The Song of Ceber

Argument: Ceber finds her way to Takara's palace only to discover her way blocked by the Breathless, undead monsters raised by Takara to guard her halls.

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Seven: Takara

The Breathless

Heading from the web       of the Weaver Worms,
The blood poison secure,
Valiant Ceber       Hammer of Tanis
Sought Takara’s silver mountain,
But could not find which way it was.
She asked all creatures and spirits,
But none knew.
Not one knew       occidental from oriental,
An impossible impasse.
A terrific conundrum.

“Well, who knows!”       a widow spider said.
And sure       Ceber didn't!
In the most abject ignorance
Of locale and location
She traveled       thinking Takara beyond her reach,
Not knowing if the locals       lied or leaded.
Every hill of the heath       held nothing,
Every end a dead one.
No answers.

Until she thought to brave the air currents
And perhaps be smashed       to pieces on the stony ground.
Even as this thought advanced,
Gained foothold       for a few seconds
She noticed       a notch in the heath.
A jagged place       just on the horizon
Where the light       lanced brightly off
Bronze-colored towers.

“Whoever lives there       must be wise.
And with wisdom       comes worldly knowledge
Erudite knowing       and hopefully geographic education.
A literate laureate       of luminous stature,
A spirit of the realm,       a great reader.
Kind to guests, I hope,       generous and true.”
So Ceber said       starting out at once.

Nearer to the notch,       her notice clear,
She began to be dismayed
For arranged around       the bronze assembly
Was silver sickle grass       bringing sickness
With a touch       of a single tuft.
Poisonous grass,       faded green
Each blade with an edge       as sharp as a sword.
Noxiously toxic       a nick could kill:
Come hallucinations,       come convulsions,
Come death.

“I’ll have to fly       and face fast winds,”
Brave Ceber realized,
“Or else find a path.       Poor choices.
I like neither.
To fly, to be dashed aground
Into the very plant       whose poison I shun
Or to search forever       for a footpath.
Oh, Terite, Dragon       tear this grass from the ground
Or set it aflame.       After today, I could use help.”

The winds dropped and she gazed in wonder
At the masked god       appeared before her
As if in vision       visible yet vague
In the daylight
The Ever-light or that place.

“Ceber Starlight,” it said       shimmering as a haze,
“I will calm the currents,
But be warned:       no benefic host awaits.
That is the clock tower.
Her place       that pursued you
Throughout your life.       Yet you will prevail.
I hope.
Beware of her guards
Bound to her by madness       base insanity.
They hunger under       her heavy weight.
Stinging won’t slay       a single one.
They are dead already       no dignity left to them.
Decapitate them,       dismember them,
Do not let them scratch or bite you.
For though not toxic       it is terrible enough.
The curse upon them finds those they kill.
Fatal and foul       fiercely dangerous.
You’d die and join them.”

“I’ll remember,” Brave Ceber said.
“Thanks for silencing       the storm.”

Away over the stalks she went
Aware of awash’d       white faces looking up
From between the stalks.       Bleached bones,
Hungry skulls,       strange shadows
of the living.       Livid, leering, sharp-toothed.
Beasts both wasp,       beetle, and mantis.
Soggy with rot,       rigid in death,
yet ravenous       rage-filled. Hateful.
They watched her flight       flinging insults up
Wretched in their misery       as malicious as their mistress

The grass soon parted to metal
As if the earth were painted with it.
Bronze dirt       bleeding out of the clockwork tower.

Ceber landed       instantly under assault
From the breathless dead.
They rushed her       enraged, roused to fury
By their mistress.

But the breathless       broke on Ceber's iron defense.
Mindful of the warning,
She let no claw       clash on her carapace
Nor no bite       bloody her hide.

Mandibles flashing       maulings for all
Whether it be       brazened beetle
Or stalking mantid.
The crowd so eager to close
Parted as if she were a meteor
Splashing through the sky       streak-like,
Burning all before her.
The undead's lines       undulated back until
One hoary mantis       molding, half-melted,
Was all that stood between Ceber
And the great bronze door.

It made no sound       this mantis.
It was one of those lost souls       seldom seen since
The Great War.       When the war-hornets
Divided the middle kingdoms       in conflict calling
Their allies against       the gods' authority.
Those that sided with the hornets were cursed.
Never aging nor living
On and On and On
Though their limbs putrefied
And every aspiration       evaporated as hunger
Became their eclipsing       force forever more.

“More to pity than to fear!”
Ceber said,       striking with twofold force.

It dodged, praying legs       leaping forward.
Empty air       was all they attacked.

Ceber came again       cutting its head off,
But still those limbs advanced
Driven by necromancy
No head guided it       to glory.
She had to dismantle it
Piece by piece
Until, no treat to anyone,
The parts quivered. Animated, but useless.
Let it remain so!

Quitting the quiet field,
Ceber Monster-slayer       strode into Takara's hall.
All gold and gears.       Great machinery made the hall
From bottom to top       low to high.
Lofty chains, gears, belts, clicked with life.
Monstrous machinery       making deep rumbling
A constant clanking       chorus from below.

And throughout it all
The bereaved, breathless,       and banal dead
Looked out.
Bears, wasps, hornets       humans, wolves.
All thinking creatures represented.
They attacked as a mob.

She flew up,       dodging flashing gears,
For she doubted she could fight so many
Without getting some       sort of wound.

Up a level,       leaving the crowd behind,
She arrived at a place       where artifice ruled.
Great machines stood       and metal screeched on metal.
Still she went up,
Ceber ascending,
Until she came to a great door
Upon which inscribed:


Ceber prepared her sting
With the Weaver Worm’s blood
And continued on.

The Song of Ceber

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