Gods didn’t mind atheists, if they were deep, hot, fiery atheists like Simony, who spend their whole life not believing, spend their whole life hating gods for not existing. That sort of atheism was a rock. It was nearly belief!
Everyone recognized Vorbis the exquisitor. Something about him projected itself on your conscience within a few days of your arrival at the Citadel. The God was merely to be feared in the perfunctory ways of habit, but Vorbis was dreaded.
When the least they could do to you was everything, then the most they could do to you suddenly held no terror.
He thought: the worst thing about Vorbis isn’t that he’s evil, but that he makes good people do evil. He turns people into things like himself. You can’t help it. You catch it off him.
Whoever had taken enough time to bury their dead had also drawn a symbol in the sand of the mound. Brutha half-expected it to be a turtle, but the desert wind had not quite eroded the crude shape of a pair of horns.
“I don’t understand that,” said Om. “They don’t really believe I exist, but they go and put something like that on a grave.”
“It’s hard to explain. I think it’s because they believe they exist,” said Brutha. “It’s because they’re people, and so was he.”
Brutha and Om in the desert.
“Anyway, right, then he pushed through the line of guards what was holding the crowd back and stood right in front of the doors, and they weren’t sure what to do about bishops, and I heard him say something like, I carried you in the desert, I believed all my life, just give me this one thing.”
Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, on Brutha.
Urn pushed his way through the crowds, with Fergmen trailing behind. That was the best and the worst of civil war, at least at the start–everyone wore the same uniform. It was much easier when you picked enemies who were a different color, or at least spoke with a funny accent. You could call them “gooks” or something. It made things easier.
The gods appeared, transparent and shimmering in and out of focus. The sun glinted off a hint of golden curls, and wings, and lyres.
When they spoke, they spoke in unison, their voices drifting ahead or trailing behind the others, as always happens when a group of people are trying to faithfully repeat something they’ve been told to say.
What the gods said was heard by each combatant in their own language, and according to his own understanding. It boiled down to:
I. This is Not a Game.
II. Here and Now, You are Alive.
Brutha grew up knowing that Om’s eyes were on him all the time, especially in places like the privy, and that demons assailed him on all sides and were only kept at bay by the strength of his belief and the weight of grandmother’s cane, which was kept behind the door on those rare occasions when it was not being used� He knew all the Laws and the Songs. Especially the Laws.
The Omnians were a God-fearing people.
They had a great deal to fear.
Humans! They lived in a world where the grass continued to be green and the sun rose every day and flowers regularly turned into fruit, and what impressed them? Weeping statues. And wine made out of water!� As if the turning of sunlight into wine, by means of vines and grapes and time and enzymes, wasn’t a thousand times more impressive and happened all the time�
“Slave is an Ephebian word. In Om we have no word for slave” said Vorbis.
“So I understand,” said the Tyrant. “I imagine that fish have no word for water.”
Deacon Vorbis and the Tyrant
“But you found water. Water in the desert.”
“Nothing miraculous about that,” said Om. “There’s a rainy season near the coast. Flash floods. Wadis. Dried-up river beds. You get aquifers,” he added.
“Sounds like a miracle to me,” croaked Brutha. “Just because you can explain it doesn’t mean it’s not still a miracle.”
Brutha and Om in the desert.
“We have to fight!”
Simony clenched his fingers in anger.
“Look, listen! We died for lies, for centuries we died for lies.” He waved a hand towards the god. “Now we’ve got a truth to die for!”
“No. Men should die for lies. But the truth is too precious to die for.”
Brutha and Simony