The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Small Gods

Written by Ed

It has already been mentioned that belief is a powerful force on the Discworld. Sufficient quantities of belief can distort reality, bringing into existence the focus of that belief. This is how Discworld Gods are created: people believe in them, and their power grows accordingly. Gods with no believers, however...they are the small gods, shadows of deities, mere whispers in the wind crying out for belief.

There are quite a lot of them.


High in the mountains near the Hub of the Discworld live the History Monks. Their job is to organise time, and to record and observe history properly. One of them, Lu-Tze, is dispatched to the desert country of Omnia, near the Circle Sea. There, some important historical events are scheduled to take place.

Omnianism is a fearsome religion. They are taught that the world is a globe, that there is only one god but Om, and should anyone display the slightest example of free will the Quisition will tear them limb from limb. Literally. It is said, however, that Om protects the strong in faith, which is why the young novice Brutha can go about his business without fear; his belief is utterly unshakeable. For this reason, while he is tending the Omnian Citadel's vegetable gardens, he hears a mysterious voice in his head...

In a panic, he rushes to tell the kindly mater of novices, Nhumrod. Nhumrod tells him that he is merely being tempted by the djinns and demons that assail the strong in faith on a daily basis, and sends him back to the garden with advice to remain strong in his faith.

Meanwhile, deep in the torture pits, the unfortunate Brother Sasho is nearing death, having been horrendously tortured for heresy-apparently, there is some work that has been written stating that the world is flat and rides on the back of Great A'Tuin, the star turtle. It has something of an underground following amongst the more free willed citizens. Vorbis, chief exquisitor and most feared man in the country is interrogating him, trying to find the names of his comrades. Sasho relies with the mantra of all Chelonists-

"The Turtle Moves."


Back in the gardens, Brutha is again beset by voices. He tries sticking his fingers in his ears, but the voice does not seem to need to use the,. He tries singing (his voice has actually had him banned from the choir) and this does not work either. Looking down, Brutha notices the voice seems to be coming from a small tortoise, who claims to be his Great God, Om. Brutha refuses to believe it, and the tortoise orders him to fetch the Cenobiarch, the leader of Omnianism. Brutha cannot imagine speaking to anyone so high in the hierarchy, and fetches Nhumrod instead.

Vorbis is discussing matters with Bishop Drunah and General Fri'it, two of his aides. He is planning a retaliation against the country of Ephebe, members of which supposedly murdered the Omnian missionary Brother Murduck. Underground, however, the Chelonists are also planning-they intend to kill the murderous Vorbis, somewhere where everyone can see.

Nhumrod cannot hear the voice of Om, and soon departs from the gardens leaving Brutha with no help and taking the tortoise with him to the kitchens. However, Brutha comes and rescues it. He still refuses to believe that it is in fact Om, and takes it to see some statues of the Great God in his prime. He asks Om to prove himself, but the tortoise replies that it can't-it is stuck in the body of a tortoise and has been for the last three years. The biggest lightning bolt he can manage is no more than a small crack of static.

Bishop Drunah and General Fri'it are having an uncomfortable conversation. Both are Chelonists, but are not sure of each other. Fri'it is worrying about war with Ephebe, and wonders if the lost Brother Sasho has told the Quisition about them.

Om is frantically trying to convince Brutha of his existence, even denying that he appeared to the great Omnian prophets. What he does not explain is why he is stuck in the body of the tortoise. He does make a breakthrough, however, by picking a memory out of Brutha's mind and thus gaining a tentative trust. This disturbs Brutha, and it is in this state that Vorbis finds him while touring the Citadel. Brutha passes out and Vorbis has him taken to the infirmary, and, out of nothing more than idle curiosity, turns Om over on his back in the baking sun.

In the infirmary, Nhumrod and Vorbis discuss Brutha. Apparently he is rather dense, cannot read or write, but does have a phenomenal memory. He can remember almost everything that has ever happened to him. Vorbis spots a use for him...

In the garden, Lu-Tze finds Om and rights him. The tortoise, shaken after his ordeal, sets off to find Brutha who has himself woken up and has gone to see Vorbis, as ordered.

Om, crawling along a busy corridor, is caught by an errant foot and is almost pitched through a grille and into a torture pit. The sight he sees is one that will linger for a long time. He makes his way to the Place of Lamentation, where people go to pray. There, he sees the eagle...

Brutha is led into Vorbis' quarters blindfolded. He proves his memory by exactly stating the contents of the antechamber, although he only saw it for a second before the blindfold is put on. Vorbis tells him that he has a use for him, and he is to report at the docks in the morning, to travel to Ephebe as part of a diplomatic delegation. As he walks away, he hears in his head Om's panicked cries as the eagle attacks, and runs to rescue him. He explains that he was dropped into the Citadel by an eagle, who pick up tortoises and drop them in order to smash their shells.

Back in Brutha's dormitory, Om waits until Brutha is asleep before thinking about the events of the day, lest the young novice hear them. It would appear that all through the ferocious religion, Brutha is the god's only true believer.

That night, Fri'it's worst fears are confirmed. Brother Sasho has cracked under pressure, and the Quisition have come for him.

Vorbis and Brutha travel with the delegation down to the docks the next day, with Om stashed in Brutha's pack. Brutha sees a huge garrison of Omnian troops heading off into the desert. He enquires about them, but Vorbis orders him to forget that he ever saw them.

At first the journey across the Circle Sea is relatively peaceful. Brutha has never sailed before, and is consequently rather ill, but the sea is in fact calm. Here Vorbis' evil reveals itself once again, as he has the Captain kill a porpoise that is following the boat. In legend this will result in a horrendous storm-and all the sailors believe that.

The storm is certainly terrible, and knowing what will happen to him should his one believer die Om contacts the Sea Queen, goddess of the sea. The Sea Queen relents, but warns that the price for the ship's survival will be high. All the while, the Omnian Sergeant Simony seems to be acting very strange towards Vorbis.

When they arrive at the Ephebian coast, Vorbis has Brutha signal with a mirror towards the desert. Flashes of light are received in turn, and Vorbis seems pleased about them although they mean nothing to Brutha.

They arrive in Ephebe and are taken to their lodgings in the palace, behind a huge and incredibly dangerous labyrinth. They are blindfolded, but Brutha merely memorises the steps that he has taken. They have an appointment with the Tyrant, the democratically elected leader of the country, in the morning. That night, Brutha and Om leave the palace, Brutha instinctively remembering how to navigate the maze. They arrive at a pub full of philosophers, as Om has instructed Brutha to find out about how gods are made strong. The philosophers are in fact engaged in serious theological discourse, i.e. a bar fight, and the barman directed them to see another philosopher called Didactylos and his nephew Urn, who live near the Library. However, Brutha needs sleep and so they return t the palace. Om, however, sneaks out himself.

Next day, the Omnians are taken to see the Ephebians. The Ephebians have the Omnians at their mercy-the theocracy in fact has no ships, since an earlier battle fleet sent to avenge the death of Brother Murduck was wiped out by a philosopher's invention. Vorbis manages to convince the tyrant to wait until the next day before the treaty is signed.

Om has found the blind philosopher Didactylos and his young nephew Urn, and is able to prove his intelligence by drawing geometrical symbols on the sand with his tail. When he gets one of the symbols wrong he is about to be eaten, but Brutha finds him at the last moment. It is revealed that Didactylos was the one who wrote the thesis De Chelonian Mobile, the work that has sparked the underground revolution in Omnia.

As they return to the palace, Om tells Brutha why he is his only believer-the Omnian Church is now so big and so powerful that it is now the theocratical state that people believe in, not the God. Brutha is simply too dense not to believe. Om demonstrates this by ordering Brutha to kill Vorbis; the novice's refusal proves that he fears the Quisition more than his God.

Brutha is then called by Vorbis, who uses him as a guide through the labyrinth. Brutha manages to get the exquisitor to admit that Brother Murduck as killed in Omnia and used as an excuse to invade. Vorbis tells Brutha that the truth as perceived by the main senses is not the fundamental truth of Om. This way, he can get away with anything. Unthinkingly, Brutha obeys his orders and helps Vorbis out into the outside world and opens the gate leading to the desert- letting the huge army that he saw before enter and ransack the city. The preparations that allowed the men to cross the desert took months-long before the death of Brother Murduck. Vorbis had been planning it from the beginning.


Soon afterwards, Vorbis has Didactylos brought before him and orders him to repent. At first he appears to do this, but in the end he remains defiant. Vorbis orders Brutha to go and burn down the Library. Brutha dismisses the soldiers and carries on alone. In the Library, he meets Didactylos, Urn and Sergeant Simony, who is a fanatical Chelonist. Initially reluctant, Simony accepts Brutha when he demonstrates his ability to memorise the books, thus effectively saving the Library. He is able to memorise about two hundred scrolls before he passes out, but manages to send Simony back for Om. As fires are started in the Library (and an orang-utan materialises and rescues several scrolls...) Urn and Didactylos rescue Brutha by taking him down a series of underground tunnels that lead away to the docks.

Brutha wakes as he, Didactylos, Urn and Simony are escaping in a small, steam powered boat, and being chased by an Omnian warship. The Sea Queen chooses this moment to take her revenge, and causes another storm. Brutha leaps overboard as lightning strikes the boat, causing the engine to take it roaring away. Om's believer is allowed to survive, and so the Sea Queen turns her attention to the Omnian warship. The crew are killed-with the exception of Vorbis. Om and Brutha wash up on a beach at the edge of the desert. Brutha sets off towards Omnia, even though Om would rather go to Ankh-Morpork. Soon, however, they find Vorbis. He seems very badly injured, and is apparently comatose. Brutha picks him up and carries him along. Om cannot understand this, and refuses to travel with them. Brutha gets a little way before he collapses in the heat, and in a sudden turn of compassion Om goes back for him.

Brutha wakes in the freezing desert night to find that Om has dug down into the sand to find water. They are able to go further, as Brutha finds it easier to travel at night. Soon, however, they will need food and so Om directs them to a cave containing a snake which Brutha kills and eats. Vorbis appears to have recovered: he has woken up, but seems to be in a state of catatonia.

Meanwhile Didactylos' boat, having miraculously survived when the Sea Queen lost interest in them, is heading towards the Omnian coast. Simony intends to rally supporters and stage a revolution.

In the heat of the day, Vorbis and Brutha sleep in the cave while Om keeps watch for snakes. It is now that he is assailed by the small gods, chittering spirits desperately trying to steal Brutha away. Om offers them Vorbis, but he is refused-Vorbis' mind is dull, and shut in. He hears nothing but the echoes of his own soul. Om sends the gods away, except for one-one of the gods used to be a giant, but now has no further believers. As well as an insatiable desire for belief, it also has memories of what existence used to be like. It is what Om will become should anything happen to Brutha. The experience leaves Om shaken.

Simon has had an idea-he wants Urn to use the steam propulsion device on the boat in a cart, in order to create a kind of war machine.

Om has Brutha lead Vorbis to another cave, where lions have recently been. He knows that the lions must know where water is, and wants to use Vorbis as bait. Brutha refuses to sacrifice Vorbis, and finds the lion. It is badly injured, having been stabbed with a spear.

Simony leads Didactylos into a barn filled with his followers. They want him to lead the revolution.

Brutha has found an abandoned temple, where there is water. Om hates the place, as it is like a god's graveyard. He gets angry with Om for allowing the church to commit the crimes that it has done, and swears to save his country.

Didactylos is upset. The thesis he wrote was nothing but simple fact, but these people seem to be treating it like a holy book. Simony senses that what the people need is a symbol-he goes to contact a sympathetic blacksmith who can build his war machine.

Having moved on, Brutha and Om find that they are nearing the end of the desert-flowers are beginning to appear, suggesting the presence of water. Brutha sleeps, and has strange dreams of food-later, Om explains that it was the small gods planting visions in his mind to try and temp him to them. Then, in the distance, they see a figure atop a cartwheel, standing horizontally on a high pole. On this is the hermit, St Ungulant, who is the friend of all small gods simply for acknowledging them. He tells Brutha how to get water from plants.


In Ephebe, the Omnians are being defeated, having lost their leader and being faced with a bigger army than they had expected in the form of Ephebian slaves. The Tyrant's first action is to declare war on Omnia.

At the middle of yet another day, Brutha sleeps. Om goes in search of food, and meets another tortoise. Unknown to either of them, Vorbis suddenly comes round. He takes a rock, and smashes it over Brutha's head. He then throws the tortoise Om had just met away, where it is picked up and dropped by an eagle. Vorbis picks up Brutha and carries him away. In shock, Om can only follow at his normal speed. Soon, Vorbis is over the horizon.


One week later, Brutha recovers. He is in the Citadel, being watched over by Brother Nhumrod. He is told that Vorbis is to be made the new Prophet, and that he led Brutha through the desert. Despairing, Brutha knows that should he tell anyone the truth, Vorbis will just say that it is not fundamentally true-just the deception of the mundane senses of the mortal world. He is also told that Vorbis wishes to see him. Vorbis takes him to see the new piece of torture equipment-a cast iron turtle, with a fireplace under it. The Chelonists are to be burned on it.

Simony's war machine, the Moving Turtle, is nearly ready. They are discussing how to break down the Citadel's huge doors when the Chelonist Sergeant Fergmen tells them that they are reinforced, and powered by hydraulics. Nothing can break through them. Therefore, Simony intends to send Urn to alter the hydraulics mechanism. Unfortunately, an informant has told Vorbis about the machine, with the promise of his father being released from prison as a reward.

That night, Urn is making the final touches for the engine of the Moving Turtle. He goes to sleep while waiting for a vital piece of metal to cool. Now, Lu-Tze the history monk plays his art in the events-he pours a bucket of water over the part, thus cooling it quickly and making it brittle. The war machine has been sabotaged.

He then goes and talks to Brutha. He tells him that he must do what he has to do alone.

Didactylos has found out about the war machine, and is furious. He knows that if it works the enemy will simply build a bigger one. Urn is going down a path that will lead to destruction.

Meanwhile, Om is still toiling towards the Citadel. He knows that he cannot get there in time to stop whatever is going to happen. Brutha goes to the gates, waiting to see what will happen.

Urn and Fergmen break into the hydraulics chamber in order to open the gates for the Moving Turtle. The machinery has rusted, and Urn accidentally breaks it. Water starts to leak, effectively sealing the gates. At that point they are found by a guard, who attacks. Defending themselves, they push him into the machinery where his extra weight activates the mechanism.

The gates swing open, in the middle of the investiture ceremony. Brutha strides forward, watched by a crowd of hundreds. Simony tries to activate the Moving Turtle, but Lu-Tze has done his job. The lever snaps, and the mechanism fails.

Brutha approached Vorbis. For a moment he raises his hand to him. Vorbis is expecting this, which is why he becomes angry for the first time ever when Brutha changes his mind. Brutha is arrested, and sentenced to be burned on the new iron turtle.

Om has but one chance. He psychically summons an eagle, who picks him up instinctively. However, Om then reaches up and bites-certainly gaining the bird's full attention. He then directs it towards the Citadel.

All Simony and Urn can do is watch in horror as Brutha is manacled to the iron turtle and a fire lit under it. Then, as Vorbis watches proudly on, Om and the eagle come hurtling over the walls and, at Om's signal, the eagle lets go. Vorbis looks up too late as the little tortoise hits him squarely between the eyes having fallen from a hundred feet and kills him instantly. The effect this has on the crowd is electric-for the first time, proper belief surges up through him. The massive image of the Great God Om rises up above the crowd and releases Brutha. For a moment Om is glad to be back and is proud and arrogant like most gods, but he has learned much and soon returns to his more humanitarian outlook. Brutha has to depart, as the Tyrant's fleet is approaching Omnia.

Vorbis' spirit enters the great black desert that all souls must cross to obtain judgement. Death tells him that there is nothing here but him and what he believes. In his hard, enclosed, shut-in ball-bearing of a soul, Vorbis truly believes...nothing.

A combined battle fleet of Ephebian, Tsortean and Djelibeybian warships arrive. Brutha meets them alone, carrying the body of Vorbis. The army looks like it may relent, until the Omnian army disobey's Brutha's instructions and arrives.

As the Tyrant's army prepares for war, Om travels to Dunmanifestin, home of the gods. He assaults a number of gods, and makes his presence felt. He creates a huge storm to destroy the battle fleet, and then forces the gods to come down and halt the battle.


Later, Didactylos is made bishop and Simony is made head of the Quisition, with orders to stop it. Brutha then begins the mammoth task of rewriting the Ephebian library.

Lu-Tze returns to the home of the History Monks, where he is asked to explain his conduct. Should the Moving Turtle have worked, Brutha would have died and there would have been a century of war. By sabotaging the machine, Lu-Tze altered events slightly...

One hundred years later, Brutha dies of old age. His soul arrives in the black desert, where he sees...

Vorbis. He has been unable to cross the desert, all this time. And, in the personal timespan of the desert, one hundred years feels a lot longer. As Death watches, Vorbis gets up and follows Brutha into the light.

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