A cluster of small, silver bells ding-a-linged from where they hung on the door into the pawn shop.
A man stepped inside. He was tall, with a masculine jaw and well-coiffed crew cut. He wore a dark suit. As he entered, he took a moment to use one hand to adjust his tie. His other hand held a black guitar case.
He surveyed his surroundings. The shop was sparse, with most of the square footage occupied by stark white floor tiling. Against the walls were displays of glass-encased goods. To the side, a table, with a couple televisions perched atop, each with a post-it note designating its price. Fluorescent lighting overhead.
The man walked towards the back, where another man sat on a tall stool behind a modest counter and a cash register. This one wore a tattered gray hoodie over equally tattered blue jeans. He had an odd, purple bandana tied around his neck.
The visitor nodded at the shopkeeper. “Hello there,” he said.
“Hello, stranger,” the pawnbroker responded. “What’re ya sellin’?”
The man in the suit chuckled as he carefully laid the guitar case across the countertop.
“Well, I have an item here that I think might interest you. This instrument right here sure sings a pretty tune. It has a nice, strong tone to it. You could probably hear this baby from almost a mile away.”
He swung the case open, and spun the whole thing around to let the broker see. The shopkeeper glanced down at it – then slowly crossed his arms, as his attention returned to the visitor’s face.
Inside the case was a sniper rifle.
“Yeah, I picked this up in a raid we conducted on a shooting range in the sticks that we suspected of harboring extremist activity. I wouldn’t have thought much of it, until we took a closer look.”
The man in the suit lowered a hand toward one of the weapon. With his index finger, he lifted the barrel a few inches in the air.
“The inside of the barrel has a coating of some sort. We’re not even sure what it is or how it was applied, but some real precision work has been done here. Sure enough, we ran it through a ballistics battery, and it seems that the tighter diameter increases the muzzle velocity. Something’s been done to the trigger, too, and I’m sure I’m missing something else.”
The man in the suit lowered his finger, laying the rifle flat again before he continued.
“My superiors believe the raid was a bust. ‘No actionable intel,’ yadda yadda. But I like to think I’m a man who can appreciate quality craftsmanship, so finding the guy responsible for these modifications has become a pet project of mine. In fact, I’m pretty sure I figured out who it is.”
The two stared at each other for a moment, unmoving.
“Now, if I was to come across this man, I would tell him something. I would let him know that, if he were to turn himself in peacefully, Uncle Sam would be happy to repay him a competitive wage in exchange for the service of his particular skills.”
The would-be ‘seller’ briefly tucked a hand into his pocket, then flicked a business card onto the countertop.
“But if he were to decline such an offer, heh,” he shrugged. “He should know that, from this moment forward, he will have eyes on his every move. He won’t be able to eat, sleep, or piss without someone watching. And if he so much as breathes in the wrong direction, he’ll have to take an early retirement from the pawning game.”
He swung his arm over the guitar case and, after closing it, slid it back off the counter and held it at his side.
“You have a good day now,” he nodded, and turned. He walked away, and out the door.
The man who remained took a deep breath, exhaled, and tugged at his bandana.
The Merchant from Resident Evil 4 took a deep breath, exhaled, and tugged at his bandana.
He no longer had a proper storefront, but what he did have was a well-stocked tent in the middle of nowhere. Guns, ammo, other stuff — he had it all. Well, except for customers. He did not have many customers. Maybe the occasional mercenary or confused villager, and that one emo-haired American kid, but otherwise business was slow.
Ah, speaking of confused villagers, one was headed his way. This one was a middle-aged man, it seemed; or, rather, had been one. At this point he was just a shambling, groaning mess, shouting the occasional Spanish. His hair, thinning. His gut, paunchy. His gait, disturbingly inconsistent.
The Merchant leaned down and squinted at his wares. He reached out a hand, pushed one gun aside, and picked up another: a nice little pump-action boomstick. He nodded in approval, at his own choice, and raised the weapon towards the oncoming kinda-zombie.
It took several seconds, but soon enough, the would-be assailant was at a nice range.
The Merchant squeezed the trigger. The shotgun shot. The shambler’s head burst into a fine red-brown mist. His body fell to the dirt. The sound of the shot thundered across the countryside.
The Merchant turned back to where he had retrieved the weapon. Only, now, he noticed an envelope there.
He froze. He turned his head, this way and that, then his body altogether as he checked his surroundings.
“Hello?” he said. He waited a moment. He stared at the envelope. Eventually, he picked it up. It was a normal, everyday, letter-sized white envelope. He tore it open crudely, shoving his fingers under the flap and tearing a ragged hole in its side.
He pulled out a slip of paper, and frowned as he read it.
Just two words: BARREL VOLCANO
He frowned. The world around him basked in stillness and quiet. The wind was cool and soft. His environment had deteriorated, turning gray and sullen, once-green plants having withered and crumbled. The air had an otherworldly fog to it, not even granting the solace of a bright view to the skies above.
He sighed, shrugged to no one in particular, and began gathering his things.
The Merchant wiped his brow, although he kept his bandana and trenchcoat in place. He lugged a heavy backpack as well. He kept walking.
He had found an entrance into the mountain, and had already been besieged by a strange creature that seemed to be made entirely of… cork? The odd monster blasted apart satisfyingly enough, at least.
The cavern walls were dark, though these chambers were lit by the fire of flowing magma. The atmosphere was moist with steam, too, and filled with the rumblings of volcanic recreation. The Merchant was surprised, in his advance, to come upon the entryway to a quieter area with wooden crates strewn about.
“Ah, there you are! It’s good to see ya!”
The Merchant whirled about on a heel and leveled his trusty shotgun at a diminutive fellow wearing an odd hat. He was short, stocky, and wore a vest. The hat had flames on it. The man (?) wore dark shades and a thick, pointed black mustache. He wore a golden belt buckle. He was kinda like a really small biker guy.
“Whoa, hey,” the biker-shopkeeper height-challenged dude chuckled nervously, waving his stubby hands in front of him. “No need for that, fella. You’re the Merchant, right? I’m the one who sent the message, name’s Hinopio. Welcome to my shop!”
His voice was like a boulder being dragged down a gravel road after smoking 40 years of cigarettes.
The Merchant stood still, mostly, although he did lower his firearm.
“It’s an inn, too!” Hinopio said. He smiled.
The merchant examined the place. There were a few tables. A ‘cozy’ bed. Some aircraft models? Sparse supplies. Unpleasant scent.
“Whaddya thinkin’? Inviting me here, I mean,” the Merchant said.
“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
The Merchant’s body jumped before he turned quickly and pointed the barrel of his shotgun squarely at the face of a fellow backpack-touting weirdo.
“Haha! You’re a jumpy one, aren’t you?”
Hinopio clapped his hands. “Great, you’re both here!”
The Merchant’s shoulders rose and fell as he breathed heavily, keeping the gun leveled at the face of a man who smirked in an unnatural manner. The pack on his back was enormous, impossibly so, and seemed to be both overflowing of and covered with… masks?
“Someone better tell me what’s going on,” the Merchant muttered.
“That is the Happy Mask Salesman,” Hinopio said, then nodded and strode forward, closing the distance between him and the duo. “I invited you both here because you’re a couple of excellent traveling salesmen, and I could use a couple of excellent traveling salesmen. I’ve heard you’re both struggling with excess inventory, hardly any customer base, and you barely have any new leads at all. And here I am, with all sorts of opportunities, but a location that keeps me tied down where nobody can find me. Together, my new friends, I think we can make a lot of money.”
The Merchant blinked. The Happy Mask Salesman looked a little less Happy.
Hinopio shrugged. “Look, uh, I know I’m just a stranger in a strange land. And you have your own things goin’ already. You can go home if you want. But I think you both came here because, honestly, you’re ready to try something new. So, c’mon! Let’s have an adventure!”
The Mask Salesman shrugged. “Okay!” he said, and nodded with an eerie rapidness.
The Merchant sighed, and dropped his gaze to the rocky cavern floor.
“Great!” Hinopio roared, and laughed, and rubbed his meaty li’l paws together. “We’ll call ourselves… The Guild of Profits! And I already have an assignment for ya.”
In the dark, he pulled a handle.
Around him, ancient lights began to glow.
He laughed, long and low.
That’s the end of chapter 1, but before you leave I have some fan art to share!
Hinopio, a perhaps-neglected character in the Nintendo canon, gets some drawin’ love from @Chaoshawkins. A great reference for anyone unfamiliar, too.
Then we have a fun piece from @Jayswriting that borrows from official artwork in order to spread HAPPINESS TO EVERYONE. HAPPINESS TO EVERYONE. HAPPINESS TO EVERYONE.
Here we have a depiction of the Happy Mask Salesman with a twist, by @Oceanity (who was also responsible for drawing a new Eevee evolution, Patreon). I would like to make it clear that this is an unfinished work. You may get to see the finished result at a later date…
And finally, we have this intimidatingly high-quality piece of art from Adam Miller, a.k.a. @RubberGardener. Seriously, uh. Dang. Sweet. He has a portfolio you can check out at MorganAdamMiller.Crevado.com.
If you would like to contribute fan art, feel free to send them in an email to thenintendolegend[at]gmail[dot]com, and also feel free to let me know how to credit you, and if you want links to a portfolio or Twitter username or blog or whatever, too.
Thanks for reading thus far. This is going to be a fun series to write. 😀