Walking under the unforgiving sun, you'd never know that a city could ever survive in these wastelands. Noxious fumes escape from below the world's crust through natural vents, the toxicity seeping into the ground and air, clinging to every inch of clothing and skin. Even with a gasmask's filtration system, the air holds a bitter taste that would seem to remain weeks after you leave the wastes. The fumes are inescapable, unrelenting, and omnipresent throughout the wastes. Their scent is indescribable in any language, dead or alive. The best description is the mixture of sulfur and that of a fetid, rotting corpse set ablaze.
With every step, even careful, light steps, a cloud of fine dust rises, clinging with the fumes to your boots and pants. The dust itself is a myriad of colors: the dull greys of ash, the red-brown of iron, the black of volcanic rock and shale, and the occasional fleck of sun-bleached white bone or glassy crystal. The dust gives way to flaky rock that fades into hard, almost impenetrable stone after a few feet of drilling. Veins of valuable crystal are said to wind crisscross patterns in the hard stone, but there has proven to be no technology that can reach to them in their stone fortress.
Hardy trees cling to the flaky, rocky crust by their exposed roots, threatening to lose their grip and topple with the slightest breath of wind that never came. The trees' branches sparsely produce leaves that were a sickly, dusty greyish-green color, and closely resemble thin blades, like stilettos, in shape. The trees' bark is covered with thorns that are easily a finger's length, and sharp enough to pierce skin with the slightest of pressure. To ward off what, no one can be sure.
Even if the trees' foliage provided enough shade to be considerable or helpful, the stagnant air would remain stifling, suppressing, and scorching. You are assaulted by heat from above and below—the sun beating down on your back and the volcanic vents blasting you with hot gases from below. The ground itself is scorching, both from it being bathed in sunlight, and the hot air beneath it. The heat of the ground could soak through several layers of clothing and still be enough to burn what ever lay beneath the cloth. The shade does nothing against the underground assailant.
Not a thing stirs. No animal or plant, particle of dust or ash. There is no wind to upset the trees, and no animal to scuttle across the ground. Not even the hardiest of scavengers dare to venture far in the wastelands. Even vultures remain clear of the area. There have been accounts of migrating birds going around the entire wasteland, adding approximately two hundred plus miles to their trip.
The tall mountainous crags surrounding the area act like an immigration guard to the clouds. Occasionally, a wisp can be seen for a few seconds before it succumbs to the heat and disappears. Even if the clouds were to the cross and release their torrent, the rain would be as toxic as the ground it was pouring on to… that is if it actually manages to touch the ground. The few occasions it had rained, the destruction was almost unbelievable. Trees lost their grip in the mud and fell over; their decay sped up by the sheer acidic nature of the rain. The buildings of the one city had to be patched, in some cases reconstructed where they had sunk into the muck.
The climate is pressing-unbearably hot most of the year, only for a month during the dead of winter, when the sun would disappear behind the surrounding crags and refuse to resurface again for the month, would it become anything but blistering. Temperatures would drop drastically, to the point where people would stand near the vents just to warm their hands… not to mention the rest of them.
The wastelands hold their prisoners, and never set them free. Stories circulate of people resorting to cannibalism, not only eating the flesh of their comrades, but drinking their blood in a delusional attempt to quench their thirst and stop the effects of dehydration from making the rest of their mind disappear. Monsters of fiction and lore run rampant, tearing travelers to shreds and scattering their remains. The bones of many generations lay broken and powdered, sun-bleached and scattered amongst the dust, never to be recognized again beyond that of the stories, if they're lucky.
The only monsters are hardly monstrous at all, but frighteningly human. The only difference is that their tendons stretch almost three times their original length, and their spines have long-since evolved out of them, leaving in it's place a series of strong, but flexible muscles, allowing their head to turn around a hundred sixty degrees both ways. They are the only monsters. They are the predators and the scavengers, the guards, the medics, the mercenaries. Sandcrawlers—the only inhabitant of the wastes that actually seems to prefer the searing weather over anything else. Then again, they are specifically adapted to the environment.
During the one month that the climate changes, the Sandcrawlers disappear. No one knows where they go, whether they are just immaterial, like the rest of the monsters that run the wastes, or whether they hide out in the caverns dotting the crags. If the latter is the case, it can be assumed they are hibernating until the temperatures rise back up to blistering.
No one knows how the wastelands were created. Some speculate that they were a battleground from a war forgotten, but that wouldn't explain the climate patterns. If there is some deity, why would they create such a hellish, barren area? For what purpose does it serve? Maybe there is not purpose, or maybe the wanderers aren't so insane in their speculations of the wastes being a taste of what you can expect in hell or any variation of it. Then again, maybe the deity just has a cruel sense of humor.