RUIN, Life in the Undergrowth
Ashlin Crowe is one of the last surviving Apache.
Ashlin is 17yrs old and still growing into his height; at 5’9" tall he is wide chested and narrow of waist and well muscled after a life of physical labour. He is olive skinned and dark eyed; so dark his eyes are almost black with some tiny flecks of gold deep within. His hair is raven black and worn long past his shoulders (often in braids, or pony-tail and loose in thick straight bangs). He always wears two crow feathers woven into his hair; either beside his neck or woven into the braids at the back. His face is narrow and square jawed; a cleft in his chin sits below full lips and a narrow but prominent nose. His teeth are white and straight and always shows in his smile. Ashlin has a soft spoken Texan accent thanks to his parents who migrated from the southern state.
He has a large and intricately drawn tattoo of a black winged crow upon his back and shoulders; it looks left and screams in defiance; it’s talons grip a Dream Catcher. Upon his left hip is a burn scar in the shape of the letter ‘S’; a branding iron mark only a year old. He has a bullet scar on his right thigh (both sides) and a knife scar that runs from his navel to his ribs on the left.
Ashlin wears a neck choker of leather and bone beads in the Apache fashion and several leather necklaces with a small medicine bag with two gold rings within that belonged to his parents. He carries a straight razor hooked onto the choker that hangs between his shoulder blades and is hidden by his hair or his shirt. It is easy to reach if his hands are behind his head. He wears two copper bracelets on his right wrist and a Swiss movement watch on the left that belonged to his old teacher Hondai that is hidden beaneath an archers bracer and glove.
He wears either denim jeans or camo pants and has soft mocassins or army boots depending on the need. A Teeshirt or long-sleeved denim shirt is worn beneath a leather vest. Everything he owns he carries in a hiker-style backpack and the leather belt around his waist.
He carries his bow and has a leather quiver of arrows upon his shoulder, a bowie knife on his hip and a throwing dagger in his right boot. He has a modern steel tomahawk on his belt and a Bear-Grylls Machete in a leather sheath (a rare find on a long-dead hiker). His Katana is strapped to his back so that it can be drawn over his shoulder. The pack has fast-release clips at the chest to allow it to drop to the ground at a moments’ notice, leaving him free to fight if he has to.
Ashlin is wary; he avoids chance encounters on the road where he can, and looks to his safety with caution and prudence. He takes the path of lesser risk, knowing that an injury will easily kill him or leave him to die slowly of infection or starvation. He is used to surviving alone but knows that value of fellowship and seeks company where he can. He believes in working for a meal, whether that is hunting his own game or doing chores at a farmstead for a nights’ lodging. He scrounges the Ruin for trade goods and will often sing for his supper where he can. He has a steel stringed guitar that is a prized possession and he can play it very well to accompany his country voice.
Ashlin would be considered to be Low Tek; and he avoids being classed as a Divine, though he is comfortable enough with them due to his own beliefs. He doesn’t like guns and refuses to carry them, or even learn much about using them. He avoids most technology as it disturbs the Land; and Ashlin feels a very strong connection to the Land of his People. He is spiritual in his outlook; tending towards kindness and generosity when he can. He is a Good Samaritan in nature, seeking ways to help people rather than being selfish. He loves talking to people and finding out about them; and eagerly shares his experiences (all but Wolf Canyon).
He has simple tastes in food and rarely drinks alcohol, and even then he will never drink to the point of inebriation. He enjoys female company and can be flirtatious and spontaneous. He still thinks of his Apache fiance, though he has come to the realization that they will never be able to pick up where they left off; she will not be the same girl he loved no matter what happens, and in all likelyhood she is dead or simply moved on to survive. He chases a dream; and he chases vengeance. For those who murdered his people, he has no compassion, no pity, nor mercy. For anyone who would do similar harm, he feels the same way. There must be balance; and for great evil to exist there must be good in the world.
17yrs old. Born 2072 to the Tribal Plains Apache people who migrated after the Great Collapse from the South Western US up to the Canadian Mountains. The remains of the tribe seemed to be survivors of the virus; a genetic inheritance. The small number of Apache Tribals had to be at least 1/8th Plains Apache by blood to be a member of the Tribe. This gave some measure of protection from the virus; the ‘truer’ blood Apache survived when the lesser bloods died. They were all carriers though and interracial relationships turned out to be the same as the other 95% of Humanity. None the less, 3,780 Apache out of the 53,000 or so that had lived in the South of the US migrated North with all their possessions and turned into gypsies. It took 43 years for the Apache to disintegrate. Other diseases, conflicts, tribal split-offs, child mortality, natural attrition and poor medical care took its’ toll. By the time Ashlin was born the tribe was only 630 strong.
They lived in the Northern US; migrating during Autumn to the South to winter camps and following the herds and going back to the Old Ways passed down by the Shamans of The People. The Great Spirit had swept The White-Eyes from the face of the Earth; what was left was pitiful. They learned nothing from their loss and fall; they still fought and squabbled over the ruins and killed each-other with abandon. The Apache had come together as a people and knew the meaning of community; they strived to remain a “good” influence on each other and on all they encountered. The Great Spirit blew strong in The People; and they tried to live in peace as in the old days before their land had been stolen by the White-Eyes.
Ashlin was a product of The People; a child brought up by his community and taught the ways of the Apache and The Great Spirit. The Warriors of the tribe were venerated because they protected The People, they didn’t seek violence; rather they strove to avoid it. However they did not shirk their duty to be The Shield of The People and their Guides. The Elders Council ruled by consensus and wisdom as they did in the past and the Apache tried to remain apart from those they encountered that displayed offensive behaviours. For those who would treat with them in peace, they traded and extended the hand of friendship. Raiders and men of violence were left alone where possible, and when encounters could not be avoided, they defended The People with the Warriors skills passed down through the generations. Of course these skills had been enhanced by the Apache who had trained in the US Army, or the Tribal Police, but over the years, the young men were disciplined and taught how to fight as a matter of course. Strong Warriors were needed. Over time others joined the Tribe; other survivors who would accept the life the Apache offered and who would live in peace and harmony with the Land and The People. There were many from other races; Asian, European, African-American; all survivors who were drawn to the migration life-style. Varied cultural traditions joined The People; Divines, Low Tek and even a few Nanos joined the Tribe.
Ashlin was born to Navaree and Ah-0-tee Black Feather; both full blooded Apache. Ashlin had been the second child to Navaree after the first was still-born. He was a strong male child and was given the love and attention that all children born to The People were given. Brought up in a true community he learned the values that became an anchor for his adulthood. Taught the Old Ways as well as the new, Ashlin was a keen and athletic boy who took to hunting and tracking like a natural. He was good with the bow and won many of the childhood competitions among his peers. His earlier years were spent with Apache Warriors and Hunters that taught their craft as well as an old soldier; Hondai who walked the Way of The Warrior; the ancient Japanese Way of Bushido. Hondai and his small clan lived within the Apache Tribe and held to their own ways; but these ways were not incompatible. They had given themselves to The People as Samurai; sworn Warriors who taught their arts and gave their lives in the ancient custom. The Great Spirit was a Shamanistic cultural belief that was compatible with the Japanese Shinto way of life and beliefs.
Ashlin came to walk the Way of The Warrior in his turn; taught the Martial Arts and the Sword by Hondai and also taking his place amongst the Warriors of The People. Life was hard; constant migration with the seasons and tracking the buffalo herds that had exploded across America with the demise of their only real threat; Mankind. Herds of horses became the preferred means of transport; these were also abundant in population thanks to the wild herds, and the Amish communities that had bred them for work.
When Ashlin was 15yrs old he was promised a girl-bride; Cherize Darrow who was only 13yrs old. It was custom for the families to choose; Ashlins’ mother had selected the girl for her bloodline; as pure Apache as Ashlin’s. They had grown up together and were already compatible in temperament. It was seen by The People as a good match and blessed by The Shaman. They would be joined when she came of age; when Cherize became a woman and bled for the first time. The custom dictated that the girls’ father and mother would lead her to Ashlins’ Tee-Pee when the time came and they would be bound together by a Shaman and the girls’ father and the People would gather around and celebrate the joining of the happy couple.
The day that Ashlin and Cherize were looking forward to with some trepidation would never arrive.
On a cold morning during the last snows of Winter; the Apache settlement was attacked by a literal army of Road Warriors calling themselves ‘The Comancheros’. The massacre that followed was the last straw; the community spirit that held The People together evaporated in the three hours of butchery inflicted upon the families of the last of the Apaches. Their weapons were modern military grade firearms; grenades and armoured vehicles with .50 calibre machineguns tore through the skin and wood tee-pees and obliterated the Warriors that stood in their path. It was history re-visited.
Women who survived were stolen; Cherize was one of them. Ashlins’ father and mother died in the fiery breath of a flame thrower. Ashlin was only 16 years old; the level of carnage and brutality was overwhelming and he witnessed his friends die; his family slain and his teachers murdered. He lay amongst the dead and dying; too afraid to move, panicked beyond action, shocked to the core. Laying in the snow surrounded by the bodies of his people while the butchers raided their supplies, and stole the youngest of the women as they executed the rest. Children were clubbed to death as Ashlin lay frozen; buried by a fall of snow and slowly freezing to death himself.
At some point he became catatonic. The world vanished in a cold, snow white haze. The silence descended upon the reddened snow. Hours later, the raucous call and squabbling of the Crows woke Ashlin from his cold death-like sleep. It was like rising from the dead; as if The Great Spirit had breathed life back into his bones and flesh. A Crow landed on his hand; it screeched loudly as it flapped its’ midnight wings and then when Ashlin looked up at the bird it spread its’ wings, eyeing him as if expecting Ashlin to understand what it wanted. It screamed again and took wing; and Ashlin raised his head to see the cloud of birds descending upon the dead.
The smoke of the fires drifted in the Winter air; the red slush spread like stains from the frozen dead. Ashlin climbed from his snowy grave to stare in stunned and numbed silence as the crows fought over the eyes of his people. The crow was a wise bird; the Apache believed that they could speak and the birds were speaking to Ashlin in a language he could clearly understand; his people were gone.
The hours went by in a daze as he salvaged what he could from the carnage. He found Hondais’ katana beneath the old mans’ body and took it for his own. The Soul of The Samurai was his blade; and Hondai had died facing his enemy while Ashlin had cowered in the snow. He felt unfit to carry it, but it would forever be a reminder of a man’s true courage. Perhaps the blade would lend him some of the old warriors’ bravery so that Ashlins’ shame would be lessened.
Simply burying the dead was impossible. There were too many. He buried his parents and his teacher Hondai, but after hours of searching he failed to find Cherize. She wasn’t among the dead; she had been taken. The realization that he had lain in the snow and let it happen; that he had been a coward and had hidden from the enemies of his people while they slaughtered everyone he knew was enough to drive him almost mad with grief and loathing.
It was the crows that brought him back from the brink of taking his own life; the Apache Shaman had taught Ashlin that the birds carried a message; to release the past and find balance in living in the present; even if the present was a nightmare. Ashlin was an Apache. The Great Spirit that looked over his people had saved him; to throw that gift away in grief would shame the memory of his parents. He was alone and yet amongst the wheeling crows and the scattered dead, he found purpose. He would carry on; and he would carry the teachings of The Apache People and their great spirit for life and family with him. Finding Cherize would be his mission; to track the wandering Comancheros and try to free her.
The Crow became his Totem Animal; he gathered some of the birds’ feathers and wove two into his long black hair to remind him to live in the present and overcome his past. It was almost a year after the massacre at Wolf Canyon that he found a gypsy caravan that took him in for a while and a tattoo artist who painted the likeness of the Crow across his shoulders and back. That year saw Ashlin grow stronger, but he would forever carry that day in his heart; for he was the last of The Apache Warriors; the last of his people to walk the Way of Bushido with the sword of Hondai. He travelled the land always seeking; following the trail of the Comancheros South and East. There were times when small numbers of them left the main group or lagged behind after being injured or taken sick and Ashlin found them. It seemed that the Comancheros didn’t take care of their own; they left the infirm or the injured to die and continued on; pillaging and killing as they went. Ashlin followed and those he found he bled. He viewed this as simply finishing the job; granting them mercy. Their deaths however did not serve to lessen the guilt he felt or the shame of his inaction on that fateful day. Some talked; some lied and some told the truth of their involvement at Wolf Canyon. It made no difference to their fate; they died all the same with Ashlins’ knife or sword shedding their blood in cold vengeance. No matter what he did, Ashlin could not find a balance, nor release the past; it was like a broken arrow in his chest grating against bone and flesh that woke him in the night in feverish sweats or gasping for breath from dreams of suffocating under the snow. The Crow led him; and he knew that he would not find his balance until he knew of Cherize’s fate.
He took on the guise of a travelling bard; his guitar the most effective weapon in finding friends and a bed for the night in relative safety. He hunted and trapped; skinned animals and sold meat as well as hides; anything he could scrounge from the ruin of the Old World. He learned valuable lessons on his trek across the American States. He learned how to survive in the wilderness as well as the broken ruins.