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This is the fifth chapter in Sky of Stone, from Geb's point of view.

A Strange Encounter

Something was wrong.

Geb opened his eyes sleepily and was confused for a moment when he saw only rocks and grassland around him. But then it occurred to him again: he was on a mission, together with his companion Boulder, who was beside him, and his new friend Iris.

Iris.

She was nowhere to be seen.

Immediately, Geb was awake and climbed the rock beside him to get a better overview. But all he saw was steppe, steppe everywhere. No trace of Iris.

"Iris?" He shouted with a hint of panic in his voice. Where was she? Had the shadows taken them? But he would certainly have heard that. On the other hand, they could certainly squeal silently ... I knew it. We should have watched. "Iris?" He repeated as loudly as he could. "Iris, where are you?"

"Now, don't scream! Our followers will know where we are. "

A wave of relief washed over Geb. "Iris! I'm glad to see you. I thought the shadows had caught you. "

"As if," she said calmly, and now landed with Shimmer beside him on the rock. "They will not get me that fast."

"But where have you been then?" He was still infinitely glad that she and Shimmer were alright. If something happened to them ...

Iris shrugged. "Ate food. And explored the area a bit. Did you know that the bark here is full of insects? You just have to peel them off the tree and have a delicious breakfast. "

"Just say, you're still eating," said Geb, disgusted. "They're way too slimy."

"And crispy," Iris added grinning. Geb knew that she had fun with the matter. He, on the other hand, had been seriously worried about her.

"You could have told me you were flying away."

"You slept, I did not want to disturb you." Frustrated, Geb noticed that she was not quite wrong. The sun was still not very high in the sky, but it was definitely morning. He had slept, as always.

"Nevertheless. Something could have happened. "

"Not to me!" Iris demonstratively dangled a light-blue stone attached to one of her necklaces. "I can use magic, do not forget that."

Geb remembered her encounter with the other boys. "I still can not believe your magic is so strong."

Iris's answer literally tore him from his feet. He fell backwards on the rock below him, and only his thickened back skin prevented him from hurting himself. He was about to get up, then he felt a breeze on his back and found himself standing a moment later, as if nothing had happened.

"Are you convinced now?" Iris grinned. Without waiting for an answer, she added, "Now I want to see what your tribe is doing."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, your magic." She tilted her head. "You have your stone, don't you?"

"Of course." Geb raised his holster so she could see the brown stone on the chain below.

"So, what are you waiting for?" she asked impatiently.

Geb glanced over at Boulder. "I should go closer to him, then the magic works better."

"Just start, you snore-nose!"

"Hey, I don't snore that loud," he protested, jumping down to pieces. Nevertheless, he hesitated.

Iris sat on the rock and just looked at him. She would wait until he finally showed her what his tribe was capable of.

"Your magic is pretty strong," he tried again. "It's obvious that I'm not very good compared to you."

"Can be," said Iris. "I'd like to see what Earth magic can do."

So, Geb stood, Boulder behind him. He stood wide-legged, while Boulder never made any effort to do anything. This was not necessary in any case for the magic to work, but he could at least have looked interesting or something like that. But that did not matter. He stretched his arms to the ground and held the palms down as if he were pushing against the ground. Earthquake, he thought, concentrating fully on his intentions. This can not be so difficult.

The stone under his holster smelt, the floor was trembling, and Geb suddenly lay on his back again.

Somewhere above him, Iris laughed, and Geb tried, embarrassed, to get back on his feet. He had known from the start that this was a bad idea. He had never been clear with the elemental arm. Luckily, he had almost always been able to avoid their deployment - and now Iris had to learn of his difficulties. He was so happy that he could no longer laugh at him. "Was that on purpose?" she asked as soon as he could stand again.

He shook his head, sighing. "No, I ... I just can not. I'm only using the magic as a joke. "

"Oh, please!" Iris smiled at him as she descended from the rock and stepped towards him. No grin, but an honest smile. "You just have to practice a bit, that's all. Once we have found the hero of light, he will be incredibly impressed by you. "

"That you can be so sure ..."

She half-strangled him. "Think positively, Geb! That's the secret." She swung herself on Shimmer's back. "But for now, let's go. I have not seen anyone, but you can never know. "

So much for positive thinking. But he did what she said, and went much less elegantly on the back of Brocken, who had stopped to doze after the earthquake. Together they followed Iris, who gave them direction in flight. The sun stood right behind them over the top of the mountain, on which they had ridden already yesterday. The sight was so breathtaking that it reminded Geb once again of why the place was called 'Twilight Mountains'.

---

The next few days were largely uneventful. They kept to the west of the mountains, and the landscape around them hardly changed. They saw some animals, and in the distance villages on the mountains, but they managed not to meet any single elms.

Geb enjoyed the journey to the fullest. Even if not much happened, it was incredibly much fun to discover the world together with Iris. Sometimes he even forgot what a serious reason they were on the road. Without visible persecutors or shadows in the night, it was almost too easy to get lost in the landscape.

On the seventh day of their journey, Geb appeared as if the mountains were approaching. This had to be the place from which Iris had spoken: the mountain described an arch, so that the last foothills lay before them. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw this. It was true that high mountains still stood out of the ground, but they could be avoided by crossing the forest area at their feet instead. For Iris, the mountains would not have been a problem, but in the case of Boulder it was different. His short legs and broad hooves were not at all suitable for climbing steep mountains.

It did not seem, however, that Iris would land soon.

"Hey, where are you going?" Geb called. Thereupon Shimmer stopped and flew down to him.

"Around the forest," Iris said, confused. "Where else?"

"How about in the forest?"

"Why should we -" She looked at Brocken and his rider. "...Oh."

"Would have been nice." Geb laughed. "But it will not be so bad. Think positively, remember?"

"Very funny." Nevertheless Iris and Shimmer rose and followed Geb through the forest. "I do not understand how you can have anything against this place. Behind every tree there might be something hiding. The sky is clearer to me, and there is at least something."

"Nothing happens to us here," Geb tried to calm her down. "You would have seen someone follow us."

Then something rustled in the bushes.

Iris immediately prepared to use her magic, and Shimmer turned her pointed beak to the bushes. Geb, however, thought it would be better to wait - especially since he could not do much.

There was a deer out of the bushes, not much bigger than Boulder's head. Geb relaxed. No companion. Only a wild animal.

But hardly had they run past them and disappeared again in the undergrowth, there was something else. No - someone else.

This somebody seemed to have pursued the deer, but then he stumbled, so that he lay directly on the ground in front of Geb and Iris. He was just about to get up, then his eyes fell on the two elms and their companions, and they just stared at each other for several seconds.

It was a strange sight to the friends: it was an older man, certainly seventy and much thinner than Iris, which Geb would never have thought possible. His simple clothes were torn, and he stank as if he had not washed for weeks. But what surprised Geb most was his body. His skin did not seem to know which tribe he belonged; It was brown in some places, and gray in others, without forming a definite pattern. He had neither horns nor feathers that showed him as a member of any tribe. Instead he had unkempt gray-brown hair and, what was the most unusual of all, he had no markings, not even in his face.

Geb knew this kind of creature. It was not often that he met one. Above all, he had not expected to meet one outside. It was not an elm, which was obvious, but an...

"Impure." Iris had overcome her initial surprise and looked curiously at the man.

He was not very enthusiastic, however, to see her. "Well recognized, Sky elm. And what do you want to do now? Can't you just take me now, or do I go with that mucky face next to you? You must decide who gets me. How about a fight?"

Geb and Iris exchanged a glance. The man was afraid of them. His voice trembled and his eyes looked back and forth between the two. He seemed to be trying to overstep his fear with insults and to get an opportunity to escape. "We will not take you with us," Geb finally said.

The man laughed audibly, or perhaps he was just crazy. "Lawbreaker, what? Do not you know your own rules? I know how it goes with you. Whoever finds it can keep it. Must keep it! And with 'it' I mean my people." He frowned. "Scratch away the dung from your beasts or just pick them up? Both are not a promising future. Dirt from the bottom is better than dirt from above, right?"

Iris gave the man a dark look as he looked at her. Geb quickly bounced for her before she said something wrong. "We know the rules," he nodded. "We just have better things to do than follow them."

"And that would be?"

"Save the world," Iris replied, letting it affect the stranger. He seemed to be less afraid now, and laughed again, this time in a serious, mocking way.

"Save the world! You! And I thought I was crazy."

The glance Iris now gave Geb, made it more than clear that she still held it to him.

But the man continued to talk. "Look. Now, I'm the first to know that the world is in trouble. But you can not really use me. Don't tell anyone I'm here, right? "

"Of course not!" Geb nodded immediately. What the man had said was true: whoever found an Impure had to take him to his tribe, where he would lead a life as a slave. Geb had been very early on this, in the unlikely event that he met a wild Impure. This was the case, but Geb did not intend to let anyone know about this man. Although his present life was not very exhilarating.

But that gave him an idea. He fetched a mango from Boulder's bag and held it out to the stranger, who eyed her suspiciously but interestedly.

"Is that poisoned? Just because you should not betray me, you don't have to kill me right away!"

Geb took a bite from the fruit and tried again. "Better?"

"Okay," muttered the man, finally taking the mango. At the first bite it became clear that he had not eaten anything since then, at least nothing close to delicious.

"What is your name?"asked Geb, who didn't think the stranger was bad, even if it was quite unusual. "I am Geb, and that is Iris."

"Thorn."

"Thorn?" Repeated Iris, and Geb could understand her confusion: such names were given to his companion, but not to any person.

The man shrugged. "I just had some thorn in my foot when I first met another of my kind. That's what's going to be remembered. "

"All right, Thorn," said Iris. "We will not tell anyone about you if you do not betray us to our persecutors."

"You're not very smart, huh? If you have not noticed, I have no interest in being seen by anyone. I can not betray you. "He scratched his head. "But you're right, a compromise would not be bad. I can show you the way, if you will."

They could use that really well. Geb had completely lost his bearings in the forest, although he had never admitted the iris. So he nodded. "We want to go north. Can you take us out of the forest? "

"Sure I can. I'm not called the Infallible Navigator Thorn for nothing!" And he ran away.

Iris looked once again at Geb and rolled her eyes, then followed him.

---

"Well, what did I tell you? Infallible!"

Geb knew that above all Iris would never have thought it possible, but after a while, Thorn had led her to the edge of the forest. At some distance, Geb could already see her next target: the river Xiro.

"Thank you for your help," he smiled at Thorn, who remained in the shadow of the forest, unlike the others. He could not risk being seen.

"No problem, mate." The man grinned and showed his not very clean teeth. "Good luck in saving the world - if you are already there, you can try to give my people a few more rights. We deserved more than many others. "

Iris made no effort to respond to this remark. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Thorn. Maybe we'll come visit you once we've saved the world, but now we have to go on. "

No reason to be rude. But Thorn did not seem to mind.

"All right, you see!" He even waved them a goodbye, still making a somewhat crazy impression. "May the Almighty Infinipede protect you!"

Geb just wanted to ask him what he meant by it, so Iris came before him. "Yes, of course, you, Thorn. Until sometime! "Then she climbed on Shimmer's back and made her way to the river.

"Nice, the little one!" Laughed Thorn. "It's fun to travel with her."

Naturally, Geb agreed. He had to grin at the thought that they would spend a lot of time together.

"Let that, buddy," said Thorn, who had noticed his face expression. "If not, you soon have a mini-I at your neck and all Elysia against you."

Slowly, Geb understood why Iris had run off so quickly. "You know, Thorn ... I should follow Iris rather times. It was really nice to chat with you, but I have to go now. "

Fortunately, the man agreed. "Remember my words," he called after Geb, as soon as he set off on the way.

When Geb turned around again, Thorn had already disappeared into the forest.

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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