0) I, Jeremiah the Flayed, who was at Betar and knew blood under the eagle with bronze wings, write these words. At Betar, in blood that was of drowning-depth, I drowned Speaks-With-Self, and made a word-womb from his body. I took it from his heart and wandered among the Branches and Roots and Ways. In this word-womb I placed my sight, for in drowning-blood I was blinded, and my eyes had no truth to them.
And I am Eyal Shamaym, his… disciple, I suppose? Apprentice? The old bastard never really bothered to make that clear. As you see, any attempt by the untrained to make any sense of his mumbling nonsense is an exercise in futility, and so I, gracious and high-minded as I am, decided to provided the all-too vital service of annotating his notes so that sensible (if not too clever) people could understand them. So, let us begin. All he's really saying here is that bad shit happened, and he somehow found his way into… the Ways.
1) Upon the drowning of Speaks-With-Self in the blood of Betar under the winged bronze, the drowning-bubbles opened for me the dusted path, where I walked upon the Trailing Way. I bore the word-womb at my side until I came upon Convocation of Paths. I saw a great multitude of gods stretched out before me, and these gods wore many crowns which had no facets, and held kingship among many holds, and among them and their holds there was division, for in their realms the borders of north and south and east and west and knuft and thirt were sharp-edged like soft words. Many realms held no gods, and the gods abandoned these to blindness, and many gods died and were born before my eyes. The strands that connected the kingdoms had become loose, and some had rotted, and some had broken, and those that remain were pulled tight.
Psst. When he says 'Speaks-With-Self' he just means his crazy ass is talking to himself.
Speaks-With-Self uttered truth-lies then, saying “By your sight I see a great multitude that stretches out to the end of all things, and there is contention on their midst. When I speak of scars, you know and understand?”
I answered: “Perhaps I will find the words.”
This is where Ol' Jeremiah (one of the two of them, anyhow) first became aware of the war between the gods of the infinite worlds of creation. It's all very vast and terrifying and beyond our feeble mortal ken. Oh, I don't mean the endless insecticidal process of the gods dying and being reborn, I mean what the hell 'knuft' and 'thirt' are supposed to mean.
2) Speak-With-Self’s words opened up a tear which wept, and upon stepping through I was draped in its ragged truth and saw the gods who wore facets, for they are of the scarred sphere with many faces. These faces bellowed long-songs, and engaged in debate at length with each other, and the meanings of them I could not understand. Upon the many brows was inscribed the name “Yesod-With-Faces”, for they were the foundation of what was above. It [Yesod-With-Faces] was pierced through by seven taproots, and their way-names were True-Record, Succession-of-Peoples, Arts-of-Fiction, Home-of-Word-men, House-of-Small-Gods, and Forgotten-Tales. The seventh’s true name was not to be uttered, for it was beyond the tongues of gods to pronounce, but it had been called Gift once.
These roots led up to Knowledge, which towered above Yesod-With-Faces, and in this formed the foundation of a mighty tree, and I realized that the gods who did not wear facets were scattered amongst the lesser roots and old Ways, and this was the cause of their dissolution.
Speaks-With-Self uttered then, and said “See how they speak? They list the ordering of gods who wear facets, and list the days of their contradiction,” but I did not know this or find understanding in those words.
Of all of Jeremiah's teachings, his discussion of the foundation-gods was always the part I least understood. And hey, you can read almost as well as I can, can you really blame me? Stuff is bonkers. From what little I can gleam for this, at the base of creation Jeremiah found the seven disputing foundation-gods, "Yesod-With-Faces", upon which the rest of creation is built. As gods are want to do, they're arguing with themselves and with other gods and they can never just be happy to sit in the shade and have a nice drink or something. You know, the all-encompassing eternal wonder of creation would be a helluva lot more wondrous if more people just stopped for a sec to have a drink.
3) Troubled by the things that had been whispered to me by Speaks-With-Self, I ascended upon a taproot, that which is called by the Docents “The Way of Forgotten Tales”. In my ascent, I passed by many gods and their realms, of which I will speak now:
These gods also bore neither crowns nor facets: they needed no signs of authority, for they were old gods, and they had no facets, for they were immutable. They were few in number compared to the gods who wore facets and the gods who stood before Yesod-With-Faces, but their power filled me with awe.
Speaks-With-Self spoke to me then, and said “Their age has rendered them mighty, but they are separated. See, their Ways are few, and they do not bicker about about like the gods who wear facets and the gods who stand before Yesod-With-Faces. They are quiet gods, slow to act, and distant. Do you understand the meaning of this?”
I answered: “As one can be said to hold his breath in his hands.”
The Eldest Gods, the ones with the real power, sit around and do nothing. What else is new?
4) I came upon the Eternal House of Death, that which separates the lower parts of the Tree from the higher. Here I rested for a time, and leaned against the doorpost. Death came to the door and spoke to me “You rest against the doorpost of the Eternal House of Death. Have you no fear of our might?”
I answered: “Nay, sir, I have no fear of you or your brothers, for I have seen you at Betar, and know your power. I do not fear you, for I know your power is utter.”
Death said: “Aye, our domain is all things that exist within the shade of the Tree, and within its branches, and within its roots. You are wise, mortal. I will permit you to rest against the doorpost of the house of my brothers."
I rested a while longer, and rolled dice with Death, and learned from him secret arts and hidden Ways.
Uh uh. I'm not saying anything more about this. You have to be a very specific sort of idiot to tangle with the Brothers, and that idiot ain't me. I'll just say this- whatever mojo the Brothers taught the old man, it worked. Both him and I are living proof of that. With an emphasis on 'living'.
5, 6, 7) When my rest had ended, I passed through the gate and resumed my wandering. Up the taproot I travelled, and passed through the realms of the dead. They remained on the grounds of the Eternal House of Death, and under the watch of the brothers, and so will remain when all else ends.
Of those realms there are many, but these were all but children of the older lands, of which there were three. I asked Speaks-With-Self if it knew the number of those who lived in those lands, and it responded “There are many, but there are many who have been waylaid by the King.”
I thought then of the blood of Betar, and the eagle with bronze wings, and I wept.
“There is no Way to enter,” I said.
“No,” said Speaks-With-Self. “There are ways to enter. But there are no Ways to leave. Those paths have been severed, to protect the lands of the dead from what is to come.”
I tarried little in the lands of the dead, for the peace pained me, and I wept long after having passed them on the Way.
Of the three great lands, they were these, in short:
Of the first was the Land of Glory. It was empty, but it would in time be filled, when the brothers claim all things.
Of the second was the Land of Valor, and it was filled with great deeds and mighty heroes.
Of the third was the Land of Kindness, and it was too painful for me to look upon it.
In the end, we'll all end up there. There are worse fates.
8) After passing through the lands of the dead, my journey on the taproot came to an end at its source, and I came to the core of the Tree.
Here I found the seat of all Knowledge, a place where all wanderers come to rest. Within this realm was all knowledge that is and is not, and all that was and was not, and all that will be, and will not be. Amongst its words reclined many gods, and many mortal beings studied at their feet. They were all pilgrims, come to the seat of all Knowledge so that they might learn. The stores of knowledge were guarded by a great legion of keepers: blind Archivists, and Docents with their lanterns, and the Pages that swing between the shelves.
I spoke with many gods and mortals in my time there, across the scope of Creation from its first moments to its last times, from the many facets of Yesod-With-Faces and the free kingships and all the other spheres. I spoke with beings of sunlight, who had danced amongst the youngest stars. I met with the First Empress of the Furthest South, and laughed with her at the jokes told by Loret, the three-faced god who had long since passed out of living memory. I drank with witches of the cold countries and listened to their bawdy tales. I debated philosophy with the green ones of Elrich, discussed the passage of time with a scholar from twenty-five hundred years hence my own and spoke with Malaclypse the Younger, a sorcerer of the tribe that would eventually become the Unspeakable Empire of the East.
Too many more to count did I enjoy company with, and I read of hidden knowledge in the shadowed-time I spent there. I was filled with desire to stay, and spend the remainder of all my days under its roof, but it was not to be. The Seat of Knowledge allowed few to stay: those who came to it were to wander out in time, and spread the knowledge learned.
Before I departed, I met with the master of the place, a vast Serpent coiled in the center of the realm. It looked upon on me, and, shedding its skin, spoke thus:
“Please return your books on time.”
And I was greatly troubled by this.
The old man took me there once, when we first began our training, or whatever it is you'd want to call it. Something about the place always had a calming influence on him, as if it almost allowed him to forget whatever happened to him. It was there that I came to respect the man, which is as rare an honor as you're ever likely to find. Oh, and he is not kidding about that serpent- it takes something special to rattle Jeremiah the Flayed, but a bespectacled serpent the size of a small planet, well, that's just about special enough.
Didn't rattle me, of course. I didn't even return my books on time.
Er. Don't tell the serpent though, if you don't mind.
9) Speaks-With-Self, who had not spoken in some time, now uttered these words:
“You have knowledge, both of the Serpent and of Death, but do you have methods in which to apply it? The Ways of ascent are treacherous, and you will need all of your arts to pass forward.”
I agreed with this, and acted then to meditate on what I had learned in my wanderings. I sat at the foot of the Great Voice, and listened to its gentle whisper in copper and iron.
In time, I understood, and I passed through the Twin Gates as I began the ascent.
And ascend he did.
10) I came upon a throne, upon which sat a Secret, and the Secret was ALEXYLVA. Upon the feet of the secret was written ALEXYLVA, and upon its left hand was written ALEXYLVA, and upon its right hand was written ALEXYLVA, and upon its forehead was written ALEXYLVA, and from the Secret’s spirit, which was ALEXYLVA, which was hidden from the Secret by means of a wight-lock whose key was ALEXYLVA. The spirit whispered in a stream, which flowed through the lock that was ALEXYLVA. I gathered the stream into the word-womb of Speaks-With-Self and stoppered it with a secret, and the secret that was whispered was ALEXYLVA.
With the secret stream I drowned Speaks-With-Self again, and when the word-womb was laden with the Secret’s spirit I readied myself for the final ascent, and sang preparation songs.
Don't ask me, I have no bloody idea what he's talking about. Probably something to do with ALEXYLVA.
11) The Way now was only one, and it was a treacherous path. With fortitude and wisdom, I managed to reach its end. Upon the summit, upon the uppermost Way, I beheld the visages of the elder gods: the Secret’s spirit within the word-womb protected my sight, for I would have been struck down without. I was dwarfed in their presence: each was crowned with itself, a crown without facet or flaw or change. Here stood the oldest, those that would span the entirety of creation, who could be called upon in any realm lower, for their power ran deep, and they were mighty to behold. They were slow to act, and subtle in action, for they knew their power, and withheld their full might, lest they destroy those lower regions of the Tree.
I can describe little more: the wisdom of the secret ALEXYLVA, the teachings of the Serpent’s Library, and the gifts of Death could not avail me for more than a few moments in the glory of the elder gods.
Remember what I said before about the lower elders? Goes double for these guys. 'Too powerful and subtle' my ass, they're all just a bunch of rotten cowards. Old fruit isn't the same as good fruit, that's a lesson Jeremiah never learned.
12) I could go no farther beyond the elder gods, and the Light I saw beyond my grasp remained ever thus. Thus it is said “He knew the length of his arms,” and also “He stood in the shadow of the All-Mighty.”
From this height, I fell.
0) Of my descent from the home of the elder gods, I will say little: the horrors of those twisted Ways and hellish realms are fit only for the King and his servants.
1) I fell from the Light, and the summit of the uppermost Way, and there was Nothing. There was Nothing, and I knew fear.
My mind left me in the Nothing, burned away from my soul. I tore Speaks-With-Self from its place at my side and ate it. I did this to protect it from what was to become of it, and I was inured to its screams.
And this, this is what those doddering fools are afraid of. They know that the fall is coming for them, and sooner rather than later.
2) I passed from Nothing to Something, into the dregs of primordial chaos that existed before. Here I found the other elder gods, and they were terrible to behold, scabbling at the foot of the King’s first throne. My wisdom fled me, my gifts were of no avail under the gaze of those cruel, unthinking gods. As I passed, they sought domination of me, for that is their only goal. They fought in mindless rage over possession of me, and so they retreated enough for me to pass from their home and fall further.
To witness gods of such scope move to such an extent, I knew that untold epochs were passing me, but the horror was lost upon me. All things were lost upon me.
But not this one. Not the King. Never was one for fear, the King.
3) I approached the concealed border between the home of the mad elder gods of the Darkness Beneath, and the Domain of the King. I remember that I screamed, and fell through a great cloud, and that is all I recall.
4) I fell through the cloud and witnessed the engine churning at the center of the great smoke-pit, its metal body slicked with blood, its gears turned by the flayed backs of long-enslaved gods. It devoured all in its path, and in its gluttony spread further, so that it might devour more.
It devoured me, and I knew pain in its stomach.
Jeremiah always had a knack for understatement. Don't go through that machine. It hurts.
5, 6, 7) I passed through the Lands of the Damned, and I saw there were realms uncountable there, spewed forth by their bloated mothers. There was the Land of the Burning, and the Land of Grief and Tears, and the Land of Carrion, and I saw that the Ways to these lands were wide open, and witnessed the uncountable throngs that marched into their roiling guts The guardians of Carrion, the fiery scavengers who stole souls from the brothers Death, tore at me with beak and talon, screeching their praises to the King.
So… not very pleasant, being subjugated to the King, is what he's saying.
8) I passed from the bowels of the Devouring Engine, and came to the Domain of the King. In the desolation I could see a great fallen multitude among the wastes of the realms that had once been: old gods and facet-gods and smooth-gods, kneeling with broken back before the Throne of the King.
Upon the Throne I did see the blood-wreathed Scarlet King, and I saw his seven spears, and I saw his seven daughter-brides, and I saw the seven seals on their brows. I saw his children, the vast Leviathans in their ranks, and many others sworn to the King’s service.
The King spoke to me, and said:
TELL THEM WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN.
Way ahead of ya, buddy.
9) From the Domain of the King I passed through the path he had carved, the path he is carving. I saw the tangle of rotting Ways wrapped around dead, shattered realms, where there was nothing whole and all was polluted with the corpses of gods. Little remained, though I saw that many foul creatures had taken up residence in the wake of the King, and the Ways were stalking by the Rotting Men. Those monsters and demons, misshapen scraps left over from the King’s unending war, ate away at their boundaries like maggots, like moths eating at clothing, and I knew that they sought what was beyond. In truth, I saw many holes from which the long-songs of Yesod-With-Faces, and I understood by what means that faceted realm had gained its scars.
Let it be said that the King's lesser brothers and sisters are not exactly the best company themselves. Trust me, you do not want to see what a rotten Way looks like. Not to mention the smell, ye gods.
10) I passed beyond this, and there was emptiness, and naught but the low groaning wind among the ashes.
0) I fell asleep, and knew no more.