The Fool with No Name

Chapter 1: A Pistol for Minato


…Once upon a time in the West, a man stood twenty paces from Death…
…And they dueled over the red rock and gravel, Death and the man, under the unrelenting sun…
…With only his last bullet in each gun…

…Comp Softworks Presents…

…In association with Atlas Studios and Cryware Media…

THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (2008)

((Insert ¥100 to play))


When the booth's curtain dropped behind them, the most obnoxious music played—a galloping, jangling track full of guitars and rattle-snakes. The dust and noise of unseen horses settled on a looping track of hisses and twangs. The game pressed through a pair of swinging, batwing doors into a dark and dry saloon, empty but for a cowboy sitting at the unattended bar. A mirror lined with bottles of whiskey and gin, fat, short, and even Italian, spread the wall behind him, and he wore a tan duster and a matching hat over his shock of orange hair with the slash of a bright and impossibly green bandana wrapped around his neck. The music slipped into a desert's stroll, under sun and through cacti, as a spotlight poured down on the cowboy slumped back against the bar-side. He grinned under his hat-brim, an exposed gun, the stock scrolled and bright, beaten gold, at his belt.

"Howdy, partner, name's Yoseph Hanner," the cowboy said. "I'm the narrator round these parts—and I've got news for you newcomers." He drew his gun at the screen, and fired.

[ - - - ]

"Okay," Kenji interrupted. "I dunno how you managed not to play this game, but he's just gonna talk. You don't have to pause. Just press A."

The Wild Western bells and thrums barely kept the noise of Game Panic at bay. On a Saturday night, the arcade overflowed with lines of players and spectators for the fighting games on the second floor trickling down the stairs. On the ground floor, people pressed around the cabinets, moans whistling in from the Horror House box next door. Luckily, there was no line outside the Forgotten Pistolero booth—yet.

"Nah," Minato said, leaning aside in the booth as Kenji didn't do a very good job of sharing the bench. There was enough room for two dudes in the Pistolero's box, but only just enough. "I wanna listen."

"Oh, fine. He really doesn't say anything interesting—"

[ - - - ]

The gun popped and spilled confetti, dashes of ribbon, and a red flag hand-stitched with the white word, "SALE".

"That's right, y'all! It's sale time!" Yoseph continued. "We're giving out accounts for new riders on the Pony Express Network for dirt-cheap! Lesser cowboys have died for these prices! But if you sign up now, you can open your own PEN account and access your Forgotten Pistolero game data anywhere you play! At home or at the arcade! For only ¥1200! Now, course game-booth pricings still apply, but that's a one-time fee for lifetime play with FP!"

[ - - - ]

"See, I told you he didn't say anything cool."

Minato didn't respond at first, and then asked, "What do I get if I buy an account?"

"Well—" Kenji started, but a girl shrieked in the Horror House next to them. The whole of the arcade stirred, looking up from their Pachinko, their Street fights, their Dancing Revolutions, and their Houses of the Dead at the scream. One girl stepped out of the curtains awkwardly, a shaking friend in tow, and they both hurried out, the electronic racket of the games filling in over their exit. And through all the chaos, Yoseph Hanner talked, his speech bubble crawling up the screen.

"Anyway—what did you say?" Kenji asked. "Oh—just let him tell you."

[ - - - ]

"Now, if y'all've forgotten, buying an account on the Pony Express Network, PEN, lets ya play The Forgotten Pistolero anywhere ya want exactly where ya left off at home—or the arcade! The game'll always remember your name, your friends, and—" Yoseph shot up off the bar stool, drawing a second gun from the folds of his coat and spinning them both in artful twirls. "—your preferred firearms." He grinned, crossing the golden guns over his chest. "Buying today will also net ya a 30% off coupon to buy yer own Forgotten Pistolero for the Compstation 2."

[ - - - ]

"30% off?" Kenji echoed. "That's actually pretty good—you can get the game for, like, ¥2500?"

"But you still gotta buy the account," Minato told him, and the curtains of the booth rustled, flashes of blue and pink light streaking his face from out in the arcade.

"Still breaking even, 30% off's basically the account," Kenji reasoned. "Not pushing, dude. Play the game and see if you like it. I liked it; everybody ought to get addicted to Pistolero—for a few weeks of their life." Minato took the proposition in mind and turned back to the game.

[ - - - ]

"Course you ain't gotta pony up now," Yoseph said, smoothly holstering his guns again. "That wouldn't be right of me as an entertainin' man. Now, let's get this prairie story started, all right? Tell me your name, stranger."

A stage slammed across the scene, curtained in deep, velvet green and flanked with shadow-puppet saloon girls corseted in lace and ruffles with thigh-climbing boots and crowns of feathers. Together they tugged on the tasseled curtain ropes, pulling open a screen of letters.

MIKE_DURANGO_

Is this name okay?
Yes
- No

[ - - - ]

Minato snorted.

"Man, what a name," he commented and backed out of the dialogue box and over the canon name, moving through the inventory of letters until his character's new name read:

MINATO_ARISATO_

Is this name okay?
- Yes
No

"Not real creative," Kenji put in.

"Less weird than 'Mike Durango'," Minato told him. "What was your name?"

"Slick Billy Campbell," Kenji said, posturing with pride. "Straightest Shot in the West."

"Okay," Minato said with a half-smile.

"Minato Arisato, then?" Yoseph asked, speech-boxing up the screen again. "I'll remember that. Welcome to Oura, Mr. Arisato." Yoseph extended a gloved hand to meet the player's hypothetical one. "We're a booming mining settlement up here in the heart of the mountains. It's a nice town, but you know—" Yoseph's eyes narrowed. "Oura's got her secrets."

"Man, this guy's VA drives me crazy," Kenji said. "I can never figure out who he is."

"Google it."

"The role's listed as 'Uncredited'—but dude, doesn't his voice sound familiar?"

Minato paused to listen closer.

[ - - - ]

Back in the saloon, Yoseph returned to his stool at the bar and knocked back a shot of amber pixels that materialized from nowhere. He slammed the shot-glass back on the bar and glared at his audience seriously, soberly.

"Oura's got her secrets, and what secret worth keeping never almost killed a man?" Yoseph asked heavily. "But Oura's not looking so hot lately, y'know? And those streets could get…real red out there, if ya know what I'm saying. Better take this with you—you wanna have a fair shot." Yoseph grinned again and produced an iron-colored revolver, grim with age. "Don't forget now, Arisato, this is the West, and the West ain't easy like the East. You make sure to honor those looking after you out here—the Father, the Son—and the Colt!" He smirked richly. "And the Father and Son know it never hurt to hedge yer bets in these kinda stories—stories of blood, and guns, and brothers. You watch yourself, Arisato; you got a long story ahead of ya." He leaned back again, lounging on the bar-side, his digital glass not going wanting and still brimming with whiskey.

"And you buy that account after the demo," Yoseph said after a second shot. "They don't render the booze here free."

[ - - - ]

Minato blinked in the light of the screen. It faded and flickered, the game's prologue surfacing from the darkness again.

"Kinda familiar," he said, and Kenji frowned and, after a dip into his pocket, pulled out his cellphone.

"Man! I can't stand this anymore. You play—I've seen this part, like, five times." He snapped open his phone's onboard keyboard and typed furiously into the web-browser: 'who the hell is yosef hanners voice actor,' and Google asked him politely if he had meant: 'who the hell is yoseph hanners voice actor'.

"Yeah, whatever," Kenji said mostly to the phone and cut into his results.

And Minato played.

[ - - - ]

A dash of pure, wet ice struck Minato's cheek, and he winced, drawing his face further in his coat as a cold wind swept his hair and howled up the peak. A freezing rain fell around him, and deep, gray thunderheads rolled slowly up the mountain side, cloaking it in shadow, while off to the west, the setting sun washed the valley below in warm gold.

Minato's body creaked, his eyes and his throat full of itching dryness. A day spent lying in the alpine air had not been kind. His lips had chapped and cracked, and a salty taste of rain water and blood leaked onto his tongue.

'And I lost my hat,' he thought sleepily, another gust raking through the trees and boulders, ripping through the last of the scraggly greens before the rocky summit. It rushed inside his coat, skirting icily up his neck and chilling his very bones, and he twisted, clutching his hands in fists.

'I gotta get up,' he thought practically and pulled against the mountain and the dizzying weight of dehydration. His arms shook and his legs refused; Minato fell, gasping. The mountain side and its trail threading through jagged rock and conifers blurred and swam.

'I can't,' he thought, his eyes wide in a kind of grim awareness but a nonchalant disbelief, 'I—can't.' And he lay like that, thunder grumbling in the clouds above.

"Hey," the voice of a boy called out to him. "Hey, brother. Did you really climb up here to die?" Lightning struck, frying a wasted conifer and casting the mountain in eerie green light.

"No," Minato said gruffly, "but if you're talking to me, I'm close."

"I found your hat," the boy informed him. He bent down on one knee, the black hat in his small, white hands, and Minato didn't have to see him to know who he was, what he looked like—that boy with that voice; that boy with a thatch of curly, black hair and intensely bright, intensely blue eyes.

"You died older than that," Minato pointed out, and the wind rocked the trees again, almost drowning out his voice, but the boy spoke with otherworldly clarity.

"Did I?" the boy asked, bemused. "Are you sure?"

Minato didn't answer, and the boy tucked the hat beside him, out of the hands of the wind, and leaned closer, the gales rising to tearing speeds again. With the last of his strength, Minato grabbed his hat.

"You aren't sure," the boy said, his smile small and cryptic.

And the corpse of the fallen conifer smoldered, the flames of the lightning fire popping angrily and bending low in the wind as sparks floated across the green. The boy put a cold hand on Minato's shoulder, frosty fingertips touching his exposed neck. Minato jolted, almost surprised he had any heat left in him, but the sudden movement dragged on him, his vision blackening.

"Don't die up here," the boy told him. "We'll meet again."

Minato pulled his gaze up to finally find and look at the boy, to see the black hair and blue eyes he knew were there, but shadow took him quickly, and only a white hand, blurry and unfinished, hovered in the wave of black unconsciousness.

[ - - - ]

"You. Get off of my mountain."

Minato woke under the same gray clouds and in the grip of the same thirst, but now, he woke sitting up, with his back against a boulder and his hat knocked back around his neck, the stampede strings knotted under his chin, and a girl standing over him. She stood stock-still, swathed in a white dress, long and rippling, with her mouth in a vicious pout, her furious eyes shining, and her long, long hair glowing like blood against the slate-colored sky.

"You don't belong here," she said again. "Go."

He opened his mouth to speak, and his chapped lips fought him. It hurt even to grimace, but Minato could stand, and he wobbled upright, the whole bottle-shape of the green valley below lit in a fall of sunlight beyond the girl.

"She can be sour," another voice interrupted them and further down the meandering trail stood a second girl in a blue dress pinned up the front by silver buttons. No wind stirred her ocean-colored skirts or her cloud of white hair, and she smiled at him coyly with golden eyes.

The red-haired girl swung around and snapped at her, "I am not sour! He does not belong here!"

"And he will leave," the other said and fixed her eye on Minato again. "But you must be a haunted man to climb a haunted peak."

"It is haunted," she went on when he made no comment. "When my uncle first came to this valley, the military drove the old people out and up this mountain—"

"Those barbarians trapped them here," the red-haired girl interrupted. "Men, women, children; they starved them all—for days and days. Until every one—every man, woman, and child—until every one died, up there, up on the rocks." She followed the trail with her brown eyes as it climbed and wavered above them, the fading path looping up and onto the lip of a massive rock jutting up from the body of the hill and overlooking the valley. "They held them here," the girl said, her voice cracking. "They held them here until they were gone."

The girl in blue glanced away from her companion to him again, her gaze unnaturally heavy but her face still as if quite used to the other girl's displays.

"They say their ghosts still wail here at night," the girl in blue said. "I saw you leave town and climb yesterday. I wonder, did you hear them?"

Minato looked away from her, and across the slope, a tree, burnt and stricken, slung across his vision.

"I didn't hear any ghosts," he said.

"How disappointing. Where do you come from then?"

"St. Louis."

"Oh, really? You've blown quite far," she said. "You know, down there is Oura. My uncle is the doctor in town, and I know a thing or two about medicine and mountains." She smiled again. "And if you stay up here much longer, there will certainly be one ghost on this hungry peak. You should walk with us."

He staggered a few steps down to her, his boots quaking on the crooked ground, and her eyes seemed to laugh at his stumbling, even with her mouth a line.

"Well, you are blessed that I am here," she said when he reached her. "What is your name?"

"Minato Arisato," he told her, feeling dumb with dehydration, and she cocked her head, regarding him.

"What do you think my name is?"

[ - - - ]

A flickering screen of stage-curtains and letters projected over the hillside.

ELISABETH_INGHAM_

Is this name okay?
- Yes
No

The game had not been kidding around about 'remembering your friends,' and Ms. Ingham's model waited patiently alongside his character, but the blue dress, the white hair, the golden gaze, and the particular way of speaking stuck with him. Minato parsed through the name and fixed a single letter.

ELIZABETH_INGHAM_

Is this name okay?
- Yes
No

[ - - - ]

"How clever," Elizabeth said, her arms crossed over her breast. "That is my name. You must have good ears. Let us walk." She gazed past him, up to her companion. "You too, my dear."

The red-haired girl reached them hesitantly but not for the mountain. She moved easily over the craggy slope, unhindered by the steepness.

"Why don't you introduce yourself?" Elizabeth asked when she arrived, and the girl sneered, her placid face suddenly alive with anger and distress at once.

"I won't tell him my name—he'll only take it from me!" she insisted and marched ahead of them.

"That is hardly becoming treatment of your guest," Elizabeth reminded her but did not press, repeating to Minato in a hushed voice: "She can be sour—"

[ - - - ]

And someone banged hard with the blunt of his fist on the booth side, shuddering the cabinet. Kenji looked up from his phone and tugged the curtain aside.

"No solicitors," he calmly told the knocker, a fat boy with a round face and rounder fists. The fat boy shook those fists indignantly, stepping forward and pushing into Kenji's space.

"Paying customers want the chance to play they are entitled to—"

"Hey, chill, man—he's got five minutes. Relax. Don't you have a quiz game to play anyway?"

"I will have you know—"

Minato leaned back from the game for a glance through the curtains.

"Hey, Noizumi," he said casually, and the other boy locked up, his fists clenching and unclenching in a strange kind of puzzlement.

"Minato-kun," Noizumi said, avoiding eye-contact. "I did not know you liked to play this game—"

"I just found out I did," Minato said. "Gimmie a minute."

"No, it is all right—" Noizumi protested, but Minato already skipped to the ever-present and flashing "BUY PEN ACCOUNT" in the corner of the screen. A red curtain fell on the mountain-side covered in a wall of text lightly explaining how to purchase the account with just an e-mail address and the debit-card reader attached to the cabinet before heavily explaining the legal logistics account-use entailed. ¥1200 later (and rather little reading), the curtain rose on Yoseph's saloon.

"Well, howdy again, and welcome to the Pony Express Network!" Yoseph said warmly. "That'll be your receipt printing off—with a 30% off coupon for one copy of The Forgotten Pistolero at any participating Junes department store!" He broke out his guns spinning again in fast, wild circles, firing once, then twice, as unsuspecting bottles exploded. He caught the guns tightly, brought them together, and blew out the tendrils of smoke. "See ya on the streets, partner."

Minato pulled the neat strip of receipt-paper from the printer below the controls. Kenji stepped out ahead of him and made room around Noizumi for Minato to slip out after into the jam-packed arcade.

"Oh, just at Junes? That'll be a train ride," Kenji said.

"You got time?" Minato asked.

"Yeah, it's Saturday, dude!" Kenji broke into a smile. "Let's go!"

Minato nodded and shot a quick "Later, Noizumi," and the two boys pushed out of the arcade and on to the main floor of Paulownia Mall. The mall teemed with Saturday night crowds spilling out of the Mandragora and filling up every booth and armchair at Chagall Cafe. A line was already building at the purple, double-doors of Escapade. Be Blue V had shuttered its storefront for the night, but Power Records pushed carts of marked down CDs out into the mall for passerby-perusing. Only the Police station stood mostly empty, the front desk manned by just one officer, with the rest of the force spreading across the city's mall district.

It wasn't late, just after five, but the sun had set during their time in the arcade, draping the walk to Port Station in a metropolitan darkness, spotted with milky street light, winking neon, and golden windows, as December tightened her frigid grip on them. Minato buried his hands deeper in his pockets until they passed under the arch of the station and down into the warmth of the commuter tunnels. Up on the platforms, the air turned to ice again as they waited, trains coming and going all over the city across the dozen tracks. From the station, they would head over the bay into the northern part of Tatsumi Port and into the tangle of districts where multifloor, big-box stores like Junes could fit and thrive.

Their train docked and dumped a swarm of passengers, babbling school kids and sober (but not for long) commuters, onto the platform. Kenji hopped the gap and into the car ahead of the waiting mob.

"Oh yeah," Kenji said, parking in a window seat as the train car filled up around them. "I found out who that guy's VA is!"

"Who?" Minato asked, hands still in pockets as he sat next to Kenji.

"They did a contest for that guy's voice before the game came out. Some junior high kid won—'Yosuke Hanamura'."

"Oh—he did a pretty good job for an amateur."

"Yeah, but—"

"But what?"

Kenji sighed and frowned. "Now, I dunno where I heard his voice before."

Minato chuckled, and a digital train attendant, chipper and robotic, announced the closing of the doors. The train sealed itself shut and bolted down the track and onto the bay.

"We should grab some ramen on the way back," Kenji said. "Getting kinda late."

"Yeah," Minato said, glancing out at the rush of buildings just past Kenji's head. The windows fogged, the city blurring, and he idly checked his phone. It wasn't late but it was getting late, and on any other day, Junpei would be trolling around on airways for him or someone else to go out and get food with or something else. On any other day, he'd have been back to the dorm once already, just to check in with the others, instead of stretching out his afternoon into evening like this.

But there were no messages, and his phone had languished all day in an endless radio silence.

'I hope they ate without me,' he thought but within, he couldn't quite care what they did as long as they did something. He couldn't take this dejected idleness anymore. Every day since Wednesday, the dorm seemed to slip further into a kind of existential sink-hole, the days there oppressively long and oppressively silent as the vortex of it all stole his friends' voices and lost them in awareness of the end approaching, the Absolute Death. Under such knowledge, every day became perpetual and unchanging, every day since Ryoji—guilt twisted Minato's stomach—every day since Ryoji had asked them to kill him.

He really hoped they were eating as the train passed into a tunnel, darkening the car as ad-space lit along the ceiling and the service LCDs glowed overhead. The knife of his guilt turned another hour as after all, he was still out here, on a noisy, weekend train to north Tatsumi to buy video games with Kenji, while his friends haunted the dorms, drifting and leaderless, their thoughts heavy with the coming Apocalypse.

'I should do something when I get back,' he thought—but what more was there he could do for them? Part of him wished he felt a deeper, cutting trauma—'But I don't.' Ryoji's revelation had cleared clouds in his mind, trading knots in his stomach, the unsettling knowledge of a secret he hadn't fully understood, for only a lingering disease and restlessness. After all, 'I think normal people would be kinda more upset to find out they were carrying Death,' Minato thought, 'but I'm—I'm still me.'

'And I think normal people would be more upset about having to kill someone,' he reminded himself again. That element alone nagged at him to no end; it poked and prodded, asking in so many words if he would commit murder in this way or that, again and again. Death or not, at least right now, the Appriser was still human, as if Ryoji's humanity created the only 'complication'.

And even now, Ryoji still seemed like Ryoji, Death and all, and his complete disappearance and the absolution of his absence almost didn't seem real. It almost seemed like he'd just be back on Monday, like he'd only left school for a cruise on the whims of a wealthy mother wearing champagne-colored cashmere, too many pearls, and designer-sunglasses in the snow. The voices of Gekkoukan's gossips still rang in Minato's memory hours later.

"Did you hear about Ryoji in Class 2-F?" she had asked, and her friend drew closer.

"No, I didn't! What happened?"

"I heard his parents had to travel, and he transferred."

"Oh, no! That's too bad! Miyuki-chan was saying yesterday that he was Death Incarnate! She thinks she's so funny."

In reality, nothing had been said after that first bit, but he grinned to imagine what had happened to him, to all of them, contained in the simple syntax of schoolyard gossip. In reality, even the gossip lacked zest, and any explanations S.E.E.S. fed their wilted egos were similarly empty, useless, gasping for air. And he, no better, no more careful than anyone, was out at night on a train, going to buy a mediocre video game from a department store with obnoxious commercials.

'Maybe it gets better,' Minato thought, leaning against the window, and his train broke from the tunnel into the intense light of North Tatsumi.


Author's Note: Hello! o/ Welcome to my new project, a split story-line between a Wild West AU and a canon fanfic. It skips around a lot in this first chapter to clarify how the plot-cuts will work. Also, the P3 characters have 'in-game' names because at times in the canon-based plot, the characters will talk about the game's characters (and clearly not themselves), and I will use their game-names then so nothing gets confusing. The game's names will either sound very similar to the cast's actual names or have the same initials, like 'Yosuke Hanamura' becomes 'Yoseph Hanner'. And yes, yes, Yosuke is only the MC of a made-up Western video game because he says 'partner' all the time. Unlike the other characters, Yosuke's character will not be renamed anything other than 'Yoseph' since Minato doesn't know who Yosuke Hanamura is (and the Yosuke here doesn't act a whole lot like himself).

Anyway, December 2009 needs to be so much more interesting, 'most boring month in the game' and all, so I wrote a fic to liven it up a bit. I hope you all enjoy the premise! Any and all feedback is welcome. If you have any constructive criticism, on characterization, grammar, character role choices, errors, etc, please leave me a note, or if you just like the story and want to say so, feel free! \o/

- SM

Chapter 2, 'For a Few Dollars More', will be posted on 11/19/12.