As far as I know, it was freespace quest. With the idea of 'create your own story'. Droid would create one mission, post it on hlp and then by majority vote it would be decided what the next course of action would be. This first mission was actually exactly that, the start of freespace quest. Then somewhere along the lines Droid decided "**** that, let's create something completely different!". Ashen wings being the working title.
Correct me if I'm wrong.
That is essentially correct, except Ashen Wings wasn't ever the working title, the name itself was something I randomly came up with close to release.
The screenshots for Ashen Wings, however, do come from existing missions, mostly a selection of One-Shots that I made when I was very bored, with a heavily modified version ShadowGorrath's SOC campaign base that he sent to me ages ago (Notably, the addition of some ED ships for screwing around). The missions aren't good at all, not tested, and they don't even run properly on more recent builds, and actually has nothing to do with the first mission of DE even except that I'm a lazy bastard and I resused the Hecate's name and figured it would be a good troll screenshot or something, I don't know. I had a huge collection of random one-shot or mini-campaigns which I never bothered finishing and figured it would be a good place to give them their two seconds in the spotlight before deleting them off the face of the earth.
As for the actual "story" hedged out for freespace quest? It didn't go past more than one or two potential choices.