"Great Prophet, we crave a moment of your time?"
The old gnoll frowned, blinking up through rheumy eyes. Young acolytes, barely twenty winters old if he was any judge, waited nervously at the archway to his private garden. "Yes? What? What about it? Why?" he snapped. He'd been peacefully half-asleep, sitting back against warm stone, only the buzz of his new giant bees to disturb the serenity.
The apprentices flinched. Vitus couldn't remember if they were any of his. Come to think of it, wasn't he supposed to be teaching some class now anyway? No matter, that bright young human, whatisname, would take over for the afternoon. Probably.
"Well? Spit it out. I can't sit around here all day."
They nudged a spokesman forward. "We, uh, that is O Prophet, uh, we acolytes wish to learn from you" he began, becoming increasingly and clearly alarmed "Uh, that, er, we.. we beg..."
The now irritated living religious icon and sorcerer gestured curtly. "Hurry it up, boy"
Finally a lizardman at the back blurted out "We want to know the Meaning of Life."
Vitus didn't move for quite some time. Eventually, his muzzle twisted into a sort of grimace that might have been a smile. The first student by now was industriously trying to dig his way back through the crowd with his shoulder blades. The other loudmouth had managed to get around the side, and had a clear run for cover.
"Do you now? The Meaning Of Life" spitting out the syllables. "The. Meaning. Of. Life. How about that." He leaned in close, the smell of old
rug making the spokesman pale even further. "And you've come to ask me. How nice."
Suddenly, the aged gnoll lurched upright again, and gestured to the benches. "Then sit. Sit and listen to an old gnoll" He waited as they got over their surprise and hurried into place "Are we sitting comfortably? Good. The Meaning of Life. Well, boys and girls... there isn't one. Life is a pointless aberration in a multiverse that if not actively hostile is at least lethally indifferent to it."
He looked down into the rank of aghast expressions. "What are you looking at me like that for for? Are you trying to tell me that after a lifetime of walking this and other worlds, of swimming in the Aura Flow and meeting gods I should have some slightly cheerier wisdom to impart? Sorry to disappoint you little delinquents then. I've seen *nothing* - nothing at all that hasn't been the product of raw primal forces or sentient endevour. And the gods aren't primal forces by the way. Get over it."
One of the actual had the nerve to speak up. Vitus kept his smile well concealed. "But surely.. surely the gods have some plan for it all?"
"Oh certainly. But try to get those souls into gear and *think*. What are the goals of the gods? To promote their own worship. What happens when a god is starved of such attention?" Vitus was angry now, recalled the scars on the land, the changed or dying swathes of country he had seen and suffered in during his youth. "Gods have goals. The Dark One attempted to conquer and debase the *world*. Diseases can be more imaginative then that. The other gods at least promote growth and peace, these days.... and, oddly enough... isn't that want the surviving races have wanted above all else?"
He glared at them, pacing across the rough sandstone slabs. "The gods use us as their tools, certainly. I was, and am one. BUT WE CAN USE THEM BACK."
He let that sink in. But not too long. "The gods are mirrors of ourselves. Life has no inherent meaning. SO WE MAKE ONE. Learn, shape yourselves and your future. Choose your goals wisely - I chose to save the world. My clan always told me I was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. Fair enough, I am, and I'm not ashamed of it. I DID save the world. But I did it with the help of those around me and by changing my path whenever I felt my plan was flawed."
The loudmouth gasped "ANY goal?"
Vitus nodded to himself. That one would definitely have to be watched. Possibly from a safe distance. "Yes, any goal. But be prepared that those around you may take offense at your methods, and bring your exploits to a premature close. As is their right as agents of freewill and self-imposed destiny, and so on. Consider yourself lucky most people are content with a peaceful life and two square meals a day."
One of the other students was looking thoughtful "And magic?" she asked, quietly staring into the middle distance over her pawtips.
Oh-ho, thought the gnoll, another dark riding lizard. "I refer you to my previous answer, regarding primal forces. Magic is another tool, and not one to be wielded by the foolish. If you have the power to change the world then consider just how terrible such a responsibility can be. The gods risk all to even try it - are you daring enough to do the same? Singed fingertips are one thing, extinction is forever."
The original spokesman looked shocked "But you wiped out the... "
The old gnoll glared "That never happened. And besides, I was young and stupid." There was a flicker of fire in those old eyes now, daring the student to make something of it. Wisely, the youth backed down. Brighter then I was at his age then, Vitus thought.
"So... sod off and get on with it. It'll be your world soon enough. Just... whenever you are faced by a difficult moral choice, ask yourself... What would Vitus do?" He lent on his staff, watching them leave, and muttered to himself "And hopefully you'll be better at it then I was..."