Sitting in the shadow of Mount Tonash-Shiss, Ystolla Ek’Niar is considered a sacred place. Founded well before the time of Sidious Prax and the Schism of the Elves, Ystolla was a gathering place for those who felt within themselves a deviant flame. In the shadow of the mountain, they built an enclave, a safe place where they could exist in peace, outside of the strictures of Elvindorm.
The Shadow of the Mountain
It was discovered many years ago that Tonash-Shiss is a natural celestial observatory. The setting sun passes between the basalt megalith’s twin peaks exactly twice a year, during the solstices. The original settlement in the vale was set up by a covey of sages who decided the valley would be a good place for their quiet meditations as well as making celestial observations. The King of Elvindorm endorsed the settlement and even provided funding to build the one and only telescope in all of Saerith, as well as the first orrery.
The Tonash-Shiss Orrery - A strange construction of brass spheres, crystal lanterns, struts, and large brass gears, the Orrery at Tonash-Shiss was the first of it’s kind. By a clever design of wheels and gears, the brass spheres and lanterns are moved to emulate the movement of the stars and celestial bodies. It was by use of this device that the Saerithians devised the Sidereal calendar and started counting the passage of time in solar, and sidereal years.
There are two other orroreries Saerith. After building her dark fortress of Suilail-Zer, the dark queen financed the construction of an orrery within the upper levels of the main tower. The other is located on the grounds of the Palace of the Stars, inside Elvindorm proper.
It was some time later that the wandering mystic and warrior monk Rahi of the Elgugg found Ystolla. Once there, he was overtaken by the aura of peace and enormity of the heavens above the vale. With the permission of the sages at the Cathedral-Observatory, Rahi built his own modest home and accepted the first of many students. A master of the Orbb Rah Laur martial art style, Rahi found little difficulty in finding willing students. Finding gifted students to teach the Elven art of war to was another matter, and he eventually only accepted 3 full time students.
While these initial students would go on to found smaller traditions of the martial arts, namely the loose and flowing Wyvern style Rah Laur and the more robust and blood thirsty Avalanche Crushing Technique, a new vitality entered the vale. It was not long before the sages were drawn to the meditative qualities of the martial art and the fighting monks gained a celestial aspect to their training.
Ystolla might have continued it’s long and largely unchanged destiny except for the one event that shook Saerith to it’s core. When Sidious Prax rebelled and formed the Praxian Empire, there were some who while tired of the dominion of Elvindorm had little interest in Prax’s power mongering. These rebels and deviants found refuge in the rocky holds and monastaries of Ystolla. While many of the newcomers were hard pressed to adapt to the cold, most were content to be peaceful considering the martial prowess of the monks as well as the arcane might of the sages in their Orrery.
It was the work of an elder sage, turned diplomat and leader that prevented Ystolla from being taken by force by the soldiers of Elvindorm. The Zhaunil Zargabaath, born to noble blood and later turned to the path of the mystic and sage spoke at great length with the King of Elvindorm. If Ystolla were left in peace, it would become a refuge for those who disagreed with Elvindorm, but would deny Sidious access to those dissidents. Isolated in the mountains, they would pose little threat to the greater nation, and he assured the King that his ffirstpriority would be to keep the peace in the vale as well as their pact kept.
A local title equivocating to wisdom, the Zhaunil is the defacto leader of Ystolla and the greater Vale. While commanding great influence and status, the Zhaunil is not a secular leader, but rather a mystic/religious one. The council of elders who govern the Cathedral-Orrery as well as the settlement and various monasteries all defer to the standing Zhaunil in most matters.
A Life of Denial
Ascetic virtues are held commonly in Ystolla. Meat is all but non-existent at the dinner table. Most meals consist of locally grown barley and rye pottage supplemented with cold pressed wine, cheese, and other hardy fruits and vegetables that can be coaxed from the cold soil. This diet and the regimens of the monks tends to have a positive influence on many of the dissidents who come to the vale. Some discover that the fire of their deviance comes from dissatisfaction with their own lives rather than with Elvindorm. Others find the discipline tempers their resolve, but for the most part, they eventually return to Elvindorm much more at peace than when they left.
Where the Bad Guys Are - A Praxian spy has escaped from Elvindorm with valuable military or magical secrets (or a hostage, the dingus, whatever) and has taken refuge in Ystolla. The PCs have the task of finding the villain in the midst of many who fit the profile of being a villain just by being present. The PCs are also limited in their actions as the Zhaunil knows they are present and tells them, like everyone else, is required to be on their best behavior.
Casablanca - Of all the monasteries in the mountains, she had to walk into mine. The PCs are monks, dissidents and other rabble-ly sorts who live in Ystolla and find trouble walks straight into their den. A Praxian defector has decided to escape to Ystolla since she knows Praxian agents in Elvindorm have been sent instructions to kill her on sight. She seeks the PCs to help her reveal the ID of the Praxian infiltrators.
The Presence of the Master - in the life of every PC there is a time when they must seek out a master to become their mentor. In the realm of elven martial arts, there is no other place where so many masters might be found in such close quarters. The PCs must find a suitable master to teach them the true art of combat, but also must set themselves as a head above the rest who have come seeking the training of the masters.