The dense concentrations of homes and workshops gradually diffuse now. The imperfect circle of cityscape draws inward and pinches along the causeway as the land suddenly slopes downward. Far to either side, the city continues for a short time, now up above our heads, but soon nothing but the clouds of smoke and the stunted outermost walls can be seen. The upper reaches of Deneroth continue to thrust up into the sky, of course. When one crosses through the First Gate, the world opens up. When one leaves the fringes of the False City, it expands. The vastness of the south-central Ersuunian Basin, ancestral homeland of the Esgodarrans, yawns before us. Its breath is cold and bitter, having few windbreaks along the flattened road, but the view of the land makes up for it, in my eyes at least.
To the east, the land slowly rises until the horizon is obscured from view, but we know that the elevation continues to climb that way until one reaches the uplands and river cascades which once formed the eastern borders of the old empire. It flattens out into a narrow corridor of steppe to the northeast somewhat behind us, and that way once offered one of the few dependable routes east which was not too close to the hill and riverside people to the south or the impenetrable forests of the Reossos which dominates much of the north. The Axebite lies somewhere thereabouts, and stretches as far east and west as any explorer on foot has ever cared to venture. While my own writing and that of others would make it seem as if Deneroth were the only city in all the land (with the begrudging exception of Nambar), several large towns do still dot this great northeastern frontier. Hard people who live hard lives, but undeniably kin to anyone who still tries to call themselves a Haraalian. I am remound of my desire to travel east someday and conduct research probing into the truth behind their tales of the wastelands even farther beyond, for I was lambasted by my colleagues (with some good reason) for my weakly-sourced compositions on the Fokari some time ago. Of course I am aware that even if I were to procure funding for such an adventure to meet distant people, my work would never see publication through the ITU. I know this from personal experience.
In any case, we are heading south- not east. Though the road does drift westward for a short while, giving our party a decent peripheral view of the gentler heights of the west. It's a far cry from the hyper-taiga of the Reossos, but the woodlands of the west have provided Deneroth with timber and firewood for centuries to come, and yet they seem far from depleted. Or at least, they seem to be from our point of view. Those who dwell in and around the hilly forests might find that their homeland is sorely lacking in 80-90% of its biomass, as one study slipped under the noses of the Department of Ecological Philosophies argues. Sharp-eyed Sarq claims that he can see people moving back and forth around the nearest pines. I would not be surprised if they are woodsmen making one last round in search of adequate firewood for the winter. It is said that the highest points in those hills cause a mild rainshadow for the west, explaining the relative dryness of the climate surrounding Nambar and its coast. I would dare to say that this is true, but that it is a rainshadow of the mind, and that it works the other way.
Closer to the roads, we begin to see small hamlets dotting the peripheries between landscapes. Our hired assistants and guides become chattier now, as they describe which village they or their family come from, or which one has the finest hidden orchards or fishing ponds. An argument over which has the prettiest women is now brewing, so I will turn my focus toward other things. Such as scanning the horizon for our next addition to the crew. We will be meeting up with an old correspondent of mine, though it is not entirely clear when, where, or for how long.
Hedge magicians tend to operate on a timescale like that.
Elrusyo is his name, and he has been one of my precious few sources for knowledge on the overt supernatural during my time in the ITU, given the longstanding bans on all things akin to conjuration. While this does not extend to the herblore which is his livelihood, passed down to him by a mother who'd reportedly wanted a daughter, the man has immersed himself extensively in the literature of all forms of magic. Of course if I were to ask him, he would remind me at length that they are all the same thing, in the end. I do still wonder how he's afforded even a quarter of the material he has referenced in our letters, however. Many traditions are quite unique to their parts of the world, yet leeches and caraway seeds can only earn a man so much. I have never met him in person, but I was told that I would have no difficulty in telling that it is him when he does finally make his appearance.
I pray that he won't be distinguishable by a pointed hat and staff, or some embarrassment of that sort.