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This is the eighteenth chapter in Sky of Stone and the third in part three: Sky.

Old Acquaintances

I really missed these beds.

Iris caught herself with this thought. For her, sleep was not as important as for Geb - but after all the weeks away from the Claws, it was nice to be here again. Although the reason for this was not exactly the best.

"One thing I must admit about your tribe. It really has style." Iris could not tell if Sedna meant that sarcastically. At least she would not be surprised.

"At least the rich are just as vain as they look. The others, too, frankly."

"After all, 'trial' sounds as if you could talk yourself out of a punishment." Sedna sat on the other bed and faced Iris. "Even if it's not going to be so easy, after all you've done."

Iris waved her hand. "Even if that does not work, we can still run away." Of course she knew that Sedna was right: it would not be easy. On the other hand, when had something ever been simple in her life? "Why are you still here? Someone will fly you to the Beak Bay, if you ask them to."

"I'm not under pressure. Besides, if I go without you, Geb would be mad at me. He might think I just leave when the time is favorable ... and that's something I'd rather connect with you."

"Hey!" Iris protested, tempted to throw her pillow on Sedna. "I fight when I have to help my friends. But if any adults think that the 'honor' of their tribe is more important than the salvation of the world, I'd rather go and help, I'm sorry."

"I know that. I mean, I'll stay with you until I know you can make it without me. So I'll stay either until Geb has to go back to his tribe, or accompany you to the Beak Bay."

"Thank you," Iris said, and meant it too. At first she had not liked Sedna, but now she was incredibly glad to still have her with her. She had to show her somehow ... and had an idea right away. "Do you feel like going outside?"

"Outside?" Sedna repeated disbelievingly. "You know we should stay in the palace."

Iris grinned. "They are to blame when they put us in a room with a balcony." On the other hand, Argestes did not really have a choice. Almost every room in which beds were located had such a balcony. "For the greatest satisfaction of the guests," Zephyr had explained to her once. In any case, this was not a lie - she was content at the time.

"I thought you wanted to avoid problems. Nobody's going to listen to you tomorrow if you break the rules today."

Iris tried to recall: Just a few minutes ago the cuckoos had called. Twice. "It'll be bright for a long time yet. You can spend the rest of the day here, where there is absolutely nothing to see - or you come with me and I'll show you the city. The sky is so full of birds that we will not even be noticed when we make a little detour to the other side."

"Good. Suppose I come with you - how do we get to the other side? I doubt that Shimmer can carry us both."

The magpie was too small for two Elmen, that was true. Especially if one of the two belonged to a tribe which was heavier that of sky anyway. But there was something that Sedna overlooked.

"We ride the wind," Iris explained. "The one I am making. It's not far, so it's gonna be easy ... and Shimmer isn't so weak, is she?"

The magpie disagreed heartily, shown by the vigorous shaking of her head.

"I must admit, your determination is remarkable. And since I feel that you're going to go, whether I'll come along or not ... well, you've convinced me. Let's go."

Fortunately Iris could rely on Shimmer's opinion. The magpie. therefore, didn't have to be persuaded to carry the two Elmen into the city.

"Can you tell me again why you're the one sitting behind?" Sedna had turned to Iris as she clung to Shimmer's neck. "Sitting", however, was the wrong word for what Iris was doing: she was lying on Shimmer's back, turned away from Sedna's head, and prepared for departure. "And what are you doing at all?"

"I've already told you. I'll use my powers to bring us there. The best way to do this is to get my backwind. And that's how it goes!"

With a click of her tongue, she gave Shimmer the signal for departure. The magpie swung into the air, heavier than Iris was used to. She felt reminded of the night in which Shimmer had been wounded by the cat of prey. At that time she had also had problems with flying ...

But at the time she was also held by the cat. There was nothing here that could hold her, only the power of gravity.

She held out her hands, fully focused on what she wanted to achieve. Wind, she repeated several times in thought. Wind.

The wind came. She felt it as tickling on her palms - the air that led her in a new direction. The wind gathered beneath Shimmer's wing, and gently pushed it upwards; An additional force that brought them forward.

"Does Shimmer know where she must land?" She heard Sedna's voice. Iris herself was so focused on making no mistake that she needed a while to answer.

"Just trust her." Just as Shimmer trusts me.

Thereupon Sedna said nothing more.

When Shimmer finally landed, Iris was incredibly happy to be able to relax. She used her magic to a fairly large extent for still being an apprentice.

She rose from Shimmer's back and had to look around, for she had not the slightest idea where the magpie had dropped them off.

"For the fact that you are the tribe of sky, you do not see much of it here." Sedna also looked at her surroundings and was not quite wrong. Hundreds of meters above, a large, dark stiffness blocked the view of the sky.

"This is one of the claws," explained Iris. "The mountains we call claws are bent, and we are right in one." The architecture had not been restrained by the crescent shape of the mountains. They were too far down to recognize it, but Iris knew that even at the top were still buildings, which could only be reached flying. No matter how hard the mountain was inclined, the birds could land wherever there was a horizontal surface.

"No wonder the airspace is so full," said Sedna, who had looked upwards and had probably come to this realization as well. "And where exactly are we?"

"Almost at the bottom. Where the shops are."

"Do you have money with you?"

"Not much. But we can look a bit, can't we?"

"Why not. I could have something to eat again - I haven't eaten fish for weeks. Is there any here?"

"Definitely." Iris went ahead and led Sedna through the market which ran across the slope of the mountain. If you were not looking straight or up, you could easily forget that you were on a mountain. Iris tried to forget about Sedna's question: fish stank, nothing else. She had actually thought of quite different errands, but today she would probably have to spend money on fish.

Their attempt to find the appropriate stand by means of the typical smell failed because there were countless odors over all the stands. It was a voice that brought her to the right track.

"Fish!" Said the voice. "Fresh fish from the sea of ​​clouds!"

It can not be so fresh then, thought Iris. The sea was at least two days away.

But Sedna already checked out the stand. She was from the water tribe; If anyone had a clue of fish, then she did.

Iris followed her and waited for her choice.

"A water-Elmin!" The salesman marveled, like Sedna not the least bit disturbed by the smelly fish. "What an honor! What can I do for you?"

Then Sedna began to talk to him about fish, which Iris was not interested in. Still, she could not turn his gaze from this stand: the dealer was so engrossed in the conversation that he did not notice how someone was taking his goods. An elm, barely larger than Iris, wrapped in a gray cloak. Under this he stole some fish before he turned to Iris and stared into her eyes. He nodded in a certain direction - an invitation to follow him. Then he turned his back to her again and disappeared into the crowd.

She could follow him ... if she did not have to leave Sedna alone to do it.

"I'll take this one." Iris listened. That was her chance! She paid and watched as the salesman packed the fish and handed it over to Sedna.

"You carry it yourself. Otherwise I will never get the stench out of my pocket." She led Sedna in the direction the Elm had run, glad that Sedna did not ask questions. She would have to tell her soon anyway, she supposed. When she looked closely, she noticed more Elmen with gray cloaks. The farther they went, the more she saw - so they were on the right track.

As soon as they were about to leave the market, Sedna stopped. "All right then. Where are you going to take me?"

"Can we discuss that when we get there?" She could not tell her that yet. Not where everyone could hear it. "It's just an old acquaintance of mine. No reason to worry."

"If you say so." Iris did not, however, fail to notice Sedna's hand reaching for the small knife she had already used against Tanzanite. "Let's see how well we get along."

I ask myself the same thing. Iris led her into a completely inconspicuous house, which by no means stood out from the surrounding buildings - at least outwardly. Inside it was empty, apart from a staircase, which led down a few meters ... exactly under the market. There was a large, yet perfectly illuminated cave of artificial origin which led to an unnatural river. It stank horribly, much worse than fish, and rats were everywhere. In short, it was disgusting.

"You have great acquaintances," said Sedna, but Iris did not have an opportunity to answer her.

"Well, that took a long time. The rats have already tried to get our fish."

There he was again, the boy from before. This time he had taken off his hood, revealing his face, flickering around in the color of the torchlight. It resembled Zephyr's, only that that was softer. Cleaner.

"We came here at once," Iris replied. "Right after I bought her fish."

"Bought? By the guardians, Iris, what has become of you? It's been too long. That said ... nice that you followed my invitation nevertheless. The water elmin is a fantastic bonus. She should stay with us, as useful as she was to me."

"What is going on here?" Sedna's gaze seemed to pierce her. "Iris, who is this guy? And what do you have to do with this place?"

"His name is Autolycus. An old acquaintance, as I said."

"Old acquaintance?" The boy repeated indignantly. "You're acting as if it's a shame to know me." He grinned at Sedna. "You might think she forgot that she spent most of her life with us."

"Oh, is that so?" Sedna did not look away from Iris. "I thought you lived with Zephyr?"

"That would be the miserable rest. Wasted time, if you ask me. A better living standard, clearly, but has she ever used it to help us?"

"Do not talk to her as if I were not there!" She had enough of this guy. He should be glad that she had followed him up to this point. "And do not pretend that Zephyr is to blame."

He spread his arms out. "Look around. When you ran away with him, I thought it was a trick from you. I thought you could make it better for the Crows. And what happened? The exact opposite. Mist is dead, and this place is like the shadowy realm."

Iris paused. Mist had been his companion. A crow, quite like the name of the group with the gray cloaks. Shimmer and her had often played with him when they were still here. The magpie also seemed to feel what he was talking about. "Mist is ..."

"Dead. It is a disease of which I am sure that people of Zephyr's rank had had the cure. I wanted to ask you for help, but you never showed up."

I could have prevented it. She could not allow him to manipulate her in this way. At that time she had decided to leave Autolycus and the Crows for good reason. For the same reason that had moved her to travel with Geb.

"Autolycus," she began. "I am grateful to the Crows for everything, really. Without you, I would have been dead before I could have even met Shimmer. You have taught me how to survive without having a coin. But when I met Zephyr, he showed me things you could never have taught me. He took me to places you will never reach. And I quickly realized that my path shouldn't end with you. I can understand that your place is here, with the Crows, but with me it is different. I go my own way, and it's time you accepted that."

Silence broke out as Autolycus thought about her words. Would he understand? He could not force her to stay here, right?

He opened his mouth as if he wanted to scream at her - but instead he grinned wider than she'd ever seen it at Geb.

"This is the Iris I know! You have always been more determined than we all are. But now tell me ... how did you manage to meet a water-Elmin? This can not possibly be due to Zephyr. "

"I almost fished them out of the water," explained Sedna, who had listened attentively until now. "Has she always been inclined to get into trouble? That happened a few times on our way here. "

Iris folded her arms. "You also threw up after the gorilla."

"Sounds like you had a lot of fun."

"Well, if we had not fought against shadows ..." Sedna replied.

Autolycus stunned. "Shadows? Then you will surely be interested in the fact that they are steadily competing with us. Just that they are taking Elmen, not food."

"It's gotten worse?" Iris interrupted.

"Unfortunately yes. We've also lost some. If this continues, there are soon no Crows left. "

"There must be something we can do," thought Iris. "I've gone, but I certainly care about you guys."

"You mean something faster than finding the hero of the light?" Sedna asked.

"Wait, what?" Autolycus stared at her incredulously. "Is that why you were away for so long?"

Iris nodded. "Too bad I probably have to stay here now. Tomorrow there will be a trial with Caelus himself."

"But ... that's fantastic! It could not have been better. "

"Thanks a lot. I know you're angry with me because of Zephyr, but - "

"That's not the point," said Autolycus, whose enthusiasm she could not share. He should know that her chief had nothing to spare for bandits like her. "You'll meet Caelus, Iris. You can tell him how urgently we need his help, as reluctant as I am to admit it."

"If he is interested in you, which I don't really think he is."

"You must try. After all these years, you owe me something. Me and Mist."

Iris flinched. As much as she fought against the feelings of guilt, she could not simply suppress the death of the bird. She had not even said goodbye to the Crows when she'd left. It would not have hurt to think of the other Elmen instead of just her own plans. She could fix that now. "I'll try ... but I can't promise anything."

"I get that," Autolycus smiled. It was a sincere smile, not the mocking one from before. "The attempt itself is often meaningful enough."

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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