“The Legend of Enigma”
Perseus pulled a pen from a pocket sewn into one of the saddlebags hung across Luscious’s backside. He pulled out a checklist from the package of documents the oracle gave him. He perused the list as he absent-mindedly made his way back over to Alfred. Alfred tended to a small fire a few yards away and a pot of tea that was hanging over it.
“Let’s see… I slew the dragon of Dormond.”
“Dragon!” Alfred harrumphed, “It seemed more like an overgrown Chameleon to me. In my day they didn’t call them dragons until they were at least six feet at the shoulder.”
Perseus frowned, “Well it was at least six feet LONG and those fangs looked poisonous to me.”
“I’d say that all those fangs needed were a good brushing and some mouthwash,” Alfred observed.
“At any rate it was on the list and now I can cross it off along with the Wyvern of Weymouth,” Perseus remarked with some irritation as he checked another beast off his list.
“Some Wyvern. Is it me or are monsters getting a lot smaller in the nine kingdoms?”
Perseus’ right eye twitched in annoyance, “It was on the list Alfred! It was one of the Labors! I didn’t make the list up I just do what I’m told.”
“Well at least the Beast of Bellmont was a bit of a challenge and I must say you had very nice form on your backhand.”
Perseus was caught off guard by an actual compliment and was stunned to silence for a second, “Why thank you Alfred.”
“But keep your blade more parallel to the torso the next time. That way the head will come off in one cut instead of two. If you face more than one beast you’ll want to be dispatching them as quickly as possible.”
A thoughtful Perseus nodded in agreement and took a seat by the fire. Alfred grabbed the handle of the teapot; his hand covered with a rag for protection and poured them both a steaming hot cup of the brew.
Perseus studied the list and mused out loud, “It’s hard to believe where halfway done with the list already. I must admit I expected the labors to be a little more difficult.”
Alfred handed Perseus his tea and took a sip from his own tin cup. He smiled and sighed after swallowing the aromatic brew, “Ahhhhh perfection. What is the next labor?”
Perseus frowned, “It hardly seems like a labor at all. We’re to go the gate in the valley of the dandelions. From there we teleport to the blasted realm and retrieve something called Enigma’s organic war skin.”
“What!” Alfred sprayed a mouthful of tea into the morning air, “Let me see that.”
Alfred snatched the checklist out of Perseus’ hand much to the chagrin of the hero-in-training, “Really Alfred. That’s no cause to be rude.”
Alfred reread the unchecked item and frowned, “Ducky.”
“What’s wrong? It’s my understanding that the Blasted Realm is a dead place. That’s why no one ever goes there.”
Alfred sighed with the weight of the world as he sat on a rock next to the fire, “The reason no one ever goes there is because no one hardly ever comes back. Enigma left a lot of his toys running around before he died.”
Alfred motioned to a log they’d pulled up to the fire as a bench, “Have a seat lad and let me tell you of Enigma and the third incursion.”
A broad smile broke out on Perseus’ face. He just loved the tales of the Pantheon and he had never heard much about the God called Enigma, lord of science and the Machines that go Ping.
“What I’m about to tell you is more truth than you’ve ever been taught in school. Don’t repeat any of it or you’ll get a visit from one of Ashkaan’s liquid angels in the middle of the night. When they’re done with you they’ll be able to pour you down the drain.”
Perseus was taken aback, “But why?”
“Because, my dear boy, your beloved Ashkaan has an aversion to the truth, and don’t ask me why because that’s another story for another time.”
Alfred moved off the rock to a more comfortable patch of green grass and took another sip of his tea, “As you know there were three incursions by the Demons after we had taken the nine kingdoms from them.”
“You mean after they came up from the depths of hell, right?”
Alfred frowned, “I’ve heard it told that way too. Suffice it to say that Ashkaan lead the Pantheon of nine and all their children into a bloody war that swept the nine kingdoms clean of demons. That purge was nasty, but as wars go humanity did not fare too bad. Although the demons greatly outnumbered us the weapons of the nine Gods were like scythes unto wheat.”
Perseus’s eyes sparkled, “Oh yes! Ashkaan’s Gauntlet’s of Fire, Balthon’s Ax called Wave Cutter, Displasia’s Rod of Despair, and of-“
“Really Perseus, may I tell the story in my own way,” Alfred interrupted, somewhat annoyed.
A sheepish Perseus replied, “My Apologies. Pray continue.”
“The demons were not without their own devices, but in the end they had no taste nor skill for war. We drove them back to the valley of blood in the ninth kingdom and they disappeared from our world.”
A confused Perseus interjected, “We?”
Alfred blushed and took another sip of tea, “Of course I meant we in the collective sense as we humans.”
“Except for the Gods.”
“Yes, yes, except for the Gods. At any rate WE found this disappearance confusing because we were sure there had been a few demonic survivors, but none were to be found.”
“They must have retreated to hell,” Perseus observed.
“That was the rumor at the time. That is until the first incursion ten years later. Once again the demons flooded out of the valley of blood. It would have been a massacre for humanity had not Enigma been there. You see back in those days all the Gods lived on this world and Enigma was the caretaker of the Ninth kingdom. He never really had trusted the fact that the demons had just seemed to disappear. There were those among the Gods who felt that Enigma had chosen the ninth kingdom specifically to research the whereabouts of the demon’s portal.
You should also know that Enigma was the chief scientists and engineer of the Pantheon. It was he who designed many of the great weapons that Ashkaan and the rest used. As a matter of fact it was he who constructed the liquid angels.”
“Really? His magic must have been quite potent,” an awed Perseus observed.
“Yes, well he was talented to say the least. Those were the days before the angels. At that time he had constructed more primitive sentries that were constructed of both metal and flesh. He called them Morg trolls.”
“Oh Yes! Morg Trolls! My mother used to threaten me with them when I was uncooperative. Be a good boy or the Morg Trolls will come for you in the night.”
Alfred looked at Perseus askew, “Morg Trolls were programmed so they could never hurt a human.”
Perseus shrugged, “Well you know how mothers are.”
Alfred shook his head and continued, “At any rate when the demons came out of the Valley of Blood Enigma’s constructs were waiting for them. The trolls fought mercilessly and held the demons back long enough for the nine to gather their strengths and stem the tide of demonkin. Not a single human died in that first incursion.”
“Great is the love of the Gods for their children,” Perseus intoned.
Alfred coughed and took another sip of tea, “This time the nine discovered the gate in the valley of blood from whence the demons sprang. The demonkin had made a grave mistake in revealing the nature of their egress to the Gods. As I have stated before Enigma was a clever one and he figured out how the gate worked in under a year.”
A confused Perseus asked, “I thought the Gods created the gates?”
“A lie. The gates are an invention of the demonkin plain and simple. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar.”
Perseus was somewhat taken aback by Alfred’s insistence, “How can you be so sure?”
Alfred smiled, “I’ve been the servant to the rich, the powerful and on occasion I have served the Gods themselves.”
Perseus was entirely taken aback, “You never told me this!”
“Next time read through the entire resume not just the bullets.”
A sheepish Perseus replied, “Oh, but it was so long and it was the tenth resume I looked at and-“
“May I continue?”
Perseus stopped his runaway mouth and let his manservant continue, “Where was I… oh yes, so Enigma figured out the gate. We spent a year putting together an army of ten thousand Evanguard warriors. Enigma constructed another ten thousand Morg Trolls. Back in those days it wasn’t merely blade, bow and ax, but Enigma had constructed energy weapons and they were the weapon of choice. We flooded through the gate into the world now called “The Machine” and currently ruled by Balthon. The demonkin were entirely taken by surprise. In less than a year we swept Balthon’s realm clean of demonkin.
“Of course by this time Enigma had also figured out that there were multiple gates on each world and that they could be turned on and off. He also figured out that some gates were connected to many other gates, others were connected point to point, and some were dead ends. It was a vast network of unconquered worlds waiting to be tapped.”
“This suited Ashkaan just fine since having more than one God on HIS world was intolerable to him. So over the course of the next hundred years the Gods made a pact to secure nine worlds of their own. They pooled their followers and raised their army much to the dismay of the demons. It was not long before the nine worlds of the Pantheon were secured and the demonkin thrown back into the void.
Perseus frowned, “But I thought you said there were three incursions?”
“There were. The second one was on Displasia’s home world of Glut. Enigma thought he had reprogrammed the gates to prevent any surprises by the demons, but evidently he erred. Displasia’s back was against the wall and her world was mostly ravaged by the time the Pantheon rallied to her side. There are some who say she still bears a grudge for the slow response. She certainly developed a hatred for Enigma for she blamed him for the surprise.”
“The truth of the mater is the Demons were not sitting still. While the Pantheon tended to their new worlds the demonkin plotted revenge. They designed their own energy weapons, trained new demon warriors and built devastating war machines. They had some method to trick the locks on Displasia’s gate and surely would have laid waste to her world had not the nine intervened.”
“Actually it was Enigma Displasia should have been grateful to since it was his Morg Trolls that turned the tide. Some say Glut still has not entirely recovered from the second incursion.”
“I have heard it is not a fair world,” Perseus mused.
Alfred grinned, “If you like food it’s perfect. Just don’t get in her fatness’ way at the dinner table.”
Perseus smiled, “I have heard that Displasia is… robust.”
Alfred guffawed, “Robust! Bust-a-robe is more like it. She takes obese to a level only a God can.”
“Alfred it is not for us to judge the Gods,” Perseus admonished.
Alfred seemed to find humor in that, “So the Gods would like you to believe. They’d like you to think they’ve risen above human imperfection. It’s my opinion they’ve merely risen to a new level of debauchery.”
“Alfred,” Perseus winced and looked over his shoulder, “Really! What if someone heard?”
Alfred grinned, “Or some thing, eh? Why should I worry? I have my brave master to protect me.”
Perseus grinned, “As you pointed out before the liquid angels are a fearsome lot. So what of the third incursion?”
Alfred’s mood turned darker, “The third incursion was very bad. We lost Frisk and Enigma in the battle and Humongous and Galasia went missing.”
“What happened to their worlds and the people on them?”
Alfred frowned, “Their worlds were destroyed. There people either slaughtered or fled to the realms of the remaining five Gods.”
“How did it happen, Alfred?”
“No one knows for sure. After the second incursion Enigma spent a great deal of time securing the gates from further egress by the demons. Some how they managed to defeat his precautions. If it were not for Enigma no one would have survived, but in the end he couldn’t save himself.”
“It was almost a hundred years between the second incursion and the third. The Pantheon were not to be caught unawares again so they turned off all but a few gates. Just enough portals were left active so the Gods could continue commerce and communication. Of course the ones that were left active were heavily guarded.”
“Enigma was not idle during that time. Besides creating a new home guard of Morg Trolls he designed the Liquid Angels, which as you know are even more deadly than the trolls. He gave legions of these monsters to all the Gods. He also experimented with the construction of all manner of horrors to protect his home world.”
“Many of these unspeakable monstrosities were part machine, part organic. He mined thousands of square miles with ingenious and complicated booby traps. Every manner of device that could be used in the destruction of a living organism was constructed. In the end his world became known as ‘Death Trap’.”
Perseus began to fidget with the realization that this was the next place they were going to. There was a bit of an edge to his voice when he asked Alfred, “And you say some of these devices still operate on Enigma’s old world?”
Alfred nodded knowingly, a grim expression presaging their deadly task, “It is true. Enigma made his toys built to last. When the third incursion came it spilt most heavily into Enigma’s world. Once again the gates operated when they shouldn’t and all opened up at once. Millions of demonkin flooded through all the gates of Enigma’s world. For all his traps and all his sentries Enigma was overwhelmed. He fought valiantly and sent hundreds of thousands of demons to their doom.”
Perseus’ brow frowned in concentration as he summoned up the memories of legends, “They say the demon’s brought with them metal beasts in the third incursion and it was one of these that brought down Enigma.”
Alfred’s expression saddened just a bit, “They were as large as a house and bristling with all manner of killing appendages. Enigma fought from atop a pile of demon corpses laying waste to all around him. One of these beasts hit him in the back with a blast of terrific energy. He was thrown to the ground where another beast stomped him flat and the demons ripped him to bloody bits.”
Perseus was visibly shaken, “Such a grim end is not fitting for a God.”
“Especially one who caused so much havoc to the demonkin. Had he not fought so effectively during the third incursion you and I might not be sitting here today.”
Perseus sipped his tea and frowned. He put the cold brew down by his side, “And what of the rest of the Pantheon?”
“These events on Death Trap did not happen overnight and the Pantheon was again warned of the demonkin's attack. For you see the demons initially attacked only Enigma’s world. After Death Trap was secured, or I should say somewhat subdued for Enigma’s toys fought on, they came through to the other worlds. They hit Frisk’s world next.”
Perseus beamed, “Frisk! God of Speed and Extreme Sports! He is one of my favorites.”
Alfred frowned, “Was, Perseus, was, for as fast as he was he too was overwhelmed by the horde that flooded through the gates to his world called Surf. Frisk was closer to Enigma than most and thus had more of his toys than most, but it was not enough. In the end the demon’s beast felled frisk too.”
“And we are all poorer for this,” intoned a troubled Perseus.
“Not to mention the inhabitants of Surf. They were slaughtered to a man, women and child. Tens of millions wiped out in less than a month.”
An expression of profound dismay painted Perseus’ face, “Gods what horror!”
“The tides of fate did not bode well for the rest of the Pantheon. Two of their best warriors were felled and the demonkin’s armies seemed limitless, but it was on Frisk’s world that they made their calamitous mistake. They chose to split their armies into three separate battle groups. They went after Galasia, Humongous and Balthon’s world all at once.”
Perseus mood lightened, “And this time they were ready for them.”
Alfred smiled, “Like the demonkin never could anticipate. These three Gods had regained control of their gates and powered off all, but the ones they wanted left on. They let the demons come through the gates in their millions right into the arms of their waiting ambush. Balthon and his people did exceptionally well. The machine ran green with rivers of blood from so many demons. Galasia, Humongous and their loyal subjects fought well, but their losses were heavy.”
Perseus looked confused, “What of the other Gods?”
Alfred set his tea down by the fire to warm up, “They sent their armies through the gates into the demonkin’s rear. That was something the foul beasts never planned on and to Ashkaan’s credit his plan all, but ended the third incursion, but not with out cost.”
Perseus nodded his head in grim assent, “Billions dead, worlds destroyed, two Gods dead…”
“And two more gone missing. Galasia and Humongous were never seen again.”
Perseus shook his head, “It is a wonder that Gods still use the gates at all given the destruction of the third incursion.”
“Oh they took precautions not the least of which was to go deep into the demon’s home worlds and lay waste. After Ashkaan and the rest finished mopping up the nine kingdoms they lead an expedition meant only for slaughter and retribution. The gates work both ways and Ashkaan let the demonkin fell the sting of his wrath.”
“Good!” Perseus slammed his knee with angry fist, “Such is what they deserve.”
“Be that as it may Ashkaan gave them no quarter. He found the vats from which the demonkin were breeding their armies and constructing their metal beasts. He destroyed it all. When they returned they destroyed the gates behind them on the demon worlds. To this day only a few of the God’s gates are operational and as I said before only enough to keep communication and commerce alive between the remaining worlds.”
Perseus scanned the horizon around them and smiled at two wild horses at play in an amber field of summer grass, “It is hard to believe such terror ever inhabited our beautiful world.”
Alfred sighed, “Time does heal. That all took place over two hundred years ago. The demons have not troubled us since and the remaining Gods have spent their time tending to their various realms.”
Perseus stood and stretched the kinks out of his well muscled body, “That was a tale well told. Thank you Alfred. No one has ever quite explained all of it to me before.”
Alfred’s expression lifted a tad, “Don’t forget the point of this discourse, Perseus. Enigma built his toys well. For the most part they were programmed to target demonkin, but some were damaged and some were not so selective.”
Perseus nodded knowingly, “I will keep this sage council, Alfred. What do you know of Enigma’s organic war skin?”
“Oh yes,” Alfred raised an eyebrow, “The subject of your next labor. It was the battle armor that Enigma wore during that last fateful melee. It was one of Enigma’s greatest creations. It was a living and some say thinking organism the coupled with Enigma prior to battle. It was part flesh, part metal, and part ceramic alloy. It’s tendrils could extend from Enigma’s body and wield weapons of it’s own accord while Enigma fought independently. He became a black blur of flowing death when ensconced in his suit. The liquid angels are based on this same technology.”
Perseus looked confused, “I thought you said he was torn apart by the demonkin. Surely his suit would have suffered the same fate?”
Alfred grinned, “Unlike Enigma himself his suit was self-healing. If enough of it were left it may have reconstituted itself.”
“But you’re not sure?”
“There have been a few expeditions back to Death Trap to find Enigma’s suit and other of his great weapons, but…”
Perseus frowned, “His toys still guard the world.”
“Precisely. This will be your most difficult labor to date, Perseus. Death Trap is aptly named. If we are not careful your name will end up in the hall of heroes… in memoriam.”
Perseus frowned at Alfred’s dire warning, but knew that it was true. He looked off into the west where the ‘Gate of Perdition’ waited to transport them to Death Trap. Off in the distance a lone crow circled overhead and cawed a prophetic cry.