The rude ramprts of Ysoait soon faded into the distance, and within a day, the supply train had reached the end of the road: a lumber camp. Lord Giarc and his men unloaded the supplies, creating a small cache of buried provisions the expedition could use to sustain itself in an emergency. In addition to Dr. Scimoc and Agneja, as well as their Ysoitan trapper guide Rewitt, they had a band of twenty porters and hunters.

“Small for this sort of work, but you’re not building a city, you’re locating one,” Lord Girac said. “Remember our agreement, Doctor. Anything you find is to be claimed for Ysoait first and the Empire second, and my man is to deliver the news to the Emperor personally.”

“Of course,” Scimoc said. “I am engaged in a quest for knowledge, not a hunt for glory.”

“Good. Keep to your end of the bargain, and I’ll keep to mine.” Giarc mounted his horse. “I’ll inform the Emperor you’ve departed. With any luck, you’ll arrive back safe sooner than news of your departure.”

His retinue followed him down the ruts toward civilization, while the porters busied themselves with the details of their departure.

“How rough will it be?” Scimoc said. “I feel like the hard part is nearly over with.”

“It will be rougher than you ever dared imagine,” Rewitt said, “and that’s if we survive to tell the tale. The hard part isn’t getting there; the hard part is coming back alive.”

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