This is the fifteenth chapter in Sky of Stone, and the ninth and final chapter in part two: Ore.
"There's someone there." Karzelek was right: there, before them, several silhouettes were distinguished from a light similar to that of Geb's glowing stone. Not only that, however - one of these figures was no bigger than Karzelek and had incredibly thin legs compared to the others. This could only be Iris. They had found the others... but what were they doing here, in the darkness of the cave floor?
Iris, thought Geb, just relieved to see her. He ran to reach her, but what was that? Something suddenly shielded her from him, so that the light of the candle stones could only reach him by a kind of filter- the skin of a leathery wing.
"What ... is that?" Karzelek asked nervously, and pressed his companion closer to him.
"Shadows," whispered Geb. For the first time, his voice sounded so vulnerable, so overwhelmed by what he saw. The Shadows were here. They existed. All the stories of their sharp claws, their gigantic wings and the disaster they brought ... they were all true. The shadows were here- and they were threatening his friends.
Whether they were known to him or not, Karzelek was afraid of them. "What ... what are you going to do now?"
"Me? I'm not more dangerous than you." He tried to estimate their number. "There are two, I believe. If we throw ourselves at them from behind, we might be able to distract them long enough to let the others escape."
One of the shadows turned to them. It was a girl, and although she lacked a muscular build, Geb had no doubt in his mind that she was terribly dangerous. "More of you?" She did not sound very enthusiastic. "I can see you, so do not even try to run away."
"Right." The other Shadow, male and some years older than his female partner, sounded in contrast to her, extremely enthusiastic. "Come on, we'll kill you anyway."
The boys followed his orders reluctantly. As they approached, Geb recognized Iris as well as Sedna, who both tried to conceal their relief. If the Shadows had not been here, they would have been much more pleased to see him again, he was sure.
His breath caught as he saw Tanzanite on the ground. He was dead, clearly. What had happened? Could Geb have helped him if he had been here?
"Son." Only now did Geb see the Ore-Elmin, who was with them and stood next to a true colossus of a companion. Both looked as if they were not to be trifled with, which was reinforced by the hard tone of the woman.
As in the encounter with Terrai, Karzelek made himself even smaller than usual.
The woman seemed to want to say something, but then remembered the present circumstances and gave him a silent look, which was strict and yet somehow gave a little relief. At any rate, Geb now understood why Karzelek was so afraid of the anger of his parents.
"Actually, we could let you go," thought the Shadow girl, which fortunately seemed not as murderous as her partner seemed to be. "The Ore Tribe is not a threat to us, but you three ..." She looked at Geb and his two friends to whom he had now joined, but above all to Iris. "Well, you at least can not leave this place."
"Why me?" Even if she tried to cover it again, Iris was clearly afraid. Of course she was ... when the shadows killed Tanzanite in front of her eyes, she herself was a piece of cake.
"Yes, either all or none. And you know I'm for all." The male Shadow grinned. "Defend yourself, if you will. After all, it would be boring otherwise."
"Well. We will fight you," said Heimdall. "Since we are in the majority, the fight will take place without our companions, so that the fight is as balanced as possible. If we win, let us go."
"And otherwise we kill you. Yeah, I like it. Khya?"
"We should not fight if we are not in danger, Alastor," she recalled. "But I suppose this could be a good training for a future emergency."
Geb swallowed. They are so sure that they will win. Are they merely arrogant or indeed so powerful? He did not want to find out, but he had no choice.
"That's how I see it. So then, time for a bit of fun."
The Shadow crashed on Heimdall, and all of a sudden everything went on. Geb was not used to it at all, everything went too fast for him. Somewhere next to him a bright blue and a dark blue spot fought with the Shadow girl, and he had no idea who was winning. The two adult Ore elmen took care of the older Shadow, their glowing stones suppressed by the power of their opponent. Geb was the only one to still provide light with his stone, because no one seemed to notice him.
This also applied to Karzelek, who kept as much distance from the combatants as possible. He did not intend to interfere, quite unlike the warrior he was supposed to be. He would make an easy goal when he was noticed.
Alastor kept pushing his opponents where Geb's glowing stone could no longer reach them. Then he seemed to literally dissolve in the darkness, only to emerge a few yards further and attack Karzelek.
Geb came to him in the last second. "Look for someone your size!" he shouted as he stood in front of the boy and tried to defend him from Alastor with all his physical strength. Boulder was not with him, but with his own strength, Geb could grab the shadow and hold him back. He would not allow him to hurt his friend.
Geb did not know whether Karzelek was still standing behind him or had fled since he did not dare to turn around. He could feel the dark aura of his opponent, but he could not give in. His friends counted on him.
Suddenly the resistance disappeared. Geb fell forward, exactly onto Alastor, who did not move. Not at all. His eyes stared into space, and under his head, the ground turned red ... blood red.
Geb knelt down and raised the head of the shadow, though he did not know if he really wanted to see what had happened. He did it anyway - and regretted it immediately. In the middle of Alastor's head stuck Tanzanite's black and, as Geb knew, lethally sharp stone.
And a few yards away Karzelek stood with his right arm outstretched and tears in his eyes.
Silence spread as Iris, Sedna, and Khya stopped their fight, and all eyes fixated on Karzelek.
"You killed him." His mother's words did not just hit Karzelek like a blow. Even Geb had to repeat the sentence in his mind, but he could not really understand it. Karzelek ... he really did ... Geb did not know at all what to say, and the others seemed to be similar. Only his mother was very proud of him and was not interested in the fact that Karzelek was emotionally distraught. "I knew there was a warrior in you, my son."
The boy looked down and gave no sound. Geb wanted to go to him to help him somehow, but he felt that his mother would not let him.
In fact, he breathed a sigh of relief when Khya steered the conversation in a different direction. "You defeated him," she said, as if she had never thought it possible. "I'll let you go ... for now. The Shadows will keep you in mind. We will not allow the wrong side to win."
While Iris and Sedna were still holding on to her, she literally dissipated into the air and disappeared.
"You have returned." Enki greeted them all with a long, unusually interested look.
They had, in fact, left Alastor's body, along with Tanzanite's stone at the bottom of the cave, and then dared to ascend again. Karzelek's mother had insisted on letting him and Four-leaf be carried by her own companion, while Iris and Sedna had formally denied who went second with the gorilla. Without knowing what the reason for this was, Geb finally offered up for it - and quickly recognized the problem for the girls. He was no worse off now than at the bottom of the cavern, which was probably due to the fact that he had already been accustomed to the uneven movement by Boulder.
"Well?" Enki asked, when no one really knew what to say. "Did you find out what the stone was for?"
"Yes, Your Radiance." Not even Heimdall had been able to process what had happened so far. However, he did his best to tell his chief about their encounter with the shadows - the beings who had until recently been completely unknown to the ore tribe.
Karzelek's mother seemed to find that Heimdall did not get him into the limelight enough. "Karzelek, my son, killed the shadow by hand. I have always known that the fighting spirit of his ancestors is in him. His education should be strengthened to meet his abilities. "
"No," Geb protested, but quickly fell silent. He could not talk to a chief like that! "I mean, I ... we met Terrai. And he assured us that Karzelek should be a worker, not a warrior. You can not force him to do anything he can not do at all. "
"He saved your life," the boy's mother contradicted.
"But not because he wanted to kill the shadow!" Geb turned to Enki again. "I know this tribe has been doing it for generations. Nevertheless, it is not the color of the horns that determines what is good. It is the inner values that matter, and it is impossible to determine them at birth. And that is why I am for the abolition of the present system of your tribe."
Enki took his time with his answer. When it was time, it came rather soberly. "Heimdall?"
"Yes, my chief?"
"What do you think about that?"
Heimdall, too, was silent for a moment, wondering whether he should tell the truth. "Well ... I suggest we ask the rest of the tribe whether they are satisfied with their role. Then we'll see if changes are necessary."
"Good. And what will you do in regard to the shadow stones?"
"I ... I do not know." Heimdall's expression was clear: Had I to think about it?
Geb helped him out, for he had an idea. "You could talk to Terrai! He is very interested in your tribe and would like to help you, for example ... to spill the rest of these stones or something."
"He'll want to talk to the chief," Enki said.
"But you ..." Heimdall hesitantly said, "You are ..."
"Old," Iris grinned, and Geb was afraid that she would get in trouble for this remark, but it did not happen. No, Enki even replied with a tired smile.
"I did not say that I am the one who will meet with him."
"Yes," said Geb. "'He will want to talk to the chief,' you said."
"And that is clearly you," Heimdall added. "Unless ..." He stared at Enki in disbelief, when he realized something Geb had not yet recognized. "Enki, you ... You are kidding."
"Not at all, my friend. Did you think I did not know how old I was? Almost a century I have walked in the caves, longer than any other Elm of this tribe. In my pride, I missed caring for an heir. But my time is soon over ... it is a miracle that now, in my last days, I should have the honor of meeting these three strangers. Yes, our traditions are as old as the tribe itself, and yet ... I feel it, Heimdall. A new time ... a time of change. I can not say what will happen. I may be too old to lead the tribe through this time ... to be the pillar that connects the tribe ... but you, Heimdall, can be more than that. You can do what I have never dared. You can ... make sure the other tribes remember us again. Will you fulfill this last wish, my friend?"
"How could I refuse?" Heimdall sounded as overwhelmed as Geb felt. Who would have thought that Enki had such a sentimental side? He was more than an old grail after all.
"I thank you. And I thank you as well." Enki's gaze rested on Geb and his friends. "Without you we would never have known about the shadows ... I wish you much success on your further journey. If there is ever anything the tribe can do for you, do not hesitate to ask us."
Iris took the opportunity immediately. "We have come here not only because of Shimmer. As you know, we are in search of the hero of light."
Enki nodded, waiting for the rest of her response.
"It is said that this tribe is owning a gigantic library that contains ancient knowledge. We were hoping we could find an answer to the question of where the hero of the light is."
"Well," said Enki, "I'd like to give you access to this library, but ..."
"But what?" Iris asked impatiently.
"This library does not exist. Whoever has spread these stories will have described our tribe as he has imagined it. It may be that some things are true, but not that library you speak of."
Iris stared at him bewildered, but Geb remained perfectly still. Why was not he as shocked as he should have been?
Of course: because he knew of an alternative.
He turned to Iris. "When we were at Terrai, I asked him about the hero. He thinks we should ask the other guardians for help."
"Aricel," Iris nodded, combining the new findings with lightning speed. "Her place is only a few days away."
"Then she's our next destination," Sedna agreed. "Beak Bay is not far from there."
"I hope you find the answers you are looking for," said Enki. "I'm sorry I could not help you."
"That can be changed." Geb had to grin at the idea which formed in his head. "I would ask for Karzelek to accompany us."
Karzelek stared at him incredulously, his mother shaking his head. "No way. Nobody leaves the cave, especially without the training to the warrior he has yet to complete."
You can not ask the next person if they want to join us, Iris's words echoed in his head. Soon he would hear them again.
"Why not?" Iris said instead, looking at Beryl. "We will surely encounter more shadows, not to mention other dangers. If there is an efficient way to teach him to fight, then it's this."
This was not the idea! Geb wanted to make sure that Karzelek did not have to fight. When he tried to disagree with Iris, he saw Sedna's eyes: both of them were well aware of his intention. But only with Iris's tactics would she be able to convince his mother.
"I do not think that's a bad idea," Heimdall said, nodding to Iris almost imperceptibly. "If we want to strengthen our relations with the other tribes, it can not hurt to send one of us into their territories."
"All right then. He will go with you - but not without a proper weapon. Give me an hour." Beryl grabbed Karzelek by the arm, saluted before Enki, and dragged her son out of the room.
An hour later, Geb, Iris and Sedna stood at the entrance of the tunnel that would take them up again. Heimdall had accompanied them and made sure that they had enough provisions for their journey, and rolled his eyes, as Boulder already began to eat them. Geb could only grin about it - it might have been only one day, but he had missed his companion very much. From now on he would make sure that they were not separated again.
Iris, too, was happy to see Shimmer again. The magpie had well surpassed Amethyst's treatment and it almost remained unnoticed that her toe was missing. Iris had worried too much about it.
They did not have to wait long for Karzelek to join them. His mother had not lied: safely stowed in a sheath, he carried a sword, which was clearly too big for him and almost dragged on the ground.
Heimdall sighed. "Beryl is serious, isn't she?"
"Of course," Karzelek nodded, trying to hide how little he liked it. "This is my father's sword. It will help me to be as good as he is. "
"Carnelian's sword will not help you," Heimdall said. "It remains here."
"Do not lie to me, Karzelek. I believe what Geb said earlier, and you do too. It does not do us any good when you try to be something you are not. So go up and look at the world - and forget what your mother is expecting from you. "
Geb nodded. "We'll make sure nothing happens to you. That's what friends are for, right?"
"Hey, I've only known him for a few hours," said Iris, but then met Karzelek with a grin. "But we'll surely get along with each other, and Geb will take care of that."
"You can rely on it!" Geb grinned just as wide, while Heimdall took the sword again. "So, do we want to go?"
"There's something else." Heimdall stepped to Iris and put a small package in her shoulder bag. "Nothing important - just a memory of our tribe."
"Thank you," said Iris, surprised by the gesture.
"Thank you. You all ... and for everything." He blinked as if he had something in his eye. "But now you should go. There's a lot to do here, now ... oh, just go. Good luck and good trip."
"All right, Heimdall, we will miss you too," Iris laughed, then turned to her friends. "You heard him, folks. Let's go!"
They waved him one last time, then they departed. Soon they saw a light which, at last, proclaimed the upper world familiar to them.
"This is going to be great," Geb told Karzelek, as they involuntarily accelerated their steps. The caves had been beautiful, no question, but secretly they had missed the wide skies and open countryside. "You'll find it all huge. The world is so much bigger than you think, and there is so much to see. Oh, and you can ride with us on Boulder! It may be a bit slow, but he can still carry three Elmen and a goat without problems."
"Can you save your speech for later?" Sedna asked.
He followed her gaze. They had reached the tunnel entrance.
There was none other than Sabazios - and at least ten more elms of his tribe.
|Sky of Stone Chapters|
|One: Earth||1: Summer Solstice • 2: Riders of the Wind • 3: Light and Shadow • 4: Opposites • 5: A Strange Encounter • 6: Across the River|
|Two: Ore||7: Dark Omens • 8: Underground • 9: His Radiance • 10: The Forbidden • 11: A Boy and His Goat • 12: The Story of a Tribe • 13: Keeper of Earth • 14: At the Bottom • 15: Changes|
|Three: Sky||16: Back to the Start • 17: Against the Darkness • 18: Old Acquaintances • 19: Change of Plans • 20: Unexpected • 21: Sky Holes • 22: Wind and Water|