* Weaver’s Road *
Ashley and Salov quickly returned to the small, private waiting room they’d been in earlier. Salov thought that it would be better that they talk there instead of staying at the city core. When they reached the room, he used mentus to seal it so that it would be impossible to be overheard. Then he began to explain.
“My birth name is Salov Morrison; my mother is Rebecca Stokenshire. You may have heard of her; she is quite the well-known painter but not as famous as the merchant branch of the family. I only recently earned the name Stokenshire. My father petitioned Uncle Frank for the rights to the name due to my talent as a tailor and he agreed.”
Ashley gave him a confused look. “I don’t understand. How do you earn a name?”
“Well, maybe you don’t know this, but the Stokenshire name is a registered family name under the Cognomian Clause of the International Marriage and Family Act.”
“Nothing you said made any sense.”
Salov chuckled. “It basically means that the Stokenshire name is protected. The head of the family has to approve everyone who receives that name.”
Ashley wrinkled her nose at this. “That sounds like a lot. Why is it so complicated?”
“Because of you.”
“Me?” Ashley was clearly taken aback.
“Yes, people think it’s because the Stokenshires only recognize the talented in their family, but in reality, the main reason why the name is protected is to safeguard our connection to the Daughter of the Sun. The family head won’t allow anyone to hold the name that won’t uphold the vow to serve the Daughter of the Sun in any and every way possible. We owe our success and longevity to the line of Ester, and we will never forget that. As long as the name Stokenshire remains, we will always serve the Daughters of the Sun. There is no higher priority. The only people who are allowed to hold the name Stokenshire within our family are those who uphold that oath. If we don’t, we’re stripped of our name, our assets, and possibly even our freedom.”
“Whoa…” Ashley was so stunned by this fervent declaration that she dropped into a nearby chair.
“Of course, I had no idea that you were the Daughter of the Sun. If I’d known, I would have immediately acted to aid you in whatever you needed. At first, I thought this might have been a test, but now I realize that you were truly trying to keep your identity a secret.”
“A test?” Ashley repeated. “I don’t understand.”
“Well, as I said, I’m a new Stokenshire. I’m not even used to using my new surname, which is why I was shocked when you mentioned it earlier because I never told you or Wayne that name. It’s not unheard of for the head of the family to test new members in their loyalty to the Daughter of the Sun, and here you were, suddenly asking about the Stokenshires.
“I thought maybe those Sunnin sisters were the ones who told you about the Stokenshires and they were using you to test me. My uncle is very crafty, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility. We Stokenshires serve the Daughter of the Sun, not Sunnin, so If I’d acted rashly to help without consulting the family, I would have failed the test. However, if I did absolutely nothing, that could be seen as failure too. If it had actually been a test, the right choice probably would have been to contact Uncle Frank.”
“But instead, you brought me here because you thought I was the Daughter of the Sun, right?” Ashley asked
Salov nodded. “After seeing you with the Sunnin sisters, I realized how similar you look to them. Obviously, I’d been with you and Wayne long enough to know you weren’t a member of Sunnin, but there was just no mistaking that you had to be in the line of Ester. More than that though, there was just something about you that seemed…sincere. I don’t know how to explain it, but somewhere, deep inside, I think I just knew it was you. I just had no way to prove it.
“Without proof, I couldn’t just outright tell you about the core’s supernal powers. If I was wrong and you weren’t the Daughter of the Sun, I would have been in serious trouble, far more than if I just failed a simple test. You see, even though it’s well-known that a previous Daughter of the Sun helped obtain the core for Weaver’s Road, only the Stokenshires know that it was infused with the Sun Stone’s power. It’s supposed to be used as a last resort to protect the city. That information cannot be leaked to anyone, not even the city council. It’s also why the Stokenshires have unrestricted access to the core in the city charter.
“So, that’s when I decided that taking you to the core would be the best way to both verify your identity and also give you the help you needed if you were indeed the Daughter of the Sun. I knew the core would recognize you and give you the ability to restore the damaged section of the city. Even though I was right, I’m truly sorry that I forced you to reveal yourself. I can only assume you were hiding your identity for a reason.”
Salov once again took a knee at this, his expression solemn.
“Salov, please don’t kneel. It’s kind of weirding me out, and I’m not mad at you. I was hiding the fact that I was the Daughter of the Sun because I didn’t know who I could trust other than Wayne. It wasn’t until Ester told me about the Stokenshires that I even knew to ask.”
Salov looked up in shock. “Ester…told?”
“Oh yeah, she sort of…appeared to me. I’m not sure how to describe it,” Ashley said, “but she told me to find someone with the last name Stokenshire. She said that I could trust them above anyone else. I guess she was right.”
“So it’s true, the Daughter of the Sun can speak to Ester? That’s amazing,” Salov said stunned. “I only hope I lived up to her expectations.”
Ashley got down on the floor in front of Salov so that she could face him. “Salov, you were so helpful to us even when you didn’t know who I was. You picked us up when we were lost in the woods, offered us a place to stay, and helped us find Nina and Amber. You’ve been wonderful. If that’s how you treat people even when they aren’t the Daughter of the Sun, then I think you’ve more than earned the name Stokenshire.”
Tears welled up in Salov’s eyes. “I’m very honored. To think, after all these years, I would be the first among our family to see the prophecy fulfilled.”
“Yes, it was prophesied at the end of the Great War that the Daughter of the Sun would return. My family has held onto that prophecy for over a thousand years, patiently waiting for you.” Salov allowed Ashley to raise him to his feet. “If I may ask, how did this happen? How are you here? Where have the Daughters of the Sun been this whole time?”
“Oh, that? Well, I guess I can tell you now, but you can’t tell anyone else.”
They sat, and Ashley explained everything to Salov about being from another world, about how they ended up on Mendala, and everything she remembered about what Fantasma told her about the Book of War. She knew that she could completely trust Salov with everything, so she spared no details.
“That’s incredible,” Salov said after listening to her story. “To think that the Daughter of the Sun was sent to another world, and now, after all this time, you’re back, along with the Book of War. This is truly what the prophecy must have meant.”
Ashley shrugged. “Well, I don’t know anything about that, but I’m here now, and all I want to do is find my friends and get back home.”
“Then I will aid you in any way I can,” Salov declared. “Whatever you need, I am at your service, and don’t worry; I will keep your secret. If you don’t want anyone to know who you are, then I won’t tell anyone, not even the rest of the family if that’s your wish. They’ll understand.”
Ashley thought about this. “Well, if all of the Stokenshires are like you, then it might be good to tell them. Maybe they can help us find the rest of our friends. I’ll talk to Wayne about it and see what he thinks.”
Salov nodded. “As you wish. Just so you know, if we put the full resources of the entire Stokenshire clan on it, then no matter where they are in the world, I’m certain we’ll find them.”
“Wow, your family is pretty amazing,” Ashley said. “I’m really glad you were the first person we met.”
“As am I. I view it as heaven’s providence,” Salov said. “For now, there is the matter of the orphanage. I heard what happened when you interfaced with the core. It seems the entire northeastern district was restored. That’s no small feat, and there will be a lot of questions. I’ll go to Harsale and let him know what happened and give him a cover story. I’ll tell him that I used a function of the core only accessible to Stokenshires and that you are a relative from another branch of the family who came because I needed two Stokenshires to activate the core’s special function. That will ensure that your secret is kept.”
Ashley nodded along. “Thank you. The less people that know about me, the better. I still have to worry about that Davron guy chasing me. I’m glad we could fix the orphanage.”
Salov released the mentant seal on the room. “Wait here, I’ll talk to Harsale and then we can return to the Warrior Guild and tell them the good news.”
Before he left, Ashley wrapped her arms around Salov’s neck and hugged him. “I really mean it; thank you for everything.”
Salov patted her back gingerly. “It is an honor to serve, Your Grace,” he whispered with a smile.
“What is she doing?” Mitchell asked skeptically as he looked up at Amber.
The raven-haired girl was perched on the roof of one of the shops in Weaver’s Road’s market district after getting a boost from Wayne using mandamus wind.
“I have no idea,” Wayne admitted. He felt a slight headache coming on. It was similar to what happened the previous day but at this point it wasn’t anywhere near as powerful.
Ignoring this, he followed Mitchell’s gaze to observe Amber. She was sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed and hands together as if meditating. In actuality, she was trying to focus on the hundreds of sensations flooding her mind. Just as she did when she tracked down Wallace, she was mentally filtering out everything that wasn’t important and searching for familiar sounds or sensations that would tell her what she wanted to know.
As she did this, Amber realized that there were limits to what she could sense, not only due to distance, but also whether or not they were inside a building. It seemed that nothing permeated the walls of the myriad of stores and houses in Weaver’s Road. This meant that if the slavers were firmly ensconced in their hideout, she might not be able to find them. Undaunted, she continued to focus and with each passing minute she became more adept at handling her unique skill.
Suddenly a shout rang in her ear, as if someone walked up behind her and started screaming. Amber wasn’t prepared for this sudden burst of sound and jerked away from the source. Her eyes flew open as she toppled off the edge of the roof she was perched on.
“Ahhh!” she yelped as she came tumbling to the ground.
“Gotcha.” With his mandant enhanced reflexes, Wayne easily caught the small girl and lowered her to the ground.
“Thanks,” she said, slightly flustered and red-faced.
“What happened?” Mitchell asked. He seemed more shocked by the fall then his two companions.
Amber dusted herself off. “I was focusing so hard on trying to hear a familiar sound that when one finally came, it was way louder than I expected. I know where that guy is though. He was shouting ‘they’re all fixed’ or something like that.”
“Where?” Mitchell asked excitedly.
“It’s really far away at the edge of my range, I think.” She pointed. “I can’t really tell how far, but wherever it is, it’s the only noise there.”
Mitchell looked at where she was pointing. “Well, given what’s in that direction…” he suddenly brightened. “I’ve got it! It makes perfect sense. Come on!”
“Why is this place so empty. It’s like it’s been abandoned,” Wayne said as he looked around at the pristine buildings. Despite how nice the area looked, there was no one on the streets and everything seemed to be closed.
Mitchell was in awe as they followed Amber. “This part of the city was destroyed by a fire around a year ago. I…don’t understand. It’s like they rebuilt everything overnight. When did they do this?”
“Shhhh,” Amber admonished. “It’s really hard to get any sort of reading from inside a building but I think I can still find them since it’s so quiet… if they make enough noise…” She started forward again.
Mitchell and Wayne decided to curtail their conversation, and they continued following Amber who was moving hesitantly as she examined each building before moving forward again.
After a few minutes, she quickly turned down a side alley and made her way to the back of a quaint looking tavern. There was a narrow stairwell that led to a basement door, and it was slightly ajar, letting sound leak out. As they carefully approached the door, Wayne and Mitchell could finally hear the conversation that attracted Amber.
“How would I know? The whole area just up and cleaned itself like nothin’ ever happened. Ya know what this means, right?”
“Yeah, we’re gonna have to clear out and soon. Can’t use this as a base if people are gonna start showin’ up here.”
“I’m gonna tell the boss what happened.”
The door flew open and with well-honed reflexes, Mitchell drew the short sword from his hip, pointing it at the throat of the man who emerged. It was no ordinary sword, of course. All of the constables wielded class-A mentant weapons that were extremely powerful. Mitchell’s sword had a faint blue glow, causing the man’s eyes to grow wide. He immediately put his hands up.
Amber recognized him as the same man who was with Wallace earlier, but before she could say anything, another man called from the interior of the building.
“Kent, what’s goin’ on?”
“Constables!” was all the man managed to shout before a pulse of blue energy shot out of the sword and he collapsed in a dead faint.
They heard the sound of people scattering inside.
“Wayne!” Mitchell called as he rushed into the basement.
“Yeah, I know,” Wayne said as he stepped over the collapsed slaver. He saw three men trying to escape up a set of stairs into the main part of the tavern. Acting quickly, he used the mandamus command that served him well since coming to Mendala.
“Mittius Mandamus Wind!”
The air thinned slightly and this time a powerful blast of wind catapulted the retreating men backwards down the stairs and across the room, slamming them into a wall. They were all knocked senseless, barely able to move.
Mitchell tossed Wayne some quartz rope restraints before turning to Amber. “Is that all of them?”
Amber stepped into the basement and closed her eyes so she could focus. “I don’t sense anyone else in the building; it’s just these four.” She sniffed the air several times as she walked around. “Ugh.”
“What is it?” Wayne asked.
“I don’t know. Something reeks. You don’t smell it? It’s really strong, kind of like…vanilla but like if vanilla could go bad.”
Wayne chuckled. “I don’t smell anything; maybe these guys just need a bath.”
She shook her head. “Guess there’s a downside to having these enhanced senses.”
Wayne forced the captured slavers to their feet. “None of these guys are Kingston;” he confirmed. “Are you working for him? Where is he?”
The slavers were all quiet, not willing to reveal anything.
“Fine, we’ll see how it is once we get you all down to headquarters,” Mitchell said as he headed for the door. “Wayne, keep an eye on them, I’m going to go call for a cart.”
Wayne gave a nod at this but winced, his head hurting even more.
“You okay?” Mitchell asked.
“Just a headache. Don’t know why it keeps happening.”
“Well, I’ll make sure they bring a healer. I owe you that much at least. Even if we didn’t get Kingston, we found their base. That’ll shut them down in Weaver’s Road for good, especially now that this area can open up again, though I still don’t know how that happened…” he added pensively as he left the basement.
Wayne turned to Amber. “Good job. I can’t believe you did it.”
Amber shrugged at Wayne’s praise. She was looking around at the walls of the basement hideout which were plastered with thick parchment-like paper. On them were drawings and notes for some type of major operation the slavers were planning. It was clear they were aiming to get the former slave children back.
She turned to Wayne, a troubled look on her face. “Is it really over?”