasts of various kinds, and human races as well. The human inhabitants of Dereth are no more native than the Olthoi. Their native world is called Ispar, but the first of them were called to Dereth 25 years ago, from the human kingdom of Aluvia. Men and women began to disappear without warning as Asheron's magic snatched them from the fields, cities, and castles and deposited them in this new world.
The Olthoi slaughtered the first of the human arrivals mercilessly, but soon discovered they could find uses for human creatures. Where they were unable to break the wills of the Empyrean or pacify the natural savagery of the Tumeroks, who had also been brought to Dereth through the same enchantments as humans, the Olthoi were able to enslave the humans. Forced to care for the Olthoi larvae and perform other menial work, the Aluvians nonetheless survived, and, hardened by rigorous work, became strong.
Attempts at resistance were squashed quickly and with no compunction. The Olthoi have no concept of mercy or personal freedom. Still, a few humans here and there managed to escape and live warily on the surface—nomadic and in constant fear. One of these was Thorsten Cragstone, a tailor-turned-warrior who had a particular genius for evading the monsters. Thorsten harbored no illusions of being able to free his people or bring down the Olthoi. His only goal was to survive.
That all changed when Elysa Strathelar entered his life.
A Ray of Hope
Elysa was a minor Aluvian noble, but when she was whisked into Dereth, she became just another slave to the Olthoi, imprisoned in their caverns making the fungal gruel the creatures ate. She toiled for long months until finally she found a way to escape Her escape seemed doomed as the Olthoi caught up with her, cornering her in a desert canyon. Serendipity was at work, however, because even as the Olthoi were advancing on her, intent on ripping her limb from limb, Thorsten's band of rebels fell upon them. The warriors slew several Olthoi, giving Thorsten a chance to rescue Elysa. Many of the rebels died, but in the end Thorsten led Elysa to safety.
Thorsten's band and Elysa fled across the face of Dereth, with the Olthoi in pursuit. In time, they found sanctuary in a vast, abandoned underground city. By this time, most of Thorsten's men had fallen, and only a handful remained. At first, Thorsten was content to remain in seclusion, and reticent to strike at the Olthoi again, but Elysa—who had been a slave much longer—was determined to liberate her people. She searched the underground city, which had once belonged to the Empyrean, and found part of an ancient, charred manuscript in its deepest levels.
Elysa labored for week to make sense of the strange writings. At last, she translated enough to understand. It made reference to the fall of the Empyrean and told of Asheron's role in saving his people from the Olthoi. It also described his lost tower and a mystical Portal that led to it. After much discussion, Thorsten agreed to escort Elysa to the Portal so she could travel to the tower and seek out Asheron.
After some searching, they found the Portal and traveled through. They emerged on a small island off Dereth's coast, where a huge, weathered tower perched on a looming mountaintop. The made their way up the mountain, but found, after much searching, that the tower had no entrance. Frustrated, Elysa shouted at the tower, berating Asheron for not helping her people—and then, suddenly, she disappeared.
In an eyeblink, she found herself inside the tower, summoned by Asheron's magic, but the wizard himself was nowhere to be found. After a great deal of searching, and finding her way through several challenging puzzles, she finally reached the Empyrean's inner sanctum. Asheron was aloof to her pleas for help, but he gave her two things to help her on her quest. One was an elixir that, when a drop was applied to a weapon, would make that weapon lethal to the Olthoi. The other was a single piece of advice: To defeat the Olthoi, she must find their queen and slay her. With that, Asheron transported her back to the tower, to join the bewildered Thorsten on the Mountaintop.
Armed with Asheron's elixir, Elysa and Thorsten returned to the underground city. After some initial reluctance, Thorsten and his handful of warriors agreed to try the elixir in battle. They raided a small Olthoi nest, and though many warriors died in the attack, they wiped out the monsters and rescued nearly 50 slaves. This small victory was just the beginning of the humans' liberation.
Over the next several years, Thorsten and Elysa concentrated on building an army of freed slaves. Each skirmish added a few dozen warriors to their force, and armed with elixir-treated weapons, they set forth again and again. While Thorsten trained his army and led raids, Elysa sought to divine where the Olthoi queen might be. At last, using records she found in the city's depths and information Thorsten brought back from the raids, she discerned a pattern to their nests. After careful study, she deduced the location of the queen's lair. The time for the final attack had come.
The army, which now numbered in the thousands, set forth with Thorsten and Elysa in the lead. Thorsten dispatched a brigade of his bravest warriors to serve as decoys and draw the Olthoi out of the vast nest, then led the rest into the tunnels, following Elysa's directions to the queen's sanctum. Taken by surprise, the Olthoi fell before the onslaught, but casualties among the humans were high, and only a handful of warriors reached the end of the quest. In the lowest caverns, they found the queen at last. She wasn't alone, however; powerful Olthoi nobles guarded her, and they attacked the humans with wild fury. Thorsten alone fought his way though, cutting down the nobles with his axe, reached the queen...and fell, impaled upon her claws.
Elysa saw him die. Maddened by grief, she nocked a elixir-coated arrow and shot the queen through the eye, killing her. In that moment, the remaining Olthoi fell into disarray, and the humans drove them to flight. The humans' liberation was at hand, but Elysa couldn't find it in her heart to rejoice. Taking Thorsten's body, she returned to the underground city and laid him to rest.
The Tale Continues
The ten years since the Olthoi queen's fall have been a time of growth and rebuilding. As the years passed, more and more humans were drawn to Dereth by Empyrean sorcery, including a growing number from the Gharu'ndim and Sho cultures as well as more Aluvians. They have built many towns on the eastern half of the island, Osteth, while the western half—known as the Direlands—remains a wild place, overrun with dangerous monsters.
A year ago, on the anniversary of Thorsten's death, Elysa Strathelar disappeared. Despite numerous searches, she has not been seen since. Some suspect that she returned to Asheron's tower, but attempts to locate the tower have failed, and the manuscript naming the Portal that led to it cannot be found.
Even now, as humans begin to prosper at last on Dereth, there is little peace. Monsters roam the island's hills, swamps, deserts, and subterranean crypts. Small nests of Olthoi can still be found in places, and the supply of Asheron's elixir has long since run out. The humans' greatest fear is that another queen will surface, and the times of slavery and suffering will return. And other, darker rumors have begun to spread: tales of darker forces, as old as the Empyrean themselves, that have begun to stir deep in the bowels of the earth...