There were very little places on the continent where the Guardians could not go. Understandable, of course, as the Guardians were supposed to watch over the earth and protect it. It wouldn’t do if they couldn’t actually go everywhere. Chanta only knew of three places they could not enter, and she was standing in front of one now.
The wooden gate that stood in front of her was clean and polished. She’d never quite understood why her sisters had chosen wood for this gate, so close to the ocean, but it was enchanted somehow. The gate had never changed or shown any signs of wear. ‘Ocean of Light’ was etched in the arch that welcomed her to the shrine on top of the large cliff.
“Come on, Lis,” she urged her student who was staring at the gate with her mouth open. As she walked under it she felt a faint shimmering of magic, assessing her and deeming her worthy of entering the shrine. She watched Lis feel the same way; the young girl shuddered softly as she stepped forward.
They ascended the steps one by one. The stairs were accompanied by a row of trees on each side, trees she knew didn’t grow in this place usually. They were from the forests in the west, and were kept alive by magic alone. For a place where Guardians could not come, this place sure was full of magic.
A single wooden house stood at the end of the stairs, next to a large stone shrine. Only two sisters lived here, Chanta knew, two sisters especially selected for their magical powers and their ability to live in solitude. She’d seen the selection process once, when she’d still been younger and just a normal Keeper. It had involved living all alone in the mountains for fifty days. She was glad she’d never even applied for the position, even if her magic was strong enough.
“Good afternoon, main Keeper Chanta,” a voice said. Soon enough a light purple pony stepped out of the house. She wore a white cloak so thin it was almost see-through, and on her head rested a small silver tiara. Chanta knew these ponies had been expecting them, and the gate had alarmed them of their arrival.
“Good afternoon, keeper Iani. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” Iani looked nothing like the woman who had been selected to serve in this temple, Chanta thought. It had been ten years ago, but the pony looked like she had aged twice as much. The constant sea wind might be fresh and healthy, it was also a harsh environment. And the wooden house certainly didn’t help. Even Keepers needed shelter.
“I hope you had a pleasant trip?” Iani asked, her face stern.
“We have, thank you,” Chanta answered. She decided not to tell this pony of their encounter with the mayor of Iruld. It was none of her business, although it had been the reason Chanta had decided only to bring Lis along to the temple, and not the other Keepers. She didn’t trust the mayor one bit, and she would have to go back to Iruld anyway to pick up Amina, the mayor’s daughter. She wondered briefly whether the girl had spoken to her parents yet.
“You wrote in your letter that you’re here for the silver plume?” Iani asked.
Chanta nodded. “We are. Aras sent us on this journey to retrieve it for him, as I explained in the letter.”
“Do you have the proof you spoke of?” Iani asked. Chanta opened her bag and took out a small black pendant that shimmered in the summer sun. She gave it to Iani who quickly surrounded herself with dark purple prana. The stone was forged by Aras himself, with a magic only Keepers could detect. As protector of this shrine, Iani was exceptionally skilled in detecting such magic.
Iani finally nodded before giving the pendant back. “Follow me, you two.”
Chanta and Lis followed Iani further up the cliff towards the large stone shrine at the end. The shrine didn’t appear to be all that special; four golden pillars with a statue of the High Goddess in the center. It was much like any other shrine, but Chanta knew better.
“Keep your eyes open, Lis. You won’t see this happen often.”
Iani approached the very edge of the cliff and opened up her magic. Purple surrounded her, softly and fluidly at first but it soon began to swirl around her until she was trapped in a tornado of prana. The water of the ocean began to stir and she could feel Lis stiffen. She remembered feeling like the ocean itself would swallow her up, the first time she had witnessed this herself.
“What’s that?!” Lis exclaimed. A huge creature rose out of the debts of the ocean. Half pony, half sea serpent, this creature was from a land far away, summoned here by the Keepers to protect that which was most valuable.
“It’s the protector. He guards our most valuable items,” Chanta whispered. She had seen him three times now, but she was still in awe. A creature like no other, the protector lived under the surface of the ocean. Any who dared to set a hoof in this shrine without permission faced a terrible fate.
“Keeper Iani,” the protector boomed. His voice made the ground shake.
“I have come to retrieve the silver plume, requested by the Guardian Aras,” Iani answered. The protector was silent for a moment, his eyes fixed on the small pony in front of them. Eventually though, he moved one of his front legs and the entire cliff began to shake. The statue of the Supreme Goddess began to move aside, revealing a dark staircase underneath.
“Wow…” Lis whispered.
“It leads to a room beneath the surface of the ocean,” Chanta explained. “Only the protector can move the statue. Its magic protects it from being moved any other way.”
The protector wouldn’t leave until they had left the underground room and he could close it again. He would attack anyone who came close without provocation. Iani walked towards the stairs and Chanta quickly followed, with Lis trailing her.
Bulbs made with prana illuminated their descent. The stairs were steep and they soon couldn’t see any daylight. It was cold and damp here, deep in the earth. Round and round the stairs went, leading them down beneath the cliff until finally they reached the bottom. A large path stretched out before them, which would eventually lead them to the room. They walked on in silence, not daring to disturb anyone or anything, even if the place was entirely abandoned.
The room was round, the bare walls decorated with elaborate torches. No fire burned on them, though, only prana, but it was enough. The purple glow revealed ten small pillars in the center of the room, also standing in a circle. On top of each lay a cradle in the shape of a flower, each illuminated by a prana bulb on the ceiling. The floor was covered in ancient writing which even Chanta could hardly read.
“Wow… what is this place? You never told me it’d be anything like this!” Lis tried to whisper, but her voice echoed throughout the room.
“This, Lis, is our treasure chamber. This room contains stones, feathers and other objects left on this world by the Supreme Goddess.”
“She left objects here?” Lis asked.
“She did. These objects are not part of this world, not really. That’s why they are stored here. This shrine is one of the few places in this world disconnected from the Heavens. If these objects spend too much time outside of this shrine, they will dissolve and go back to the Goddess.”
“But aren’t we here to pick up one of those objects? What will happen to it?”
Chanta laughed. “They can manage a little while, Lis. And Aras is exceptionally skilled at handling these objects, because he’s the Earth Guardian. The others can’t handle these. Look, see here? This is the Pearl of Light. It’s said to have been a part of the Supreme Goddess’ crown.” She pointed at a white orb lying in one of the cradles, which was shining bright of its own.
“These objects are powerful, in ways even we Keepers do not fully understand. Should they ever fall into the wrong hooves, there’s no telling what might happen. That’s the second reason they’re stored here, so far away from everything and everyone, in a shrine no one but the Keepers know about.”
“The Silver Plume is said to be a feather of Vitalia’s wings,” Iani added. “As a feather of the Goddess herself, this Plume is said to hold power over life. I do not know what that means, exactly. An ancient story says this plume can give life to children who would have otherwise been stillborn, but that has never been proven.”
“What do you think Aras wants with it?” Lis asked.
Chanta shrugged. “I do not know, Lis. It is not up to us to question the Guardians, just to serve them.”
“The feather is in the furthest cradle,” Iani said as she made her way through the dome. Chanta and Lis followed her. The girl kept peeking in the cradles and stopped briefly at a crystal flower which kept shedding petals made of pure light.
Chanta knew something was wrong the moment Iani froze. Her fellow Keeper never showed any sign of emotion, but her eyes were wide now and her mouth was open. She couldn’t even tell if the pony was still breathing.
“Iani? What’s wrong?”
Instead of answering, the other Keeper pointed at the cradle with a trembling hoof. Chanta looked up and her heart stopped beating. Impossible. This was outright impossible.
The cradle was empty. Someone had taken the silver plume.