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 "Unwritten Letters" accumulate, there will be more and more spoilers.
Year 113, month 9, day 4
Wolfwood and I spent many days walking toward Knives. I had opened my mental shields just enough to detect the general direction of Knives' presence. I dare not open my mind or heart to him completely, as I used to do when we were very young... before the discovery of Tessla.
Perhaps I should have apologized to Wolfwood. I must have been a very unpleasant traveling companion, during those many days of walking. There was so much on my mind... there were so many things that I needed to consider and try to understand, or decide. Also, since I remembered the people of July, I have been mourning their deaths.
Wrestling with my own guilt and sorrow, and with other heavy thoughts, kept me silent. Remembering Tessla, and the tragic events that followed her discovery, also weighed heavily upon my spirit. Remembering your challenge to accept my "blank" ticket to the future gave me even more to think upon.
I had not forgotten the familiarity which Wolfwood displayed toward the Gung Ho Guns' names and numbers. He had also known that the name "Knives" would mean something to me, back when he first brought up the emptied streets and villages. That conversation happened in Kasted, where I'd lived for two years with Lina and her grandmother Sheryl. When I later asked him about his knowledge of Knives, he changed the subject.
For a time, I had thought that Nicholas might be beginning to become a friend. In that, I might have been too optimistic. In fact, I might have been completely mistaken. If he is indeed another Gung Ho Gun working for my brother, then I am truly and thoroughly alone. It would mean that I am utterly surrounded, only by enemies. If he still works for Knives, then it would have been only a matter of time before he, too, turned against me and attacked.
I feel more alone than I ever have before, Rem. Please forgive me. I have not yet completely conquered my tendency toward selfishness. It hurts to be so completely alone. I shouldn't allow it to bother me, but it does.
My selfish wishes for a nearby friend who understands me must be put aside and ignored, if they cannot be overcome. Those ideas distract me from the only important reason for my existence.
I have a responsibility. I've known this ever since the Great Fall. I must protect those whom you risked your life to save from Knives' hostile intentions.
I spent roughly the first 80 years after the Great Fall traveling with my brother, and trying both to protect ordinary humans from his hostility and to reason with him. I was sometimes successful in the first, but never in the second.
I still miss the brother that I used to have. The man with his face, the brother I have now, is nearly a stranger. That hurts. Yet I still love him. That hurts, too.
I have spent so many hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades of my life looking after Knives and trying to protect ordinary humans from his genocidal intentions... I suppose, in a manner of speaking, it could be said that I have already been giving up my life for him, and for the ordinary humans on this world. I have been doing that ever since the Great Fall, about a hundred and fifty years ago.
Every single occasion where I ever yielded to temptation and acted selfishly, I later came to regret. It seems as if I don't deserve a life of my own. The only useful purpose for my existence is simply to protect others, so that they may live. I must focus on that, and set aside all else. Nothing else really matters, anyway.
I hope that other people may truly live and thrive... not merely exist, which is all that I may do. A murderer like me deserves nothing more.
After Knives and I parted, I was rarely able to prevent him from harming anyone. Yet I continued trying. On those few occasions when I have seen him, since we parted, I have tried again to reason with him. Every time, I failed. Our conversations quickly devolved into shouting matches, and then descended into violence.
Since I slightly lowered a few of my mental and emotional shields, I sensed a change in Knives. The sense of his presence was more powerful than it should be, given the distance that yet remained between us. This puzzles and concerns me.
There has always been a possibility that one of our fights could end in mutual annihilation. I've known, each time when I met Knives, that resisting him could result in my own death. Sometimes, I was in so much pain that I almost welcomed that possibility. Other times, I was reluctant to face him because I wanted to live.
Much of my hair has already turned black. It changed at Juneora Rock, when I blew a large crater in the fifth moon. All around the sides and back of my head, there is not a single golden strand to be seen. I know. I have searched several times, but only the top of my head still grows hair in the original color.
With my own power dwindling, the risk of facing Knives again increases the danger to myself almost exponentially.
That sense of Knives' presence, which seems as if he may, perhaps, have grown significantly more powerful, is worrisome. If I die resisting him, but he is not dissuaded from doing further harm, then I would have accomplished nothing. He would then become free to destroy everyone whom both you and I have labored to protect. My entire life would have been nothing but a waste of time, energy and resources. I would be a failure, in every sense of the word.
Such a complete failure would allow your sacrifice to become meaningless.
I don't want to die like that, Rem. I don't want my death to mean leaving all of the ordinary humans unprotected and vulnerable to Knives. I don't want to fail you, or those you risked your life to protect - especially not that badly.
I wanted to do at least a little good, and I wanted to accomplish it in such a manner that Knives cannot destroy it. If I could somehow have managed to accomplish that, then perhaps I could meet my fate with something resembling peace of mind.
I'm not feeling much inner peace right now. Is this what humans mean when they speak of butterflies in their stomach?
Since I was reminded of your words about the future being like a blank ticket, with endless possibilities open, I've realized something, Rem. I don't want to die, not yet. I want to live. I want to have opportunities to atone for the many wrongs I've done. I want to do whatever it takes to make things right (or at least make them as much closer to right as I possibly can).
Unfortunately, it seems likely that the only method available to me for "making things right" is to sacrifice my own life. If that's what it takes... then, if there really is no equal or better alternative, I will do it.
Please forgive my reluctance, Rem. I should be eager to do anything that I can, without any hesitations. I am willing to sacrifice myself, if necessary, but - God help me - I'm reluctant.
Outside of Seeds, no one will mourn me or even miss me. Everyone else will simply be satisfied that I am gone.
Given what I have done, most people's reactions will be about what I deserve.
Some days ago, concerns about Knives were weighing particularly heavily on my mind.
I was thinking then, as now, that if this stronger sense of Knives' presence means that he really has found a method to make himself stronger, then the likelihood that I could survive our next encounter would drop significantly.
I recall just beginning to think, 'Perhaps if I -'
A rubber band hit me in my face, stinging enough to interrupt my thoughts.
Wolfwood had shot it at me.
"Good grief," he said. "The legendary demon gunman known as the 'Humanoid Typhoon' looks like he's been to a funeral, and another funeral, and then yet another funeral..."
I did not tell him what was on my mind. I didn't say that I'm walking toward what is likely to be my own death, without even any hope to receive the dignity of a funeral afterward.
"That's not fair," I said softly, instead of mentioning any of my own selfish concerns.
If Wolfwood were an enemy, he wouldn't care about me anyhow. On the other hand, if Nicholas were almost becoming a friend, then saddling him with my burdens would not be the best method to give him peace. So, at that moment, it didn't matter which was the truth about him. The truth about me was unchanged.
I needed to practice what I preached. I needed to do my best to set a good example. I needed to live in a loving manner toward others, and do my best to help them find peace.
It seems highly unlikely that I shall ever again know either love or peace. Part of me still wants to mourn the peaceful life that you wanted for us, Rem, which I can never have.
"'That's not fair'?" Wolfwood said, sounding exasperated. "If you want to act like you're in hell so bad, just go there and never come back!"
He struck me with his large cross weapon as he finished saying those words. I was knocked to the ground, and the wind was knocked out of me. I couldn't help making some inarticulate sounds of protest.
That's when we heard gunshots.
We hurried in the direction from which the sound came. A nasty situation awaited us.
Two men were both standing under a gallows. Both were tied up, nearly swathed in ropes. The smaller man had a noose around his neck, and stood on top of the larger man. They had been placed in those positions by a lynch mob.
Apparently, that mob had given the (very unwilling) larger man the task of serving as a platform that would be kicked out from under the condemned man. If what held up a man condemned to die by hanging were removed swiftly enough, the man would die by a broken neck instead of by strangulation. Most people consider the swifter death to be more merciful, so even the cruelest of lynch mobs will usually provide that option. That token nod toward mercy, on their part, helps the lynchers to avoid having the other townsfolk turn against them for doing executions without the benefit of judges or juries.
The lynchers were shooting and howling insults as I came within hearing range. They were probably drunk. They continued making a ruckus, until the smaller man with the noose around his neck spoke out.
"Uh, wait," he pleaded. "Begging your pardon, good people, I have one small favor to ask. Would you mind letting this fellow go?" He nodded to indicate the man standing under him. "You all know that he's innocent!"
His words touched my heart. Whatever his crimes may have been, the man's only concern was for his fellow-sufferer. He did not plead for himself. I could not stand idly by and allow this to happen.
I had been on that side of a lynch mob too many times. I knew exactly how he felt.
The lynchers laughed at the condemned man's request.
"Well, sure," they mocked. "He's tied up, but he ain't hanging. Go on, Hancock. Get out of here. You can go anywhere you want."
The larger man, whom they called "Hancock," began to cry. "I may be a dummy," he said, "but I know what you guys will do, durn you!"
"In that case, I guess there's just one thing to do," shouted a spokesman for the lynch mob. "We'll aim for the 'platform' first, and work our way up. Let's see how long you can stay standing!"
They raised their guns as I drew near. I did the only sensible thing to do, under those circumstances. I aimed over the shoulders of the lynchers, between their heads. I shot the rope between the smaller man's neck and the gallows.
With the tension of the rope released, and the gunshot so near, the smaller man began to fall off the larger one. That knocked the larger one off balance, and caused him to fall over, also.
While the lynchers were all staring at their erstwhile captives, I pushed through the crowd. Two of them turned to shoot me, but found themselves pointing at each other around empty air where I had been. I wasn't inclined to waste any time. I continued swiftly past the lynchers, to untie the two men whom they had intended to kill.
"Give it up," Wolfwood said. "Just quit while you're ahead."
The lynchers looked around, startled again when they heard a voice speaking behind them.
"If you mess with him," Wolfwood continued, pausing briefly to take a puff on one of his ubiquitous rumpled cigarettes, "it will only complicate things. You'll let yourselves in for a world of hurt."
I was kneeling and untying the lynchers' targets, when one of the men yelled, "Ah, it's Va- VASH THE STAMPEDE!"
"What did you say?"
"There's no mistake," the man, apparently their mayor, continued. "I saw him before, at Colnago. And if I recall correctly, I saw this guy stop a bullet!"
There were some murmurs, until the man abruptly remembered his authority as mayor.
"Everyone, lower your guns," he ordered the assembled townsfolk. Then he turned his attention to me. "You can go anywhere you like," he told me, "but don't ever come near this town again."
That's not likely to be a problem...
We walked for hours, until we reached a solitary saloon.
"Wow," the shorter man said, "You really helped us out back there, man." He raised his glass. "Here's to Mr. Famous!"
I felt heat in my cheeks, and I smiled. I couldn't help thinking that, when I'm gone, he's unlikely to miss me. Yet I appreciated the fact that he was grateful enough, at that moment, to want to raise his glass in my honor.
"I've heard of you," he continued, after draining his glass. Then he giggled. "In fact, the last thing I heard was that all those tall tales and crazy rumors about you are true."
I hesitated, not quite sure what to say. If he was talking about July, however, I could no longer deny it.
"Yeah," I said, my usual smile growing tense, "they are." I still felt heat in my cheeks.
"Idiot," he said.
I picked up my shot glass, and drained it as he had done. Then I gasped, feeling like my mouth, throat, and stomach were all on fire. The burning sensation traveled back up and made my face and ears feel even more flushed. I wheezed a little, feeling as if I'd been punched in the stomach.
They laughed at my reaction, and poured more of that swill into my small glass.
Even though I knew it would make me sick, it was so pleasant to imagine - however briefly - that I was one of them. That I wasn't walking to meet my brother, who will probably kill me. I surrendered myself to the moment, forgot everything else, and enjoyed their company. I was even able to laugh, when the alcohol hit my bloodstream.
Oh, my metabolism still worked too fast for me to get seriously drunk, but the buzz helped me forget just enough to relax a little.
I heard voices behind me. Wolfwood had been startled by the short, aging woman who tended the bar. After that, he continued speaking to her in subdued tones. I didn't try to eavesdrop. I wasn't sure if I wanted to know what he was saying.
Wolfwood could have joined us, if he'd wished. There was another side to the table where we sat, and an empty chair. He usually enjoyed drinking. I would have welcomed him, and I think the other two would have, also. But he chose to sit at the bar, instead, with his back turned toward us.
Was he symbolically turning his back on me? Or was I reading too much into something with no intended significance?
I waited until there was a pause in their conversation, and then I turned my head in their direction.
"Hey Granny," I said cheerfully, "Turn on the radio for us, will ya?"
She did, and continued her conversation with Wolfwood.
I returned my attention to my drinking companions, who were asking about July. I told them only a little, just enough that they would understand I wasn't proud of what had happened there.
I am ashamed of it, Rem. I will regret what happened there to my dying hour.
I began to feel woozy, so I laid my head down on the table, facing away from them. In that position, I could just barely see Wolfwood's back.
"Ooh, I get it now," Hancock said. "So many people died, and it was pretty much all your fault, huh?"
"Hmm," his friend said, "Let me guess, you're hurting, maybe feeling like you're being crushed by remorse and your regrets. Am I right?"
I didn't move, and remained silent. What could I have said? It didn't really matter anymore. I knew, even then, that I wouldn't have to bear this burden much longer.
"Everyone feels that way," he said. "There isn't anyone who hasn't wanted to run away from that. Just go to sleep, so you can forget about it for a while. Aside from that, there's nothing you can do. Everyone will forget about you, in time. Time is what will save you. You'll end up all alone, but you've always been alone, haven't you?"
I still sat there, with my head down on the table, staring at the ceiling across the room. Wolfwood's back remained unchanged.
Everyone may have regrets, but not everyone has single-handedly destroyed a hundred thousand lives. He meant well, and I appreciated his intentions. But he couldn't really understand. He didn't carry a weight that heavy, and he didn't have the responsibility to go face a murderous brother who used to be a gentle, kind-hearted soul.
I knew it didn't matter. It's not as if I still have any hope for a long life ahead of me.
"And, for times like that," he continued, undiscouraged by my silence, "there's music and this stuff." He must have tapped the bottle, because I heard his fingernails against the glass. "You expect too much. Remember, you didn't get any gifts when you were first born into this world."
No, I didn't. But I had hoped to leave some gifts behind. I had hoped to provide better gifts than fields of gravestones.
He stopped talking, and I continued to sit there listening to the music. I tried to let myself drift and simply enjoy the melodies as they passed over me. I heard the other two adjust their positions, slumping and relaxing.
The music didn't distract me for very long. Soon, my thoughts turned toward Wolfwood.
I began methodically reviewing everything I knew about him. I revisited all of my memories of him. There were a number of disquieting ambiguities. The worst part was that he knew of Knives, and he knew the Gung-Ho Guns. I didn't like the picture I saw forming, as I continued pondering my traveling companion.
As the sky was beginning to darken outside, the radio went from playing music to giving only static and stray notes that sounded more like beeps than music.
"Aww," the more talkative of my two table companions said, disappointment heavy in his voice, "And here it was turning out to be such a good night."
I lifted my head slightly, and the nausea, which had been slowly growing inside of me, abruptly grew severe enough that I knew a release was imminent. I hurried to the double doors, to avoid throwing up on the tavern floor.
"Oi," my talkative table companion called, "what's wrong? Are you okay?"
As I threw up, I felt a burning sensation in the back of my neck. As soon as my stomach was emptied, I put my hand on the back of my neck. I felt feathers. Drat. I didn't need that type of thing getting weird on me, too.
I heard someone behind me, opening the swinging double-doors that partially covered the tavern's front door. I turned my head just enough to see who it was.
"Wolfwood," I said softly, partly greeting him and partly to begin asking the question that troubled me the most at that moment, "You really are my guide, right?"
"Yeah, that's right," he said. He spoke reasonably calmly, but ... he didn't sound too happy. "I told ya that from the beginning."
Did Wolfwood regret his association with Knives and those assassins?
I felt something moving above me, and looked up toward the sky. A flash of energy, Plant energy, stretched across the sky and struck something on the far horizon. The explosion was distant, but not quite fully over the horizon. I continued holding my hand over the back of my neck as I stared at the sky and the dissipating explosion.
It had to be Knives. Perhaps that's why feathers were sprouting from the back of my neck. Some part of me might have sensed his power build-up as he prepared to strike.
Knowing what would likely happen to me, I was reluctant to go. But I had run out of reasons to put it off any longer. Why couldn't Knives have waited until morning? Why did he persist in doing damage and causing harm? Why couldn't he let go of his hate, and become again the loving brother whom I once knew?
I couldn't help wishing that I weren't the only one who had any hope of stopping him. It was a very faint hope, at best.
I called into the tavern from outside, and tried not to sound as sad or frustrated as I felt.
"Guys," I said to my erstwhile drinking companions, "It looks like I need to go."
"Eh? Where ya going?" responded the more talkative one. "What ya talking about, Vash? Come on in and have another drink."
I smiled. It was kind of them to invite me back in.
"Thanks," I called back, "but we're going now."
"You're only making it harder," Wolfwood said. "Let's get out of here."
He was probably right, but I hadn't thanked them yet.
"This was pretty nice," I called into the tavern again, "getting to sit and have a couple of drinks before the end... I'll always remember this, you two."
"Heh," he said, "You weren't listening to a single word I said, were you?"
I had already turned from the tavern, and begun to walk away. He hadn't called out those words very loudly, so they probably weren't meant for my ears, but I heard him anyway.
Although he evidently believed otherwise, I had listened carefully to every word he said. I simply could not follow his advice. I needed to go meet Knives, without further delay. Even though he will probably kill me for it, I must try to dissuade my brother from doing any further harm. If words won't work, then I must resist him in any way that I can.
I followed Wolfwood into the gathering dusk that night, leaving the tavern behind.
During the last few days, Wolfwood and I have walked the remaining distance, almost completely in silence. As we walked, my thoughts continued along the same lines as those which I have already described. The same thoughts go through my mind now.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but my steps gradually slowed as we drew nearer to Knives' headquarters. Wolfwood kept pace with me, without comment.
It's been a long several days, since we left November. But those days have come to an end, as has everything else.
We have arrived.
"Is this it?" I asked Wolfwood.
"This is it," he said. "This is the last stop on the line, Vash the Stampede."
After a moment, he asked more softly, "Have you made your inner preparations?"
That was an uncommonly priestly thing for him to say. If I wasn't imagining it, Nicholas sounded concerned.
Thinking of his question, I realized I'd done the best that I could.
Last night, I prayed in the manner that the priest taught, the one in the town where I heard the radio talking about Knives' attack in November. I don't know if it will make any difference. Under the circumstances, it seemed worth a try. At least it's unlikely to make anything worse.
It's not as if I haven't known this day was coming.
"Yes," I told him. "I'm ready. I've thought about this moment for a long time."
I'm still trying to make myself let go of my desire to live, so that I won't hold anything back. Otherwise, I'm as ready as I'm ever likely to get.
"Yeah, I guess you have," he said. "That's just like you. So anyway, what route shall we take to go in there?"
... Wolfwood just said "we"! Did he truly mean that? In this place, and at this time? Or was he simply maintaining his act, to keep me off my guard?
Which is he, friend or foe? If I knew the answer to that puzzle, it might ease my mind a little.
But it's too late now. I can't allow it to matter. There's no more time to mourn a friendship that might have been.
I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing. I continued walking toward the building.
"Hey, wha-?" Wolfwood said, shouting in his surprise. "The front door?"
There is a sense of intense pressure. I had been feeling it for the last day or two, but Wolfwood might not have detected it yet. When Knives is all powered up like this, there's no point in attempting stealth. He would detect me, no matter what I did. Under those circumstances, it seemed pointless to make any pretenses. I will need all my reserves and resources for the coming confrontation.
I could feel the heat of Plant energy coursing through my body. Feathers began to form along the left side of my face.
We walked to the front door, and through it.
I heard Wolfwood gasp, only a few steps beyond the doorway. I turned, and saw him standing bent over. His large cross weapon had come off his shoulder. He held it in the crook of one elbow.
"Wolfwood?" I asked, concerned.
He straightened and pushed his cross back up onto his shoulder.
"Huh, Tongari?" he said, as if he thought I wanted something.
His facial expression was a bit too innocent. Whatever had happened, he apparently wished to keep it to himself.
I thought about it for a moment, weighing options and possibilities.
Finally, I said, "Nothing."
I turned back toward the interior of the building, to the direction from which I sensed Knives' presence and power the strongest. I continued walking.
Shortly after that, we were met by Knives' transvestite associate.
"I'm surprised," he said, "I never imagined you'd just walk right in."
He sounded like he meant it. I stood silently.
"He's been waiting for you."
I had no doubt of that. As I have sensed Knives, he has doubtless sensed me.
"Don't worry," Knives' associate said. "As long as you don't try anything funny, you'll get the V.I.P. treatment. This way, please."
He led us farther, until we reached the foot of a stairway.
He turned toward Wolfwood and said, "This is as far as you go."
Wolfwood looked displeased, possibly even rebellious. Had he considered coming with me, to face Knives? If so, which of us had he planned to assist?
Perhaps he didn't know. Perhaps those ambiguities meant Wolfwood was undecided, or... maybe ... unlikely as it seems now ... maybe it meant that I hadn't completely imagined it, when I thought that Nicholas was beginning to become a friend.
"Up this way?" I asked Knives' associate.
"Yes," he replied.
I looked at Wolfwood. He still looked unhappy, and ... perhaps ... torn. If I could detect his imperfect dedication to Knives, then others might, too.
"Wolfwood," I said, doing my best to sound more confident than I felt, "I'll be all right. You're the one who should be careful."
For a moment, he looked shocked. Then he closed his eyes. His expression looked almost as if he might be in pain.
He continued standing there, motionless, so I put on my sunglasses. In my heart, I bid him farewell. Then I turned and began climbing the stairs. I'd climbed perhaps twenty-five steps when I heard his voice again.
"Ah," he said, "Tongari..."
The other one stopped him. They began speaking to each other in subdued but intense voices.
I continued climbing stairs, closing my mind to everything but the task ahead. It's a very long stairway, so I've had time to think as I climbed.
During the time while I climbed the stairs, the intense heat of Plant energy has continued flowing through my body. The left half of my face has become covered with feathers, both partially and completely formed. Feathers are beginning to form around my nose, and in other places, too.
I have reached the top. It opens to a small plateau, with a smaller building on it. That small building looks almost like a temple. Knives is inside. I can feel him, though I cannot yet see him.
As I began to walk across the plateau, my sunglasses cracked and fell off my face.
It is time.
Since it seems as if I must die sooner, instead of later, I hope that my sacrifice will be enough to help you forgive me, Rem. At least, I dare to hope that I will enter the same afterlife where you are. Seeing you again is my only remaining selfish hope.
If you loathe me after I've died, because of my sins, then I shall respect your wishes and stay away from you. It will hurt me, but I will do it. Yet I will never stop loving you. I will always treasure, in the deepest part of my soul, the memories of your love for me when I was a child.
I must now close my mind even to thoughts of you, Rem. I must focus entirely on the coming confrontation with Knives.
I do not own Vash "the Stampede," Rem Saverem, Meryl Stryfe, Milly Thompson, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, etc: they all belong to the incomparable Mr. Yasuhiro Nightow.
This series of "Unwritten Letters" attempts to get inside of Vash's head, usually regarding the events in the manga (or anime). I will try to follow the chronology as closely as possible, and blend in Anime where the Manga is silent (though favoring Manga when ever there's conflicting information).
I imagine that Vash would be someone who'd want to re-examine a day's events, and try to learn from any mistakes he made. Vash doesn't consistently have anyone around that he can talk with that honestly. So 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. Most of these "unwritten" letters will be addressed to Rem. However, if it's about something I imagine Vash would think that someone else might understand better, he may address that one to someone else.
The dates align with the manga. I use manga dates where they are given. Where dates are not given, I’m using my best guesstimate.
I hope all who read this collection, or any part of it, will enjoy it.