Aailaine wondered at the size and layout of the city; dwarven cities were spread out, split among several large and small caverns. But Lanol was just spread out over a lot of ground with a tall wall surrounding it. There was a plethora of people entering and leaving the city and the buildings were tall rectangles with rounded corners. Their rounded roofs were covered with green tiles and seemed to sparkle like gems in the morning light. Strange boxes that carried people across the city hung from wires in the sky, swinging back and forth slightly as they moved toward their destinations. In the distance Aailaine could barely make out the shape of a tall, cylindrical building, with what had seemed like birds circling around it.

When she first tried to enter the city, she wondered if they would let her in, as the Teieimokos at the entrance stopped her and asked to examine her pack. The merchant who had given her a ride was allowed in without a hassle, as all she carried was food to be sold. Aailaine conceded, quickly thanking the merchant and jumping off the mechanical sled they rode. The Teieimoko’s akhby sat near them, curled up and watching all the travelers that waited to get inside the city. Their colorful yellow and purple scales shimmered in the light and their narrow eyes seemed to pierce through every person they watched. Despite meeting Sirix, their presence still unnerved Aailaine, and she couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as she waited to get clearance into the city. After examining her packs and accepting her explanation for the bow, they allowed her in, much to her relief. The air off the Swari Lanes made the morning cool and pleasant but promised a hot and humid afternoon.

After walking in the gate, Aailaine once again stopped and wondered at the city. Up close, the buildings were impossibly massive, filled with wonders she couldn’t even fathom. The streets were more crowded than any city in the Tolsan, people walking so close together that it seemed to be just an endless flow of movement. Merchants called from their stalls, endlessly trying to grab the attention of the moving throng. A shadow passed above Aailaine and she looked up to see a box pass above her, swaying in the wind as she watched it drift toward one of the large buildings.

            “Um,” she stopped in front one of the many shops, gaining the attention of an assistant who was showing off its wares. He smiled at her brightly as she got closer and put down the bandages he had been holding.

“How can I help you today, miss?” His voice was cheerful and helpful and Aailaine dared to meet his gaze as she spoke.

“Could you tell me where I could get a larger pack?”

            “You must be new to Lanol, but your accent is unfamiliar to me.” He gave her a confused smile as he waited to service her. “Where are you from, miss?”

            “Um, my name is Aailaine Danend, my family lived with a group of trolls near the mountains.” Aailaine smiled nervously. She had practiced introducing herself several times on her way to Lanol, making sure she could do so comfortably. The assistant nodded, waiting for her to continue. “I’m on my way to Hirie. I received a letter from an elf there who was a close friend to my parents. I’m hoping to buy a bigger pack to consolidate my luggage.”

            “Ah, it is a great honor to be called into Hirie. Your parents are lucky to have made a friend there.” The shopkeeper smiled and pulled out a map of the city. He placed it on the table nearby and waved Aailaine over, motioning for her to look. “Follow this road and turn left here. It’s a side street and there are several merchants that sell various pouches and backpacks. But if you want a chance for a good price, go to this guy. He doesn’t usually have much, but he usually carries big packs. Merchants often buy from him, so he tends to be a bit of a haggler. If you’re good, you can get one for a good price.”

            “Ah, thank you.” Aailaine bowed to the shopkeeper and began to leave when he called after her.

“Miss! Wait!” He had rolled up the map and handed it to her. He laughed as she slowly accepted it. “Lanol is a big city, so a lot of people stop here first to ask for directions or to buy the essentials. It’s our practice to give away maps to newcomers. Don’t forget to come back if you need anything else.”

“Th-Thank you.” Aailaine bowed and following the map, she soon reached the side street filled with merchants selling various packs, all with different sizes and colored leather. She stood, looking awe-struck at the various merchandise until several people bumped into her trying to get into the narrow street. She shook herself from her stupor and made her way to the merchant that had been suggested. He was busy with another customer when she arrived, so she amused herself by examining the various bags.

            As she had been told, he had various large bags, but many were bigger than she needed. He only had a few that were about the right size, and they were all brightly colored. She took this moment to glance at the other stalls, but their wares were all much bigger than what this merchant carried.

            “Excuse me miss, can I help you?” The merchant, done with his previous customer, called her over and she moved to him nervously. He was a short, thin man, and he held his hands in anticipation of making a sale. He didn’t seem like a swindler, so Aailaine ventured a bit closer to his stall.

            “Um, yes, I was looking for a slightly bigger pack than this, one that has pockets, so that I can consolidate all my bags.” She showed him the pack with food she had received from the trolls and the merchant seemed to think for a moment before looking through his wares.

            “Well, dressed as you are, I would assume a brightly colored pack is out of the question. I thought I had a few dark ones, where are they…” Aailaine waited patiently as the man looked through his wares. Her mind began to wander to Sirix’s instructions on trying to find someone to travel with her. Based on what she had learned, mostly merchants, werecats and Teieimokos travelled freely throughout A’sthy. Merchants were unlikely to help, due to the business nature of their travels, and she was unsure how safe she felt around an unknown Teieimoko and their Vuiej. That left werecats, who were shape-shifters, and rarely walked around in their original forms. Finding one in such a huge city would be a hard task, and she wasn’t sure how rude it would be to ask around.

            “Hmm, this isn’t good.” Aailaine jumped to attention as the merchant murmured, pulling out a bright blue pack of the right size. “It seems I’m sold out of all the dark ones in this size. However, I’m a local merchant who lives in the city, and my wife is the one who makes all these bags. If you like, I could have her make one for you tonight and give it to you tomorrow. It would be similar to this one, which has several pockets on the inside, so you can store money or other small valuables. All the pockets close, so you don’t have to worry about the contents spilling out if the bag is jostled.”

            Aailaine inspected the pack as the merchant held it open for her and nodded as she stood back up. “How much would it be?”

            “Well, I usually sell packs this size for eighty gold pieces, but I’ll give it to you for sixty. Thirty now, and thirty in the morning.” He smiled as Aailaine considered the price. It was more than she wanted to spend, considering what she had, and she was about to walk away when she remembered the jewels. She quickly reached into her leather pouch and pulled out some of them, showing them to the merchant.

            “Will any of these cover the full price?” The merchant’s face lit up as he examined the glittering gems. He gave Aailaine a confused look and returned his gaze to the gems when Aailaine didn’t withdraw her hand. Carefully, he reached to take three of the larger ones from her hand when a voice from behind her spoke.

            “C’mon now, don’t you think that’s a bit much?” A tanned hand reached around Aailaine’s shoulder, picking up the large sapphire and dropping it in the merchant’s hand. She turned to see a handsome young man with tanned skin and raven hair standing behind her, his cat-like tail and ears twitching. “There, that should cover the original price and little extra. Fair enough if you ask me, especially since she’s not getting the bag right now.”

            The merchant seemed ready to argue, but the werecat leaned closer to him. He spoke softly enough that Aailaine could not hear, but the merchant sighed with defeat and pocketed the gem. He turned and wrote down the order on a slip of paper before signing it and motioning for Aailaine to sign as well and giving her a copy of the slip. Her business concluded, she turned back to the stranger and bowed.

            “Thank you very much.” He laughed as he stood her up and placed one hand on his hips.

            “It’s no problem, miss. It seemed like you could use some help. He’s not a bad guy but putting that many gems in front of anyone would be tempting.” He smiled, his blue eyes flashing, as he extended his other hand. “I’m Iasi Tonath. And you are?”

            “Aailaine, Aailaine Danend.” She took it and he gave it a hardy shake before releasing her and she took this as a chance to look him over. He was wearing a tight blue top that barely served to cover his well-defined chest and midsection. Across his shoulders was a low-sitting shrug decorated with various gold symbols and around his waist was a gold chain with many golden charms dangling from it. He wore black shorts with a small pouch hanging off them and from there knee length boots served to cover the rest of his legs.

            “Well, be careful doing that. You shouldn’t show all your cards at once.” With that, he started to walk away. Quick to stop him, she grabbed his shrug and he stopped mid-step. He carefully turned to face her, lifting up an eyebrow in surprise. “Was there something else you wanted?”

            “Um,” she looked away, unsure of what to say. She started to feel childish, so she released his shrug and he faced her properly. She started rubbing her forefinger with her thumb as she spoke. “I’ve never really been in this city before, so I don’t really know my way around well. You seem well versed in the city, so would…you mind helping me?”

            Iasi smiled and folded his arms around his chest, looking her up and down. For a moment, she thought he might refuse, but then he locked her arm with his and started walking, almost dragging her along.

            “I would love to, Aia.” As he led her back out onto the main streets of Lanol, she started to wonder whether or not she had made a wise choice. However, as he led her around and helped her buy various things and haggle with the merchants, she decided he wasn’t a bad person, even if he was a bit strange.