Note: The following document was obtained by The Skullmaster during an expedition to The Underworld. This expedition yielded many interesting findings, including, most notably, The Reaper’s Handbook. This particular specimen has long vexed the Skullmaster, as its original text was written in an esoteric language which most experts agreed was indecipherable. Until recently. All credit for the following passage belongs to honorary professor Ruben Ferdinand, AKA @urbanfriendden, whose work has been featured in this library before. A more complete collection of his work can be found at The Friend Den.
There’s this thing humans discovered – or something they believed in, little difference. It’s that if you keep moving through space in a straight line, you’ll eventually end up where you started. That if you break through the celestial spheres, wave hi to the gods in the Twenty-Eight Mansions, tip-toe past the Empyrean (you don’t want to wake up Elohim, they’re quite cranky), you’ll be back at Earth before supper. That’s true, because we didn’t want to let people know what’s beyond the observable universe. That’s still under construction.
But this got me thinking: if the skies are continuous yet finite, what about the earth? Not the planet, I’m talking Chthonic. The underworlds. I know my slice of hell, but I’ve never seen past Tartarus. There are omnidirectional fields, claims of oblivion: where Hades ends, does Naraka begin there? Is Gehanna west of Yomi? Godheads aren’t limited to their mythology’s domain, but we’re just too busy to go out for a walk most of the time. I have a duty to perform, an ascription of my own, but if we allowed humans to map and excavate space while we don’t even know how our realms look like, there’d be no seat sturdy or divine enough to support our hypocrisy.
The only thing I would take with me was my sister’s hairbrush, a memento of sorts, even gods are allowed sentiment from time to time. I set out south. By that I mean, I went down. I traversed an ocean, I nearly choked to death on a thick fog, I sneaked my way past a gripping, total darkness (some call it Erebus, I call it dad). There was a mountain of ruby at its lowest reaches. After scaling this jewel, I was standing eye-to-eye with Bahamut, the world fish, swimming in the totality of space, time, and pleroma. The underworlds are finite, and what lies beyond that is occupied by a friendly fish and a ‘nothing’. Attempts at comprehending this abberate space made me feel strange, like a mortal thinking about death, a primal reflex that tells me I shouldn’t be.
“Hello Lachesis. I think you missed a turn somewhere,” it spoke, probably causing numerous disasters of ecological and ontological nature. “Yeah, I think I’m lost. I’m also very tired. Is there any place to rest anywhere around, uh, here?” “Oh, sure. There’s a river starting a bit to the northeast – follow it and you’ll end up at Datsu’s shop.”
I gave that old coot a kiss on the snout before venturing the way it told me to. The river itself was running dry, barely a creek at this point. Most notable about it were the people. Emaciated, naked forms aligning its beds, kowtowed in despondence before small and failed monuments. Their hands were chafed and they clutched pebbles. Even here, penance?
On the other side of the creek was a shack, not too far off. Rickety and slovenly, with attempts at exterior decoration. A very human home. Strange how deities preside over all there is, how desperate mortals were to appease, even though we exist solely in categories of their humanity. The bead-string door thrummed like a song as I stepped through, the scent of summer herbs and vanilla reminded me of the idea of belonging. An old woman was washing clothes: kimonos, band shirts, cardigans. She spoke with a voice of no return:
“Are you here to buy clothes?”
“I don’t think I am. I came here to rest.”
“You are divine; why would you need to? You are inexhaustible.”
“It feels natural to do.”
“It feels human to do.”
“I take it the people outside are your doing?”
She laughed an ugly yes; I told them it’s impossible to cross the river unless they show full devotion. I asked for their clothes, their belongings, their souls. Worship, after all, is a goal without instructions. It sounds reasonable, everything sounds reasonable when the last step of faith is eternal peace, a good kind of nothing. Nothing prescribes what to do, but that this nothing exists is enough to work. To accept the consequences of life without ever trying to reach heaven, it’s too much for the poor sods. I don’t blame them, I’m just an old woman. Strange thing is: they never once asked me what they should be devoted to.
Her words carry a strange weight, a pressure heavier than the one you’d expect this deep down beneath the world. It shouldn’t make sense: I wove the destinies of people, dictating how long their lives were to be, how long they’d toil in service of me. Faith never was a choice, the risk of meaninglessness never existed because of what I did for them. But Datsue-ba’s words scratched at my skull like her long, copper nails were brushing through my hair. The hairbrush of Clotho I kept on me because of love. A memento conducts and galvanises my cherished memories into feelings, pieces of the past become a property of the present. Love, memory, ownership. Human frivolities that I stole from their search for meaning.
“What if the strings I handled weren’t for their sake, but for mine?”
Datsue-ba raises a bushy eyebrow.
“Worship is belief that affirms me. I presided over the gift of destiny – a goal without instructions – but this act is just as meaningful (meaningless?) to me as it was for people. Deities are, categorically, human.”
Datsue-ba’s bushy eyebrows convey a confusion I would expect from an evil woman witnessing a god stepping down from her godhead. I take off my clothes.
“You can have these.”
I exit her house, picking up a handful of pebbles. I begin to build.
Alright, now that the post is over and the fourth wall is out of the way, this is me, Thomas (AKA The Skullmaster) saying, in no uncertain terms, that everything between the horizontal rulings on this page was written by Ruben and not me (The stuff about translating is what we in the biz call “lore.”) If you thought it was good, there’s plenty more where that came from if you click those links at the top of the page. Or this one here, which leads to a story he wrote where Artemis and Athena are gay, that somehow manages to live up to that premise. But if that’s not your thing, you can always pay him to write about whatever your thing is. Yes, even that. ESPECIALLY that.