Tyner Roycroft

Ali's Bazaar.

Bristled brooms brush proudly against the path's roughly hewn cobblestones. The stones come together to form the floor of the bazaar, and long ago they were as jagged on their top face as they are now in the spaces between -- where the stones meet each of their neighbors. This path winds through an area of woodland to the west of the village, but the trail favored by most travelers -- the one that crosses the rocky hillside to the west -- has been in disrepair for quite some time. Travelers are rarely made aware of this fact before they arrive in the area, as word travels slowly when sent beyond the high surrounding walls.

Along his way, he passes many new faces. Many people enter through this gate, and this is the only path that comes through the proper heart of the city.

"Hello!" Says a man with a wife and child.

"Welcome!" Ali shouts back, proud of how far he has come in this place.

Traveling further down the path, he approaches the city center, or just south of it, where most citizens go about their day. A small band of people from the temple gathers on one side, and on the other are merchants and merchants' families. Those who attend temples in the city's center are known for their good health, and most citizens attribute their high quality of life to their commitment to nutritious food and clean living conditions. However, a smaller minority of citizens take the religious to be fanatics and are wary of their tendency to avoid prolonged contact with others outside of the temples themselves. Ali's own parents were members of this second group, but he eventually came to appreciate the benefits of following a religion. It is this latter group, he realizes with a start, that he has been meeting with on the edge of the city's walls.

This area hums and buzzes from the people's constant motion and commotion. There are a handful of food sellers, but most people come to shop from the stalls. Each merchant has a small, cramped space, smaller than one would think necessary for even a single seller. It is here that they pedal their wares, often handmade by their own wives and children. Many are families from other cities, who travel outside the walls to practice foreign faiths, and whose children rarely attended school in the city, if at all.

Along the path, the way he had come into the city, something makes Ali's ears prick up. Several old men, women, children, horses, and a pack of unkempt dogs wander the streets, one of which is a magnificent beast of a canine. A younger man from the group shackles the horse to a cart. Its clasp clicks shut loudly and the sound runs the length of the alley. Ali glances over his shoulder and sees the odd group, but thinks nothing of it. A moment later, the horse draws the cart close, and the many women and children trail cautiously behind. As they pass, Ali begins to hear the voices of the men, speaking in the local language, and the women, in what appears to be dialectically similar, but not identical to the speech of the men. None of Ali's companions are able to quite make out the origin of the women's speech.

The youngest of the group shouts something, and all heads turn in their direction. One of the women among them takes advantage of the opportunity, and steps forward, a kindly smile on her face. She reaches out to Ali and takes his hand, speaking to him quickly in his own language. Ali is taken aback by how familiar she sounds.

"This land is not mine." She says to him.

As she is pulled away by one of the older among the group, Ali is left completely shaken, and with a locket in his palm. He begins to walk once more, following the path past the temple and down into an alleyway leading toward a larger crowd. A gathering is taking place along one side of an open square situated in front of what used to be a smaller marketplace. His plan is to cut ties with the faction that he suspects is responsible for what he has just witnessed in the bazaar.

"Oi!" Ali shouts at the crowd of would-be gangsters. They scramble, splitting up in all directions.

"Shit." Ali curses under his breath and takes off after them on foot.