I mentioned last week that this could be my favorite Canto that I’ve written so far. I’m not sure whether or not it is, but I still like it. If you’ve missed or wish to recap, follow the Oscambria label at the bottom or click here. Now, Canto XVII, in which some pretty strange things happen.
The Hero stood in the sitting room perplexed,
Gazing at himself in the glass before him.
Staring back was someone he didn’t know,
Strangely dressed and wearing a different colored skin.
The eyes were rimmed in black,
Not unlike a skull,
And a wild patch of hair clung to his face.
At his feet Mossossopia was peering likewise,
Her neck craned and twisting back and forth.
In the mirror,
The galleyrat wailed a miserable sob,
As if she was dying.
The animal began glowing
And suddenly was engulfed in harsh, orange flames.
Oscambria could do nothing but watch
As his companion burned away,
The rank smell of burning hair and fur,
Mixed with the pleasant aroma of animal flesh
And the curse of the doomed.
Soon the flames were gone
And all that remained was char and ash.
The Oscambria in the mirror reached and plucked the Hero,
Pulling him into the other world.
Glass shattered and cut him as he broke through the barrier.
“Hello,” said not-Oscambria,
his similar voice rattling the Hero’s bones.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
The Hero tried to speak but found that he could not open his mouth,
And, feeling, he discovered it was sewn tight,
With the needle hanging limply at the corner of his lips.
“I’m Oscambria,” said not-Oscambria.
“This is one of the Worlds of Haze,
but I guess your world is, too, isn’t it Oscambria?
Do you think Orthe is one of the Hazy worlds?”
Fear and clawed at his heart.
He turned to gaze back through the mirror,
But instead found only a large, broken hole in the air,
Filled with an inky black darker than the void of space.
Shards of glass lay piled haphazardly below the opening,
Glinting and glistening softly in the weak light.
“Yes,” continued not-Oscambria, “I believe it is.”
The Hero turned back to himself
And found the imposter sitting atop a unicorn.
The eyes had sunken in deeper and the hair had grown wilder.
“Come on, we’ve got places to go and things to see.
It’s going to be so much fun with you here, Oscambria.”
Suddenly a triceratops appeared,
Equipped with a saddle and a lance.
Not-Oscambria slapped the unicorn and laughed.
They bolted, and without knowing how or why,
The Hero mounted the dinosaur and rode after himself.
He rode over a mountain of yellow cheese,
Cratered and well-weathered.
Ahead, he could make out not-Oscambria,
Galloping at an unsustainable pace.
In a flash the landscape changed
And the Hero was riding down a white street.
All around him were white buildings,
Hiding behind the looming grey fog.
Not-Oscambria’s laughter filled the air,
Sounding like a small child watching a cat fall from a fence,
Over and over again and never tiring of it.
The street ended at some stairs,
Which proved too difficult for the triceratops to climb.
The Hero made his way up
And towards the white tower.
At the top of the stairs he looked back
And saw the thick haze had descended on the land,
Erasing everything save the steps and the white palace.
Columbus’ caravan was parked near the entrance,
And to it were tied the bodies of Columbus, Koesan, and Arca,
Much like they were back when he first found them.
This time, however, they were dead,
As evidenced by their heads sitting in their laps respectively.
All three stared blankly at the Hero,
Following him as he entered the palace.
Inside, fog and haze poured everywhere,
Choking the Hero as he stumbled through.
Terror now squeezed his bones and he’d’ve screamed
Had his lips been un-sewed;
Nonetheless, he tried.
Through it all, not-Oscambria’s boyish laughter sounded,
Slowly pulling the Hero inward.
Finally he emerged at the throne room.
On the raised dais sat the imposter,
His face now a smiling, ivory skull.
The beard still fell away below his chin,
Long, matted, and silver.
The teeth were filed to a point,
All aligned to a frighteningly perfect smile.
A crown lopsidedly lay on not-Oscambria’s head
And a skeletal galleyrat curled in his lap.
“This all will pass if you fail,”
began the ruined man,
his young voice now taking a harder and deeper tone.
The skeleton motioned around the room,
But to the Hero’s eyes he saw only haze.
“Everything you know and love will die.
The Living Worlds will cease to be.
The passing of Orthe will overrun Hubus.
Kavle’s Maw will expand,
Enveloping Gastron in the Great Abyss
And leaving only ruin in its wake.
From this, there is no escape.
“You cannot fail, Oscambria.
All hope hinges on your success.
Not just the hope of man,
But the hope of the gods.
The Pantheon depends on you,
Though they are too drunk with their power to realize it at present,
They will acknowledge your exploits or curse your failure.
“The Great Haze will descend on the Living Worlds,
as it has in times past and on other planets.
It is not yet time for this system’s end,
But if you do not succeed,
Then it will die prematurely and young,
And there is nothing I can do to stop it.
All depends on you and your actions.”
Not-Oscambria stopped speaking,
His voice cutting short and fading away.
“Hope is your greatest strength.
You are the only hope left…”
The voice drained into an unintelligible whisper.
The skull rolled forward and snapped off the neck,
Bouncing once, twice, three times across the floor and rolling to a stop at the Hero’s feet.
The empty sockets stared up,
As black as the hole the broken mirror had made.
The haze burst into the throne room,
Thick and palpable,
Smothering with a heavy hand.
The Hero fell to his knees
Choking and unable to breathe.
All around him the whiteness of the room was replaced with the grey haze.
It worked its way into his nostrils,
It pressed against and into his eyes,
It seeped in through the gaps of his sewed lips.
He saw his skull looking back at him.
“You are the only hope left…”
and everything faded to grey.