|Mind Palace by u/jdbugs|
It was once a common thing for one to carry one's own god, or even gods, with them on their travels through the unmarred world. Sometimes this takes the form of carrying small images or symbols of said gods, and other times it involves merely carrying them in prayer. Today, both are quaint and old-fashioned at best, and blasphemous at worst.
It is of course absurd to think of anyone carrying a god with them. On the most basic level, they are simply far too big to carry, being hundreds to thousands of times the size of even the largest and strongest people. But the more important reason is that it is the gods who do the carrying. Such is the proper nature of things.
Whether it is on two legs, four, countless, or even none at all, the gods trudge across the wastelands like indefatigable barges, carrying their worshipers with them wherever they go.
Some of their mortal supplicants stand upon their backs and shoulders, or in the cavities across their bodies, surveying the world for dangers which their single-minded god cannot be bothered to perceive in its endless march. Far more live within them- not only within their stony, corporeal forms, but within their infinitely more capacious minds.
Every god has a vast, psychic landscape which puts so-called "mind palaces" to utter shame. They possess matter, laws, and physics, or can be made to possess them through the combined efforts of gods and their passengers. They can be tamed and expanded, made to hold entire villages, towns, cities. Thousands of generations live and die within the confines of their gods, with no thought or worry for the dead World Beyond, and with only a few prayers offered to the troubled Watcher folk who straddle the inner and outer realms as their ceaseless guardians.
These hollow gods do not eat or drink or sleep. They are sustained by the thoughts and prayers of those who live within them, and in return they sustain them. Those who are born able to Murmur may commune with the god's placid, droning Hum, which permeates its entire mind and being. Sometimes an understanding is formed. Other times, guesses and misgivings have led to centuries of internal conflict and dogmatism. It is a symbiotic relationship that can tilt toward commensalism or parasitism more easily than one might expect.
When two gods meet upon the wastes, they rarely register one another's existence. Rarer still do they interact directly, which is generally for the best. The titanic, animalistic battles between these beings have sundered and rearranged continents, to stay nothing of the populations stored within them.
More often, their worshipers make forays into the space between them, and deal with one another on behalf of their walking gods. Communication, diplomacy, and an understanding of difference are profoundly rare and precious gifts in the world, but even with all three, these meetings can turn tense or hostile. Most end with each party hurrying home to instruct a blinded and nailed Murmurer to tell their god to change its course away from the other.
Sometimes an understanding is reached, and news about the wider world is shared: news of recently dead gods and their shunted-out refugees baking in the sun, of lands recently made too dangerous even for gods to walk, of the almost unheard-of arrangement made to form a Procession between gods, or even Harmonic Communion.
Gods do not die on their own, but when something does kill them, the effects are immediate and disquieting. Most passengers do not survive the collapse of the god's mind, and of those who do escape the ordeal without becoming bloody smears with a sprinkling of stardust, most will die within the first few days of exposure to the World Beyond.
In these most trying of times, it falls to any surviving Watchers to lead these refugees away from their mountainous, broken wreck of a former benefactor. After generations of protecting their gods and its occupants, they are the few who know how to get along in the marred world. Any former passenger who tries to carry a piece of their god with them is punished severely.
When a column of bedraggled pilgrims ends its trail of exhausted dead at the feet of another god, the remaining passengers are absorbed into it if they are fortunate. It can be a profound or traumatic experience depending on the exact beliefs they hold. They are given a corner of their new god's consciousness to dwell within, and are often treated as second-class citizens until their first children are born there. Some truly ancient and durable gods have patchworks of peoples from other, fallen minds. Such a wealth of diversity in background and experience is rarely acknowledged.
The former Watchers and Murmurers of the dead god, as well as the more recalcitrant passengers, are executed or encouraged to commit ritual suicide, again depending on dogma.
The idea of exiles, surviving Watchers, or even whole congregations excavating and scratching out a living amid the crags of their dead gods and other stretches of the wasteland is unspeakably taboo, but not entirely unknown.