The deacon had drunk water from Brutha’s cupped hands. But there was a switched-off quality about him. He walked, he drank, he breathed. Or something did. His body did. The dark eyes opened, but appeared to be looking at nothing that Brutha could see. There was no sense that anyone was looking out through them. Brutha was certain that if he walked away, Vorbis would sit on the cracked flagstones until he very gently fell over. Vorbis’ body was present, but the whereabouts of his mind was probably not locatable on any normal atlas.
It was just that, here and now and suddenly, Brutha felt so alone that even Vorbis was good company.
“Why do you bother with him? He’s had thousands of people killed!”
“Yes, but perhaps he thought you wanted it.”
“I never said I wanted that.”
“You didn’t care,” said Brutha.
Om’s mouth opened in astonishment.
“You could have helped people,” said Brutha. “But all you did was stamp around and roar and try to make people afraid. Like…like a man hitting a donkey with a stick. But people like Vorbis made the stick so good, that’s all the donkey ends up believing in.”
“That could use some work, as a parable,” said Om sourly.
“This is real life I’m talking about!”
“It’s not my fault if people misuse the—”
“It is! It has to be! If you muck up people’s minds just because you want them to believe in you, what they do is all your fault!”
Brutha glared at the tortoise, and then stamped off toward the pile of rubble that dominated one end of the ruined temple. He rummaged around in it.
“What are you looking for?”
“We’ll need to carry water,” said Brutha.
“There won’t be anything,” said Om. “People just left. The land ran out and so did the people. They took everything with them. Why bother to look?”
Brutha ignored him. There was something under the rocks and sand.
“Why worry about Vorbis?” Om whined. “In a hundred years’ time, he’ll be dead anyway. We’ll all be dead.”
Brutha tugged at the piece of curved pottery. It came away, and turned out to be about two-thirds of a wide bowl, broken right across. It had been almost as wide as Brutha’s outstretched arms, but had been too broken for anyone to loot.
It was useful for nothing. But it had once been useful for something. There were embossed figures around its rim. Brutha peered at them, for want of something to distract himself, while Om’s voice droned on in his head.
The figures looked more or less human. And they were engaged in religion. You could tell by the knives (it’s not murder if you do it for a god). In the center of the bowl was a larger figure, obviously important, some kind of god they were doing it for…
“What?” he said.
“I said, in a hundred years’ time we’ll all be dead.”
Brutha stared at the figures around the bowl. No one knew who their god was, and they were gone. Lions slept in the holy places and—
—Chilopoda aridius, the common desert centipede, his memory resident library supplied—
—scuttled beneath the altar.
“Yes,” said Brutha. “We will.”
He raised the bowl over his head, and turned. Om ducked into his shell.
“But here—” Brutha gritted his teeth as he staggered under the weight. “And now—”
He threw the bowl. It landed against the altar. Fragments of ancient pottery fountained up, and clattered down again. The echoes boomed around the temple.
“—we are alive!”
Goodbye, Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015