Asheron's Call Historical Archive
BY CHRIS PIERSON, ERI IZAWA and THOMAS RAGAINI, JR.
In ancient times, the Empyrean flourished on the island now known as Dereth. A long-lived people of immense magical power, their civilization prospered for countless centuries. And yet, despite their rich culture and vast arcane knowledge, even this empire was doomed to end.
However, no one expected the fall to come so swiftly. Few detailed records of the ensuing dark time have been uncovered, but it is clear that a magical experiment gone awry unleashed a new threat upon the island: the vicious, relentless Olthoi.
Little is known of the Olthoi's origins, but it is certain that they are not native to this world. Giant insects driven single-mindedly to expand their colonies, they spread like a pestilence across the land. The Empyrean's sorcery could not halt their advance, and those who were slow to retreat were slaughtered. 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, one of the greatest Empyrean wizards.
Fragmentary chronicles make it clear that Asheron was exceptionally powerful, even for an Empyrean. With greatness comes hubris, however, and some records claim his magic was responsible for bringing the Olthoi to Dereth. Unable to stop the massacre, he spirited the surviving populace away from the world on the wings of magic, remaining behind to keep the Olthoi from following. When the others had fled, he retreated to his great tower, safe, even from the Olthoi. With Asheron in seclusion, twilight fell upon the Empyrean people, and the long night began. With no opposition left, the Olthoi completely overran Dereth, riddling the ground with their twisting, labyrinthine warrens.
However, the tragedies that had befallen Dereth were not over. The same enchantments that brought the Olthoi to the island also summoned other races and beasts - among them humans.
Humans are no more native to Dereth than the Olthoi. They originally hailed from the world of Ispar, where many nations of humans thrive. Twenty-five years ago, in the human kingdom of Aluvia, men and women began to disappear without warning as the Empyrean's magic snatched them from their homeland only to deposit them later, stunned and confused, in the land of Dereth.
The first new humans died by the claws of the Olthoi soon after they arrived. In time, however, the Olthoi found a use for them other than prey. Unlike the Empyrean, whose wills could not be broken (same as other races like the Tumeroks, who were too savage to pacify) the humans could be used as slaves. The monsters still slew many, but now they also spared a few, spiriting them away to their subterranean lairs. Once enslaved, they forced the captives to care for their larvae or work in the deepest, most dangerous tunnels.
Some humans attempted to resist, but the Olthoi, who have no concept of mercy, slew them without hesitation. Even so, a few escaped to the surface, where they lived nomadic, fear-filled lives. In time, a leader emerged: 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: the rebels' only goal was survival.
That all changed with Elysa Strathelar.
Born a minor Aluvian noblewoman, Elysa lost everything when the mysterious magic drew her to Dereth. Captured by the Olthoi, she toiled for months, all the while planning her escape. When the time came, she made her break, and for a few days it looked as if she would evade her captors. However, the Olthoi finally tracked her down, cornering her in a desert canyon. As they were advancing, intent on ripping her limb from limb, Thorsten's band of rebels happened by. In the subsequent battle, several Olthoi were slain, giving Thorsten a chance to get close to Elysa and carry her to safety.
Thorsten and Elysa fled across the face of Dereth with the Olthoi in pursuit. Eventually, 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, who had always been good at deciphering languages, labored for weeks before finally succeeding in translating just enough to understand. The manuscript itself made reference to the fall of the Empyrean, and also told of Asheron's role in saving his people from the Olthoi. It also described his lost tower, as well as 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 an exhaustive search, they finally stumbled upon the portal. On the other side they emerged on a small island off Dereth's coast where a huge weathered tower stood, perched precariously on a looming mountaintop. They made their way up, but found, after much searching, that the tower had no entrance. Frustrated, Elysa shouted at the tower, berating Asheron for not helping her people. In the ensuing silence she suddenly...disappeared.
In the blink of an eye, she found herself inside the tower, summoned by Asheron's magic. The wizard himself was nowhere to be found. Alone, Elysa pressed forward, groping through the complex maze before finally reaching the Empyrean's inner sanctum. Sitting there quietly, as he had for years, was Asheron. Elysa, pushed well past any limits of self-control, filled the cavernous hall with pleas for help. Asheron, his countenance unchanging, only listened. Finally, he gave her two things to help in her quest: an elixir that would make a weapon lethal to the Olthoi when applied to the surface, and a single piece of advice on how to defeat the Olthoi: "you must find their queen and slay her." With that, Asheron transported her back out of the tower to join a bewildered Thorsten on the mountaintop.
Armed with Asheron's elixir and insight, 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 fifty 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 more warriors to the force, and armed with elixir-treated weapons, they set forth again and again. While Thorsten trained his army and led the 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. However, she wasn't alone as powerful Olthoi nobles guarded her. They attacked the humans with wild fury. Thorsten alone fought his way through, cutting down the nobles with his axe, only to reach the queen and fall, impaled upon her claws.
Elysa saw him die. Maddened by grief, she nocked an 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 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, have begun to stir deep in the bowels of the earth...