The Mutant Witch of the Wastes ((Cindy Pfeffer)) sitting on a bench at her camp.

Faith In Ruins: The Mutant Ways, Pt. I

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes ((Cindy Pfeffer)) sitting on a bench at her camp.

Faith In Ruins is a new series of in-character interviews which delve into the roleplayed religions, cults, spiritual practices, and belief systems of The Wastelands. Characters who portray spiritual leaders and practitioners describe the tenets and traditions of their faith in their own words – words which preserve and share the cultural concepts they’ve created, and which potentially inspire new adherents or adversaries.

In this first series, we explore the Mutant Ways, aka the Old Ways, as practiced by The Mutant Witch of the Wastes, played by Ccindy Pfeffer.

Chat logs have been edited for content and clarity, by mutual approval.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “We Humans oft tend t’ describe yer practices as ‘the Mutant ways’ or such. But what do you call it properly?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes rolls with her eyes and frowns, unwilling, then raises an eyebrow in surprise. She takes a moment to process that question. “Mutant way?” she asks, blinking a few times. “What yous call mutant way?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Yer… ways o’ thinkin’ ’bout the world,” she says slowly, clearly choosing her words like stepping stones through a swift stream. “Yer unnerstandin’ o’ the spirits an’ cycles. Yer ways o’ bringin’ up th’ cubs an’ initiatin’ ’em. The things ye teach o’ how the world works, an’ why it does, an’ why us Humans an’ Ghouls an’ elselike keep makin’ such a mess o’ things from what we don’t know.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes crosses one set of arms, then the other. “There be no name all these things together; these are many things yous ask for and these be named after what these are.” She shakes her head. “If me ask yous what yous way called, with trading and finding shiny metal and looking food and looking sky and looking own feet and waste things and make things… can yous call all these things with one name?” She shrugs.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Hmm. So the bits w’ the spirits an’ cycles, thass just twined in to everthin’. Humans, f’rinstance, we all do them same sorts o’ things – but some of us mebbe got stories ’bout a god, some of us mebbe pray at a lotta differ’nt things, some of us mebbe got differ’nt ideas o’ what happens t’ye when ye get yerself dead, an’ all that. Them beliefs… they’re a big part o’ yer way o’ livin’ life, if ye got ’em. But I reckon, as I seen it, we’re more likely t’ see it as… sep’rate, somehow. We can see other folk doin’ the same sorts o’ things – but if they got differ’nt beliefs, differ’nt stories behind it, we’ll take note o’ them differ’nt stories.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’ some folk got a name fer them ways an’ beliefs, t’ help tell one from th’ next,” she adds.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it and untangles her arms. “All things be connected, yes… but not all things be see as one thing. If yous ask for spirits… these be in all ways of life, but – ” She raises a finger to make a point. “All things not only be spirits.”

She then changes tone and lays her head to the side. “There be many tribes, me know some, but me know me mothers tribe best. Tribes be same but different, ways be same but different. but these be not apart, these be just other view of same thing.”

She picks up a piece of scrapwood, showing Apo the edge, and than the flat side. “Look different, be same. That be wood, yous see wood different me see wood.” She points at two edges of the wood. “But yous and me both see wood. There no need other name for me end of wood and yous end of wood. Same with what yous call mutant way, same thing, look different. But why me need name for me look on spirits and other tribes view on spirits, if all know these be named spirits.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods as she listens, staring thoughtfully at the wood. “Makes a sense, aye. But ye ne’er saw need fer a name thass differ’nt from, oh, say, some Ghoul cult’s name fer its beliefs on spirits an’ cycles? Ain’t a name fer yer views t’ set ’em apart from views that’re… totally other, as ye’d have a differ’nt word fer wood than fer metal or rot?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes raises an eyebrow as she finally gets the answer Apo was asking from the get go. “No. But these be not same thing. Me talk mutant tribe. These all know true things that happened when King of Fire took away times of plenty. Not like smoothskin who hide in deep holes or ghoul who take spirit away from big cycle. Some manimal be there when mutants be learn truths of past. But manimals be savage; these tribes not remember much of past,” she explains.

“With mutants what yous ask for has no name. It just be true true, known for all times.” She shrugs. “If yous want name it different for telling it apart of what ghouls think, name it. Mutant Way be good as any name for that.” She shrugs again. “Me not understand why it need to have name.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop smiles and scribbles a few notes in her book. “Ahh, you know us Humans. We’ll divide up anythin’ an’ put differ’nt names on ’em an’ call that unnerstandin’.” She winks.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it a little longer. “Me not know names of other beliefs. Me not care know how ghoul name what these think of, or smoothskin name what these make sacrifice to. It not be of important. That be why mutant not name their thing; there be no thing to compare to.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Aye, can see that – it’s just th’ way it is. An’ so I reckon there ain’t a name fer them who follow the Mutant ways. They’re… well, jus’ Mutants. They don’ do that, then they’re Exiles.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes leans forward to explain it better. “Like there be no words in me mother’s language for all these people yous need name for. In me mother language there be only word for brother-and-sister, and other. Two word, all yous need: who trust and who fight. There be no thing better to tell every other from other from other. What change will happen?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “…I’ve heard ye say t’ Sismaqui, yer learner, th’ word ‘kij.’ Is that that word fer brother or sister – them who can be trusted?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “Not be easy to learn how these speak here, too many word for too few thing. ‘kij’ tell it all. Why there be need for ‘brother’ and ‘sister?’ Yous see what these be when talk to these. Sismaqui need time tell these words apart, in respect to brothers and sisters. These no like when call these wrong. It be full of respect to use these words. But no need for so many more words for only say other and other and other. These be many more things to be do than learn words just to make respect to these who not respect yous for do so.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “kij be more than brother and sister words only, but there be no other important word in talk here to describe what kij really be.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods slowly. “An’ sim’lar, I reckon, w’ the other word ye’ve used – ‘teyn.’ I’ve only heard ye say it o’ non-Mutants. But I cain’t tell whether it’s because they ain’t got the bodies o’ Mutants – or whether it’s because they ain’t followin’ the ways. If there’s an Exile who rejects all them ways – all the spirits, all the true knowin’ o’ the cycles – is that Exile ‘teyn,’ too?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shakes her head. “No, exile be kij. Irk be kij, yous know. Rotten brother be kij. And even Smirk be kij.” She grins.

“These become teyn, but not because of be exile,” she adds in a more serious way again. “There be things not to do, things like kill other kij, things like that make these teyn. Things that are not taken away. Sin.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ahhh, ‘sin.’ Thass… a word I know of, but ain’t part of me own ways. We’ll dig more into what does make somebody teyn after a while – but, fer now, it’s helpful t’ know that it ain’t just about believin’ wrong.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Well. ‘Dig’ mebbe ain’t the best choice o’ word.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it and crosses her arms. “Yous know of big cycle, me tell yous before. If there be exile this life, maybe after next birth it will be in tribe. It need to stay kij to me, or me not respect it in this life, the one before and all after this life. Yes understand?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ahh. I reckon I do – but, as I’m tryna write fer them who ain’t familiar, that might be sommin’ to go over in a bit, too.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “But I got a feelin’ it might relate to the question I’m ’bout to ask now. I can see why ye ain’t got a name fer these ways, as such. But are there any glyphs or suchlike that…” She pauses a moment, collecting her thoughts. “…that mebbe do such a good job at drawin’ out one o’ the big an’ important ideas that it can stand in fer the idea itself?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns. “That’s not a thing me can tell in just little talk. If me tell yous what it be, then yous ask where it comes from, then you ask why it be there, and then yous ask what be before it, and then yous ask where all things be come from. That be like yous try make soup but first yous put yous pot in fires and then you go and bring water, and then you go and grow yous food.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes smiles, amused. “There be glyph for many word and idea. But when there be no word for all thing at once, why should there be glyph for all thing at once?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop laughs. “Ahh, aye, true ‘nough. Thass part o’ why these ways is innerestin’ – it’s because it ain’t easy t’ sum up. It feeds into an’ draws from all these differ’nt parts o’ life – an’ it ain’t nowhere near easy t’ point at what the biggest nor most important bits are.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes raises an eyebrow confused but only nods, clearly in hope that this would solve the issue.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “F’rinstance – Mutants all believe in th’ King o’ Fire. But it ain’t enough t’ just say ‘Well, Mutant ways are ’bout worshippin’ the King o’ Fire, who burnt th’ world once and’ll damn well do it again if’n we act like skags, so don’ be a skag.’ That ain’t it. Thass missin’ out on…on everthin’ t’do w’ the big cycle,. And on any other spirits. An’ on how the spirits is dealt with, an’ by who…”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods again. “Yous can sum yous way in one thing alone?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles. “Well, nah, but it’s mebbe a li’l easier t’ point at which bits is most important. Least, it is fer me on the inside of it,” she says, scratching the back of her head. A small shower of sand drifts down.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Now, me, from th’ outside… I see that glyph fer the King o’ Fire, thass what I notice – easy t’ reckonize, that one. I see it, I can reckon that w’ever it’s sayin’ has sommin’ to do w’ the Mutant ways. But it ain’t… all of it,” she says, gesturing broadly.

A mural depicting the King of Fire on the old Rusting Buzzards Almanac.
A mural depicting the King of Fire on the old Rusting Buzzards Almanac, then still under construction.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “But can yous cut out one thing yous call most important, throw away everything else. and still be same? In yous way does not one thing yous do go in hand with other thing yous do? Is there not reason in one practice that be important to all parts of yous way?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop rubs her chin. “Aye, thass so,” she says after a pause. “Everthin’ twines w’ everthin’ else. An’ there ain’t no short, snappy way t’ sum up a… an entire way o’ livin’ an’ thinkin’ on the world around ye. So, aye. Tryna point at anythin’ most important is… mebbe not th’ best way t’ try an’ break things down,” she muses, scratching along her jaw.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes dumps the explaination scrapwood into the fire and watches the flames licking away. “And it takes cubs long times to know these things, hear all the stories, know all the ways. What yous think yous can know it all with one word and one glyph?” She frowns. “Me will not tell yous all these things for that trade!” she points out.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Oh, aye. An’ I ain’t wanna make ye feel like yer expected t’ explain all th’ world! Cain’t be done, fer no amount o’ time nor trade! I get that, fer damned sure. Thing is, as we only got so much time fer talkin’… some things are gon’ get left out. They’ll hafta be. But I just wanna do all I can t’ make sure that the bits that make it in are… enough t’ be reckonizable, least. To you – an’ to us idjits an’ wanderfolk an’ others.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shrugs and nods at the same time. “What be question yous have now?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Names an’ glyphs – they ain’t everthin’. Thass how I wanted t’ start it t’day – but that ain’t the start an’ the whole an’ the end. They’re jus’… how I’m tryna set apart yer ways from other ways, so’s somebody knows how to reckonize it if they hear sommin’ said or see sommin’ scrawled on a wall or such.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods and in a tone as if she could not be bothered with solving that issue. “If these others have glyph and word, yous be able to tell difference from there be none. if there be others who not have glyph and word. just tell apart by give it name or glyph. But yous can not ask for me go see all eldest and visit all tribes and find glyph and word for all the things, just so yous can birdscratch.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop laughs. “Oh, aye, ‘course not. I also ask ’cause I know there’s some cults an’ such out there what DO have names for themselfs an’ easy-to-reckonize glyphs an’ the like. If you don’t have ’em, ye don’t have ’em.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes takes a deep breath, and that breaths out very pressed as if to underline that statement. “Yes. Now yous understand. We now stop talk about finding one word and glyph?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop laughs. “Well, aye! An’ I reckon I jus’ got two more questions fer today – an’, from what I know already, they’re prolly not hard t’ answer.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop grins. “Now. I tol’ ye I was gon’ ask dumb questions. Ye ready fer a REAL dumb question?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “No.” She frowns, frustrated.

Aposiopesis Fullstop cackles.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Welp! Steel yerself, ’cause I’m gon’ ask it an’way. On behalf o’ all the suntouched idjits who are gon’ be learnin’ these things for th’ first time ever…”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “These Mutant ways. Are they only fer Mutants? What if a non-Mutant wants to believe ’em an’ follow the practices an’ such?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes crosses her arms, leans back a little, and just stares Apo down with a nervous twitch in one eye.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Well. They’re the true truth. So it’s fer everyone, yeh?” she asks, creeping her stub of charcoal close to the page and grinning.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes grinds her teeth back and forth, just staring. “That be true, but me feel that yous not really interested in that. And maybe if yous are, me not mind see ghoul follow the way and return to big cycle, or smoothskin be kij to mutants and not greed over all things. So yes, come and follow me way, yous trials be start tomorrow.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop laughs and holds up her hands placatingly. “I had to! I’m wantin’ to learn sim’lar things from other folk w’ their own ways – an’ I’m wantin’ to try an’ ask some o’ the same things of all. Knowin’ who can an’ cain’t be part of it is an important thing.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns. “So yes, there may be others follow these ways, but me not think me ever see these ever. For yous too selfish to give up things to other kij.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods, touching charcoal to paper this time and making a few notes.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’ that does well t’ answer the last question, too – which is if new folk can follow the ways, can belong an’ be a part of it all, if’n they weren’t already. Some ways may differ, tribe by tribe – but, as ye said, there ain’t no meaningful diff’rence from one to a next. No need t’ war on other Mutants because they do things a li’l differ’nt. An’ you’ll e’en accept non-Mutants, if they get their heads out their arses long enough t’ see truth. But… here’s one last mebbe thorny side o’ the same question…”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns hard, her mood going south fast.

Aposiopesis Fullstop pauses. “Uhoh. I get that wrong?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “No! …Tell me of thorny side if yous must.” She hisses.

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “That be last question, and no stoopid question anymore.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “One o’ the ways a Mutant becomes an Exile is by rejectin’ the ways, partic’lar the belief in the King o’ Fire. That ain’t enough to take ’em from kij to teyn. But… can an Exile ever come back from bein’ an Exile? An’ – though I know this really ain’t part o’ the same – can the teyn e’er become kij once more?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes growls. “Yous not understand about exiles. These are not all same and so answer is not all same. Some may be find other tribe, some not. All be in new tribe after new birth.”

“And no. When kij become teyn, these not get to be kij again, not in same life, not after rebirth. These spirit is twisted and sick, and not all Sin can be taken away.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop rubs along her jawline and reflects for a few moments, then nods slowly and scrawls a few notes.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes looks at Apo and blinks as her eyes find the southern end of the Fissure, drifting over the sand and to the horizon. “And yes, killing a kij can not be taken.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods again, soberly. “…I’ll be wantin’ t’ talk on that, in time. This idea o’ sin an’ the taking-away. The big cycle. The spirits. The ideas what… actually matter, what tell ye things ’bout the world, ’bout each other, ’bout how t’ relate to th’ world an’ each other. This bit t’day was prolly hard ’cause it’s mostly fer the ben’fit of us outsiders, an’ it’s ’bout us drawin’ distinctions from ourselfs an’ from you – distinctions you ain’t e’en got, yerself. But…” She closes the book, then latches it back into its harness at her thigh, then looks at the Witch with a sincere expression.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “I hope ye unnerstand that I din’t wanna put down me own assumptions. Din’t wanna just call it as WE call it, show the glyphs WE reckonize. Not w’out askin’.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods, her thoughts drifting. “How… how many times will that take for our trade?” she asks, staring into the fire.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “I ain’t rightly know. Like said, I don’ expect ye t’ ‘splain all the world. But I wanna make sure that what I put out is… enough t’ be reckonized, by us on the outside an’ you on the in. How t’ put it…. like..” She rubs her chin and scans the sky.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “A bird’s a bird, aye. Ye cain’t write nor draw anythin’ that is that bird, is alive an’ has its past an’ all. If ye spent a lotta time, ye could mebbe make a bird-size model o’ a bird outta clay an’ feather an’ all – but e’en thass gon’ be a great long work fer mebbe not much gain. I’m hopin’ to jus’ get… at least like a lil’ sand stick-figger drawin’ of a bird. Good enough t’ tell it’s a bird, an’ to mebbe tell what TYPE o’ bird, buzzard or crow. An’ not so bad that, when I’m done makin’ it, it looks like a fish or a door or a pile o’ hippo shit.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop grins.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods slowly. “Me understand.” She closes her eyes and breathes deeply. “Yous go now, me need do things.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods and rises from the bench, rubbing her shoulders again. “It’d be the work o’ a lifetime to unnerstand an’ splain yer ways. It’s BEEN the work o’ yer lifetime. I wanna do enough that what’s writ is true, if not ALL th’ truths. Enough t’ do right by it. Thankye, Witch.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’, aye. I best git, as well – swear I smelt Pumpkin guts on th’ wind…” she says, grinning.