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This is the twentieth chapter in Sky of Stone and the fifth in part three: Sky.

Unexpected

"Elmen of the Sky! I, Caelus, your venerable chief, welcome you to this trial in which the fate of these two apprentices will be decided."

Countless pairs of eyes were focused on Iris, but she was not afraid of them. They were just people who were not interested in them. They just wanted to be entertained.

"You can ignore all the people," she whispered to Geb, who looked nervously to the right; To where their spectators were. Among them were Sedna and Karzelek, who had been considered 'not important enough'. Except for Geb and Iris, only Sabazios and the three ambassadors of the Earth tribe belonged to the "important" persons - and, of course, Caelus himself. But he was always the most important.

Of course, he was not sitting with the others on a level, but a few steps higher on his flawless throne of marble, whose back was modeled on peacock feathers. The 'eyes' consisted of bright blue gemstones, which were not dissimilar to Caelus' feathers. In fact, there was hardly a sky elm with feathers as cobalt blue as his - a perfect reason to imagine a lot of it.

"I can remind both sides that they are committed to making only true statements," he continued. He had a harmonious voice, almost melodic. One could easily forget how frightened they was among the Elmen. "Sabazios, you know more about the events than us. Would you be kind enough to tell us about them?"

"Of course, my chief." He rose and turned to the crowd who wanted to be entertained, after all. Iris, too, was anxious to see how much nonsense would be in his version of the events. "A few weeks ago, I visited Sunstone, the largest city of the Earth Tribe, to trade with and strengthen our relationships. My two apprentices accompanied me." He looked into the front row. There sat Zephyr, next to a man who looked like a thicker, more blue version of Sabazios. "Zephyr, the son of my brother."

Zephyr avoided eye contact and was glad when Sabazios turned to Iris. "And Iris, an orphan whom I generously adopted."

I could puke. He had often let her feel how little he thought of her. No trace of generosity. But he knew how to hold impressive speeches.

Geb's eyes were full of questions, but Iris shook her head slightly. If her past interested him, he had to be patient.

"I left the two alone for a few hours with a student of the Earth Tribe, while I did my own errands. When I finally arrived at the agreed meeting point, my nephew was waiting for me. I could not believe my ears when he told me about the whereabouts of the others. They had run away to find the hero of the light prophesied by Lumeon. I was taken to chief Kishar to explain the disappearance of her Elm, and blamed it on Iris's upbringing. Such a daring idea could only have come from someone like her, you can certainly agree with me."

"Indeed," Caelus rose above the resulting murmur. "The rest of your journey is known to us, I think. Do you have anything to add?"

A monologue about what a terrible person I am.

And she wasn't even wrong.

"These apprentices have violated several laws on their journey. They have resisted not only the instructions of their superiors - myself and the captain of the guards of the earth tribe - but they also left the city and the territory of their respective tribse without the accompaniment or permission of an adult. Through their unthinkable deeds, they risked the laboriously built peace of our two tribes. It would have been possible to excuse all this, had it been done only for good reason. But no, their only goal was to track the hero of the light. They doubt that he will appear to us at the right time. They question Lumeon, the most powerful of all the guardians."

"Do not tell such nonsense!" Iris could no longer listen to his hypocrisy, because he was clearly going too far. Not even she would be against Lumeon; after all, that was the same kind of bad as supporting the shadows. "How about telling the truth and not just what people want to hear? Shall I do it for you?"

Sabazios did not answer. Why wasn't he angry at her? She had shouted at him and her speech was not very appropriate. Exceptionally, this did not seem to bother him. On the contrary, he smiled contentedly.

Someone cleared their throat beside her, breaking the silence. She swallowed hard. Caelus.

"Be careful," he chuckled. "We do not want you to attract the shadows with all your negative feelings."

At least he feels well entertained. She did not know what to think. Was that a good sign or a bad one? She said nothing.

"Don't be so shy. I would be very interested in the 'truth' that you are talking about. Even if it must be very impressive for me to change my tendency in your favor."

She nodded as she thought about how best to start. Caelus would hardly care what they had experienced on their journey; after all, he had already interrupted Sabazios. No, she had to concentrate on what was most important: the shadows.

"It is true that our goal is to find the hero of light," she admitted. "We respect Lumeon and his judgment as much as anyone else, but it is a fact that the shadows draw more and more elms out of the tribes. Of course, the hero of the prophecy will ultimately keep us from their victory, we do not doubt. All we want to do is make sure that as few elms as possible switch to the side of the shadows."

"By visiting the plain of Lumeon, whose exact position no one knows."

He does not believe me. But what had she expected? After all, she was not exactly known for telling the truth. But she couldn't hesitate. "We visited the ore tribe as we believed it had ancient knowledge. But instead of finding answers ... we met the shadows."

"Who spared you just like that?"

"They killed one of the Elmen who accompanied us," Iris replied. She could face him. All she said was true. She was not a liar, not today. Not on this day, when the truth counted so much. "For them, it is easier to transform elms into shadows when they are dominated by negative emotions. In the caves of the ore tribe they have found stones which reinforce these thoughts. We were able to block their access to these stones, but we do not know whether there are such stones outside the caves. If so, it is particularly important that we find the hero of light as quickly as possible. "

"You have no proof," replied Sabazios. "I know you well enough to know that you are not just a thief, but a liar like all your friends in the street."

The bad thing about his words was that they were right. But again she remembered that she, too, was right. "I'm telling the truth. And I have evidence." She hated herself for what she was going to say, but she had no choice.

She looked over to Karzelek, who suddenly realized what she was up to. "If you doubt that the ore tribe exists, Karzelek is an ore-elm. And as for the shadows, he killed one of them. You can ask him for details, but I believe you will soon realize that you can not fake his fear of this memory. "

"I can tell," Caelus said, amused. Why does he find everything so funny? Probably because he was not interested in anyone - except, of course, himself.

"Then we do not need to lengthen it unnecessarily," said Sabazios. Did he feel compassion for Karzelek? That would be something quite new. No, he just wanted to prevent Caelus from standing against him. "Even if they once say the truth, you can not deny how many laws they have broken. I can list them again if you wish."

"That won't be necessary."

"My chief, I knew you would immediately recognize the need to punish these two."

"I am not a fool, Sabazios. Those who disregard the laws will feel the consequences. What sincere goals they pursued does not matter at all."

"Excuse me," Geb put in. Iris looked curiously at him - did he know how he could convince Caelus?

"Yes, Earth-Elm? Have you anything to say to us?"

"I have a question." Do not mess it up, Iris begged in thought. "Actually, you could let us go on with our plan, right? We only have to take an adult with us. This would not violate any rules."

Caelus laughed. A sincere, honestly amused laugh that filled the whole room. This brought a large part of the audience to follow it. Geb sank with shame.

Iris wanted to apologize to him for what her tribe was doing. His question was not exactly competent, that was true. But that the tribe thought it was so funny was not his fault.

"That's good," said Caelus, still struggling for breath. "This is really good! You three, you other earth elmen, you can return alone to your tribe. The boy has a wonderful sense of humor. He stays here, definitely."

Geb looked at Iris, and again she wanted to say something to make him feel better. At the same time, she thought about Caelus' words. If they could not finish their journey, it would still be the best alternative. What she would miss the most was, after all, Geb himself; the boy with whom she had traveled so far and had experienced so much. They could both stay here and help Autolycus and the Crows, and the hero of light would conquer the shadows, albeit with a few additional losses until his appearance. Maybe she should agree with Caelus before he changed his mind and she would never see Geb again.

Geb's wistful brown eyes brought her back to reality. He would not be happy here. He wanted to travel the world; To discover all the wonders of nature, which he saw so much more clearly than the others. He wanted to protect Elysia from the shadows, like Iris, but for quite different reasons.

She wanted to save herself and those who were important to her. She wanted to prevent the shadows from destroying the life that she had slowly but surely built up.

But to Geb, it was much more. It was about all the other elms and nature itself. How selfless he was, compared to her.

"He will not stay here," she said. "Our journey is too important."

"I doubt it," Caelus replied. "And you have nothing to determine here, do not forget. I decide what to do and I have already decided."

"And there is nothing we can do to change your mind?"

"Give me a reason why I should rather support you both than my long-time confidant Sabazios."

"Because he works for the shadows," Geb blurted out.

Caelus opened his mouth to laugh again at Geb's remark. But it had not been funny, on the contrary, and for a moment there was shocked silence.

Iris, too, was speechless. Did Geb know what he said? Not even she'd dare to insult Sabazios in public like that. And Geb was the last one she'd expected to do so.

"How dare you?" Sabazios shouted at him before turning to Caelus. "Did you hear that? Let him be executed for such a remark!"

"You have no proof," said Caelus in an industrious tone. But he also boiled with rage. An apprentice of another tribe had offended one of his elmen in the worst possible way.

"We've seen it." Iris did not believe her eyes. Karzelek was standing up and supporting Geb in this utterly absurd situation. "Yesterday. At night. Here in the Palace. "

"That's ridiculous," replied Sabazios, but Iris did not miss the glimpse of panic in his voice. Karzelek and Geb were the last persons whom Iris believed to lie, and yet ... it simply did not make any sense. Sabazios had no reason to side with the shadows. He was strict, but not a scoundrel. Above all, he was undoubtedly a supporter of Lumeon and his tribe. "I hardly know these elms, and yet they dare to insult me. My chief, that must have consequences. Serious punishments. "

"Because they tell the truth?" Zephyr rose, his chin raised self-confidently.

"You too, my son?" The man next to him asked, stunned. Iris had to agree with him: She had never before experienced Zephyr not agreeing with his uncle.

For a moment Zephyr hesitated, conscious of his critical role. Then he went on without turning his gaze from Iris, as if he wanted only her to know. "We happened to watch him the night before, talking with a shadow. They talked about a meeting place, an assignment ... we did not know what it was, but I was thinking about it all night. It all makes perfect sense."

"Go on," said Caelus, all humor disappeared from his voice.

Zephyr nodded. "Iris, you were angry with me because I told him about you. It's true, I told him about your departure, but think about it. How could I have known where and on what day you would leave the ore tribe so that we could track you down? This is simply impossible."

"How did you manage it, then?" She was not even angry at him anymore. All her frustration had given way to pure curiosity.

"Simple: That we were there that day had nothing to do with you."

Now he had completely confused her. "What do you mean?"

"Sabazios had a meeting with this shadow," Zephyr explained. "He wanted to sneak out of the tribe, but I noticed him. As an excuse for his disappearance, he claimed that he had learned that you were at the ore tribe. I asked him if we did not need more sky elmen and their companions for your journey here, so Skiron and the others accompanied us. Sabazios had not been enthusiastic about it since our departure; I should have known that something was wrong."

"It was just coincidence, then, that you found us," said Iris. Yet she did not know any more than before. "But what should the shadows need him for?"

"I did not realize this until you just told us about their plan. It is obvious that -"

"The stones," she interrupted him, as suddenly all the parts in her head came together. Suddenly everything was so clear that she wondered how she had not seen it before. "The shadows wanted to use the stones to make the elms more susceptible to their magic. Sabazios is a merchant who travels so much that he is perfectly suited to distribute these stones among the tribes. That is why he left us alone in the earth tribe for three hours, without telling us why. Because he had stones with him that he was supposed to give to someone."

This last detail seemed to have not yet occurred to Zephyr, as surprised as he looked at her for a moment. But he managed to go on seamlessly. "You have stopped the shadows and made his mission unfulfillable. The shadows, at least this one, consider you a threat. So Sabazios' new task was to make sure that you can not continue your journey here and now."

Not that he wouldn't have tried that anyway. Instead of answering, she looked over at Caelus, as did Zephyr and every other person in the room. The tension in the air was hard to bear - and Sabazios became more nervous every second. He did not even attempt to conceal the fact that they had hit the mark with every assertion, and merely hoped for some miracle.

"You accuse one of my closest confidants of treason. But your arguments are credible ... Sabazios, do me the favor and reassure my raging heart. You would not betray me, would you?"

Sabazios went silent. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply in and out, and opened them again. "My chief," he began cautiously. "I admit that all they said is true. I supported the shadows - but I had no choice! You know that I am faithful to you and the tribe. You must believe me when I say I have not actually been on the shadows' side for a single second."

"If that is so ... why you? You are not the only merchant of my tribe."

Sabazios pointed to Iris, a breath of relief in his voice. "It's all her fault!"

"My fault?" She repeated angrily. "I was a thief, maybe, but I never had anything to do with the shadows. Let out your frustration to people who deserve it, but spare me your nonsense."

"How dare you! Have you forgotten what I've done for you? I wasn't supposed to have trained you, but I did. I have taken you in and enabled you to do things that most of the tribe can only dream of. And how did you thank me? You did not ever take me seriously. You have disobeyed my orders, made fun of me-you alone are to blame."

"Because you were so annoyed with me that the shadows came to you, or what?"

"Exactly! They would have turned me into a shadow if I had not stopped them in time. I had to promise them to help them if I did not want to lose my life as a sky elm. And all this just because of a stupid, ungrateful child." He forced himself to take a breath, only to talk slower. "I know I've betrayed my tribe, if not all Elysia. I understand that I must be punished, and I will accept whatever Caelus considers necessary. But whatever happens ... I want you to remember one thing. It's going to be your fault."

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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