Ashfell is an ancient city, fallen from a glorious and largely forgotten past. It is isolated in the north, a fair way southeast of Two Rivers, which is the nearest city to it. It still considers itself a city-state, despite having a population nearer to the size of a large town. It’s mostly self-sufficient by necessity. Caravans do infrequently come and go, but they’re small ventures revolving around the fur trade. Two Rivers is aware of it, but the government largely ignores Ashfell on account of its size and distance. The other cities in the neighboring Amberwoad Vale may have heard of Ashfell, but it may as well be a mythical place to them. It’s like Kansas City or Topeka: you’ve heard of it, and you’ve seen it on a map, but you might not know exactly where it is and you’ve probably never met anyone from there or have any plans to visit.
The region around Ashfell is green, hilly, and forested. The Kings Road is a broad but timeworn cobblestone road that bisects Ashfell and winds westward throughout the region until it meets the River Road far to the east, which in turn follows one of the eponymous twin rivers northward into the Amberwoad Vale. The way east of the city progresses from grasslands to gently rolling green hills, and then into wooden patches and marshy river lands. There are small foresting, hunting, herbalist, and mining communities along the Kings Road, but they are few and far between, and mostly temporary. Brave capitalists tend to leave Ashfell for the surrounding areas in the spring to do their gathering, and then return to set up stalls and markets in the winter. Disparate goblin tribes wander the grasslands to the west, and war with one another and the centaurs and satyrs of the wood. Wise citizens avoid both.
About ten miles west of Ashfell is the shore of Savior’s Lake, a massive body of water that dominates the western part of the region with hundreds of miles of shoreline. This shoreline cuts into the land a decent ways to the south of Ashfell as well, fed by a network of rivers that wind up from the sea far to the southeast.
Immediately to the north are a series of rocky hills, best thought of as the first ascent into the Grimr Highlands, which stretch mountainously all the way into the Untamed Lands in the distant north.
There’s no city in the world quite like Ashfell. Everyone acknowledges that in centuries long past it was one of the greatest cities in the known world, especially considering its distance from the Sun Elf Empire in the south. Historical records in Two Rivers speak of a sprawling city of towers, clean streets, abundant trade, and an army that easily rivaled any Gory March the orcs could assemble. Those same records also speak of some ill-defined cataclysm there, never fully understood or researched. Those very few that survived or came into the region after the fact were as ignorant of the details as those outside Ashfell. In modern days, the history of Ashfell is a mystery obscured by the decades, presumed lost forever.
The signs of Ashfell’s lost glory are abundant, however.
The old structures still stand, though a vast majority of the city has been reclaimed by nature. At the center of the city is Oldtown, where most of Ashfell’s “civilized” citizens live. The white stone buildings are the eldest in the city, yet still in good repair, and kept so by the city’s artisans. The buildings are densely packed here, gathered tight and tall around the open-air market square. The modern inhabitants of Oldtown have built their own wooden structures on the stone skeleton of the city, turning broad alleyways into tight, dark communities nestled into the shadows of a sturdier past. These wooden structures wrap also around the larger stone buildings, and rise precariously from their roofs.
The original, ancient design of Ashfell clearly had similar issues with population growth: there are a series of four walls radiating outward from the center of the city, forming concentric circles. Nowadays, most people avoid living beyond the innermost wall, and that is the cause of the city’s tendency to build upward rather than outward.
Outside the innermost wall, stretching from there to the outermost wall, is a district aptly called The Greenwall. Here too are the time-defiant stone structures of Ashfell’s past. However, greenery covers these buildings instead of anything man-made. Oldtown guards and brave rangers keep nature at bay all along the Kings Road, but beyond that, the green rules. Venerable towers are rendered emerald by layers-thick coats of hairy moss and vines. Vines and overgrowth transform the streets and alleys into cave-like nooks and groves. All manner of forest wildlife peer down from gaping windows framed by flowering plants, and flocks of birds sing from trees that have rooted themselves right on the roofs of forgotten temples.
There’s a unique district within The Greenwall, similarly reclaimed by nature but better civilized. This is Brightwater: a flooded quarter between the second and third walls to the southwest of Oldtown. There must have once been a well or underground river beneath the city, from whence the people drew water. Since the cataclysm, however, that source must have flooded wildly. As a result, the district is mostly drowned. The waters here are bright and pure, so much so that one can clearly see down into what were once the city streets and into the windows of time-lost shops and homes. A dizzying variety of fish wander those places now, and seaweed grows where once there were gardens.
There is a community that lives within Brightwater, supplying Oldtown with fish and other bounties of the water there. They live on the stone islands that were once rooftops, and travel between them by boat and raft on rivers that were once streets. Some brave souls dive into the lost city below in search of secrets, and some say the old city’s university and library rest somewhere down there.