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This is the fourteenth chapter in Sky of Stone and the eighth in part two: Ore.

At the Bottom

It was footsteps that pulled Iris out of her sleep - steps of a person who did not even try to be quiet.

Iris remained motionless. It was better if the stranger did not know she had noticed him. Perhaps she could find out who it was, or avoid trouble, at least.

The steps became louder ... and faded away completely. The stranger now had to be very close to her.

This could not be a good thing. If she used her knowledge to her advantage, Iris could surprise him before she was even more unpleasantly surprised.

Slowly, so that the stranger noticed nothing, she brought herself into the right position. She pushed away from the animal hide that had served her as a bed when she was sleeping, and she actually hit a body with her hands. This came so unexpectedly for the stranger that she could push him to the ground. And if it was not one of the giant ore elms, she could keep him under control for a while.

For a moment she also believed that this was so, but then her opponent had regained his strength and turned their positions with ease, so that Iris was again on the animal fur. Although it was still too dark to make out any outlines, she recognized the stranger's voice, which was not a stranger at all.

"Give me my stone or you'll regret it," he growled. Tanzanite.

"I don't have your stupid stone. It's not my fault if you do not take care of your things." She did not even try to free herself. It was hopeless with Tanzanite. She was better at dealing with words anyway, so it was not difficult for her to lie. Most of the time it was not even noticed by anyone.

Most of the time. "You lie! You've got my stone, I know it." He drilled his nails deeper into her skin, but she would not let him win so easily.

"Oh yeah? How do you know? I'm not to blame for everything just because you can't stand me!" She gave him no time to answer. "But I can help you find a new stone."

"I do not need your help."

"And I would never help you. But your chief has just arranged that, so deal with it."

Tanzanite let go. "... Enki ordered that?"

Iris rubbed the painful spots that his nails had caused. The pain would soon fly away; It did not smell of blood and therefore could not be too bad. "He did. In person. I have just as little desire for it as you, but we should not disappoint him, right?"

"Of course not. Just tell me what to do. I'll be there."

---

"Tanzanite, nice that you came." Heimdall had met with Iris and Sedna inside the column where the bridges met. "I would have informed you if I had found you."

"All I need to know finds its way to me, no matter how," said Tanzanite with a glance at Iris, who did not reply. He didn't deserve that. "What are you doing down there anyway? There is nothing. Nothing at all. I would know - I've been there."

"You must also know that I'll break your neck when we get back." A voice put in, so powerful that it reminded Iris of the mighty birds of prey of her tribe. It belonged to a woman who exuded all that Enki sought in vain: authority and strength. If looks could kill, Tanzanite would be lying on the ground, so coldly did she look at him, her deep red horns blazing like fire. Before them, there was definitely a woman with whom one should not mess - a mistake Tanzanite had obviously committed.

"I don't even know you!," he replied. "But we can fight if you want to do that." He instinctively grabbed his pants pocket; Where he hoped to find his black stone. However, it was still safe in Iris's own bag she always carried with her.

"Calm down, both of you," Heimdall said. "Tanzanite, kids, that is Beryl. I thought it would be good to have a warrior down there just for an emergency."

"Hey," Iris greeted the woman, who was sympathetic to her, in spite of her crude nature. After all, she could tolerate Tanzanite as little as Iris herself.

"I'm not talking to other tribes. What you have to do down there is nothing to me. I'm coming to save my son."

That is why she is so angry with Tanzanite. Should I tell her that we want to go to the cave for quite different reasons? But no, she "did not talk to other tribes". So much for the sympathy Iris had just felt.

"We'll find him," Heimdall said, hiding that he was more interested in the mystery of black stone as well. He went to the entrance from which Beryl had come. "But first we must reach the cave floor."

Together with the others Iris followed him. "What kind of animal will we ride?" she asked Beryl. She would probably answer that question, at least.

"You will not ride at all," the woman replied as soon as she stood outside the bridge, sounding amused.

"What do you mean?" Sedna asked suspiciously.

Instead of answering them, Beryl looked over their heads and nodded to somebody. Even before Iris could turn around, the ground shook beneath her for a moment, and she was torn from her feet. "Hey!" she protested, but it was too late. Together with Sedna right under her, she was trapped between the arm and body of a huge, hairy creature.

"I do not trust you," Beryl explained. "So be glad that I bring you down without any damage. And best of all, keep your mouth shut until we're down, or I'll have to make Stonebreaker grab you tighter. "

You could have called him Bonebreaker, too. But Iris did not want to find out how much force this giant still carried within him, and so she kept silent.

"I'm sorry, but that does not violate any of our rules," said Heimdall, who had just taken his place on the back of his companion, like Tanzanite. "Beryl, see you down." Then the ram ran over the bridge.

"Where do they go?" Iris wondered, realizing too late that this could be a reason for Beryl to express the strength of her companion. You could never know with this tribe.

"When it goes down, hooves need slopes that are not quite as steep as the one we are going to use." According to the source of her voice, Beryl had placed herself on the back of her companion, who, without warning, jumped off the edge of the bridge, and then clung to the outer wall of the large column. Iris still had no idea what exactly this monstrous being actually was, but it managed to move down with enormous speed. It clung to the wall of the rock, only to drop for a moment and repeat this process.

Iris wanted to puke. The movements of the animal did not follow a rhythm on which their body could adjust, in contrast to flying on Shimmer's back. At some point she closed her eyes, hoping to be able to stand the descent easier that way, but unfortunately she did not feel any difference.

She noticed, however, that it was becoming darker around her, so dark that even when she opened her eyes, she could no longer see the rock face directly in front of her. Beryl's companion landed with a dull sound on the ground and lifted his arm so that Sedna fell to the ground and Iris fell on Sedna.

Scarcely had the two recovered from it, Iris again was overpowered by the nausea, which she finally gave in to. With a touch of satisfaction, she heard that Sedna was just like her. So you aren't as tough as you always pretend to be.

"Are you ready yet?" Beryl complained, pulling out a glowing stone and turning the environment into a dim light. Now Iris was able to recognize her companion: a four-legged creature with long, muscular front legs and a face not unlike that of an Elm. "Stonebreaker is a gorilla, if you have not already realized this," the woman explained, sounding as if everyone had to know.

No. I will not go into that now. After all, she wanted to survive that day undamaged.

"How long will it take for the others to be here?" Sedna asked instead.

"Not long." Then Beryl said nothing more and the girls did the same. Iris noticed that the woman was always looking around as if she was looking for someone. Should Iris approach her? Tell her that they will find her son and generally everything would be well? But she decided against it. The woman did not want her help and it would be no more than empty words anyway.

So they spent many more minutes silently before they were approached from some distance by a light, which soon turned out to be another glowing stone. Its bearer was Heimdall, who did not need long to get to the group with Tanzanite and his ram. "Have you already found anything?"

"Nothing but darkness." Iris narrowed her eyes in the hope of perhaps discovering something. "No, we have to use the glowing stones if we want to achieve something."

Exactly at this moment they were extinguished.

"That is the exact opposite of what I have just suggested."

"I can still feel the energy of the stone," Beryl protested. "As if I would expose you to the darkness. Maybe you, but not all of us. "

"Do not move," Heimdall ordered. "Something is wrong here."

A roaring sound filled the air. Iris held her breath. What, by Aricel, had that been? Did any monsters living there just wait to kill them all?

"Stonebreaker!" Beryl shouted and Iris did not trust her ears. It was the gorilla who emitted these sounds?

This, however, only made their situation remotely better. After all, there had to be a reason for his behavior. Was the actual enemy nearby?

The glowing stones shone again, as if nothing had happened. Beryl immediately went to her companion to make sure he was doing well. She had not yet begun to investigate him. Suddenly she paused and asked, without turning around. "Of you strangers, neither of you are, by chance, a healer, are you?"

"No," said Sedna. "Why?"

Iris had already pushed past the giant gorilla. What she saw then made her freeze the blood in her veins.

On the ground lay Tanzanite, his chest traversed by five long, deep wounds.

Beryl let her eyes wander as well as the light of her stone, hoping to track down the enemy. Meanwhile, Heimdall bent down to Tanzanite. "He's still alive," he said, tense and at the same time relieved.

"Not for long." A voice sounded out of the dark, malicious and hostile. A voice that made Iris even more frightened than Tanzanite's injury, threatening as the shadows themselves.

The shadows. Had they tracked them down? They could move almost silently and were almost invisible in the dark. No one would ever notice it until it was too late. Is it that now? If so, Iris would not give up without a fight, even if she could not do very much without weapons or magic. To her left was Sedna with an inconspicuous but deadly hunting knife in her hand; To her right Beryl, who could throw dangerous blows with crystal-clear brass knuckles. Heimdall stood protectively over Tanzanite. They all would fight.

A creature stepped out of the darkness. An elm ... almost. His skin was pitch black, his head was covered with dark-red horns, and his glaring yellow eyes with the dark pupils seemed to drastically pierce them. He was about the size of the ore elms, if not for his huge wings, which made him seem much more monstrous and menacing.

As unwilling as Iris would accept it, she had to face the truth: she was facing a real shadow.

"Are you scared?" The shadow grinned and showed his snarling fangs. "Go ahead, attack me. If you want a fight, you can get it. "

Iris held back. She did not want to find out what the monster was capable of doing. Heimdall also thought it would be better not to overreact. "We are not here to fight you, shadow."

"The great captain Heimdall, as overcautious as ever."

"From where -"

"- I know your name? Don't you recognize me? No wonder, as little as you care about your people. "

"You insult one of the most important representatives of the tribe, creature," growled Beryl, who seemed to be on the verge of attacking the shadow. He had no chance against her mighty companion, surely.

"As if I did not know that. I've worked for him for years."

"Kyanite," breathed Sedna. "The Ore-Elm who had disappeared in the middle of the night."

Heimdall stepped back and stared at the shadow, without saying anything. He was stunned - so it had to be true.

Iris did not want to believe that was so. There had always been stories, even if in recent weeks more and more elmen had begun to believe in them. And yet it seemed so unreal that the shadows could make other Elmen to one of their own.

"Surprised?" The shadow laughed. "Yes, it's me, Kyanite. Or at least I was once. Now I am Alastor, all thanks to my wonderful partner, Khya."

"I am very pleased to meet you." A second shadow appeared out of the darkness, directly next to Alastor. It was a girl, not older than Iris, and yet she could see that she was rich in experience. She looked at Alastor. "You did not tell me how similar your old name is to mine."

"Well, I guess my destiny was predetermined." It did not sound like he was particularly interested in her, though. Rather in ... power. He looked down at Tanzanite. "Perhaps he was good for something after all, with all the night shifts he had thrown at me ... which does not mean that he did not deserve his punishment. Isn't that right, Tanzanite?" He shouted in the direction of the man on the ground. "Do you miss your companion?"

Tanzanite opened his eyes. He seemed to forget that he was badly wounded. Beryl tried to hold him back, but Alastor did not stop and walked over to them. "What is it, Tanzanite? Do you want to tell me something? "He asked the man, who was kneeling before him and was only prevented from standing by Beryl, while the wounds still bled violently. "Go on. I am listening."

"I ... I hate you," Tanzanite said, followed by insults that only someone like him could know. "I would ... I would kill you. If I had my ... stone ... "

"The one she has in her pocket?" Alastor grinned at Iris. How did he know that? The stone had to be connected with the shadows indeed, if Alastor could feel its mere presence.

This made Tanzanite even more angry. "You!" He shouted at Iris. His voice was already losing strength, he could not last long. If he was aware of this, he ignored it. "Give ... give it back to me ... thief ..."

"Get it yourself." With a targeted blow of his claws, Alastor made Beryl release Tanzanite. He did not let this be said twice, and he used all his remaining strength to attack Iris, who immediately stepped back a few steps.

But Tanzanite was so obsessed with the stone that he still did not give up. On his knees he dragged himself in her direction, while she could not help but watch him. She did not move because she knew that he would not reach her anymore.

And yet she had to swallow hard when he collapsed halfway to her.

"No big loss," Alastor commented, turning to the rest of the group, who was as speechless as Iris herself. "Who wants to be next?"

Heimdall was the first to find his words again. "Nobody. Above all, not before we know what this stone is all about."

"So that's why you're down here." It was the female shadow, Khya, who answered him. "If Tanzanite did not make it clear enough to you, the stone makes Elmen recognize the terrible truths of life. This makes it easier for us to get them on the right side."

"Shadow propaganda," Sedna said, without flinching. "Nothing more." She looked at Iris. "We should destroy it before it causes serious damage."

Damage like Tanzanite's death? If he had really been a nice person before the stone, as Amethyst had said, then he had not deserved death. And even if she had only met him as an idiot, Iris did not feel a breath of joy at the sight of his lifeless body.

She reached for the carefully wrapped stone in her pocket, while Khya, almost bored, stretched her leathery wings and folded again. "Make with the stone what you want. Where it comes from, there are many more and there are already some on the way to their new owners. It would take a little more than a random group like you to stop us - too bad that the oh so powerful Chosen One is not here."

Just at that moment, Iris noticed a movement where the glowing stones could no longer reach.

No, more than that: A light.

Sky of Stone Chapters
 Prologue   Prologue
 One: Earth   1: Summer Solstice2: Riders of the Wind3: Light and Shadow4: Opposites5: A Strange Encounter6: Across the River
 Two: Ore   7: Dark Omens8: Underground9: His Radiance10: The Forbidden11: A Boy and His Goat12: The Story of a Tribe13: Keeper of Earth14: At the Bottom15: Changes
 Three: Sky   16: Back to the Start17: Against the Darkness18: Old Acquaintances19: Change of Plans20: Unexpected21: Sky Holes22: Wind and Water
 Epilogue   Epilogue

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