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This is the twenty-second and last chapter in Sky of Stone, and the seventh in part three: Sky.

Wind and Water

Before them lay the end of the world. The succulent green grassland over which they rode stopped abruptly at some distance. Behind it seemed nothing at all, only bluish gray. How had they gotten here? They had ridden almost a whole week to the north-west, just like the maps described. Beak Bay should be right in front of them.

"Is something wrong?" Sedna asked, coming closer with North Star. She sounded as if everything was in order. Iris would only make herself laughable when she spoke aloud.

"I just wondered how far it still is."

"At most a few minutes. You can already see the sea after all."

The sea? There was no sea. Only the eternal blue-gray. She narrowed her eyes. There. Looking closely, the lower half was slightly darker... and yet it filled the entire horizon. "It's... big."

"What did you expect? You know the maps." Sedna grimaced. "I have not been to the sea for a long time. Not so far in the north, either."

"Your tribe here will be no different from where you come from." She thought for a moment. "Shall we land? Then we can enter the bay together with the boys."

"That would probably be good, yeah."

They flew down to their friends. When he saw her, Boulder stopped immediately to allow the two to land.

"Hi guys," Geb said. "What's up?"

"We're almost there," Iris answered as surely as she could. The country seemed to be over in a few hundred yards, but there was nothing to be seen of civilization.

Geb was just as skeptical as she was. "You think so? There's nothing here."

"Just you wait." Sedna confidently went toward the sea. Iris followed her with a shrug.

The nearer they came to the sea, the more Iris recognized that Sedna was right. In the distance she saw numerous birds gliding over the water. This made it clear that the sea was, in fact, many meters below the friends. They stood directly on the cliff that formed the bay.

Soon she also felt with her other senses that they were getting closer to their goal. The shouts of countless birds came up to them, above all seagulls. A salty smell lay in the air, causing Iris' mouth to water. Perhaps she could get into fish after all...

"I've found a way down," said Sedna, who was already standing on the cliff. "Are you coming?" Wasn't she happy to be back at the water?

Geb and Karzelek descended from Boulder and followed the others down the path which was fortunately neither too steep nor too narrow for the rhinoceros.

They had to cover their ears when they finally arrived at the bottom. They had been lucky enough that the wind carried the birds' voices to the sea, but here they were exposed to noise. It was just like the Claws: countless birds, companions or not. But while Iris was enjoying listening to the songs, the screams of the water-birds were just that. Screams.

"Welcome to the Beak Bay," a Sky Elmin greeted them, watching them in amusement. It was a miracle that Iris could hear her. "You've never been here, have you?"

"No," said Iris, and the stranger nodded.

"If the volume disturbs you, you should go closer to the water. Here on the cliffs are the breeding colonies. We have several thousand seagulls here, not to mention all the other birds. Especially the little ones without companions can be incredibly noisy."

"I can hear that," said Sedna, turning to go. "Thanks for the hint."

"You could at least try to sound kind," Iris replied.

"It's all right," laughed the woman. "It does not surprise me that a water-Elmin reacts particularly irritated to the noise. It is just the silence of the fishes for them."

Iris doubted that this was the explanation for Sedna's behavior, but she decided not to get into it. "Thanks for the help," she said, before she followed Sedna with the others.

Their way to the water led them through a whole village, which was terribly abandoned compared to the cliffs. Even most shops had closed.

"Where is everyone?" asked Geb.

"It certainly can't mean anything good," added Karzelek nervously.

"I don't want to figure it out," said Sedna. "On the coast, somebody will tell us, if it's important."

It had to wait. When they finally arrived at the coast, they all stood as if rooted. Even Sedna could not help but be impressed. A gigantic harbor stretched over the entire beach, with innumerable ships moored by a labyrinth of wooden bridges. They were mainly small boats that would fit no more than five people, but there were also larger specimens that looked like they had built houses directly on them.

Again, there was hardly anyone else besides the friends, apart from a few single sky elmen, who were busy with the smaller boats.

"I thought this is where our tribe lives together with the water elms," Iris said loudly.

"But it doesn't look like it," said Geb. "I have not seen any of them, except Sedna, of course."

"I did," Karzelek replied. "But ... just a single one. Over there."

Iris followed his gaze, and indeed, very close to one of the larger sailing ships, she discovered a blue-gray figure that was bigger than all the Sky Elmen she knew. Besides, it had the same fins as Sedna.

"Ask him where the others are," suggested Geb. "He knows for sure."

"If you want to, go ahead." Slowly Iris got the feeling that Sedna did not really want to meet her tribe. Then she remembered that she was leaving the group in the Beak Bay. Perhaps she just wanted to delay the farewell as long as possible. Now that she was thinking of it, Iris agreed. She was part of their group; it felt wrong to part.

In order to think differently, she decided to talk to the water elm. "Excuse me?"

The man winced before turning to her. He relaxed visibly when he saw her, and a smile came to his lips. "Aye. What can I do for you, little one?"

He was older than Sabazios, but still far from Enki. Iris looked questioningly at Sedna - was his skin so gray because of his age or was it just coincidence? But she did not answer him... if she had understood the question at all.

"My friends and I have just arrived here," Iris explained, pointing to Geb and the others. "We were wondering where the other water elms are."

The man looked at the group in amazement. Iris could not blame him: Who, at their age, had friends from three other tribes? Geb smiled at him, just like Karzelek. Only Sedna still seemed nervous.

"You have a really interesting group," laughed the man. "I've seen a lot, but not something like that. Vully, come down and look at what I just caught!"

"In the middle of the harbor?" On the deck of the sailing ship came a head that belonged to a sky Elm, as blue-gray as the other, and as old. He made no effort to leave the ship, but looked down at the friends from above. "Well, what do you say! Good catch, Sirsir. Must say. "

Iris cleared her throat. "Do you know where the other water elms are or not?"

When asked, the water elm, Sirsir, suddenly became serious. "Do you know about the war?"

No, Iris wanted to say, then she remembered. Sabazios had spoken about it a few times, at the time she had not yet been on this trip. "The Stormy Sea has been a gigantic battlefield for a few years. The water tribe helps the tribe of ice against the tribe of fire and lightning, "she said, hoping that she remembered correctly.

"That's right," Sirsir replied. "And that's the answer to your question, little one."

"Give her a break, she's not that small," Vully laughed from above. "Did you see the little one, Borrum? She deserves to be called that. This one? Not really."

"But not all of them can be involved in this war," Iris interrupted, before the men changed the subject again. "There are seven vocations and only one of them is warrior."

"But they're not the only ones used in war," Karzelek said. "We got this taught early on. The healers are also of great importance, just like the workers who make the weapons."

"They take anyone they can get," Sirsir agreed. "Our bad luck that we are so close to the action. It's just quicker to send the elms from here to the Stormy Sea than from the other end of the world where the rest of our tribe lives." He looked at Sedna, whose thoughtful glance had not escaped him. "For you, the time is of course perfect if you want to stay here. They have already taken everyone who was somehow usable. You do not have to worry about landing in the war zone."

Instead of addressing his words, Sedna asked him a question. "Why are you still here? You don't look useless. "

"I'm not," Sirsir grinned before his face darkened. "But you must know, children, my companion died years ago. Damn sharks."

It was obvious that Sedna had not expected this answer. "And yet are you here?"

What does that mean? Iris wondered.

"Well, looks like it, doesn't it? But Vully and his bird are a pretty good substitute. And the Halcyon, of course."

"What is that, the Halcyon?" Karzelek asked. He was as interested in it as in all things that did not exist under the earth. No wonder he spoke so little if he always wanted to absorb everything within himself.

Vully patted proudly on the rail of the ship. "Our greatest treasure. We assembled her by hand, the perfect unity of water and wind."

"And gave her a beautiful name," Sirsir nodded. "But to answer your question at last," he told Sedna, "I am still involved in the war. Without a companion, I can't be used at the front, but we're delivering a lot of things back and forth between the continents."

"The next ride will be at sunset," added Vully. "When the winds are favorable."

Iris came up with an idea. "Where exactly are you sailing?"

"Fuocith's teeth," Sirsir said. "A harbor in the middle of the Fire Tribe territory, which, like the Beak Bay, belongs to the Sky and Water Elmen. We can't go further north because the lightning tribe sinks every enemy ship up there."

"And as long as our allies in Zesto transport our goods along the coast, the Fire Tribe is not a threat," added Vully. "It stays as away from the water as it can."

Iris nodded, though she was little interested in this information. Sirsir's first sentence had told her everything she wanted to know. "What do you know about Fuocith?"

"The Guardian of the Fire Tribe?" Sirsir shrugged. "Not much. Only that he lives in a volcano in the west of Zesto. It is also said that he's outside often enough, because the people at the Teeth say he has been seen all over Zesto already. "

"What are you up to?" asked Geb, who had noticed Iris' second nod.

"Do you still have room for a few Elmen and their companions?" she asked the men.

"Seriously, Iris, what are you doing?"

"We don't know where Lumeon's plain is, right? Perhaps it's an island, perhaps it's also on land. If so, Fuocith will be able to help us. If not, we still have Acquois in Zesto." And Aricel wouldn't want to talk to me anyway. Not after what Sabazios said.

"Did you hear that, Vully? The kids are looking for Lumeon's plain."

Geb grimaced. "We're serious."

Vully smiled. "We know, big one. You know, if we were a few years younger, we'd join you. The first elms that enter this place. Beautiful thought."

"Bringing you over is the least we can do," Sirsir added. "So yeah, we have enough room for you all."

"Not all," Iris said quickly, to save Sedna from talking. She nodded to her. "Sedna and North Star remain here."

"I told you she can stay," Sirsir said. "And the bird, too - not yours, I assume?"

"Long story," said Iris. "We can tell you later on the ship."

"As well as who you are in the first place?" Vully asked. "You don't see a group like yours every day."

"Gladly," beamed Geb, and Iris smirked. She would leave it to him to tell them about their experiences.

She noticed that Sedna was staring at her. "Can we talk?"

It was Sirsir who replied for Iris. "Farewells can take a long time. We don't leave until sunset, take the time you need."

Sedna nodded to him before she went back to the shore until the two men were out of earshot. The others quickly followed her.

There was a moment of silence, but then someone took the floor. Geb.

"It's a pity you're going." With one hand he held his other forearm as if he did not really know what to say. "I mean, we're actually going and you're staying here. What I want to say, uh ... we've seen quite a lot together. It was nice to have you and I ... I hope you find your companion again soon. We will come to visit you when we have found the chosen one, you know. It'll happen so soon that you won't even miss us at all, you'll see."

The situation was just as unpleasant for Sedna. How could one find the right words? "Well, I ... I will certainly not miss you."

Those were definitely not the right words. Geb, Karzelek and Iris were equally stunned.

"You can't be serious," Iris finally said, rather confused than angry. After all that had happened after their first encounter!

"You've heard right," Sedna said. "I have no reason to miss you - because I will accompany you."

Again they were all speechless, but this time with joyous surprise. Sedna had always sounded so sure when the Beak Bay had been mentioned. They had been sad, but they had accepted it. Now they were here, in the beak bay, and Sedna would still be with them? "How long did you know that?"

For the first time in a long time Sedna smiled. "Do you remember our departure from the ore tribe? 'When one of us goes, we all go.' I've been with you for so long, I'll survive for a couple more weeks."

"Thank you very much," Iris answered, but she was not angry with her friend. She knew how the words were meant.

"What about your companion?" asked Geb.

Sedna hesitated. "We'll be a few days at sea," she finally said, a hand on the elemental stone at her neck. "She will find me."

---

"There you are again!" Sirsir stood on the deck of the Halcyon and grinned. "Ready to set sail?"

Iris nodded. "Otherwise we wouldn't be here."

"Let's go! We've already prepared." He pointed to the middle of the ship, where a wide wooden slab was attached to connect the hull to the bridge. "Should be enough for the big guy."

"Let's try it. Come on, buddy!" Geb led Boulder up the plank, which bent slightly with the weight of the rhinoceros, but without breaking or slipping. The ship also rocked as soon as the two had entered it, but found its balance quickly. After that, it was not a problem for the others to get on board.

"I was not expecting you now," Sirsir said as Sedna entered the ship. "Not that I'm complaining. Always nice to have a water elm, right, Vully?"

A laugh sounded from the front of the ship - the bow, as Sedna had explained to them earlier. She had insisted on teaching them a few technical terms so that they would not embarrass themselves in front of the sailors. Vully came over to them, while a large gull, probably his companion, remained at the tip of the bow.

"What did you do with the other bird?" he inquired.

"Looked for someone to take care of him," Iris explained. "As I said, long story."

"Well, we have a lot of time now." Vully looked at his friend. "What do you think? Shall we go?"

"Ready when you are."

Iris watched as Vully went to the helm of the ship. Sirsir raised the big sails and got help from Vully's gull, who did its work almost more skillfully than the man. Together they unleashed the lines and Vully maneuvered them out of the harbor and out into the sea.

When Iris heard bird calls, she noticed, fascinated, how dozens of seagulls and other water birds used the wind and let themselves be carried by the breeze behind the ship. Vully's companion had joined them.

Shimmer had then taken its place at the tip of the bow and, like Iris herself, looked at the sun which had almost set before them and made the almost endless sea appear red. The wind tickled Iris under the feathers. Should she join the water-birds with Shimmer?

She quickly rejected the thought. It was almost night and the wind would still be there tomorrow, and on all the other days that they would spend on this ship, always towards the setting sun. No, today she would just enjoy the view.

"I told you, the sunset is best at the sea." Iris turned her head in surprise. She had not heard Sedna come.

"Do you still think the blood red is an evil omen?" she asked.

Sedna looked at her. "As I said, I do not believe in such things." She stared back out into the sea. "And anyway, we can be certain that the shadows will pursue us. That doesn't need any omens. "

Iris looked around for the others. Geb had somehow managed to fall asleep in the middle of the swaying deck, Boulder next to him. But no trace of Karzelek and Four-leaf.

"They're below deck," Sedna explained, who had noticed her questioning look. "I guess that reminds them of home."

"Do you miss yours? I mean, after all these weeks ... "

"I'm fine," Sedna answered her question. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here now. Someone's got to keep an eye on you."

Iris nodded. "Someone has to fight if the guys don't."

Sedna stared back at the sea. "Karzelek will probably never again take any weapon in his hand. Or generally any pointed or sharp objects."

"We'll help him deal with the matter," Iris said. "That's what friends are for."

"If you say so…"

"Hey. He's a thousand times better off with us than in Spectralia. Even with Heimdall as chief, I bet you that no one would have been interested in how much his deed is affecting him. "

"Speaking of Heimdall," Sedna said. "He gave you something on our departure. Have you ever looked at it?"

Iris paused in astonishment. "I forgot that completely! Good thing you reminded me."

"Well, now would be a good time to open the parcel, don't you think?"

"Agreed." She reached into her pocket and immediately felt the fabric into which Heimdall's gift was wrapped. She pulled it out and began to unpack it while Sedna watched her with interest.

The water-Elmin laughed as the object appeared. "Well, that fits."

Iris did not even try to hide the wide grin in her face.

In her hand, she held a blue crystal.

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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