Chanta just couldn’t get comfortable. Of course, it didn’t really make sense. After all, the town was lovely in all sorts of ways. The weather was beautiful and the architecture was modern and pleasant. The ponies were nice to her and everypony was working hard. If she forced herself not to think about the rude mayor and his prude family, there was no reason not to like it.
But she still didn’t. Maybe it was because everything was too perfect. She hadn’t seen a single lazy pony, not a single flower out of order. And it brought back memories she didn’t want anymore. She had known they would come haunt her here in this beautiful little town, but not that every single thing would remind her of that day at the beach, so long ago now. Had Aras known this would happen when he sent her here?
The sun had barely risen when she stepped out into the empty street. Dew had gathered on the flowers in the pots and on the windows. The salty sea air welcomed her in what would surely be another lovely day. There wasn’t a cloud in the soft red sky. She caught herself holding her breath, overwhelmed by that memory. But she wouldn’t let it get in her way. Not this time.
It was so early that only a few ponies seemed to be up yet; there was a faint fragrance of fresh bread in the air and she heard noises coming from the harbor. The seaweed farmers were the last to go to bed and the earliest to be out and about, it seemed. Intrigued by their hard work, Chanta decided she wanted to meet these ponies. She hadn’t met them yet, but their hard work inspired her, and their physical labor was sure to distract her, so she set out towards the docks.
Even this early, seagulls were already roaming in the skies above her. They probably woke with the farmers and preyed on whatever they spilled. Their screeching was an alien sound to Chanta. These sorts of birds did not live in the Friendship Lands, or anywhere else further inland. Their eyes and sharp beaks frightened Lis, and she couldn’t blame her student.
Their feathers reminded her of her task. The silver plume, a radiant feather said to have belonged to the Supreme Goddess herself. True, there were more artifacts in the world that supposedly had belonged to Vitalia, but Aras had asked her to bring him this one. It was kept in a secluded shrine south of the village that no pony here seemed to know off. Good. It was not intended as a shrine that everyone could visit. Her sisters there needed solitude.
Aras. He had sent her here. Here, to the ocean where the sound of the waves swept over her every few seconds, threatening to drown her in that time when he had been a larger part of her life. Had he sent her on purpose? Would he even still remember? No, Chanta, she reminded herself. It did not do to dwell on times long past.
“It was brave what you did yesterday, standing up for that poor woman like that.” The voice startled her. At first Chanta didn’t see anything, the morning darkness still hiding the darker places of the village. She opened her magic and detected a pony in a small alley to her left. She couldn’t quite see the pony, who was wearing a purple cloak, richly decorated with flowers, but Chanta was sure this was the pony who was talking to her. She felt familiar.
“I only did what any pony would do,” Chanta replied to the girl, who had stepped a little closer.
The girl shook her head. “Maybe where you come from. But here not many ponies would stand up to the mayor like that around here.”
Chanta sighed. She hated to be right when it came to such matters. “It saddens me to hear that.”
“Don’t. It’s just how it is.”
“And what will you do now that you’ve learned that? Will you help me change it?” Chanta asked. The pony, still hiding in the shadow, shifted on her hooves uneasily.
“What is it you ponies do? As keepers?” the pony asked, disregarding her question.
“We are the link between the Guardians and the mortal rulers of this world. We pass on their messages and we maintain shrines where the Guardians visit us. We also take care of the shrines and temples for the Supreme Goddess, Vitalia,” Chanta answered.
“But you’re only located in the Crown, right? Not here?”
“Well, that’s not necessarily true. Our biggest shrine is located in the mountains of the Crown, this is true, because communications with the High Queen are very important. But we have shrines and temples all over the continent, really.”
“And what does a pony have to do to join?”
The question took Chanta by surprise. While the pony had been curious, a lot of ponies were, and she had answered these questions often. Even so, not many ponies actually wished to join the Keepers. It was a demanding job and required many sacrifices. If the pony in the shadows was who Chanta thought she was, she had no reason to give up so much. Life had been fair on her.
“Well, there’s an apprentice period, where you learn what it means to be a Keeper,” Chanta began. “This takes about a year. Then there’s our trial period, which is another year. If the main Keepers are satisfied with your work and you are satisfied as well, you get initiated into the order. However, miss… Getting initiated means you will devote your entire life to the Guardians. No more luxuries, no more family, no falling in love and getting married. And you can’t just quit when you no longer feel like it. Not many ponies would give up their life for this. Most of our youngsters are orphans, staying on in gratitude because we raised them.”
The girl stepped out of the shadows and pulled the hood of her cloak down. A young pink pony appeared who Chanta had seen the day before. The daughter of the mayor. She had stood on the side motionless the entire time, not even whispering or moving. Her father had trained her well.
“What is your name?”
“Amina,” the girl answered softly.
“You’re the daughter of the mayor, correct?”
“I am. But I’m not like him! I mean, I wouldn’t have yelled at that girl, I-”
“I know you wouldn’t have, Amina. I could instantly tell you are nothing like your father. But you also didn’t stop him.”
“Nobody does. I always thought everyone was satisfied. That they didn’t want to be my friend because they were different from me, that they respected me and my family. But now I think they were just…”
“Scared?” Chanta guessed. The girl nodded.
“I’m sorry about that, Amina. The world often is not as nice as you think it is when you’re growing up. Realizing that is a shock to everyone, but I guess your life has been more sheltered than most. So, tell me. I’m sure your father doesn’t know of this little meeting. Why did you seek me out?”
The girl looked at the ground for a few moments, lifting her hooves one by one slightly. She glanced into the alley on all sides before speaking.
“I… I want to come with you. I want to learn. I want to, no, I need to leave here. I was very impressed by you and the other keepers yesterday, and I want to learn how to be as strong as you. How to stand up to others instead of standing idly by. I don’t know anything about the Guardians, and I have never left this village, but please, let me come with you.”
Chanta considered the girl’s words. It sounded like the girl had a lot of things to work out. She was fleeing from something instead of making a rational decision. That was never a good reason to leave, let alone join a group of ponies. She couldn’t possibly let this girl join the Keepers. Not like this. But there was a determination in her voice that Chanta found hard to deny.
“I’ll make you an offer. You will come with us for six months, to our shrine in the crown. During those six months, you get to watch and learn what it means to be a keeper. Observe. After those six months, if you still feel like you want to join us, you will enter your apprentice period. If you change your mind before that, you are free to go home.”
“Is that possible?” The girl’s eyes had grown large with surprise.
“Of course it is. Think about it for a few days. I will leave on an… errand tomorrow. I expect your answer the day I get back. We will set out the day after that, so if you want to come, make sure you’re ready.”
“I will. I will! Thank you, Keeper Chanta!” She saw the girl smile for the first time since she’d met her the day before. It didn’t look bad on her at all.
“Do talk to your parents about this. I won’t let you come if you plan to sneak off.”