Ariel awoke that morning in a bed for the first time in weeks. It was a welcome, warm feeling that had almost caused her to forget the knock on the door that had awoken her in the first place. She blinked as the knock came again. In a brief moment of panic, she realized that no one should know that she was here. She knew no one in this city. Drawing her dagger, she moved silently over to the door.
She was about to open the door when she heard the innkeeper outside it, saying “Ma’am, ’tis mornin’. Breakfast is ready fer ya down in the common room if yer up.”
Relaxing a bit, she listened as the footsteps went on down the hall and began the same strange procedure again. It occurred to her that this was not something that had ever been done in her father’s inn, but she was quickly distracted from the thought as she looked around the room for the first time. Her quick flight there late last night and almost immediate collapse from exhaustion had given her no time to examine her rather rich and elegant surroundings. The carved wood furniture, beautiful wall hangings, painted ceramic wash bowl and pitcher, and the call to breakfast by the innkeep all led her quickly to the conclusion that she would have to find a job soon to pay for the place.
She poured some water into the bowl, rinsed off her face to hide the tell-tale signs of her long, hard journey, and dressed quickly. Looking up at the polished mirror on the wall, the surest sign of how expensive the place was that she had seen so far, she realized just how much her defense these last few weeks had taken out of her. Her skin looked well tanned, but pale below the tan, a sure sign of the exhaustion she still was recovering from. The area underneath her eyes had some uncharacteristic lines caused by the stretching of her powers beyond her own limits of endurance in an effort to save her own life. Worse yet were her eyes. They still held the look of one hunted, betrayed, and forsaken in her direst time of need. The change was depressingly obvious, and had the effect of making her look much older then her mere 18 years. She quickly turned away from that other face in the mirror, but the thoughts of all she had been through still followed her. With her eyes not quite focused out the window into the early morning light, she began to think of all the things that had happened to her in the short 6 months that had passed since her 18th birthday.
She had been working at the time for her father. He owned an inn in a small village and had eked out a meager living this way for many years. She did his books, waited upon the customers, and generally did whatever was needed. She provided ‘services’ for the more wealthy customers, as well as amusing herself by opening the locks on things without the keys. A very simple life, but not satisfying. At 18, she wanted to see more of the world. When a rich, handsome young man came into town, she was immediately very attentive. This one’s name was Stefan. The rumor about town was that he was a mage of some sort and her father, hearing this, advised her to stay away from him. This just whetted her curiosity more. They spent much time together and soon, as he was leaving, he invited her to join him, saying that a young lady of her particular ‘talents’ could be very successful in a big city such as Dargon. Charmed by the young man so thoroughly, she left without a word to her father or a thought to the consequences.
She quickly found the rumors of his magic to be true and convinced him to teach her. He agreed, thinking it a good chance to practice for him and an amusement for her. As they traveled he began to teach her the powers of the air. He soon realized that she had a strong streak of talent for this running through her, and sped up the training. As they traveled, practiced, and slept together, their relationship grew. Soon Ariel began to think she was in love with Stefan and he seemed to reciprocate this feeling. She began to hold great hopes for her life in a new city, a big city full of opportunities, and her life with Stefan.
All too soon, however, the training was halted and her dreams were smashed. The cult of the earth god, Haargon, found out about the existence of the two mages and made their plans to attack. The rivalry between Haargon and Iliara, the goddess of the air, had long been fierce, but only recently had it escalated to such huge proportions. The cults had escalated it to blood-shed. Haargon’s followers had acted first, killing one of the air goddesses high priests, saying naught but that he had blasphemed their god beyond permissible levels. The cult of the air goddess was quick to take its revenge. Of the existing earth mages, over half were murdered one night in their sleep. Since that night, the cult of Haargon had been killing any air mages found in an attempt to “even the score”. Stefan had told Ariel about this cult before, so when they attacked in the middle of the night, she recognized them. Before she even awoke, Stefan was dead by the hand of their leader and they were coming for her. Calling all her fury and grief to play, she used everything she had learned so far to call up a wind strong enough to blow about the pine needles on the ground and pull the ones from the trees, giving her the cover to escape. She ran, but only far enough to find a place to hide before she collapsed in utter exhaustion. She had slept after that for almost 18 hours. When she awoke, still exhausted and emotionally drained by the death of her lover, but she found a bit of food and then began to travel toward Dargon.
The face in the mirror told her that she had still not recovered. Since that night, almost 2 months ago, she had rarely been able to call anything more then a light breeze. Slowly, though, her power had been improving. For the first month after the fight, she had not even been able to stir the breeze. “Soon,” she thought, “soon, I will be my old self”. But this thought had been losing its power to console her. She was beginning to think that she might never regain what she had lost. Still, the cult continued to follow her. Not as viciously, but they were watching, and she had to keep her eyes open.
“But first I must eat.” she said to herself out loud. Splashing her face with water once more, quickly, to get the dreamy look out of her eyes, she headed down to breakfast.
As she came down the stairs, she was all but overwhelmed by the smell of the fresh cooked bread. She hadn’t smelled anything that good since she had left her father’s inn. It seemed like ages ago. “It was.” she told herself. But the scent was strong enough that she hurried the rest of the way to the common room, her mouth watering.
The meal was plain, but wholesome. Ariel hadn’t realized how hungry she’d been until the innkeep put the fresh, warm bread, ripe apples, and sharp cheese before her. The food tasted fantastic. After so long on the road, any fresh, warm meal was welcome.
She was just finishing up when a small child, approximately 6 years old, wearing dirty, torn clothing and no shoes, came running in from the street. He scanned the room and, spotting Ariel, came running over. He looked her over carefully for a moment, then, without a word, dropped a note and a leather pouch before her and ran out of the inn.
Startled, Ariel reached for the note and the pouch. As she opened the pouch and emptied it’s contents, her face went white. Stefan’s ring, the one that he said helped him to concentrate, lay there on the table before her. Dragging her eyes away from the ring, she opened the note.
“Ariel; Air Mage…….
This ring belonging to your friend will help you
to overcome those who still watch and follow you…Be
wary, for they will not give up easily. I cannot
interfere directly, so you must have faith in your
own abilities. Stefan has taught you well. Overcome
this obstacle and you will be brought into our
fellowship. Until then, take care, and trust in your
Cyrrwiddyn; Priest of Iliara…….”
As she read the last words in amazement, the writing on the parchment disappeared. Startled, she sat with the now blank parchment in her hands, wondering how these people had found her and where she could find them. She had so many questions. But the letter had given no clue. She had no ideas on how to find the Priest.
Soon her attention turned back to the ring. Placing it upon her finger, as one would a wedding ring, she was surprised to see it fit perfectly. Stefan’s fingers were nowhere near her size. Quickly however, she realized that there was magic involved here and that she should not question the ways of the Gods.
“Stefan,” she whispered, “They took you away from me too soon. I will extract a price on them for this. But please, give me the strength to live long enough to do it.”
Finishing the last of breakfast, she got up and left the inn, heading out in search of a job, but with the words of the letter still buzzing around in her mind. So occupied was she that she failed to notice the shadowy figure that moved away from the wall as she went by and began to follow her.