Perceiving a tall tree such as Phantom Wood is not as easy as one might assume. Similar in shape, structure, and size of most poplar trees, it is smokey-gray in color and slightly transparent. In its natural snowy habitat it is most difficult to make out the outline of such a tree as swirling snow can easily break up its silhouette. It is also difficult to see against an all white backdrop (as is the norm in regions where it is found.) They typically grow between 100-120ft tall and are between 5.5-7ft in diameter. The trunk of the Phantom Wood is barren of any branches on the bottom 2/3rds while the top 1/3rd has many tangled, leafless limbs and branches that jut out only a few inches before twisting straight up to the sky.
Phantom Wood is a very unique class of tree. It thrives near the extreme polarities of the world and in regions of high altitude where temperatures rarely exceed 28°F. It can survive in the harshest of cold climates where even the hardiest of conifers cannot. But it is not only its ability to flourish in frigid climates that makes it unique.
Phantom Wood is 'unliving.' Much like undead, this type of tree does not need to breath or ingest sustenance to continue existing. However, unlike undead, these trees are born unliving and require no spiritual or supernatural forces to re-animate them. It is unclear as to just exactly how this is possible.
Some theories assume the Phantom Wood was once a living tree and that a curse or some other kind of powerful magic that presumably no longer exists was used upon it many, many years ago. There is a strong flaw to this theory in that it does not attempt to address an explanation of how or why these trees 'germinate.' Another popular theory is that these trees somehow originated on another plane of existence, such as a spirit or shadow realm. But, alas, this theory also has holes in it when considering the physicality of the Phantom Wood's root structure. (More on that in the next section.)
The trunk and limbs of the Phantom Wood are akin to a ghostly apparition. In effect, every part of this tree above the ground resembles the likeness of a spiritual manifestation. It is slightly 'see-through' and physical objects such as snow, wind or adventurers can pass right through it as if it weren't even there. Therefor in a wintry landscape it looks slightly odd that these trees accumulate no snow on their branches. Although given their sheer size and 'physical' appearance, most creatures, including humanoids, will have a natural tendency to want to walk around them.
It is worth noting that magical items will not go through these trees and can actually cut into them. Cutting into them will require the same effort as it would to cut into a normal tree with an axe. Travelers wearing magical items will have a much more difficult time traversing a forest of Phantom Wood. It really is no different than walking through any other type of forest with the minor exception that if the explorer isn't constantly vigilant of his or her surroundings, he or she is going to get a few bumps and bruises accidentally walking into these trees.
Their root structure is different than the rest of the tree. It exists physically beneath the frozen ground in the form of a blackish-gray petrified wood. The root system does not go very deep into the ground and stays near the surface, often times jutting out occasionally above the ground. Its roots, being physical, can easily cause one to trip over them especially since they are usually hidden beneath a few inches of snow.
The petrified roots are commonly used by those living in these harsh climates as a fuel for their fire. It burns more akin to charcoal than wood. The flames coming off of these roots has a dark purple/gray tint to it. These roots burn for a long time and it is not unheard of for one log to burn for three or four days before it dies out. This is a good thing as acquiring these roots is not the easiest task to be accomplished.
Once the root has been extinguished it takes on another unique property: it has a constant warming effect. This characteristic makes it extremely useful for those living in cold regions for a myriad of reasons. One of the more popular uses for once-burnt Phantom Wood is to place it in and around huts, particularly sleeping areas to keep them warm in the winter. Another common use it to place a small chunk in cooking pots to keep warm a stew or thaw ice.
The trunk, limbs and roots have magical properties as well. Collected properly, they are used in a variety of powerful potions and enchantments.
Using the roots along with some more common ingredients creates a potion commonly referred to as a "stoning bottle." The correct term is Statue Root of Liquefied Phantom Wood. Upon throwing this bottle at a living creature, the glass shatters and the contact of the liquid turns the creature to stone, much like a 'medusa effect.' The stone effect will wear off after several days and the victim will wake up with an extreme headache. It goes without saying that when pouring this potion into a bottle, one must be very careful to not come in contact with the liquid.
The limbs are used in potion-making as well and produce a single effect either on their own, or mixed with other ingredients. This means liquefying the limb alone will have one effect and even if one mixes it with another potion, it will not alter the previously prepared potion but merely add its own effect to the other existing effects. Its own effect? Invisibility. Not true invisibility but it will give the consumer the same smokey-gray see-through appearance of the tree in its natural state. This makes it a highly prized commodity among thieves and assassins. Any potion with this effect is extremely expensive (along with any potion made from the trunk as it is an extremely difficult process to acquire and extract the properties of these parts of the Phantom Wood.)
The magical properties of the trunk can be extracted to produce some very powerful enchantments. Typically it is infused with bladed weapons. It gives the blade the illusion of being 'invisible' much like the limb effect. A wielder of such a blade must be extremely cautious when using it as i can be difficult to sheath or even fight with such a blade due to the difficulty to perceive its edges and length. Those skilled enough to use a "Phantom Blade" will find it makes slaying undead very easy and these blades are also powerful enough to cut through other magical blades and armor.
Acquisition of Phantom Wood
One must first get through a bed of snow and ice followed by a layer of solid frozen ground to reach the roots in most cases. Once exposed, extracting the roots is more like mining rock than chopping wood. This is a fairly simple yet extremely strenuous task.
Acquiring the trunk and limbs is infinitely more difficult and expensive. It requires many magical items during the entire process. One must first have a magical blade of some kind to be able to fell the tree. Then there must be a magical satchel, basket, or the like to place it in and carry it back out of the forest. (Most people looking for trunks or limbs will want to go to the middle of such a forest as the older trees have more concentrated magical properties than the younger ones on the outskirts.)
Once back in an alchemy lab there is a slew of magical items needed (including magical glass, pestles, etc.) to be sure the Phantom Wood doesn't fall through anything including floor boards.
Acquiring the seeds is almost impossible as once they are taken away from their cold climate they evaporate into thin air. The matured roots, trunks, and limbs do not have this undesired effect. A few wizards have tried harnessing the power of seeds in their natural environment but it makes potion-making all the more difficult as they are constantly fighting freezing liquids, shattering glass, and hypothermia. The few that were successful found that it was not worth the effort as the magical properties of the seeds (part ghostly-nut, part petrified cap much like an acorn) have extremely diminished magical properties.
Additional Ideas (1)
1) The only thought I had that maybe would work against magical beings, was putting a magical grip on a pole staff or club made from the main wood. A very specific tool, but could serve a purpose. I pictured a lone monk that was traveling with a bo staff with the center and both ends wrapped with a magical cloth. The only thing he can injure are magical creatures. Any hit against a mortal would simply be hit, forcefully, by a rag at the end of the stick...if anything. Unformed total thought, but that is what I had.
2) Secure the entrance to king's chambers or other areas that they want magic restrictions. By taking a door sized swath of bark or tree and extending it across an entrance you can stop all magical items from crossing. Assuming that if I was wearing a ring, then when I walk through the rest of my body would go through and then my ring would get stuck on the tree and snag there.