A banner of the Wyrmwood Mark in the Cormac ruins.

Faith In Ruins: The Mutant Ways, Pt. II

A banner of the Wyrmwood Mark in the Cormac ruins.
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 taps on the sheet of scrap metal.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes raises her head as she hears steps on the sand, but does not turn. When hearing the tapping, she turns her head a little sideways. “It be that time again?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Aye! Though this’n hopefully goes a bit better’n the last…”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes turns her head a little further, looking Apo up and down for a few seconds.”Why yous think so?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Well, mostly ’cause last time was all ’bout… how us on th’ outside can know yer ways from other ways. What it’s called, what sorta symbols point it out… stuff that’s more ’bout how we might see it an’ call it than ’bout the important things, like what the beliefs actually are an’ all.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it a moment and half nods half shrugs. “Me be know after, you be know after. No tell now.” Then she nods, only barely motivated, towards one of the other benches.

Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles. “Aye, true ‘nough.” She makes her way under the ropes and around the slightly-trodden sand toward a bench.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “No stoopid question tonight!” she hisses. “Day be enough trouble. Sismaqui no pay attention.” She points at the fireplace that features some brightly colored ash and shattered pottery of some sort. “Yous be ask really careful!”

Aposiopesis Fullstop frowns. “Well, I’ll do me best on that. Mebbe direct questions ain’t so good a way to go, unless I need sommin’ cleared up. Instead… I’d like t’ hear ’bout the spirits or gods o’ the Old Ways.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods in agreement. “What about spirits yous ask?” She opens her hand in a calm way as if offering help. “There be many things to tell of spirits. Some be secret, but all things left be so many me tell yous till yous be eldest.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Well, t’ start out…’round how many are there? I know there’s… sev’ral, t’say the least.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns. “Me know no name for number that big. There be spirits in all things. In yous, in me, in fire, in stone, bird and bush. No one can count all these.” She shakes her head.

“But all these come and go to Big Cycle, and there be end to number of each kind of spirit. Me not know how to name number for most of these too. But some kinds be only very few.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods slowly, jotting down a series of marks. “So, there’s a spirit to this fire,” she says, gesturing to the campfire. “If I was t’ light another li’l campfire next to it – would it have its own spirit?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “Yes. Spirit be come from Big Cycle if there be spirit of fire in there left. And then new fire will be birthed from old fire.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes adds, “Some days, when it be cold and wet, and there be fire in every tent and every hut, then it be so hard to light fire for yous. Cause all fire spirits be with these fires.” She nods and makes sure Apo grasps the concept.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Hmm. So there’s spirits o’ fire… waitin’, in a way. But yer sayin’ there has to be somethin’ of a fire spirit also waitin’ in the thing yer tryna light?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Let’s talk fire. Yous know some things be burn, others not. Spirit make thing what it be like. Spirit of wood be different from spirit of stone. Spirit of fire can change place with spirit of wood, but not with spirit of stone. But if all spirit of fire be gone from Big Cycle and are in all tents and huts, spirit of wood can not change place. No spirit of fire there to change place with. Yous can not drink from empty cup,” she explains.

Aposiopesis Fullstop taps her chin. “So, say yer tryna light a damp piece o’ wood. An’ say it’s a fine day, so folk ain’t bein’ greedy about havin’ fires lit, so there oughta be spirits to spare. That don’t work because there’s a spirit o’ water in the way, an’ it won’t trade places w’ the spirits o’ fire. Mebbe ye could dry that wet wood out if ye lit another fire nearby it – but that’d be kinda greedy, ’cause yer bringin’ a fire from where it waits in th’ Big Cycle to do your work. Meanwhile, someone else somewhere is tryna light some proper kindling – but it won’t light, ’cause ye took a spirit out t’ do sommin’ kinda dumb.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods “Yes, that be close.”

She thinks. “One other thing yous need understand. There be different…” She hesitates, searching for a proper word, but seems unsatisfied. “…Different color of kind of spirit. Yous know, like there be different kind of wood. All be wood, but not all wood be same. Some be hard, some be brittle, some be light. Some wood be good for build basket, other for holding roof up. And color of spirit is what makes same thing be different sometimes.”

She considers for a moment. “Easier to understand with folk.” She points east. “Me brother and me, both be mutant. There be mutant spirit in me and it, but these be very different. Not only look but also think and do. All different, all of color of spirit.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “So it ain’t like he has a completely weird spirit compared t’ yours, no matter how differn’t he looks an’ talks an’ acts – it’s still a Mutant spirit, just a differn’t ‘color.'”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods in agreement.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “So, other than color, how do spirits differ? Are some spirits… bigger or stronger’n others?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes seems confused that that is even a question.”There be many kind. Some bigger than other, yes.” She leans forward and grabs a fistful of sand and lets it slowly run between her fingers. “Yous not think the Allmother be bigger than yous?”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ahh, well, that was one o’ them questions fer the sake o’ the folk who’ll read this w’out knowin’ nothin’ of the Mutant Ways. A way t’ lead ye to talkin’ on what some o’ the bigger an’ more powerful spirits are, what they’re called, what they do.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns and rolls her eyes a little. She cleans her hand of the sand with a rubbing motion. “So what yous really ask is, where come all things from? How there be the sand yous stand on, the beast yous eat and the tribe yous care for?” She puts a bit of scrapwood onto the fire “Yous realy ask what be there before now, and what be there after now…”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Well, not ever’ last little thing they do – that’d be like tryna name all the spirits. But if there’s a few that’re more powerful than the others – like the Allmother, as ye said – it’d be good t’ get a basic idea o’ what they’re called an’ what gen’ral kinds o’ things they do, if that narrows it down.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes cringes, noticeable unwilling. “Me can name these biggest spirits, me can name the kinds of the others. But then yous ask what these do, and where these come from and why things be like things be.” She grinds her teeth. “It be easier to start at the first day, and explain. But still that take long. There be no short answer to all these spirits, but me not want tell yous long answer. so me try find path that serve both. That be story of many holes and yous will not understand it to core, only to skin.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Oh, aye, I unnerstand. Ain’t nothin’ you could say, or I could write, t’ get someone as full an unnerstanding. But e’en that skin of an unnerstandin’ is better’n just… skippin’ some things entire. Surely cain’t sum up the Old Ways w’out at least talkin’ a little on the Allmother, the King o’ Fire, or – shite, there could be another real big one I ain’t e’en know to ask about.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes gets up and goes into the house for a moment, rumbling around in a basket and returning with a cup and a lump of clay. She pours some water from the cup onto the clay and starts to smooth it out between her four hands. “Me tell yous of first day. There be no story of what happened before first day. Sure be things before first day, but no one can tell, for no one be there.”

“On first day, King of Fire came into cave and set down Sand onto cold ground. Then Fire King made first and biggest fire in center of cave, and be say ‘Sand, yous be here, wait on me return. Make no bad things!’”

“Sand be very young then, and, like cubs, Sand be curious and playful. And Sand dance around fire, and like its warm.” She holds out the lump of clay in the general direction of the fire between them and performs a roughly circular motion, mimicking the motions of a mutant fire dance. “And Sand be happy and called fire ‘Sun’ for it be light in darkness to Sand.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Long time Sand be alone, and, like cub being alone, Sand be bored. And so Sand found metal and made Tool of it.”

“Now yous know three spirits. King of Fire be biggest, Sand be next, and Tool be smaller. That be how things are: spirit can only make spirit from its own parts, so when new spirit come, it can not be bigger than spirit that made it.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes the Witch reaches into her hair and takes the spoon out, holding it up a little, celebrating as if it was the new arriving spirit.

“Yous see, Sand start carving it skin. Now it be smooth, like Smoothskin cub, but with time….”

She presses dents and fissures into the clay with the spoon, using its edge to rough it up with parallel lines and crackled textures, taking a minute to make the clay as uneven in shape and texture as possible.

“Yous see, with time, it look like Mutant eldest. With mountains, rifts, and all kind of horizon.” She reaches out with her arm, pointing this way and that into the distance.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes looks at Apo for effect. “But one day…” The spoon goes in deep and breaks the skin of some Frut or something she must have put into the clay. Thin juices start to pour out of the cut she made and run down her hand and dribble from her elbow. “One day, Sand cut itself. And in pain it threw away Tool and it sat down and cry and shout in rage.” She drops the spoon into the sand between her feet.

Aposiopesis Fullstop blinks and leans back a little as the juice dribbles from the clay ball. “Well then…”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “That day, two more Spirit be made by mistake. One be ‘Big Water.’ It be made from tears and blood of Sand, and it be sitting in these valleys and fissures and hiding from all shouting. And when shouting be louder and louder, it crawl deeper and deeper and hide under Sand’s skin.”

The Witch allows a dramatic pause.

“That day, Sand also became Allmother Sand. Big Water impregnate it, and many cubs be born where these touch. All Plant and Bush and Tree, all Grass and Moss and Thorns. And all of Allmother’s skin be full of it, like hair grow full on Manimal. All be green and lush.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods thoughtfully.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “And there be kij spirit to Big Water. It be called ‘Wild Fire Blood.’ And it be made from rage and pain of Allmother cutting itself. And it be long long time before Allmother notice it be there. It be raging and consuming, burning all Plant in it path, eating its kij cubs.”

“When Allmother notice it, it hold it and not let it go to protect all own cubs. But with holding Wild Fire Blood it burned into Allmother skin and…”

Another dramatic pause.

“There be many more cubs of that. All Animals, small and big, beetle and sandhippo and much bigger.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ahhh, I see!” she says, grinning and scribbling more notes.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes puts down the clay, cleaning her hands. “Allmother see all its cubs on its skin, and it like what be living on it. Now Sand be no longer alone. And of its joy, last of these biggest spirit be made, and it be called ‘Glow’. That be how biggest Spirits be. And that be how all things be for very very long times.”

She takes a sip from the cup and gives Apo a chance to think about it.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Thass innerestin’. Ye hear much on th’ King o’ Fire, an’ I think there’s been some who thought he did all the makin’ of things more directly. Shite, I meself thought he WAS th’ Sun fer a long-ass time. That’s good t’ sort out, fer certain – an’ t’ know how things came t’ be on th’ world.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes smiles with pointy teeth. “That only be half story, maybe less. Yous see about Fire King at end of story, not sooner.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles. “Aye, ye ain’t got to The Bit Where Humans Fuck It All Up yet,” she says with a wink.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods in agreement “That be happen, but there be no Smoothskins yet. There be no Mutants, no Manimals no Botan and no Ghoul. And many more Spirits not be made yet,” she points out.

“For long time Allmother danced around Sun, happy with new green dress and all things crawling on its skin. But one day it notice there be shimmer and twinkling on the cave walls, and it walked all the cave to look what things be waiting behind all darkness.”

“And there it found where Tool be fallen so long time ago. And nature of Tool be making things, and so it made and it build big villages on cavewalls, with fireplaces in middle of these, with no thing living there. And these be connected with paths. Yous see these Village Fires every night, and yous finger draws lines where paths lay. We call these fires stars and Moon. And path between these make yous see glyphs of night.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Huh,” she says, glancing at the sky a moment.

She points up. “Allmother take the Tool and show it to its kij, and these dance with the fire, and these be very happy.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “One day Glow ask, ‘Allmother, there be cubs to Big Water and Wild Fire Blood, but me like have cubs too.’ And Allmother agreed. But yous see, spirits always give part of these when make new spirit, and Glow not be very strong and has not many things give to its cubs.”

“But Glow be smart. And it ask its kij for help. These trade. And Big Water agree to give Glow cubs strength and vigor, if Glow share it smarts with Big Water’s cubs. And these agree.”

“And Wild Fire Blood agreed trade rage and endurance for gift of talk.”

“And Tool agree trade knowledge of making for giving Glow might to power what Tool would build.”

“Glow be work and mix all things it want make it own cubs as strong as can be.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Gen’rous spirits,” she says, scrawling notes.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Big Water new cubs, with Glow smarts, be what yous call Botan. Wild Fire Blood cubs with gift of talk be called Manimals. Tool cubs with power to run all things of Glow be Smoothskins. And Glow only cubs be Mutants.”

“And these be settle in villages and caves and on plains and in woods. And these be everywhere. That be first big Trade, and things be good for long time again.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop grins.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “These be times of plenty. New spirits be birthed and Allmother be always fertile, and after all being died one after next, these lay on Allmother’s skin and layer and layer and layer. And all things be walk on those be dead. That mae all kind problems, me sure yous can see. So me not tell yous all stories of that time. These be too many.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Nothin’ broke anythin’ down yet – so this were afore the cycle itself?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Allmother weep under all weight on its skin. It not be breathe, and all being could not breathe for layers and layers be rotting in heat, and bad miasma linger over all places.”

“Allmother ask help of other spirits. Many thing be tried. Me not tell yous all these. Only thing that help it: Glow made new cubs with Allmother. These be called Sandspirits.” She draws the glyph of a Sandworm eating its own tail into the sand.

A sketch of a stylized Sandworm biting its own tail.
A sketch of a sandworm biting its own tail. Illustration by Ccindy Pfeffer.

“Yous see, there be reason why Sandspirit be glyph like that. It also be Big Cycle, growing from front, eating away on own tail. All these things rotting on Allmother be eaten by Sandspirits. And there be no more spirits made of any of these kind.”

“That be why there be only ever same number of spirits of each kind. That be why there be value to all spirit: when it be lost, it not be return to Big Cycle, and like fire in cold damp nights, there be moment of you not get yous fire made, for there be no more spirit left.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop scratches her head. “So, when sommin’s eaten by the Sandspirit – does that bring ’em back into the Big Cycle, or are they eaten an’ lost?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes takes another sip. “Sandspirit bring all thing these eat to Big Cycle. But these also bring all things from Big Cycle back to here when time be.” She points at the nearby ruins. “These chew on roots of ruins. These take things that be lost, these eat these that be dead. But these seed where Village be build, and these sweep away sand to show yous all shiny things yous greedily put in you pouches. All Iron and Coal and Wire and Twine yous find on roads. These bring spirits into newborn cubs, make these breathe first breath and wait for these last breath to bring these back and back and back.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes looks in Apo’s eyes. “We not yet where King of Fire burns all things, and not where Smoothskin end time of plenty. There be one more thing to happen first, so yous understand why things be like things be.”

“No more spirits ever be made, but not everyone like that idea. Big Water be jealous of how all its kij be have better cubs than it. How these be smart, and talk and build things. But there be no way Allmother be part of making new spirit. Its pain be too great under all weight, and now Big Cycle be there, no one could tell it stop.”

“But Big Water be too coward to change things. So in secret it made one more Spirit. It be called ‘Rot.’ And it hide in dark places, where things be wet and moldy and dark. It not be made with Allmother, and it be not complete. Rot wish to make many more beings, but it have no power to make spirits. So it linger in dark places, wait on Sandspirits, and take what these carry, take from these and force it back into bodies. Not always body it belong, but most time right body. It takes spirit away from Big Cycle and it keep it here. Twists and turns and forces these back into body. And that be how Ghouls be made.”

“But Rot be incomplete. It not knows all ways to make spirits, it not understands what Big Cycle be for. And it damages spirits, more and more. Every day it hold that spirit, it takes away more. Yous can tell how ghouls be less and less… what these were. How these go crazy. How these forget who these be and how these bodies fall apart. And one day, spirit be gone, never return to Big Cycle, never rebirthed.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes takes a few pebbles and drops them into the cup. “Yous see, if me take these out and put these back in, there always be stone in cup.” She takes a few out, drops them in, repeats, and goes on while talking. “Me lose one, then two, then many – and one day, there be no stone left.” She flips over the cup. “Yous can not drink from empty cup.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods, making a flurry of marks on her page.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “There be other ways to lose spirit from Big Cycle, but that be fastest way to lose many. And if there be many in Big Cycle it does not hurt, but if there be few…” she shrugs.

“One more thing about Rot: it does respect Big Water, for it be made by it. So it do not mess with its cubs. No plant, no Botan, no mold be taken out of Sandspirits’ fangs ever.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Reckon that makes a sense.…”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “One more spirit, then we come to part yous wait for so long.”

“Wild Fire Blood be full of hate when it know of Rot, so with hate and selfish it make one more spirit too. It be called Rage. It not be make spirits or bind spirits, but it be twist these, change color. When there be Savage Brothers, or Ghasts or rabid Manimals. When Tribes go on war. When Smoothskin make air burn and when Botan hunt for weak folk. It be Rage sitting on these shoulders, whisper in these ears, blind these faces and make these damage all thing in hate. Sometimes Rage falls off shoulders, but sometimes it change a color for all time.”

“And change it did. One day it crawl into Tool mind, and twist it and turn it and make it glow and bend and scream, and chang Tool to Weapon. That be when time of plenty ended and time of suffer start.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop frowns as she writes.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Smoothskins made all these forgotten Masheens. These be jump over water and burrow under mountains, these made Masheens to make Masheens, and these build Villages so big no one can see one side to other.”

“But day Weapon became, it sat among all Smoothskins and told these ‘All things be yous, take these and share nothing!’ And these did.”

“In these times Big Cycle be very full. And as Smoothskins went to war over all things shiny, so be Mutants fighting for these place to live, and Manimals for these food to eat. And kij kill kij. And there be black smoke over all villages.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop nods solemnly.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “From outside of cave, King of Fire be hear the noise, how Sand be in pain, how its Cubs be killing each other. And so it return. With long fast steps it be come through darkness, but it b so long away it be six days to reach Sand. And each step the King of Fire be grow larger, and brighter and hotter. And when it reach Sand it be like second sun. It be cast its crown and sweep over Sand skin, burning all things, killing all spirits it be find.”

“Yous see, I be tell yous how many plants there were in early days, and yous see how these be rebirthed of Big Cycle over and over again. And now yous see how these be cast away.” She dramatically raises her arms and looks around into the desert. “And now that be all left.” She lets her arms sink.

“Big Water be boiling, turning and twisting, trying to escape. It be cast away into darkness and only Little Water remain. Many many folk died, never be return. Only few still stand when King of Fire lift its crown. And it speak into all Mutants’ hearts: ‘Never be weak, never make old mistakes, never fight kij on kij.’ And these agree. and these fight wildest animals, and drink salty waters, and breathe burning air. Not because it be easy thing do, but it be right thing do.”

“There be Smoothskins in caves and Manimals under rocks and Botans in puddles, these all come to burning sands, but King of Fire be gone already. Leave only Mutants with its warning to never make mistakes that be made to end times of plenty.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Yous see why Mutants not go to coward place. It be easy way, and it be of no respect to King of Fire and it be of no remembering of all Sin of time of plenty. It be way Smoothskins choose, when these try and escape from things these called for when following Weapon. Yous see now why Mutants not kill Mutants, and why Ghouls be not good for Big Cycle. And yous see why there be signs of all plenty just under all dust.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ahhh…” she says, quickly scribbling notes. “Them who died in th’ Fall, they din’t e’en go on to the Big Cycle, then. Unless a few o’ the Sandspirits – whichever ones also din’t die – got to ’em afore Rot did…”

The Mutant Witch considers the question a moment. “There be those who were in Big Cycle when there was the Fall. These spirits be rebirthed too after. But these be all. There never be more, only less.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes she raises one finger. “But one day Allmother be die, and with it, all things still live on it. Maybe there be still other Spirits, maybe it die alone. That day King of Fire be take Sand out of cave and bring it back as cub, and all things start over again. Maybe same way, maybe other. But there be no one there to tell, no one but King of Fire.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “…Huh. An’ the King o’ Fire… is he able t’ die like any other spirit, too?”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shakes her head. “How can me know what be outside of cave? Maybe it can, maybe not, maybe it not be spirit but something else.” She rubs the spoon on the cloth of her pants to free it from the clay and shoves it back into the mess of her hair.

Aposiopesis Fullstop: “….Well. Thass a thought. But, where’er he is, the King o’ Fire’s listenin’ an’ watchin’. And could prolly burn ever’thin’ up again if he thinks he’s gotta.”

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “It will, when yous and me make Allmother suffer again. When noise of war echoes through cave, when more be take than give, when kij fights kij and Allmother cry from all wounds in its skin. Then King of Fire return. Maybe it kill yous and me, maybe it kill all spirits, maybe it kill Allmother and start new that day.”

She looks into the fire. “There not be answers to all questions. Some be unknown, some be forbidden, some be… too long. Me not know what be happen when King of Fire return, but me know it be worst than last time.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop looks into the fire as well.

The Mutant Witch of the Wastes she blinks a few times and looks up at the sky. “Me need find me small Sister. That be all of questions for this day.”

Aposiopesis Fullstop jots a few final notes, then looks skyward again. “…Reckon thass as fair a point to end it t’day as any, aye.”