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masks lend appeal of a mysterious kind

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Giorno first hears of them when Cannolo comes back to him from a mission limping and covered in bruises.

“Bad news, boss,” he says, holding an ice pack to his arm. “And some worse news too.”

Giorno doesn’t get up from his chair. He feels like he’s going to need to be sitting for this. “Go on.”

“You were right about the stone mask: there was another one in Val Gardena. I saw it with my own eyes, kept underground.” Cannolo hangs his head. “The bad news is I never got a hand on it before somebody else did.”

Giorno nods. “Anyone we know?”

“I like to think I’m up-to-date on the gang, so definitely not anyone in Passione. Nobody I’ve seen a picture of either. There were two of them working together; one who grabbed the mask and ran and one who kept me from going after her. I sent some cards to follow her, but she threw them off her trail, and the other one knocked me out around then. That’s the worse news.” Cannolo tugs his hat down further. “I can give a pretty good description so we can be on the lookout, but they could be anywhere by now.”

“I see. We’ll have to take time to search for them. If they start using that mask… they won’t be hard to find.” Giorno leans back in his chair. “By the way, those bruises. How exactly did you get them?”

“Hit with a harp. I don’t think a single string broke no matter how much abuse it went through. It’s embarrassing to lose this badly to an instrument.” Cannolo finally looks back up at him. Even if he didn’t know him well, Giorno would be able to read the guilt in his eyes, that has nothing to do with what he lost to and everything to do with the mission he failed on.

“You’re dismissed. Be sure to get a sketch done of those two as soon as you can, and then take a rest. That harp did a number on you.”

It’s partially Giorno’s fault for not sending more people. He’d wanted to be stealthy, and the last stone mask had been taken out easily enough by just Cannolo. That level of good luck doesn’t last.

Giorno is slightly taken aback when he sees the sketches of the two people Cannolo ran into.

“Are you sure this is accurate?” he asks, turning to Cannolo. “These are a bit…”

“Do normal people use harps as weapons?” Cannolo asks. “Sir.”

He has a point. Giorno studies the pictures a bit longer.

It’s not necessarily that one has pink hair down to her waist, or that she’s wearing an oversized pink witch’s hat, or that her pink broomstick was included in the picture. It’s not that the other is wearing a dress covered in frills and bows over stockings, or that the dark mass of hair with the large pink flower tucked in it would require some intense upkeep. It’s just all these factors combined together that make him pause.

Well. There’s no accounting for personal taste.

After about a month of searching, results are inconclusive. There are no reports of vampire attacks anywhere near Val Gardena, but there is no sign of the two who ran off with the mask.

It’s on a late afternoon when Giorno is dining outside a classy restaurant that progress comes, and that is because one of them just walks up and sits across from him. Giorno’s been looking over those pictures almost every day, so he’s absolutely certain that this woman in front of him is the darker-haired one. She’s even dressed the same.

“Excuse me,” she says, rooting through her purse set down next to her harp. “Is this yours?”

And she pulls out the intact stone mask.

Of every situation Giorno could have expected, he hadn’t planned for this. “...If I say yes?”

“I will give it to you. Pamela has done all the research she wants and I don’t have any interest in it myself.” She sets it down on the restaurant table. Giorno picks it up carefully, and hands it to a nearby trusted subordinate with whispered orders on how to dispose of it.

“Your partner’s name is Pamela,” he says, turning back to her. “And you are?”

“Eater. The pleasure is all mine, of course. I understand that you are quite the influential man?” She smiles. It is unnerving for how genuine it is, as if she hadn’t just been discussing an ancient tool for turning people into terrible vampires.

Giorno replies, “You could say that.”

“Then I’m sure you have plenty of stories to tell. I’m a wandering minstrel, you see, and stories are my stock and trade. If you have the time, I would love to be able to hear tales from you.”

“It would be more fair for you to provide some answers first, wouldn’t it?” says Giorno. “Information is valuable in my line of work, as well.”

“I did just hand you something you wanted, but, very well. Only because you’re so handsome and it’s a pleasure speaking with you.” Eater folds her hands underneath her chin, still smiling. “What is it you’d like to know?”

Giorno ignores the ‘handsome’ comment as best as he can… is she drooling a little? Never mind. “Why were you after the mask?”

“Pamela is always after interesting objects, whenever she’s not seeking mermaids,” she replies. “This just happened to be her latest find. I’m only traveling with her as a friend, but if someone tries to attack my friend, of course I’ll defend her. I’m not planning on killing for her, still.”

“I’m grateful that you left my subordinate alive,” he says. “How did you find it?”

She tosses her long hair back. “It’s not difficult to sense these things. I may not be able to make magical playing cards, but I have a few talents.”

“Such as wielding harps,” he can’t help but add.

Eater narrows her eyes at him. “I wish he would stop doing that. I always have to re-string my harp every morning after he bludgeons people with it, it’s terrible. Can he not take up a sword or axe or something normal?”

Giorno looks at her blankly.

“I don’t look like the sort of person who would bash someone with a beautiful instrument like a harp, do I?” she asks. Without waiting for him to answer, she goes on, “Of course not. Your servant met my other personality, I’m afraid. He’s much less genteel, but he isn’t a bad person, and we’re agreed on most important matters.”

“May I speak to him?” asks Giorno. He’s not sure if the other personality will be more or less agreeable, but he assumes he’ll be less likely to drool over him.

“In a moment. He’s a bit of a night owl, you see.” The sun is setting behind her, and after a minute or so of sitting with her eyes closed Eater opens them again.

Eater speaks in the same voice, doesn’t seem to look different save perhaps a sharpness around the eyes, but even if he hadn’t been waiting for it Giorno would have noticed something was not the same when Eater grumbled, “What d’you want? I don’t know anything more than she knows, so you’re not gonna get a whole lot more from me.”

“I understand that.” Giorno relaxes a little in his seat. “It’s just a matter of being uncomfortable when your dinner partner is too obviously sizing you up.”

“Sorry to break it to you, but she hits on all good-looking guys. She’s been doing that for as long as I can remember.” Eater shrugs his shoulders. “Anyway, you had some questions left?”

“...Why harps?”

“They’re the only heavy things I can guarantee she’ll carry around no matter where she goes. I’m not bad with a chair in a bar room brawl though.” Eater flips through the drink menu. “All the alcohol here’s light stuff, it’s not even worth it. Why even bother with wine?”

“It’s a high-class restaurant,” says Giorno. “The point isn’t to get drunk.”

“When I’m drinking, the point is definitely to get drunk. The best part-” Eater looks smug. “The best part is she gets the hangovers.”

Giorno can’t help but snicker at that. “One last question. How long do you plan to remain in Italy?”

“Eh.” Eater shrugs his shoulders. “Pamela’s ditched already to go chasing mermaids again, and we were gonna stay at least a couple weeks more. She’s pretty sure there’s some good stories here, which could mean actual good stories to write songs about or just handsome men. You know anything about either?”

“I’d rather give her stories to pay back the information than the other option.” Eater is certainly beautiful, but Giorno is still wary of her, enough that a few heavily falsified tales seem safer than prolonged or intimate contact.

“Good choice.” Eater stands up. “Yeah, I think I’ll be hitting an actual bar tonight. She’ll probably head your way tomorrow morning, so I won’t get a chance to talk. Feel free to tell her to go fuck herself if she gets too pushy.”

“I’ll remember that. Thank you.”

Giorno’s food has gotten cold. He sighs and calls a waiter to ask for a box.