* The Waiting Room *
Ashley yawned and stretched as she sat up in the large four poster bed. She felt well rested after the excitement and turbulence of the previous day. She looked to her right, expecting to see the sun flowing in through the large bedroom window but instead only saw a blank white wall.
“What…?” She looked around franticly. This was not the room in Salov’s manor. The walls were all stark white, almost glowing, and there were no doors or windows. The only furniture present, besides the bed she was lying in, was a small round table with two seats, and one of them was occupied.
“Ah, you’re up,” came the soft female voice of the room’s other inhabitant.
The woman looked to be in her thirties by Earth standards. She was slim with smooth ivory skin and long flowing blonde hair that went halfway down her back. Her clothing consisted of a yellow sundress and thin tan sandals. She looked strikingly familiar, though Ashley couldn’t place how she knew her.
“Uh, where am I?” Ashley asked hesitantly. For some reason, she didn’t feel scared. Something about this place felt peaceful. Was she dreaming?
“This is the Waiting Room.” The woman gestured to the empty chair. “Come, have a seat; we have much to discuss.”
Ashley hesitated for a moment before climbing out of the bed. She was wearing Wayne’s black t-shirt as a makeshift night gown. It was the one he’d worn when they first arrived on Mendala, and it was long and baggy on her. Though her feet were bare, the white floors were surprisingly warm. She stared at the blonde woman curiously as she took the seat that was offered.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
The woman smiled brightly. “Yes and no. I believe if you think hard enough, you’ll know who I am.”
Ashley furrowed her brow in contemplation. Then it came to her. “Grandma?” she asked tentatively. The woman in front of her looked just like pictures she’d seen of her grandmother at a younger age.
“Not quite,” the woman laughed, “though I don’t fault you for thinking that. I’m sure I look very similar to her. In reality, I’m much older, and much further back in your ancestry. My name is Ester, and I’m the first Daughter of the Sun.”
“What?” Ashley shot out of her seat. “How?”
“Calm down,” Ester said in her same soft soothing voice. “I know this must be a lot to take in, but I can explain. Why don’t you have some tea.”
Ashley looked down at the previously empty table only to find it now laden with an ornate looking tea set. A small white cup filled with amber liquid sat on a saucer in front of her.
She sank back down in her chair. “I must be dreaming,” she decided as she picked up the cup. The tea tasted sweet, like honey, and made her feel more relaxed.
“I’m sure it seems that way, but I assure you, you’re not dreaming,” Ester said after taking a sip of her own tea. “The Waiting Room is a very real place, though outside the mortal realm.”
“So, is this like where you live, or is it where you go after you’re dead? Are all my dead relatives here?” Ashley looked around as if expecting to see more people, but all she saw was the bed she’d woken up in.
“No, not at all,” Ester said. “The Waiting Room is actually between the heavens and the mortal realms. Think of it as a connection point of sorts. It was designed to allow mortals to interact with the supernal. However only certain people can transverse the barrier: specifically caretakers, like yourself.”
“I don’t know what any of that means,” Ashley admitted with a shrug.
“Well allow me to explain further. When I took on the mantle of Daughter of the Sun, I was given certain powers when I bonded with the Caretaker Stone, or rather, what is now known as the Sun Stone. One of those gifts was the ability to reach across time to help any of my descendants when they are in need. I’m here now because I sensed your great sorrow and despair yesterday. I’ve been watching you since, waiting for an appropriate time to summon you here so that we could talk.”
“Great sorrow? Yesterday?” Ashley thought hard. When had she felt despair? Then it hit her. She clutched at the hem of the t-shirt she was wearing as the feelings came flooding back from the moment when Wayne left her side. She grimaced, remembering how weak and lost she felt without him.
“It seems like you’ve had a rough time since arriving on Mendala,” Ester said sympathetically.
Ashley shrugged. “Yeah, well it’s not like I had a choice. I just got taken from my home, my friends are all lost, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t even know what a Daughter of the Sun is, and I don’t want to be one; I just want to go home.”
Ester nodded. “I understand. Many of my descendants have felt overburdened when they were called, but this role is very important. The balance of the world falls on your shoulders, and unfortunately, it’s not a duty you can simply shirk.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel better, then you suck at this,” Ashley said tersely.
Ester gave a tinkling laugh. “I’m just trying to be honest. I don’t want to scare you, but I also don’t want to lie to you and tell you this will all be easy. However, I’m here to help.”
“Help how?” Ashley asked.
“I’m sure you must have a lot of questions. I’ll answer as many as I can,” Ester offered.
Ashley picked up the tea and sipped again. “Okay, first off, where are my friends?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know. I can only see you and those around you right now. The furthest back I can go in your timeline is the moment you arrived on Mendala. I have no access to the Waiting Room of your home world, so I don’t know what your other friends look like. It’s one of the reasons why I was never able to appear to your ancestors while they were there.”
As she said this, different images appeared on each of the four Waiting Room walls showing scenes from the past two days featuring her and Wayne. They were like giant televisions depicting her recent life.
Ashley thought about this. “Okay, well then, can you at least tell me what a Daughter of the Sun is?”
Ester put her teacup down. “Certainly: the Daughter of the Sun is the chief caretaker of this world. Her role is to help maintain balance as much as possible.”
“Okay, you say that, but what does it mean? What kind of balance?”
“Balance between the world and its peoples; balance between the different races and nations; that careful balance that allows everyone to live a fulfilled life instead of just surviving. In the past, your ancestors did things like build schools, house and raise orphans, negotiate peace between various countries and domains, and combat slavery.”
“That sounds like a lot,” Ashley said, feeling overwhelmed.
“It is a lot,” Ester agreed. “Which is why you can’t do it alone. You need people to help you, and you’ll have plenty, don’t worry.”
“Okay,” Ashley said hesitantly, “but do I have any powers or anything?”
“Your connection to the Sun Stone does give you several abilities. You can understand all languages past and present; you can heal quickly and also heal others without the need for mandamus; you can see into the history of any situation, for example you can glimpse into the past to see the source of conflict for why two cities are fighting; you can travel instantly from one place to another without need of a quickener and even move others with you; you can find the location of almost anything and pull any non-supernal object from almost anywhere; and you have the power of restoration, the ability to return anything to its proper and complete state.”
“Restoration?” Ashley repeated.
“Imagine a city ravaged by war. You have the power to return that city back to how it was before it was destroyed.”
“Whoa, really?” Ashley looked excited.
“Yes; but you can only do that when using the Sun Stone’s power. Your own abilities are limited when you are not using the stone. Your language comprehension and automatic healing will always work for the most part, and you’ll be able to heal others to a certain extent as well. You might even be able to pull off a teleport to or from somewhere within eyeshot, but anything more requires you to use the stone directly, unless you embed its energy into something else.”
“You keep talking about the Sun Stone. What is that?” Ashley asked.
“It’s an extremely powerful supernal object that was entrusted to me—to us.” Ester sighed. There was a complicated expression on her face, and it was clear she was choosing her words carefully. “It’s very hard to explain, but the Sun Stone is the reason we exist and why we’re able to influence the world in a positive way. Our bond with it is the proof of our covenant with the Almighty.”
“That sounds important, but I still don’t understand,” Ashley admitted, sipping her tea.
Ester smiled. “I’m not sure I have the time to explain it all. For now, just know that it’s very powerful. I doubt even I know everything its capable of, so just be careful how and when you use it. Also, I should warn you that because it’s a supernal object, it’s very taxing to use as a mortal, and you’re the only one who can use it. Even if you embed its energy into something like quartz, you would be the only one who could activate it.”
Ashley nodded. “Well, none of that matters I guess, since I don’t have the Sun Stone. I’ve never even seen it.”
“The Sun Stone should be in Sunnin Mountain, that’s the headquarters of the Sunnin Social System, which you control.”
“I do?” Ashley said hesitantly.
“Yes, it was founded by one of the first Daughters of the Sun, Angela Terrain, and it has all of the resources that you’ll need to help the peoples of this world. I’m certain that it has continued even in the absence of the Daughter of the Sun. The sisterhood should still be running it.”
“I think I remember Fantasma saying something about them,” Ashley said pensively.
“Oh, you’ve already spoken with the Fantasma,” Ester said brightly. “You must be further along than I thought.”
Ashley shook her head. “I only met him briefly before all this craziness started with that Davron guy and those monsters, and then I ended up here.”
“My, my, it does sound like you’ve been through quite a bit,” Ester said with her same tinkling laugh. “Why don’t you tell me the whole story. I’ve only seen bits and pieces from here and I have no idea what happened before you arrived on Mendala. Perhaps I can help you determine what to do next.”
“All right,” Ashley nodded. She then spent the next twenty minutes explaining the full situation to her ancestor. Ester, for her part, sat quietly and listened until Ashley was done.
“I see, that is quite the tale. It would appear that in the millennium you’ve been gone, a lot has changed on Mendala and not for the better. If the Book of War is once again in use, it means a battle is looming that will surely decide the fate of this world for centuries to come. I can only imagine that your role in this will be pivotal.”
“Why? What does any of this even have to do with me?” Ashley whined.
Ester gave a heavy sigh. “Unfortunately, it has everything to do with you. Your ancestor was there at the start of this catastrophe, and I;m certain that means you will have to see things through to the end. As I said, your role is to help maintain balance, and right now, the world is far from that.”
“So, what am I supposed to do? I don’t know anything about this world.”
“That’s true, and I can understand that you want to find your friends first. Not only are they important to you, but they’re also seal bearers it would seem. Your fates are all tied together in this quest.”
Ester stood and walked to one of the walls that was still showing a scene from the previous day. She put her hand on the wall, and it briefly flashed white. Then all the walls started to show several images in quick succession. Ashley couldn’t tell what was being shown, but soon there was another flash, and the walls went white again.
“Well, I think you’ll be fine as far as your friends are concerned, there is nothing you need to do. Just be patient and you will find them,” Ester said as she sat down.
“Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?” Ashley asked. “What did you do? What did you see?”
“The Waiting Room can give me brief glimpses into the near future, only things that are already destined to happen. It’s hard to explain, but please trust me, you’re already on the correct path to reach your friends.”
“Okay, well then, now what do I do?” Ashley asked. She felt a mix of relief that things were going to work out and uselessness at having done nothing to make it happen.
Ester seemed to realize this. “I think the best thing you can do is start stepping into your role as the Daughter of the Sun. You already have an opportunity with the slaves you helped free yesterday.”
“But I didn’t have anything to do with that. It was all Wayne and Salov,” Ashley said dejectedly.
“True, but that is not the end, those former slaves will need to find a new place in this world. They’ll need homes and assistance. Their stories are not yet over, and you have the power to help them.”
“But how?” Ashley asked.
“I’m not quite sure, but you’ll find a way,” Ester said.
“I thought you were supposed to have answers for me,” Ashley quipped.
“I am not omniscient, Ashley,” Ester chided, “and the Waiting Room walls can only show little slices of the future, but I can tell you this: visit the Warrior Guild where the former slaves are staying. From there, you’ll understand what needs to be done, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to accomplish it.”
“Okay…” Ashley said hesitantly. She felt very uncertain, but a small part of her wanted to believe she could make a difference, even if it was just a small one.
“I have one more piece of advice for you,” Ester said. “You’re currently in a town called Weaver’s Road. It’s a very old town; it’s been around for thousands of years, so I’m familiar with it. You should try to find a family there with the name of Stokenshire.”
“Stokenshire?” Ashley repeated. “Why?”
“Because the people of that family can help you. They are the most trustworthy allies you can find. Anyone with the last name Stokenshire is someone you can trust implicitly. I suggest you make contact with them even before the sisterhood, especially since you’re in Weaver’s Road. They typically have a family member or two living in that city, at least they have in the past.”
“Are you sure?” Ashley asked skeptically. “Hasn’t it been over a thousand years since the Daughter of the Sun was here? Anything could have changed, right? If I tell people I’m the Daughter of the Sun, it might get back to that Davron guy.”
Ester gave a soft smile. “I’m certain that many things have changed in the thirteen hundred years since the Daughter of the Sun was last on Mendala, but if I can trust in one thing, it’s the name Stokenshire. I would trust them before anyone, before the sisterhood, even before the Fantasma. I guarantee that if you find a Stokenshire, you’ll have found an ally.”
Ashley could hear the hard determination in her voice. “Okay, I’ll try.”
Ester took another sip of her tea. “Now, I think we only have a few minutes left. Your guardian will be at your room soon to get you.”
Ashley gave her a confused look. “My guardian?”
“The young man with you, I believe you said his name was Wayne?” Ester clarified.
“Wayne’s my friend, not my guardian,” Ashley said defensively.
“My apologies, I just assumed he was assigned to you,” Ester shrugged. “Anyway, is there anything else you’d like to know before we part?”
Ashley pondered this. The mention of Wayne stirred a memory. “Oh, something happened when I was sent to Mendala that I forgot to tell you. Right before I woke up in the woods with Wayne, I had a dream. I was in a cave, and this girl was talking to me, and there was a yellow stone thing in the center of the room. Do you know what it meant?”
Ester brightened. “That was no more a dream than this is. You were apparently sent directly to the Sun Stone first.”
“That was the Sun Stone?” Ashley mused. “I remember touching it. Then it said something to me about not being the right time, and then suddenly I was passed out in the woods. If I’m supposed to control the Sun Stone, then why did it send me away?”
“If I were to guess, based on the story you told me, your friends landed in different times as they traveled to Mendala. Perhaps the Sun Stone knew you had landed in the wrong place and time and sent you to where you belong. It’s a supernal object after all, and as I told you, it’s quite taxing to use; that’s why you passed out. You said you ended up in the woods where Wayne was. It most likely knew that’s where you wanted to be.”
Ashley nodded slowly at this. If she was being honest with herself, the one person she desperately wanted to see at the time was Wayne. This reminded her of something else. “Wayne said that a white dove is what led him to where I showed up.”
“Really now,” Ester’s expression turned reminiscent, “so Dagian showed up.”
“Yes, he was once my daughter’s pet, and he was imbued with energy from the Sun Stone. My descendants have often told me that he still appears from time to time to help them. I actually don’t know what compels him to show up, but he has a strong bond with the Sun Stone. It would appear that this time he wanted to make sure your guardian—uh, friend—found you.”
“Oh,” was all Ashley could say to this. It seemed like she had a lot of help that she didn’t even know about.
“Well then, I think I should send you back now.” Ester stood. “To make the transition less jarring, I would suggest returning to the bed.”
Ashley stood as well and walked to the large four poster bed in the corner of the room. “Will I ever see you again?”
“Certainly,” Ester said. “I plan to stay for a while. If you really need me, just close your eyes and focus on me. If you do that, I should be able to hear you and bring you here.” She watched as Ashley climbed into the bed and pulled the sheets up. “Just keep in mind, you should only come here occasionally and for brief periods of time. The transition can harm mortals if done too often or for too long, so only call out to me if you really need me.”
Ashley nodded. “Okay, I don’t want my brain to explode or whatever.”
Ester chuckled. “Remember all that I told you, Ashley. I know it’s rough, but you are the Daughter of the Sun and I know that with time, you will fulfill that role.”
With those words, Ashley felt her consciousness slipping as she left the Waiting Room.