Saturday, January 6, 2018

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 3.

My assistants all turn to me with a variety of questions as we advance through the vast disk of lowland cityscape.

Most of them have been outside of the city walls of Deneroth proper at least once in their lives, but true knowledge and understanding of the place tends to be scarce for people who lair within. That the University where we all dwell keeps strict regulations on the availability of information pertaining to the False City does not help either. But they know that I have been outside numerous times, or at least would not be surprised to find that I did, having heard so many other rumors about my person.

One question sticks out in my mind as I write, and I will take the occasion to commit it and its answer--or the closest to one which I can conjure--to writing.

"How did the False City come to be? Why is it named so?"

Admittedly these are two questions rather than one, but their answer returns to the same moment in history.

Nigh on nine hundred years ago, according to the official Imperial Narrative¹, the city of Deneroth was founded by Laizij, who was in life the companion, adviser, and close friend of Haraal, renowned god-emperor and wooer of women who would unleash a hundred generations of sons upon the Ersuunian Basin. Laizij was the most brilliant mind of his day or any which has come after, and he was highly valued by Haraal as inventor and philosopher both. But he was also wary of the then-mortal Eternal Scholar's mind. While enormously creative, he also tended to drift from subject to subject without completing a project into which huge amounts of resources had been channeled, and he was prone to revealing state secrets in mumbled self-conversation regardless of company.

Additionally, Laizij was somewhat mistrusted by the horse peoples and Gertisch tribes whom Haraal had united under the banner emblazoned with his own image. They saw him as a moon-touched sorcerer whose mind was at risk of spilling over with magic at any given moment, eradicating any who had the misfortune to be close by at the time. That Laizij's own personal retinue of followers was at best stubbornly devoted and at worst slavishly worshipful of him and his person, did not help matters at all. Nor did the fact that there was, officially, an imperial ban on the practice of any and all occultism, witchcraft, and conjuration (read: mathematics, calculation, and rhetorical discourse).

So, Haraal decided to give his scholar a monumental task of busywork to distract him with, while he continued with his own personal crusade against the universal tyranny of governments which didn't have him as their head. A lonely pinnacle of rock in the middle of some recently de-Esgodarrified Esgodarran flatland was given to Laizij, and the Grand Scholar proceeded to have an equally grand place of learning and repository of knowledge erected upon its summit. But as his floor plan for the labyrinthine seminary blossomed and ballooned, Laizij quickly ran out of pinnacle to build upon. So he devised a way to build up the rest of the mountain around it by constructing massive concentric circles of white stone and grey earth outward from the protrusion of bedrock. Soon the nameless mountain was completely swallowed up by the edifice, and the Eight Ivory Tiers² of Deneroth were created.

"Deneroth", meaning "Leaving of the Dark/Black", has been hypothesized to refer to the dark onyx or obsidian color of the original peak vanishing under the city's construction. In the canon of the University, it refers to how the benighted minds of the Ersuunian lands would at last know the bright light of truth and learning. Alternatively, and more to my liking, folk etymology refers to how Laizij's dark brown head of hair grayed to stark white from stress and obsession over the creation of his city.

Laizij, being a decent employer despite his eccentricities, ensured that each and every servant and laborer involved in this great project was then housed within the city. But Laizij, being an eccentric despite his decent traits as an employer, adamantly refused to allow his city to be altered in any way after the final capstone had been placed. Despite the fact that the size of the city tiers exactly matched what was comfortable for their population densities, there would never, ever be any expansions or additions to this perfect city-from-a-hill.

As one might expect, populations fluctuated as families shrank or expanded, as they are wont to do, yet Laizij's administration rigidly maintained the deeds and demarcations of the city's founding. Palaces of declining families stood nearly empty for decades, clustered together mere yards away from a household perpetually filled to bursting.

But it was still a beacon of wealth and learning, and that drew outsiders. Outsiders who legally had no right to anything in, around, or related to the city, but who would damn well try their best anyway. And so, less than ten years after Deneroth's founding, the first cottages were built outside of the city's prodigious outer walls. These first "intrusions" were tolerated but conspicuously ignored, for many were farmers who would reclaim the plains from the wilderness after they had been depopulated by the passage of the Haraalians. Soon after, tradesmen and other skilled individuals came to cater to the needs of the farmers, and of the city-dwellers, whenever possible. Like a mass of camp followers surrounding its immovable vanguard, folk of all walks of life but scholastic nobility came and built the ground-level up and out.

There were once whispers of this place having the potential to become Deneroth's "Ninth" Tier, but Laizij went to his grave defaming the idea of his greatest creation being altered for the sake of convenience. Eventually one of Haraal's thousand sons was appointed as governor of the city, but the elite was so deeply entrenched and reliant upon the memory of the newly-deified Eternal Scholar for prestige and legitimacy that no one with half a desire to could change the official policies.

Unofficial incorporation occurred from the very start, of course. The denizens of Deneroth were thrilled to have such a vigorous connection to the outside world then as well as now, even if they didn't (and still don't) like to admit it. Luxury items form afar could be tidily delivered to the city's doorstep thanks to the False City and its exploding economy, as well as very real necessities of life which would otherwise have to be imported over long distances. The land on which the False City was built was incorporated into the burgeoning Province of Deneroth as the Empire consolidated and regulated its internal organs. It only took about a half-dozen bandit raids and a districts-wide conflagration to convince the city administration to include the wider area within its military and firefighting jurisdictions. Unfortunately, incorporating the land into the domain of Deneroth also meant that the denizens of the False City were considered to be squatters, and more than a few governors in past centuries have drummed up the political support of restless traditionalists by sending "pacification units" into the outer districts in order to help clear them out. Of course these have been pointless gestures up to now. Pointless, but quite adept at bludgeoning nonetheless.

And so the dogged False City continued to grow. It saw hardship and retraction just like any other province when the Rupture thundered over us from the south. But it also bounced back with the startling alacrity unique to people who seek self-validation instead of denied recognition. For nearly three hundred years now, it has provided the Successor-State of Deneroth with a much-needed buffer against the outside world, as well as a vital (if undesired) link to it.

Now that we are more than a few miles out from First Gate, the exclamations and heckling of locals  thrown in our caravan's direction evokes another question which I am far more loathe to try and answer.

"Why does everyone out here think that the University is full of wizards?"

¹ Curiously, research conducted on artifacts preserved within the Ivory Tower's Sanctum of Self-Reflection suggest that urban habitation of the Denerothi Plain did not begin until approximately six hundred years ago, and efforts to reconcile this sizable gulf in dates has been met with limited success. The University's official response to these and other inconsistencies has been "Shut up, Litte."

² An urban myth persists that Laizij was initially content with only seven tiers in his city, but that he later changed his mind after he heard tell from one of his underlings of another far-off majestic city of white stone with exactly seven layers. Not to be outdone, or gods forbid, matched, Laizij demanded that the eighth tier be created. When it was explained to him that they had already reached ground level at the bottom and completed the University at the top, he explained that they simply needed to lift everything up and then slip it underneath. This legend, though amusing, remains unsubstantiated.

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