Now, only six distinctions remained in how maps of the region were drawn. To the East, nearest the mountains, lay the Axiad lands, warded by a great wall; magi were forbidden in the lands of the Axiad, save those who served in the military to protect the wall, and the lands within were the only remaining concentration of fertile soil between the mountains. To the northeast lay the lands of the Dragon, a being none outside his domain had seen in hundreds of years; common legend said that he accepted those who fled to his territory as refugees, but precious few who sought his shelter returned, and more fear than hope was directed toward the Dragon. To the North, lay the Tundra, vast expanses of open land unspoiled by war, but ruled by Winter the vast majority of the year; few lived within, and it was rumored that forests could be found if one traveled far enough North, but the cold kept most away.
In the very core of the northern continent, lay the ruins of the old kingdoms, patches of unsullied-land fought over by the survivors, parts of the remnants spoiled by the battles as often as not, while brigands and cut-throats mercilessly cut down all but the most well-protected who attempted trade. Occasional Warlords attempted to unite the farming towns, the outlaw bands, or both, but rarely managed much before a knife in the back ended their campaign. To the South lay a great plain, inhabited by nomadic tribes who rode mounts imbued with elemental power, some quite literally as swift as the Wind, traveling from one patch of unsullied land to another, living off of what little of the land's natural bounty was untainted. To the West a great river divided the land, separating a full third of the continent's core from the rest, a deep watercourse miles wide, riddled with tunnels and flows shaped by earth and water magi warring through the river course, formed a near-impassable barrier known as The Cut.
Moving through The Cut was always risky, especially at the few 'safe' passages, because bandits knew just as well as any caravan leader where the least treacherous paths across were, and made human threats more imminent than those of stone and water. A caravan lead by a young man from the Earthsinger clan by the name of Ben, was unusually large and well protected, containing three hundred some people, more than five dozen of them dedicated warriors; most bandit leaders couldn't keep more than thirty men together without killing each other over something or another, so he'd thought his people to be safe by sheer weight of numbers.