The gathering around the campfire was diverse and grotesque. They were mutants whose parents survived the nuclear war of 2057. Their grotesque bodies had extra limbs. Some with no limbs that looked more like worms than humans. Their tortured flesh were portraits of nightmares yet undreamed. Some with heads of animals long extinct. Blank faces with only mouths. Some exceptionally tall, and others stunted dwarfs a mere three-feet in height. Some of the odd company had horns, and or, tails.
One of them was speaking. Telling stories and tales of mankind’s travails in the last century. He was tall, slim, and had a long gray beard. His face was scaly like a snake’s with three bulging eyes that always seemed surprised because they were so large and never blinked. He was Ludi, keeper of stories and legends. An honored member among the loose coalition of mutants that lived in what use to be southern California, and northern California.
Long before Ludi was born, there was a division between normal humans, and their mutant offspring. Families raised their mutated offspring separately, in little communities run by volunteers who raised them until they were adults when they were forced to go out on their own and survive. The main thing that saved them from extermination in a man-eat-man world was the fear their flesh was poisonous. The other thing that worked in their favor was they were not meat-eaters. They survived on almost anything that could be grown. It was another reason to let them live; they didn’t compete for meat. In this new primordial pecking order mutants co-existed at the bottom of the food chain. Another factor was they did have powerful warriors who were often the match of normal human warriors.
In essence, mutants seldom clashed with human clans, and sometimes even allied themselves with individuals or clans for mutual benefit. Their tenacious ties involved a mutual history, going back before mankind went mad and unleashed holocausts across the planet.
Ludi was telling the small gathering a story about Polis. A legend in his own time, and said to be still roaming the north American continent. Polis’s Post Mortem parties were the stuff of rich tales full of adventure and action.
“So Polis uncovered the body for the Skull clan to examine and try to guess how he was killed. There were 60 people sitting on a great table that the head of the clan, the Great Skullton, had made for the special event. Then there was a communal gasp as everyone recognized the centerpiece of the night’s party.
“Unknown to Polis, the body on display was Lut, the son of the Great Skullton!”
“What did the Great Skullton do when he saw his son lying there dead?” one of the eager listeners asked.
Ludi paused and looked up into the clear night sky. A meteor flashed across the stars and he shivered against the cold, moving closer to the fire before resuming his story.
“The Great Skullton’s horror quickly turned to rage! His hopes for a dynasty were as dead as his son whose body was becoming putrid under the merciless sun.
Polis quickly understood the situation he was in. There was no way he could fight his way out past that many warriors. Legend or no legend. The Great Skullton was standing and screaming terrible curses at him when Polis jumped up onto the table, and launched himself into Skullton’s massive chest with such force he drove him backwards and to the ground. Before anyone could stop him he drove his knife into the clan leader’s bare throat! Turning to the clan members, Polis claimed his victor’s right to free passage. There was a sense of relief as the warriors stepped aside and let him leave unharmed. He was not a beloved leader and wouldn’t be missed.”
A female voice broke the silence, “What happen to Min? Did Polis ever meet up with her again?“
Ludi sighed and replied, “Yes, they did get together and had many exciting adventures that are already considered legendary. They even became lovers. But that’s a story for another day. Meanwhile, we’re going to need more wood, it promises to be a frigid night.”
Polis grew up in a loosely knit community on what use to be the east coast of the United States. His people were nomadic hunters who avoided organized tribes but were sometimes forced into contact which resulted in blood-letting, producing meat for both sides.
He was exceptionally tall, even as a child. While he was fully capable of bullying his peers he seldom chose to. He was a loner whose wanderlust was finally realized after an attack on the hunting camp where he and his parents lived.
They were slain in the early moments of the massacre. He was 14-years-old when his outnumbered tribe was slaughtered. Taking a sword from a dead attacker, Polis tried to defend his mother but she was struck down by a knife from behind by a howling warrior! He slew her killer with a mighty swing that nearly decapitated him. Looking around frantically for his father he spotted him but it was too late. He was surrounded and had suffered grievous wounds. When a spear pierced his chest and came out of his back, Polis turned and ran.
A trio of warriors pursued him but were unable to keep up with his blistering pace and gave up after an hour. When he saw they had given up the chase he stopped and raised his sword over his head then pointed it at them with a theatrical gesture as the sun set behind him.
Min was glad to be alive. Her opponents had wounded her in numerous places and she had fought Geronimo the head of the Snake Clan who nearly killed her, but chose to humiliate her instead.
Days before, after slaying three snake warriors Min had turned on Geronimo who had just beheaded her longtime lover and friend Ord. She charged him recklessly in a rage and he used her momentum to send her flying off balance and onto the forest floor where her head made an audible thud on the ground!
Geronimo bent over her and grabbed her long hair, pulling her head painfully upright. He looked into her blurred eyes and saw she still had fight left despite being stunned. In spite of himself, he was impressed by her fiery attitude and courage.
“I’m not going to kill you,” he said standing up. “I’ll leave that to someone else, but you must pay a price to remember me by,” he said while unlacing his breeches.
She barely remembered the violation of her body as she sank in and out of consciousness. Before Geronimo left he pulled out his knife and drew a small line on her right cheek in blood. She didn’t even whimper.
Min touched the now healed cut and wondered what she would do next. It finally came to her that she needed to return to Ord and hers lair. There were supplies there. She needed time to think about her next move and to recuperate. Thankful that she still remembered her way around the land after her concussion she set off in a steady mile-eating pace.
Polis’s pale blue eyes stared from the concealment of a tree, intently focusing on two travelers that passed blissfully unaware of his presence below. He didn’t recognize what tribe they belonged to and it troubled him. He’d traveled thousands of miles in his lifetime from one ocean to another, and thought he knew all the tribes. It humbled him for a moment and made him realize there were still places he hadn’t explored. Ruins yet undiscovered with mysterious machines and technology long forgotten.
It made him smile. Then he decided to follow the two men.
Geronimo had returned from the ill-fated hunting party in a dark mood over the loss of his three warriors. He ordered six warriors to accompany him in reclaiming the bodies for proper burial. The remains were respectively burned into ashes and placed in pottery jars of clay for each family. Geronimo mourned them, but found his mind wandering to Min and asking himself if he should have let her live? Would his spur of the moment urge be his demise? He shrugged his fate off to the fickle gods of chaos and consoled the families of the deceased.
When Polis saw the two men were nearing an enclosure that was swarming with men and women working on the walls of a tribal compound in the hot sun he held back in the shade of the forest line.
There were so many they looked like ants crawling over the ruins of once mighty buildings covered in vegetation. They were using man-powered wooden carts to carry chunks of marble and granite. The carts with their wooden wheels caught Polis’s eye and he stared for nearly an hour in wonder as the construction continued until the burning sun went down and the laborers disappeared inside the growing compound walls. There was one main gate guarded by two burly warriors armed with swords and battle-axes. Polis calculated he was at least a foot taller than both of them.
His curiosity demanded he investigate. It was time to introduce himself and see if they had ever heard of him. He walked boldly towards the main gate under the bright full moon. The guards saw him and snapped into defensive positions, challenging him.
“Who are you?” one demanded unceremoniously while the other unsheathed his sword.
“A traveler. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? My name is Polis.”
“I doubt it,” his inquisitor grumbled, but turned to the other guard with his sword out and told him to get Geronimo.
“You wait here, but don’t get too comfortable because your meat would be welcomed right now if our leader isn’t impressed by your swagger.”
An hour passed before Geronimo arrived at the gate and walked right up to Polis. He calmly looked up at the taller man with interest and no fear.
“I may have heard stories about you. You say you are the Polis who puts on Post Mortem parties for entertainment?“
“Good! Come to my campfire and we shall talk about meat and other juicy things!”
The guards closed the gate as the two men entered. One turned to the other and grumbled, “So, what’s the big deal?“
Back in her lair, Min took her time healing and planning revenge against Geronimo. Several of the cuts she suffered required stitches. Afterward she smeared an herbal ointment on the wounds to aide recovery. She was no stranger to physical wounds having suffered many in her thirty-eight years of life. None more damaging however than the mental wound of being raped and cast aside like trash.
Vengeance can be a terrible thing. Sometimes one has to pay a terrible price for getting satisfaction. She was ready to sacrifice her life if it meant killing the warrior who defiled her. Without Ord, who was both her lover and best friend, she felt adrift for the first time in years. Grief settled over her like a mantle as she slept fitfully in the solitude of the cavern.
In Min’s dreams she saw herself as a toddler.
An old woman had found her wandering in the deep forest naked and afraid. She took her back to a wooden shack that was covered with prickly vines and deadly fruits. The first thing she taught Min was not to eat the fruits and how to avoid the vines sharp thorns when entering the humble abode.
She was an orphan with no story. The old woman took care of her for ten years before dying from a mysterious illness. It was at that time she met Ord as a young teenager with no knowledge of the deadly world around her. He stumbled upon her picking corn from a little plot of land that also had yams and potatoes. His height frightened her and she turned to run.
“No! Don’t go! I won’t hurt you. I’m wounded and starving,” he cried out.
She stopped and turned around to look at the intruder. It was the tone of his voice. Lost and afraid like she once was that convinced her he was safe and not a threat.
“What is your name?” she asked while walking up to him.
“Ord. They call me Ord,” he replied in obvious pain.
When she saw the blood dripping down his right shoulder and bicep she closed the gap between them and gently took his good arm and led him through the vines and into the shack’s dim interior. He had to get down on his knees to crawl through the front door because he was so tall. Inside, Min moved some wooden slates aside and opened the window for lighting. Ord leaned back against the wall and passed out before he could thank her. It made things easier. He’d feel no pain as she sewed up the deep gash and put ointment on it.
Thus they became lovers and best friends. For twenty years they traveled together. Ord taught her how to fight using everything from a spear to a knife. He trained her for a decade before declaring she was the best all-around warrior. He was a humble man who did anything she asked of him. He introduced meat into her diet. She only had a faint memory of eating meat when extremely young. Far from from repulsing her, she discovered she liked the addition of red meat. The fact that it was human meat didn’t trouble her, she was a product of the times. Survival meant eating well.
One of the things Min loved about Ord was his knowledge. He claimed he could read books. When he explained what they were and how they had knowledge of many things she was fascinated. He told her about animals long gone that were once sources of meat. He described how aliens from other worlds came and fought with mankind for decades and how they became a source of meat when there were no more animals to consume.
He told her of mighty cities and buildings bigger than anything she could imagine that lay in ruins across the entire world. She got dizzy with delight when he told her stories about cars, planes, and trains. Sometimes she thought he made stories up at times just to shock and surprise her. It was okay. She enjoyed every day with him.
Now Ord was dead. His body no doubt meat for the warrior’s clan. A tear slipped down one eye surprising her. It never happened before. Before she knew it she was crying her heart out and howling with grief!
Polis raised his rough clay mug of potato alcohol to Geronimo and toasted him,
“May you live forever and have many fine sons!” he bellowed good-naturedly and drank the contents in one gulp and jumped up and pulled his sword.
Geronimo and his favorite warriors were sitting in a circle around the campfire in the center of the compound watching Polis wield his sword like a living thing in a dance of death fueled by the fiery alcohol. They were mesmerized at his slick swordsmanship, unlike anything they had ever seen before. His dark muscles shimmered with sweat and his long black hair flew in all directions as he twisted and turned so fast the naked eye could barely follow his moves. Drums were beating in the background seemingly in synch with his mad gyrations. Geronimo watched him with slit eyes fighting to stay awake. He had drunk vast quantities of the liquor, but didn’t dare get up and go to his bed now. He had to wait until the madman and legend was done with his dance.
The next morning around the now dead campfire.
“Would you honor us with a Post Mortem party?” Geronimo asked as the sun rose over the nearby mountains.
Polis stood up and stretched his thickly corded arms and replied, “The last time I threw a Post Mortem party things didn’t go so well,” he admitted.
“Oh! What happened?” Geronimo pressed.
“Let’s just say there was a big misunderstanding. I take it you haven’t heard the story?
“We are new to this area and just becoming aware of other tribes,” Geronimo explained.
“I see. When would you like to hold the party? A special occasion perhaps?”
Geronimo who didn’t want to admit that he had a pounding headache said he would consult the tribe’s elders and get back to him soon.
“That’s fine,” Polis said. “I have some unfinished business and will come back in a few days. You can tell me then when you want to hold the Post Mortem party.”
“Good. Now I must go and supervise the building of the walls,” Geronimo concluded the conversation.
As Polis picked his way through jungles that were once parks and neighborhoods, he wondered what happened to Ord and Min? The last time he saw them they were waiting for him at the base of a tree.
When he finally located the statue of the unknown sailor he knew he was getting close. They had blindfolded him when he was first brought to their lair, but he felt his tracking abilities as a hunter would guide him there anyway. He studied the landscape and then set out looking for signs of trails.
Min had just fetched a bucket of water from the nearby stream and was boiling it just outside the cave entrance when she heard something. Grabbing her spear and long knife she set out to find what alerted her. She moved slowly but surely through dense bushes and trees listening. She saw Polis before he saw her!
Overcome with relief she broke her cover and called out to him,
“Polis! It’s me! Min!“
He stopped and looked in her direction. A big smile lit his face as he recognized her. Mission accomplished. She surprised him by giving him a big hug. Something she’d never done before. He held her and felt her heart hammering away.
“I have much to tell you Polis,” she said.
“And I have a story for you Min.” he acknowledged, still hugging her.
The Chronicles of Polis – Book Three: Requiem