Tale #2: The Mighty Brammenwoods
The Brammenwoods are located between Altonar and the Western Walls of Weltenend. They are the largest forest on Aqualon, larger even than the great Odenwald Forest. There are long vines that wind across the forest floor all the way from the Iron Belt, which it borders, to its northernmost outskirts; they are called dragontails and have tough iron scales with material sequestered from the Rusty Shore using powerful acidic roots. Strange, iron-based crystals 'ripen' underneath these scales and are collected by male gem-tailed squirrels, which store them in tree holes and adorn their tails with to attract the female's attention. Once in the tree holes, they amplify the soul power of the tree in a to date unexplored manner, making the trees grow faster and stronger, leading to the largest trees on Aqualon being located in the Brammenwoods. Sometimes they will grow their tree holes shut in sudden growth spurts and many trees there have shiny gemstones encrusted in their bark. A "Bramma" is a semi-finished slab of steel, and the Brammenwoods get their name from the scales of the dragontails. The Brammir, keepers of the Brammenforts and rulers of Vechnaya Bramma, harvested the Bramma of the dragontails with great effort and secret magics during the First Age and the Age of the Iron Divide, covering the walls of their forts in them and smithing them into weapons. But their secrets of Bramma harvesting were lost with the waning of the Age of the Iron Divide, and to none is the name “Age of Awakening” more bitterly ironic than to the Brammir.
Hildur looked about frantically. She had been wandering about to gather some nuts and now she was lost. She had no idea where the camp was anymore, and without her schamani guide, she would surely perish here... Deep in the heart of the Brammenwoods, she had hoped to learn more about the dragontails. Granted, her tale about being an Altonar researcher was phony, and she expected to make a mint of iron gems, seeing how the Middlish mages paid top coin for those, but in her well-versed opinion, she was hardly a villain for it. Merely an entrepreneur. So what if she had fibbed a bit to get the old Druith magus to show her around? And now the useless old coot was gone! Where even was east? Because if she wanted to get out of here, heading for Vechnaya Bramma would be her best chance. Even the isolationist Brammenforts seemed for more hospitable than the thicket all of a sudden. But with the tower-like trees and lush brushwork around her, she couldn't even make out the path of the sun. And stars at night? Forget it. The trees were too tall to climb too. What was she going to do? A glint in the corner of her eyes drew in her attention. What was that? She turned around and stepped closer to an unusually colossal tree. What a beast! Carefully, she ran her fingers over the ancient bark and withdrew her hand suddenly. "Ouch!" Something had cut her! A closer look revealed that a jagged gemstone, gleaming in the beautiful colors of the sky at dusk, had cut her finger. She looked at it more closely, noting how the bark had grown around it. After close inspection, she noticed many such gems, but also ones of different configuration and color scheme embedded all over the trunk of the tree! "Well, at least I won't be leaving here poor, when I do..." she murmured to herself, breathless as she took in the bountiful splendor. From her pack, she liberated a large knife with which to pry the precious stones free. She quickly noticed that the blade would not take it for long and switched to a crowbar, huffing in exertion, as she ripped stone after stone from the ancient bark. Her head was pounding from the exercise after only twenty minutes, and the ever-present sounds of the woods seemed to swarm her more and more, making her feel claustrophobic. But she wouldn't stop without a worthwhile haul, that was for sure! Something brushed her leg. She looked down, but saw nothing. Back to work... scratch, scratch, creak... Suddenly, she heard a soft crack, and to her great surprise, a sharp pain shot through her left ankle. "What..." she looked down. Her foot was broken. Twisted off at an odd angle, but no cause in sight. Dumbstruck, she stared at it. It was impossible. How? Who? Why?! How was she going to get out of here with a broken foot?! "Ahh..." she moaned, the dull pain finally breaking past her shock. She wanted to grab her foot and cup it in her hand, though she couldn't say where the impulse came from. But she couldn't. She couldn't move her hand. As she sluggishly lifted her head again, her arm was trapped inside the bark, as if it had sunken in while she hadn't looked. "No! What's happening?!" "You have injured the tree, and it is defending itself," a familiar voice explained. It was her schamani guide! "Help me, please!" His gaze wandered from her pleading face to her bag, which had fallen down, spilling gems onto the forest floor. "Perhaps. Though I will have to consult with the tree first. He seems very angry and scared. When the trees are adorned with these gems, they grow very big and strong, as do their souls. It gives them dreams of being alive. What would you do to one who pries your dreams from you and leaves your body with holes? I'd imagine you'd crush their bones too, little girl... Now hold very still..."