This was a mistake. A huge, epic, gigantic mistake. What had she been thinking? Leave home, leave her father, leave the only village she’d ever seen, and for what? Living as a Keeper, something she didn’t know a thing about? The few things she had learned so far hadn’t helped, either. She was expected to help with chores and cooking. Didn’t these ponies have servants? And her maid hadn’t been allowed to come along. At least she didn’t have to look in a mirror for the time being. She had to look terrible.
Of course, Amina’s father had been livid. She was his only daughter, and she’d always done what he expected her to, more or less. She didn’t know anything else. How could she, when her father was the mayor? But now she’d gone and done this, and there was nothing he could do about it. Nobody stood up to the main Keeper of the Crown, not even the mayor of Iruld.
Not that she’d actually talked to the main Keeper since they left Iruld, or even before that. Chanta had gone to a shrine to retrieve something, only to come back empty hooved. She didn’t understand the details, but the artifact she’d been trying to recover was gone, and apparently that was a really big deal. All the Keepers had appeared defeated, but Amina hadn’t been able to figure out why.
So now here she was, sitting in a meadow at the side of the road, hugging her blanket, the only thing she’d been allowed to bring along. Her mother had cried the morning they’d taken off, her father hadn’t bothered to show up. And Amina had felt nothing. No rage, no anger, no sadness, no joy. She’d been sure, so sure that this was the best decision. Leave that mess of a village behind and start a life for herself, where she could set her own goals instead of aiming for those her father had set. Where she would be able to make some friends.
But she hadn’t done any of those things. The Keepers avoided her, too busy with their own problems to even notice that she was there, most of the time. And now she was stuck with them because she’d acted on impulse and there was no way she could go back on her word now. Her father wouldn’t let her back in his home if she broke this promise. She had to make it through at least half a year. It felt like an eternity already, and they had only left her home a few days ago.
And what for? She had wanted to make a difference. To influence what was going on around her and to stand up to injustice. But she wasn’t doing any of that. Like before, she was just following orders and keeping her mouth shut.
“Are you all right?” The words startled her. A young girl stood next to her, a concerned look on her face. She recognized her; this was the girl who often stayed close to the main Keeper. Amina shrugged.
“Sure,” she answered as she began to fold her blanket. The morning sun bathed the meadow in a red hue and all around her Keepers were busy packing and preparing breakfast. They were always so busy. Didn’t these ponies ever sit still?
“Really? You don’t look okay. You’ve been sulking ever since you joined us.”
Amina looked up to see the young pony stare at her. “Yes, really. I’m fine. Just… leave me alone.”
“No? What, no? Look… Lis, was it? I’m fine. I really don’t need help.”
“I never said you needed help. But I’m not going to let you sulk on your own. Look… I don’t know what’s going on in your head. But it doesn’t matter. You’re one of us now, right? You shouldn’t be alone.”
Amina wanted to be angry at the girl so badly. She was so ignorant and obnoxious. But she just couldn’t find the words. Without saying a word, Lis picked up the other side of Amina’s blanket and they folded it in silence.
“Thanks,” Amina mumbled as she put the blanket in her backpack.
“Would you like some tea? I made some with some special herbs from the shrine. It’s the perfect drink to wake up with.”
Amina wanted to object and ask for coffee, but she knew these ponies didn’t have any beans. She wondered if they even knew how to make it.
“Yes… I’ll have a cup,” she answered instead. Lis grinned and trotted to one of the small fires that was still going. Amina followed her reluctantly.
The tea had a strange red color, but Amina accepted the cup anyway. It smelled sweet like dried fruit.
“They’re crowberries,” Amina smiled as if reading her thoughts, “I added them to the herbs myself. The others think it’s too sweet for tea, but I think it’s nice, especially in the morning.”
Amina took a little sip and cringed. It was way too sweet. Especially for early morning tea. She was about to say so when all the Keepers fell silent. Their heads turned to the sky and soon they had all dropped what they were doing and were trotting towards Chanta, who was standing a bit further away in the meadow.
“What’s going on?” Amina whispered.
“A Guardian is coming. Come on!” Lis hissed as she snatched the cup from her hooves and threw it in the grass. A Guardian? Like, a real Guardian? Wasn’t seeing them a really rare thing, even for Keepers? She got up and quickly followed Lis, not having a clue on what to do.
The other Keepers had all lined up and they were bowing deeply. All except Chanta, who was standing in front of the line. Lis joined the others and Amina followed. She’d just do what Lis did. She just hoped Lis knew what to do. The girl was younger than she was!
For a few moments, Amina just felt stupid. She didn’t see any Guardian, but they were all standing there in a neat line, their belongings scattered in the grass behind them. It had to look ridiculous. But none of that mattered when the great wings appeared in the sky. She looked up slightly to see a pony larger than any she’d ever seen before descent from the sky. Her wings looked like they were made of starlight and the horn on her forehead shone proudly in the morning sun.
Without making a sound the Guardian descended and landed gracefully on the grass. Her entire body was white, except for some silver markings on her body. Her eyes shone like they were made of the stars themselves, her wings looked like they were capable of summoning and autumn storm. But despite her magnificence, the Guardian looked solemn.
“Guardian Rasa,” main Keeper Chanta said, her voice more powerful than even that day at the shrine when she had stood up to Amina’s father. When Chanta started talking, the other ponies got up and stood straight, and Amina was glad. She wouldn’t have been able to keep bowing much longer; her joints already ached as it was from all the walking she’d done the past couple of days.
“Main Keeper Chanta. I received troubling news from the protector.” Amina gasped for air when the voice entered her mind. She didn’t just hear it; it was there in her head, as deep as any thought she’d ever have.
Chanta nodded slightly. “The silver plume is gone from the vault. We do not know how this happened, or who took it. My sisters swear nothing out of the ordinary happened. Not even the protector knows. He is certain nobody entered the shrine. He would have known. And nobody can move the statue apart from him.”
“Yes. That is what the protector told me. And nothing else was taken? All the other artifacts were safe?”
“They were, Rasa. Nothing was out of the ordinary, apart from the missing plume. Keeper Iani said she had visited the vault at the spring equinox, for the standard ceremony. The plume was still there at that time.”
“That is almost three months ago. The summer solstice is upon us in a few days. The plume could be anywhere by now.”
Amina had no idea what they were talking about, or what that plume was. She figured it was the stolen artifact the Keepers had mentioned, but what was its importance?
“I don’t need to remind you what happens if we don’t retrieve it soon,” the Guardian continued. “The plume will dissolve and return to the Heavens. We need to find it.”
“We do. We understand, Rasa. We will do anything we can to find it. I have already sent out messengers to the other shrines, and I will inform the High Queen myself.”
“I trust you will do anything in your power to find it, main Keeper Chanta. You also know this is not something we can help with. I do have one more question. Why were you at the shrine?”
Amina swore she saw a flash of surprise on Chanta’s face, but the main Keeper recovered herself so quickly that Amina couldn’t be sure.
“I was there because Aras asked me to retrieve the silver plume. For what, I do not know. It was not my place to ask.”
Amina didn’t know if Guardians had emotions at all. Maybe they didn’t feel anything, but this Guardian sure looked concerned at that moment. From the slight muttering of the other Keepers, Amina knew she wasn’t the only one who had seen it. And a concerned Guardian probably never meant good news.
“I see. I will find my brother and talk to him. Thank you for this information, Chanta. If I have any news, I will talk to you again. In the meantime, if you stumble upon anything, do let me know. You know how to contact me or my sisters.”
The main Keeper bowed before the Guardian and Amina joined the others when they did the same. Rasa spread her wings and took off faster than an arrow into the sky. Within moments she was but a lingering star in the morning light.
The Keepers started talking among themselves, whispering words Amina only half understood. Her eyes were fixed on Chanta, who was still staring at the sky. She stared at the fading star and for the first time in days, Amina thought maybe these keepers made a difference in the world after all.