Jukai, the Final Guests
Elementals of Wood
There was an old temple, once, out in the forest. Then the Immaculates came and brought the god’s image to the shrine in town, the better to oversee its worship. But hunters and woodcutters say that a figure has been seen walking the overgrown path to the old temple, and movement within the sanctum. Some wonder whether a new priest has come, to take up worship in the old way. But the wise shake their heads - this is the last pilgrim to the temple, and a sign that it shall soon be gone.
When a building is abandoned and left to rot in a place of verdancy, a Jukai may arise. These spirits take a humanoid form, constructing bodies of vines and roots, hair of shoots and robes of leaves and moss. From out of deep woods and marshes they come like old, bent pilgrims, walking along old roads and pathways until they reach a house or other building which has been left to rot without care or maintenance. Often, these are abandoned places; the ruins of villages or broken temples. Sometimes, they may mistake an ill-maintained house for such a place, and make a visitation upon an inhabited place by accident, and then the residents must put on a great show of care, hospitality and action, often singing songs and telling raucous stories around ‘Grandfather’, so the elemental will realize that their home is not for the wild to claim. They have a gentle, if stubborn, demeanor and will rarely stay if they see their services are not required
If they are not driven out, however, Jukai quickly take up residence in whatever place they have found, and in their wake comes extraordinary fertility. Molds and mosses grow with incredible speed, while shoots and vines break up roads and pull down walls in a matter of weeks. During this time, the elemental will spend much of its time within or around the building, often either remaining still in a manner which often reminds observers of meditation, or play-acting scenes of mortal life - sitting beside a cold hearth growing green with lichens, or sweeping leaf-litter and dirt over the threshold. Eventually, though, the Jukai will consider its task complete, and find a corner or a quiet place. There it will sit or stand, and slowly transform, becoming the gnarled and twisted trunk of a new tree, rooted amidst what can scarcely be recognized as ruins.
Jukai are a relatively common sight in those parts of creation ravaged by war or other disasters, claiming for their own the dwelling-places of the dead or the absent. It is custom in many places to ensure that one’s house is swept and cleaned by neighbours if one must leave on long journeys, lest an elemental mistake it for an abandoned one. Occasionally, if a Guest’s new residence is close enough to habitation to receive semi-regular visitors of its own, it may slowly become more aware of the world around it, developing towards true sapience.
Such elementals sometimes choose to move on rather than rooting themselves when their task is complete, but others may remain as guardian spirits of a sort, often forming close bonds with a neighbouring community. Their sanguine temperaments suit them well to a hermit’s life, and many end up as companions or patrons to shamans and spirit-workers, offering their thoughts and, sometimes, their great physical might to their aid. Jukai grow larger and stronger with age, some reaching twice the height of a man - though such mighty spirits often become members of the Terrestrial Bureaucracy, or establish spiritual fiefdoms of their own. In times of crisis, they may even lend their powers of fertility to the growth of crops and other sustenance, though they can do nothing to combat drought and other such disasters at their source.
Summoning (Obscurity 2/4):
The Final Guests are not often summoned by Sorcerers for their natural abilities, though occasionally they may send them to perform sapping, to weaken enemy fortifications, or to hasten the growth of plant life for one purpose or another. Some elementalists have experimented with training them as soldiers, taking advantage of their dense hardwood bodies and their great strength, and arming them with iron hammers and other such weapons. It is more common, though, for Jukai to act as allies, tutors and anchors for sorcerers - those who have grown wise and thoughtful are often ready conversationalists on the nature of Wood Essence, as their meditations give them insight into such things.
Sidebar: Grave Developments
It is far from unknown for Jukai to come to bring new growth to places depopulated by disaster, and if such tragedies have created shadowlands there are a few possibilities for what results. One is that the growth the Guests bring overrides the nascent Necrotic Essence of the shadowland, closing it before it can fully form. Another is that a ghost which arises might merge with the elemental, becoming a twisted creature of mingled death and life.
Finally, the Jukai may remain itself, but become corrupted by the Necrotic Essence, metastasizing into a spirit of rot and decay rather than new growth and renewal. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as such Guests most often simply seed molds and fungi around their charge, and collapse into fetid heaps of rotten wood when their task is complete. However, if efforts at restoration are made before this process is complete, the corrupted Jukai may become enraged, and lash out at workers or builders, spreading fungal diseases and cursing their creations to rot and decay - and if that fails, their strength often suffices to drive off any would-be resettlers.