Hidden upon a cliff overlooking the southern forest, the ruined keep of Arashimura blends in with the stone of nearby mountains. As far as recent memory can recall it is one of those structures that has just always been there. Its appearance gives testament to that fact, for the land has reached out to start reclaiming it, and has done quite the number on the place. The roof has mostly crumbled away, and the walls are green with vines and roots both inside and out. If you get close enough the pungent odor of damp earth will envelop you. A heavy blanket of silence rests over this place as it lies forgotten in its eternal vigil, waiting for some adventurous soul to come and unlock its many secrets of once upon a time.
In an attempt to discover the origins of this place I quickly came upon a problem. None of the locals knew anything. The keep was too old. Too mysterious. It hadn’t affected their families, or their history as far as they knew, and so they had left it to its own devices with nothing more than mild curiosity. I asked all the werewolf packs, who directed me to the scant few Elves that remain within our borders. Then the Elves directed me to the Trees. They were the oldest and wisest of beings, the Elves reassured me. If anyone had been around to see the construction of the keep it would be them.
I set off from there to find the Ent Grove. It shifts around every so often so you can’t always count on it to be in the same place twice. It surprised me that I hadn’t considered talking to them before until I remembered that they were notorious for slow speech and straying off topic. If I was going to get the information I needed out of them, it was probably going to take a while. No matter, I told myself. There was knowledge to be had and my mind was hungry for their truth.
Through Voraniss I hiked until I found them setting down their roots close to the river fork that lives halfway between the shrines of Bear and Wolf. I could hear them before I saw them as they gently swayed in the breeze, sighing with happiness as they reached up towards the sun with ancient creaking joints. The Ents always make me smile. They are huge creatures, capable of great destruction if they chose to march into battle, but they are also very gentle. They appreciate the simple joys of life and from them I believe all of humanity could learn how to better love the world they are a part of.
I approached the Ents and greeted them; customarily listing out all the types of trees that were gathered in the area: Oak, Birch, Maple, Ash, Beech, Elm, and so on and so forth. It is important to the Ents that each Tree receive its own recognition in greeting. Once I made the mistake of not distinguishing between Sugar Maple and Red Maple and they were very offended. Hard lesson learned. I was fortunate this time and didn’t make the same mistake, so the Ents were forthcoming with information. I would need to go and speak with Autumn-Elm.
For those of you reading this tale that don’t know who Autumn-Elm is, he’s the oldest tree in all of Voraniss. He’s so old that most of his leaves are gone, leaving him in a perpetual autumnal state; thus the name. He is venerated by all races and peoples of our land, and considered to be blessed by Gaia herself with longevity and wisdom. It is said that when he was in his prime one leaf given freely from his branches could heal even the direst of ailments. Since then he has been a collector of history and legends, sharing what he knows with those that come to speak with him…provided you have earned his trust. I knew I couldn’t go see Autumn-Elm empty-handed. We weren’t that well acquainted yet, and I didn’t want to start our relationship off on the wrong foot. Up to the Shrine of Salmon I ventured, collecting a vial of sacred water from a nearby stream. It would be the perfect thirst quencher for a blessed tree.
I’m sure you don’t care about the tedious portions of my adventures, the ones in which I wandered around the Voraniss wilderness and hopped from place to place as I followed my trail of inquiry. I shall spare you from further derailment, and tell you now what I learned from Autumn-Elm; along with my reassurances that he was very grateful for my gift. According to him, the story begins not in Voraniss itself, but in the lands of Teng Hua with a woman named Tatsukawa Yamabukime.
According to Autumn-Elm, Yamabukime was a Priestess from across the seas who was guided to Voraniss by a great Serpent spirit, or some kind of wingless dragon. She wasn’t your typical pacifist Priest, or froofy ceremonial type. Yamabukime was a Warrior Priestess who spoke with the authority of thunder and struck with the speed of lightning. When she came, all she carried with her were the clothes on her back and a beautiful katana bound in deep blue and adorned with aquamarine stones that reminded her of the sea.
The spirit led her great distances and up the cliffs until she arrived in the area where the present day keep stands. From up there she could see far across the beautiful and foreign landscape, knowing deep within her heart that she would never return home to Teng Hua. Before the sun set she could make out the approach of heavy storm clouds and knew that she had to make herself some shelter if she was going to survive in this place.
That night the winds raged and the rain fell in violent torrents from the sky. The storm did not disappoint the Priestess, and was as dangerous as she had predicted. Suddenly, without warning, lightning split the night sky in a powerful flash of blinding light; and the rocky cliffs shook with heaven’s fury. But the lightning began to move with purpose and took form as the great Serpent that she knew from her travels. He curled himself into a circle as he neared the ground, still sparking and flashing as though his body was made of the lightning itself. His powerful heat charred the earth where he spiraled and soon he was gone.
The next day, Yamabukime rose from slumber so that she might get a better understanding of what had transpired the night before. It had been hard to see exactly what happened in the dark, so it fell upon the light to provide answers. Much to her surprise, a perfect circle had been burned into the rocky ground where the lightning serpent had touched it. This was the sign she had been waiting for, a sign of her purpose in this place. All around her she could feel the power of the natural world swelling with pride, and the song of the elements in harmonious rhapsody.
Brick by brick Yamabukime began to build around the circle. We know now that the structure wasn’t a keep at all, but rather a temple or monastery intended to act as a point of empowerment for the elemental spirits. She made slow progress until Autumn-Elm took up some of the heavy lifting, and some playful Pixies started to help by enchanting the stone to be lighter. Each time she put a stone into place, Yamabukime would say a heartfelt prayer to the sky. A normal person probably would have grown weary of such endless manual labor, but Yamabukime never tired. She worked for years until her task was finished, and the stone monastery was complete; centered on the circle of lightning that had marked the earth. The place was aptly named Arashimura, which in her tongue used the words “Arashi” or storm, and “Mura” meaning circle.
Autumn-Elm believed that Yamabukime had intended for this place to be enjoyed and beloved by the peoples who worshipped the elements as she did, but when he went back one day to visit her…she had disappeared. He can’t be sure where she went, but he believes that she finally grew her own wings and was carried off by the breeze to where she was needed next. All that was left behind was her beloved katana, which he sealed up within the temple walls for a worthy soul to discover when the time was right.
Arashimura has changed since then. Now it is mostly inhabited by us werewolves of Hygar’s line looking for a place to escape the sun and find a shady corner. I myself have my own room within the keep where I keep a few modest shelves of books and scrolls that I’ve collected over the years. I call it my own personal library. It is hard to imagine that once upon a time this place was built by the determination of one woman and her wild friends, a woman that vanished without a trace. I wonder what happened to her, or where her blade might be hidden, but those are mysteries that must be solved another day. For now, I have a newfound respect for this place and will teach the others about what I’ve learned. The story of Yamabukime will not be forgotten again.