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This is the sixteenth chapter in Sky of Stone and the first in part three: Sky.

Back to the Start

He found us. But how could that be? They had spent the last day under the ground and had been riding for weeks before. They had fled from Sunstone a few hours before Sabazios appeared. He could not possibly know where they were going to be. Unless…

Iris searched the ranks of sky elms. Sabazios had brought with him almost a dozen; Their feathers ranged from violet to reddish to deep blue tones. They were tall for their tribe, though not in comparison with the rest of Elysia's tribes, and speed and strenght radiated from their wiry bodies. Iris saw mostly warriors, no question, for their companions were mainly birds of prey like eagles and falcons. Only Sabazios's goose stood out among them, and a jay almost vanishing amidst the other birds.

"This is all your fault!" The shock that had just overwhelmed Iris now gave way to the rage that she felt at the sight of Zephyr and his jay. "You told him what we were going to do! He would never have found us if you had not betrayed us!"

Zephyr tried to hide behind his tribe mates without even attempting to reply. He was not even able to do that.

"I've always known you're a coward, but a traitor? That ... I ..." She found no words for what she felt. Their escape had been so perfect that she had completely forgotten Sabazios over the last few days. And now Zephyr had ruined everything.

"It's also nice to see you," Sabazios said, turning her attention away from Zephyr again. She'd like to have plucked a few feathers out of him ... but now she had to wait. Rather, she had to make sure that her stupid mentor and his friends disappeared as quickly as possible.

"I can't agree."

"That was not serious anyway." Sabazios' eyes were particularly stern today. Judging from his usual punishments, which could be read perfectly on this facial expression, she might now be allowed to clean the places most often visited by birds of any size, perhaps for months. At least her hatred was reciprocated.

"Anyway," continued Sabazios, "I ask you and your new friends to spare me all the details. I am not the one who decides about the ... further action."

"Oh no? And who then? Caelus, perhaps?"

"So it is." Triumph flashed in his eyes.

Iris swallowed. What did the chief of her tribe have to do with it? Not that she'd ever met him, but she knew the stories - and they did not describe him as friendly.

She glanced at Zephyr, who was already looking down. He had known it! That Sabazios would involve the chief in the matter. The reputation of the chief was well known to him.

"It can't be that bad," Geb said. Did he want to give her courage or dissuade Sabazios?

"That's easy for him to say," Iris heard someone mutter from Sabazios's entourage.

"Wait a second," said another. "He will change his mind quickly enough if we are forced to decimate his tribe."

"It will not happen," said Sabazios with a warning tone, before turning to Iris again. "Yet he is not wrong. When my nephew told me," Zephyr forced himself not to look away, "about your doing, I had to ruin the good name of our honorable tribe in order to confirm to the earth tribe that one of ours really was to blame for the disappearance of one of their Elmen. Of course, Kishar, their chief, has not forgotten the defeat against our tribe in the last war. She will break peace if her Elm does not return soon."

So the Earth Elm they had met a few days ago had actually been right. There would be war if they did not return to their tribes and give up their plan. But they couldn't! Not where they had already done so much. There had to be a way to stop the war and, which was almost as important, their punishment by Caelus, who was not exactly merciful.

"Just a moment." She suddenly became aware of something. "When it comes to bringing back Geb, Caelus does not really have anything to do with the matter. He does not need to know anything about it."

"He knows, of course, already," replied Sabazios, in his condescending tone, which Zephyr also mastered perfectly when he was not a traitorous coward. "How else would I have been able to get such a capable accompaniment? Kishar himself had secured the transfer of her message to Caelus by having some of her Elmen accompany me on my return journey. We will bring you and the Earth Elm to Caelus, where these Elmen will attend the trial."

"Then they return with Geb back to their tribe and all problems are solved," added Sedna, who had, like Karzelek, not said anything so far. Sabazios gave her an angry look, while Iris had to smile because of the sarcastic underpins. "But you've forgotten a tiny detail: if any of us go, we'll all go."

Iris looked surprised at her. The fact that Sedna was on her side was something completely new. The water-Elmin, however, looked confident. "Otherwise, you'd leave me alone here in the middle of nowhere - I really don't want to put up with that."

It would have been too good to call them friends. But had she expected anything else?

"It's not like we do not have enough space," one of the men said to Sabazios. "The net is big enough to hold another companion, especially a tiny goat like his." As he pointed to Karzelek, the boy looked almost as panicky as if he wanted to go back to his tribe, and no one would probably stop him. "If he is also part of your group."

"We ... come along," Karzelek said. He didn't have much to lose.

Sabazios held his hand to his forehead, as if wondering what he had just done. "Well. If you insist, it will be so." He nodded to one of his elms, a young man with bright red, almost flame-colored feathers. "Skiron. Make sure these two four-legged companions are ready for transport."

"Transport?" asked Geb before the Sky Elm could answer. "Boulder can run! He is even really fast. And, uh ... much too heavy for whatever you're planning."

The man whom Sabazios called Skiron laughed. "You underestimate us tremendously. Why do you think there are so many of us? Just help us prevent your companion from panicking, as it will save us all a lot of trouble."

With the help of a mango, Geb succeeded in luring Boulder onto a net which the Sky elms had spread on the ground. This was even more difficult with Four-leaf: Karzelek needed a lot of good persuasion until the goat took its place on the net, the holes of which were almost too big for him. Four Sky Elmen had taken place with their companions at the corners of the net which birds held it firmly in their claws.

Geb, Karzelek and also Sedna sat together with the respective rider on three other birds. Iris was glad that she was spared. She had just made her acquaintance with an animal whose movement was not at her best. For Sedna this was the second time - but since diving was basically nothing but flying under water, maybe she would even enjoy the next hours. Iris would definitely do it. She could hardly wait to fly again after all the time under the earth. If Shimmer was able to do so...

As if she had read her thoughts, the magpie crouched, and meant for Iris to sit upon her back. She did not hesitate, and immediately felt comfortable in her familiar position, but she did not want to burden Shimmer's foot unnecessarily. "We can go."

"Good." Sabazios, who was the top of the group with North Star, now focused entirely on the track ahead. His companion lifted from the ground and flew forward, slowly as always.

The other birds were also moving. They followed the goose in front of them, without even trying to fly faster than they did. Yet they were almost all birds of prey - and they were known to reach much higher speeds than the current ones.

Was it because four of them had to carry Boulder and Four-leaf, and three others had two elms on their backs? This could be the case. They had to allocate their strength well if they wanted to cope with the long journey into the mountains.

Shimmer, on the other hand, was full of energy - it wasn't only Iris who had missed flying. But she had also been able to move - the magpie, on the other hand, had to stay with Amethyst all the time. Now she was finally back in the open air, but she could not use her forces. It also urged Iris to accelerate again after the long days under the earth and feel the wind in her feathers.

But they both knew that was not a good idea at the time. They had no choice but to follow Sabazios to the Sky tribe. Even if they were leaving the group for only a moment, Sabazios would not be happy. On the other hand, they would come back. So if they only turned around for a short time...

"...Iris?"

She almost lost her balance when she heard the voice beside her. Then she saw the orange-colored jay and his rider with a scarf blowing in the wind. "What do you want?"

"To tell you that this is not my fault."

"So you didn't tell your uncle about our plan?"

"Yes, but -"

"Well, there you go." She sped up Shimmer.

Zephyr, however, followed her. "Listen, Iris, I didn't want that. I couldn't have guessed that there were other elmen with you."

"You could have." He was always so intelligent, wasn't he? "Now they're in trouble too, thanks to you."

Anger was heard in Zephyr's voice. "So another war would have been better? I have told you from the beginning how the tribes will take your two disappearances. If only for once you had listened to me- "

"Don't always blame me for everything!" Iris shouted at him, ignoring all the other elms around her. Let them hear what she had to tell Zephyr. "I know what I'm doing, Zeph. I've always known that. To look for the hero of the prophecy is probably the only way to save Elysia. Someone has to do it. Geb and I have decided and we would do it again at any time."

"Not at all, Iris. You never know what you're doing, or what consequences your actions have. Even if you stopped the shadows, in the meantime countless Elmen would have died anyway because of a pointless war. Fortunately, we can prevent this in time, but what good did your journey do to you? Nothing that matters."

"Oh yeah? Well, if you are interested, we have given the ore tribe a chief with whom they are much better off than with his predecessor. We fought against shadows and kept them from spreading stones with black magic among the elmen. Even if it's over now - and it's not, believe me, we have achieved more in two days than you did in your whole life."

"That's enough." As it looked, Sabazios had left the lead to someone else and listened to the last part of the conversation. "I do not want to hear another word until we have reached the tribe."

Zephyr was already opening his mouth, but his uncle glanced at him.

"This is true for both of you." Then he went forward again.

She still had so much to say to Zephyr, but he shook his head and let his jay fall back to join the formation elsewhere.

Really great, thought Iris, and sighed. Zephyr's question did not want to get out of her head.

What good did it do to you?

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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