“For you know that I myself am a labyrinth, where one easily gets lost.”
– Charles Perrault
The lord of the Cenobites walked the halls of the Labyrinth alone, inspecting various chambers here and there, lost in contemplation. For eternity, he had worn this face, held these powers, and reveled in them – though at times the tedium of Hell grew wearisome.
Once, he had contended with John Merchant to complete a room in the building the man had created, desiring that it be transformed into a massive gate, far beyond what the Lament Configuration could open.
That Toymaker, like the first, had intended his design to be the undoing of the Cenobites. It was his meager mortal hope, a means to reclaim the sin of his ancestor making the original puzzle box and opening the way to Hell. Yet the eldritch machinery of the room had held within it the potential to eliminate the need for boxes or gates – it could simply crack the world open in a rent too massive to ever stop the flooding in of the hungry creatures that filled the Labyrinth’s cold gray halls.
The panels of that room, light magnifying sisters to the flesh of Leviathan, had been destroyed in their conflict, after he had sent a bladed chain to sever the Toymaker’s head in a rash moment of impatient impulse. The man’s son, Jack Merchant, was only a child, unable to repair the room. When he grew, he would not, knowing the purpose the Cenobite had for it. He had spent his short life advancing other aspects of the design, many of which he had obviously improved.
Yet no amount of terror or pain – even the pain of seeing his father die before his eyes, had persuaded the young man to complete his father’s design. Jack Merchant, scarred, comatose, and eventually mad, had spent most of his life reclaiming some measure of sanity, incapable of acting out his dreams of revenge.
Though the prospect was pleasing, the Cenobite did not dare to hope that he had ended the Lemarchand bloodline with the taking of Jack Merchant. They were religious about ensuring the line continued and so, even at such a tender age, the fool would have bred before ever confronting his legendary demons.
He might have known who the next Toymaker was, of course, had he returned his human ward to her birth family. He had been erratic then, still – maddened for a time by his momentary defeat at the hands of the transformed Dr. Channard. Further insult had been the need to use humans to free himself into the world again. In the indulgent carnage that followed, he had not been possessed of his ethereal calm and control for years.
Leviathan had been patient but no less demanding that his servant should fulfill his purpose. Though mercy and time had been granted to Suffragor Filius, the Favored Son, stained by the sin of remembrance, Leviathan had shown in the judgment on Channard that he would not tolerate disobedience for long.
The Cenobite surgeon had shown no care for the rules of the Labyrinth or the orders they carried out in its service, and so, though the Engineer had wrought well in making him, he had been cast down. Or had his fate been earned for his presumption – the willful striking down of so many of Leviathan’s ancient servants? He had failed in that endeavor, of course – the Engineer would restore the others in time.
What of the sin of remembrance? That other entity, a bound part of him, still held enough of an independent will to attempt to defy him. Yet he did nothing to subvert or control it. Would his god judge?
Xipe Totec paused, his head turning toward the tolling pulse of the voice of Leviathan, audible everywhere in the Labyrinth. It bathed him still with all the dark blessings that had been his since the dawn of time.
After a moment, he walked on. Once again the master of himself, cold and blessedly empty, finished with the boiling mad passions of his anger, he had returned to the simple service of this place.
Had it been a reward, in a way, for his reclaiming of his work or just coincidence? One of the first humans to again solve a puzzle box had been exquisite – Kirsty.
Such a delightful prospect she had brought him: the bargain of five souls to keep her own. Her unfaithful husband and his three paramours, and the man he had conspired with to kill Kirsty. Their designs had been bent on such a paltry thing – coin. He hadn’t wanted to take the deal, much preferring to taste her soul at last, but her rage and hate had spiced that soul deliciously, making him willing to wait – again. Waiting wasn’t difficult when eternity stretched out before his feet as surely as it had behind.
Then his step faltered and he stopped. What of the revelation Kirsty had given him? Though his blessings and power remained, so did the taint of his sin. Kirsty had been the agent of his fall, when she gave him a photo – evidence of himself as a mortal man. A wave of confusion threatened before he pushed it away. It was convenient, for now, to allow that shadow to exist without concerning himself about its nature. It afforded him a way to bind his ward to him beyond bonds of humanity and therefore served its purpose. Perhaps for that reason, Leviathan did not judge.
Returning at last to his own sprawling empty chambers, he went to the room where his ward slept. The sarcophagus of diabolic machinery that kept her alive and dreaming was in perfect order. When he saw that she was growing inside it, he smiled. The time for his greatest triumph was approaching, though there were many preparations yet to be made.
He turned away and went, weary and bored, to his chair. Picking up the puzzle box that sat in it, he settled down to wait, toying with the box thoughtfully.
“Angelique,” he called to one of the shapes in the dark corners of the room.
A female Cenobite approached, her bare scalp lovingly split over her skull and peeled down, anchored to her smooth white shoulders by exquisite chained hooks, as fine as jewelry. The former princess of Hell lowered her eyes as she stood before him.
“These toys you made from the plans of our enemy – what is their number?”
“Legion, my lord.”
“Yet they bring such meager harvest. The real work is still to be done.”
“What of the human? Can she truly be the key?”
He reached out to stroke one of the delicate chains that so enhanced her beauty. She stiffened at his touch and fell silent. Pleased with her fear, he removed his hand and held the box between his fingers. The brightly gleaming whorls and patterns flashed as he turned the structure about, every inch of it chanting the glory of Leviathan – flesh of exalted flesh.
“You will continue educating the child on your duties but I want you to begin employing that thing you value so well – temptation. Do not presume to touch her flesh. Use dreams, fragments of feeling – awaken her untapped hungers slowly. When the Engineer’s work is finished, she must be ready.”
“It will be done, my lord, but…”
“The few tatters of her dreams I have seen that held the scent of desire – they call to you.”
The lord of the Cenobites smiled. “All in good time.”