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Storms on the Horizon

Chapter Text

Morioh was a lawless failure of a gold-town two steps away from being a ghost-town in the middle of a desert wasteland. The geography alone was nothing short of mind-boggling; the settlement was nestled beside a tributary-fed lake and a foul bog created by the run off, surrounded on all sides by mesas and plateaus, a real oasis of sorts in the otherwise parched landscape. The location was the only real saving grace to be found in the hamlet, the surprisingly fertile stretch of earth between mesa valleys and wet-land had turned the meager village into a miniature breadbasket, keeping the other nearby (and more successful) boom-towns fed. It was an odd place, full of odder people, surrounded by strange occurrences and speculations. Nobody actually chose to live there- they just would end up there... and never leave.

It wasn't where Guido Mista wanted to go, in fact he'd rather go anywhere else, but he had his orders, his mission. He cursed his physical prowess not for the first time since crossing the godforsaken desert, and it probably wouldn't be the last time he cursed it either. Abbachio was already in place and had already confirmed the rumors, so now it was up to Mista to secure the prize and guard it until Buccelati and Narancia could follow after. With Abbachio gone and them being officially short-staffed after Fugo turned-tail, that left him as the most viable choice to go.

Didn't mean he had to like it though.

He was still a good hour and a half from Morioh proper to, had spent about five hours under the blazing sun since setting out from his last stop, but honestly he was making great time. At least better time than when he stole that buggy, less bumpy for sure, and it definitely beat walking. He should have stolen a horse awhile back but there was an unsurprising lack of travel towards Morioh. Given the stories he had heard it wasn't exactly hard to imagine why.

Supposedly a rich aristocratic family had settled in Morioh first, a family of archaeologists who found something they shouldn't have- or something along those lines. The story gets fuzzy after that, rumors of vampires and ancient gods, murders and martyrs, miracles and misfortunes. The valley to the north can grant abilities some say, the bog to the south has a scaled demon whispered others, there are living corpses in the graveyards, Jesus Christ himself is buried somewhere between the dusty plateaus, there are fruits that grown from the stone that cure and curse. A tainted land that is bountiful at a cost, or some other kind of bunk poetic nonsense.

He supposed most of it was hearsay- but most hearsay was based on something tangible or it would be hogwash. However legitimate the claims though, the place he was riding to left much to be desired in terms of attractiveness. It had a truly modest population of about two hundred and five people according to the last census, just big enough for a school, sheriff, and a town hall. The main exports were corn, melons, peppers, pomegranates, figs, stone fruits, veal, wool, pork, and apples according to some truly tedious data obtained by Fugo before he left the group. There wasn't much going for it to make up for the frankly off-putting tales surrounding the place.

Either way, Morioh was his destination.

It was maybe an hour or two past noon when he finally hit the Morioh Town sign- or at least half of it- the other piece lying further away in wrecked little pile of wood splinters and weathered stone. How welcoming. The poor greeting aside, the hazy shapes of buildings were within sight, lodged at the edge of a field of towering mesas, framed against a long highland plateau. The gossip did the odd landscaping no justice as the rock formations were even weirder in person- or at least from a distance. It was unnatural looking, the flattened rock shelves all jutting out from a steep hill, tall spikes of rock littered between them. Weirder still was the dry sand giving way to clay and soft dirt the further his horse went, grasses springing up in little tufts at first until he was in a veritable short-grass prairie. The land was desert around here for seemingly hundreds of kilometers, dusty earth interrupted only by the frail fountainhead to his left, and yet here he was in a lush grassland. It was surreal.

His uneasiness was at war with his sense of responsibility, and in the end his commitment to his mission (and his thirst) won out over any apprehensions he had. He was entering from a less frequently used side of the town as per Abbachio's recommendations, the northern route taking him between a horse pasture and a few quaint houses, road spitting him out right next to the saloon. A blessing from God if ever there was- Mista wasted no time tying off his commandeered horse to a nearby post and making his way through the divine shade of the wood-slat awning and into the musky saloon.

It wasn't anything much as far as taverns went; the usual distressed interior, smokey and acrid smells, typical decor, but honestly he cared more about getting something to drink. The saloon was surprisingly busy in the afternoon, but it didn't sound like there was too horribly much to do in this town other than farm and drink. There were two men behind the bar, a tall auburn haired man wiping out glasses and a smaller strawberry-blond man who barely reached over the counter but was pouring a glass of something clear for a blond haired looking stockman. There were a few other people interspersed around the sparse room, painted ladies flitting about their tables. A pink haired vaquero was foolishly and unsuccessfully trying to woo the prettiest dame he'd seen in ages; all slender and lithe with eyes that seemed to itch for a fight. She had to be the mistress of the brothel that was probably attached somewhere close since the other two ladies were always stopping by to chat. They were nice to look at too, a Latina with facial tattoos and pretty hair and an Oriental with short green hair and a wide smile, but he wasn't here for any fun of that kind. Not to mention they'd probably charge him a fortune as an out-of-towner. The other people in the establishment were hardly registered, a gaunt man preoccupied with a sketchbook, a child, a cowboy, a few short men playing cards- nobody that came off as particularly threatening, or who seemed to recognize him or where he might be from.

Sauntering up to the bar, wiping a dirty hand through his short and sweat-damp black hair, Mista slid into one of the rickety bar-stools and pressed a few coppers onto the bar-top. The shorter man, who was actually stoved up in a wheelchair and not just vertically impaired, hardly glanced over at him, preferring instead to slip the stockmans pay from the counter. There was a wordless parting wave between the two, and another frustrating minute before the taller man made his way over with a raised eyebrow.

“Just a water for now at least, desert's left me dry as bones,” he could get something real to drink afterwards.

Something must have struck a funny chord with the tall barman, who cracked a wide smile showing off a bronze-gold grill and belted out an odd 'nyo-ho' sort of laugh. Mista had never seen such fancy-ass dental implants- usually something only for the incredibly wealthy- or ones with... embossing, had only ever seen the occasional gold or ivory fake tooth. Who was this barkeep if he was able to afford a full mouth worth of metal, and what the hell were they doing in a place like Morioh? It was an odd mystery, but one he didn't care to solve too much. It had nothing to do with his mission, wasn't really his business, and the clear crystal glass of water set in front of him rapidly took his attention. The parched highwayman knocked back the glass with relish bordered on desperation, chugging through two more refills and then finishing with a contented sigh.

Pulling out a few more copper coins to slide on to the hardwood counter, “alright, now I'm ready for a whiskey.”

Both barkeeps had been watching him gulp down the water like a mummified mook, but it was the shorter man who broke their reverie, drawling a “you really crossed the desert then, huh.”

Another cut glass was placed in front of him filled with some pretty potent smelling alcohol, “all the way from the northeast, near the coast.”

The taller man raised an eyebrow, “what is so special here? You trying to go out to California? Wanna be a cowboy or something?”

The tall barkeep had a heavy Italian accent, surprising and also an instant red-flag, but Mista needed information, “I'm looking for someone.”

“Hate to break it but this is a shitty place to go looking for people, pal,” the shorter man, a Southerner by the accent, huffed, “people go into the desert to not be found. You likely ain't gon' find who you are lookin' for.”

It was fair enough to say, the West was a huge place after all, but Abbachio already confirmed the mother's address, and the daughter of a soiled dove wouldn't likely go far. The other surrounding towns were busts and unless she died at some point, Trish Una had to be in Morioh somewhere. Mista would have to avoid dropping the name for now though, so far Buccelati's rebellion was pretty secret, but it wouldn't be for very long. Their enigmatic and violent boss seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere. It wouldn't do for Mista to get compromised so early on since he was carrying one half of the puzzle.

“Thanks for the tip, but I heard she was living here now,” taking a sip from the whiskey- which was disgusting, more benzene than drinkable alcohol.

The tall man immediately crowed, leaning far over the counter with interest as the crippled man raised an eyebrow, “you came all this way for love? You did then? How romantic- who is it?”

Mista faked a laugh, “no telling, but I will gotta stay awhile to actually find her, you know?”

The shorter man wheeled his way over, “there's an inn down the street, 'cross from the city hall.”

The highwayman shook his head, leaning low to whisper, “I gotta be a bit discreet about this, I ain't exactly in the clear with the law and my bonnie ain't either.”

The two barkeepers looked at each other thoughtfully, the taller one eventually pointing over at the beautiful mistress drinking all of the vaqueros alcohol, “you could stay with one of the ladies for awhile.”

Said loud enough to catch the attention of all the women, the mistress slamming a hand on the table, “we aren't a damn hotel, Gyro.”

The Latina piped up next, laughing “if he's staying with us, we're gonna put him to work. Though I doubt he'd get too many requests.”

“I can think of one or two who might ask for him, he'd be stuck washing the bedding more oft then not.”

Mista was torn between wanting to defend his honor, which would imply that he thought he'd make for a great prostitute, or just letting them have their laughs. He wasn't hideous by any means, sure he had some body hair and broad shoulders, but he was muscular and rugged and rather handsome if he did say so himself. He did probably need a wash at this point though. The other two ladies had mercifully dropped it in favor of harassing the vaquero who was busy staring dreamily at the mistress, who was moved to lean against the bar next to the highwayman.

“Why not drop him off on our cousin, hm,” the dame said with an unnerving wink.

The tall barkeep, Gyro, snapped his fingers, “he has an extra room doesn't he, Johnny?”

Johnny scratched his chin, “ah, Giorno does.”

The mistress flung an arm around Mista's shoulders, “our cousin GioGio has a farmhouse with an extra bedroom, and since it's gettin' to be harvest time he might be more willin' to share.”

It was either shacking up with a mysterious cousin of two strangers at the behest of a potential bushwhacker, stay in an inn where he would definitely be bushwhacked, or live in a brothel. The third option... was something he shouldn't even be considering, and the second option was off the table. He'd just have to trust that this Giorno guy wasn't any trouble.

“Alright, where's your cousin live?”

 


Mista side-stepped most of the town, preferring to travel the dusty dirt paths along the western side to get to the farmhouse down at the southwest edge of Morioh. It was mostly farmland through here, smaller plots and cottages on the back of the main stretch of town, with large sprawling fields stretching several acres. Riding the western edge towards the large plateau also gave him a great view of the strange mesas and rock-spires further away. Now he could see the steep hill they were perched on wasn't actually that sharp a slope, the extra height just came from what looked like a dirty cloud at the roots. Dust and sand must be constantly taken from the top of the mesas to fall between the formations, and the pillars and spires acted like a wind-tunnel so it was always kicking up a dust-storm. Mista turned away quick, it was just too bizarre to look at for too long, making his stomach uneasy and his head hurt.

The farmhouse he was looking for was a 'soft yellow creme colored wood and brick thing you can't miss, tucked under a laurel. It'll be the last building you'll see for miles' spotted after a good fifteen minute ride. There was a wide corn field behind it to the west, some sheep and a pretty cremello mare with braided hair that were all amiably grazing about the front lawn, and several other smaller plots of crops were growing around the sides of the homestead. It was quaint and lush, especially compared to the rest of the town and the surrounding desert. There were apple and fig trees off to the side near an old shed, and white post and rail fencing leading the way up the dirt path to the wooden porch. Dismounting his stolen horse and tying it to one of the posts, Mista made his way up the walk only to pause. The owner of the homestead, who was likely Giorno, was locked in a rather one-sided looking conversation with someone who must be the local converter.

The churchman gave Mista some unpleasant vibes, and not just because he hadn't been to confession in a few years, so the highwayman slid behind a nearby willow to look from afar. The priest had an interesting hairstyle and robes too fine a quality for a man of the cloth- a rich purple fabric with gold embroidery. Looks like someone hadn't taken their vows of poverty to heart. Giorno though- was a real belvedere; glowing blond hair curled up above his eyes with a long braid down his back, pale and slim but muscular all the same. He looked like a painting- one of the kinds in museums, a statue from Mista's homeland brought to life and given color.

Whatever the clergyman was saying seemed to be wearing the blond's patience thin and the priest seemed to recognize such, giving a polite wave (halfheartedly returned) before wandering off towards the east. Mista flattened his back to the willow regardless, offering a quick thankful prayer that he hadn't been discovered, and watched as the churchman made his way back towards town. After another moment, Mista twisted look back at the farmhouse- but Giorno wasn't there. Surprised, Mista turned fully and stepped forward because surely the blond couldn't have just disappeared into thin air-

A sharp point suddenly pressed into Mista's spine, a hand coolly snaking across his frozen torso, a sweetly soft voice purring “just my luck to have two unannounced visitors in one day.”

Swallowing thickly Mista slowly raised his hands up in surrender, the hand slipping down to finding the holster at his hip, “I'll just be taking this,” sliding his revolver out and away, “I've never seen you around here before.”

“Just got in today from out of town,” grunted low.

A honey-sweet hum, “I see. Are you here to cause trouble, Mr. New-in-town?”

“No,” lied through gritted teeth- he may not be the one to cause trouble, but he was likely going to be a storm-crow for it, “I was sent here by the bartenders of the tavern.”

“Oh? For what?”

“Heard you had a spare room I could rent out.”

“Then inn is towards the east. It's honestly not far from-”

“I'm not lookin' for an inn.”

The knife-tip was still pressed sharp into his back, “then what are you looking for?”

“Somewhere safe.”

There was nothing but silence for a long moment, “let's take this inside shall we,” more command than question and Mista had a feeling he wasn't going to get out of this easily.

Chapter Text

It was three weeks since the last mayoral election, won by a narrow margin by one incumbent Funny Valentine. It was strange- Mountain Tim couldn't remember anything about the man's campaign or really any politics involving him. He'd been sheriff of Morioh for a few years now too, but struggled to remember when and where Valentine came from, even now- standing beside the man as he announced his ambitious railway project tracking through the dusty mesa wall-eyes to the northwest- he couldn't recall hardly anything about the man.

He'd been reelected, and so far Morioh was- well it was what it had always been which was something he couldn't quite remember either. Regardless, Mountain Tim supposed that was as good evidence as any to Mayor Valentine's political prowess. Besides, he was just a country man who wanted nothing more than to protect the good people- his civic knowledge centered in enforcing and upholding the law, not the more law-making processes or what-all mayors did. He gave up his lucrative rodeo career in order to keep innocents safe, bring order to the West, and it had been difficult but he'd like to think things had gotten better in Morioh since his arrival.

Protecting people was his mission, which was why the railway system being announced had him on edge. It would be nice, wonderful even, to have a train station so close to their town- the farmers could finally start selling to more than just their neighbors and they might have more folks coming and going, but... the location was less than ideal. The wall-eyes were cursed and the dust-devils they spat out could blind a man, leave them lost and dried, send people into madness; it just wasn't a place something- anything should be built. That hell-scape was dangerous and unnatural; even animals avoided it.

Surely Valentine knew that?

The man continued his lavish presentation atop the humble wood platform decorated in colorful bunting; detailing the train station, the generosity of his partner Stephen Steel of Steel Railways, all the amenities and tourism and economical boons sure to come- casually glossing over the location and community cost as politicians are wont to do. There were a lot of boastful and grandiose claims being made, unsurprisingly, and the whole situation was leaving a sour taste in his mouth. It was natural, hell- it was wise to be suspicious of politicians, especially when they started blowing wind from the top of a podium. There was a scheme afoot, somewhere and for some reason, and well... it was up to the sheriff to get to the bottom of it. No politician, democratically elected or not, was above the law or got a free pass to endanger others. This railway would be nothing but a danger passing through the wall-eye valley, hell just imagining the poor bastards in charge of laying the thing... This town had enough men for breakfast, attempting construction in the Devil's playgrounds would just fill up the cemetery faster.

Looks like he would have to start digging for answers. It had been relatively slow crime-wise lately in Morioh, an uncommon occurrence given the town's eccentric and prone to violence population, the only disturbances in the last few days being fairly minor. A domestic scuffle resolved by their son before he arrived, a few sheep had gone missing (likely wolves or coyotes), one of the local ladies of the line punching another woman for looking at her man wrong- again. Nothing of importance, which left plenty of time to peruse some records down in the archives section of city hall. The bookkeeping of the archives was utterly headache inducing: spanning about a hundred and fifty years, ranging from finely detailed to murkier than a cow pond, and organized with no discernible system. Mrs. Lucy Steel, the kindly young wife to Railroad giant Stephen Steel, had been working hard on trying to organize it since becoming the towns... well everything. Librarian, scribe, secretary- an indispensable part of the bureaucracy that kept the town chugging along. She was a treat of a lass, soft-spoken and shy but she had a righteous streak to her that he admired quite a bit.

She and her husband had been up on the stage as well, being the co-benefactors after all, but like the dutiful civil servant she was, Mountain Tim had found Lucy back in the archival rooms not long after the ceremony. She was exactly who he was looking for- if anyone knew what he was looking for, it'd be her. Plus an investigation like this always needed an extra hand. Normally he would have dragged his deputy, Leone, into helping out- the man was as sour as a lemon but had a keen eye for justice and sleuthing things out, a real detective if ever there were. This little rabbit hole he was following had to be kept off books though, the fewer the people he dragged into it the better. It might not even go anywhere too, his worries could be completely unfounded and any unnecessary suspicion could harm public trust. Leone was a good problem-solver and a great help, but would be best used to protect the town while he was busy with this... side-project.

Opening the old oak door to the archive rooms, the dusty smell of old books and paper engulfed Mountain Tim's nose. Lucy Steel was easy to spot, even amongst the high shelves and cabinets that filled the room, flitting about in a soft pink day dress that was bright against the dark wood and leather bindings. She had turned at the sound of the door opening, lovely features melting warm at the sight of him. Ever since he had helped her pick up her fallen groceries outside the general store they had been fast friends.

“Oh! If I had known you'd be visiting I would have cleaned up a little-”

He was quick to wave off her worries, “it's hardly a mess, you've done a fine job with all these tinderboxes. I'm here for a favor, if you don't mind.”

Blues eyes widened, “a favor? What do you need?”

“I'd like a peek through all geographical survey data of the area,” and because he couldn't keep anything from such a sweetheart like Lucy, “I've got a hunch.”

A giggle, “I don't see one on your shoulder,” and then a more serious, “is it because of the railway?”

Mountain Tim's hands flew up, “I ain't got nothin' against your husband, he's as good a man as they get,” true enough words, “but I got a bad feeling about the location, you know how the wall-eyes are.”

Pretty pink lips pursed thoughtfully, slowly, “well, it is a bit odd a place to put something. You think Mayor Valentine did it on purpose?”

“It's likely,” Stephen Steel wasn't originally from Morioh like Lucy, he wouldn't fully understand how certain places worked, but Valentine... “I'd just like to make sure.”

Lucy smiled bright, “can I help?”

Earnest as always, “I'd hoped you would.”

It was just passed noon thirty when Mountain Tim left the archives, eyes strained from the low light streaming in from the windows and from staring at pieces of paper older than dirt. It had been arduous- most of the information too weathered to parse out or was completely irrelevant, but he hadn't come out empty handed. In one of the older books, written by one of the Joestar ancestors, were field notes.

The Joestars were an older family in Morioh, the oldest even, founded by an enigmatic archaeologist couple from Britain that first settled this place and turned it into a real town. Their only son had followed in his parents' footsteps and had detailed his exploration of the wall-eyes before he was murdered by his adopted brother some hundred and twenty-five odd years ago. Most of it was illegible jargon about the Native artifacts scattered about and some mummified remains, but there was a single line that caught his eyes- the mention of a vault. Hidden among the stone spires and dust clouds was the entrance to the resting place of something worth more than anything else on the whole planet.

No doubt the railway was a front, probably to cover up the hunt for this mysterious treasure-trove. Jonathan Joestar never made mention of what it was or the exact location, merely acknowledging its existence and leaving a haunting concern that it should never fall into the hands of mankind. The railway went right through the widest gap of the wall-eyes giving plenty of surveying room, all under a convenient guise. Had Valentine found out about the treasure? He didn't have enough evidence to come to any exact conclusions and nothing concrete to confirm his suspicions. But this was something too serious to leave alone... or to go about by his lonesome self. He had already roped Lucy into helping, asking her to keep an eye on the Mayor but to be discreet, but he'd need more people in on the plan. He could pull in Leone, but... there were two better options that would be easier to convince to help.

He wasn't much for saloons- sure he liked a good drink every now and then, but too many bar-fights and shootouts had left him less enthusiastic about the whole establishment. Regardless, his two most likely allies had founded a rather nice one here in Morioh, one he had regrettably not visited as often as he should. To say he had a convoluted history with the operators of The Spin tavern wouldn't do their stories any justice. Gyro Zeppeli and Johnny Joestar had been his fiercest competition for a spell, his worst enemies for another, and then his friends ever since. They were reliable, good people, and if anyone would have it in them to help him with something that might stray out of the line of the law- it'd be them.

For half passed noon the bar was livelier than he thought it would be, but most of the occupants were either regulars or workers. Jolyne and two of her doves, Hermes and Foo, were harassing Narciso who was fresh from the state penitentiary, little Emporio playing with his soldiers in the corner. Rohan was sketching something furiously to the side as a few older residents played a game of catch the ten. Hol Horse was the only person to give him a side eye as he walked in, nothing unusual for the cowboy.

Johnny seemed happy enough to see him, Gyro too in his own way, the former drawling a slightly bright, “well look who found some time for a little day drink.”

As pleasant as ever, Mountain Tim chuckled to himself, “well I figured I'd visit for bit,” taking a stool up at the empty bar.

Johnny raised a thin eyebrow, automatically moving to pour him something- probably a whiskey, and hopefully one from the better quality bottles.

Gyro was quick to lean over the counter, green eyes squinting and voice hushed, “you here to ask for a favor, huh? Well what is it?”

Johnny huffed a laugh, “Christ almighty Gyro let him work up to it.”

“Well you aren't wrong,” the sheriff gave a wry smile as he slipped a few coins out to pay, “I'd like to ask you to help me investigate the new railway.”

Gyro snorted, “ah, of course something so boring. Isn't that sort of thing your work?”

Johnny was a bit more thoughtful, “it's legal too ain't it? Why do we gotta look into it?”

“I'd like more eyes on the scene. You know where he is building- that place ain't any good. There's something else there too, something I think Valentine wants.”

Both barkeepers were hovering close, so he continued in low tones, “you know anything 'bout you family history, Joekid?”

Johnny's face scrunched up like a used handkerchief, “my side of the family was never too interested in that sort of thing.”

“A damn shame. There's a treasure in the wall-eyes that Jonathan found.”

Gyro broke, “you are bullshitting us-”

“It's true, it's in the archives if you got a hankerin' for classical literature.”

Gyro went to go bang around further down the bar with a fervor, cleaning glassware off with a bit too much force, “this sounds like a load of horseshit, and I know horseshit.”

Johnny was contemplative, looking up when the saloon batwing doors opened, before looking back at the sheriff, grunting a low and curt “we'll do it.”

The new customer took a seat at the bar near where he was sitting, a bronze skinned man with short dark hair and the look of a highwayman who had clearly just crossed a desert. The stranger hardly glanced at him though, and didn't seem to be looking for anything but a drink. He was sitting a bit too close for the current conversation to continue, but it would be alright. Johnny would be able to get Gyro to cooperate easy enough and they'd both look into things.

There was still much to learn about the wall-eyes and their mysterious history and treasures, so Mountain Tim headed back to the archives, figuring he could stay until Stephen stopped by to escort Lucy back home. The railway was slated to begin construction in the next few days, so he had a short window to figure out what Valentine's motives were. He hoped his suspicious were unfounded, that maybe Valentine was trying to avoid the bog to the south, but he couldn't afford to be naive- not in this profession. Books piled up, maps were unfurled, evidence was growing like a weed but still not tangible enough to grab hold of. He stayed until Stephen came smiling to the old stone building to pick up his young wife, when the light had begun waning. The night was cold as ever when he finally left, waving goodnight at the happy couple before making his way back to his house on the northeast side of town.

At approximately 9:56 PM, June 6th, the first of many murders would rock Morioh.

Chapter Text

It had been well over two days since his visit with the last son of Dio Brando- at least the last known living child of the man- and he was frustrated. Such a willful and ignorant child! To be so utterly disinterested in his father's legacy, his name, anything… it had to be the result of that cursed Joestar blood.

It was the only thing he could think of, the only driver that could wedge such a gap between father and son. Gone were the days of innocent curiosity from the boy and replacing it was an immeasurable distance. Giorno had used to ask him about Dio Brando regularly after he was brought to Morioh, but since the Crusaders arrived his interest had shifted more to Jonathan Joestar, admiration withering into disdain.

Sighing not for the first time that day, Father Pucci sat down at the oak desk in his study, steepled his fingers, and gave himself up to thought.

Despite being a pivotal cog in the wheels of Pucci’s plans, Giorno refused any part in things, not outright but it held in his body language and polite disinterest, which meant he would have to go about his work with more force than he really cared for. Of all of Dio Brando's servants, he had always been the least aggressive but now- he couldn't afford to let this opportunity slip by. The Devil's Palm was going to open soon, and with it… Dio could come back stronger than ever before if Pucci could play his cards right- and Dio had left him the full deck to work with.

Reverently, the holyman shifted his worn bible from its spot atop an older journal. It would be a century old in the next few weeks, bindings growing thin and the ink fading, but it still held true. One of the many things left in his care after Dio was slain some eight odd years ago. He'd read it almost a thousand times it seemed, could recite it from memory forwards and backwards- his most beloved text. The word of god was sacred to him of course, but the word of Dio… it was an accompanying text of its own merit.

It was hard to separate the two at times, Dio and God so intertwined in his heart that the lines had blurred and bent. Dio spoke to him in the ways God had, and God spoke with the same voice that Dio did, so could it not be thought that Dio was sent from God to lead him? He may be a shepherd of men but he was just lost as the rest of the flock. Dio though… was a real leader of mankind- had transcended humanity and become something higher, ascended to touch the heavens even. A glorious light in an endless night, maybe not as a saviour but more as a prophet.

Father Pucci clutched the journal tighter, still lovingly gentle, but filled with a blazing fire he hadn't felt in a long time- not since Dio still walked. Hope, a righteous blaze of it, at the dream of meeting his friend, his truest companion, his everything, once more. So close he could practically reach out and grab it, no more wishes and waiting- his time had come. There'd be so much tell Dio too; the inventions, the books, the fashion- so much he has missed in such a short span. Dio had been a sentinel looking out over this world of imperfection and dirt, was above looking in, marvelling at mankind's progress like a loving father.

Pucci turned to look out the window of his study and caught a glimpse of Giorno Giovanna walking out of the general store, a bronze-skinned stranger by his side, sliding a hand along the small of his back in a manner too personal for acquaintances. The preacher set the journal down and watched the two for a few more moments as they made their way back out of town, out of eyesight.

Yes, Dio Brando certainly was the father to a rebellious son, but he was also the father to the rest of humanity and a new world order. Soon though, that wayward son would come back to support his father, and a glorious dawn would rise in Morioh.

Dio Brando was gone, living on only in the hearts of the ones that loved him, but soon he would live again, walking the earth as God intended.

Chapter Text

The knife edge was sharp in his spine when Guido Mista walked his way up the front stoop of the farmhouse on the edge of town. Giorno was unrelenting and thorough, taking his beloved pistol and not giving him a single damn opportunity to retaliate without getting sticked. The door was already unlocked and partially opened as Mista slunk inside with his captor close behind.

“Stand in the center,” that honeysuckle tenor commanded with the telltale click of a cocked hammer, “hands behind your head too, please.”

Mista dutifully moved to stand in the center of the cosy looking front room, surreptitiously scoping the place out while he did. Judging from the front room, the farmhouse was well lived in and had some generational history- a few paintings and heirlooms gracing the cabinets and walls. There was a portrait of a blue-black haired gentleman, several landscapes, and most notably a set of silver urns on the top shelf of a windowed cabinet. The furniture was well upholstered, a luxury out here, and well crafted, made of woods impossible to find near a desert. There was some serious money and history behind this blond beauty.

The poker in his back was replaced with the cold tip of his pistol, sliding around his side horizontal-ways as Giorno stepped around him. If he got shot with his own damn gun he was going to be madder than a wet hen. His indignation at getting having been had was short lived as the blond farmer finally moved to stand before the highwayman. He was a belvedere from far away, but up close he was something else entirely. He was prettier than any girl he'd ever seen, real familiar to the mistress back at the saloon, but where she was a roaring waterfall he was a crystal clear lake. He was younger than Mista but not by much, hard work having given him noticeable muscles and despite his time in the sun he was still ivory pale, the only pink on him was in his lips and coloring his nose and cheeks. All high cheekbones and handsome features, smooth skin and smoother angles. He was too ethereal, too beautiful to be real, and it was the tiny imperfections that kept Mista from prostrating himself before this desert angel. Minor things like a tiny mole by his Cupid’s bow and on his left eyelid, a light dusting of freckles along his cheeks, a few odd scars on his hands, a spot on his lip where he'd probably mindlessly chewed for a spell.

“Well then, let's get to it then,” the blond huffed, stepping forward and frisking the highwayman one-handed.

It was sudden and Mista couldn't help jumping at the contact, earning him an unimpressed eyebrow raise and a pistol pointed directly in his gut. Giorno found his coin purse easy enough, stepping back to give it a quick glance at a safe distance.

“No wonder you are looking for a room to rent,” an almost put out scowl on his pretty face, “this isn't even enough for a single night.”

Mista kept himself from gaping, what kind of expensive boarding house- feigning nonchalance instead, “you really think I'd keep all my money in an easy to steal little pouch?”

When in doubt, bluff.

Giorno smirked, “is that an invitation to look harder?”

He certainly wouldn't be opposed to such a pretty blond thing giving him a rundown, and he wasn't concerned about Giorno finding the treasure he was safeguarding since it was well hidden, so the highwayman winked and opened his stance a bit more in a welcome show of confidence. Chuckling and still keeping the pistol trained on his quarry, Giorno stepped up and slid a pale hand along the front of Mista's vest, fingers brushing along each muscle group. He was gorgeous and smelled like flowers, Mista couldn't decide which kinds, mind too fuzzy from the electric tingle traveling across his chest. The blond seemed less intent on searching as opposed to feeling the highwayman up, a knowing glint in those pretty blue eyes as he explored Mista's torso with an almost sinful touch. The temptation to just tilt his head and kiss the devil was getting stronger every second, gun in his gut be damned. Until at least, the blond abruptly walked backwards, leaving Mista high and dry. What a cruel- pale hands held up an ancient key with the shape of an arrow. Dark eyes widened, how could the blond have slipped that out of the seam it was stitched into without him noticing?

“Now what do we have here,” questioned in a lilting singsong.

Mista could feel a slight sweat forming on the back of his neck as he schooled himself back into a carefree apathy, a lie already on his tongue in an effort to stall, “oh that old thing? Was a gift from my ma, went to my nana’s memory chest. Was full of under things but I reckoned the sentiment was still there.”

That earned him an incredulous laugh, “did it really now?”

He needed to lower the blond's guard, “yeah, some moth-ate quilts too, nothin’ you'd probably want. ‘Sides you missed a pocket in my front.”

“Is that so,” purred low, “how neglectful of me.”

“Sure is-”

“You're a terrible liar, Mr. New-in-town,” the blond smiled, setting the key behind him on a low end table, “but you aren't a bad person. Unfortunately-”

Giorno had glanced backwards to look at where he was setting the key down, so Mista surged forward and before the blond could shoot, knocked the gun far to the side of the room and under a chair. Blue eyes were wide as the highwayman grabbed a pale arm and tugged, maneuvering the blond into a one armed choke-hold.

“You rude bastard,” Giorno spat, breathing hard as he struggled, “couldn't you wait for me to finish speaking?”

He was stronger than he looked, “maybe, but you did take my gun,” Mista griped before grunting as an elbow caught him in the ribs.

His hold slipped and the blond pushed backwards sending the highwayman into the ground with a thud, pale hands pressing hard at his biceps to keep him floored, “a precaution. Will you listen to me now?”

Giorno had the full of his body-weight pressed down on top of Mista, but he couldn't relent just yet, “nope,” snapping his hips and dislodging the blond to roll on top of him and pin him with an elbow across the chest, “can't be sure you aren't working for the wrong team.”

“We have the same mission, I assure you,” the blond huffed in exasperation, kicking a knee into the gunman's stomach but not hard enough to throw him off.

“Settle down, bronco,” Mista grumbled as he adjusted the blond's legs to either side in case that knee went kicking anywhere sensitive, “explain yourself.”

Giorno looked furious but stopped most of his struggles, “my family and I, we all- it's rather complicated- but we protect people. That key goes to a vault that must never be opened, it has something priceless in it, but unnatural.”

“This whole place is unnatural. What is really in there?”

“Nobody actually knows, there's only one person who has gone into the vault and lived. He wasn't interested in treasure or power though- not like the others searching for it.”

Mista eased his arm of the blond's chest since they were getting civil with each other, but kept the man prone on the floor just in case, “how many people know about this vault?”

Giorno hummed as he absently rubbed his chest where Mista's elbow had pressed, “two, that I know of. Diavolo and-”

“How do you know about Diavolo?”

Blue eyes blinked up at narrowed black, “he's the one who has been looking for that key.”

“He is, but he's- he isn't exactly someone people know about,” more than that, pretty much anyone who said his name would be slaughtered.

Only the people of Passione knew of the Devil heading their organization, “so how do you know about him.”

The blond shifted his legs a little, likely starting to cramp from the rather compromising position, “I've been keeping an eye out for people interested in the vault, and when I heard an entire mafia was being mobilized to look for the key… I was able to contact Bruno Buccelati, who had supposedly found it.”

Mista was flabbergasted- “you talked to Buccelati?”

“Yes, we've exchanged letters for the last month or so. He told me the key would be arriving in Morioh soon and to help keep it safe until he arrived.”

It… Buccelati would have told him, “you gotta be lying.”

Giorno huffed irritably, “did he not tell you anything? Any instructions for when you got here?”

He did, a few purposefully mercurial things in case they were being eavesdropped; something about limiting contact with the law, smuggling goods- “he told me to look to the stars?”

A pale hand pushed up at the highwayman’s chest in an effort to sit up, the other hand popping the tiny ladybug buttons of his navy vest, “let me up for a second will you- and don't get any funny ideas.”

Mista let him, keeping a careful eye out, “depends on if you do anything funny.”

Giorno rolled his eyes and continued undressing, shucking his vest and left suspender then working on the top few buttons of his linen shirt before pulling the collar to the side. There, on his newly revealed left shoulder was a perfect five point star, a light pinkish brown like a birthmark, but it was a thumb and half in diameter and too clean cut to be real. It had to be fake- as if sensing his suspicions, Giorno grabbed his hand and brought Mista's bronze fingers to touch it. It wasn't oily or crusty like paint, just as soft and smooth as the rest of the blond's porcelain skin, flush unlike the slight raise of a tattoo.

“Is this the star you might be looking for?”

It was an actual birthmark, “does Buccelati know about this?”

Giorno nodded, “he asked for a discreet way to recognize me, something not likely to be easily replicated. I told him about this- all the members of my family have one.”

An impressive pedigree indeed to be able to pass on a birthmark so flawlessly, “I suppose this might be the star he could be mentioning- but, I still don't quite trust that you aren't workin’ for Diavolo.”

The blond snorted, falling back onto the wood floor and absently re-buttoning his clothes, “you aren't giving me much to trust either, but you look like you have a good head on your shoulders, so maybe we can compromise.”

Mista shifted his knees a bit, “I suppose we can be gentlemen about this.”

“Good, let me up then please.”

The highwayman obliged, rolling off the blond who stood with a slight crack in his back and made his way to relocate the key from an end table onto the low coffee table between two soft couches. Fishing his pistol out from under the desk chair to the side, Mista slid the piece beside the key as a show of good faith. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't being soft towards the blond. Giorno seemed like a dependable and clever man, and there were plenty of signs pointing to him being a great ally, but this was an important mission entrusted to him by the man who saved him from the gallows. Mista took a spot on the couch while the blond went to the kitchen, bringing back a lukewarm kettle and a few ceramic teacups with pretty little painted flowers on them.

Now that he wasn't in a scuffle, Mista could finally get a better look at the farmhouse. Flowers seemed to be a popular motif for the blond- with living and blooming plants scattered around, painted flowers and vines on all the stoneware, and flower printed fabrics on all the upholstery. Sitting on one rose printed cushion, Mista watched the blond pour the tea off to the side of the gun and key, opening a tiny sugar bowl and daintily adding and stirring a few cubes into his cup as he settled into the opposite couch. Taking one of the offered cups and saucer, the highwayman added significantly less sugar to his own and took a small but polite sip. It's not that he expected it to be poisoned or anything, he was just a little cautious is all.

The blond watched him in turn, pretty blue eyes watching passively over his cup and saucer, after a long moment finally deciding to speak, “you can stay here.”

It was unexpected and more of a command than an offer, pale hand raising to cut off the highwayman’s response and continuing, “not for free, mind you- I expect you to help me with with the land and livestock. In return, I will provide all the meals and support you as best I can. It will be better to not keep the key on any person, but rather hide it away, and it will be safer to keep it here.”

Finally allowed to talk Mista spluttered, “oh I'm sure you'd like that wouldn't you-”

“You'll be here as well, able to keep an eye on me and it the whole time. I can't assure you enough how little I want anyone, including myself, to have a hold of that key.”

The highwayman leaned back and crossed his arms, not wholly convinced, “show me where you'll hide it.”

“Hopefully you're not the sentimental type,” the blond muttered offhand as he got up, making his way to the silver urns in the windowed cabinet, “or this will make you very uncomfortable.”

Mista's eyes widened as he watched the blond unlock the cabinet and take one of the silver urns- etched with stars and an elaborate ‘JoJo’- bringing it over to the coffee table, unscrew the lid, and drop the key in the ashes.

“What the-”

“Those aren't actually his ashes, just the ashes from the mansion he lived in. Neither urn holds any human remains. However, like your reaction just proved, it is unlikely that anyone will go sifting through my Papa’s remains. They may go for… the other urn, though.”

Mista certainly wasn't going to go digging through an urn, contents aside, but “the cabinet can still be unlocked by you, I'd never know if you stole the key or not.”

“Which is why I'm giving you the key to the cabinet. It's the only one, so please don't lose it,” the blond replied, replacing the urn and locking the cabinet back up, returning to drop the iron key on the table by the pistol.

It was a very, very old looking key, likely hard to duplicate without a locksmith, “there any locksmiths in town?”

“Nope,” popped smugly over the rim of his teacup, “just the one to the Southeast about forty-seven miles over.”

“And this is really the only key to that piece over there?”

“Johnny may have a spare, but I'm quite sure he lost it during his displacement.”

It would probably be the best he’d be getting for now, there was just one last thing- “did you really talk with Buccelati?”

“Yes, although I had been burning the letters after reading. I’m afraid I’ve no way of proving it.”

Well, honestly he’d already given the blond a mile, so what’s another few steps at this point. He was well aware that Giorno was a veritable honey pot, and like the stupid man he was, he'd already fallen for it all. Mista picked up the cabinet key and inspected the rusty iron beginning to flake- trading a priceless relic for respite, his mission for someone to trust. It was a sticky, shitty situation and he could only hope that Giorno was true to his word.

“I suppose I should give you a tour,” the blond began after finishing his tea, “then we can get to work.”

Mista nodded, slipped the key into his pocket and his pistol into his holster- muscle memory moving his hands but the blond didn't seem to mind him rearming himself, so he followed after. Giorno showed him the spare bedroom first; all oak furniture and soft looking bedding, quilts and rugs, flowery porcelain basins and pitchers, a few more paintings on the wall and some barely used candlesticks. It was homey, if a tad dusty, but nicer than any boarding house would ever provide. Giorno showed his room as well, more spartan than the spare but with more plants and a multitude of candlesticks with puddling streams of wax flowing down them. There was an adjoined washroom and outhouse, several large closets, and even a small cellar. Giorno didn't hesitate to show him anything, either out of a lack of privacy or as a show of trust- Mista couldn't quite decide yet. The tour ended at the kitchen and pantry, rather well stocked and full of finer goods, and with the blond eyeing the highwayman again.

“Have you eaten recently?”

He had some jerky and tack before setting out, but that was this morning and honestly he could probably use a proper meal, “in the morn.”

The blond hummed, meandering into the pantry room for a brief moment and then tossing a bright red apple back at the highwayman, “eat this so you don't pass out on me.”

Mista arched an eyebrow but took a bite anyway, indignant, as if he'd be so weak as to- the fruit on his tongue was sweeter and crisper than anything he'd ever tasted before. He worked an odd job in an orchard once picking fruits off trees, and he was allowed a taste during meal times. Those apples were fresh and sweet, more so than any he'd ever bought- but these… they were something else. The highwayman ate like a starved man, nibbling as close to the core as he dared, he'd never tasted an apple so delicious before.

Giorno was watching him devour the fruit with a proud smirk, “hungry were we?”

Wiping the juice from his chin, “maybe- what kind of apples are these? I've never tasted ‘em before.”

The blond opened the backdoor in the kitchen, leading the highwayman out, “that's because that's the only apple tree in the world that produces ones like those. It's one of my own cultures, like most of what's planted on my land.”

“You make your own breeds of crops?”

The blond looked back proudly, “it's a talent of mine. I can grow anything and tame anything.”

Those were some bold claims, but the confidence bleeding out from the blond was convincing enough he supposed. Tossing the core over to the side to be pecked at by hens behind the house, Mista followed the blond out towards the fields. It was hardly time to harvest anything grown out here, what looked like mostly corn, eggplant, a tiny patch of peppers and watermelons, but there were some odd crops thrown in too- ones that didn't exactly belong in a desert- like tomatoes, potatoes and asparagus shoots. It was… strange to say the least. All the crops were healthy too, still not ready to harvest, but none had even the barest signs of dehydration or pests.

“Giorno,” the blond hummed in response, “are you some kinda nymph? Tomatoes don't grow in deserts.”

The blond simply laughed, “they do when I plant them.”

“How'd you get an apple so ripe too? They aren't good for another season.”

“They are from last year, nothing I grow ever rots- least if it stays in town.”

It was such far-fetched bullshit, “you know how this sounds right?”

Giorno smiled back at him, apparently leading him towards the old shed, “I do, but that's just part of living here,” opening up the latch and stopping at the threshold.

Inside, in front of the door and curled up on the dirt, was a Diamondback raising its head. Mista stepped back, “Giorno- that's-” the most deadly snake in the desert.

The blond just sighed and stooped down to Mista's terror, “Giorno, wait, wait, look I believe you but you don't gotta prove anything, okay? Just, just back up all slow-like.”

Blue eyes glanced back, “it's fine,” reaching down and seemingly picking up the snake as Mista watched in terror.

Was his host gonna die just to prove a goddamned point- but the bite never came. The snake lazily wrapped around the blond's arm and draped itself around a pale neck like a scarf, amiable and calm like some sort of domesticated… Well, there weren't any words to be honest. It was surreal and impossible, but there was a venomous manslayer affectionately wrapped all loose around Giorno’s neck, so… Mista would just have to believe him?

“Most people here have abilities- not like mine, but of their own,” the blond looked back with a wink, “who knows, if you stay here long enough I imagine you might get some of your own too. Something exciting too, I suspect.”

Mista swallowed thickly, he couldn’t imagine something so bizarre happening to him- let alone most of a towns population having powers so strange.

“Now then, we have some work to do,” the blond paused his shuffling in the shed, then looked back at the highwayman, “we haven’t been formally introduced at all, have we?”

“No, we just went straight to the fight.”

“Giorno Giovanna, I look forward to our partnership,” wrestling around on the floor, sharing a cup of tea, then getting a tour was an odd start to a partnership, but he’d take it.

“Guido Mista,” and after just the slightest hesitation, “likewise.”

Giorno set him up fixing the roof of the shed and a few fence posts, still draped in a poisonous snake as he went to tend his little herb garden up near the sheep, joining him about an hour later. It was rounding the evening when the blond complained of being hungry, heading back inside with the highwayman in tow to prepare and eat some kind of stuffed eggplant and some kind of sweet apple conserve. It was strange not seeing any sort of meat item, Giorno was well-off enough looking and had the livestock to be able to afford such a thing, but Mista didn’t dare comment, chalking it up to the blond maybe having a sensitive disposition towards creatures. After that it was back outside until it was too dark to really accomplish much- a trend that lasted through the next day as well. It was impressive that Giorno could even keep the place running by himself this whole time; so much to check, and feed, and weed, and fix, and preserve- the work never ended.

On the third day of his time in Morioh, Giorno took him through town to do some standard errands since he needed some things (Mista forgot what) at the general store. Mista was expecting a bit more hustle and bustle from the center of Morioh, something loud and lively, but there was a melancholy cloud over the town.

“There were two women murdered in the last few days, a dove and a farmer’s wife,” Giorno whispered in hushed undertones as they left the store.

Mista paused, women being killed, especially one being a dove, was a bad sign. What if his target was next?

Mista slid his hand across the blond’s back to bring him close to reply “when we get back to your place I gotta talk to you about the other half of why I’m here.”

The blond raised an eyebrow in curiosity but thankfully didn’t press until they returned to the farmhouse, where he immediately asked “you had a second mission?”

Mista nodded, he’d probably need Giorno’s help for this anyway. Trish Una was likely under the care of the ladies of Morioh and they would likely not take well to an outsider trying to hunt her down, but the mistress and Giorno were kin. Giorno could likely get them to talk, and well… he was likely to find out anyway, so might as well air it all out now.

“I’m lookin’ for a girl,” at Giorno’s crestfallen expression, “Diavolo’s daughter, supposedly. He needs her same as the key,” though he wasn’t sure why he felt the need to clarify.

Probably because Giorno had been making bedroom eyes at him for the last two days and he wanted that trend to continue- but now wasn’t really the time to be thinking that.

“Why would he need his daughter to open the vault,” Giorno asked, head cocked in question, “the key should be enough.”

“I don’t know- nobody does. What that man does is a mystery to everyone. All I know, is that I gotta keep the key and the girl safe from him.”

Giorno nodded absently murmuring “it’s wrong for parents to drag their children into foul endeavors,” a little louder and more focused “do you know where she might be?”

Mista scratched the short hair in the back of his neck, wishing he had his hat still, blushing a bit, “she’s likely in the whorehouse.”

Giorno was less enthusiastic about showing Mista the brothel until the next night where the two properly acquainted their mouths over a fence, and after some spontaneous heavy petting after washing up, he relented and promised to help him look for the girl the next day. It was certainly a golden time for the highwayman- getting a pretty doll like Giorno and getting to make some headway on his mission (which he had admittedly been neglecting). After a dinner of some kind of egg and goat cheese Giorno took him out to town again, this time heading straight through to the north, up towards the saloon.

The brothel was a little side alcove of the saloon, mostly based upstairs with the doves flitting about the lower level. Only one lady was working tonight though, an Oriental with a mean look and Rapunzel length black hair. She was pretty but clearly had eyes for only one man, more a boy with how high he’d come up to a lamb. Giorno waved at the barkeep- just Johnny tonight as well- and at the short man before leading Mista to a door near the back-half of the saloon, guiding the highwayman out with a hand on his bicep. Outside once more, only this time in a sort of enclosed yard full of various clothing and bedding hanging on clotheslines, Mista continued forward although unsure of where exactly he was going. Lifting aside a spotty sheet, Mista had to quickly avert his eyes at the sight before him. He’d found all the ladies, dressed in underthings as they washed their fabrics, joined by the pink-haired vacquero from earlier. The mistress and Latino were unfazed, but the green haired lady from before whipped out a pistol from a band on her thigh as the vaquero stood up, looking more than ready to rip Mista limb from limb.

“What the hell do you think-”

“Relax,” Giorno purred from behind the highwayman, “he’s already with me,” disputable (maybe), but welcome.

The women all settled down easy, although the vaquero was still more riled up than an angry rooster, the mistress, flinging a soapy rag at Giorno as he stepped out from behind the blushing highwayman, griped “of all the times you decide to visit, this is the worst, you know that right?”

“Sorry,” the blond didn’t look apologetic at all, “I haven’t been wanting to go to town as of late.”

“You know avoiding him won’t make him leave you alone, right? He’s just gonna corner you somewhere else.”

Mista had no idea who they were talking about and just kept his eyes to the side best he could, “he already has. He’s come to my home spouting his twisted doctrines already.”

The mistress gave a wry smile, “well he may not be preaching his usual obsessive sacrilege for awhile soon. My father’s coming to town.”

Mista glanced over at the blond who seemed to minutely freeze, eyes widening a fraction before softening into his usual quiet apathy, “is he really?”

Curious, but finding it harder to not look where he shouldn’t with each passing moment, Mista nudged the blond in the side, “Giorno.”

“Ah, right,” the blond hummed, “I did come here for a reason, to look for a girl.”

“Oh,” the mistress smirked wolfishly, “I didn’t know you were the type. I always thought you preferred di-”

“Not for me,” Giorno cut-in flatly, “the girl’s father is dangerous and looking for her. We believe she may be in danger.”

“She’ll be young, ‘bout the same age as Giorno and with pink hair,” Mista added.

The mistress stood up, wiping her soggy hands on her crinoline, “yeah, we got a girl like that- Trish Una. She’s not up for display, to shy for it, and likely won’t be up any time soon now. So far nobody but us dirty birds and Johnny know about her.”

“That’s her alright,” Mista muttered, “you think you can keep her safe? Likely she’s got assassins and kidnappers after her, aside from her father.”

That got the mistress and her girls laughing, “we’d like to see them try and take her. We already lost Reimi to some sadistic fuck- we won’t be losing any more girls.”

Mista wasn’t quite convinced the mistress quite understood the severity of the situation, but Giorno tugged on his sleeve before he could reply, “Trish will be safe with Jolyne.”

Mista huffed- he really needed to stop taking the blond for his word- but continued to trust that Giorno knew what he was doing. Jolyne and Giorno discussed a few more things in quiet whispers before Mista was introduced to the group, and finally learned a few names. The Latina was named Hermes, the green-haired girl was simply “Foo”, and the vacquero was Anasui, a familiar name but Mista couldn’t quite place why.

It was rounding nighttime when the duo made their way back to the farmhouse, doing a few last minute chores before settling down to sleep. It was too dark to see when they returned, but had they any light, they would have spotted the odd prints left outside a few windowsills, circling the circumference of the home.

Chapter Text

Lucy Steel rose with the sun, normally as bright and cheery as the yellow rays shining through the curtains, but today her heart wasn't up to the task. The day was young and full of opportunity, but not for her it seemed, not after she had lost her closest friend so horribly. It was still hard to accept, she didn't think she could ever accept it and stop expecting for the door to open and see- just one last time. The thought had tears welling up in her eyes again- it must have been so lonely, so cruel, so painful. Her most dear friend murdered in cold blood in this heartless desert-

Mountain Tim was so kind, so good in spirit, and now he was gone.

Now, she was all alone again, Stephen had to go to another town for business two days ago and likely wouldn't be back anytime soon and Johnny was busy with his own life. It was tempting to let the melancholy set in… but Mountain Tim had a mission that he had died for, and Lucy knew exactly who would dare kill him. Valentine. There wasn't much she could do but watch, always the bystander it seemed, but she had seen things- enough to be certain. She wasn't strong like Mountain Tim or Johnny, Gyro was right about that, but she could… she could at least tell those who were strong what happened. How Mountain Tim left in the morning on his pretty brown stallion, returning in the evening in a casket on the back of the undertaker’s cart. How Valentine left around the same time and came back to the office disheveled- Lucy had seen the specks of blood on his sleeve but pretended the best she could that she didn't. How her dear friend found something in his research so terrible that he didn't dare share it, lest she suffer a similar fate.

Lucy didn't care about the vault and what was in it, didn't care much for the railway even though it meant so much to Stephen, didn't want or care for any parts in any grand schemes and diabolical plots. Her dear friend was murdered, and that was enough for her. Now was just the question of getting others to help her bring Valentine down- and her options were few and far between. The deputy would likely be tied up in keeping the law while a new sheriff was found and Lucy wasn't as familiar with the man. Leone Abbachio had arrived about a month ago and was polite if… stiff and rather unfriendly looking, so maybe not him. Diego was… an option, but certainly not the most appealing. Gyro and Johnny were her best chance at getting anything done about Valentine unless she wanted to wait for the new sheriff- and who even knew what they would be like. What if the new sheriff was someone who worked for Valentine? She couldn't risk it- the mayor had to be stopped.

She could try sending a telegraph to Stephen asking him to cancel or at least pause the railway construction, but who knows if he could in a timely way- and without arousing Valentine's suspicion. It would have to be Johnny and Gyro, and soon- but how could she reach them without turning any eyes her way? She'd never visited the saloon before, had never been to any establishments like it before, and Johnny rarely left. In such a small and close knit town like Morioh her visiting the saloon even just to visit an old friend was bound to attract unwanted attention. She'd have to find a time and an undisputed reason to be there to make this believable. What could she do…

...A letter!

Better yet, a package mistakenly delivered to her office, so she'll have plenty of reason to stop by the saloon to deliver it. She had an hour and a half before she was expected at the city hall, plenty of time to find a box, wrap it in brown butcher paper, and dress it up like the post. Her purse wasn't big enough for more than a coin pouch and a few travel cosmetics, so she'd have to find another way to sneak the package into her workplace. Perhaps in her crinoline? For the first time since acquiring the social standing to be wearing such nice things, Lucy was thankful for the fashion of the times. She could attach the package to the inside slats of the cage-like crinoline to sneak it into her office, and from there she could slide it into the post bag full of unsorted mail. She wasn't the one to normally deliver the mail, but the postman usually finished his rounds by ten and left the mailbag full of government mail on her desk. It would be perfect- it would have to be.

Now that she had a goal, Lucy set off to prepare for the day. She was a little embarrassed to be flitting about in just her chemise, despite being in the privacy of her own home, but it would be much more difficult to secure the package to the crinoline if she was wearing it. It was close to when she would normally leave by the time she was ready for the day, false package in place and skirt and bodice layered high. She would be missing breakfast, but the worry gnawing at her stomach would probably not leave room for any food anyway. Her hands trembled slightly as she locked her front door so she took a brief moment to calm herself- she needed to just… go about her day as usual. Easier said than done. She'd never done anything like this; sneaking around, deceiving people, potentially endangering others.

But what else could she do?

She didn't want Valentine to hurt anyone else, but telling others what she knew could put targets on the backs of her remaining friends. It was a terrible situation but there was no helping it, not anymore. City hall was quiet and unlocked when she came in sometime past eight, a welcome relief as it gave her some time to compose herself. The monotony of her daily routine was almost soothing, the stacks of paperwork and filing and archiving all providing a distraction, so much so that she didn't notice the postman stop by until she stumbled on the mailbag left by her desk. Perfect! Peeking around and sure she wasn’t being watched, Lucy blushed as she reached under her voluminous skirts and into her crinoline and dislodged the false parcel. Taking one deep breath, then another for good measure, Lucy made her way to Mayor Valentine’s office down the main hall giving a light tap at the oak door. She heard a curt ‘come in’ so she swallowed as she did- willing herself to maintain her forced composure.

“What is it, Mrs. Steel,” the man asked, not bothering to look up from his writing.

Lucy resisted the urge to fidget, “the postman accidentally left us a package for the saloon. I ah- wanted to let you know that I was going to drop it off, in case you needed me in the meantime- though it won’t take long.”

In her uncertainty she had ended up saying more than she usually did- he was bound to notice something was wrong now- she’d ruined everything!

But Valentine just continued to write, “hurry back will you, I’ve some documents I need from the archives as soon as possible,” gruff as usual.

Lucy nodded before she realized he probably wasn’t looking, “yes sir,” resisting the urge to sigh with relief until she was already out of the foyer.

So far so good it seemed.

The saloon was a short walk away from the city hall, comparatively speaking, and with the box in hand she hardly got any glances. It also helped that it was rounding eleven in the morning and theoretically a tavern shouldn’t be too horribly busy- not that she would know for certain. Tentatively pushing open the batwing doors, Lucy squinted a bit at the difference in light. There were indeed very few people in the saloon at this time- just Jolyne, Hermes, and Yukako flitting around tables in their pretty although very revealing dresses. She liked to admire how exciting their petticoats and skirts were, but ended up blushing at them more often than not and couldn’t imagine wearing them herself. The kindly foreigner Avdol and the Frenchman, Polnareff were sitting at one of the tables chatting and Anasui (who quite frankly scared her) was at the far end of the bar. Fortunately Gyro and Johnny were both working behind the counter so she made her way to the stool at the far end. The two seemed speechlessly surprised to see her, not that she could blame them, but Johnny recovered quick enough, bringing her a little cup of tea. It was very thoughtful of him, and Lucy felt herself smile as she took the little ceramic cup.

“It’s odd seeing you here, Lucy,” Johnny hummed, chin resting on the back of his hand.

The smile slipped a little, “there’s something I need to talk to you about-”

“Is it about Mountain Tim?”

Johnny always hit bullseyes every time- Lucy nodded wordlessly.

“My condolences, I know you two were close,” Johnny murmured.

“Valentine killed him,” Lucy blurted thoughtlessly- but not loud enough to be overheard luckily.

Johnny’s blue eyes went wide, Gyro looking over curiously, “that’s a bold accusation, ‘specially from you.”

Whispering, “he did, I swear. M-Mountain Tim left to go investigate that cadaver in the sand some ten miles away, but Valentine followed after! Then he came back with b-blood on his sleeve and Mountain Tim was- he’d been researching the railway-”

“Yeah, I know what he'd been researching, but to kill someone over it?”

“I know- I know how it sounds, but,” she needed Johnny’s help, for him to believe in her, for him to stop Valentine, “please.”

Gyro had meandered over halfway through their conversation, absently wiping out a glass, “did he tell you what he found?”

Lucy glanced down, “no, just that it was important.”

“Bah, useless-”

“Cut her a little slack, Gyro,” Johnny tutted, “he asked us to help too, not long ago. Does Valentine suspect you at all?”

Oh, she certainly hoped not, “I don’t think so.”

Johnny nodded as Gyro huffed, “we’ll look into it then. You just keep goin’ about your business as usual. Leave the rest to us okay?”

“Thank you, really,” before remembering, “I had told Valentine I was dropping off some mistaken mail, so ah-”

Placing the empty box on the counter, “it’s not actually anything- but-”

Johnny waved a hand, giving one of his half-smiles, “it’s certainly strange to see you in a saloon and bein’ sneaky. Keep this up and you’ll be a great spy in no time. Take care, Lucy.”

She couldn’t imagine herself as some sort of agent of espionage, stammering out a "take care," of her own as she made her way back to work.

She was on her way to the mayor’s office when a gloved hand reached out from a doorway and grabbed her arm, startling her, “there you are.”

It was Valentine looking thoroughly displeased, “it took you quite some time to deliver a bit of mistaken mail, Mrs. Steel.”

“S-sorry, I had ah, taken a moment to catch up with Mr. Joestar and Mr. Zeppeli.”

The grip around her arm was mercilessly tight, almost painfully so, “during working hours? Awfully lackadaisical of you to be shirking your administrative duties.”

Gloved fingers tightened, “it had been awhile since I had a chat with them is all, not since the last horse races, they were curious about how Stephen was doing,” the lie flowed shockingly easy as the panic welled up, “please sir, you’re hurting me.”

The mayor’s face remained unchanged but his iron grip relented, “I see. Do try to refrain from such frivolities while performing your civic duties next time, Mrs. Steel,” as he made his way back to his office.

The oak door shut with a click and Lucy made her way back to her desk, stiff as a board, breathing uneven for a few moments as the fearful panic took hold in full. Her arm ached- the fingerprints already coloring into ugly bruises- more than that, he knew. Valentine knew something was wrong. Lucy muffled her gasping sobs, tears beginning to stream from her eyes as she watched the clock, waiting for five to come around, but unsure what to do when it did. Normally Mountain Tim would walk her back to her house when Stephen couldn’t- she hadn’t even thought to ask Johnny or Gyro and now Valentine- She’d never felt so scared in all her years in Morioh.

She had to think- Valentine always left sometime after she did, she wasn’t sure when but…she had a terrible feeling that if she left as normal today, she might not make it home. Going through the barest of motions to pass time, Lucy planned and plotted and by the time four thirty rolled around she was ready. Packing her things, she left a note on her desk feigning feeling a bit faint from the heat, saying she left a bit early for the day. Then she went to one of the tall cabinets, one of the empty ones she had been organizing and quiet as she could, shut herself inside and waited.

She could barely see out of the keyhole, but sure enough at exactly six she could hear Valentine knock and ask, “Mrs. Steel, let me walk you home, as an apology for earlier.”

Not getting an answer the man opened the door, “Mrs. Steel?”

Lucy watched with bated breath as the man noticed the note on her desk, perusing it with a quick glance and then looking about the room with narrowed blue eyes. Lucy held a hand up to muffle her breathing, hoping he couldn’t hear her pounding heart through the wood and across the room. He took a few more steps into the room, heavy boots echoing loud and menacing, cold eyes looking around all the while. Just as she thought her heart might explode from the stress, Valentine turned and left the room with a low swear. Lucy didn’t dare breath, not until her lungs screamed and the trembling became too much. Sitting alone in a dusty cabinet Lucy Steel continued to shake, wishing for the nightmare she had found herself in to be over.

It was late when she finally pushed her way quietly out of the cabinet, the sun no longer peeking through the beveled glass windows. She’d never been out so late and certainly never alone as she was, but tempting as it was she couldn’t begin living in a cabinet of her office. The moon was a sliver when she looked out the window, barely illuminating the night and leaving ominous shadows around every corner and post. Still leery from all today’s events, Lucy decided on the using the door in the back of the building- easily forgotten and barely noticeable. She almost locked her door on the way out but caught herself just in time- no need to make things even more suspicious. Sneaking as much as she could, despite it probably being rather unnecessary, she made her way to the small door in the back of the building only to find it locked. It would make sense for it to be- it was so infrequently used and hard to keep an eye on- but if she unlocked it to go out… she didn’t have a key to re-lock it.

Well, surely nobody would notice if she used a window. It was uncouth and unsightly but after some adjustments of her skirts and crinoline she was able to wiggle her way out through the window of a storage room. What an exhausting day this was turning out to be, shivering in the cold desert air as she hurried her way home watching every shadow for glimpses of curled blond hair and bright white gloves. As she came up to a corner and odd noise startled her into stillness.

Sliding up against the wood slats of a building Lucy peeked around to look, her eyes going wide at what she witnessed.

Oh God in heaven- clapping hands over her mouth to keep in the screams and the sick creeping up her throat, slumping to the ground in horror as tears welled up and followed the river tracks from earlier. Muffled cries came from the alleyway- followed by slick noises like from a butchers shop, over and over until the cries stopped. Picking herself up Lucy ran home, uncaring if man or beast heard- too scared to think beyond the sound of a knife carving through flesh.

Another woman had been murdered in Morioh, another senseless death, and deep in her heart Lucy knew that lady would not be the last.

Chapter Text

Things were finally on track in Morioh, a boon that would reflect positively on his growing list of accomplishments. This town would be a stepping stone on his path to greatness- an undeserving kindness on his part. This waste of space was an eyesore; lawless, hedonistic, unerringly foul, full of prostitutes and murderers and all the very scum of the Earth. Those traits were precisely why he chose this particular dump to begin his ascent to political superiority though. After all, if he could bring law and order and prosperity to a place like Morioh, imagine what else he could do? Funny Valentine, former mayor of the former hopeless hamlet Morioh turned governor of the region, then up and up- until the Presidency. Albeit his time here was taking a bit longer than expected, but what were a few years when Morioh could offer him so much more than he had first expected?

He had heard the stories surrounding the town, most of it sounding too far-fetched to be taken seriously but upon discovering Jonathan Joestar’s field notes and watching the surreal society around him, he had been quick to change his tune. Since starting his campaign here some four and a half odd years ago, the strange occurrences of Morioh had certainly become more and more well known on the outside. Time and memory were relatively nebulous concepts here; few people came to stay and fewer left, many forgetting how long they had been here and from where they came in the first place. It was as if the town were a lantern in the dark, summoning all manner of moths to its flames and in return for their stay people gained… affinities of sorts- innocuous in the context of the town but utterly bizarre elsewhere.

If he were a religious man he would mark this place down as being cursed. For better or for worse he was not a religious man, merely an opportunistic one, and the potential for Morioh to be a boon to this nation was endless. It was just a matter of wrangling her population and exploring her gifts to the fullest. There was already organized crime making use of the rise of strange abilities, so why couldn't this great nation also take part? Imagine the utility, the military might that could be wielded!

Finding the source for the powers was key- and he was sure they had to be coming from the wall-eyes, since the ghastly spires hid something legendary in their heart according to the notes. Jonathan had only confirmed the general location however, and left out exactly what the mysterious artifact could be. It hardly mattered though, whatever shape it took he could work around, so long as he was in control of it.

Taking a glance out the window from behind the desk of his office, Valentine had a clear view of the stone spires to the northwest. They were as headache inducing as ever- he'd already had two people go insane and perish because of the damn things already this year. Soon enough he'd be able to leave those wretched spikes behind him and take their treasure somewhere it could be appreciated and put to good use- somewhere it could benefit all the people of this great nation, not just the undeserving dregs.

The bureaucracy of his position was finally coming in handy, providing endless excuses and rationales for all the surveying and land clearing. At this point he honestly didn't even need Stephen Steel’s partnership anymore, having gotten enough money written into hedge funds and havens from public and private sources to last long through the construction and completion of the project. Unfortunately, he had appearances to keep up, and Mr. Steel was a powerful force for innovation in transportation- rivaled only by the Speedwagon Foundation. The Foundation had wanted nothing to do with his little project after seeing the location, but Mr. Steel knew very little about the area despite his young wife being born and raised in Morioh.

A quiet knock came from his heavy door- speaking of the young wife, “come in.”

Lucy Steel, the darling of Morioh comprised of nothing but lamb-like innocence and soft graces, mild-mannered to a fault, “what is it, Mrs. Steel?”

She was as harmless as a flower, hardly someone to worry about scheming or doing any snooping on her own- unfortunately she was rarely ever by herself. Mountain Tim had already been busy sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, so it was highly likely that she had helped or at least been aware of his research. He had been easy enough to dispose of, but Lucy would be more difficult to handle- especially if she got back in contact with Valentine’s least favorite residents. He’d have to be careful on how he went about dealing with her so as not to arouse even more suspicion.

“The postman accidentally left us a package for the saloon. I ah- wanted to let you know that I was going to drop it off, in case you needed me in the meantime- though it won’t take long,” her nervousness never ceased to grate on Valentine’s patience, but the excessive clarifying was certainly new.

As was the postman delivering things to the wrong address.

Blackmore was a personal subordinate- a long-time loyalist who did some campaigning for him and was nothing if not thorough. There were certainly a few ways to test the ground of where Lucy stood in this game though...

“Hurry back will you, I’ve some documents I need from the archives as soon as possible,” by seeing how quickly she could pinpoint certain texts he knew Mountain Tim had looked for and how long she would loiter in Johnny Joestar’s saloon.

He’d certainly hate to have to do anything unfortunate to his business partner’s wife.

“Yes sir,” and then she was gone.

Setting down his pen, Valentine got up to watch as Lucy Steel made her way to the saloon- a certain urgency to her step that had him narrowing his eyes. Sighing, the mayor pulled out his pocket watch and began counting. It appeared that even the sweetest flower could cause trouble after all.

Even from a shallow grave Mountain Tim was still causing him trouble- not that it would matter too much since he had the perfect scapegoat already in place.

Chapter Text

It had been slow for the law in Morioh, unusually and frustratingly so given the recent string of murders. Two ladies, deflowered and maimed a similar way (one with knife cuts on her back and the other missing her right hand), both so close to each other in date and age but meeting their demise across the town. It would be easy to chalk it up to coincidence, but nothing was ever easy or coincidental in this godforsaken town. There were plenty of people to suspect for murder here, but when a good fraction of your population is liable to be the culprit it made narrowing it down rather difficult.

His deputy had taken the task of gathering alibis upon himself and normally he'd have a story pieced together pretty quick, but so far not a one of them had a hand in any killings as of late. Narciso Anasui was turning over a new leaf to woo Jolyne Kujo, and killing her employee wouldn't help his case. The young farmer Giorno Giovanna vouched for the location of the outsider. Hol Horse was still in the bar at that time and claimed to 'never harm a dame'. Johnny Joestar had just stared unimpressed, but his affliction was the only alibi he needed. Gyro Zeppeli had laughed up a storm, but six people easily corroborated his location for both estimated murder times. Diego Brando couldn't be found but he hadn't been in the town proper for years- not to mention his methods were more... grotesque. The list went on and every damn villager with a history of murder (or at least probability in the highwayman’s case) had come up moot.

Which meant someone else- someone new was targeting ladies. They had to be someone with no previous history of such things either- maybe they had stared at the Devil's Palm for too long and went mad? It wasn't a rare occurrence, but most people afflicted would melt into stammering, drooling messes blabbering about ghosts and devils, docile as dirt. For once in his career in Morioh it was looking like maybe the wall-eyes weren't to blame. Whoever it was, he should warn Lucy and the other doves to not be out after dark, especially not by their lonesome. Perhaps he could get Rohan to write up a public announcement real quick-like to spread the word better. Sour as the man was his writing was always just as fancy and influential as his art. Before Mountain Tim could muse too much longer on the state of affairs the door to the law enforcement office opened, Abbachio and a very uneasy looking farmer walking in.

“There was another murder,” the deputy spat in his low baritone, running a pale hand through his short lavender-white hair.

The sheriff unintentionally let out a sigh, “of course there is, another lady this time?”

“No,” Abbachio slipped a piece of crumpled parchment from his suit jacket, unfolding it with a deep frown, “a bit more tricky than that.”

It was a wanted sign for- “you can't be serious.”

Risotto Nero, wanted for an estimated fifteen counts of murder, head of the assassination branch of the largest mafia established in the country, winding up murdered outside Morioh and with nobody claiming a bounty?

“I'm afraid I am, he was found not too far from this man's fields, up to the northeast. I haven't taken a look yet to confirm, but if it is him there'll be a hell of a lot of paperwork to file.”

Taking the offered wanted poster, Mountain Tim stood up and tucked it beside his pocketbook, “I'll head out to confirm then. Get started on those letters though, if you got a spare minute.”

The deputy grimaced but nodded anyway, “we've had nothing but spare moments. Do you need me to accompany you?”

The sheriff shook his head, “naw, I don't expect a cadaver to try anything funny. I expect I'll be back ‘fore lunch, unless he decides to stop being dead.”

Abbachio nodded as he walked past to get his desk, “try not to take all day.”

Chilly as always but meaning well all the same, he was lucky for such a dutiful man to apply for the position, “alright sir, lead me to him.”

Saddling up his thoroughbred, Ghostrider in the Sky, Mountain Tim followed the farmer out to his plots on the outskirts of the town and continued on at the man's direction. It was easy to forget just how much acreage Morioh took up, and by the time he had reached the buzzing mass next to a dried up willow, we was well out of sight from the main town. He was no stranger to dead things, it was an occupational hazard after all, but this one was one of the more startling ones he'd seen.

The body was practically untouched by the wildlife- even the buzzing mass seemed more interested in hovering than landing on any of the unnaturally dark blood surrounding the stiff. Lavender hair reminiscent of Abbachio's but darker, trimmed into a once elegant undercut was now spilling from a tipped black hat. The former man's face was locked in slackened surprise, glassy eyes open wide and revealing black sclera and red pupils. The wanted poster was monochromatic, but such eyes- this pile of rot was unmistakably Risotto Nero. As for the cause of death, that was as clear as day as well.

In the middle of the cadaver's abdomen was a gaping hole leading straight down to the dirt underneath. It had to be the main cause of death, but accompanying it were a series of serrated cuts- leaving ragged, tooth-like edges along the outsides of the wounds. Such a wound was the tell for a notorious capo named Bruno Buccelati from the same gang and who used a custom blade to leave irreparable tears. Surrounding the corpse was an odd assortment of metal objects- scissors, straight razors, knives- scattered in all directions and distances and all rusty with blood. He had heard that Nero could use anything as a weapon, but…

Regardless, he had certainly put up a fight.

It seemed cut and dry, Buccelati killing Nero probably due to some internal fighting, leaving the body here since he'd likely be arrested if he tried to cash in the reward. Something about it just wasn't sitting well with the sheriff though- he wasn't an expert on anything, he'd leave that to the undertaker or to Zeppeli- but the slices looked like a recent addition. Something about the amount of blood surrounding them had him questioning their age. Cuts so deep and ragged should be more messy and upon further inspection (booted foot pushing the cadaver on his side), all the cuts were localized to Nero’s back.

You'd add identifiable marks to someone already dead if you were planning on shifting blame- but why to Buccelati? Who was the real killer then? He'd heard of someone able to punch holes straight through men out on the eastern coasts, but to come all the way out here…

The sound of horse hooves tore him from his speculations, the sheriff stepping away from the cadaver to go see who was paying him a visit while at work. Two men were coming from the direction of town- Valentine and the postal worker, Blackmore, it seemed. It was unusual for the mayor to join him out in the field but it wasn't unusual to see him with Blackmore, and with such a high profile dead man on their hands… It wasn't too far a stretch of the imagination to suppose he'd come to see the spectacle for himself.

As the two men came within proper shouting distance, Mountain Tim asked “to what do I owe the pleasure of an unannounced observation?”

“I heard there was a rather infamous visitor out here,” the politician said as he dismounted.

It was certainly strange seeing him riding, even more so outside of his office given how well-dressed he was, “he’s the real deal alright,” then in confusion, “deputy Abbachio told you?”

“Oh yes, we were curious as to where you had gotten off to today,” Valentine said flatly, removing his gloves.

The movement had the hairs on the back of Mountain Tim’s neck raising- there was about to be trouble, he could feel it in the air, “I didn’t see any meetings on my schedule. Why are you out here?”

Valentine didn’t make any suggestions for answering, just began removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves, likely not to help the sheriff with his duties.

Reflexively his fingers tightened around the corded handle of his lasso, ready for the worst, “Valentine-”

Blackmore stepped beside the mayor, “god damn you can talk,” raising a pistol to aim between the sheriffs eyes- or would if his arm wasn’t suddenly flying detached to the side.

Nobody was faster with a rope than Mountain Tim, the rope whipping up and out to slice through flesh and then twirling around his body to wrap tight around Blackmore’s throat. Valentine looked only mildly infuriated, but pulled out a pistol of his own- firing a shot that barely missed as the next landed deep into the sheriffs thigh. The pain was dulled with the wave of ambush triggered adrenaline, but he needed his weapon back, and he needed it now. Throwing his shoulder into the movement he tugged the suffocating Blackmore stumbling close enough to grapple into a living shield, absorbing the last four bullets from the mayor’s revolver. He could finally unwrap the end of his rope from around the cooling man’s throat, but his thigh was bleeding steadily with each movement- he’d need to end this as soon as…

Valentine was gone.

But how?

In the time it took to blink the man had vanished from his place beside his folded suit jacket. It was impossible- the butt of a gun slammed into Mountain Tim’s temple hard, but not enough to drop him. Turning with a hand flying up to the bleeding contusion, the sheriff's eyes went wide. Valentine had gotten behind him somehow, and now that he was facing him head-on he slammed a foot up and into the seeping bullet wound. The jerking spasm from the pain loosened his grip on his rope just long enough to be torn from his grasp. The slippery devil, he’d been had, and now that rope was wrapped around his own neck.

Blood was dripping into his eye, dripping on to the dirt below, pain blossoming from his head and thigh and stunting his movements. Valentine tightened the rope, swiped his legs from under the wounded man and bringing him to the ground below. Mountain Tim scrabbled at his neck, red seeping into white to black, lungs burning as his throat seized for air. It felt like an eternity, his mind racing through all he still had yet to do, unable to find any way out of the stranglehold he was locked in.

There was a sick humor- here he was dying but all he could think about was his to-do list, how he had planned to take Lucy to a bigger town next week, how he still-

Mountain Tim slumped as he became no more.

Chapter Text

Jean Pierre had been back in Morioh for all of a few days before trouble struck.

It had been a day as any other, the heat that was normally just shy of being unbearable this time of year was softened by a cool easterly breeze, bringing with it the smell of loam and dust. His and Avdol’s trip to Europe had been perilous- almost fatally so for the both of them, but fruitful nonetheless. The Crusaders had practically disbanded after Dio's defeat, but those few who were left were anything but retired. Joseph had passed on a few years before, Iggy had gone not long after, Jotaro and Kakyoin went their separate ways as far as Polnareff had heard, but he and Avdol certainly continued their fight.

Such things had gotten harder for the both of them, the years and battles had been unkind to their bodies and spirits, but this last trip more so than ever. Perhaps they could finally rest in Morioh, put their searches and fights and research behind them now that they had what they had been looking for- a priceless arrowhead. It was an innocuous artifact at first glance, hardly anything strange to note other than its odd appearance, but the relic was ancient, impossibly so despite the lack of tarnish and damage. More than just the odd appearance was the aura it gave off- a feeling of absolute power.

Dio had a similar one once, and it took them quite some time to destroy it, but the techniques they had used didn't work on this one. It would not be too far of a stretch to assume that all of the arrows were unique, all supposedly six that were left. Two were safe in the hands of the Speedwagon Foundation, one was at the bottom of the pacific ocean, but the last two were unknown… Kakyoin had promised to find one and destroy it, but they hadn't heard from him in years now, and the other had supposedly been found by a mafia based in the east.

He could only hope that it was a different group than he suspected; he had barely survived a brush with Diavolo once.

Finding the last two lost arrows would be a task for later though, for now he wanted nothing more than to rest and recuperate, catch up with a particular few residents of Morioh, and tend to his probably dead and dry garden. He was almost certain that Avdol felt the same- his tea shop had sat idle for quite some time. It would be best to learn about the arrow as much as they could here before destroying it and heal from their wounds before moving on. Who knew when they might have another chance to study an arrow without having to fend off its holder first?

Not to mention there was the next generation to think about, as he and Avdol likely didn’t have too many years ahead of them. It would be integral to set the younger folk on the right path and to prepare them for the perilous future- fortunately there were plenty of righteous candidates in Morioh. The young Joestars for example still had much to learn, but already they were proving themselves to be just as good-hearted as their forefathers.

He had asked Giorno to keep a weather eye out before he’d left, since he was more observant than the others, but who knows if he actually remembered since it had been such a long while. Honestly, Polnareff hoped it had been so quiet that he had forgotten, hoped they all were able to enjoy the peace just a little bit longer before their cursed bloodline took hold. He’d have to remember to stop by to check up on the boy sometime soon…

For now though he was content to enjoy the feeling of returning home after a long trip with his most stalwart companion. Well, enjoy as much as he could- both of their larders had either gone bad or run dry in their time away.

“If your face droops any further, Jean Pierre, it’ll be stuck that way forever,” Avdol mused over a tin of whole coffee beans.

“That’s just what parents tell their kids,” Polnareff replied without taking his eyes off the array of jams he was inspecting, “if it were true, Jotaro wouldn’t even have a face anymore.”

That got Avdol to laugh, bright and loud in the middle of the mostly empty general store. It was getting close to sun down and the store’s closing time, but damnit- a man could only eat field rations and hard tack for so long before giving up. Admittedly they both could have stopped by sooner… but there was no helping it now. The jarred fruits in front of him were imported and impossible to find out here but they honestly didn’t look as good as anything Giorno made.

Another reason to stop by his ward’s homestead soon.

“Are you finished reading all of the finer print?”

Avdol was waiting patiently by the door having already paid- he’d always been more efficient, “yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”

The sales clerk rushed through the sales transaction, rushing them out the door with hardly any farewells before locking the door as soon as their feet touched the porch. It would have been rude if they had not come in so close to the end of day. Hefting his worn basket higher into the crook of his elbow, Polnareff followed Avdol home. Both the tea shop and his home were just on the eastern side of the town proper, not too far but a bit of a walk regardless. Maybe that was just his age talking.

Morioh at dusk was startlingly, deceptively peaceful- the haze and dust of the day swept away by cooling winds, the cloak of dark smothering the dangers of the day; like hiding a snake under a cloth. It was still there lurking and waiting to strike, but the inability to see it gave both a sense of paranoia and the illusion of safety in a juxtaposition known only to the residents of this place.

Which is why the gunshot ringing out was both expected and surprising.

Red- dark in the fading light- splattered wetly onto the packed dirt between Polnareff and his groaning companion, dripping down into a growing pool from a robed shoulder. Avdol had been shot, and with a quick turn, basket of groceries dropped, Polnareff faced down the lowlife who’d have the guts to fire at them. He’d known there were still many who would have them dead, ones that still stalked the shadows; between Dio and Diavolo they had made numerous enemies. For them to strike so soon...

“Welcome back, Jean-Pierre, Mohammed Avdol,” punctuated with spit, “been awhile.”

“Hol Horse,” Jean Pierre had thought the man had died back in Egypt.

No such luck it seemed.

“The one and only,” the man laughed, revolver still aimed at the Frenchman, “I waited here a long time for you to come back. You sure had fun over in Europe, huh? You sure don’t look it though.”

“You bastard, if you wanted a rematch you could have just asked,” Polnareff’s fingers twitched for his sword, stupidly left at home.

All he had was… It was single use only, he’d have to wait for the right opportunity. In terms of speed, Hol Horse had him beat, especially now.

“Not much of a rematch since you're missing an eye and your legs have seen better days, huh. Not to mention your buddy there has a pretty empty sleeve.”

It was true- Diavolo and Dio had taken something each from the both of them. A right eye, an arm; bodies no longer as functional as they once were under all the scar tissue. Old hurts and new wounds leaving them sluggish and weak. Their fights had aged them in the way only horrors and battle could, whittling away at them faster than the march of time. There was one very important thing constant struggles had taught them though- when to wait.

“Why are you even here? I thought you ran off like a dog years ago.”

“It was more of a strategic escape thanks to Enyaba,” the cowboy growled, “besides it's as I said- I'm here for you.”

“Your master is dead, Hol Horse,” Avdol interjected, “he can no longer reward you for your efforts.”

That shifted the gunman's attention, revolver moving from Polnareff to the wounded man kneeling beside him, “this ain't about Dio. It's about me.”

The cowboy cocked the hammer back, “I had a pretty good thing goin’ for me, even after that bog witch went loose in the head. But then you went and killed my employer ‘fore I could cash out.”

“So that is what this is then?”

“For the most part,” Hol Horse hadn't moved his arm from Avdol’s direction- hell he was hardly even paying any attention to the Frenchman at this point.

“Killing us will not make what you have done worthwhile,” Avdol stood, defiant, “your master is dead- you should move on with your life, wretched as it is.”

Slowly Polnareff reached into the small pouch at his hip, thankful he had remembered it today, slipping his fingers into the tubular leather pocket inside. It was a specially made thing, crafted to hide and hold a thin blade ideal for throwing something that the swordsmith had made using leftover alloy, but it was a pain to use. All of his weaponry was, the price of elegance it seemed, but the triangular stiletto more so than the longsword. Silver and copper made for beautiful weaponry, but the metal was soft and not ideal for anything other than stabbing. Any edges used had to be painstakingly resharpened and the stilettos would essentially crumple on impact- this was his very last one. The wounds it left behind were well worth the loss of the blade however.

“What else do you think I'm doing? There's a bounty on both your heads- and I'm fixin’ to cash in,” the outlaw grinned wide and wicked.

There was no more time left, Polnareff slid the blade out and moved- watched as Hol Horse's eyes went wide as they and the revolver slid over to him. He flicked the blade with all the strength he could, praying his natural precision would carry the blade to his target despite the loss of an eye, praying to make in time. He had nearly lost Avdol once, he would not lose him again-

Two shots rang out over the desert punctuated with a gurgling cry, signalling the end to a lopsided scuffle

Chapter Text

The carriage ride to Morioh could easily be summed up in three words: bumpy, hot, and boring. There were no roads that led to Morioh, not even a beaten path to follow- nothing but sand until you hit the prairielands meaning he could feel every stone under the wheel with the clarity as if he was sitting on it himself. The carriage was also doing a great impression of an oven, far too enclosed and stuffy under the unforgiving sun. Seemingly the worst of the situation however was the endlessly flat landscape up until the edges of Morioh. Nothing but the endless horizon and the occasional dune for as far as the eye could see. Truly mind-numbing.

Spotting the familiar rise of the Devil's Palm was a welcomed relief, and it was not long before uneven sand and stone gave way to soft earth and grass. There really was no other place out there like this strange oasis. Nostalgia was the sweet smell of dusty dirt tinged with verdancy- after so many years away at an academy in the city, Josuke Higashikata was finally home.

He had left some five odd years ago to be trained in law enforcement, to be a proper sheriff just like his grandfather was. Now Morioh had an open position to be filled- both an exciting opportunity and a damn shame. Mountain Tim had been a good man and a better sheriff from what he had heard, but lawmen never seemed to last long in Morioh- ‘the most dangerous place in the west’ his fellows had called it.

Well he'd put a change to that. He was going to fix Morioh up and protect all the good people while he did.

“Sir, we're ‘bout there,” the carriage driver shouted over the rickety racket.

Sure enough, a quick peek out the paneless window brought him the painfully familiar shapes of buildings- the stone columns of the city hall, the outline of Holly’s school, the crooked steeple of the church. It was as if the town had been frozen in time. Maybe he could do something about that too.

Practically barreling out of the stuffy and cramped carriage as soon as it came to a halt, Josuke stretched, then went about fixing his styled hair as he made his way to the Mayor's office. Funny Valentine was an unknown to him, having been elected after he left, but already his impression was less than stellar. Five murders in less than a week, one of whom was the damn sheriff- the most recent he heard of being the body of the postman Blackmore, found by a farmer at night on the edge of the bog a few days ago. Not to mention the arrival of the high profile cadaver of one Risotto Nero from out of state…

What the hell was the man even doing out here? He and the damn politician would have words soon enough. For now he was content just to get to the bottom of all the mindless death circulating his hometown.

Oddly enough this would be his first time in the city hall since normally it had been either his mother or grandfather going in. They would leave him at home or outside with a bit of toffee to keep him occupied while they went about their business inside… it seemed so long ago now. After his grandfather was killed on duty… well…

Josuke shook his head, there was no sense in getting wrapped up in memories when he still had the present lying in wait. Pushing open the main door of the civic center and making his way into the foyer Josuke was both impressed and immediately lost. The few doors that were marked were marked poorly with generic things like ‘Storage’ or ‘Office’ with no sign of whose it was. There was no glass to look through either so, Josuke shrugged and knocked on the first one he came across. He could immediately tell it was the wrong one as a small petite woman opened the door with a startled look, and behind her were nothing but stacks of books and shelves. Either Funny Valentine was actually a pretty dame with a love for paper, or it was the wrong office- and he'd be willing to bet it was the latter.

“Ah, can I help you,” the lady asked quietly.

“Yes, yeah, I'm looking for Mayor Valentine,” the look on her face did not go unnoticed, “I'm the new sheriff appointed by the regional government.”

“Oh! Oh, good!”

She brightened so quick it took him by surprise, but she was likely glad that a new lawman had been sent so soon he supposed, “my name is Josuke Higashikata.”

The girl's eyes went a bit wider, “ are you Tomoko’s son?”

“You know my ma?”

“She had a quilter club, helped teach me how to sew,” the lady blushed as she stepped out of the office, “nice of you to come back, but ah- I should be showing you to the Mayor's office, shouldn't I?”

“That'd be for the best, I could talk about my mother all day,” he had before, but he had something bigger to get to work on before he could bring himself to visit.

“She is a wonderful lady,” this dame sure could smile when she got to it, “here, it's right through this door.”

They were down towards the end of the hall in front of an unmarked door and the lady's smile was gone. In its place was something else but he never got a chance to investigate as the door swung open.

“You must be the new sheriff,” a blond man with a drab monotone greeted them, “thank you, Lucy. Come in why don't you.”

Lucy scurried off as soon the politician sent her away- curious but not pressing for right now. The man in front of him had the look of arrogant indifference found in the set of his shoulders and the way his eyes would linger over things and people. His overcoats were a soft pink suede all cuffed and coiffed with elegant laces and brass buttons- high quality goods for a small town Josuke could already tell he was going to hate him, but it was unprofessional to let such a thing get in the way of his work... he supposed.

“It's good of you to come so quickly. We've found ourselves beset upon by a few particularly malicious individuals,” the man continued after Josuke made himself comfy in one of the chairs, “tea?”

“Yes, please,” the steaming cup he was offered was welcomed despite the temperature, “you got an idea of who is behind ‘em?”

“Yes, actually,” Valentine lazily intoned from his own seat, “there are two; one is the Passione capo Bruno Buccelati, who killed Risotto Nero and also our beloved sheriff and postal worker. The other is one Diego Brando, who has been targeting women for his grisly escapades.”

“That information come from the late Mountain Tim then?”

“Yes indeed.”

“There any bodies left to inspect? Or have they all been put under ground?”

“Our undertaker is a hard worker, but unfortunately tends to not keep very good notes,” the official hummed, “the previous sheriff's notes were lost as well, I'm afraid.”

Figures- it sounded like he'd have to start from the ground up.

“Your office is located to the right of this building, it has an adjoined jail and living quarters shared with the current deputy Leone Abbachio,” the politician added after a brief pause, “I expect weekly reports on these matters, as they are of great importance. The safety of the citizens of Morioh is top priority. If you can assure such a thing, the position is decidedly yours.”

“Yes sir I can,” Josuke spoke as he got up, accepting the offer but also taking it as a dismissal.

Bruno Buccelati and Diego Brando, huh?

The old lawhouse was the same as ever, though the roof looked like it had been redone sometime near. His grandfather never bothered living in the building, claiming it kept him from being close to his daughter, but it still brought back memories. He likely wouldn't stay in the building either, not when his ma still lived in town and hadn't seen him in years.

His deputy had a truly sour face, painted lips twisted in a permanent scowl reminiscent of his nephew, but was polite and respectful despite appearing to be older. Proof that first impressions weren't always what they seemed he supposed.

“Leone Abbachio,” he had such a deep baritone it almost startled a compliment out of the greenhorn, “it'll be a pleasure working with you.”

“Josuke Higashikata, and likewise!”

Taking his seat at the empty sheriff's desk, “so I was told we are lookin’ for Bruno Buccelati and Diego Brando?”

His deputy scoffed, “Diego Brando maybe, whoever that is, but I personally doubt Buccelati had a hand in any if it.”

“Oh?”

Leone cracked a wry, painted smile, “I'm afraid I'd rather not say just yet. You understand, right?”

His own deputy withholding evidence from him! The nerve- the door to the office slammed open, loud and sudden enough to have both men up with their revolvers drawn as a tall and gaunt man walked in with way too much purpose. Behind him a smaller boy? A man perhaps? Was tugging desperately on the gaunt man's coattails in an effort to pull him back, or at least stop him. It was such a bizarre scene that his hands drooped, and he ended up just putting the piece away before he dropped it.

The gaunt man slammed his hands on the sparse desk, yelling “are you the new sheriff?”

What a weird guy, “yes uh, I'm Josuke Higashi-”

“I don't care,” the man cut him off, reaching into a coat pocket and pulling out a folded slip of paper, “this girl was murdered recently. I want you to find out who did it,” slapping the paper onto the desk.

It was a drawing, almost realistically crafted of a young girl with a soft smile, more lovingly rendered than the sketch accompanying the certificate of death he had received before coming. Reimi Sugimoto, early twenties, parents unknown, found next to her pet hound. The first murder in this last bloody week.

“Rohan, please,” the small boy was still trying to pull him away without any luck.

“Find the culprit you hear? Find him and bring him in,” the gaunt man, Rohan, continued in complete disregard to the embarrassed looking man behind him.

“Well, that's my job,” Josuke laughed nervously, trailing off at the unimpressed look he was getting,coughing once awkwardly “any sort of information would be welcome though, I just got here, you know?”

Leone had sat back down and was already sifting through papers to sign and stamp, but the two guests- unruly as they were- had twin looks of thoughtfulness. Although one was a little more convincing with the act.

The gaunt man eventually gave up the charade, “I don't know, I figured all this was your job being sheriff and all,” throwing up his hands.

Josuke was pretty sure he wasn't going to like this Rohan guy at all.

After an awkward pause the smaller man piped up “supposedly the killer was spotted out near the northwest of town, tween some houses.”

Just what he was looking for, Josuke couldn't help breaking into a wide smile, “great! Great! You got time to show me, buddy?”

The small guy gave a timid laugh, “yeah I uh, I suppose so,” beckoning the sheriff over to the window and pointing out westwards, “the man got Reimi twixt those houses right over there, not far from the saloon. Seventeen and nineteen were the numbers I think.”

What a break in the clouds, Josuke slung an arm around tiny shoulders, “what a great help! The person I'm after is bound to be that way. How you feel about bein’ my new deputy?”

Abbachio scoffed from his desk as the gaunt man pushed by, pushing and tugging the smaller man towards the door, “how about you get to work, huh?”

“Ah, uh,” the short man looked torn before giving up, “good luck, Sheriff Higashikata.”

Waving a marginally put out farewell, “stop by again, Mister uh-”

“Koichi, Hirose- Rohan, stop already, I'm walking already!”

It was certainly more quiet without those two, the office taking on an empty, almost oppressive quality. It would be too early to go looking out for clues though and a quick glance to the stack of papers on his desk had him sighing. Paperwork was always the worst part.

There were two written complaints to go over, one from a homeowner whose house was shot the day before and another about the broken town sign on the outskirts of the city- as if that was something that was his job. The rest of the documents were all missing animal reports, likely just the wildlife getting too close. The last sheet was a certificate of death for one resident; a man named Hol Horse, murdered the night before in an attack aimed at two gentlemen.
He would have to actually talk to the two others involved, a task over with shortly and surprisingly easy. It was a simple case of self defense, although the wicked triangular wound peeking from under the cadavers shirt was wicked to look at.

Overall it was a good filler for the day, helping pass the time until he could get down to investigating the most pressing crime. He had been thinking about Koichi's tip for almost the full afternoon, eager and ready and now he could finally do something about it. As soon as the sun set he'd start his real work; keeping Morioh safe.

Chapter Text

Traveling to Morioh under the cover of night was certainly its own mix of pros and cons; safer from the residents and trouble for sure- not so much the treacherous landscape and wildlife. Something, not the first and far from the last thing the Vatican had glossed over, and definitely the culprit behind her current predicament. She- one of the most respected and capable knights of the Holy Church, she who sought out relics and slew heretics with an unshakeable faith- was stuck in a filthy bog.

There was poetry to be found here somewhere.

Her poor horse was completely unable to move at this point, and under the low light of the moon she was hardly any help. She had thought she was going around the bog according to the rare map she was given, but either the bog had expanded sometime in the last month or the cartographer was terrible. Gambling was against God, but she'd wager a hefty bet on the latter.

Bemoaning her situation wouldn't help anything however, and complain as much as she'd like she was still about shin-deep in tepid swamp water. Luckily it didn't seem like she was too far from town, although the lights were getting fairly dim thanks to the heady fog pooling steadily around her feet. More her knees with how deep she was sunk. Luckily it didn't seem to be the noxious kinds sometimes found in landscapes such as these, but was more of a condensate from shifting temperatures.

Dying from sulfur gas in the middle of a frankly impossible bog surrounded by desert within eye-shot of her quarry would be truly pathetic.

She was rather limited on what she could possibly do at this point though. She could wait and pray for passing travelers to help, she could try to dig out her horse, or leave her poor Gets Up and return with help. Not to say her faith in her Lord was shaky, but her faith in people certainly was: who knew when and if anyone would come by- let alone help? Which left the last two options. She was woefully unfamiliar with swamps and bogs, knew only of their foul smell and still waters- just the dangers, really. One of the dangers came about from wrong movements, how a shift of the landscape could reveal pockets that could suck you in. Or so she had heard. Leaving her horse was a truly distasteful idea but she'd have a much easier time getting help…

The reeds behind her rustled.

It had been nothing but clear skies and still winds for the last three days, and eerily quiet throughout the entire time. Even the ambient noise of the birds and droning insects was muted here compared to elsewhere.

Which meant there was something lurking in the tall grass surrounding her.

All she had was her bullwhip, a cream colored thing specially crafted for her out of supple leather braided to a wicked length. If it was a beast she'd have an easy enough time scaring it off, but if it was a human… well. She'd just have to see wouldn't she? There weren't many large predators found in desert surrounded swamp-lands, as far as she knew, but the flash of scales she caught had her reconsidering. It was all she had before baby blue and gold erupted from a patch of reeds and barreled straight towards her.

Catching herself quick, H.P. swung her whip, catching the beast across it's maw and wrapping around it's neck in a fluid movement. She had subdued it for now, but seeing it up close only raised more questions. She had noosed some kind of… bipedal reptile with wicked hooked talons, about as big as a man with bright feathers interspersed around brighter scales and a maw of sharp teeth.

Overall she had no idea what this creature was.

Her surprise was her downfall, so caught up in examining that she missed the thick plumed tail swiping to the side and catching her impossibly hard in the stomach. H.P. was thrown to the ground and frozen with morbid curiosity as the creature shifted, becoming smaller- thinner, more anthropomorphic- enough to loosen the noose around it's neck and shuck it off with longer forearms. Scales bled into pale flesh and bones clicked into a different alignment until a man with blond hair and riding attire was standing in front of the disgusted nun.

“You bitch,” the man growled- his mouth too wide, teeth too sharp, eyes still reptilian slits- wiping blood from the long weeping wheal across his chin and up his cheek, “that fucking hurt.”

What on Earth was this monstrosity, “are you some kind of Devil?”

The man sneered, “and what are you supposed to be? A man? You couldn't fool the village idiot with such a piss poor disguise.”

What a foul- “and what exactly are you supposed to be? Was your mother a skink, then?”

The man literally hissed, showing off his mouth full of serrated fangs, “well at least you can talk like a man. Here I was thinking I was catching one of Valentine's cohorts or a kind of deviant, but there's no way he'd ever hire someone as feisty as you.”

“Isn't Valentine your mayor?,” she recalled seeing the name in her briefing, as the man she was to get in contact with, “so you're half-outlaw and half-lizard then? How pleasant.”

“God, you've got a mouth-”

“You should see yourself.”

The man growled low and feral, sending the hairs at the back of H.P.’s neck up on end- for such a small man he was certainly intimidating- but she didn't budge, and certainly wouldn't cower.

“No wonder you are stuck playing in the bog. Probably chased off any help with that sharp tongue of yours.”

H.P. huffed, pushing herself out of the muddy dirt she fell into, “you are the only person I've had the misfortune of bumping into thus far. If the rest of the town is as crass as you then I'd like for that trend to continue, thanks.”

“Oh?” the blond reptile-man sneered, “you honestly think you can get anywhere like that? Your horse has become part of the foliage and you are doing a great impression of a bog witch.”

God help her she was going to commit murder at this rate, taking a deep breath as she gritted out, “it's fine. Why don't you scurry back home to whatever rock you live under?”

“It's clearly not fine, swamp lady, your horse is going to become a permanent resident soon.”

“I said I can handle it.”

“And I'm telling you that you obviously can't.”

“Then what would you have me do?” H.P. snapped.

“Give me that foul whip of yours and all your rope. And if you have extra linens, those too.”

H.P. blinked- what kind of a thief would want linens? Her whip, being her only weapon, was perfectly understandable, but extra cloth?

Sharp blue eyes rolled, “I'm trying to be a gentleman here, give me what I need and snap to it.”

Curiosity won out and H.P. handed over her whip and the spare rope by her saddlebag, snatched out of her hands with too sharp fingers. The man, only half a head shorter than she was, but far more muscular upon closer inspection began winding the whip around the barrel of her horse, loose enough to act as a harness. It was surprisingly gentle, and her horse seemed amiable to the idea, even friendly with the strange man. She'd honestly been expecting a much more fearful reaction.

Despite his stature the man was able to easily move through the mucky water, grumbling all the while as he made his way to a rotten tree half embedded in swamp not too far away. Looping the rope around the trunk created a makeshift wench- so that was his angle, which meant the cloth was to provide traction. H.P. dropped to begin scooping mud from around Get’s Up’s hooves, the reptilian man huffing all the while.

“You are fortunate your horse is so carefree. Getting stuck like this can easily send them into panic and fail their hearts,” the man muttered, “how the hell did you even manage to get out here anyway?”

“The Lord was by my side, but the map I was provided was inaccurate and made the bog seem smaller than it is,” she bit out, not entirely eager to hear the man's no doubt snarky retort.

“A map to Morioh? Let me see it,” practically snatching it out of the nun’s hands, “hmph, hopefully you didn't pay for this shite. It doesn't even have the most famous part of this hellhole on it.”

“It was what was provided to me. The town is the most important aspect anyway,” H.P. sighed, plucking it from sharp-tipped hands.

Blond eyebrows raised incredulously from where he was laying out cloth over slippery mud, “nobody goes to Morioh for the town.”

“Well, that's where I'm headed. I have an important appointment to make.”

“Grab this rope, hell if I'm doing this all myself,” continuing when the nun obliged, “who the fuck would make an appointment with someone in Morioh…”

“If you must know, it's with your mayor-” the man abruptly turned, clawed hands slamming her into the dead wood of the tree.

“Ah ha, so you are working for him,” the man hissed, scales creeping up along his neck, slitted pupils narrowed.

“My orders were to come to an arrangement,” the nun spat, slamming a knee into the man's stomach and ignoring the claws inadvertently tearing through her thin shirts and down to the flesh of her shoulders, “nothing set in stone- don't so readily jump to conclusions.”

“Tell your boss to pick a better man to ally with then,” rasped bitterly as the man clutched his stomach, “Christ, are you really a woman?”

“My orders are absolute, coming from the Vatican itself,” the nun continued while ignoring the man, “are you going to get in my way, shape-shifter?”

“I'm trying to tell you to choose someone less likely to back-stab you when you least expect it, you dunce,” the man snarled, “Valentine will use you and spit you out. The Papal geezer sent you here to look for something didn't he? It's likely the same thing Valentine is after too.”

It was true that she had been sent to look for the remnants of a Holy Saint somewhere in Morioh, but to learn that she was not the only one looking- or had even heard of it was concerning.

“You say I shouldn't work with Valentine, does that mean you are implying I should work with you?” H.P. scoffed.

“I wasn't going to say it, but more hands always makes the help easier. I happen to be in the market for that corpse as well- to cure my current affliction, as fun as it can be.”

“You can't be serious. As if you wouldn't backstab me in a heartbeat,” the nun huffed, scraping some crusting mud off her skin.

“At least you'd expect it from me,” the man cackled, “besides all I need is a touch, I don't care beyond that. You can have your mummy and I can go out in public again and we can go our separate ways and live happily ever after.”

“You'd really give up a priceless relic so easy,” pink eyebrows furrowed incredulously.

“Even if I had it and it was as priceless as everyone said, no matter what I sold it for I'd still be getting short-changed,” waving a hand nonchalant, “meanwhile if I can get back in the public eye I could make a fortune. I was rather famous once, you know.”

“I don't, actually,” but she was expecting to find out- at least he was back to helping her tug her horse out of the bog while he talked.

“I was the most famous jockey in Britain, and one of the most famous here, of course that was before I got cursed during the last transcontinental race.”

If the man were less insufferable H.P. might of actually felt bad for him.

As it stood though, if what he said was true about Valentine then she'd be hard-pressed to get her mission completed. If she cooperated with the reptilian man, she'd have just as much of a struggle- but she'd at least have a better grasp of his motives and personality (terrible as it was). It didn't seem as though he had lied about anything, seemingly trying to be as genuine as possible (likely out of character for him) in an effort to sway her opinion.

“How will I know you aren't as terrible as your competitor,” the nun huffed, pulling the rope taut as Get’s Up began shuffling forwards, freed by their efforts.

Dropping the rope, the man sneered, “because getting your horse unstuck out of a bog wasn't good enough, hm? If you need proof then I think it's time you meet Lucy Steel.”

Chapter Text

Lucy Steel was about to die.

Nobody would ever know either- not for awhile at least, and how was a mystery she'd rather not ponder. But it was likely- would most likely be painful and alone and cruel- just like Mountain Tim, like those ladies. Who would tell Stephen? Would it be covered up forever? Would that kind sheriff look at her body and shake his head-

The shattering of plates and scraping of a knife through plaster had her cringing out of her morbid spiral thinking, snapping her back to the present. The man named Funny Valentine, the recently elected Mayor of Morioh, was currently in the process of methodically destroying her home to make it look like Diego Brando had gone into a murderous frenzy, and once he was done with her house he would kill her.

It would be the perfect set up really- nobody had seen much of the former jockey since the Steel Ball Run, and few knew of his affliction. Enough did however to likely launch a witch hunt for his head and Valentine would get away with everything.

Lucy sobbed around the cloth gag- it was unfair.

The man named Funny Valentine continued to slash, and break, and ruin- uncaring for the crying woman tied up in the corner. He was almost done too it seemed, his plan gone off without a hitch. Except Lucy wasn't entirely sure that the man was actually funny Valentine. Sure he looked a lot like him, startlingly so with the same blond hair with curled ends, the same pink overcoat, the same dour expression, and cold blue eyes- but this Valentine was taller and leaner than the one she had been working for for years now. He also struggled to remember just what Diego Brando looked like while he was changed- unsure of how many knife marks he should leave around at first to mimic curved claws.

He was both Funny Valentine and not Funny Valentine.

Not that it would matter too horribly much soon- it would be just another mystery left unsolved. Added to an ever growing stack of secrets and bodies that would eventually overtake this small town. God, why was this happening?

Not-Valentine got up from where he was etching claw marks into the wooden slats of the floor and began making his way over to the bound woman. Standing above the woman who would have once been Lucy Steel, the man raised his knife, face an unchanging apathetic scowl.

The knife never breached her flesh however, instead it was sent flying to the side, embedding a few centimeters from the woman's foot. A shape had slammed through the window of the bedroom in the back of the house, right above where she sat bound. It was a blur of blue and gold that absolutely mauled Funny Valentine and sent him slamming into her wardrobe with a crash. Diego Brando wasn't exactly who she would ever expect to save anyone, but there he was snarling and rending Valentine to shreds.

It was a horrifying scene- but then again, it was saving her from being butchered.

While Diego was busy in his scuffle with Valentine, another person came through her destroyed window, but she only noticed when the person placed a gentle hand on her upper arm. This new person had bright fuschia pink hair under a wide hat, with dark eyes, an androgynous but kind face, and a soft low voice.

“Are you hurt?,” questioned as the stranger gently undid the binding cloth gag.

“No,” Lucy stammered, eyes unwittingly flicking back to the lopsided fight in the corner, as the stranger untied the rest of the rope.

“Such a brute, doing such a thing in front of a young lady,” the stranger scolded- more at Diego than anything, “come, let me take you somewhere safer in the meantime.”

“Ah, thank you,” Lucy whispered, letting herself be led out of the room, “uhm, who are you?”

“My name is H.P., I'm an agent of the church,” the stranger- H.P. stopped to grab a mostly unharmed blanket before sitting the young blond down on a scratched up stool, one of the few pieces of furniture still usable, “are you Lucy Steel?”

A mute nod, “who was it that was doing this?”

“I- he was Funny Valentine...”

A booted foot kicked in the doorway, Gyro Zeppeli walking in with a steel ball in hand, Johnny Joestar on his crutches with a revolver in his belt. The first thing they saw was the destruction, then the startled and shivering girl, then the pink haired stranger. The reactions were immediate-

“What the hell happened here?” Gyro demanded, pointing an accusatory finger at the stranger beside Lucy, “did Diego do this? Are you with that scoundrel?”

“Lucy are you okay? Did he do anything, hurt you or anything?”

“No- no it wasn't Diego it was- it was Valentine…”

“Except not quite,” Diego's accented rasp came from the doorway, “it's one of his annoying clones again. I've killed fifteen of these buggers already.”

Then nodding to the two men in the front entry, “Zeppeli, Joestar, nice of you to arrive after I've already finished.”

He had dragged the body of Valentine into the front room, trailing red like a grotesque runner behind him, “he was attempting to make the least convincing murder scene in modern history. I have three talons not four- the dumbass…” the former jockey trailed off with a bitter mumble.

Johnny groaned as Gyro harrumphed unconvinced, “well, at least you got here in time.”

“Is the body supposed to do that?” H.P. interrupted, pointing down at the corpse beside Diego's feet.

It had begun doing something truly terrifying- folding in on itself at strange angles with muffled, wet noises. It was as if it was collapsing and breaking down into nothing- eventually becoming a misshapen ball of flesh and pink until it became no more, until all that was left was the blood on the ground. It was nauseating, and Lucy had to struggle to keep herself from retching at the sight. As if sensing her discomfort, H.P. wrapped an arm around her shoulders. It was a kind gesture for sure, and Lucy was grateful for it.

Diego huffed, “that's happened every damn time too. You believe me now, Hot Pants?”

The arm slipped from around Lucy's shoulder to send a hand cupping Diego's chin, “I told you not to call me that.”

Diego rolled his eyes but didn't fight the hold he was in- instead he chose to bicker with Gyro and Johnny. It was almost… affectionate? Certainly an unusual attitude for the crass jockey, his usual barbs lacking a certain bite. Whoever H.P. was she seemed to mellow out Diego- making her a welcome addition in Lucy's eyes. The whole scene was welcome to be honest, helping to calm her and comfort her with it's normalcy and companionship.

She was truly fortunate, and not as alone as she thought.

Lucy Steel may not have died today- saved by acquaintances and allies and reluctant heroes- but more women would fall prey to the wolves of Morioh.

Chapter Text

Koichi's tip was helpful and well-intentioned, that much was certain, but it was… well. Now that he was here, he had run into a slight issue. There were several alleyways and sometimes it felt like more would appear and disappear as soon as he stopped looking. It was strange, Morioh could have changed in the five years that he was gone, but to change this much when he was actually here was a bit too bizarre. The location checked out though, that much was for sure and the timing couldn't have been better given the latest lady to be murdered just recently. It might of been two if his cousin Johnny hadn't of closed the saloon early and heard the scuffle inside Lucy Steel’s home.

Surrounding him on all sides were ramshackle and seemingly abandoned homes in various states of disrepair and disuse. It was strange- he couldn't remember seeing a place like this before, but it wasn't unheard of in a town like this given the size and location. It was still pretty eerie and had him on edge, the ominous noises giving him a jolt with each rustle of the underbrush and smack of wooden shutters. The growing shadows cast by the setting sun weren't much help either, the sheriff reckoning he had maybe a good hour or so of daylight left, but it was the latest he could leave the office and it was either this or waiting- and waiting wasn't much of an option.

He'd just have to make do with what he had right now- and what he had was quite frankly the prime location for a murder. Hell, there were even telltale splatters of rust here and there, but the only murder this way was Reimi Sugimoto. None of the blood stains matched up anyway, haphazardly littered across the cross way and all of varying ages. So all of the stains must have been caused by something else, but by who and from what?

The pattering of feet came from around a silent corner, but Josuke never caught sight of what caused it. There was someone- or something lurking in the shadows of the dilapidated buildings hiding just out of sight in the stretching shadows. The sheriff thumbed the edge of his holster nervously, blueish-purple eyes darting about to catch a glimpse of something, anything- there down by the corner of a ruined house, the iridescent sheen like a set of large cat-eyes shone in the dark, except there were no cats that size around these parts.

No person had eyes like that either though.

Josuke flicked the pistol out of his holster, “alright, buddy, come on out real slow like-” the sound of hesitant steps accompanied the eyes drawing closer, “that's it pal, just like that and-”, and he was frozen still.

Before him, still half in the shadows, was... something. Short and squat, skin tinged a sickly green with all manner of leaking pustules and angry boils coating almost every inch of him, wearing ragged clothes that hadn’t seemed to have had a wash in an eternity- was a man? A former man at least, reduced now to some kind of monstrous gremlin, jaw hanging open to reveal a mouth interspersed with broken-sharp teeth, dripping saliva infused blood. In it's knobbly hands were the remnants of an utterly mangled chicken, headless and gutted and trailing red around the dusty street.

It answered exactly one question, and one that he hadn't asked because of how low a priority it had, and that was what had been happening to all those missing animals. It did however raise several more; who was this person? Were they a person? What were they? Did they murder humans as well as livestock? Where did they come from? Most importantly- what the hell was he going to do now?

The green man shuffled towards him slightly, and fear and disgust had his pistol raising. He didn't like using guns, preferring instead to use his own strength and fists, but against such an unknown… The green man, uncaring of the barrel pointing at him, shuffled forwards again, dropping the corpse of the hen as he did.

“Hey now, that's far enough-”

“Wait! Wait, don't shoot him,” a raspy voice yelled from down a street, “please- hold on-”

Josuke turned, catching sight of a man about a similar age to himself, sweaty like he'd run a marathon cross-continental sprinting quick down the alley. The man had a similar hairstyle to his (a great choice honestly), intriguing lines to his face, and was carrying two peacoats, one a bit patchier than the other. He didn't come off as wanting to fight more so as wanting to prevent a fight-

“Please, that's my dad,” the man huffed, moving to stand between the green man and the sheriff.

What?

Wide-eyed, Josuke pointed at the green man tugging on the pants leg of the stranger, incredulous, “that is your father?”

The man huffed and looked away, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, “well, he didn't always look this way, ya know?”

“What! Then how'd he get like that then? It's uh, not contagious or anything, is it?”

“Uh, no? Maybe? I don't know,” the man shrugged.

“How do you not know!?”

“Well he's been like this almost eight years now....”

“Okay, then he's definitely not contagious,” the sheriff supposed while stepping away from the green man, peeking from behind the stranger's leg, “when did this uh...?”

“Oh, maybe nine years ago, a year after we first moved here. It was real sudden, ya know?”

Josuke did not know but, “sure buddy, but you gotta be honest with me now,” dropping his voice low and serious, “he ain't responsible for all those murders, is he?”

The stranger's hands flew up, “no! No, not people- he only ever gets the occasional chicken or sheep… he's never hurt anyone.”

It was pretty hard to believe based on appearances alone- a woman's scream, hastily cut off, came from across the town. Well, he supposed that may be the only alibi the green man needed if that meant what he thought it did. Bolting as fast as he could Josuke headed towards the source of the scream only to find the cooling body left behind. The poor lady's face was frozen in pain and terror, tears still drying on her face as red seeped from her throat and the stumps of her wrists. It was the work of the serial killer that was for sure, he had a penchant for taking hands and only from young women, and in a different part of town now too... Josuke took off his overcoat to lay over the woman, just until he could get something more proper. It was endlessly frustrating- this bloody game of cat and mouse they had started playing- and it didn't seem like it was going to get any better any time soon. How many more people would have to die before he could catch the culprit?

The man from before came following after a few moments later, his father in tow and hidden in the patchy peacoat, “was it another- oh.”

“I was too late,” Josuke huffed angrily, “no more leads and no witnesses, no set location, nothing.”

The man hummed, joining the sheriff in his quiet fuming for a few moments as his father puttered about the scene, playing in the dirt. The murderer hadn't even left a single print in the dirt, hadn't left a damn thing. The green man sprang up after a second, fists wrapped tight and a wild look in his eye that caught the younger sons attention.

“What is that you've got,” and as the father tried to hide it, “no hiding, show me it-” breaking into a light scuffle.

The young man had managed to pry it from the father's grasp, holding it up to the fading light. Josuke moved in for a closer look as well, curious and trying hard not to get his hopes up. It was a button, a fake ivory one it seemed made from painted wood, but was carved with a strange face on it, almost catlike in appearance. A carved button was a bit fancy for these parts, indicating either a tourist or a well-to-do, but being made of wood and painted gave the impression of a more average person. It would have been easy to assume that maybe it had fell off some random person walking past if it weren't for the ragged green threads hanging from the back. This button had been lost in a scuffle, he was sure of it.

“This is a damn good find, pal,” Josuke smiled, throwing an arm around the stranger, who scratched his chin thoughtfully.

“Is it really though? We still dunno where the murderer is, or who.”

“He’s bound to notice it missing sooner or later, and something specially carved like this- I’m willin’ to bet he’ll be talkin’ to a tailor in no time! Just gotta talk to the man first, before the killer does,” finally something good!

“Oh! That’s a good idea! You are really smart, Mr. Sheriff,”

“Thanks, but you can call me Josuke,” the sheriff chuckled.

“My name’s Okuyasu, it’s good to meet ya.”

“Say, Okuyasu,” Abbachio was going to kill him for this but “would you wanna help me out with this case?”

Chapter Text

Things were going fairly well in Morioh for Guido Mista.

He was keeping close tabs on Trish, the key was still exactly where Giorno put it (he checked yesterday), and Buccelati was on his way to town. Hell, even Giorno’s unfortunate number of hens had dropped to a better count- though the blond had been pretty down about seeing it’s remains.

“Mista,” Giorno hummed against the highwayman’s mouth, “what are you thinking of?”

It wasn’t just his mission that was going well either, “nothing much, just how good I got it right now.”

And he did have it good. His thing with Giorno had become something a little more full-fledged; it was a daunting concept at first given people’s opinions on such a relationship. The blond had made some convincing arguments though; mostly involving how most of the town was related to him and that nobody actually cared too terribly much, so his already shaky qualms were quickly quashed.

The blond smiled soft at him, “an interesting thing to think right about now,” rubbing chilly pale hands across Mista’s shoulders and chest from where he was sat on the man's lap.

The highwayman chuckled, “you already run laps in my head at all hours. Just trying to give you a little break is all,” moving in to mouth slow at a spot he discovered just below the blond's jaw that had him melting.

Giorno hummed in approval, arching his back and neck to make way for Mista's roving mouth and hands. They hadn't gone further than some heavy petting, but damn had he been dreaming of this for some time. To imagine a belvedere like Giorno would return his attraction, he'd think it was a mean ploy if Giorno wasn't so sure and open about how he wanted things- and Mista was apparently one of those things. He hadn't even been subtle, going so far as to stick his hand down the highwayman’s pants less than a few hours ago even.

If it was all an act, Giorno was a good actor and Mista would indulge as much and for as long as he could. He'd savor every second while it lasted, even if it seemed to be irking the blond. Giorno had been attempting to speed things up for the last day or so, either out of eagerness or frustration or something, but each time Mista had slowed him back down. Even now the blond was attempting to push Mista's overshirt off while kissing and licking roughly at his mouth with a fervor counter to his.

When Mista didn't bite he pulled back with a pout, “Mista.”

The highwayman chuckled low while pecking tiny consoling kisses on the blond's cheeks, “Giorno?”

“I'm not some dame.”

“Clearly,” since Mista could practically feel the blond's prick pressing into his from where he was seated.

“Then why do you continue to treat me like one? I can handle- safe to say I'd appreciate- a little roughness,” Giorno huffed.

“You askin’ to be manhandled?”

“In every sense of the word,” the blond smirked coyly, successfully pushing off the highwayman's shirts to run his hands along defined muscles.

It was tempting- everything about Giorno was- but, “it's not me treatin’ you like a lady, it's me tryna treat you special,” spoken as he nibbled down the blond's throat, “you're too good for anything less.”

There was an almost painful quiet, Giorno unmoving and silent where he sat. Mista's face was still under his chin, so the blond's expression was a mystery that had him getting a bit nervous. The atmosphere of the room was creeping towards the borderline of awkwardness- had he overstepped? Swallowing thick, Mista opened his mouth ready to offer up any and all the apologies he could think of only for them to catch in his throat as pale hands made to wrap around his sides and neck to hold him close.

“You really like me that much?”

Mista's brain had blanked at some point, between the sudden hug and the strange, small voice Giorno had. This entire time he'd come off as nothing but larger than life, a born leader with a bright future and brighter dreams despite living in a cursed desert town. He had a plan for everything it had seemed, and now hearing him sound so lost was… uncharacteristically bizarre. Probably all because Mista was tryna love on him- he must not have been doted on much by anyone close before, at least he guessed as much.

Well that wasn't anything a little flattery couldn't fix, “I do. You should see yourself sometime, Giorno. You're prettier than a picture, you steered a mafia capo using just your words, and this farm- I dunno how you could do it all yourself, but you did. You are really something else.”

So was the silence and Mista had had about enough, pushing himself up gentle but firm against the blond's hold so he could look up and- oh. Giorno was beet red from his nose to his ears, face scrunched up from the heavy-handed praise. He looked uncomfortable but oddly enough... happy? Giorno had a backwards way of expressing himself, preferring action to get his points across rather than words- but it was looking like his guess was right. He had no opportunity to question or even move before the blond was furiously pressing his mouth against the highwayman's. It wasn’t the speedy lust like from before, instead it was a bit more… telling.

Well, Mista certainly didn’t mind taking it and running, especially after such a charged moment, so he returned Giorno’s kisses with his own fervor. The blond seemed more amicable to a slower passion now though, and the highwayman quickly got lost in the burning touches. A shortsightedness he’d come to regret later.

So lost in Giorno that he didn’t notice the figure crashing through the window across from the bed until it was too late.

Giorno was ripped off his lap and sent sprawling to the side by sharp claws and with a loud crash as something distinctly blue peppered with gold whipped him across the face and onto the floor opposite the blond. Searing pain bloomed from his chin up to under his eye and a dull aching was beginning to form from where his shoulder met hardwood flooring, but what held his attention the most was what he had seen. Forcing him to hesitate long enough to feel something like a blade pressing into his spine keeping him pinned to the ground like a bug as his face dripped red. Except the more seconds he spent mulling over what he had been able to witness, the less he thought “knife” and more “talon”.

Their intruder had been some kind of humanoid beast.

A monster.

His gun wasn’t in the room.

Why wasn’t his gun in the room?

Giorno- had gotten up while Mista was busy getting acquainted with the ground, he should tell him to run and get out, while the thing was busy with-

“Uncle Diego,” with a shaking sternness.

What?

“GioGio, hope I’m not interrupting your little date,” the beast spoke like a man, British and posh at that, “you inherited your father’s taste in men, I see,” arrogant as a man too.

If it weren’t for the razor sharp claw pressing dangerously into his skin he’d try to get a better look. At this point all he was certain of was that it had been a tail- reptilian and thick- whipping him across the jaw. Giorno’s actual relation to the monster was still up in the air.

“What are you here for?,” the blond questioned while surreptitiously rebuttoning his shirt.

“Come now,” growled the beast, “you haven’t visited in over a year, and this is how you greet me?”

“Don’t pretend like you actually care about that,” Giorno practically spat, “what are you really here for?”

The reptile-man cackled, “you're right, I honestly don’t care. I heard you had something I’ve been looking for.”

Mista’s eyes went wide- was the freak looking for the key?

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Don’t play coy with me, Giorno. I know you have the key,” the man hissed forcibly level- for now it seemed.

“And I’m telling you I don’t have it-”

“Don’t lie to me, boy,” the beast roared, primal and furious as he dug that wicked talon a little deeper into Mista’s spine, causing him to jolt uncontrollably albeit weakly.

The effect was instantaneous and certainly more pronounced on Giorno however; the blond’s posture going almost painfully rigid as he stepped back to the closest wall, hands fisted in his shirt and eyes down and shadowed.

The monster tutted low, sliding the tip of his claw out of the highwayman’s back as he stepped forwards towards the statuesque blond, “aw, you know I don’t mean to yell, little ladybird,” earning a tight nod, “this is just important to me is all, you know how it goes.”

Mista could finally get a better look at the man wrapping his arms gently around the still frozen blond and was surprised at how short the man was, first of all. Blond hair as soft and bright as Giorno’s, wearing some kind of jockey’s get-up that bled disturbingly into scales and reptilian features. It was hard to look away, but the more he stared the more horrifying it became.

He should get up and take the bastard out before he could turn-

An ominous clicking and chirping came from behind him.

Glancing back, Mista froze-

He was surrounded- they both were- by small… birds? They looked like lizards only covered in plumage, but were smaller than hens- more the size of quails. All stalking and lurking in shadows like tiny sentinels, only armed with the same cruel talons on their front and feet that had been digging into his back not too long ago; tinier but no less sharp.

No doubt if he moved they would tear him to pieces.

But this whole situation-

“You’re the only family I got left, GioGio,” the reptilian man murmured low and soft, “won’t you do this for me? ”

Mista swallowed- Giorno couldn’t-

His co-conspirator tucked his head a little into the shorter man’s neck hands tentatively wound in the man’s sweater, “uncle… I can’t.”

Mista quietly exhaled the breath he’d been holding as the reptilian man patted Giorno’s back gently, humming “I figured you’d be stubborn about it. You take after that side of the family after all.”

“Sorry,” the beast-man stepped back from the still stiff blond- and a icy dread took hold of Mista.

Giorno had been firm in not giving the man what he wanted, so what would the freak do next?

He didn’t have long to wait to find out before the man had moved beside him and wound sharp fingers in the curls of his undercut, yanking his head up with a painful jerk. The tender contusion on his face gave a pang at the stretch of his neck and all the cuts along the edges opened back up, restarting the messy dribbling from before. Mista was practically hoisted to a stand by the frankly intimidating and inhuman show of strength, tipped fingers in his hair and tearing his scalp as the tiny little lizard-birds circled him like buzzards on the floor. He was to be a bartering chip it seemed.

Giorno had gone from an odd detachment to poorly concealed horror in a flash, “uncle-”

“I really didn’t want to resort to this, GioGio,” the man huffed, “but I really need that key. I’d hate for you to have to find a new lay- although I feel as though I might be doing you a favor…”

“Fuck you,” Mista spat around the blood dribbling in itchy rivulets from his nose and cut lip down to his bare chest.

“Don’t you dare,” Giorno practically growled, dark and livid.

“All I need is the key,” the man barked low, digging his wicked-sharp talons deeper into Mista’s scalp, “for the most part at least, then you can go back to your fun and we all can move on.”

Giorno’s eyes flickered between the captor and his captive, a concerned little furrow and a frown growing on his face.

“Giorno,” those blue eyes landed on him, piercing and anxious, “don’t do it. Remember the mission.”

A pitifully regretful look crossed Giorno’s face- it was wrong to see- “I’m sorry, Guido, I… it’s in the cabinet… my father’s ashes.”

Mista gaped, “Giorno- you-”

“Finally,” the man huffed, still keeping his tight hold and practically dragging the highwayman with him as he walked to the front room, “come along, GioGio.”

Giorno had better have a plan or there would be hell to pay later-

Mista was shoved unceremoniously to the side as the man punched a hand through the cabinet-

His gun was left on the table-

The tiny reptile birds had followed them, keeping close to their heels-

The man took a silver urn, the one on the right, the one-

Giorno looked away-

Mista wrapped his fingers around the handle, slow and quiet-

The urn was plain, it was the wrong one.

Confusion gave way to relief.

“Well then, that’s one half of the puzzle,” the man griped as he gave the urn to the biggest and apparently most dexterous lizard-bird to carry away, “on to the next half,” turning now to the blond, “now I’ll need you to come with me, little ladybird.”

Two sets of eyes went wide, “what? Why? You have your key-”

“I do, but I don’t need any competition, especially from whatever the local churchman has up his sleeve,” the man made to grasp as the blond, who stepped back in kind, “come along.”

“I don’t- I can’t,” the blond fumbled, out of room to retreat and pressing against a wall instead, “I don’t understand- but I can’t go with you-”

“It’s for your own good, boy,” the man hissed,clicking his tongue, “of all the times to develop an obstinate streak,” wrapping a clawed hand around the blond’s pale wrist.

“I can’t-”

There was no time like now for Mista- who raised his pistol and fired a warning shot between the two, ignoring the feathered gremlins beginning to swarm around his legs- nipping and tearing into his skin, “you got your prize, get the fuck out before I shoot either one of you.”

“You wouldn’t-” Mista fired another shot a bit closer to the man, raining plaster dust down onto his head.

“I would. Take Giorno and I shoot him then you- and don’t even think you are faster than me. Better just make a run for it and let me have my revenge. Hell you might still have a nephew by the time I’m finished, uncle,” sneered for good measure.

The man hissed, the foul creatures beginning to frenzy, but the man let go of Giorno and made his way to the door, “ guess I was wrong- he's feistier than your father's type. Giorno better still live in the morning, or I’ll gut you myself.”

Mista held back a scoff- some family member he was- but resolutely watched on as the the little horde followed the master out and into the dark. Only when he was completely sure they had gone did he allow his arm to drop to his side, staring at the door as Giorno stared at him. It felt like forever before he finally managed to breath easy, walking backwards until his legs hit the edge of a chair.

Giorno slid to the ground, “I didn’t think he’d take that urn.”

“Why didn’t he take the one with your father’s ashes?”

“He took… one of them. I have… it’s complicated… but he took one. Just not the one with the key.”

“It sounds like you have some explaining to do-” and as the blond curled in on himself-” maybe not right now though.”

Giorno looked up, then huffed a weak laugh, “you aren’t going to punish me for my traitorous ways yet?”

“Nah, I am gonna say we board up your windows for the time being, though.”

“That’s fair enough. I doubt I could get to sleep now…” the blond stood wobbly.

“Same here,” Mista hummed, thumbing the cool metal of his revolver, “what do you think he meant? About competition and the churchman? He after the key too?”

Giorno paused with a broom midway out of it’s little spot, “I’m not sure, actually. He never seemed interested in that sort of thing.”

Mista tapped his fingers in contemplation as the blond continued, “I suppose it’ll be something to ask Dr. Kujo when he comes in.”

“When’ll that be?”

“Tomorrow according to Jolyne.”

He didn’t know what the man could do, or even what the situation had devolved into; but right now- he hoped Buccelati would get here sooner. He’d ask Abbachio for back-up, but… compromising himself even more would be even worse. He’d just have to trust this Dr. Kujo would be as helpful as everyone was making him out to be.

Chapter Text

Thirty-four.

This would the thirty-fourth, off without a hitch like all its predecessors. He had gotten good at hiding what he was doing, had to become the best, but there was no way of keeping it hidden for much longer and the anxiety of potentially being discovered was a sword of Damocles above his head. He'd been fortunate- so incredibly fortunate though, it was as if the very world itself had been pushing for this to happen, encouraging and protecting him with each step. Under the cover of grisly murders in the city, Pucci had been working within his own parish, and with the gifts left to him by Dio Brando and from the wall-eyes…

Things were going brilliantly, just as intended.

Only two more and then everything would be ready.

Wedging the shovel into the soft loam beside the shallow hole he had dug, Pucci took a moment to catch his breath. It was fortunate that few people came this way, the old graveyard just far enough from the city and just close enough to the bog to be abandoned. The only two who would even have any business this way would be non issues soon. For those reasons it was the perfect location for his extended storage.

Two more- it was an exciting concept, being this close to his goal. Daunting too, given how much was still left to prepare. Kujo was in town, and his filthy daughter and her ilk had been starting to get too close- then there was the question of what if anything Diego had said to Giorno. And that highwayman of his... They had been practically inseparable since his arrival, it would be difficult to catch the former alone.

There were so many moving pieces- so many complicating factors! So many opportunities for failure, but… failure wasn’t an option. Not if he wanted Dio Brando to return. And for that ambition sacrifices would have to be made.

Not for the first time since beginning his work, Pucci slipped a hand into the pockets of his vestments to rub dirt-crusted fingers over smooth glass. The last piece of Dio Brando held in such a fragile container, entrusted to him what feels like ages ago at this point. The very last fleshbud in existence, and the key to everything- well, that and a certain stone artifact held in a secret compartment in his desk, but with this Giorno Giovanna would cease to be, and in his place Dio Brando would walk again.

Dio's blood had worked wonders as a preservative, but the fleshbuds were truly wondrous, the smallest pieces giving him a veritable army, though short-lived. It had taken years of experimenting and poring over Dio's journal, carefully using the dregs of what he could spare of what Dio had left behind. All that was left now was a small vial of blood and a glass vial holding the last whole fleshbud.

These remnants would certainly not be wasted.

Thirty- the sound of rustling caught the preachers attention, sending the prickle of adrenaline shooting up his spine. There was someone else here, a witness, a spy: he had to do something. He couldn't afford to be found out, not so close to his goal. He needed to be quick- but also careful.

Leaving his shovel embedded into the soft dirt pile beside him, figuring it would only slow him down and be noisy, Pucci crept his way over to the source of the rustling. Whoever it was must not have thought they could win in a fight or were too shocked by what they had seen or they would have already come out to face him- or at least it seemed that way. Regardless of the circumstances, he'd gladly take advantage.

There were few hiding spots in this old graveyard; just the odd occasional barren tree and the Joestar mausoleum further away with nothing but rocks between. Unless it was a child up and snooping where they shouldn't be there were only a few likely hiding spots for the spy. Pucci certainly hoped it wasn't a child- he wasn't entirely certain of what he would do if it were. He'd have to cross that bridge when he came to it, for now though-

Creeping up as silent as he could, the preacher approached the closest and most likely hiding spot, an old willow, and stood pressed up against the trunk of it and listened. Between the dusty wind and the usual sounds of the local wildlife, he could hear muffled breathing. Steeling himself the clergyman asked for luck before throwing himself around the trunk of the tree and tackling the interloper to the ground in one quick motion.

It was incredibly dark despite the bright moon, dark enough to hide the crusted blood on his hands but enough to illuminate his captive. Who he had caught didn't surprise him in the least- Foo, one of the dirty birds Jolyne had picked up. Or he should say- taken.

The girl had been one of the first he had used his gift on, stealing away all of her memories and leaving her a husk. She had been a loyal guard dog until that foul Kujo girl had come along- but there was no time for that now. Foo carried around a pistol and would need to be take out while still surprised and prone. Out of all of Dio's companions he had the least physical prowess, but gravity was and would always be on his side.

Pucci grasped for the nearest rock and ducked in time for a poorly aimed shot to clip him in the shoulder, before raising the stone and bringing it down with as much force as he could muster. Once would not be enough, clearly wasn't with the weak struggles from under him, and so the rock came crashing down again, and again.

An immeasurable amount of time passed- having been too lost in his own head to keep track. Foo was no more, his secret would be safe, and as he buried his previous kill, he dug another hole and poured a little more of Dio's lifes-blood.

Thirty-five now

Chapter Text

Standing outside the nondescript cave entrance, Valentine couldn’t help but congratulate himself on a job well done. He hadn’t expected to find the place so soon, or relatively easy- and yet here he was. The geological survey team had marked this place down for anomalous subterranean features, which meant nothing much to him until they mentioned a possible cave system. He had dismissed them, their concerns, and their requests to do a more thorough survey under the guise of possible safety issues.

None of them complained.

The wall-eyes had been nothing short of a menace since he had started a few odd weeks ago, seemingly conspiring against him more than usual. There had been a constant threat for the entire survey- rocks falling (sometimes randomly), whirling clouds of dust reducing the visibility and sometimes blinding whoever was unfortunate enough to get caught in them, shifting sands and stone that had led to several twists and broken bones. It had been a plague- but his work here was mostly done.

Besides, he couldn’t hold too much against the wretched location, seeing as it did give him a wondrous gift. The gift of traveling- not by train or anything as mundane as that, no. He had been given the ability to travel between worlds and bring back whatever it was he wanted with honestly very few repercussions. It was such a powerful, awe-inspiring gift… truly fitting for someone with great aspirations. He had wasted no time in amassing an army, in learning all the peculiarities of this world and the others, of his own limitations.

This was the only world he’d come across with the vault, and he had been one of the few versions of himself with such great ambitions, and the only one with any sort of gift. It was empowering, and made it much easier to recruit his other selves to his cause. They didn’t have a chance for greatness in their world- but here, in this one, they were more than willing to lay down their lives for his future. It was a touching sentiment, and he was certainly lucky for their sacrifice given the rate Diego Brando had been murdering them off.

It was a shame how his plans had ended up being foiled like that. He was hoping to have any Lucy and Diego related issues resolved by now, but nothing was ever easy in this town. That former jockey in particular seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere in the town without actually ever setting foot in it. The tiny lizard horde he had amassed was likely to blame, and just as Diego thinned his ranks so to had he. Unfortunately it seemed that Diego could create or summon more devils than he could pull other-selves from different universes

No matter though, just as the shape-shifting monster had one finger dipped in many pies, so did he. He was well aware of the agent of the Vatican and her decision to team up with him (as horrible an idea as that was), his confrontation with his estranged nephew over the key, his conversations with Zeppeli and Joekid. He was aware of it all, and ready for the inevitable confrontation he had no doubt planned.

Turning back from the cave entrance, Valentine made his way back over to his horse, another slightly stockier version of himself waiting patiently beside it.

“All according to plan?,” the clone asked- it never ceased to be eerie hearing his own voice.

“Almost,” Valentine hummed, looking out to the south, back where Morioh sat, “There are a few more preparations, a few more ends to tie.”

With the sheriff preoccupied with finding the murderers and the other Joestars all caught up in other matters, that just left a scant few issues left to deal with and then…

Onwards, to a better and brighter future.

Chapter Text

Fate was bullshit.

Destiny, providence, karma- all of it was absolute garbage. There wasn't anything like that in this world, no predetermined grand plans from the universe or set paths for people to follow. The only real thing was luck, and it was rare and rarely went to the people who needed it. Call him bitter, but at this point he had never been so convinced of anything in his life and after such a bizarre series of events it was hard to see otherwise…

It had started with the acquisition of a sizeable grant- one he had applied for years ago and understandably had forgotten about until a letter arrived at his office. The federal government had approved his request for funding to do an ecological survey of isolated waters from coast to coast, something he hadn't expected to happen since there was a lot of water to be found and any form of marine biology was ambitious to say the least. He honestly should have expected there to be a catch somewhere- taking the form of his ex-wife demanding that he find their estranged daughter (as if she were lost). As far as he knew she was still in Morioh and still ignoring the both of them, but she seemed happier there and with them away so he had let her be.

Such an attitude hadn't sat well and some rather harsh words and threats had been thrown around until he conceded. So now he had to go and fetch his wayward daughter and bring her along for what would inevitably the most comprehensive marine wildlife study to date. He was not looking forward to seeing how Morioh had hardened Jolyne after so long- she had already been a stubborn spitfire, she'd probably be an immovable wildfire at this point.

The true icing on the cake came in the form of his current company on this hot as hell train ride. Of all the modes of transportation devised, of all the routes, of all the times: he'd landed in the same cabin as Kakyoin Noriaki. Fate was bullshit and luck was not on his side. It had been a long time since they had seen each other- at least six years, and yet here he was. It wasn't that he was unhappy to see him, there was just a lot of history involved. Fond memories tinged with fear and so much blood and- Things he wasn't entirely interested in revisiting any time soon. Looks like all of his loose ends were catching up with him all at once.

What a hassle.

Kakyoin had been mostly silently the entire time, only really giving a polite greeting and some rather strained smiles for the last twenty minutes of the two and a half hour train ride to the closest town to Morioh. It was looking like this would be the longest train ride of his life. He was dreading the three hour stagecoach ride he would inevitably be sharing at this rate. Kakyoin's reservations were beginning to grate though, compounded by the heat and awkwardness leaving him frustrated and ready to snap. It was so much easier to fight and run; but there was nothing to fight here that was tangible and not his own fault, and a lot of good running had done him so far.

It was another long few moments of stewing in his own hubris before Kakyoin finally broke the heavy silence, “it’s been a long time, Jotaro,” for better or worse.

Jotaro grunted in half-affirmation- he’d never been much for small talk.

“You’re on your way to Morioh, then?”

“Gotta pick up my daughter,” said gruffer than he meant for it to.

“Oh, I see,” Kakyoin trailed off and Jotaro found that he wasn’t quite able to meet his eyes.

He’d almost wished for Dio to come back so he would have something else to deal with rather than this.

“Why are you here, Noriaki?”

“I’m meeting Avdol and Polnareff- I finally found one, but I’m not entirely sure how to get rid of it.”

Jotaro narrowed his eyes; he’d found an arrow? There were so few left that he’d honestly neglected his search for them. He’d neglected a lot of things apparently. Any response he had was ended before it began as the train started grinding to a halt. Him and Noriaki both took a quick peek out the window- finding that they were still in the middle of the desert and nowhere near a station, and were currently being flanked by a number of bandits. Modified military clothing with raggedy cloth hiding most of their faces, the men were on horseback, firing off their pistols into the air as they circled around the train like buzzards to a carcass.

Jotaro sat back and sighed.

This was becoming such an ordeal.

The train robbers would be boarding soon though, if they hadn't started already, so it would be easier to just settle in for the long haul and wait. Hell, they might not even go back this far into the lower class carriages. Science didn't pay much and often his income was supplemented by the Foundation, but a life of frugality suited him anyway. Hopefully that frugality would pay off and the bandits would be on their way after stealing all the goods from the front. The minutes ticked by as the horse riders outside continued their posturing and hollering, making the other passengers audibly nervous. It was hard for Jotaro, and seemingly Kakyoin as well, to be intimidated by the gun wielding men.

How could you ever be scared of mortals when you fought immortals with nothing but your fists?

The door to the cabin slid open followed by the jingling of spurs and heavy thump of a few pairs of booted feet. Jotaro minutely sighed- there really was no luck left for him anywhere. The boarding bandits- he counted two- were stopping by every section of the carriage, dragging what sounded like a sack full of goods with them. What a hassle. Eventually the bandits stopped by their section, two average if rather scrawny looking men with pistols already drawn, faces covered by dirty cloths.

“Alright fellas, just empty those cases and all your pockets and we won't gotta poke any holes in you on this fine day,” the man with the sack drawled.

Jotaro and Kakyoin both were compliant- despite both not having much in the way of shiny things- making a nice little pile of clothing, books, papers, and toiletries on the floor between them. The meager few dollars Jotaro had and Kakyoin's pocket watch were snatched up quickly and thrown into the bag, but everything else was just kicked around by the two bandits. The two men complained about how little they had (as if that were somehow their fault) but after they gave Kakyoin’s suitcase another shake, something gold fell out. The arrow he had been carrying shimmered impossibly bright despite its age, catching the attention of everyone in the carriage. The suitcase was thrown to the side as the bandit without the sack of loot stooped to try and pick it up.

“I wouldn't touch that if I were you,” Jotaro grunted low.

He hadn't wanted to get involved but… it wasn't looking like he had much of a choice at this point. Nobody could be allowed to have one of the arrows- just touching them could bring disaster. It was good of Kakyoin to keep it in his suitcase and not on his person like an idiot.

“Oh yeah?,” the bandit narrowed his eyes and cocked back the hammer of his pistol.

“Jotaro,” Kakyoin whispered half in question and half in warning.

Jotaro ignored Kakyoin, staring the bandit down. There was a heavy pause, both robbers with their pistols aimed at the biologist but their eyes were continuously drawn to the golden arrow. Their greed would be his chance, leaning forward and quickly swiping the gun out of the closer mans hand and grabbing his lapels and hefting him up as he stood. The men gave twin shouts of surprise at the sudden movement, but the bullets fired by the man with the sack of loot could only find a home in the back of his friend. Jotaro moved forward carrying the bullet-ridden robber like a shield as the man with the sack panicked, his gun empty and valuables dropped. Tossing the limp corpse to the side, Jotaro shot a hand out and grasped the cowering bandit by the hair and slammed- cracking the wood paneling of the opposite cabin. From inside the cabin came a groan-

Kakyoin had both hands covering his face as he sighed dramatically, “damn it, Jotaro.”

“They couldn’t be allowed to have that arrow.”

“I mean, they shouldn’t have it yes, but,” the redhead huffed, “that could have been handled better.”

Jotaro grunted, already making his way to the front, “I’m going to be late.”

He could hear the sounds of Kakyoin scrambling behind him, hopefully picking up the arrow, as he continued on towards the front of the train. Not bothering to wait, Jotaro slid open the carriage doors, stepped across the gap between train cars, and slammed open the next carriage’s doors. There was one person, shocked still by his entrance. Jotaro took advantage of the man's surprise, compounding it as he appeared before the man in a blink, smacking the back of his hand across the man's frozen face. He hadn't used the ability the wall-eyes had given him in a long while, he hadn't needed to, but this was as good a time as any to start.

The rustle of a door came from behind him but the scientist didn't bother turning to look, sliding open the doors to the next cabin instead. He heard a robber shout for him to stop, the brief sound of a scuffle, and then the sound of someone trailing after him. Probably Kakyoin still. There were about two cabins on the way to the front, then a coal car, then the actual engine. Each cabin went about the same; Jotaro went in, scared the piss (sometimes literal) out of whoever was in there, beat the piss (again, sometimes literal) out of whoever was in there, and so on. Around the second cabin he switched it up and tossed a man out of a window for good measure.

He hadn't used his gift in so long it was surprising he was still able to, but with the way he slipped easily back into altering time, it was hard to imagine he had stopped using it at all. He reached the front quicker than he had originally expected, kicking open the door to the conductor's cabin with a truly dark scowl. Aside from the quivering, bruised and black-eyed conductor, the only other occupant was a blond haired man with the kind of face that belonged on a wanted poster. He didn't have anything covering his mouth and nose, so it was looking pretty likely that he was the leader of this group.

Well Jotaro was more than happy to add him to the pile of beaten goons.

The blond bandit pulled out a pistol and fired, not even bothering with exclamations or questions. Jotaro blinked through time as the bullet left the chamber, appearing in front of the startled man as the slug lodged into the metal frame of the cabin. The shocked and horrified looks were always his favorite part of using this ability, and it never ceased to make him smile. Smashing his fist into the man's face with a truly satisfying crunch, sending a tooth or two clattering across the floor, Jotaro added a punch to the man's stomach too, for good measure. The head robber went down with a grunt, dribbling a bit of blood onto the scientist's coat as he fell. Tired and irritated Jotaro turned his attention to the gaping and incredibly sweaty conductor, who jolted at the attention.

“Start the train back up.”

The head bandit was tied up and left in the coal car, the train was back up and moving on to the next station, and Jotaro was back in his seat with the sack of valuables beside him, with his and Kakyoin’s belongings back in their cases. The other passengers were upset at first, but one look at him made them shut up real quick. The sheriff at the next stop could be in charge of making sure everyone’s goods went back to their correct owners- hell, he and Kakyoin hadn’t even dug around for their stolen items yet.

The rest of the train ride went by with no more hiccups, and one nap later Jotaro found himself in one of the towns skirting the edge of Morioh. The sheriff and his deputy greeted him at the platform, commending him on his heroic work and offering him the bounty for capturing the head of the Bad Company. Jotaro merely took his few dollars back and made his way to the stagecoach rentals. Absently Jotaro hoped Kakyoin would take a different route, a different mode of transportation, stay in this town for a bit- anything really.

The stagecoach door opened, Kakyoin slipping into the opposite chair, “don’t go running off.”

Jotaro closed his eyes and thunked his head back against the wood behind his seat.

“Why are you acting strange?,” Kakyoin leaned forward as the coach began clacking into the desert, “are you not happy to see me?”

“That’s not it.”

“Then what! It’s been six almost seven years,” the red-head huffed.

“It’s complicated.”

“What’s so complicated that you had to run off? You just disappeared- you didn’t even send me anymore letters. What could have-”

“I watched you almost die.”

Kakyoin leaned back, a wide frown across his face, arms crossed and fingers drumming a steady beat.

The silence from before had nothing on the current heavy atmosphere stifling the rickety cabin.

“So you are just going to keep cutting me out then,” Kakyoin huffed, “like I really had died.”

Jotaro narrowed his eyes, “that's not-”

“It is,” Kakyoin jabbed an accusatory finger, “you are treating me like a dead man- have been treating me as such since we killed Dio. In fact- you've been acting weird since before that debacle, ever since we fought the D'Arby brothers.”

“They knocked you and Avdol into a three day coma-”

“So? We signed up for it, we knew the risks,” Kakyoin continued, “and you are a damn fool if you think cutting people out will make them any safer.”

“That's not what I think,” Jotaro growled.

“Oh really? Then why?”

He did not know why. It's true that he had ran because he tended to attract the remnants of Dio's followers, like a flame does with moths. He hadn't wanted anyone else to get caught up in his miserable lot, so he might have cut a few ties with the few people he had left. His ex had left him of her own volition long before the family legacy kicked in, taking Jolyne with her. But all the people he had befriended along the way… Okay, so maybe he had cut and run. Jotaro huffed and looked away, Kakyoin sighing as he leant back again, letting the silence return like an oppressive cloud.

“Don't cut us out again, Jotaro,” the red-head finally spoke, “we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon- and we certainly aren't made of glass like you seem to think.”

The scientist didn’t risk a glance back at the other man, instead turning to look out the dusty window out into the stretching sand. They may not be gone for now, but it was honestly only a matter of time. If what his grandfather said was true, the family legacy never really went away and there would always be evil to fight somewhere, and with evil came death. He just hoped he could keep the people he cared about away, safer- just a little bit longer.

Kakyoin seemed content to drop any more attempts at conversation, instead cracking open a truly voluminous book, which left Jotaro to brood by his lonesome. So he did what any grown man did, and spent the rest of the stagecoach ride napping. Something he had both wished he had done sooner and cursed for not picking a better position before dozing off. Regardless, it made the long trip fly by and before he knew it, he was waking up to a gentle tapping on the door to the carriage. Jotaro wasted no time gathering his things, hastily exiting the stifling box and dropping a few coins into the carriage drivers hands without even stopping to speak. The sooner he could get this over with the better. Hopefully this time Kakyoin would could his separate way too- but yet again luck wasn’t on his side as he heard the crunch of shoes following behind him.

Well fine, if Kakyoin wanted to follow him around so be it.

The last place he had heard Jolyne was staying at was Gyro's, as a family favor. She had probably migrated somewhere else in the town, but given how half of his family- extended and illegitimate- were based here, it would be easy enough to find her. As far as he knew, Johnny and Gyro were still running their tavern since they had nothing else to run until the next transcontinental race, making them his first stop. Hopefully she was still staying with Zeppeli so he could get this over with faster.

It had been almost eight years since he had been to Morioh and it was still both monotonously the same and startlingly different. All the buildings were still in the same spots, the same almost geometric city planning, the same faces and signs and sounds and smells but there was an odd atmosphere now. A sort of lurking unnamed thing underneath all the dust. Jotaro chalked it up to having been gone for awhile.

The saloon still sat at the very north of the town, in front of a grazing field for his distant relative and his family friend's thoroughbreds. That side of the family had always been a bit more money-centric than his side, and far more fortunate (Johnny being an exception). Not everyone could fight immortal gods and vampires though. The Zeppeli's were a longtime companion of the Joestar family, albeit an enigmatic, secretive, and rather eccentric one. Both the Joestar and Zeppeli in question were at the counter when he walked in, busy behind the bar but frozen when they looked over at him.

“Zeppeli, Johnny,” Jotaro greeted, though it fell a little flat.

“Long time since we saw you, Jotaro,” Johnny drawled in response as his companion gave a mildly concerned ‘nyo-ho’.

The marine biologist grunted noncommittally in response, “Jolyne?”

Gyro was looking anywhere but at him while Johnny couldn't quite meet his eyes, pointing at a side door, “she's through there- second door down.”

Jotaro nodded, sauntering his way over without another word. There was something suspicious niggling at his mind about the two men's demeanor, about where he was heading, but he couldn't place it. He wasted no time walking up to the door and swinging it open. He spotted Jolyne almost immediately, sitting next to a man with more bandages than clothing, surrounded by a odd assortment of characters. A woman with dark skin and darker hair, a pink haired ranchero type, a green haired girl… he didn't care so much about any of them. He was more concerned with where he found his daughter- in a room obviously not meant to be an inn.

A brothel.

His daughter was in a brothel.

“Jolyne,” Jotaro growled, Kakyoin wandering in behind him.

“Hi, Kakyoin,” the girl waved at the red head before turning, “and dad.”

The shift in her posture was telling- obviously she was far happier to see Noriaki for some reason, “how do you two know each other?”

“He actually sends me letters,” the girl rolled her eyes as everyone else shuffled to the far edges of the room, unable to get past the hulking body blocking the door.

Huh, well that was deserved, on to the next most pressing question “why are you in a brothel. Who is that,” pointing at the bandaged man.

“I run this establ-”

“You what-”

“I run this brothel. And this is Weather, I found him, he was hurt and can't remember who he is passed the name,” Jolyne half-shouted.

Jotaro was pretty sure he was seeing red- and not just because Kakyoin had moved in front of him.

His daughter was running a brothel in Morioh.

Unbelievable.

Jotaro pushed Kakyoin to the side so he could move further into the room, ignoring the heavy sigh it earned him, "whatever,” they could talk about it later and in much more detail, “I'm taking you home.”

There was a pause before Jolyne laughed, “this is my home,” face turning uncharacteristically dark, “and don't think I'm going to leave so easy, not when I'm needed,” adding a pointed jab, “I don't run when things get tough.”

At this point he and Jolyne were standing in front of each other, practically face to face. Her points were certainly warranted, but like hell was his daughter going to work a damned whorehouse in the most dangerous city in the West. It would be difficult to just… pick her up and leave, but damn if it wasn’t tempting-

“Oh,” came a voice from the doorway.

Giorno Giovanna- just the person he wanted to see- and someone who looked like they had more bruise than face, both standing stock still. He looked more like Dio than ever, more so than Polnareff had let on and that ended up pissing him off a little bit more. Honestly though, Giorno looked about as happy to see him as he did. He was glad it was mutual.

“GioGio,” Jolyne twisted to look past him as if they weren’t in the middle of talking, “oh jeez, what happened to your friend.”

“My Uncle Diego just tried kidnapping me,” typical Brando in his opinion, “he also tried to take the key- the one to the vault,” pulling out a small arrow shaped key from his vest pocket.

“No way-,” his daughter mused, cut off as Jotaro froze the world around him, long enough to snatch the key from Giorno’s hand, “are you- what the hell, dad?”

It was the genuine article, passing an inspection from both him and a nodding Kakyoin, “where did you get this.”

Giorno looked perturbed at the theft, but (wisely) made no moves to try and take it back, “my companion here brought it.”

“See? There’s so much shit going on! You think I can just leave? You think you can just leave?,” Jolyne was back to yelling at him.

“There is a lot going on… he mentioned something involving Father Pucci,” Giorno added as his bruised companion rubbed his head- either from the nasty scrapes and bruises along his face or because he was still unused to how things worked in Morioh.

“Jolyne,” the pink haired man in the corner finally spoke up, “let me take care of the amnesiac, Foo can investigate Father Pucci later. For now you should talk to your father a bit more.”

“I really, really, hate to agree with Anasui,” the dark skin woman said while bringing a damp towel to the bruised man, “but that might be the best plan. We’re gonna need all the help we can get.”

Before he could disagree Kakyoin’s hand landed on his elbow, his face serious, “you should stay awhile, Jotaro. Please.”

“...Fine.”

Chapter Text

The hunt for the serial killer in Morioh was going… pathetically bad. Six ladies all unaccounted for with addition of another murder. It didn’t seem like Foo had been killed by whoever was on the dismembering spree, but that just made things even more complicated. It felt as though there were threads stretching across the city, all leading to different plots and plans but intangible. Every time he thought he had a handle on one, it would snap and leave him empty-handed. He just couldn’t seem to get ahold of what he was looking for.

His deputy had taken to handling all the day-to-day problems leaving him more time to find the monster in their midst, but everytime he walked back in with nothing it left him feeling more and more useless. Abbacchio hadn’t said anything, but it was the principle of the thing. He was lucky to have Okuyasu by his side through it all.

They had become fast friends in the last few days, hell it was as if they had been friends the whole damn time. He could say the same for Koichi, always trying to help. He couldn’t say the same about Rohan. Where Okuyasu was enthusiastic and brimming with support and Koichi was a thoughtful foil to help him work out his theories- there was Rohan.

The enigmatic artist had, at the young age of 26, already been featured in many prominent museums and collections, painted a presidential portrait, painted several famous murals, and a bunch of other art stuff Josuke didn't really care to know about. His accolades were numerous and his reputation for being the best truly preceded him. But his personality was atrocious.

Maybe it was just an artist or famous person thing- but he'd never met a more sour or grumpy individual. It wasn't like he was trying to get on the man's bad side either- it was more like he had been placed there and it had just stuck. To be honest, punching the man in the face for insulting his hairstyle likely hadn't helped much, but it had certainly been warranted.

It would have been easy enough to just ignore and avoid the man, but Morioh was small and he had actually been rather helpful. Rohan had claimed to of left most of the work to him, but had ended up throwing himself into most of the detective work. He had compiled a list of suspects- men and women with histories, the ability to pull something like this off, tidbits about what he knew about them. He even included portraits. He had a map of the city, each murder marked with a date and approximate time. When Okuyasu showed him the button, he had managed to nab the tailor's button order list.

Rohan was indispensable, and that kind of made up for how generally off-putting he was. He had, after some pushing from Koichi, reluctantly allowed Josuke and subsequently Okuyasu to visit at any time to review his notes or talk with him without a chaperone. It was nice not having to pull Koichi away to get entry to Rohan's study. Especially since Yukako was terrifying and her patience was wearing thin.

The artist's house was a grand mansion (by Morioh standards) just off the main street, made of soft tan painted wood with sandstone foundations. It was styled like the Victorians off by the coast, hand crafted by architects and artisans. It was one of the nicer houses, if not the nicest house in the heart of the town. The Steele's and Zeppeli were close contenders, but Rohan's was certainly the fanciest.

It was also the most lived in, its occupant rarely leaving for long stretches at a time. When inspiration struck, the artist would be holed up in his house for days. Koichi once described having to check up on the man after he hadn't been seen in over a week.

So when the lights were out, it made Josuke rather concerned.

Rohan always had a light on in his study on the second floor. He had claimed it was because he had stubbed his toes one too many times on his way to his desk whenever inspiration came to him at night. Given the frankly atrocious hours the man kept, Josuke believed him. It was rare to see the lamp not lit, especially considering he never even snuffed it out before leaving the house.

“You think he's at home?,” Okuyasu questioned, staring up at the same dark window.

“He's always home,” Josuke replied with more certainty than he actually felt, “besides, Koichi said he hadn't seen him all day. Where else would he be?”

Scaling up the couple steps of the artist's stoop, Josuke rapped his knuckles loudly on the front door and waited. The sounds of the bustle of main street were muted but they were close enough to the fields to hear all manner of insect life. There were no sounds coming from inside the house.

Josuke frowned, raising his voice a little to call “Rohan?”

No answer.

Okuyasu jiggled the doorknob, a single twist opening it up. It wasn't rare for the artist to leave his house unlocked, since he was usually there but… Rohan's shoes were in the front entry. Every single pair was lined up in its set spot in the shoe rack. Not a single pair was missing. Okuyasu looked over at the sheriff and shrugged, gesturing for him to go first.

Stepping into the foyer of the house, Josuke glanced around for any signs of the eccentric artist. Nothing looked out of place from what he could tell by the light filtering in through dusty windows. No signs that maybe the man had left to run a brief errand or on more than one memorable occasion, needed to go see the bog or look at one of Giorno's goats for a reference.

Okuyasu moved to the kitchen, looking through a few pantry cabinets and around the stove, “he wasn't cookin’ anything, and he's got lots of food. You think he might’ve gone to eat at Tonio's?”

“I don't know. Koichi woulda seen him if he had, wouldn't he? He lives across the way.”

Okuyasu hummed, shuffling back to the foyer, “you’re right, he would’ve.”

Grabbing an oil lamp from a table near the door, Josuke fished around his pockets for a pack of matches only to come up empty. Okuyasu helpfully rummaged around his own jacket, sliding a pack of two out for the sheriff. Mumbling a thanks, Josuke lit the lamp and began making his way up to the second floor.

“Rohan?,” Josuke questioned the emptiness, not exactly expecting a reply and not getting one in return.

The second floor was just like first, no signs of scuffle but no signs of the homeowner. The door to the study was closed, usually a sign that the artist was in, but there was no light peeking through the bottom. Josuke gave a tentative few taps before raising a hand to the knob. It turned and unlocked with ease.

The light of the lamp bounced faintly off the embossing of the leather spines gracing Rohan's shelves. His study was packed with towering shelves full of books- ones with his own work and ones with references. He wrote in his sparse free time, and painstakingly illustrated many of his own literary adventures. He was a real renaissance man, and certainly had the manners of one.

His lamp sat cold on the edge of the wide desk covered in various manuscripts. The light in his hand caught the ink on the papers- or more accurately, the puddle of ink on the papers. An entire bottle of black ink had been poured out on to Rohan's desk, drenching the papers around it and dripping slowly onto the floorboards and chair underneath.

Josuke passed his lamp to Okuyasu quickly to try and to mitigate the worst effects, but it had seemingly sat like this for some time. The papers had acted like wicks, sucking up most of the liquid and muddling their previous contents. From what he could gather, it was all of the painstakingly collected information on the killer. Now lost.

They had lost all their leads.

Josuke slumped while Okuyasu growled, “did he do this?”

While Rohan could paint a beautiful portrait with little to no effort in even less time, it wasn't exactly his style to perform any mindless destruction of his own craft.

“No,” Josuke attempted, blearily staring at the obscuring ink.

Dejected the two men stood in silence, purple and blue eyes watching as black dripped to the floor, slowly widening the tiny puddle underneath. Josuke furrowed his brow- the puddles had been disturbed. Tiny tracks spiked out from the side, near where the chair sat. It looked like the legs of the chair had been pushed in to the space under the desk, dragging through the liquid.

Upon further inspection, the pens Rohan would have used were nowhere to be found as well. Josuke dropped down, scouring the floor for any more signs or puddles. Sure enough he caught the shimmery iridescent ink in little dribbles, splattering around the desk and back towards the door.

He had enough information here to come to a conclusion, and not a very good one.

“I think Rohan's been taken.”

Chapter Text

“How's the view suiting you, Hot Pants?”

“I keep telling you that isn't my name,” H.P. huffed.

They had gone through the same song and dance since their swampy meeting and by this point it was getting difficult to work up genuine irritation at the name. Diego Brando had gone from obnoxiously grating to… well, he wasn't as insufferable as he had been, but it was a close thing. It was a strange sort of companionship she had found herself in: two people who obviously were unused to teaming up now working together for a mostly common goal.

She had come to the conclusion that she had certainly chosen the most interesting character out of the bunch to partner with. While she didn't necessarily dislike Diego, the jury was still out on the warmth of her opinions. He was crass, sacrilegious, and utterly barbaric. But he had a good head on his shoulders, especially when it came to figuring things out. For being half a monster, he was surprisingly reasonable.

Said monster was lounging off to the side, loudly crunching on an apple with wickedly serrated teeth as he absently fiddled with an empty silver urn. He'd been messing with it for a while now, and had even brought it up to the cliff face they were holed up in. He'd been in an odd mood since returning from his nephew’s home. He hadn't said much about what he went there for or what he brought back.

“Are you going to tell me what it is I'm looking for or are you just going to keep playing with that urn?”

“I'm not playing with it,” the man hummed absently, “I'm just thinking is all.”

“Oh, no wonder I didn't guess it right away,” H.P. replied sarcastically, “it's an empty urn, it's not a puzzle box.”

“No, it isn't,” Diego mused, his thumb sliding over a small etched name on the side she couldn't quite decipher from where she sat, “but my dear nephew sure is.”

H.P. raised an eyebrow but didn't comment.

“He had the key to the vault.”

The nun's face snapped towards him, “what? How-”

“My guess is that his new lay brought it with him, but I never figured out where they were hiding it,” H.P. scrunched her nose at the insinuation of homosexuality but let Diego continue musing, “it was the first time he'd ever lied to me.”

“You tried taking it by force?”

“No, well, maybe- I was certainly rough on his bed partner, but not quite to him,” Diego attempted to reason, “he's the only flesh and blood I have left.”

“You tried taking it through force then.”

“A little, it was mostly him I was trying to take with me-”

“In Christ’s name, Diego, you were trying to kidnap your nephew?”

“It was for his own damn good, the dumb child-”

“Can you not be a brute for ten minutes? Is it really so hard?”

“And I said it was for his own good. That priest has something planned for him,” the blond flopped down on the dirt with a huff, “I don't know what, but it isn't good.”

H.P. returned to her lens, “what could a priest want with him? He's just a boy.”

Diego cackled, “oh no, he's not some boy. He's the only living son of the vampire Dio Brando. If the Joestars were smart, they would have taken him far away from here long ago.”

The nun raised a pink eyebrow, incredulous, “a vampire? Really? Can't you come up with anything more-”

“You really doubt vampires exist after seeing me?”

“You aren't a vampire. You're something else.”

“I came very close to being one. If I hadn't been off racing I could have become a vampire instead of a beast.”

Nothing had changed through her lens, “would you have preferred that?”

“Of course,” the man huffed from nearby, “but I wasn't given very many options…”

A few quiet minutes passed before he spoke again, “I suppose I could take this time to actually be a bit more honest with you. I wasn't actually changed during the last transcontinental race... it was a hundred years ago.”

H.P.’s eyes widened, “impossible-”

“I was born two years after Dio Brando some one hundred and fifty years ago, give or take,” Diego continued despite the interruption, “but I went east around the time Dio decided to kill the Joestar patriarch. I came back around the time the mansion burned, but I got lost on the way back. There was a dust storm and I was stuck in the wall-eyes...

I found the vault entrance while I was there.”

“You did? Where-”

“I've not a clue, as soon as I saw it my skin started- it hardened into scales. It was painful the first time and I was gone not long after.”

“Gone?”

“Gone. I didn't come back to myself for almost a century. Imagine, coming back to your senses buck-naked in a swamp,” the blond laughed dryly, “that was me, though I doubt it matters much.”

It was the most unbelievable story she'd ever heard, but then again a man who could shift into a feathered reptile was even more unbelievable. It also raised more questions than it answered.

“And you think returning to the vault will cure you?”

“The wall-eyes giveth and taketh away,” the man declared sarcastically, “besides it's my only shot. It'll either work or I'll be joining a circus at this rate.”

H.P. snorted at that. Imagining Diego dressed as a clown jumping through hoops made for an entertaining picture. He wouldn't last one day.

“All we have to do is watch Valentine - no doubt he's already found the place - and follow him. Then it's a normal life for me and back to the nunnery for you.”

“Something that can't come soon enough if you ask me.”

Diego snorted, “parting will be such sweet sorrow, I'm sure.”

“Right- wait,” something moved in the distance and caught the nun's eye, “I think he's here and heading towards the vault.”

“About bloody time,” Diego stretched as he scooted over to where she was perched, “which way?”

The figure was walking parallel to them through a valley formed between towering spires of rock. They were blurry through the cheap lens, but there was a muted pink and a smudge blond in the dulled moonlight. Valentine fit the bill, but so did Lucy and Giorno from what she knew of them. Given the hour, it would be rather unlikely that they would be meandering through a cursed place like this.

Diego stared at where the nun pointed, snarling, “that's him, alright.”

“Do you want to fight him or just follow him?”

The blond paused, slitted eyes tracking Valentine's shape as he thought.

“It will be easier for me to kill him as a beast. And he won't allow us to touch the vault while he still lives. Let's follow him for now and then confront him at the destination.”

H.P. nodded, sliding the telescoping lens into a pouch on her hip. Normally she'd be rather hesitant to forcibly oust a government official like this, but after seeing what that man had tried to do to poor Mrs. Steel… Her god was a forgiving one, so surely he could look past something like this.

The cliffside they were perched upon had a clear view of the widest valley system with an easy slope from top to bottom, spiraling around from the flat of a mesa to the stoney roots. It had almost looked carved when they had first set up camp, but by who she didn't know. Some of the rocks near the top looked like humanoid faces, but they were so worn down and sporadic it was easier to chalk them up to being just odd patterns in the stone. It was less terrifying a thought, that was for sure. It was a nice setup however, and it made keeping an eye on the nefarious politician much easier.

Diego was already clawing his way ahead, scaling down the side of the mesa with sharp claws and oddly bent legs. As he passed by each outcropping, smaller feathered lizards joined his growing following. It was a strange sight to see, and he never did say where they came from. The half-shifted man had already headed away from the mesa by the time H.P. landed at the base, scuffling his way off into the pearly moonlit dunes. It wasn't hard to see out here unless you were in the shadows, the light of the moon reflecting softly off the shining sands. It was beautiful and unnerving, creating an eerie backdrop for their imminent fight.

Valentine didn't look back, but subtly looked to the sides as he walked forward. It was strangely unobservant of him, but he was just a politician… perhaps he was unused to watching behind himself? Whatever it was, the destination became gradually more clear. An unassuming spire of rock jutted up from an unnatural dip in the sand. It looked hardly any different than any of the other rock formations, but the bottom had a tiny gaslamp hanging above a cave at its base.

Valentine had just reached the lip of the basin when Diego pounced with a low, primal hiss. H.P. would have been irritated at him for blowing their cover, but there wasn't much she could do and not much the politician could do either as those feral talons sank deep into flesh. The man fell with a shout into the shifting sand, blood spattering around like a whirlwind. Valentine attempted to struggle before succumbing to the blood loss from those rending claws tearing him open. Diego was effective but quite merciless, and it never ceased to make the nun's skin crawl.

Wiping his clawed hands off on his already bloody breeches, Diego left the cooling body in the sand and stalked his way down towards the cave entrance. It was hard to imagine that this would be another one of Valentine's doubles, but it had been too easy, no doubt a ruse. But how many could the man possibly have?

H.P. didn't have to ponder for very long as the now familiar noise of a body folding in on itself was undercut by a sharp screech. Valentine's body had begun crumpling into the void as she watched, but while her eyes had been away from Diego, he had gotten into trouble. The man had trouble seeing while shifted, she had noted early on, and had missed a steel trap planted under the sands. Honestly she would have likely missed it too. Regardless, her companions leg was now caught between the sharp teeth of a steel trap meant for beasts a short distance from the cave entrance.

She couldn't just run in to help either, not until she made sure her own footfalls would be safe. Given the light glinting off of barely exposed teeth poking from the sand… it was a miracle it hadn't happened sooner. Valentine had hidden traps all throughout the base of the spire.

Diego was left howling and cursing at the metal embedding into his leg, blood dripping into a pool as his scaly skin was torn. H.P. attempted to step carefully towards him as fast as she could but- what could she even do for him at this point? She was unfamiliar with trapping and her first aid training hadn't prepared her to handle a wound like this.

The cracking, incredibly loud sound of gunfire came from in front of the cave entrance and a chunk of H.P.’s body became synonymous with pain. It shocked her enough to pull her attention from the shapeshifter’s leg to see Valentine standing with a smoking blunderbuss and another double of himself flitting between cave entrance and the sides handing him another gun. So he had been hiding in there too this whole time.

The blunderbuss was an old model for this day and age - inaccurate and good for just shooting scrap. She at least knew that much. She also knew that their chances at this point were not good even against such an obsolete firearm. Her left arm had been hit by the fired lead spheres and it hung bleeding and torn by her side. She had a few other grazes, but she could still move, he had wildly missed after all-

Diego dropped to the ground beside her.

H.P. swallowed as she looked back at her partner, hand paused on the way to her whip. Diego was bleeding profusely from several small holes in his front, but his back... The exit wounds were wide and gaping, tearing him apart as the lead was forced through. He was dead when he hit the ground. Cursed shapeshifter or not, it was too much-

H.P. was now distinctly aware of how alone she was.

“I've had about enough meddling from the two of you,” Valentine hummed, almost bored as he aimed his second shot, “him especially.”

H.P. screamed in adrenaline fueled fury and terror as she swung her whip as Valentine fired again.

Her world went black.

Chapter Text

With Rohan missing, the investigation seemed to slow to a crawl. All Josuke had left was an initial listing of suspects compiled from when they were first starting the search. A few names had been scratched off the list; Hol Horse having been killed and Guido Mista, the highwayman, having not left Giorno's side. There were still too many suspects and no time until another lady, or Rohan, ended up dead.

Josuke sighed from where he stood in the artist's study. He'd gone over the whole house with a fine toothed comb and come out with nothing new. Whoever did it must have been thorough. The button was gone, the tailor's list destroyed under a blanket of ink, the sketches, the portraits, the names, the evidence- all destroyed or taken. Even the tiny trailing of ink cut out at the threshold of the back door.

He was back to square one.

Growling in frustration Josuke kicked the chair under Rohan's desk, sending it clattering uselessly to the floor. The sheriff fumed as he stared at the fallen seat, mentally congratulating himself on sending Okuyasu away so he wouldn't see him like this. He had appearances to keep after all.

Being mad wouldn't solve any rimes though, so the sheriff breathed deep and contemplated what they at least still had. The suspect was a man according to witness testimony, but nobody saw the face, and he was well off enough to afford hand carved buttons. So not much.

But he could remake the suspect list, and look at people's tax records if he asked the bureaucrats real nice. Killer or not, the man likely still paid his dues if only just to keep up appearances. After all, you can't kill ladies if you get locked away for tax evasion. Hopefully Morioh had gotten better about enforcing tax collections or this wouldn't work. Nodding to himself and straightening the chair he kicked over, Josuke couldn't help but feel emboldened by having a plan as he meandered to the door of the artists study.

He almost missed the smell of smoke.

The sheriff tensed, he hadn't lit any gas lamps on his way up since Rohan's house had plenty of natural light. The sun was set, the artist's house was well kept- he didn't know what else could have lit a fire that wasn't arson related. Black smoke began filtering in from under the door, cutting Josuke's thoughts off and making him groan.

A murderer and an arsonist.

He was on the second floor overlooking a truly awful and horribly overgrown briar rose. The closest other exit not window related was down the hall, down the stairs, through the foyer, and out the front. Not as close as the window but arguably less painful depending on where the fire was. Which was likely everywhere now given how hot the study was getting and the nice plume of smoke outside the windows.

Opening the latch of the window, Josuke groaned even louder “are you KIDDING ME,” at the bonfire that was once a thorny briar rose underneath him.

Unless he wanted to fricase his lower half, he'd need to find an alternate route-

-The house shuddered as a portion somewhere caved in.

He'd need to do this fast.

Turning back towards the door, Josuke flung it wide just to cough at the faceful of smoke. The hallway was clear though, and that was all that mattered at the moment. Raising a kerchief to his nose and mouth, Josuke ran down the groaning hall and banked a hard left to the staircase. The bottom few steps were engulfed in a bright orange fire that was steadily working on the banister rails. The hall to the side was clear, so Josuke clomped down a few steps to work up some momentum before flinging himself over the railing.

The impact rattled his bones through his boots, but he wasted no time picking himself up and hurtling into the closest window. The glass shattered around him earning him a few nicks, and the porch was collapsing around him, but he was outside and only a little singed. Fumbling his way to the yard, Josuke ripped the blackened kerchief from his face and heaved for breath.

A sizeable crowd had gathered, onlookers horrified and morbidly curious at the fate of the artist's manor. Leone was already at the scene, directing a group of able bodied and more helpful folk into a human chain to pull water from the well in the town square. His deputy had noticed him and was making his way over but Josuke's attention was caught by a different set of movement.

A man in the crowd had turned to run from the scene.

It was too dark to catch the man’s face, so he had no choice to pursue the man through narrow alleyways and dirt paths between houses. Startled onlooker or arsonist- Josuke didn't care, all that mattered was stopping him before he disappeared. He was the best suspect the sheriff had, and he'd be damned if he let him slip away.

The man was quick though, and it was tough to keep up as well as dodge people, planters, and jump the occasional fence. He wasn't even sure where the man was headed- he could be leading the sheriff into a trap for all he knew. But it was all he had-

“Josuke!”

Josuke looked over and caught a glimpse of Okuyasu, scrambling over a fence to join his pursuit, “hey, what're you after?”

“Help me chase this guy,” the sheriff shouted in response, focusing on keeping an eye on his quarry.

The man never looked back and ducked into a tiny corridor between houses. Josuke banked hard after him and almost skidded to a stop at the trail of fire growing on the side of the building on the right. Did the man do that? He was the most likely culprit but how did he do it? Well, no matter, it would be a question for later when he finally caught the bastard.

Running through the narrow alleyway, Josuke ignored the lick of fire and kept his eyes focused on the man in front of him. He looked well dressed- too much so to stand out as a ne'er do-well. He looked more like a businessman than an arsonist.

His roundabout shake off attempt had led the back near the deserted main street, down south from the burning manor and towards the row of shops. The man was running straight for the butcher's shop, emptied due to the time, but still had a trio of horses tethered to the post in front. The butcher was a portly man, a completely different size than the man they were pursuing, so could this really have been his workplace? There was an apartment above it, but that was where the butcher and his wife lived.

What was this place to the man they were chasing?

From his side, Okuyasu was rapidly catching up and outpacing them both. Josuke could cheer, he was so winded from his run and escape from the fire, he was glad at least someone could get to the man. The other man was right behind their suspect, close enough to grab his vest when the mysterious man reached out and touched the post the horses were tied to.

It was as if he held a fire in his palm and sent it blazing a trail up the tethers, startling the horses into a frenzy. The bucking, panicked horses tore their ropes and bolted- separating him from his pursuit and his companion. Through the gaps in the commotion, he spotted the man barrel through the doorway of the business, Okuyasu following suit.

Josuke had to step backwards, letting the horses disperse before running forwards again. The blaze of the post trailed to the porch, but an ominous, earsplitting boom came from the front of the shop, followed by a burning ball of fire and heat, sending glittering shards of glass to rain down on the desert. The shopfront exploded like somebody had lit a stick of dynamite, and Josuke watched as his world went up in flames.

“OKUYASU!”

Chapter Text

“You sure it's today?”

Giorno hardly even glanced back at him from where he was moving the old dairy cow from her stall, “quite positive.”

“Hmph,” it wasn't like he was too skeptical about the date.

It was just kind of strange that the only person receiving any letters from Buccellati happened to be Giorno. He could understand not getting any, he had no address, but Leone only receiving a single letter? That seemed fishy.

“Are you upset about it?”

“What? No, not really,” a blatant lie, “it's just unusual is all.”

“How so?”

“Well, I mean… How come you are the only one getting anything?”

Giorno shrugged, “I'm not the one likely to be compromised should a letter get intercepted. Abbacchio is in a much more precarious position.”

Mista huffed as he lured the milk goat out of her stall with a half chewed carrot, “I guess. It still seems weird is all.”

Giorno was looking at him like he was the one being weird, but ended up just shrugging again. The last letter they had gotten was three days ago, saying that Buccellati and Narancia were ‘close’ and to look for them before the week was out and as the sun was setting. They hadn't shown yesterday or the day before, but it was Friday now so hopefully today would be the day. Especially since Abbacchio was getting tired of waiting around in Giorno's barn.

Mista had missed whatever made Abbacchio hate Giorno, but neither party seemed inclined to tell him any time soon. A right damn shame as far he could tell- the only tidbits he had gotten were something about piss in a teacup and an army of toads in the sheriff's office. As fun as it was attempting to put two and two together, he'd kill for the full story.

“As far as we know, the boss doesn't know Giovanna exists,” Abbacchio drawled from the barrel of vinegar he was sat atop of.

“I don't really believe that. Ain't no way he doesn't know everything going on,” pulling his hand back from the hungry goat's mouth just in the nick of time, “that man knows everything and everyone.”

“We've been speaking in code in all our letters, ever since we first decided on this course,” Giorno spoke up from across the barn, “it is very unlikely he knows of me, but shouldn't be ruled out.”

“Hmph, as if Buccellati would be that careless.”

Mista was ready to snap back with a bite of his own when the sound of hooves outside silenced him. Giorno and Abbacchio paused, bodies tensing. Giorno moved silently to the barn door as the other two moved their hands to their firearms. It sounded like there were two horses outside- but whether it was a townsperson or someone else nobody knew.

Mista moved to flank the other side of the door, revolver at the ready, returning Giorno's nod as he peeked through the slit in the door. It was hard to see his expression in the dim lamplight, but he caught a glimpse of surprise before the blond was tugging the door to the side.

“Buccellati-”

Mista and Abbacchio wore twin expressions of surprise, stock still with shock before bolting to the door to see for themselves. Sure enough there was Bruno Buccellati himself, seated upon his favorite white and black mare, dusty and sweaty from the desert but in one piece and here, Narancia by his side.

“Giorno Giovanna. We finally meet,” and upon noticing the two behind him, “Leone, Mista, it's good to see you well.”

“Good to see you too, Buccellati,” the relief coursing through him was almost enough to send him to his knees, “nice seein’ you too, Narancia.”

Abbacchio reached up to help the former capo off his horse as Narancia groaned, “we've been riding all day- this place really is in the middle of nowhere.”

“It'll be a bit cramped, but I can accommodate you both here at my homestead,” Giorno offered politely, gesturing to his farmhouse in the distance.

“Finally! A real roof over our heads,” Narancia grinned, eyeing the quaint homestead eagerly.

Buccellati waved a hand, “that all can wait until after we finish the business at hand.”

There was some grumbling, but their little rendezvous was moved further into the barn as Buccellati took a seat on a hay bale, announcing “Diavolo is missing.”

The members of Passione blanched, “those closest to him are still receiving orders to distribute via letters, but he's supposedly nowhere to be found. They can't even find his number two.”

“You think he's on his way here? Or even already in town…,” Abbacchio mused worriedly.

“It's very likely. I doubt he's in Morioh proper- likely he's scoping the place out from afar. Which brings me to the next topic- Trish. Where is she?”

“She's safe with the doves,” Mista answered, “they're keeping her safe.”

“You trust them?”

“They're my kin,” Giorno cut in.

There was a tense moment as he and Buccellati stared each other down before the latter relented, “I’ll trust your judgement. If Trish is safe, then the last thing. Mista, how is the item I left in your care?”

Mista swallowed- “it’s uh… it’s safe too.”

The barn went quiet and he couldn’t quite meet Buccellati’s eyes, “you no longer have it with you anymore, do you-” interrupting Giorno before he could butt in- “let me guess, it’s with more of Giorno’s kin.”

A beat of silence, “yes… with Kujo Jotaro.”

The former capo sighed heavy, “at least you know who has it. I’ve never heard of this Kujo fellow before.”

“He’s a scientist, who studies marine life,” Giorno explained, for better or for worse, “but he’s familiar with artifacts like the vault key.”

“Artifacts,” Abbacchio narrowed his eyes, mirrored by Buccellati, “you mean there’s more things like what we found?”

“Six, according to Polnareff. A few have been destroyed though.”

“How many can be used to open that vault,” Buccellati murmured, “I’ll have to talk to this Kujo fellow- or maybe Polnareff. For now, let’s focus on keeping an eye out for Diavolo.”

“We don’t even know what he looks like,” Narancia grumbled, Mista nodded in agreement.

“He’ll probably look like someone who runs a crime organization,” Abbacchio snapped, “he’ll be suspicious lookin’.”

“Real descriptive, how long’ve you been in this town? Everyone here is suspicious-” Mista bit back as Buccellati cleared his throat.

“Regardless of what he looks like- keep an eye out for suspicious activity and persons. Trish should be our main concern, but let’s keep our distance. Hopefully it will make her harder for him to find. Giorno, tomorrow take me to Polnareff, so we... “ Buccellati frowned, sniffing the air, “there’s smoke on the wind- something is burning.”

Mista and Giorno exchanged looks, being closer to the door went to take a look, only to freeze in shock, “a building is on fire-”

“That area- it’s near the heart of town, Rohan Kishibe’s house.”

Abbacchio was quick to slide his hat on, “you gotta be kiddin’- now there’s an arsonist too? Buccellati I need to go-”

“Go. We’ll continue to talk later, but for now- be careful, this could be Diavolo’s work, as a way to blend in with the villagers in the chaos.”

Abbacchio nodded tightly and made his way to town as the fire began to blaze in earnest. Giorno, with the others in tow, followed not long after a hurried explanation of the goings on of Morioh. They joined the line of townsfolk collecting buckets of water, helping as much as they could to stem the fire before it spread- so engrossed they missed the pale, young man with fuschia hair like Trish go by.

Chapter Text

Josuke coughed around the whirling plume of black smoke and blazing cinders. Staring into the inferno that was once the butcher's shop his mind raced. Okuyasu had gone in before the explosion. The murder suspect could create fire and explosions with his hands. God knew where Rohan was, but if he happened to be in there as well-

And then Okuyasu-

He didn't have any time to waste.

Covering his mouth and nose with his sleeve, Josuke jumped over the crackling stairs and kicked the burning door out of the way. There was nothing in the front of the shop, but the glass counter shrieked ominously before giving way to the heat and bursting with a crack of shrapnel and splinters. Josuke was lucky; saved by his quick reflexes but he could still feel the glance of slivers off his face and hands.

He didn't have time for this.

Wiping the dribbling blood from his cut cheeks, Josuke pressed forwards further into the smoldering butchers shop. The bat wings separating the front from the back- the prep room- had been burned off their hinges.

"Josuke!" A voice called then coughed, "Mr. Sheriff?"

Josuke whirled around, relieved to see Koichi standing in the doorway, a hand covering his mouth as he stepped further inside.

"It's dangerous in here, Koichi! Get out 'n help sooth the fire!"

"The whole village is helpin' out already! I saw you chase a man- was that the murderer?"

"Yeah-," Josuke paused to cough, "he's further back- Okuyasu is back with him, and maybe Rohan too."

"Lemme help!" Koichi shouted, running forward and tugging Josuke towards the prep room with him. "This man is dangerous and crazy! You'll need all the help you can get, I know it!"

Koichi was right- and determined- so Josuke relented with a shrug. "Let's go then."

The two made for the blazing doorway as the building shook. A plank fell from the ceiling and landed beside them in a fiery crash. They were running out of time. The prep room was small but had a set of doors on the back wall, the one closest looked to be the former entrance to a smokehouse, given the sweet hickory smell coming from it. The logs used for flavoring were now fueling the blaze and filling the back areas with acrid smoke. The other room had a heavy door made of metal, slightly ajar and billowing blackish grey from the bottom.

"Josuke, look," Koichi shouted, pointing at the smokehouse door. Josuke glanced back and squinted through the haze.

Leather shoes- expensive ones at that- were just barely visible near the doorway. It must either be Rohan or their culprit. But if the culprit was there, where was Okuyasu?

"Good eye! Let's check."

Koichi was much faster than he was, and was quick to reply, "it's Rohan! He's out cold- must be from the smoke."

"Is there anyone else?"

A boom came from the closed off room followed by more crashing lumber. Josuke didn't chance waiting for an answer and kicked in the heavy door, wincing at the reverberations traveling up his leg. The room was almost too bright from all the fire, glinting off rows of chains and hooks. It was likely where the initial butchering took place, guessing from the soaked gore on the ground. It was a long room, surprisingly so, but he could see the shape of someone struggling at the other end.

It was two people- locked in a fight.

"Okuyasu!"

He was pressed against the back door, blocking it to keep the arsonist from running away. He shouted Josuke's name in return, but it morphed into a pained shout with a loud sizzle. It was hard to see through the hazy heat and black smoke, but it looked as though Okuyasu's arms and wrists were being burned up under the culprit's hands.

Josuke didn't hesitate, running forward and grabbing a meat hook. It was just shy of searingly hot but the chain was loose and the strange man wasn't paying him any mind. He swung the chain, and roared- putting as much of his strength into it as he could muster.

He couldn't afford to fail here- there were too many lives at stake.

The meat hook landed with a sickening noise, embedded into flesh as timbers fell around them.

Okuyasu slumped to the ground, blood splattering his face and his hands.

He and Josuke watched as the arsonist, the murderer of Morioh fell to the ground, a butcher's hook protruding wetly from his chest. And yet, even after Rohan had been recovered, Okuyasu saved, and the demon he had been chasing dead by his own hands, Josuke still couldn't shake the feeling of something bigger afoot.

Chapter Text

Mista wiped the sweat from his brow and stretched where he stood.

There wasn't much he wouldn't do for Giorno, but he was about to draw the line at farm work. Thinking of how he had managed to keep this place going for so long with no other hands… it wore him out just imagining. It was a shame Narancia and Buccellati couldn't help, it certainly would have made things easier.

Unfortunately, with the fires yesterday that tore through the artist Rohan Kishibe's house, a few other homes, a barbershop, and the butcher's shop; the town had been in a state of chaos. It wouldn't be good if Buccellati got spotted since his wanted posters made their way into the square last morning. Nobody knew Narancia, but there'd be questions that he was sure to fumble.

The townsfolk had become more suspicious, especially after the murderer and arsonist was revealed as one of their own. One Kira Yoshikage, an unremarkable telegraph operator, suspected of seven murders, arson, kidnapping, possible rape- the works. It had to be a shock for the townspeople.

While it wasn't unheard of for a man in these parts to snap, it wasn't exactly a sudden thing in Yoshikage's case. Sheriff Josuke had been tight lipped during his investigation into the Morioh Killer, but Abbacchio had let it slip that they had found evidence of serial killings as far back as a decade ago. There were more than seven murders by his hands, but without any remnants of the previous victims, it was all just conjecture.

Either way it was not his problem and likely wouldn't be a problem again. Of course the sheriff would still have to take news of it all the way to the regional law offices several townships over, leaving Abbacchio in charge in his stead, but at least Trish would be safer. He trusted Giorno when he said that the doves could keep her safe, but it was easy to see that they were focusing on something else going on. Something about the strange preacher man. Whatever it was had Giorno concerned too.

Sighing, Mista leaned back on the fence post he had fixed up and stared up at the waning desert sunset. There was too much complicated villainy afoot for his liking, and Giorno seemed to be smack in the heart of it. At least, his whole clan seemed to be right there with him. Not that it made him feel better about it-

"There you are." Giorno's voice appeared beside him, startling him from his roundabout musings. "It's getting late."

"There were a lot of posts to fix, but I'm done now." Smirking, Mista added a playful "did you miss me?"

Giorno rolled his eyes, but his smile betrayed him. Slipping his arm around Mista's, he replied, "I sure did. I can't have my only farmhand run off on me now, can I?"

Feigning hurt, and dramatically throwing a hand across his brow Mista sighed. "Is that all I am to you? From highwayman to cowpoke, what a fall."

Giorno laughed, clear and bright over the fields they passed on the way back to the homestead. It had been a good half a day since they had even seen each other, caught up in the land management as they had been, and the banter bled easy into casual conversation.

It was only about halfway back to the farmhouse when a chill began to settle over them. Not unusual for the place- deserts tended to become miserably cold when the sun set, especially in the less sandy areas. But this was a frigid cold that bit through any and all layers of cottons and linens. Mista hadn't even felt a chill like this when he was still based in the northeast.

Giorno pressed close beside him, shivering. "Are you as cold as I am?"

"I'm thinkin' so. I'm also thinkin' that this isn't exactly a usual thing for a desert summer night."

"You'd be thinking right," Giorno spoke, pausing to sneeze a little high note. It would have been cute- as it were, Mista found himself more preoccupied with trudging them through the chilling air to get to a warm fireplace. "It's far from natural, even for a place like Morioh."

"That makes it sound like you are insinuatin' somethin' is causin' it that ain't the weather."

"Well I did tell you, didn't I? This place gives people things."

Mista's hand moved to finger the ivory of his pistol. "So you're sayin' to keep an eye out for a person then?"

Giorno nodded, whispering, "it's good to remember that Diavolo may not be alone. He could have underlings with him."

He was right- as bittersweet a situation as that would put them in. They were still far from the farmhouse and even farther from the barn where Narancia and Buccellati were. The former would be keeping watch from the loft- but he'd never see them all the way out here. It being a person at least gave them a chance to fight back.

If they could find the culprit first.

They would need to act fast though- before they froze to death in the middle of a damn desert.

Giorno pointed towards a nearby post, then towards a young laurel not much further away, wordlessly saying "split up and get cover". Mista nodded and they broke apart. It was colder separated like this, but it would make it easier to survey and defend. Mista's skin was becoming numb and his breaths little puffs of cloud.

Drawing his pistol, Mista looked around from behind his laurel tree- only to find it useless. There was nothing but fields around him- still short with growth, but the cold was making it a bit foggy and not a thing was moving. Even the bugs were silent. The only other living things he saw aside from him and Giorno were birds, wheeling around and landing on posts.

Speaking of Giorno- he was surrounded by birds, crows mostly with a few finches and swallows in the mix. One would hop up onto his arm or shoulder and he'd murmur something and away it would fly. It was curious to see regardless of how accustomed he was becoming to the sight. Snakes wrapping themselves like scarves around Giorno's neck and torso, salamanders in his boots, a scorpion or toad in his pockets, a bird chirping at his heels. Even the blooms of flowers would turn towards him while he walked by. This was far more purposeful than anything he'd seen previously, though.

Glancing around, he could spot the black shapes of the birds swooping in the sky, circling the fields. They didn't go back to Giorno, but they certainly moved with a mission. He didn't have to sit and wonder for long before he heard muffled swearing and the noise of half a dozen birds from the field behind him.

It had to be the one responsible- and he wasn't too far off. Mista just had to get into a better position.

Tightening his grip on his pistol, Mista crouched low and moved towards the old wood beam and post fence, Giorno following not a moment after. They seemed to be unnoticed for now, but it was becoming almost unbearably cold, frost beginning to form on the fence and in the folds of their clothes. The man stood, shouting and swatting the birds away- and each he hit fell to the ground and didn't get back up. One he smacked away landed not too far from where the two were hiding- a sheen of frost coating its black feathers and a single wing embedded in a chunk of ice.

As ominous as that was, they wouldn't have a better chance than the one now.

Kneeling, Mista aimed between the slats of the fence and shifted his finger to the trigger. Except, his finger didn't move. He'd lost feeling a short time ago, but not movement- and no matter how he struggled it was as though his fingers had frozen solid. His bronze skin was pale with a waxy sheen to it, wrapped around the barrel with a dead man's grip. Panic nipped at the corners of his brain as the gravity of the chill around them set in-

-Until it was broken by the press of flagging warm across his back, and around his outstretched arm. Giorno's hand wrapped around Mista's, finger nestling around the trigger as he whispered, "aim for me, and I'll shoot."

It was as if the sun had risen and the cold was dispelled- if only for a moment.

It was a moment he wouldn't dare waste, however. Mista steadied his shivering arm, eyes focused on the shouting man in the field, and held on.

"Now."

Giorno pressed his finger as the last of the warmth left him too, and all six chambers emptied.

A good thing too, with how wild the cold made his aim- three found their target immediately, but the fourth and fifth seemed to curve as the sixth went above and away. Instead of barely grazing past, the fourth and fifth landed with twin sick thumps and the man fell. The cold let up like a frosty spring morning, and warmth seeped back into his skin slow but sure. It hurt like pins and needles, but it was only natural after exposure to such a cold.

The curved bullets were a mystery for all of a second before Mista decided to attribute that to the unnatural cold too.

Unfortunately, detaching his hands from the still frigid handle of his pistol was a painful process, despite the momentary heat from firing. Giorno was gentle as he used his warm breath, and held his slightly warmed hands against Mista's frozen ones, but it was an arduous process nonetheless. If it wasn't for the fact that he didn't want to lose his hands, he would have offered to just wait until they were back at the homestead. As it were, it was looking as though he had gotten the beginnings of a coldburn.

"It was lucky we got him when we did," Giorno said as he inspected the waxy but slightly more bronze toned skin of Mista's hands. "The metal and ivory of your piece was doing you no favors. Any longer and you would have gotten a bite and not a burn."

"I still can't feel much but I reckon I'll be feeling it soon." Then, remembering, Mista nodded over to the field. "What're we gonna do with that bastard? He's dead but not fit for fertilizer."

"He can wait until tomorrow. We'll let Buccellati take a look at him. Right now I'd rather take a warm bath. What do you think?"

"Are you inviting me too?" Mista smirked.

"Of course," Giorno replied with a smile. "Unless you aren't up for it."

"Giorno, the day I deny you anything will be the day all the stars fall from the sky."

Chapter Text

Buccellati was taking an incredible amount of time chatting with Jean-Pierre Polnareff and Mohammed Avdol.

About what he didn't know, but he was glad everyone had put away their weapons. How Avdol had summoned fire with nothing but his hands had left Mista for a terrified loop, but they were at peace now, at least. It had been an uneasy thing at first, since neither group knew the other and had only Giorno as a mutual acquaintance.

Speaking of, it would've gone much smoother if Giorno had been here.

Abbacchio was sent as an observer to the saloon, escorting Narancia and Giorno on their diplomatic visit to talk with Trish, which all left him on guard duty for Buccellati instead. Mista had offered to switch groups, but Buccellati had vetoed it immediately saying something about needing a familiar face and someone to keep Narancia on track. He tried not to be insulted at the insinuation that he couldn't keep Narancia focused.

It wasn't as if he hated being on guard duty, it was just that he was feeling a bit overqualified. He knew to be wary of Morioh- this place was as volatile as a stick of dynamite. He had just been almost frozen to death not long ago, and by an assassination squad member no less. He knew not to let his guard down.

But he couldn't help feeling bored to tears leaning up against a doorframe while his boss sat in the next room chatting over a few cups of tea. He hadn't heard anything about Avdol or Polnareff, and they weren't dressed like they were ready to fight. He supposed he was the best choice to guard Buccellati and two unarmed fellows, especially without drawing attention, but damn if this didn't seem… excessive.

Mista sighed, idly fingering the ivory handle of his pistol as he glanced at the window.

His eyes widened in shock, mind racing as he ducked back behind the door not a moment before the window shattered. Mista covered his head with his arms, hissing as some of the glass shards fell and cut his skin. Mista looked over, expecting a rock or something, but instead found a curious sphere. It was leaking a fine grey smoke, and lots of it.

A smoke bomb? But why?

Mista wasn't aching to find out, especially when another crashed into the room, followed by the sound of breaking glass over in the kitchen where Buccellati was. The room was beginning to fill with the smoke, leaving Mista choking around the sulfuric smell and unable to see further than his boots. Mista contemplated his options as he tossed the smoke bomb back out the window.

He couldn't call Buccellati, even just to make sure he was okay- he couldn't afford to give away his position or let the enemy know Buccellati was here. He could try calling Polnareff or Avdol, but it'd pull them further into the crossfire, let alone give away Mista's position as well. He didn't know how many people were involved- but he could hear the sound of gunshots. They were muffled, distant, still in town but not far. North- from the saloon, most likely.

Mista swore, of all the times to get attacked.

It was impossible to see, and getting hard to breath, so he stood, planning on escaping through a back window. The moment his shoulders were above the sill something came from the smoke, tearing through the smog and embedding deeply under his collarbone, into his topmost rib.

The pain had him shouting out, grasping at the hook lodged amongst his bones, stars blossoming in his eyes as he was tugged up away from the door and over the sill, dragged bodily out of the house. Mista lined up his pistol with the thick cord attached to the hook and fired twice, earning a satisfying grunt of pain and a slackened line. Mista pulled his bloodied hand away from the embedded hook to grab his boot knife, freeing himself with a single slice.

He needed to find cover- but he couldn't see far enough to find any. He was still on the porch, and from what he remembered there was a set of rocking chairs a little to the left of the window he had been dragged out of. He wouldn't have much time to work with, especially if whoever this was could see through the smog.

Mista steeled himself, lunging towards where he hoped the chairs were right as another hook shot out through the dmoke, barely missing his head but grazing his ear. He had remembered right though, and grabbed the legs of the chair as soon as it was in reach. It wasn't much cover but it would have to do.

Hefting it up and cursing as the hook in his shoulder was jostled, Mista stood and ran into the smog, following the direction of the hooks. It wasn't too far until he found a shape in the fog. The shape rapidly cleared, revealing a man with no neck and the look of someone who was not expecting to see a chair thrown at them. The chair didn't go far, but the man flinched anyway- all the opening Mista needed to fire three rounds.

The man fell with a gurgle and a loud jangle of hooks and chains, as a dusty breeze swept through the main street of Morioh, taking most of the smoke with it. Mista vaguely recognized this man now that he could see him clearly.

He was another member of the hitman squad.

Diavolo had to know they were here- why else would the assassination squad be here? Risotto was dead according to Abbacchio, but this made another two of that squad dead. How many were left? How many were still here? The gunshots had stopped- he hadn't noticed until he had finished his own fight. The urge to check on Giorno and the others was powerful, but he had to make sure Buccellati was safe first.

Stumbling back towards the house, Mista looked back into the still foggy front room. It was clearing up now that the smoke bombs had run out, but he still ended up running into a coffee table, tripping him into a wall. Mista groaned, swearing loudly, only to yelp when the tip of a cold metal blade tapped his shoulder.

"Tu t'en sors? You seem like you've had a rough time with things."

It was just the Frenchman, Polnareff. Mista detached himself from the plaster, grimacing at the blood he was getting everywhere. "I got one of 'em. You seen Buccellati? There may be more."

"Yes, he went out the window." Avdol's voice came from nearby. Mista could almost see him fanning away the smoke and haze.

"He's fortunate it was already broken in or I would have broken him. My windows, Avdol, do they not realize how expensive glass is!"

Avdol laughed loudly, then coughed, "I doubt they care. But windows can be replaced easily enough. The men who attacked, do you know who they are, Guido Mista?"

Mista pressed his dusty handkerchief against the lower part of the hook in his shoulder with a grunt. "The one I killed was a member of the Passione hitman squad."

The silence hung heavy in the smoky air, until Polnareff sighed, "what a mess."

"Diavolo may not be here yet, we shouldn't count on it, but it may buy us time."

"Wait," Mista cut in. Wincing as he realized it was Giorno's handkerchief he was bloodying. "Does that mean Diavolo is lookin' for you too?"

"Unfortunately yes," Avdol replied, still trying to fan away some of the sulfuric fog. Mista commended his efforts, as futile as they seemed. "We discussed such things with your capo in more detail-"

"Oh, shit-" Mista shouted, then groaned, "I forgot- I need to find Buccellati."

"Use the front door! Not any windows," Polnareff grumbled, shooing him out.

Mista wasted no time stumbling out the door over to the side of the building. The adrenaline keeping him upright despite the hook in his shoulder was wearing thin, but he'd wasted too much time already. Luckily he didn't have to go far after turning the corner.

Buccellati was a short distance from the broken window he left through and was standing over a truly mangled looking man. Another assassination squad member more than likely, and the one responsible for the smoke bombs according to the satchel spilling them out nearby. Buccellati looked less beaten up thankfully, but was favoring his left leg and had a white-knuckled grip on his shoulder.

Hopefully Giorno could get them in with his doctor friend after this.

"At least… tell me," the dying hitman rasped, weakly grasping at Buccellati's boots. "Why'd you do it? Why… why would kill him?"

Buccellati shook his head. "I didn't kill Risotto Nero. You've been set up."

The man's grip faltered. "What… then…"

He didn't move or speak again, and it seemed like there were more questions raised than answers given. There was a spectre looming above their traitorous group now. The assassination squad- whatever was left of it- was nipping at their heels like hellhounds while Diavolo lurked.

Who knew when he would appear.

Chapter Text

"Aren't you too young for a brothel visit?"

Jolyne was going to be the death of him, or at least of the establishment at this rate.

"I'm older than you! I'm the oldest one here!"

"Hey-" Abbacchio growled over his second glass of whiskey.

"Jolyne, please this is serious," Giorno cut in, then sighed as his cousin ignored him and went back to bickering with Narancia.

It had been such a simple request- in theory. Go to The Spin, ask Jolyne to see Trish, inform Trish of the situation, share the plan to smuggle her out of Morioh, and then leave. And yet, here they were twenty minutes later and stuck on step two. Buccellati hadn't believed him when Giorno told him that Jolyne was a hard dame to convince of anything.

And convincing her of Narancia's good intentions was proving to be a task even he was beginning to find insurmountable.

"Did you bring that guy in just to fight with Jolyne? If you did I'm kickin' all y'all out," Johnny asked, voice too low for anyone but Giorno to hear.

"No. We only need to talk to Trish- Jolyne is just being stubborn about it."

"Oh," Johnny hummed. "It's probably 'cuz she lost one of her doves. It's been almost a week ago now but it's still got her in a knot. Likely she ain't lookin' to lose another any time soon."

"We are trying to avoid that too. Trish is in great danger, and we need to move her somewhere safer. Jolyne has enough to deal with as is. Kujo may be here now, but Pucci has something up his sleeve."

"Him and about half the town. I haven't been keepin' eyes on the preacher- too busy with the mayor." Johnny's voice fell lower, a strange look flitting across his face as he asked, "you seen your uncle lately?"

"No," Giorno's eyes glanced back towards his shouting companion. "Not since his inconvenient interruption." Narancia was making a scene- he was just lucky there was nobody in the bar around this time of day.

"I haven't seen him lately either. We were due for a meetup yesterday but he and his new friend never showed up. Lucy ain't seen him either."

Giorno frowned- he and his Uncle Diego weren't exactly close, but they were still all that remained of the Brando family. There was a lot that could go wrong out here though- death lurked behind every door and every stone. "You think he's gone?"

"I won't say one way or the other. I know for a damn fact your uncle is harder to kill than most, Gyro and me have both tried, but there's a lot goin' on."

"You think the mayor might have finally gotten tired of him? Or could it have been Pucci?"

"I'm not sure but-" a gunshot rang out from outside and the sound of shattering glass followed not long after. Abbacchio swore, dropping his now broken whiskey glass in favor of pulling out his pistol, his face murderous. Narancia and Jolyne stopped their bickering in favor of finding cover and slipping out their weapons. Johnny simply swore, Gyro popping his head out from the back to sling something accusatory at someone. Giorno was too busy finding cover behind a table to pay much attention.

He was glad he did as not a moment later more bullets ripped through the dusty plank walls of the tavern and whizzed around, one embedding into the table behind him. Johnny had his rifle aimed over the counter, joining Narancia and Abbacchio as they fired wildly at whoever was outside. Glass was shattering, wood was splintering, people were shouting- it was chaos. Giorno didn't know who could be outside firing in but assumed the worst, that it was Diavolo's men. Not for the first time he wished he had some sort of skill with a firearm, or that he at least owned one.

Too bad Mista was on the other side of the square.

He'd just have to rely on the others to defend. Of course, they were all focusing on the front- who would be watching the back entrance near the rooms? No doubt Trish would be hidden in one.

If they lost her here…

Mind made up, Giorno steeled himself before slipping out from behind his tipped over table. He saw a few men had entered, the ones that had been shooting from outside more than likely, and were taking shots from behind their own tables and columns. There were only two it seemed- a man with a high and tight and another with longer hair tied into pigtails. It was a fine gridlock between the two intruders, his two co-conspirators, his cousin, and his other more distant cousin. They likely wouldn't even notice he was gone.

Giorno scurried to the side of the bar, dodging a few errant shots, throwing himself behind a chair before flipping the table down. It wouldn't be much, but he was close to the backroom and the back door. He'd just have to-

A revolver barrel clicked. "Where's a pretty thing like you going? Off to join the other doves 'round here somewhere?"

Giorno froze, glancing up slowly at the blond man half hidden behind the partly opened back doorway. He needed to think fast- what could he do? He didn't have any weapons- no firearm, no knives, not even a hairpin on him. He'd have to rely on charisma then. Unless-

"I… was. I was on my way back to the brothel," he hesitated before adding a "sir."

"Oh? So you are a worker? Rare to see a rock dove, but with a face like yours I'm not surprised," the man replied, smiling lecherously as he stepped forward, tapping the barrel of his revolver under Giorno's chin to turn his face this way and that. "It'd be a pretty thing to break."

Giorno batted his eyes for effect, reaching his left hand up and hoping his one chance of escape was sufficiently jostled, and rested his fingers against the man's wrist. He hoped he was being seductive, anything to lower the man's guard. "If it was as handsome a man as you, maybe I wouldn't mind being broken."

The man's grin widened and his hand shot out to grab the collar of Giorno's shirt, popping the buttons as he murmured "di molto" under his breath. The barrel of the gun dug into his cheek as the man slid his hand down his neck and collarbones, only to reel back with a pained shout over a muffled rattling. The dusty body of the Diamondback that had been by his side for weeks now followed after, head attached at the man's wrist.

The man stumbled backwards, stupidly shooting the body of the serpent off at the head. A shame, Giorno was rather fond of that snake. But now there was no regulation on how much venom was being pumped into the man's body. It would certainly make this much quicker.

Sure enough, a blackish red began spreading out from around the snakes bite- necrosis, hemorrhaging, blood bursting in the wake of death. The man writhed on the ground, vomiting blood and grappling at his failing heart before convulsing once, twice, and falling still. As far as Giorno was concerned, he wouldn't be missed, but his scaled companion would be.

He'd bury his friend later, right now he had to prioritize his mission.

Taking a left at the back door and heading down the circuitous back rooms, Giorno knocked on each door until he found who he was looking for.

"Giorno?" Emporio peeked out from behind the third door he tried. The timid boy flinched with every gunshot echoing down the hall.

"I need to talk to the ladies, can you take me to them? It's important."

"Okay…" Jolyne and Hermes may be tough, but between Anasui and Emporio the brothels were almost impenetrable. "Is Jolyne okay? There's a gunfight…"

"I'd be more concerned for the people attacking. Jolyne is tough opponent."

Emporio nodded but still looked anxious. Giorno never had been good with kids, and this one was especially difficult. But wherever he went, buildings would suddenly have more rooms and the hallways would stretch endlessly. There would be no finishing his mission without Emporio.

"Hermes and Anasui are with the new girl in here," the child finally spoke up, stopping at a nondescript door.

"Thank you. I won't be long."

Fingers suddenly pressed out from the wood, followed by hands and arms as if the door were made of water. Anasui's face came not long after, scowling as he pulled himself through the door. "Giovanna. What do you want?"

"I'm here to talk with Trish," adding before the man could respond, "Jolyne could use your help in the front."

Anasui paused, seemingly mulling it over before huffing and wandering off to the front, Emporio in tow. Smiling to himself, Giorno knocked on the door. Hermes cracked the door open just enough to fit the barrel of a twinshot, sighing when she recognized him. She opened the door fully though, stepping aside with a few gripes.

"Shouldn't you be helpin' out front?"

"I don't have a firearm. Besides, this is far more important." Giorno turned to the pink haired girl sitting at the vanity to the side, "Trish Una…"

"...I have something to talk to you about."

Chapter Text

Polnareff grunted as he stooped to pick up another large shard of glass, tossing it into a canvas sack. Avdol was busy cleaning up the front room, leaving the mess in the kitchen to him.

Aside from the disasterous murder attempts and destroying of all the first floor windows or their home, things could have been much, much worse. Buccellati had been apologetic but had already drawn enough attention to himself, so he was asked to leave. Mista had at least kindly offered to sweep and clean up their front stoop. For an agent of a powerful organized crime syndicate,the had been surprisingly helpful.

More so than their cleaning efforts, the exchange of information had been a boon. While the news of Diavolo's proximity was worrying, having at least some semblance of a warning offered a degree of comfort. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the elusive man was pitting his own assassination squad against Bucellati, and nobody could pinpoint the location of the boss for sure.

The news of Jotaro having the key to the vault was certainly welcome… but who knew how well he could keep it safe from a man like Diavolo.

Then there came the tidbit about Trish, the daughter of the devil himself. What exactly did Diavolo need with her?

There were too many moving parts- too many enemies- if they let their guard down it could be the end. The hitmen, the boss, Dio's servants…

"I can hear the gears of your brain grinding all the way in here, Jean-Pierre," Avdol called.

"Are you implying something?"

The fortuneteller laughed brightly, poking his head through the doorway. "Oh not at all, but perhaps some tea will help."

"This doesn't seem like something tea can help," Polnareff grumbled, swearing as a tiny sliver of glass embedded into his thumb.

There was too much to think about, too many enemies, and not enough information, but Avdol was already moving to the kettle.

Polnareff sighed, giving up on the glass for now in favor of sitting at the tiny dining table, his chin cupped in his hands. "Diavolo has his sights set upon Buccellati currently," Avdol began. "Valentine is being watched by the young Johnny and Zeppeli. I imagine they will confront him soon. Pucci, Dio's closest companion, is being watched by Jotaro and Jolyne."

"Giorno hasn't visited since we got back, but Mista was kind enough to fill me in on the state of my ward. He's planning on joining Jolyne when she investigates Pucci in a few days, but has also been on the look out for Diavolo and Diego," Polnareff added.

The kettle whistled, and Avdol set two cups of truly delicate smelling green tea down in front of them. "Diego Brando's body was found last night."

Polnareff winced. "Has anyone told Giorno? That's his last living relative on that side."

"I imagine not. They didn't have Zeppeli do the autopsy- it was some state official that came by and left just as fast."

"How did you find out then? You think Valentine did it and is trying to cover it up?"

"I met a strange man yesterday while I was out tending my chickens. He came from the wall eyes and said he saw two bodies be hauled away, a man and a woman- Diego Brando and an agent of the Vatican."

Polnareff scoffed, "sounds like rumor mongering."

"He was certainly strange," Avdol laughed, feigning contemplation. "Well, not so much strange as otherworldly. He stopped to chat and then kept walking same as he came."

"Well if what he says is true that's the last Brando to worry about, but it certainly complicates the Valentine situation." Polnareff scratched his chin thoughtfully. "And the Pucci and Enyaba situations I suppose…"

Avdol grimaced, muttering, "that foul woman. She's been getting close to the town again."

"Do you think she's planning something?"

"I have no doubts. Enyaba and Pucci have never gotten along, but I fear they may be working together."

Polnareff sipped at the still steaming tea, musing, "we should check in with Jolyne. Offer to help."

"Now Jean-Pierre, we both know our bodies are unfit for fighting these days. All our help will come from our heads," Avdol said with a wistful smile. "Right now, let's prioritize. The arrows are being sought after by two people: Valentine and Diavolo. Nobody knows if all the arrows have the ability to open the vault, or just the key shaped one, so it would be best to remove them all from the picture. Let's leave them in the hands of the Speedwagon Foundation."

"Alright, but what about Pucci?"

"The entire Kujo clan has their eyes on him. It's worrying, whatever he is planning, but his interests lie far from the vault."

"That just makes it all the more concerning," Polnareff muttered.

"Indeed. We can't get lost in it all though. Let us take things cautiously, and more proactively."

"Since when have we ever done that?"

Avdol laughed, "never! This is certainly a sign we are getting old. Now then, we have our plan. Let's get back to cleaning shall we?"

Polnareff sighed, but agreed. Avdol was right on every account. They had to get the arrows out of Morioh first and soon. The Speedwagon Foundation would likely only take one at a time for safety's sake, but once they had them, it would be unlikely anyone would ever get those arrows back.

Maybe they could finally be destroyed for good.

Chapter Text

"Diavolo is getting bold, sending his assassins after you like that."

"I believe we've gotten the last of them," Buccellati hummed, taking a long drag from Abbacchio's cigarette. "Him and his guards are all that's left- so maybe more desperate than bold."

"There's a thin line. What're we going to do? We haven't seen the man and don't know when he'll make his next move."

"It's true. But Trish agreed to come under our protection." Buccellati dropped the cigarette and stomped it out with a boot. They were at the edge of town, past Giorno's barn and out towards the fields. He wasn't so concerned with people seeing the burn of their shared tobacco, but it was the principle of the thing.

He'd attracted enough attention as is.

"She didn't wanna stay with the ladies?"

"No," Buccellati frowned. "Said something about them being preoccupied with something else. Involving the preacherman, I think."

"Oh," Abbacchio's face twisted, growling, "that piece of work. He asked me if I believed in gravity when I first got here."

"Well, do you?" Buccellati jibed with a grin.

"Of course not. I'm held to the ground through spite alone."

Buccellati snorted, the dam holding back his laughter breaking. It had been a long day, hell a long few months. It was good to be reunited with his team, to relax like this.

"I need to check on our progress with the others," Buccellati smiled, composing himself. "Try not to stay out too long."

"I'll see you later," Abbacchio replied, taking Buccellati's hand and kissing the back gently. Watching him head back to the rest of the team, he sighed.

It was quiet and calm for once, the desert winds gone and sands still. Morioh had grown on him, as much as he'd hate to admit it, and times like these made him appreciate the beauty of this strange little wasteland oasis. If all went well, if they really could stop Diavolo and save Trish, he might just miss this place.

His thoughts were broken by the rustle of tall grass, a few tall stalks of corn swaying in the wake of an unfelt breeze. Abbacchio was alert in an instant, twisting to look only for a loud buzzing and pain- so much pain it seemed to cap and reach a crescendo before it was gone and replaced with numbness. Wet warmth seeped down his front and the taste of copper filled his mouth.

Static filled his head and ears, body growing limp and as his head lolled, he saw the culprit. A red coated hand, protruding from his stomach and a sick realization- Diavolo was here.

Diavolo was-

Chapter Text

The buzzing of the desert locusts was especially loud tonight, as if they were ready to swarm in some biblical sign of an upcoming tragedy. If Johnny believed in such signs, he may have called this whole thing off. But he hadn't opened a bible since he was six, and he didn't own any farmland, so it was hard to be superstitious. Besides, the locusts never went near Giorno's crops- too many predators lurking twixt the plants there for them. Needless to say, he wasn't worried about buzzing things. 

 

The only things on his mind tonight involved the Mayor and the business end of his pistol.

 

"Nasty things," Gyro spat, shaking his hand to knock a curiously bold locust off his hand. "There must be a storm rolling through."

 

"Didn't think you believed in that kind of crock," Johnny muttered, busy glancing about the deserted town square. It was just about midnight and theoretically nobody should've been out. Didn't hurt to check though, just in case.

 

"I don't, well, maybe just a little," Gyro whispered as they passed a darkened storefront. They were getting close and it wouldn't do to go and be found out so early. 

 

At least, not until they got some questions answered.

 

The streets were quiet as they snuck to their destination, a manor on the end of the lane, adjacent to the courthouse. Mayor Valentine's homestead, and the source of most of their troubles. It was slow going, despite the progress he'd been making with his crutches these days, but there wasn't a peep of activity in Morioh proper. Little blessings- if only he believed in that sort of thing. 

 

Johnny was the one who knocked on the Mayor's door, Gyro holding his pistol for him, just out of the doorway and hidden in shadow. They could hear the sounds of chatter inside, but it took another two knocks before a man who wasn't Funny Valentine, but was close enough, opened the door. 

 

"Ah. Joekid. To what do I owe the-" Johnny's pistol and Gyro poked from around the corner and the man's mouth clacked shut. 

 

"Mayor. 'Bout time we had a talk. Mind if we come in?" The safety catch of his pistol clicked quietly.

 

Not-Valentine glowered but moved aside to let them in. Johnny tipped his head and made his way over to the salon, Gyro close behind. The Mayor's manse was an Elizabethan style, an expensive luxury this far into cursed desert, but looked barely lived in. Likely the man spent more time out in the Wall-eyes than he did in his own town these days. 

 

Once seated, Johnny slid another pistol from his side as Gyro stayed standing, just a few steps away. Eyes on the doorways but a bit blind to the window. It'll have to do.

 

"Right, let's talk business then," Johnny drawled, motioning with the end of his pistol for Not-Valentine to take a seat opposite him. "First off, where's the real you?"

 

Not-Valentine scoffed, "we're all real."

 

"Bullshit," Gyro spat.

 

"It's true. But if you mean the one from your world, I'm afraid he's quite busy at the moment."

 

"Busy doing what?"

 

"His mayoral duties to his more loyal constituents."

 

Johnny rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll just look for him myself.

 

"Courthouse hours are from 9 to 5, Joestar. I suggest you make an appointment beforehand," Not-Valentine sneered.

 

"Because you are so busy, huh?" Gyro huffed. "Whatever. You know where Diego Brando and his Vatican friend are."

 

"I do."

 

Johnny rolled his eyes, and shot a bullet square underneath Not-Valentine's left kneecap, letting the man howl out a scream before sighing. "Lemme rephrase. Tell us where Diego Brando and his Vatican friend is, or I blow out your other knee."

 

"Fucking bastard-" Not-Valentine growled, "they are both on their way to a grave site. Miserable little shits-" the man was cut off by a bullet tearing through his skull.

 

Johnny stared stupidly. That hadn't come from him. More bullets whizzed out and landed in the wall beside Gyro- all except for one which embedded itself in the man's side. Johnny was up on a crutch and returning fire before Gyro could topple. He didn't see who, but no doubt it was another damn Valentine. He leveled a bullet in a lit gas lamp and let the spreading fire give him some cover.

 

"Fucking politicians," Gyro cursed, already pressing the wound. It was deep but likely missed anything major. Johnny breathed a sigh in relief, taking a potshot at the newest Not-Valentine who was trying unsuccessfully to put out the oil fire creeping across the wall and floor. He fell with a grunt. 

 

"This bastard- let's get you out of here, Gyro. We need to come up with a plan."

Chapter Text

The shovel rasped as it slid through the dusty loam of the Morioh graveyard, a loud noise in the quiet of the night. The town was finally settling down, but Pucci couldn't afford to rest- not now, not when his dream was so close to fruition.

 

The mayor's manor had barely survived, the most recent in a string of arsons gripping the small town, but it had been the perfect distraction for the townsfolk. Most of the Joestars were grappling with Valentine, the arrows, the treasure buried amongst the wall-eyes, the faceless threat of Diavolo. That was fine- Pucci only cared about the one. Now he only had to find a way to pry him away from the birds and that pesky highwayman.

 

Pucci tsked under his breath. 

 

He'd need to find a way to separate the two before midnight. 

 

He wiped the sweat from his brow and buried the shovel tip into the dirt pile beside the shallow grave he stood above. The man gurgled softly, frothy brown saliva rising past sallow lips. He was one of the first Pucci had taken so many, many months ago, kept ready and waiting thanks to the blood of Dio running sluggishly through his veins. Now, he and the others he buried over the past year would finally serve their purpose.

 

"Hello, friend," Pucci cooed down at the groaning thrall. "It's time to get to work."

 

The man's eyes rolled back as he pushed up against the layer of dirt still caging him in his shallow grave, but loyally he rose. Just as Lord Dio said the thralls with his blood would.

 

Pucci handed the man his shovel. "Unearth the others." The man groaned but obliged and shuffled towards the next buried thrall. He wasn't sure how the wretched thing knew where the others were buried- maybe the weak groaning muffled by the dirt was just loud enough. Or perhaps blood called to blood.

 

Pucci turned away as the shovel dug into the soil behind him, facing the once majestic Joestar family mausoleum behind him. The marble facade was wearing under the relentless desert dust, fissures crumbling the foundation as more than a century of shifting ground tugged at the seams. It was a monument to the hubris of the family, a pointless attempt at a lasting structure in a fluid environment, nothing more than an elaborate pile of stones. Generations of Joestars lay within its walls, under its floors, their ashes scattered from overturned urns and bones kept in ornate little boxes. 

 

There was no place set aside for Dio Brando within those walls.

 

The thought made Pucci burn as he snapped the rusted links of the chain barring the door and shouldered his way inside. The soft yellow of his lamp illuminated the dust motes floating in the stone cold hall and glinted off the placards. George Joestar, Elizabeth Joestar, George Joestar II, Joseph Joestar, and there in the middle, the crypt of Jonathan Joestar and Erina Pendleton. The surface was flat, embossed with an image of a sleeping angel, the family statue of the Spirit of Love looming above, empty pitcher pouring nothing but dust in one hand and a rusted sword held in the other.

 

Pucci ran his fingers across the intricate slab covering the remains of Erina, the moonlight falling upon it like a curtain from the high grated window high above like a macabre spotlight. She was all alone in this stone box, until she and it eventually succumbed to the roiling desert as everything else had. Somewhere in the darkest corners of the wall-eyes, Jonathan's skull lay buried. The rest of Jonathan's body had burned to ash in the daylight with the rest of Dio. What remained was left to pass on the wind, left to scatter as if that would finally lay Dio to rest. 

 

They had left nothing physical behind, not of Jonathan or Dio- save a single one of his children.

 

Pucci had sought them out, once. But each child of the vampire Dio had fallen to vice or death at the cruel hands of life or the powers of a Crusader. All except for Giorno. How fitting that the one who resembled Dio the closest would be the one to beat the odds, almost as if it were meant to be. As if it were fated.

 

Pucci smiled and got to work on preparations. The Devil's palm would open soon and there was still much to do.