The Fourth Gate to the campus grinds open ahead of us upon our arrival, the gatemasters having just completed their morning rituals.
Every day at exactly twelve talecks¹ after dawn reaches the turquoise banding of the Ivory Tower's observational promontory, the gatemasters--alleged descendants of the very first doormen and personal guards of Laizij--perform the ritual for which they are best known today. When the patron of the University lived, he had a retinue of intellectuals in his service. All were treated equally before him at first, but this changed on the occasion of his martyring at the hands of the Lie-Keepers of Dherna.² Those who were not present at the time of His death are still respected, but are considered to have failed in their final duty to him. Those who were with Him to the bitter end meanwhile, enjoy a more favorable position in the liturgy and historical chronicles both.
A scion of the lower caste arrives first, often left to stamp his feet in the cold for some time, such as the occasion is on this morning. Meanwhile, a representative of the more favored house of gatemasters with that direct and intimate connection to Laizij arrives with an armed escort, leftover from the days when the Ivory Tower maintained its own military force. Upon meeting one another at the wide bars of each of the six gates to the University grounds, the higher of the two demands the identity of the lower, who is himself barred from entry into the grounds directly. The lower gatemaster announces himself and his lineage back to a minimum of eight generations, and then a key of silver and inlaid electrum large enough to bludgeon an ox to death with is passed between the bars, as the higher gatemaster consecrates this action in the name of his own lineage, which has a minimum of at least twenty generations. On very formal occasions, the entirety of one's family history dating back to one of the contemporary servants of the Scholar is recounted.
Once the exchange is completed and the lower gatemaster uses the key to unlock the intricate series of locks placed upon each of the gates, the way is opened to those outsiders who would enter, and those freshmen who would flee their first two weeks of classes.
Our wagons were passing through the gateway while the last formalities were still playing out just to the side of the threshold, and I was able to witness it in great but fleeting detail. The lower gatemaster knelt before his superior, who then had one of his retainers receive the key from him, to be thoroughly wiped down in a cloth before being handed back to the keeper of the key, and ultimately set in its case in the fortified northern extension of the University's security offices.
The retinue quickly beats its way back toward the warmth of the buildings, while the lower gatemaster is left to get back up off of his knees and make his solitary way back home. Moments of disgruntlement punctuate long periods of resigned placidity in the man's round, pinkish face as he disappears into the crowds reluctantly emerging from their homes set upon the city's highest tier.
None of the other civilian gates in the city have such a tradition attached to them, and so traveling down through the rings is far easier, though still slow at the lower levels where markets and other congregations had already awakened. From the third tier down, my colleagues and I are given increasingly strange looks for our attire. It is rare to see a member of the ITU so far from home, and the Book and Key emblazoned on so many of our possessions like a logo paints us each as a rather undesirable guest.³
Still, we are able to reach the edge of the city before mid-morning, having to only occasionally pop our ears from the changes in elevation. Our treat with the guards and customs representatives at First Gate is refreshingly brief despite the wait we all expected, and before we can even reposition ourselves upon the carts, the False City yawns before us.
The first, bottom-most tier is the broadest, as well as located directly at ground level, but it is only a tenth of the size of the False City of Deneroth, built up around its perimeter. These districts, not constructed during the original founding of the city, and swollen with the vast majority of the population which has come to live in the area in the intervening centuries, feel as always like entirely new worlds of their own. I am able to take a brief moment of levity in watching the reactions in my assistants' faces as they see the shift from sterile grey brick walls to vast jumbles of wood and earthwork. Smells unlike any I've experienced in many years envelop us, and the hawkers swarm us to offer up their goods. They recognize the likelihood of wealth in our kind, but are not so well-versed in True City history or politics to know that we represent anathema to them in many ways. Sarq swears that he recognizes a Nambarish recipe in a nearby stand of meat-skewers, and I do not doubt that for a moment. But we cannot stop to sample the mingled local flavors yet.
Even if the existence of this city is denied by those above, there are many hours of riding left before we reach its outer limits.
¹ Also rendered as taliq, talkh, or taleg depending on the literary tradition in question (taleck being the standardized Gertisch-Haraalian spelling, while taliq, talkh, and taleg are the Nambarish, Proto-Ersuut, and rarely-seen Esgodarran spellings, respectively). The taleck is the traditional unit of measurement of time still used by the University and several other conservative institutions and facilities in and around Deneroth. It is equal to 2.37 minutes by low-tier reckoning, or 0.4 cyclical iques for my readers in the Pach-Yul region, vanishingly rare though you may be. The taleck originated with the Ersuunian nomads who came to populate the basin regions, allegedly referring to the length of time it took for a sub-chieftain's black-dappled mare to move at a full canter from one side of the king's camp to the next, favorable weather and open space allowing of course.
² Note that the exact cause of death for Laizij, according to the official statement released by the Senior Pain-Taster of the Basilica of Najis, was a bowel obstruction caused by massive collections of gallstones. The role which the clergy of Dherna played in the act was suspected at first, and the belief that they were in fact wielding black magic to eliminate a political rival has persisted into the modern day.
³ I anticipate that this and other large swaths of my travelogue will be heavily censored upon my return to the grounds of the ITU, but for my own satisfaction I will exercise my ability to deny the myth that members of the University--student or faculty--are the pride and joy of all Deneroth. Even as I write, Ciudo is still wiping the wad of saliva and other bodily fluids which was flung at him with expert, marksman-like precision from a nearby doorway as our caravan passed by the notoriously "wide-thinking" second-tier neighborhood of Lesken's Way.