Between a roc and a hard place, Arien Siar’luin was the first to stumble upon a contingent of spriggans, fiercely defending the entrance into the area above. Fortunately, Serenwilden reinforcements were right behind her, and together, they forced their way into tunnels obscured by icy fog. Climbing upwards, they arrived at the entrance into a verdant hidden valley, scarcely showing any hallmarks of civilisation. Together, they travelled through a darkened forest, passing a cave with a cryptic abandoned hearthstone, until they sighted a small settlement nestled against the Estengere river upon stilted houses.
Instead of joyful greetings and discoveries, emptiness and silence greeted them, swathing the settlement like a deathly pall. Cautiously, the Serenwilders, now joined by emissaries from Glomdoring, ventured further in. To their surprise, the beings they finally encountered were aslaran, lost, behaving in a feral manner, and far away from the open plains preferred by their kind. When approached, the aslaran were not hostile, but neither were they sane, behaving more like beasts reduced to their most basic instincts than sentient beings.
Selenity and Arien, both of House Siar’luin, eventually came across a semblance of sanity in the form of a wizened aslaran proclaiming himself to be Maheil, the Ritualist. Though more coherent than the others, he fixated upon a keystone that had to be found and placed on the hearthstone right outside – the second one to be found in the valley. Unable to pry any further information, the members of the communes located the keystone. Selenity placed it into the hearthstone, thus opening a pathway into Daeiv ma’Mornhai.
Joined by delegations from the cities, they arrived within a serene glade, a healing mound at its centre, pristine and gleaming with light. The air about it wavered and a peculiar scent clung to the glade, suggesting that all was not as it seemed, and soon, the adventurers’ investigation was cut short by cries of help. Rushing through a grove of fallen trees and passing another, albeit befouled, healing mound, the explorers discovered a hamlet of bizzare porcelain houses, full of scared and weakened brownies. In their midst, Paeridimon Willowshimmer stood, hands tucked in his pockets even as he hopped from foot to foot in impatience.
Speaking in hushed tones about an “Oracle” who has enslaved them, Willowshimmer urged the visitors to assist them in restoring the wards protecting this part of the Ethereal Plane. While some rushed to banish the spriggans loitering outside the hamlet, others stayed with the brownie to query him about recent events and dangers they should prepare for. Still unwilling to speak the Oracle’s name aloud, Paeridimon revealed that she was once a good person, a fighter for freedom, but her sorrow twisted her and inevitably led to her doom. He explained that she returned a few months prior with a host of spriggans, somehow empowered and emboldened.
The brownies fought agains the invasion, but little by little, the wards put in place by the Stalker of the Woods, the Vernal Il’garala, gave in to the Oracle’s power, and she enslaved them for her own purposes. Called upon to battle against the corruption of nature by the Goddess Lisaera, the sister of their Awakener Elfenhoala, they managed to break though and leave, but little came of it, for, in their weakened state, they could neither help, nor call for help. Here already, the adventurers listening to the tale could scarcely contain both their curiosity, awe, and horror for the history of this place was saturated with fabled Elder and Vernal names alike and artefacts of power found therein were thought to be lost or destroyed.
Meanwhile, two of the three pylons surrounding the hamlet, and lending the plane its protection, had been restored, and with that, the hearthstone Paeridimon had been guarding could be activated, allowing for the leader of the brownies to be called to seal the corrupt healing mound through which spriggans had been coming to the grove. And so, the Milch Mother had arrived to cast her blessing but the reunion was short-lived – sensing the disturbance, the Oracle finally made an appearance. Wreathed in darkness, Cimtri, the Oracle of the Earthburner, descended upon the hill. A battle ensued immediately as she stormed the Milch Mother. Maladaari of Gaudiguch, Xanward and Tylwyth of Glomdoring, Taevyn McCloud , Marcella n’Lochli, Vhula of Serenwilde, and still many others, stood in her way but failed to protect the brownie’s leader. Her poise crumbling and vanishing, Cimtri thundered a warning and departed.
What remained of the adventurers fell back to Paeridimon with more questions than answers. The Oracle spat in rage about wishing to destroy the aslaran, but what did they have to do with Il’garala, who turned out to be her mentor? And why did she turn on a place that Il’garala seemingly protected? Answers eluded the brave adventurers who remained, and so they called upon reinforcements and sought to summon the Milch Mother again. This time, they engaged Cimtri in numbers and refused to yield ’til she was defeated. When the battle for the hilltop was over, however, nobody was found.
Turning to the task at hand, they returned to the grove to restore the fallen trees at Milch Mother’s behest. Willowisps living in the grove danced and twirled in the air as each tree was restored to a sapling full of vitality. When the last of them turned its branches to the sky, Milch Mother bade them to return to the aslaran sanctuary, for the wards of Il’garala would protect the powerful healing mounds now, and the witch, along with her spriggan cohorts, had been banished.
Miraculously, now that Ethereal was safe and the trees restored, the aslaran in the sanctuary appeared more stable and in control. The Elder Maheil beseeched those who came to assist in restoring the aslaran memories in return for him revealing the fate that brought them here. One by one, the peace of mind of the other Elders was recovered and Maheil set about to preparing for a ritual. As he worked, he revealed that the aslaran in the sanctuary are a motley group of refugees from the Vernal Wars, driven from their homes and relentlessly pursued by the Soulless Crazen. Exhausted and wounded, they had happened upon this valley and its hearthstone crafted by the Vernal Hearth Sisters – Il’vania and Il’garala.
Unaware of the consequences, they had used its power to heal themselves and only belatedly realised this meant they would never be able to leave the mountains lest risk madness that arose as they ventured away from the hearthstone. And even should they try or die, they were returned straight back to the valley. And so they had made it their home, their sanctuary, and developed a new culture and new traditions to replace those they lost. It was only when Cimtri had visited them not long after that darkness befell their new home, but that was a tale the Elder was hesitant in elaborating upon for their losses were steep. In the aftermath, one of the hearthstones and the healing mound it drew upon had been defiled, trapping the Oracle within itself.
Finally, the aslaran gathered at the vantage point overlooking the Basin. Led by Maheil, Paramati, and Shanswati, they each cradled a consecrated sky lantern, etched with prayers for those fallen to the Soulless. But as tears were being shed and thanks uttered, the Oracle returned with a vengeance, refusing to be defeated by those beneath her. The battle was short, for Cimtri’s powers had all but been exhausted and the vantage point gathered delegations from each of the Basin’s notable organisations.
Once the witch was defeated, the lanterns were cast into the sky to conclude the ritual and confine her back to the hearthstone. The glowing markers floated upwards on a draft of their own making, pulling upon Cimtri’s essence and funneling it into her prison where she will dream of vengeance and her beloved Earthburner forever more. And just like that, memories had been recovered by the gathered aslaran for the ritual to honour their fallen is a tradition they have followed for centuries.
But who had awakened the Oracle? And was she the force befouling all nature? Those celebrating were about to find out.