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This is the eighth book in Sky of Stone and the second in part two: Ore.

Underground

Iris froze and made no sound. How could she have been so careless? For a moment she had ignored the seriousness of the situation and made herself heard.

Or maybe not. The stranger had assigned her horror to Sedna and did not suspect anything at all.

"Who's there? Show yourself!"

Pigeon poop. There was no point in attacking the alien earth-elm. He was clearly superior to her with his magic and had only to throw a rock at her to defeat her. But with a little luck, she could flee quickly enough to avoid it, and even if Geb was not very good at it, he could use his own magic against the stranger,

"It's me. Geb. The one you are looking for. "

Iris was speechless. Was he completely crazy? Now they couldn't flee as easily. She heard Geb leave his place next to her, approaching his tribe member. What was he going to do? He could not just surrender!

The stranger started as if he had expected a shadow. "What? That is certainly a trap. This is too much luck."

"I thought you were looking for me?" Geb asked, confused. "Well, you see, I'm fine. So, uh, go back to Kishar and tell her everything is all right. She does not have to declare the war to the sky tribe. "

As if everything would be fine.

The stranger did not give up. "Where is she who kidnapped you? How did you escape? Is she still nearby?"

"Iris? Sure, she's right over here in the cave- "

She knew what would happen now, and acted before she actually heard the growling of the cat. "Shimmer!" She cried, panicking, ready to jump at once to the bird's back. If they were fast enough, they had a chance.

The cat growled. Iris could not see her, but she had the feeling that she only had a few moments. How could Geb be so stupid? He knew that nobody was too enthusiastic about their trip.

Iris jumped as soon as she heard Shimmer coming, and clung tightly to the bird as the latter lifted from the ground.

Suddenly Shimmer came to a halt, accompanied by a painful cry. She fought farther, though Iris could have foreseen what had happened. "Let go!" She shouted at the cat, who had dug her claws in Shimmer's foot and prevented her from escaping. The magpie had to land, otherwise she would lose her foot completely, but that would be like giving up - and that was no option for Shimmer. So she struggled on and Iris cursed the darkness. The pain of her companion shown by her cry of pain made the injury seem incredibly severe. Iris could imagine perfectly what the herd of her magpie was doing at this moment, and in her despair she used her magic against the cat. But the beast did not let go.

And then Shimmer came free, like an arrow that was shot down by a still tense arch. "Just fly," Iris cried, as her heart raced and her voice surged. "Just away from that beast. Then we land, and then everything will be all right."

She stayed on Shimmer's back as the magpie flew to the north, making sure she did not descend, and spent the next few minutes relaxing. "Everything will be fine," she repeated a few times, more to herself than to Shimmer. They had just been lucky again-hopefully this was also true for Geb and Sedna.

---

As the sun rose, Iris decided they'd flown far enough. She brought Shimmer at the edge of a cave to land and to finally examine her injury. There they would seek protection if something happened.

The landing was much more awkward than usual, and when Iris came down, she saw the reason for this: Shimmer's left foot was so badly injured that the magpie could not land properly. The cat had left a claw wound that stretched across the entire foot of the foot and almost completely separated Shimmer's middle toe.

Iris did not have a bandage, but she ransacked all the bags she carried. She had to bind the wound, but how? If only Zephyr had been here. He could have used his scarf to wrap the foot. But she had nothing to do it with.

Desperately Iris fell to the ground. Zephyr was right. There would be war again and there was nothing they could do about it, except to face the tribes. But they were not allowed to do that. Not now, when they were not even close to meeting their goal. They did not even know whether the ore tribe existed. Maybe they should never have gone on this trip. Maybe -

"Iris!" She looked up in surprise. That was Geb! How had he found her so quickly?

But there was no doubt. Boulder raced across the steppe and directly toward her. It started out as a dark spot on the horizon, which turned out to be Boulder with the sun behind him. On the back of the rhinoceros sat two figures: Sedna and Geb, whose loud voice had even reached them from this distance.

Iris waved, although the two had already seen her. It was not long before they were with her - completely uninjured. The earth-elm had done nothing to them. "I'm glad to see you! How did you find us?"

"We thought you were fleeing north, so we followed the North Star." Even Sedna sounded relieved to see her. "My tribe is often based on the stars, so that was no problem."

"Is Shimmer hurt?" Asked Geb, who was looking anxiously at the magpie and immediately noticed the wound. "That looks bad ... can I do something for her?"

"You could stop betraying us," Iris replied, and heard the hissing of the cat in her ear again. Shimmer's screams. "That would not have happened."

"I told you I do not like to lie." He looked down on the ground with guilt and a little bit of pain, despite what had happened. They both knew that he really meant well and would never deliberately put anyone at risk.

Then Geb peered deeper into the cave, where it lost itself in the darkness. "The cave looks as if it were quite long. Surely it belongs to the ore tribe! We'll help Shimmer first, though. Then everything will be fine."

Iris followed his gaze. Could it be that not everything was lost? That they could help Shimmer and approach the hero of the light, if they only followed this tunnel? Geb did not know if the ore tribe existed, and yet he sounded incredibly certain. This made Iris optimistic again. "Let's find it out. Shimmer can't run, so Boulder must carry her. Is that possible?"

"If we support her so she does not fall down, then yes." Geb immediately began to lay Shimmer on Boulder's back. Sedna helped him, and Iris used her wind magic, as she was not physically a great help. With Geb and Sedna on both sides, Boulder was finally ready to enter the cave. Iris stayed close to Shimmer's head to make sure everything was all right. The magpie still had pain, but she was still conscious, and that was the most important thing.

"How did you escape?" Iris asked as they went down the dark cave. It actually seemed to lead deeper into the earth, which Iris did not like at all. She knew very well that she would not see the sky for quite a while. Here you really had the feeling that the sky could fall on the head at any time. Perhaps it would be better for her to be distracted. "Have you managed to control your powers?"

"No, I did it," Sedna said, but not at all proud. "Geb noticed how the Earth-Elm wanted to use his magic, so I pushed him so he missed you."

"But the cat let go," Iris recalled. "So he has ..."

"Instead, his companion was hit. It did not sound as if she had survived it. "

Iris swallowed. Of course the cat had hurt Shimmer, but she had not deserved death. Above all, not her companion, whom this loss would particularly strike. Losing Shimmer was the worst thing Iris could imagine. The earth-elm would not handle it differently, because the bond between companions was stronger than anything else. At the death of the one died also part of the other, so at least it has been said. Iris hoped that she would never find that out on her own. "... thank you for helping us."

"I did not want your companion to die, okay? Everyone would have helped. There is no reason to read too much into the matter."

"If you say so." She changed the subject. Everything to repress where they were. "Do you know what I am particularly looking forward to with the ore tribe? According to the stories, they are even smaller than the tribe of sky. For the first time in days, I will not feel like a tiny one anymore. "

"Even if you are one," Sedna replied.

Iris ignored the comment. "Why do you want to go to the Beak Bay? The stormy sea is a war zone."

"I know that. But I have better things to do than risk my life for my tribe."

"What, for example?"

A hissing sound followed by a dull bump interrupted her. Iris flinched - whatever it was, it had just missed her.

"What the -" she heard a strange voice close by, from the direction from which the bullet had come. Iris had only escaped because she was so small. The shooter had not expected that.

That is exactly what she had to do to her advantage. She sprinted forward, her tiny claws stretched out on her fingers. Without seeing anything, she prepared to attack the rifleman - but an unfavorable stone stopped her plan. With a brief outcry, she fell onto the rocky ground and moaned in pain before she felt a sharp blade on her back.

How often do you want to kill me today? thought Iris, praying that Sedna and Geb would take care of the enemy again. She herself was clearly unable to do this, for she did not dare to move.

"Intruder!" growled the stranger. "You will pay for having entered the caves of the ore tribe-with your life!"

"Leave the nonsense, Tanzanite." A second, older, and above all, more mature voice was heard and then suddenly it was bright. Iris could not see very much from the ground, but the light seemed to come from something the person held in their hand. She only saw his pants and the shoes he was wearing, which was not exactly common to Iris. Like the rest of her own tribe, she did not wear any shoes, as that was very impractical for her feet, but Geb and Sedna were also barefoot - probably, so that Geb could feel the earth beneath his feet. "Let her go, I said."

"You see what she is," replied the other, without taking the pointed knife off of Iris's back. "I could have killed her at once ... I'd hit her head, but I didn't know she was one of them. And the other two are not any better either. We should kill them before they destroy the entire tribe."

He did not have all the feathers together, Iris thought, but did not utter her mockery. He could still kill her at any time.

"Look at them," the one with the light said. "They're three, one of them half as big as you, and one of their companions is injured. They will not do us any harm, I am sure. We'll bring them to Enki; maybe you are lucky and he is of your opinion."

"That's what he will be," said Tanzanite, leaving Iris at last. Instantly, Geb was at her side to help her up and make sure everything was all right. Fortunately, this was indeed the case.

Now she could actually see the two strangers. In the dim light of the crystal, glowing in the dark and held by the nameless man, she could not see their skin color, but she thought she saw a bluish glow. The rock-like horns on the heads of the two men were not dissimilar to Geb's, but there was a big difference: they were not brown like those of the earth tribe, but blue and, above all, semitransparent, shimmering in the light of the luminous crystal.

They had found the ore tribe after all.

"Smaller than the tribe of sky, I see," Sedna murmured, and Iris had to swallow. The men were still at least half a head bigger than Geb.

"She's really tiny," said Tanzanite, as he looked more closely at Iris, as astonished as she was. "A miracle that she is still alive."

"Hey!" Iris protested. "I would have overwhelmed you if I did not -"

"Well," corrected the other, "I am grown up, unlike you."

"Who'd have thought," Sedna commented, which instantly irritated him.

"The fish has offended me! Sure we should kill her immediately?"

"Death is certain." His companion sighed. "Just keep quiet until we're at our chief. He alone has to decide what to do with invaders like you. Tell him what you're looking for, maybe he'll help you. "

"Probably not," Tanzanite grinned, turning a black, thin, sharp-edged crystal between his fingers without looking - the same stone with which he had wanted to kill Iris.

And if it does, this psycho still kills us. A quick glance at Sedna showed her that they shared this idea. But as long as his entire tribe wasn't so full of mistrust and hatred, they did not have much to fear. He couldn't attack them if they were surrounded by other elves.

"We'll see." The far less murderous man ordered her with a hand gesture to follow him and led her even deeper into the cave, while Tanzanite followed them from behind, which Iris did not like at all.

Fortunately, it was not too long before it became lighter. Every few meters, one of the luminous crystals was fixed to the wall, so that their leader stuck his own stone in a specially designed holder on the wall. Probably, this crystal actually served as a source of light in the event that someone wanted to leave the tunnel.

"For being guards, you are quite far from the cave entrance," said Geb. "If I had to guard your tribe, I would wait right at the entrance, so that no one could enter the cave at all."

"Our methods do not concern you," answered the man, whose name Iris still did not know. "We're right there, so be prepared."

"For what?" asked Geb, but they did not have to answer him at all. The man in front of Iris stepped aside and gave a clear view of a cave with gigantic wave of his hand. Surprisingly, Iris realized that her group was not at the bottom of the cave, but almost at her ceiling. They were standing directly on a cliff and when Iris looked down, the real floor was lost in the darkness. But she noticed that it was not just a circular cave. The walls were covered with minerals in various colors, the course of which was a perfect rainbow, and finally ended in gray and white. Everywhere, stairs, paths, and openings had been carved into the stone, and Elmen moved with their companions only inches from the steep abyss - the walls of the giant cave actually formed the city of the ore tribe.

Her group leader looked proudly at his city. "Welcome to Spektralia."

Iris perceived his words only briefly, for she was still working on taking in the city. The walls were a breathtaking sight, undoubtedly, but the heart of this city was the rock in the middle. It was a cervical spur and became narrower until it broadened downwards and at the top, where the floor was connected to the surrounding area. In addition, massive stone bridges from all directions led to this central point.

"Come," said their leader, who now descended a staircase. It was wide enough for Boulder, but with his short legs, and especially with Shimmer on his back, he would be very hard to reach the lower floor safely. This was also recognized by the man, who put two fingers to his mouth and emitted a shrill whistle.

Iris heard the clacking of hooves on the rock, and was astonished when a horned animal emerged from some distance, with only a few strides in a matter of seconds, and then stopped by the man. She had seen such an animal already, in the lower parts of the Sky Mountains: it was a ram, but very different from the one Iris knew. It had the same gray color as the man and the curved horns were also as dark blue as his. His fur was covered with jagged markings - and he was even bigger than Boulder.

"Summiteer will help your companion," said the man to Geb. And indeed it did; the ram supported Boulder from the front, thus ensuring that he did not fall down the stairs. The group finally managed to reach one of the large stone bridges after a few further stairs. Like the others that Iris could see, it was lined on the sides with crystals of a certain color: these were blue, quite like those from the area from which the bridge led to the central rock. Was it only decoration, or did the colors have a deeper meaning?

And above all - would anyone notice if she took one of the stones? The ore tribe had obviously enough, but Iris could make good use of new jewelery. And this blue fit perfectly to her feathers ...

"We're going to take you to Enki now," said her group leader, looking especially at Iris. He had not overseen her interest in the crystals, but at the same time she had noticed his side view of Tanzanite. If he finds out that I want to steal their stones, he can actually incite his chief against us, she recognized.

So she let it be, at least for the time being. At least their leader was interested in her well-being. He went ahead and spoke with two guards, who were at the entrance of the central rock and also had blue horns. When the rest of the group had arrived, one of the guards seemed to have disappeared into the rock. They did not have to wait a long time, then she reappeared.

"Chief Enki will receive you now," she said. The hostility in her voice was unmistakable, and Tanzanite grinned.

And Iris did not feel good at all when she entered the rock with the rest of her group.

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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