The Eye of Balance
by Robin Ray
Young Pelicor stands surrounded by his leather-clad, 50-member clan, the winged Caracarans, in a candle-lit, cathedral-sized cavern roughly two leagues from the Forbidden Forest. Though brisk, musty and ancient, the cave is their home, now temporarily serving as a gray-walled, albeit hyperborean, tribunal. Lacking typical furniture, the garishly decorated members are perched on boulders, mumbling among themselves while three administrative elders occupy crude wooden thrones most likely plundered in a raid.
“Pelicor,” the first official rumbles, his throaty voice silencing the throng, “you are not being punished. We consider your evergreen years, but you must try to understand the youthful irresponsibility of your words. This matter is more important than you or I alone. In essence, it threatens our existence at the hands of other clans. What have you to say for yourself?”
“You seek to lessen my fears and soothe me with sympathetic cadences,” Pelicor observes, his serrated voice echoing in the chamber, “but I know better. No matter how hard I try to appease everyone, I always fail.”
The second official, aflame with tension, interrupts his spiel. “Your frequent, not-so-secretive, verbal doubts that our venerable leader, the Omnipotent One, has become too aged and frail to drive our regiment,” he proffers, “amounts to treason.”
The Omnipotent One, sitting amidst the two, raises his hand. Though significantly older than the rest, his stalwart, regal appearance still commands attention.
“Pelicor,” he appeals to the neophyte, “you have a lot of maturing to accomplish. Luckily, I am a forgiving soul and understand that, by happenstance, you are the youngest of all of us.
“Caracarans!” he announces, addressing the humanoid crowd, “considering Pelicor possesses the Eye of Balance given to him by a dying stranger at Winter’s Lake, perhaps it’s best to stay on his good side. As for me, tonight, I’ll lay this minor concern aside for I, like you, bear a hunger I’ve never felt before.”
“The Eye of Balance,” the first official sneers. “Rumors abound of its great power. All it does is give its possessor the strength of two Caracarans. Makes the weak stronger.”
“Would you like to challenge him then?” the Omnipotent One asks the scoffing official.
“Hmph,” he snorts. “There is more important business at hand. It’s been months since our last invasion was hampered by the Wisteria elves. who protect the villagers.”
The second official chimes in. “But most of those cursed, pointy-eared loons have been off these past three nights to the Black Mountains, foolishly seeking the head of the Lamneth dragon. Now is the time to strike, to remind these feeble villagers of their place. We believe those hapless serfs quickly fashioned new weapons and defenses their craftsmen could devise with the Wisteria’s help, but it makes no difference against our airborne fleet. The rumbling in our guts screams volumes, and we will feed!”
The throng erupts in jubilation and begin banging their weapons in ear-deafening cacophony. Pelicor breathes a sigh of relief, but a concern lingers. What happens after the raid?
He knows his people. They don’t forget that easily. Behind their backs he labels them angels of retribution while fully aware of their insatiable wrath.
Flying through the Forbidden Forest minutes later, their powerful flapping wings wafting mighty mistrals startling every bird aloft, Pelicor and his cohorts extract fear at every turn. As they approach a clearing, villagers scamper like field mice, drag their livestock into pens, race to their homes, and latch their cottage doors shut.
An alarm bell peals the intruders’ presence. Little children, stout and strong, shiver and duck behind their frightened mothers, clutching their aprons as the best defense against the beasts. All able-bodied men take to arms — pitchforks, shovels, spades, swords, pokers — awaiting the devilish onslaught.
The boisterous horde swoop down towards the unlucky: man, elf, and animal alike. Pelicor collapses his wings, crashes through a timbered roof, and finds himself confronting a petrified farmer and his two teenage daughters in their humble, sparse, lamp-illuminated home.
“I wish to apologize,” Pelicor begins, “but this piercing hunger needs appeasement.” Staring into the villagers’ eyes, he reads their troubled existence, years of toiling in farms and the forest etched deeply within. Inching closer, his eyes fall on a large circular iridescent mirror hanging on a distant wall. Abandoning his prey, he slides over to it, his bare, taloned feet scraping against the floorboards.
“This... this,” he stutters, lamenting, tapping his chest, “is not me. I do have a soul.”
“Please,” the father begs, “spare us. We have done no harm to you. We want to live, just like you do.”
“My existence,” Pelicor insists, the scarlet vertical aperture of his yellow reptilian eyes widening, “is dependent on you. That is the one truth.”
“Can I change your mind?” the peasant pleads, shielding his sable-haired daughters behind him.
“I have a hunger you cannot fathom,” Pelicor extols. “We all do. Our insides boil with wicked pains, drives us to this conclusion.”
“And I’m sure it’s a pain you despise,” the farmer observes.
“Of course!” Pelicor agrees. “Do you think I want to be humbled by my own body? Do you think I enjoy this loss of control?”
“There must be some way you can be helped besides all this wanton killing,” the reasoning tiller proposes. “Isn’t there any humanity in you? There must be a way.”
Pelicor parts his breast coat and reveals a sheath dangling from his neck on a leather strap. Reaching into the scabbard, he produces a shiny, silver, curved-blade dagger topped with a flaming carnelian eye. In the flickering light, it appears to breathe of its own volition, trancelike and beyond imagining.
“This,” he explains, “is the Eye of Balance. It repels anyone who seeks to touch it, but if I will it to you, you may. One slash and my agony ends.”
“I don’t understand,” the farmer admits.
Pelicor blindingly zips over to him, grabs his trembling hand, and lays the blade in it. “Just one cut,” he whispers, pointing to his own neck. “And make it deep.”
“I... I’m not like your kind.”
“Do it!” Pelicor orders. “You have no choice! The stranger who bequeathed this dagger to me claimed that my death from it by another’s hand would return us to our original form: birds of prey. I’ve kept this secret from my people but have wrestled through sleepless nights with this knowledge. I hoped for peace, but we’ve infested these lands for years, and I can’t tolerate the carnage anymore. There’s no beauty in darkness, only hatred and despair.”
The bearded homesteader stares at the predator then gazes at the knife. Muscular, brutal, it seems to have been forged from the depths of Hell, perhaps even coveted by armies and bishops in every known realm.
“Sorry,” he murmurs, shaking his head. “I can’t do it.”
“Then this is your final night!” Pelicor bellows, grabbing the farmer’s neck. “I entrusted you with the only weapon that could stop the Caracarans, but you’ve failed.”
Fully convinced, the frightened tiller raises the dagger and thrusts it into Pelicor’s throat. His daughters scream, watching as the gagging creature falls to his knees in his growing pool of onyx blood. Seconds later, lying prone, his body turns to ashes, leaving his clothes and the blade behind.
Just then, boisterous celebratory voices explode from the village. Curious, the farmer quickly snatches the dagger, replaces it in the sheath, strings it around his neck, and exits the cottage with his daughters. To their left, middle and right are humans and elves, young and old, coming into the moonlight, some dancing emphatically.
“What’s going on?” the tiller asks a lamp-toting blacksmith.
“They’ve turned into birds and flown off!” the ecstatic ironworker answers, grabbing the farmer’s arms. “We’re free! Such a miracle has never befallen us. Many people and elves were hurt, and animals slain, but we’ll survive. Come. Let’s drink.”
“In a minute,” the homesteader promises, then turns to his daughters. “I think we’re finally safe. There will be no more fear in these woods.”
“Are you sure?” the eldest daughter asks.
Her father parts his breast coat and displays the sheathed Eye of Balance. “I’m positive.”
Copyright © 2019 by Robin Ray