Raguel, one of the Keeper trainees, was arrogant and indifferent toward all. Although he did not realize it, he had a habit of writing down everything he suspected in a notebook whenever he was deep in thoughts. This habit caused him to look like an invigilator, prompting others to be hostile toward him, especially those who needed special attention.
Problematic Trainee: We just listened to a long-winded speech from the dean of discipline, and the little invigilator is here.
Problematic Trainee: What are you writing in your book, huh? Our wrongdoings?
The leader of the problematic trainees grabbed Raguel’s notebook and asked the others to surround Raguel, so the little invigilator was left with no other choice but to follow the leader. The leader then tossed away the notebook and yelled at Raguel, saying that he was going to teach him a lesson. The others stood in a line by the exit of the ally to block the sight of passers-by before their leader grinned and threw a punch at Raguel.
Raguel had always been fast. The leader’s punch was as slow as a snail in Raguel’s eyes. While the punch was moving toward his face, Raguel quickly considered his options.
Raguel: ‘If I block it, they’ll have an opening to attack me as a gang assault.’
Raguel: ‘If I dodge it, he’ll keep throwing punches until he successfully hits me.’
Raguel: ‘Plus, no matter which I choose to do, he’ll keep picking on me anyway, so now —’
Raguel neither blocked nor dodged the attack. Not taking any actions at all, he just stood there and let the fist hit him square in the face.
Raguel: ‘I’ll just allow him to let off the steam.’
Problematic Trainee: You like being arrogant all the time, huh? Think you’re better than us? You think you’re an invigilator?
Sariel: Hey! Stop! What are you doing?
To protect himself from further harm, Raguel pretended to have lost the fight and lay down on the floor. He closed his eyes and feigned unconscious, hoping to tell all of this to his mentor when it was all over.
However, to his surprise, one of the fellow trainees in Raguel’s class suddenly came over and drove the problematic trainees away. Although Sariel assumed she had done a good deed, Raguel could only foresee misfortune awaiting the both of them; the group would surely cause more problems for them.
While Raguel thought about whether to explain the situation or keep pretending, Sariel conjured her power and cured the wounds and bruises on Raguel’s body. She also nervously patted Raguel’s face, worrying if he had gone to a better place.
Unable to bear her patting any longer, Raguel pushed away her hand and sat up. Hands covering the area Sariel had just patted, Raguel gave Sariel a cold gaze:
Raguel: This was none of your business. Stop being meddlesome.
‘The problematic trainees weren’t going for you. Why did you dive into the trouble water? Stop bothering them, or you’ll be the one getting trouble.’^ ^ This was what Raguel was trying to convey, but it fell on deaf ears.
Sariel: I am being meddlesome? So...you were conscious all along?
‘She got me...things have gotten complicated...’
Raguel turned away and did not speak again. To explain the situation, he would have to start from the very beginning. That was too much work! Never mind that; his business did not concern her in any way, so he deemed it unnecessary to explain. Thinking like this, Raguel did not attempt to explain the situation to her and instead, he wanted to leave as soon as possible. He picked up his notebook in the alley and left without looking back.
Raguel leaned against the outer wall of the training grounds. He knew Sariel was inside practicing her exclusive weapon, the “Evil Eye”, but she did not seem to be progressing smoothly; Raguel could hear her frequently giving herself words of motivation.
Sariel: Keep practicing. I will become a Keeper!
Raguel: ‘Be a keeper, huh...? What a troublesome wish.’
Being Keeper trainees, Raguel and Sariel both had to pass the final examination to be qualified as candidates. Once they became candidates, they then had to go through a series of practical tests to be eligible to take the the final examination. If a candidate failed any of the tests, the individual would have to start all over again. Only by passing the final test can a candidate become a genuine Keeper.
There was still a long way to go.
It was almost the final examination. In the exam, trainees would be divided into two teams of three. They then had to fight against the other team in an arena. The teams were usually done through drawing lots, but sometimes the trainees would group themselves. However, this time, Raguel submitted a special request to his mentor to be on the same team with Sariel.
The mentor responsible for grouping the trainees this year was famous for her habit of collecting seeds of flowering plants from various worlds and planting them in her garden. She even built a personal greenhouse right next to her office to nurture the flowers. She had also planted different flowers in her office, making it look like a giant florist. All of her personal items were related to flowers as well.
Mentor: If you can guess my favorite flower, I might just consider your request.
Mentor: I’ll allow you to ask four questions as clues. You can’t ask directly which flower it is, and I will only answer yes or no questions.
Raguel looked around the office. The temperature was slightly cooler than outside. Growing flowers were abundant in the office; the only exceptions to this were the dried decorative flowers on the desk, the pressed flower bookmark, the folding screen with flower pictures behind the desk, and also the metal brooch and earrings with dried flowers inside.
Raguel: I see. One question will suffice. Is the flower not in this office?
Raguel: It is begonia.
Mentor: Oh? How do you know?
Raguel began his explanation: the mentor liked flowers. She had flower-related items in her office and personal items, but she would not force any flowers to be put beside her, because every flower has their optimum place in which they belong, including the dried flowers and flower accessories.
Dried flowers were often created using breeds suitable to be grown indoors, so they could last longer in an indoor environment after being processed into dried flowers. By the same token, the flower accessories she possessed were made from flowers capable of adapting to any temperature, because she had to commute between the greenhouse and her relatively cool office. Only flowers with such capability can adapt to fast changing temperatures.
However, there was one flower that should not have appeared in the office. On the folding screen behind the desk, there were carving of begonia flowers, a breed that should be planted in a greenhouse. Not putting a flower in its optimum growing location? If she did not love the flower, she would not have broken her rules.
Mentor: Haha. Not bad! Do you know what begonias symbolize?
Raguel: Longing, bitter love, close friendships, care, honesty. These are the main significances others give it.
Mentor: I prefer the one with “bitter love”. You should know that a Keeper should not fall in love with any individual —
Mentor: We, as Keepers, have to treat every life equally, and we cannot pass any judgment influenced by our emotions.
Mentor: I loved begonia flowers too much; I let it grow relentlessly in a world. That was why I ended up being transferred back here to do paperwork —
Mentor: Besides, when you two truly become Keepers, you will have to work in different worlds.
Mentor: Long distance love could only be bitter love, like my begonia and I, separated...
Raguel: Mentor, I think you have misunderstood me. I am not in love with Sariel. I am doing this because I owe her.
Mentor: Oh...Oh! Is that so? Alright. I did promise to consider your request. You just return and wait for the good news.
Raguel secretly let out a sigh of relief and hurriedly left, while his mentor skeptically watched him go...
Thanks to the mentor’s arrangement, Raguel was often assigned to Sariel’s team. This time, the test topic was related to life conservation.^ ^ Genuine Keepers are sent to various worlds with different missions. Some only observe, while others would help the world by conserving the life within, aiding them to thrive, and maintain the biodiversity of the world.
If a habitat is insufficient in providing desirable conditions for a species to breed and run their life-cycle, Keepers also need to relocate them to a place with ample resources and a suitable living environment, so they could protect the species from extinction.
Raguel and his teammates’ test was to simulate a protection mission by relocating a habitat. They were in a team of three, and had to help escort a specific animal species in their relocation, so the animals could arrive at a safe place and continue thriving.
During their journey, they would have to face the habitat of the animals’ natural enemies. According to the principle of maintaining biodiversity, they could not eliminate any of the enemies and could only drive them away.
The entire habitat and every plant and animal within were created by the Keepers’ power of conjuration. If any animal died, the examiners could record their performance and immediately calculate their grades. If the number of deaths was more than the acceptable amount, they would fail the test, and have to retake the previous tests before they could try this one again.
Many Keepeer candidates failed to pass this test. They all had to retake it, prompting nervousness from Sariel and Sidriel, another member of Raguel’s team.
Sariel: So many protection targets...This is a great migration. Maybe we should assign our roles first.
Sidriel: I’ll take the lead. My magic can repel the species’ natural enemies.
Sariel: Then Raguel’s station will be at the middle of our team and maintain a protection sphere, just in case the enemies return.
Sariel: And I’ll support the back, ensuring the targets don’t fall behind and making sure there’s no pursuers.
Raguel remained silent all along, because he could sense that something was amiss. For some reason, the mission felt out of place, causing difficulty and hesitation for him to take his assigned role.
The relocation started. Raguel casted a protection sphere which enclosed a wide area at the middle of the crew. It not only separated the animals from their natural enemies, it also prevented the animals from running outside their protection where they could fall prey to the predators.
Raguel read the mission details again while protecting the animals. The order stated that they had to escort the animals to a specific location so they could continue thriving. He then looked at the chosen destination again. It was extremely similar to the original habitat; the animals should have no problem living there, but Raguel still felt something was not right.
Raguel then scanned through the appendix to revise the background information about the animals, including their habits and their enemies, as well as the reasons why they had to relocate. However, the animals were dummies created by magic. The appendix was like the background story of a fake adventure, so many candidates did not pay much attention to it.
Raguel: I see.
Raguel suddenly stopped moving. A few of the animals failed to stop in time and bumped into his back. He did not mind the animals and kept his eyes on the mission details while circling places on the map.
As if he had not caused enough surprises, Raguel launched himself into the sky and flew away from the team, leaving after saying the words “I’ll examine the destination”. Unable to anticipate such a turn of events, Sariel and Sidriel hurriedly herded the animals to walk in a tighter formation, backing up for the missing member’s part of work.
Sariel and Sidriel finally arrived at the destination with the protected animals, but were surprised to see traces of battles and Raguel standing alone at their destination. Sariel could not suppress her anger anymore and yelled:
Sariel: What have you done? Why is this place in such a mess?
Sariel: Did you know your absence cost us a number of animals? We almost failed to keep the number below the limit!
Sidriel: Raguel, I know you’re not hot-headed.
Sidriel: Can you please explain why you left so suddenly and even wrecked our destination like this?
Raguel: To pass the test.
Sariel: You really think what you’ve done is “to pass the test”?!
Sidriel: ...just like that?
Raguel: There’s nothing more to explain. Sariel, you can restore the environment. You can handle this.
Sariel: “I can handle this”? Who do you think you are giving us orders?
Ignoring Sariel’s yelling, Raguel handed Sidriel the documents and started counting the number of animals to ensure their survival rate. Sidriel told Sariel to restore the place first, and he read the highlighted information out loud.
Among all the pages, the words “continue thriving” and “reason of relocation” were circled multiple times, and Raguel had written the reasons for failing of past candidates beside the two circles. Down at the bottom of the page was a draft report jotted recently.
The draft was mainly about this: the protected species had to relocate because their enemies invaded, but the chosen destination was not only suitable for the protected, but also for their enemies.
Considering the fact that they had to ensure the animals could thrive, they should first examine the chosen destination before the crew started moving, so they could check if the place was occupied by enemies. If it was, their endeavor would be in vain, and the animals would have to move again because the enemies would invade once again.
Most of the past candidates only treated the appendix as a storybook and did not take it seriously, so when they successfully arrived at the destination, they had to fight the enemies with the protected animals also on the battlefield. That caused them to lose too many animals and hence failed their mission.
This time, the crew had already started moving, so Raguel could only leave the team to investigate the destination by himself . Just as he had expected, the animals’ enemies had already occupied the place. Knowing that he could not kill any of them, Raguel could only destroy the habitat to drive them away.
If Raguel had not come and dealt with the ambushing enemies in advance, they would not only have lost the few animals that they had, they would have also followed in the previous candidates’ footsteps — losing too many animals in the battle and failing the test.
After this, Raguel secretly helped Sariel pass her tests again and again, helping her to become a genuine Keeper. However, the innocent Sariel only treated him as an uncooperative member of her team, and never understood his true intentions.
After a series of practical tests, Raguel, Sariel, and Sidriel, who always ended up on the same team, earned the qualification to take the final test to be Keepers. The final test started early in the morning and the mission was to find their own Keeper Crucifix in a dense forest before dawn.
The mentors seemed to have put the candidates’ abilities into consideration; all the Crucifixes were hidden in places only traceable when the candidate correctly used their own skills. Sidriel was the first to obtain the Crucifix in the team, almost exhausted all his power in the process.
Noon passed. Scorching sunlight was shining through the leaves and branches and onto the road Raguel and his companions were taking. They were extremely close to the second Crucifix. With a glance around their surroundings, they guessed that this one should be Sariel’s target. Just then, Raguel realized that Sidriel seemed to be short of breath.
Raguel: Sidriel, are you alright?
Sariel: He’s suffering from heat-stroke. You’re showing signs of dehydration.
Before Sidriel could say anything, Sariel brought him to shades and conjured healing power from her “Evil Eye”. Sidriel’s condition was not serious; the minor heat-stroke might be the result of exhaustion from the mission and the unusual high temperature brought by the noon sun. In a short period of time, Sariel had already cured Sidriel. He only needed water and rest to fully recover.
Sariel: Lucky we have a lot of fruit on these trees. Look, we often have this at home. The juicy fruit contains a lot of water —
Sariel explained while putting a fruit near to her mouth. When she was about to bite it, Raguel knocked the fruit out of her hand.
Raguel: Enjoying a fruit, huh? You think you’ve got plenty of time? Go and find your Crucifix!
Sariel: Do you have to have such a sharp tongue?
Raguel: What did I do wrong?
Raguel: Sariel, it’s not a good time for fighting. You go find the Crucifix. I’ll take care of Sidriel.
Sariel: You, a cold-blooded animal, taking care of someone else? Stop joking!
Sidriel: Hey guys, just blame it on me. I shouldn’t have collapsed at a time like this.
Sidriel: Sariel, listen to Raguel and search for your Crucifix. I’ll recover soon and we’ll regroup with you later.
Seeing that even Sidriel was putting in a good word for Raguel, Sariel left angrily but still looked back in worry after taking a few steps. She surprisingly saw Raguel giving Sidriel the same kind of fruit.
Raguel: The one Sariel just got you was not yet ripe and would have been poisonous.
Raguel: If we’re to eat these fruits, have these. These ones have ripened and are edible.
Sidriel: Poisonous? But we’ve often eaten them! How come we’re not poisoned?
Raguel: Every species are born with a special kind of ability to protect themselves.
Raguel: This kind of fruit secretes poison on its peel and flesh to avoid being eaten by birds.
Raguel: But when they ripen, they need the birds to eat them and spread their seeds.
Raguel: So they no longer secrete poison and become an edible fruit like the ones we have at home.
It was not until now did Sariel realize that Raguel was not intentionally going against her and instead, he was actually helping her. Recalling the past, Sariel became aware of the fact that Raguel had always been caring. The only obstacle preventing others from realizing it was his way of expressing it. When Raguel told her not to be meddlesome, he was probably thinking that the guys would bully her too...Plus, he was the one who had first noticed Sidriel’s condition just now.
Sidriel: ...You’ve always been helping her. When are you going to tell her?
Raguel: I’m not telling her. Stop asking. It’s troublesome to explain.
Sidriel shrugged his shoulders and did not probe any further. On the other hand, Sariel was still frustrated; he was willing to help, but he would deliberately disguise it with arrogance. No wonder the other trainees would pick on him. To let out her anger, Sariel walked to the Crucifix’s location Raguel had told her about, transformed the “Evil Eye” into its broadsword form, and slashed the mountain in half.
Raguel: Sariel...that’s a bit much...
Sidriel: Hm, maybe someone’s silence caused her to be like that.
Raguel shot a menacing glance at Sidriel, who just turned away and pretended to not see it.
Sidriel: Oh, right. Sariel has probably gotten her Crucifix. What about you?
Sidriel: We still have a night to get yours.
Raguel: We don’t need the night. I already know where it is.
Instead of sensing the last Crucifix’s whereabouts, Raguel had actually already deduced where it was located. Raguel traveled through the dense forest multiple times, but could only sense two weak sources of power.
If there was a place that could be easily omitted in his investigation, it was probably one which exuded the same kind of power as the Crucifix — the invigilator. The invigilator was also a Keeper, and had a Crucifix of his own. If he indeed carried Raguel’s Crucifix on him, then Raguel’s deduction was correct.
Knowing that the test was to examine how well the candidates could utilize their most edged abilities to find their Crucifixes, then it would be natural to hide Raguel’s Crucifix on the invigilator and let him deduce its location during the test.
Finally, all three candidates successfully passed the test and became genuine Keepers. Raguel was also relieved — he had finally repaid Sariel for helping him. Now, he did not owe her anymore.