In this first excerpt from the memoirs of Professor Dr Dr Dr Baron Dietrich-Johanna von Igelfeld, he encounters the War-Pie of Mars, possibly giving rise to later legends of disc-like objects disgorging grey person-like creatures.

In number of combatants, the War of the Pie is the second-smallest war ever recorded (the smallest being a war which for various reasons I had to conduct against myself, and in which I was wholly victorious from all three sides), though in scope of consequence it is among the most momentous in history. The fact that it had only two participants might lead one to suppose that it should at best be called the Duel of the Pie, but for reasons which will become apparent such appellation is wholly inadequate. Despite its importance, it has heretofore been little-known because until now I, the sole survivor, have in the interests of modesty confided the tale only to a very small number of close friends, and to my physicians on the basis that they have a professional need to know.

Whilst traversing the Sahara Desert in an effort to experience and document the legendary Simoom, that destructive desert wind which brings death to so many (I had in mind a scheme whereby I would capture samples of the Simoom for grafting onto the Arctic winds of Siberia, and vice-versa, thereby moderating the weather of both regions and rendering them habitable), I quite literally stumbled upon what appeared to be an unusual rocky outcropping. Fascinated by the presence of solid stone in this sea of sand, and curious as to how it had managed to weather the constant abrasion and dramatic daily changes in temperature, I stooped to inspect my discovery, only to see it lurch suddenly upwards, flinging me back. As I regained my feet, a vast area of sand before me was lifted and then flung in all directions as a gigantic circular object raised itself from its bed of sand. Initially I suspected it to be the newest progeny of the enormous turtles said by certain Oriental sages to carry the world (and each other) on their backs in a column of infinite depth (reproduction being one of the few pastimes available in such constrained circumstances, I was certain such progeny must exist); but as it shook off its silicate blanket, the object revealed itself to be an animate Pie of tremendous size. The protrusions over which I had stumbled, mistaking them for rocks, were in fact the decorative trimmings around the edges of the colossal pastry, and looking more closely I saw that where they had not been exposed to the elements they were wickedly sharp and serrated – only the erosion of centuries on the section on which I had caught my foot had saved me from losing the extremity altogether.

Memory stirred within me, and as I observed the object lurching towards me, my suspicions were confirmed by rippling motions of the upper crust of the Pie indicative of activity within. Whilst engaged in certain researches of a confidential nature with the goddess Venus, she had mentioned during an interlude that her occasional partner in the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling, the god Mars, had a burning desire to outdo the goddess Minerva and take her place as the deity not merely of battle and war, but of strategy and cunning. Alas for Mars, his was not the most original mind – this being indeed the root cause of his problem – and so his various attempts to usurp Minerva were consistently disastrous. One example Venus gave of Mars’s unfortunate endeavours was his attempt to duplicate the stratagem she imparted to Prylis (and not that braggart Odysseus, who though certainly cunning expended at least as much effort in stealing the credit for others’ accomplishments as accomplishing anything himself) at Troy, that of the famous wooden horse. After several failures simply producing more gigantic wooden horses, Mars first branched out into other animals (the Carthaginian Giraffe being the only one that achieved any success whatever, as when the deception utterly failed its neck could at least be used as a siege ladder); when he finally realised that wooden animals were clearly going to fool nobody, he wracked his brains for a more compelling lure and had the only remotely creative thought of the entire project, which can perhaps be summarised most succinctly as “everyone likes pie”. To this end, he bullied Vulcan out of his forges and used them to bake the largest pastry of the Classical period, the little-known War-Pie of Mars. Unfortunately his typical lack of forethought betrayed him again; not being familiar with the baking of pies, he simply asked Vesta for instructions and substituted an army of Sparti zealots for the apple filling, sealing them in before the cooking, with the result that those who did not drown in the sauce were baked to death. When Vulcan, eager to reclaim his workshops and pleased at the opportunity to humiliate one who had wronged him repeatedly, pointed out the flaw in Mars’s plan – or perhaps the term is recipe – Mars flung the half-cooked War-Pie away in a fit of rage and stomped off to foment pointless violence in Asia Minor.

Clearly I had discovered the final landing-place of the War-Pie; and equally clearly, Mars had been wrong to discard it with such haste, though the world owed Vulcan a debt of gratitude for causing him to do so. Landing in the desert it had lain dormant with nobody to conquer, but now I had clearly awoken both it and its filling of Sparti. Whether it was an unusual property of men sprung from the sowing of dragons’ teeth, or simply the result of its creator’s Olympic power, death by baking had not vanquished the army within. Indeed, centuries of exposure to Saharan heat and dryness had finished the baking of the Pie to an adamantine hardness, as I ascertained with several experimental strokes of my sabre. From a vent at the peak of the Pie, the grey, shrivelled head of a baked Spartus protruded; he spied me, bellowed a war-cry, and he and a swarm of his comrades-in-arms began to spill forth from the opening, charging across the crust towards me as the Pie itself lurched and lunged, attempting to crush me under its momentous bulk.

As a brief aside, you may wonder why I began this account by stating that the War of the Pie had only two participants when an entire army of mythical combatants was a party to the struggle. I can only reply that there are two reasons. One is that nobody would account the filling of any pie as anything other than a subordinate part of the said pie, and while one might legitimately argue that a countless horde of legendary warriors deranged by centuries of isolation and bent on overrunning the world is worthy of note in accounting the odds of any battle, gentlemanly modesty requires that one choose the less self-aggrandising method of reporting one’s exploits. The second reason is that it was clear to me that the Pie itself was my primary foe, as my response below will demonstrate.

Thinking quickly, I recalled a conversation I had had with the World Serpent Jormungandr whilst exploring the depths of the Marianas Trench in search of the Queen of Sheba’s wedding ring. Contrary to popular report, the Serpent is a sensitive, genteel soul who deeply regrets the role it is obliged to play in the events of Ragnarök, and we conversed at some length across the full range of philosophies. In the course of the conversation, the Serpent shared with me the fact that its brother, the Fenris-Wolf, had expressed some anxiety about its ability to perform the duties required of it at the end of the world, viz. the swallowing of the sun, in light of recent scientific discoveries about the true size of astral bodies. The Serpent, keenly sensitive to its fraternal responsibilities, had volunteered to act as second to the Fenris-Wolf in discharging these obligations, given the ability it shared with many serpents of dislocating its jaw to swallow seemingly impossible objects, and had been practising certain esoteric techniques which enhanced these capacities further. In return for my comprehensive update on the world’s sciences, arts, politics and fashions, in addition to a small amount of manly gossip, the Serpent volunteered to teach me these techniques, and never one to refuse any increase in Knowledge, especially of such exotic nature and from such an eminently qualified teacher, I accepted gratefully. I had little thought that this knowledge would one day save my life and possibly the entire civilised world, which serves merely to underscore (for such ignorant readers as may doubt it) the value of scholarship for its own sake.

As the dread Pie approached, I bethought me of my undersea lessons in ingurgitation, and quickly rehearsing the techniques I had learned, opened my mouth and began to expand my gape to engulf the Pie in a single swallow, as biting into the Pie would clearly only release more Sparti. Unfortunately, this was no simple feat of alimentation; although the dryness of the climate had prevented the pastry from becoming excessively mouldy, the warriors within had still putrefied to some degree before the sauce had dried up completely, and in any case Sparti do not make a pleasant filling for a dessert pie. Thankfully, I was able to ingest and retain the Pie entire, leaving scattered around me only a century or two of the murderous Sparti who had managed to charge off the crust before I swallowed it. I considered throwing a rock into their midst in Cadmian style to foment internecine violence amongst them; but, it being clear to me that I had eaten the third-largest meal of my life, and having drawn my sabre already, I opted to take the exercise required to dispatch them personally. Alas, their numbers were insufficient to entirely work off the meal, which I am still in the process of doing, as you may have deduced from my noble girth; and a meal including several legions of undead dragonspawned warriors is one which will tax the manliest of digestions, as until they are entirely consumed they do battle over each meal as it arrives, as the military ear can deduce from the noises emanating from my waistcoat after I dine.