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This is the seventeenth chapter in Sky of Stone and the second in part three: Sky.

Against the Darkness

"Relax. Or do you want us to fall off?"

The Sky-Elm had it easy. He had certainly spent half his life on the back of the hawk on which they were riding. Of course Geb did not want to fall hundreds of meters and then break all his bones. That's why he clung to the other elm. With his bright blue feathers, he reminded Geb of Iris, who flew somewhere before them. How could she like flying? It was unbearable for Geb to see the landscape so far underneath them, and above all, as Boulder dangled in the net. If it tore, no one would be able to stop it and his companion would fall, all the way down ...

"Just stop looking down all the time. In front of you, it's not more exciting, but you don't think of falling down, at least."

Don't think about it. He tried exactly that, but what else could he do? Iris was not here to distract him. On the other hand...

"What's your name?" He asked the man who could not be all that much older than Sedna but was definitely an adult.

"Notos," replied the latter. "After the South Wind. And you?"

"Geb. After... no idea, frankly." He had never thought about that.

"No surprise. It's nothing new that the Earth Tribe is not the smartest."

"What does that mean?"

Notos shrugged. "No offense. But if one hears something about your tribe, then it's mostly about its physical strength."

Geb nodded, though the other had not once turned to him and could not see him. "That's because we're bigger than you are."

"Maybe. But you must not forget that since the first elms, the elements are a part of us. The Fire Tribe is as passionate as fire, but we possess the glory of the skies. And your tribe is as strong as the rocks."

Geb had to think of the prophecy. "And the light elms..."

"... watch over every one of us. Just like the sun. "

The light will guide you. Geb watched the exact location of the sun, avoiding the view down. The group seemed to be moving toward it almost exactly. The sky turned reddish, and in some places as pale-lilac as Sabazios where the sun was about to go down.

As pale lilac as Sabazios ... Geb thought of Iris and Zephyr. Iris's feathers were as blue as the noonday, and Zephyr's had the color of the dawn.

"What are you thinking about?" Notos asked, breaking his silence.

"The feathers of this tribe. Those of Sabazios have the same color as the sky."

"That's right. He was born in the evening hours, but I was in the day."

"And Zephyr in the morning," Geb concluded, fascinated. At the same time, however, something occurred to him. "There are certainly also Elmen who are born at night. Do they have black feathers?" In Sabazios' group he had never seen such elves.

"Most are lucky and are still born in the dark blue hours," explained Notos.

"Lucky?" he repeated. "What about the others?"

"The others are children of darkness. An evil omen. We kill them before they can bring disaster to the tribe."

Geb swallowed. He had not expected that. He changed the subject to distract himself from this idea. "Shouldn't we land soon?" He did not like the idea of ​​flying in the dark at all. The clouds in the sky intensified his discomfort still more - if he could not see the stars, what should he then orient himself to? There would be no light to guide him.

"Why? Do you have to pee?"

"What? No. I just thought it was going to be dark... "

"Oh, that. Well, that's why we will not land. Our birds can fly very long, so we only have to spend the next night on the ground."

"So we are sleeping up here?" That was absolutely impossible without falling off.

"If you want." Notos sounded amused. "Could be difficult if you sleep as deeply as a stone. Elmen of my tribe have at least a very light sleep, so we notice in time if we are about to lose balance."

That is soothing. Thanks to this explanation, Geb did not even dare to try to fall asleep at all. He knew himself well enough and would certainly wake up when he was already in free fall. He could do without it.

Geb tried to fight against his tiredness. As Noto had correctly predicted, gravity was a great help. Whenever he was close to falling asleep, he slumped to the side and started to panic before something worse happened.

When it was almost too dark to be able to see the other birds, Notos leaned to one side as Geb had done several times inadvertently. For a moment he had the terrible guess that Notos was asleep, but that was not the case. Geb could not see much because of the sparse light - until suddenly it was all around him. All the birds that were not involved in carrying Boulder carried steel vessels in their claws, in which small, but bright fires blazed. They had to keep these materials in the bags the birds carried, just like Shimmer always did. The magpie, as far as Geb could see, was, beside Zephyr's bird, the only beast which did not carry anything in the claws. Maybe only adults could use this equipment, he thought.

Clouds still covered the sky, so no single star could be seen. But now Geb was no longer worried: the flickering lights around him were a wonderful substitute. How did they look like from the bottom? Elmen on the ground held the group perhaps for comets. Or for the hero who would come to defeat the shadows.

---

The next few days were not very varied. Geb still did not dare to look down for a long time, so he could only watch the sky and the other elmen. They flew all day and during the night - only occasionally did they take short rest breaks. An exception was every second night where the group, as Notos had said, was on the ground, so that the Elmen and especially their companions could finally sleep. Of course, Geb took full advantage of it.

He had not taken the trouble to measure the duration of their journey. But when he saw gigantic fissures in front of him, it felt as though he had seen nothing but clouds and the different colors of heaven for years.

They were as large as the mountains under which the ore tribe lived, if not even greater. There were a total of four: three were close together, and the fourth was facing these points.

"Finally," he heard Notos say. "We are here: the Claws."

Now Geb saw: the arrangement of the mountain peaks reminded one of the claws of a bird. And there were a lot of them. Countless birds populated the skies and whizzed from one mountain top to the next, racing against one another, or filling the place with their songs. They all had feathers in the colors of the sky, and also carried elmen on their backs.

As the group approached, Geb stunned that all these companions were not the only beings nearby. Everywhere, much smaller birds were buzzing around - birds that were actually their normal size. It was only when they became companions that they reached the proportions necessary for riding.

Nevertheless, it was completely new to see so many animals without a companion, especially in the immediate vicinity of a huge city. In the case of the earth tribe this was completely different - however, birds could fly, there was surely less space deficiency than in his hometown. Had Iris thought of it when he met her?

Sabazios steered towards the mountain opposite the other three. This mountain was also the most magnificent of all, as Geb quickly recognized. All that they had in common was that they were much more densely populated than the earth that united them. Narrow paths wove around the stone, but it was obvious that most of the paths were managed in flight. Only the single mountain had a relatively wide, fortified road leading up to the gigantic palace, which occupied the bulk of the mountain. It seemed to have been partly hewn into the mountain, but it was mostly a white, almost flawless stone. Countless columns and statues of elms and birds lined the building, which was a breathtaking sight through and through.

And the palace of the chief, as Geb suddenly realized.

They entered the palace through a kind of runway in the upper part of the building, where they were already expected. Geb rose from Notos's falcon and stepped forward a few inconspicuous steps to understand the conversation that Sabazios had begun with a similarly colored elm.

"Sabazios, my friend! You have returned. And with just the right news, as I see."

Sabazios nodded. "Hello, Argestes. Yes, I've got the elms I'm looking for. I hope we are not already too late."

"Of course not," replied the man whose plump figure was a strong contrast to Sabazios. He spoke quickly - as if it was not quite true that he was not in a hurry. "You're already expected, that's right. But you are not too late, by no means. Just in time, I say. I will inform Caelus immediately. Then the trial can take place tomorrow at noon. After all, we can not lose any time."

Sabazios frowned. "You contradict yourself."

"I am? I'm sorry. I'm just ... excited, that's it. Now that you are here, there is no reason to be concerned. I'll bring the two apprentices to their rooms immediately."

"You wanted to talk with Caelus," Sabazios reminded him.

"Oh. Of course. Why don't you do that? I'll take care of the accommodation of our guests."

"There is something else. The two are accompanied. We will need two beds per room."

"Let that be my problem, my friend. You take care of reporting to Caelus."

"As you wish." Sabazios turned to the sky elmen who had flown with them. "You can go now. Thank you for your help. Caelus will know about it."

Most of them followed his command immediately and left the runway on the backs of their companions. Notos nodded at Geb before he disappeared from his field of vision.

In addition to Zephyr and, of course, Karzelek and Sedna, there were only four more elms: those who had been carrying Boulder and Four-leaf. Among them was a man with flame-colored feathers-Skiron, as Geb remembered.

"What are we going to do with these two?" he asked, pointing to Boulder and Four-leaf, still stuck in the net.

"They're coming with us," Geb said firmly. He had had to get along without his companion for too long. "We'll take them to the room."

"Impossible," contradicted Sabazios.

"And why not?" Iris asked. "If our companions are allowed to do so, they should be too."

"It's only for one night," Argestes nodded. "I'm sure we can make an exception."

Skiron shrugged. "Take care of them, folks."

Geb watched as Boulder was freed from the net. The rhinoceros struggled with difficulty; he seemed to need a moment to orient herself. And yet, he was doing well.

"The companions are well? Nice, very nice. Let us go to your rooms." Argestes hurried ahead and asked Geb and his friends with a gesture to follow him. When they did, Geb could not ignore how Iris seemed to ignore Zephyr completely. She did not even say goodbye when she left him at the runway. This is not fair, thought Geb. He's not at fault for what happened.

Geb decided to talk to Iris later. At first, however, he was grateful that Argestes did not lead them up the steps, but only along a long corridor. This was decorated with a variety of pillars on which were either plants or sculptures of elms or birds. There were also paintings which hung on the walls, images of epic battles or companions in flight. Enki's throne room had already been impressive with its gigantic crystals - the palace of the sky Elmen, however, sputtered them in a completely different way. It was not so... natural.

Finally Argestes stopped in front of a large door through which Boulder would fit without a problem.

"There we are! The room for the young gentlemen and their companions. All the rooms on this floor are free to you; We do not want you to feel enclosed. If the young ladies would follow me... "

"See you later," Sedna nodded, before she followed Argestes. Geb could not help but ask himself what was wrong with Iris. She did not seem to want to talk at all.

Meanwhile, Boulder had opened the door, even if Karzelek had to push down the handle for him. Geb entered the room with them, curious about what it might look like.

The answer: Just like at home.

The whole room was kept in earthy tones, with a large haystack for Boulder. There were two beds, and when Geb sat on one, he had to correct himself: it was even more comfortable than at home.

"There are feathers in it," Karzelek said, examining the other bed. This thought found Geb quite macabre. How could one sleep on something filled with feathers, if they belonged exactly to the animals that could be found everywhere in this tribe? Perhaps these are only feathers the birds lost somehow anyway, he contemplated. I hope so in any case.

Geb nodded with this optimistic thought in the back of his head. "In any case, feels much more comfortable than our hay-mattresses - no offense, Boulder."

He had long since made himself comfortable in his haystack and snorted.

"We have wool," Karzelek said, then paused for a moment. "Do you think the tribe is doing well? Heimdall wanted to change so much ... I do not know if he can do it all alone. Or whether this is a good idea at all. I mean, now that I'm gone, he can leave everything as it is."

"He can handle it, I'm sure. Besides, he is not alone. And you're not either! I'll bet you, Spectralia is full of elmen who think the same way you do. Because if I've learned a thing on our journey, then that you're never really alone, even if it seems like it. Somewhere there's always someone to help you, and these people will find Heimdall quickly. And you too."

Karzelek thought about his words. "Sorry," he said finally. "I should not always think so negatively. That you want to have me anyway ... thank you, Geb."

"I told Iris the same thing," he remembered. "Because I can not handle my powers and know so much less about the world than she does. I felt so useless."

"Useless? You? "Karzelek was surprised. "I do not care how strong or cunning you are. You have believed in me from the beginning, although no one has ever done that before. This is special only to you, Geb. You never lose hope. You believe in your friends and that everything will be all right in the end. Maybe some find that naive, but if you ask me, it's something quite different. I do not know if we will find this chosen one of which you always speak, but until then ... until then, you are our light, Geb. Thank you for it."

Geb was speechless. What Karzelek had just said was the greatest compliment he had ever had. No, even more: Geb was pretty sure that it was the greatest compliment that could be given to an elm. He did not deserve it! On the other hand, his friend was right. He would never stop believing in his friends and the good. "I ... I try my best."

Quick. He had to say something else so he did not just grin like a fool.

"But ... I want you to do that, too."

"What?" asked Karzelek, who could not quite follow him.

"Give your best," repeated Geb. "Begin to believe in yourself. In the things you can do well. Do you remember what Terrai said?"

"... everyone is valuable in their own way?"

"Exactly. Just try to figure out what makes you special. And by that I mean the good things, not what you feel bad about."

"If you say so ..." He pulled himself together. "Good. I'll try it. Because you are my ... my friend, Geb."

And the light, Geb added quietly. He knew what Karzelek really wanted to say. For him I am the 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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