The Balance of the Eagle

The light of the full moon shone down on the obsidian arch, perched on the crag high in the mountains. Its dense blackness seemed to draw in the pure moonlight, like a sponge with water, except that a sponge will let go of the water and the arch will not. There is writing on the top of the arch, graceful writing, reading,

Gates of Darkness open wide

The Wizard asks to be inside

Walk the twisted corridors of fate

And change the great eagle's mate

Unbolt the great doors of time

Until the bells of next-moon chime

The dead-black arch sits almost defiantly on its crag, untouched by the chaos below its peak. The screams of children lance the ear; the repeated crashes and fwoosh noises of houses collapsing create a beat that sings out to the violent side of human nature. You can see multi-colored bursts of light flashing constantly below the great peak and hear the accompanying howls of agony or a zone of dead silence, where nothing lives at all. There is a hill that is covered by an opaque dome the color of a violet. It seems to be holding its own, but who can tell? Where once stood a great hall there now stands gargantuan hole, that seems to have no end and has sides that if you look at them closely have the shapes of people, in various positions of agony and death.

But, in spite of all of this turmoil, or perhaps because of it, a lone figure, tall and shrouded in a cape of the same color and sucking qualities as the arch. His form is unable to decide between that of an eagle and man as he makes its slow, but purposeful way up to the crag. When the figure finally reaches the arch it pulls back its hood, to reveal a rather normal- looking man, except for the eyes. The eyes seem to have pulled all other color and life out of the surrounded surfaces, twinkling with a great and terrible power. Even the reddish liquid on his hands is pale and colorless next to the power of those eyes. He goes to the arch and as if he had done it so many times he did not even have to think about it, but with urgency that spoke of desperate need, he spoke the inscription carved deeply within the arch in a deep voice which seemed to grate heavily upon the air near it, creating a resonance about him. As he spoke the last line, his eyes snapped open as wide as they could go, and drew every last bit of color and light from around him, even the blasts from the mayhem below appeared to dim. Now his eyes were bright shining suns the color of flame at its hottest, but with a dark smudge on the edges. The final word left his mouth, and as it did a bell rung. Even those in the bedlam of fighting in the valley paused to hear this sound, this wonderful sound. It was so pure and beautiful, evoking memories of sitting near streams and listening to them flow, but slowly, as if someone was pouring darkness very slowly into it, the tone changed. First was as if listening to a slight disagreement between friends and then to two sisters fighting, something which never truly stops, but is minor. It went on thus, getting more and more tainted, until those listening once again thought of nothing but violence and pain and anger and betrayal. The moon, which had been shining brilliantly before, now is as tainted as the note, a dark and livid crimson creeping across it. Through all of this the man does nothing but smile.

As the note ends the space in the arch flickers and then reveals a red and black world. The man peers through the arch and back again. Then he takes a restrained step forward, almost through to the red and black world, but instead turns around and takes a small trinket shaped like a dove, normally a symbol of peace. The man takes little piece of metal worked to resemble a branch and rests the dove's feet on it, the dove fitting in right in. He then tosses the trinket over the crag and into the vale. Without looking back he turns around and walks through the arc, his form unable to decide between that of an eagle and man, pausing a moment to whisper triumphantly, "I win," in his discordant voice. Behind him the valley's lights flicker and then go out, except for two. That of the shielded place and a place in the exact center, which glows with the color of the man's eyes. Thus did the greatest civilization fall and thus did the Nightwalker first come to dwell in the World of Darkness, only touching our world every now and then.

Keelie straightened her tunic and her long russet hair as she rose from her chair at the imperious knocking on her door. Who could it possibly be? Who would knock that way? No one around Eirlys would rap on a door in the manner. "We have no gentry that are full of themselves around here. There are few who I would not mind being knocked down a few pegs, but none of them would knock on my door," she thought to herself. She strode to the door and opened it briskly, only to find that it was merely Danika and Laris, her friends. Danika was of fairly tall and had straight sable hair that came down past her knees, when it was down at all. She was a person who tended to always express her opinions, but never in way that would offend anyone. Laris, well, Laris was Laris. He was always cheerful even when you just wanted him to be quiet and wipe that silly grin off his face. It might just be Keelie, but she suspected that he smiled more and bounced off the walls more when other people were feeling angry or annoyed or any of the other various feelings one has when spending much time around Laris. In the village whenever someone saw his lanky figure with it's mop of red hair coming towards them or away from them they immediately examined everything around them to see if anything was wrong and if so blamed him for it. He was quite a great trickster and this knock was apparently his favorite at the moment.
"Hey Keelie, you would not believe how much fun that is to do! I knocked on old Mother Sylen's door like that and rushed into the bushes. The look on her face! She peered out and shifted just her eyes back and forth as if she expected to find the Nightwalker out there! At her own door! Why would he bother himself with such a little village like Eirlys?" Laris spouted at her, seemingly unable to stop the torrent of words racing out of his grinning mouth.

"Yes, why would he?" graceful Danika put in smoothly. "Really Laris I can't believe you managed to drag me into this. I noticed that you did not tell Keelie of the Look on old Goodwife Kari's face when she saw you peering out of the bushes at Mother Sylen. Nor did you tell her of the two eagles we saw flying in the sky on way here or of the plans you, Cassandra and I made last night while Keelie was out watching the guards from Barashi practice their swords."

"Well, maybe, I wanted to tell her something fun before I told her bad news and a plan she might not agree to!" Larin retorted

"Way to let the cat out of the bag, oh Smart grinning one! You expect us to get her to agree now!" Danika scolded him.

Not giving Larin a chance to answer Keelie turned to Danika and said calmly and sweetly, but with an undertone of steel, "Tell me, Danika, what plans?"

Before Danika had a chance to respond a rather small skinny girl with shining golden hair reflecting the last of the sunlight ran up the path and upon reaching the doorway gasped out, "You did not tell her yet did you? I want to see her reaction."

"My reaction, Cassandra. What could be so bad or funny that you wish to see my reaction?" Keelie asked her.

"Well," she started, looking to others for confirmation, and upon getting it continued, "We are planning an expedition to the Vendis Mountain and we leave tomorrow morning. We don't know how long we will be gone, but harvest is done, we have nothing else to do, why not? It should be just as interesting as when we went to the Sendi River, but without Laris falling in while trying to pull off a trick." She finished quickly and looked up at Keelie.

"You people are crazy! I know you have heard the stories about that place! People have gone there and never come back again or gone a when they come back start mumbling about a war and magic," Keelie announced placing a special emphasis on the last word.

"Please come, for me? I know you want to make sure I don't get eaten by a bear or something before I even get there, right?" Larin pleaded, unable to let a sad face displace his customary grin for even a moment.

She paused moment, groaned and finally said "You win, we all go to Vendis Mountain. I will go merely to prevent you from dying. You did get permission right?" "Yes, we have permission don't worry," Cassandra assured her.

A few days walking had seen them through to the valley below Vendis Mountain. Between the village and the mountain Laris had managed to first almost fall down a ravine and second to step on a hornet's nest while climbing a tree. Cassandra had fainted when confronted by a rabbit sitting on her stomach the moment she woke up, but besides those things the trip was uneventful. One thing they foursome noticed was that the closer they got to the mountain the more eagles they saw. One evening just before Danika fell asleep she saw a lone eagle the color of ebony.

As they looked into the valley they saw an odd structure near the middle. As a group they decided to head for it. Keelie noticed as she was walking that the forest here was so void of life. Even the great trees seemed to be colorless and pale compared to the vivid and constantly moving forest they just left. Suddenly she stopped with one foot out in the air, over a great hole, which seemed to go on forever. The sides of it seemed to hold something, but she could not quite tell what. Laris behind her had not stopped and almost pushed her in. Cassandra had stopped a ways back and was shaking her head and looking as if she was very very cold. Danika looked up and saw that eagle again, soaring above the trees, near a black smudge on the mountain above them.

" Why don't we just go around this," Keelie suggested in a wavering voice, "Far around it. It makes me feel scared and something. I just don't like it"

" I second that opinion, " Cassandra said, still shivering. " I do not like this place. It feels, for lack of a better word, evil." So they went around.

Once they had circled the hole they were almost to the structure. From further away the structure had seemed level with everything else, but now they could see that it was built on a hill. As they toiled up it they gazed in amazement at the sheer size of what was left of a once great building. Only the granite base and some whitish stone was left, but with a bit of imagination they could imagine so much more. They could see high towers and tall windows. Just before they reached the top of the hill Danika saw the eagle once again and this time pointed him out. However the moment they stepped on the top of the hill the eagle screeched as if thwarted and swooped away.

As they entered the structure itself they saw things on the ground, so many things. There were many everyday living things but also things that they could not think of anything you could possibly do with them. What do you do with straight peace of metal attached to a clear glass globe or what about with a board with many little holes carved into it and in the holes are little pieces of glass that blink every now and then? After searching around until nightfall the group settled down to sleep.

The next morning they decided to actually climb the Mountain. So, once again they set off. As usual the dark eagle soared high in the sky above them and Danika kept her eyes always on the eagle, pummeling her mind for reasons why it seemed to be following them. A little bit a way from the hill Larin's eyes was caught by a glittering object. He stopped and started to root around in the leaves for it and when he found it and picked it up it was a dove sitting on a branch. " Hey, people, look what I have found! Isn't it interesting?" he asked the others.

"What is it?" Keelie asked.

" I don't know, I just found it in the leaves. I think I will keep it," he answered.

"Larin, put that back, you really should. I just have a feeling about it. Could you please put it back?" Cassandra requested unsteadily.

" Come on, Cassandra, what could it possibly do?" Larin said, brushing off her comment easily. Cassandra did not even grace that with an answer.

Then the time for discussion stopped for they had reached the foot of the mountain and could clearly make out an odd black arch. The decision to go for it was quickly made and like the other beginnings they had made, it began. Except that this beginning was not truly a beginning, it was rather the middle of an ongoing saga which had began when they first saw the two eagle back in their village.

"We got here, we got here," Keelie said in a singsong tone, making up a little dance to go with it.

Danika and Larin merely stared at the arch in awe, noting it's absence of surrounding color. Meanwhile Cassandra got the look on her face she had gotten at the hole and when Larin picked up the dove. She shook all over and looked like she would rather be anywhere else then at the arch. "I don't like it here, we should leave."

Larin had overcome his shock and was examining the arch. "Look, there is writing on it, come and look."

Everyone, even Cassandra drew closer to the arch.

"Gates of Darkness open wide

The Wizard asks to be inside

Walk the twisted corridors of fate

And change the great eagle's mate

Unbolt the great doors of time

Until the bells of next-moon chime" Larin read.

Suddenly a bell rang and the pure tone slowly grew sour. Cassandra felt the desire to hurt Larin, badly, and did not understand it. The tone flickered out and in the arch a red and black world flickered in, a flame beckoning them in. None of them seemed inclined to go in, until the ebony eagle, who close up was as big as a bear swooped down behind them, shrieking with talons beared. Everyone stumbled into the arch, feeling unexpectedly dizzy and sick.

Once inside the group stopped and sat down, only to realize the eagle had come through the arch to and was now blocking it. Abruptly the eagle melted and formed into a tall man with glowing eyes and light-drawing cloak.

"I have not had visitors in a long time. Would you care to tip the balance?" the strange man said, his voice irritating the ears of all.

"No, I would not. I wish we had never come here," Cassandra said in rare moment of none-shakiness.

"Well, I am afraid you may not leave until you have not at least tried," the shrouded man said with a smile on his colorless face. "Come," he commanded and swept off. They had no choice, their bodies were moving by themselves, of their own volition it seemed, following the strange man.

As he went along he talked to them, "You see every time I see a traveler here it makes a new age in time. I have been watching you four. I knew you would all make here eventually. Whichever eagle you pick will determine the course of time until the next traveler comes."

Soon they reached a nest which sat at the middle of a giant balance. In one side of the balance stood a great female eagle proud and strong, the red and black of this world not even touching her. To the other was an eagle which could not decide what it was, for this world or for the one outside. Lined up against the wall were three eagles, a black one, wavering eagle like the one in the balance and last pure eagle. "Choose," the man said and disappeared into the black eagle.

"That is simple", said Keelie, "I pick the .." She paused. She could hear voices in her head, all around her, that should not be there, she was sure. They were whispering how this eagle might not be the right eagle, how could she know. It was all she could do to cover her ears and yet she still heard them.

"I choose the p.." Danika stumbled on her words. She suddenly was not sure of her words, what if she said the wrong thing? What would happen?

"Well, I am just about positive that I want the nice regular .."he stopped as the idea that if he picked the pure eagle he could not possibly do his mischief anymore.

Little Cassandra stepped up to the black eagle and looked him in the face and then she announced, "I choose the black eagle never. I choose the pure eagle who will stand in the way of danger and keep the world in peace. May the black eagle never exist again."

The moment the black eagle was denied the pure eagle made for the balance, tipping off the other eagle and settling into place. At this the red and black world began to shake to the base of whatever it was. Keelie, Danika, and Larin ran for their lives to the arch which could just be seen in the distance. Cassandra, however could not run, for she was fixed in a staring contest with the eagle, the Nightwalker. As the red and black world shook the Nightwalker started to dissolve, until finally Cassandra whispered, "I deny you,' and he poofed, was totally gone. The world was truly starting to crumble now. Cassandra sprinted for the exit, the others already out. She reached it a moment before it too went the way of the Nightwalker. Turning she watched the arches color turn to a bright white, the like of which the world had never seen before and that you will not ever see today and the writing to change to:

Once the place of evil

Now the place of good

Forever hold the balance

For fear of losing the world.