I do not own Vash the Stampede, Rem Saverem, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, Milly Thompson, Meryl Stryfe, etc: they all belong to the incomparable Mr. Yasuhiro Nightow.
It occurs to me that Vash -might- compose letters in his mind as the way that he re-examines his day, unwinds, and learns any lessons he can from it.
This is an attempt to blend the tales in both manga and anime. Anywhere there is contradicting information, the manga's will be used. I use manga dates where they are given. Where dates are not given, I'm using my best guesstimate.
As the various "Unwritten Letters" accumulate, there will be more and more spoilers.Dragon's Nest Fortress
Year 113, month 7, day 6
By the time I finish this letter, you will probably hate me forever. It's bad enough that I'm a monster born. It's bad enough that I'm such a miserably pathetic wretch of a person. It's bad enough that I fail to save lives so often...
But I have just learned I'm even worse than that. I can barely bring myself to think it, let alone say it. This is not the kind of person that I wanted to be, Rem. I'd hoped to be much less of a monster than I have become.
I'm so terribly sorry. I've failed everyone, and you most of all.
I can't forgive myself. How could anyone else ever forgive me? I don't expect either mercy or forgiveness, for I deserve neither. Not even from you.
Perhaps... especially not from you.
But I must keep at least one of my promises to you, even if I have already failed to keep all of the others. No matter how much my life hurts, and no matter how much I deserve death, I won't execute myself.
Sometimes the worst penalty is to live. If that is the burden I must bear, then I shall do my best to endure it without shaming you further.
There's really nothing else that I can do.
I'm probably not making much sense. I should describe what happened in some kind of sequence, so that it can be better understood. I will tell you of yesterday, and the few hours that have already passed today, and then let you decide for yourself.
Two of my worst fears have become reality. One of those young insurance girls was put into serious danger, because of me. I won't deny that the child has her faults, but those faults are not so severe that she deserves what the Gung-Ho Guns would do to her!
The other fear... I won't blame you if you hate me for that. Yet I won't lie to you.
I should go back to where I left off last time. That might be helpful in explaining.
I mentioned how I knew that I should have left the girls behind sooner. It's only my own selfishness to blame for that. Nothing else.
Those two are so young and enthusiastic about life that their presence was refreshing. Having them around was almost as good as playing with even younger children. Their companionship almost made me feel young again. It was so pleasant to have traveling companions - even ones as young and foolish as those insurance girls. But wasting energy on regrets, now, won't solve anything.
I must simply force myself to be less selfish in the future. The ache of loneliness will be part of my penalty, as I attempt to atone for my sins.
Wolfwood and I had continued walking until we reached the next town in the direction we needed to go, to reach Knives. We found a cafe there, and ordered the cheapest ramen on the menu. All was peaceful as we waited for our meal to arrive. Everything was still quiet when the food came, and we began eating.
Suddenly, Wolfwood's head snapped around. He straightened up and lifted his right hand, to wave. He began to smile, just a very little bit.
"Big girl!" he called happily.
Ah, Wolfwood! How much of his nickname habit is forgetfulness? And how much is simply that he's too shy to call his friends by their own names?
As I began to turn my head in the direction he was looking, I saw his expression begin to change out of the corner of my eye. When I got a good look at Milly, I understood why.
The poor girl was starting to cry. She ran toward us, as if we were her only hope. One of us asked the obvious question about where her partner was. That made her cry harder.
Wolfwood immediately offered her his lunch. He quickly ordered another bowl, for himself, "to go." We got her to eat, and calm down, while we waited for Wolfwood's second bowl and I hurried to finish my own lunch.
We took Milly to a hotel, where the three of us rented one of their smallest suites. Thankfully, Milly had enough money for that. Wolfwood and I had planned to sleep under the stars, but that plan would not fill our needs now.
The food had helped to calm her, at least enough that she could speak coherently. Wolfwood and I coaxed the story out of her. He ate his lunch while she spoke.
After discovering our absence, Meryl had vanished. It happened so abruptly that Milly was convinced she'd been kidnapped. She'd guessed that Wolfwood and I might continue traveling in the same direction that we had been going, since we left Seeds.
So she used the location of Seeds, and the place where she and Meryl had seen us in the desert, to make a rough guess about our chosen direction. Then she'd come farther, traveling in that same direction, desperately hoping that she might find us.
She started crying again, so I encouraged her to go lie down. There wasn't much that we could do, not yet. We had to wait until someone came to discuss terms for Meryl's release.
I escorted her to one of the beds, and tucked her in as if she were a very small child. I left the door of that small sleeping area open to the main room of the suite. I saw an ashtray on her bedside table. Milly wouldn't need it, so I picked it up.
Wolfwood looked like he wanted to go to Milly and stay with her.
I understood his wish to comfort the girl. Unfortunately, I also knew how easily his honorable intent to comfort our distraught friend could result in him being tempted toward too much intimacy. Milly might not yet be ready for that, but she was too upset to think clearly. She might be too tempted by Wolfwood, also.
I needed to behave like an adult, and protect both of them from the weaknesses of youth.
I put the ashtray on the table beside Wolfwood, and gave him a look. His shoulders drooped only a tiny bit, but he took the hint. He leaned back in his chair and started rummaging in his pocket for one of his crumpled cigarettes.
I nodded at him approvingly, and managed to smile a little, but he only gave me a dirty look in return. I shrugged and pulled a chair over to the window. I pushed my chair so that its back rested almost against the window, and then I straddled it. I stared out through the window, resting my forearms across the back of the chair, and waited.
The afternoon wore away. Evening came, and the sky grew dark. The moons rose. I continued staring out the window, while watching Wolfwood smoke cigarette after cigarette after cigarette out of the corner of my eye. He kept shifting in his seat and looking toward Milly.
Occasional rustlings from the small adjoining room, where the insurance girl lay, informed me that she wasn't getting much rest. At least the poor girl seemed to have cried herself out, for the moment. Perhaps that would help her to relax at least a little.
I had expected to see someone come up the street to the hotel. I expected that Milly had been followed, and someone would come before long to make demands.
However, the individual with demands did not come up the street. An armored sand worm suddenly appeared outside of our room's window. It and its rider were so close that they were nearly touching the glass. The rider appeared to be a young boy.
"Thanks for waiting," the boy said, loudly enough that I could hear him through the closed window's glass. He smiled. "I am Gung-Ho Guns number twelve, Zazie the Beast, at your service."
Wolfwood and I quickly glanced at each other, and then we stared at him. This seemed too strange to be true. Had I fallen asleep and begun dreaming?
"You can't talk your way out of this one," the boy continued, his smile fading away. "You have reason to do battle with me. We have the small, short-haired woman..."
All of these Gung-Ho Guns seem determined to fight with me. I didn't wait to hear another word. Instead, I flung the window open and leaped through it. The sandworm immediately reared up and pulled back a little. As a result of the creature's movement, I collided with it a bit below where the boy rode instead of tackling the boy himself.
I heard Wolfwood calling "Tongari!" after me, but I paid him no heed.
I was angry, Rem, and probably not thinking as clearly as I should have been. I've had about enough of these Gung-Ho Guns. My patience with their nonsense is wearing thin.
I wanted to tackle him and force him to tell me where to find the insurance girl. Missing him when I leaped, however, made that plan much messier (and more embarrassing) than I'd expected.
For a moment, he looked mildly perplexed or confused. I don't think he'd expected me to leap toward him as I had. As I climbed up the armored sandworm's neck toward its head, where the boy was, he smirked at me. He spoke again.
"Both of 'you' are really intriguing!" he said smugly. "Are you guys truly brothers?"
So. He knows Knives. While not particularly surprising, the fact that he would admit it so openly did increase my sense of urgency. I would make this arrogant youth tell me how to rescue Meryl, whether he wanted to or not!
Wolfwood loudly expressed his opinion of the boy, in no uncertain terms, and then he started shooting.
Of course, the shots made the sandworm move just when I had nearly reached the boy. I caught part of the creature's armor, and then I held on for dear life.
Wolfwood and I exchanged some heated words, including insults, regarding the fact that he'd begun shooting just when he did. The sandworm shook itself violently. I felt my hold slipping, so I did my best to launch myself back toward the window.
Thankfully, I have quick reflexes. I fell ungracefully through the window. Wolfwood might have tried to catch me, but my momentum knocked him down.
Milly had come to the window after the boy's arrival, but she moved out of the way just in time to avoid being hit by Wolfwood and I on our way to the floor.
"... Dragon's Nest area," the boy was saying, "I'll be waiting in the building at its heart."
The sandworm plunged into the ground and disappeared, leaving a hole in the pavement. A crowd was beginning to gather, and many other rooms' windows were flung open as people peered out to see what had caused all the noise.
As soon as Wolfwood and I each caught our breaths, he picked up his cross weapon. Milly picked up her stun gun. I pulled my revolver out of its holster long enough to verify that it was loaded and oiled, and then I put it back.
We set out immediately.
Dragon's Nest fortress stood amidst an area of the town with an insane number of small buildings all squeezed together extremely tightly. It was the kind of place where a lot of people could get hurt, with the style of battle those Gung-Ho Guns types tended to cause.
Whatever Dragon's Nest Fortress area had once been, it appeared to have become slums.
"I don't like it," I grumbled, "There are too many people here. From the poor to the rich, and all packed together into one tight package."
It was also running through the back of my brain, and not for the first time, that Bernadelli must have chosen to send the two agents that they considered the most "expendable" when they assigned these two girls to pursue me. That insurance group must have assumed that sending them out would be a death sentence. They were probably at least a little bit surprised when I didn't directly harm either one of them.
Milly was probably chosen because she was so naive and sometimes bungled her words. They probably thought her less intelligent than she is.
Meryl was probably chosen because of her quick temper. In an office environment, that could make her a highly unpleasant co-worker.
Those were indeed faults, but neither was so severe that either girl deserved to be labeled "expendable" and sent on an errand likely to result in their premature deaths!
It still bothered me that the two young girls' lives were not valued by their employers. Although I didn't like to admit it, one reason I'd not evaded them sooner was that I had hoped I could protect them. I learned differently after the first time I met a Gung-Ho Gun.
It was entirely my fault that Meryl had been taken. Even if it weren't, Milly must have known, or at least guessed, that she could not turn to her employer for help.
She's a lot smarter than she often seems to be. Was that awareness (or suspicion) of being perceived as "expendable" part of the reason why Milly doubted herself so severely?
Regardless, the lack of support they could expect from their employer made it doubly my job to rescue Meryl. These poor, dear children simply had no one else.
If Meryl fully understood how little her employers valued her, would she remain so extremely loyal to them?
Perhaps, appearances aside, Milly might actually be the smarter of the two.
My thoughts were interrupted by Wolfwood.
"Yeah, I know," he said, answering my words and not my unspoken thoughts. "People are all huddled together in a pile. That *$#& and his friends were well prepared. They chose this place to kill us off."
Then Wolfwood's voice turned grim. "But relax. While we're here, that *$#& isn't going to kill no one. If anyone becomes an obstacle, we'll just chase them off and scatter them."
He said a bit more on that subject, and then he turned his attention to Milly. The silly young fellow thought that he could simply instruct her to stay behind, and expected that she would be perfectly content to obey him!
It's not that she didn't listen. It's only that she didn't agree.
At first, Milly's expression softened. Her face clearly displayed how much she appreciated his concern. Then she started telling him about her own plans.
To make a long story short, they had an argument... their first, if I'm not mistaken. I should have seen it coming. I didn't like to waste the time, but there was no help for it. I tried to wait patiently for the two of them to work it out.
Milly made it clear that she felt responsible for Meryl.
I knew Meryl's peril was my fault, and not hers. However, that was not a good time to explain it to her. Perhaps I might make the attempt later. I could see that Milly wasn't going to back down. If we didn't bring her with us, she would follow us anyway.
I don't think Wolfwood quite understood how thoroughly she refused to avoid the upcoming battle. He still seemed to think that he could persuade her to remain behind.
"Fine," I said, to prevent the debate from wasting any more time, "then we'll help you."
"Tongari!" Wolfwood yelled, shocked. At that moment, he was not
a happy man.
Milly smiled and clasped her hands together.
"We don't know where Meryl has been taken," I said, speaking to Wolfwood. "Every place is as dangerous as the next. So..."
I would have begun to talk with them about possible strategies. However, we were interrupted. Someone was approaching.
"There's only three remaining Gung-Ho Guns," Wolfwood said loudly. "Zazie, Hoppered, and Midvalley. Who's there?"
Clearly, this was not the time to inquire of Wolfwood how he knew their names. Based on how many of them Legato had boasted would come after me, the remaining number of Gung-Ho Guns assassins should have been more than three. I planned to ask Wolfwood about that later, after things had calmed down.
No matter what else Wolfwood might be, he was extremely fond of Milly. He would protect her, regardless. At that moment, his trustworthiness toward the taller insurance girl was all that really mattered.
The time for thought ended abruptly as we were attacked and driven apart. Milly wound up with me, but Wolfwood was elsewhere. That was backwards from what I'd wanted.
I told her to run, to get away from me. I knew she'd be safer with him, since I was their primary target. Besides, if Wolfwood was busy taking care of Milly, I might be able to slip away after I returned Meryl to them.
Milly didn't leave, and the bent, armored individual in front of us identified himself as "Hoppered the Gauntlet."
He started in on a blend of boasting and insults to challenge me, and mentioned his coin.
I waited until he finally paused for breath, and then I said through clenched teeth, "I don't want it. I didn't come here to fight at all. I came for Meryl. Return her to us."
It was a struggle for me to speak somewhat calmly. I was angry. I wanted to yell at him. However, I knew that venting my temper would accomplish nothing. So I restrained myself, again.
Unfortunately, he was no more inclined to be reasonable than any of his associates.
So we fought. I had to fight, both to protect Milly and because there was no other method of learning where to find Meryl.
Hoppered had the audacity to expect that I was enjoying myself. Under different circumstances, the challenge might have been nearly enjoyable.Dodging a skilled bounty hunter, for example, could be an interesting change from my usual workout routine. However, with lives on the line, there was nothing remotely "fun" about it.
"Quickly," I shouted to the people who were coming to see what caused the noise, "Get out of here! Run away!" I gestured to them, and to Milly, pleading with my face and eyes as well as with my voice.
"There's nowhere for them to run," Hoppered gloated. "I can close the distance between myself and any target here perfectly. They'll never get past me! These insects should be running from you, you stinking hypocrite - you cursed devil!"
His voice grew louder. "What you did to July," he shouted, "I'll make you remember!"
"Don't you know?" I said, still wrestling to rein in my frustration (frankly, his verbal attack wasn't helping), "I, back then, I didn't do that! It wasn't my fault!"
He made a noise that sounded like a vent for his own frustration. "Just die already!" he said. "That intense light, can you actually forget something like that?"
He went on to describe things... I think it was how he thought July looked, after whatever had destroyed it.
He attacked, and I dodged. And so it continued, for some time.
Milly disappeared during that round. She probably ran off hoping to find Wolfwood.
Eventually, a time came when I failed to dodge quickly enough. Hoppered knocked me down, and I landed hard enough that it made my ears ring. Somehow that, perhaps combined with his words, reminded me of the bits and pieces I recalled surrounding the blast that made the oversized crater in the fifth moon.
And then, to my horror, I realized that an identical blast had destroyed July. It hadn't been Knives. Instead, I was the one who had done that horrible thing. I had... killed.
July had been home to tens of thousands of people, perhaps even a hundred thousand... until I destroyed them all.
I'm so terribly sorry, Rem. It seems your trust in me was misplaced. I ... am a murderer.
I lay there silently, still reeling from the impact of the returned memories. I didn't try to move. I'm not sure if I could have. It felt as if I was in shock. Perhaps I was, emotionally.
Suddenly Hoppered was leaning over me and breathing into my face. He gloated and taunted me. Then he struck me across my face so hard he nearly knocked my head off.
I continued to lie there quietly, passively. My face remained turned in the direction his blow had turned my head toward. In that moment, I had neither the strength nor the will to defend myself.
I can't begin to describe my anguish, Rem... I did a terrible thing. It was something that I had promised you I would never do. I killed. I hadn't planned to do it, nor had I wanted to. But none of those things changes the fact that I did it. All of those people...
I tried to listen patiently to Hoppered, but his words hurt so terribly. I was in danger of completely losing control over my emotions. That hadn't happened for a very long time. If I couldn't rein in my feelings, they would be broadcast so loudly that Knives and every other plant would sense exactly how I was feeling.
"Alright then," I said to Hoppered. "You can go right ahead and kill me. But before you lock me away and torture me to death, I will
finish things with Knives! Until I settle things with him, just get out of my way and leave me alone!"
"There's no hope for you. You're doomed, you know that?" he said.
He continued insulting me as I lay there trying to contain my guilt, sorrow and pain.
Then he mentioned the hostage.
How could I have forgotten that innocent young girl they had captured? I had to get her out of their hands! I struggled to sit up, to get back on my feet. Suddenly, he was gone.
Memories claimed my mind, completely. What ever had locked away those memories was gone. I found myself reliving the days and hours that preceded the blast that destroyed the city of July. Such kind people... and none of them had any idea that they were welcoming the one who would slaughter them.
I'm so sorry... so very sorry...
If I could restore them all, even if it cost my own life, I would pay that price. As I told Hoppered, I need to deal with Knives first. After that, I will pay anything.
A murderer like me doesn't deserve to live, anyway.
Do you hate me now, Rem? God knows I deserve no less.
My mind slowly returned to the present. I found myself leaning against a wall. My knees buckled, and I threw out my hands to stop my fall. I was sobbing so hard that I had difficulty standing up again. I couldn't see, because of my tears.
And I knew that I had lost control. The anguish was too intense. I must be broadcasting.
I struggled to rein in my emotions. I must not continue broadcasting this agony. The sisters in their bulbs didn't need this. They have done no wrong. It was my burden to bear, not theirs. I should not inflict it upon them.
Those who had died deserved to be mourned. I hoped that was why I wept so uncontrollably, and not because I pitied myself.
I deserve no pity, not even from myself. Those who died, murdered long before their natural lifespan should have ended, they
deserve pity. Not me: never me.
I remembered the girl, helpless in the hands of the assassins. I had to save her.
"I can't stop," I reminded myself between sobs, "not here, not now."
Eventually, I got the worst of my emotions buried deeply enough that I probably stopped broadcasting them. A dull ache remained. I felt empty, but that was a lesser evil than being so crippled by pain that I would be unable to rescue Meryl.
I made myself think of that small, "expendable" young insurance girl held captive somewhere nearby. That frightened child had her whole life ahead of her. She must not
suffer anything else because of my sins.
It is my
responsibility to atone for my sins, not hers. I had to find her, and get her out of there. I needed to return her to her own life, and hopefully disentangle her from mine enough that no further harm would come to her.
I'm not sure how long I searched. Midnight came and went. Technically, a new day began... although the sky was still cloaked in darkness. The buildings gave off just enough light that the stars were hidden, and the sky overhead simply looked black. The stench of too many people, and not enough fresh air, clogged my nostrils.
Such a deep black as I seemed to see in the sky reminded me of Wolfwood's suit, or of my own sinful heart.
But I was thinking of myself again. I wrenched my thoughts away from the memories. I forced myself to focus on finding Meryl. Finally, I know not how many hours later, I climbed a staircase and saw her in the cage-like car of an industrial-style elevator.
"Meryl," I said softly. I was relieved, but I dared not relax. There was sure to be a trap.
"Stop!" she shouted. "It's a trap! Stay back!"
I closed one eye, slowly winking to let her know that I was already aware of that. Slowly, cautiously, listening carefully, I began walking toward her.
I don't know how I missed hearing him. Perhaps memories still distracted me. Hoppered came from behind, and hit hard. I think he meant to crush us. I managed to prevent him from going past me to Meryl. I'm not quite sure how I accomplished that, but I did.
Then I felt heat throughout my body. Feathers began forming.
"No!" I shouted.
Unfortunately, neither my shouted protest nor my internal efforts seemed to stop it.
The change was slow, at first. Then it began taking over various parts of my body with increasing speed. I fought for control, trying to reach that frightened child who had nobody else whom she could rely upon to get her out of this predicament. I had to save her, not set off another July-style explosion.
Hoppered was still trying to crush me. I saw that the cable holding the elevator car they used to imprison Meryl was badly frayed. As I looked, it snapped. Both girl and cage began to fall.
I threw myself toward the falling elevator car. I had to save her. She didn't deserve this.
As the heat and the transformation increased, it brought back more memories of July. Again, I became lost in them... additionally, I lost all control over my feelings again.
I remembered Knives. I recalled being led down stairs, and then tests... then that searing heat as feathers sprouted from my right hand, just as they were doing today before the memories claimed my thoughts. I remembered Knives speaking about his hatred of humanity, and that he taunted me - trying, again, to persuade me to agree with him.
Although I disagreed, I could neither stop nor control the power he had somehow set off in my body. I tried! But it was useless. The heat had only grown more intense.
I knew there was a serious danger of the same thing happening again. This time, I had to stop it. I didn't know how, not yet, but I needed to stop it anyhow.
"No, stop," I heard my own voice saying. "I'm begging you... I don't want to see this..."
There were too many lives at risk. Not only the Gung-Ho Guns, Wolfwood, and the insurance girls were here. It was possible that more people were packed together in this place than had been in the whole city of July.
Memories... so many memories... people hurt, people dying... the explosion at July... the weight of guilt, sorrow, pain and loss was again overwhelming my consciousness.
Must... protect... the... girl's... life... I lunged toward her again, trying with the last dregs of my conscious will to snatch her out of that death trap. The elevator car with the broken cable must not be allowed to destroy her in its plunge to the depths.
I'm not sure how long I struggled. I recall being vaguely aware of explosions, and trying to redirect the energy build-up to do something about that. I don't expect that I will ever know exactly what happened.
When I again became somewhat aware of my surroundings, I could sense the presence of Legato Bluesummers. The echoes from his soul were like a terrible stench of decay.
How long had he been nearby? Had he been pressing against my mind with his abilities? Was he meddling with my body, making it more difficult for me to regain control?
Somehow, I had rescued Meryl. She was unharmed, though no less frightened.
I found myself struggling toward the surface from underground. I fought to shake free of the transformation. I wanted to be myself again, since that was less dangerous to others than this strange assortment of feathers that I seemed to have become.
First, I concentrated on my face. Then I focused on my head, followed by my neck and left shoulder. Thankfully, somehow, the prosthetic remained as the stump of my arm reformed. I continued concentrating with all my strength, fighting to reclaim my body and legs.
I was vaguely aware of angry words being exchanged, but I had difficulty hearing anything specific over the pounding in my head. I was beginning to feel my body and legs again, but the place where my right arm ought to be still remained feathers.
I struggled to compel those feathers to unwrap from around Meryl. She should not go from one prison to another. I must... release her... I cannot protect her by keeping her wrapped up, and forming another prison around her.
I made the feathers uncurl and release her. I thought I heard gunfire. It echoed in my head through my imperfectly-formed feather-clogged ears.
The heat in my body had finally begun to decrease. Suddenly, it began to grow hotter instead. As far as I knew, this had only happened twice before... However, I recognized the manner in which my arm was changing.
I also knew that it was not obeying my will, but another's. I would never want what was beginning, Rem. I hadn't wanted it before, and I didn't want it this morning.
This time, instead of Knives pushing at me, it was Legato. He was trying to force my body to form a canon, and detonate the city as had happened in July.
No! I cannot let it happen again! Somehow, I ... must ... not...
The internal war blotted out all awareness of anything else. I could neither see nor hear nor smell. The incredibly intense, searing heat eclipsed all other sensation.
The battleground was my body. The struggle was between Legato and me.
No matter the cost, I could not let him win.
And so I fought through the searing heat, through the fear and confusion, to protect all the people who would be destroyed by the blast if Legato won.
I had to reverse the formation of the arm canon, while simultaneously preventing it from firing. I had to reabsorb it, since it was part of my own body and I'm likely to need that arm again. Feathers suddenly seemed welcome, from being by far the lesser evil. I had to make the canon back into feathers and then back into my arm.
I lacked practice at manipulating flesh and blood and bone with my mind; unfortunately, my opponent was on very familiar ground. Legato habitually manipulated the bodies of others for his own purposes. I was at a disadvantage, and I knew it.
Didn't he realize that if the canon went off while he was so near, he would also be caught in the blast? Didn't even his own life mean anything to him?
When I think back to that struggle, which ended only a very few hours ago, the memories seem to engulf me. It's almost overwhelming. It feels as if it is still happening.
Seconds seemed to stretch into years. Unjustly guided, my despair only grows deeper.
Suddenly, the pressure against me lifted. Someone must have distracted my enemy.
The canon was nearly ready to fire. It had gone so far, I wasn't sure if I could pull it back - even without Legato pressuring my body to bend to his will instead of mine.
More memories of July plagued me. I dared not let myself drown in them. I continued fighting for control of my body. I also fought to rein in my emotions, again. I could feel them slipping away from me. I did not want to broadcast my guilt, or grief, or the horror I felt at both myself and at what I had done.
I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry...
It cannot be undone.
I can hear Knives' voice in my head, taunting me. Is it memories, or is he communicating with me? I can't be sure.
I only know that all those lives I extinguished... they were so kind...
I kept fighting to claim control of my body and my emotions. I had to. Nothing else would protect the lives of those within range.
I'm not sure how much time passed. When I found myself again in human form, I was exhausted from guilt, shame, grief, and the battles fought through the course of the night and morning. I was sitting on my heels, propping myself up with my hands, and gasping for breath. Tears continued streaming down my face.
The suns had risen, shedding the full glory of their light upon this thankless, barren world. It's little more than a dust ball with air, but it has become a home to many souls.
Someone was speaking, a voice I didn't know.
"Perhaps it would have been easier to die quickly, never knowing what hit you," the voice said. "But years from now, you know those 'rescue ships' coming from Earth? They will all be destroyed by Master Knives. That last hope of humanity... he will destroy them all before your eyes."
Wolfwood, as usual, had a few choice words on the subject. In effect, he asked why that individual was smiling, since that person would die along with everyone else.
If I hadn't been so terribly exhausted, I might have looked toward him and smiled at him. But the muscles of my arms and body gave way. I fell down to lie awkwardly on my side, as I continued listening... and, silently now, weeping.
"True," the unfamiliar voice responded, "But we all have our own ideas of how to live our lives and what our end should look like. Until that end comes, I'll have absolutely everything. Toodle-oo!"
I heard an airship's engine rev up and then move away. My tears faded away, for a little while. I lay still, too exhausted to do more than breathe.
Until I heard Hoppered's voice behind me. "Are you dead?" he asked.
I wanted to wince, but I was too tired even for that. I began methodically making the smallest, most efficient movements possible toward propping myself up again.
As I did, he asked me what I thought I was trying to do. "Don't you know what to do with a dying bad guy?" he said. "This is it for me. I can finally have a little peace. But you shall live and suffer. I don't want to kill you. Instead, I'll force you to stay in this $#*& world, spitting up blood and suffering immense pain every day."
I managed to turn enough that I could hold his hand as he faded away. No one, except perhaps for me, deserves to die alone.
"Vash?" Meryl said, from behind me, "Your arm..."
"Yeah," I said. "It's fine, now."
After that, we found Milly and took her to a hospital. The doctors said that she's going to be okay, though she was injured helping Wolfwood fight the saxophonist. She mostly needs rest, and time to recover.
The musician's body was lying in the sand, not far from Hoppered. Wolfwood said that he and Milly fought "Midvalley," but Legato was the one who killed him.
I think I can persuade Wolfwood to help me bury both of the dead Gung-Ho Guns. Then I will make sure that he helps clean up and rebuild the parts of the town that were damaged by the battles with them. We caused part of that damage, and the others are dead. It's only right that we help with repairs. If he doesn't know that yet, it's high time he learned it.
After at least a full day's work on repairs, I'll ask him to speak to the girls. Maybe he can accomplish what I've consistently failed to do. Maybe he can persuade Meryl to stop following me into ever-increasing danger, and dragging Milly along with her.
Wolfwood cares enough about Milly to want her out of harm's way. When he and I left the hospital, he told me that he had knocked her out. He'd hoped, when he did it, that she could be left in a safer place than the middle of a battle. From the sound of his voice, he felt guilty about it. Yet he'd been so desperate to protect her, at the time, that he'd personally injured her to spare her from worse harm.
Because of this, I think he will be willing to try talking some sense into Meryl.
If he can persuade the girls to return to December, that will be much safer for them.
I still need to deal with Knives, Rem. I'm still not sure how to do that, but it needs to be done. I've already put it off much longer than I should have.
That, too, was selfish. I had wanted to live, and I feared that my brother would kill me. But the possibility of my own death matters less now than it did previously. I'm sure you can completely understand why.
After I deal with Knives... and if, by some miracle, I survive that process... I will spend whatever life I have left doing my best to atone. I will strive to make this world a better place, for all of its inhabitants - both human and Plant.
I know that won't bring back the people I destroyed. Nothing can do that. All I can do is try my best to help the people who still live.
Now you know everything.
I can only imagine that you must thoroughly despise me, after finally learning the whole truth about me.
It's okay, if you loathe and despise me. I don't mind. Truly, I don't.
It's no more than I deserve.
I don't think anyone else can despise me as much as I despise myself.
I miss you, Rem. I'm sorry that I'm not the man you hoped I might become. As badly as everything else hurts, knowing that I've failed you so horribly is the greatest pain of all.
- Vash "the Stampede"Author's note
: This part of Vash's story always makes me want to hug him and tell him that he can be forgiven. Just because Knives set off chain reactions within Vash's body which he could not control, it did not make the resulting death and destruction Vash's fault! I know that things eventually improve (since I've read the whole manga)... but first, they grow worse... poor Vash
... If anyone's curious, I have also attempted to portray Meryl's perspective of the events described in this chapter. That can be seen in "Meryl Missing Vash," chapter 3: "Still Missing Vash."