Of Gods and Faith
Tensing up, I gripped the edge of the table, hard, to stop myself from lashing out at Ruth – her sudden question had me on edge. She had very clearly said “plane” – that unfamiliar word that referred to another world. I had no reason to fight her, but if she was asking me such a question, it meant she knew more about me than she had let on – she was concealing information, and that was dangerous. I answered in a low voice, letting my hostility creep into it.
“…Did Rosalind tell you?”
Seeing my display of hostility, Ruth chuckled and remained seated, unfazed.
“Oh, so she knows it too? Did you tell her? I suppose it was wasted effort to get her out of the vicinity.”
I glared at her, but she simply met my gaze with a calm stare, not even flinching. I searched her eyes, trying to find some clue of what she wanted, what intentions she bore, but I could find nothing. Her eyes were as an inpenetrable inkwell, denying me any sort of ingress. I could feel no hostility – but against an opponent of this level, that meant nothing. Judging from her reaction, Rosalind had not told her, either. Meaning that she had reached that conclusion on her own.
“…How did you know?”
“Wasn’t very hard to guess. A girl in the middle of nowhere? Wearing unfamiliar clothes? Not speaking the common language? And more importantly, a girl who had no magic? There were only a few possible explanations, and as it turns out, a separate plane is the least irrational. I am, in a sense, the foremost authority on the Multiple Worlds Theory, after all.”
So Ruth, like Rosalind, could tell that I had no magic. Rosalind had said that it was a rare trait, but I was finding that increasingly difficult to believe. I contemplated making a run for it, but decided quickly that it was pointless. I could tell just from looking at her – I’d never make it out in time. Furthermore, while it might have been possible to fight her off if I chose to stand my ground, I was unarmed. The safest course of action was to tell her what she wanted to know. I slumped forward on the table, defeated. Since she knew I was not from this world, there was no reason to hide the fact. Besides, I was dead in my original world – I had no reason to keep information from her. Rosalind trusted her, so I decided that I would as well.
“What do you want to know?”
Ruth smiled, seeing that I was willing to give in.
“Anything. Everything. It’s not everyday a scholar gets to meet living proof of their far-fetched theories. I want to learn everything about your world – how it’s different, how it’s the same, whether the people are different, how many races there are, how you fight your wars, what your technologies are like, everything.”
I immediately refused.
“That’s way too much. I can’t tell you about everything, because I don’t know everything, and besides, there’s no way I could explain everything in a single day. Pick a topic. Just one.”
Ruth placed a finger on her lips, deep in thought.
“Hmmm… You’re kind of a miser, aren’t you…? Well then, tell me about your gods. I find that the beings a civilisation worships says a lot about that civilisation. What kind of gods do your people worship?”
I frowned. This was a pretty hard question. I thought about it for a while, but decided to answer as best as I could.
“Well… it varies from person to person, really.”
“…it varies? You mean, what god they worship?”
Ruth tilted her head, confused. From my studying, I knew a bit about the state of religion in this world – there was basically one large, polytheist religion, comprising of a pantheon of gods that they all worshipped. It was possible to worship a different god from another person, but all of the gods in this pantheon were universally believed to exist. Which god one worshipped was basically a matter of which god you preferred to receive blessings from. I decided to clarify.
“Kind of? Different groups of people worship different gods… Some of them believe there’s only one god, that no other gods exist, and worship that god… but there are also some groups that believe that thousands of gods exist, and worship them equally. There are those who don’t believe that gods exist at all. And there are those like myself, who believe that gods do exist, but don’t worship them.”
Ruth’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You… believe that there are gods, but you don’t worship them? Why not?”
“Mainly because I don’t feel like they’ve done anything to deserve my reverence. I haven’t had an easy life; and I don’t feel like worshipping any gods who are big enough assholes to thrust all this shit on me. Maybe my soul is condemned and doomed to rot for all eternity, but hey. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”
Ruth still looked stunned. Was the idea of a free thinker that alien to her? She asked another question.
“This… attitude. Believing in the gods but not worshipping them. Is this… common, in your plane?”
I thought about the question.
“Well, I don’t think you can really call it common, but it’s not exactly rare, either. The majority of people are religious, but there’s also a significant number of us who aren’t.”
Ruth brought her finger to her lip, reflecting on my words. She bore an expression of wonder and shock. Was my dismissal of the divine somehow offensive? I quickly spoke up to fill the silence.
“Well, it’s just how my plane is. I can understand if those of this plane find it hard to comprehend. We have very different cultures, after all. I apologise if I’ve offended you in any way.”
Ruth shook her head.
“No, not at all. In fact… I’m glad. I… share a similar sentiment, as regards the gods. I’m simply overwhelmed that there would be another human who felt the same – and not just a human, but a whole world of them…!”
Her joy was evident on her face, as if she’d found an answer to a question she had been asking for a long time. Her next line was spoken so quietly I had to strain my ears to hear it.
“So humans can live without the aid of the gods…”
I scratched my head awkwardly, feeling as though I had just pointed out to some stranger a path to enlightenment and peace. I had simply spoken the truth. While I was willing to be friends with Yingquan, I had no intention of worshipping her. Nor did she, I suspect, prefer that I do so. I felt slightly bad for depriving this world’s gods of a follower, but it was not my native world – and therefore I had no reason to care for the well-being of its gods.
After a few more moments of basking in joy, Ruth spoke again.
“Sorry for being this dramatic. It’s just that I never thought that humans could live without the gods – I was worried all this time that my line of thinking was flawed, or deficient, or dangerous. You’ve just reassured me that it is, in fact possible, to live independently of those gods which rule over us. For that, you have my gratitude.”
She seemed to have regained her composure – she smiled at me in that enigmatic, unfathomable way that denied me any entry to her contemplations.
“That’s two of my theories you’ve proven in one day. Truly, our meeting on the road was a fortunate one.”
At that moment, Rosalind burst through the tavern door, a blue glass bottle in her hand. Ruth smiled and beckoned her over, casually making conversation, making no more mention of planes or gods.