The Chronicles of Ashan were pieces of lore written by Ubisoft's employees during the development of Heroes of Might and Magic V. They introduce players to the background lore of the game, similarly to what the Nether Gods short stories did before the release of Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia.
The stories are copied below.
The Skull of Shadows Edit
The potency of the Skull of Shadows lies both in its origins and its purpose. Literally speaking it is the skull of a dragon, though not from one of the corporeal dragons that exist on the surface (or in the depths) of Ashan. It is the skull of one of the dragon gods, and of a very particular dragon-god at that.
A brief explanation of cosmology and history is necessary.
The world of Ashan was created by the mother dragon and goddess called Asha. Since the dawn of time, however, she has been challenged by the powers of her sibling, the dragon Urgash, scion of Chaos. He seeks to undo or conquer all that Asha built and holds precious. To aid her in creating and protecting her world, Asha created six dragons that tend the physical plane of existence. Each of them is tied to an aspect or element (Air, Earth, Fire, and Water as well as Light and Dark), and each of them created races in their own image to cultivate Ashan and worship their creators.
There's more to it, but this is meant to be brief.
One particular faction developed apart. They are the Wizards, who worship no dragon (or all, depending on your point of view) and strive rather to pierce the fundamental mysteries of the powers and mechanics that govern their world. They studied and experimented tirelessly (and still do), seeking mastery of the rules that Asha laid down when she created the world (or the limits that an even higher authority placed upon her when she did her works, but that debate shall doubtless go on until the fading of the sun).
The first and mightiest of these Wizards, Sar-Elam, gained such an astounding depth of knowledge, and such an abiding love for the works of Asha, that he ascended into the sphere of the Dragon-Gods, becoming himself the "Seventh Dragon." It was he who sacrificed himself voluntarily during the Wars of Fire, donating the powers of his divine soul and body to help lock the Demon hordes away in a prison dimension. And the Skull of Shadows is his skull. One may view it as a lock to a door, though more accurately it is a keystone in the structure of the impossibly complex spell that created the Demon prison and homeworld of Sheogh.
Once the incantations were complete and the Demons locked away, the Wars of Fire came to an end. The Skull was taken away by the faithful of Ashan to be hidden in a heavily guarded and secret temple, far from prying eyes.
But what should happen if the Skull of Shadows was to be discovered by a powerful wielder of magic who is a follower of Urgash? What if the keystone that seals the Demons' prison was to fall into the hands of the prisoners? The answer to that question is as obvious as it is terrifying…
Demons and Orcs - Brother Enemies Edit
By Jeff Spock and Kurt McClung, Writers, and Erwan Le Breton, World Coordinator.
It is YSD 330; an era of calm reigns precariously. The nations of Ashan are expanding, discovering each other, magic and the wonders of nature: harnessing the forces of their world.
Meanwhile, in the heart of Sheogh, the Demons' home and prison, things are stirring…
Asha, the primal dragon of Order has been sleeping and healing within the silvery cocoon of the moon since Chaos was defeated by her champion, Sar-Elam. There was a slight flaw in the wizard's sealing ritual that has allowed the Demons an opportunity to escape. Should Asha be obscured by her twin brother Urgash, the primal dragon of Chaos, the chains that bind him at Ashan’s molten core would be dangerously loosened.
In YSD 330. the races of Ashan bare witness to the first lunar eclipse, and the first demon invasion.
Totally unprepared for the onslaught of the demon hordes, the defensive lines of Asha’s children are swiftly broken and they are forced to retreat. First the Elven lands are overrun. A hurried alliance between the remainder of the Elves, the Humans and Dwarves fares no better. The survivors flee south, hotly pursued, hoping that within the magic of the Wizards of the Seven Cities they will find something to stop this relentless invasion.
Their hopes dwindle and prayers seem in vain. In battle after battle the Demons are victorious; the only resources left to the defenders are fear and desperation…
It is at this point that a daring experiment is made. Focussing the energy of inert earthen elements on a human body pumped full of demon blood, the Wizards discover that they can bring it back to life. Though the beast immediately dies, they learn that they could perhaps combine two fundamentally opposed forces to create a new race, a different race, a race made from a child of Asha and a child of Urgash. Such a creation could turn the balance in the war.
Though their Haven allies are opposed to this atrocity for religious reasons, the Wizards remain pragmatists and explain that if they were only allowed to continue, they could make a powerful army. This new race, later to be known as the Orcs, would inherit strength and immunity to Demon magic from their demonic blood. Their human body would give them fertility and the assurance to walk the surface of the world freely. The desperation of the dark hour, which had chased away all other hopes and alternatives gives the Wizards their opportunity. Reason leaves for brighter pastures. The experiment is repeated in mass.
Failures are numerous: burning bodies, madmen, and beastly freaks are born from their arcane laboratories in alarming proportions. But a breakthrough is made by a wizard named Ishizaar. He discovers that by increasing the concentration of elemental components, notably through augmenting and properly aligning the energetic prisms of gems and crystals, the conflicting forces are confined in a manner that remains stable.
The Orcs are born.
Their coming to the battlefield is like a tornado through a field of crops. Unable to use their magic against the savage power of the Orcs, the Demons are helpless. Fuelled by the power of their blood rage and united by indivisible bonds of clan-like brotherhood, the Orcs turn what was to be the Demons' finest hour into a nightmare of slaughter and rout. Behind the Orc shock troops, the nations rally. Time is now on the side of the allies who use it to develop defensive and offensive strategies incorporating their new elite forces. Their improving art of warfare swings the tide back in their favor, and the Demons days on Ashan seem counted.
The Demon Lords, boiling in anger, refuse to go down alone. They swear that if their legions will not survive the war, neither will the Orcs. Their solution is one of demonic simplicity – with no Orc children, there will be no future for the Orcs.
The demon tactics turn to infiltration and assassination. As their creators drive their Orc slaves to the front lines to fight, unprotected Orcish villages are visited at night by shadowy forms haloed in flames and terror. When the victorious tribes return to their huts, their future generations and hopes are missing.
The diabolical plan came too late however. The Demon troops are destroyed even more quickly than predicted, and with a raging vengeance. The plans that had taken them centuries to elaborate are broken. Their prison is sealed anew. The Orcs live on and give birth to new offspring.
Among the other races of Ashan, the great war against the Demons that started in YSD 330 is known as the War of the Blood Moon – the first eclipse, the first Demon invasion, a horrifying memory of near extinction. In the Orcish counting of the years, the event has a different name: the War of the Empty Cradles.
There are some things that the Orcs will never forget, will never forgive. Though the other races may view Demons and Orcs as but two sides of the same coin, for the Orcs that concept is incomprehensible. The two races, forever, shall be brother enemies.
The Necromancers Edit
By Jeff Spock, Writer, and Erwan Le Breton, World Coordinator.
"Life is chaos, filth and suffering. Death is peace, order, everlasting beauty."
Just what is a Necromancer? Where did they come from? What are their needs, their aspirations? Is there an order among the ranks of the undead?
Let us begin at the traditional place...
While the beginnings of many things are lost in the mists of time -- or at least misfiled upon the shelves of time -- the Necromancers of Heresh have a recorded history that has been well-documented.
Ahhh, documents! Timeless, ageless records that permit the wisdom and experiences of a people to be archived and managed, perused and discussed, as timeless and unchanging as Death itself... Necromancers without lore, Necromancers without a history, is a notion that is fundamentally impossible. For Necromancers are to a soul (which, yes, they do have) thinkers, philosophers, and seekers of wisdom and understanding. Their biggest problem, of course, is deciding when to end a debate; debates can go on forever when the debaters are deathless.
But on to the specifics.
As with many things that concern magic, necromancy began as part of the legacy of Sar-Elam, the great wizard who became the Seventh Dragon. His most gifted disciple was Sar-Shazzar, who went on to carve his own place in history.
Sar-Shazzar himself had a talented student, named Belketh.
In an age when the world was young and vibrant and much of magic was in doing, building, and experimenting, Belketh was a thinker and philosopher. Fascinated with the principles and passages of death -- must we all? do we all? where does the soul go? what exactly ends with death, and what begins? -- Belketh turned less and less to the teachings of his master and more and more to his own reflections and investigations.
At a critical moment he uncovered an ancient manuscript; it was a part of the writings of Sar-Elam collectively known as the Revelations of the Seventh Dragon. This particular chapter spoke of Necromancy, the power of the immortal soul, and the aspect of Asha that was least-known and least-worshipped.
Belketh was struck by the conviction that this countenance of Asha, though it was least understood and most feared, was all-embracing and all-encompassing.
For Asha, the goddess who created the world that bears her name, is all facets of the wheel of existence; the triple-faced figure of birth, life and death.
She is the Faceless Maiden, Destiny's herald, stitching here and there, unseen, to make sure that all the living creatures fulfil their purpose. She is the Mother, who regards all things as her creation and her children. By giving birth, she set chaos into form and gives meaning to potential. She is the Crone, wizened and old, who snips the web of life, with a sickle held in gnarled fingers, when the time has come.
The fateful text of the Revelations that Belketh read referred to this third image of Asha as the most powerful, holding sway over the works of the other two. From the rituals and the insights in this document Belketh gleaned two elements that would influence the development of the Necromancers.
One was the image of Asha as a spider, spinning the web of life, administering death through her mandibles when one's allotted time was up.
The other was the temptation of the alternative to life; death was not an end, merely a transformation. The petty desires and needs of the flesh, the destructive passions of the heart, the unreasoning decisions of the brain that piloted this mass of humours and conflicts -- death was the answer to all of that, the reduction of existence to its purest and most changeless form.
All agree that this fragment of the original text is at the origin of the Necromantic Kingdom of Heresh. After this point of agreement, however, all else diverges. On one side are the Necromancers, convinced that this fragment is the core and the essence of the teachings of Asha, and that the rest are dead ends, half-truths, and traps for the gullible and unwary. The other side of the argument, obviously, is that this fragment is necessarily only a part of a greater truth, and that in their dedication to this subset of Her teachings the Necromancers have missed much of Asha's message.
Feel free to debate this with a Necromancer some time, if you have a few decades to spare.
From this point of origin the Necromancers have built a culture and a structure of beliefs, founding a nation that has upon occasion wielded a terrible might.
- The Hierarchy of Heresh
To become a lord of the Necromancers is the ideal of all who have chosen this path, though there are many other forms of unlife that have relatively more or less importance. In fact a Necromancer is not necessarily one of the non-living; in particular those who go on embassies to foreign lands are often still in human form. As they gain power, however, they inevitably choose to pass through the portal of death, becoming one of the undead. Little is known of this rite of passage to outsiders, as it involves the bite of the sacred spiders, the Namtaru, who dwell in the catacombs deep beneath the capital of Nar-Heresh.
Those who make this passage first become Asakkus, or "Liches", their bodies desiccated but intact, freed from the passions of the flesh to meditate undistracted.
As the decades pass, and they grow in power, they may earn the right to become Akhkharus, or "Vampires". For a Vampire is the most potent incarnation of a once-human form, one of the unliving lords of Heresh who hold sway over both the dead and undead.
Once a Lich ascends to take the form of a Vampire he ages backwards. The longer a Necromancer is undead, the younger and healthier he looks. The ruling council of the Lords of Heresh all appear to be in their mid-twenties, beautiful and unchanging.
Rabisus, or "Ghouls", on the other hand, are distinctly lesser undead. Formed when a Necromancer forces a soul to remain in a dead body, they are trapped between life and death. They are tormented; filled with hatred for the living. Powerful Necromancers can control them, but otherwise they are wild and destructive. Transformation into a ghoul is used as the ultimate punishment in Heresh, and is a means of permanently removing a soul from the cycle of death and transformation.
Zombies and skeletons are the least potent, mere soulless bodies re-animated by death magic. They shamble about following orders, and even the lowliest Necromancer can command them with absolute authority.
Edimmus (ghosts, spectres and wraiths), finally, are disembodied spirits of the dead. They can be trapped, geased, and commanded by sufficiently powerful Necromancers, though in Heresh they are more often used as scouts and allies. Ghosts can barter their services for favors done for their descendants, for deeds done among the living, or for aid in returning to a body -- living or not -- and entering once more into Asha's great cycle.
Those wishing to further study the lore of the Necromancers and the history of Heresh are invited to peruse one of the great libraries of the Silver Cities, perhaps one of those in Qays or Fidaa. The eager student may even travel to Heresh to learn from the source, though those who do so seem, upon their return, to be somewhat altered...
The Demon Sovereign, the Prophecy of Sar-Shazzar, and the Dark Messiah Edit
By Jeff Spock, Writer, and Erwan Le Breton, World Coordinator
Ashan is a world with a turbulent history, a war-torn present, and an unknown future. While many heroes have had a hand in the shaping of its legends -? King Brian Falcon, Tuidhana, and more recently Queen Isabel and Clanlord Raelag, to name a few -- none of them have had an impact as wide-ranging or as devastating as the mysterious figure known as Kha Beleth, the Demon Sovereign. Though his methods are subtle and intricate his goal is clear: To bring about one certain specific destiny out of the many that are possible?
It began in the year 40 YSD (Year of the Seventh Dragon) when Sar-Elam sacrificed himself in a rite to create Sheogh, the Demon homeworld that is also their Jail. There was a flaw, a tiny flaw, a mere blurring of a pattern and a few mispronounced words. Yet this corruption of Sar-Elam's ritual was sufficient to render the barrier between Ashan and Sheogh unstable at times of a lunar eclipse. When such an eclipse occurs, the Demons are able to break out from their prison.
Break out, yes, but to do what? There are hints in the prophecy of Sar-Shazzar, Sar-Elam's favoured disciple, about a Dark Messiah. This child, born of both human- and Demon-kind, would come to shatter the gates of the Demons' prison and lead them in a holy war to subjugate the nations of Ashan. But where would he come from? Who would dare to sire a half-demon child? How would his presence be kept a secret? And how would the Demons use the eclipses to make this happen?
Unsurprisingly, every lunar eclipse that Ashan has suffered since then and there have been four -- has been marked with an eruption from Sheogh.
The First Eclipse was in 330 YSD, and it resulted in the War of the Blood Moon as Men, Elves, Wizards, and Dwarves fought the demon scourge. To assist their allies the Wizards fused demon blood and human form to create the Orcs, shock troops par excellence against the Demons. The nations of the world learn to be wary of astronomical anomalies...
A second eclipse in 564 YSD coincided with the last council of the Six Demon Lords and the first mention of Kha Beleth, the Demon Sovereign, as the lone ruler of Demonkind. Though the Demons are rapidly overwhelmed their agents are set loose to set up webs of spies, agents, and sympathizers.
Behind the seemingly random and brutal Demon onslaughts, perceptive scholars have discerned the workings of a superior mind bent on pushing the future of Ashan along a path leading to the fulfillment of Sar-Shazzar's prophecy:
With the eclipse that occurs in 843 YSD, the Falcon dynasty's royal line is brought to the verge of extinction. A different prophecy is uncovered stating that the end of that line heralds the end of the world.
A few years later a trove of lore on the prophecies is destroyed or stolen, and with it the world loses much of its wisdom on the Demons and their plans.
in 951 YSD a child named Isabel, heir to the Greyhound duchy, grows up in ignorance of a Demon protector that lurks nearby.
Twenty years later, at the culmination of the eclipse that led to Queen Isabel's War, the queen herself is kidnapped and forced to bear a child to the Demon Sovereign. The child disappears to be raised for another twenty years under the protective eyes of Demon worshippers.
King Alexei's soul is stolen and in 971 YSD its power is used to bring a succubus to Ashan; a succubus named Biara who arrives at a moment when she can take the place of the true Isabel. The real queen remains lost in the wastes of Sheogh with her protector, Raelag...
In YSD 989 a second succubus is sent to a certain demonist, ensuring that the child he raises will make the right choice when the fatal moment comes for him.
The Demon Sovereign waits patiently, weaving his webs of deceit, acting through allies and agents. For centuries he has killed and protected, burnt and built, sowed and reaped. He is still there, waiting and watching, prepared to seize his one precious chance when it comes.
May Asha protect us all...
The Two Stories Edit
Both Ornella and Sareth, though they fight their battles in different parts of Ashan many years apart, are caught up in the same struggle. They face the agents and plots of the wily Demon Sovereign, who is busy preparing Ashan for the coming of his son, the Dark Messiah. They are also tied together through a powerful leader who is an ally to one and an enemy to the other – the Necromancer Lord Arantir.
A successful and admired courtesan, Ornella's possibilities in life were limited by her own beauty. Though she had a naturally curious and inquisitive mind and desired greatly to learn of other lands, she was only viewed by the aristocrats of the Bull Duchy as a trophy and a plaything.
During the course of her adventures, first as an ally of the Vampire Lord Giovanni and then of the great Necromancer Lord Arantir, Ornella goes through a radical evolution. She will:
- Build up a powerful army from remnants and hidden allies,
- Conquer innumerable towns and defeat enemy armies,
- Face off against human, demon, wizard, and orc enemies,
- Be betrayed twice by those she thought she trusted,
- Become instrumental in breaking the Demons' grip on the Bull and Wolf Duchies of the Griffin Empire,
- Prepare for a final sacrifice to ensure the victory of Asha's chosen.
Ornella experiences an intense personal transformation, discovering that her skills as a leader and disciple of the Spider Goddess are of much greater power and value than her skills as a seductress.
The adopted "nephew" and apprentice of the wizard Phenrig - actually a fervent and trusted demon worshipper - Sareth was taken from his mother at birth. Though he knows little of his own family history at first, by the end of the events recounted in "Dark Messiah of Might & Magic" Sareth discovers that he is the prophesied half-human half-demon child of the Demon Sovereign.
As the offspring of the Demon Sovereign his destiny – theoretically - is to unseal the gates to the demonic prison world, provoking a new demon invasion of the world of Ashan. During the course of the events in Dark Messiah, Sareth will:
- Barely escape getting trapped during the siege of Stonehelm,
- Put to the test his skills in combat and magic,
- Face orcs, goblins, zombies, cyclops, necromancers, and any number of beasts and humans in battle,
- Explore a lost temple on a deserted island,
- Come very close to death,
- Gain strange demonic powers,
- and meet his father...
The future of Ashan hangs in the balance as he takes the Skull of Shadows into his hands and prepares to make a decision – to seal the demons forever in their prison world of Sheogh, or to set them free.