Summary – Since it has been so long since ‘Winds of Change’ was put out, I am going to summarize what happened.
When we left Ariel, she had just left the tavern in search of a job. She had arrived in Dargon the night before, exhausted from a long journey, during which her lover, Stefan, had been killed. Stefan had been an Air Mage, under the goddess Iliara. He had been killed because of a blood feud between the worshipers of Iliara and the worshipers of the earth god, Haargon. They have been following Ariel ever since, because Stefan had been teaching her prior to his death. They do not know how far her powers have gone yet, so they have yet to take action against her. Just prior to leaving the Inn in search of a job, Ariel received a note from a priest of Iliara along with a ring that had belonged to Stefan. The note merely told her that she was on her own for now.
“Following this little wench is getting to be a pain!”, Alec said as he walked into the back room of the chapel. “She has shown no sign of regaining her powers enough to fight us off, or even be considered an Air mage anymore. Why do we continue to bother?”
“Patience, Alec. Haargon has shown me signs that this one is dangerous, but I don’t want to kill her until I find out in what way. I don’t want this danger to present itself again. What have you learned?”
Alec looked at the old priest. He was dressed in the simple robes that any of the priests in this city might wear, identified as one of Haargon’s followers only by the holy symbol hanging around his neck. It was the only symbol of any of the Gods that had any value in and of itself. The piece of crystal clear quartz, encircled by silver in such a way as to allow a chain of silver to be hooked through, was worth quite a bit of money to a jeweler or noble, and this specimen was extraordinarily beautiful. The priest had had all sort of intricate carving done on the medallion and had gone out of his way to find the most beautiful, double terminated piece of quartz seen in Dargon in years. Alec didn’t know if the medallion was magical (although he assumed it was), but he did know that the priest would protect it to the death.
“She is staying at the Inn of the Golden Lion, up in the rich section of town. She went out this morning, wandered around for some time going from shop to shop in the market area, as well as the business district and never came out of Camron’s Shipping. When she had been in there for about 3 hours I decided it was a good time to come report to you.” Alec said.
“Reasonable. Camron has been looking for a good bookkeeper and from what I’m told of her history, she would fit that description. She needs a job to pay rent here. That will work out nicely…….”
“Sir, then would it be possible for me to get paid?” Alec asked, a bit afraid of the answer. This particular sect had a reputation for trying to get you to convert and donate your earnings as opposed to paying for services. They were rumored to be VERY effective.
“Hmm, uh, What? Oh yes, your pay. Certainly.” Reaching under the desk, he pulled out a couple of large denomination coins and tossed them to Alec. “If you are interested in more of that, I would like you to follow her for the next couple of weeks. Just keep an eye on what she does, who she sees, and if she goes anywhere out of the ordinary. Also if she moves out of that expensive Inn. Report in once a week, or whenever there is something I should know about immediately. Interested?”
Thinking how easy the payment had been to get, and assuming that the rumors were wrong, Alec said “Certainly, sir. I will report back to you in one week.”
“Wonderful” the old priest said. As Alec was walking out the door, almost as an afterthought, the priest added “Oh, by the way, are you interested in converting?”
Getting a job in Dargon turned out to be easier than Ariel had thought it would be. She stopped at several places, and had a job as a bookkeeper for a nice, older man by noon. She worked until late that night getting herself familiarized with his system, then had a quick dinner at the inn before turning in.
The next morning, she moved to a cheaper place. Her new boss, Camron had a cousin who wanted to rent a room in his house to someone, and the arrangements for Ariel to move in had been completed the day before. She was shown to a nice room, relatively large, with a bed and a dresser in it and told that she was welcome to eat with the family. The rent was 1/5 that of the inn she’d been staying at and the atmosphere much nicer. Camron’s cousin Karina and her husband Marcus were immediately friendly towards her. As they were eating dinner that night, they got to know each other and by the time they were done, she had both their friendship and their sympathy. Ariel did, however, leave out the details of the magic. Karina and Marcus struck her as very down-to-earth people who felt that magic was a bunch of rubbish, so when Stefan’s death came up, she told them that it had been merely bandits in the forest and that they had not noticed her sleeping nearby because she was so rolled up in her blankets.
“You were very lucky, you realize. Surviving that little episode as well as getting through all the intervening distance alone, through some rough territory, is quite a feat for one as yourself. You should thank the gods for your life. Perhaps they have something in mind for you.” Marcus said, as they were all clearing the table.
“I have thanked them over and over, but if they have something in mind for me, they have not yet deigned to tell me of it.” Ariel replied. She liked Marcus. He was a very caring person who had done all but adopt her in the short time they had known each other.
“Well, that little adventure over, you should find yourself a good husband, settle down, and marry. My cousin Camron hired you because he has a soft spot for ladies in distress, but a young woman such as yourself should not be working, but be married and with a home and family of her own.” Karina said. She was definitely the practical one in the family. Loving, good, and practical. Her house reflected this. Everything was spotless, the food was fresh, good, and prepared with all the love she could come up with.
“Perhaps someday, but right now my loss of Stefan is too new. I doubt I could love anyone the way I loved Stefan right now. Maybe someday…. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should get to bed. Today was a long day and tomorrow will be no shorter.” Ariel said, heading for the stairs.
“Certainly, dear. Sleep well.” Karina said as Ariel walked up the stairs.
Up in her room, Ariel pondered her new-found friends. Marcus and Karina were both young, hardly more than a couple of years older then herself, yet they had been married for almost four years and there were no children yet. “That’s why they are renting this room” she thought. No children to put in it. Unfortunate. Karina would make a good mother.
With thoughts of Stefan, children, and homes running through her mind, Ariel drifted off to sleep.
The next day was indeed a long one and Ariel worked until well after dark trying to balance The Dolphin Queen’s cargo sheets. Finally finished, and highly pleased with the work she had done that day, Ariel headed out, not really even considering the danger of a female walking alone at night. As she came around the corner onto a side street a few blocks from home, she began to get an odd feeling that she was being watched. Glancing behind her and seeing no one, she dismissed it as merely paranoia, but began to walk a bit faster.
The street was deserted, and not very well lit, so when the bright light hit her in the face, she was momentarily blinded. When her vision came back, there were three robbers with torches surrounding her, looking at her with a terribly malicious look in their eyes. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a small man in priestly robes and Haargon’s holy symbol watching with an even more murderous look in his.
As they approached her, she realized the danger she would be in if she even tried to call upon her powers, and did the only sensible thing; She charged at the ones in front of her, at the last minute ducking left and around them both. Free, she began to run as fast as she could. The ruffians were not far behind her as she ran, but as she passed the priest, he merely smiled and began walking in the other direction.
They were catching up on her. She was very slowly running out of breath to run any further, and losing this race anyway. Without even thinking, she began to draw the wind to her, to move her along faster and to strengthen her. Feeling little response, she attempted to concentrate on Stefan’s ring and do the same thing. This time, there was some help. With the wind at her back and in her lungs, strengthening her and speeding her along, she gradually outdistanced the ruffians and eventually they stopped chasing her. She didn’t stop running though. The earth mage knew that she had called upon power…he had to have known…. She was once again in danger from the cult. This thought alone sped her along the rest of the way home.
“At least they don’t know where I live,” she thought as she came through the door, huffing and puffing, and almost completely exhausted. Marcus and Karina were waiting for her, looking worried. Karina’s face became even more concerned when she saw how heavily Ariel was breathing.
“Good Gods, what happened? Where have you been? We’ve been so worried! Are you all right??? ” Karina said. Marcus’s face echoed the questions, although all he did was lead her over to a chair and get her a glass of water.
When she finally regained her breath, Ariel said “I was working late on a problem I had all but solved. As I was walking home, I was attacked by three muggers about five blocks from here. I ran. They followed for a while, but I outran them and they gave up soon after they realized that. I’m OK. Really. Just a bit out of breath. I’ll be fine.”
“Let me get you a some dinner and then you should go right to bed. You know, this area isn’t highly prone to muggers, but I guess a single female walking anywhere alone at night is in danger. Please be careful. Perhaps you can get someone from work to walk you home?” Karina said as she brought a plate of bread and cheese and a bowl of soup out.
“From now on I will. Either that or not stay as late. I’m so exhausted.” Ariel said, immediately diving into the stew.
They sat in silence while she ate, until Marcus finally spoke up. “Ariel, is there someone after you? This is the second time you’ve been attacked recently, and I’ve seen this man hanging around outside quite a bit lately. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“No,” Ariel said hurriedly, “but thank you for caring. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get to sleep. G’night.”
As she walked up the stairs, Karina and Marcus exchanged glances. Neither believed her.
“So she does have some of her power back. Interesting. Keep an eye on her and report back if she does anything further.” the old priest said. “We may have to take care of her soon. Permanently.”
Alec shivered at that last word and walked out of the room.