The Gurabaize Un-forest, Part 1

A continuation of the previous post’s entry on Un-wildfire. Basically, there is a type of flame that creates forests instead of destroying them. The wood is black, the trees have wide branch systems, no roots, and usually tilt over, and almost nothing else can grow there- unless the Un-forest grows old. Then, strange toxic biomes will develop.

This is one such forest.

like this, except the trunk is propped up higher by the branches

Alazande and Gurabaize Forest

Most of the country of Alazande is a coastal plain, with the eastern reaches dotted by high plateaus, which along with Glass River forms the natural boundaries of the country. These plateaus are all of varying size and height, but one of the lowest and widest was the Gurabaize Forest.

Gurabaize Forest was once the heart of an entire network of human settlements that rose up around the periphery of the treeline, often not meters away from the end of the talus slopes leading up onto the plateau. Every village in the region used Gurabaize for fuel and forage. A druidic cult moderated consumption, and became the dominant religious institution of the region. One village grew into a market town large enough to receive a charter. It was the biggest town in all of Alazande.

Tepui, from Wikipedia

Anyways, it all burned down a hundred and thirty years back.

The druids elected to wait a few decades, relying on what little forest remained, and they even convinced the town senoroas and village elders. But Markez II, one of Alazande’s regional kings, commanded them to use Un-wildfire (hell if anyone knows how he got hold of it) to grow the forest back. This is because Alazande was entering was taking the first tentative steps towards becoming a mercantile and naval power. They needed ships, and ships need mature wood. Markez decided that he didn’t have decades to wait.

Before the decade was up, the villages were all abandoned. The market town was deserted, and not a single tree remained on the plateau. The entire region was given up, along with dreams of naval supremacy.

Going Up

Reaching the plateau is probably going to be an issue. Despite being relatively low compared to others in the area, the top is still about 300 ft off the ground. Switchback stairs and foot-trails once led up, but any that survived a century of abandonment have been destroyed by Coladris.

The best way for those that can’t climb well are the lumber elevators. These are sharp slopes with a few flattened ledges that were carved to quickly roll logs down to the town and villages. These are easier to scale than sheer cliff-sides and they have built in rest-stops. However, quite a few of them are trapped, with Un-tree logs balanced precariously at the top, such that excessive vibration will send them down to crush anyone on them.

Lichens and the rest

Un-trees and the process of their creation introduces toxins into the environment, which is why nothing can grow there. But life is stubborn and adaptable, and the deadliness of the toxins fades in time. Eventually, specialized organisms creep in. Explorers found the fungus first, and aside from the Un-trees it remains the dominant organism to this day. The usual mushroom-forms you’d expect are all here, but the real winners here are the lichens, in all their varying forms. Great bushes cover the forest floor, and moss-lichens cover the tops of every trunk. Tendrils of dangle down from skewed branches. Entire sections of forest covered in a teased wool floor. Stuff like that. The most common type is a pale green, which dominates the colorscape, accented by occasional patches of other lichens, very occasional patches of mushrooms, and the bare black bark of the Un-trees beneath it all.

Thankfully, almost none of the species here are immediately deadly, and most of them are edible with no side-effects. Actually, almost all of them are toxic, but only the course of months of continued consumption/breathing. Your eyesight will be the first to go, followed by the ability to sense texture and pressure through touch. Death won’t ever come, but you’ll start to have monthly fevers and hot flashes after a few years. Every bird and mammal on the plateau is blind and immune to pain.

As for spores, just keep away from most mushrooms and your head off the ground and you’ll be fine. Feel free to put in your favorite deadly mushrooms here, though. The main thing you need to watch out for Combustion Lichen. It grows on the top side of un-tree branches and trunks, and looks like dark green moss when it’s safe. If it has tinges of grey, stay away. This means it is sporulating, and the air above it is being superheated to help spread spores. It is hot enough to ignite clothing and burn skin.

All these mushrooms have attracted many slugs, snails, and a few species of winged birds that live here permanently, all of which are definitely blind. Cassowaries are native to the coastal regions of Alazande, and a few ended up here. While the Alazande cassowaries have reddish heads with orange or blue necks, the cassowaries here display ridiculous rainbow colors, probably from all the bizarre fungi they eat.

There’s also the night squirrels. These are a form of flying squirrel that are as big as a unusually large child without their “wings” extended, or as big as a really extraordinarily large child with them. They are called night squirrels by the loggers because they are only active at night, and because of their camouflage. Jet black on their backs, with a stripe on their otherwise dark bluish bellies. They look like a branch when they’re above you, which is bad, because if they’re above you you’re about to have a very bad day. They like to land on people’s heads to suffocate and eat them. Don’t go out alone at night. Their pelts are sought after in international markets.

Finally, there’s the moose. Unlike cassowaries and flying squirrels, moose are not native to Alazande, nor to any immediately adjacent areas. And even if they did wander into the country, how the hell did they get onto the plateau? Regardless, they’re here, and like the squirrels they are uncommonly large. Elephant-sized by width and a good deal taller. Unfortunately, their moods and penchant for territorialism have not improved. Their antlers are incredibly valuable, both for their speckled black and white coloration, and because when boiled and chewed they have powerful narcotic effects.

Cats

Before the villages and town were abandoned, they each had a population of semi-feral cats, as most human settlements do. They were left behind when the population evacuated. A few of them spread out into the surrounding plains, and faded into the local wildcat population. The others ended up heading to the plateau, as competition on the plains was too fierce. Most of those cats ended up dead, but a few survived, probably by catching birds that occasionally roosted on the island. Living up there is practically the same as living on an island, and the population immediately ran into a bottleneck, so there are some pretty weird genetics here.

First off, they are affected by a form of gigantism, a common thread between all the mammal species that have inhabited the unforest for a few generations. These are definitely closer to lynxes in size than normal cats. The second most noticeable feature is that they are hairless except for their manes and ridges along their back, which can grow quite long, and makes them look ridiculous. The final feature you’ll notice before they kill you is that they hunt in packs, not unlike velociraptors. While you’re watching one, the others are circling around and preparing to rip your fucking guts out. The loggers call these motherfuckers Wolfcats and hate them on a personal level. They will reward you handsomely for their otherwise useless pelts. If you manage to find a kit (not easy, since the parents are highly protective and only bear a single kit at a time, another evolutionary strategy) they’ll pay you very handsomely for the privilege of torturing it to death.

They also have weird, decidedly not cat-like behaviors. They seem to ambush people in large mushroom patches, where a lot of the snails that they eat can be found, so if you see mushrooms you may want to start running in the other direction. Attacks are also more frequent along the midline of the forest. Freakishly more common. In fact, aside from the mushroom patches, it’s safe to say that almost every attack occurs on this boundary, which separates the forest into northwestern and southeastern segments. This happens because the cats have organized themselves into factions. The packs from the northwestern half attack the packs from the southeastern half on sight and vice versa, and neither wants the other in their territory. This boundary is going to be the main impedance to exploring the forest freely. Any human or cat moving across the boundary is going to be actively stalked and probably killed at the nearest convenience. Other animals are usually fine, but even the giants occasionally get harassed, although they’re so big that the cats can’t do much to them.

The loggers know about these factions and also know about the kings. The kings are the biggest, nastiest son-of-a-bitch cats in the forest, and also happen to be female. Those are the limits of a loggers knowledge of feline anatomy. The southeastern one is reportedly as big as a horse. If you manage to kill one of them, the loggers will be besides themselves. In addition to getting paid the entire bounty chest, you won’t be able to pay for your own drinks in this part of Alazande, for whatever that’s worth.

This boundary splits around Coladris’s tower, giving him roughly 4 miles of radius. Attacks are less frequent here. As far as anyone knows, the cats never go there, so you may be able to slip out of Coladris’s section into another segment of the forest without being stalked.

The Giants

Giants are known for their freakish strength, and for valuing displays of such. Almost all giantish sports are basically about figuring out who amongst the competitors is the strongest.

The giants of the Un-forest are no different, and may in fact be the prime example of this. They’re came here thirty years ago for one simple reason: they want to flip trees. Tree-flipping is actually a common giantish-sport, but here it is practiced at its apex.

Un-trees have underdeveloped root systems but incredibly wide branches, usually half again wider than the trunk is tall. The name of the game is grabbing the trees by the root end and then flipping them with enough force to make them land again on their trunks. This requires a considerable torque, as the trunk is stable when it’s standing straight up with the branches below it. So not only do the giants have to get the trunk straight up, they also have to provide enough energy so that the trunk keeps going and falls to the other side.

The dozen and change giants that live here are ultra-competitive, and highly committed to their craft. Their titles are based on how many flips they managed to get a tree to complete. Shit like Unthor Once-Over, or Magrus Half-Over. They speak in reverent whispers of Golor Thrice-and-a-Half-Over, the current record-holder. Because of their training, they are incredibly fucking strong. You may suspect that they are affected by gigantism (well, more than usual) like other native mammals, but they haven’t been here long enough- only a handful were born here. Their muscles are just huge.

The giants are non-aggressive. Friendly, even. They never fight each other, and tend to be incredibly supportive of everyone they meet. They enjoy stoical, inspirational quotes. They’ll probably rope you into judging their contests (“flip-counting”), where you’ll have to visually confirm that they flipped the tree. They’re pretty good at judging by sound, but the rules, such as they are, says a flip isn’t valid unless someone saw it. This is why they’re always trying to get giants from the plains to come watch. They are also recruiting at all times, and they need feed for their massive herds of blind goats. Massive as in there are a lot of them, not as in the goats are massive. Natural selection isn’t acting on them.

Digression 1: Giants have a form of long-distance communication that they learned from the much larger titans. The titans used a language of humming and stomping on the ground to communicate through vibrations in the earth, over continental distances. After their war, the titans taught giants how to understand this language, although they aren’t big enough to “speak” it. The titans are gone now, but the giants have constructed articulatories to produce the language. Mostly, these involve large resonant chambers and dropping lots of boulders. The giantish “priesthood” is responsible for maintaining these articulatories, transmitting messages, and also translating the more complex ones that are beyond the “reading” level or common giants.

Digression 2: A lot of people think giants are solitary creatures with no society, but this simply isn’t the case. While it’s true that giants tend to live alone or in small family groups, that family group is still part of a larger network of giants inhabiting the area. They just don’t gather together for demographic reasons- a giant family can sustain itself a lot better than a giant village. Even though the giants had cities in the past, they never really had towns of intermediate size, because towns of intermediate size are of limited use to giants while cities can have enough appeal to overcome the logistical issues that arise. The giants in an area are aware of each other, communicate frequently, and often meet for trade or marriage. While it’s true that giantish social hierarchies are a lot less rigid, they still recognize leaders and laws. And because they can communicate long distance nearly instantly many of these communities are arguably better connected both within themselves and with others than human societies.

You may think being able to break every bone in your body with a flick of a finger would make these giants eschew weaponry, but you would be wrong. A few of them wear armor, too. They also throw boulders in their spare time. They are essentially regular giants, just a bit friendlier and stronger than usual.

Finally, the giants sell various performance enhancing drugs. These are all made by Ulta Medicine-Man, who is also their de-facto leader. He’s called that because him making medicine is more important than his flip record. If you take these drugs for a few months you’ll be able to increase your strength modifier by like 2 points, although your heart might pop like a balloon. Ulta can also sell you medicines, and is a highly competent healer in general.

It’s worth noting that if a normal human manages a even a single flip, the giants would all be ecstatic. They would be so, so proud.

Coladris

About seventy years ago, a wizard came to the plateau, seeking solitude. Also, he came here because wizards tend to have a flair for the dramatic. Hence towers, fireballs, lightning bolts, etc. So Coladris rose up his tower out of the wood of the untrees, near the western edge of the plateau. As a young man, he came here to find un-wildfire, and started experimenting with untree wood. In past decades, his teeth yellowed, his gut widened, and then widened a bit more, and his studies have diverged. He now focuses on the magical applications of lead, a large deposit of which sits below the plateau.

Like most wizards, he doesn’t really bother destroying or containing the results of his experiments. In this case, this is the lead-heads. These are basically naked dudes with massive (almost as big as their bodies), spherical heads (or maybe helmets) made out of lead. They are all mad, and their incessant babble echoes out of the head. They use their giant head to crush their enemies, although it is clumsy and they can only make an attack every other round. It also causes spells in their vicinity to fail. If you’re using glog rules, basically the spell fails to go off if any magic die comes up one. Otherwise, use normal spell failure rules. They themselves are totally immune to magic of all sorts. Their main attack actually is them humming loudly and rolling their neck around in circles. This causes them to drain the memories of people in the area, which is their main purpose. It’s some sort of XP drain attack, you figure out the details. They’ll usually shout something like “I want what’s in your head!” or “Give me your brain-stuff!” before doing this. They also like to smear the brains of their victims on their leaden domes, but this doesn’t do anything.

He also has Lead Butlers. These look like men or women with lead blindfolds on, but the skull above the blindfold is gone, instead replaced by a level lead plate with concentric circles of inlaid gold. Even though they obviously have no brain, they function quite well in a fight and more than capable of using advanced tactics and creativity. They even talk like normal people sometimes, though they mumble under their breath when not talking. This is because they are essentially surrogates for a few operators under Coladris’s employ, or Coladris himself. The terms of the contract employing these people is fuzzy, but it seems that they undergo a similar procedure, and are bound by a strict set of rules. This explains their deference and politeness (hence their name). All Lead Butlers are in peak physical form, and one can tell from the remains of their face that they were once beautiful.

Getting into his tower is a bit of an issue, because his entire section of the forest is patrolled by fire elementals, and Unfire Engines. The latter are actually huge golems made of untree wood, which can transport and launch fire elementals over a hundred feet (basically a fireball that leaves an elemental behind), in addition to stomping on things. They’re pretty fucking dumb, though. As a result of these latter creations, his section of forest is bare of lichen and most other life.

As you get close to the tower, you will probably have to deal with Twigs. Twigs is another construct, also made of unwood. It stands like 50 feet tall, with gangly limbs and no head. Mostly it’s going to try and fall on you, since its arms are too short to reach the ground when he’s standing. He can also shoot sharpened unwood stakes at you. Although unwood doesn’t burn or heat up easily, it does hold heat very, very well. If you leave unwood in a fire for a few days, you can make it hot enough to boil water, and it will stay that way for months. So, if Twigs shoots the stakes at you, expect them to cauterize any wounds they make. This is very bad if they impale you- you won’t heal any damage taken until they’re removed, but removing them without a surgeon will cause more damage. The good news is that he can’t really aim them (they just launch out the length of his torso/abdomen) and he needs to be reloaded after each use. If you take cover during the barrage you’ll probably survive. Twigs is very slow, and not terribly bright.

Coladris also has a wife, sort of. This is a woman constructed out entirely out of lead, but she looks like a normal woman through the generous usage of paint and human skin, hair, teeth, etc. The only giveaway is her carved lead eyes. Coladris set out to make the perfect woman, but at present she isn’t a terribly good conversationalist. Coladris wants memories to fill her head with to give her a personality, and also beautiful eyes (or maybe just a really good painter) to replace her lead ones.

I’ve realized this post will need two parts. Next post will be about the druids, loggers, mutants, vines, and the various supernatural things in the forest.

1 thought on “The Gurabaize Un-forest, Part 1”

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