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[Solstice Heights] Evening at The Chai Mare [Open]


crp_dude
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Solstice Heights has always, since it was first settled, been a land of both extravagant and unique presence. Across its heights, buildings of all kinds have skimmed its many hills, scaled its countless slopes, and dotted every valley in between.

The Chai Mare is one of these many places of business so daringly placed near the center of Equestrian authority.

This very elegant (and equally expensive) tea shop has been the practical port of the finest teas from all around the world. It's owner, Masala Chai, is a mare who moved from Itaily to Equestria, seeking to run a business in what was then considered a more profitable environment. Though not many have ever had enough bits for a good cup of her tea at the end of the day, those that do often end up becoming regulars to the shop: pricy as it may be, it's great stuff.

Since his move to Equestria, one such regular has been Senyor Apis. He and Masala have known each other since long before she had left Itaily, back when she was running a highly successful, but very small, tea shop in the border town of Troteste.

Making his way up the slope of the street to the shop, Apis hummed a happy tune. Today, he was going to her shop on account of an invitation. Masala invited him to the shop to help promote a sale for her tea. According to Masala, she suddenly had the realization that if she gave the opportunity to have her tea sell cheaper, more ponies might be inclined to come to the shop, and, hopefully, equally inclined to return. Of course, she had made arrangements for banners and advertisements all over this town, so Apis smartly came trotting up before it opened, to make sure he avoided the predicted crowd when it came.

Of course, promoting The Chai Mare was only half the reason he was going. A second reason was because he had invited a friend he had met from earlier in the month, and was hoping to see her again and perhaps get to know her. After all, this being a tea shop of notable prestige, how could she refuse? Apis's busy mind drew to a halt as he approached the door to the shop. The door was a very fine one, made of unpainted and well-sanded mahogany, with simple but polished brass hinges. A thin window at the top displayed store hours, and just as he predicted, Apis looked upon his reflection from the window with a marginal amount of confidence: He had arrived exactly ten minutes ahead of schedule. Apis raised his hoof, and gave the door a soft knocking. Shuffling could be heard from the other side, and the sound got closer as the door opened. Apis gave a warm smile to his longtime friend, Masala Chai, now standing before him in the doorway. Masala had maroon hair, pulled back from her face and in tousled waves. A wide, short, and saggy scarf colored just the same way coiled her neck in a very simple and perhaps lazy manner. Her cutie mark, a cylindrical cup of very foamy tea, with a tea plant coming out of the foam, was pronounced and fully visible of her flank, despite Itailian custom for ponies to cover theirs in polite environments. Masala welcomed Apis inside, and closed the door behind her with a bit of force. Apis looked around: The place was obviously a good bit fancier than before, with a few bookcases to keep customers busy, a game or two on the tables to the side, even a deck of tarot cards, placed in preparation of another guest Masala had hoped might arrive.

Apis turned to his friend after sitting on a small chair near the entrance, and said, "Miss Chai, it's good to see you again, since you've had the shop closed for a few months! I can see you did some redecorating." Masala replied. Her voice was not particularly loud, but her level of attitude spoke volumes. She was, after all, a mare with some serious spirit. "Well, Mister Apis, you don't expect me to be closed and come back without anything changed, did you? No, this time, I'm going a step back to my start-out. Lowering the prices, raising the population, and believe me when I say that I won't rest until I can't do so much as move around in this shop during business hours!" She laughed, almost sarcastically. "I just hope enough ponies caught wind of the ads and decided to show up here! Until then, business is business, so what can I get you, sir?" Apis smiled and said, "One ginger tea, and since I'm feeling adventurous I'll go with a gunpowder tea. I'm expecting another pony to show up here when the store hours st-" Suddenly, the bell on the clock Masala kept on the counter rang. Store hours had begun. Masala hastily scurried to the entrance and removed the closed sign, opened the door, turned some sign around in the front porch, and then briskly closed it once again. " I guess she'll be coming real soon then!" Masala hurried over to the bar-like counter against the side of the large room, where she kept boxes and boxes of tea from all around the globe. Picking out a bag out of one box all the way to the right end, Masala brought two steaming cups of water out from behind the counter, and put the tea bag in to steep in the right one. Then, she rushed over to the door outside, where Apis knew she kept her tea garden. She came back out with a bundle of fresh leaves. Taking a kettle, Masala placed the leaves in a strainer, set it over the kettle, and poured the already boiling water over the leaves in the strainer. Then, she carefully put the kettle over a covered stove, set the fire on, and left it to boil for a moment. Masala left Apis to his own business as she waited at the bar for the bell on the door to ring, and another customer to arrive. This time, she hoped, she was going to get off the ground on a different hoof.

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Radiant Steel gave a very loud yawn as she trot somewhat languidly down the street one morning. The three hours of sleep she had gotten the previous night just wasn't enough. Yet that particular morning she had agreed to show up at the school her mother taught at in the Heights. Apparently the school wanted the young foals to hear a speech on safety, and who better to give it than a REA guardpony decked out in the full gold ceremonial armor.

Radiant had to laugh at the idea that anypony would care about what she said. She was a nopony in the system, a fresh faced private working the late hours of the night shift when practically every pony anywhere was asleep. But foals were foals she supposed. They'd probably be more responsive to a fairly young mare like her than a hard-edged old stallion like her father, and the fact that the decorated Major Steeledge outranked her by so much would be lost on the young ones.

Radiant understood her mother calling in this favor to her for that reason, and she dreaded the thought of disappointing her mother. That didn't mean she particularly liked being awake at that particular hour. Her eyes, not used to so much sun light, were strained and the circles around them were visible. She yawned again. By Celestia, she was tired. She wondered if she'd even be coherent when she spoke before her mother's students.

To ward of sleep, Radiant decided to take to the skies. It was much harder to fall asleep while flying (though more dangerous if she somehow managed to do it). From the air, the young pegasus had a better view of her surroundings. She began to notice all the little buildings and ponies passing by. It was one particular building that her eyes came to focus on.

It was a striking and unique building, nestled amongst the hills. The sign labeled it as "Chai Mare". Radiant wasn't particularly sure what this meant at first. It was just an eye catching building for some reason, and as tired as she was, Radiant needed to focus on something. Then something connected. Hadn't she heard the name Chai Mare before? She stopped and thought it through a minute until she recalled a conversation she had with her mother several months ago. Hadn't she mentioned a Chai Mare? Yeah, that was the name of the tea house she'd occasionally visit after work. She had mentioned something about it closing its doors for a while...

It looked to be open and operating now. Radiant thought for a moment. Some caffeine might really be exactly the sort of pick me up she needed. She detested the taste of coffee, but the very few times she had had tea it had been mild enough. This might be perfect. The only issue was that if she recalled, the place was kind of upscale, and the earnings of an REA private weren't the greatest. Still, how much could a single cup of tea cost? Radiant was sure she could afford it.

That settled, Radiant flew down to Chai Mare and looked around. It looked to have just opened. Smiling a little awkwardly, she opened the door and entered. The shop was empty save for a maroon-maned mare who looked to manage the place and a single yellow unicorn stallion. Radiant approached the mare somewhat nervously. Doing anything for the first time was somewhat hard for her.

"Um... hi," she said, with an awkward smile. "I would like some tea... I think..."

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Masala looked up and down Radient. This wasn't at all what she had expected for a first customer, but she didn't want to slack and make a bad impression. Attitude unwavering, Masala remarked, "Well, looks like some pony prefers the night shift. Here, I got something to fix you up." She shuffled around the boxes a bit. Though it wasn't a particularly rare tea, that was just the problem. After all, Chai had spent so much of her stock on more expensive and foreign teas, that she couldn't seem to find a single bag of...

Assam! There it was, right behind the box of Djeerning Black tea. Silently cursing herself for almost loosing a package of tea she went through a lot to get straight from the country it came from, Masala took out yet another cup from under the bar table, and set the bag inside to steep. Though she ought to have asked, Masala knew exactly what the tea needed for a tired customer: sugar, mint, and about five minutes to mash. Turning back to the tired pegasus, Masala said, "This could take a few minutes, so if you're in a hurry, the price is seven bits. You can take a quick breather if you want, I'll just wake you when it's done!" Masala giggled a bit out of genuine good humor, "No, no, I know what you're thinking! It don't matter if you fall asleep on the wait or not, this'll still get you up and kicking at the first sip!" Masala pointed a hoof toward the tables to the side, then checked on Apis's tea to see if it was done. Not yet. Or at least, not for Apis's tastes.

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"Ah..." Radiant started, a little surprised. Did she really look that tired? No. Of course she did. She certainly felt that tired.

"Thanks..." she said ,with a kind of dumb smile on her face. "But it would be unbecoming of a member of the esteemed REA Garrison force to allow herself to succumb to simple tiredness in public..."

Radiant produced some bits from a pouch. She had eight bits on her. Just barely enough to pay for a cup of tea. The price did seem a little high to her. Maybe. She honestly didn't know a thing about tea. This could have been robbery or a discount for whatever tea she was getting and she would be none the wiser on the matter. She handed the bits to the tea maker and nodded. "I'll be fine to wait until my tea is done."

After handing the mare her payment, Radiant found herself in a seat in the proximity of where the other customer had seated. To fend off any potential awkwardness, she glanced at the stallion and decided it was probably best to say something.

"Good morning, sir," she said to the stranger, nodding.

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Apis looked at the mare, very inquisitively. Still keeping his fairly amiable demeanor, he remarked "Saluto, mifilly. A Royal Guard, about at this early hour, though? I thought most shifts didn't switch until around the afternoon... Unless, of course, you're not supposed to be off duty, Eheheheh! Although, being a guard, you probably recognize me. I'm Senyor Apis. Itaily's new ambassador?" Apis flashed a smirk of confidence with his head scrunched chin-to-chest as he began to slouch on the chair. "Masala there is an old friend of mine, and I can tell you her brews really work!" Apis didn't even notice Masala coming to his table with his tea, and jumped when it was placed on the table. Ignoring him, Masala rehearsed, "Alright, here's the 'bitter as death' round one! Hold on to your saddle, this is some strong stuff. I'll get the next round started in the meantime. And you there, miss? Your tea's almost done. I'll be with that in a sec!"

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An ambassador? Radiant's eyes widened. She didn't know the first thing about Itaily but that meant this guy was important, she supposed. She stiffened up a little and nodded at him. She didn't recognize him. She was still new to the force after all, and had always been a night shift guard at Canterlot Castle. She knew the area around that castle like the back of her front hoof, but that she still wasn't very familiar with many other important sights, and that included public figures.

"It's an honor to meet with you, Sir," Radiant said in a respectful voice. "I hear Itaily is nice..." she lied. She only vaguely knew where Itaily was.

"And you are correct. My shift is late at night. I'm currently off duty. I'm on my was to a school not here where my mother works as a teacher. I'm to make a safety presentation to the foals there," Radiant explained with a steady nod.

Radiant just smirked as the ambassador's tea was brought out by the mare Masala. She winced noticeably at the name of the tea. Bitter as death? Ugh... Drinking that would be torture to her.

She smiled at Masala and nodded. "Thanks. But... mine's not going to be too bitter is it...? I kind of don't like really bitter things..."

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Masala gave Radient a look of perplexity, but still retained her smirk. "Nah, Assam isn't that bitter. At least, not with the right addition, and in this case you're getting some sugar and mint, so it oughta' perk you right up without killing you!" Masala gently blew on the top of the steaming cup, but was startled and very nearly dropped the tea when a loud spurting noise suddenly erupted near the door. Masala looked admonishingly at Apis, who had just sprayed the sip of his tea all in the front of the room. "...Case in point. Apis, remember when I told you to drink it slowly? Yeah, I wasn't lying! Oh, no no no no, I'm not cleaning that up this time," Masala threw a rag at Apis, who picked it up off his face, and got to slowly and begrudgingly wiping the floor up. Chai, in the meantime, got back to her business, and trotted over to Radiant with tea in hoof. "Sorry you had to see that. This is what happens when I get to know anypony too well!" She set the tea on a nearby table, and half-sheepishly returned to behind the counter.

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"It's quite alright, ma'am," Radiant said to the mare with a nod. She wouldn't have complained about the behavior of an ambassador regardless. When she returned with Radiant's tea, the guardsmare smiled and added a simple, "Thank you."

Radiant tried to sip at the tea. It was still a little too hot for her, so she blew on it a little and then waited half a minute. She then took a small sip. Masala was right. The bitterness wasn't too overwhelming. The sugar balanced it out and left it with a nice sweetness. The flavor was quite nice actually. Radiant liked it.

"You were right. It isn't so bitter," said Radiant with a nod. "It's quite good."

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