This is the nineteenth chapter in Sky of Stone and the fourth in part three: Sky.

Change of Plans

Something pushed Geb into the side and dragged him away, slowly but surely, from sleep. Was it already morning? Was it time for the trial?

He had to appear dignified when Argestes or maybe even Sabazios woke him up. But he was still terribly tired - and yawned in a not very dignified way.

"Sorry," he murmured. "I'm awake, really ..."

"You ... you can go back to sleep if you want." It was Karzelek that Geb first saw, and the boy held the glowing stone that he had taken from his tribe. They were alone - and it still seemed to be night.

"All right." Now he was awake, although he had to admit that it slept wonderfully in these beds. With difficulty, he sat up as to not to fall asleep again. "So what's going on?"

"I can't sleep," said Karzelek embarrassedly, but there was also fear in his voice. "When I try, I dream of the shadows. And of myself, how I ..."

He did not speak any further, but that was not necessary either. Geb knew what he meant. What he did not know, however, was how to help his friend. After all, yesterday, he had already done his best with regard to motivational advice.

"You could try to think about something else," he suggested. "Or walk around for a while. A bit of movement can not hurt."

"At this time? It's the middle of the night. And even if you come along ... I don't know, Geb. "

"Do you remember the runway? It is not far from here and there is fresh air. We'll go there and back, and you'll feel much better. Especially if you take the glowing stone with you." Geb said this not only to him, but also to himself. He shared many fears with Karzelek and did not really want to go outside. Still, he had the feeling that this idea had not come to him without reason. Something out there wanted them to know about it.

Did Karzelek feel this too, or was it just one of the strange thoughts that one had in the middle of the night? That was hard to say, but the Ore-Elm finally agreed, whatever the reason. He looked over to Boulder and Four-leaf, who slept close together and were not disturbed by either the voices or the light. "What about them?"

"Let them sleep," Geb decided. "There is no reason to disturb them."

They sneaked out of their room, careful to make as little noise as possible. They did not want to wake anyone, and Geb felt that the Sky Elmen would send them back to sleep immediately anyway. But now they were standing in the hallway, which was lit only by Karzelek's stone. It was nonsense to go back.

"It is not far," Geb assured his friend and himself, as he set off in the direction in which he suspected the runway was. At night, it was particularly difficult to see if they were on the right track.

The passage reminded Geb of the tunnel through which he had recently led Karzelek. Now, too, he was the one who carried the glowing stone, hoping to find the right way with this.

He stopped at a fork in the road. Left or right? If only he would have paid more attention! Geb tried to remember, but something else occurred to him. He felt someone else nearby, in the hallway to the left of them. The person did not move as if they were hoping that they would take the right path without noticing them.

"Who is there?" Geb's guard instincts set in before he could have prevented it. If this is a Sky elm, we're doomed. He thought of the only other logical possibility. We're still doomed if it's a shadow, though.

"Geb?" The voice replied disbelievingly.

He sighed in relief. "Zephyr!" He lowered his voice; they did not want to be noticed, after all. "What are you doing here?"

"This also applies to you." Zephyr, relieved, stepped into the glow of the candle, and seemed to notice Karzelek only now. "You two, I mean."

"We're going to the runway," Geb explained, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to do in the middle of the night. "Karzelek could not sleep. And you?"

"Me? Oh, I ... the same, I guess."

"Do you also dream of the shadows?" Karzelek asked in surprise.

"Fortunately not, thank Aricel. No, it ... is about Iris. We were fighting earlier and I wanted to apologize to her."

"At this time?" Asked Geb.

"Of course not. I'm racking my brain over what I'm supposed to say. That's why I can not sleep and that's why I'm here. The fresh air makes you think better."

"Ah, I get it." That was not quite true. Why was it so hard for Zephyr to find the right words? Geb himself had been able to resolve his dispute with Iris quickly at that time. But he did not want to hurt his friend by telling him. "Where do we have to go now?"

"Here," said Zephyr, pointing to the right corridor. With the question of why they did not know it, he kept himself back, although he was likely just thinking about it.

"You have no light at all," Karzelek said as they followed the corridor. "Aren't you afraid in the dark?" Admiration was in his voice.

"Not really," Zephyr replied, surprised by the tone in Karzelek's question. Such attention he did not seem to get often. "I mean, here in the palace we are safe and I know the way. We have nothing to fear."

"But I have not seen any guards. This is not very safe."

"There are some above and below. Where the important people are, and where other tribes could attack us for whatever reason. On this floor, however, nothing can happen to us. You can believe me."

This satisfied Karzelek. Geb could already feel the cool night air. They were almost there.

"Turn off the stone," Zephyr said, before they finally arrived. He had stopped behind the two large potted plants that lined the entrance of the corridor. "Looks like they'll see us after all."

At first proud and then overcautious, Geb was not sure how to turn off the light in the first place, so he suppressed his light by placing the stone deep in the soil of the plant. Now he could see the stars that the stone had previously shone over them. They cast a feeble light upon the runway, which lay before them, abandoned.

Or not. Something - no, someone - entered the open area before they did. Geb stopped, unsure whether he should go outside anyway.

Zephyr had also noticed the figure and pulled Karzelek behind one of the potted plants. Geb decided to do the same for them and made himself small behind the second plant.

"That's my uncle," Zephyr whispered to them.

"Sabazios?" Geb was getting better and better at whispering. He'd had to do it a couple of times lately. "What is he doing here?"

"If only I knew. Anyway, I'm not going out of there when he's here. Talking to him is ... exhausting."

"Then we go back." Geb did not mind. Karzelek could sleep better now that Zephyr had assured him that everything was all right. "What do you think?" he asked Karzelek.

The boy did not seem to hear him. He stared at the runway, but not to Sabazios himself. No, behind him, and now Geb saw, there was someone else. They must have appeared suddenly, like a ghost, because otherwise they would have noticed them earlier.

Even Sabazios was obviously not aware that there was a shadow behind him.

"A wonderful night, don't you think?"

Sabazios spun around, his eyes wide open with fear and his hands stretched in front of himself protectively. He did not say a word.

The shadow laughed. The wind was favorable, and Geb could understand every word. "You knew I was coming. You even got out of here by yourself. As intelligent as you are, you knew you'd meet with me."

Geb knew the voice. It was Khya, who had fled at their first encounter. Karzelek was trembling, remembering the very same day. Zephyr, on the other hand, was stunned by the conversation, and was sure to ask the same question as Geb: How did she know Sabazios?

"I ... wanted to get it behind me." The Sky Elm slowly recovered his voice. He sounded as if he was scared to death. "I know I failed. I didn't show up at the meeting place. But I wanted to, really! I have lied to my nephew so that our plan is not revealed. That's why a whole legion followed me. I could not do anything, I- "

"I don't care why you were not at the meeting place," Khya interrupted him, which made him feel more miserable for some reason. If Iris could see him like this...

"Please, Shadow, spare me! I know our agreement, of course, but it was not my fault! You must not change me, please, I ... I will do whatever you want."

Agreement? Zephyr and Geb exchanged a horrified look. Did Sabazios work for the shadows? Geb forced himself to turn his attention back to the conversation.

"Good. Let's start with something simple. Stop being so pathetic, you're ridiculous."

This silenced Sabazios.

"Wonderful. Secondly, I do not care that you were not at the meeting place."

"What? But I…"

"You wouldn't have been useful. The plan is history. We were stopped."

If Sabazios was relieved, he did his best not to show it to Khya. "Stopped?" He repeated. "By whom?"

"By whom? Your little protege and her friends."

"They ... know about the plan?"

"Stay calm. They have no idea that you are in it. Alastor, on the other hand, is dead thanks to them. As unbelievable as it sounds, they could be dangerous to us." She stepped closer to Sabazios and he forced himself not to take a step back. "That is why we have a new order for you. Take care that they do not get in our way. How you do that is your problem."

Sabazios seemed relieved. "That should not be a problem. Tomorrow the trial takes place because of their numerous lawsuits. I am a close confidant of the chief. It is absolutely impossible that he will not punish them for their offenses."

"Then you have nothing to fear, do you? Don't forget, your task may be different, but the consequence for your failure remains the same. I'll make you a shadow ... even though I still do not understand what keeps you in your tribe. And Aricel does not seem to like you either."

"Don't you dare talk about the guardian of sky like that."

"Why not? She did not do anything worth mentioning, except to follow Lumeon's instructions. As you know, we do not think highly of him."

"Because you are a shadow," said Sabazios. "The tribes, however, are on Lumeon's side. Never in my life would I voluntarily worship your guardian."

"That's your fault, old man. The world will soon see which side it is worth fighting on when Umbrath escapes from his prison. "

"I don't like that at all," Zephyr murmured. "The hero of the prophecy may be able to defeat shadows, but not a ..." he hesitated to put the word in his mouth, "not a guardian as powerful as Lumeon."

Sabazios, however, disagreed. "He has already been defeated once and this time it will not be different."

"We will see. You know it will not be long before Umbrath returns. Whether you experience this day as a shadow ... that's your business."

"Iris and her friends will not get away with impunity. I'll take care of that."

"Very good. We'll keep you in mind. Don't forget ... this is your last chance." With these words, Khya disappeared in front of his eyes and merged with the night.

Sabazios did not move. A few seconds passed before he fell to his knees and buried his face in his hands.

Geb stood up to go to him, but Zephyr grabbed him by the arm.

"Stay here. He does not need our help. He ... he works for the shadows."

"It does not look as though he liked it." Geb felt compassion for Sabazios as he crouched there. He needed their help.

"He lied to me." Zephyr was not angry, but just sad. No, exhausted. "I don't know what to think, Geb. We just can't ignore it. You ... you have to tell Caelus."

"Why me?" Geb asked, confused. "You're at the trial tomorrow too, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but ... he's my uncle. I can't do this."

"Neither can I. We do not even know what he actually did. Whether he did something at all. Karzelek and I have talked to shadows before."

"But you were not on their side!"

"Don't argue," whispered Karzelek. "That does not make it any better."

Zephyr sighed. "You're right. We should go. I have to process this. "

"We can't leave him here," Geb argued. "If we tell him we're on his side..."

"... nothing will change. He's supposed to stop you, remember?"

"Don't argue," repeated Karzelek. Geb felt the boy feel uncomfortable.

"Sorry, buddy. Shall we go?"

"Oh, suddenly," Zephyr murmured. "All right, we're leaving. Maybe tomorrow we'll have a different view of things. We just have to sleep over it."

Zephyr himself did not sound convinced of his last words. Geb shared his doubt, they had come here to relax.

But they had achieved the exact opposite.

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