This is the twelfth chapter in Sky of Stone and the sixth in part two: Ore.

The Story of a Tribe

The violet crystals glared upon them as Iris and Sedna crossed the bridge to Enki's column. It was as if they were wanting to be taken with them, but Iris pulled herself together. There would be an opportunity, but now she had to concentrate on far more important things. In addition, a crystal was already in her pocket, and if it was only Tanzanite's black stone, which, according to Amethyst, she should not touch. This was more than exaggerated - if even a healer could not say what was wrong with the stone, it was definitely not a big deal at the end.

But they were here to find out.

Although the entrance to the column was decorated with violet stones this time, the two guards were elms with blue horns. So not everything here is in harmony with each other.

"Hello," Iris greeted the two, who both just frowned. "We'd like to talk to Enki."

"The chief is busy," replied one of the guards. "Come back later, if it's important at all."

"Is he busy or you just do not want to let us go?" Iris replied. "You must know that we are registered at Enki. He is already waiting for us. But if you absolutely want to deny us access, because you simply do not like us ... "

"You're not quite innocent of that," Sedna murmured, but Iris did not answer.

The guard, whom she had just answered, pointed her spear at them. "Leave. Or do we have to make you?"

Iris heard steps behind her. "It's all right, Topaz. They belong with me."

The woman lowered her weapon as she saw Heimdall standing in front of her. "You actually have an audience with the chief?"

"That's the way it is. Are you going to let us in?"

"Of course, Captain," the second guard quickly said, opening the door to them, giving Topaz a warning look. However, she let the visitors pass without a word.

"Why did you do that?" Iris asked as soon as the door had closed behind them, ignoring the usual formal salutation she was supposed to use with someone like Heimdall.

"A 'thank you' would not be bad."

"Well, thank you." They entered the spiral staircase that led to Enki's Hall. "But seriously, why? And how did you even know we wanted to get to Enki?"

"I saw you on the bridge," Heimdall said, shrugging. "Topaz would never let you go, so I thought I'd help you. After all, you are by no means as dangerous to the tribe as is often claimed."

"Is Enki really busy?" Sedna asked. "Or was it really just a pretext to reject us?"

"He was already chief when I was born. As old as he is, he likes to describe all sorts of things as the reason for his supposed abundance of appointments. In truth, however, he rarely does anything at all."

"I thought," Iris grinned. "Just be careful not to let him hear that, he would not like it."

"That's true. So I hope for you that you are here for good reason. Even when he is not busy, he doesn't exactly like to spend his time with unimportant talk."

"He's lucky; it's really important." As they reached the top of the stairs, Enki's hall, Iris realized with surprise that it was neither too strong nor too dimly lit. In fact, Enki used the light effects only to intimidate - and he could not do that now, because he had not been informed of their visit. As Heimdall had correctly guessed, the chief was still sitting on his crystalline throne, only that one could now clearly see his gaunt figure. What could be seen from his body could not be much more than skin and bones. One might think he's almost dead, thought Iris, but quickly corrected herself. He is, after all, as old as he is.

"Greetings, your Radiance," said Heimdall a lot louder than he had just spoken to Iris and Sedna.

Enki flinched, blinked once, then stared at them, startled. Had he slept? With open eyes? No wonder he looked like a corpse.

"Forgive the disturbance," Heimdall went on, while Enki had to collect. "But your guests had an urgent call."

Enki raised his hands to a clap, but hesitated before finally letting them sink again. Now they had seen him already, he could keep it at that brightness.

Sedna bowed, though not too deeply. Iris did the same as her, though she was sure that she could defeat Enki within seconds. A good chief definitely looked different - in every respect.

"... well," Enki finally said. "What is it?" Can he not talk a bit faster at least? That my tribe is known for its speed does not make it any better, Iris thought to herself. For Sedna, his voice was certainly more tolerable.

It was she who started the explanation. "Tanzanite, the man who was to guard us, has been in the lower tunnels. There, he has caused a collapse and so the Earth Elm of our group and a boy from your tribe were separated from the city. "

"He did what?" Enki's voice was little more than a whisper, but the anger in his voice was clear. Were the lower tunnels really so bad - or was he worried about the boy?

"We are relatively certain that they have survived the collapse," Sedna continued. Well, you do, anyway. "The tunnel seemed to lead deeper into the rock. "

Enki's hands clenched as they clasped the armrests of his throne even more firmly. The entire crystal wall behind him crumbled into innumerable parts, with a clang that made all three clap their hands to their ears. Only Enki just sat motionless as the room darkened as a result of the extinction of this source of light and only the glowing stones at the side still gave light. No one dared to comment on what had happened.

At least he can still use his magic ... and his companion must be very close. However, it was nowhere to be found. Was he as frail as Enki himself? They had the same age, anyway.

But shouldn't Enki have rejoiced that the boy from his tribe was probably well? In fact, the crystal had only fragmented when Sedna had just mentioned that.

"Can it be that the risk of collapse is not the reason why you should stay away from the lower tunnels?" Only now Iris noticed that she had said that aloud. The silence was broken and she had attracted the full attention. "... that it is more about what is hidden in the tunnels?"

"Is that true?" asked Heimdall, who had just taken his hands off his ears and still held them up in the potential event of another break.

"Yes," said Enki, trying to control himself again, but the subject still made him audibly angry. "The tunnels lead to Terrai, the guardian of the earth."

"And that's bad, because ...?" Iris said. She had heard Geb talking about him, so he could not be terrible.

"Of course ... you know nothing about the history of our tribe. Heimdall?"

The addressee nodded to his chief before turning to Iris and Sedna. "As you surely know, there are, besides Lumeon, only four other guardians: of earth, of fire, of sky, and of water. When the tribes arose a hundred years ago, there were only four of them, as they had been created by the guardians. "

Iris nodded. The fact that their tribe owed their existence to Aricel was well known.

"They thought they were special," Heimdall continued. "The Impures, which in contrast to them had no special abilities, were exposed shortly after their birth in the wilderness. Those who survived used their years in uninhabited places far from the tribes. In our case, here under the mountains, where the magic of the ores was completely without the help of any guardian, so that our ancestors too became Elmen."

"That alone is no reason to hate Terrai," Iris said, as she took up the story. "He himself did not harm you."

"Oh, he did," Enki said. "My eldest ancestor, Opal, declared herself chief of the tribe, as she was the only one blessed with multi-color horns. While exploring the lower tunnels, she found Terrai, who was anything but enthusiastic about the new tribe." He paused to collect energy for further explanation. "He cursed her with curses only the guardians could possibly know. Threatened to collapse this column and thus the entire city. But he was so impressed by the power of the language she used to finally break away from him and the other guardians, that he did not dare to put his threat into action."

"Then she broke down the lower tunnels herself, preventing the tribe from ever again experiencing Terrai's existence," Sedna said. "Furthermore, she has forbidden contact with the upper world to protect the tribe."

"That's how it is," Enki announced proudly. "Without Opal we would not be the tribe we are today."

Iris tried to steer the conversation back in the direction of more recent things. "So what are you going to do against Tanzanite? If Terrai comes back to the tribe, that is all his fault." If that was not yet convincing enough, she still had the black stone that she was now pulling out of her pocket - visible to everyone, but still so in fabric wound that Iris did not touch the stone itself. "Then there would be this here, which he certainly is not supposed to possess."

Enki frowned, making his appear even more wrinkled. "There are no such stones here, neither on the walls nor as horns of Elmen. Unless ..." He looked at Heimdall, who was also thinking.

"Tanzanite was at the bottom of the cave after his companion had an accident. Since then he has behaved more aggressively than usual."

"Do you think there is a connection?" Enki did not sound convinced. "His behavior can also be due to the particularly strong loyalty to me. He wants to show his gratitude for me allowing him to keep his rank as a cave guard despite the loss of his companion."

"Possible. But yes, Enki, I suspect a connection. Possibly even in connection with Kyanite's disappearance."

"Kyanite?" Iris repeated. Who was that again?

Enki answered her question. "A guard who has disappeared without a trace a while ago."

"On the night before the accident of Tanzanite's companion," Heimdall added, causing Iris to listen more closely immediately. Had he said 'night'?

"I would not have thought that the shadows attack even you."

Enki declined. "The shadows are an ancient myth, nothing more. Presumably, Kyanite just left into the upper world, the traitor."

Heimdall, however, had listened to Iris's words. "If you do not mind, my chief ... I personally would like to hear what the strangers have to tell us."

When neither Enki nor Sedna replied to anything, Iris decided to tell the ore tribe everything. "For some weeks, the shadows have been kidnapping Elmen from some tribes, perhaps even from all. We believe that they will also transform these people into shadows and thus prepare themselves for their final takeover. That is why we are not among our tribes: we seek the hero from Lumeon's prophecy to destroy the shadows as quickly as possible."

"Lumeon does not concern us, nor his prophecy. We do not worship him the way you do. The problems of the upper world are not ours."

"Unless they affect you after all," Sedna said. "Just as it seems to be the case with the shadows."

"It was a single guard," Enki said. "In addition, the shadows have no reason to stand against us - if they exist at all. We have never hurt them, in contrast to the rest of Elysia, as it seems to me."

Iris stared at the black stone in her hand as she pondered. Through the light effects with which he first illuminated the room at their first encounter and then almost completely darkened, Enki put himself on a level with the light elms and the shadows that had exactly these abilities. No one who believed even a little in the legends would ever have dared. But if the shadows had actually been here, it became increasingly clear that Tanzanite's stone, as black as the shadows itself, had some deeper meaning. To find this, there was only one way.

"We must go to the bottom of the cave."

Of course Sedna would tell her now why this was not a good idea.

"Yes. I think we should do that. "

Amazed, Iris turned to the water-Elmin. "You agree with me?"

The other nodded. "I think we'll find the answers we're looking for down there."

Expectantly, the two looked at Enki. After all, he was the one who ultimately decided on their future action.

"I'll allow you - under one condition."

"That would be?" As usual under conditions, Iris would not like them at all, she was sure.

"Tanzanite will accompany you."

"You can't be serious!"

"I am," Enki said sternly.

"He will push us into the abyss halfway down, so that we may break our bones and end like his companion."

"I am aware of that."

"Well, thank you," Iris murmured, but Enki was not finished yet.

"That's why Heimdall will come with you. His companion will bring you down safely."

"We will not all be able to ride on Summiteer," Heimdall said. "However, if we take somebody else with us, we can also avoid Tanzanite riding on the same animal as our guests."

"That's just the right thing, for me," yawned Iris. Only now did she realize how tired she really was. She had no idea what the color of the sky was - it was perhaps the deepest night.

"Well, I'd say we'll be resting. You've had a long day and I'm sure you can sleep at Amethyst's. It's the one Tanzanite brought you to, is not it?"

Iris answered with a nod.

"Then that would be settled." Heimdall looked to his chief. "We'll leave in the morning."

"Good. Report me when you are back."

"Of course, Your Radiance." Heimdall bowed. "Good night."

"Good night."

Iris and Sedna also bowed, but did not think it necessary to say good-bye. As they left the room via the spiral staircase and Iris turned around again, she could have sworn that Enki was already asleep again.

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