Plot

The Lore and Story of Ashen

Wise men say that the dark is older than the light. They say it reaches further and that no matter how swiftly the light travels it finds that all it touches was first in darkness.

The nine realms move among Yggdrasil’s many branches, and the world tree stands upon the darkness, her roots delving into caverns where light will never venture.

But what few know is that there is a forest, and above it stars that are as different from our own as the acorn is from the oak.

Among those stars the Ashen fly. Some say they are the light, but in truth they are of the light, each wing a spectrum spread across the void, brilliance coursing through their veins.

The darkness is old but it is the beat of Ashen wings that first counted time. It was when a single great Ashen flew down to rest upon Yggdrasil’s boughs that the light woke among the realms. Time shed its fetters and drew breath. The tree came into bud, and leaves brought the first colour seen only by the Ashen’s eyes.

Time is its own tide and though the Ashen are immortal theirs is an immortality forged from an infinite cycle between life and death. In time the great Ashen fell from the tree of worlds and lay in splendour, resting upon the plains of darkness in the eternal forest, drawing what few breaths remained to it.

Even then the light was dying but still it remained, and the Ashen’s final three breaths became the three ages of our world.

They say the dark is empty, but it is not so. The Bral dwell in the ancient night and they are legion. Their nature and form offer endless variety. A few as old as the Ashen themselves. A multitude newborn from the blackness.

When the Ashen fell there were some few among the many races of the Bral drawn to the great beast, drawn by the pollution of its blood, both fascinated and repelled.

These scavengers crawled from the utter dark and burrowed amid its feathers. A multitude living and dying. Generation upon generation, breeding and building, all within the space of one breath. The Ashen’s dying light was something they both craved and despised. It ate at them, turning night-flesh to dust and ash and cinders, but it filled them with such power, such possibility. And it changed them.

By the second breath the Bral who dwelled upon the Ashen’s vastness had spawned new forms. Some slithered back into the dark. Some fought and died. One form prevailed. The age of the Listeners had arrived.

The Listeners had new senses, suited to their new age. They had eyes to perceive the light and in its name they built great temples, glorifying the brilliance that sustained them.

By the drawing of the final breath the light had died to a glimmer. The Listeners mourned it in labyrinthine dungeons. The Ashen lay as a dead thing, covered with the skins shed by countless Bral as they had twisted into their new existence. The world the Listeners had made upon its failing body stood dim and drifted with ash, its plants and animals dying too.

It was then that the Gefn came, or perhaps returned, swimming from the umbral seas. She forced a final change upon the children of the Bral, taking a Listener as her mate, entwining with his spirit and birthing the first man. Born in the image of the Listeners the first man was smaller, his eyes bigger and more acute, better suited to the greying world. His form he took from his father. From his mother he took his soul. Adaptable, inquisitive, filled with the urge to explore. When the final breath ended there would be an age of darkness where nothing but glimmers remained, echoing through the ashes of their ancestors. In such an age mankind would need their mother’s gifts.

In that dark age the cities of men fell into ruin, proud Lathyrus drowned beneath the ash, a dozen others toppled by war or emptied by pestilence and famine. But Gefn’s children clung on. A remnant, shorn of their history, wandering, scavenging, surviving.

And now, as the Ashen is reborn from the ruins of its own body, it will be mankind who decide the future. Something so small steering the destiny of something so great. A new age has come, the first of many before the Ashen once again takes flight into endless possibility. This is the age of man. And the ages that follow will be their legacy.

The First and Second Ages of Light

The age of man would define much of the world of Ashen and the many regions you’ll explore throughout the game. However, long before Gefn’s children built their glorious cities and palaces, the Bral and Listeners lived several lifetimes and fought many battles over the Ashen during the first two ages of light.

The coming of the Ashen and its light would change those who lived in the once endless dark. The light consumed the Bral endlessly as they fed on it, despite how the light would burn them. While the Listeners revered the light, building temples to worship it and using the light to manipulate the ash. The conflicts between the Bral and Listeners may be ancient history, but they are as important today as they were in the first age of light. Learn more about their histories and lore in Mark Lawrence's original writing for Ashen below.

The History of the The Elder Dark and the Listeners

The Bral who were drawn to the dying Ashen and burrowed among its plumage found the creature so vast as to be a world in itself. They lived, bred, and died time and again in the age of one Ashen breath. They craved the light, even as it burned them and as their skins sloughed away, crumbling into ash. They took the light into their bodies, consuming it in the smallest fragments, reveling in the strength it gave when annihilated in the dark core of their being.

There were among those races of the night individuals older and more powerful than their brethren, dark ones who burrowed deep into the dying body of their host. Legends grew around those few, and for three of them those legends hardened into faith, and thus were the new dark gods of Ashen born.

In the long wars among the twisted descendants of the Bral, the Listeners prevailed and drove their rivals back out onto the plains of night. They kept little of their dark ancestors about them save a light-less core of melancholia, and three black gods:

  • Ukkoto Umberhand, Eater of the Light.
    • Ukkoto showed a near endless capacity for quenching light, painting blackness in his wake. Wherever he laid his hand it would leave an indelible stain. Servants of the Umberhand seek to extinguish the light so that the Ashen is brought wholly into darkness.
  • Riak, The Nightstorm.
    • Where Riak walked darkness rained from the skies. Riak sought to find the Ashen’s heart and bring it into the shadows so that the new incarnation would be a creature of the Bral.
  • Sissna, Spinner of Shadows.
    • Sissna spun her webs of night-stuff out across the land, catching and snuffing any free particle or spirit of the light. She was subtle, understanding the power of lies and winning over the minds of those about her. Some say Loki dallied with her mother and Sissna is one of the daughters he seeded among the Bral.

Power and wisdom are both sides of the coin of knowledge, and for knowledge one must listen. Darkness or light may colour the whispers of the universe but neither can silence them. The only true death is silence.

The Listeners’ enemies have always underestimated them, thinking that to listen is weakness, thinking that by listening they give space within their minds to the words of their foe and may be swayed by them or tricked or intimidated. But the Listener hears more than words. The Listener hears the beat of your heart, the flutter of your breath, and sometimes … the content of your soul.

There was a golden age when the Listeners reveled in their power having driven the Bral and all their spawn from the Ashen or into deep hiding. Some held that among all Bral only the Elder Dark had remained, rooted in the Ashen’s cooling extremities where it sprawled across the plains onto which it had fallen. But on the surface the Listeners held sway and rejoiced in the light that had given them the strength to defeat their enemies, for alone among the descendants of the Bral the Listeners could endure the brilliance of the light and hear the beauty of its song.

They built temples to the light where their prayers to the Ashen were intoned so that they might be heard by their great benefactor. The light burned most fiercely in the Ashen’s veins and so they carved their holy places into the flesh about them.

A priesthood grew and the secrets of the ash were learned, for in this mix of darkness and light both elements were held in harmony and could be shaped to many purposes. With the right handling they could wake both night and day from the ash or mould it to construct wonders, even golems that seemed to hold a life within them though without soul or purpose.

But as the light faded a change fell upon the Listeners, a cancer of despair, for without the light the ash would become dark-tainted, a tool their enemies could shape, and the exiled Bral would start to crawl back from the plains of night to renew their old conflicts.

The Listeners dug ever deeper, mining dungeons, following the Ashen’s dry veins, trying to follow the light as it retreated. But in the end they found only sorrow.

As the light failed the Elder Dark emerged from their lairs amid the Ashen’s ruin. Some wrought destruction and were in turn destroyed, but the Elder Dark priestesses of Sissna spoke with soft voices, whispering of betrayal, and of abandonment. They said that light had shaped the Listeners then fled, leaving them as prey for their old enemies among the Bral.

Enemies who would surely return with vengeance in their hearts. The Elder Dark offered alliance to their prodigal children. They claimed only the right to be worshiped and in return they would stand with the Listeners to claim the Ashen’s corpse when full night descended, and hold it against all comers.

In the near darkness of the last breath men came, another treachery heaped upon the Listeners. This one by the foolishness of just one of their number who bred with Gefn allowing her to spawn a race in the Listener’s image but with a very different soul. Men multiplied and prospered even as the echoes of Ashen’s brilliance died away. Outmatched the Listeners retreated into the last of their strongholds, and splintered into factions.

The Ashen died, the light fled. Darkness washed over the Ashen and even the great cities of man were laid low. Nightmares from the black and endless plains swarmed across the Ashen’s corpse.

By the time the first glimmer of light returned little remained that was not in ruin, few survived among men or Listeners. But the light did come, and the worst horrors of the night fled before it, abandoning the Ashen once more.

The Third Age Of Light - Humanity

There was a time Humans and Listeners were at peace, but as the Ashen and its light faded away and the world fell into darkness, chaos insured. The great cities and civilisations humanity had built collapsed and fell away into the ash. Humans are resilient, and would adapt, but their history would never be forgotten.

Humanity came to Ashen in the third age. Gefn took the seed of a Listener and birthed the first man, but whether the child was wholly her design, or patterned on something she encountered on her age of roaming, has never been made clear. Certainly Gefn swam from the Ashen in its dying breaths, losing herself in the seas of night and finding herself on many a strange shore. Some say she swam to the very roots of Yggdrasil and gazed upon the worlds that hang from its branches.

Men, shorter of stature and of shorter of days than their Listener ancestors, lived and died across the great expanse of Ashen, conquering territory, mining their host’s body for resources, and building cities where they dwelt in teeming hordes. The truth of man’s origin became lost in the centuries that crowded behind them and they happily wrote their own myths, building on fragments of tales found in ancient stones, or the words of strange Bral that began once more to roam Ashen’s margins.

Although humanity would never match the ashsmiths of the Listeners, there were mages and sorcerers among their number who gained some mastery over the ash and were able to work a variety of wonders with it. Some held that there are sentences within the ash, others that it is a repository of memory and that nothing touched by it is truly lost. Sometimes what is held within the ash escapes into a living form, where it dwells within the flesh directing its host like a puppet or even reshaping them into something new.

Humanity gave itself gods in their own image and stood on the balconies of tower and castle watching the light die. The ash drifts that had once been a vital part of the cycles that sustained men, animals, and plants, turned sour as the light faded and the ash became unbalanced, blotting up darkness as paper takes ink. Strange patterns and flows appeared in the ash. Travellers reported monstrous forms rising where the ash lay deepest, only to struggle to maintain their shape and collapse again. Crops failed and ash dunes swallowed villages.

Seas that had been clear turned black and the fish within them grew strange. The last and greatest of man’s cities, the many-spired Lathyrus, fell, swallowed by a flow of ash that needed no wind nor gradient and seemed to contain with in it many great serpents made of the ash itself. So many humans died that the piled heaps of their bones grew larger than the homes they had once lived in.

Full dark came and the remnants of man foraged across Ashen, hiding from the Bral, seeking shelter in the temples and labyrinths abandoned by the Listeners. In the age of night the ash grew black and spirits haunted it. Sometimes it would form in imitation of lost cities, raising walls and towers in a matter of hours and maintaining them for moments or for years. Sometimes the ash would wrap old bones in night-flesh and set them walking, black simulacra of the original owners, either echoing through memories of lost routines or stalking their descendants across the face of Ashen.

Great libraries fell into decay, the ink spreading to turn each page black. The history of men shrivelled from a thousand volumes of academic study to a handful of tales repeated at the fireside to stave off fear. Stories of the first man whose family sprung from the ash where his tears of loneliness fell. Tales of the heroes who first wrested Ashen from the Listeners’ rule.

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