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Go ask Alice

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Disclaimer: I do not own JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure; the copyrights for such belong to Hirohiko Araki and, Lucky Land Communications. The character of Sarah does, however, belong to me. This story is inspired in concept by Silver Queen’s “Dreaming of Sunshine”.

 

Go ask Alice

 

Her last, concrete memory was of the crash itself: the screech of grinding plastic as her bike had skidded across the road, and the brief sight of asphalt through the polarized visor of her helmet. After that, there’d been nothing; nothing for a long time. But now, now that she was starting to become aware of her surroundings again, the first thing she was aware of was the dark.

Deep, fathomless dark, permeated by warmth; it was almost like being in her bed back at home, but at the same time she was aware of another presence; not at all like being back at home.

The next few moments – hell, the next day, practically – was filled with confounding stimuli: extremes of light and dark, and the nonsensical babbling of a language she couldn’t quite manage to grasp. She thought, for a moment, that she’d managed to pick out some of what the people around her were saying – there seemed to be two of them for the most part, so that made things easier – but she also found herself getting more and more hungry during the short stretches of time when she actually conscious to feel anything.

She was also becoming far more conscious of the place where she was: it was a bare room where she, and the other small form she’d become more and more aware of during the times she’d been able to stay awake, were left alone for large stretches of time during what seemed to be the day.

She hadn’t had much of a chance to see the outside of the building she and the other person – what seemed to be a baby; a baby the same size as she was, so that was one more thing that she’d managed to realize about where she was now – were staying in, so she still didn’t know where she was in any real sense. She knew where she wasn’t, of course: she wasn’t anywhere near her old house, in a hospital, and she was starting to suspect that she wasn’t even in California anymore. It was all of the distinct accents surrounding her whenever she’d been awake.

It sounded like she was somewhere in England, or at least in a place that had a lot of people with that accent living there.

She didn’t know just which she would have preferred, since it really didn’t matter considering the fact that – as she was now fully aware at this point – she’d died in the motorcycle crash she’d only been able to remember in bits and pieces during the times she’d been sleeping, and was now living some other life as an infant in this strange, new place. The woman came back into the room, just as she’d been starting to feel both hungry and more than a bit tired, so that was something.

Closing her eyes as the woman picked her and the other baby up, she relaxed into the woman’s hold as she felt warm breath on her face for only the second time that day.

 

=PB=

 

The days blurred into weeks, and the weeks into months as she became more aware of her surroundings; she also became aware of something just a bit more… problematic about where she currently was. Her new name was Alice, and while that was all fine and good on its own, the name of the kid who was apparently her new brother was Dio. She didn’t know if the family’s last name was Brando, but it was much more of an uncomfortable possibility than she’d ever considered previously. Being related to Dio fucking Brando wasn’t really something that she was prepared to deal with, but if that was what she was going to be forced to deal with then she’d deal.

Relaxing into her new mother’s arms as the woman came back, Sarah – she’d had fifteen years of being Sarah Williams, as opposed to the few months she’d spent as Alice, so that was naturally the first name she thought of when she thought of herself – smiled up at her. She was really the only one that seemed to have any kind of interest in their welfare; she didn’t know if she and Dio were being raised by a single parent or if her and Dio’s father was the type to always be away on business, but as she adjusted to using her hearing over her still-adjusting sight to determine things about her new world, Sarah began to notice that her new mother seemed sad about something. Her voice also seemed… fragile, somehow.

It wasn’t the best sign in the world, that there was something her new mother feared enough that she was attempting to make herself small and unobtrusive in a clear effort to avoid it.

 

=PB=

 

Over the next few months or so, Sarah found that her new family’s last name was indeed Brando; one more thing not to like about waking up after dying in a motorcycle crash and finding herself in a new family, in a new body, and a new world to go with it. To say nothing of the fact that she was pretty obviously in the Phantom Blood portion of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and hence somewhere in England during the 1800s. Being a young girl – to say nothing of growing into a woman – in 1800s London was going to be… an interesting experience, if nothing else.

Still, even if this wasn’t the life she’d life she’d have chosen – if she’d been given the choice at all – this was the one she’d been given; so best adapt and survive.

Her first impression of Dario Brando would have been – if she hadn’t already known what an abject shit stain of an excuse for a human being, to say nothing of a father he truly was – that he was a fairly unobtrusive man. He wasn’t around long enough for her to form any other opinions about, so all she really had to go on were the Wiki articles she’d read, internet memes, and the occasional forum thread she’d read. The Stardust Crusaders OVA certainly hadn’t talked much about Dario, and she hadn’t actually read the manga itself. Her younger-older brother had suggested it to her as the kind of thing she’d be interested in, considering her general taste, and she’d been considering at least giving it a chance since she’d liked some of what she’d seen of Stardust Crusaders. Mostly the parts with Dio, since he was one of those villains you really loved to hate.

Here and now, however… well, if fate was an actual entity in this world, she was going to find it and punch it in the face.

She continued to catch only brief glimpses of Dario Brando as she grew back into toddler hood, but there always seemed to be a certain hunger in his eyes when he would look at her. He seemed fairly indifferent to Dio, not that that was a much better prospect than having his interest, but the hungry look in Dario’s eyes whenever he looked at her… Yeah, Sarah didn’t see their relationship ending remotely well.

Of course, considering that her brother from Before had told her that Dio had poisoned his father… yeah, Dario wasn’t long for the world in any case.

Growing up once more into a girl of six, Sarah found Dario taking a… rather more personal interest in her. The man would try to get her to come with him to the hotel where he seemed to spend most of his time at. She didn’t know just what he’d been planning, just what he had in mind, but the chances of it being anything good were pretty much nil. Her suspicions, such as they were, were only reinforced by the man that Dario had brought her to meet.

She didn’t think much of either of them, and given how quickly the man seemed to lose interest in her as she watched him with careful, shrewd eyes, Sarah had the distinct feeling she’d managed to upset more than a few of his plans. She could take some solace in that, since she’d known full well what Dario had been planning by the time the pair of them had left the hotel. Dario didn’t seem particularly happy, but she didn’t care much for the man’s opinion, since she already knew that she was going to have to deal with him.

Eventually, the two of them made it back to the small house where their family all lived, Sarah was forced to dodge a punch – not just an annoyed swat, but a punch – from Dario as the pair of them stepped back inside. Glaring back up at him as he saw the dull, impotent rage on Dario’s face as he stared down at her, she scoffed. When he tried punching her again, Sarah quickly dodged and stood back from the older man, flicking her eyes quickly over him to determine if he might do anything else. Like most bullies of his type, however, he didn’t seem to relish the thought of getting into a struggle.

And a struggle was what he was going to get if he tried that kind of shit again.

With a last, hateful look in her direction – she was sorely tempted to sneer right back at him, but that would have just caused trouble she didn’t need at the moment – Dario stomped into the back of their humble little house. Sighing in supreme annoyance once Dario had passed out of earshot, Sarah made her way to the room that she and Dio shared with each other. Her twin’s eyes snapped to her, and she smiled; Dio might have been the “bad guy” of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but here and now he was her brother and it was easy for her to love him.

Even considering the little she knew about Dio’s role in the story, living with him for six years over the course of their six years of life had given her a distinct protective streak. She supposed it fit, since the two of them were family; anyone would come to love the little guy after spending six years of their life with him.

The sound of someone large coming toward the room they both shared drew Sarah’s attention, and the sound of large, heavy, slightly clumsy footsteps let her know that Dario wasn’t going to be satisfied with just glaring at her for a bit.

“Dio, I want you to get under the bed,” she said, glancing briefly at the door before turning her full attention to her brother; he had snapped to attention at the same time as she had, hearing those footsteps and knowing what they meant just as well as she did.

“No,” Dio said, a stubborn look on his face. “You keep protecting me all the time, Lissy,” Dio said, his lips turning down stubbornly. “I’m staying here.”

She sighed, knowing that she didn’t have time for an argument; Dario was almost there. “You know I have a higher pain-tolerance than you do,” she said, giving him a sidelong look before she was forced to turn her attention back to the door.

Folding her arms and narrowing her eyes as Dario stormed into their room, Sarah scoffed as the man reached back to slap her. It was fairly simple to duck his first, flailing attempt – the back-handed blow that seemed to be his favored tactic for dealing with her and Dio – and she smirked in response to the anger twisting his features. He really was pathetic; she fully understood why Dio had killed him back in the story-that-was. Ducking and weaving out of the way of Dario’s further attempts, each of them seeming more pathetically clumsy than the last. There was really nothing she could respect about Dario Brando at all.

Sinking her teeth into the drunken idiot’s right wrist when he had the misfortune to stumble too close to her, Sarah ground her jaw to inflict as much pain as she could manage in spite of her comparatively small stature; she’d long since gotten over the fact that she was no longer just over six feet tall, but she’d have been lying if she said she didn’t miss it. When Dario reflexively dropped her to the floor, she climbed right back up the man, grabbing fistfulls of his clothes to anchor herself as she made her way up.

She’d officially had enough; enough of Dario’s constant bullshit, enough of living with the constant uncertainty as to what kind of hair-brained, half-baked idea he was going to pull out of his ass next, and more than enough of trying to protect herself, Dio, and Charlena from his drunken rampages.

Slamming her right fist into Dario’s throat, Sarah drew back and punched again. She didn’t know just how much her six-year-old body weighed – she’d never had the chance to find out, and that kind of thing had been unimportant in the grand scheme of things – but Sarah focused on putting all of her weight behind her blows, nonetheless. She knew that, if she just kept pounding, even with her smaller body and comparative lack of strength, she could collapse Dario’s trachea and kill the fucker.

She noticed, after Dario had fallen to his back on the floor, Dio’s small fists joining in with hers as she continued to pummel Dario. It took some time for Dario to stop thrashing, at least enough that Sarah was able to climb on top of him and slap her hands over his over his mouth and nose to stop him getting any of the air he was going to so desperately need after having his throat ruthlessly pummeled for so long. Kneeling atop Dario’s chest, holding her hands over Dario’s nose and mouth, Sarah saw Dio’s hands settling over her own.

Smiling faintly as she felt the warmth of her twin brother’s hands, Sarah felt the smile slide off of her face as she caught sight of Dario’s eyes; he finally seemed to have realized that she wasn’t playing around.

His eyes, already filled with fear, began to widen, and then to roll back into his head as he lost consciousness. Sarah knew that she wasn’t going to be rid of him so easily; she knew that it took at least ten minutes to kill someone by depriving them of oxygen, but she also knew that what she was seeing now was an important step in realizing her current goal. Continuing to press down on Dario’s mouth and nose, cutting him off from the life-giving oxygen that might just have been enough to save him even at this late stage, Sarah caught sight of Dio’s increasingly wild grin.

She wasn’t remotely surprised that he was enjoying this, since she knew full well what kind of man Dario Brando had been, and more than that, what kind of man Dio had been Before; looked like he still had some of those traits.

Once their work was done, Sarah smiled at Dio as her brother asked what they were going to do with the body. Figuring that no one would really miss the greedy old drunkard, Sarah suggested that they dump him in one of the alleys he’d probably ended up sleeping off more than a few hangovers during his time. Dio agreed quickly, and seemed almost happy about the prospect of leaving Dario Brando to rot in an alley somewhere. Sarah didn’t have to think long on why.

“Oi, where’re you little bits goin’?”

“We’re taking Daddy to get some air,” she said, offering the strange man who’d come to stare at them after they’d made it a fair distance from their small house. “He drank up the bottles, and then he fell down, but if he gets some air he should be all right.”

“Right, then,” the man said, chuckling. “Off you go.”

“Lissy,” Dio said, once the man had passed out of sight. “Why did you say that? You know what we did.”

“Best to avoid complications at this stage, Dio,” she said, as the two of them made their way into a darker, more deserted part of the small town where they lived.

Dio didn’t seem to have a response for that, so Sarah turned her attention back to the new plans that she was making. It was all well and good that they were rid of Dario now, but even with all of his many, many faults, he’d still been the main breadwinner for their small family. Still, she’d done more than her share of odd-jobs Before, and it wasn’t like this place lacked for things to be done.

She and Dio quickly returned home, and Charlena didn’t ask where they’d been; one didn’t ask many questions in the Brando household, though that was just one of many things that was bound to change with Dario out of the picture.

 

=PB=

Sure enough, over the next few weeks – after she’d sold most of her long, blonde hair to a rather surprised wig-maker, and acquired more masculine clothing – Sarah was able to steadily build a reputation as a reliable go-fer-about-town. It wasn’t the most high-paying work, most of the jobs she could take at her current age were delivering letters, ferrying tools about, and on a few memorable occasions tallying up inventory for one merchant or another, but it paid enough for her purposes. And, in the end, it helped to ease at least some of the burden on Charlena without Dario around.

When she had some spare money from her various jobs, Sarah would use it to buy charcoal and paper for herself so that she would have at least something to do during those few moments when she had the time to sit down and sketch. She drew some of what she could remember from Before, but only enough that she wouldn’t be called on to explain things that people here wouldn’t have any concept of. And, the only place Sarah would take the chance to sketch certain things that she remembered from Before was in the room that she shared with Dio.

Her brother knew that she didn’t want anyone else to know about what she was drawing, and she compensated him by telling him some of the things in her drawings that he had context for.

Naturally, people took notice of her when she was drawing, and it only took a few days before some of those people started asking for sketches of their own. A lot of them simply wanted sketches of themselves, but there were a select few who wanted her to recreate a place they had seen before; she made it a point to negotiate for extra money with those.

“Alice,” Charlena said, one night when the last of the crowds had left the restaurant where she worked and Alice helped out around. “Do you think… well, might you be able to stay here now?”

“Depends on how much money I can get from these, as opposed to the odd-jobs I get around town,” she said, briefly looking up at her mother before returning her attention to cleaning up for the night.

Much as she would have enjoyed the extra downtime, there were still things that needed to be done; cleaning was a job that never really ended.

“Would you,” Charlena paused for a moment, and Sarah looked back to see her mother gathering herself as though to say something difficult. “Alice, do you think you would be interested in taking art classes?”

“I don’t know if I’d have the time,” she said, not seeing any reason to lie. “With all the things that need doing around here.”

That was the trouble with living without all of the labor-saving devices she’d grown so used to having during the course of her life Before: all of those things had been invented for a reason, and the more she was forced to live without them the more Sarah found herself wishing that she could have somehow replicated them in some fashion.

“You really don’t have to do so much around this place, if you don’t want to,” Charlena said. “That is to say, I truly do appreciate everything you’ve been doing for the family, Alice, but a young girl like you should have the opportunity to live her own life,” Charlena looked down slightly, muttering something that Sarah didn’t quite catch.

“You sure, mum?” she asked, tilting her head slightly, curious. “It’s no trouble working, here and outside.”

“Yes; that’s fine. I’m your mother Alice,” Charlena said, reaching out to grip Sarah’s shoulders, a saddened expression on her face, though she was obviously still trying to smile. “You shouldn’t have to work to take care of me, I should be the one taking care of you.”

She smiled softly. “All right, Mum. If that’s what would make you happy.”

Without another word, Charlena hugged her tightly, and Sarah embraced the woman in turn.

Without Dario around, causing trouble and conflict for their little family, Dio and Charlena both seemed to be much happier people. Dio was still an unrepentant troll, however; the pair of them had bonded all the more closely over two things: her and Dio’s love of trolling, and her own interest in cooking. Dio had been a bit surprised when she asked him to taste the beef stew that she’d made when the winter snows started settling in around them, but he’d ended up loving it when she’d shared it with him.

He’d fallen eagerly into the role of taste-tester for those dishes that she remembered from Before, or at least those that she could recreate using the ingredients that she could actually obtain in late 1800s London; so, mostly stews and soups, really. Not that she wasn’t craving so many of the dishes she’d eaten Before, but Sarah had had ten years to resign herself to the fact that it would be a long time – if ever – before she had a chance to eat anything like those dishes again.

Sitting at her easel, putting the finishing touches on a sunset-seascape she’d been working on for the past handful of days, Sarah heard the sounds of two people having a quiet discussion somewhere near the front of the room. Since she already had something to do, and since she knew that one of those people – being her mother, Charlena – would have come over to get her if there was something she needed to hear about, Sarah tabled her curiosity and turned her attention back to her work. She could always ask Charlena what she’d been talking about later.

The sight of a shadow falling across her canvas, for only a brief time before the one casting it stepped out of the way, let Sarah know that there was someone else – besides Charlena, who didn’t tend to stand so close to her while she was trying to work in the first place – who was standing in the room with her.

“Young lady,” the man said, once she’d finished painting and turned to see that it was in fact a man. “My name is George Joestar. I met your father when he saved me from a terrible fate, and I made him a promise on that day: that I would see to the care of his family if he were unable to do so, for any reason at all. When I found out that Dario was no longer with us, I knew that it was my duty as a gentleman to see to the care of his remaining family.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mr. Joestar,” she said, turning away from her completed painting and smiling at the mustachioed man; she might not have known him from Before, but at the very least she knew the name Joestar.

“Come, we’ll gather your brother, and I’ll have some people along to bring these fantastic paintings of yours,” George said, smiling brightly at her before turning to take in the studio where she had been working.

 

=PB=

Jonathan was waiting with Father for the new family that had come to live with them, a family with the surname Brando; apparently Dario Brando had done a kindness for his father, and now that Dario was no longer with them, Father had offered to let his remaining family stay at the estate. According to what Father had said, the family consisted of only the mother and her two children, now. Jonathan was glad to have some others his age around the house; the servants could be fine company, but they didn’t often have the time to spend with him that he would have preferred.

It would be a nice thing, to have some others his own age to spend time with.

When the carriage that was to bring the Brando family to the Joestar estate came rolling to a neat stop just up the path from their mansion, Jonathan smiled brightly as the carriage doors swung open. When a blond boy jumped out of the near door, carrying a blonde girl in his arms, Jonathan didn’t quite know what to think. He was even more startled when the girl reached up and bopped the boy on the head.

“Dio, you oversized ham, put me down!”

It didn’t sound like the girl was actually angry with Dio, but when he set her back down on the ground she did chase him around a bit. The pair of them circled around the taller woman who was clearly the mother of the two siblings, right up until Father came up and told the both of them to settle down and show some decorum. Father always seemed to be saying that, but until today Jonathan had always been the one getting that kind of lecture.

It was almost refreshing, but when he remembered how rotten he himself had always felt when he had been the one on the receiving end of Father’s lectures, Jonathan immediately felt guilty about even thinking such a thing.

“Good afternoon,” he said, making his way over to where Dio, his twin sister Alice, and their mother Charlena had all gathered together.

He hoped that making a good first impression on the small family who was soon to become a part of their own would help to erase the shame he could still feel, given his unseemly joy at the prospect of not being the focus of Father’s ire for once. As it turned out, neither Dio nor Alice had been as affected by Father’s ire as Jonathan himself could remember being, but for all that the pair of them were rather well-mannered. There was a hint of mischief in both of their sparkling, almost copper-colored eyes, and hence Jonathan began to think that perhaps Father’s lecture hadn’t been nearly so trying to either of them as it had been when he had been subjected to such.

Chapter Text

Chapter note : this chapter contains the text of Shane Koyczan’s poem “Instructions for a bad day”, which can easily be found on YouTube with a bit of searching.

They had been living with Jojo and his father for seven years now, and if there was one thing that he and his dear sister both agreed upon, it was this: Jonathan Joestar was a hopeless fool. An amusing fool, to be sure, but nonetheless a fool boy who wouldn’t be able to survive in the world as it was even when his life came to depend on it. Still, as far as family went, he was a better choice than most.

At the very least, he and his dear Alice would not be required to kill him.

While there were still times when he and dear Alice could make some of their own amusements, such as the time his sweet sister had pursued him through the kitchen and into the dining room wielding a ham as an impromptu bludgeon, Dio had come to resent the stifling restrictions that had been placed upon them by their new lives in the Joestar estate. Yes, he truly did enjoy the privileges and prestige that came with their new social position, but he couldn’t deny that the pair of them had had a great deal more freedom of action and movement when they had been living in their London flat and Alice had been acting as a jack-of-all-trades around town.

Doing so under the same Threnody Cain for some odd reason; a reason that seemed to involve her own amusement, but one that she’d not deigned to share with him.

Still, here and now when the two of them had some time to themselves following their respective lessons, he was glad to have the chance for it.

However, he’d been becoming aware of a rather interesting development with regards to Jojo: it seemed that their dear brother had become enamored with the daughter of their local doctor, Erina Pendelton. It was rather amusing, hearing from his underlings at school just how taken Jojo was with the girl. He and dear Alice had made some observations of their own, as well, tracking Jojo and his lady love – Dio paused a moment, snickering as he reminisced on the overly-dramatic way his sweet sister had fluttered her eyelashes and mimed a swoon the first time she had said those words – as they sought to meet with one another.

It had also been rather interesting to see just how adept his dear Alice was at tracking people, and also remaining out of sight while she was doing so; it clearly must have been something she had learned while making her varied excursions around London.

However, at the moment his sweet sister wasn’t present, leaving him as the only one to see if this Erina Pendelton might truly be worthy to join their illustrious family. Or, at the very least, to see if she would prove worthy of their adorable fool of a brother. Making his way over to where the young lady was sitting, looking rather fetching in her blue and white dress, Dio allowed himself to admit.

“So, this is the woman dear Jojo has become so enamored with,” he said, announcing his presence as he came out from behind the row of trees where he had been standing, in order that he might observe Erina Pendelton without being observed in turn. “I must admit, the two of you do make a rather smart couple,” he said, smiling as he began to circle around the woman, making a show of observing her from all angles. Erina looked rather uneasy, so Dio smiled wider to put the young lady at ease. “Very well, I suppose you do have some merits.” Pulling the woman into his arms, Dio laid a firm kiss on the curve of her cheek. “Do see that you take care of him; Jojo isn’t what anyone would call particularly bright.”

Smirking at the expression of confusion writ large on her soft face – so unlike the sly, cunning smiles that his sweet sister would share with him when they would make their secret plans – Dio turned his path toward where he knew Alice would be, like as not working on her knitting, since such was a far more easily transportable hobby than the beautiful paintings that she would produce when she worked in the large studio that Lord Joestar had provided her with.

He found her seated atop one of the dullards that had attached themselves to him at only the most perfunctory of urging on his part, cheerfully continuing to knit.

He’d always found it amusing, the way that nothing ever seemed to affect her unless she wished it to, or unless she found some modicum of amusement in reacting to it. Making his way over to where she was seated, needles clicking neatly against one another as she kept at her work, Dio grinned.

“How have you been managing, dear Alice?” he asked, grinning as he glanced down at the buffoon she was using as a cushion.

“Well enough for my part, brother dear,” his sweet sister said, eyes glittering with her usual amusement. “And you?”

He laughed lightly. “No complaints; no more than usual, at least.” Crouching so that he would be able to see the project she was working on, Dio reached out to touch it. “Ah, lamb’s wool. Wonderful thing for a pair of socks,” he said, smirking at the amusement that spread over his sweet sister’s face.

“Wonderful indeed,” Alice returned, eyelids lowering slightly; her way of silently laughing at the world in a way that few others would understand. “Save for the part where I’m making a scarf.”

The pair of them shared an amused laugh, before Dio settled himself on the ground to relax once more.

 

=PB=

When he was finally able to make his way home, Jonathan found himself wondering just what it was Dio had been at. Erina had been thoroughly flummoxed when they had occasioned to meet again, telling tales of the way Dio had kissed her cheek while he was giving his blessing for the two of them to continue courting as they were. He was pleased to have Dio’s approval for his courtship, yes, but he still aimed to speak with his adopted brother. Familial affection or not, it was simply unseemly to go around kissing people when he wasn’t invited.

And Erina had been quite plain about the fact that she hadn’t invited him to do anything like that.

Finally standing in the salon again, looking down at Dio and Alice as the former read and the latter continued with her knitting, Jonathan stepped over to the chair Dio was seated in.

“Dio, I would have words with you,” he said, not shouting, but certain that his words had been heard all the same, given the way Dio lifted his head so that the pair of them were looking into one another’s eyes.

“Oh? How many words, dear brother? That was seven, right there,” the amused smirk slowly spreading across the faces of both his adopted siblings made Jonathan purse his lips in disapproval; this was hardly a laughing matter! “Do you have more for me, perhaps?”

“I don’t want you playing your games with Erina, do you hear me?” he asked, knowing that it would be improper in the extreme to take Dio by the shoulders and shake some decorum into him, but he almost wished that he could.

“Ah, I see the problem now,” Dio said smoothly, rising to his feet with the same smooth, easy grace that Jonathan had tried and failed on many occasions to adapt for himself. “You’re feeling left out, aren’t you, Jojo? Well,” the grin spreading across Dio’s face widened all the more. “Let it never be said that I, Dio, am not generous with my favors.”

Dio clapped his large, strong right hand on Jonathan’s own right shoulder… and the next thing he knew- Dio’s arms- Dio’s lips…!

 

=PB=

Oh, to see the look on dear Jojo’s face when he, Dio, kissed him unto the rest of eternity… Perhaps he would even ask dear Alice to paint it for him, though even such a masterpiece as his sweet sister would create could only ever be a shadow of the real event. Still, even a shadow could provide ample amusement under the right conditions…

He would speak to his sweet sister later; for now, there was still more amusement to be had with Jojo.

“Dio, you… I…”

Their adorably foolish brother spluttered for a few moments more, his cheeks steadily pinking as Dio continued to smile in that blandly pleasant way that his sweet sister had perfected for when she spoke to those whose opinion meant little more than a passing amusement to her. Granted, such a category encompassed nearly every person the pair of them were forced to meet by Lord Joestar, save for those who would make the effort to come to know Alice on her own terms. It was another thing he’d come to admire about his sweet sister: she only gave of herself on her own will.

“Well, my lothario brother, you certainly showed him.”

Turning to grin in response to his sweet sister’s dulcet tone, Dio saw that she was still knitting with the same facility she had demonstrated every time she’d had the chance to settle down and take some time for herself. Provided she hadn’t chosen to paint, sew, or cook, of course.

“Well, you know how it is, sister dear: one should always give the people what they want,” he grinned.

“Within reason, of course.”

“Of course,” he replied.

Jojo was bound to provide at least some further amusement to them, once he’d managed to regain his composure at least. Smiling to himself as he settled back into the chair he’d recently vacated, Dio picked up his book and calmly began to read once again. Time would tell just how much amusement Jojo could truly provide for them, but all the same Dio did so look forward to it.

 

=PB=

Time passed, as time did, and Sarah found herself in need of ever more creative means of relieving the boredom that seemed to be part and parcel of life as a woman in the Victorian Era. Re-teaching herself Parkour, and teaching it to Dio at the same time, provided something more for her to do than attend her various lessons and think up new and interesting ways of complicating George stuffed-shirt Joestar’s life since he’d started insisting on her finding a husband. She hadn’t even lived fifteen years of this new life of hers, and already the old fogey was bringing in marriage prospects.

She and Dio both agreed that that was bullshit, and had both resolved to handle the situations in the ways that were opened to them. For her, that mostly involved long excursions spent roof-hopping above the seedier parts of London, learning the lay of the land, and staying out of sight long enough for Dio to handle the problem in his own special way; she’d made sure to extract a promise that he wouldn’t kill anyone.

That was how Fleetwood Mac had ended up meeting a man named Robert Edward O. Speedwagon; she’d nearly burst out laughing right in his face when he’d said that, which considering she’d just gotten out of a scrap with some of his lackeys, wouldn’t have been the best idea in either of her lives. Even with as uncoordinated as pack of jackals he’d been ostensibly leading was, there had been a lot of them. Enough brute force could wear down even the fastest and most cunning of fighters, which she could hardly call herself even with the experience of two lives backing her up.

Still, Rob had said he’d liked the cut of her jib, and even though he’d been under the mistaken impression that Sarah was a man under her close-fitted trousers, rough-spun cotton shirt, bulky, dun-colored overcoat, and jauntily tilted fedora, she’d still taken the compliment in the spirit it was offered; it wasn’t like she’d gone out of her way to correct that misconception, since it was still useful to her in this day and age.

Still, at the moment she wasn’t thinking about Mr. Speedwagon or any of his many and varied eccentricities – or his possible role in her family’s future – Dio had looked a bit more stressed than usual, so she’d decided to show him the view from the fancy tower she’d discovered standing sentinel over the better part of London. It was hardly Big Ben, but since she wasn’t playing Assassin’s Creed, or remotely superhuman, she wasn’t going to go trying to climb up the side of that particular building anytime soon.

“Quite a workout, sister dear,” Dio said, from behind and a bit below her; he sounded a bit breathless.

“Getting tired already?” she called down, smiling as an answering grin spread across her brother’s face.

The pair of them shared a laugh, as they continued on their way up the side of the tower to the slightly peaked rooftop.

Hauling herself up and over the edge of the roof with a last surge of muscle power, Sarah scooted across the rooftop to make room for her brother as he made his own way up to settle down beside her. Once the pair of them had managed to make themselves as comfortable as they could manage while they reclined atop the shingled rooftop.

“Quite the view, sister dear.”

She hummed softly in response, but only half of her attention was focused on her brother’s words; this was the best place that she had found, in all of Victorian London, to reflect on her thoughts and try to sort out this strange new life that she was living. It still felt strange to think about, but she’d lived almost as long as Alice Brando as she had as Sarah Williams; the name itself was even starting to settle more comfortably on her, like a coat she’d been wearing for some time; no longer ill-fitting and unfamiliar, but soft and worn smooth from all the time she’d spent in it.

There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended.

Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered, to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the gray sky clean. Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is whether we see them or not - the sun and moon are still there and always there is light.

Be forthright. Despite your instinct to say “It’s alright, I'm okay” - be honest. Say how you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity. Be lucid in your explanation, be sterling in your oppose. If you think for one second no one knows what you've been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone - that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion.

We hungry underdogs, we risers with dawn, we dissmissers of odds, we pressers of on – we will station ourselves to the calm. We will hold ourselves to the steady, be ready player one. Life is going to come at you armed with hard times and tough choices, your voice is your weapon, your thoughts ammunition – there are no free extra men, be aware that as the instant now passes, it exists now as then.

So be a mirror reflecting yourself back, and remembering the times when you thought all of this was too hard and you'd never make it through. Remember the times you could have pressed quit – but you hit continue.

Be forgiving. Living with the burden of anger, is not living. Giving your focus to wrath will leave your entire self absent of what you need. Love and hate are beasts and the one that grows is the one you feed.

Be persistent. Be the weed growing through the cracks in the cement, beautiful - because it doesn't know it's not supposed to grow there. Be resolute. Declare what you accept as true in a way that envisions the resolve with which you accept it.

If you are having a good day, be considerate. A simple smile could be the first-aid kit that someone has been looking for. If you believe with absolute honesty that you are doing everything you can - do more.

There will be bad days, Times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for an easy way out. There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending. Instances spent pretending that everything is all right when it clearly is not, check your blind spot. See that love is still there, be patient.

Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end. Ignore what others have called you. I am calling you friend.

Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis. Silence left to its own devices, breeds silence. So speak and be heard. One word after the next, express yourself and put your life in the context – if you find that no one is listening, be loud. Make noise. Stand in poise and be open. Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on.

In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again. Everyone is blessed with the ability to listen. The deaf will hear you with their eyes. The blind will see you with their hands. Let your heart fill their news-stands, Let them read all about it.

Admit to the bad days, the impossible nights. Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but come back. They will tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack despair, you can even wear your sorrow – but come tomorrow you must change your clothes. Everyone knows pain. We are not meant to carry it forever.

We were never meant to hold it so closely, so be certain in the belief that what pain belongs to now will belong soon to then. That when someone asks you how was your day, realize that for some of us – it's the only way we know how to say, be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm, slowly now – let go.”

Sarah only realized that she’d been speaking aloud when she heard Dio chuckle softly, his head tucked neatly under her collarbone.

“How long have you been composing that, sister dear?” he asked, his tone not sounding particularly interested; she knew he was, of course, since if there was any thing that she and Dio shared it was their curiosity about this world and everything in it, but even without Dario’s toxic influence to warp him, her brother still gave a lot of weight to what people thought of him.

She hadn’t seen much point in that during either of her lives, but she made every effort to respect her brother’s boundaries, even if she did think they were silly.

“Just something I’ve had in mind,” she said, leaning back on her right arm as she looked into the darkening sky.

There was really no conceivable way she’d be able to explain the concept of reincarnation, alternate universes, future technology, the internet, and how all of those related to the free-form poem she would recite whenever she found a moment to herself, to reflect on her old life, and to help get her thoughts in order. Those moments weren’t nearly as frequent as she’d have preferred them to be, not even as frequent as they had been during her life as Sarah, but at the very least she’d managed to take some time for herself. She could be content with that, at least.

Dio chuckled softly, as the pair of them continued staring up into the endless blue sky.

 

=PB=

He’d seen Jojo spending more and more time with that odd stone mask that had once hung so proudly in the salon of the Joestar estate, and as it was clearly fascinating in all manner of ways, Dio could hardly let such a tantalizing mystery go uninvestigated.

Making his way down into the estate’s grand library, Dio paused for a moment to see if he could spot Jojo himself in the small study set just off from the rows upon rows of shelving. If there was one thing he knew about his and dear Alice’s adorable fool of a brother, it was that he was well and truly eager to share his passion with anyone who would be willing to spare the time to listen to his ramblings. And he would inevitably ramble on; Jojo did tend to forget himself when he was expositing about a subject that truly spoke to him.

It was one of his more amusingly endearing qualities.

Still, when he finally did make his way into the study, Dio was only able to find scattered signs of Jojo’s presence, rather than Jojo himself: the large table was piled high with heavy tomes, as well as notes with Jojo’s distinctive scrawl upon them. The stone mask itself was also present, and as this was the first time that he, Dio had had a chance to do so, he made his way over to examine the artifact.

It seemed a perfectly ordinary thing, though clearly made with a rather exquisite attention to detail. It was rather amusing to note the stone fangs carved out so neatly, and to realize that the mask itself was clearly meant to resemble a vampire’s face. He felt a smirk stretching his lips as he realized what kind of amusement he, Dio could create for himself with the circumstances that Jojo had so generously gifted him.

Slipping the stone mask onto his face, Dio crouched under the table that Jojo had set his study materials out upon, and proceeded to wait – silent and patient as he had ever been – for his and Alice’s adorable fool of a brother to return. The sound of footsteps upon the elegant, polished wooden floors drew his attention back towards the rows upon rows of heavy shelving units that Jojo had apparently been hidden by. Grinning under the stone mask, Dio shifted so that he would more easily be able to leap out and startle Jojo.

Just as his and Alice’s adorable fool of a brother came close enough to the table to reach out for the chair, he, Dio leaped out from under the table, shouting to startle Jojo.

He’d expected Jojo to jump backwards, perhaps even falling on his arse in a particularly amusing fashion, or perhaps to yelp loudly, after which he, Dio would have removed the stone mask and tweaked Jojo’s nose with a laugh. Instead, he felt Jojo’s right fist slam into his face, driving the rough stone of the mask into his nose with the full force of Jojo’s boxer’s strength. Feeling his own nose shatter against the interior of the mask’s own shaped nose, Dio laughed softly… then, the pain…

 

=PB=

When he heard Dio’s scream, that terrible, pained sound that his brother hadn’t made even during those few times that he had ended up on the ground bleeding after one of their boxing matches. It was a sound of equal parts pain and terror; which only made it all the more chilling, as he had never before thought to hear the sound of terror from either Dio or Alice. The pair of them had always seemed so fearless, so collected, that to see Dio writhing on the ground screaming in agony… it was all the more horrible since he knew how Dio truly acted.

Grabbing his brother’s flailing hands before he could clutch at the stone mask and attempt to pry it off, an act that was all too likely to cause him even more grievous harm than the stone spikes that had buried themselves in his brother’s head, Jonathan restrained his brother with desperate strength. Jonathan had only seen those spines once before, when he had inadvertently splashed some of his own blood on the mask and hence triggered the expulsion of the spines. He’d no way of knowing just what the mask would have done to a living person, and this was not the way he would have wished to find out!

In fact given the location of the spines, and the fact that it had taken his own blood to activate them, Jonathan would have been perfectly happy to go his entire life without knowing!

“Dio, stay still!” he said, kneeling beside his brother’s head. “I’ll go get help! Stay here!”

Forcing himself back to his feet, already beginning to weep for what might happen to his dear brother, Jonathan hurried off to find Father and tell him of what had happened. He’d not blame Dio for this, what had clearly been one of his harmless japes gone so grievously, horribly wrong… He would explain to Father that Dio had suffered a terrible accident, and… he would also ask what he was to tell Alice.

Hurrying off with only a single, tearful look over his right shoulder, Jonathan went to find Father so that he could solve this terrible problem.

However, when he and Father returned to the library, he found it empty, save for the stacks of books that he had previously set out. Dio and the stone mask were both gone, but in their place was a loosely-folded sheet of paper, lying innocuously atop the table. Moving forward to pick it up, not quite having heard Father’s words and knowing that he would be due for a lecture on decorum later, Jonathan unfolded the page.

Dio’s flowing, elegant script greeted him:

 

Jonathan:

You’ve done me a great service this day, brother.

I, Dio, did so wonder how I would be able to help my sweet sister deal with these foolish obligations your father insisted upon forcing onto her. Though I feel that the two of us might be separated for some time, I, Dio,  will make every effort to reestablish contact when circumstances permit.

Fondest regards;

Dio

 

Chapter Text

She hadn’t seen Dio since the two of them had gone to bed last night, and she was honestly starting to worry. Yeah, she was perfectly aware that Dio could take care of himself, but she also knew that he enjoyed the meals that she and Charlena prepared, and so wasn’t likely to miss out on them for as long as he was. Charlena was trying to keep a brave face on, but it was becoming more and more obvious that nothing was going to be solved if she didn’t do something, so Sarah knew she was going to have to blow off some of the extraneous “responsibilities” that old George Joestar kept trying to foist off on her.

Even if she had to deal with the man’s puffed-up grousing, some things needed doing; still, there was one more lead she could pursue, before she headed out to do some recon.

“Jonathan,” she said, catching the attention of her and Dio’s brother.

She could already tell that Jonathan was hiding something by the way he cringed away from her as she headed over to him, so that was one mystery out of the way. What Jonathan knew, however, was another matter entirely. He might have been bad at keeping secrets, but he’d clam right up if someone asked him not to talk.

“Alice,” Jonathan said, seeming to try to shrink in on himself as she closed with him; it was a funny sight on someone his size, but that kind of thing wasn’t why she was here. “Good morning, sister.”

“Yes, good morning, Jojo,” she said, calmly folding her arms over her chest. “Now then, mind telling me what you’re hiding?”

“Hiding?” Jonathan echoed, his voice developing the signature squeak that it always did when he tried to lie. “Why would I be hiding something?”

“Jonathan, you couldn’t lie to save your life, so do please stop trying,” she said, narrowing her eyes slightly and leaning in a bit closer. “Now, where’s Dio gotten himself off to?”

“Alice, I…” Jonathan squirmed a bit as she continued to stare him down, but in the end it did look like someone had told him not to say anything.

“Dio’s gotten himself into something interesting again, hasn’t he?” she asked, smirking slightly; it wasn’t that far-fetched, really, Dio wasn’t really the greatest for considering his actions before he took them.

“That is… well, I…”

“All right, all right,” she said, waving Jonathan off. “I’ll take care of this, myself.”

Turning away from her and Dio’s brother, Sarah made her way out to the carriage house. She was going to meet with Appice, so she could get out of the house for awhile. She needed Speedwagon’s contacts for this; Dio had gotten kind of attached to a place called Ogre Street, and often went back there for… well, basically for shits and giggles, really. Ducking out of the way, before George could spot her and try to push something else on her, Sarah continued on her way.

Making her way into the carriage house, she spoke briefly with Appice, picked up the reversible bag that she’d stored atop one of the shelves, and climbed into one of the carriages on the far side of the large room. While Appice himself whipped up the horses, Sarah quickly changed into the outfit that she had adopted for use in her Fleetwood Mac persona. Taking out her black umbrella, she retied the laces of her bag and tucked it into the far corner of the carriage.

“Meet me back here in a couple hours, all right?” she asked, passing over a handful of bills; she and Appice had an understanding: she supplemented his income when she needed him to get her somewhere, and he didn’t ask questions.

“Yes, mum.”

“Thanks,” she said, nodding to Appice, then making her way up the side of a nearby building.

Searching for the distinctive, bowler-hatted form of one Robert E.O. Speedwagon as she hopped from rooftop to rooftop, Sarah eventually managed to track the man and his gang down to one of the many narrow streets that made up the neighborhood known colloquially as Ogre Street. Crouching lessen the shadow she would otherwise be casting on the ground, Sarah carefully stepped over the peak of the roofline and continued down onto the downward slope. Not a one of Speedwagon’s gang looked up, and with an amused shake of her head, Sarah slid down and off the edge of the rooftop to land – lightly and safely out of earshot – behind the gang.

Announcing her presence by swiping Robert’s bowler hat right off the top of his head as she closed with him from behind, she grinned at him when he turned to look at her with an expression of frank incredulity on his face.

“Rob, now what’ve I told you?” she asked, lazily spinning the man’s bowler hat on her right pointer finger.

“Fleetwood,” Robert greeted, smirking as he snatched his hat back, setting it neatly back on his head. “So nice to see ya again. This a social call, or do you need us to rough someone up for ya?”

“What I need from you now is some information, Rob,” she said, as the pair of them continued on their way down the narrow street.

“What kind of information ya need, Fleetwood?”

“Have you ever heard of a man named Dio Brando?” she asked, looking back over at him as the pair of them continued on their way down the narrow street.

“Him?” Robert echoed, his expression shifting to one of disapproval. “I’ve seen his like before, Fleetwood. He might put on a good act, but I’ve seen more than my share of his type. Men like him, no matter what airs they put on, are evil to the core.”

Disguising a scoff as a soft sneeze, Sarah made a show of wiping her hands, and tucked them into her pockets. “You mind putting out feelers anyway? He might not be your kind, but I’d really prefer to know where he is.”

“Friends close and enemies closer, eh?” Robert asked, the smile on his face coming right back. “All right, Fleetwood; you’ve convinced me. You’ll have all the feelers ya need, once I get done.”

Oh, the many ways that could be taken out of context, she mused, amusedly thanking Robert for his assistance, just before a commotion from somewhere up ahead drew his attention.

“Looks like you came just in time for some action, Fleetwood!” Robert called, turning to grin back over his right shoulder at her. “We’ve got us a plump little pigeon, just waiting to be plucked!”

“I suppose I could spare some time,” she said, smiling slightly at the eager expression on Robert’s face.

Sure, she wasn’t generally in favor of fighting when there wasn’t something to be gained from it, but Robert had never really seemed the type to go around killing people, or harming them excessively for that matter. Sure, he liked to give the nobles a hard time, but considering the kind of spectacular jackasses most of them could be, she didn’t really see anything wrong with having some fun at their expense. So long as no one uninvolved got caught up in it, of course.

Still, given everything she’d learned about him, Robert – she still had to stifle a chuckle when she remembered what his initials spelled out – didn’t seem the kind to let that happen.

The man they were accosting was, no bones about it, built like a brick shithouse. That was sure to cause no end of problems for the more wiry members of Rob’s gang, which only made Sarah all the more pleased that she wasn’t going to be getting into a dust-up with ol’ Shithouse there. Still, there was something kind of familiar about the big lug…

 

=PB=

When he was attacked out of nowhere by a gang of toughs who seemed intent on severely roughing him up for whatever reason, Jonathan found himself realizing that Ogre Street was far more aptly named than he had been led to believe. But he had a duty to search every place that Dio might have gone, and as this place was where he and Alice had been born, it was all the more important that he search it. It might very well be the one place he could hope to find a clue as to Dio’s current whereabouts.

So, he would brave the dangers that had given Ogre Street its fearsome reputation, and if these men sought to stop him, they were in for quite a rude awakening.

Those in front charged in heedlessly, and he wasted no time laying them out using the skills that he had learned in the boxing ring facing Dio. Such a memory made Jonathan all the more determined to seek out his wayward brother and bring him back home; together, the pair of them might be able to determine just what it was that that ominous stone mask had done to him. And, if needs must, how they might reverse what had been done.

The sight of the pair who seemed to have instigated this mêlée that Jonathan currently found himself having to contend with filled him with a new resolve. He would have done with this absurd distraction as soon as he ever could manage, and then he would find Dio, so that the pair of them might find a way to cope with this horrid new situation they found themselves in.

Right away, he noticed that the thinner man in pale, rough-spun clothes was hiding the lower half of his face behind a rather slender hand; even the gloves the man wore did little to disguise the slimness of his hands, or… the laughter lurking in his… copper… colored… eyes…

When- when Alice removed her right hand from her face, Jonathan was at first relived to see the amused smile on his and Dio’s sister’s face, then he was given a harsh reminder of just why allowing himself to be distracted at this of all moments was not conductive to his continued health. Turning his attention back to the ruffians who were presently accosting him, he wasn’t particularly surprised when Alice grabbed the man by the collar of his ragged jacket and hauled him back as though he were nothing more than a disobedient puppy.

She’d often done that when he and Dio had become overly boisterous for her taste, if the pair of them didn’t end up provoking her into knocking their heads together.

“What’s the idea, Fleetwood?” asked the large, wiry, wild-haired man who had been standing at the back of the group, as he came to walk beside Alice while she scruffed the ruffian who’d threatened and dragged him back among the crowd of assorted ruffians.

“I know this one, Robert,” Alice said, turning to flash a rather amused-looking smile at the man she was closing so swiftly with. “He’s a good sort, though a bit of a lunkhead.”

He was truly tempted to call out to his and Dio’s sister; he’d known she’d chafed under the expectations and all of the limits pressed down upon her by Father and the society they all lived in, but he’d had no idea that she was willing to go so far as to adopt both a false name and face to escape from them. Yes, he knew that Alice and Dio both had very little care for any boundaries, but this… He’d seen men dressed up as women in the theatre, but Jonathan Joestar had never truly thought to see the reverse.

“Well, this is quite the thing, Fleetwood,” Robert said, making his way through the crowd.

Given the way the whole lot of them swiftly moved back and away from him at only a single glance from Robert, that let Jonathan know that, in spite of their clear desire to do him bodily harm, those men were at least honorable enough to listen when someone they respected gave them an order.

“So, how d’ya know this one, Fleetwood?” Robert asked; then a small smile, akin to the sly smirks he’d seen Alice and Dio wear when something had happened, appeared on his face. “Or, do we have to catch you ta find out?”

“Well, if you insist,” Alice said, tilting her fedora jauntily, smirking in that challenging way that he’d seen so often on his siblings’ faces…

It was yet another reminder of Dio; Jonathan tried not to let it hurt so much. He would find Dio and return him home, where he belonged.

 

=PB=

Grinning as she heard Jonathan shouting for her to come back, and then Rob’s laughter at her cheesehead of an adopted brother, Sarah dashed into a nearby alleyway and climbed straight up the nearest wall. Pausing for only a moment to catch her breath, then almost losing it at the sight of Jonathan and Rob running around at ground-level trying to look for her, she smirked and began making her way across the rooftops. It was just about time that she got back to Appice and headed for home.

She didn’t have all the time in the world, after all.

 

=PB=

He had all the time in the world, now.

Grinning with his newly granted fangs, Dio continued on his way through the back streets of London. The only troublesome thing about his new… condition, was the fact that he was forced to completely avoid sunlight or else suffer terrible burns that urgently needed blood to repair them. He’d pickpocketed enough money that he was able to buy himself a pint of blood at a nearby butcher shop, and that had healed him up well enough. In addition, such an action had left him with no troublesome corpses that needed to be disposed of; he knew dear Alice would appreciate his caution in such matters.

His dear sister did so hate to be distracted by unnecessary trivialities.

Speaking of my dear Alice… Grinning as he caught sight of his sweet sister’s blonde queue, glimmering as it caught the rays of the early afternoon sun, Dio followed along just behind and below for a few moments, seeing if he could determine where she was heading, before dashing swiftly up the side of a building that his dear Alice had just leaped onto the roof of. Dio quickly swept her up in his arms.

He hoped she would find this new life he had been granted by that fascinating stone mask to her liking, as well. They would be free from all the constraints of not only those fools who considered themselves above them for the mere circumstances of their birth, or the fact that they had been raised solely by their mother, but free of humanity itself. Of course, if any of those worthless creatures found out precisely what a wastrel their late, unlamented father was… Well, it would simply give the cretins all the more reason to look down upon them.

He knew that his sweet sister had little care for the opinions of those she met only in passing, and there were times that he rather envied her for it, but the more he was forced to listen to those chattering imbeciles, the stronger his urge to deal with them in the same manner that the pair of them hand dealt with their worthless father became.

Holding his sweet sister close, his new sense of smell picking out scents that he had never been able to discern as a mere human, Dio could not help the momentary urge to sink his newfound fangs into Alice’s neck. Still, the pair of them – already far more worthy than any of the witless fools surrounding them – were the only ones truly fit to inherit the world. The pair of them stood far above the common rabble; both because Alice had introduced him to the fascinating sport of roof-running, and because the two of them were simply better than all of the petty, bleating cretins that surrounded them.

Even Jojo, for all his endearing qualities, was really more on the level of a pet than anything.

Making his way back to the empty mansion that he had prepared for the pair of them, once he had fully determined the extent of the changes that the stone mask had made to his once-human body, Dio grinned as he scaled the nearest wall and let himself in through one of the large windows. Pushing aside the heavy, light-blocking curtains as he continued on his way deeper into the halls of what would soon be their home, Dio tossed off the cloak he’d been wearing.

He’d taken the precaution of knocking Alice unconscious, and could only hope that his sweet sister would not be too cross with him for using a tactic that she herself had demonstrated before him so many times to render her so for ease of transport.

Perhaps she’ll forgive me after she realizes just how powerful this stone mask will make us, he grinned. As immortal, powerful, unstoppable vampires, we’ll be the twin rulers of humanity! he mused with pleasure, continuing on his way to the large bedroom that he had cleared out for his sweet sister’s use. It was directly across the hall from his own, rather than in an entirely separate wing as had been the case when the pair of them had stayed in the Joestar estate. He was far more pleased with this particular arrangement, of course.

Gently laying his sweet sister down upon the bed, Dio gathered the stone mask from the nightstand and made his way back over to where his dear Alice slept.

“Good night my angel, time to close your eyes,” he sang softly, the strains of the lullaby coming easily to him; the very one she’d first sang to him on that dark night, only a scant three days before she had finally had enough of their wastrel father and his foolishness. “And save these questions for another day. I think I know what you’ve been asking me.” Turning the stone mask so that it lay neatly upon his sweet sister’s face, Dio settled himself down next to her head. “I think you know what I’ve been trying to say. I promised I would never leave you, and you should always know: wherever you may go, no matter where you are, I never will be far away.”

Her voice, never truly soft unless there was a particular need for it, had drowned out their horrid father’s for the first and last time in his memory; a memory he would treasure, as there had been no other but his dear Alice to watch over him that lonely night.

“Good night my angel, now it’s time to sleep. And still so many things I want to say.” She’d helped him to barricade the door with their old bed frame and threadbare mattress, keeping Dario from one of his all-too-frequent drunken rampages against the pair of them while they slept. “Remember all the songs you sang for me, when we went sailing on an emerald bay. And like a boat out on the ocean, I’m rocking you to sleep. The water’s dark and deep, inside this ancient heart. You’ll always be a part of me.” Sinking his newly-granted fangs into his lower lip, Dio tasted his own blood for the first time since he’d become a vampire.

Since he’d utterly transcended the limits of feeble humanity.

Leaning down, acting quickly before one of the droplets gathering on his lips could spoil this perfect moment that he’d spent so long crafting, Dio kissed the stone mask’s forehead with his bloodied lips and watched in wonderful anticipation as the eyes of the stone mask lit up with brilliant crimson radiance.

 

=PB=

The first thing Sarah became aware of was a shooting pain in her head; pain that spread quickly to the rest of her body seemingly between the space of one breath and the next. She flailed almost instinctively, but just as quickly found that there was someone restraining her. Her arms, at least; but when she tried to kick her way free, that same someone’s feet came down heavily on her calves.

“Rest easy now, sister,” Dio’s familiar voice said, echoing slightly inside what sounded like an empty room. “Easy. You’ll feel so much better when this is over.”

That wasn’t the strange part; sure, Jonathan had said that Dio’d gone off somewhere, and it wasn’t that surprising that the first person he’d end up making contact with when he’d finally decided to make his way back. No, what Sarah couldn’t quite explain were the scents and sounds surrounding her. She could hear the creaking of wood; the sound of a large house settling, and something about the quality of the sound told her that the place was empty except for the two of them.

The smells… the smells were the strangest part. She’d never had what anyone would call a strong sense of smell, not unless they were being uncommonly charitable, but now… The room she was currently in was musty, even smelling disused to the point where she could tell that she and Dio were the only ones who’d set foot in here for who knew how long.

“Dio, you’ve got some explaining to do.”

Chapter Text

With no word nor sight of Mistress Alice during the two hours she had requested him to wait, Appice returned to his carriage and set off for the Joestar estate; he would return for the young lady of the house later, since he knew that Alice Brando was resourceful and intelligent enough to make her own way back to their appointed meeting place without undue fuss.

 

=PB=

He’d told Robert about Alice and her proclivities – the eccentricity that made his adopted sister so vibrant, and at the same time such a trial when she set her mind on being so – and the man had seemed to take it in stride. Robert seemed rather amused by the concept than anything, really.

“I’d thought your girl had something odd about her when the two of us met,” the man, one Robert E.O. Speedwagon, said as the pair of them continued searching for Alice throughout the bustling streets of London. “Never would’ve suspected she was a girl.”

“Alice has always been… willful,” he said.

She and Dio had both been something of a concern to Father, the way they were prone to carry on at times. And, though Jonathan loved the pair of them dearly, even he found himself wishing – at times – that Dio and their sister had been more content with their lives and less inclined to cause trouble in pursuit of their own amusement.

 

=PB=

Stroking his dear, sweet sister’s long, blonde hair as he held the pint of blood he’d purchased for her some time earlier – she’d said that such a thing hadn’t been necessary in the slightest, but as he’d insisted she’d been willing to humor him – Dio smiled widely. There would be time enough for them to discuss all of the lovely ideas he’d dreamed up since gaining this new power, power that he had naturally shared with his sweet sister, but for the moment he was content to relax. Alice’s head bumped against his chest, just enough to draw his attention, and Dio looked over his sister’s back at the now-empty container of blood that he had been holding for her.

Smiling slightly as he set the freshly-emptied container down upon the bedside table, Dio nuzzled his sweet sister’s head as she leaned back against him.

“So, I take it you have a plan for all this,” his dear Alice said, and he smiled.

“I thought that the pair of us would plot our rise to the top of the world,” he said, grinning in the darkness; he could see through it like daylight, nothing would be able to escape his gaze.

Nothing more would be able to escape his grasp.

“Of course,” his sweet sister murmured, amusement coloring her tone.

“You can’t truly deny that we deserve it,” he said, knowing that his dear sister was merely teasing him as she did everyone, but still wishing to be heard on this matter.

“Well, let’s call that an extreme long-term goal, then. What do you intend to do, here and now?”

“Ah, yes,” he mused, wrapping his arms more securely around his dear Alice’s waist. “Everything rests on a foundation of preparation.”

He chuckled softly, even as Alice hummed in thought; it was a more elegant phrasing of something his sweet sister was rather fond of saying. For all that he sometimes acted without thinking, he’d never found the statement to be entirely without merit.

“I suppose we should at least pay a visit to Jonathan,” he sweet sister said, her tone sounding rather reflective. “He’ll worry his head off if he doesn’t see us again.”

“Knowing Jojo, there’s no doubting it,” he said, grinning softly in the darkness.

“Well, if you know that much, you should remember that once Jonathan worries his head all the way off, he’s inevitably going to lose track of it,” she said, and he could almost hear the sly smile on her face.

He laughed, cuddling her more tightly as he nuzzled the side of her head. “Yes; I suppose Jojo would have trouble without us.” He hummed softly. “We’ll have to wait until nightfall; vampires like us won’t do so well in the sunlight.”

Smiling slightly as Alice laughed softly, Dio relaxed into the soft bedding he laid upon. Darkness would come soon enough; truly, they had all the time in the world.

 

=PB=

The sun was falling steadily, and Jonathan was forced to admit that he would not be able to find Alice and Dio before night fell entirely. Robert had offered him some comfort, and promised that he would give any kind of aid that Jonathan asked of him. He’d thanked the man for his kindness, and returned home. Home, to tell Father that not only had Dio vanished after coming into close contact with that horrible stone mask, but he’d lost sight of Alice almost as quickly as he had found her out and about in the lower parts of London.

He’d known, of course, that she was willful and clever… but, seeing how far she was willing to go when those she loved were out of her sight… In a way it was something of a comfort, to know that Alice cared for all of them so much, but in another it was rather terrifying, knowing that his and Dio’s sister accepted no limits save for those she had set upon herself; particularly since he’d little idea what those limits even were.

He’d been unsure of whether or not to tell Father about what he had deduced, since he didn’t know just what the man’s reaction would ultimately be; if Alice truly accepted no limits but her own, and then Father attempted to impose some… he did not relish the thought of what could happen.

After having made his explanations and apologies to Father, Jonathan made his way slowly back to his room. He hadn’t been confined there, though Father had seemed rather disappointed in him all the same, so that was one small thing he no longer had to worry about. Still, the walk back to his room was a rather long and depressing one, all the same.

Closing the door behind him, Jonathan leaned against it for a long, long moment.

The soft sounds of someone muttering drew his attention to his bed, and Jonathan hurried over to it once he realized that the curtains had been drawn. For a moment, Jonathan was fair certain that he’d heard snickering, but… then…

“Dio? Alice?”

For indeed, his dear brother and sister were standing right there before him. Throwing himself into the welcoming circle of his dear siblings’ arms, Jonathan wept openly for the safe return of the remaining members of his family.

 

=PB=

Once they’d managed to pry Jonathan loose – Dio’d suggested a crowbar, but he’d clearly spoken too softly for anyone but another vampire to hear him – their brother insisted on showing them off to that stuffed-shirt adopted father of theirs. She and Dio shared a Look behind Jonathan’s back; it was a good thing that they’d been forced to return under the cover of darkness, since George would have otherwise had the curtains open, and Dio’d told her in fairly vivid detail about just what happened to a vampire unlucky enough to find themselves exposed to sunlight. She’d wondered, for a long few moments, just how he’d managed to find something like that out; but in the end she hadn’t been curious enough to ask.

She was almost tempted to laugh at the kicked-puppy look on Jonathan’s face as George lectured him, but considering how much of an ass George was currently being, the temptation was a rather easy one to ignore. Stepping in just as Jonathan had started attempting to stammer out some sort of explanation for the happenings of the previous day, she sighed.

“Right, that’s enough,” she said, rising back to her feet and folding her arms; she thought for a moment that she might have actually been taller than her previous life’s 6’1”, but that was entirely beside the point.

“Alice, this is hardly your business,” George said, turning to her with that same, stuffy expression that never seemed to really leave his face.

“I’m making it my business,” she said, narrowing her eyes slightly. “It’s hardly Jonathan’s fault that he lost track of me. He may be a boxer, but that hardly makes him suited for roof-running.”

She’d almost called it Parkour, but the word itself was both French and she didn’t know if it had been invented yet, she didn’t want to confuse the issue by bringing in words that may or may not have been invented. Still, she wasn’t about to let George go blaming Jonathan for not being able to do something he’d never trained for in the first place.

“Roof-running is not a suitable activity for a young girl, Alice,” George said, seeming to latch onto that for whatever reason; like hell was she going to waste valuable brainspace trying to comprehend the motives of someone whose opinion meant less than nothing to her.

“Of course not,” she said, smiling blandly. “Why else do you think I enjoy it so much?”

George sighed, Jonathan gawped, and Dio… well, Dio burst out laughing.

She and her brother were dismissed back to their respective rooms not soon after that, but Dio – just as she’d been expecting him to, really – insisted on coming with her to her room. The pair of them settled themselves down on her bed, with Dio lifting her up onto his lap with what seemed to be the barest of effort.

“Well, Jojo’s back to himself,” Dio said, chuckling deep in his throat as he curled his arms around her waist. “I don’t suppose you’d want to start making plans for our glorious rise to power now?”

She laughed softly, though it came out sounding a bit like a sigh. “Dio, do you even have the slightest idea where we should start?”

Her twin’s only response was a laugh, as he nuzzled the right side of her head, kissing her temple before settling back onto her bed.

 

=PB=

The next several days represented pretty much a complete break from their normal routine, which made sense once you considered just how much the pair of them being vampires altered their whole family dynamic. Charlena fussed over the pair of them even more than she had when they were kids, which was both kind of funny and a bit sad at the same time. Jonathan seemed even more determined to do everything he could for them; tagging along with them when he wasn’t going out for lessons – she’d managed to convince George that she and Dio could find pretty much anything they would need to learn about in the Joestar Estate’s vast library – and hurrying to check up on them when he came home.

“Alice! Dio! You’ll never believe what I managed to find!” he shouted, bursting into the kitchen with them.

“Jojo, I’m shocked at you,” Dio said, clearly forcing himself not to smile. “You’re agitating the strawberries.”

“What?” their brother asked, looking like someone had taken the wind out of his sails while juggling freshly-shined bowling balls.

“Jonathan,” she admonished, taking up the thread of the conversation. “You should know by now that you can’t make good jam with agitated strawberries. Now, I really think you should apologize.”

“Right,” Jonathan said, looking a tad confused, though still gamely resolute. “I’m terribly sorry for agitating your strawberries.”

“Jojo,” Dio said, tutting as he made his way over to where their brother was still standing, holding out the bowl of strawberries. “You can do better than that.”

Jonathan looked from Dio’s small, supremely amused grin, to the deep bowl of fruit their brother was holding out to him.

Jonathan sighed, though she could see that he was struggling not to laugh, and reached up to gently pat the large, plump berries. “You’ve found delicious-looking berries, and I’m certain they’ll make wonderful jam. Now, can you leave your work for a few moments? Or, should I bring the man I’ve met to meet you here?”

“You’ve met someone you think we’d be interested in meeting?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as she turned to look back at her and Dio’s brother from her place at the stove, stirring the boiling mixture as it slowly thickened. “Is he involved with your archeology studies?”

“Well, no,” Jonathan said, a slightly uncertain expression passing over his face; it seemed like he hadn’t been thinking of anything like that before, but she’d given him something more to consider. “His name is William Zeppeli. He says that he can cure you!”

“I’d hardly call us ill, Jojo,” Dio scoffed good-naturedly.

 

=PB=

 

“You know what I mean, Dio,” he said plaintively, wishing for a long moment that he could have properly explained his position to his and Alice’s brother.

However, Dio seemed to be oddly content with his new state of being; always seeming to have to stop himself from boasting of his new abilities and the strengths he had discovered over the five weeks he had spent in this unnatural condition. And Alice… while their sister was not at all the type to boast, she still seemed to be as oddly content as Dio. He didn’t know how to respond to such strange developments, but he hoped that Mr. Zeppeli would be able to convince them to allow him to cure them the way he’d all but said that he could.

“I suppose it wouldn’t do any real harm just to hear the man out,” Alice said; she’d always been the more sensible one, easily balancing Dio’s brash impulsivity. “Though I do reserve the right to mock him if he says something foolish.”

“I suppose that would be fair,” he said, watching as Alice turned her attention back to the boiling pot of strawberries. “Do you think it would be best if I brought Mr. Zeppeli in here to meet you, or would you be able to speak with him in the salon?”

“At this stage, the jam needs to be stirred almost constantly, so it thickens properly and doesn’t burn,” Alice said. “If you’re sure this Zeppeli of yours can’t wait, you should bring him in.” A slyly amused smile slowly overtook her expression of concentration. “Just make sure he doesn’t agitate the strawberries, either.”

He laughed softly; Alice was such a wit. “Have no fear; I’ll ensure he understands the gravity of the situation.”

Still smiling softly, Jonathan made his way back out to the salon. He’d soon spotted the tall, white-suited form of William A. Zeppeli. Breathing more easily as he caught sight of the calm expression on the man’s face, Jonathan took the last few steps over to the man’s side.

“How did they react?” Mr. Zeppeli asked.

“They both seem willing to listen, though they’re making jam at the moment, so I think the both of them would prefer to have a civil discussion,” he said, gesturing for Mr. Zeppeli to follow his lead as he made his way back to the kitchen.

Mr. Zeppeli scoffed. “Why would vampires even bother making jam in the first place?”

“Well, we were beginning to run out, and the pair of them do rather enjoy the activity,” he said, confused as to just why Mr. Zeppeli would be so surprised about such a thing; surly there were other vampires he had cured who had maintained their passions from when they were human.

Mr. Zeppeli didn’t say anything else, so Jonathan was left to wonder about his strange words as he finally made it back to the kitchen. The smell of fresh strawberry jam wafted out to greet him, and Jonathan smiled as he pushed open the door and stepped inside again.

“I’ve brought Mr. Zeppeli,” he said, pausing for a moment to watch as Dio put the second pot of strawberries on to boil, and Alice scooped out the cooling jam into a bowl.

“All right,” Alice said, turning to briefly sweep her bloody crimson eyes – yet another reminder of just what the stone mask had done to his dear siblings – over the pair of them where they stood; he smiled to reassure her. “Well, I suppose, since this batch needs to cool off and the next batch needs to boil before anything can be done with it, we can at least hear what this acquaintance of yours has to say. Right, Dio?”

Dio scoffed, folding his arms and making a petulant expression as he looked Mr. Zeppeli up and down. “I suppose. Though I, Dio, still don’t see any reason for your foolish talk of cures, Jojo.”

“Thank you; both of you,” he said, as the pair of them fell into step with him, and the three of them made their way back into the salon to sit down.

Dio and Alice settled themselves down together on the same divan where he was sitting, but Dio naturally chose to settle himself far closer to their sister, wrapping his arms around her shoulders as he leaned his head against hers. Father had never truly approved of such a thing when he chanced to see it, but Jonathan thought it rather pleasant to see. It was only natural, after all, that as twins Dio and Alice would be rather close.

“Mr. Zeppeli, would you tell them about your cure?” he asked, turning to smile encouragingly at the Italian.

“Jonathan Joestar,” Mr. Zeppeli said, rising back to his feet in a way that Jonathan couldn’t help but find distinctly menacing. “I said that I would end their existence as vampires,” Jonathan shuddered slightly, as Mr. Zeppeli breathed in deeply-

Then he blinked as one of the pillows from the divan flew at him, exploding into a rain of falling feathers as Mr. Zeppeli’s right fist slammed into it. Feeling himself sliding down to the floor, Jonathan felt his jaw drop as Alice quite literally picked up the very divan they had all been sitting on and swung it at Mr. Zeppeli! More surprising than that, however, was the fact that even that seemed to be merely a distraction from whatever it was that she intended to do next.

“Jojo!”

Finding himself suddenly hoisted off his feet, facing the solidly enraged face of his adopted brother, Jonathan felt horrible. For all the hope he’d had, it had nearly been the end of his dear siblings.

 

=PB=

“Dio, think,” his sweet sister’s voice broke through the haze of crimson rage that had settled over his vision when that… that human had dared to attack him and his dear Alice in their very home. “You and I both know that Jonathan is congenitally incapable of malice. You really think he’d be able to recognize it when he saw it?”

Sighing deeply, Dio conceded the point; truly, it was hardly Jojo’s fault that he was such an adorable fool. Though it was still entirely too troublesome at times. “Jojo, when are you going to realize that, honest-to-a-fault though you are, most people don’t tend to say what they truly mean?” Jojo didn’t seem to be in any fit state to speak, with fat tears gathering in his eyes and spilling down his cheeks; Dio sighed again, chuckling softly as he swiped them away with his left thumb. “Ah, Jojo. You truly are a hopeless case.” Smirking as he used his extendable veins to snatch an intact pillow from the floor, Dio gripped the cushion firmly by a corner. “Still, don’t think you’re going to escape without punishment.” Firmly swatting Jojo across the face with the pillow, Dio composed himself, biting back his grin at the expression on Jojo’s face. “That was for not finding out what your Mr. Zeppeli meant before all of this nonsense,” another firm swat. “That was for nearly getting us killed,” a third, just to finish things off. “And that was for generally being – oh, what was my sister’s elegant phrasing? Ah, yes – a porridge-head.”

“If you’re quite finished,” his sweet sister prompted, drawing his attention firmly back to the worthless creature who had so brazenly attacked them in their own home.

“Of course,” he said, gently tossing Jojo so that he landed neatly on one of the cushions that had fallen from the divan when his dear Alice had slammed it into the worthless man who had dared to invade their home. “Do you think we’d be well served letting him up?”

“Well, given how he always took a deep breath just before punchsploding something, I really don’t think letting him breathe properly is in any way a good idea,” his sweet sister said, continuing to restrain the worthless human; arms wrapped tightly about his neck as she kept him still and docile.

“Yes, I remember that,” he said, narrowing his eyes and glaring at the bastard struggling in his sweet sister’s grip. “I’d wanted to question him, perhaps find out if there were any others of his ilk who would dare show their faces in our city, but now-”

“Dio, wait!”

“Jojo, I certainly hope you’re not sincerely going to suggest I allow this bastard to go free. Not after everything he did,” he turned a stern glare on their foolish brother, even as he glimpsed his dear Alice slamming her right heel into the gut of that insufferable human to drive what remaining breath he had right out of him again.

“Please, Dio,” Jojo implored, face falling into an expression that was almost painfully contrite. “I was the one who brought this man into our home, not suspecting how dangerous he would prove to the pair of you,” the fat tears that had been gathering in Jojo’s blue eyes once again spilled over; Dio didn’t bother wiping them away this time.

Truly, such would only prove to be a useless effort at a time like this.

“Jojo, even you can’t be unaware of just what kind of a risk we’d be taking if we allowed this man to go free,” he said, setting their adorable fool of a brother back on his feet.

“I know, but please, just let me speak to him.”

He sighed, rolling his eyes briefly, before turning his attention to his sweet sister. “Well, Alice? You’re the one who’ll be in the most danger if… that man is to be allowed free.”

“Oh, I’m always in favor of second chances,” his sweet sister said lightly, then her expression shifted, becoming the half-lidded, almost lazy-looking expression that had even deceived him Dio, once upon a time. No question: his sweet sister would be more than ready to fight if such a situation was in the offing. “Still, that is something to remember about second chances: you only get one.”

 

=PB=

When Alice unwrapped her arms from Mr. Zeppeli’s neck, Jonathan gathered himself and stepped closer to the man, even as his and Dio’s sister dashed back with the unnatural speed that the stone mask had granted to her and Dio both.

“Jonathan Joestar,” Mr. Zeppeli said, gathering himself in a manner that Jonathan would have found almost admirable, if the man had not been such a clear and present danger to his dear siblings. “I had originally come here to dispose of a pair of dangerous vampires, and to see that you were trained in using Hamon. Now, I see that I will have to undo this mind-control of theirs before we will be able to move any farther.”

Jonathan was just about to ask what in the world Mr. Zeppeli meant by that, when he felt the man’s right fist driven into his gut with all the force of a sledgehammer. Even the sound of Dio and Alice both shouting the names that they most commonly used for him could not distract him from such a feeling. It was not as though the sensation was at all painful, but having all the breath smashed out of his lungs was not in any way a pleasant one.

Chapter Text

However, when he was finally able to raise himself back upright once more, Jonathan found himself glowing with some kind of strange energy. Looking up as he heard the troubling sound of someone gagging and choking on water, he caught sight of Alice holding what seemed to be a ball of slush. He’d only a moment to wonder just where in the world she had gotten such a thing, before she threw the slush-ball at Mr. Zeppeli’s face.

The slush melted quickly back into water, and when Mr. Zeppeli tried to breathe in again, he only spluttered and coughed as the water on his face was drawn inside.

“Jojo!” Turning at the sound of his brother’s voice, Jonathan found Dio staring at him with a clear expression of perplexity. “What in hell did that bastard do to you?”

Lifting his hand, the appendage still crackling with otherworldly energies, Jonathan watched in horror as Dio merely brushing the tips of his fingers against Jonathan’s own hand caused his brother to leap backwards with a brief scream, clutching at his hand. Able only to stare in mute, helpless terror as the three fingers that Dio had touched his flesh with disintegrated into delicate ashes, Jonathan felt warm tears begin to slide down his cheeks. Dio’s expression of shock as he stared at his maimed hand was burned into his memory, and Jonathan looked in despair at his hands.

The otherworldly energies had faded, but that was hardly a comfort considering what had happened when he’d been offered the merest of touches by his brother. He felt awful; the knowledge that he would never again be able to embrace his siblings at the end of a long day, nor offer them the comfort of a shoulder to lean on. Composing himself as swiftly as he could manage, Jonathan made for the tall, white-suited form of William Zeppeli.

Alice had once more wrestled him into submission, this time with her legs firmly wrapped around the man’s midsection, clearly crushing the air from his lungs whenever he chanced to breathe out.

The feeling of a heavy coat being tossed over him drew Jonathan’s attention back to Dio. There was an expression of determined indifference on his and Alice’s brother’s face, but Jonathan could still clearly see the lines of tension and pain not-so-well-hidden by such a thing. It only made him all the more determined, here and now, to find out just what Mr. Zeppeli had done to him.

And, if such a thing could be reversed; he’d no wish to be deprived of the comforting touch of his siblings’ hands forever.

“Mr. Zeppeli,” he said sadly, making his way to a point just beyond the reach of the man’s arms if he were to somehow escape the hold that Alice had him entrapped in. “I suspect that I was not nearly so diligent in finding out why you wished to meet my siblings. Still, I cannot forgive your attempts to murder members of my family. If I ask my sister to release you, will you swear to leave our home, and never return?” Yelping as something small and fast knocked against the back of his head, Jonathan turned to see Dio making his way back into the salon after having left so quickly.

 

=PB=


“Jojo, are you determined to see this man kill us?” he demanded; truly, anyone with eyes could see that this Zeppeli would only continue to attack them if he was given the chance to worm his way free from his sweet sister’s grasp.

“Dio, you’ve recovered. Thank God,” Jojo said, all but sobbing in relief as he wrapped the coat Dio had lent him tighter around his shoulders.

“You haven’t answered my question, Jojo,” he said, wishing for a moment that he could have given their adorable fool of a brother a thump upside the head; truly, there were times when his foolishness could be far more troublesome than adorable.

“I’ve no wish to see anyone die today,” Jojo said, his firm tone not quite matching the lingering uncertainty in his eyes.

“Well then, you should probably close your eyes,” his dear Alice said in a flatly amused tone, before he, Dio, could have expressed that selfsame sentiment.

“That was not what I meant, Alice,” Jojo said, turning his imploring gaze upon his sweet sister; Dio shook his head, exasperated.

Before any of them could say anything more, however, Zeppeli threw himself to the floor. His sweet sister, who had braced herself against most of the directions that the human might have attempted to dodge, was thrown to the floor as the pair of them toppled over. His dear Alice wrapped her legs more tightly around Zeppeli’s chest, but somehow – from some reserve of strength that he, Dio, hadn’t thought humans besides Jojo possessed – the man flipped the pair of them over. His sweet sister was able to brace her hands against the floor before Zeppeli could slam her head into it, but somehow or other that aggravating human managed to thrash and squirm his way free.

The man breathed deeply, aiming to drive his now-glowing fist into her body, but the sight of his sweet sister flicking her ears in a distinctly catlike manner brought a grin of sheer satisfaction to his face. Dashing over to Jojo’s side, he leaned in just enough so that his voice would only carry to Jojo.

“Cover your ears, Jojo.”

“Dio, what-”

Urrrrrrrrrrryyyyy!”

Watching in supreme satisfaction as Zeppeli stumbled and staggered under the sheer force of sound his sweet sister had unleashed upon him, Dio leaped to her side. Taking only a moment to savor the sight of that bastard Zeppeli with blood streaming from his eyes and ears, Dio firmed his throat and breathed deeply.

Wrrrrrrryyyyy!

 

=PB=

With his hands pressed flat over his ears, Jonathan clenched his teeth as he struggled to move back from the section of the salon that was swiftly becoming a battleground. His brain seemed to rattle inside his skull from the terrible noise; in some ways it was a relief, knowing that his siblings had developed ways to protect themselves from anyone who might seek to harm them, but Jonathan still wished – if only for a moment – that the pair of them had not been forced to resort to such a thing. Foremost in his mind, of course, was the simple fact that someone – either one of the many servants who worked inside their home, or possibly even Father or Dio and Alice’s mother themselves – was bound to hear the sounds of combat even at such a distance, and Jonathan had no clear way of knowing just what Mr. Zeppeli would be willing to do to them in order to get at his dear siblings.

However, as though in response to his very thoughts, Dio and Alice turned and fled through the large window set in the rightmost corner of the salon.

He wished that the pair of them had not been forced into such a drastic course of action, but even as he wept for the loss of his siblings, Jonathan Joestar levered himself back to his feet so that he could face Mr. Zeppeli head-on. The man was just raising himself back to his own feet, and Jonathan found himself pleased by that, since he’d had no desire to assault the man when he was down; no true gentleman would do such a thing, he knew. Tying Dio’s coat around his shoulders – the closest he could still have to an embrace from either of his dear, lost siblings – Jonathan drove himself forward, right fist extended for a knock-out blow.

Finding himself blocked by the man’s outstretched right hand, Jonathan reacted slightly too slowly to keep himself from being caught by the man’s strong, unyielding grasp. Feeling the crackle of that same, otherworldly power into his head and down through the rest of his body, Jonathan tried to leap backwards but found himself still harshly restrained by Mr. Zeppeli’s grasp. The energies that crackled through his body were not painful in the slightest, but Jonathan clenched his teeth against the knowledge of what they were doing to him.

Clutching the sleeves of Dio’s coat like a talisman, Jonathan could only pray that his dear siblings would be able to find somewhere safe to stay.

 

=PB=

Dashing up the side of a nearby tree, she paused for a moment to let Dio catch up. He wasn’t quite as prepared to switch from the comparatively simple rooftop-style of Parkour to one that was more suited to running through the small forest that bordered the large estate, but he was getting better, all the same.

“Good thing you still have people taking care of that house you bought,” she mused aloud for both their benefits, as Dio perched on a branch just to her left.

“I hadn’t thought to be forced out of our home,” Dio said, fangs showing as he ground his teeth, but he only sighed, running his tongue over them in what she recognized as her own habitual gesture of annoyance. “Still, Jojo would hardly have approved of our plans, if he’d been given the chance to find out about them.”

She chuckled softly. “Who knows; we’ve got all the time in the world, brother mine. We can figure something out.”

Dio’s own chuckle echoed behind her as she moved out through the trees, the both of them on their way to the empty mansion that Dio had secured for them.

She’d asked him jokingly if he’d eaten the people who’d lived there before them, but the only scents of living humans she’d been able to detect were old and nearly covered by the scents of musty wood, dust, and the various kinds of crap left behind by every small animal that seemed entirely too eager to move into any abandoned building they could find. Still, the rats and mice had at least attracted a family of barn owls.

She and Dio, though mostly her since she had the patience for those kinds of things, had tamed them and then begun training them to respond to commands. She’d never been one for falconry before, but a lot of that had been due to a lack of time on her part, and the fact that even a pedigreed Siberian Husky like her old Sub-Zero had been easier to have as a pet than any kind of bird of prey back in California.

Dio, for his part, had been fascinated by the sheer silence of their owls as they swooped down on their prey. Even to vampire senses those things were quiet; there were times she found herself wondering just what a human would have been able to hear in the recently-renovated mansion she and Dio had been in and out of before they were forced to move in by some jerkass Italian with a severe hate-boner for vampires. It hadn’t been something she’d expected, but in hindsight it was pretty obvious that if vampires were a thing in this world as they seemed to be, then it stood to reason that vampire hunters would arise, too.

“Simon,” she called, holding out her right wrist for the owl to land on.

She’d originally suggested the names Simon and Garfunkel for the breeding pair of owls living in their attic as something of a joke; something that was both part and parcel of her old life, and also something that would fit with the “everything must be music references” setup that seemed to be going on. Dio, however, had been entirely in favor of the names, which given the fact that one of the vampires he’d sired to take care of their house was named Cobain, was pretty much to be expected.

“Come on, Simon,” she called, smiling as the male owl of the pair swooped over to alight on her right wrist. “There’s a good boy.”

“Welcome back, Mistress,” Cobain said, coming over to take her coat.

“Evening, Cobain,” she said, smiling at her fellow vampire – still a weird thought, even after a couple weeks spent with the other woman – as Simon hopped and fluttered up to her left shoulder. “How are things?”

“Well enough, Mistress,” Cobain said, smiling in that amused way she had; it really seemed like being a vampire had been good for her, since she hadn’t seemed particularly happy as a human. Of course, considering both the country and the era… Well, she could hardly blame Cobain for the sentiment. “It’s a nice, quiet place you’ve picked out. Still, it’s a long way to market from here.”

“Don’t I know it,” she said, leaning over to one of the heavily-curtained windows so she could get a look at the sky; her circadian rhythms had been thrown all to shit by the fact that she no longer actually needed to sleep, so she couldn’t rely on it anymore to tell her what time it was.

She’d had a pocket watch, of course, but what with needing to haul ass out of the Joestar estate as quickly as they had, it was still merrily ticking away in the top drawer of her nightstand back in her old room. Sighing in annoyance, both for the loss of her property and for the fact that she could see the first hints of dawn just beginning to creep over the horizon, she turned back to Cobain.

“It’ll be dawn soon,” she said, reaching up to gently stroke Simon’s head. “Best find somewhere to spend the day.”

“Of course, Mistress,” Cobain said, smiling softly as she bowed.

Turning to make her way to her room, she heard Cobain’s fading footfalls as the other woman made her way to wherever she was going to be staying for the night. If the other woman were going to stay anywhere, as opposed to rambling through the house the way she’d sometimes do if there was a particular thought on her mind that she wanted to chase down. Gently stroking the soft feathers on Simon’s chest as she headed up the stairs to her room, she heard the distinct pattern of Dio’s footfalls and chuckled softly.

“Morning, brother dear,” she said, feeling her twin’s arms sliding around her neck; Simon having hopped back down to her right wrist when the pair of them had heard Dio coming.

“Good morning, my sweet sister,” Dio said, and she could feel his cool breath on the back of her neck as he leaned in for a kiss.

Opening the door to her room, she released Simon and watched the owl swoop over to the perch she’d set up for him and Garfunkel when one of their two full-grown owls stayed in her room. Dio, as was his usual habit by now, followed her into her room. She took a moment to be grateful for the fact that, not needing to actually sleep anymore and all, she was no longer a chronic shifter the way she’d been in both of her lifetimes. Otherwise, she’d have ended up having to remove her clothes so as not to risk getting tangled up in all the layers of fabric that the people in this era still wore.

And, with Dio wanting to be so much more close, lately… yeah, no.

As she and Dio curled up together on the bed, her closing her eyes just as Dio had begun to arrange their heads to his liking, her thoughts turned inward again. She’d lived nineteen years of her current life, as opposed to the fifteen she’d had of her former one, and it had long since become obvious that she wasn’t remotely likely to find a way back; really, it was past time she’d stopped living “caught between” like this. With that thought firmly in mind, Alice Brando relaxed herself into a state of vampiric torpor, and drifted off.

 

=PB=

When he’d awakened, tucked neatly in his bed, Jonathan’s first hopeful thought was that the events of the previous evening had just been a horrible dream. Even Dio’s coat, folded neatly atop his nightstand, didn’t deter him from dressing up so that he could make his way down the corridor to his brother’s room. Holding Dio’s coat close, intending to return the garment to his brother when the two of them were able to speak once more. Pausing before his brother’s door, Jonathan took a moment to gather himself before making his way in; he would, of course, apologize to his brother for being so brazen after they had had the chance to speak.

“Jojo.”

“Father,” he paused, seeing the troubled expression on the man’s face. “What is it?”

“Come down to the salon,” Father said gently, the troubled expression on his face transforming into something more kindly. “We will discus things further there.”

“I truly should return Dio’s coat,” he said, looking again toward his brother’s now-open door.

Father sighed, bringing Jonathan’s attention right back to the man. “Jojo, please do not make this any more difficult than it must be.”

Shuddering as he held Dio’s coat close – he’d wanted so much for what had occurred last night to have to have been merely a terrible dream – Jonathan gathered himself and wordlessly fell into step with Father as the pair of them made their way down to the salon in the eastern wing; the western one likely still being set to rights, after… Jonathan bit his lower lip, tears welling in his eyes as he was forced to confront the truth of what had happened the previous night. If only it had been a dream…

When he found Mrs. Charlena Brando sitting down on a large divan, wringing her hands on a handkerchief that she was also using to dab tears from her eyes, Jonathan was quick to make his way over to her. Before he could even say a single word, however, he noticed the man sitting on a smaller chair…

“Mr. Zeppeli!” he exclaimed, narrowing his eyes in fury at the man he’d mistakenly placed such trust in only yesterday.

Charlena’s hitching breath drew his attention before Jonathan could give the man a proper dressing-down, and Jonathan turned his attention to Dio and Alice’s mother.

“Don’t cry,” he said gently, reaching out to place his left hand on her right shoulder. “I promise you, I’ll do everything I can to bring Dio and Alice back home, where they belong. And a gentleman keeps his promises.”

“That is indeed true, Jojo,” Father said, making his way into the salon with them, then settling himself down on a chair directly across from Mr. Zeppeli. “However, before we may begin our search for wherever it was that Dio and Alice ran off to, there are clearly matters that must be addressed first.”

“Clearly,” Mr. Zeppeli said, the tension in his frame and tone clearly evident. “I have done everything in my power to free you and yours from the mind-control I thought those vampires had placed you under-”

“Stop talking about my children that way!” Miss Charlena exclaimed, tears gathering in her eyes; Jonathan wrapped his left arm around her shoulders as she struggled not to weep.

“I am terribly sorry to have to inform you of this, madam, but your children died the very moment that stone mask was allowed to do its wicked work,” Mr. Zeppeli said, apparently trying to make his voice sound gentle, even as his words seemed calculated to cut them to their very hearts. “Vampires are nothing more than animals, driven by their basest desires, and an endless hunger that compels them to consume-”

“That is quite enough!” Father all but shouted, seeming almost to need to physically restrain himself from leaping out of his seat. “Jonathan invites you into our home, and you proceed to not only assault his siblings, but remain brazen enough to slander their very names even when neither of them remains to defend themselves! I will ask that you kindly remember that you are a guest in my home, Sir Zeppeli, and adjust your behavior accordingly.”

“Have you all been so thoroughly deceived by soft words that you’re completely unwilling to see the truth?!” Mr. Zeppeli demanded, all but throwing himself to his feet with the force of his misguided fury.

Jonathan wondered what Alice would have been able to make of Mr. Zeppeli, if she’d been able to stay in the same room with him long enough to observe him without setting herself against the power of Hamon that had proved to be so dangerous to her and Dio; the very Hamon that Mr. Zeppeli seemed so intent on teaching him. Alice always had seemed to know the hearts of those she met, even better than himself or even Dio. He only wished that his siblings could have still been present, but since it was swiftly becoming clear that Mr. Zeppeli would never allow such a thing, he could only wish them well in whatever place they had managed to find to stay.

 

=PB=

Another day, another employment drive, Alice mused whimsically, continuing on her way down through the streets of Whitechapel. Most of the women she met here were more than willing – and quite often eager – to hear her out about the new opportunities for employment she was offering them in her and Dio’s hotel in London’s “middle-class” district.

“So, this is not a brothel?” the woman she was speaking to; Annie Lennox, which fit pretty much all of the patterns that she’d seen established in this new world of hers.

“Of course not; it’s a hotel with an attached restaurant,” she said, smiling at Annie as the pair of them continued on their way through the streets. “Of course, if anyone does hassle you about your former occupation, you’ll be able to speak to one of the bouncers about it.”

“Bouncers?” Annie repeated, a look of curiosity overtaking her expression.

Alice smiled calmly, as though sharing a private joke; though really, it was more of an open secret at this point. “That’s what I call them; it’s their job to make sure that no troublemakers disturb the atmosphere,” she grinned slightly, though not enough to show her fangs; people seemed to get the wrong impression when she did that. “If they do, my people are authorized to throw them out so hard they bounce.”

“Oh,” Annie said, laughing softly. “How clever.”

The sound of footsteps, not as common in this part of the city after dusk as she thought they might be at other times, drew her attention for a moment. Putting the thought of just who it might be that had decided to follow the pair of them, Alice returned her gaze to Annie.

“So, what do you think? Does my proposal sound interesting to you?”

“I think I would rather enjoy it,” Annie said, looking down as she continued speaking. “However, considering my sordid past, I-”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, gently setting her right hand on Annie’s shoulder. “If you don’t feel up to interacting with customers yet, there are plenty of other jobs that need doing around a hotel. I can set you up with one of them, if that would make you feel better. At least until you find your feet again.”

“Thank you, sir,” Annie said; Alice didn’t bother correcting the misconception, it was a common enough one when someone here encountered someone in pants, and it was useful enough in areas like this.

“I cannot allow this to proceed any farther.”

Alice chuckled deep in her throat, lazily turning to meet the gaze of the large man that had been following them. “I was wondering when you were going to show your face,” she flicked her eyes up and down his form, giving him and the large knife in his hands a flatly unimpressed look. “You get lost on your way to the butcher shop?”

Chapter Text

“You are endangering your immortal soul by continuing to consort with this filthy harlot!” the wide-framed, bearded man that had been stalking the pair of them for the latter half of their conversation shouted, brandishing the large, bread-slicer looking blade he’d pulled out.

Tracking the motions of his eyes, Alice slapped the knife with a backhand blow; freezing the entire structure of the blade solid and causing it to shatter into irreparable pieces in the space of a human blink.

“And, I suppose you’re here to teach me the error of my ways,” she snarked, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes in amusement.

“That I am, sir!” he said, brandishing the knife handle with clearly unsavory intent.

“Not with that broken old thing, you’re not,” she said, smirking as the expression on his transformed from one of self-righteous confidence to one of uncertainty as he caught sight of the pitiful remains of his blade. Just as she’d been expecting, the man ran away not soon after. “Some people just have no manners,” she said, turning back to Annie. The other woman had an expression of terrified awe on her face, first looking down at the shattered, still frozen remains of the blade that a certain bearded road apple had so unwisely attempted to threaten them with, and then back up to Alice’s face; she smiled gently. “Come on; it’ll be some time before we make it back to Caritas at this pace.”

 

=PB=

As he’d taken to making rounds of the city by rooftop he, Dio, had been in nearly the perfect position to observe his sweet sister’s confrontation with the fool man who had been so brazen as to accost one of the twin lords of London; those who would soon take their place at the peak of the world. Those who would soon be able to raise themselves to Heaven. Perhaps it’s time that I, Dio, made my presence known.

Leaping lightly down from the rooftop he’d alighted on, Dio landed just a step behind the man, startling him into whip-turning around at a speed that looked almost painfully slow to his vampire senses; yet another reason that he and his sweet sister were the only ones truly fit to reign over the world.

“What-?!”

“What an odd time for a human to be out and about,” he said, smiling almost cordially; humans, dull creatures that they were, did not often look deep enough behind the façade he projected to see to his true heart.

“What are you?!”

He laughed, reveling in the fear that he could see lurking at the edges of the foolish man’s expression. “I am one of those who will reign over Heaven.”

“Those eyes!” the man yelped, the handle of the knife his sweet sister had so elegantly shattered falling to the ground from his suddenly nerveless grip. “You’re the Devil himself!”

Laughing openly now, Dio allowed his eyes to glow, as though in preparation to fire his Space Ripper Stingy Eyes. “The Devil? If I, Dio, am the Devil, then I graciously welcome you to hell.”

Exerting his will, he bound the mind of the arrogant man who had been so foolish as to set himself against those who would stand in Heaven, tasting the man’s blood to further secure his hold. He knew that Jojo would hardly approve, but since their puppy of an adopted brother wasn’t present, Dio didn’t allow himself to be overly concerned. Jojo was many things, but anyone could see that the Joestar heir lacked the ruthlessness to survive outside of his tiny, sunlit world.

Still, even a puppy could become a fierce and loyal guard dog with time and proper training.

 

=PB=

Making his way through the city, carrying a photo of himself, Dio, and Alice, the three of them all seated together on an elegant settee before the photographer, Jonathan sighed softly. True, it had been taken before this dreadful business with the stone mask and Mr. Zeppeli had driven them out of their very home, but truly very little about his dear siblings had changed since the day the photograph was taken. Asking the people he met if any of them had seen either of his dear siblings eventually yielded the word “caritas”, and further inquiries along that line had revealed that the name belonged to a hotel and a restaurant – both of them housed within the same building, which Jonathan found slightly odd – which had in turn led him to the realization that Dio and Alice’s flight from their family’s estate was not as unplanned as it had previously seemed.

Knowing that, that his dear siblings had been making excursions into London many and varied enough that they had not only become well-known in such a place but also had an actual secondary place of residence… Jonathan had resolved to speak to the pair of them about such a thing, before coming to any sort of conclusions. When he finally made his way into the town of Anderson Squire, the first thing he saw was the large, two-story building that Dio and Alice were said to be staying within.

Breathing deeply to steady himself, Jonathan made his way into the main lobby of the building.

There were quite a few people standing and sitting and walking around in what was clearly the lobby of the hotel,  and as Jonathan moved around to question the people present about his dear siblings’ possible whereabouts, Jonathan found his attention drawn abruptly away from the general bustling of the lobby by a cheerful call.

“Jojo!”

Snapping his head around to take in the cheerfully-smiling form of his brother, Jonathan smiled widely as he hurried over to meet the blond as he gracefully descended the staircase.

“You’re all right!”

“Of course, Jojo,” Dio said, the grin on his face nearly stretching wide enough to reveal his fangs; Jonathan could only be grateful that such had not been the case, as he rather doubted anyone else but himself and Alice would have been willing to look past such an oddity of appearance; truly, there was no way to know just how many of those here would react like Mr. Zeppeli. “Really, did you think that such a fool would be able to defeat us?”

“I was worried for you, Dio,” he said earnestly, watching as his and Alice’s brother descended the last of the steps into the hotel’s lobby.

“You truly are adorable, Jojo,” Dio laughed softly, enveloping him with strong arms that were no longer as warm as he could remember them being; yet another reminder of the changes the stone mask had wrought in his siblings.

However, given the sole alternative, Jonathan resolved to be grateful for what he still had.

 

=PB=

Knowing that there was very little chance of him truly being able to convince Jonathan Joestar to allow him to properly dispose of those wicked vampires that had once been his siblings – a state that reminded him all too much of when he himself had been forced to confront the monster that terrible stone mask had made of his own father – William Zeppeli resolved himself to his new course of action. He would endeavor to reconnect with Jonathan Joestar, to at least teach the boy Hamon, so that he would be able to protect himself when the beasts that wore the faces of his clearly beloved siblings inevitably revealed their true nature. The rest could be attended to by his fellow Hamon monks.

Straizo and his partner Dire would be more than willing to come to London, he was certain.

After having taken the time to gather himself for the difficulties he was clearly still to face on this journey of his, William turned his path toward the nearest post office. He would need to be quick, as the sooner he contacted his fellows, the sooner they would be able to make their way to London. And the sooner those wicked vampires could be properly laid to rest.

 

=PB=

The thick, rich stew filled him up, warming Jonathan from the inside as he sat at the staff table just off from the Caritas hotel’s attached restaurant.

“I’d no idea the two of you had managed to establish yourselves so well in the city,” he said, not quite certain how he was feeling, but having no wish to distress his siblings, either.

“Well, we could hardly continue to rely on your family for charity, Jojo,” Dio said, taking a sip from his glass; Jonathan wondered for a moment if it contained blood from the nearby butcher shop, then quickly decided that he did not wish to know. “While it was very kind of your father to allow us a place in his home, it would hardly be a worthy repayment for such kindness to give that oaf Zeppeli any more reasons to destroy your family’s property.”

“I suppose that’s true,” he said, wishing more than anything that such were not, in fact, the case.

“We’ll probably end up staying around here until this whole thing is resolved,” Alice said, her gaze turning inward for a moment.

“Or, until we resolve the situation ourselves,” Dio said, grinning over at their sister.

“Yes, or until that,” Alice returned, a small smile pulling at her own lips.

Jonathan bit back a sigh, forcing his thoughts down more pleasant avenues. “Speedwagon, you’ve been rather quiet of late.”

“Just enjoying the ambiance,” the scarred man who had offered him such kindness when the pair of them had met for that first time. “It’s not often I get the privilege of eating such rich food.”

“Could be more often, if you wanted,” Alice said, in the tone of someone who’d been making such offers rather lot.

“I know,” Speedwagon said, his tone nearly the same as Alice’s own. “You’ve offered plenty of times.”

Looking between his siblings and Speedwagon, Jonathan wonders just what the true meaning of this half-heard conversation could have been. It was clear that Alice had made an offer that Speedwagon had refused, but the specifics of the offer, as well as Speedwagon’s reason for turning away such kindness, was presently lost on him. Making up his mind to speak to Speedwagon later, Jonathan returned his attention to the time he could still spend with his dear siblings; limited though it may very well have been by circumstances beyond their control.

When the meal had finished, with the four of them all wishing each other well, Jonathan trailed Speedwagon as the other man made his way out of and then away from the hotel.

“Something you wanted to say to me, Jonathan?” the other man asked, the kindly smile on his face growing slightly as he turned to wait for Jonathan to catch up.

“Sir Speedwagon, what was it that my siblings offered you?” he asked. “And, why does it sound as though you kept refusing them?”

Speedwagon chuckled softly, shaking his head in what seemed to be a fond sort of nostalgia. “It’s nothing against your sister, Jonathan,” the other man said, then his smile slipped away. “Your brother, on the other hand… I’ve met his type before. Living on the streets, you learn to spot lowlifes right away, if you want to live to see tomorrow. I’m sorry to have to be the one ta tell you this, but your brother stinks of brimstone and blood worse than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say,” Jonathan couldn’t help the outburst; the need to defend his siblings from another person who seemed determined to tear them down.

“Doesn’t make it less true, though I am sorry ta have to be the one to mention it,” Speedwagon said, the expression on his face too genuine for Jonathan to dismiss out of hand.

“What of my sister, then?”

Speedwagon’s smile returned, though it was slightly enigmatic when it did so. “As soft a touch as she’s got, that girl of yours has a heart of steel,” the other man said, chuckling softly. “Out of everyone in your family, I think she might be the one best-suited to handling him.”

“Well, they are twins,” he said, feeling rather more uncertain than he had at the beginning of their conversation.

Speedwagon laughed softly. “What else could they be?”

It didn’t seem a question in need of answering, and in any case Jonathan wasn’t sure what he could have said in response to such a thing, so he stayed silent.

 

=PB=

It had been a week of quiet – if not entirely peaceful, considering their need to be on the lookout for Zeppeli – days. Jonathan and his father had paid sporadic visits to their hotel, and while it was clear that old George approved of the initiative they had taken, Alice still kind of wondered what he would make of the employees she had hired. Even with the sheer indifference she held towards the concept of class and social standing, she was still thoroughly aware that it was pretty much a thing in this era.

And, even with what kind of a stand-up guy George tried to be, he was still clearly a man of his era.

With the lack of any more need to sleep for anything but keeping up appearances, Alice found herself with twelve more usable hours in each day, more than enough to carry out the dual tasks of Head Chef and CFO of the company – small though it currently was – that she and Dio were in the process of constructing.

“Draw me with a picture of a higher place I know,” she sang softly, moving around the stove as she prepared the nightly pots of beef stew; it was a popular dish, what with the weather chilling steadily as fall passed inevitably into winter. “When the color fades to white again, it’s where I’ll go.”

The sound of the door – the one that had a large, red and white painted sign on it to deter just this sort of thing – slamming open from the outside drew only an annoyed sigh.

“You know, generally when a door has a sign on it that says “staff only” it does actually mean that only staff members are supposed to use it,” she drawled, turning to see just who it was she was going to have to throw out on their ear this time.

She might not have had any hot bacon grease this time, but not every situation needed to be resolved by something so drastic.

The first impression she was given of the man who’d so unceremoniously barged into her kitchen was that he was fairly young, with a fair face and long, dark hair. His shoulders were too wide, and his hips too narrow for her to mistake him for a woman, but with a face like that… Well, she couldn’t quite call him a bishie, given the maturity of his facial features, but he was definitely pretty.

“You know, if you wanted some of my famous stew, you could’ve just come to the restaurant like a normal customer,” she said, wanting to make completely sure of the pretty-boy’s intentions before she acted; one way or the other.

“That was not what I came here for, vampire,” he snapped, raising his fists.

Alice sighed, annoyed. “Let me guess; you’re working with that jackass, Zeppeli, right?”

“I, Straizo, will show no mercy!”

Shifting out of the way of his punch, Alice grabbed the back of his loose, billowy robes and hauled him backwards off his feet. “And if you damage my kitchen I, Alice, will hand you your ass on a platter.”

Swinging the man around by his clothes, Alice hurled him from the room. Hurrying over to the spice rack, knowing that it was only a matter of time before Straizo – she idly wondered just which of the myriad musical references that this world seemed to live and breathe on his name referred to – picked himself up and tried attacking her again, Alice grabbed a jar of dried, fine-ground garlic. And, as if on cue, Straizo burst right back in through the still-open door.

Loosening the top of the jar, Alice dashed forward and unloaded a face-full of ground garlic at Straizo just as he began breathing deeply in preparation for his own version of Mr. Punchsplode’s Wild Ride. Dodging out of the way as Straizo fell to the ground sneezing and coughing, Alice grabbed him by back of his robes and dragged him back out, pulling the door closed behind her as she went.

Real smart attacking me in a kitchen, moron,” she muttered, just loud enough for Straizo to hear every word she was saying.

Hauling him up the side of the nearby warehouse one-handed was something of an interesting challenge, given that she had to manually shift her center of gravity several times just to keep the struggling form of Straizo from being able to pull himself loose. Not something too out of the ordinary, but the fact that she’d actually managed that kind of thing one-handed was still something to take note of.

Being a vampire had opened up quite a few new opportunities, that was for sure.

Tying Straizo up with the loose folds of his robes, after another face-full of garlic power to make sure he wouldn’t be able to punchsplode anything while she was dealing with him, Alice finished binding him up and swung him onto her back so she would be able to move faster. Crossing back out of the city, always careful to keep an eye out for the position of the moon, Alice wound up and launched Straizo into the distance like one of those old, Greek discus-throwers.

Turning quickly to make her way back to her kitchen, Alice allowed herself to settle down a bit; she’d bought herself some time, but there was no question that she’d have to warn Dio that Zeppeli had brought at least some reinforcements of his own.

 

=PB=

Pleased to see that the brazen human he, Dio, had taken the precaution of enthralling when he had been so foolish to attempt to attack his sweet sister had come to fully realize his place under the feet of the twin lords of London, Dio allowed himself to relax into the plush chair that his dear Alice had created for him. He’d seen her dissatisfaction with every other piece of furniture that the pair of them had come across during their efforts to furnish their respective rooms in the mansion that now sheltered them, and so had almost been expecting such a thing when she had merely commissioned a frame from the furniture maker, and then set about creating her own padding from fine leather and goose-down cushions.

Even he, Dio, had been rather surprised at how wonderfully soft such a thing had turned out; he’d eagerly accepted her offer to make him one of his own.

The distinct sound of hurried footfalls outside his door drew his attention then, and Dio gestured for his new servant Jack to greet their guest while he lounged in his throne, sipping from a glass of red wine. His sweet sister had never developed a taste for such things, much preferring sweeter drinks that suited her nature far better, and such thoughts always brought a fond smile to his face as he, Dio, sat and mused on what came next. What grand next steps that he and his sweet sister would take on their road to Heaven.

“What’s this jackass doing here?”

At the sound of his sweet sister’s voice, annoyed though it naturally was to see the one who had so foolishly attempted to deny her the prize she had sought on that dark, lonely night some weeks ago; young Annie was settling in well, though naturally she was unaware as yet that her employers were so far beyond humanity as a whole.

“Well, sister dear, you know that even a jackass can be useful when properly trained,” he said, arriving at his door with a single burst of vampiric speed, shoving Jack lightly aside as he did so.

Sweet Alice’s sharp, crimson eyes flickered over Jack’s stocky form, taking in every detail as was her way; Dio smiled, pleased all over again. “Thrall?”

“Of course,” he said, stepping aside to allow her inside, and then following with a sip of his wine. “What brings you here in such a hurry?”

As he spoke, Dio guided their path back to the throne where he spent a great many hours of the day going over the maps of their slowly, steadily expanding territory, he saw his sweet sister turn her gaze inward for a moment. He knew that such an expression meant that she was thinking deeply upon one complication or another – plotting how best to dismantle them and use what remained to lift the pair of them to greater heights – and so he gently guided her to his throne and settled himself upon it while gently pulling her into his lap.

“It seems our old friend Zeppeli’s brought over some friends of his own,” his sweet sister said, her tone dry as a dusty road.

Of every possible thing that could have passed his sweet sister’s lips, that was not at all what he, Dio, had been given to expect. “What?”

“One of them, guy by the name of Straizo – pretty; you’d like him if he wasn’t determined to kill us – attacked me in our hotel’s kitchen.”

He laughed softly; no one who attacked his sweet sister in a domain she had made so thoroughly her own would not easily escape unscathed. “And, what lesson did he learn from the experience, sister dear?”

“That trying to breathe garlic powder is extremely bad for his health,” his sweet sister said, an amused expression flitting briefly across her face, before vanishing into her habitually contemplative mood. “Still, if Zeppeli is bound and determined to escalate this conflict he seems so dead-set on instigating, we’re going to need a more defensible base of operations.”

“Yes,” he muttered, supremely annoyed at having their lives overturned by the foolishness of that particular man for a second time. “I have some ideas; give me time to finalize them, and I shall have a place where we can stand.”

“All right,” his sweet sister said, and he let her draw herself up and away from his loose embrace; all plans and a businesslike air once again. It was a no less fascinating transformation to watch than it had been the first time he, Dio, had watched it happen. “I’ll go see about the arrangements for our prolonged departure. You going to need any longer than a couple hours?”

“I shouldn’t,” he said, smiling for the concern his sweet sister had always shown to him; it was one of the few ways in which his dear Alice reminded him of their mother.

In all other ways, of course, his sweet sister was refreshingly different.

 

=PB=

He’d hardly believed it possible, but Mr. Zeppeli had returned to the Joestar estate once more. As such a presence was more than certain to delay the return of his dear siblings to their proper home, Jonathan had been rather put out to find the man haunting their halls once more. More than that, however, the offer to actually learn the art that had caused Dio such pain from a mere touch – something Mr. Zeppeli called Hamon – was not something that he had been at all prepared for.

Still, the fact that he would actually be able to control such power rather than letting off inadvertent bursts that would do nothing more than hurt his dear siblings with the slightest touch had been enough to sway him; Jonathan could only hope that he would be able to learn enough to no longer fear offering the touch of his own skin to Dio or Alice when they needed it.

Chapter Text

“Remember, Jonathan Joestar: the true power of Hamon comes from the breath,” Mr. Zeppeli said, the ripples of his own Hamon energy spreading out evenly about him. “If your breath is strong, your Hamon shall be, as well.”

He knew that Mr. Zeppeli was hoping for him to take to the training that he offered, but there was only one thing that Jonathan could find mattering to him at the present moment. “So, in order to stop channeling Hamon, all I must do is disrupt my breathing?”

Mr. Zeppeli sighed, the expression on his face falling to one of resignation, as well as what looked like some kind of saddened regret; Jonathan almost found himself wanting to offer comfort to the man, even in spite of the fact that he knew just how dangerous Mr. Zeppeli was and continued to be to his dear siblings. “Yes; it’s true that any disruption of your breathing will in turn make it impossible for you to channel Hamon. I would ask, however, that you consider the outcome carefully before you put such knowledge to use.”

“I will.”

That was another reason that Jonathan had allowed himself to soften in his regard for Mr. Zeppeli: while it was clear that he was still wary of vampires in general, the man had seemed willing to give Dio and Alice the benefit of all possible doubt. Jonathan was glad for it, and had offered in return to allow himself to be taught the ways of Hamon. Because, even if he knew his dear siblings better than nearly anyone else in the world, it wasn’t as though such a thing gave him any insight into the minds of vampires as a whole.

It might very well be that other vampires would not be so apt to retain their human kindness as Dio and Alice had been. And so, Jonathan allowed himself to be trained in the martial art of Hamon, if only so that he would be able to safely interact with his dear siblings once more.

 

=PB=

Dipping her hands into the water as she continued to scrub one of her larger stew pots, Alice heard the sound of heavy footfalls outside her door. She’d trained the staff well enough to knock if they truly needed something from her, or else to ask a senior staff-member or refer to their employee manuals. Those things had been a big hit with the people she hired, since they detailed what work needed to be completed for their particular jobs and were also small enough to be carried in a pocket or a satchel. Given all of that, Alice knew that this couldn’t have been one of her people coming in now.

There were others it could be, but very few of those options were good; she already knew the sound of Dio’s footsteps well enough to know that it wasn’t him she was hearing.

The tall, long-haired form of Straizo barging into her workroom drew a long-suffering sigh, as Alice rolled her eyes.

“Yay,” she deadpanned. “It’s my stalker.”

“I do not merely intend to stalk you, vampire,” the man said, eyes narrowing as he fully stepped into the room behind her. “I intend to rid this world of your filth!”

Ducking under his sudden but all-too predictable charge, Alice slammed her head into Straizo’s gut hard enough to lift the man off his feet and send him rolling backwards. Standing quickly, Alice grabbed the large stew pot that she hadn’t yet started washing, snagged the heavy stirring spoon she’d purchased for just this sort of occasion with her elastic veins, slammed the pot down over Straizo’s head while the man was still disoriented, and then battered the outside of the stew pot with the wooden spoon like she was aiming to wake the dead.

Having earlier detached her eardrums as a precaution against just this sort of thing, Alice was still able to feel the sonorous vibrations through her hands and wrist. Of course, for Straizo it must have been like sticking his head into a church bell when the clock struck noon, and as she crouched to keep pace with his staggering, faltering steps, Alice smirked slightly.

“You don’t learn quickly, do you?” she asked; the question was basically rhetorical at this point, since even though she’d reattached her eardrums, his would still be ringing from the sheer barrage of sound he’d just been subjected to.

“Anything troubling you, sister dear?”

“Just throwing out some trash,” she said, smiling up at Dio as he strode over to her.

Her brother looked down, eyes clearly taking in the crumpled form of Straizo at their feet, and grinned as their eyes met once again. A wink of his right eye told her that their impending conversation, truthful as it very well was, was also meant for Straizo’s recovering ears.

“I think it’s time we departed from this little hotel, sister dear.”

“Oh?” she asked, tilting her head to the right so he’d know she’d gotten the message. “Where did you have in mind, brother?”

“A small town called Wind Knights Lot should be quite suited to us,” he said, smiling in that “I’m planning something devious” way he had. “Such a small town, with such a large graveyard.”

“Zombies, Dio? How scandalous,” she said, smirking as she hammed it up for Straizo’s benefit; Dio laughed. “Will I get to make them dance?” she asked, the thought of reenacting the “Thriller” music bringing a somewhat wider smile to her face; she couldn’t really share the joke itself without a lot of background that her brother didn’t have, but the general idea of such was clearly amusing enough in itself.

“Anything you wish, my sweet sister.”

The pair of them had a laugh at Straizo’s expense as they left, both knowing that a certain someone would be far more interested in reporting to Zeppeli and his ilk than in continuing to harass the pair of them, and since he didn’t seem the type to destroy things out of spite – not anything that belonged to humans, at least – Alice turned her attention to what still needed to be done. She’d already informed the staff of her plans to depart, but until this present moment she hadn’t had a concrete time and date of departure to tell them.

Such was, of course, no longer a problem.

 

=PB=

Once they had said their farewells, temporary as they were to be, to those who served under them, he and his sweet sister made their way swiftly to Wind Knights Lot. Capable of running many times faster than even the swiftest of horses, he and his dear Alice were soon safely ensconced within the tiny burg. They did indeed pay a visit to the graveyard, but unlike those Hamon-using fools would have been led to think, he and his sweet sister would not be bringing the lot of them back to glorious unlife.

The town itself was to become their weapon, not the flesh-hungering servants they could raise from the grave.

In the end, however, they did end up summoning the knights Bruford the Black and Tarkus, simply to aid dear Alice with her work in the blacksmith’s forge. She employed them in collecting iron scraps from around the town when the sun had vanished from the sky, and in aiding her to manipulate the wrought-iron bars that she had forged when they had been properly cooled.

They were a rather ingenious creation: three five-centimeter spines formed the points of an equilateral triangle, all of them balanced by smaller, stabilizing struts that were perhaps a quarter of the length of the spines. The blackened iron would prove invisible in the darkness to feeble human eyesight, and the danger would be all the greater for it, for no matter if they were kicked aside, they would be a deadly danger wherever they landed. His sweet sister had also created long coils of fire-blackened wire, currently lying idle on the table, but soon to be strung at neck-height across the narrower alleyways within this little town.

As the two pairs of them had been preparing their tools for the battle that Zeppeli and his fellow fools were soon to bring to them, Dio couldn’t help but smile as he watched his sweet sister ingratiate herself with the people of the small town. Humans were so easily manipulated: just feed them dainties, speak softly to them, and they would all but eat out of one’s hands. She had employed some of the local children as spies, sending them to the edges of the town with orders to report any sightings of men fitting the descriptions the townspeople had been given.

Or else, of those traveling in the company of the men described to them.

Of course, during those times when she was not engaged in preparing their arsenal for facing those fools who would dare to challenge their dominion, his dear Alice made deeper forays into the castle. That was what had led the pair of them to a rather interesting discovery.

“I’d have never believed that something like this would be present here,” he said, watching as the mere throw of a lever opened a secret passageway into the very mountain itself.

“Well, fortifications like these tend to be built with an eye to escaping from sieges,” his sweet sister said, right hand cupping her chin as she looked down the winding tunnel that descended out of even their sight. “This tunnel probably ends down at the base of the cliffs. Once we make it back to the castle, we’ll be able to escape through this before Zeppeli and his people – provided there are any left – can corner us here.”

“Good thinking, sister dear,” he said, grinning as he continued to look deeply into the tunnel, then returning his attention to his sweet sister as she re-engaged the lever that caused the tunnel to be hidden away again.

Looking back at the wall, Dio grinned as he saw the almost-perfectly concealed seams in the stonework that had clearly led his dear Alice to investigate this place in particular. No one but another vampire would have been able to spot them; which meant that any of those fools who survived the death-trap he and his sweet sister were going to make of Wind Knights Lot, they would be stymied by the last of the castle’s defenses.

 

=PB=

Hearing Mr. Zeppeli as he spoke with a man named Straizo, Jonathan wondered if the man had truly given up his animosity towards Alice and Dio, or if such had merely been a façade; all a part of his efforts to pass on his teachings. It was clear from the way Straizo was speaking that he and Alice had met, and just as clear as that was the fact that their meeting had not been a happy one.

“The pair of them spoke of taking the town of Wind Knights Lot?” Mr. Zeppeli repeated, his eyes narrowing in clear contemplation.

“You must have heard wrong!” he exclaimed, no longer able to hold himself back. “They probably wish to avoid any damage to their hotel after Straizo attacked them,” he folded his arms, turning a disapproving frown upon the man in question. “You had attacked Alice twice, and all she did was to throw you out.”

“Even if your siblings have been able to maintain their human kindness, as you insist upon believing so steadfastly, it’s merely a matter of time before the mask’s evil eats away at them,” Mr. Zeppeli said, his expression not changing one bit; he still didn’t look one whit less determined. “They must be destroyed before that is allowed to happen.”

“Mr. Zeppeli…”

Looking away from the cold stares of the men all around him – those who would see Dio and Alice die for circumstances entirely beyond their control – Jonathan could only hope that he would be able to get to them in time to warn his siblings about how many more of Mr. Zeppeli’s fellow Hamon users had made the journey into England. Gathering himself as best as he could manage, Jonathan boarded the carriage with Mr. Zeppeli, Straizo, and his partner Dire. They would soon be making for the town of Wind Knights Lot.

And, with any luck, he would soon be able to speak face-to-face with his dear siblings once more.

Their journey was filled with muttered conversations between Mr. Zeppeli and his fellow Hamon users, but Jonathan didn’t have the heart to keep arguing his case when it seemed like every one of them was against him. He knew that he was right – that Dio and Alice were not the kind of dangerous, near-mindless vampires that Mr. Zeppeli had said he had encountered before – but having everyone else undercutting every argument he made in favor of his siblings, particularly in the gentle way that even Straizo spoke, had quickly become exhausting. Truly, it would have almost felt better if they had been more argumentative.

At the very least, he would have felt better about defending them more vigorously.

The tunnel that stood as the entrance to Wind Knights Lot soon loomed before them, and Jonathan could not help but feel time closing in like a noose around his neck. Traveling with Mr. Zeppeli and his fellows, it was more than clear at this point, would not be at all conducive to his desire to meet up with Dio and Alice again. He would, therefore, have to separate from them at some point.

It was the matter of when that would provide the difficulty at present.

When they departed from the carriage, Jonathan found that it was not because the four of them had arrived in the town itself, but because there had been a young lad following them from the side of the road. However, before Mr. Zeppeli could say even two words to him, he turned and ran for a rope tied up at the top of a small rise. Using a rather ingenious rope-system, the lad flung himself almost completely across the river. He landed only a short distance from the opposite bank, but seemed to have dropped the small, white-wrapped bundle he’d been carrying into the river, if the way he attempted to grab at something in the water was any indication.

“Come Dire, Straizo,” Mr. Zeppeli said, bending down over the river. “That boy seems to have been waiting for us.”

“Yes,” Dire muttered, moving to stand beside Mr. Zeppeli on his right, as Straizo did the same on his left. “We should follow him. He might be able to lead us to those vampires before it begins getting dark.”

While the three of them made to cross the river with their Hamon, Jonathan found himself staying well back from them. He’d little doubt that they meant to launch as direct an assault on Dio and Alice as they could manage, and he’d no desire to be a party to that. Just before he could turn his path to intersect with what looked to be the main road of the town, however, Jonathan caught sight of a strange, while-cloaked figure beckoning to him.

“Young sir, would I be correct in surmising that you are the man by the name of Jonathan Joestar?” the figure’s voice, when he was given the opportunity to hear it, had qualities of both youth and nobility; Jonathan wondered just who in such a small town would have had reason to know his name.

Only for a moment, however, since there was a rather simple explanation for that kind of knowledge.

“Yes,” he said, turning eagerly to meet the gaze of whomever it was that had come to his aid in this moment of trial. “May I ask, sir, did my siblings mention me to you?”

A gentle smile spread across the man’s noble face. “My liege Lord and Lady do indeed go by those names, young sir. Come; they desire your presence at the castle.”

“Of course,” he nodded, eager to be able to speak to the pair of them again. “It’s been so long.”

“Of course,” the man said, his smile not having left his face once since the pair of them had met up. “They two seem quite eager to speak with you once more, young sir.”

A feeling of warmth spread through him, but was chilled slightly when Jonathan recalled that the only interactions Dio and Alice had had with Mr. Zeppeli was the Italian Hamon user attempting to murder the pair of them. What would they think, once they learned that he was studying the very thing that had hurt them so much, under the very man who was so hell-bent on murdering the pair of them. What would Dio think?

Steeling himself as he was led to the castle upon the high cliffs that bordered the small town, Jonathan sighed softly; he could only hope that Alice would be able to make Dio understand his reasons.

 

=PB=

In the end, they were not able to find the young lad who had seemed to be waiting for them. However, finding the very vampires they had been pursuing for so long was a much greater boon.

“So, you finally show your faces again,” he said, glaring up at the cloaked forms of the vampires standing upon a high spire of rock just in front of them; hoods thrown back, and inhuman crimson eyes staring down with arrogant amusement. “To the stone mask that consumed your souls, I will say only this: tonight, I break you!” the female vampire turned to face the male, and after a moment, the pair of them began laughing.

“Yes,” the female said, bright white cloak seeming to glow from the reflected moonlight; a stark contrast to the male’s dark-blue, feather embellished cloak. “Well, best of luck with that.”

“Indeed,” the male said. “However if you wish to survive this night, charlatan, I, Dio, would suggest that you leave.”

“The only way the three of us are going to be leaving, is when the pair of you have been reduced to drifting ash!” he shouted up at them.

The feel of his own hat being knocked free from his head drew William’s attention, and he looked back to see a small rock – naught more than a pebble, truly – rolling just on the brim of his hat, only a moment before falling to rest inside the garment itself. Narrowing his eyes, William gathered his Hamon.

“Come down here and fight, cowards!” Dire challenged.

“Why don’t you come up here and make us, fools?!” the male vampire – the pair of them had no more right to human names; as he had told their mother, Dio and Alice Brando had died the very moment that the stone mask had done its hideous work – sneered, raising his chin haughtily.

Leaping to the top of the spire, William was hardly surprised to see the pair of them leap in opposite directions to escape. For all their infernal abilities, vampires lacked the courage of even the least of humanity. Truly, they were nothing more than beasts.

 

=PB=

When she gave the signal, Alice had been more than ready to make for the town; really, if she’d had to listen to much more of Zeppeli’s idiotic grandstanding, she’d have jumped down to personally give the man a good, hard kick in the balls. Which would have just led to all kinds of problems, so it was just as well that she didn’t. Waving and winking at Dio as the pair of them parted to make their way inward from opposite sides of the small town, Alice leaped easily up to the rooftops so that she would be better able to see the lay of the land.

And also, so that if any of the Three Stooges were in the area, she’d be in a much better position to bait them.

In the end, it ended up being the blond Vegeta-looking guy who spotted her and took chase. Dropping into a narrow alleyway – strung with decapitating wires at neck-height – Alice turned around just in time to catch the rather interesting sight of the man falling slowly through the air after what seemed to have been a fairly high jump.

“You seem taken aback, vampire,” the blond said, his tone sounding about as arrogantly pig-headed as Zeppeli’s; really, the pair of them must’ve gotten along like a house on fire. “My extensive training in Hamon allows me to float on even the slightest of air-currents.”

“That’s not floating, it’s falling with style,” she deadpanned, watching with a detached sort of curiosity as Mr. Flattop shaped himself into a human-projectile and fell back to the earth with the sheer speed of a drifting feather.

Dodging swiftly out of the way, she positioned herself just beneath the man as he was about to pass over her head, then kicked suddenly upward. Flattop managed to land on his feet after she’d tagged him, but it was a near thing. Besides, watching him scramble to get back upright was worth the price of admission.

“No vampire has ever managed to defeat my Thunder-Split attack!” Flattop exclaimed, seeming shocked at the mere concept of dodging.

“You seriously called it that?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I have been perfecting that technique of mine for decades!” Flattop shouted, clearly becoming incensed.

Well, there was only one real way to respond to that. “I just made mine up three seconds ago,” she said, cheerfully holding up the indicated number of fingers. “But really, you’re leaving yourself a really big vulnerability when you use that technique of yours.”

“What is that supposed to mean, vampire?!”

“It means flying-uppercut to the dick, genius,” she deadpanned, giving Flattop a look that would have withered grass. “Anyway, this is your last chance: if you leave town, I won’t pursue. You’ll have the chance to go home, wherever home happens to be for you.”

“You think I would so easily allow you to go on spreading your evil, vampire?!”

“Do you see any evil spreading, you pig-headed jackass?” she demanded, left hand going almost reflexively to her hip on the same side.

It was pretty damn obvious that Flattop was going to insist on killing himself for some arbitrary grudge he had against either her and Dio, or more likely vampires in general, so Alice wasn’t going to let herself feel bad about that. Turning and dashing off down the alleyway, she ducked under the line of matte-black wire, listening for the tell-tale squelch of Flattop’s head coming off. Twisting around as she heard that very sound, she watched Flattop’s head separate from the remains of his severed neck.

Sighing in annoyance, Alice gathered up the two pieces and hopped back up onto the rooftops; she just had to find a place to stash Flattop where the kids wouldn’t end up getting an eyeful of him before someone could bury him properly, and then she could meet up with Dio again. Or deal with Straizo; whichever came first.

 

=PB=

The infuriating sight of one of the brazen vampires that had lured him and his into this almost-impassible labyrinth of a town drove William almost to distraction from sheer fury, but he was more than aware by this time that such was exactly what the vampires who had drawn him and his into this death-trap of a town wanted. Cunning beasts that they were, they had not resorted to the use of easily dispatched zombies, but had instead turned the very environs of the town itself into a maze of deadly traps. The spines had been the first danger he had been forced to brave, and while he had been able to use his Hamon-senses to detect them, the fact that he had been made to do such merely in order to survive the journey through the town itself was rather troublesome.

It seemed that, while their human hearts and souls had been consumed by the stone mask, their minds had not.

Chapter Text

Mores the pity, William reflected, continuing on his way through the town. It was clear, now, how the pair of them had been able to so calculatedly deceive Jonathan Joestar and even the woman who had given life to the children who had died under the wicked influence of the stone mask. Dio and Alice Brando; both of them merely nineteen years of age, he mused, using his Hamon-senses to detect and then slam aside a field of those same, fiendish spines that he had been encountering all throughout the night.

It was becoming clear that this pair of vampires were more dangerous than any others he had ever been forced to face. Still, the reason for such a danger was almost a thing to be celebrated: the pair of them had maintained some core of their humanity, even if it was only the least. It was enough to make him wonder if these particular vampires had been created with a greater purpose in mind.

It was not a thought that he’d ever entertained, but this pair were nothing like any of the other, more bestial vampires he had encountered before.

Perhaps there is something more to this, then. These vampires, after all, still possessed the foresight not to involve zombies in a battle against those who could wield the power of Hamon. It also appeared that none of the folk within the town had been harmed; the vampires he was facing must have, therefore, been used to striking with precision. They must have been made to understand that select humans were off-limits to them.

He did not relish the thought that there might have been a human willing to make use of the wicked power of the stone mask, yet there seemed to be little else that would explain all that he had seen during the time he had spent training Jonathan Joestar in the ways of Hamon.

It even made a terrible sort of sense: the Brando woman had clearly been mourning her lost children, but the Joestar man had not been nearly so demonstrative. And, while he knew that these British were not quite so open as his own people, the names were plain enough: Dio and Alice Brando, as opposed to Jonathan Joestar. Perhaps, much as he despised the merest consideration, the elder Joestar had even taken them in for just such a purpose.

In fact, the further he thought upon the matter, gruesome as it was, the more it began to assemble into a horrible whole: even a small family would struggle to make ends meet with only a mother to head them, and the Brando family was clearly not the exception to that rule. With the gratitude that they would naturally have felt for their benefactor, it would have been all too simple for the elder Joestar to separate them from their mother and then to raise them as he saw fit. The man had clearly encouraged their natural tenacity and inventiveness, since even as beasts the pair of them had managed to outwit him and his fellow monks.

The elder Joestar must have raised them to have no close bonds to humanity; a cold, cruel upbringing that had shaped them pair of them into the creatures he had glimpsed those times when they had clashed. For a moment he wondered about Jonathan’s part in it, but it was more than clear that the younger Joestar was genuine in his feelings for the creatures he still thought of as his siblings; truly, the boy was far too pure for that kind of deception in any case. It was plain now: just as the young Brando twins had about come of age – as Alice was flowering into womanhood, and Dio had nearly become a man – the elder Joestar had masked them, transforming them into his undead hounds!

There’s clearly nothing more for me to find here, William mused; merely the wires and spikes that had bedeviled him, and the pair of vampires that had acted to lure him in. And they, in the end, were not the true problem. No, though the souls of Dio and Alice Brando had been sacrificed to the stone mask, it was far more important to deal with their master – the man who was cruel enough to shape children into beasts for his own gain – than to end the last embers of the Brando twins.

The pair of them would doubtless come to the aid of their master; he could lay those unfortunate children to rest once he had dealt with George Joestar.

 

=PB=

Looking down upon the behatted charlatan who had been so foolish as to challenge the twin lords of London, Dio wondered just what the fool was at. He’d gone up to the rooftops, meaning to find either of those two remaining annoyances – he still grinned at the memory of his sweet sister carrying the headless corpse of one of them – or else to throw their remains into the nearby lake for the fish to gnaw on, but that fool’s means of dealing with the tools his dear Alice had created was more than troublesome. Hopping from one rooftop to the next, following the path that the fool Zeppeli was making use of to leave Wind Knights Lot, Dio narrowed his eyes as he attempted to guess which path the annoying man would take next.

“Dio Brando.”

Hmm? He turned, looking down at the man who was even then staring up at him. “Oh my, now whatever could you want with me, charlatan?”

“I know your secret now,” the annoying man said, his face taking on an actual expression of pity; grinding his teeth behind his lips, Dio licked a fang to calm himself.

“Oh, do tell,” he sneered; truly, Alice would tell him off for losing his temper before a lowly human such as this.

“There would be no point,” the charlatan said, shaking his head in what was clearly meant to be some kind of conciliatory gesture. “However, know this: I will be dealing with your master soon. You may rest assured of that.”

A snarl of pure fury escaped from him before he could tamp down the rage building in him. That bastard dares to suggest that I, Dio Brando, would answer to anyone?! By the time he’d managed to tame the crimson fury raging through him, the charlatan had long since vanished. Grinding his teeth, Dio set off in the last direction he’d seen his sweet sister heading in. Doubtless, he would need her clever brain if he was going to be able to devise how to properly exact his revenge for the insult he had just been offered.

 

=PB=

Straizo didn’t quite seem to know how to react to having someone French-kiss him during battle, and while it was really funny feeling him squirm in her grip, Alice was fully aware that – once he regained his composure – he was inevitably going to attack her with those punchsplosions he and Zeppeli seemed to favor. So, shoving the two of them apart, Alice leaped lightly to the opposite side of the square. This was one of the places that she and Dio hadn’t actually been able to fully lay with traps; her head-hunter wires were too short to be strung across the wide gaps, and those same gaps let in too much light for even the caltrops’ matte-black to hide them.

That only left their respective powers and abilities to clash against each other, and thus far her own vampiric speed and agility were telling over him; not to mention the things that she, personally, could bring to a fight.

“Has anyone ever told you that you have a lovely arse?” she teased, grabbing a firm left buttock as she closed with Straizo again.

He’d probably claim he’d squeaked in a very manly fashion, if he ever proved willing to talk about the whole thing in the first place.

“Straizo!”

The sound of Zeppeli’s voice drew her attention, and Alice turned to catch sight of the man as he made his own way into the square.

“Well, good evenin’, Zep,” she said, waving laconically at him.

“Alice Brando,” he said, turning to look at her with what seemed to be pity. “I am terribly sorry about what happened to you. Mi dispiace veramente, sfortunato signorina.

Va bene, tagliagole,” she deadpanned, turning to head back up onto the rooftops.

It would have been a bit too much trouble to deal with two of them, particularly when she couldn’t use any of the tools she had purpose-built for just this situation. However, Alice could still feel his eyes on her back until she passed out of sight. Another set of footsteps, these ones far swifter and more silent than any of the ones she’d heard before, let her know just who it was coming up behind her. The feeling of Dio landing on her back caused her to raise an eyebrow, knowing that the only reason her brother would do something like that was if he felt the needed the extra support.

“You’re tense as a whipcord, Dio. What happened?” she muttered, loudly enough that she could be certain her brother would hear her; whether he was in a mood to answer was another story, of course.

In the end, all he actually did was bury his nose in her hair and inhale deeply through it. Sighing softly, knowing she wasn’t going to get any real answers out of him until they could have a real talk back at the castle, Alice continued on her way. The sight of Bruford, standing up on the parapet with his right arm raised in salute, let her know that there was something of note inside the castle itself. Wondering for a moment what it could be, since neither Tarkus nor Bruford would have allowed anything in there if it could pose any kind of a danger to the pair of them, Alice put the thought out of her mind.

She could find out what was waiting for them later.

“It pleases me greatly to see your safe return, my Lord and Lady,” the resurrected knight said, stepping quickly aside as she jumped up onto the parapet.

Dio had jumped off just before the pair of them came within range of even a zombie’s eyesight, but as she hadn’t been given a reason to think he wouldn’t, Alice didn’t pay much attention to it.

“So, what news while we were away, Sir Bruford?”

“Aye, milady, there is news,” he smiled calmly. “And good, at that: your brother, Jonathan Joestar, has been found. I brought him to this castle as per your instructions, my good Lord and Lady.”

“I thank you for your services, good sir,” she said, since Dio still seemed to be composing himself after whatever had happened to rile him up.

“Of course, milady.”

The three of them made their way back into the castle, and she watched out of the corner of her right eye as Dio visibly composed himself. Clearly, this was something he wanted to keep between the pair of them. Still, not like that wasn’t usually the case.

 

=PB=

“Good morning, Jojo,” he said, smiling widely for their puppy of an adopted brother.

He would have words with his sweet sister, and the pair of them would be able to plot a proper revenge on that behatted charlatan, but it was a simple fact that all puppies needed proper care and attention if they were to accept their training.

“Dio, Alice,” Jojo called happily, running up to embrace them. “I’m so glad the two of you are well!”

“Of course, Jojo,” he said, reaching out to gently stroke Jojo’s head; puppies enjoyed a bit of coddling, after all. “No matter if we must run to the very ends of the Earth, we shall always find our way back to you, Jojo.”

“I’m glad,” Jojo said, smiling happily as he closed his eyes amid the circle of their arms. “I’d never wish for any harm to come upon you.”

Chuckling deep in his throat, even as he stood alongside his sweet sister and their puppy of an adopted brother, Dio allowed himself to revel in this victory. He’d never doubted his sweet sister’s words, of course, but to see that Jojo was willingly giving himself to them was one of the sweetest of the many victories he’d thus tasted. It was almost enough to let him forget the bitter taste of that charlatan’s pity.

However, he was not about to let such a thing be forgotten so easily.

“How have you been lately, Jonathan?” his dear Alice asked, once the three of them had separated from their embrace.

“Well enough,” Jojo said, his earlier cheer and enthusiasm seeming to ebb a bit too swiftly. “However, while I hope that you will not take it amiss, I feel that I should tell you both of something.”

He laughed gently; doubtless, Jojo would tell them some simple thing that he’d managed to blow completely out of proportion. “What would that be, Jojo?” he grinned, just wide enough to show the very edges of his fangs. “Are you and Erina perhaps planning to elope?”

Jojo’s cheeks flamed adorably. “No! Nothing like that,” he exclaimed, clearly trying not to splutter in that way he did when either he or his dear Alice had managed to fluster him; such a common occurrence, and yet it had not lost one whit of its novelty. “The truth is, I have been learning the art of Hamon, under the tutelage of… Of Mr. Zeppeli.”

“Well, I suppose knowing about that kind of thing could prove to be useful,” his sweet sister said before he, Dio, could say a single word on the matter. “Still, I don’t know if I quite approve of you training with him.” The slight bulge of the folding fan his sweet sister habitually carried drew his attention to her pocket on that side. “I think I might just have to punish you,” his dear Alice said, waving the neatly-folded fan now in her right hand. “Naught, naughty, Jonathan.”

The light rap his sweet sister gave Jojo’s nose was just the right strength to gently correct their little puppy; Jojo laughed, and he joined in, tapping Jojo’s nose with the same force he’d seen his dear Alice using.

“Naughty, naughty, Jojo.”

“Wait,” their adorable adopted brother tried to speak through his laughter; it was such an amusing sight. “Stop. Have mercy!” Nearly doubled over with laughter as he backed away from the pair of them, Jojo managed to land himself sprawled in the throne that he, Dio, had earlier claimed for his own.

“Oh dear, it seems you’ve landed in a rather unfortunate location, Jojo,” he said, raising his hands and wiggling his fingers menacingly. “I’m afraid you’ve just called down further punishment upon yourself.”

“Dio, don’t!” Jojo exclaimed, bursting anew into helpless laughter as he, Dio, went to work on him; he knew that Jojo’s sides were the most sensitive part of their adopted brother’s body, and so that was where he focused his attack. Grinning down at Jojo as their puppy writhed, laughing, in the throne that he, Dio, had claimed for his own, he reflected with some amusement upon what his sweet sister had shared with him when they were merely children.

Apparently, it was actually possible to kill someone by such an innocuous method as this one; a death by suffocation that would appear merely to be a child’s game carried a bit too far. It was a rather intriguing thought, that something so seemingly harmless could be so utterly deadly if done to excess, but when he’d observed the effects on Jojo – both now and during those other times when he’d used the technique – he’d no reason to doubt that such would have indeed proved to be the case were he to carry such an assault to its ultimate conclusion.

“Beg for mercy, Jojo,” he said, grinning down at their adorable puppy as he his inarticulate flailing dragged his head inevitably towards the floor.

“Have mercy, Dio!” Jojo finally managed, through gales of helpless laughter.

“There’s a good boy,” he said, grinning down at their adorable puppy.

He’d slid all the way down to the floor by the time that he, Dio, had seen fit to end his chastisement, and tears were streaming from his eyes. Jojo lay there for a few moments more, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, before their puppy got back to his feet. He was still laughing, though for obvious reasons it was more of a subdued chuckle than the sustained explosion of mirth it had previously been.

“Thank you for your forbearance and understanding,” Jojo said, once he’d managed to regain his composure and get back to his feet. “Both of you.”

“Of course, Jojo,” he said, smiling. “Since you look to be here for a rather long time, I would suggest that you avail yourself of the comforts of this castle. You’ll find that the bedrooms are quite comfortable. You’ll know which one is ours, of course.”

“Of course,” Jojo said, smiling softly. “I don’t suppose I would be welcome in Mr. Zeppeli’s company right at the moment.”

 

=PB=

Bidding his dear, strange siblings good night, Jonathan made his way up to the higher levels of the castle. Pausing for a moment as he saw Dio following Alice into what seemed to be her room within the castle, he wondered for a moment just what their brother could have been at. Perhaps he simply intends to bid her a more personal good-night, Jonathan mused, trying in vain to stifle a yawn that had crept up on him all unawares. Finding a bedroom that seemed to be in rather good condition – not even a speck of dust, in spite of the signs of clear disuse over the castle as a whole – Jonathan let himself in.

Even the bed had been made up; it brought a smile to his face, seeing the consideration that his siblings still showed for him, even after all that the pair of them had been through.

Settling himself down atop the bed, Jonathan just managed to stifle another yawn as he climbed under the covers. He’d have all the time he needed to catch up with Dio and Alice, and to persuade them to return home.

 

=PB=

“Dio, I swear, you’ve got knots from here to next Tuesday,” his sweet sister said, kneading his shoulders with her lovely, strong hands; hands that were already beginning to vibrate in that way that served to relax him so well. “I’ve waited this long, so tell: what’s got you so riled?”

“It might help me to relax if you sang a bit, sister dear,” he said, leaning his head back and resting his left cheek against her knee on that side.

When she chuckled softly, a sound like a gentle sigh seeming to force itself out alongside, Dio smiled.

“You stripped your love down to the wire; fires shinin’ cold alone outside. You stripped it right down to the wire; but I see you behind those tired eyes…

Allowing himself to relax under the ministrations of his sweet sister’s hands, Dio closed his eyes and allowed her song to wash over him. He did not think that she would have quite understood his true reason for wanting revenge on that behatted charlatan, since his sweet sister was a thoroughly practical person and gave little enough thought to how others saw her so long as they weren’t important to what she wished to get out of life. However, it was a simple fact that that charlatan was a danger to the pair of them the longer he remained at large.

If nothing else, his dear Alice would understand the need to properly redress a threat.

 

=PB=

“You think it was their father who did this to them?”

“Adopted, but yes,” he said, reading the horrified disbelief in every line of Straizo’s youthful-seeming face. “Everything I have seen, thus far, supports my supposition that Dio and Alice Brando had been taken in by George Joestar for the sole purpose of becoming his vampire servants.”

“I’d not have thought anyone human capable of such a thing,” Straizo said, fists clenched with the strength of his fury. “No one who would do something such as that could possibly deserve mercy.”

“Yes,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “Jonathan Joestar must have been their sole companion, during the years that his father was shaping them.”

He hated the fact of it, both that he’d chanced across a man more monstrous than many vampires, and also that he’d been too late to save the Brando twins from their cruel fate. All that was left now was to release them from it. And also, to see that George Joestar was punished for his transgressions; though it would need to be the laws of humanity that did so, as he and Straizo were forbidden by the oaths they’d taken to Master Tonpetty from directly interceding in human affairs.

Still, a man such as George Joestar was not likely to have much concern for human laws in any case.

 

=PB=

Waking with a sense of displacement, almost as though he were a child again and Dio had contrived to carry him down to the salon while he slept, Jonathan sat up with a start. The events of the previous day came back to him then, bringing a reflective smile to his face as he climbed up and out of the luxurious bed he’d been given for the night. The sound of someone knocking at his door drew his attention before Jonathan could gather up the clothes that he’d shed for the night – not thinking that he would be away overnight, he hadn’t thought to bring any change of clothes or toiletries with him – and thus make some kind of effort at being presentable.

“Good morning, Jojo,” Dio said, grinning widely as he swanned in.

“Dio! I’m hardly decent!” he exclaimed, eyes snapping to his brother; Dio was completely bereft of any clothing above the waist, and Jonathan felt his cheeks flaming. “And neither are you!”

“I’d say you’re a fair sight more than decent, Jojo.”

Yelping as he leapt away from the grinning form of his brother that was suddenly right beside him, Jonathan felt his cheeks heating all the stronger as he saw the look on Dio’s face. “You’re a shameless man, Dio Brando.”

Naturally, Dio’s only response to such a statement was laughter.

“All right, that’s enough out of you, brother dear,” Alice said, chivvying Dio out of the room with a gentle smile. “Let’s not keep Jonathan from breakfast all day, shall we?”

Calling his thanks to Alice as she left with Dio, both for her assistance in helping to handle their odd brother, and for her discretion in doing so, Jonathan went to clean himself up and get ready for breakfast as well as he could manage under such odd circumstances. Once he’d managed to freshen himself up as best he could, Jonathan made his way back down into the main rooms of the castle.

The scent of fresh-cooked bacon was an enticing one, and Jonathan followed it down to what turned out to be a well-appointed dining room. The sight of Alice, calmly dishing out food for the three of them, brought the smile he’d previously been wearing right back to his face. There was no chance that Mr. Zeppeli could be right about them: Dio and Alice still had human hearts beating inside their vampire bodies.

When he occasioned to speak with Mr. Zeppeli again, he would tell the man just that.

“How were the pair of you planning to return home?” he asked, after a sip of wonderfully chilled apple juice. “Father and your mother have been quite worried about you both,” he continued, glancing away from their interested gazes. “And, so have I, I must confess.”

Chapter Text

“Even you, Jojo?” he echoed, smirking at their puppy as he attempted to compose himself, still blushing slightly.

“We actually ran all the way out here, so Zeppeli and those two guys with him wouldn’t be able to track any kind of vehicle,” his sweet sister said, pausing for a moment to nibble delicately at a sausage-link. “I suppose we could take a carriage back, since we’d be traveling with you.”

She’d always eaten with gusto before, but once the stone mask had granted them their new, eternal bodies, eating human food had become more of an amusement than anything else. His dear Alice had described it as something like a human eating nothing but chocolate: a lovely treat if one enjoyed it, but with little to no true value as a food. Their nourishment now consisted of the blood of beasts, and the more unsavory types of humans.

Though that second part wasn’t for Jojo to know, of course.

“It would probably be best if we begun our return journey today, as soon as possible,” Jojo said, once he’d finished his meal. “Father and your mother will be so pleased to see the pair of you again.”

“I suppose we could be persuaded to leave this little castle of ours,” he said, smiling languidly at the way Jojo’s entire face lit up with pleasure; their puppy was so easily pleased.

“We’d best acquire that carriage quickly, then,” his sweet sister said, rising from her seat at the table. “Try not to have too much fun while I’m away, brother dear.”

Laughing softly as his sweet sister left to fetch them a carriage so that they could return to the home they shared with Jojo – as well as his blinkered father, and their own rather foolish mother – he turned to smile at their adorable puppy of a brother.

“Well, Jojo, what ever shall we do with the time we have alone together?”

Jojo flushed deeply; Dio laughed in warm triumph, truly this was the greatest victory he’d ever had the chance to attain. Even the death of his and his dear Alice’s worthless father was not such a coup as knowing that Jojo was – willingly and completely – theirs for the asking. Even Erina, love her though Jojo truly might, did not hold nearly the kind of power over him that they two did.

It was a truly delectable thing.

 

=PB=

Explaining the particulars of their situation to Tarkus and Bruford took some time, though that was mostly due to Tarkus’ reluctance to part with her – he’d developed something of an obsessive respect for her after she’d yanked him up off the ground and held him aloft on his back to end the fight he’d insisted on before he’d obey her dictates to be discreet in their operations in and around the town; but seriously, if he was going to fight like a tank, it really was best that he was made fully aware of any tank’s most glaring weakness – than to anything that Bruford said. The smaller of their resurrected knights actually seemed pleased that she and Dio had managed to accomplish their goal in such a speedy manner. It was a nice thing to notice, but then Bruford had seemed to be the kinder of their knights.

Particularly when one compared him to Tarkus’ bluntness and near-obsession with fighting in pretty much all of its forms.

“Miss Alice!”

“Good morning, Poco,” she said, smiling down at the boy that had done such good work for them for the small price of a tray’s worth of apple tarts. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been doing really well, Miss Alice,” the little boy said, continuing to smile as he tagged along with her en route to their ultimate destination. “But sis wasn’t very happy when I brought home all of those apple tarts you gave me,” Poco continued, his smile turning conspiratorial as he took out a napkin-wrapped tart from his pouch.

“Well then, she’s probably going to be happy to see the back of me, then,” she said, laughing softly, even though she knew that Poco wasn’t going to be pleased to hear this particular bit of news.

“What?! You mean you’re leaving, Miss Alice?” the stricken expression on the little boy’s face was about what she had expected, and she turned a gentle smile on him to be as reassuring as she could under the circumstances.

“Dio and I are actually heading back home,” she said, turning to look back down the path that she and Poco were following; they were making fairly good time.

If she and her brothers were lucky, they might just make it back to the Joestar estate in time for a late, late lunch, or at least an early dinner. Of course, that would be after at least a few days on the open road, she mused; it’d gotten a bit harder, what with her newfound powers and abilities, to remember just how damned slow every mode of travel currently available to her and hers was. She could have outraced cars on the freeway, Alice was certain, if either of those had been invented yet.

Sighing softly, amused and annoyed in roughly equal measures, Alice continued on her way to the carriage house she’d made brief note of when she and Dio had first taken up temporary residence in Wind Knights Lot.

“You mean, you didn’t come here to live with us, Miss Alice?” Poco asked, wearing that same, sad-eyed puppy look that couldn’t help but remind her of Jonathan.

“We actually came here, my brother and I, to escape from those men that I told you to be on the lookout for,” she said, glancing down at Poco as he slowed down slightly. “We didn’t really plan on staying after we’d driven them off, and now that they’re gone, we have the chance to go home. Really, think of how worried your family would be if you were chased away from home by dangerous people.”

It was a half-truth, really: if they’d wanted to risk the property-damage – which would have been a pretty sure thing, considering the destructive capabilities of their respective powers and abilities – she and Dio could have easily proven themselves to be just as dangerous as the three idiots who’d been pursuing them. Or rather, the two idiots that’d actually survived their meeting the previous night.

“I guess,” Poco said, looking down at the ground as the pair of them continued on their way. “I’m still gonna miss you, though,” he continued, hugging her left arm and looking back up at her as the carriage house began to come into view.

For her, at least; a human would have probably needed to come a lot closer before they began seeing anything besides the basic shape of the building in question. Really, she was starting to feel like Tobias: slowly but steadily forgetting basic human things after becoming something else. Still, while being trapped as a red-tailed hawk was about the farthest thing from becoming a vampire via the stone mask, the basic ideas were about the same.

She was steadily forgetting little things about being human.

“I think I might be able to convince my brothers to come back here, once we’ve all had a chance to settle in back home,” she said, not wanting to make any kind of promises, since there was ultimately no way of knowing whether something might come up to keep her away from this place. “Still, there’s a fair few things my brothers and I have to take care of, so it might be some time before you see us again,” she continued, since it was only right to give someone fair warning when you were going to be away for an indeterminate amount of time.

Particularly to young kids like Poco, since time seemed to weigh particularly heavily on them; she still remembered that much, at least.

Negotiating for the use of a carriage to travel back to the Joestar mansion was fairly easy, and the fee was reasonable for the time they would be needing it and the distance they would be traveling. After all, it wasn’t like they could just call home and ask for a ride, much as she would have preferred that kind of thing. But, either phones just hadn’t been invented yet, or they were still in the very early stages of development and were hence extremely uncommon.

Either way, it was simply one more convenience that she had had to do without.

Of course, now I’ll probably live to see them come into use, she mused, settling more comfortably into her seat next to Dio, listening with half an ear as he and Jonathan chatted about something or other. She couldn’t quite say that phones were going to come back into use, considering the fact that they probably hadn’t been invented in this day and age, but somehow it didn’t quite feel right to say phones would be coming into use, either.

Clearly, tenses got a bit wonky when you had memories of a previous future.

 

=PB=

Once they had all returned home, Jonathan didn’t bother to even attempt holding back the wide smile on his face. Father and Dio and Alice’s mother would be so pleased to see them again; even though he’d not been able to find a way of returning their human bodies, Jonathan knew beyond any possible doubt that his dear siblings had maintained their humanity. Truly, that was all that mattered.

Looking over at the hooded, cloaked forms of Dio and Alice, Jonathan smiled at the way even their means of shielding themselves from the sun reflected the differences in their character: Alice’s white cloak showed her lightheartedness, while Dio’s royal-blue, feather embellished cloak showed that, while he had a darker sensibility, he also enjoyed the finer things in life.

Announcing himself, Jonathan continued to smile as he watched Father and Mrs. Charlena Brando both smiled at them as Dio and Alice removed their hooded cloaks. Mrs. Brando was quick to embrace the pair of them, and Jonathan smiled as he caught the expression of pleased surprise on his brother’s face. It shamed him as a gentleman to admit it, but Dio had caught him flat-footed so many times that he rather enjoyed seeing his brother in the same position.

 

=PB=

When their dear mother had finished clucking over them, he and his sweet sister were left to the not entirely tender mercies of George Joestar. As the man began yet another one of his interminable lectures, this one on the importance of keeping their condition – the grand, immortal bodies that they had been granted by that marvelous stone mask – a secret from those who might seek to exploit them, or as in the case of that behatted charlatan to harm them, he, Dio rolled his eyes in the same manner that he’d seen his sweet sister do when she was exasperated with a person or a situation. The feel of his sweet sister’s slender fingers gently squeezing his own brought a small, contented smile to his face. Yes, the pair of them had been cornered by the senior Joestar and all but forced to hear him prattle on, but no one was forcing them to listen.

And, as his dear Alice had demonstrated on many an occasion, there was a distinction between the two.

“Quite a lot of hot air for a single human,” he said, once George Joestar had passed beyond the range of his feeble, human senses.

“Yes; well, he probably stores it up for occasions just like this,” his sweet sister said, an amused smirk stretching her lips. “Still, he has a heart warm as the sun,” she continued, still smiling amusedly at the world as a whole and George Joestar in particular.

“Yes; and a brain as soft as cheese,” he said, completing their usual joke.

He and his sweet sister shared a laugh, before the pair of them made their way to the separate rooms they had been given to use while they stayed within the confines of the Joestar estate. It was simply for appearance’s sake that they did such a thing, of course; not being limited by the paltry mores and limitations of humanity, they were also not required to pay them any attention. Still, his sweet sister had long ago taught him the utility of appearances.

And also, how appearances needn’t be at all similar to reality.

 

=PB=

After seeing the way that those two vampires had interacted with George Joestar, it had become clear that his first instinct – that these particular vampires had retained the least of their humanity, and hence were all the more dangerous for it – had been correct. And yet, he’d still made an error in his assumptions: George Joestar was very unlikely to have had anything to do with their transformation into the monstrous, clever beasts that they had become. Clearly, William would need to find out more about the pair of them if he was to eradicate them at last.

And he would; he would wipe every last trace of the stone mask’s evil from the world, including the creatures born of it.

I’d best speak to Jonathan Joestar; he’d know those beasts better than anyone, William reflected. No matter that he still insists upon thinking of them as his siblings. That was what made this new hunt of his so difficult: he could fully understand Jonathan Joestar’s desire to see only the good side of the vampires that had once been his beloved siblings. He himself had been almost mindless with betrayed horror when he had beheld the face of his father as the man had dissolved into ash under the sunlight.

He hadn’t wanted to believe what kind of a monster his own father had become under the influence of the stone mask, so he could perfectly understand Jonathan’s desire not to give up on those two vampires. It was yet another reason that the wickedness of the stone mask needed to be erased from the world: even the most pure of love could be corrupted by it. Leaving the grounds of the Joestar estate behind once more, William Zeppeli vowed that he would find out everything about who those two vampires had once been.

Once he had destroyed them, he could at last allow their family to properly mourn Dio and Alice Brando.

 

=PB=

The next morning, Jonathan woke up with a bright smile as he recalled the events of the past several days: Dio and Alice were both back where they belonged, and Father and their mother no longer needed to worry about how they were doing or what might be happening to them. Even though he would miss them while he was away at university, it was simply a pleasure knowing that the pair of them were safe at home.

Knowing that he’d helped them to return safely, even if there truly wasn’t a way to return them to being human, was still a comfort.

 

=PB=

Returning to their usual routine, in absence of any further attacks by either Straizo or Zeppeli, was a bit more complicated than it had previously been. Owing to the fact that the pair of them now jointly owned and managed a hotel, as well as having partnerships with several of the stores in that general vicinity, they were out of the house a fair bit more often than they’d been previously. Sure, George did offer to have a few of his people keep an eye on Caritas for them, but she and Dio had both agreed that they preferred to handle as much of their business affairs as they could personally.

George had actually seemed pleased to hear that, something the pair of them found rather interesting.

Now, however, having finished their studies for the day, she and Dio were free to make their trip into London’s Anderson Squire to see to the running of their hotel. And also to put in a personal appearance, which was about as important for conducting business in this day and age as the more practical aspects that they attended to. It was one of the more potentially annoying aspects of living in the age before telecommunications.

Comfortably ensconced behind her desk as she went over the current figures and those from the week they’d had to take off for Wind Knights Lot – it really had only been a week, despite feeling a fair bit longer – Alice sighed softly. It was good to be back.

 

=PB=

When he found himself facing Mr. Zeppeli once more, Jonathan didn’t know just what to do. He’d not been expecting to see the man again, after the pair of them had parted ways at Wind Knights Lot.

“Hello again, Jonathan Joestar,” the man said, making his way over to him once the courtyard he had been traversing was free of anyone else who might see the pair of them together.

“Mr. Zeppeli,” he said, wondering just what in the world the strange man could want with him.

He’d already made clear that he’d not betray his dear siblings, simply because Mr. Zeppeli thought that vampires in general were evil and needed to be removed from the world. He wondered, therefore, just what the man was at to seek him out in this manner.

“I was wondering if you would be willing to speak to me about your siblings,” the man said, all but coming before him with hat in hand.

Jonathan could not help but to be moved by the gesture. “Of course. I’d be glad to tell you about them. They truly are such kind people,” he felt his smile became more reflective as the mood stole over him. “Though they can be rather a trial, at times.”

 

=PB=

Listening to Jonathan Joestar as he spoke about the siblings he had lost to the stone mask, William found himself steadily coming to understand why the young man was so steadfast in his insistence that the vampires born from their corpses were one and the same. Dio sounded almost the same as he had been during the short encounter he had had with the vampire: self-assured, confidant, and rather boastful. He’d not expected the boy to have something of a trickster’s nature, but it seemed as though such a thing had been the cause of a great deal of heartache for both the Joestar and Brando families.

“You mean to tell me that you were the cause of your brother’s encounter with the mask?”

“It was an accident,” the young Joestar said in a small, miserable-sounding voice. “If I had only jumped backwards, or shouted- done anything besides attacking heedlessly like that… Dio was simply attempting to play a simple trick, and I…”

Wrapping his right arm around the young man’s shoulders as Jonathan Joestar’s composure failed him at last, William offered him a handkerchief and waited as the young man gathered himself and wiped the last of his tears.

“I’m sorry for what you were forced to endure, Jonathan,” he said, suspecting that the young man’s research into the stone mask that he had previously spoken about was the cause of such a reaction; he was not nearly so callous as to say such a thing, of course. “How did your brother react, after he had been transformed?”

“He seemed oddly pleased by it, after… After he’d returned home,” Jonathan said, looking away for a moment.

Clearly, the death of his brother weighed heavily on him; just as clearly, the presence of the vampire wearing Dio’s face was of no help in allowing him to properly move on with his life after such a tragedy. For the sake of the Joestar family, and what little remained of the Brando line, he would see those vampires destroyed. After all, if they were allowed to continue existing as vampires, it would only be a matter of time before the evil of the stone mask ate away at what remaining humanity they could claim.

Alice Brando had clearly been a clever and inventive young woman; he’d no doubt in his mind that the vampire now wearing her face had been the one ultimately responsible for the fiendish devices that he, Straizo, and the dearly departed Dire had encountered within the small town of Wind Knights Lot. He’d no desire to see what such a vampire could make if it were given years to its unnatural existence. Truly, inventiveness without the constraint of human morality would produce only the worst sorts of abominations.

“Might you know how your sister came to her own unfortunate encounter?” he asked gently, once Jonathan had managed to compose himself once more.

“I… I’m afraid I hadn’t thought to ask,” Jonathan said, his bearing and demeanor seemingly overcome by hesitance.

“Could you? The next time you see them?” he requested.

Waiting for a handful of moments as Jonathan agreed, William bid the young man farewell and turned to leave the campus where he had met with him. He’d not lightly say that the female vampire was more dangerous than her male counterpart, but there was no question which of them he would rather be facing. A prideful opponent could be easily drawn into making dangerous assumptions and errors, but an inventive, clever opponent would not be so easily countered.

Clearly, he would need to be better informed if he wished to come out the victor in any of their future confrontations.

 

=PB=

When he had the chance to return home, Jonathan found that he could not quite manage to forget about the question that Mr. Zeppeli had asked of him. He’d not thought anything about it – not wishing to reflect overmuch on such a painful thing as Dio’s transformation for any longer than he was forced by grim necessity to do – but now he recalled that Alice had merely departed to search for Dio. She had, in fact, been making a foray into London in order to make contact with Robert E. O. Speedwagon in an effort to get his help in conducting her search.

She had appeared beside Dio as a vampire, true, but that was only after he and Robert had lost sight of her amid the turns and twists of Ogre Street.

I truly don’t know what might have happened to result in Alice becoming a vampire in the same manner as Dio, and on the same day, as well, he mused, knowing that there were indeed possible explanations for such a happening. And also knowing that few of them were pleasant. Sighing deeply, Jonathan settled himself back into the seat of the carriage as it continued to roll on.

When he finally arrived back at his large, well-appointed home, Jonathan thanked the driver and made his way inside. After greeting Father in the proper and expected manner, he turned his path toward the library. Dio and Alice could always be counted upon to be present there; even if they were not studying the many and varied subjects that Father insisted upon having them learn for the sake of their lives in the future – whatever future a pair of vampires such as they could truly have – Alice had made it more than clear that their library was one of her favorite places to spend time.

Jonathan smiled fleetingly as he recalled his sister stating her personal vow that she would read every book in the Joestar library at least once.

Continuing on his way down through the vast halls of the home he shared with his small family and the servants who made all of their lives so much easier, Jonathan steeled himself for what he might learn. He knew that Dio could be rather impulsive at times – truly, Alice was the one who grounded his wild schemes in at least some form of reality – but Mr. Zeppeli’s words had brought a question he’d not even considered before to the forefront of his mind. How did their sister become a vampire?

Chapter Text

Turning to watch his sweet sister as she continued with her work, Dio smiled. It was so fascinating, watching his dear Alice when she was truly in her element; whether it was altering the clothes she had purchased – adding those clever little hidden pockets that he’d developed something of a liking for, himself – painting one of her beautiful masterpieces, or even simply reading a book that she truly enjoyed. Reaching out in an effort to gently run his fingers through her long queue, Dio found his attention drawn suddenly to the sound of determined footfalls making their way through the large library.

“Dio,” their sweet puppy of an adopted brother called softly, once he too had determined that he would not be causing too much of a disturbance to Alice when he did. “Might I speak to you for a moment?”

“Of course, Jojo,” he, Dio, said as the pair of them made their way to another section of the library. “Now, what could you possibly be so interested in that it couldn’t wait until Alice and I had left the library on our own?”

“I apologize if this brings up any memories you would rather not think about, but I feel it is a question that needs to be asked,” Jojo said, clearly steeling himself for some confrontation or other; Dio wondered, for just a moment, what their puppy of an adopted brother thought he was going to end up facing. “Just how was it that Alice came to be a vampire?”

He paused, internally surprised to find Jojo asking him such a question. “I granted her the power myself, Jojo,” he answered, seeing no reason to lie in such a situation as this. “I would have offered it to you, Jojo, but you seem so content with the sunlight that I could scarcely even consider such a thing.”

It seemed that Jojo hadn’t been at all prepared to hear a thing like that.

“Why would you do such a thing?” their puppy asked.

“Alice and I are quite a bit different than you, Jojo,” he said; he’d not have bothered stating such obvious facts to his sweet sister, but as he’d stated previously, Jojo and his dear Alice were not remotely the same sort of people.

“Yes, I know,” Jojo said, his eyes briefly darting towards where his dear Alice sat comfortably with her book.

For a moment, Dio wondered what their puppy was intending to do, before Jojo seemed to resolve himself to a new course of action. Raising an eyebrow as Jojo made his way over to where Alice was sitting with her book, Dio followed in his footsteps, curious to know just what it was that their puppy had planned.

 

=PB=

Gathering his resolve, Jonathan gently touched Alice’s right shoulder, then waited for his and Dio’s sister to turn her attention to him of her own accord. He’d no desire to be subjected to another lecture, and so he allowed time for his and Dio’s sister to take note of his presence and put away her book.

“What is it, Jonathan?” she asked, turning her chair around so that she would be able to face him more squarely.

“Dio told me about what… happened to you,” he said, not quite able to bring himself to speak the words to her at this point.

Truly, he didn’t know if he ever would.

“Good to see he’s not holding out again,” their sister muttered, her expression slightly distant, before she seemed to turn the main focus of her attention to him. “What’s on your mind, then, Jonathan?”

“I just wished to know how it happened, that’s all,” Jonathan said, and she almost wanted to laugh at the sheer incongruity of his current posture.

Really, attempting to make oneself look small just did not work on a man his size; Jonathan was too tall, and too thickly-muscled, to make such a posture look anything but ridiculous.

“You’d really have to ask Dio about that,” she said, both for the fact that it was true, and because – petty as it might very well have been – Alice relished the chance to set Jonathan on her sometimes-thickheaded twin, at least under these kinds of circumstances. “I was unconscious for the first part.”

What?”

“Oh yeah,” she continued, swallowing a smirk. “All I remember is waking up with the great-granddaddy of all headaches. And then, well, this.”

“Trust me, sister dear, you wouldn’t have wished to be conscious for such a process,” Dio said, making his way over to the table where she and Jonathan had congregated around. “I was, and even Jojo could tell you that it wasn’t what anyone would call a pleasant experience.”

“It was horrible,” Jonathan muttered, hunching his shoulders briefly, before standing up straight and turning his disapproving gaze on Dio. “Which is why I don’t understand why you would ever do such a thing to our sister, Dio!”

Leaning back in her seat, Alice wondered for a moment if she was going to have to intervene if it came down to a fight between the pair of them, or if Dio was going to be able to keep a lid on things without her help this time. Not like he has the best record with that kind of thing, she mused with a resigned sort of annoyance. True, Dio had learned to be more discreet about his craving for power and domination, but that hadn’t stopped him from being pretty open with his cravings for them around her.

Still, she’d at least managed to convince him of the merits of making people want to give you power, rather than attempting to take it; really, only a moron would ever think that the latter was anything but a stopgap for the desperate, the stupid, and the desperately stupid.

 

=PB=

Chuckling at the adorable expression of protective fury on Jojo’s sweet face he, Dio, stepped forward to explain himself.

“Jojo, you know very well that I, Dio, would never do anything to endanger the members of my dear family,” he said, making his smile more gentle so that he would be better able to appeal to their puppy’s protective instincts. “Aside from the initial pain, which even I will admit was rather terrible, this transformation that your Mr. Zeppeli so decries has provided nothing but benefits to Alice and I. We’ll be eternal, Jojo. We won’t have a mere human lifetime on this world, but an infinity of them.”

“You’ll never be able to stand in the sunlight again,” Jojo said, his face taking on an earnest, pleading expression.

Dio laughed softly; truly, their puppy concerned himself with the most absurd things. “We still have our memories, Jojo. And, with the proper preparations, we can enjoy a day in the sun.”

Jojo sighed, shaking his head. “I suppose, if you truly are happy…”

Smiling as his sweet sister embraced Jojo from his right, causing their adorable puppy to trail off into silence, Dio embraced their adorable puppy’s opposite side. For a handful of moments, he could all but feel the hesitation in Jojo’s entire body, but soon enough their adorable puppy was embracing the pair of them in turn.

 

=PB=

The three of them separated again, and Jonathan found that he felt slightly at odds with himself; on the one hand, Dio and Alice still seemed so perfectly happy with what they were, but the memory of Dio’s screams as the spines hidden within the stone mask pierced his skull and the knowledge that Alice had suffered in the same thing… No, he could not quite bring himself to be so blasé as they continued to be. Perhaps Mr. Zeppeli cannot cure them of such a condition as this vampirism of theirs, but he seems to have far more experience in these matters than I.

Bidding his dear siblings good night, Jonathan turned and made his way to his room. He didn’t know just when he would have the chance to speak with Mr. Zeppeli again, but this seemed just the kind of thing that he would wish to know. Still, Jonathan was perfectly aware that he would need to broach the subject carefully.

All other considerations aside, he’d no wish to cause further strife for his siblings.

Rising the next morning, Jonathan made himself ready for his return journey to the university dorm once more. Bidding the members of his dear family a fond farewell for the new semester he would be spending away from them, Jonathan boarded the carriage that would return him to the grounds of the university where he now spent a great deal of his time. During the journey, however, Jonathan found that he could not quite manage to banish the thoughts of how his dear siblings were ultimately going to fare.

For all Dio’s talk of eternity, it had become clear that his dear brother – even for all his obvious intelligence – did not truly understand the concept.

 

=PB=

As she continued to watch her children – her dear Dio and sweet Alice – continuing about their lives after that odd stone mask had changed them, Charlena Brando was forced to admit that, while her children had indeed been changed by the strange artifact, their souls had remained intact. Dio was still the same kind, charismatic boy he had been, and Alice remained the cheerful, gentle girl that she had been since the two of them were born.

Even the fact that they now subsisted in the main on the blood of beasts was well and good; humans, after all, ate of their flesh and their souls weren’t harmed by the act.

Still, it must be very difficult for them; they’ll never be able to go to Heaven with those immortal bodies of theirs, she reflected sadly. However, Charlena knew that it was her duty as their mother to support them during such a difficult time. She would strive to comfort and succor them during this trying time, and all the moreso since it appeared that – while their relationship with Mr. Joestar was reasonably cordial – the only Joestar in the house they had truly connected with in any lasting way was young Jonathan.

And, while Jonathan Joestar would surely go to Heaven for his kindness, well… Charlena could not help but see a reflection of the girl she had once been in the purity of his heart. My own purity didn’t seem to be able to protect me from Dario…

Shoving away that horrible thought only served to bring another – more subtle, and all the more terrible for it – to the forefront of her mind: she’d seen what her precious children had done; seen them willingly sacrifice their own innocence, staining their own beautiful souls so that she, fool that she had been, could live free of Dario. None of them had spoken of such things to George Joestar; let him hold to the illusion of Dario as a good man; the same illusion that she herself had wished more than anything else to believe in. Though the both of them would be safer now than she had been then.

However, the reason for their safety had and would remain a Brando family secret.

 

=PB=

When he had next been able to speak to Jonathan Joestar, William found his remaining suspicions about the vampire who had once been Dio Brando confirmed: whatever protectiveness the young man had once felt for his twin, the stone mask’s evil had poisoned it. It had clearly been twisted into the kind of possessiveness that had lead the vampire to murder young Alice Brando with the same wicked artifact that had stolen the life of her twin. It was a horrible situation, and more than that it was one that he could not allow to continue.

He would lay those wicked, cunning vampires to rest, so that the remains of their families could grieve their lost children properly; even if they hated him for it, William Zeppeli was willing to bear that for the sake of his duty.

“What troubles you so much?”

Smiling gently at the concern his last remaining friend and fellow student under Master Tonpetty was showing him, William allowed himself to relax from the tension that had crept up on him all unknown.

“Just considering what we might do next, old friend. Those vampires have proven to be far more clever than I would have ever given the beasts credit for when we began this hunt,” he said, narrowing his eyes as he settled down into his chair.

“I suppose not every vampire can be as dull-witted as those we have faced in the past,” Straizo said, his tone sounding rather more wistful than William would have expected.

It seemed that their task was fated to take a great deal longer than either of them had been expecting when they had first followed rumors of the stone mask to this place.

 

=PB=

She’d been getting increasingly frequent reports of Zeppeli and Straizo skulking around their various holdings, and so she had pulled Dio aside to plan their response to what seemed to be an inevitable escalation in the conflict that those two seemed intent on bringing down upon themselves. Dio was, of course, completely in favor of launching an all-out assault using every zombie they had at their disposal. Which, in the end, would amount to what corpses they could gather from the local graveyards.

While she didn’t disapprove of the plan in general, there were still some refinements that needed to be made…

“Why do you want to use humans for this?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as Dio finished detailing just how he’d intended to deal with the pair of stubborn idiots who seemed bound and determined to make a nuisance of themselves.

“I don’t want humans to be our main force, sister dear,” Dio said, clearly having misunderstood the intent behind her question. “While it’s clear that those fools have a pronounced distaste for attacking the humans we have in our employ, the fact remains that mere humans are still not a match for anything those troublesome Hamon users can bring to bear against us. Even Jojo could only manage to turn their own tricks against them, those few times they actually deigned to fight him.”

“Yes, I know all of that,” she said, making brief note of the pair of heavy footfalls her almost newly-developed tremor-sense had picked up; they felt more deliberate than any of the others that she’d become aware of since she’d started developing this particular refinement of her enhanced tactile senses. “What I want to know is why you’re so interested in human zombies. Zeppeli and Straizo seem perfectly capable of fighting through any number of those kinds of zombies.”

Alice was starting to get the feeling that this particular pair – she’d known that there were two of them once they’d obligingly held still long enough for her to map them out with the echoes of a couple particularly vigorous taps of her right foot – was familiar, both from their light stance and how heavy they seemed to be. Well, if there was ever any doubt that we needed to get some breathing room, this pretty much puts paid to it; what a mess, she sighed, annoyed all over again.

“Of course, if you truly want to insist upon bringing more zombies into our happy little family, I can think of a much better place than this tiny burg.” On the scrap of paper she’d fetched with her extendable veins, Alice wrote Play along with the piece of charcoal in her right hand.

“Oh?” Dio asked, his eyebrows raised, and a smirk growing on his face as he read her note. “Wherever would you suggest, sister dear?”

“New York has a rather large population; crowds enough to get lost in, so I’d imagine they’d have quite the choice of potential zombies.” We need to head to Montana. If there’s anywhere I’d be able to find what we need to handle these peons, it’ll be in Montana.

“New York,” Dio said, grinning as he read the real message she was trying to communicate to him. “Yes; it does sound as though we would be better suited to our purposes than this tiny burg we’ve stationed ourselves in.”

Grinning as she folded up the paper she’d been using, tucking it neatly into an inside pocket of her vest as the pair of them fell into step with each other on their way out, Alice turned her attention to the next phase of her plan.

“We’ll need to book ourselves passage, if we’re to begin properly establishing ourselves in the city,” Dio said cheerfully, slinging his right arm around her shoulders as the pair of them made their way out of their boarding house’s office.

There were quite a few other things they’d have to take care of before the pair of them could start making their way to Montana, but all of that could start right at this very moment.

 

=PB=

Finding that Mr. Zeppeli was still pursuing his siblings, even after the pair of them had been shown to be even less of a threat to the people who lived in their city than some of the humans living there had been bad enough, but to hear that Mr. Zeppeli and his partner wanted him to come with them… Jonathan couldn’t approve of their methods at all, but he had volunteered to come with them, if only to make certain that the pair of them would not continue along the rash course of action that they had clearly been on even after Dio and Alice had displayed prudence and good sense both.

It was infuriating, and Jonathan was determined to put a stop to it, but in order to have even the slightest chance of that he would first have to follow them to the city of New York, in North America. There was, naturally, a part of Jonathan that relished the chance to make a foray into the Americas, even if the reason for such a thing was not what he would have wished. He tried not to dwell on that part, of course.

Even if he did not share his true thoughts with anyone, such selfish motives were completely unsuited for a gentleman.

 

=PB=

He, Dio, hadn’t known entirely what to expect, once his sweet sister had duped those fool Hamon users into chasing a false trail all about New York. Yes, he was fully aware that his dear Alice was a thoroughly brilliant woman, but watching her as she effortlessly arranged for those fools who would be following in their footsteps to be delayed, misled, and steered astray… it was a thing of beauty.

Yes, her method was rather costly – as a proper bribe was, she had explained – but considering the greed of the great mass of humanity, such a thing had indeed been necessary.

“So, we’ve arrived in Montana, sister dear,” he said, as the pair of them stepped down from the loading platform and began to make their way out of the station. “Where do we go from here?”

“We’ll need to start heading north-east,” his dear Alice said, her tone thoughtful and her gaze clearly focused upon the future; it was such a fascinating thing to witness. “To a place called Hell Creek.”

He chuckled. “What an amusing name.”

Pacing his sweet sister as she arranged transportation for the pair of them, Dio wondered once more just what his sweet sister could have planned; just how, in the end, she would upend the world and create something new and fascinating from what she found in the rubble.

 

=PB=

As it turned out, the small town of Jordan hadn’t truly been established yet – hell, Montana itself wasn’t even a real state – so Alice couldn’t just tell someone to take her and Dio to Jordan and expect them to know what she meant. However, Hell Creek was at least reasonably known even now, and there was in fact a settlement close to it. It just didn’t have a name at present, but that didn’t matter so much, considering she could just say that she wanted to be taken to “the settlement near Hell Creek”, and people knew what she was talking about.

And so, she and Dio were able to make their way to Hell Creek.

Half-closing her eyes, Alice directed her tremor-sense into the ground so that she would be able to find a reasonably intact skeleton to work with. Dio had been rather quiet while she was searching, which had been all to the good as far as her efforts at finding what she’d come to this place for, but was still just a tad bit out of character for her boisterous, flamboyant brother. She’d have to ask him about it, once she’d found what she was looking for.

If he didn’t end up telling her on his own, anyway.

Opening her eyes as her tremor-senses mapped out a large, near completely intact skeleton, Alice smiled as she knelt down to place her hands on the ground, humming deeply to transmit more powerful sound-waves through her body in an effort to loosen the rock and soil surrounding the skeleton. Tapping the ground to better determine just where she should begin her excavation, Alice could almost feel Dio fidgeting away behind her. Chuckling softly at the impatience – really, they had all the time they would need for this kind of thing, what with Zeppeli and his fellow idiot chasing their tails back in New York – Alice turned her attention back to her excavation.

That old fossil was hardly going to dig itself up, after all.

 

=PB=

Shifting his stance as his sweet sister continued peeling away the layers of rock, soil, and rocky soil that lay between her and whatever strange prize she was seeking, Dio decided that he had to say something.

“Sister dear, if you merely-”

The remaining words stuck fast in his throat, however, when the immense skull of what could have easily been the inspiration for every story featuring dragons that he and Jojo had ever read began to become plainly visible at the bottom of the pit his dear Alice had hollowed out. Licking his lips at the sheer size of the skull being slowly revealed – if a mere skull was nearly a match for his own height when standing, the creature in its entirety must have been immense – he, Dio, stepped forward to look down into the pit that his sweet sister continued to carve out of the landscape around them.

As his dear Alice lifted up the skull of the great beast whose remains she had at last exposed to the light of the moon and stars they were currently standing under, tipping it up so that the palate was exposed once more, Dio marveled at the sheer size of the teeth. Slipping down the side of the hole, Dio grinned as his sweet sister lowered the skull – merely the top half of the skull, he realized – back down to the ground, he was able to get close enough to measure the teeth. They were nearly larger than his hand.

The sharp, earthy smell of the soil all around them might not have been the most well-appointed of places, but he, Dio, wrapped his arms around his sweet sister’s waist and moved with her as she continued excavating the skeleton of the magnificent beast she had unearthed. They had done such a thing before, when the pair of them were younger, and his dear Alice would assist their mother in the kitchen. Truly, it was as though they were dancing together.

“Dio, you have more experience with this kind of thing than I do,” his sweet sister said, her tone becoming thoughtful as she looked upon the work she had done thus far. “Are zombie skeletons generally capable of reassembling themselves?”

“Sister dear,” he paused for a moment, savoring the taste of this new victory that his dear, lovely Alice had granted to him. “I, Dio, am more than willing to find out.

Slashing open his palms, he dug his nails into them and forced out as much of his vampiric essence as he could; truly, a beast so mighty deserved all that he could spare.

Chapter Text

Leaping back up and out of the hole as ten-point-two tons of Late Cretaceous carnivore surged upward and forward, Alice laughed, feeling almost giddy as she watched the massive tyrannosaur take its first, surprisingly nimble steps up onto terra firma.

 

“My dear brother, I present to you Tyrannosaurus Rex,” she said, flourishing her right hand in the general direction of the gigantic theropod that towered over them where they stood.

 

She barely had time to get the last word out, before Dio grabbed her around the waist, swung her around, and kissed her deeply on the mouth. Behind them, a sound that the world hadn’t heard for sixty-five million years boomed across the plains; it really did sound a lot like the one she remembered from Jurassic Park. After he’d had his fill of kissing her, Dio swept her up in his arms and leapt onto the back of their revived T-Rex, and together the pair of them rode off.

 

“We’re going to have to find somewhere to shelter this find of ours when morning comes,” she said, narrowing her eyes as she watched the ground pass by underneath them.

 

“Yes,” Dio said, and she could all but hear her brother grinning. “While I, Dio, can hardly deny that the results were more than worth the time, we did indeed spend a great long while out here in the open.”

 

And so, the pair of them searched for a place to bunker down for the day. As it turned out, the vast majority of terrain around this part of what would later become the state of Montana was large, open plains. And, while there were extremely large rocks scattered about in places, none of them would serve as anything but a temporary shelter for something as large as the Rex they were riding. So, in the end they were forced to dig a large, long shelter out of the ground for their Rex to wait in, while the pair of them made their way back to the small, unnamed settlement near Hell Creek.

 

She’d taken the precaution of adding hoods to all of their travel clothing while she and Dio had been on the train, both because it was something to do, and because it’d been something that needed doing.

 

So, the pair of them pulled up their hoods and made their way back towards the small settlement where they had been staying. The people there were still waiting for what passed for a town council to settle on a name for the settlement before it could become a proper town, but they’d been welcoming enough. Particularly the pair she’d taken to calling her two Johns.

 

And, as if her thoughts had called them – which might not have been as far-fetched a thought as it would have been, considering everything that was true in this world – Jon Bonjovi and John Mellencamp came out from the rustic townhouse that she’d rented for herself and Dio to stay in while they operated in this area.

 

“Good morning, gentlemen,” she greeted cordially, as the four of them all came within earshot of each other; well, human earshot, anyway.

 

“It’s good to see you two back again,” Jon said, smiling as he and John came to a stop just a few paces from where she and Dio stood. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

 

“That and a bit more,” she said, smiling with profound satisfaction as she and Dio fell into step with Jon and John.

 

“Really?” John asked. “Well, I’m glad you managed to find… whatever it was that you came here looking for.”

 

“I could have sworn I told you that Dio and I were fossil hunters,” she said, thinking back on her previous conversations with the man in an effort to recall just what she’d said to him when renting the townhouse that he and his business partner maintained.

 

“Well, you know Melonhead here can barely remember what he’s had for breakfast, much less anything you actually tell him needs remembering,” Jon said, sounding rather amused.

 

That’s a shameless exaggeration and you know it,” John said, sounding more amused than annoyed; everything she’d seen of the pair’s interactions gave the impression that they’d been friends for a long time, and what she was seeing now only served to reinforce it. “I just… Couldn’t remember straight-away, that’s all.”

 

“Of course it is,” Jon said, turning a grin back on his partner. “I believe you.”

 

The sounds of an argument-in-the-making faded steadily into the distance, as Jon and John split off from her and Dio when the four of them entered the townhouse.

 

“Fossil hunters, sister dear?” Dio asked, looking amusedly at her as he sat himself down on his bed.

 

“Really, you’d be surprised how much even a trilobite will net you,” she said, plopping herself down in a nicely padded chair just opposite her brother’s position on his bed. “To say nothing of the fully-intact skeletons I was sensing down there when we pulled ours up.”

 

“Trilobites,” Dio muttered, as though he was testing how the word sounded. “How interesting. Something that came up in your studies?”

 

“I’m sure they mentioned it somewhere in all those books I read,” she volleyed back, smirking at the amusement she could see plainly on her twin’s face.

 

“And you say these fossils of yours are worth quite a large sum of money?”

 

=PB=

 

When he’d come to America with Mr. Zeppeli and Straizo, Jonathan had attempted on every spare moment he was given to sway the man’s opinion of Dio and Alice, to make him understand that – whatever other encounters the pair of them had had with other vampires – his siblings were nothing like those terrible creatures. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the more carefully he worded his arguments, the simpler Mr. Zeppeli found it to turn them against him.

 

He wasn’t going to allow himself to give up, of course; he simply had to find the correct way of explaining his position to Mr. Zeppeli.

 

Looking back down at the newspaper in his hands, Jonathan paused as his eyes glanced over a familiar name. He did not believe what he saw at first, but reading the words again did not change them…

 

“The newly-minted team of fossil hunters, Dio and Alice Brando,” he muttered, scanning the small, not terribly detailed article that had caught his eye.

 

His smile slowly grew, even as he finished the article and quickly tucked the paper safely inside his vest so that he would be able to take it with him when he left the hotel’s dining room. It was a comforting thing, in spite of his own personal misgivings, to know that his siblings had managed to escape from New York under the very noses of Mr. Zeppeli and Straizo. I wonder if I might send them something, he mused.

 

True, there would be the perhaps-difficult matter of finding out just where the new state of Montana actually was in relation to New York, and also the matter of keeping the fact of his interest – or just the reason for it, if he could not manage the former – from becoming known by Mr. Zeppeli and Straizo. Still, even just knowing that his siblings were all right was a comfort to him in such a time as this. For the moment, such would have to be enough.

 

=PB=

 

Adjusting his wide-brimmed hat to keep the lethal rays of the sun from his flesh he, Dio, smiled as he continued to oversee the excavation of the many and varied skeletons that had lain buried beneath the plains of this new American state that he and his sweet sister had born witness to the founding of. It was a struggle not to cackle with sheer, unbridled glee as he beheld the forms of the great beasts being removed from the ground, but if he’d only learned one thing from his life with dear Alice, it would have to be the value of discretion.

 

Still, watching such magnificent specimens be revealed once more – and knowing that they were his for the asking if he so desired – was a heady thing indeed.

 

Turning away from the junior archeologists continuing about their work he, Dio, made his way back to the house that he and his dear Alice had caused to be built. Or rather, that the people who lived in this new American state had built for them, once that man who was so very interested in the dinosaur skeletons that those who had gathered about them continued to excavate even as he made his way back to his and his sweet sister’s new home. True, it was not yet so large as the Joestar estate, where the pair of them had grown to adulthood and been granted such wondrous power by the stone mask Jojo had been so kind to discover for them, but their own Montana holdings – built just before the instatement of the Montana Territory – were comfortable enough for the moment.

 

“Sister dear,” he greeted, once he had made his way through the more public rooms of their ever-growing home and into their personal sanctum within the building.

 

As expected, dear Alice was hard at work, this time mapping out the various dig sites that the humans now working in this area had established. There was also a folded newspaper to the left of the space she had cleared for herself, so it was clear that mapping dig sites was hardly the only thing that occupied his sweet sister’s attention. Pausing for a moment, knowing that Alice would acknowledge him when she had finished with her work, he waited.

 

“Good morning, brother,” she greeted cordially, once she had finished noting down all of the locations where their cadre of hired humans were working. “Seems we’re getting a bit famous.”

 

“Oh?” Catching the paper as she tossed it lightly to him, the large, front-page photo caught his eye. Just as it was meant to. “Renowned, eh?” he echoed, savoring the taste of the word in his mouth. “You don’t seem happy, sister dear,” he said, watching as a small crease formed between his lovely sister’s elegant eyebrows.

 

“It’s a complication,” dear Alice said, calmly as ever. “Once these stories about us begin circulating outside of the state, which they inevitably will, considering what we’re doing here, we’re inevitably going to end up facing a certain pair of idiots again.”

 

He hummed softly, then chuckled. “True, but I would hardly say we’re unprepared for that, sister dear.”

 

“I know,” his dear Alice said, smiling languidly up at him like the cat she so resembled when she was contented. “Still, it’s rather troublesome to have to deal with in the first place.”

 

“Well, I suppose I can’t argue with that,” he said, smiling amusedly at her phrasing.

 

Truly, his sweet sister had the most interesting way of putting things into perspective.

 

=PB=

 

They had, of course, been given the opportunity to keep some of the fossil skeletons that their people had been digging up with such fascinating regularity; whether by dint of being the first to find them after they’d been buried all those millions of years ago, or by the simple expedient of their vampire physiology allowing the both of them to go without sleep. Either way, when she’d spotted a certain, nearly-intact skeleton, Alice had immediately taken possession of it. Sure, it might not have impressed Dio as much as the Rex that he was still so enamored by, but even he wouldn’t be able to deny its utility once he saw it in action.

 

She’d wondered briefly just how in the hell a Quetzalcoatlus had ended up in a fossil bed in Montana, then remembered that she was a vampire created by some kind of weird brain acupuncture and that she planned to raise this particular Quetzalcoatlus as an undead zombie, and gave the whole thing up as a bad job.

 

Slashing open her palms the same way she’d seen Dio do that first time, Alice watched the transformation with interest. It was fascinating, watching flesh growing over the fossilized bones that she and some of the archeologists working around the expanding dig site had excavated; seeing the wing-membranes filling in, to watch the re-growth of muscle-tissue and scales, and the sprouting of what seemed to be feathers, of all things. She hadn’t known that Quetzalcoatluses – Quetzalcoatli? – had even had feathers in the first place.

 

Of course, the closest she’d come to seeing an actual Quetzalcoatlus in her life as Sarah Williams had been a CGI model on a television program that she could only remember in the broadest of strokes at present; even then, she didn’t think anything like that could even come close to what she was seeing taking shape and form before her in this moment of moments.

 

=PB=

 

It was the sound of Mr. Zeppeli’s footsteps – hurried, harsh, rushing inevitably toward the room Jonathan had been staying in while the pair of Hamon users had attempted to hunt down his siblings while he strove to convince them otherwise – that prompted him to hide the article he’d clipped from the New York Times. Hiding it away within the small wooden box that he had surreptitiously purchased with some of the funds he had brought with him, Jonathan quickly tucked the box itself away just as he saw the knob of his door beginning to turn.

 

“It seems we were deceived,” Mr. Zeppeli said, his tone as grim and serious as the expression that Jonathan could see on his face. “Come; we’ll need to make plans quickly if we’re to get back on their trail.”

 

“I thought you were already searching,” he said, feeling a stab of apprehension; he didn’t think the either of them would have searched his room for anything other than the most dire of circumstances, but for a heart-freezing moment all he could think of was that Mr. Zeppeli had discovered the collection of newspaper clippings that he used to keep track of his dear siblings.

 

It was all he could truly manage, considering that – even with every well-reasoned, passionate argument that he had mustered – both Mr. Zeppeli and Straizo seemed utterly determined to force a confrontation even when Dio and Alice were continuing to demonstrate their devotion to humanity with every action they took.

 

“There’s no need for you to fret, Jojo,” Mr. Zeppeli said kindly; Jonathan still found it odd to have the man call him by his nickname, to be so kind to him while at the same time seeking to hunt his dear siblings as though they were nothing more than beasts. “You had no way of knowing; we’ll simply have to adjust our plans while we travel.”

 

Jonathan was just about to ask what it was that Mr. Zeppeli intended to prepare for and where he intended to go, though he was beginning to suspect that he knew, when the pair of them arrived in the salon. Straizo was just settling down on the old, scuffed settee that had been placed by the side of the low table in the center of the room, and Jonathan noted that he also had a newspaper with him.

 

“So, you saw it too, Straizo?”

 

“Yes,” the other man said, eyes narrowing as he stared down the large picture that took up fully half of the front page.

 

Dio was there, frozen in a pose of triumph before a truly immense bone: arms folded, and grinning out at the world with that same, confidant grin he’d always worn when something was going his way; there was even the hint of gentle teasing that lurked in the shadow of every smile Jonathan had seen on his brother’s face. It was a nice thing, to be able to see his siblings again, even if it was just in still-frames and photographs. He could still remember Alice’s photo from the continuation of the article several pages in: the way his sister had been posed with a pickaxe over her right shoulder, standing at ease and relaxed in a sensible outfit and the kind of wide-brimmed had that allowed his dear siblings to go outside when the sun was high in the sky.

 

Alice had been wearing nearly the same kind of smile that Dio had worn on the large, front-page photograph that had brought the attention of Mr. Zeppeli and Straizo back to them, even with all of the ways the pair of them had tried to escape it.

 

“You know what we need to do,” Mr. Zeppeli said, the stern expression on his face drawing a soft sigh from Jonathan; he’d been hoping that the pair of them, deprived of their targets for so long, would return to England, or else turn their attention to some other matter that needed attending to.

 

Still, Straizo answered in the affirmative, and he and Mr. Zeppeli began to make plans for traveling to Montana. Excusing himself to take a walk, Jonathan found his feet almost instinctively bringing him towards the post office. Pausing outside the building for a long moment, torn between the thought of Mr. Zeppeli’s disapproval and the need to warn his dear siblings about what was soon to be coming for them, Jonathan gathered himself and made his way into the building. Family, after all, came first; every true gentleman knew that.

 

=PB=

 

Looking down upon the very clouds themselves as they drifted lazily by he, Dio, laughed aloud in the thin, chill air so high above the small town of Jordan in the state of Montana where he and his sweet sister had found so many wondrous things. The human fools who had first excavated the bones of these magnificent beasts they had chosen to call dinosaurs knew nothing of their true majesty. Even he, Dio, had thought them to be insipid, lumbering beasts, and if his sweet sister had told him just what it was that she had been seeking in Montana… well, there was entirely too much of a chance that he would have foolishly refused.

 

And truly, that would have been a terrible shame.

 

“Well, you’re certainly happy,” his sweet sister said, a smile plain in her voice.

 

“You can hardly blame me, sister dear,” he laughed, nuzzling the back of her head as the pair of them flew on.

 

And truly, this had been the dream of those pitiful, ground-bound humans, likely since the first of them had looked to the birds with impotent envy in their eyes. Truly, he and his sweet sister had accomplished in a day what every one of those credulous humans so far below them had hoped in vain for over the entirety of their pitiful lives. It was a wonderfully heady experience.

 

So, it was with some reluctance that he obeyed his sweet sister’s direction to brace himself as their majestic flying beast – so fittingly named for the feathered serpent of Aztec myth – circled lower, diving beneath the clouds as his dear Alice directed it back to their shared home. Said home had, of course, inevitably expanded into a compound that was nearly half the size of the Joestar estate back in England. Smiling as he saw the open deck of the landing pad his sweet sister had designed to allow them to depart from and return to their holdings with ease he, Dio, allowed himself to relax against his sweet sister’s back as she guided them to a steady landing inside the tower built to accommodate their takeoffs and landings.

 

He could see the way his sweet sister’s extendable veins snapped out, releasing the latch and letting the open door of the tower snap shut, and smiled as he heard the spring-latches lock back into place.

 

Sliding down and landing neatly upon the smooth-polished floor, Dio smiled slightly as he heard his dear Alice speaking softly to the flying beast she had raised not so long ago. His sweet sister had a habit of speaking gently to all of their pets, drawing them in close and binding their loyalty to her with soft words and touches upon the shoulder or arm. It was a rather interesting sight, watching all of their pets flock to her as she presided over the dig sites and the day-to-day running of their expanding estate.

 

Not quite as interesting as the pets he, Dio, was gathering to himself, but suitable for the kind of work they were doing.

 

=PB=

 

Boarding the train that would take them to the new state of Montana, Jonathan found himself wishing that those articles that he had found in the New York Times had never been printed. Yes, it would have meant he might not have been able to reconnect with his beloved siblings so swiftly as he had, but it also meant that they would not be in Mr. Zeppeli’s sights once more. All through the week, he’d attempted to reason with the older man, citing the fact that Dio and Alice – vampires or not – had been working to uncover more about the world they all lived in.

 

That the pair of them had, in fact, contributed more to humanity’s knowledge of the past as vampires than Jonathan himself had; though he did still intend to go into the field himself, someday. Still, the thought of having Dio and Alice working alongside him, if in a subtly different field than the one he himself intended to go into, gave him a warm feeling of comfort when he thought about it. However, Mr. Zeppeli had remained unbending in his convictions; he still insisted that, as vampires, Dio and Alice needed to be destroyed.

 

And he would always say destroyed, never seeming to understand the fact that – if Jonathan allowed him to carry through with his plans – it would be nothing short of murder, killing Dio and Alice when they had done no harm to anyone; they drank the blood of beasts, and they bought it from the butcher shop.

 

More and more, it was beginning to seem as though his only ally in the matter was Straizo. Straizo, who had begun to take some interest in his recounting of his siblings’ exploits when they had first become vampires. In particular, he seemed to be interested in the way they shielded themselves from the sun, and the defenses they had developed against Hamon. To hear Straizo tell it, he himself had encountered some of those defenses; Alice’s own, in fact.

 

Listening to the man speak, it seemed as though he had developed some sort of respect for Alice; or, at the very least, for the tactics that his and Dio’s sister had brought to bear against him.

 

The sound of the train’s whistle forced his thoughts back to the present; back to the battle that awaited them. Back to his fading hopes for reconciliation between Mr. Zeppeli and his dear siblings. Steeling himself for what seemed to be inevitably coming, Jonathan Joestar stepped down from the loading platform and into the train station in Billings, Montana.

 

=PB=

 

He could see the anguish on the young Joestar’s face, and while William knew that he could wipe it all away with but a handful of words, he was not about to lie to spare the young man’s feelings. Such could only lead to more problems in the future. In any case, dealing with the vampires that wore his siblings’ faces would – while causing him great grief and anguish in the short term – do only good for humanity as a whole.

 

The longer those creatures were allowed to exist, the more blind each and every one of the Joestars would become to their growing evil; he could not allow such a situation to continue, hate him though the Joestars might for what he was duty bound to do.

Chapter Text

While William had arranged transport to the growing settlement of Jordan, where that pair of vampires they were hunting had settled themselves, Straizo found himself reflecting upon the tales that Jonathan Joestar had been telling him. Of his siblings, Dio and Alice Brando, and their reaction to being transformed into vampires by the stone mask that he, William, Dire, and all of their fellow Hamon-users had been attempting to destroy for so long as any of them had known about the cursed object. And, he’d found himself interested in just how those two had managed to maintain the logic and reason that were seemingly lost to most when the spines of the stone mask pierced their brains and transformed them.

 

Jonathan Joestar, however, had seemed to be more acutely focused on reassuring any and all who would hear him that his siblings had retained the kindness that he thought marked humanity as a whole; Straizo was far less interested in such a thing.

 

The very reason he had undertaken the study of Hamon in the first place had been so that he could refine his body, purging the flaws and weakness that led inevitably to aging. However, even with his finely-developed skill in the practice, he could still feel the slow decay of his mortal form. He would have to speak with those vampires, somehow; perhaps to Alice, since she seemed to be the more sensible of the pair.

 

Either way, he would need to find a way to work under the very sight of William Zeppeli, a man who had come to know him well over the course of the twenty years that the pair of them had trained together under Master Tonpetty. It would not be a simple thing, but for all that, Straizo was determined to seek out what information he could on the subject of vampirism and its potential benefits.

 

Turning his attention toward Jonathan Joestar, as the young man gathered himself for what was clearly to be yet another of his ultimately futile attempts to convince William to rethink his position on the vampires Dio and Alice Brando – an impossible task, given the tale Straizo had heard his fellow Hamon-user tell of his own first encounter with vampire-kind – Straizo wondered just what kind of perverse sentimentality drove the young Joestar to keep so resolutely at a task that any sensible person would have given up as hopeless long ago. It was not a thing that he himself would have done, and even if he had been so stubborn as to try, he would have dismissed all such notions after having been rebuffed so many times.

 

To say nothing of how thoroughly William chose to rebuff the young Joestar’s attempts to persuade him.

 

=PB=

 

As it turned out, finding where Dio and Alice were staying was more simple than he would have wished it to be, under the circumstances. Theirs was, in fact, the largest and most well-known estate within the borders of the new state they lived in. Steeling himself against what Mr. Zeppeli might very well do to him, Jonathan broke off from Mr. Zeppeli and Straizo, dashing through the gates and onto the main grounds of Dio and Alice’s growing estate.

 

Whoever it was that had been opening the gates for the morning – little more than a colorful blur out of the left edge of his left eye – called out to him with some surprise, but Jonathan couldn’t find it in himself to stop for what was ultimately such a minor thing. He needed to find his siblings, so that the three of them could stand united against Mr. Zeppeli. And also, so that they might be able to persuade Straizo to side with them when they were forced into a confrontation with the man.

 

Breathing slowly and evenly, in the way that was almost reflexive to him after having spent so many months training under the watchful eyes of Mr. Zeppeli, Jonathan forced himself to hold his breath for a handful of moments; to break his rhythm and remind himself not to channel any more Hamon.

 

“Jojo!”

 

Spinning at the sound of his brother’s cheerful voice, Jonathan sighed in contentment and relief. “It’s good to see you again, Dio.”

 

His and Alice’s brother was carrying a white umbrella, and Jonathan was pleased to note that his dear siblings were indeed searching out new and different ways of protecting themselves from the sunlight that would otherwise harm them.

 

“Welcome to our estate,” his and Alice’s brother said cordially, making his way over to where Jonathan was standing. “I’d offer you a tour of our new holdings, but you seem rather flustered. Is something wrong, Jojo?”

 

“Mr. Zeppeli is at the gates of your home,” he said, having to make a conscious effort not to restart the deep, rhythmic breathing that would lead inevitably to him channeling Hamon when he’d no wish to do such.

 

Dio sighed, an expression of annoyance settling firmly upon his features. “Well, I suppose I, Dio, can at least thank you for bringing this new information to us, Jojo.”

 

“Whatever help you want of me, Dio, you have my word I will give it,” he said.

 

Dio grinned brightly. “Always a pleasure to hear, Jojo. I’ll just see to fetching my sister, and then the three of us will deal with these troublesome monks that continue to plague us.”

 

“Of course, Dio,” he said, nodding as his and Alice’s brother went to fetch their sister.

 

Calling over one of the servants attending to the upkeep of the house, Jonathan swiftly informed her of the danger swiftly approaching the place where she lived and worked. After making sure that she truly understood the severity of their developing situation, Jonathan turned his attention back to the front of the room. Between the space of one blink and the next, Jonathan found Dio and Alice standing to either side of him, but as he’d long since become accustomed to their preternatural speed, such only brought a smile to his face.

 

He’d glimpsed something long and dark hanging from both of their waists, but it was only when they had come to a complete stop that Jonathan was able to discern the fact that both of his dear siblings had swords strapped to their waists. He was pleased to note that Dio and Alice would have a way of defending themselves from Mr. Zeppeli without putting themselves in danger of being harmed by the Hamon Mr. Zeppeli was so adept at using. Taking his accustomed battle stance, Jonathan smiled as he saw his dear siblings taking their own stances just beside him.

 

Truly, they were as prepared as they could be for what might come upon them.

 

=PB=

 

When that oaf Zeppeli and his partner – truly, the other man was rather fetching; time would tell if he, Dio, was given the chance to come to know him more personally – burst in through the front-entrance of their large room that functioned at times as a salon and at others as a studio or a planning room, Dio grinned as Zeppeli seemed to almost physically restrain himself from faltering back a step when he beheld the three of them standing against his mere two.

 

“So, I suppose you’ve made your choice, Jojo,” the oaf said, and Dio reveled in the undertone of defeat he could hear in the troublesome monk’s voice.

 

“No matter what you say to me, I will not betray my family!”

 

Grinning wide enough to show his fangs he, Dio, gently caressed Jojo’s right arm with his left, softening his grin into a smile when Jojo’s adorable face turned to meet his own. The two of them nodded to one another, Jojo’s adorable resolve bringing a wider smile to his face as the pair of them turned their attention back to that oaf Zeppeli and his rather fetching partner.

 

Jojo’s Hamon-filled punches – launched from fists that could extend nearly as far as he and his sweet sister had been able to since they had truly begun exploring the many and varied abilities that their glorious vampire bodies granted them – did not seem to do very much good against the behatted charlatan attacking them, but the swords his sweet sister had designed and commissioned from a local blacksmith that had then been taken into her employ some weeks ago did perform quite a good deal more admirably in that regard.

 

And, all to the better, when that behatted charlatan struck the blade, the ingenious layer of rubber, combined with heat-resistant ceramics and reinforced air vents, neatly dispersed the heat and energy imparted.

 

“Was that a shock to you, charlatan?” he mocked, grinning wide enough to reveal his fangs once more. “These swords of ours are far from-” yelping as something small and white clipped his left ear he, Dio, spun to face his sweet sister; it seemed as though she had just hurled their low, hardwood table at that nameless partner of the charlatan. “Truly, Alice, a coffee cup?”

 

“You’re lucky I couldn’t find a full one,” his sweet sister riposted, an expression of deadpanned amusement on her face. “And, what have I told you about revealing proprietary technology to our competitors, brother dear?”

 

Laughing at the sheer incongruity of the statement – as though the charlatan and his troublesome compatriots would ever be able to build anything even approaching the magnificent ingenuity of his dear Alice’s swords – Dio grinned. “Very well, sister dear. My lips are sealed.”

 

With a short, sharp nod – seemingly to dismiss the matter from her agile mind – his dear Alice returned her attention to the long-haired fool accosting her. And he, Dio, returned his own attention to the behatted charlatan who had made such of a nuisance of himself before this day.

 

=PB=

 

Watching the way the vampire Alice Brando conducted herself in combat provided a greater insight into the female vampire’s character than any one week of conversations on matters esoteric and mundane could have been: all of this vampire’s moves were, while calculated in the extreme, fluid enough to take advantage of any openings that he might leave in his defenses. However, while the vampire was swift to capitalize on any opening he showed her, she was also far too canny to over-commit. It seemed that she, too, was fully aware of the dangers inherent in underestimating one’s enemies.

 

It was fascinating; she was fascinating, and the fact that she was willing to use anything in the large room she could lay her hands to as a projectile weapon only made her all the more interesting. Such resolve and cleverness was not something he’d seen in many humans, to say nothing of those changed by the stone mask. Such resolve only added fuel to his own; truly, this was what he had striven for when he had first endeavored to learn Hamon.

 

To possess a glorious, immortal body, such as the pair of vampires that stood against him and William possessed… yes, that was worth any number of things; anything, truly.

 

The feel of his solar plexus all but collapsing under the crushing force of Alice Brando’s powerful uppercut drove painfully home just how much Straizo had allowed his attention to wander from the battle still taking place. Still, such a thing could easily be turned to his own advantage; no one but a fool would expect a user of Hamon to fight without breath. Letting himself fall to the floor, Straizo spread his arms wide in a gesture of submission, just as the vampire Alice Brando’s elegant, ingeniously designed sword bore down upon him.

 

That sword was a marvel in itself: able to withstand Hamon by some unknown process, and without being destroyed or even damaged by the energies.

 

Smiling in response to the subdued expression of curiosity he could see on the vampire’s fair face, Straizo nodded in respect and gratitude as she pulled back from the downward lunge that would have otherwise imbedded her sword in his face. He could see that William, too, was being driven back by the combined efforts of Jonathan Joestar and the vampire Dio Brando. Soon enough, he would be able to leave alongside the man without arousing suspicion.

 

Soon enough, he would be able to return to this place on his own terms.

 

=PB=

 

Once Straizo and Zeppeli had been driven out – though Alice suspected Straizo hadn’t quite been so eager as the man himself – Alice quickly joined Jonathan and Dio in setting their huge living room back to rights. Hearing the subtle chime that signaled someone hitting the staff-recall button, she looked up to see Dio making his way back over to where she and Jonathan were manhandling the coffee table back into place.

 

“Good thing neither of us had to fling the Davenport at them,” she said, smirking amusedly at her brother as he made his way back over to where she and Jonathan had just finished setting the coffee table back upright and were just getting all of the books and papers settled down just so.

 

“Indeed,” Dio said, laughing. “That would have been a terrible waste of perfectly good furniture.”

 

“I’m glad to see the pair of you are doing so well for yourselves,” Jonathan said, his soft voice precluding any further discussion of the merits of projectile furniture.

 

“That’s kind of you to say, Jonathan,” she said, turning her attention back to her and Dio’s brother; he was wearing his habitual expression of gentleness, prompting Alice to smile gently in return.

 

“Come, Jojo,” Dio said, grinning as the three of them made their way over to the couch to sit down. “We can discus this over tea and cocoa.”

 

Smiling a bit wider – it’d been fairly interesting, personally meeting the founder of the Hershey Company, when she and Dio had started to become more capital “F” Famous rather than just locally famous; she’d had a brief, not-particularly-charitable thought about mentioning that she’d enjoyed proportionally more Nestlé's  products than Hershey’s, but in the end she’d just had a chuckle over the thought itself – Alice settled down neatly beside Jonathan, thanking their butler David Gray for his services as he bowed in return.

 

It seemed that Jonathan, while nowhere near as busy as the pair of them had been during the course of their stay in Montana, had still been kept busy by his attempts to pry Zeppeli’s underused head out of his overused ass. And sure, their latest confrontation with the man indicated that that idea had ultimately been about as useful as a chocolate fire poker, it’d at least been a useful learning experience. It seemed like William A. Zeppeli, whatever his mental malfunction, wasn’t going to stop coming after them until they killed him.

 

It was kind of annoying, but that was the way things clearly were; no use crying over spilt milk, or blood, as the case may be.

 

“I… Don’t mistake me, I have greatly enjoyed your hospitality, but I really should return home,” Jonathan said. “All other considerations aside, I truly should tell Father of the name you’re both making for yourselves,” their sweet, sometimes-muttonheaded brother continued, smiling brightly at them.

 

“Of course, Jojo,” Dio said, as the three of them stood in order to bid Jonathan farewell.

 

“You will come visit Father and your mother back home sometime, won’t you?” their brother asked, an adorable expression of hope settling on his face.

 

Alice smiled, speaking before her twin could think up something else to say. “Once things here have settled down a bit, we’ll start making preparations.”

 

She couldn’t say anything definitive, since with Zeppeli and Straizo skulking around things were bound to be getting a bit more interesting, if only in the Chinese sense of the word.

 

The three of them said their farewells, standing up so that they could hug each other – she shot an unimpressed look at Dio when he sensually caressed the curve of her right hip – and she sent for their coachman, Brian Setzer, to take Jonathan back to the train station so he could start making his way back to New York. David, after insisting on being the one to pack the provisions she had suggested that Jonathan carry with him, had made up a pack for him to take on the carriage ride back to the station. After saying a final farewell to their visiting brother, she and Dio made their way back into the large main house of their steadily-expanding estate.

 

Dio yelped as she flicked him directly on the nose, and Alice continued on her way toward the back of the house – her laboratory in particular – with a smirk.

 

“Sister dear, whatever would drive you to do such a thing?”

 

Shooting him a half-lidded “we both know you’re not that stupid” look, Alice turned on her heel, continuing on her way to the laboratory she’d established once the plans for their estate had begun to be laid down. Since they were going to have to deal with Zeppeli, though possibly not Straizo considering the way he’d acted when the five of them had been fighting, she’d have to start expanding their arsenal. Because, while Dio might have been perfectly satisfied with zombie dinosaurs, she knew that the most potent weapon she had against those Hamon-using nuisances was something they hadn’t ever dealt with.

 

It was a simple truth that people who operated under such rigid worldviews – like “all vampires are evil” for example – did not deal remotely well with out of context problems.

 

Having a phone installed in the outbuilding that housed her laboratory – even if it was one of the original, bulky wall-mounted boxes rather than the Smartphone that she’d still had occasion to miss in this new life of hers – had been a great help in the past, and continued to be so at present.

 

“Operator, would you kindly connect me to the Green Day Industrial Works?” she paused for a moment, returning the usual pleasantries that she, as one of the most famous people in Montana, was accorded pretty much every time she called out for something she couldn’t have easily manufactured in one of the industrial offshoots that’d sprung up around their estate to service the needs of both the dig sites and the day-to-day running of the estate itself; really, the place was starting to seem more like a small city within the larger city of Jordan rather than just a house where she and Dio were staying. “Hello? Yes, I’d like to place an order for two one-gallon canisters of wet-stored nitrocellulose rope,” she paused a moment. “Yes, that. Delivered as quickly as you can safely manage; I can pay extra if you’d prefer,” she paused again, nodding reflexively. “Thank you. Pleasure doing business with you, as always.”

 

Hanging up the phone, Alice turned her attention to another matter that would soon need attending to; after all, if they were going to have to deal with Zeppeli, and it was looking more and more like the man wasn’t going to be stopped until he was either stone dead or incinerated, the pair of them were going to need more than just swords and spark-nets to protect themselves. And for that, she’d need something far better than iron or steel. Time to see just how I can manage to make titanium alloy back in this day and age, she mused.

 

It was, of course, entirely possible that she would need to use the tools she had to create the tools she would need, or some recursion thereof.

 

=PB=

 

Smiling as he returned to his richly-appointed room, after seeing Jojo to the train station and watching their adorable puppy depart down the Great Northern Railway so that he could find his way back to New York, he, Dio, turned his thoughts to just what his sweet sister was about. It was utterly fascinating, watching the way she managed their pets in this area; even becoming quite the budding businesswoman in this burgeoning little town of theirs.

 

Their pets comprised far more than simply the humans who had been drawn to this place for the promise of becoming famous by way of uncovering some previously undiscovered fossil beast or creature, but the zombies that he and his sweet sister had created – his own Tyrannosaurus Rex, and her Quetzalcoatlus and the small flock of Deinonychus that his dear Alice had raised later – and the foxes and bobcats that had been attracted once they had begun storing grain in large quantities to make the breads and other sundry foodstuffs that their human pets required to remain healthy. The domestication of those useful little beasts was proceeding apace. Grinning as he recalled another, smaller group of beasts that were steadily undergoing domestication, Dio turned his path to one of the outbuildings that had been solely designated for his and his dear Alice’s personal use.

 

Stepping inside he, Dio, found himself greeted by the sharp, earthy scent wafting out of the mouth of the tunnel network that his sweet sister was steadily expanding. The soft sounds of awakening mountain lion cubs greeted him next, and he grinned widely. He, Dio, hadn’t seen the point of such a thing when his dear Alice had first brought the cubs – thin and clearly undernourished as they were; their mother like as not having been shot for some offence or other against one of the many cattle ranchers endemic to the state – but when one of the adults of the species had accosted them during a nightly exploration of their expanding territory, he’d truly seen the merits of raising the small litter his sweet sister had taken in.

 

Even as the five of them scampered over to where he, Dio, was standing, he could see that they had grown all the larger and stronger since the last time he’d laid eyes upon them; soon enough, they would possess jaws strong enough to crush human skulls, and claws to rend the very flesh from their bones. Truly a thing to anticipate. Grinning as he opened the icebox and took out one of the pre-prepared tubs of raw beef he, Dio sat back, tossing the scraps to the five growing cubs and watching in amusement as they leaped up to catch them in their mouths.

 

Truly, of all their pets, the humans – while even he, Dio, could hardly deny their utility – remained the most unremarkable.

 

=PB=

 

While she waited for her order to arrive, Alice Brando was far from idle. She’d gone back down into the tunnel-system she’d begun working on once their network of dig sites had been definitively established aboveground. Knowing where their people were going to be working on the surface made it much simpler to avoid the places where there might be a risk of people breaking through the roof of a tunnel when they were looking for fossils, skeletons, and fossil skeletons.

 

As she laid down the tracks for the miniature, steam-powered train she had built to service this network of tunnels she was digging out, Alice also turned over the preparations that she was going to need to make in the coming days – and, perhaps weeks – to deal with the threat Zeppeli and Straizo still posed to her and Dio at present.

 

Yes, the spark-nets she was going to be creating once the shipment of nitrocellulose ropes she’d put in an order for arrived would most likely prove to be a better than average deterrent for either of the two Hamon-users in their area – provided Straizo still wanted to fight, given the way she’d seen him acting in combat that last time he and Zeppeli had forced a confrontation between their two groups – but Alice wasn’t about to rely on a single means of defense that, while powerful, could still be circumvented under the proper circumstances.

 

After all, while some people said the best defense was a good offense, and others said that the reverse was true, Alice herself preferred to have a healthy balance of both.

Chapter Text

He’d not expected the young Joestar to wish to stay with him, given the clear longing in his face and voice when he’d spoken of the siblings he’d lost to the stone mask, but William was not about to deceive himself by denying that he’d hoped to make the boy fully understand the futility of his longing before the pair of them had been forced to confront the vampires that wore their faces. It was a tragedy, losing such a promising student, and all the moreso for the heartbreak young Jonathan was bound to face when those two beasts he was so blindly determined to defend showed their true nature.

 

William hardly wished for the boy to have to suffer in such a way, but it truly seemed to be the way the world worked; such a lesson, while undoubtedly harsh and hence a thing that William had been hoping to spare the boy, would indeed be all the more potent for that fact.

 

Wishing the world different will do me no good, William mused, gathering himself for what he knew he would need to do next.

 

=PB=

 

Knowing beyond any doubt that William would not allow this latest defeat by Jonathan Joestar’s vampire siblings to go unanswered, and that his fellow Hamon-user would doubtless begin planning his next offensive against them, Straizo knew that it would be both simpler and more difficult for him to attempt to make peaceful contact with the vampire Alice Brando. Simpler because William would inevitably devote a great deal of his attention to those plans that he would be formulating; more difficult, because his fellow Hamon-user would eventually desire his input on those selfsame plans. In light of that, Straizo knew that he would need to look carefully for an opportunity to enact his own plan.

 

Preferably, without needing to obviously cut his remaining ties with William until the time was right.

 

=PB=

 

The sight of a carriage outside the Joestar estate was hardly an odd one, but Jonathan had truly not been expecting to hear from anyone who lived in Wind Knights Lot again. Still, they had come to the estate: the resurrected knight Bruford, and the children Poco and his sister Donna. It was still a strange thing to think on, that Alice and Dio were capable of raising someone who had been dead so long as the knight Bruford – and his brother in arms Tarkus, if what the man had said was indeed true – back to some semblance of life.

 

They two that had been raised by Dio, to work beside Alice on some project of hers, apparently had the same constitution as his siblings even retaining the same… reaction to sunlight if they were exposed to it.

 

It was for that reason, among others, that Jonathan had been pleased to see the black-lined white cloak with what looked to be a hand-fashioned clasp upon Bruford’s shoulders when the resurrected knight had approached him to speak about Dio and Alice. It was the same type of protection that Alice had crafted for herself and Dio, and he’d felt a bit closer to them for seeing it. Beyond even those considerations, however, just having the opportunity to speak to someone who had personally witnessed even a small part of the history he had learned of in school as a boy held a certain fascination about it.

 

“It gladdens my heart, knowing that my liege Lord and Lady are well,” Bruford said, smiling gently down at the neatly-sliced steak upon his plate. “Though, knowing that they were forced to shelter themselves in a distant land is rather troubling.”

 

“America isn’t quite so distant,” he said, attempting to be reassuring, but not certain how his words would be taken. “It’s quite a manageable journey by ship, and the area they’ve settled in is rather beautiful.”

 

“Indeed?”

 

He could recognize the signs of interest on Bruford’s fair face, and so Jonathan settled back into his seat. Thinking over what he had seen during that all-too-brief time when he had been a guest of Dio and Alice’s Montana estate, Jonathan organized his thoughts so that he would better be able to describe what he had seen in the short time he had been present within their holdings. As well as the somewhat longer time that he had spent within the state of Montana.

 

=PB=

 

Sitting down on the bed that Miss Alice had slept in, Poco kicked his feet as he looked down at the photograph of Miss Alice, her brother, and that kindly Jonathan guy who’d come out to meet with them just before Miss Alice and Mr. Dio had left. Still, if this was the place they’d gone back to, Poco couldn’t really blame them; their big house was really pretty, and their mother and father were so nice. He didn’t quite have the nerve to ask why it was that Mr. Joestar and Mrs. Brando didn’t seem to be married, or why Miss Alice and Mr. Dio looked so different than Jonathan when all of them said they were siblings, but Poco had his suspicions.

 

He wasn’t rude enough to actually say anything, of course.

 

When Mr. Joestar called them all down to dinner, Poco smiled as he left Miss Alice’s room to go get cleaned up. Mr. Joestar might not have been Miss Alice and Mr. Dio’s real father, but he was nice enough, and Mrs. Brando was- well, she wasn’t a lot like Miss Alice, but she was nice, all the same.

 

The meal was wonderful, and when Poco tried to thank Mrs. Brando for her wonderful cooking, he found out that the Joestars were really rich: they were so rich, they had someone whose entire job was just to cook for them. Her name was Eileen Robinson, and when Mr. Joestar had told him that, Poco had insisted on thanking her for it. Mr. Joestar had even been nice enough to take him to meet her when he’d said he wanted to do that.

 

Really, he could see how Miss Alice and Mr. Dio had become such kind people, being raised by Mr. Joestar and Mrs. Brando; not to mention having Jonathan for a brother, too.

 

=PB=

 

When she’d gotten her shipment from Green Day, the last thing Alice had expected was to meet up with Straizo again. She’d had at least some idea of what the man might’ve wanted, however, so she wasn’t all that surprised when he requested a meeting.

 

“So, you want to become a vampire, too?” she asked, taking a sip of Chai and settling back into the plush cushions of the sofa she’d moved into her personal office.

 

“I first began studying the art of Hamon so that I could refine my body,” Straizo said, clearly working himself up to some sort of long, involved lecture or other. “I’ve no desire to wither away as some old man. And, now that I know that you and your brother have retained the logic and reason that you seemed to possess as humans, I would request that you turn me, as well. Even with the mastery of Hamon that I have presently attained, I can still feel the inevitable breakdown of my body. In fact, I suspect that such mastery as I have attained has only made it easier to sense such a thing.”

 

“Well, this will certainly solve a problem I was going to be facing in the future,” she said, smiling slightly as she finished off the last of her tea and made her way over to the personal ice box that she’d had installed in her office for just these sorts of occasions.

 

“What do you mean?” Straizo asked, eyes tracking her as she grabbed a container of preserved blood and settled back down on her sofa.

 

Smiling slightly, Alice detailed her plans for the battle armor she was aiming to create. Without mentioning that she aimed to create an entirely new type of metal, or just anything having to do with the spark-nets she was going to be making. No sense in laying all her cards on the table when she didn’t really know the man she was speaking to. Sure, he’d said that all he really wanted was for her to turn him into a vampire, but given he was still working with Zeppeli…

 

Best not to risk any particularly sensitive information.

 

“That hardly sounds possible,” Straizo said, but his tone was far more interested than dismissive, so Alice smiled and settled back in her seat as she drank her daily shot of blood.

 

“I’m certain you’ll find, Straizo, that there are very few truly impossible things in this world.”

 

Quite a bit fewer than her own, certainly; even considering the fact she’d been dropped about a century and change in the past, Jojo Earth had a lot more going on than her vanilla Earth way back when.

 

He chuckled, rubbing the mug she’d given him with his long, elegant fingers. “Yes,” he said, locking eyes with her across the expanse between his chair and her sofa. “I’ve come to realize that rather well.”

 

“Good,” she said, offering him a nod and a smile of her own. “Now, as to your request, I expect that vampires are incapable of utilizing Hamon?”

 

“You would be correct, Alice Brando.”

 

“Well, that complicates things a bit,” she said, finishing her blood and tossing the container into the chute that would carry it to the kitchen for washing. “I’m going to need to test any armor I assemble against Hamon, to say nothing of the components themselves, and I’d rather do them in controlled conditions as opposed to being forced to resort to combat-testing everything,” she paused, locking eyes with Straizo for a long moment.

 

“I see,” Straizo said. “If I were in the same position as you, I suppose I would wish for the same. If I give you my aid in this project of yours, will you grant me the use of the stone mask?”

 

She sighed. “The stone mask is in a box under my bed, back in my room in the Joestar estate,” she offered a lopsided, conciliatory smirk. “Which is in England, by the by,” gathering herself, Alice straightened back up. “Still, I think I could manage with my blood,” she continued; she might have to ask Dio about that, since he seemed more interested in exploring in that direction than she herself was.

 

Watching as a contemplative expression spread across Straizo’s face, Alice sat back and let the man consider his options. With people like Straizo, their mind was both their greatest asset as well as their most glaring weakness, and sometimes it was both of those things at once. When Straizo seemed to come to a decision, Alice nodded and signaled for him to carry on.

 

“It sounds like a workable solution,” he said, nodding. “Very well, I accept.”

 

“I look forward to working with you, then,” she said, reaching out so that the pair of them could shake hands, sealing their agreement. “Now, there’s only the matter of how you want to handle breaking ties with Zeppeli.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, it’s a question of if you want to make an open declaration of your new allegiance, or just fake your death and break off that way,” Alice said, crossing her legs at the knee and leaning her chin on her left fist. “Myself, I’d want to avoid as much hassle as I can, but well… You’re not me.”

 

“How would you even begin to conceive such an idea?” Straizo asked, looking startled, but not shocked or scandalized the way she knew Jonathan would have been if she’d suggested the idea to him for some reason or other.

 

“Well, it’s simply a fact that Zeppeli’s unlikely to start a search for you if he thinks you’re already dead,” she said.

 

“Yes,” Straizo said, keen gaze shifting to the middle-distance before he turned it back to her face. “I suppose I can’t argue with your logic in that matter. What would you suggest?”

 

“Well, that depends,” she said, sitting back up and settling herself for a likely-involved conversation. “How much does Zeppeli expect you to survive?”

 

=PB=

 

His meeting with the vampire Alice Brando had not been precisely what he had been given to expect, and yet Straizo found himself all the more pleased by that. The female vampire was the diametric opposite of the few bestial creatures he had encountered on his travels; and also, he suspected, the newborn vampire that had once been William’s father. The same one, Straizo knew, that had caused his fellow Hamon-user to develop such a pronounced antipathy for the creatures as he had demonstrated on so many occasions.

 

It was also, he suspected, the same experience that led him to so distrust the good sense that Alice Brando had demonstrated on every occasion that they had clashed with the vampire woman.

 

Still, such musings would not serve him in his present task, so Straizo set them aside. What he needed at present was to know what William aimed to do next, both so that he could make proper plans to escape from the man’s side in the most expedient fashion, and so that he could steer William’s plans along lines that would make such actions on his part reasonably simpler.

 

=PB=

 

Settled down in her lab, seated at a long table that she’d used for crafting a far few things in the past, Alice worked carefully to create a net from the nitrocellulose ropes she had ordered. She’d already poured some of the alcohol used to stabilize the ropes and keep them from exploding in transit into a smaller container that she could carry around more easily, and had closed them both tight to keep said alcohol from evaporating. The spare ropes had been stored neatly on the bottom of the shelf that held the other explosives that a dig site like the ones they were running on their own land sometimes needed.

 

Steadily tying off the net that was taking shape beneath her hands, Alice heard the distinct footfalls of her twin brother making his way into her lab.

 

Sighing, Alice rolled her eyes as she heard the door being opened. Love Dio though she might, he wasn’t exactly the most careful of people, and when dealing with high-explosives… well, Dio’d already seared his eyebrows off awhile ago, and still hadn’t quite seemed to learn his lesson about not fucking around with dangerous chemicals.

 

“Ugh, this room of yours smells horrible,” her brother said, and she could practically hear him grinning. “What kind of explosive concoctions are you creating now?”

 

“Something to deal with Zeppeli,” she said, rolling her eyes as Dio slipped his arms around her shoulders, nuzzling the back of her head. Narrowing her eyes, Alice flexed her ponytail, swatting her twin firmly on the nose with the end of it. “Not while I’m working, peacock.”

 

Dio laughed. “Of course, my owl. I suppose that I, Dio, will leave you to your good work.”

 

Sighing, Alice rolled her eyes as Dio finally left her laboratory. Rinsing off her gloved hands in the alcohol solution, renewing the protection that she had first applied, Alice returned her full attention to her work. The first of her spark-nets was coming along well, and soon all that would remain was the final field-test. Drawing Zeppeli into a fight would likely be simple in the extreme, considering the man’s pronounced antipathy for vampires in general and her and Dio in particular.

 

Then, she’d get to see just how well the man dealt with a spark-net to the face.

 

=PB=

 

Making his way down the darkened streets, knowing that it was only a matter of time before he encountered one of the vampires that had so unjustly laid claim to the land surrounding them, William Zeppeli controlled his breathing. Constantly channeling Hamon was the only way he could avoid being taken by surprise when one of those damnable vampires finally showed their faces.

 

“You know, I was wondering when I’d see you again.”

 

Turning quickly at the sound of the female vampire’s arrogant voice, William found her standing at the end of a cul de sac, arms folded neatly behind her back. The bright white of her clothes was a stark contrast to the darkness they both stood in, and William found the sight all the more horrid for that fact. Still, such a thing was only to be expected: this vampire did indeed attempt to conceal her true, evil nature behind a façade of kindness and charity.

 

Such a thing only made destroying her all the more urgent, William knew.

 

=PB=

 

When Zeppeli charged at her, after spouting some of the usual bullshit that Alice had long since learned to ignore, she carefully loosened the cap on the container holding her prototype spark-net. Grasping the middle with the rubber gloves she’d taken the precaution of wearing to this first field-test of her new weapon, Alice deployed it and threw the net so that it would open out over him.

 

“Are you truly so arrogant as to think that a mere net will save you, vampire?!”

 

Grinning as she dashed backwards, out of range of the impending explosion, Alice looked up just in time to watch as Zeppeli’s right fist – already crackling with Hamon – slammed into the center of her spark-net. The nitrocellulose, volatile as it already was, detonated rather spectacularly, erupting in a fireball large enough that Alice found her hair and the loose parts of her clothes blown back solidly by the overpressure wave. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we do not punch a net made of guncotton with a fist full of Hamon, she mused, chuckling softly.

 

It was a heady feeling, knowing that one of her own inventions – devised more as a curiosity than anything else – had been able to do such a substantial amount of damage. Still, she knew that it was only a matter of time before Zeppeli managed to heal himself from even that much damage, and as she’d had no desire to go carrying around more potentially unstable explosives than she’d needed, that single spark-net had been the only one in her possession. Not only would she need to make another one, but she would also need to develop a better way of storing and deploying them.

 

Preferably without the need to wear rubber gloves to keep herself from getting her other gloves covered in alcohol when deploying the refined version of her spark-net.

 

Well, back to the lab, I suppose, Alice mused, returning to the rooftops so that she could more easily cover the remaining distance out of the swiftly-growing town of Jordan.

 

Once she’d made it back to the isolated outbuilding that housed her laboratory – placed far enough away from the other buildings that any kind of uncontrolled reaction would be more easily dealt with before it could spread farther than the confines of the single building she was working out of – Alice settled down at her drafting table and took out a piece of paper from the fireproof, ceramic storage case she’d devised to hold what few flammable writing supplies she kept in her lab for when she needed them. She knew what she wanted out of the deployment canister she aimed to create, but bringing it into reality would take some work.

 

It was some time later, when she’d just finished working out a preliminary plan for constructing a throwable canister that would deploy on its own, that Alice found herself interrupted by the presence of someone else in her lab. Someone who wasn’t Dio, so that was pleasant.

 

“What is it, Phil?” she asked, turning to look up at Phil Collins as the full-time archeologist came into her lab.

 

“Glad I caught you at a good time, Miss,” he said, looking a bit uncertain, but clearly having resolved himself to some course of action or other. “And, I’m sorry to be the bearer of such news, but…”

 

He trailed off, simply handing over what looked like some kind of hand-written note. The handwriting itself wasn’t familiar, but the location… Adema? That’s near the old train yard, she mused, considering what she’d read and the likely implications of such. Seems we’re moving tonight.

 

“Give my regards to the staff, and make sure they know I’m going to be both out late and returning with a guest,” she said, rising from her seat after tucking the paper she’d been working on into a fireproof holder, separate from the remaining blank sheets that she still possessed.

 

“All right, ma’am,” Phil said, and Alice could just about see the expression of confusion on his face through the back of her own head.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” she advised, smiling as she turned to leave her lab.

 

Once she’d made it back to her room, taking a shortcut up the outer wall the way she did when she didn’t want to bother with the hassle of greeting anyone and everyone who might cross her path when she was in a hurry to get somewhere, Alice grabbed the first-generation armor she’d been working on. It was basically rubber-backed motorcycle leathers: thick enough to diffuse most impacts, but her best defense would still be evading a hit rather than trying to tank it.

 

The extra flexibility that she’d developed over the time that she and Dio had had to explore the limits of their abilities – really, a Stone Mask Vampire started as double-jointed and could easily go up from there – allowed her to don the armor more easily than she’d ever been able to do in her last life. And, the fine control over her body-temperature made wearing what would otherwise have been an uncomfortable necessity at best feel as light and breathable as the clothes she usually wore.

 

Her trip to the deserted train yard just a few miles outside the small settlement of Adema – she’d long since gotten used to all of the music references, but every now and then they still got a chuckle out of her – was made on foot, and even in armor she was still faster than any other means of travel she’d have been able to access in this day and age. Any normal ones, at least, Alice reflected with a smirk.

 

Let’s see… Coal train, coal train… Ah, coal train! Grinning as she found her prize amid the darkened yard and all of its idle locomotives, Alice climbed inside. She’d already knocked out what guards had been present, tying them up and stashing them in the main guard house so they’d be found more easily once she’d gotten what she needed from this little excursion. After all, the note she’d gotten had said to come alone.

 

It was, however, quite a bit more lenient on the subject of trains.

 

Standing before the immense, imposing form of the coal train she’d picked out, Alice lifted the thing quickly, carefully, steadily offsetting it from the rails before climbing up into the cabin. Stoking the fire, Alice smirked as she felt the powerful rumbling of the floor beneath her feet. Once she was well underway, the sheer momentum of the train she was riding driving it inevitably forward through the empty, untamed grassland that bordered the small settlement of Adema.

 

Chilling her hands, Alice coated them in a thin, flexible layer of ice, then quickly grabbed four chunks of flaming coal out of the furnace. Dashing up the side of the train, Alice swept her gaze over the four, fully-loaded coal cars trundling along behind the engine. Bracing herself against the tearing wind caused by the train’s racing speed, Alice tossed each flaming chunk into the bed of coal contained in the car housing it.

 

Then, once she had seen the fires spreading through the stored coal, Alice turned to face front on the train she was riding. About then was the moment Alice realized that she was essentially dressed in biker-ninja gear, surfing a flaming train into battle with monks who could punch with the power of the sun. She laughed. Ah, that awkward moment when you realize you’re doing something metal as fuck, and you’re the only one who’s ever going to know about it.

Chapter Text

His first hint that something had gone far beyond the plans of those fools who had dared to lay their filthy hands on Dio Brando was a crash that seemed fit to shake the very world. The next, interestingly enough, was the furtive, skittering, midnight-clad form of his sweet sister upon the very ceiling. Grinning up at her, even as she turned to look down at him with one lovely crimson eye, he settled back on his haunches and clasped his hands neatly behind his back.

 

The Hamon-filled shackles which had so effectively stymied his own efforts to escape their grasp would be as nothing before his sweet sister’s multitude of talents.

 

“My binds are filled with Hamon,” he said, grinning wider as his dear Alice settled into a crouch behind him.

 

“That a fact?” his sweet sister muttered, removing her elegant lock picks from a concealed holder within her right sleeve.

 

“Oh, yes,” he, Dio, said, grinning with supreme satisfaction as he watched his sweet sister work. “I truly doubt that any of our vampiric abilities will be able to defeat such binds.”

 

“Really, now?”

 

He, Dio, could tell by his sweet sister’s tone that she was far more focused upon the lock under her elegant, clever hands than upon a conversation that was – if he were to be completely honest – simply for the sake of his own amusement. The soft, subtle clicking and clinking of metal on metal as his dear Alice worked prompted him to chuckle deeply within his throat. Knowing that the pair of them would soon be free to properly redress the threat posed to them by those arrogant fools and their pitiful Hamon he, Dio, allowed himself to relax just enough that he would not disturb his sweet sister at her present task.

 

Once the Hamon-filled shackles had fallen to the floor he, Dio, stood up and turned around. He’d seen that his sweet sister was wearing the armor that she had designed and created once it had become clear that they would be forced to confront that fool Zeppeli and his compatriot, and so he knew that he would not be able to give his dear Alice the kiss she had so thoroughly earned, but that only meant that he could savor the anticipation. That he, Dio, could plan just where, how, and when he would give his sweet sister the proper repayment for everything she had given him.

 

The sound of footfalls just outside the door brought his attention firmly back to the present, and Dio tensed himself for the fight that was soon to begin; he would personally ensure that neither of those fools who had so brazenly dared to challenge the twin Vampire Lords of the world would survive the night.

 

“The entire compound is on fire,” the long-haired Hamon-user said, a confused expression on his rather fetching face as he stepped into the room.

 

“Yes; four loads of burning coal dropped into this much dry wood would have that kind of effect,” his sweet sister said, her tone calm enough to suggest that she had expected this fool of a Hamon-user to arrive when he did. “Straizo, you’ve met my brother Dio. Dio, this is Straizo. Try not to kill each other before we get away from Zeppeli, all right?”

 

His sweet sister pinned them both with her lovely, crimson eyes, and for a moment he, Dio, could all but look through her armored, slit-visored mask to see the sternly-amused expression on his dear Alice’s face.

 

The pair of them were able to agree to that one stipulation, at least long enough that they were able to make their escape from the spreading flames eating their way through the deserted compound where he had been held ever since that mongrel Zeppeli had somehow managed to contrive a method to capture him, Dio. Still, he was not about to allow one of that man’s fellow Hamon-users to escape his proper punishment. However, considering the man’s clear desire to ally himself with the pair of them he, Dio, would make all reasonable efforts to restrain himself.

 

Besides, his sweet sister had often said that most people just needed a good kick in the arse to realize the error of their ways.

 

=PB=

 

Once the three of them had passed the old train yard – keeping well out of the range of the search teams swarming over the place – Alice allowed herself to relax just a bit. Yes, there was still a chance that someone could track where they were going from their footprints in what dirt there was between their ever-growing compound, but that chance grew steadily smaller with every step the three of them took. And, when they finally did arrive back at the compound, what chance there still was became almost astronomically small.

 

“Well, sister dear, that was certainly an exhilarating experience,” Dio said, grinning widely as he elegantly flung himself down into the plush chair bordering their huge main living room’s left-corner couch.

 

“Well, it’s like I’ve said before: if fire doesn’t solve your problems, you’re clearly not using enough of it.”

 

“I thought you said that about explosives, sister dear,” Dio said, a teasing smile spreading languidly across his face.

 

“The principle holds true in either case, brother dear,” she said, smirking right back.

 

Straizo didn’t quite seem to know what to make of the pair of them, but as it was something he’d have to get used to if the pair of them were going to work together on any kind of long-term basis, he’d just have to learn to deal. Still, she hoped the pair of them would be able to work together, since the opportunity to study the mechanics of Hamon with someone who didn’t want to kill her and Dio would be fascinating in and of itself. To say nothing of the boost in effectiveness it would provide to the creation and refinement of her armor.

 

“Come on, Straizo,” she said, rising from the couch she’d perched on when the three of them had come back home. “I need to make a stop at the blacksmith, and then I’ll show you my lab.”

 

“Yes, it’s rather fascinating, my sister’s laboratory,” Dio said, grinning at her and Straizo as the pair of them made their way out of the living room. “However, you will want to keep your wits about you. Dear Alice has little patience for fools.”

 

“You should take your own advice,” she snarked back. “How many times have you set yourself on fire by now?”

 

“Only twice,” Dio said, still grinning in that insufferable way he had.

 

“Good; let’s keep it that way, shall we?” she said, shooting him a semi-amused look as she left the living room behind.

 

Dio’s laughter followed her out.

 

=PB=

 

He was not entirely certain what to make of the vampire twins Dio and Alice Brando, though the fact that Alice had been willing to invite him into the home that she shared with her brother did speak just as well of her sensibility and composure as her initial acceptance of his desire to speak with her about the fantastic, ageless body that she and her brother had been granted by the stone mask. Under the circumstances, he was more than a little pleased to be able to work with her.

 

He still had his doubts about what the vampire was actually planning, but in light of the resources she plainly had access to, he was at least curious to see what would come of the vampire Alice Brando’s tinkering.

 

=PB=

 

It had been some weeks since he’d last been in close contact with Dio and Alice, and as he and Erina were beginning to finalize their plans to be wed, the pair of them were composing letters. The letters would serve as both a way of keeping his siblings abreast of new developments within the Joestar household, as well as an invitation to the festivities that were soon to come. Jonathan was also planning to ask Dio to be his Best Man when he finally married Erina, and he knew that Erina herself had some plan or other that involved Alice.

 

He didn’t precisely know what it was as of yet, but Jonathan suspected he could hazard a guess.

 

Once the pair of them had finished composing their letters, Jonathan handed them off to his governess so that she could take them to be posted, then he and Erina left Father’s office. Jonathan paused to thank Father, when the pair of them passed by one another in the halls, and then he and Erina continued on their way to one of the smaller sitting rooms. He’d been making a point of paying daily visits to Mrs. Brando, carrying what news he could of Dio and Alice to her when he could, and simply keeping the woman company when he’d nothing new to report.

 

However, no matter what news he brought her, it seemed as though Mrs. Brando was steadily slipping away from them. It was yet another reason that Jonathan hoped to bring Dio and Alice back to the Joestar estate as fast as he ever could: he doubted that Mrs. Brando had many years left in her, and he’d no wish to deprive his adopted siblings of the little time they might still have with their mother. Truly, even if Mrs. Brando had still been at the peak of health for a woman her age, Jonathan still would have sought to have Dio and Alice return to the estate.

 

Truly, there was no more joyous an occasion for them to return than for his and Erina’s wedding.

 

Making his way inside the room that Mrs. Brando made use of when she wasn’t strolling through the well-maintained gardens of the Joestar estate or secluding herself in the library that Alice had enjoyed so much during the time that she and Dio had spent living with him, their mother, and Father, Jonathan gathered his composure.

 

“Mrs. Brando?” he called softly, stepping into the room.

 

He wouldn’t wish to disturb her if she was in the midst of one of the contemplative moods that seemed apt to steal over her more and more often of late, and as he’d little news to offer in recompense, Jonathan would not seek to make a nuisance of himself if he were not wanted.

 

“How have they been managing?” Mrs. Brando asked, an expression of such hope spreading across her weathered face that Jonathan could not quite bring himself to disappoint her in even a small way.

 

“The pair of them are doing rather well, given what Erina and I have been able to gather from their letters,” he gathered himself, offering her a gentler sort of smile. “You will have the opportunity to speak with them again, however. Erina and I have invited them to our impending wedding.”

 

“Thank you,” Mrs. Brando said, reaching out to cup both of his hands in her own. “I’d hoped to be able to see them again, at least one more time.”

 

“You shouldn’t say such things,” he said, taking Mrs. Brando by the shoulders in lieu of the embrace that he wished to give her; such a thing would have been rather inappropriate, considering their lack of immediate familial ties.

 

As well, he’d no wish to force his presence upon Mrs. Brando when it had become more than clear that Dio and Alice were the ones that she truly longed for the company of.

 

=PB=

 

Straizo was more than prepared to admit his sheer fascination at watching the vampire Alice Brando at her chosen task; any of them, truly. Any task that the woman put her mind to, she would complete with all due diligence. Not only that, but Alice was also possessed of an inquisitive, inventive mind such as he’d rarely seen even in fellow humans.

 

To say nothing of the vampire sub-species at large; truly, Dio Brando was far more the norm so far as vampires were concerned.

 

Watching as Alice Brando worked side-by-side with the man named Matthew Albert Hunter to refine titanium ore into a type of silver-colored metal that he’d not seen before, Straizo wondered at just what her intentions for this new metal of hers would ultimately be. There were few enough metals that could resist the effects of Hamon… but, perhaps that was the purpose of the new metal that the female vampire aimed to create. Either way, bearing witness to the creation of the metal was rather fascinating in and of itself.

 

No other type of metal, so far as he knew, required such an elaborate method of refining.

 

Still, once she had created four sheets of the metal – each of them with a slightly differing composition – she called him to follow her and the pair of them made their way into another part of the female vampire’s laboratory; this one in an entirely separate building from the one she and her brother had spoken about. This particular building had clearly been dedicated to metalworking and other things of that nature, and even as he watched, Straizo saw Alice make her way to a closet set into the far wall.

 

He’d only a moment to wonder just what in the world she was at, before the vampire woman took out what seemed to be the torso of a life-sized doll mounted atop a stand.

 

“What?” she asked, looking over at him with an expression that, Straizo was fair certain, would have easily matched his own for sheer curiosity.

 

“I have simply never seen that kind of item before,” he said, knowing that Alice Brando was enough of a teacher at heart that she would not mock him for such a question.

 

“It’s a dress-form,” she said, placing the first of the shaped titanium plates upon what seemed to be a leather harness, which she then proceeded to fasten to the torso of the headless “dress form” she had set up. “It’s quite a bit more durable than the ones I use for sewing, of course,” the vampire woman said, the majority of her attention clearly taken up by the task she’d taken upon herself. “Well then, let’s begin, shall we?”

 

The smile upon the vampire woman’s face held both amusement and eagerness, and Straizo was left to wonder – for just a moment – what the vampire Alice Brando would manage to create, now that she had his aid. If nothing else, the process was certain to be of interest…

 

=PB=

 

Having healed the last of his burns – the terror of the flames, however, still lingered – William had hidden himself from any of those who might have been searching for him. Staying in a place where those vampires were so highly regarded as they were among the general population as they were within the borders of Garfield County – to say nothing of the state of Montana at large – was not a thing that William would have ever expected to be necessary. Still, knowing just how well those vampires had managed to deceive every living human within the state where they had hidden themselves was not a hopeful thought.

 

It was certain to make any future efforts at dealing with them far more difficult than they had been previously.

 

To say nothing of the fate of Straizo, he mused, narrowing his eyes as the memory of what had become of the last of the two friends and comrades-in-arms that he had brought with him in his continuing efforts to finally put an end to the unnatural existence of the vampires that had once been Dio and Alice Brando. After finding Dire’s beheaded corpse at the bottom of the lake within the borders of Wind Knights Lot, he’d of course become all the more concerned about Straizo’s continued welfare.

 

He’d not have insulted his fellow monk’s skill by attempting to do anything so brazen as protecting him, but William had done what he could to aid his fellow in their continuing battle.

 

However, it had all come to naught; Straizo had perished in the conflagration caused when the female vampire – in blatant defiance of every form of logic and reason – had rammed a train filled with coal, coal that she herself had more than likely set afire beforehand, into the compound that he and Straizo had been using to hold the vampire’s twin in an effort to rid the world of the pair of them in a single swoop. He’d not been prepared for such an outcome, and while it had cost him dearly, it had also served to harden William’s resolve. The vampires that had once been Dio and Alice Brando needed to be destroyed, no matter the cost.

 

He was the only one who could accomplish such a thing; the task, then, fell to him.

 

The sound of a terribly familiar voice singing focused William’s attention upon the white-cloaked form of the female vampire before him. She was leaning brazenly against the wall of a building across the street from where he stood, strumming a guitar, with merely the white hood of her cloak shielding the vampire’s unnatural form from the sunlight that would have properly destroyed her. So, the arrogance of all her kind has finally overwhelmed what reason the creature could still lay claim to, William reflected, with a certain sense of grim satisfaction.

 

Truly, he’d not relished the prospect of attempting to outwit a vampire who had the capability to create such things as the explosive net that he had found himself facing some time ago; still, he mourned the brilliance that had been taken from the world when Alice Brando had died under the cruel spines of the stone mask.

 

Standing across from the vampire at last, William saw the small, arrogantly amused smile spreading across the creature’s face as she continued to sing. Gathering himself as he began summoning the Hamon necessary to finally end the unnatural existence of one of the most dangerous vampires he had encountered during his lifetime- William found himself forced to dodge as the vampire abruptly hurled the guitar she had been playing directly at his head. Narrowing his eyes, even as he quickly shielded himself from the shrapnel of the shattered instrument that had nearly slammed into his face, William swept the remaining pieces aside and turned his gaze back to… The place where the vampire he had previously been standing.

 

Looking up, after a moment spent studying the cracked outline of the vampire’s feet that had been driven into the ground, William saw that the vampire had indeed alighted atop the roof of the building that the pair of them had been standing before.

 

=PB=

 

Alice only had a few moments to wonder just what Zeppeli’d gotten into his head to do, before she was forced to dive off of the building that he’d just attempted to bring down on top of her. Reaching into her white hood, Alice grabbed hold of the front-piece of her helmet and pulled the thing up and over her head. The helmet – ribbed and hinged like one of Apophis’ Serpent Guard – clicked softly as its two halves locked firmly into place. Catching herself breathing, almost by reflex, Alice rolled her eyes briefly, pulling the white cloak she’d worn back into place over her new titanium armor.

 

The rubber webbing underneath the plates seemed to be flexing as well as she could ask for, and the heat-dissipating ceramic plates were holding up well, thus far; still, the proof was in the pudding, so to speak.

 

Tucking her white cloak in more securely around and over her armor – she still had more than a few tricks up her sleeve to spring on that stubborn old goat – Alice jumped back up to what remained of the building whose roof she’d been standing on before Zeppeli’d brought the thing down almost on top of her head. Surveying the lay of their current battlefield – she’d made a point of hunting down this particular ghost town for just the same sort of reason that, she suspected, Zeppeli was willing to meet her in battle – Alice quickly slapped down the energized piece of wood that Zeppeli had just tried to impale her head with. It was a fairly good use of available materials, she could give the man that.

 

Still, under the circumstances, she wasn’t about to let what admiration she had for the man interfere with what she was going to have to do; the man was obviously a fanatic, and those kind couldn’t be reasoned with.

 

Leaping lightly back down to the ground, Alice needed only a moment to balance herself again. Fortunately for her, considering how quickly Zeppeli leaped at her, his right fist charged with Hamon that he drove into her armored torso in the space between one of his blinks and the next. Considering everything else her vampire body was capable of, training herself not to blink had been one of the more difficult feats she’d undertaken. Of course, it had involved bringing an unconscious reflex under conscious control, so that’d probably accounted for most of the difficulty right there.

 

Smirking under her helmet as Zeppeli grabbed the trailing left edge of her cloak, Alice twisted out of it, exposing the polished-to-a-mirror-sheen of her titanium armor to the high-noon sun.

 

“Do I dazzle you, Zeppeli?” she snarked, grinning as the man staggered back from a face-full of reflected sunlight.

 

Capitalizing on her advantage, Alice hammered the man in the solar-plexus with a driving-punch calculated to knock the wind out of him without making his torso burst like an abused piñata. Grabbing the man by his belt, Alice hefted him up until his feet left the dusty ground, then leaped up to the rooftops again. She knew the train schedules well enough to know that there would be a cargo train traveling down the Northern Pacific Railway – delivering ores, grains, lumber and such – and this was an opportune time to catch it on its way out of the state. Body-slamming Zeppeli into a nearby intact rooftop as he began regaining the breath she’d knocked out of him, Alice pushed her vampire body for as much speed as she could wring out of it considering her present need not to damage her armor.

 

Yes, she’d designed the suit to have quite a bit of extra flexibility, but nothing she had or could design with the tools she had access to in her present era could match the flexibility of a vampire’s body.

 

Pacing the cargo train as it sped along beside her, Alice gave Zeppeli a last punch to the solar-plexus, then hurled him onto a flatbed car carrying a load of neatly-cut lumber. Dashing down the side of the small, tightly-packed row of buildings she’d made her way up to start Zeppeli on his out-of-state journey, Alice quickly made her way back to the rendezvous point that she and Straizo had agreed upon before she’d set out to field-test this prototype armor set of hers. She didn’t even bother trying to conceal the wide, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on her face, as she leaped and ran and leaped again, into the empty two-story building she’d pre-arranged to meet Straizo in.

 

“Well, I’d definitely call this a successful field-test,” she said, grinning over at the long-haired man who’d been watching over the progress of her brief fight with Zeppeli.

 

“Yes,” he said, left hand briefly at his chin as he turned to look her way.

 

“Come on, let’s head back home,” she said lightly, clapping his right shoulder in passing as she threw her white cloak back over her own.

 

“Home,” she heard Straizo mutter from behind her, as though he were testing the word; Alice chuckled softly.

Chapter Text

Having faith in his sweet sister’s work was simple he, Dio, reflected; it was the waiting that he found troubling. He’d never mention it to his dear Alice, of course; she was a thoroughly practical woman, his sweet sister, and would hardly appreciate his fussing over things that could not, in the end, be helped. And so he, Dio, awaited the triumphant return of his sweet sister with as much patience as he could.

 

He knew that she would return in triumph; she’d certainly poured enough time into that fantastic armor of hers to make it proof against any of that fool Zeppeli’s Hamon.

 

So, when he, Dio, heard the sounds of purposeful strides making their way back into the laboratory he’d stationed himself within, he rose from his seat with a smile. He, Dio, could hardly wait to hear of the ultimate end of his sweet sister’s battle against that behatted charlatan that had been causing the pair of them so much trouble; not only during the course of their lives at the Joestar estate, but also having the sheer temerity to follow them to their new lives in Montana. Yes, it was true that the pair of them had departed for the state in an effort to draw the fool away from their holdings in London, but soon enough he, Dio, found that he’d come to enjoy the life that he and his dear Alice had built for themselves.

 

The sound of the door to his sweet sister’s laboratory opening pulled his attention away from those useless thoughts, and he, Dio, quickly hurried to meet his dear Alice at that very door. The sheen of her polished armor, mostly covered by the sunlight-reflecting white cloak she’d worn over it, tantalized him as she strode with serene, prideful grace into the very heart of her domain. She was radiant, wrapped in metal named for the very Titans of Greek myth, and he, Dio, thought it only fitting.

 

The Titans, after all, had bestrode the world before even the Gods themselves; and, if not for the impulsive foolishness of Kronos, they would have done so even after the arrival of the Gods. After all, as his dear Alice had demonstrated to him on so many occasions, the best defense against anyone rising up against you was to make them not wish to do any such thing in the first place. To turn their own hearts against them, and so weaken their blows before they could even think to raise their fists.

 

Truly, his sweet sister had taught him so very many lessons over the course of both their lives; not all of them so interesting as he would have wished, but each and every one of them useful in their own way.

 

Wrapping his arms around his sweet sister’s waist as she stepped into the comforting shadows of her laboratory he, Dio, gently guided his dear Alice over to the armor stand that she had requisitioned once she had completed the cuirass of her marvelous armor. Reaching up to cup the point of his sweet sister’s armored chin he, Dio, gently pressed his thumbs down upon the ingeniously designed latches at the midpoint of her armored facemask. Grasping the connections on either side of the seam – nearly invisible if one was not a vampire, or at the very least standing particularly close – he, Dio, squeezed them tightly together so that the latches would unhook from one another.

 

Once he’d finished with that necessary task, menial as it was, he gently peeled back the ribbed form of the helmet from his sweet sister’s lovely head. Sparing only a moment to watch as the ribs folded neatly in on themselves – the folding helmet truly was an inspired design – he, Dio, smoothed the metal back down and away from his dear Alice’s wonderfully soft lips, before he claimed those selfsame lips in a kiss that had been long overdue. Tempted to hungrily devour the precious offering before him he, Dio, was able to restrain himself before his sweet sister would have been compelled to push him away so that she could attend to the removal of her fantastic armor.

 

Giving her what aid he could – quickly edging aside Straizo before the man, useful as he’d been in his limited capacity, could lay even a single finger upon her – he, Dio, had no sooner helped his dear Alice to remove the last of her armor and display it upon the stand, before he found Straizo making his way back over to the pair of them. He and Alice spoke upon a small matter that was clearly of some import to the pair of them, and not long after that his sweet sister was cutting through the flesh of her right palm. After that, there was little enough that he, Dio, needed to reflect upon to realize just what price his sweet sister’s pet Hamon user had asked in return for his cooperation.

 

It was rather amusing, however, to see the expression of tolerant exasperation that spread over his sweet sister’s face when their pet Hamon user took her right palm in both of his hands and bent to drink from it; truly, the kind of adulation the pair of them were due had only ever seemed to draw a resigned sort of amusement from her. It was yet another reason that he, Dio, had determined to keep the gaze of the world from falling upon his dear Alice more than she wished it to do so. An owl, after all, did not hunt so freely in the daylight.

 

=PB=

 

She wasn’t surprised when Dio requested an armor-set of his own, but she could tell from the expression on her brother’s face that he hadn’t been quite prepared for what the process of custom-fitting was going to entail…

 

“Unless you want to be scrubbing dried plaster out of crevasses you didn’t know you had, you will,” she said, in response to her sometimes-dope of a twin’s smirking demands as to just why he should put on what amounted to a skin-tight pair of boxer-shorts after she’d told him to get the rest of his clothes off…

 

“Just how long will I be forced to stand here while this plaster of yours sets?” Dio, now fully immobilized by the plaster of Paris wrappings she’d been encasing him in to form the initial cast for the mold she was making, gave her his best kicked-puppy look as she stood back up from her work.

 

“About forty-five minutes for the initial setting; I’ll be able to remove it safely then, but it’ll be a good three days before I can actually use it,” she said, eyes narrowed slightly as she remembered the times she’d worked with plaster of Paris back on that other Earth.

 

She’d once tried to speed up the setting process with a hairdryer, but she couldn’t quite remember if that had worked or not; regardless, it was a moot point in any case.

 

Sister, that’s the better part of an hour,” Dio moped, the kicked-puppy look on his face becoming all the more pronounced.

 

“Shall I fetch you a book, then, brother dear?” she snarked, remembering the way she’d had to talk Straizo through applying the wrappings to her

 

“Well, I suppose I should be grateful I can actually sit through this,” Dio pouted, arms folded across his chest the way her twin did when he was being particularly childish.

 

“What, you’re telling me that the mighty vampire Dio Brando can’t handle a chair?” she snarked back, smirking.

 

Really, you’d think she’d asked him to give up a kidney or something…

 

=PB=

 

After he’d become a vampire, immortal and ageless as the twins Dio and Alice Brando, Straizo had expected that his life would have been at least somewhat changed by his new status. However, there was clearly an ordered sort of routine to the workings of the Brando manor; something to be learned from observation. It also seemed that the estate itself was a center of learning and industry, not only for the surrounding county, but also for the state of Montana as a whole.

 

He’d not expected that a pair of vampires would have been capable of creating any kind of positive change in the world around them, though he suspected that such a thing was mostly the work of Alice Brando rather than her twin.

 

Even now, the family that had raised the pair of them as humans – those who had continued to allow them shelter even after the Stone Mask had irrevocably changed them – were inviting the two of them to return for the wedding of the human they still claimed as their brother.

 

“Would you mind looking after the manor while we’re away, Straizo?”

 

“Of course not,” he said, bowing his head to the vampire Alice Brando; though it was not in her nature to seek out gestures of supplication, she would accept them with the same grace as that which she had when she attended to her chosen duties. “I will see to it that everything proceeds smoothly in your absence.”

 

“Good to hear,” she said, nodding to him as she handed over the list she had finished making to one of the manor’s servants. “I’m glad to know I’ll be able to count on you, Straizo.”

 

“Of course,” he said, watching as Alice Brando turned to attend to her transportation.

 

True, it would be strange, finding himself in nearly sole control of the affairs of the Brando manor. And yet, if Alice herself was willing to trust him with such a responsibility after such a short, fraught acquaintance as theirs had been, then Straizo was going to do everything in his now-considerable power to see that such faith was rewarded. As would be only proper, after the boons that Alice Brando had granted him.

 

=PB=

 

Once the pair of them had said their farewells to the staff and Straizo, she and Dio turned and climbed up into the carriage that would take them to the train station. Their luggage had already been packed away for them – something she still made a point of thanking her people for, since she still remembered having to do that kind of thing herself – and now Alice was simply relaxing beside her brother as their driver took them to the train station.

 

“So, you are going to begin investing in those horseless carriages?” Dio asked, continuing the conversation they’d been having before they’d left the house.

 

“I’ve got a good feeling about them,” she said, offering her brother an easy smile as their carriage continued rolling onward toward the train station.

 

Dio didn’t quite seem to know what to say in response to that, so the pair of them settled into a comfortable, anticipatory silence.

 

=PB=

 

Jonathan could fair believe he could hear his own heart hammering, when he and Erina had arrived at the large station where Dio and Alice’s last train would ultimately drop his dear siblings off from their long journey. Of course, when he heard the sharp whistle of an in-bound train, Jonathan was swift to hurry toward the station platform so that he could be among the first to meet with Dio and Alice when they departed from the train. He wondered, for a moment, if they would be able to hear his heart pounding.

 

Perhaps they would, at that; Dio was certain to make mention of it, if such were indeed the case.

 

His heart swelled fit to burst, when he saw the tall, elegant forms of his siblings – umbrellas open to shield them from the sunlight that would have otherwise caused them grievous harm – making their way through the crowds that seemed to naturally part around the pair of them. Calling back to his dearest siblings as they both called out their own variants of his name, Jonathan hastened his stride to meet them.

 

“So good to see you again, Jojo,” Dio said, grinning in that irrepressible way he always had; save for those times when his brother had been truly furious.

 

“I’m glad to see the both of you again, as well,” he said, smiling warmly at the pair of them. “Please, do tell me what the two of you have been doing of late.”

 

The pair of them shared one of those secret expressions of theirs – communicating without words in the way that Jonathan had wished on so many occasions to be capable of interpreting – and then they smiled almost as one.

 

“Well, that’s quite the story to tell,” Alice said, as she and Dio took position on either side of him, draping their closest arm over his shoulders as the three of them fell into step with one another for the first time in entirely too long.

 

Hearing the pair of them talking about what had been happening lately – in particular, Alice’s most recent confrontation with Mr. Zeppeli, and their peaceful contact with the other Hamon user, a man named Straizo – Jonathan had found himself with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he was pleased that Alice had been able to resolve the situation with Straizo peacefully, but he could not avoid the thought that her method of warding off Mr. Zeppeli had only delayed their inevitable confrontation.

 

Jonathan hoped that such would not be the case, but he’d seen first-hand how devoted Mr. Zeppeli was to his own ideals; it was a quality he would have admired, save for the fact that he knew just Mr. Zeppeli’s ideals were.

 

It was something of a trial to refrain from sighing, but as he’d no desire to worry his dear siblings, Jonathan restrained himself as well as he was able. The three of them spoke of matters of little import while they boarded the ship that would carry them back to England, and Jonathan felt a distinct warmth growing in his chest as he realized just how well Dio and Alice had managed to establish themselves in the burgeoning state of Montana, as well as the fact that – discounting Mr. Zeppeli’s determination to harm them for what amounted to no good reason at all – his siblings had managed to create a peaceful life for themselves in America.

 

I was planning to suggest that we travel to the States for our honeymoon, Jonathan reflected, smiling gently as he watched Dio and Alice settling themselves into the suite he had purchased for the three of them to stay in. Perhaps they would be amenable to hosting us. Making up his mind to ask the pair of them about such a thing once all of them had managed to get properly settled in, Jonathan answered the door and swiftly took charge of the porters as they brought in his luggage, alongside that of Dio and Alice.

 

He was pleased; even considering everything that had happened to them, his dear siblings were going as well as he could hope.

 

=PB=

 

The wedding was nice enough; not like she’d much of a basis for comparison, but everyone in attendance seemed happy, so that was something. The ceremony itself had been fairly elaborate, but again she didn’t have much in the way of a basis for comparison. Acting as Erina’s Maid of Honor had been rather an interesting experience, and watching Dio strutting around in his capacity as Jonathan’s Best Man was good for a laugh, at least.

 

The four of them had made arrangements to stay at the Brando estate in Montana, after the requisite journey by boat to New York so that they could catch a train, and Alice could readily admit that she was looking forward to just such a thing.

 

“Come on, Miss Alice, they’re getting ready to throw the bouquet!”

 

“Poco,” old George called, before Alice herself could have said anything. “I don’t think that would be advisable.”

 

“What? But, why not?”

 

“Unfortunately, Poco, I happen to be married to my work,” she said, smiling as she gently disentangled Poco’s hand from her own.

 

The pair of them shared a laugh, and even old George Joestar seemed to lighten up a bit, at least once he knew that she wasn’t going to be heading out to catch any bouquets.

 

After all of the festivities were over and done with, Alice met up with Dio again, and the pair of them boarded the carriage just behind the heavily-decorated – she was almost ready to say over decorated – one that Jonathan and Erina had boarded, and the pair of carriages rumbled off toward the docks.

 

=PB=

 

When he, his sweet sister, and their adorable newlywed fool of a brother had all boarded the ship that would carry them back to New York once more he, Dio, grinned contently at the prospect. Straizo might have been fully willing to give himself over to his dear Alice’s gentle guidance, but the pair of them were in complete agreement as to their preference: the pair of them would be a great deal more settled once they were returned to their own estate. And, even after everything, the thought of that was still enough to bring a smile to his face.

 

True, establishing themselves – even so well as they had, back in their Montana holdings – was, in and of itself, just one small step to their ultimate goal of reining over Heaven and Earth alike, but it was a step that he, Dio, thoroughly relished.

 

“Mind your head, Jojo,” he said, ducking smoothly underneath the threshold of the door that served as both an entrance and exit to the forward deck.

 

“What? Ouch!”

 

Sighing in good-natured exasperation he, Dio, turned back around. “Honestly, Jojo, what am I going to do with you?” he asked, stepping back over to his and Alice’s adorable little puppy. “And look, you’ve managed to do yourself terrible harm with that blow,” he grinned, just wide enough to show the edges of his fangs. “Shall I kiss it better?”

 

“Dio!” Erina exclaimed, making her own presence known in a way that even he, Dio, could hardly ignore. “If anyone is going to be kissing Jonathan’s wounds, it shall be me.”

 

Grinning at the admonishing expression on Erina’s rather adorable face – truly, she and Jojo suited each other rather well – he, Dio chuckled at the color spreading across Jojo’s cheeks. “You still blush like a peach, Jojo.”

 

“You aren’t going planning to lick me again, are you?” Jojo asked, seeming as adorably flustered by the thought as he had been that time after their first boxing match.

 

“Would you enjoy that, Jojo?” he asked, grinning widely enough to show his fangs.

 

“Dio Brando, you are a terribly brazen man,” Erina admonished, stepping slightly in front of Jojo so that she could chastise him with her right pointer finger in his face.

 

Grinning fit to show all of his fangs he, Dio, kissed the tip of that finger.

 

“Well, since it seems that I’m not wanted here, I shall be taking my leave,” and thus, with another grin full of fangs he, Dio, turned to leave.

 

Perhaps he would pay a visit to his dear Alice; he’d heard she was working in the kitchen…

 

“If all you’re going to do is hang around and try to eat bits of frosting when you think I’m not looking, could you at least try to restrict yourself to the colors I’ve already used?”

 

“Oh, but I so rarely get to have chocolate buttercream frosting,” though he knew the gesture was useless he, Dio, attempted to wheedle just a touch of his sweet sister’s luscious frosting.

 

“You’re a big boy, Dio,” his dear Alice said, her tone tolerantly amused. “You can wait to have your dessert with the rest of us.”

 

Sighing deeply as he turned to leave the kitchen where his sweet sister was doing her good work he, Dio, made his way out. Apparently, he would have to find something else to occupy his time…

 

Grinning as he peered through the grate, into the engine room below he, Dio, fixed his gaze upon the long, slender crate that seemed to have been presented solely for his personal amusement. The crate itself looked enough like a casket for his purposes, and his vampiric abilities would serve to allow him to disguise himself as a corpse well enough to fool anyone who wasn’t a member of his family.

 

He didn’t have to wait long, after twisting himself through the gaps in the grate, before he heard the sound of muffled footsteps making their way over to the crate. Grinning in the darkness he, Dio, quickly arranged his features into a serene mask and waited. Soon enough, the human who’d been scuffling around in the engine room had opened the crate. Interestingly enough, it seemed to be a priest, if the recitation of the Last Rites he was hearing was any indication.

 

“That was quite kind of you to say,” he said, allowing himself to grin as he sat up during the space of one of the human’s blinks. “Thank you.”

 

=PB=

 

The sound of Dio’s laughter was what caught his attention at first, but the sound of another person shouting in panic was what ultimately decided his next course of action. Jonathan knew that, for all of his brother’s fine qualities, if the opportunity for a bit of mischief were presented to him, he was not of a kind to refuse such a thing. Catching a glimpse of his brother through a grate in the deck, Jonathan turned his path toward the engine room.

 

He’d seen Dio there, sprawled elegantly across a long crate that looked enough like a coffin that Jonathan hardly had to guess at what he’d just been about.

 

When he arrived in the engine room at last, Dio had stopped laughing, but was still sprawled across the crate with a self-amused grin on his face. And, when Jonathan stepped into the engine room itself, he found that Dio was still chuckling.

 

“Hello, Jojo,” Dio greeted, a grin like the Cheshire Cat firmly in place; even upside-down, it was plain to see.

 

“Dio, what’ve you gotten up to now?”

 

Before his brother could have thought up anything to say, however, the sound of shattering wood drew their attention. He wondered, even as the pair of them dashed off to find the source of the sounds, just what it was that Dio was hearing. His brother seemed far more tense than usual, but before Jonathan could say anything, the pair of them had arrived at the dining hall. It was a battlefield: the shattered remains of tables and chairs littered the floor, and ranging around the middle of the room were-

 

Bastard! I’ll kill you!” Dio snarled, launching himself heedlessly toward Mr. Zeppeli, even as Alice hurled yet another table at the man’s head.

 

Pausing for only a moment to gather Hamon into his fists, Jonathan threw himself into the fray a few paces behind his brother.

 

Jonathan was able to block most of the Hamon-filled wood shrapnel that Mr. Zeppeli threw at his siblings, but one particularly large chunk – clearly broken from one of the tables that Alice had thrown at him – exploded in his face. Temporarily blinded, his breathing too erratic to produce Hamon, Jonathan found himself knocked to the thickly-carpeted floor. He heard a grunt of pain from Alice, followed by a nearly feral scream of rage from Dio, and so he forced himself back to his feet.

 

Blinking away the spots from his eyes as he worked to regain control of his breathing, Jonathan abruptly found that such a thing was no longer necessary. Mr. Zeppeli was quite thoroughly dead, having long since bled out from the sword-wounds Dio was continuing to inflict even as he watched.

 

“Dio!” he called, after having gathered the slumbering form of Alice in his arms. “You’ve won! Please, we should attend to Alice now.”

 

He eventually managed to convince his and Alice’s brother not to raise Mr. Zeppeli as a zombie, and together they were able to bring Alice back to the room that he shared with Erina. It was no burden, offering Alice the blood she needed to revive and heal, and when Dio embraced him from behind it only strengthened his resolve all the more. They were his family; he could hardly do less.

 

~Phantom Blood: End~

Chapter Text

~Battle Tendency: begin~

 

Looking out to the horizon, Robert smiled widely as he caught sight of the approaching planes. He and his own people had arrived some time ago, and considering what his Foundation had discovered… Well, there couldn’t be any harm in having more than one way of dealing with the… creature resting inside that pillar. Breathing a bit more easily when he could hear the engines of the planes drawing ever closer, he gave the signal to his own pilot to keep the engine running.

 

He wasn’t going to waste time once they arrived; at least, not for anything so trivial as waiting for the plane’s engines to warm up again.

 

When the planes finally landed, Robert sighed in relief. Here, now, was his chance to be rid of that terrible creature at last. One might have asked, since three of his close friends were vampires, why he did not have more charitable feelings toward the creature within the pillar. And yes, he’d once thought it possible to awaken the creature peaceably, and perhaps to speak with it about… whatever matters such a being would have considered of import.

 

But that had been before he’d been forced to watch in helpless horror as Marty Balin – a good man, and all the more tragically, one of the youngest members of the expedition that had discovered the creature within the pillar – had been pulled, screaming, into the very stone of the pillar.

 

It had become more than clear, at that moment, that the creature within the pillar – whoever or whatever it had been prior to ending up as he was – had long since succumbed to the maddening hunger that any starving creature would have been prey to. Truly, it could even be said that he was offering that poor creature mercy, destroying it before it could unite the world against itself and so end up drawing the attention of those who would not nearly be so kind about destroying it as Robert and those who he had called to his side.

 

Making his way over to the pair of planes that had just settled to the ground, even as he felt the wind from the propellers buffeting him, Robert smiled with a sense of fond nostalgia as he saw the doors of both planes opening wide to allow his long-absent – though not so long, in the case of dear Alice – friends to exit their respective transports at last.

 

“Speedwagon!”

 

“Jojo,” he said, smiling all the wider as his old friend rushed forward to embrace him. “It’s been fifty years since we last saw each other, but you look as young as ever.”

 

“I certainly hope you remembered to bring along enough water this time,” Alice said, before either he or Jojo could say another word to one another.

 

He laughed, nostalgic and rueful at once. “You’re going to hold that over me for the rest of my life, aren’t you?”

 

“I offer to supply your expedition into the Texan desert, and you refuse even after I offer to make it a loan rather than a gift. And, after you go haring off like some desperate madman, I find you half-dead of heat exhaustion not three weeks later,” Jojo’s sister said, spearing him with a thoroughly unimpressed expression. “So yes, Robert, nearly getting yourself killed is something I fully intend to hold over your head, you stubborn old goat.”

 

She might have the face of an angel, but Alice Brando is not a woman to cross lightly, he reflected, smiling gently as Jojo stepped back and the pair of them were able to face one another again. “All that aside, I called the pair of you here so that you might see something that I’m sure will be of great interest.”

 

“Oh?” Alice asked, as Straizo stepped out of the plane and took up position behind her; he was wearing what looked like a sword, strapped to his back.

 

A thing that Robert found more than a little odd, since he and Alice were both carrying the sword-concealing umbrellas that Alice had designed as both a means of defense from the sun and also as a means of protecting their persons without resorting to the use of their vampiric abilities.

 

“Come,” he said, deciding that he would speak to Alice about the other sword that she had given to Straizo while the three of them flew to Mexico. “We should get underway as quickly as possible.”

 

Jojo laughed softly, as the four of them boarded the plane that he had had transported to this place so that they would be able to undertake this last leg of their journey. “I find that, no matter how many times I step aboard one of these fascinating contraptions, I’ve never become tired of it.”

 

“They are fascinating devices,” he said, smiling as he followed Jojo, Alice, and Straizo into the cabin of his plane.

 

“Indeed,” Jojo said, smiling brightly as he looked up at the ceiling of the cabin above them. “Still, it’s not quite so exciting as flying upon the back of Alice’s Quetzalcoatlus.”

 

“Yes, I suppose it could hardly compete with that,” he said, laughing softly in amused reflection.

 

And it was true: being confined on all sides by the steel skin of an airplane could hardly compete with riding upon the back of a reborn ancient beast; feeling the wind in one’s hair as the creature raced through the skies. Of course, considering the beast’s nature as a zombie, they could hardly have relied upon it to carry them all to Mexico in anything resembling a timely manner. Still, Robert could hardly have denied his own exhilaration when Alice had offered him the chance to ride upon the creature’s back.

 

Still, at present they all had more pressing concerns than far-distant memories, exciting as they may very well have been.

 

“Alice, if you wouldn’t think me too forward, why does Straizo have another sword strapped to his back?” he asked, once their small group had gotten fully underway.

 

“That isn’t a sword, Robert,” she said calmly, reaching back and giving a signal to Straizo. “It’s my steel-bow.”

 

He was about to ask just why in the world anyone would want a steel bow, when he remembered just what kind of inhuman strength Alice and Dio were capable of summoning by their very nature. Truly, while a bow made of steel would be impossible for a human to wield in any but the most diminished of capacities, a vampire such as Dio or Alice would be able to use such a weapon to devastating effect. The thought would have been rather terrifying, if he’d not known Alice so well as he did.

 

“Speedwagon, you said that you were going to tell us about what your people found?” Jojo prompted, turning toward him with an expression of interest.

 

“Yes,” he said, nodding and drawing himself up. “First, however, I feel that I should inform you of the particulars of our present circumstances. It’s been quite some time since you succeeded Tonpetty, after all.”

 

“Yes,” Jojo said, a wistful expression spreading over his still-youthful face. “I spend so much time away in Tibet that I’ve barely had the chance to speak with Joseph. And now, with Elizabeth in Venice to guard the Red Stone,” Jojo sighed, turning an expression of such touching concern upon him that Robert felt his heart go out to the man. “How has Joseph been doing? Is he getting on well?”

 

“He and Erina are both doing well,” he said, smiling for Jojo’s sake as well as his own. “If nothing else, her friendship with Grace and Darby has helped the both of them to cope with your frequent absences,” he continued, smile beginning to slip a bit. “Still, however much he might resemble you in other areas, Joseph is hardly a gentleman.”

 

“What do you mean?” Jojo asked, turning to him with a look of frank apprehension on his face.

 

“It’s nothing too serious,” Robert rushed to reassure his old friend, knowing that Jojo – without the benefit of knowing Joseph so well as he did – would, all wishes to the contrary aside, easily come to fear the worst. “He just has a tendency to be… Rather a bit overzealous when provoked.”

 

“What do you mean, Speedwagon?”

 

With a rueful sigh, Robert leaned back in his seat as he began to tell Jojo about the various incidents that his grandson had been involved with. Truly, it had become quite the list…

 

=BT=

 

Sitting back in her seat, light-shrugging white hood pulled over her head to block out the sunlight coming in through the cockpit of the plane, Alice closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. She might not have known much about JJBA Part 2, as opposed to what she knew about Dio in particular and Stardust Crusaders in general, but she might know just enough to help her and hers dodge the worst of the pitfalls that were inevitably going to be coming their way.

 

Too bad it hadn’t been made into an anime before… Well, Before, she mused, smiling with the blackest sort of humor. Still, I guess it wouldn’t be quite so fun if I could skate on everything, now would it? Really, there wasn’t much point in wishing for things you knew you couldn’t have, so Alice put those thoughts out of her mind.

 

Of course, without her faded memories of a past-future that only she remembered to occupy her mind, Alice naturally found herself wondering just what Rob thought he needed two vampires – though Straizo had insisted on coming, rather than being invited the way she’d been, herself – and a Hamon Master to deal with. And in Mexico, of all places. The only thing she could think of were some kind of dinosaur zombies, and since vampires were the only ones who could create zombies in the first place…

 

A Mexican vampire cult, maybe? But then, that still wouldn’t explain what Rob had wanted her along for, since Jonathan could have handled pretty much any vampire he came across. Well, any vampire who didn’t have prep-time and a good set of tools, she mused, crossing her legs at the ankles as she continued to mull over the odd circumstances that she’d found herself facing on this little sojourn to Mexico with her adopted brother, a man who’d all but openly declared himself her retainer, and an old friend from London she’d met while cross-dressing.

 

“Alice, we’ve arrived,” Rob said, and she felt a light hand on her right shoulder, pressing down just hard enough to draw her attention without being unpleasant.

 

“All right,” she said, rising from her seat and making for the plane’s exit hatch. “Thanks for letting me know, Rob.”

 

As the four of them fell into step, making their way through a jungle that looked like it would have fit perfectly into the terrain of South America; though she’d be the first to admit that she didn’t know much about Mexican geography as it compared to South America’s. Still, considering what the four of them were approaching…

 

“So, two vampires, an oil tycoon, and a Hamon Master walk into a cave,” she turned a sidelong look on Rob as they all continued on their way up to the gaping mouth of the cavern. “Should I be glad this isn’t a pub?”

 

“Alice, this is hardly the time for levity,” Rob said, just loud enough to cover Jonathan’s sudden attack of the giggles. “Even you might find this place overwhelming; what we found here… It’s enough to make me glad that you and Dio, and even Straizo, were all able to retain your essential humanity. I can hardly say the same for this creature.”

 

“Creature?” she echoed, raising an eyebrow. “There’s something alive in here?” she sniffed the air again; it was just as stagnant as it had been the first time she sampled it; and growing steadily worse, the deeper they continued into the cavern.

 

“I’d hardly say it’s alive, Alice,” Rob said, beginning to sound distinctly jittery; and sure, while the man did tend to over-exaggerate, he had a good head on his shoulders and had been reliable enough to offset his more bone-headed moments. “Still, you’ll see what I mean when we arrive in the main chamber.”

 

She hummed softly, still curious about what might’ve been hidden away in this strange cavern, but also wondering if Rob’s habitual paranoia was getting the better of him in this case.

 

=BT=

 

There was a terrible, blackened aura that clung to this place; one that he and Speedwagon seemed particularly aware of, while Alice and Straizo seemed perfectly immune to it. And yes, he was fully aware that his and Dio’s sister’s most common response to danger was to attempt to poke it with a stick – sometimes entirely too literally for his peace of mind – but Jonathan could not help the thought that such a thing would not serve her at all in the situation they were about to find themselves in.

 

“Well, someone’s been busy,” Alice’s voice broke the quickly-becoming-oppressive silence, and Jonathan was not entirely certain if he should be grateful to her or not.

 

“What do you mean, Alice?” he asked, feeling almost as though he were forcing himself to speak into the silence; a thing he rather doubted his and Dio’s sister had been afflicted by.

 

It seemed to be against her very nature, to respond to fear with anything but a determined sort of curiosity; Jonathan could only hope that such a thing would not cause either her or Dio any undue grief.

 

“The walls of this place are covered in Stone Masks, and unless these ones were drop-forged – which I kind of doubt, given the detail-work on each of them – someone had to spend a lot of time hand-carving these.”

 

One of Speedwagon’s people, carrying a light for the benefit of those of them who needed light in such a place, shined it upon the wall near where Alice had been standing. Just as she’d stated, the wall was indeed covered with Stone Masks of varying designs. Such a sight left Jonathan with profoundly mixed feelings; yes, as a Hamon Master he was bound by the oaths he had given to Master Tonpetty to destroy the Stone Masks and those creatures born of it, and yet… Looking to Alice, even as she stepped out of the light cast by the lamp, continuing to study the walls and those Stone Masks that were within the range of her eyes, Jonathan felt his resolve renewed once more.

 

If those who had been touched by the Stone Mask were indeed wicked, then Jonathan would dispose of them swiftly and without hesitation; but, if they were of the same temperament as Dio and Alice – though, truly he would much prefer that any other vampires were more akin to his level-headed sister rather than his irrepressible rapscallion of a brother – then he would let them alone, though he would advise that they sought out his sister in such a case.

 

This is what I brought you all here to see,” Speedwagon said, and Jonathan turned, catching sight of… the more-than-life-sized carving of what was clearly a man, within the very stone of the pillar itself.

 

He was just about to ask just why in the world Speedwagon would be so concerned about a carving, ominous as it so clearly felt, when Alice broke the silence; what she said was one of the most unexpected things that he had ever heard.

 

“You found another one of those things?”

 

“You’ve seen something like this?” Speedwagon asked, before Jonathan could articulate that selfsame question.

 

“I have; back in Rome, Caesar and I ended up chasing after a man that turned out to be his father, Mario Zeppeli,” a far-away expression passed briefly over Alice’s face, before she shook her head slightly, bloody crimson eyes becoming clear and focused once more. “The three of us ended up in front of a wall with three carvings; they didn’t look too much like the one we’re standing in front of, but they weren’t too far off, either. Anyway, there was clearly a bit of a scuffle before I got there, but Caesar was on the ground, and Mario was actually being pulled into the stone itself,” Alice narrowed her eyes, her gaze taking in the form of the man within the pillar. “I lost a sword to the one on the right,” she turned back to them, clearly realizing that she had just spoken of something neither one of them could have had any way of knowing about. “There were three of them, in the wall; each of them posed a different way. I wouldn’t have thought much of it, Roman art being what it is. But, considering what happened to Mario… Well, I couldn’t exactly overlook something like that.”

 

“I should say not,” Speedwagon exclaimed, turning a glance back on Alice, before returning his attention to the man in the pillar.

 

As Jonathan turned his own attention back to the man in the pillar, he heard Alice call to Straizo, and out of the corner of his right eye he watched his sister be handed her steel-bow. He watched as Straizo bent the straightened metal shaft – it almost looked like a pipe, but with the back third cut out; or perhaps just never forged in the first place – and Alice strung it with what looked like a braided coil of wire. This was only the second time he had gotten a glimpse of it, but the first that he’d seen his and Dio’s sister preparing to use it.

 

This was, conversely, the first time he’d had the opportunity to see that, far from just holding the unstrung form of the bow, what he’d at first taken for the sheath of a sword was in fact a combined quiver and a method of holding Alice’s steel bow. Just as his and Dio’s sister looked about to draw back the string of her bow, she paused, shifting her weight slightly, as though something had just caught her attention.

 

“Did you order a convoy out here?” Alice asked, indirectly answering his question before Jonathan could manage to articulate it.

 

“A convoy? No, of course not,” Speedwagon said, looking surprised at the suggestion.

 

Alice narrowed her eyes, a thoughtful expression spreading over her face, even as she unstrung her steel-bow and tucked it away within the combined quiver and holder. The three of them, he, Speedwagon, and Straizo, all turned to watch as she stepped to the back of their group.

 

=BT=

 

Robert was just about to call out to Alice, wanting to know just what in the world she was doing – he’d thought that her plan was to fire one of the arrows from her steel-bow into that creature in the pillar, which would then allow Jojo to channel Hamon into it without risking himself by getting dangerously close, the way that poor Marty Balin had – before she raised the two locks of blonde hair he’d seen but not taken much note of.

 

“There are eight of them; heavy transport trucks, given the sound of the engines I’m hearing,” Alice said, her eyes half-closed and unfocused.

 

“You can hear them from in here?” he asked, startled once more at having underestimated just what vampire senses were capable of.

 

“This is something Alice showed me,” Jojo said, turning away from the creature in the pillar. “See those long hairs she has? Those act like a cat’s whiskers, allowing Alice to hear sounds much fainter and farther away than even an ordinary vampire would be able to detect.”

 

“They can even pick up changes in air-currents, so I might even be able to tell you if a storm is coming, with some refinement of the technique,” Alice said, her tone sounding rather amused. “Anyway, those transports I heard earlier are definitely coming this way.”

 

“Speedwagon, if you weren’t the one to bring these newcomers in, then I rather doubt they could mean us well,” Jojo said, his tone concerned.

 

“Yes, I fear you’re right, Jojo,” he said, swallowing harshly.

 

=BT=

 

Grumbling words that would have had both Granny Erina and Aunty Grace wanting to wash his mouth out with really bad-tasting soap, Joseph Joestar hurried after the pick-pocket who’d just stolen his wallet. It might’ve been filled with just the few pounds he’d taken with him on this particular excursion into the more interesting parts of New York, but those were his pounds and that was his wallet, thank you very much. When he finally came to the alley where the pickpocket he’d been tailing had turned off, Joseph found something he very much hadn’t been expecting.

 

Really, he’d figured that Aunty Alice would have dealt with this kind of trash already. Still, the New York branch of Brando International was only a few years old at this point, so maybe she just didn’t have the leverage to implement any proper reforms. It looked like he was going to have to handle things, just until she returned from her expedition with Speedwagon, Straizo, and Gramps.

 

“Hullo!”

 

“Hey, it’s the pigeon what got his wallet lifted,” the fat man – really, Aunty Alice would have had the man running laps before he could have even thought of joining the police force in Montana – called back to him, holding up the very wallet that had been taken from him not a few minutes ago. “This is evidence, so I’m gonna be keepin’ it!”

 

“Well now, how shall I put this?” he mused aloud, more for his own benefit than for either of the oafs he was faced with. “Here’s what happened: there actually is no crime, since that wallet was a gift, Constable.”

 

The pair of oafs looked in askance at him, but Joseph’s eyes drifted back towards the bloodied form of the pickpocket, still pinned against the wall of the alley. It seemed that even he was surprised by the action. Still, if there was one thing that Gramps and Granny both agreed on, besides keeping his Hamon skills sharp through constant training, it was that one should always show kindness to the less fortunate.

 

“So, then, sir. Would you please return both wallet and boy?”

 

“What’d you just say?” the fat one – clearly, his partner wasn’t much for speaking – demanded.

 

“As I told you: it was a gift,” he reiterated, which seemed to shock the pickpocket and annoy the oafs in roughly equal measure. “He and I are good friends. Let him go, please.”

 

Narrowing his eyes as he saw the fat oaf hurl the pickpocket roughly to the ground, Joseph curled his lip in almost instinctive disgust as the man began picking his nose as he came closer.

 

“A good friend, huh? Why don’t you tell me what your good friend’s name is?” the fat oaf demanded, holding out a bogey-covered finger before his face; Joseph stuck his hands in his pockets, searching for the tissues he’d brought with him; if that oaf was actually going to do what it seemed he was going to do… Well, he’d much prefer to be prepared for it, rather than not. “What’s the matter, limey? You want to see what a New York pokey is like? Here’s a present for ya!”

 

The feeling of the fat oaf pressing his finger into Joseph’s right cheek was disgusting enough, but it was all the moreso since he knew what was on that finger. Still, might as well give the oafs a chance to dig their own graves.

 

“That’s curious,” he said, not bothering to suppress the thread of annoyance in his tone. “Help me understand: why would you do something like that? It’s just such an unsavory thing to do.”

 

“There ain’t no reason!” the fat oaf shouted, finger going right back up his nose; it would be the last time, Joseph decided. “I do what I like whenever I feel like it, ya fool!”

Chapter Text

“That’s just what I thought you’d say, you stupid pig!”

 

His punch, even without Hamon enhancing the power behind it, struck hard enough to drive the fat oaf’s finger right through the top of his nose. A pair of bloody teeth flew out of his mouth as he slammed into the ground, wriggling pathetically for a few moments before going still.

 

“You were shot resisting arrest!”

 

So, the silent oaf has a tongue, after all, Joseph mused, not feeling particularly charitable. “Please,” he snapped, spitting to the side in contempt. “Try to shoot me. But I’m warning you right now: before you can pull the trigger, I will have broken your finger like a rotten matchstick!”

 

“Not from over there! I’ll blow your damned brains out!”

 

Lips pulling back from his teeth in something that the other oaf might have been foolish enough to think was a grin, Joseph gathered his Hamon. Channeling it into the bottle, Joseph grinned all the wider as he felt the pop inside the bottle resonating with the energy. The bottlecap blew clean off, slamming into the oaf’s finger and snapping the thing in just the way he’d promised to do.

 

He’d a sense of satisfaction about his actions, for all of half a minute before he remembered just what he’d actually done. Gramps had told him time and time again that Hamon was to be used for the protection of humanity from monsters like wicked vampires, or zombies; well, not vampires like Aunty Alice and Uncle Dio, and certainly not zombies like Bruford and Tarkus. Still, if there was one thing that Gramps was adamant about, it was that Hamon was not to be used to assault his fellow man.

 

Still, even Gramps would have given those brutish oafs what for, but Granny

 

“Crap, I’m in for it now,” he groused, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Granny Erina is going to rake me over the coals for this!” he fidgeted, passing the opened bottle – the pop was rather good, at least – from hand to hand. “She’ll understand if I explain, won’t she?” shaking himself back to the present, Joseph found his eyes falling back on the small, slender form on the ground before him. “Now, Mr. Pickpocket, what’s say we get out of here?”

 

Pausing for a moment, Joseph waited for the lad to nod, then swept him up so that the pair of them could hightail it out of the alley they’d been standing in. He wasn’t so heavy, probably since he didn’t get much to eat, but Joseph was eager to get back out into the city. Anyway, the pickpocket couldn’t have had many fond memories of this particular alley, so the sooner the pair of them could hightail it out of there, the better.

 

Once the pair of them were far enough away that Joseph felt he could at least be reasonably sure that nobody had followed them, he allowed himself to relax. Opening up his wallet, Joseph checked to make sure everything was still where he’d put it.

 

“Ah, every pound still in place,” he said, smiling slightly. “Good.”

 

“Those are American dollars,” the pickpocket said, looking up at Joseph like he was the one being strange.

 

“Bah,” he grumbled. “Here, it’s dollars, over in Italy it’s called lira, Mexican money is called dinero,” he groused.

 

“Actually, Mexican money is called pesos,” the pickpocket interrupted, a slight smile starting to show on his face.

 

“Argh! There’s just too damn many words that all mean the same thing!” he shouted, falling to slump back against the concrete pilings of the overpass they were standing under. “Would you believe that one of my Aunties speaks eight different languages? Eight! I mean, really; what would you ever need to speak eight different languages for?”

 

Pulling a face as he heard the pickpocket laughing at him, Joseph paused to wait out the fit of laugher, brief as it ended up being.

 

“I meant to ask you this before, but what was that weird light you started glowing with earlier?”

 

“Oh, that? That’s a talent that Gramps has been working to teach pretty much everyone in the family,” he said, folding his arms behind his back as he looked up at the vast network of steel girders that supported the overpass that towered so far above their heads. “Well, those of us that can use it, anyway.”

 

“Wow,” the pickpocket said, sounding suitably awed. “So, your whole family can do stuff like what you just did?”

 

“Well, not quite all of them. My father never quite had the knack,” he said. “Neither did my Aunty Alice, or my Uncle Dio,” he said, perfectly aware that just saying something like that didn’t encompass any of the reasons why three of his family members were unable to use Hamon; or the specific and differing circumstances behind those reasons.

 

Still, some secrets were meant only for family ears; even he knew that.

 

“Oh,” the pickpocket said, still sounding a bit curious, but also like he understood just when to stop asking questions; Joseph was pleased with his discretion. “Anyway, I really owe you big time. Everyone calls me Smokey, and I’d sure like it if you’d tell me your name.”

 

“It’s Joestar,” he said, turning a grin back at Smokey as he stood tall; the same way Gramps did, when he would introduce himself to someone new. Even after so long in Tibet, it seemed to be a habit that Gramps was determined to keep. “Joseph Joestar. My friends call me Jojo.”

 

Of course, sometimes it got a bit confusing, those times when he and Gramps would be training together, since the both of them had the same nickname; and sure, it’d been funny those first few times when both of them would be talking with Speedwagon, and he’d forget that – at least to the old man – Gramps would always be Jojo. Still, it was an old joke, and old jokes didn’t really stay funny for long.

 

=BT=

 

“How long do we have until that convoy gets here, Alice?” he asked, looking back down the length of the tunnel; back towards the entrance.

 

“Given the speed they’re moving? About half an hour, perhaps less, depending on if they’re equipped for going off-road or not,” Jojo’s sister said, the thoughtful expression on her face hardening into one of resolve. “Jonathan, do you think that’ll be enough time for us to deal with this guy?”

 

“Not with any degree of certainty,” Jojo said, looking at the creature in the pillar with an expression of utmost concern upon his face. “Even channeling Hamon through an arrow shot into the creature’s head, I could hardly be certain of just how the energies would react with the surrounding stone.”

 

“What do you mean, Jojo?”

 

“Hamon interacts differently with stone than it does with living creatures, Speedwagon,” Jojo said, turning back to him with that same, worried expression that he’d worn when they’d all first made their way into this terrible, blackened cavern. “There’s too much a risk that, when the Hamon comes into contact with the creature’s body, it will merely serve to shatter the stone covering it and release the creature back into the world.”

 

“Yes,” he said, shuddering at the very thought of releasing the horrid thing they were facing from its stone slumber. “We could hardly risk something like that.”

 

“Well, whatever we are going to do, we’re going to want to do it fast,” Alice said, the two locks of hair she’d been using to monitor the approach of whoever it was in command of that convoy she’d told them about still stiffened and pointed down toward the entrance of the tunnel. “We’re running out of time.”

 

“We can’t simply abandon this place! If those people don’t know what kind of monster they’re dealing with, they could put the whole world in terrible danger!” he exclaimed, looking from the creature in the pillar – appearing so terribly, deceptively placid as it slumbered – to his old friends, already willing to place themselves in the path of such deadly peril, simply to ensure that no other person was forced to face it.

 

“I’ll speak to them,” Jojo said, setting himself forward again. “Perhaps, if I were to explain the nature of our present circumstances, I can make them understand the gravity of the situation.”

 

Robert allowed himself a sigh of profound relief; Jojo would be able to handle this. He would convince those men – whoever they were – not to go charging so recklessly into a situation that was entirely beyond their ken. And then, once they were safely out of the way, the three of them – or four; he didn’t want to discount Straizo, but the man was so terribly unobtrusive – would be able to return their attention to the creature locked away within the pillar.

 

They would be able to determine a method of destroying it at last.

 

=BT=

 

Smokey still didn’t quite know just what to make of Joseph – or Jojo, but he didn’t think the two of them were that close just yet – but, well… Watching as he threatened a cabbie was a bit much. Still, he was starting to get the feeling that, for all of Joseph’s tough-guy swagger, he was really a good man at heart. That bore out when, once his grandma had asked to know what he was doing, he paid for the cab and the three of them all climbed inside.

 

“So, where does your family live?” he asked, curiosity finally getting the better of him. “You said your grandpa taught you to use that light of yours, but I don’t know many places that he’d be able to learn something like that.”

 

“Gramps spends most of his time in Tibet,” Joseph said, leaning back in his seat as the cab set off. “And now, with Mum off in Venice on business… Well, Granny and I have been spending a lot more time together.”

 

Wow, his family’s pretty much scattered to the four winds, Smokey mused, feeling a bit sad.

 

“Speaking of time, when do you think Speedwagon is going to get here?”

 

“I’m not certain, Joseph,” his grandmother said, gloved hands clasped over the end of her pale-blue umbrella.

 

“Really, Speedwagon calls on us to come all the way out to New York on some business that he won’t even mention over the telephone, and then when we do come, he’s not even here to meet us,” Joseph said, leaning on his right hand with an annoyed expression on his face. “I think that was very rude of him.”

 

“I’m sure the oil business occupies a great deal of his time,” the old woman said; she seemed to be a lot more level-headed than Joseph, something that he wondered about for a bit.

 

He wondered if it was true for all the Joestars, that the women were calmer than the men.

 

“Say, Granny, do you think he’s taken up with Aunty Alice?” Joseph asked, starting to grin slyly. “Do you think that’s why he didn’t show up?”

 

“What are you suggesting, Joseph?” she demanded, starting to look more than a bit irate.

 

“Well, Aunty Alice is so well-preserved that even I would want to court her,” Joseph said, his grin stretching widely across his face. “So, it’s no surprise that an old man like Speedwagon would have the same sort of idea.”

 

When Joseph started to make kissy-faces as his grandma, and Smokey tried not to burst out laughing, the woman gave him a good batting about the head and shoulders with her umbrella.

 

=BT=

 

“You shouldn’t make insinuations like that,” Granny Erina said, as he rubbed the aching spot on his head she’d been smacking. “Particularly about our family.”

 

“All right, all right, I’m sorry!” he exclaimed, holding up his hands to ward off any further blows to the head. “I won’t do it again!”

 

After a last look, promising further chastisement if he had the misfortune to be caught acting up again, Joseph settled back into his seat to watch the city going by. Soon enough, the three of them had decided upon a restaurant to stop off at for supper. Stepping out while Granny Erina thanked the driver and paid him for his services, he turned as the front door to the restaurant was opened and a rush of warm air laden with enticing smells wafted out towards him. Smiling as he fell into step with Smokey and Granny Erina, Joseph paused a moment while the three of them awaited their turn to be seated.

 

Once that was over with, and they’d all taken their seats around the table they’d been seated at, Joseph noticed something particular about their server’s left arm…

 

“Hold on a moment,” he called, reaching out for the arm in question as the server paused in response. “Aha! Just as I thought: this is a Brando Industries medical prosthetic!” he squeezed a bit, feeling the framework of steel- “Ow!”

 

“Joseph! You cannot just manhandle someone’s arm if and when you find them interesting!” Granny Erina snapped, batting him upside the head once more for good measure.

 

“I’m sorry, I won’t do it again!” he hurried to promise, rubbing his smarting head.

 

“Good, now apologize to our server, Joseph.”

 

“Yes, Granny.”

 

After he’d done that, however, Joseph found his attention drawn away from just what it was that he intended to order by a call from one of the other tables. A large, unsavory looking man rose from his seat there, looking as though he had something of import to say.

 

“You’re Erina Joestar, aren’t you?” the man asked; Joseph narrowed his eyes, knowing that there weren’t many reasons for such a man to wish to speak to his granny, and that even fewer of those reasons were good. “I’ve had dealings with your Mr. Speedwagon in the past, and I’ve been keeping tabs on your Miss Brando’s expansion into the city. She’s been doing good work, your Miss Brando, ‘specially for someone her age. Anyway, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I got word that there was a battle down in Mexico; destroyed trucks, corpses, the works. No one knows what happened afterward, but given how many corpses ended up scattered around the jungle, I really doubt either of those two survived.”

 

The soft, sobbing gasp he heard from Granny Erina summoned the furious, boiling rage that Joseph hadn’t felt since those bastards had hijacked Speedwagon’s plane, particularly when one of them had broken his nose and caused him to bleed onto a suit that had been gifted to him by the very woman seated not one chair down from where he himself had been seated. Lunging out of his seat fast enough to send the thing toppling over, Joseph crossed the floor almost too fast for the callous bastard who’d been so rude as to just drop such terrible news on Granny Erina without even preparing her for it in any fashion at all.

 

“You are very thoughtless, just dropping that horrible news upon Granny Erina the way you did!” he growled, grabbing the man by his collar and hefting him firmly upright. “Don’t you see how much distress you’ve caused her?”

 

The punch that slammed the thoughtless oaf back into the table he’d been sitting at allowed him to let off some of the tension simmering away inside of him, but it was at least enough that he could offer what comfort he could to Granny Erina.

 

“Don’t worry, Granny, I’m still here,” he said, gently wrapping his arms around her shoulders from behind. “If there’s any way to get to the bottom of all this, you can rest assured that I’ll find it.”

 

“I just don’t understand,” Granny said, her voice breaking on the last word. “All of our family works to do good in the world,” she sniffled, pulling out her handkerchief to dab at her eyes. “I just don’t understand how anyone could wish to harm us for it.”

 

“I’ll call Dio,” he said, leaning his head against Granny Erina’s for a long moment. “All other considerations aside, he’s going to want to know about this.”

 

“No,” Granny Erina said, composing herself as she slowly rose from her seat. “I’ll call him.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes,” Granny said, nodding with a sad sort of resolve. “You and Smokey enjoy the rest of the night.”

 

Sighing as he watched Granny Erina leave, knowing that there wasn’t much of a chance of him being able to convince her to change her mind – she was almost as unwavering as Aunty Alice, in her own, quiet way – Joseph turned his gaze back to Smokey.

 

“Looks like it’s just the two of us from now on,” he said, making his way back over to where the other young man was sitting.

 

“Yeah, looks like,” Smokey said, looking off in the direction that Granny Erina had left in for a long moment. “Anyway, I’m sure your family’s all right.”

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling softly. “We Joestars have a knack for surviving even the worst sorts of calamities.”

 

“Yeah,” Smokey said, though the expression that passed briefly over his face suggested that he might’ve wanted to say something more.

 

Still, it was probably the same sort of question that Joseph had found himself on the receiving end of often enough that he’d come to be able to predict it even when the potential asker fancied themselves too polite to say anything. The question being, of course, why exactly Aunty Alice and Uncle Dio  – if they were members of the Joestar family – did not share the same surname. And yes, there had been times when he’d wondered just that same kind of thing himself, but both Aunty Alice and Uncle Dio did share the same surname.

 

The pair of them just chose not to use it on any but the most binding of legal documents.

 

Asking Smokey if he knew of anyplace to eat where there weren’t going to be large crowds of people all wondering about what he’d just done ended up leading the pair of them to a quaint little café by the name of Irene’s. Looking to distract himself from all of the terrible revelations of what had seemed to be a perfectly agreeable day, Joseph began idly flipping through the pages of the magazine in front of him.

 

Well, that would certainly be distracting, he mused, good-humor only slightly strained by what he remembered. “Smokey, do you think this could be true? Could girls really make them bigger?” holding his hands up to his chest, mimicking the look of an actual brassier, Joseph played up his surprise for both their benefit and his own amusement.

 

“Let me see that,” Smokey said, either playing along for his own amusement, or just trying to be of help in his own fashion. “Go from an A cup to a C cup… Nah, it’s just a lot of snake-oil.”

 

However, he’d glimpsed a strange figure standing just outside the large, front windows of the café, and so could spare little attention for what else Smokey might have said. The figure he was seeing seemed to be rather tall, but was either rather bulky or wearing shapeless clothes underneath their cloak, because they – their clothes concealed too much for Joseph to tell if he was facing a man or a woman – did not seem to have the kind of defined musculature that he was used to seeing.

 

The head-wrap, covering every centimeter aside from a narrow strip across his eyes, was something that Joseph had only truly seen in movies and the like.

 

“Well now,” he said, having made his way out of the café so that he would be better able to speak to the newcomer who had seemed so particularly interested in him when he was merely sitting in the café after having a light meal. “You’re wearing quite the odd outfit. Really, it’s not that cold out tonight, so why don’t you take off that bulky coat of yours and come inside?” The newcomer continuing holding their silence, so Joseph offered them a smile. “Come on, I’m sure you have a very pretty face under all those wrappings, so why don’t you-” A ringing, metallic clatter drew Joseph’s attention to the ground, where… “Where did you get that?” he snarled, eyes narrowing in fury.

 

The infuriating bastard merely continued staring at him, not seeming to care in the slightest for the bolt from Aunty Alice’s steel-bow that now lay at both their feet.

 

“Don’t trifle with me, you masked bastard!” Lunging to grab the trailing edge of the cloak saw him only grasping air, as the bastard dodged back and away from him, coming to stand directly in front of the window that Joseph had first caught sight of him through. “All right, if you’re not going to answer me, then eat this!”

 

The Thompson sub-machine gun roared in his hands, as he let loose a relentless barrage of firepower into the callous bastard who’d just gone and dumped such a terrible, shocking revelation upon him without even a by-your-leave. He’d have thought it was that same bastard from the restaurant, but the eyes were wrong for that, and the stance itself was rather different. He didn’t know just who this bastard was, but he was going to personally ensure that they learned their proper lesson about tact.

 

When he stomped over to the broken window, before the near-empty café, peering into the darkness to see if he could catch a glimpse of that masked bastard, Joseph pursed his lips in annoyance at the shrieks and screaming coming from all around him. Really, you’d think he’d actually been aiming at people, the way they were carrying on. After driving a few stubborn girls off, Joseph looked down to see that Smokey was standing right beside him.

 

“Joseph, what the hell?! You just tried to shoot someone!”

 

Shaking his head, not having the patience to talk when that masked bastard was right in front of him – practically taunting him by removing the cloak and head-wrappings to reveal-

 

“Straizo?!”

 

“I had to be certain of your resolve, Joseph,” the vampire said, shaking debris from his now-tattered cloak. “I assume, given your reaction, you’re aware of the situation in Mexico?”

 

“Yeah, I heard about it a few hours before you showed up,” he said, as his Auntie’s retainer fell into step with him and the pair of them stepped across through the blown-out remains of the café window.

 

“Wait, you just shot him!” Smokey exclaimed, catching up to the pair of them, his eyes a bit wild as he shifted his gaze from him to Straizo and back again. “How is he so calm after that? In fact… how is he even alive?”

 

He laughed. “Please, Straizo’s a vampire. He can walk that kind of thing off, no problem.”

 

“A vampire?!”

 

“He isn’t aware of our circumstances?” Straizo asked, turning a raised eyebrow on him.

 

“Ah,” he laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “Well, I’d only just met him around… I think it was just before noon?”

 

“So, he’s had little time to become accustomed to our bizarre circumstances,” Straizo said, fangs visible for a moment as he sighed. “You’re far too impulsive, Joseph Joestar.”

 

Grinning slightly as Straizo swept up the bolt he’d probably picked from one of the engines of the destroyed trucks he’d heard about, Joseph sighed. It seemed as though even he’d underestimated his Aunty and Speedwagon; they’d probably gone somewhere to regroup after the attack, since it had probably either destroyed or damaged a lot of their gear.

Chapter Text

“So, what did happen down in Mexico?” he asked, returning his attention to Straizo as the pair of them began making their way away from the remains of the café.

 

“It’s a rather involved story,” Straizo said, folding up his tattered cloak and draping it over his left arm.

 

“Tell me.”

 

And so, Joseph heard the story of what had happened down in Mexico, even as he himself had been taking the time to accustom himself to the ebb and flow of life within the city of New York. There were quite a few exciting moments: Straizo and Aunty Alice combining their strength to throw over one of the large transport trucks, Gramps slamming a Hamon-powered punch into the ground and using the shockwaves to knock the soldiers assaulting them on their arses, Aunty Alice using her steel-bow to destroy the engines of the trucks; and, even near the end of the battle, after the soldiers had brought out a large UV light in an effort to disable both Aunty Alice and Straizo, Aunty Alice had been able to shelter behind her umbrella, and destroy the light by throwing her sword deep into the lens. That was all Straizo had been able to observe, however, since Aunty Alice had ordered Straizo to leave the battleground and make contact with him in New York.

 

Still, knowing that Gramps, Aunty Alice, and Speedwagon were all captives of the German army…

 

“Billie Jean, New York Post!” blinking at the cute, short-haired blonde girl with honey-brown eyes that had all but jumped in front of him while he’d been mulling over Straizo’s words, Joseph stopped short. “What do either of you two know about the mysterious shooting incident that took place not a few hours ago tonight?”

 

“Uh,” he responded, feeling about as awkward as he ever had. “No?”

 

“Come on, you must have at least heard something,” the reporter smiled slyly, then. “Or, were you and your girlfriend too busy to listen to anything that might’ve been going on?”

 

“I am not a woman, madam,” Straizo said, as Joseph tried not-very-hard to hold back a burst of laughter.

 

Grinning at Straizo once the reporter had left in search of someone who’d actually tell her something about the scuffle he and Straizo had gotten into not so long ago, Joseph pointed at his Auntie’s retainer. “The next thing you’ll say is: you’re insufferable, Joseph Joestar.”

 

“You’re insufferable, Joseph Joestar,” Straizo said, then harrumphed at him.

 

“Anyway, before we end up getting interrupted again, what did you, Speedwagon, Gramps, and Aunty Alice all go down to Mexico for?”

 

“We were searching out a means of destroying the man within the pillar,” Straizo said, eyes narrowing slightly in thought. “It was likely, if we’d not been interrupted so soon as we had, that your grandfather’s Hamon would have meant the end of the creature.”

 

“A pillar man?” he echoed, thoughts already turning toward just how he might be able to rescue his family from the Germans.

 

If there was anything that he could find to do, Joseph was certain Straizo would help in every way he could manage.

 

=BT=

 

Looking back at the trio following reluctantly behind him, Rudol von Stroheim found his gaze almost naturally drawn towards Frau Brando. The Führer hardly approved of her, but then the Führer was a fool in most aspects; anyone who would deny advancement to fully half of their population simply because they had unreasonable hang-ups about the proper position of the sexes was clearly not in full possession of their senses. Every time he found himself thinking about all of the potentially brilliant engineers, doctors, and scientists that the Führer’s foolishness was depriving them of, Rudol would find himself clenching his teeth in annoyance. Getting ahead in life was not a matter of sex, it was a matter of strength.

 

One had only to look to the accomplishments of Frau Brando to see just what kind of strength a woman could possess.

 

“Now, Herr Joestar, I think you underestimate us,” he said, turning his attention back to the British Hamon Master who had come to them from Tibet. “This entire complex is the product of German science, the finest in the world!”

 

“You’ve little enough experience with vampires, and now you seek to take possession of a creature that seems to have been involved with the very creation of the Stone Masks,” Herr Joestar said, his expression one of clear worry and disapproval. “You’re risking the lives of all the men under your command if that pillar man escapes his binds!”

 

“Herr Joestar, you’ve no cause to worry,” he said, smiling calmly back at the man. It was fascinating, the strength that Hamon could grant to those who used it, granting even a fifty-year-old man the means to fight at a level even his elite soldiers could not quite manage. “This bunker is in the middle of the desert; even if that pillar man was to escape, he would find no place to hide from the sun. Unlike your sister, he has no means of shielding himself from it. Now, if you’d be willing to excuse me for a few moments, I must attend to some business.”

 

“I certainly hope that this business of yours doesn’t involve those poor, shrieking wretches I heard through the walls when we came in,” Frau Brando said, red eyes narrowing as she studied him. “I’d hate to be forced to throw a train at your head.”

 

“You heard them?” he asked, intrigued all over again by the vampire woman trailing slightly behind him.

 

“You have no idea how well sound carries through steel walls, do you?” Frau Brando said, a tight, small smile settling upon her lips before fading almost as quickly as it had appeared.

 

“Is that true, sir? Are you truly holding people against their will in this complex of yours?!” Herr Joestar demanded, his disapproval of the situation clear in every line of his weathered face; truly, the Hamon Master had the kindest of hearts.

 

Stroheim could respect such a man: Herr Joestar’s kindness was just as much a part of him as his courage, but it was a known fact that such men often needed to be shielded from the true nature of the world, lest they spread themselves too thin in a vain attempt to combat it.

 

“It’s nothing for you and yours to be concerned about,” he said, nodding calmly to the three of them while making a discreet motion to his soldiers. “These men will escort you to the viewing area. I myself will be joining you once I have secured the materials for our experiment.”

 

=BT=

 

Eyes narrowed upon the man’s back as Stroheim swiftly departed their company, Jonathan turned his attention to his and Dio’s sister; she was, after all, the one with holdings in Germany and hence was far more likely to have had dealings with the sorts of men that Stroheim represented.

 

“Alice, what dealings have you had with these men?” he asked. “I’ve seen they way you look at them, and it’s clear you’ve little patience for the lot. Also, I don’t fully trust the avarice in their eyes,” he said, leaning in slightly so that he could speak in a lower tone.

 

Alice had said, and he’d learned well, that whispering tended to draw more attention than it deflected.

 

“You’d be right not to,” she muttered, carmine eyes narrowing as they took in the men hustling from place to place within the complex they had been taken into.

 

“What do you mean?” he asked, feeling a chill that had little to do with the re-circulated air within the complex.

 

“This isn’t really the place to get into that kind of thing,” Alice said with the same, icy calm that had descended upon her once she had realized just who it was that had taken such an interest in them; the calm that only gripped her when his and Dio’s sister was truly infuriated. “Still, if you do want all the gory details, I’ll tell you what I’ve found out.”

 

Her words did nothing to reassure him, quite the opposite, in fact; still, like as not, Alice knew these Nazis better than he did. He would trust her judgment, though he misliked the look of every one of the men in this complex.

 

“I’m glad to see you all made it without incident,” Stroheim said, making his way over to the door the three of them had come to a stop just in front of. “I’ve prepared the supplies for the blood-feeding experiment, so now the four of us will be able to observe the results in safety and comfort.”

 

“This creature was found surrounded by Stone Masks, and clearly has some kind of connection not only to them but to vampires as well, and you wish to risk awakening it with blood?!” he demanded, grabbing the foolish man’s shoulders and spinning him about so that the pair of them could face each other squarely. “Have you taken leave of your senses?!”

 

“This is something that must be done,” Stroheim said, his tone harsh.

 

A short, sharp laugh drew his attention to Alice. “The greatest atrocities in the world, and they all start out as something that just needs to be done,” his and Dio’s sister narrowed her eyes.

 

“My sister has the right of it,” he said, when Alice did not seem apt to say any more. “This mad scheme of yours will bring only disaster to the world! You must allow me to destroy that creature!”

 

“Commence with the blood-feeding,” Stroheim said, turning away from the three of them and making his way over to a pair of lab-coated scientists manning some form of controls.

 

“Stroheim!” he exclaimed, all but throwing himself forward.

 

The ominous sound of weapons being readied was a harsh reminder that, for all he or Alice would be able to protect themselves from the weapons that these men could bring to bear against them, it was Speedwagon’s life that would be at risk if he were to do anything foolish.

 

“This is not something that can be stopped, Herr Joestar,” Stroheim said, the cold determination in his eyes chilling Jonathan to the core; this was not a man they would be able to reason with.

 

=BT=

 

The feel of Straizo’s icy cold chest pressing into his back made their trip across the desert a whole lot easier, but there was still something nagging at his mind.

 

“Is that presence you’ve been feeling still out there, Straizo?” Joseph asked, as he guided the motorcycle the pair of them were riding deeper into the Mexican desert.

 

“Yes,” his Aunty Alice’s retainer said after a moment’s pause; though he sounded slightly annoyed. “I still haven’t managed to determine just where they plan to strike. For a human, they’re both swift and agile.”

 

“Perfect,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “I’d hoped that we wouldn’t end up having to fight, particularly in a place like this, but it’s starting to look like we don’t have a choice.”

 

Straizo hummed softly, and Joseph knew what he was thinking: as a vampire, he’d need to stay under his hood in order to make sure that none of the lethal sunlight bathing this entire desert fell on him, so there wouldn’t be much he could do if it came down to a fight against whoever it was tailing them. Still, Straizo had never been the kind of person who could just stand aside if someone threatened those who he saw to be under his protection. Much as he didn’t want it to happen, it looked like they were going to have to deal with whoever it was tailing them before they could see about rescuing Aunty Alice, Gramps, and Speedwagon.

 

“About how close would you say they are now, Straizo?”

 

“Drawing closer, but whatever they’re wearing dampens the vibrations that I’d otherwise use to sense them,” Straizo said, and if the two of them had been able to face each other, Joseph knew that he would have seen the vampire’s eyes narrowed in annoyance.

 

“And I can’t exactly use Hamon-sensing with you on my back,” he muttered, thinking aloud for both their benefits. “It looks like we might have to stop for a bit.”

 

“Yes, it seems you’re right.”

 

Sliding to an easy stop, Joseph turned his motorcycle so that it wouldn’t tip over when he and Straizo climbed off, then stepped down on the kickstand to prop it up. Turning to look back at his Auntie’s retainer as Straizo stepped down from the other side, Joseph chuckled softly as he caught sight of the wrappings that Straizo had pulled up under his hood. It was one of the many ways that Aunty Alice had designed to shield her, Uncle Dio, and Straizo from the sun, but it was still kind of strange to see such a thing put to work.

 

Usually, after all, the three of them would be carrying those interesting umbrellas of theirs.

 

Narrowing his eyes as he caught sight of a tattered cloak drifting on the breeze – Straizo had left his own back in their hotel with Smokey and Granny Erina, so Joseph knew that it couldn’t have been his – Joseph braced himself for whatever was to come next. Whatever was to come turned out to be a tall man with a long, thin face, dressed in desert colors and armed with what seemed to be only a single knife.

 

“So, you managed to detect me even while I was employing my stealth skills,” the man said, bringing the knife up so he could run his tongue across the blade; Joseph pulled a face, not even a minute speaking to this guy, and he was already doing something that weird. “I suppose I should have expected as much from the vampire Straizo! My superiors were concerned when you departed from the battlefield so suddenly, but it seems that you were acting under orders after all!”

 

“Enough stalling,” he barked, starting to become annoyed. “Tell me, why were you following us, and who the hell are you, anyway?!”

 

“I am SS Special Forces Commander Donovan!” the man said, flourishing the blade he’d just been licking in a particularly disturbing manner. “And my purpose here, is to capture you and bring you under the control of the German Army, Straizo! However, I think my superiors would be far more pleased to have the two of you brought to them, rather than just one!”

 

“Oh, really?” he sneered, gathering Hamon to him as he took a stance; behind him and just slightly to the side, Joseph could see Straizo doing likewise.

 

Of course, without channeling Hamon, in Straizo’s case.

 

“Oh? You’re planning to challenge the power of SS Commander Donovan?” the man asked, flourishing his knife and running his tongue across the blade once again. “Very well, if the pair of you would rather be beaten down before you bow to the might of the German army, I’ll just drag your unconscious bodies into our base!”

 

Taking a stance, Joseph carefully positioned himself directly opposite Straizo so that he wouldn’t end up catching the vampire with any attack he made with Hamon. He could see Straizo doing the same, circling behind Donovan so that he wouldn’t be caught in range of any attacks that Joseph found himself needing to use. It wasn’t like either of them would need to worry about what Donovan was going to be doing, after all.

 

Laughing as Donovan’s knife skipped across Straizo’s left shoulder, Joseph continued to carefully position himself. “Did you really think that puny little knife of yours would be able to penetrate the bulletproof clothing that my Aunty designed?”

 

“I’ve heard all about your Aunt; Frau Alice Brando,” Donovan grinned, lightly tossing his knife from hand-to-hand. “Our army is very interested in her!” The amused expression on his face melted away. “What are you doing just standing there, little boy?”

 

Joseph grinned. “I’m distracting you so he can shoot you!”

 

Donovan barely had time to turn his head, before Straizo’s Space Ripper Stingy Eyes, well ripped right through his left bicep and caused him to drop the knife he’d been so clearly enamored of.

 

“Why, you-!”

 

“Oh Herr Donovan!” he called, grinning cheerfully at the man as he tried to whip around, clearly thinking that Straizo was the current threat. “Would you like to know what else I’m doing?”

 

“What are you-?” the German paused in mid-sentence, clearly taken aback by what he was seeing. “Hey, what’s going on with this cactus?”

 

“Why don’t you take a closer look, Herr Donovan?”

 

The Hamon-filled cactus that he’d been standing just beside exploded with the full force of a grenade, and Joseph smiled as he saw Straizo pulling down his hood and curling over defensively as the few bits of cactus-shrapnel that hadn’t imbedded themselves in Donovan’s face or chest bounced harmlessly off of the armored clothing that Aunty Alice had designed for everyone who did dangerous work as a part of her organization.

 

“Well, at least we know what he wanted,” he said, flashing an amused smile at Straizo as the vampire straightened himself up and finished brushing himself off.

 

“I suppose,” Straizo said, as Joseph finished tying Donovan to another cactus and the pair of them climbed back atop their motorcycle.

 

Waiting for a moment for Straizo to get settled again, Joseph smiled as he felt the familiar cold of Straizo’s chest pressing into his back. Nudging the kickstand back into place with his left foot, Joseph sent them roaring across the desert once again. They would clearly need to find some way to get into the base that Donovan had been blathering about, but Joseph knew that he’d need more information than he currently possessed in order to start formulating even the basics of a plan. Everything else would have to wait until he could make an actual assessment of what they were facing.

 

=BT=

 

Alice had fallen almost-completely silent when the three of them had been escorted into this viewing room that the Nazis had set up for their mad experiment, and Jonathan knew – beyond any doubt – that his and Dio’s sister was at her most dangerous in such a state of mind. While Dio’s fury may have been the more obvious, Alice’s was all the more lethal for the fact that it could so easily be mistaken for something harmless. If Dio’s fury was fire, then Alice’s could only be described as a glacier made of black ice.

 

Clenching his teeth, Jonathan forced his attention to return to the present; back to Stroheim’s mad scheme, and his own vain effort to stop it.

 

“How many innocents did you kill to extract the blood you’re feeding to that creature, Stroheim?!” he demanded, eyes narrowing; he could feel the same kind of fury that had long since taken hold of his and Dio’s sister building up within his own heart.

 

Only, his fury would not be nearly so calm as her own.

 

“You are a superior type of man, Jonathan Joestar,” Stroheim said, chuckling softly; Jonathan clenched his teeth. “Still, even you cannot deny the advancements we will be able to make from studying this creature-”

 

“You already have three of them, I don’t see what one more is going to provide for your people,” Alice said, in that soft, deceptively calm voice that signaled her fury to those who were not too foolish to take note of such. “Aside from getting you all killed, of course.”

 

“We would not be able to awaken those three under any kind of controlled conditions, Frau Brando,” Stroheim said, a smile beginning to stretch across his face. “I hear you’re something of a scientist yourself, so you must know the value of controlled conditions when conducting an experiment.”

 

“I also know the value of acquiring consent when you’re dealing with someone who’s not only capable of independent thought, but also of ripping this entire facility down around your ears,” Alice said, a plainly unimpressed expression upon her face.

 

“Come now, Frau Brando, this facility’s walls are fifty centimeters of iron, and the room itself is equipped with flamethrowers, machine guns, and enough explosives to blast that pillar into powder,” Stroheim said, the grin on his face far too calm for the mad scheme he was masterminding. “Advancing science requires a combination of caution and courage. We have taken precautions, so now it is time for courage!” Stroheim held up his right hand, clenching it into a fist as he allowed his madness to continue. “That was hardly called for, Frau Brando,” Stroheim said, turning slightly in response to what had, like as not, been a particularly unkind epithet in German.

 

“Oh, then please, allow me to clarify that,” the next thing his and Dio’s sister said was a German phrase that, while it seemed to be less outright insulting, still appeared to have some variety of negative connotation.

 

“Stop panicking and turn on the sprinkler systems,” Stroheim commanded; Jonathan forced himself to breathe steadily again, knowing that his Hamon would soon be required in order to fight whatever kind of horrible creature was about to emerge from the pillar before them. “Now, Frau Brando, we will see just who is the walking dead around here.”

 

Steadying his breathing once more, Jonathan returned his attention to the pillar in the center of the room. The blood that had been fed into it – Jonathan shuddered, and took a moment to apologize and to pray for those poor souls who had been forced to give up their lives to feed Stroheim’s mad ambition – was now fountaining out of nearly every crevice between the stone of the pillar and the shell of the man bound within it. The blood itself was swiftly washed away by the action of the sprinklers, but the man

 

“Look, he’s breaking out!”

 

Clenching his fists as he looked down into the walled chamber – he’d seen both Alice and Dio shatter steel after sheathing it in ice, so unless these walls had been made of some kind of cold-resistant metal, all of them were now in even greater danger than they had previously been – Jonathan forced himself once more to breathe steadily. Hamon was the greatest weapon he possessed, and while Alice was far from helpless, it would not have been in any way fair to force his and Dio’s sister to battle this creature on her own. Particularly since she had not been the one who’d been fool enough to tamper with such a horrible thing.

 

“His outer layer is transforming! It looks like it’s turning into flesh!” And indeed, Jonathan could see that very transmutation taking place before his eyes; far under them, rather. The scientist, clearly unnerved but seemingly determined to carry through with his work, continued reporting. “He’s trying to move!”

 

“Well, he’ll need a name, now that we know he’s alive. I know, I shall name him after the Mexican winds: Santana!”

 

“Stroheim, this creature is not a pet for you to name at your leisure!” he snapped, unable to hold his silence in the face of Stroheim’s continued madness.

 

“Three of your dearest friends are vampires, Herr Joestar, so I hardly see why you’re so eager to dispose of this one,” Stroheim said, grinning calmly but for the madness Jonathan could see in his eyes. “Still, if you haven’t the stomach for these kinds of procedures, than you can just look away while we take care of things.”

 

“Look, down in the chamber,” one of the scientists called, drawing their attention back to the center of all the horrors that had been happening on this terrible day.

 

“What?” Stroheim muttered, as the three of them stepped over to the large windows. “Look, he’s attempting to smell his way around, he’s-” Stroheim gagged, finding himself cut off by a vein from Alice’s pointer-finger that had wrapped around his neck.

 

“Please, if it wouldn’t overtax your tiny brain, do try to think of how you would react after waking up in such an unfamiliar place,” Alice said, her eyes narrowed as she unwrapped the vein she’d deployed from around Stroheim’s neck.

Chapter Text

“Yes, I suppose you might be right, Frau Brando,” Stroheim said, briefly touching his throat with an amused expression. “Continue with the experiments! Open the door to the next chamber.”

 

“Is that a vampire?” Jonathan demanded, having caught sight of the poor wretch that was, even as they watched, looking to the man that had emerged from the pillar with the mad, desperate hunger that Jonathan had only seen in those few vampires that he had been forced to deal with during his training to fully master Hamon.

 

“This one is only three days old, so it’s nothing at all like your sister,” Stroheim said, a calm smile on his face that nearly contrasted the madness dancing in his eyes. “We haven’t given him blood him lately, so he’ll be wanting to feed as quickly as he can.”

 

Almost before Stroheim had finished saying that, the starving vampire leaped straight for the man who had been resting within the pillar. As the German soldiers behind him succumbed to their impatience and began disparaging the creature that had come out of the pillar, Jonathan narrowed his eyes in thought. It would not do, he knew, to be caught off-guard by anything this pillar man turned out to be capable of.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing his eyes as he continued observing the Nazi soldiers manning the checkpoint that stood before the base that Joseph had interrogated that man Donovan about, Straizo narrowed his eyes. Seeing the crude, piggish behavior of the men there only served to bolster his determination to see them dealt with. Still, they had not injured any of the women they were harassing, so Straizo found that he could wait to deal with them until Joseph had formulated a plan.

 

“Pigs.”

 

“Yes,” he said, in response to the disgust he could hear in the young Joestar’s voice. “Still, best to focus on getting inside, for the moment.”

 

“True,” Joseph said, and Straizo could see the grin beginning to spread across his face; the only warning most had before the young Joestar enacted one of his mad plans.

 

“What do you intend, Joseph Joestar?”

 

“You’ll see.”

 

He didn’t like the grin that stretched the young Joestar’s face, but Straizo was well acquainted with Joseph’s propensity for getting his way; there was little point, he knew, in arguing methods when they were likely short on time.

 

=BT=

 

“When we pass through the checkpoint and enter the Nazi base, Joseph Joestar, I am going to throttle you.”

 

Grinning in response to the vampire’s subdued grumble – really, anyone else would think his Auntie’s retainer was as stoic as ever – Joseph reached out to straighten his bright yellow headscarf.

 

What? I think you look rather fetching,” he said, grinning deliberately in the face of Straizo’s narrowed eyes. “I would never have expected canary yellow to suit you so well.”

 

“You’re insufferable, Joseph Joestar.”

 

Holding back a laugh through sheer force of will, Joseph smiled widely; these getups might not allow the pair of them to pass under the eyes of those pigs without incident – save for, perhaps, in Straizo’s case; truly, his Auntie’s retainer had the most lovely eyelashes to compliment his pretty face – but they would certainly put them off balance long enough for he and Straizo to properly address the threat they would otherwise have posed.

 

Getting through the checkpoint was, of course, not nearly so simple as just walking through in their borrowed disguises, but the stupefied confusion on the thuggish faces of the Nazis he and Straizo were, in the end, forced to fight would be a sight he rightly treasured. Not to mention the chance to see Straizo in a dress. Of course, he wasn’t about to mention that part of it.

 

Straizo really would throttle him, in that case.

 

Once the pair of them had taken the uniforms from the Nazi guards, he and Straizo took shelter under the shadows of a covered walkway to change into them. Leaving their borrowed dresses with a surprised trio of women who had been making their way up to the checkpoint, he smiled as asked them to make certain that Paula and Shania were both given back the spare clothes that he and Straizo had borrowed from them.

 

Needless to say, neither of them seemed to know quite what to make of him or Straizo; Joseph tried to suppress a grin, but knew from the disapproving look on the vampire’s face that he hadn’t quite succeeded all the way.

 

=BT=

 

Madmen! He was surrounded by madmen! Trying to calm his racing heart, Robert looked to Alice and Jojo as the pair of them continued to observe the goings-on within that terrible room where the Nazis had isolated the pillar man in a vain attempt to exert some measure of control over the creature.

 

“Jojo, you and Alice,” he started, then was forced to pause to swallow past a sudden lump in his throat. “You will be able to defeat that creature, won’t you?”

 

“Well, the thing eats vampires, so that’s going to make things interesting,” Alice said, narrowing her eyes in thought as she looked down into the chamber of horrors that the Nazis had caused to be built.

 

“It also seems to have the intellect to speak,” Jojo said, his gaze softening with what looked like pity; Speedwagon hoped that Jojo’s gentle heart wouldn’t come out of the impending confrontation too battered.

 

“Yes,” Alice muttered. “We’ll have to see how it reacts, before we can properly address it.”

 

The pair of them looked down into the chamber, Alice’s eyes narrowing as her agile mind went to work upon the terrible situation the four of them now found themselves facing.

 

“Alice, can you- Do you think you might be able to predict just how this creature intends to attack us?” he asked, feeling more chilled than ever at the thought of being trapped at the mercy of a creature that devoured vampires.

 

“I’ve some inkling, but I don’t think you’d want me speculating about that,” a thin, short-lived smile knifed its way across her face. “Wouldn’t want to give our enemy ideas.”

 

He swallowed another lump. “Yes,” Speedwagon could feel his heart pounding in his ears, and wondered for a moment how well Alice could hear it…

 

The thick, heavy steel walls around them may as well have been paper reinforced with matchsticks, for all the protection they could provide from the creature that had once been slumbering within the pillar-!

 

“What?! Where did the pillar man go?!”

 

“Alice?” he muttered, as the vampire launched herself across the room, kicking off the far wall and landing neatly on her feet as a sheet of ice spread down across the wall behind her.

 

“How long do you think that will hold it?” Jojo asked, already taking his customary stance and beginning to gather his Hamon as Alice positioned herself next to him; carefully out of the reach of Jojo’s hands.

 

“That was a fast-freeze,” Alice said, gaze trained upon the far wall, where the sheet of ice she’d created seemed to be holding firm. “If he’s really as strong as I am, he’ll-”

 

The sheet of ice shattered inward, raining glittering shards down upon the floor; Alice was moving before the first of them had a chance to clatter to the steel floor beneath them, and Jojo was right behind. Forced to blink the dryness from his eyes, Robert allowed himself a sigh of relief when he saw that the creature’s head had been frozen to the ground, and Jojo was bearing down upon it, fists charged with lethal Hamon. However, when the creature was able to force its own torso out of the way of Jojo’s strike, Robert felt his body all but seize up in panic.

 

“Fast, strong, and flexible,” Alice said, her stoic calm helping Robert to regain some of his own. “That’ll make things interesting.”

 

“Yes,” Jojo said, narrowing his own eyes.

 

=BT=

 

The creature – Santana, Jonathan recalled, though it was almost easier to forget that he had a name – leaped backwards into the air, the ice that Alice had sheathed his head in shattering into useless shards and falling away in what seemed to be the space between one blink and the next. Still, he’d long since become accustomed to the way that Dio and Alice could move when the situation called for it, and so Jonathan was not caught so flat-footed as their current opponent might well have wished. So, when the creature made a flying-leap at the pair of them, arms outstretched as though to grasp both of their shoulders – one in each hand – he and Alice were able to dodge by leaping to opposite sides of their current battlefield.

 

“He ate part of my suit jacket,” Alice said, sounding curious rather than afraid, as was her wont.

 

“What?”

 

But indeed, it seemed to be true: a chunk the size of a large hand had been torn free from the left shoulder of her brilliantly white suit, revealing to all and sundry the underlying layer of steel-and-titanium wire mesh that lent strength and durability to the armored cloth Alice had designed.

 

“Your clothes, they have metal in them,” the creature- no, Santana; no one who spoke so coherently could be called a mere creature.

 

“Indeed they do,” Alice said, narrowing her eyes as she and Santana faced each other.

 

“And you,” Santana continued, inscrutable gaze focusing upon Jonathan himself for a long moment. “You are a member of the Hamon tribe.”

 

Breathing deeply, Jonathan maintained the flowing Hamon that was the only thing protecting him from being devoured by Santana. Master Tonpetty had informed him of the history that bound those who practiced Hamon together; they were indeed the descendants – even if only in a metaphysical sense – of a tribe that had originally banded together in order to protect themselves from the depredations of the Pillar Men. According to what he had heard, there were indeed four of them… and yet, Jonathan would have been lying if he didn’t admit that he’d held at least some hope that the four of them would have chosen to remain dormant for all time.

 

Forcing his attention back to Santana – pushing aside the frightened mutterings of the Germans all around him – Jonathan steadied his breathing once more. He would have sought to offer Santana clemency, since his two siblings were indeed vampires as Stroheim had said, but there was something about the Pillar Man that gave him the distinct feeling that any such offer was more likely than not to be ignored outright. Jonathan could not, therefore, afford to let his guard down.

 

The sudden rattle and crack of machinegun fire drew some of his attention away from the Pillar Man named Santana. It seemed that the Nazis, not content anymore with merely standing upon the sidelines of this battle, were attempting to aid the pair of them in their struggle against Santana. However, the manner in which they had chosen to do so could hardly have been more counterproductive if such had been their very intention in the first place.

 

I’m bulletproof,” Alice scoffed, as the pair of them slapped aside the veritable hailstorm of bullets that ricocheted around the small room where they had all been confined in, he with his Hamon and Alice with the sword that she had designed for herself.

 

Unfortunately, it seemed that Santana was also capable of the same sort of feat.

 

There was no true signal for the resumption of their mutual hostilities – there very seldom was, when one truly entered combat – but resume them they very well did. Alice was the first to truly strike a blow against Santana, freezing his right foot solid and shattering the afflicted appendage into brittle shards, and for that Jonathan found himself grimly pleased. If nothing else, reducing Santana’s mobility would aid them in ending this battle before any of those they had chosen to stand in defense of could be harmed.

 

As though he’d plucked those very thoughts from their minds, Santana lunged forward, momentum off-balanced from his missing extremity, directly in the direction of-

 

“Stroheim!” the shout burst from his throat, as Jonathan himself lunged to block Santana’s path.

 

Hate the man though he might, no one deserved the horror that Santana inflicted upon his victims; even being devoured by a vampire was a kinder fate…

 

When Alice twisted around, positioning herself between Stroheim and Santana, Jonathan allowed himself to smile slightly; while he’d little doubt that his and Dio’s sister would happily cuff the man about the head and shoulders – severely, in fact – she was also not about to simply allow the man to be devoured alive if there was even a small chance that she could prevent such. Feeling distinctly more settled as Alice’s sword spread a patch of fast-frozen ice from the midpoint of Santana’s chest to just underneath his brow, Jonathan gathered his Hamon and slammed his fists into Santana’s back.

 

The Pillar Man screamed, flesh charring and crumbling away even as he threw himself out of Jonathan’s range, desperation clear in every line of his body. Knowing that he could not allow the Pillar Man the time he would need to heal himself, and that even with Hamon still within his body, Santana’s regeneration was clearly working to reverse the damage that Jonathan had inflicted upon him; the Pillar Man having long since shattered Alice’s ice. Santana’s eyes were the worst: the understanding, shading into fear as he was steadily driven back into the center of their battlefield and away from any of the helpless Germans he would have otherwise used to replenish himself.

 

It was a terrible thing that he and Alice were being asked to do, yet it was clear that Santana – and perhaps the other Pillar Men, as well – was both starving and had little regard for human life; he was nothing like Alice, or even Dio, who had both learned to temper their vampiric hunger. There was no hope for reconciliation in a situation such as this; only the knowledge that he must fulfill his duty as a Master of Hamon. Jonathan hated such moments.

 

Still, hate them though he might, Jonathan knew that there were few others who would not falter under such a responsibility, thus in the end it fell to him.

 

As Alice froze Santana’s remaining foot, binding the Pillar Man firmly to the floor, Jonathan breathed deeply to gather his Hamon a final time, and then lunged forward. His left fist slammed into the small of Santana’s back, his right into the back of the Pillar Man’s head, and Jonathan unleashed the energies that he’d been gathering. The Pillar Man named Santana died with barely a scream.

 

“If you’ll pardon me, Jonathan, I’ve some business to conclude with Stroheim.”

 

“Yes, I expect you do,” he said, following in her wake as Alice crossed the remaining distance between herself and the Nazi Major that had escorted her, himself, and Speedwagon into this terrible place.

 

“Gramps!”

 

“Joseph!” he exclaimed, turning at the sound of his grandson’s voice to see both Joseph and Straizo making their way over to stand beside him.

 

The pair of them embraced for a long moment, Jonathan taking brief note of a soft exclamation from Stroheim and then the whip-crack of Alice’s voice as she gave the man a proper dressing-down.

 

“Well, it seems we came just in time for the wrap-up,” Joseph said, grinning widely.

 

“I suppose you would be pleased about that,” he said, amused as exasperated at once.

 

Truly, if there was one area that his grandson seemed to have inherited from Dio, it was a firm rejection of any sort of work-ethic.

 

=BT=

 

“So, what’s been going on?” he asked, since Gramps wouldn’t have been this grim if there hadn’t been some reason for it; not to mention the fact that Aunty Alice was far too even-tempered to punch a man in the stomach and then proceed to read him the riot act for no reason.

 

Even if that man was German.

 

“There are three more of these creatures in Rome,” Gramps said, the main thrust of his attention clearly settling back upon whatever it was that he and Aunty Alice had just finished fighting against; then he seemed to come back to himself, his gaze sharpening until Joseph had the feeling he knew just what Gramps was about to ask him; he didn’t like it much, and he knew that Gramps wasn’t going to be happy when he heard Joseph’s answer. “Have you been keeping up with your Hamon training?”

 

“Uhm, well,” he scratched the back of his head, knowing that he was in for it. “Maybe a little? Off and on?”

 

“More off than on, I expect,” Aunty Alice said, having made her own way over to the pair of them with Straizo trailing slightly behind. “Anyway, considering our present circumstances, I think we’d be best served heading to Rome.”

 

“Yes, I think that would be best,” Gramps said, shooting him a disapproving frown as the four of them all fell into step with one another on their way out of the base. “We’re going to discuss this later, Joseph.”

 

He sighed. “Yes, Gramps.”

 

=BT=

 

She could practically hear the lecture that Jonathan was preparing for Joseph, and so Alice turned her attention to the travel-preparations she was going to need to make before they began making their way to Italy.

 

“I do believe we’ve had quite enough of your hospitality,” she heard Robert snap, in response to an offer made by Stroheim to arrange transport to Rome for all of them.

 

“I’ll be arranging our transportation,” she said calmly, still rather annoyed to have to be working so closely with Nazis; sure, she was doing everything superhumanly possible to cut down on the casualties that would have otherwise – and had been, back on her old Earth – been caused by the Holocaust, but having to stay so determinedly civil while dealing with this bunch of assholes

 

“We’ll send a transport for you when you arrive in Italy, then,” Stroheim said, seemingly perfectly amenable after she’d punched him in the stomach and all but called him a narcissistic, sociopathic jackass to his face. “Our people have been maintaining a constant presence to guard the three other Pillar Men, after you and yours did us the courtesy of properly turning them over.”

 

Shaking her head as she and the two other members of her family, plus Straizo, all made their way out of the Nazi base, Alice turned her attention back to what she was going to need to do once they’d all departed from this place. Considering their little punch-up with Santana, it was more than obvious that they were all going to be called on to deal with those other three Pillar Men if or when they started waking up. Here’s hoping those Nazis aren’t as stupid as the ones over here, at least, she mused, not feeling particularly charitable so far as the general intelligence of Nazis was concerned.

 

When the four of them managed to make their way out of the Nazi base, Alice found that the very transport she’d called from the first phone she’d had the chance to lay her hands on had just arrived to pick their group up. Not a one of them waved goodbye as they left, and Alice hardly needed to wonder why such had been the case. Once they were back on the road again, Alice let herself relax.

 

It’d still be some time before she and hers all made it to Italy, of course, particularly since they also planned to meet with Dio and Erina in order to reassure the pair of them that they were all doing all right. Sure, they’d all taken turns talking when she’d called them up at the hotel they were staying at, but nothing could really match the relief of a face-to-face meeting when one particularly wanted to reassure family or close friends that they were indeed all right. Erina and Dio being both, said meeting was all the more eagerly anticipated by her and hers.

 

Leaning back into the well-cushioned seat of their transport plane – Robert had had to firmly talk Stroheim out of lending them a plane, citing the fact that, as they were returning to America, anything bearing Nazi symbols wasn’t remotely likely to be welcomed with anything but armed weaponry – Alice considered what she was likely going to need, in order to properly address the threat posed by the three remaining Pillar Men. A new, bulletproof suit of clothing had to be first on the list, of course, since she didn’t want to go revealing her preparations to all and sundry while they were in the midst of combat the way Santana had forced her to do.

 

And, while she was at it, she’d secure some of the same make for Jonathan and Joseph as well, since they were both clearly going to be getting into it with those three as well; Caesar, being the Head of Security for Brando International’s Italian branch – though he’d taken a sabbatical, once the pair of them had heard the final words of Mario Zeppeli – already possessed a pair of such, one for business purposes and one for his off-hours. Because, as they both knew well, just because he wasn’t officially acting in his capacity as her Head of security didn’t mean that some unsavory type wasn’t going to try to make an attempt on his life. If only to say they had, before her remaining security forces hunted them down.

 

Still, her bulletproof suit jacket had proved its worth, even if it’d been in a way that she hadn’t particularly been anticipating; best she had more of them prepared, considering what they were going to be dealing with sooner than later.

 

=BT=

 

When the four of them made it to the New York estate that their family had established some time ago, Jonathan felt more than prepared to have a light supper and then head off to bed. This day of all days had been particularly exhausting. So, when the front doors were slammed open and Dio attempted to leap out and tackle him to the ground in a fit of what the blond was entirely too likely to term simple brotherly enthusiasm, Jonathan was all the more grateful to Alice when she arrested their brother’s motion in midair with a strong grip on the back of his belt.

 

“Not the time, peacock,” she said, her tone holding the same fond exasperation that Jonathan felt, himself.

 

Sighing, Jonathan thanked his and Dio’s sister for her quick action and continued on his way into the home that he and his family had made for themselves in New York. Dio and Alice’s holdings in Montana, while they were quite a bit larger than this place, always had the feel of hustle and bustle about them. Jonathan supposed that such a thing was only natural, as Montana was where Brando Incorporated had first been established.

 

Before the company had blossomed to become Brando International, of course.

 

“Jonathan.”

 

“Erina,” he said, smiling gently in response to the expression of fond relief that spread across her face as the pair of them beheld each other once more. “I’m so glad to see you again.”

 

“I’m glad to see you, too,” she said, smiling gently as the pair of them embraced for the first time in entirely too long. “I was so worried, when I received the news from Mexico. Dio, of course, was beside himself with fury, wanting to rush down there, attacking any and every German soldier he might’ve chanced to meet.”

 

He chuckled softly. “Well, you know how Dio is, when something happens to anger him.”

 

Chapter Text

Looking down the hallway as he heard footsteps and the sound of a very familiar pair of people talking, Joseph smiled as he turned to Uncle Dio.

 

“Well, sounds like they’re right on time,” he said, grinning at the vampire as the pair of them settled down at the dinning table.

 

Uncle Dio laughed, not altogether softly. “Well, there are a great many things one can say about Jojo, but for all that, he does always strive to be punctual.”

 

Smiling as the six of them all sat down together at the table for dinner, Joseph took a wonder just how in the world Caesar was doing. The pair of them had met when Mum – who’d just returned from her last training-trip to Tibet with Gramps a year prior – had invited him to Air Supplena Island, to meet the student she’d taken on for herself. The two of them had gotten on well enough at first, what with Mum being his coach and all, but Caesar himself… Well, there was no getting around the fact that Caesar Zeppeli was a workaholic, a stick-in-the-mud, and just an all-around fuddy duddy.

 

And now we’re going to go to Italy to ask for his help, Joseph sighed, glad that they’d all finished their respective meals so that Gramps wouldn’t have even more of a reason than usual to get on him. Shaking his head as he went to go gather up his travel-pack of comics for the trip ahead – everything else they would need being either stored at Aunty Alice and Uncle Dio’s Italian estate, or was something they could purchase once they were in the country itself  – Joseph allowed himself another sigh as he finished. It wasn’t enough that Gramps is going to be all over me for not keeping up with my Hamon training. No, now I’m going to be getting it from Caesar, too.

 

Once he’d finished grousing, packing up almost as an afterthought, Joseph made his way down from his room to join up with the rest of his family. He could hear the end of Aunty Alice’s conversation, and then the soft click of the telephone as she placed the receiver gently back on its cradle.

 

“Is everything set up now?” Gramps asked, his usual serious expression firmly settled on his face; Joseph firmly resisted the urge to roll his eyes, since Gramps wouldn’t be happy with him if he saw something like that.

 

“Yes,” Aunty Alice said, with a look of satisfaction about her. “I’ve arranged our transport to Italy, and Elizabeth and Caesar know to look out for us when we arrive.”

 

“That’s good to hear,” Gramps said, smiling a bit sadly as the six of them all gathered together and began heading back down to the ground-floor of their estate, to make their way from there to the minibus that would take them to Aunty Alice’s personal hangar.

 

And, from there, all of them would board her private plane and head off to Italy.

 

=BT=

 

Once the six of them had made themselves comfortable inside Alice’s private plane, Jonathan attempted to make himself relax. Still, the threat of the three remaining Pillar Men – to say nothing of the final prophecy that Master Tonpetty had made before passing on – weighed heavily on his mind. Alice, naturally, had been able to tell from a simple look at him just how it was that he was feeling, her talent at reading subtle nuances of mood from even the smallest shift in a person’s stance and body-language coming to the fore again. He’d asked that she not share her observations with Joseph, Dio, or Erina – not wishing to worry them overmuch with matters they would not, ultimately, be able to change – and his and Dio’s sister had kindly acquiesced after he’d explained his reasoning to her.

 

It was, truly, the only way to ensure Alice’s cooperation: explaining your reasoning to her, and then allow her to speak upon whatever matter had been brought up for consideration. There had even been times when speaking to his and Dio’s sister had aided him in coming to a workable conclusion to some of the more vexing problems that he had been faced with. There were even times, though few enough of them, when he almost wished to tell Alice about Master Tonpetty’s final prophecy.

 

Still, it was a simple fact that, while his and Dio’s sister was determined to bend fate itself to her will, some things could not be avoided; and he’d no desire to trouble even a mind so agile as Alice’s with such bleak thoughts.

 

When they all arrived in Rome at last, the journey by plane being as smooth and calming to the nerves as Jonathan could have asked for, Jonathan smiled as he saw Elizabeth and Caesar making their way into the building that housed one of Alice’s many hangars.

 

“It’s so good to see you again, Elizabeth,” he said, smiling widely as his daughter-in-law rejoined the circle of their family for the first time in ten, long years.

 

“Mum!” Joseph’s voice was the next to break the comparative silence of Alice’s private hangar, and – as per usual for his boisterous grandson – all the more exuberant than Jonathan’s had ever truly been; as well, Joseph’s loud kiss to Elizabeth’s right cheek held all the affection that his grandson had for every member of their bizarre family.

 

As he watched the five of them all coming together once more, Jonathan spared a thought for both Erina and Speedwagon. He and Erina had mutually agreed that it would be far more preferable if she were to stay back in the Joestars’ New York estate, to say nothing of the effect that her presence – enchanting as he still found her, half a century into their marriage – would have upon his peace of mind, and hence his ability to fight. Yes, it was a fact that he fought all the harder with the love of those he cared for to bolster his resolve, but he could just as easily do such without bringing the members of his family into danger they were wholly unprepared for.

 

Dio, Alice, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Caesar were a far different matter; truly, there were times it seemed that there was nothing they could not handle, when they worked together.

 

=BT=

 

Sighing as he tried in vain to dredge up some enthusiasm for Caesar’s lecture, Joseph found his mind naturally wandering to just what it was that he planned to eat when they all made their way to the restaurant where they’d planned to discus their next course of action; those three other Pillar Men weren’t going to go and kill themselves.

 

“Jojo, are you even listening?” Caesar demanded, and Joseph winced as he felt the Italian punch him firmly in the left shoulder.

 

“Ow,” he groused, rubbing his shoulder.

 

“That’s your problem, Jojo,” Caesar said, frowning at him in that disapproving way he’d become so familiar with during ten of the fifteen years they’d been studying together; of course, as long as Caesar kept being so adorably fussy when he tried to “instill the proper work ethic” in him, Joseph was going to keep going on as he had. “You never pay attention to anything you should.”

 

“What?” he asked, holding his right hand to his ear, biting back a grin. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

 

Caesar punched him in the right shoulder for that.

 

When they all made it to the restaurant at last, Joseph quickly took up the spot between Gramps and Aunty Alice; he’d have tried to snag the seat between Aunty Alice and Uncle Dio, but being thrown out of his chair once was more than enough for Joseph’s taste. After they’d all finished their respective meals – Joseph thought fondly of his Hamon-filled exploding lima beans, and the look on Caesar’s face when they detonated in it – Gramps was, naturally, the first to speak.

 

“Elizabeth, you’ve been here the longest, what do you know about the three other Pillar Men that Stroheim spoke of?”

 

“The Nazis took possession of them nearly as soon as Alice found them – clearly, they’d known about the creatures for some time – but she insisted upon sending some of her own people alongside them,” Elizabeth said, smiling slightly. “So, we’ve been kept reasonably aware of the goings on with regards to those Pillar Men.”

 

“They’ve also been asking us about our Hamon,” Caesar interjected, shooting him a snooty look over the expanse of the table; Joseph poked the tip of his tongue out at his fellow student.

 

“They also tried to tried to interview me about what I was capable of, as a vampire,” Aunty Alice said, a slight smirk on her face.

 

“What did you tell them?” he asked, knowing that, whatever it was, it was bound to be amusing.

 

“I told them to go talk to Dio,” she said, her amused smirk widening, even if only slightly. “He’s the one who enjoys showing off.”

 

Laughing along with the other members of his family, Joseph saw a pair of people – both about as different as could be: one of them in the harsh, crude uniform of a German soldier, and the other in the smooth, neatly-cut uniform of Brando Field Security, with the elegant, bulletproof great-coat that all of them wore – making their way into the restaurant with them. Turning to watch as the two of them made their way over to the table, Joseph grinned softly.

 

“Frau Brando! We’ve just finished making preparations for your visit!” the German soldier said, sounding particularly excited, though he looked rather young, so Joseph supposed it fit.

 

“If you and yours are ready, we can leave right away, ma’am.”

 

“Thank you, Simon,” Aunty Alice said, rising from her place at the table along with the rest of them.

 

Joseph found himself particularly eager to see what all the fuss was about.

 

“So, your name is Simon, is it?” he asked, smiling slyly.

 

“I’ve heard all about the owls, sir,” the man said, the expression on his face becoming one of tolerant amusement.

 

Chuckling as their group began to move down to the car, Joseph wondered for a moment just what all of them were going to see when they got there.

 

=BT=

 

When he’d first seen the huge form of the middle Pillar Man bursting free from the wall where the three of them had been imprisoned for… however long those creatures had been, Garfunkel melted back into the shadows to observe. If he was really facing something dangerous, Miss Alice was going to want as much information as he could carry back to her; true, if these Pillar Men did have the same refined senses as vampires then just standing in the shadows wasn’t going to do him much good. Still, he was one of Miss Alice’s eyes on the ground, and if that meant he was going to have to spend his life to warn the rest of her people about what was going on in this place, then that was what he was going to have to do.

 

It was just as she’d said to all of them when they volunteered to serve in her security forces in the first place: Miss Alice would spend their lives ruthlessly if the situation called for her to do so, but she would never waste them.

 

Holding himself steady, even as he watched the Nazi soldiers that he’d been stationed alongside be devoured alive by that Pillar Man, Garfunkel melted farther back into the darkness of the cavern, then turned and ran for the stairs. He knew that there wasn’t much chance of him being able to make contact with anyone in the city, considering where he was and what was likely to be chasing him, he would at least be able to get the word out to those who would be coming after him. His brother in particular wouldn’t be happy to know what had happened to him, but he’d understand.

 

Everyone who worked for Miss Alice understood, in the end.

 

Hearing the heavy footfalls of the Pillar Man closing in behind him, Garfunkel smiled grimly. The Pillar Man behind him, judging by the fact that he was allowing Garfunkel himself to set the pace of their run, was either trying to scare him, or else was the kind to think that every meal required a bit of sport. In either case, he wasn’t about to stop and try to think about just what his enemy may or may not have been thinking. Before everything else, he still had a message to deliver.

 

Reaching the top of the stairs, Garfunkel swung the hinged door out of his way and looked out into the darkened city before him. Spotting a streetlight close enough for his current purposes, Garfunkel prepped his electro-flare gun and fired smoothly into it. The hiss of escaping propellant, designed to be almost invisible to the naked eye, let him know that he’d managed; it almost felt like he was back on the range, having just finished training with the devices that every member of Brando Field Security carried at their sides when they were deployed in dangerous locations.

 

Eyes narrowed as he watched his chosen streetlight for any signs that he’d managed to hit his target, Garfunkel heard the heavy footfalls of his pursuer as they climbed up the stairs behind him.

 

“You’ve come to the end, human.”

 

When the streetlight flickered off, Garfunkel sighed in relief, even as he felt iron-strong fingers closing out his life…

 

=BT=

 

The ride would have been annoying enough, what with being crammed into a small space with Caesar of all people, but with the man’s friend Mark along it was even more interminable, especially since the pair of them were gabbing determinedly about Mark’s fiancée, and Caesar was also taking the opportunity to annoy him about the fact that he didn’t have a girlfriend waiting for him. He was just about to give a particularly crushing retort to that irritating Casanova, when the car they were all riding in lurched to an all-too-sudden halt.

 

“What’s the idea? Are we there yet?”

 

“We’re here, but take a look at this,” Gramps said, his serious tone cutting straight through any remaining levity.

 

Looking up the length of the streetlamp that Gramps had taken such an interest in, Joseph heard Caesar coming up behind him, but the sight of a streetlamp flashing the distinct code of three short pulses, three long, and three more short before pausing for a long moment… He knew what it meant; hell, nearly everyone present had been instructed by Aunty Alice about just what seeing this kind of thing meant.

 

“A lightning bug,” Caesar muttered, his expression slowly twisting into one of tempered fury as he stared up the length of the steadily pulsing streetlamp.

 

“Whatever’s down there… Well, at least we won’t be going in blind,” Aunty Alice muttered, carefully removing the signal beacon from the streetlamp, twisting it gently so that the clamps would disengage without tearing the delicate wiring within the body of the lamp.

 

Watching as all of their group each prepared themselves in their own ways to face whatever danger awaited them down in the depths of that cavern that the Germans had been working out of, Joseph began gathering Hamon along with Caesar. Whatever was down there, whatever had driven Simon’s brother to use the signal beacon that every field member of Brando Field Security had been equipped with for when they were forced to face dire situations, Joseph was going to make certain that Garfunkel – if he hadn’t run into anything too dangerous to survive – made it back safely.

 

When they came to the entrance of the cavern where the Germans had been working, Joseph found that the cover-plate had been slid back into place. He also saw that the cover-plate was apparently the Mouth of Truth, but he didn’t pay much more attention to it than to notice the thing. All of them had far more important things on their minds.

 

Merda,” Caesar hissed, leaning down to grab something from the ground, before even Gramps could take a step into the darkened tunnel gaping in front of them.

 

Before any of them could ask just what it was that had drawn Caesar’s attention, the blond stood back up. He was holding the gunmetal-gray uniform jacket of Brando Industries’ Field Security Forces; it was heavy enough to show evidence of the titanium-wire mesh layered within the inner-lining of the coat, and it lay piled atop the padded, impact-diffusing undershirt that served as further protection in the event that a member of the Security Force was confronted with an armed opponent. The entire uniform had, in fact, been lying haphazardly on the stone floor, at the top of what Joseph could now see was a long flight of stone stairs.

 

“Keep on your guard,” Aunty Alice said, her voice tight with controlled fury. “We may not know precisely what we’re facing, but it’s obviously dangerous.”

 

“I’ll bet you it’s those damned Pillar Men,” Caesar snarled, furiously gathering up the empty Field Security Forces uniform with short, sharp motions. “Mark, go back to the car and wait. This is no place for you.”

 

“I’ll take him,” Simon said, stepping forward so that he could put a hand on Mark’s right shoulder. “Boss? Whoever did this? Go get them.”

 

“We will,” Joseph promised, even as Aunty Alice gave a sharp nod and the rest of their group all began making their way down into the darkened cavern.

 

=BT=

 

Breathing deeply to keep his Hamon flowing, Jonathan made his way down into the darkened cavern at the head of the small group of warriors that were the only true hope that the human race – or Earth as a whole, he mused, reflecting upon the three vampires who had become, if not close kin, then at least friends – had against the Pillar Men. The cavern itself was dark enough that Jonathan suspected that something had gone truly wrong. That, combined with Garfunkel’s last message, and the obvious evidence of the man’s death that they had found at the top of the flight of stairs they were currently making their way down, made the fact all the more inescapable.

 

And so, as he and the members of his family – both extended and immediate – all made their way down into the depths of the cave where the three remaining Pillar Men had been discovered, Jonathan steeled himself for whatever it was that they would be forced to confront when they all arrived within the cavern.

 

“Wait,” Alice said, holding up a hand to halt them in their tracks.

 

“What is it?” he asked, just before any of the others could have spoken; he was certain they would have asked the same thing, however.

 

“All three of them are awake,” she said, his and Dio’s sister’s folded arms and narrowed eyes clear in every line of her posture, though the low light prevented him from seeing anything but the latter. “They’re talking about something.”

 

Talking?” Caesar echoed, speaking for the lot of them even as Jonathan himself looked off into the distance.

 

Indeed, there did seem to be three distinct shapes, moving within the darkness.

 

“What are they saying?” he asked, narrowing his eyes as he heard Alice humming in thought.

 

=BT=

 

“It appears to be night outside, Wham,” he said, smelling the all-too-familiar scent of chilled air, outside the cavern where the three of them had awakened after so long; he’d often wondered what the air of daytime smelled like, but such was only one of many reasons that he had designed the Mask.

 

Once they managed to obtain the Super Aja they sought, the three of them – the last of their race; the only ones who had not foolishly shackled themselves to tradition and convention – would stand under the light of the sun without fear.

 

“That is correct, Lord Kars. And, what shall be your bidding?”

 

“Easy,” ACDC said, the grin on his old friend’s face stretching all the wider, for how close all of them had come to their goal; particularly with the destruction of the Hamon tribe. “We will be searching for the whereabouts of the Red Stone of Aja. The Stone is the last piece we need, in order to complete the Mask. Then, we will unleash its power!”

 

Kars could almost taste it, that day when he and the rest of his kind would be able to drink in the sunlight, rather than cowering in fear of it.

 

“Of course, Master ACDC,” Wham said, still kneeling at their feet like a proper servant. “However, the human world has changed much over the years that we slumbered. Long ago, it was the Emperor of Rome whom possessed the Stone. Unfortunately, I am certain that age has ended.”

 

“Well then, we simply need to find where it is that the Stone currently calls home,” he said; the echoes of his own words, spoken in a voice that was only passingly familiar to him, made themselves known in Kars’ ears at that moment. “Do you hear something?”

 

ACDC harrumphed in amusement, still grinning. “Don’t they know how rude it is to come into someone’s home without announcing themselves? And then to go eavesdropping on us? How terribly gauche.”

 

Turning to fully face the group of humans, and the very familiar vampire who had clearly led them to this place, Kars found himself at least mildly surprised to see that there was another vampire – clearly a close relation, if their almost identical appearances were any indication – standing close to the head of the group. He could tell the vampires from their pitiful human brethren simply by the way their eyes were oriented: the weak eyes of the humans could not pierce even the feeble darkness that he and his own stood within.

 

However, the twin vampires who stood so brazenly before them, their gazes were locked upon Kars and his fellows; calculating, assessing… it was fascinating to watch.

 

“So, you were the ones who killed Simon’s brother!” one of the humans, originally standing near the back of the group as a subordinate, but then brazenly forcing himself to the forefront – the elder who had been standing there, searching in vain for their forms with his feeble senses, stepping aside with an inscrutable expression on his face – snarled. “You bastards, I’ll kill you!”

 

Laughing alongside the rest of his brethren, laughing at the foolish human and all of his kind who had said such words to them over the long centuries of their existence, Kars watched as the pair of humans – one light-haired and one dark – reached to some kind of containers attached to their waists. When they drew their hands back up, Kars found that – in spite of their strange forms – the function of the containers was at least familiar to him. He’d only a moment to wonder why even a human would have been so foolish as to bring a water-skin to what was inevitably to become a battleground, before the very water itself seemed to leap out of the skins, wrapping around the hands of the younger Hamon-users who were attempting to set themselves against Kars and his fellows.

 

He could see the Hamon energies that flowed through the very water itself, turning something that was either a harmless annoyance or a pleasant diversion into a weapon nearly as harmful as the Hamon that he could see crackling over the skin and around the fists of the elder Hamon user standing at the forefront of their little group; he wondered, for a long moment, just how a pair of vampires had found themselves entangled with the Hamon tribe. And, moreover, how it was that they had not been destroyed for the mere attempt.

 

Chapter Text

“Coming in, twelve ‘o clock!” she called, pulling Caesar’s arm to encourage him to move more quickly than he had been.

 

The three Pillar Men who had been preparing to charge them dove through what had been the center of their group, even as the six of them split up into groups of two in order to have the best chance they could of dealing with the three Pillar Men attacking them. Jonathan and Elizabeth had come together, pitting their longer experience against whatever ACDC – there were times when it was all she could do not to burst out snickering at the constant barrage of music references that the world as a whole seemed to live and breathe on – had up his nonexistent sleeves. Joseph and Caesar had naturally teamed up, and Wham had set himself against the pair of them.

 

Which, naturally, left her and Dio to fight Kars.

 

“I believe you have something that belongs to my sister,” Dio drawled, eyes narrowed even as he tried to project an air of nonchalance.

 

He’d never quite seemed to get that down.

 

“Oh?” Kars echoed, an amused expression spreading across his face.

 

“It’s no problem,” she said, as the three of them continued circling each other, each trying to properly position themselves, while at the same time keeping their opponent from doing the same. “I already had a spare,” she continued easily, wondering just how this latest dust-up of theirs was going to go.

 

She could get at least something of a read on him, but it was weird; like facing some kind of hybrid of herself and Dio, of all people. Kars had Dio’s attitude down to the swagger, but he also seemed to have the kind of calm that she, personally tried to maintain. Time would tell if he had Dio’s triggers, and would hence be relatively simple to deal with, or if he had her general sense of good-natured amusement at the world in general, and would perhaps be amenable to discussing another way to get what he wanted. Sure, it seemed that he was working on some kind of second-generation stone mask, but there wasn’t really a pressing need to kill anyone to get the components he would need to finish it.

 

Of course, for some people, that kind of thing was more a matter of want than need; time would tell if Kars was one of those, however.

 

“So, you’ve already made more of these interesting devices?” Kars asked, the smirk on his face widening all the more as he looked directly at her; his eyes were slightly narrowed, mimicking the expression that Alice had often heard described as being on her own face those times when she had found something interesting to investigate.

 

“Not that I mind, but aren’t we supposed to be fighting?” she asked, curious to know just how Kars would react to the idea.

 

Alice hadn’t blinked, having trained herself not to do so in combat over the five-plus decades that she’d spent as a vampire, and she was only breathing enough so that she could speak, but almost before she’d finished her last word, Alice found herself staring into the wine-red eyes of the Pillar Man who she’d only caught the most cursory of glimpses of, back when she’d pursued Caesar and a fleeing Mario Zeppeli up to that alley in the shadow of the Coliseum not so many years ago.

 

“Fight?” Kars chuckled, deep in his throat; from the angle they were both standing at, the hooded Pillar Man seemed to tower over her, and from the look on his face, he seemed to enjoy that fact. Prick. “I think I would much prefer that we talk, pet. After all,” he continued, reaching out to curl his right hand around one of the locks of hair she used for both enhancing her range of hearing, and sensing fine tremors. “We had such a promising first meeting.”

 

The meaty sound of Dio’s first set of finger bones being fired at Kars’ head managed to distract the Pillar Man for those few, crucial seconds that Alice needed to twist free of his grip, compress the lower half of her body like an accordion, and spring back up behind the Pillar Man good as new. She sacrificed the hair he’d been fondling, of course, but under the circumstances it was a small price to pay. Hair grew back, after all.

 

“Keep your filthy hands off my sister, Kars!”

 

What he said, only with less vitriol, Alice didn’t say, bracing herself for whatever it was that Kars was bound to do next; all other considerations aside, he didn’t seem like the type to take being attacked well at all.

 

=BT=

 

He still couldn’t believe it had worked, even now that he and Caesar were running alongside the Pillar Man named Wham, all of them searching for an underground lake. Of course, the whole thing had started when – after Wham had accused the pair of them of holding back, even with the Hamon-filled whips and blades made of water they had been aiming at him – he’d shouted that of course their prowess hadn’t impressed him, it wasn’t as though they’d had much to work with, considering the size of their canteens.

 

Wham had actually agreed with them, and now here they all were, looking for an underground lake so that the Pillar Man who had insisted on fighting them at their full capacity could have the battle he was so clearly longing for; it was just so bizarre.

 

“I can smell it, just up ahead,” Wham’s deep, steady voice echoed out from the darkness where he was, running along beside them; he knew that Aunty Alice or Uncle Dio would have been able to see through it just fine, and it looked like Wham was in the exact same position, the lucky bastard. “Soon, you’ll both have enough water so that you might give me a proper battle, Hamon users.”

 

How lovely, he mused, rolling his eyes. Still, it wasn’t like they were going to be getting a better deal; having a lake at their disposal would only serve to enhance their water-based Hamon attacks. Hell, they might even have enough water for that depending on how big the lake they were being taken to actually was. He’d have turned to share a word with Caesar, save for the fact that he already knew how good vampire senses were.

 

Given the way these three had been acting, Pillar Men had the same degree of sensitivity.

 

When the three of them finally made it to the shore of the underground lake that Wham had been leading them to, Joseph found himself smirking almost involuntarily.

 

“I guess this will do,” he said, feeling Caesar’s gaze on him, and turning back to grin at his friend and fellow Hamon user; this would be more than enough to use it, really.

 

“Wham, if it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you’re going to get!” he heard Caesar shout, just before the pair of them turned to run out onto the surface of the underground lake that Wham had been obliging enough to find for them.

 

Synching his breathing with Caesar’s, Joseph grinned when he heard the sloshing of water as it rose up around the pair of them. He wondered, just for a moment, what Wham would make of what he had to be seeing. The feel of Caesar settling in behind him as their Hamon-and-water construct fully formed brought a smirk to Joseph’s face.

 

Whatever Wham had been expecting, he was definitely in for a surprise.

 

Breathing steadily and deeply, following the rhythm that Caesar had established for the pair of them when they had worked to perfect this particular construct, Joseph grinned as he felt the Hamon-charged water that made up the lower set of appendages of the construct that he and Caesar had made and refined together wrapping around both of his hands.

 

“Now Jojo, let’s see how this Pillar Man likes my Hamon Bubble Shot!”

 

Grinning, even as he maintained the steady breathing that would allow him to maintain control over the long water-whips that he’d worked so long to construct, Joseph felt one of his eyebrows begin to twitch as he caught sight of what Wham was actually doing. Is that Pillar Man laughing at us?!

 

=BT=

 

Leaping out of the path of a barrage of Hamon-infused bubbles, Wham laughed in delight. Truly, this was what he had hoped for when he had allowed that pair of Hamon users to follow him while he found a suitable body of water for them to utilize.

 

“A magnificent construct!” he exclaimed, throwing himself out of the path of one of the water-construct’s long, Hamon-charged appendages, as it buried itself deep into the stone where he’d previously been standing. “In return for showing me such a marvelous technique, I will show you one of my own! The Divine Sandstorm!”

 

=BT=

 

“Oh My God! He just threw a tornado at us!”

 

“Control your breathing, Jojo!” he shouted, even as one of the Pillar Man’s tornados slammed into the surface of the lake, throwing up huge waves and further disturbing the surface of the lake that he and Jojo were fighting on, causing the large bubble that he and Jojo were using to shield themselves from whatever kind of attacks that the Pillar Man in front of them was capable of using.

 

And yes, he hadn’t been expecting a tornado, but if he didn’t get Jojo to calm down, both of them were going to be in serious danger when the only thing holding back Wham’s tornados was his own Bubble Barrier.

 

“Oh come on!” Jojo shouted, as Wham leaped up and tried to slam another of those tornados down on them. “That’s not even fair!”

 

“Keep breathing, Jojo,” he reminded the pair of them; because yes, while he hadn’t been panicking nearly as much as Jojo, the sight of Wham falling down towards the pair of them with yet another tornado sprouting from the end of his huge arms hadn’t been good for his equilibrium, either.

 

=BT=

 

It was all Jonathan could do, after splitting off from the other members of his extended family, to keep his mind focused upon the task he’d taken up. Even having Elizabeth fighting at his side, her Hamon skills reinforcing his own, did not grant him so much of a reprieve as Jonathan had been hoping for. However, as matters presently stood, it was not any lack of skill on their parts that prevented himself and Elizabeth from overcoming the Pillar Man standing before them.

 

It seemed as though, in rather a complete contrast to Santana, ACDC possessed more esoteric abilities than simply being able to contort his body in ways that Jonathan had long since become accustomed to after so much time spent living with Dio and Alice; to say nothing of the regular visitations from Straizo.

 

“Well, it seems like the pair of you do know what you’re doing,” ACDC said, a wide grin spreading across his dusky-skinned face; Jonathan wondered about that, since it looked as though the Pillar Man’s skin had been browned by the sun, and he was fully aware that nothing unable to withstand Hamon would ever be able to walk unprotected in sunlight. “Good,” the Pillar Man standing before them grinned all the wider. “I haven’t had a fight this promising in two-thousand years!”

 

Leaping to the opposite side of the room, as Elizabeth did likewise, Jonathan just managed to avoid the spray of blood that coated the floor between them. It was yet another thing that, while he’d some experience from his dealings with Dio, Alice, and Straizo, made yet another point of contrast between vampires and Pillar Men. Because, while Alice, Dio, and Straizo all possessed the ability to draw in various liquids through their elastic veins, ACDC clearly possessed just the opposite ability.

 

Combined with the fact that ACDC’s blood had a marked and unpleasant tendency to melt through the very stone they were standing upon, and Jonathan could not help but find himself concerned as to just how in the world he and Elizabeth would ever manage to defeat the Pillar Man who had set himself against them.

 

“That was a very good use of your surroundings,” ACDC said, his tone actually sounding genuinely complimentary, as Elizabeth picked up one of the stay bits of rubble that lay on the floor of the cavern they were fighting within – if he’d had the time, Jonathan would have truly enjoyed exploring this place, considering how much of history such a cavern as this was bound to have borne witness to – charged it with Hamon, and threw it at ACDC’s head with all of the force that she could manage to impart. “I’m enjoying this more and more!”

 

Jonathan wondered, as he scooped up another piece of rubble, charged it, and hurled it with all of his might towards the Pillar Man, if this was how William Zeppeli had felt, all those decades ago. If, every time one of Alice’s new inventions – the spice packets that she’d thrown to disrupt Straizo’s Hamon, the explosive nets that she’d woven once she and Dio had made it to America under his very nose, and finally the titanium armor that she had constructed after fully establishing herself and Dio as a fixture within the American state of Montana – had been deployed against him, the elder Zeppeli had felt a flash of the same, smothering despair that Jonathan felt clinging to him as he and Elizabeth attempted to stand their ground against ACDC.

 

=BT=

 

The ceiling in front of them cratered deeply, because of course Kars would be able to jump to the ceiling with the same ease as she and Dio had been able to, and Alice leaped back and out of the way of the Pillar Man’s charge, all the while gathering another handful of ice-needles up in her hands. Edging back around Kars, as the Pillar Man stood up on the ceiling with them, Alice ground her teeth as he whipped around to face her again. Everything she’d been seeing from the moment that Kars had awakened from his stone slumber – however long that had been – seemed to indicate that Kars had some particular kind of infatuation with her.

 

And, while it was more than a bit annoying, it was also clearly something she could have used to her advantage in their current battle. That was to say, she could have, if Dio had been something less than rabidly antagonistic to the Pillar Man on pretty much every level that she could have conceived of. Really, it was kind of funny; the pair of them were so similar in temperament, but she was almost completely certain that both of them would have denied it vehemently if she were to bring the fact up in conversation.

 

Well, Dio would have, anyway; Kars was still enough of an unknown quantity that she couldn’t predict anything he’d do with any real degree of accuracy.

 

Still, that was something that this preliminary engagement was good for: more than anything else, she needed information. She needed to know not only what he was physically capable of, but what degree of mental flexibility he possessed, as well. Fighting Zeppeli had been so much easier after she’d gotten a good read on him; since, even with his skill in a combat art that had been expressly designed to exterminate vampires, the man’s sheer mental inflexibility had allowed her to not only surprise him with every new invention that she’d brought to field against him, but also to draw goad him into fights that any sensible person would have known were untenable to begin with.

 

Still, here and now she was back at square one, and on top of that it seemed that Kars was just as interested in her as she was in him; and potentially for the same reasons, as well.

 

Given the fact that the Pillar Man could see everything she was doing, the two handfuls of ice-needles she flung at his head did pretty much jack and shit, but the expression of amusement that spread across his face in the wake of her failure to so much as scratch him with the ice-needles that she’d pulled from the moisture lingering in the air so far underground gave her at least something to go on: whatever else one could say about Kars, he certainly had an ego.

 

=BT=

 

It was such an amusing thing, the way the little vampire tested him; she had to know that he could have destroyed her with the merest flick of his wrists, or else reached out to consume her with hardly a thought. And yet, she still insisted on testing him, launching attacks that he swatted aside, merely to determine what he would ultimately react to; what would draw his attention, in the end. He knew that Wham would have thought it the gravest of insults, that he was not being taken seriously by a mere vampire, but Kars knew that – above all other considerations when one was attempting to fight a previously unknown opponent – information was key.

 

In all of my centuries walking this world, I’d have never thought to see a vampire with eyes like my own, he mused, smile still firmly in place as he watched the young vampire leap lightly down from the ceiling once it had become clear that – with gravity now working in his favor just as much as hers – she would be best served by abandoning the high-ground that no longer served her purposes. Watching as she did so without the slightest hesitation, Kars felt himself smiling all the wider.

 

Clearly, pride was not something that hindered her in the slightest; yet another thing that the pair of them held in common.

 

He’d seen it in her the first time they had met, in that darkened street where feasting upon that unwary human had given him the strength to look out through his own eyelids, even if only for a passing moment. That sharp, pointed curiosity, even as she’d made her ultimately futile attempt to sever his extended veins and thus prevent him from feeding. The way she’d not even balked at tossing aside the sword she’d been holding rather than cling to it and be devoured like so many of the foolish humans he’d consumed over the many centuries he’d walked the world had impressed him, and Kars found himself hoping that the pair of them would meet again.

 

Now that they had, Kars could see that the calculating, assessing curiosity that he’d seen in her eyes the first time he’d glimpsed the young vampire had not merely been a reflection of his own when he’d seen what she was and how that other human she had been with deferred to her.

 

It was clear, seeing the way she prodded at him, that this young vampire possessed every measure of the curiosity that had drawn Kars himself to ascend to the lofty heights that his advanced biology had made possible. And, while the others might have easily dismissed her as a mere vampire, Kars knew that there was nothing mere about her. She would cut open the very world, just as he had, simply to find out how it functioned. Her brother was of no true consequence, just another arrogant vampire who’d clearly come to think far too much of himself in a world merely composed of humans.

 

Kars paid him as little mind as the creature deserved, a fact which plainly and rather amusingly served to infuriate him.

 

=BT=

 

As one more tornado in a long line of them slammed into the surface of the lake they were still standing on top of, Joseph braced himself as he and both Caesar tried to keep the bubble they were riding in steady, even as they tried to escape from the churning waters buffeting them. Their best bet, it was starting to seem, was to use bursts of Hamon-charged water to skip their bubble across the surface of the lake, and then making a run for it once they were back on land. Beyond that, Joseph couldn’t say.

 

It seemed like he and Caesar were going to have to figure the rest out when – not if – they made it back to land.

 

=BT=

 

Infusing his Hamon into the stone dust underneath his feet, Jonathan whipped it into the air, even as Elizabeth did the same beside him. It had become clear that – even for all of their prowess and skill – the pair of them simply lacked the sheer speed to outpace ACDC’s veins; to say nothing of the boiling blood that the Pillar Man could eject from each and every one of the openings in his flesh.

 

The cloth that he’d pulled up over his mouth and nose enabled Jonathan to make his way through the cloud of Hamon-charged dust that he and Elizabeth had raised to cover their escape without the worry of disrupting the Hamon they would need to maintain to make such a thing possible.

 

Running footsteps that didn’t sound quite like his and Elizabeth’s own, as well as the sight of darkly-clad figures running across the very walls draws his attention briefly, and Jonathan allows himself to relax slightly when Dio and Alice appeared beside him. The four of them, now having the benefit of his siblings’ enhanced powers of perception, were far more easily able to evade the Pillar Man that had to have been tracking them even through the clouds of stone dust that he and Elizabeth had been raising.

 

After he and Elizabeth had met up with Dio and Alice, it was not so long after that that they encountered Joseph and Caesar once again. Four out of their group of six – those who could use Hamon without the risk of destroying themselves in the process – took up a diamond-formation around the pair in the center, and the lot of them fled as fast as they could manage. Subtle flicks of Alice’s fingers – the sign-language that his and Dio’s sister had developed for those times when they couldn’t risk being overheard, but needed to communicate all the same – directed their group back to the entrance of the tunnels, but by a more roundabout route that enables them to escape the notice of the Pillar Men that still presumably stalked the caverns in search of them.

 

Once the six of them had successfully made their escape, meeting up with Simon and Marc in the same armored car they’d originally come to this place in, Jonathan finally allows himself to relax fully; they may not have struck any kind of decisive blow against the Pillar Men, but he could at least be content that all of his family – blood related and not – had made it out alive.

 

=BT=

 

While he, ACDC, and Wham swiftly departed from the caverns they had awakened within, Kars was only too pleased to allow his mind to linger upon the little vampire who he’d met for such a short time; the one with eyes that Kars had only seen before in mirrors. He wouldn’t have been at all averse to meeting with her again, Kars decided. However, having to deal with those Hamon tribe members who had attached themselves to her – to say nothing of her male counterpart – would be nothing more than an annoyance. Clearly, he would need to find a way to isolate her, if the pair of them were to ever have the chance for a proper conversation.

 

Smiling slightly, Kars reflected once again upon the Stone Mask that he had created for the last remnants of his race – those who had not allowed themselves to be foolishly blinded by fear and tradition – to use upon themselves. Perhaps I should look into creating another, he mused, feeling a pleased grin stretching his lips.

 

Chapter Text

After thoroughly discussing their next course of action, the six of them had unanimously decided that it would be in their best interests if they returned to Air Supplena Island, both to regroup, and to train themselves for the next inevitable confrontation with the Pillar Men. Joseph, of course, had not been best pleased by the thought of further training, but even he had to admit that their dismal showing against the three of them – even with their clear advantage of numbers – necessitated either a more strict dedication to their training, or some burst of sudden genius.

 

Both of which would, of course, be given time to flourish in the peaceful environs of Air Supplena Island.

 

Once their helicopter had landed upon the pad at the west end of the island, Jonathan swiftly followed in Elizabeth’s footsteps as she debarked from it, and sighed with relief as he heard the others doing likewise.

 

Air Supplena Island felt much as it had, back when Jonathan had first set foot upon it, decades ago when he and Elizabeth had first come to the island in order to refine their Hamon abilities. There was the same air of peace and tranquility that he had come to appreciate all the more greatly during the more tumultuous times that their family had lived through.

 

“Plank! Brick! So nice to see you again!”

 

“Watch what you call us, brat,” Loggins growled, his tone far more exasperated than threatening; Jonathan could fully sympathize.

 

Grandson or not, Joseph was quite the trial when he put his mind to being so. Messina and Loggins, for their part, were quick to fall into step with their group as they all made their way into the compound.

 

“Joseph,” he called sternly, just before his grandson could make his swiftly-becoming-habitual rude gesture toward the building that housed the Hell Climb Pillar.

 

“Come on, Gramps,” the boy returned, more than a little exasperation coloring his tone. “I was stuck down there for two days!”

 

“Yes, and I believe a great deal of that time was due to your own stubborn insistence upon using the lake of oil at the base of the Pillar as a trampoline,” he said, turning a solidly unimpressed expression upon his wayward grandson; truly, Joseph and Dio had entirely too much in common for anyone’s peace of mind. “As I recall hearing from Elizabeth, you fully intended to leap the entire length of the Pillar, solely using the momentum and Hamon you had imparted to the oil. Which, while indeed a rather ingenious method of escaping the pit the Pillar stands in, was quite far from the point of the exercise you and Caesar were participating in.”

 

“Oh, but doing it the normal way is so dreadfully boring,” Joseph groused, an expression that was an easy match for Dio’s at its most plaintive, and in the veritable blink of an eye, there was Dio himself standing behind Joseph, arms wrapped around his grandson’s waist, grinning unrepentantly at him.

 

Jonathan sighed. “The pair of you are entirely impossible.”

 

Said pair turned their unrepentant grins upon each other, and then – simply because both of them knew very well that he didn’t approve of such things – they shared a noisy kiss directly upon the lips.

 

“Careful, Jojo,” Dio said, grinning as Joseph silently cackled with mirth; truly, the both of them were utterly incorrigible on their own, and only became moreso when in such close proximity. “If you keep acting that way, I just might end up finding a new favorite.”

 

“Aww, but you’re already my favorite uncle, Dio!” Joseph said, a sly sort of enthusiasm in his tone, just before he planted yet another noisy kiss upon Dio’s right cheek.

 

Sighing in a resigned sort of fondness as Dio and Joseph began playfully wrestling with each other, Jonathan continued on his way into the main building of Air Supplena Island’s compound.

 

=BT=

 

She didn’t know just what it was that Alice Brando was planning, but there could be no question that her Aunt-in-law – the vampire who had not only survived the attentions of a Hamon master of William Zeppeli’s caliber, and not only triumphed over him, but who had also managed to build and protect the foundations of an international corporation while she was doing so – had something in particular occupying her thoughts. She’d come to know very well the way Alice’s mind worked and so knew that, even as the vampire entered the code to allow herself to pass through the house’s security system, she was already considering ways and means of dealing with the Pillar Men who had emerged to threaten them and everything they cared about.

 

Elizabeth was pleased to know that humanity as a whole had such a mind on their side, even if Alice was no longer human herself.

 

Once the eight of them had made their way into the main house, the security-system resetting itself after the last of their passcodes had been entered, Elizabeth made her way up the main stairs to her room. While she did fully understand the necessity of planning for their next inevitable encounter with the three Pillar Men, Elizabeth knew that she didn’t have the same tireless nature as either of the vampires staying with them, and so the best thing that she herself could do was to get some rest. After a good night’s sleep, she would be of much more help than she would have otherwise been.

 

=BT=

 

As he watched Kars, his fellow Pillar Man hard at work sorting through a small pile of Aja stones that they had collected and brought to this place before going into their long sleep to wait for the Hamon tribe to die out, ACDC looked down at the block of stone that their leader had so carefully selected as the basis for his latest work.

 

“So, this vampire of yours is truly that interesting, is she?”

 

Kars grinned, looking down at what was clearly to become the latest of his Stone Masks; one with a rather singular effect, if the care his old friend was putting into its creation was any kind of indication.

 

“She’s unique,” his old friend – the pair of them had outlived most human civilizations given their respective ages, but considering how short-lived those creatures were, ACDC didn’t consider that kind of thing any real accomplishment – said, grinning all the wider as he extended his wrist blades and began making the primary incisions into the stone slab in front of him. “A unique existence; comparable to only one other.”

 

He knew the many and varied expressions on Kars’ face, subtle as they would have seemed to any outsider who might have been privileged to stay in the same vicinity without being devoured for their insolence.

 

“Would you like me to go and collect her for you?” he asked, his own curiosity swiftly coming to the fore; after all, anyone who served to remind his old friend of himself clearly had to be interesting in all the right ways.

 

The pleased smile that Kars turned upon him was all the answer that ACDC truly needed.

 

=BT=

 

It was more than clear, given everything that she’d heard about the various running battles against the three Pillar Men that her family had all been involved in, they would all be best served if they acquired some long-range weaponry before their next engagement. It was also obvious that, with Hamon being their best means of defense if not attack, she and Dio were going to need the second-generation armor that she’d developed. She’d been in the process of calling in to have the suits prepped and shipped out to Air Supplena Island, when the distinctive double-flash of the house’s silent alarm went off.

 

She wasn’t worried, at least not at first, since she knew that Suzie Quattro – Elizabeth’s housekeeper, who’s been taking more and more notice of Joseph every time her and Dio’s nephew showed up for a visit – had a bad habit of tripping the security system through sheer absent-mindedness. Really, if she didn’t know that the woman didn’t have a malicious bone in her body, Alice would have begun to suspect her as some kind of plant awhile ago. Already preparing the lecture she was going to give on the importance of maintaining proper security, particularly when they were faced with enemies like the Pillar Men, Alice made her way over to the main monitoring console.

 

Once she’d fully activated the thing, however, Alice swore softly and creatively in Italian and Japanese.

 

Picking up the emergency line, she hit the button that would connect her to Elizabeth’s room – as that was the other one down the hall that their unwelcome guest had appeared in, aside from Alice’s own – and paused to wait a few, long moments for her niece-in-law to pick it up.

 

“Alice?”

 

“We have a visitor,” she said, narrowing her eyes as she watched ACDC stride brazenly down the hallway that would take him to either her own room or else to Elizabeth’s, depending on just which turn he took down the upcoming fork in the path ahead.

 

“How many?” Elizabeth asked, her tone letting Alice know that the other woman fully understood the inherent risks of their present situation.

 

“Just one, but under the circumstances,” Alice paused, narrowing her eyes as the saw the Pillar Man pause almost in mid-step, head cocked as though he were listening to something far-off.

 

Vampire hearing being what it was, Alice wasn’t particularly eager to test the limits that a Pillar Man might have had. Pushing the small, recessed black button that would send the signal to begin evacuating the house.

 

“Alice?”

 

“We’ll talk later,” she said, narrowing her eyes as ACDC paused for just a moment at the intersection between the hallway that continued on to her room, and the one that split off towards Elizabeth’s. “There’s no point in shooting the breeze here.”

 

Just as she’d been starting to expect, ACDC turned his path down what Alice had come to think of as her hallway only a few seconds after Alice herself had finished speaking. Still, Elizabeth knew that their personal line wasn’t entirely secure anymore, and she’d sent the signal for a full evacuation of the premises. So, all that remained to be done was to get herself the hell out of Dodge.

 

=BT=

 

“Jojo!” Caesar called, just as Joseph had been preparing to unleash his Hamon Water Whip against his fellow student’s Bubble Launcher.

 

“The silent alarm?!” he exclaimed, having just caught a glimpse of the place where Caesar had been looking.

 

The light was a bright red, instead of the white Joseph had seen on every other occasion he’d been dubiously privileged to see it, but he still knew what it meant. This wasn’t a drill, and it wouldn’t be an enemy that they could actually stand against who’d invaded his mother’s home-away-from-home. Joseph ground his teeth, even as he fell almost instinctively in behind Caesar as the pair of them grabbed their emergency bags and hurried out of the training hall.

 

Sighing as he caught sight of Gramps and Uncle Dio, neither of them looking particularly happy about being forced to leave on such short notice, but it also looked like Gramps had managed to talk him down. Or at least get him moving, since Uncle Dio still didn’t look particularly happy about being forced to leave so quickly. Not like he was either, but Auntie Alice would drag anyone still inside out by their ears, and give them a thoroughly scathing lecture after she’d thrown them into the hydro-foil.

 

Still, even as he was mentally grumbling to himself about being forced out of the place he’d currently been calling home, Joseph continued on his way; making for the disguised launch site that had been designated as their meeting place in this kind of situation.

 

=BT=

 

It had been a rather novel idea, that the vampire his old friend had taken such an interest in might have devised a way to observe him from a distance – even through the walls that had stood like such flimsy sentries between the pair of them – but given what he’d heard her saying, just before she’d fallen silent in what had clearly been an adorably futile attempt to convince ACDC that she was no longer inside the room where she had foolishly trapped herself. This little vampire might very well have reminded Kars of himself, but it was plain that – for all she’d impressed the leader of their small group of remaining Pillar Men – this little vampire was still young.

 

Really, that could only make things more interesting; after all, if this little vampire of theirs had already managed to catch Kars’ attention at her age… Well, that was certainly something to take note of.

 

=BT=

 

After diving out of the large window she’d used more than a few times during drills for just this sort of occasion, Alice latched onto a jutting corner of masonry, throwing herself around it to bleed off excess momentum so that she could land more lightly when she inevitably hit the ground – vampire hearing being what it was, and the senses of a Pillar Man clearly being more developed even than that – and then hit the ground in a low crouch to diffuse even more of the impact caused by her landing. Alice could only hope that it would be enough, in the end.

 

Hurrying as quickly as she could, with only a single look back to make sure that ACDC wasn’t in position to catch a glimpse of her path as she made her way to the hidden launch site of the hydrofoil that she’d made a point of keeping prepped and fueled for just this sort of an occasion, Alice had soon arrived.

 

All of the others, including a fretting Suzie Q who stood between Joseph and Elizabeth, had gathered at that same point, and so Alice quickly made her way over to the hidden door within the hollow, artificial rock that she’d helped to build and install just to the right of the boat dock. Pushing it open, she held it just long enough for their small group to duck inside – with Jonathan giving her a one-armed hug in passing, and Dio stopping his near-constant stream of grumbled obscenities to kiss her firmly on the left cheek – and then ducked inside the small space, herself.

 

Inside was a space just slightly larger than the hydrofoil it concealed, leaving only enough room for the nine of them to pile in through the gull-wing doors, and then to pull them closed once the last of their group had gotten settled.

 

“I still don’t understand why we had to do this, sister,” Dio groused, and Alice could see him fidgeting in his seat. “We had several times that Pillar Man’s number-”

 

“Which would have meant precisely nothing, given the fact that Jonathan already said that ACDC possessed an omni-directional, mid-ranged attack that’s perfectly suited to dealing with large groups of attackers,” she said, turning just enough so that she could glare at her often-impulsive brother without twisting her neck any farther than was humanly possible; Joseph always tended to cringe when she did something like that, so she tried not to do it around him. “Now, put your harness on; we’re leaving.”

 

Grabbing the throttle, just as the sensor-triggered outer doors of their hidden launch site snapped open, Alice engaged the thing and felt the reassuring thrum as the hydrofoil’s overpowered engines kicked into gear.

 

=BT=

 

The sound that drew him out of searching the apparently empty room where the little vampire had clearly spent a great deal of time – if the lingering scents in the air and over the furniture within the room were any indication – was not one that ACDC had ever heard before in any form. In the broadest sense, he supposed that one could have said that it sounded like a drawn-out human scream, but there was something distinctly… artificial about it, in that case. Also, no human in existence – not even one who had been trained for all of their short lives in the practice – would have been able to scream in such a way for such a prolonged time. Nor would one of them be likely to bother, seeing little point in the act.

 

Launching himself out through the large window, ACDC landed easily on the grounds and began his search anew. It was not so long before he managed to regain his bearings and follow the trail that the little vampire had so obligingly left for him. However, when he came to the end of that very trail, ACDC found himself staring up at a large, dark-colored boulder, washed by waves from the sea and otherwise empty of anything that might have indicated just where that clever little vampire had managed to hide herself.

 

ACDC was just about to turn and leave, making for one of the other buildings that he’d left unsearched in his efforts to find that clever little vampire – truly, she was even starting to remind ACDC himself of his old friend, though of course a much younger version – when he spotted the subtle lines deeply scored into the face of the stone. They were far too perfectly regular to have been caused by any kind of natural cause, and so must have been the work of the clever little vampire he was pursuing. Pressing his right hand against the scored surface of the stone, however, yielded the most surprising result.

 

There was apparently a door set into the stone itself. Or rather a whole, if cramped, room within the very stone itself. The small room echoed with the same sounds of crashing water as the outside, if muted by the enclosure where he currently stood.

 

For all that it was presently empty, the small space within the thin shell of stone was rather fascinating; it was indeed something that Kars himself might have made, and just as inscrutable as one of his old friend’s inventions, considering its current state. So, it looks like you managed to escape me after all, little vampire, he mused, grinning at the empty room, hidden by its shell of hollowed-out stone. If nothing else, Kars would enjoy hearing of the exploits of his little vampire.

 

Truly, she was every bit as interesting as his old friend had implied.

 

=BT=

 

Settling back into his seat, just behind Auntie Alice and right next to Caesar, Joseph sighed as he felt the hydro-foil they’d all been riding in come bobbing to a stop.

 

“Signal’s been sent,” Auntie Alice said, and he turned to see her looking up from the control panel. “It should only take a couple hours or so for my people to pick us up.”

 

“That’s good to hear,” Gramps said, sighing softly as he leaned back in his own seat.

 

There was a certain air of unwinding tension from nearly every member of their odd family, and even Uncle Dio opening one of the gull-wing doors so that he could climb up atop the hydro-foil served to add to that. The soft sound of stealth-helicopter rotors brought his attention to the sharply angular, matte-black form of Spooky – or 59004-3, if one wanted to be pedantic about things – as it sliced smoothly through the air towards them. Good old Spooky, he mused, joining up with the others as the nine of them all piled into the helicopter.

 

“Thanks for being so prompt, Straizo,” Auntie Alice said, prompting a short round of acknowledgements that Auntie Alice’s retainer accepted with good grace.

 

As the small, dark form of the hydro-foil slowly slipped out of sight behind them, Joseph turned his attention back toward the matter of the Pillar Men. This whole debacle was simply more proof, as though any of them had needed it, that all of them would need both more training and better weapons if they were going to be able to deal with those three Pillar Men.

 

Leaning against the left-side window as the sea passed by beneath them, slowly tapering off into whichever nearby city they were currently flying over, before petering out into the large car-park and well-groomed grounds of Auntie Alice’s Triestina branch of Brando International. There were no cars in the park, not at an hour so late that it may just as well have been early, and as Spooky settled neatly down toward the tarmac far beneath them, Joseph found that he could only be grateful for such a thing. A feeling that was only reinforced as he watched a circular section of that same tarmac split neatly into quarters, the wedges seeming to resemble nothing so much as the near sections of a pie, just before they all retracted neatly into the roof of the underground hangar that now stood neatly opened to them.

 

As Straizo settled Spooky down on the landing-pad that had once been concealed by the tarmac, Joseph stood up and made his way out of the stealth helicopter alongside the other members of his small, bizarre family.

 

=BT=

 

Once she made it back up to her office, the last thing that Alice had been expecting was for the phone to start ringing; particularly since it was still early enough in the morning that the sun hadn’t risen yet.

 

“Who is this?” she asked, pressing the phone to her right ear before it could start ringing again.

 

“It’s good to hear from you again, Frau Brando.”

 

“Stroheim,” she said, rather unimpressed with the man’s penchant for appearing in just the places and times when he was least wanted.

 

“I think it would be in our best interests if we were to meet again, Frau Brando,” the man said, sounding as certain of himself and his motives as he ever did.

 

“What possible reason do you think I’d accept for working with a Nazi?” she asked, settling down in her plush swivel-chair – one of the first things she’d invented/re-invented once she’d truly gotten herself settled into the corporate lifestyle. “You are fully aware that I find your ideals personally abhorrent, right?”

 

“Yes,” Stroheim said, seeming to be amused by the particular turn that their conversation had taken. “I also recall that when one of our own men came to request that you begin producing those bulletproof uniforms of yours for our Wehrmacht, you laughed in his face, then told him to fuck off,” the man chuckled. “I truly admire one who is willing to stand by their principles, even in such trying times as ours, Frau Brando. However, this is no longer simply a matter of principles,” the man sobered, becoming serious. “Those Pillar Men are a danger to every living thing on this planet. Only one of them was a match for both you and Jonathan Joestar, and I received the same reports that you likely did concerning events in Rome. For the sake of all humanity, we can’t allow ourselves to be divided by matters of state. And, I can’t deny that, for all the advances that German science has made, we could do so much more if we had access to the resources of your company, Frau Brando.”

 

“You want to collaborate?”

 

“I think that would be in both of our best interests,” Stroheim said. “My people have been able to come up with a rather innovative idea for combating the Pillar Men, but the materials they would need to implement them have been diverted toward the war effort. If we had access to your materials and fabrication-”

 

“Yes, it is starting to sound like both of us have something that the other can use,” she said, curious enough about the man’s idea to give him at least some time to explain it. “All right, I’ll take a look at your proposal,” she said, debating for a moment whether or not to instruct him on where to meet her.

 

Then again, if he’d known where to call, then he probably knew where to find her, anyway.

Chapter Text

Chuckling briefly to himself as he continued working on his newest stone mask, Kars reflected happily upon the story that ACDC had brought to him. Oh, my clever little pet, he mused, carefully shaping the stone claws that he would soon be able to set within the mask that he was creating. I can hardly wait to lay proper claim to you. Moving on to the more intricate parts of the mask, those that would crack open the little vampire’s skull and allow for the growth of a her own proud set of horns, Kars imagined the look on his soon-to-be pet’s face when he was finally able to lay his hands on her.

 

There was little question that she would fight; truly, his little pet was such a clever, defiant thing.

 

He would, therefore, need both time and care to cage her properly, at least until such time as she had come to fully understand her new status and place in the world. After that, they would truly be able to create things together. Of course, there would also be the matter of reshaping her from the mere vampire she was into the new, glorious form that he would give to her.

 

Truly, she should have been mine from the start, Kars reflected, a slight frown settling on his features as he continued his work. She should have lain beside me, in those caves that our people were so foolishly content to call settlements; should have stood beside me as I created the first of my masks. He and ACDC would have taken turns, marking her face with the designs they had chosen for themselves, at least until such time as she had been old enough to create her own.

 

He should have been the one to bring her out of the caverns; the one to teach her of the world and everything that could be done with it.

 

Truly, it was a frustrating situation; still, the fact remained that he had met that clever little vampire of his. And, even if she hadn’t been born one of his own, with enough time and proper training even she herself could be made to forget that. Smile returning to his face as he considered that, Kars continued about his work in a far better mood.

 

=BT=

 

When he and his chosen corps of scientists and engineers arrived before the proud, imposing form of Brando International’s Triestina tower, Rudol von Stroheim grinned as he considered the breakthroughs that he and his would soon be able to make with the aid of the vast funds and abundant resources that Alice Brando possessed almost as a matter of course. True, the vampire woman had made their mutual collaboration conditional – in that he was not to share any of what the pair of them created with the Third Reich in any way, shape, or form – but the Führer was a stubborn, prideful man, and would doubtless refuse to make use of anything that had passed through the doors of Brando International in any case.

 

Beyond even that, however, Rudol had no desire to find himself or his countrymen facing staring down the toothy maws of her armored siege-beasts; considering how completely the woman had managed to overcome the single greatest weakness of all of her kind, Rudol knew that it was all too likely that she had developed a means of shielding her most formidable creations from the UV light that would have otherwise destroyed them.

 

Stepping through the doors after a momentary pause, during which time Frau Brando gave them temporary passage through her security system, as well as a warning that any attempt to stray from the areas that have been opened to them would have thoroughly unpleasant and quite possibly dire consequences. He takes note of the warning, assuring the vampire that he will keep his people within the areas that she has designated for their use. He’d admit to some curiosity as to just what would happen if one of his own were to overstep their bounds, but Rudol wasn’t actually stupid enough to press his luck in such a way.

 

Truly, Alice Brando was not a woman to be crossed lightly.

 

=BT=

 

Working with Stroheim and his cronies had proved to be rather surprisingly non-terrible, especially considering the kind of truly spectacular ass the man had shown himself as, that first time the pair of them had been forced to work together. And, considering the rather interesting ideas he was bringing to the table, as well as the fact that he’d seemed to have gotten the memo that harassing any of her employees would ultimately result in the removal of his spine by way of his nose, Alice had found herself actually starting to enjoy working with the man. It wasn’t so much of a revelation, of course – that someone who espoused a stupid or abhorrent worldview didn’t, in and of themselves, have to be a stupid or abhorrent person – but it was a helpful reminder, all the same.

 

“Thank you for allowing us to make use of your facilities, Frau Brando,” the scientist that Stroheim had introduced as the leader of the team he’d brought to her, a man named Till Lindemann. “All of this would have been much more difficult without access to your facilities.”

 

“Clearly,” she said, smirking slightly as she looked out over the ranks of slowly-being-assembled constructs standing before them. “It also looks like you’ve been taking some cues from a few of my own projects.”

 

“Yes, Frau Brando,” Dr. Lindemann said, chuckling softly. “We have.”

 

=BT=

 

They’d gone straight down to one of the weapons-testing rooms, since that was the closest thing to a dojo they were going to be able to find in a place like Alice’s Triestina tower, and Jonathan had quickly set about gathering the tools that he and his would need in order to begin honing their skill for the battles that were soon to come. He knew that Alice and Stroheim – disapprove of the man though he might – were making their own contributions, but he didn’t wish to place any more strain upon his and Dio’s sister than he had already imposed. It would be completely unbecoming of a gentleman to do so.

 

And, even in such bizarre circumstances as he found himself facing so much of late, Jonathan would always strive to hold to the values of a true gentleman.

 

=BT=

 

Even with all of the freedom that he, Dio, had been granted as the co-owner of the company that he and his sweet sister had presided over the creation of, Dio still found himself restless as he strode through the halls. Those damned Pillar Men – particularly that bastard Kars – were an annoyance that had yet to be properly addressed. Yes, he knew that his sweet sister was working on some kind of project that would, like as not, give them all a far greater advantage over those arrogant bastards than they’d previously possessed, but he still couldn’t help wishing that it could all be done with sooner.

 

However, dear Alice’s staff were human, and humans all seemed to move so damnably slowly.

 

=BT=

 

“You’re sure you want to get into this?” she asked, narrowing her eyes slightly as Stroheim made his way into the room that his people had been working out of.

 

“I am completely certain, Frau Brando,” the man said, that same, stubborn look overtaking his face once again. “There’s too much of a chance that any other kind of control device might be destroyed during our next engagement with the Pillar Men,” he said, already beginning to remove his shirt. “This is the only way that we’re going to have any kind of chance at defeating them!”

 

She sighed, grabbing the lab coat that Dr. Lindemann  was offering to her. Even if it had been meant as something of a joke, Stroheim had clearly taken it seriously enough to submit himself to the process.

“All right, then,” she said, slipping on the lab coat and buttoning it up even as she made her way over to the table that had previously been laid out with surgical instruments. “Let’s see what we can do.”

 

As she organized her people, prepping for the surgery that she was soon to be performing – considering the fact that she did have steadier hands than anyone with a pulse, no one had seen any real reason to gainsay her on the matter – she gave half an eye to Dr. Lindemann as he and his prepped Stroheim for the procedure. They were about as professional as anyone could ask for, so that was nice; meant that she didn’t have to give them any more than a bit of a backward glance to make sure they were keeping on-task. It was almost like working with her own people, really.

 

For a bunch of Nazi scientists, at least this group wasn’t all bad.

 

Detaching her tympanic membranes as she finished cutting away the flesh of Stroheim’s scalp, Alice fetched the motorized bone saw from the medical tray that one of her people had wheeled in. Pinning back the flaps of skin that she’d separated, Alice activated the saw, smirking in a slightly annoyed manner as she recalled just how recalcitrant the man had proven himself to be on even the simplest matters. Of course, once she’d threatened to have him gagged if he’d opened his mouth a second time, he’d gotten the message and allowed her to administer the proper anesthetics while she worked.

 

Really, all this machismo is seriously a pain in my ass, Alice reflected, tempted to shake her head at the sheer, pointless absurdity of it. The sight of Dr. Lindemann waving to her drew Alice’s attention before she could act on what had ultimately been a mere, passing impulse. Taking a moment to both shut off the saw and reattach the tympanic membrane in her right ear, Alice turned her attention to him.

 

“What is it?”

 

“You couldn’t hear me?” Dr. Lindemann asked, the expression of clear surprise on his face providing her with a bit of amusement.

 

“I had my tympanic membranes detached,” she said. “Was that all you wanted to ask?”

 

“Actually, I was about to ask if you wanted me to fetch you any ear protection,” Dr. Lindemann said, looking fairly sheepish.

 

The pair of them shared a brief chuckle, then Alice returned her attention to the work that she was doing, detaching her right ear once again.

 

=BT=

 

He’d offered to look for that little vampire that he’d underestimated that first time, both since Kars had a rather personal interest in her, and because he himself was beginning to fully understand just why that was. After all, she’d been intelligent enough to recognize an untenable situation when it was presented to her, and instead of staying to fight like a fool, she’d been perfectly willing to retreat to a more advantageous position. It looks like you just might be a good match for Kars after all, little vampire, he mused, grinning softly.

 

He’d taken one of the long-coated humans who’d seemed to be a common presence within the city, devouring their body so that he could have both sustenance and a means of shielding himself from the sun, and found that they were actually some kind of secret guard force. They also seemed to be in the employ of the little vampire he was searching for, so that made things all the simpler. Still, ACDC supposed that he wouldn’t allow himself to become too complacent.

 

After all, the little vampire had already proved herself to be far more clever than he’d been expecting of one of her kind.

 

Tracking one of the others who he’d spotted in the same type of uniform that he himself had appropriated from the human who’d been unfortunate enough to cross his path, ACDC raised an eyebrow as he watched the human take out a small, starkly-white rectangle from what was clearly some sort of hidden pouch within the long, concealing, cloak-like garment he was wearing. The odd little rectangle had rounded edges, and a strip of some kind of darker material that didn’t seem quite like any kind of paint or pigment that he’d seen in his long life.

 

Narrowing his eyes as he continued watching the human who stood before the doors of a particularly tall tower, ACDC watched as the human stepped up to a small, odd-looking little panel by the side of the double doors. Focusing his eyes so that he would be able to see just what it was that the human was doing, ACDC raised an eyebrow as he saw the human take the rounded rectangle and run the side with the darkly-colored stripe through an indentation that had clearly been made to accommodate just that sort of thing.

 

It took a moment for even his superior intellect to decipher just what it was that he was seeing, but ACDC had soon realized that he was looking at some kind of lock; and, as strange a thing as it was to think about, it seemed that he was looking at some kind of lock and key.

 

Reaching into the cloak looking garment that he had taken from the human he’d previously consumed, ACDC dug into the hidden pouch there. Smirking widely as he grasped the strange, rectangular key that the human had presumably been presented with once he’d begun working for Kars’ clever little vampire, ACDC made his way over to the double doors. Taking out the odd little key that the human had been carrying, ACDC pushed it through the indentation in the same way that he’d seen the human who’d just let themselves into this tower that stood at what had to be the center of the human settlement it presided over.

 

Repeating the same steps that had gotten the other human into the tower had a rather odd reaction: first, the green light that had briefly flickered on after the human had tapped out an identical pattern on the strange tiles was red, and made a rather irritating buzzing sound; however, the most drastic difference was revealed when ACDC attempted to open the door; that is to say, he couldn’t.

 

The double doors before him stayed stubbornly closed, and there also came the sound of a deep, heavy thunk; as though something made of heavy iron had slammed into something else very much like itself. Narrowing his eyes – he would not be defeated by a mere door – ACDC raised his right leg and slammed it into the seam between the doors. He’d expected them to burst right open, but found himself laughing in sheer surprise as they held firm, even managing to repel him, if only just.

 

Well, little vampire, it looks like you really are worthy of Kars, he mused, grinning widely.

 

=BT=

 

“Standard procedure,” Alice reminded her people, narrowing her eyes as she made her way over to the central monitoring station. “Taio, bring us online.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Taio Cruz said, nodding as he brought up the view from the surveillance cameras monitoring the front of the building.

 

Lovely,” she grumbled, watching as ACDC himself turned around to mule-kick the front doors; he’d need something a lot better than that to get through her front doors, particularly since he’d already triggered the deadlocks that first time he’d tried to punch his way through.

 

Really, she’d tested her electromagnetic deadlock system against everything from tanks to missiles to various kinds of acids; ACDC would need something like a shaped-charge, or some kind of napalm-based flamethrower to get through them.

 

“It looks like we finished the operation just in time, Frau Brando,” Stroheim said; she caught sight of the wide grin on his face out of the corner of her left eye.

 

“Looks like,” she muttered. “Taio, keep an eye on things out here,” she said, pausing for a moment to make sure the man understood. “Well, Rudol, let’s roll out the welcome wagon.”

 

“Of course, Frau Brando,” Stroheim said, a wide, fierce grin overtaking his face as the pair of them turned and headed for the elevator.

 

Once they’d made it back down to ground-level, Alice sighed softly as she proceeded Stroheim into the vehicle bay where his people were making the final preparations to one of the transport trucks that she’d lent them for just this sort of occasion. The fruits of their collaboration had been lined up neatly inside the back of the truck, and once Stroheim came within range of them, he grinned all the wider; Alice chuckled softly.

 

“We should only need about five more minutes before we finish the last of the refits, Frau Brando,” Dr. Lindemann said, stepping neatly over to her and Stroheim, as the pair of them continued on their way up to the side of the truck. “Do you think this building’s defenses can hold out for that long?”

 

“I’m reasonably sure,” she said, since that was really all she could be, under the circumstances; this was a truly unprecedented occurrence, after all.

 

“Good,” Dr. Lindemann said, nodding.

 

Turning away, as Stroheim began speaking with Dr. Lindemann and she caught sight of the flashing light on the nearby wall-mounted phone, Alice made her way over to answer it.

 

“Hello?” she paused, a smile pulling at her lips as she heard the voice on the other end.

 

“Are you truly certain that you won’t be needing us for this battle?”

 

“It’s all right, Jonathan,” she said, smiling even though she knew that her adopted brother couldn’t see her. “ACDC’s pretty much the perfect counter to any of your guys’ skill sets right now.”

 

“I… Yes, I suppose so,” Jonathan said, and Alice could all but see the dejected, kicked-puppy look on his face; really, a man Jonathan’s age should not have still been able to manage the sad puppy eyes so well.

 

“Just sit tight,” she said, smiling for the both of them; she knew he’d get the idea, even without the pair of them being within sight of each other. “I’m sure you guys’ll have plenty of chances to take on one of the Pillar Men. Just not this one, okay?”

 

“All right,” Jonathan said, still sounding a bit reluctant. “I suppose, under the circumstances, we truly would not be of much assistance.”

 

The pair of them said their goodbyes, and Alice hung up so that she could rejoin Stroheim by the side of the truck they were soon to be departing on. By that time, of course, the oversized UV lamp was fully finished and fixed to the roof of the truck’s cab. Raising an eyebrow as she found Dio jumping into the cab with her and Stroheim, Alice pulled up her hood and turned to her brother.

 

“This is hardly the time for a joyride,” she deadpanned, pulling up the cloth mask that had previously hung loosely around her neck, then settling her polarized UV mask firmly over her eyes, snapping the clasps on the edges closed on the corresponding hooks sewn into the inside of her hood.

 

“Come now, sister,” Dio said, grinning as he pulled up his own mask-and-hood combo, then bringing his own UV mask up into place. “You didn’t think I’d let you go out to face that oversized blood-spewing brute all alone, did you?”

 

Alone?” Stroheim scoffed. “And, what do you think I am, Herr Brando?”

 

“You’ll be chopped liver if you don’t behave yourself,” Dio said haughtily, not missing a beat.

 

“Down boys,” she said, pressing a hand to both their heads as the pair of them began glaring at the other. “This is hardly the time.”

 

=BT=

 

The sound of another of those same interesting, self-propelled chariots that he’d seen so many of already nearly didn’t register to him for a long moment, at least until ACDC took notice of the fact that it seemed quite a bit larger than any of the others he’d heard on his way to the tower whose fascinating double doors were only just beginning to yield under his continued onslaught. Turning as he realized that the large chariot was aiming itself to collide with him, ACDC grinned as he caught sight of Kars’ clever little vampire riding inside of it.

 

Yes, there was also one of those dull, interchangeable humans, as well as the male vampire that Kars wasn’t particularly interested in riding alongside her, but those two would be easy enough to dispose of after he’d taken possession of Kars’ clever little vampire. Of course, it was plainly obvious that she intended to make it a struggle – at least as much as any vampire could manage when they were in conflict with such a superior being – but that would only make his inevitable triumph all the more pleasing. At the very least, he’d have an amusing story to share with his old friend.

 

=BT=

 

It was plain that ACDC had been prepared to fight the three of them, but the look on his face when she and Dio opened the back of the truck and unleashed their ranks of robotic Deinonychus on him… It was times like this that Alice wished she could reinvent the Smartphone with the current level of technology she currently had access to; scenes like that more than deserved to be preserved for posterity. With only a single, side-eyed look at each other, she and Dio quickly joined the fray alongside the group of robot dinosaurs that Stroheim had directed to attack ACDC.

 

While the robotic Deinonychus all around them harassed and harried and snapped at him under Stroheim’s direction, she and Dio moved in closer. She’d never had to strip anyone in combat before, but if they didn’t get that uniform off him – she knew just where he’d gotten it, too; the asshole – then all that UV lamp that doc Lindemann and his people had spend all their time mounting wouldn’t do them one damned bit of good. So, as the only two with hands that had any kind of appreciable manual dexterity, the task of getting ACDC out of his stolen Brando FiSec uniform would naturally fall to her and Dio.

 

With the main focus of ACDC’s attention taken up by the attacking robotic dinosaurs – Alice would never fail to find the concept amusing on pretty much every level, but now was hardly the time – she and Dio had a great deal more freedom of movement than they otherwise would have; all the same, she knew that this was hardly going to be a cakewalk.

 

Signaling Dio forward, she matched him step-for-step as the pair of them yanked off the armored greatcoat that the Pillar Man had been hiding under, and then tore their way through the underlying garments that had acted as further protection for him. Forced to dodge to opposite sides of their current battleground by a gout of blood hot enough to melt the tarmac they were standing on, Alice stood back up as ACDC’s gaze fell on her again. Really, it was becoming more and more clear that, whatever else the Pillar Men wanted, they clearly wanted her.

 

It was weird, possibly useful, and a bit annoying all at once.

 

Another veritable explosion of blood slathered the lamp, rendering it basically nothing more than an oversized, slightly misplaced, hood ornament. Hissing a soft urry through her teeth, Alice leaped up to the top of the truck, kicked her boots free as quickly as she could manage, and then hopped up to perch on the generator that had been installed to power the lamp. Quickly re-balancing herself, Alice plunged both feet into the wiring of the generator, quickly channeling as much electrical energy as she could up through her nerves and into her hands.

 

And then she grinned, because really, how many chances was she actually going to get to do this?

 

“And now you pay the price for your lack of vision!” she shouted, as Stroheim alone knew how many volts of electricity went blasting out of her hands and straight into ACDC.

Chapter Text

When he saw his sweet sister standing atop their transport, wreathed in lightning like some kind of ancient goddess of victory, it was all Dio could do to restrain himself from leaping up to carry her back into the cab of their truck so that he could give proper tribute to the magnificence that he was bearing witness to. Still, he, Dio, held himself back until the smell of charring flesh – a horrible, unmistakable thing under any circumstance – came wafting over to him on the chill, meager breeze. Quite unlike the few other times he, Dio, had been forced to endure that particular assault on his superior vampire senses, this time he rather enjoyed the experience.

 

Or rather the sight of the one who was providing him, Dio, with such an experience as he was privy to at this very moment.

 

Yes, it was swiftly becoming entirely too clear that his own efforts at challenging those bastard Pillar Men – what remained of them, at least – would be rather superfluous, but here in this moment of moments Dio found that such a thing hardly mattered to him. Yes, in time all the annoyance he felt for the situation that had developed would return in full, but by such a time he, Dio, would have his sweet sister to speak his mind to. Dear Alice always seemed to know just what to say; she always seemed to know how to peel back all the layers of the world’s falsehoods to show him the truth of things.

 

It was one of the things he, Dio, loved most about her.

 

So, when that magnificent show of pure, elemental force ended – loath as he was to see such a thing, even under the circumstances – he, Dio, swept dear Alice into his arms and leaped back into the padded seat of the truck that the pair of them had been riding in. Yes, it was not exactly the most comfortable place that he, Dio, could have chosen for any kind of strenuous activity, but it was the closest place to their current position. He’d not have to delay his sweet sister’s reward for long.

 

However, when dear Alice somehow contrived to pull herself out of his embrace, launching herself out of the truck’s cab and landing neatly – though barefoot – upon the tarmac that had become their latest battlefield he, Dio, was swift to follow her.

 

“I miss anything?” his sweet sister asked, making her way over to the side of that upstart Stroheim.

 

Still, the sight of that bastard Pillar Man ACDC with a truly massive hole in his chest – the scent of charred flesh and blood wafting toward them on what meager breeze could be found on this breathless night – was truly an enticing one.

 

“It was rather odd, Frau Brando,” the annoying man said, frowning in obvious puzzlement at the remains of the Pillar Man as they continued to smolder.

 

“What about these guys hasn’t been?” his sweet sister asked, her usual good-natured amusement coming through one more.

 

“True, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone’s brain leap out of their head and try to attack,” Stroheim said, the dully confused expression on his face clearing quickly. “It was a good thing that I can still think so quickly in a crisis,” the arrogant human – no matter what kind of augmentations dear Alice had seen fit to give him, a mere human could never be a match for a vampire – said, a small, irritatingly smug smile on his harshly-angled face.

 

“To say nothing of our little joint project, of course,” dear Alice said, the tolerant smile on her lovely face showing none of the fury that he, Dio, felt at seeing her grand accomplishments belittled so easily.

 

Truly, his sweet sister was entirely too grand a person to let the opinions of those she considered beneath her affect her in any way. Still, that was all well and good: he, Dio, held more than enough fury for the pair of them.

 

“Looks like his spine was fused,” dear Alice said, her attention focused upon the pitiful corpse of the Pillar Man who had been so foolish as to challenge the might of his sweet sister and the company that she had spread so far across the very world in the mere span of half a century. “Organs were carbonized, too, so he would’ve probably been down and out even without the brain thing.”

 

As his sweet sister and that upstart bastard Stroheim began to move back towards the truck he, Dio, took the opportunity to spit on the corpse of the Pillar Man who had been so foolish as to challenge his dear Alice on her own grounds.

 

=BT=

 

While Dio got himself settled in the seat next to her, Alice resisted the urge to roll her eyes at his antics. Then, turning her attention back to more pressing matters, she looked over at Stroheim again.

 

“No sign of the others?” she asked, continuing the discussion that the pair of them had been having while her people had been loading up the truck.

 

“No, Frau Brando,” Stroheim said, the displeased look on his face nearly a match for the annoyance that Alice could feel smoldering inside her. “However they’ve managed to hide themselves, those last two Pillar Men have managed to evade both our soldiers and your security forces.”

 

“Yeah, that’s going to be a real pain in the arse to work around,” she muttered, narrowing her eyes as Stroheim turned her truck back around and guided the three of them and their – slightly reduced, it had to be said – force of robotic dinosaurs. “We’ll need to start making some plans.”

 

All things considered, however, she was starting to suspect that she already knew what was going to have to be done; all that remained, naturally, would be to convince the others.

 

Still, one thing at a time, here, Alice reflected, as Stroheim pulled the truck back into the loading bay and she, Dio, and the man himself stepped back down onto the tarmac. She’d only a brief moment to appreciate the fact that vampires like her and Dio didn’t sweat, as well as to make a mental note to grab a new pair of socks as soon as the opportunity came up. Or else to send Straizo to fetch some, since that kind of thing seemed to make him happy, for whatever reason.

 

Once she, Stroheim, and Dio had all made their way back into the main control room once again, Alice flagged down one of her people and sent them to fetch Jonathan and the other members of her and Dio’s family. Telling them to meet her in the tertiary conference room, Alice herself made her way back to the elevator. Stroheim was quick to fall in beside her, and of course that led Dio to practically teleport over to her opposite side, wrapping her left arm around his shoulders and glaring at Stroheim.

 

Stroheim, naturally, didn’t take much notice of Dio’s little temper tantrum, and Alice had more important things on her mind than catering to her twin’s mercurial moods. There was, naturally, going to be a lot of Intel she needed to gather, if she was going to be able to begin making preparations for the next phase of their battle against the Pillar Men. It was becoming more and more obvious that it was going to end in a battle, much as she would have liked to find out everything she could about the history that the pair of remaining Pillar Men had borne witness to.

 

It would have been nice to know just how many ways this new world of hers had truly diverged from the one where she’d lived Before, but if that wasn’t going to happen, then it wasn’t going to happen.

 

=BT=

 

When Aunty Alice had called them all down to the main conference room to discus what they were going to do next, Joseph hadn’t known quite what to expect. Finding Uncle Dio and Stroheim both glaring down at something a bit too small for him to see on the table, however, wasn’t at all like what he’d been preparing himself for.

 

“You can’t honestly think that this mad plan of yours will actually succeed, sister,” Uncle Dio nearly growled, the look on his face full of angry disapproval.

 

“Out of everyone here, I’m probably the only one that the Pillar Men wouldn’t either kill, eat, or both,” Aunty Alice said, sounding calm enough, though she looked annoyed to have to explain herself.

 

Joseph wondered how many times this latest argument of theirs had been rehashed, and just what this one was about. It wasn’t as though Aunty Alice and Uncle Dio didn’t argue over things; the pair of them were both determined and strong-minded people, and they didn’t always share the same views on things. So, some arguments were pretty much inevitable; just like he and Gramps tended to disagree on a lot of stuff. Didn’t mean they loved each other any less, though.

 

“What are you talking about?” he heard Gramps ask, over the man’s familiar, steady footsteps.

 

“Alice has some mad idea about allowing those bastards to capture her, so that she would be able to determine just where they’re presently hiding,” Uncle Dio growled, glaring down at whatever lay on the table in front of them.

 

“Oh, like the Trojan Horse!” he exclaimed. “That’s brilliant!”

 

Aunty Alice grinned, even as Uncle Dio turned that scathing glare on him. Joseph grinned shamelessly back, since there was no way in hell that Aunty Alice wasn’t going to get her way, and he wasn’t enough of an idiot to be the one trying to keep her from doing what she felt was right.

 

“Your idea does have merit, Alice,” Gramps said, though even he sounded rather disapproving himself. “Still, do you truly think that the remaining Pillar Men would be deceived so simply?”

 

“If we can play this right,” Aunty Alice said, nodding sharply, a look of satisfaction on her face that contrasted perfectly with Uncle Dio’s increasing frustration.

 

Oh? And just how do you think you’re going to be able to escape them in order to let the rest of us know just where it is that the Pillar Men are hiding?”

 

“That’s where this comes in,” Aunty Alice said, indicating the small thing on the table before them whose purpose Joseph was beginning to suspect he knew. “It’s a radio-transmitter. Really, brother dear, did you stick gum in your ears the first time I explained it to you, or are you just being deliberately obtuse?”

 

Joseph snickered as Uncle Dio subsided, grumbling, and Aunty Alice, Gramps, and Stroheim turned their attention back to making plans for what was clearly going to be some kind of elaborate trap for those last two Pillar Men.

 

=BT=

 

Frau Brando, having clearly had enough of her brother’s increasing – in frequency as well as simply in raw volume – arguments, had given him an ultimatum to either cooperate with the plan the rest of them were forming, or to find something to do besides complain about it. Herr Brando, clearly not having expected to be overruled so completely, had departed quickly, with not even a word or a look back. Frau Brando had been rather exasperated with the man, but as he’d expected the vampire had quickly returned her attention to their current task.

 

They’d naturally moved the operation out of her tower and away from all of the humans within the city it presided over, and were currently riding at the head of a convoy making its way into the Swiss countryside; the farthest place from both the war and from too many uninvolved people that might have otherwise found themselves caught up in what would doubtless become a battle. Looking over at Frau Brando as she drank from a small container of what she had informed him was sheep’s blood, Rudol found that she seemed to be ruminating upon some subject or other. Leaning back in his own seat, Rudol turned his attention back to the road.

 

Thus far, there didn’t seem to be anyone following them; neither of the two remaining Pillar Men had made so much as a cursory appearance on the road, and Rudol hadn’t seen any indication that Frau Brando had caught sight of them, either.

 

Still, simply because he hadn’t caught sight of either of them, that didn’t mean that they weren’t being followed. He knew that vampires such as Frau Brando were capable of moving faster than the human eye could track, so it stood to reason that Pillar Men – who hunted vampires for sustenance – would be capable of moving faster than even that. So, Rudol had resolved himself to simply watch and wait; it wouldn’t do anyone any good if he allowed his own misgivings to interfere with the plan that Frau Brando had constructed.

 

If nothing else, the vampire had proven herself more than adaptable enough to cope with any plan that went awry.

 

=BT=

 

Smiling with distinct satisfaction as he made his way through the darkened streets leading down from the mountain range, Kars reflected on the glimpses he’d caught of his dear, clever little pet. Yes, she’d been traveling in the company of more of those meaningless humans, but that was ultimately of little importance. It would be very simple for him to deal with them, and then to lay claim to his clever pet so that he could begin making his final preparations to shape her into what she truly deserved to be. At this stage, as a mere vampire, she had more in common with an uncut gem, rough marble, or a lump of clay: all raw potential in need of refinement.

 

And, while it was true that the world only needed one ultimate life form, having that clever pet of his close at hand would make even an eternal existence such as the one the two of them shared all the more palatable.

 

And so, Kars continued on his way through the darkened streets, following the tracks that the humans’ vehicles had left in the packed soil of the road. He followed them up to the wide expanse of packed soil, where the humans had parked their vehicles in a pair of neat rows, organized as well as a human could have hoped to manage, then turned to make his way up to the modest, two-storey building where the humans had clearly taken shelter from the cold that had such a pronounced effect on their weak bodies and yet meant less than nothing to him, Wham, or his clever little pet.

 

When he came to stand in front of the back wall of the building, in front of the room where he’d detected the fewest human lifesigns, Kars was just about to place his hands on the wall when he heard the echoes of what had clearly been some kind of sharp, sudden impact. He wondered at its cause for a moment, before recalling something that he’d observed some time ago. Bats used a distinct pattern of sounds to determine where they were in relation to both their potential prey, as well as to each other.

 

The sound he’d just heard, therefore, might very well have been his clever little pet’s way of seeing through the wall that would have served to shield him from anyone with more feeble senses.

 

Grinning as he pressed his hands to the wall, feeling another presence within the room, warmer than any vampire could have been, Kars’ grin shrank slightly as he realized that there was a human in the same room with her. It was rather annoying, seeing more evidence of just how much latitude his clever pet was willing to give the humans beneath her, but it was also merely a habit that could be corrected with proper training. Grin widening once more, Kars extended his Brilliant Bone Blades and cut cleanly through the thin, wooden wall that stood between him and the prize he’d been seeking.

 

=BT=

 

Turning at what sounded like a small chainsaw boring through the wall she’d sensed Kars standing on the other side of, Alice narrowed her eyes as she watched the Pillar Man tear through the wall. She’d signaled to Stroheim as soon as she’d become aware of Kars’ prowling around, so their robotic Deinonychus were already up and attacking just as Kars had made a hole large enough to step through. Standing up, Alice forced herself to glare at the Pillar Man standing framed in the door so that she could resist the urge to smirk at him.

 

He really didn’t know what he was getting into.

 

Their battle spilled out into the streets, just as she’d been expecting it to, but Kars seemed far more inclined to make for the small settlement they were just on the edges of rather than the mountains. There were probably multiple reasons for that, but she suspected that, for the most part, Kars probably thought he’d have some sort of an advantage on that kind of terrain. He was in for more than a bit of a surprise, of course.

 

Leaping easily up to the rooftops, Alice fanned out her ponytail as she caught sight of Kars out of the corner of her left eye. The pair of them alighted for a moment on a pair of neighboring rooftops, before the Pillar Man took a flying leap in her direction and the chase was on. The pair of them traded blows, on and off, as they crossed paths from rooftop to rooftop, and Alice narrowed her eyes slightly as she considered her current situation.

 

On the one hand, she was aiming to be captured, so that her people, and Stroheim’s, would be able to determine just where it was that the last two Pillar Men had hidden themselves; on the other, she also had to take care to make sure that Kars believed that he was the one who’d beaten her. And yeah, he did seem arrogant enough to buy it, so that could only make things easier. Now, all that remained was to keep Kars’ attention on her.

 

It wouldn’t do, after all, to have him running amok through a town filled with sleeping people.

 

=BT=

 

Grinning as he watched his clever little pet try – in vain, it had to be said – as she might to evade him, Kars continued after her. He only had to choose the right time, and the little vampire would all but fall into his arms, his to be shaped and molded as he pleased. Staying close on her heels, pressing her just enough to keep her fleeing, like a hawk under the gaze of a mighty eagle, Kars grinned all the wider as the little vampire glared defiantly back at him.

 

Glancing down, he smirked at the impotent fury of the humans beneath him; they’d no way of keeping pace outside of their vehicles, and even those who could have climbed to the lofty heights that he and his clever pet now stood upon were far too slow to have even dared to attempt to challenge him. Grinning as he returned his attention to the little vampire who he had allowed to lead him on such an amusing chase, Kars lunged.

 

Because, while it had been rather entertaining to allow his clever pet the illusion that she would be able to escape him, he was more than prepared to claim his prize.

 

Driving the Brilliant Bone Blade on his right wrist into the back of her neck as the pair of them fell toward the rooftop he had been aiming for, Kars neatly severed the nerve connections between the little vampire’s head and body. Carefully removing the longest bone in his left thumb, Kars placed it so that it would interrupt the growth of nerves when the little vampire’s body began attempting to heal itself. Without a way to restore the full functionality of her body, his clever pet would fall into a state of torpor until she was given blood to sustain and replenish herself.

 

It was one of the more interesting things that he had observed, during those times when he’d been exploring the capabilities of those he’d transformed through the use of his stone mask: that those who had transformed into vampires were capable of preserving themselves even in a state that would have killed a lesser being. It was simply more proof that his creations, even the ones he hadn’t ultimately intended to create, were far superior to any other kind of living creature.

 

Turning a glare at the steadily-pinking form of the eastern horizon, knowing better than most what it meant for his kind and those like him, Kars ducked into a nearby building. Looking down at the little vampire in his arms, Kars felt his good mood returning, even as his frustration with the inactivity that daylight inevitably forced upon him remained at the back of his mind.

 

Sliding his right hand down through the place where the two halves of his clever pet’s elegantly styled jacket met, Kars tore through the buttons that held it together, letting it fall to the ground, even as he set about making his way back to the large estate where he and Wham had settled themselves while ACDC had searched for either signs of the Red Stone’s whereabouts, or else the little vampire who had proven herself to be so very interesting. True, it seemed as though his old friend had ultimately been forced to give up his life in pursuit of such, but Kars would not allow his old friend to simply be forgotten.

 

He would make certain that both Wham and the little vampire would understand what kind of sacrifice that ACDC had made for them, and he would make certain to tell his clever pet all about the kind of man that ACDC had been; that way, at least something of his old friend would live on.

 

As he continued to discard the various articles of clothing that the little vampire had been wearing, Kars found himself smirking all over again as he saw how – like a lizard, shedding its tail to escape the grasp of a predator – his clever pet could have escaped from one of her own pursuers, leaving them with nothing more than a useless piece of cloth for their trouble. It was simply one more reason that this little vampire belonged with him: in nearly every way, save for age and experience, his clever pet was a clear match for him.

 

A snap of his fingers severed the ribbon that bound the little vampire’s hair, spilling out a wave of silken gold that Kars quickly draped over his right shoulder as he continued on his way to the large, empty building where he and Wham had sheltered themselves. It was a rather annoying reminder of this one’s male counterpart, but also one that would be easily dealt with once he’d gathered the proper materials to begin their respective transformations.

 

Making his way into the building at last, Kars ran his right hand underneath the high collar of the final layer that his clever pet had devised to shield herself from the sunlight that would have otherwise killed her, and tore it open in the same way that he’d done to the other garments that hadn’t been amenable to simple removal the way her secondary layers had been. Smiling as he felt the rough touch of the thin metal strands rubbing against his fingers, Kars turned to signal one of the vampires he himself had created to follow along beside him as he made his way deeper into the building.

 

“Ooh, who’s that? Did you bring her for dinner?”

 

“She’s mine,” Kars said, giving the vampire walking next to him a stern look. “And, if you tried anything, I doubt you would survive it,” he said, gently prying open his clever pet’s mouth in order to display her own fangs.

 

After that, things proceeded a great deal more smoothly.

Chapter Text

Waking up was something of a chore, not really helped by the gnawing hunger that she was currently stuck with. Still, she’d known that there were going to be any number of inconveniences when one was acting as a hostage-in-all-but-name. When she felt the familiar weight of her unbound hair spread across her back and neck, Alice sighed in annoyance. That, of course, drew the attention of the other person she’d become aware of in the room with her.

 

She suspected that it was another vampire, both since she couldn’t hear their breathing and since no one in the room smelled at all human.

 

“Ooh,” said a particularly grating voice from the other side of the sheer curtain Alice found herself awakening behind. “You are cute.”

 

Narrowing her eyes, Alice studied the room she had awakened in; adjusting her eyes so that she could see through the thin weave of the bed curtains. It was swiftly becoming more and more obvious just where she was, and Alice narrowed her eyes in annoyance as her building recognition clicked fully into place.

 

“Hey, are you ignoring me?!” the annoying-voiced vampire said, whipping aside the bed-curtains to reveal… a spiky mullet, pale reddish hair, and an outfit that was a fair bit less colorful than she’d been expecting of someone working with Kars and his remaining crony.

 

Has anyone ever told you that you have a really annoying voice? she didn’t say, instead simply narrowing her eyes at the vampire currently harassing her. He made some more noise about how she should respect him or some such, but Alice was rather more focused on the fact that Kars – in his apparently infinite capacity to annoy her – had stripped her down to her underclothes before dumping her in her room. Taking a moment to check the status of the radio-transmitter she’d tucked into her liver, and to throw the annoying-voiced vampire to the other side of her room when he attempted to dive-tackle her, Alice stood up and made her way over to her closet.

 

Dressing herself in a pair of pale lilac slacks and a powder-blue long-sleeved top, Alice grabbed another of her hair-ribbons, chokeslammed the annoying vampire into a nearby wall twice, then tied her hair back and out of her face. Sighing as she adjusted her newfound outfit, Alice grabbed the annoying vampire, slammed him to the ground, and shattered his pelvic bone with a downward heel-strike. If nothing else, that ought to keep him off her back long enough for a meeting.

 

She was going to have words with Kars about setting up in one of her summer homes; particularly considering the fact that Cobain had chosen to stay here, since she’d found that the climate of Switzerland and the people of San Moritz agreed with her much more than any other place they’d been to in the intervening half-century that separated them from the time they’d spent back in London.

 

=BT=

 

The sound of swift, purposeful footfalls making their way toward the throne he’d set up for himself brought a small, pleased smile to Kars’ face. He knew that stride, just as he’d known the scents within this building, faded by time and overlaid by the scent of that other vampire that had been living in this place for such a long time.

 

“It seems we’re about to have a guest, Wham,” he said, turning a smile on his fellow Pillar Man, before returning his gaze to the entranceway of the room that he had seated the pair of them in.

 

The chairs that he and Wham were seated in had clearly been crafted from the finest of materials, since he could smell the mingled scents of animal hide, goose down, and some kind of exotic wood, even dulled by the passage of time and the lingering scents of other vampires – that other female in particular – as well as the annoying humans who seemed to be endemic to his clever pet’s life. He didn’t know what she saw in any of them, but such a habit could easily be corrected with time and effort.

 

Both of which he was fully prepared to devote to this particularly worthy task, of course.

 

Smiling in satisfaction as his clever pet presented herself to him once more, Kars found that she had once again covered herself in more of the fine, soft garments that he’d stripped from her when he had first brought her back to this place that she’d clearly made her home in some time ago.

 

“Pet, why do you insist on covering yourself like that?” he asked. “Aren’t you proud of what you are?”

 

“Well, it was either this or body-paint,” his clever pet said, folding her arms and standing before him with an adorable expression of quiet defiance. “And that stuff itches terribly.”

 

Chuckling in amusement as he observed the fall of delicately embroidered snowflakes across the right side of the pale blue shirt she was wearing, Kars smiled as he noted the way that she had seemed to have captured the very wind itself in frozen motion. So, you use your very body as a canvas; you’re not only inventive, but artistic as well, he grinned. Every time I find out more about you, pet, you only prove yourself more and more worthy of me.

 

“She truly does remind me of you, Lord Kars,” Wham said, and he turned back to his old friend, grinning in return at the pensive smile the last of his companions was wearing.

 

Taking hold of his clever pet, before she could say so much as another word, Kars settled the pair of them in his throne, carefully arranging the little vampire so that he could properly display her across his lap.

 

“There’s still something on your mind, isn’t there, pet?” he asked, flicking his fingers through her hair so that he could quickly snap the ribbon binding her golden hair; he’d get rid of such an annoyance soon enough, and then he could show his clever pet just what kind of canvas her body could truly become.

 

=BT=

 

“All right, the signal has stopped moving,” Von Stroheim reported, and Joseph let himself relax from all the tension that had been slowly building in both his body and mind while the signal had been in motion.

 

“Good, at least we know where they are,” Gramps said, fists unclenching slowly.

 

“Yes,” Stroheim said, nodding as he took out a map. “Now, all we need to do is determine exactly where that is.”

 

“Hey, wait, that’s Aunty Alice’s summer chalet!” he gasped, once Stroheim had managed to determine the precise coordinates of the radio-signal from the transmitter his Aunty had swallowed just before she’d gone out to get herself captured by Kars and his last remaining crony in an effort to play Trojan horse for them.

 

“Those miserable bastards have set up there?!” Uncle Dio growled, looking almost like he wanted to tear the very map from Stroheim’s hands, just to prove to himself that what Stroheim had said was indeed true; or, more likely knowing Uncle Dio, to disprove it.

 

“It’s one of your sister’s properties?” Stroheim asked, turning to Uncle Dio with a confused expression.

 

“The old owner of the hotel was simply going to allow it to close, so Alice bought it from him,” Uncle Dio said, eyes narrowed as he looked into the past. “Though really, Cobain was the one who ended up appreciating it the most, since she actually enjoys living in a place like this.”

 

“Well, I don’t think your sister would appreciate having one of her properties destroyed, though I expect she has others,” Stroheim muttered, narrowing his eyes as he looked down at the map in front of them.

 

“Oh, yes,” he said, laughing softly. “Aunty Alice has summer homes, and even winter homes, all over the world. She travels a lot; CEO of an international company, you know,” he finished, grinning.

 

“Yes,” Gramps said, sounding as grim as he ever did. “It seems as though the Pillar Men have taken advantage of the safeguards that Alice had built into that place when she laid claim to it.”

 

Sighing as he looked back down at the map laid out before them, Joseph saw Caesar clenching his fists out of the corner of his left eye.

 

“Boss, I swear I’m going to save you from those bastards!” his fellow student growled, glaring furiously down at the innocent map in front of them all.

 

=BT=

 

Lord Kars’ little vampire had wished to know just what had become of her retainer, a female vampire by the name of Cobain, and so Wham had picked her up and carried her from the room where the three of them had all seated themselves.

 

“I can walk, you know,” Lord Kars’ little vampire said, the expression on her face seeming to state without words that she was entirely unimpressed with her present situation.

 

“Lord Kars instructed me to look after you,” he said, flicking his eyes over the unimpressed expression on the face of Lord Kars’ little vampire before returning his gaze to the hall before him. “And, since he himself is clever and determined, I must assume that you share the same qualities, since he considers you an equal. And, since he would attempt to escape if he were placed in this kind of situation, I will assume that you yourself would do the same.”

 

Lord Kars’ little vampire laughed softly, as the pair of them continued on their way through the corridor still before them. It seemed that she truly understood his dedication to Lord Kars, and therefore the hopelessness of any attempts at an escape she might think to make. The sound of another vampire’s footfalls on the floor, as well as the soft swish of fabric, told him that the pair of them were closing in on the other female vampire who stayed within this large house that Lord Kars’ little vampire had once been the sole, uncontested master of.

 

“Miss Alice!” the other female vampire exclaimed, hurrying over to where he and Lord Kars’ little vampire were making their own way into the room where she’d been staying.

 

“Hello again, Cobain,” Lord Kars’ little vampire greeted; the calmness and good-humor in her tone reminding him all the more of Lord Kars.

 

Truly, the pair of them had indeed been destined to meet.

 

“Is there anything you need, Miss Alice?” the other female asked; this one had the heart of a proper retainer, and so was more than likely to survive once Lord Kars laid claim to the Red Stone and was able to take the last steps that he desired to do for so long.

 

“A strawberry milkshake would be lovely,” Lord Kars’ little vampire said, her tone slightly flippant, and a look of subdued amusement on her face a clear match for any that the last of his masters had worn.

 

“Oh, of course,” the other female vampire said, bowing slightly and the turning to hurry away.

 

“I’m glad to see that you fully understand your new situation,” he said, turning to make his way back to the room where he and Lord Kars had settled themselves when they had taken this place for their own use. “Lord Kars will take care of you, I can assure you of that; anything you desire will be yours for the asking. You will live, along with us, forever.”

 

“Forever is a long time, Mr. Pillar Man,” Lord Kars’ little vampire said, still sounding as perfectly amused as she had been before she had spoken to her retainer. “Still, you take over my summer home, bring one-hundred vampires into my parlor, and stick me with one of the most irritating people I’ve been forced to interact with for the past few decades. Really, you and your fellows have terrible manners.”

 

Chuckling at the admonishing tone in her voice, even as Lord Kars’ little vampire leaned up as though to whisper something in his left ear, Wham shifted his grip so that she would be better able to reach his ear. She had demonstrated courage, cunning, and tenacity, and so he would remember whatever soft words of defiance that she wished to give to him.

 

=BT=

 

Screaming directly into Wham’s ear, Alice backflipped out of his arms as the Pillar Man fell to his knees from the sudden assault. Before he could regain his bearings, Alice spread her arms wide to balance herself, opened up the back of her body so that she would have a constant supply of air for what she was about to do, carefully adjusted her larynx, then let loose with a keening, two-toned wail that would serve to disorient anyone in her vicinity. She’d already told Cobain to evacuate, using the coded phrase that let her fellow vampire know to go to ground within San Moritz, and to link up with her people or Stroheim’s as soon as she could manage.

 

With her cochleae collapsed in order to withstand the unrelenting sonic barrage she was bringing down on Wham’s head, Alice was immobile for the handful of moments it took for her to completely destroy the Pillar Man’s balance. Once Wham had fallen to the floor on his hands and knees, Alice stopped keening, leaped backwards out of the range of even the most enthusiastic of sudden lunges from her incapacitated opponent, she turned and ran deeper into the halls of this particular summer home. Her best bet for getting out of this place, and finding out just where it was that Kars had gotten himself off to when he’d left Wham in charge of her, was to make for the courtyard at the center of this place.

 

The solarium she’d designed would be the best place to put the last phase of her plan into action.

 

Smirking slightly as she heard Wham’s heavy tread following closely behind her, Alice turned a corner and saw Wham turning the one just behind her. Chuckling softly as she blew through the second-to-last pair of doors standing between her and the courtyard that she was aiming for, Alice smiled a bit wider as she heard Wham’s annoyed growling slowly closing in on her as she continued on her way. Grabbing a nearby fedora from a hat stand just outside the last of the doors that stood between her and the courtyard, Alice burst out through them, adjusting her hat and then slipping on the pair of gloves she’d had neatly tucked away in her pockets.

 

She’d had a pair tucked away in the pockets of every pair of pants she owned, simply so that she wouldn’t end up forgetting them those times when she was in a hurry.

 

“You can’t hope to escape me in a place such as this,” Wham said, a look of stern disapproval on his square-jawed face. “Though, I suppose I must commend your inventiveness once again. Before this day, I never knew that sound could be made into such a potent weapon. However,” the Pillar Man narrowed his eyes, clearly thinking he’d managed to get one-up on her. “Your own inventiveness is working against you now; you were the one who created glass that could filter the very light of the sun itself, enabling me to freely walk in daylight within this singular place.”

 

She smirked, opening her back once again so that she would have the air she needed for this next task of hers. “Oh ye of little faith.”

 

Before Wham could so much as open his mouth, Alice adjusted her larynx and belted out a high, sustained note. Holding it, even as the UV-filtering glass of her solarium began to crack and shatter around the metal support structure that had once held it up and now served to carry the resonance to each corner of her solarium’s sun-shield. Wham leaped backwards as broken glass began raining down from what had once been the roof, with lethal rays of sunlight pouring in as the shattered pieces broke apart entirely.

 

Pulling up the hood that she’d sewn into every one of her shirts, for those times that she had to go outside and didn’t actually feel like wearing a hat, Alice pulled up the lower part of her mask and leaped to the top of the steel cross-beam she’d been standing under.

 

A series of long, easy leaps took her up to the roof, where Alice quickly found one of the false chimneys she’d added to the leftmost and rightmost sides of the building, grabbed onto a hidden catch in the stonework, and pulled the lever concealed under it. Diving into the opening of the tunnel inside the false chimney, Alice fell through the entire length of the mansion, landing lightly in the hidden tunnel she’d had excavated beneath it. Grabbing a pair of UV-filtering ski-type goggles from a nearby hook, and quickly extracting the radio-transmitter from her liver, Alice pulled the hood of her shirt forward, clipping the edges to the hooks on her goggles and wedging the transmitter into a convenient gap in the wooden walls.

 

Moving quickly down the tunnel that would take her to the sub-basement of a café she’d bought out when she’d began making herself at home in this quaint little town, Alice turned her current situation over in her mind. There were all kinds of things she’d need to do in order to fully escape from her current situation, foremost among them being to implement the contingencies she’d developed to disguise herself from one of her own kind. Oh, this is just going to be lovely, Alice groused, rolling her eyes as she turned a corner and stepped onto the circular base of a hidden elevator.

 

Pulling the lever that stood on the right side of the platform, Alice allowed herself to relax ever so slightly as she was carried up onto the ground floor of the café that this particular tunnel exited into. Feeling a slight shudder through her feet as the base of the ornamental column that she’d had installed when she renovated the café she’d been standing underneath only a few moments ago, Alice smiled with some satisfaction as she saw the faux candle holder pop out and heard the two sides of the faux column rolling open.

 

Stepping out of the center of the concealed elevator, Alice turned to grab the tilted candle-holder, tilting it up and triggering the two halves to roll closed once more. Pushing the arm of the candle-holder until it popped back into place, Alice turned and quickly made her way out through the back entrance of the café. Her next destination firmly in mind, she hurried out to the edge of the town, out to what looked – for all intents and purposes – like a perfectly ordinary, boring building that one might use for storing any number of things. And yes, if anyone asked, they would be told that it was a storehouse that supplied a good number of the shops in the area.

 

And, for the most part they did just that; but, when dealing with the kind of weird shit that she seemed to end up facing on a near-monthly basis, one was rather obligated to take precautions.

 

Ducking under an overhang on the side of the building shielded from the sunlight by the bulk of the structure itself, Alice ran her hands over the entrance, spreading enough of her scent that Wham would follow this one, specific trail that she was leaving, and then quickly ducked inside the hidden back area of the warehouse. Shedding the clothes that she’d worn, after spreading her scent over a decent portion of the back room, Alice hung them on a concealed hook, and launched herself over the lip of the wall at the back of the building.

 

The structure had been concealed by both the height of the inner-wall itself, as well as the shape of the ceiling, which had been built with an eye to making the interior of the inner- and outermost rooms look just that much smaller than they actually were, and as she pushed down the small lever that would open the trapdoor beneath her, Alice wrinkled her nose. What she had to do next was not going to be pleasant.

 

Once she’d landed in the concealed room beneath the warehouse, Alice closed up her sinuses, grabbed hold of the handle that dangled before her, and pulled hard even as she closed her eyes tightly. Sealing her nose against the onslaught of harsh chemical cleaners – yet another advantage of her vampire physiology, on top of not actually needing to breathe for anything but speaking – Alice spread her arms and fanned out her hair in an effort to wash away the last, lingering traces of her scent.

 

After the last of the cleansers had been rinsed away by powerful jets of distilled water, Alice opened her eyes and made her way off of the grate she’d been standing on, and over to a second patch of floor, this one constructed of high-grade, heat-dissipating ceramic. Powerful jets of heated air blasted her dry, and Alice continued onward to a small closet that had been built into the wall.

 

Taking out a body-stocking – one that had been designed not only to completely occlude her scent when she wore it, but to seal her off almost completely from the outside world – Alice pulled it on and carefully adjusted it so that she was as completely covered as she could get without effectively blinding herself. Making her way down through another tunnel, this one connected to a clothing store, Alice stopped beside another hidden closet and grabbed a set of clothing and a wig from the opened closet.

 

Wham would, after he realized he couldn’t track her by scent, be looking for long blonde hair and a ponytail, and perhaps something with a hood if he’d been paying particular attention to what she’d been wearing. He wouldn’t be looking for someone with bright red hair and a pageboy cut, and he was particularly unlikely to stop someone who had a distinctly masculine body shape under their clothes. The many things one can do with proper padding, Alice reflected, a slight smirk on her face as she donned a pair of dark, UV-filtering shades and made her way up and out of the sub-basement room she’d entered.

 

Pausing to listen for the sounds of a crowd within the clothing store, Alice made her way out of the back room, walked among the racks and shelves as though she was browsing for the benefit of the few people who were inside the clothing store at the moment, and then headed back out into the street once more.

 

She knew that both her people and Stroheim’s would have gotten the data from the transmitter by now, and so all that remained was to link back up with them so that they could begin making proper plans to deal with those troublesome remaining Pillar Men.

 

The sound of running footsteps traveling in her general direction drew Alice’s attention as she made her way down the road leading into and out of San Moritz, but it was the sight of the running figure – twisting as he dashed around the corner of a nearby building, an expression of implacable rage on his face – that drew Alice’s attention. Really now, she groused, rolling her eyes as she reached out to firmly arrest the runner’s forward momentum with her left arm around his shoulders.

 

“What the hell do you thing you’re doing, you bastard?!” Caesar demanded, legs kicking madly as she hefted him off the ground.

 

“Agent Zeppeli,” she said, in her this-is-your-last-warning voice. “You know what I expect.”

 

Boss?”

Chapter Text

Even though he’d known that his Boss was good at thinking and working under pressure, even though he’d known that she had defeated a Hamon Master without being forced to resort to lethal measures – though, in the end, his grandfather had still died; he’d confronted Dio about that, only to learn that his grandfather had died making a last attack on his sister while she and Jojo’s grandfather had been taking a cruise to the Americas for their honeymoon – and even though he’d known that his Boss wouldn’t have been happy to find him trying to face off with the remaining Pillar Men on his own, Caesar had still felt the need to try.

 

“Where were you planning to meet up with the others?” his Boss asked, turning to look at him from behind those inscrutable sunglasses she sometimes wore.

 

“Sorry, Boss, I know I shouldn’t have run off like that,” he said.

 

“Oh, I expect we’ll be having words about that when we get back, Agent,” his Boss said, lowering her sunglasses just enough to flash him a stern glare from her bright, slitted, crimson eyes. “However, all of that can keep. We need to meet up with the others, if we’re going to have any chance of dealing with Wham and Kars.”

 

“Yes, Boss,” he said, nodding. “Follow me.”

 

The pair of them made their way back through San Moritz, following the trail that he’d previously left on the snowy sidewalks, and Caesar quickly found that he couldn’t help sneaking glances back at his Boss as she tagged along with him on their way back. He’d seen her dressed in a lot of different suits and other clothes, and the occasional costume when she was in the mood or else there was a holiday when she could dress up for fun, but there had always been something at least reasonably recognizable about her.

 

Seeing her like this… Well, Caesar could begin to see at least some truth to the old stories that Jonathan had told about her.

 

=BT=

 

When he had returned to the palatial dwelling that his clever pet had made her own, Kars was surprised to find Wham waiting at the entranceway for him.

 

“Wham,” he said, narrowing his eyes as he studied the last of his remaining companions.

 

“Forgive me, Lord Kars,” Wham said, kneeling before him and bowing his head in submission and contrition both. “It seems that I underestimated your vampire once again.”

 

“She escaped?” he asked, not entirely certain how to feel about what he was hearing.

 

However, as Wham began to describe the events that had led up to their present situation, Kars found himself smiling; it seemed that his clever pet had not quite shown him everything she was capable of.

 

“You’ve nothing to apologize for, Wham,” he said, smiling contentedly as he reflected on the new facets that his clever pet had inadvertently revealed to him.

 

It seemed that his little hawk could sing like a nightingale when the mood took her; clearly something he and Wham would do well to remember, and him in particular since he’d yet to properly cage that little hawk of his. It was a rather interesting situation, to be sure.

 

=BT=

 

“So, what’d I miss?” Alice’s familiar voice nearly caused Jonathan to leap straight from his chair.

 

Dio, on the other hand, showed no such restraint. “Alice!”

 

Alice laughed gaily, as Dio spun her around in the air, seeming none the worse for wear after being forced to spend so much time as Kars’ captive.

 

“So, the transmitter’s been planted,” Alice said, moving to stand with him and Stroheim, narrowing her eyes as she looked down upon the map that had been laid out before them. “But, I’ll need to make some preparations of my own before we start anything else. Special K is bound to have noticed I’m gone by now.”

 

There it was again: the irreverent names that his and Dio’s sister would invent when she was forced to deal with those who aggravated her. Jonathan was glad to know that she would be all right, after such an ordeal as she must have faced at the hands of Kars and his remaining ally, Wham. He knew that Alice was not the type to simply allow others to fight what she considered her own battles, but he still couldn’t help being concerned for her.

 

Yes, he knew that Alice was far more apt than Dio to consult others when she found herself facing difficult situations, but Jonathan still found himself concerned for her; Alice would have doubtless said that such was in his nature, and then smile at him in that kindly-amused way she had while she went about her work. Though, I suppose there’s going to be more than enough work for all of us, he reflected, looking toward Stroheim and Alice as the pair of them began making plans for the next stage of their battle against the remaining Pillar Men.

 

=BT=

 

While he listened to the Boss as she put in calls for both her dinosaur cavalry – something she couldn’t seem to help smiling when she said, even though she’d been the one to form them in the first place – and a quartet of snipers drawn from the ranks of her Security Forces, Caesar found himself almost involuntarily thinking back on just how the two of them had met. It’d been long enough since his father had left him that he’d managed to establish himself as a feared presence to even the Mafia.

 

Of course, that had been what had attracted the Boss’ attention in the first place.

 

She hadn’t been like any woman he’d ever met before, and not just because he’d found out later that she was a vampire; not even because she’d had a sword concealed in what had seemed to be an ordinary, if ornately designed, umbrella. Not many people in her position would have actually gone out searching for people that even scared the Mafia into staying out of the territory they had claimed for themselves. Still, when he’d found himself facing her – back when he’d only known that there was a woman looking for him, not what she wanted or even who she was – Caesar was ashamed to admit that he hadn’t thought much of her.

 

After all, she’d only seemed to be a woman with an ornately made umbrella.

 

It was only after she’d cut every one of the weapons that he and his comrades had carried with them for so long in half, leaving him staring at the bisected remains of the wrench he’d carried with him into every battle that he’d been forced to face ever since he’d left his too-empty house in order to make sure that the last of what he’d considered his true family wasn’t left to starve in the gutter, that he’d realized there was something more to her; to Alice Brando, the woman whose name he hadn’t even known at that point. The last thing he’d been expecting, especially after having his weapon destroyed so casually, was to be invited to have lunch with the woman who had sought them out only to be attacked by them.

 

Still, that had been just what had happened, and Caesar had found himself sitting with her in a restaurant that he himself had never been able to enter. It hadn’t been for lack of desire, even back then, but simply because he hadn’t ever been able to scrape together the kind of cash that someone would need to have even a single meal in that kind of an establishment. Suddenly finding himself in the company of someone who could get him into all the best places in Italy had made agreeing to her proposal all the more attractive.

 

As he continued to watch, catching snippets of the Boss’ plans as she gathered all of the pieces she would need to play on this particular board and against these particular opponents, Caesar found himself reflecting back on the last time he’d seen his father; the last time that anyone had. And the first time that he’d laid eyes on those damned Pillar Men.

 

The Boss had been generous enough to allow him to chase after the man, that dark night when the pair of them had caught their first joint glimpse of Mario Zeppeli – though he’d learned later that the Boss had already had at least a passing acquaintance with the man, if only through Coach Elizabeth – and at first he’d been fully intending to beat some remorse into the man he’d seen so briefly. Still, once the three of them had arrived before the slumbering forms of the Pillar Men – not that he or the Boss had quite known what they were dealing with back then – Caesar had been entirely too ready to attack the man he’d thought had abandoned his family, so long ago.

 

That was when he’d learned the sad story of Mario Zeppeli, and just what his father had sacrificed to save the world from the threat of the Pillar Men.

 

It was only after that moment, when his father had asked the Boss to look out for him if she ever had the chance to meet him, that Caesar had been able to truly understand the depths of his father’s love for him; and just what the man had been willing to sacrifice for the sake of the world. It was kind of embarrassing, or at least he still thought so, but when the Boss had offered him her support, he’d all but collapsed into her arms sobbing. To this day, neither of them had spoken about it.

 

It was just one more thing he owed to the Boss; she knew how to be discreet, when someone asked her to.

 

=BT=

 

When his sweet sister had called for her magnificent army of dinosaur zombies, assembling them within the confines of one of the larger warehouses that she owned, he, Dio, found himself face to face with Tarkus for the first time in a great long while. It was a rather interesting experience, considering that he had merely revived the knight to act as an aide to his sweet sister while she was working, but he was admittedly rather more focused on his dear Alice’s plans for this next engagement of theirs.

 

If anything could be said about this plan of hers, it was bound to come off with quite the proverbial bang; possibly even a literal one, depending on what kind of other tools that his sweet sister had brought with her.

 

=BT=

 

“You’re sure you’re going to be able to handle this?” she asked, as Caesar picked up the UV sniper-rifle from its carrying case and slung it over his right shoulder.

 

“Yes, Boss,” Caesar said, clicking his heels sharply together and seeming to have to almost physically restrain himself from rushing off to the designated sniper-post.

 

“No jumping the gun, you understand?” she said, knowing that Caesar’s thoughts would inevitably be straying back to their initial encounter with Kars and all of the upheavals that that had brought up. “If you’re going to be a part of the sniper fireteam supporting us, I need you to keep a level head when you’re out there.”

 

“I promise, Boss,” Caesar said, nodding sharply.

 

“All right,” she said, as the distant sound of transport helicopters drew steadily closer to their position; the convoy of trucks was almost upon them, close enough for even a human to hear. “Meet up with the others. I expect you’ll want to be part of the group hunting Kars?”

 

“Yes. Thank you, Boss.”

 

“It’s not a problem,” she said, knowing that she was better served at this point by simply letting Caesar do what he wanted, rather than wasting time they might not have very much of rehashing an argument that was pretty pointless in the first place.

 

Yes, Caesar could be impulsive at times, but he respected her enough to keep a lid on it when she told him to be professional.

 

The pair of them parted ways, and she headed for the convoy of trucks making their way through the swiftly-falling dusk. Settling into her seat inside the lead truck of the convoy, Alice narrowed her eyes as the ground began to roll by underneath them. Their group was on the move, heading steadily back to what had once been her summer chalet; about to be engaged in battle with Kars and Wham.

 

She suspected, given everything she’d previously learned about the Pillar Man and his proclivities, that Kars would be expecting her to go to ground somewhere. Or, at the very least drawing back to lick her wounds, whatever he’d expect them to be after she’d escaped from Wham and made her way back to her people. Raising her right hand, up  to what anyone else who caught a glimpse of it might have just as easily dismissed as an ornate bangle that had been clipped to the right side of her hood, Alice toggled her hidden radio.

 

“Artillery unit, begin standard preparation,” she ordered, gently stroking the neck of her armored Ankylosaur as it shifted restlessly inside the transport truck the pair of them were traveling in. “Incendiary crews, I want you keeping your scopes out for any enemy vampires we might encounter,” she said, knowing that Kars had at least a small army of them, given what Cobain had seen while she’d been forced to keep her head down while Wham and Kars had been making themselves comfortable in her summer chalet.

 

Something they weren’t likely to be for much longer, if she and hers had anything to say about it.

 

“Ma’am, we are oh dark-hundred,” came the voice of the present commander of this particular battle group. “We’re launching.”

 

“Good to hear, Ike,” she said, quickly changing frequencies. “Caesar, you should be receiving the video-feed now.”

 

“We have it, Boss,” came the voice of her Head of Security for Brando International’s Italy branch, and present leader of the sniper team that had been given the task of eliminating Kars once she and her battle group had driven him out of the remains of her summer chalet. “We’re safeties off, and weapons hot. He won’t have a chance to escape us again.”

 

“Good to hear, Agent,” she said, intending to remind the man of just what he was doing; she knew he had a grudge against Kars, and considering what had happened between the pair of them she could fully understand it, but she was still going to need him to keep a lid on things while he was hunting for Kars. “You know what I expect.”

 

“Yes, Boss.”

 

Settling herself back down on the back of her Ankylosaur, Alice spread out her hairs and listened to the rumble of the engines of the trucks all around her. If it was late enough to let the Quetzalcoatlus loose, with not enough light in the sky to harm them, then it meant that they would be very close to her old summer chalet. Very close to where Kars and Wham were waiting for them.

 

“Artillery unit, you may fire at will.”

 

=BT=

 

When he began to hear a sound like a low, sustained roar, Kars found himself wondering just what kind of beasts could be making such a sound. However, when the ground shuddered and he heard the sound of thunder – louder and more close than he’d ever heard before – and the scent of distant fires that would spread quickly through the wood, fabrics, and other materials of the house he’d claimed from his clever pet.

 

Wondering just what in the hell was going on, Kars signaled to Wham and the pair of them quickly made for the site of the upheaval. The sight of the fires consuming the front face of his clever pet’s home infuriated him; knowing that some kind of inferior creatures were attempting to destroy what rightfully belonged to one of their betters. However, when he caught sight of some kind of strange beast, through the wall of rippling flames before him, for only a handful of moments before the beast charged through the walls.

 

“Kars!”

 

“You?!” he exclaimed, even as he was forced to leap backwards as the massive head of the magnificent beast ridden by his pet’s annoying male counterpart slammed down in what was clearly an attempt to bite him in half.

 

“Does my presence shock you, Kars?!” the male vampire laughed – laughed! – in a way that seemed almost perfectly calculated to irritate him. “Did you foolishly think you had seen the last of Dio Brando?!” Snarling as the male vampire laughed at him again, he quickly grabbed both the upper and lower sets of the immense beast’s teeth as the creature again attempted to close them over his head. “Hmm, perhaps this isn’t the best venue for our battle,” the male vampire sneered, chuckling even as Kars ground his teeth in sheer fury; how dare this inferior creature try to mock him! “I know! We should take this outside!”

 

Digging in his heels availed him nothing against the sheer size and weight of the creature he’d been set against, and all too soon Kars found himself driven out through the wall he’d been sliding inexorably towards. The infuriating laughter of the male vampire followed him out.

 

“What is this?!” he demanded, forcing the jaws of the beast he was fighting – it had to be some sort of zombie, since even with their close proximity he wasn’t able to hear any kind of vital signs from the creature’s body, magnificent as it truly was – closed even as the sheer muscle power of the beast tried to open them once again.

 

“Oh, I’m hardly surprised that a barbarian like you wouldn’t have heard of it,” the male vampire sneered, laughing in that same, infuriating way that Kars had heard entirely too many times before; truly, he would thoroughly enjoy devouring that one. “This is Tyrannosaurus Rex,” the male vampire said, seemingly only just able to stop himself from pausing to relish the very name; he supposed that Tyrant Lizard King was a rather auspicious name, if nothing else. “This is what’s going to grant me my victory!”

 

It was his turn to laugh, this time. “Magnificent as that zombie of yours is, I suspect the find wasn’t originally yours, was it?”

 

“What do you mean?” the arrogant creature demanded, and Kars knew he had him.

 

“She found it for you, didn’t she?” he needled, knowing that it had to be true. “You’d have never thought to look for this magnificent specimen if she hadn’t been guiding you, would you?”

 

“So, my sister is brilliant,” the male vampire snapped, sounding as though he was nearly biting off the ends of his words in his fury; it was nearly as perfect as Kars could have asked for. “I’ve never tried to deny it.”

 

“She was never meant to be yours,” he stated, ripping a pair of teeth free from the jaws of the zombie Tyrant Lizard who was no longer fighting him nearly so hard as it had once been, then leaping back out of range before the male vampire could think to send it after him again.

 

What?!”

 

He chuckled, deliberately, as he drove his knife of words in all the deeper. “Come now, you and I both know that she was destined for far greater things than merely playing nursemaid to such an inferior creature as you.” Looking down his nose at the male vampire was little different than doing the same to a human who happened to be riding on the back of a horse, and he’d dealt with more than his share of that kind while he and ACDC had been searching for the Red Stone of Aja.

 

However, it wasn’t the male vampire or his Tyrant Lizard that answered him, but a thin beam from somewhere off in the distance.

 

=BT=

 

“Caesar!” he snarled, biting down in the inside of his helmet in order to activate his radio’s microphone. “What the hell to you think you’re doing?!”

 

“Shut up, Dio,” the presumptuous human snapped back, as another shot from his sweet sister’s UV sniper-rifle blasted down into the spot where Kars had once been standing. “I don’t care what kind of claim you think you have on Kars’ life, but he killed my father, so he’s mine!”

 

Grinding his teeth, knowing that – even beyond what troubles a Hamon user could cause for him – his sweet sister would be a long time forgiving him if he did anything to disturb the perfection of the operation that she had planned so carefully, he, Dio was about to leave the field of battle, when he spotted the charging figure of the only other Pillar Man that had managed to escape his fated destruction at the hands of either his dear Alice herself or one of her elegant machines.

 

“Lord Kars!” the oversized brute shouted, charging into their battleground, swift and heedless enough that he, Dio, found himself wondering just what the brute thought he was doing.

 

That was, he found himself wondering such a thing, right up until the brute’s arms began to spin in two separate directions, and he somehow managed to throw up a cloud of dust so thick that he, Dio, could all but feel the grit on his own skin, even in spite of the fact that his armor and goggles had been specifically designed to be impermeable to such mundane things as that.

 

“Damnit, I’ve lost visibility!” Caesar snarled, even as he, Dio, grinned.

 

“Well, Caesar, it looks like your claim was just superseded!” he, Dio, called back, laughing gleefully as he turned his mighty tyrannosaurus rex, aiming for the center of the dust cloud that the brute named Wham had thrown up with all of his ultimately futile thrashing.

 

“Dio, what the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

 

“Come now, Caesar,” he, Dio, said, feeling pleased and supremely amused both at once. “We both know that you wouldn’t be able to make any kind of accurate shot with this much debris in the air,” he said, grinning all the wider as he charged into the still-handing cloud of dust. “However: I, Dio, hardly need air!” Adjusting his eyes so that he would be better able to see through the debris and dust that would have occluded the vision of any lesser creature, he bit down on his microphone once more to deactivate it, he, Dio, laughed in triumph. “What do you think of me now, Kars?! You bastard! You’ll never lay another hand on my sister!”

 

“You honestly believe that, vampire?”

 

Snapping around to face the sound of the purely infuriating voice that he’d learned to hate so very, very well during the course of the battle that his sweet sister had planned out so perfectly well, Dio yelled as he felt Kars’ heels slamming into his chin. Finding himself in freefall for a few, too-long, terrifying moments, Dio tried to right himself, but felt the Pillar Man’s fist battering him in the gut before he’d fallen even halfway from the lofty height he’d been all but launched to.

 

Slamming into the ground feet-first, Dio screamed as pain – sharper and more sudden than he’d ever felt in either his short life as a human, or his eternal life as a vampire – tore through his back, even as he tipped forward to sprawl inelegantly in the dirt. Feeling his arms leave the ground as he was picked up like some hapless plush toy, Dio realized with a sickening sinking feeling that he was completely unaware of a single physical sensation from below the mutilated remains of his back.

 

Feeling his armor – the only thing that would serve to protect him from sunlight, or else the blasts from his sweet sister’s UV sniper-rifles – torn away from his insensate form was almost a secondary thing, in light of that. As was, he couldn’t help but admit, the calls for a response that he could hear from his earpiece…

Chapter Text

“Did you really think that one of your meager kind would be able to defeat me?” he drawled, looking down with amusement upon the sprawled form of the male vampire beneath his feet.

 

However, the sound of his clever, determined pet’s voice – seeming to come from the shattered remains of the helmet that he’d taken from the male vampire on the ground – drew his attention down to the dusty ground.

 

“Dio, please respond.”

 

Crouching down, he picked up the cracked remains of some kind of smooth-sided device, just about the perfect size to fit into the innermost space within his ear. Chuckling softly as his lovely, clever pet’s voice came through once more, this time less of a plea and more a command. This was what came to mind, every time he would think of his clever pet’s voice. It was only natural, considering that she was a vampire and the others he’d seen were all lowly humans, that she would have been in command.

 

Picking up the other piece of the male vampire’s helmet, specifically the one that had been shaped to cover the lower half of his face – from his cheeks to his chin – Kars studied the workings of what seemed to be nearly the same kind of device that was made to fit inside the ear of whoever wore the helmet he had destroyed. It bore a distinct enough resemblance to the other device, that working out the function of the device currently in his hands was all the more simple. Particularly for one of his advanced intellect, of course.

 

“Dio, I know you’re there; I can hear you procrastinating.”

 

He chuckled, deep in his throat. “Pet, while I confess that I could happily listen to your lovely voice for the rest of this night, I don’t think that’s going to be possible under the circumstances,” he said, looking down at the sprawled form of her male counterpart.

 

Truly, lying at his feet was the only proper place for one of his lowly kind.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing her eyes in annoyed realization as she heard Kars’ annoying voice coming through over the radio she’d originally given to Dio, Alice switched off her connection to her brother’s microphone.

 

“Caesar, give me a SITREP,” she ordered, knowing that she wouldn’t be getting anything more from Dio unless he managed to get his radio away from Kars; something that was only marginally more likely than the pair of them taking up sunbathing.

 

“I lost sight of Dio,” he said, sounding about as annoyed as she felt, right at that moment. “He just went charging into that dust cloud that Wham kicked up, the idiot!”

 

“I expect I know where he is,” she said, narrowing her eyes just that much more as she considered what she’d just learned. “Anyway, have you managed to reacquire visual contact?”

 

“No,” Caesar growled. “I expect they’ve managed to get beyond the camera’s range.”

 

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” she muttered, flicking her tongue across her upper-right fang in frustration. “All right; we’re going to need to convene again, and soon.”

 

“Agreed, Boss,” Caesar said, and her radio gave a chirp as he shut it down.

 

Inhaling deeply so that she could sigh in annoyance, Alice turned her attention out to Stroheim and Tarkus. The Nazi cyborg and his squad of robotic dinosaurs were the first things that caught her eye, and she waved him over so that the pair of them could talk.

 

“We have a problem,” she said, once Stroheim had gotten close enough to hear what she was going to say. “It seems that Dio managed to get himself captured, and without a way of getting out, this time,” she informed the man, as in the background Tarkus proceeded to round up their remaining dinosaur cavalry.

 

“Kars was able to capture your brother?”

 

“I think we’ll find that Dio had just as much of a hand in his current situation as Kars,” she said, having known her brother for well over half a century. “He might’ve been one of the most powerful assets we had, but he’s not invulnerable to psychological warfare.”

 

Now that was something of an understatement; Dio was one of the most volatile people she’d ever had the dubious pleasure of working with in her long life, and certainly one of the few she’d voluntarily associate herself with, considering their familial bonds. Still, there was really no avoiding the fact that her brother would, more often than not, delegate the task of keeping a lid on his temper to her. She’d long since known that that kind of thing would bite him in the ass sooner or later, but she really had to confess that she’d been hoping that – when that time came – she would have at least been close enough to cuff him upside the head for it.

 

However, it looked like that kind of thing was going to have to wait awhile.

 

=BT=

 

Biting back a scream as that bastard of a Pillar Man devoured his left arm up to the shoulder he, Dio, glared in defiance.

 

“I must admit, I’m almost impressed with your fortitude, vampire,” that bastard said, grinning down at him in the most infuriatingly arrogant way that he’d ever seen.

 

Even that man hadn’t infuriated him nearly as much as the Pillar Man that stood so brazenly before him, in this abandoned place where he and the brute had gone to ground when his sweet sister’s forces had routed them from the sad remains of her former chalet. Even firing his Space Ripper Stingy Eyes directly at the arrogant Pillar Man’s head didn’t give him any satisfaction, because that miserable bastard dodged it with barely a move of his head!

 

Biting down on another scream, as the arrogant bastard devoured his right arm, leaving him with no more flesh or bone below that shoulder than what remained below his left, he, Dio, snarled as the arrogant Pillar Man laughed at him.

 

“Well, it seems as though you do have a few things in common with my pet, vampire,” the arrogant Pillar Man said, leering down at him in a way that seemed calculated to be as infuriating as it was possible for any creature to be; Dio snarled, baring his fangs at the Pillar Man.

 

“My sister is not your pet.”

 

=BT=

 

Alice was a whirlwind of concentrated purpose, but only those who truly knew her would be able to see it, Jonathan knew. To anyone else, his and Dio’s sister would appear to be a perfectly calm island of tranquility in the sea of barely-leashed chaos that the conference room they had all gathered in was swiftly becoming.

 

“All right,” Alice said, clapping her hands to further draw the attention of everyone who currently stood within the conference room. “Given what we know about Kars, I think we can make at least some educated guesses as to where he and Wham are currently staying.”

 

As he watched the meeting continue, Jonathan found himself hoping that those gathered here would be able to affect the rescue of Dio before those horrid Pillar Men could harm him in any permanent ways; he knew there was little chance that his and Alice’s brother would not be harmed at all.

 

=BT=

 

Finding himself confined to a bare room whose stark darkness was clearly meant to be oppressive he, Dio, growled as he heard the approach of another of those damnable Pillar Men.

 

“What the hell are you doing in here?” he demanded of the brute named Wham, who had been staring at him for some time before he, Dio, had deigned to notice the Pillar Man.

 

“Why do you continue to resist?” the brute asked, a curious expression upon his blunt face. “You must know that Lord Kars is inevitably going to defeat any allies that you and yours can gather, so why do you persist in challenging him? I’m certain he would be merciful to the both of you, if you would only submit.”

 

Hissing his fury at the Pillar Man who dared to mock both him and his sweet sister’s efforts he, Dio, narrowed his eyes and turned up his nose. “I would hardly call our efforts futile, you oaf,” he grinned widely, showing all his fangs. “Or, have you forgotten that two of your own are dead, Pillar Man?!”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“The first of them I wasn’t present for,” he said, knowing that with both of his arms and his legs below the knees having been devoured by that bastard of a Pillar Man Kars he, Dio, wouldn’t be able to escape on his own without the aid of either circumstances or, much more likely, his sweet sister, but he would at least be able to scourge this brute to his heart’s content. “I was only able to observe it through the monitor cameras of the base, but watching the first of your worthless compatriots die was more than worth it!”

 

=BT=

 

“You witnessed Santana’s last moments, did you?” he asked, narrowing his eyes as he made his way inside.

 

“Lord Kars,” Wham greeted, bowing respectfully as he stepped aside.

 

Glancing briefly at his old friend, meeting Wham’s eyes for a moment, Kars turned his attention to his clever pet’s male counterpart.

 

“What? Nothing more to say?” he mocked, moving to stand over the pathetic form of the limbless vampire before him, Kars smirked. “You seemed so talkative when you were merely facing Wham, vampire. Could it be that you’re afraid of me?”

 

“I watched two of your fellows die, you miserable bastard!” the male vampire threw at him, snarling impotently in a way that could only truly be amusing.

 

“Are you referring to Santana?” he asked, smirking down at the pitiful, limbless form of the vampire before him. “He was nothing more than a child; a well-trained guard dog. He could never compare to us.”

 

“Oh, and what about that other compatriot of yours?” the male vampire asked, seizing on the only thing he could have possibly noticed.

 

“Yes, I suspect that ACDC also met his end, is that right?” he asked, grinning calmly.

 

“My sister slaughtered that imbecile!” the male vampire snarled, grinning like a mad dog, baring the fangs that the Stone Mask had granted him. “There was nothing more than dust by the time she was finished!”

 

“Master ACDC was defeated by a vampire?!” Wham demanded, clearly infuriated by the very idea of such a thing.

 

“He paid the price for his lack of vision,” the male vampire spat, grinning in that same, feral manner of his; however, something in the vampire’s demeanor suggested that he was repeating something he’d heard somewhere before.

 

“My pet said that, didn’t she?” he needled, grinning down at the pitiful form of the male vampire so far beneath him.

 

The amusement on the male vampire’s face vanished, faster than mists in a high wind. “My sister is not your pet!”

 

“She will be, soon enough,” he said, smiling calmly down at the pathetic vampire so far beneath him. “Still, even if I were to take what you say as truth, that only proves her all the more worthy of me.”

 

He could see the pitiful, impotent fury in the male vampire’s eyes, and dodged the blast of the creature’s Space Ripper Stingy Eyes at the last moment, simply to demonstrate his clear superiority over it. Turning slightly as Wham exited the room, he turned his back to the pathetic, limbless vampire seated in the chair behind him without another word.

 

“Lord Kars, do you really think it possible that your vampire was able to defeat Master ACDC?”

 

“Given what I’ve learned of her, I suspect she did,” he grinned, remembering the defiance in his clever pet’s eyes. “And Santana, as well.”

 

Wham’s eyes narrowed, as though he were looking into the past; remembering ACDC, and the times that he and Santana had met. Still, it was not the past that occupied Kars’ mind, but the future. The future, where he’d caged that clever hawk of his, and was free to shape her as he liked. She would be the treasure of his collection, and he would craft her into the magnificent Pillar Woman she should have been born as from the beginning.

 

“I would have never thought that a woman, even a vampire, would have been capable of such a thing,” Wham said, gathering himself once more from his musings. “She truly is your equal, Lord Kars.”

 

“Not yet,” he said, grinning as he thought of the Stone Mask that he had created for his clever hawk, the one that would began her proper transformation. “But, in time, yes.”

 

=BT=

 

Watching as the Boss laid out a case of grenades on the table, Caesar found himself wondering just what it was that she intended to do with them. The Boss had to know that the small explosion from any kind of grenade would hardly be enough to even damage a vampire like her, much less one of the two remaining Pillar Men.

 

“Boss, how do you think any of this is going to work? You would be able to resist an explosion from a bomb this size,” he said, looking from the case full of grenades to the black-suited form of the Boss; she was wearing that suit she had designed, the one that was designed for pure stealth and infiltration; matte black, and apparently capable of sloughing off any scent that it picked up from the surrounding environment. “So, what do you think these little things are going to do?”

 

“Both vampires and Pillar Men have greatly enhanced senses of hearing, and hence balance,” the Boss said, grinning slightly as she picked up one of the things he was beginning to suspect weren’t exactly grenades. “Both of which the Noisy Cricket here can play merry hell with.”

 

“Ah, I see,” Stroheim said, picking up one of the small, hand-held sonic grenades. “Yes, these Noisy Crickets of yours should do just fine.”

 

“All right, since we know where Kars and Wham are currently staying, all that remains is to deploy our forces,” the Boss said, narrowing her eyes as she looked down at the map they had all gathered around. “We’re going to need all of them, to keep Kars and Wham distracted while I fetch Dio.”

 

“Yeah,” Jojo muttered, picking up one of the Boss’ Noisy Crickets and staring down at it. “Uncle Dio can’t be too happy, cooped up in there with them.”

 

Narrowing his eyes as he considered what was going to happen next, Caesar flicked them over to the Boss, as she made contact with Straizo. Knowing that her retainer also functioned as a test-pilot for her various experimental aircraft, he’d a certain suspicion about what she wanted from him. So, he knew that her brother Dio was going to be in good hands, at least once they’d managed to extract him, anyway.

 

=BT=

 

Once they’d all gotten underway, with Alice herself sitting in a nearby tree to await the fireworks that would serve to cover her entrance, she found herself wondering for a moment just what condition she was ultimately going to find Dio in. While it was clear that not one of the two remaining Pillar Men had much of a taste for taking prisoners, Kars was probably canny enough to know that keeping one of captive was a good way to draw the attention of the other. Still, it remained to be seen just how deeply Kars was prepared to look.

 

After first missile had slammed into the façade of the mansion, shaking the ground and resounding like thunder through the air, Alice moved. All but flying over the leaf-littered ground, keeping low enough that she could remain stable even at the kind of speed she was moving, Alice paused for a moment as a breathless silence fell over the night. Pressing her hands flush against the wall of the mansion, Alice mapped it with her tremor-sense, and then skittered up the wall just as another sudden explosion shattered the night.

 

Pulling away a ventilation grate, Alice latched onto it with her elastic veins, pulling the thing closed behind her as she dove into the attic.

 

When the next explosion rattled the walls all around her, Alice dug her fingers into the wooden planks of the floor, pulled them up, and slipped between the two layers of flooring. Stretching and compressing her body so that she could fit through narrow spaces, in a way that almost reminded her of Santana’s escape from the Nazis not quite so long ago, Alice paused for a moment to take in the layout of the house once again.

 

Seems I’m headed for the basement, she mused, supposing it fit. If there was at least one lesson that those troublesome Pillar Men might very well have learned from their last clash with her forces, seemed to be that going higher wasn’t always the best choice. And, while she wasn’t exactly pleased to be dealing with the kind of opponents who actually learned from their mistakes, Alice knew that she couldn’t really count on finding herself set up against either myopic or just plain stupid opponents all the time.

 

Particularly when the opponents in question had lived for longer than some of the countries she’d been working with existed.

 

Pausing for a moment during another lull in combat, Alice mapped out the basement room now almost directly beneath her with her tremor senses. She could almost hear her brother’s frustrated cursing though the walls, and it gave her a much better idea of the layout of the room she was going to be entering, if only long enough to pull Dio out of whatever tight spot her troublesome twin had gotten himself wedged into this time.

 

Zeroing in on the chair in the rough center of the underground room, Alice dug her fingers into the planks once again, pulling them up in time with another, thundering explosion from outside the walls of the mansion she was making her way through. Tossing the shattered remains of the ceiling aside, Alice dove into the room, kicking off of the edges of the hole so that she would be able to land on her feet once again. Landing with her knees slightly bent from the impact, she dashed forward before even the first of the wood-shrapnel could hit the floor.

 

Narrowing her eyes as she picked up the basically limbless form of her twin, Alice leaped back up to the ceiling once again, punching through the floor and diving up into what seemed to be the main room of the mansion the two remaining Pillar Men had been sheltering in. Lunging forward as a cluster-bomb hammered the façade of the mansion once more, Alice kicked open the far wall, curling her fingers inward to tap the hidden radio-transceiver on her right wrist even as she did so.

 

Pinging Straizo, where he waited with the X-15.

 

The harsh scream of jet-engines, unmistakable to anyone who’d heard them before, shattered the night over even the sound of the ordinance being poured down on the remains of the mansion she was quickly leaving behind. Dropping into a crouch, Alice unfolded her legs in a leap calculated to carry her over the form of the X-15 as it screamed through the air. Grabbing onto the edge of the cockpit as Straizo tipped the opened canopy towards them, Alice hoisted herself and Dio into the back seat of the X-15 as it roared away.

 

The canopy slammed shut, locking itself and sealing out the screaming roar of the engines as Straizo guided them back to her main holdings in Venice. A sonic-boom rumbled through the body of the jet, as the hangar of her Venice Tower came into view and Straizo brought them fully into the hangar and the tail hook on the jet caught firmly. Sighing reflexively as she climbed up and out of the X-15, she called a brief thanks to Straizo as she made her way out of the jet and back through the hangar itself.

 

Looking down at Dio as her twin nuzzled her left shoulder, she saw him smirk in response, then turn and deliberately kiss the right side of her neck.

 

Shaking her head in fond exasperation, even as she continued down to the elevator that would take them up and out of the hangar, Alice made for the medical laboratory that rested a few floors below where they were currently standing. Shifting Dio just enough so that she could get to the buttons, Alice hit the one that would take her down to the floor she needed, and then leaned back against the wall to wait for them to arrive.

 

=BT=

 

Once his sweet sister had returned them to her holdings within the grand city of Venice he, Dio, had been furnished with two pairs of temporary prosthetic limbs, and put up in the generous suite that had been set aside for those who were in need of long-term treatment for a particularly involved operation. The scent of a familiar person, over and above the container of sheep’s blood that he was drinking, brought a cheerful smile to his face once again.

 

“Dio!”

 

“Hello again, Jojo,” he said, grinning up at his and Alice’s adorable puppy of a brother as he came into the recovery room.

 

“Look at you,” Jojo said, their adorable puppy said, strong voice quavering as he looked down. “Damn that Kars!”

 

Before he, Dio, could finish off the container of blood he’d been drinking from, Jojo hurried over to pick it up. He could feel a smile starting to emerge on his face, as Jojo swiftly arranged the pair of them on the bed together. Laughing softly as Jojo pulled him into his lap he, Dio, let himself fall back naturally as Jojo curled up next to him.

 

The sharp tang of human blood drew his attention as he finished off the last of the sheep’s blood that his sweet sister had given to him drew his attention back to his and Alice’s dear, sweet little puppy.

 

“Jojo?”

 

“Here,” Jojo said, smiling softly as he pulled Dio into his lap, gently laying his opened hand over Dio’s own mouth. “Rest, Dio, and take as much as you need.”

 

=BT=

 

As he felt the dull plastic of the artificial hands that Alice had built for Dio to use while she completed her work reaching up to gently support his own as he allowed Dio to feed from him, Jonathan closed his eyes. He’d never expected to have to face an enemy such as the Pillar Men had shown themselves to be, but after seeing what Kars had done to Dio… He couldn’t forgive such a thing. And, while he knew that Caesar Zeppeli had already laid a claim on the Pillar Man’s life for what had been done to his father Mario, he couldn’t help but think that such a thing wasn’t truly to be.

 

On a land born of fire, he mused, closing his eyes as he tried not to weep at what had been done to his and Alice’s brother. Dio would be able to smell his tears, and would inevitably wonder just what it was that had drawn such a reaction from him. He’d no more wish to speak of Master Tonpetty’s last prophesy to Dio any more than he’d spoken of it to Alice, but not exactly for the same reason.

 

Dio, well… he would be furious, and his and Alice’s brother was the kind to fight the very world if he thought it would get him what he wanted; but this was hardly the kind of thing that could be fought, not with any hope of winning. He knew that better than anyone, particularly after what he’d asked Master Tonpetty when he’d arrived at the temple in Tibet.

Chapter Text

The first thing he’d done, of course, was to ask just what it was that had driven William Zeppeli into such a rage at his dear siblings that he hadn’t even been able to think of them as people worthy of humane consideration – their vampire status aside – even as he’d been dying of the many sword wounds that Dio had been inflicting on him even unto the end of his life. He’d seen the misplaced fear and pity in William’s eyes, looking up at him, even as the light had faded from them for the last time.

 

As it had turned out, William had made a terribly unfortunate misinterpretation of the prophesy that he’d been granted. The vampires that had defeated themselves he’d been told of did not refer to those who would merely lay down and die, but to Dio and Alice, who had defeated the cruel nature of the stone mask with their own, human hearts. It was a sad thing, to know that William had died because he simply could not accept that his initial interpretation of Master Tonpetty’s prophesy had been wrong, but such a thing could hardly be helped by now.

 

Still, Jonathan couldn’t help wondering how things could have been different, if such a thing could have been possible; he thought that William could have been a good friend, if the man had been willing to look beyond his own preconceptions about vampires and see Dio and Alice for who they truly were.

 

When Alice returned from her laboratory on this level, he greeted his and Dio’s sister kindly, and watched as she turned her attention back to the work she was soon to be doing.

 

He knew that his and Dio’s sister would soon have their brother restored to at least some semblance of mobility by the time she was finished, Jonathan allowed himself to relax slightly. Yes, he knew that there would be many more tasks that they would need to accomplish before any of them would be able to call this battle truly finished, and he knew that he himself was not going to survive the ultimate conclusion of it, but Jonathan couldn’t help but wish to reach that conclusion.

 

If only so that his remaining family, and the world as a whole, would be able to live in peace.

 

=BT=

 

His sweet sister, brilliant creature that she was, had devised not only a pair of ingenious prosthetics to aid him, Dio, in running, fighting, and standing against Kars once again, but also equipped the ones replacing his arms with a variant of her Noisy Cricket – in his right hand – as well as a UV laser in his left. He was pleased to know that – even as he was recovering from the damage that that bastard of a Pillar Man had inflicted on him – he would be able to stand against him and his brutish cohort even so.

 

He, Dio, could hardly have been more pleased.

 

“All right, so you already know about the basic operation of the weapons I’ve built into your prosthetics, but I think it would be best if you familiarized yourself with operating them. Having something built into your limbs is different than just picking something up to use it.”

 

“Whatever you wish, sister dear,” he said, grinning back at his sweet Alice as she looked back at him, the usual, businesslike expression she wore when she was hard at work in her way.

 

She raised a subtly amused eyebrow at him, and the pair of them swiftly departed for the testing grounds that she had had built into this tower of hers. He’d become rather familiar with them, but moreso the training grounds that she’d designed for any place where he and their growing family chose to settle for longer than a few months. Places where those among their number who possessed abilities beyond that of the common rabble – either through the wonders of their own advanced biology, or through determination and training of the most esoteric sort – could not only hone their skills but develop all new ones without even leaving the comfort of the tower they were staying in.

 

He, Dio, had come to enjoy them quite immensely; he’d likely make a stop there, once his sweet sister had managed to familiarize him with the operation of the weaponry she’d been so kind as to install in his new limbs.

 

=BT=

 

The shattered remains of the human dwelling told only part of the story; it was the absence of the male vampire that Lord Kars had taken captive that truly displayed the full capabilities of the female vampire that Lord Kars had taken such an interest in; the one who had long since proven that she was a match for Lord Kars in every way but age and power. He’d no doubt anymore that the female vampire would resist every effort that Lord Kars made to court her in the way he was clearly doing.

 

It was, after all, what Lord Kars himself would have done, had their positions been reversed in some way.

 

“Not even a feather left to mark her passage,” Lord Kars said, satisfaction in his tone, even as he surveyed the expanse of the abandoned human dwelling where they had been keeping the male vampire in an effort to draw Lord Kars’ vampire to them. “Truly, I’m going to have to break her wings, if I’m ever going to cage that hawk of mine properly.”

 

“Indeed,” he intoned, though it was truly beginning to seem as though Lord Kars’ vampire was determined not to be caged.

 

With every new creation the female vampire unveiled, it seemed that Lord Kars grew all the more infatuated, and all the less willing to consider that there might have been another way of gaining that which he wanted. It seemed that Lord Kars’ vampire was the sort to hold an association with the humans who flocked to her, and so perhaps that could be a way to gain that which his Lord had come to desire so strongly.

 

=BT=

 

Disassembling his UV rifle with smooth, efficient motions, Caesar took a deep, harsh breath as he began reassembling it. Snapping it back together with the relentless efficiency that his training had engrained in him, he didn’t even pause for a moment as the sound of footsteps closed in on the table where he was working.

 

“You’re stewing again.”

 

“Boss,” he looked up at the vampire that had given him so much; a new home, a purpose, and even the chance to find out what had happened to his father. Shuddering as he felt her light touch on his right shoulder, Caesar leaned his forehead against her collarbone. “Even after all these years, nothing’s changed since that day.”

 

“You’re not crying; that has to count for something,” the Boss said, the gentle good-humor in her tone almost forcing a sickly sort of chuckle out of him, even as he felt his eyes stinging all the more.

 

The pair of them stood like that for a long moment, as Caesar tried to compose himself once more.

 

It truly was almost the same as what had happened on that terrible, long-ago day; the only difference was that the Boss wasn’t carrying him back to one of her holdings in Rome, he hadn’t been forced to witness the death of his father, and he knew just what kind of dangers there were in the world. In every other way, however, this was a clear match for the situation that he’d once faced. Even down to the gentle way the Boss was stroking his hair in an effort to help him regain his composure.

 

“Thanks, Boss,” he said, once he felt capable of standing back up without the risk of falling to his knees in anguish from the memories that all of this upheaval had brought back to the fore once again.

 

“Of course,” the Boss said calmly, gentle gaze focusing on him once more. “You know that you can always come to me when there’s something on your mind, Caesar.”

 

“I know,” he said, smiling for the first time since he’d made his way down into the training ground to be alone with his training and his weapon. “Thanks, Boss.”

 

The Boss nodded, turning to make her way out of the training room he’d been working in. Sighing as he looked up at her retreating back as she left, Caesar tried to compose himself again. He didn’t know what kind of man he’d have become if the Boss hadn’t been there for him, and the more time he spent with her, the less he actually wanted to know.

 

=BT=

 

Seated at the long table that he’d claimed for himself when he, and his bond-brother Tarkus had been invited to this place alongside their liege Lord and Lady, Bruford settled his right hand on the head of one of his feathered hounds – the ancient, undead creatures that his liege Lady had granted him access to – Bruford looked out over the expanse of the underground room that he and Tarkus had been given for their own use once they had been fully integrated in among the workings of their Lady’s growing empire. He’d been seeing less and less of his bond-brother of late; however, as Tarkus had become increasingly enamored by their Lady’s armored siege-beasts and his role as their keeper, Bruford had almost been expecting such a thing, truly. Tarkus would have had to have been a far different man for him to have done anything different.

 

The sound of the building-wide standby-alert brought Bruford out of his contemplations far more abruptly than he would have ever wished under normal circumstances; however, anyone who had ever participated in one of his Lady’s readiness drills would know that such a sound was one that signaled the end of normal circumstances.

 

Rising from his seat, Bruford signaled for his feathered hound not to follow – whoever it was that had opted to confront them, his Lady had determined that an overwhelming show of force was not the best face to present to them – and made his way over to the elevator that would carry him up to the surface levels of the building they were all currently staying in. Grabbing the armored-cloth cloak that would allow him to survive in sunlight – there was little reason to believe that this was not one of the ancient creatures that had dared to threaten his liege Lady and been punished so for their temerity, and hence no reason to think that she would not take the precaution of having every one of her marksman windows filled by a UV-rifle armed sniper – Bruford made his way over to the small group that had begun forming around her.

 

She nodded to him, as he insinuated himself into the group, composed as it already was of his Lady’s retainer – the vampire Straizo – as well as her right hand in this country, Caesar Zeppeli.

 

“Who are we facing?” he asked, knowing by the grimness of the expressions all around him that this was not to be a simple drill.

 

“Wham,” Caesar all but snarled, an unbecoming sort of rage on his face; Bruford tried not to think less of him for it, considering his past with the creatures they were facing.

 

“Yes,” his liege Lady said, sounding annoyed, but also sounding as though she had a reluctant sort of curiosity as to just what it was that the Pillar Man could have been intending by presenting himself to them in the manner that he had just done. “He’s just been standing out there; pretty much the only reason I didn’t send the entire building into high-alert status as soon as Melanie spotted him, really.”

 

“Indeed,” the vampire Straizo said, narrowing his eyes in contemplation as the four of them made their way over to the front entrance where the Wham the Pillar Man was waiting for them.

 

=BT=

 

For the life of her, she didn’t know just what it was that Wham could have been planning. Sure, she had some inkling of what anyone generally affiliated with Kars would want – namely her – but she didn’t know what Wham’s particular angle was, here and now. It seemed that she’d just have to poke him and see how he jumped, so to speak.

 

Not always the safest of prospects, particularly under the circumstances, but there were few faster ways to produce results.

 

He seemed to have been studying they layout of her building, when she came out to see just what it was that he was doing, so it seemed like not all of the Pillar Men were such a dull sort as Kars.

 

“Paying a visit, are we?” she asked, narrowing her eyes as she studied the tall, broad shouldered, thickly-muscled form standing before her tower complex.

 

“I’ve come to ask your indulgence, if you would hear me out,” the Pillar Man said, a slight tilt to his head so that he was actually looking at her rather than down on her, the way Kars always seemed to.

 

“You really think I’m going to invite you into my building?” she asked, narrowing her eyes as she studied the man in front of her.

 

Wham actually chuckled, though the sound was soft and rueful, rather than mocking the way it had been with Kars and ACDC. “I wouldn’t presume to be entitled to your hospitality.”

 

“Well, at least one of you has some manners,” she said, raising an eyebrow at the Pillar Man before her; none of her entourage made a sound, though there was definitely some amusement – good humored and not – lurking in their eyes when she paused to check their reactions. “All right; you have my attention, Wham. What did you want to discus?”

 

“I’m curious: why do you keep rejecting the offer of perfection that my Lord, Kars has made to you so many times?”

 

“I don’t recall ever hearing an offer,” she said, beginning to see the obvious cultural divide that she and Wham stood on either side of; under any other set of circumstances, she would have been rather more tolerant of such. “Though I do recall a kidnapping attempt, several assaults on my companions and subordinates, and the destruction of a great deal of my personal property.”

 

However, after everything that had happened, she’d more than had her fill of dealing with the overbearing arse that was Kars the Pillar Man.

 

“Yes, I suppose you would remember it in that manner,” Wham said, his tone a great deal more conciliatory than she would have expected from someone saying those words.

 

She raised an eyebrow, and then her left hand when it looked like Caesar was about to yell something unhelpful. “I know that memories can be self-serving at times, but none of the sacrifices I was forced to make would have been necessary if you and yours hadn’t been pursuing me.”

 

“Yes,” Wham said, sounding as though he was starting to understand just what he and his had driven her to. “I suppose I should apologize.”

 

You haven’t actually done anything,” she said, tilting her head slightly to the Pillar Man standing before her; she could hardly begrudge the man for following orders; well, not from someone like Kars, at least.

 

He did honestly seem the type to execute someone for not listening to what he said.

 

“I would not have expected such understanding, considering how many weapons of yours you have pointed at me,” Wham said, eyes flickering around the compound he was standing in, stopping for a handful of seconds on each and every one of the marksman-windows that she had a sniper posted in.

 

“You can hardly blame one for taking precautions, particularly when dealing with someone like you,” she said, folding her arms and tilting her head as she continued to observe Wham’s actions.

 

He didn’t seem particularly likely to attack; however, he was still a Pillar Man, and there was the inherent hazard in dealing with him.

 

“Yes,” Wham said, chuckling as he closed his eyes for a moment, clearly having conceded the point. “I would hardly expect you to leave yourself and your people vulnerable when meeting with me,” he sobered, becoming serious once more. “A leader must always look to the welfare of their people.”

 

=BT=

 

As he watched the Boss and Wham interacting with each other, Caesar found himself wondering just how in the world someone like Wham had ended up working so closely with a bastard like Kars. When the pair of them parted in an amicable sort of way, Caesar found himself wondering that all the more. Falling in behind the Boss as she made her way back into the Tower, Caesar re-slung his UV-rifle on his back and stepped back through the doors once again.

 

“I have to say, that went better than I was expecting,” the Boss said, once the four of them had made their way into the elevator and were on their way back up to her top-floor office.

 

“True,” Bruford said thoughtfully, an expression of deep thought on his face. “It seems a strange thing, to find a man of such honor in the company of a beast such as Kars.”

 

“You’re right,” he said, narrowing his eyes as he considered everything that had happened in the past; everything he’d learned about one of the two remaining Pillar Men that they had all been facing.

 

It really did seem like he had some code of honor that he followed, which did in fact make it all the more puzzling that he seemed to be such a dedicated follower of that bastard Kars. He could see that same curiosity of his firmly reflected on the Boss’ face as she made her way back into the Tower, and so Caesar knew that it was probably only a matter of time before they would be meeting with the Pillar Man named Wham again. He could only hope that it would be on their terms, rather than those of that bastard Kars.

 

=BT=

 

As he made his way back to the new holdings that he and Lord Kars had claimed for themselves after the destruction of the previous two buildings where they had been able to take shelter – even if in the most temporary sort of ways – Wham reflected back upon what he had learned of the female vampire after meeting her. The first thing he found was that he could no longer entirely bring himself to think of her as Lord Kars’ vampire. She had so clearly established herself as a leader of the humans who gathered to her that such a thing would have been disrespectful in the extreme.

 

Even if the vampire herself never came to know it, it was the one thing that he could do for her.

 

Because, even with the respect that the young vampire had rightfully earned with her poise, her actions, and the way she had spoken to him, it was still a simple, undeniable fact that she could never hope to best Lord Kars in combat. Even with all of her native skill and wit, Lord Kars would simply overpower whatever means of defense or attack that she could devise. He’d never been so troubled by the thought of an inevitable victory before; not since…

 

But no, the female vampire that Lord Kars desired had so little in common with that long-ago Hamon tribe member that even making the comparison was an insult to the strength that he had seen in every line of the young vampire’s face when the pair of them had stood before one another; every command that she had given.

 

He’d not so disparage all of who and what she was by making such a comparison, even though the vampire herself was not at all likely to hear of it. As he continued on into the inner-rooms of the building that he and Lord Kars had taken up residence in, Wham found his Lord – and one of the only remaining members of their kind, but he tried not to think of things in those terms, when he could avoid it – standing over a table that seemed to be crowded with colorful papers.

 

“Lord Kars,” he greeted, wondering for a long moment if he should call attention to what his Lord was doing, before Lord Kars turned to him with a look of pleasure on his face.

 

“Wham,” his Lord said, nodding briefly before returning his attention to the papers that seemed to have absorbed it so completely.

 

The sight of the female vampire’s face adorning nearly every one of them – those that actually featured images on the covers, rather than simply text – gave him at least some idea of just what it was that his Lord was looking for in what would have otherwise seemed like a purely indulgent collection.

 

“It seems that my pet has been quite thoroughly busy,” Lord Kars said, the pleased smile on his face twisting into a smirk as he traced the contours of the female vampire’s picture on the front of a brightly colored sheaf of papers.

 

He’d no knowledge of the written language that the female vampire and those humans that she had drawn to her used, but the more pictures that he studied, the more the female vampire stood out to him as a leader and a guide to the humans who had gathered around her. It also appeared as though she was a match for Lord Kars in sheer inventiveness, as well.

 

“Lord Kars, I know it is not my place to question you, but I have my doubts that this path you’re currently on will give you the resolution you desire.”

 

“What do you mean, Wham?” Lord Kars asked, the expression on his face transforming into one of interest.

 

“I feel I must apologize; I went to take her measure, rather than reporting back to you as I should have,” he said, dropping to his knees before his Lord, and hoping for a moment that he would not be punished too severely for his presumption.

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yes,” he said, bowing all the deeper before his Lord, in the hopes that he would somehow be able to make himself understood in the way that such a matter required. “She seems to be not only a dedicated leader and guide to the humans who gather around her, in addition to the weapons and tools that she designs and builds for herself.”

 

“Yes, that seems to be one of the only weaknesses that my pet is still prey to,” Lord Kars mused, turning his attention back to the sheaves of paper lying all about the table that he’d gathered on the journeys that he’d clearly been undertaking, and waving to Wham in order to signal him to stand up.

 

Briefly parting his lips, Wham realized that it would do him little good to speak his mind when it was clear that Lord Kars had very little interest in the perspective that he had gained with regards to the female vampire and the humans – and even other vampires – that she presided over. He thought it rather a sad thing, that Lord Kars seemed completely disinterested in learning about the female vampire, where she herself had seemed to be rather interested in learning everything that Wham had come to know about the Lord of the Pillar Men during the millennia the pair of them had spent together.

 

He not felt that it was his place, to tell her about the young warrior of the Hamon tribe and how Lord Kars had been forced to dispatch the boy, and of the deplorable state of mind that such a thing had spoken so clearly of. Still, he wondered just what it was that she would have said, if he’d deigned to tell her of such a thing. He expected, given all that he had learned of her proclivities, that she would not have held such a thing against him.

 

Alice Brando was not a woman who took her underlings lightly, after all.

Chapter Text

She’d ordered it shipped to her nearly as soon as she’d finished her impromptu meeting with Wham, and now Alice looked upon the latest iteration of the anti-Hamon battle armor that she had originally created in order to be able to stand against a combat art that had been developed specifically in order to hunt vampires like her, Dio, and Straizo. Given the fact that she couldn’t physically touch her current opponents – the pair of them that remained, though it was beginning to seem as though Wham wasn’t going to be an enemy of theirs for much longer, given how things were progressing – the armor she had designed to be able to deflect and diffuse Hamon-charged blows would provide a defense against the Pillar Men and their freakishly weird ability to actually absorb their food through their skins. She honestly doubted any of them would be able to eat through metal, at least in the time she was going to give them.

 

Or rather, the time she wasn’t.

 

=BT=

 

After managing to separate himself from Lord Kars, Wham began searching for the signs of Alice Brando’s influence within the human settlement that the pair of them had confronted each other within. It was becoming plain that she had established herself very well within the settlement where the pair of them had first become aware of each other, but the place that he was most interested in seemed to be a place for holding the ancient remains of the great, armored beasts that he and Lord Kars had encountered a great deal of when the female vampire had made her attack on the house of hers that he and Lord Kars had inhabited while they were attempting to draw her into their grasp. Back before he had realized what kind of a leader she was.

 

Before he had known the kind of strength he would find in her.

 

Ducking inside the large building that stood before him, taking care to evade the notice of the humans that were patrolling for others of their kind that might have been attempting to make their way into this place for whatever reasons that such creatures would have for attempting such a foolish thing, Wham found himself confronted by the seemingly picked-clean skeletons of the great creatures that he had faced on that occasion when Alice Brando had been drawn into combat with Lord Kars and himself. However, as he took the time to study the skeletons that had been displayed in the first room that any human who had chose to visit this place would find themselves inside, Wham found that the bones themselves were in fact made of stone. It was an odd matter to contemplate, that any creature would possess such a skeleton as the creatures he was seeing before him.

 

He wondered, for a long moment, just why he and Lord Kars had never encountered any of these creatures on the many travels that the pair of them had made during the course of their search for the Red Stone of Aja; and found himself wishing, for a handful of moments, that he could ask Master ACDC or Santana about what they themselves had seen during the course of their own travels.

 

The sound of footsteps drew his attention, and the fact that he was unable to hear any of the sounds associated with human life let him know that he was dealing with one of Alice Brando’s attendants, if not the vampire herself. Turning to confront the one making their way into the room with him, Wham found himself facing the tall, noble-looking form of the dark-haired vampire that had been standing next to Caesar when Alice Brando and her underlings had confronted him outside her building.

 

“She sent you out to meet with me?” he asked, smiling softly as the vampire made his way over to where he was standing.

 

“Indeed,” the vampire said, nodding even as he studied Wham more closely. “Though, she and I are both curious to know what it might be that you are seeking in this museum.”

 

“I’ve found myself curious about just why it was that neither I nor Lord Kars have ever encountered these creatures on our travels,” he said, looking back up at all of the skeletons that had been posed as though they still possessed the breath of life in their nonexistent bodies.

 

“My liege Lady has informed me that these creatures were all driven to extinction by some great calamity, before even the first human had raised their head,” the vampire said, narrowing his eyes as he looked up at the enormous skeletons that towered over them; skeletons that would have felt as though they dwarfed the pair of them nearly into insignificance, at least if Wham had not fully known the significance of his own existence.

 

“Such a long time…” he muttered, narrowing his eyes as he looked up at the displayed skeletons that stood above them both.

 

Lord Kars would, perhaps, know more of these great beasts than he himself did, but Wham was beginning to find himself reluctant to return to the side of the sole remaining one of his kind to have survived the battles that they had engaged in against the forces of this new world that they had awakened into, after being forced to hibernate for so long in an effort to escape from the attention and the implacable hostility of the Hamon tribe. Those of them that had remained after Lord Kars and Master ACDC had turned their own attention to them, of course.

 

“There is another place that you might wish to see,” the vampire standing by his side commented, bringing Wham’s attention back to the present from where it had idly wandered.

 

“What?”

 

“A place that very few are aware of,” the vampire said, assessing gaze focusing upon him for a long moment, as though to judge his worthiness to know such a thing as what he was being told. “None of those who come into this place as guests have been permitted to find out about what I am telling you now,” the vampire said, pausing for a moment of consideration as he looked over Wham once more. “There are those who would not be prepared to understand what my liege Lady is, and so this place has had to be concealed from them.”

 

“And, I suppose you intend to show me this place?” he asked, feeling rather pleased by the trust that he was being offered by the female vampire and her underlings.

 

Once the pair of them had agreed to the terms that he was to be operating under while he was paying his arranged visit to whatever place that Alice Brando’s vampire underling was going to show him, Wham followed behind him and found himself wondering just what it was that he was going to find when he finally arrived in whatever hidden place that Alice Brando had deigned to invite him to visit.

 

=BT=

 

“Oh, Straizo!”

 

The sound of Joseph’s voice, cheerful and full of enthusiasm as it ever was, drew his attention to where Alice’s retainer – the man who Jojo had told him had originally been a practitioner of Hamon, alongside the elder Zeppeli and another man named Dire – was seated at a low table, before the tub of spun sugar that Robert had known to expect would be sitting before him simply from the tone of Joseph’s voice. There was a clear, if subdued, expression of annoyance upon Straizo’s still-youthful face, as he seemed to deliberately pluck up another puff of the spun sugar he was eating with that strange utensil that had clearly been designed for the sole purpose of preventing his gloves from becoming sticky when he was enjoying that odd delicacy that he seemed to have developed a distinct kind of craving for.

 

“Come on, Straizo,” Joseph said, and Robert could all but hear the large, wheedling grin that the younger Joestar would naturally be wearing as he attempted to persuade Straizo to part with at least some of the spun sugar that he possessed; a task that Robert personally doubted that even Alice herself would have been capable of, if she had had any interest in such things in the first place.

 

“There are plenty of shops where you would be able to purchase a confection such as this, Joseph Joestar,” Straizo said, clearly having decided not to pay Joseph any mind; though Robert personally doubted that such a resolution would hold if Joseph decided to make a move toward him. “Therefore, I do not see why you continually hound me when I attempt to enjoy mine. You make very little sense, Joseph Joestar.”

 

“You make very little sense, Joseph Joestar,” Joseph said, at the same time as Straizo himself said those same, seven words.

 

Looking up from the newspaper he’d been reading, wanting to keep abreast of any new developments that might have pointed to the appearance of one of the two remaining Pillar Men, Robert saw Straizo glare in clear annoyance at Joseph’s antics, before the most subtle expression of pleasure came over the vampire’s face. The soft swish of a Tibetan Hamon master’s robes drew Robert’s attention, and he turned to see Jojo himself making his way into the room where Straizo and Joseph were sitting while they rested from all of the upheavals that were part and parcel of the battles they had all taken part in not so very long ago.

 

“Joseph.”

 

“Gramps!” Joseph exclaimed, all but spasming himself off of the davenport where he and Straizo had been seated while the latter had been attempting to enjoy his confection while the former had been attempting in vain to persuade him to part with it.

 

There was a definite air of smugness to the way Straizo continued eating his spun sugar as Jojo hauled Joseph off, berating him all the while.

 

“Did you manage to plan all of that, Straizo?” he asked, feeling rather amused at the prospect that the vampire had managed to set Joseph up to receive one of Jojo’s many lectures on propriety from the man himself.

 

“Not precisely,” the vampire said, as he closed the tub of spun sugar that he had been eating out of, carrying it and the utensil he’d been making use of over to the far right side of the room where the pair of them had been seated while they had been resting from everything that had happened to them during their various battles with the Pillar Men. “However, I did hear him coming.”

 

Chuckling deep in his throat, even as he watched Straizo hide away his spun sugar in a concealed cabinet that he then locked with a miniature key that he then concealed back up his left sleeve, Robert watched as Straizo released the latch he had been holding, allowing the cover-plate that he had previously pulled back slide down into place once again. Clearly, that cabinet of his had been designed for the sole purpose of thwarting any attempts that Joseph might have made at laying his hands on the sugary treats that Straizo had purchased for his own enjoyment. For just a moment, Robert found himself wondering if Alice had built it for him, or if Straizo had had it commissioned when it became obvious that Joseph wasn’t about to be deterred by something so simple as a plain refusal.

 

=BT=

 

Joseph seemed bound and determined not to listen to him, acting up in that same, melodramatic way that he’d become so terribly familiar with after living for so long with Dio; even going so far as to fall back dramatically upon his bed, moaning and twitching like a corpse in a theatre play. Sighing as he folded his arms, Jonathan pulled Joseph up from the bed where he’d thrown himself in such a terribly dramatic fashion.

 

“Straizo hardly put me up to this, Joseph,” he said, in response to his grandson’s exclamation as he fell back upon the bed the pair of them had been standing before.

 

“I know,” Joseph said, sitting back up on the bed with a sigh. “Still, you have to admit that it was rather convenient for him,” Joseph continued, folding his arms with a rather petulant expression upon his face.

 

Shaking his head, Jonathan settled down next to Joseph as his grandson chuckled softly. “You and Dio can be such a terrible trial, sometimes.”

 

“Yeah, but I’m sure you love us anyway,” Joseph said, that same, wide grin on his face that Jonathan had seen so many times before.

 

Patting Joseph strongly on the head, Jonathan firmly ruffled his grandson’s hair. “Of course I do,” he said, smiling back with all of the tenderness he felt for each and every member of his family.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing his eyes as he looked down at the address where he’d been sent, once Frau Brando and her people had finished conferring with Frau Joestar, Rudol Von Stroheim frowned as he realized that it was actually a candy shop. He didn’t know what the vampire had been thinking, to send him on such an absurd errand, but then Frau Brando did tend to make plans that operated on levels that very few people would look for or think to see coming. And so, gathering himself for what he was about to do, Rudol made his way into Sergeant Pepper’s Fine Chocolates.

 

Glancing around at all of the people looking at the many and varied confections on display amid the shelves and display units that stood within the shop, Rudol made his way over to the counter that had been clearly labeled for the purpose that he’d been sent to this shop for in the first place.

 

“I’m here to pick up an order,” he said, sliding over the ticket that he’d been given by Frau Brando when she’d sent him out on this strange errand that he was currently on.

 

“Ah, yes, order number 867-5309,” the man behind the counter said, smiling as he handed over the package of sweets that had evidently been prepared for him at the behest of the vampire who had sent him out to fetch such an absurd thing in the first place. “One pound of hand-packed cherry cordials.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, taking the package and making his way back out of the candy shop once again.

 

Grumbling softly as he made his way back to the car that Frau Brando had dispatched to transport him to and from the candy shop, Rudol climbed inside and settled himself down in the back of the touring car. Behind the tinted glass that allowed him to see out, if dimly, but would not allow a single person in the city to catch a single glimpse of what was going on behind those mirrored windows, Rudol found himself all the more curious about just why in the world Frau Brando and Frau Joestar had both been so damnably insistent upon sending him out to fetch a box of candy, of all things.

 

However, when he opened the package that Frau Brando and Frau Joestar had been so insistent upon him being the one to fetch for them, Rudol laughed aloud when he saw the contents. Only the finest Swiss chocolates indeed! Grinning as he settled back into his seat once more, Rudol firmly closed the box and turned to look out the window as the car he was in made its way steadily back to the compound where Frau Brando, Frau Joestar, and all of their comrades in arms were presently staying.

 

Firmly tucking the box underneath his right arm, Rudol made his way into the compound before him, flourishing the ID badge that he had been granted when it had become clear that their present battle against the remaining Pillar Men would necessitate the setup of a base of operations from which all of them would be able to stay in together.

 

“Ah, Rudol,” Frau Joestar said, a slight smile upon her face as the pair of them spoke with each other for the first time in roughly an hour. “I trust you managed to find what you were sent out for, right?”

 

He chuckled. “Yes, Frau Joestar,” he said, grinning as he fell into step with the woman as the pair of them made their way to the conference room where they were all due to meet up with the remaining members of their battle group, so that they could begin making plans for the next stage of their battle against the two remaining Pillar Men.

 

“Good,” she said, briefly lowering her sunglasses and flashing him an amused expression from the bright, steely blue eyes that she habitually kept concealed for whatever reasons of her own that he’d not yet learned.

 

When the pair of them had covered the rest of the distance that remained between them and the conference room, Rudol saw Frau Brando herself making her own way up to the large table that Herr Zeppeli and Herr Joestar the elder and the younger were all settling in around, themselves.

 

“Elizabeth, are you certain that bringing the Red Stone back out for this was truly wise?” Herr Joestar asked, as Rudol set the box of cherry cordials down on the conference table, opening it once again to reveal the Red Stone of Aja settled neatly in the center of the elegantly-styled chocolates. “I know that it was part of the prophecy that had been passed down from Master Tonpetty, but…” Herr Joestar paused for a long moment, his broad shoulders seemingly bowed by some kind of incredible, though intangible weight.

 

“It was made clear to the both of us that this was the only thing that would be able to grant humanity our final, total victory against the Pillar Men,” Frau Joestar said, picking up the Red Stone and displaying it for all of those present to see.

 

“Still,” Herr Joestar the elder said, gaze fixing upon the Red Stone for a long moment, before seeming to have to almost physically force himself to return his attention to Frau Joestar once again. “A great many things have changed, since the days when Tonpetty received that prophecy and made their plans to face the Pillar Men.”

 

“Is something wrong, Jonathan?” Frau Brando asked, narrowing her eyes in thought as she considered the man.

 

With a heavy sigh, a clear sign that there was something more to his melancholy than the man was willing to say, Herr Joestar the elder all but dropped back into his seat. Narrowing his own eyes as he studied Herr Joestar the elder along with all of those present within the conference room, Rudol considered just what it might have been that had caused such a reaction in such a previously controlled man.

 

=BT=

 

When he and the Pillar Man named Wham had made their way down into the undercity that his liege Lady had established when she’d truly began to form the ranks of her Dinosaur cavalry, Bruford found himself wondering just what the ancient creature would make of the presence of such ancient beings all around them. All of the animals around them were zombies, of course, but not every one of those present in this undercity was a member of his liege Lady’s fighting force.

 

Or even remotely suited for combat at all, in fact.

 

It was the latter of those kind, a creature by the name of Tiktaalik, that he was currently seeking. And, when he caught the scent of the meandering stream that had been created in mimicry of the lost world that Tiktaalik had inhabited, back when the first creature to walk the earth on four legs had emerged from the shelter of its watery home.

 

“You seem to be searching for something,” Wham observed, as the pair of them pressed deeper into the underground habitat that had been set up for the benefit and protection of the many and varied zombies that his liege Lady had raised from the depths of time where they had once been resting.

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling softly as he made his way over to the stream at last. “This creature was the first to set foot out of the waters where all life arose from at the dawn of time.”

 

Settling down by the near side of the creek that ran through this section of the underground habitat, Bruford looked down into the water. And there, eeling its way around and over the rocks that had been so carefully placed within the stream, in order to provide at least some shelter from the moving water when the creature desired to rest for either a night or a moment, was the very creature that Bruford had come to this place in search of.

 

“You brought me to this place for a fish?” Wham asked, sounding as though he was confused by the situation he had found himself in, but also as though he was willing to hear what it was that Bruford had to say.

 

“As I said, this creature was the very first to walk upon the surface of the Earth,” he said, reaching out to take a handful of cubed meat from the refrigeration unit that was periodically refilled by those who knew of and worked in this place, and holding them out to the Tiktaalik as the creature made its way up and out of the water to feed upon them.

 

“Yes, I suppose that would be worthy of respect,” Wham said, as the Pillar Man settled down next to him, watching the Tiktaalik as it fed, making its way slowly across the small spit of land that steed between it and the lagoon that the creature enjoyed so much.

 

Turning to watch as the Tiktaalik dropped into the lagoon with a flat splash, Bruford smiled as he watched the creature swimming away. And, while it was true that the creature wallowed and almost stumbled while it moved around upon the land, once underwater again, it revealed itself to be a much swifter and more graceful creature.

 

“I expect that this place does not merely act as a shelter for those creatures that your vampire rode into battle, yes?” Wham asked, as the pair of them stood back up once more and began making their way further into the undercity that sheltered the ancient creatures that his liege Lady had brought forward from the many worlds that had been lost through calamity or simply time.

 

“You would be correct about that,” he said, brushing off his trousers as he fell into step before Wham, as the pair of them continued on their way once more.

 

=BT=

 

When Alice had begun disseminating those photographs of herself wearing the Red Stone of Aja in an effort to draw Kars into an untenable confrontation with her forces, Jonathan had found himself entirely too conflicted by the situation that was swiftly building up before him. On the one hand, he knew that Alice and all of her forces were perfectly capable of coming out the better after a confrontation with the sole remaining Pillar Man. Or, at least the one who still seemed to be bound and determined to confront them.

 

On the other, however, the memory of Master Tonpetty’s final prophecy would not allow him to rest at ease with the direction that their battle seemed to be going.

 

“Herr Joestar, come!” Stroheim called, grinning in that slightly unhinged way the man always seemed to do when he was facing the concept of battle; it was one of the reasons that Jonathan could not find it in himself to trust in the man, no matter how many times he found himself fighting beside the Nazi major. “We’re moving! The operation is underway!”

Chapter Text

“Of course,” he said, sighing as he stood up from the desk he’d been seated behind, writing in his journal about the many and varied upheavals that he had found himself facing in the weeks and months that he had rejoined Alice and her people in Rome to face off with the threat posed by a great many of the Pillar Men.

 

He’d no way of knowing if he would ever be able to return to this room of his, or to finish the latest journal that he had begun once he had once again run out of room in the last that he had been using. Sighing as he made his way down the stairs and out to the motor pool where all of their forces were beginning to assemble, Jonathan gathered his Hamon, flushing it through his body to purge the remaining aches from the tension that had been pressing down so hard upon him for so long. There was little he could say or do, now that it Alice and her forces – alongside those of Speedwagon’s self-named foundation, and even a sprinkling of Nazis that Stroheim had clearly been able to convince to come along with them by some means or another – had assembled and were clearly about to begin moving out in earnest.

 

There was Caesar, giving last-minute orders and instructions to a unit of riflemen who had been armed with the same kind of long-range UV-rifles that Jonathan had seen so many times before; there was Joseph, hitching up the straps of a large, sturdy tank of water that would provide his grandson with all of the weaponry he would need during the confrontation to come, or at least Jonathan found himself hoping that it would; there was Stroheim, along with a small knot of Nazi soldiers, and also those robotic dinosaurs that his forces and Alice’s people had collaborated upon; there was Straizo, Dio, and Alice herself, all wearing the armor that Alice had so diligently created and worked to improve over the half-century that she had lived as a vampire. Making his own way over to the trucks that would take them to their present destination – Kars had, as expected, taken Alice’s challenge and then issued one of his own – Jonathan flushed his body with Hamon in order to clear it of the few lingering aches that always seemed to build up when one was resting for too long in even the most comfortable of chairs, and then made himself as comfortable as he could in the front seat of one of the two lead trucks.

 

He’d little enough hope of knowing just what mad scheme Kars had had in mind when he had issued his challenge to Alice in the first place, but even seeing the phrasing that the Pillar Man had used had not helped so much as he would have wished; all he knew, in the end, was that Kars had hatched some mad idea of pitting his own creations against those he seemed determined to think of as Alice’s.

 

Jonathan himself was not fond of the idea – that Kars still thought of the men and women who had set themselves forward to serve as a part of Alice’s guard forces to be little more than the creations of his and Dio’s sister – and he knew from the expression on her face that Alice herself disapproved of the idea nearly as much as he did, but Kars had long since proved himself far too set in his ways – far too dangerous – to be allowed to live freely in the world that Alice had worked for so long to create. Sighing as he found himself jolted by the sudden lurch of the truck as it started up, Jonathan looked out onto the passing landscape as it blazed by. Kars had chosen the site of their battle, and while he’d often heard that one should not fight on ground chosen by one’s enemies, Jonathan felt that the Pillar Man’s own arrogance would keep him from preparing the grounds to any true extent.

 

The ground they were going to be fighting upon was that which stood outside the Coliseum in Rome, and Jonathan could not help but find himself wondering what they would be facing when they all arrived. He knew that it was likely to be at least a small army of vampires, if not a large one, since Kars had proven himself all too adept at creating armies for himself. However, unlike Alice, Kars seemed to favor humans in place of the ancient creatures that his and Dio’s sister had revived to fill out the ranks of her own forces.

 

A select few of them were being brought to this confrontation, but as Kars did tend to favor vampires as the bulk of his forces, the ancient zombies that made up Alice’s heavy cavalry had for the most part been left behind at the facilities that Speedwagon and his people had created and maintained for them to inhabit.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing his eyes as he beheld the approach of his pet and her entourage, Kars grinned as Wired Beck made his way up to him.

 

“I still can’t believe that you haven’t punished that terrible woman for being so rude when we met,” the vampire mewled, a thoroughly discontented expression on his face.

 

Scoffing, even as he began to see the graceful form of his pet in the lead transport, Kars found himself grinning as he beheld his clever little pet dressed for war the way she was. True, there was little chance that she and her human pets would be able to triumph over the power and experience that such a long existence as his had granted to him, but watching as she herself realized such a thing would be quite amusing in and of itself. Still, all of that would have to wait for the end of the battle; until he’d utterly crushed the last of his clever pet’s toys and brought the few worthy members of her forces into his fold.

 

Signaling to his vampire forces to hold, Kars made his way forward even as the large transport that had carried his pet – as well as that aggravating male counterpart of hers, and the other who seemed to function as a sort of right hand to her – stopped, and the doors to either side slammed open in order to allow the three vampires inside the chance to present themselves before him.

 

“I’m glad to see you were able to make it out this far on such short notice, pet,” he said, as his vampire made her way up to him, adorable expression of quiet defiance upon her lovely face; her male counterpart hissed at him, and was as amusingly infuriated as ever when Kars flicked his eyes over the creature and dismissed it just as simply as such a one deserved.

 

“Well, I could hardly let you and your fellows continue this pointless little rampage of yours,” she said, narrowing her lovely eyes in an expression that would let all of those beneath her know just how little regard she held for them; the fact that she thought she could look at him in such a fashion…

 

Well it had become more than clear, after all of their previous encounters, that after he caged this clever little hawk of his, he was going to need to train her properly.

 

=BT=

 

When Kars gave the signal to his vampire forces – an army that would have been fairly daunting to anyone without the proper weapons and training to cope with the abilities even a newborn vampire could bring to the table – Alice had long since been prepared to give the order to her own. When the units of rifle-armed men and women piled out of the transports that had brought them to this battleground in the first place – with Caesar naturally in the lead – none of the vampires present seemed to know how to react. Pleasantly enough, that vampire with the annoying voice that Kars had been so unutterably rude as to dump on her – on top of the way he’d invaded one of her summer homes and forced her to destroy such a large portion of it when she’d made a break for freedom again – was the first one to take a shot full in the face.

 

Clearly, someone had either forgotten the fact that she’d armed her people with long-range UV rifles, or was hoping that she’d forget to bring them for some reason or other.

 

Well, either way, Kars had clearly been disabused of such a stupid notion in one of the most permanent ways possible, and was now looking quite a bit more wary of any other unpleasant surprises that she might have waiting in the wings to spring on him. It was gratifying, in a way, to know that Kars was going to take her more seriously from now on. On the other hand, having more of his attention would inevitably cause complications in the future.

 

The remaining vampires that Kars had brought with him to this confrontation that the pair of them had arranged – each in their own ways, of course – all pressed forward, once they had borne witness to the death of the vampire with the annoying voice. A firm tap on the right side of her helmet caused the spring mechanism to snap shut once more, folding out neatly around her head and so serving to protect her from any of stray UV light that she might have otherwise had the misfortune to end up on the wrong end of during the kind of chaotic fracas that these kinds of battles had entirely too much potential to devolve into.

 

Narrowing her eyes as she heard Elizabeth’s light tread coming up behind her, and then the familiar crackling of Hamon as her niece-in-law obligingly filled the synthetic Aja Stones that she’d so carefully set into the back of her armor, charging them up so that Alice would be able to at least make some use of the energies that had proved to be such a double-edged boon in the past. And would likely prove so in the future, considering what the energy actually was, in the end.

 

The vampires surrounding them all surged forward at the order from Kars, and Alice whipped the Hamon-conducting scarf that she’d added to her armor-set – once she’d managed to craft a working Hamon-storage medium rather than simply a means of deflecting the energy that would have otherwise caused her the same kind of problems that William Zeppeli and his intractable stubbornness had caused her in the past – over her head and swept it through the ranks of vampires crowding around her and Elizabeth. The vampires around them fought like a mob: completely undisciplined, with only the sheer weight of their numbers posing a danger to those they were facing. Of course it was those same numbers, that when filled with Hamon and tossed back in among the flailing masses of undead bodies pressing in all around them, that made such good short-order bombs.

 

Really, all Kars had done when he’d sent this pack of brainless, low-grade cannon-fodder at them was to provide her forces with a thoroughly target-rich environment.

 

=BT=

 

“Useless, useless, useless!” he, Dio, laughed as he wielded the sword of cloth that Jojo’s Hamon had given him the ability to use against the worthless vampires that that equally worthless Pillar Man had thought to send against his sweet sister and the illustrious, well-trained forces that she had gathered about herself during the course of their company’s existence.

 

“Dio, are you doing well?” Jojo called back, Hamon-charged fists slamming into the ranks of imbecilic vampires that Kars had been so foolish as to set against them, the same fussiness that he, Dio, had heard from him so many times in the past suffusing his tone.

 

“Well enough, Jojo,” he said, chuckling softly as he jammed his silken sword through the head of a vampire attempting to leap at him once more. “How are you managing, hmm?”

 

“Better, now that I know you’re all right,” Jojo said, just as he, Dio, would have expected.

 

Grinning as he turned back to his own work, Dio felt the tell-tale subtle crackling as Jojo obligingly fed more Hamon into the ingenious energy-storage array that his sweet sister had designed for this second-generation armor of hers. Laughing wildly as he, Dio, whipped the Hamon-conducting cloth up and over his head and into the ranks of the lesser vampires that miserable bastard Kars had seen fit to sic upon them all, he watched with glee as they dissolved into screaming heaps of ash. Grinning, Dio turned to the next group that had so obligingly presented themselves before him.

 

They staggered around like fools, snapping like dumb beasts and stumbling like the mindless rabble they had clearly been even before Kars had recreated them as vampires; his sweet sister’s forces would have no trouble from them.

 

=BT=

 

“There seems to be no end to these vampires,” Stroheim groused, and Caesar smirked under the breathing-mask that would allow him to employ his Hamon even under the chaotic conditions of the battlefield they were all currently standing on.

 

“You should know that the Boss has a saying just for times like this,” he said, bringing his rapid-firing UV rifle up to his shoulder and sweeping it through the rabble of vampires that were possessed of such suicidal determination to reach the transport truck where he and Stroheim were standing, even in spite of the massive numbers that had already perished in the attempt.

 

“And what would that be?” Stroheim asked.

 

Caesar grinned, hearing the rising hum of his ally’s own UV rifle. “We’re not outnumbered; this is simply a target-rich environment!”

 

Even more of the enemy vampires fell, either to his own UV rifle, or to the robotic dinosaurs that the Boss had collaborated with the Nazi and some of his people on, and Caesar allowed himself to relax slightly; their struggle might not have been over, but at least there was the promise that it would be, soon enough.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing his eyes as he watched the steady destruction of the forces that he had brought to this battle with him, Kars found that he couldn’t quite manage to keep a smirk from pulling at his lips as he watched his pet work. It seemed that she was even more brilliant than he’d been led to expect; seeing the artificial Red Stones – they had to have been manufactured through some means, because there had never been a single Stone of the size, clarity, and purity of the ones that he’d seen adorning the back of her armor – under that Hamon-conducting cloth that he’d only had the opportunity to see on such a rare number of occasions that he’d been honestly surprised to see his pet and a select few of her forces draped in lengths of the cloth. Surprised, of course, until he remembered the sheer brilliance that his clever pet had demonstrated on so many occasions.

 

Truly, if she was able to manufacture Red Stones to her exacting specifications, then a simple piece of cloth – no matter its other properties – would doubtless prove no more trouble than that; likely less, in fact.

 

Narrowing his eyes as he adjusted them once again, Kars sought for and found his clever pet among the ranks of her forces. True, she was fighting alongside one of the meaningless, interchangeable humans who she allowed to hang off of her like clinging vines that some careless gardener had neglected to prune away, but that was simply one of the flaws that he would make a point to correct once he finally managed to cage that little hawk of his. Still, for the moment there was the matter of her remaining forces.

 

This farce of a battle, while it was meant to bring him ultimate victory, wasn’t a thing that would be won by the forces he’d created; no, that would be for him, and him alone.

 

Grinning as he made his way through the battlefield, the screams and shrieks of dying vampires echoing all around him, Kars made for the line of transports that had brought his clever pet and her forces to this place. Even if one of those humans had attempted to persuade her to bring it into battle with her, Kars knew that his little hawk would have been too clever to allow herself to be convinced of something that foolish.  Still, anyone who had taken the time to learn as much about his clever pet as he had could not help but notice the way she coddled the humans who flocked around her; one of those transports had to be the hiding place for the Red Stone that he had sought for so long.

 

With the vampires that he had brought with him into this killing ground that his clever hawk had made for them as cover for his own activities, Kars moved closer to the transports.

 

=BT=

 

Breathing deeply and rhythmically to keep her Hamon flowing, Elizabeth charged the faltering storage matrix in her Aunt-in-law’s armor, before returning her attention to the vampires all around them. She didn’t know what Kars’ ultimate goal was, since anyone with any sense at all would know that a vampire with access to the knowledge and resources that Alice Brando possessed as a matter of course would have so little trouble dealing with even this large an amount of them that it was all but guaranteed to be an exercise in futility to send them in the first place. Of course, given what she’d heard about Kars – most of it from Alice, since Dio firmly despised even the mention of the Pillar Man – there could very well be more to this than any of them currently knew. Still, all of that could wait for later.

 

For the moment, there was still the matter of the vampires crowding in around them; not a one of them seemed to possess the sense to retreat in the face of the clearly overwhelming odds they had been set against by the Pillar Man that had created them, and for the most fleeting of moments Elizabeth almost pitied them. She knew from the reports she’d read – both from the Speedwagon Foundation, and Alice’s own Brando International’s Paranormal Science Initiative – that vampires could just as easily be created from unwilling humans as those who had chosen to take up the Stone Mask for their own purposes. There might very well have been people who wished nothing more than to live untroubled lives, in among those who had given themselves over to Kars and his mad ambitions for their own, fleeting taste of power.

 

It’s not a pleasant thought, but Elizabeth keeps it in the back of her mind; it’s also one more reason that Kars needs to be destroyed, considering all that he had proven himself willing to do in pursuit of whatever aims that such a man would possess.

 

And so Elizabeth returned her attention to the vampires surrounding her, and the thought that some of them might very well have been little more than slaves tossed in as cannon-fodder before them only made her resolve that much sharper; her Hamon that much stronger, and her reactions that much swifter. Not a single one of Kars’ vampires make it through the impenetrable ring of death that she and Alice make of this part of their battlefield. Even when the Hamon that she’d lent to her vampire Aunt-in-law inevitably ran out, Alice simply pulled an ice-crafted pair of vicious looking trench knives from the very air around them; the first of the vampires to launch an attack on her after that finds those same knives imbedded in its head, torn in half in from the force of her leap, before she lands on the next one with the sheer power of a truck collision.

 

=BT=

 

Glaring at the pair of humans – one of those annoying Hamon users, as well as that one he’d seen in the company of his clever pet but never taken notice of before this point – standing atop the middle transport, each of them facing one of the ways that he would have needed to approach from in order to search for where the Red Stone must have been hidden when one of those fool humans had managed to convince his clever but soft-hearted pet to bring it along with them, Kars growled softly. This was a complication that he hadn’t foreseen, but perhaps he should have, all the same. After all, while his pet did allow those humans of hers far more latitude than she should have, she was far from stupid.

 

Truly, he should have been expecting the transports to be guarded.

 

Smirking as he turned back to the vampires that he’d employed to distract her attention while he made his move, Kars found himself almost involuntarily raising an eyebrow as one of those lumbering creatures – dressed on fitted armor that seemed designed to shield them from the bursts of ultraviolet light fired from those odd weapons that a great many of his pet’s human forces had been equipped with. Clearly, they were some manner of zombies raised by his pet.

 

Not one of them was the Tyrant Lizard that her irritating male counterpart had ridden into battle with him, so that was pleasing, at least.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing his eyes as yet another of Kars’ vampires collapsed into dust before him, Jonathan searched for the Pillar Man himself. He’d not seen hide nor hair of the terrible creature – a being that could devour the vampiric members of his family with but a touch, and had used such an ability to do unforgivable things to Dio – since Alice had met him before the commencement of their battle. It was not what he had been expecting from such a terrible creature as Kars, and Jonathan could not help the horrible thought that there was more to this battle than any of them had been led to believe. It was what Alice would have done – what Joseph would have done, as well, if he’d been the kind to plan and execute grand battles such as this one – presented her opponent with something large and obvious, in order to conceal the more subtle objectives that she had in mind.

 

It was plainly obvious when one considered how many of her personal properties had been riddled with secret doors and concealed passages, and how unnervingly good she’d become at giving meaningless concessions in order to gain prizes that would otherwise remain beyond her.

 

He didn’t like thinking about it, but there had been something in Kars’ eyes that reminded him of Alice; it reminded him of those during the American Civil War, times when they would discover a new atrocity perpetuated by those who still held their fellow men in bondage, or else one of the armies that had been fighting in the conflict that had inevitably erupted between those who had desired to continue such depraved acts, and those who had seen the cruelty of a system that shattered families apart and subjected their fellow men to such conditions that no humane person would have forced upon even a beast of burden. There had been no kindness in his and Dio’s sister’s eyes when she would receive reports of either a new atrocity, or else a slave encampment that had not been liberated by the Union soldiers on their march into the South. And yes, Jonathan himself felt little in the way of softer feelings for the men who’d been involved in such a horrid trade.

 

Still, what they had been made to face, once Alice had inevitably brought her own forces into the conflict…

Chapter Text

His and Dio’s sister had never been the type to make use of any zombies but those of the ancient beasts she raised from bones and dust, and at the time he’d been glad for such a thing. That had, of course, been before he’d seen the results of Alice’s full ingenuity unleashed; before he’d seen untiring legions of clockwork soldiers marching out of the workshop she’d established on the former site of a town that she and hers had dismantled to its very foundations after a group of innocent young men had been falsely accused of the most grievous assault on a young woman of the town and executed in the most horrible manner conceived of in the modern era. And quite before Alice had unveiled her most terrible invention, shattering the morale of both armies and forcing all of them to come to an accord.

 

Alice had called them Hunter-Killers; she’d only built five of them, and five was all it had taken.

 

They were self-propelled, for a start, and armored in the most durable alloys that Alice’s facilities had been able to create. Such a thing would have been enough of a horror, but their armaments… Those had been the true horror of the Hunter-Killers: each of the five had been armed with a pair of gimbal-mounted swivel-guns, terrifying chain-fed weapons that had created an almost incomprehensible rain of death in the single battle that had seen them put to use.

 

There had been a single man – General Nathan Bedford Forrest – who had charged at the lead Hunter-Killer on his steed; he’d been sucked under the iron treads of the weapons platform with barely even a scream.

 

And, while it had been true that that man had been one of the most inhumane men that the Confederate army had ever produced, even such atrocities as he had committed merely merited a court-martial and either imprisonment or hanging, depending on what had been decided by due process of military law. Still, the horrible sound of flesh and bone being ground into the dirt as the Hunter-Killer rolled inexorably over him, spitting death at a rate that still terrified him when he chanced to think back on it, haunted Jonathan even to this day. Kars’ eyes… more than anything, they reminded Jonathan of those moments when Alice’s tolerance for the vagaries and foolishness of those around her would come to an end, and she would sweep them away with a terrifying finality.

 

More than anything, the thought terrified him, because he had also seen the way that Kars looked at Alice.

 

More than anything, Jonathan suspected that Kars felt his own kind of twisted kinship with Alice, and it was that side of her that attracted him. The thought horrified him on a myriad of levels, and so provided more than enough impetus for Jonathan to fight as hard as he could against the Pillar Man and whatever cruel ambitions he might have ultimately had. Because, while his and Dio’s sister might very well have had a streak of ruthless pragmatism that was frankly and honestly terrifying, she could always be brought back to herself once whatever issue had been troubling her was resolved to her satisfaction.

 

The thought of Alice in Kars’ hands horrified him, particularly in light of something he couldn’t forget her saying, back when they were all children; before the Stone Mask, before zombies and dinosaurs and Pillar Men, before animal blood and Hamon and William Zeppeli. He couldn’t remember who Alice had even been speaking to, or what had ultimately prompted such a reply in the first place. He could only remember her words, and the blank indifference in her eyes when she’d spoken them: I don’t care about most people, what makes you special?

 

It was not that he thought Alice malicious; far from it, in fact. Malice, after all, required an active interest in those around oneself, twisted though such a thing might have been. Alice was incapable of malice, simply for the fact that she barely took any notice of those around her, unless they held some sort of purpose to her; even most of those in her employ barely provoked the interest that Alice naturally devoted to her many and varied projects.

 

Truly, even the kindness she offered to those around her was of the same, indifferent sort; merely her way of slipping the notice of most people.

 

Narrowing his eyes as he continued searching for the last of the Pillar Men that had set themselves against Alice, Speedwagon, and the combined forces that both of their organizations had brought into this battle – Bruford had reported sometime earlier that their initial impressions of Wham had borne out: the second-last of the surviving Pillar Men was indeed an honorable sort, and was hence being kept from such a needless battle as this one – Jonathan turned his attention to Dio, once it had become clear that he would not be able to find the Pillar Man on his own.

 

“Dio!” he called, turning to watch as his vampire brother whipped the Hamon-conducting scarf that he, Straizo, and Alice all wore about the neck of their armor through another group of Kars’ forces. “Dio! I lost sight of Kars in this fracas! Do you think you might be able to find him?”

 

More than anything, that caught his brother’s attention; if anyone could have been said to have the right to hate Kars, it was Dio.

 

What?!” Dio demanded, the furious expression on his face plainly obvious, for all that the only part of his face actually visible was that which showed through the shatter-resistant glass of his slit-visor.

 

“I’m afraid that, in all this chaos, I wasn’t able to keep my eyes upon him,” he informed his and Alice’s brother, sending a Zoom Punch into the remaining ranks of vampires surrounding them.

 

Dio growled, freezing a pair of nearby vampires and then shattering them utterly with a heel-kick that propelled him over the heads of those that had once stood between the pair of them with its residual momentum. “Clever bastard,” he said, sounding as though such a sentiment physically pained him, though Jonathan knew that pain of that sort was limited to humans. “Did you happen to catch sight of where he might have gone, at least?”

 

“No, unfortunately I was too preoccupied with those in front of us to look for where he might have been going,” he admitted, as Dio landed beside him, freezing a trio of vampires who had thought to attack him while he and his brother had been speaking.

 

“I suppose there’s nothing for it, then,” Dio grumbled, even as he wrapped his armored arms around Jonathan’s waist and leaped with power that even Jonathan, with his mastery of Hamon, couldn’t manage. “We’ll simply have to search for him!”

 

Breathing slowly and deeply to channel the remaining Hamon that remained to him with his strength waning as the night wore on, Jonathan turned his attention back to the search for the Pillar Man who had made his escape in the same way that Alice herself would have done, had she been faced with the same circumstances as this. Searching as hard as he could, while he and Dio hovered in the air in the wake of another leap that took them over the battlefield once more, Jonathan spotted someone else they needed to speak to. When the pair of them landed next to Speedwagon, Jonathan allowed himself to rest for a moment.

 

“Jojo!” Speedwagon called, hurrying over with a smile upon his weathered face. “It seems that you’ll be done with this battle soon! I’m glad to see you’re both doing so well, though.”

 

“It’s good to see you again as well, Speedwagon, but I’m afraid that this battle is just a ruse,” he said, steadying himself as he stepped away from the comforting circle of Dio’s arms. “Kars is merely using these vampires as a cover for his own ambitions. It’s clear to me that he’s seeking the Red Stone of Aja.”

 

“The Red Stone?!” Speedwagon’s expression twisted into one of horror. “Elizabeth managed to convince Alice to bring it here! It’s stored in the lead truck!”

 

“I know,” he said, thoughts involuntarily returning to the expression of annoyance that had crossed Alice’s face at the mention of the prophecy Elizabeth had cited as her reasoning for bringing the Red Stone along with them; he knew that, if his and Dio’s sister had been given her way, the Red Stone would have never left the safe it had been stored in ever since he’d taken possession of it from Master Tonpetty. “I suspect that Kars is under the same impression; these vampires are meant to be a distraction for us, I know it!”

 

“You’d best go on, then! Both of ya!” Speedwagon exclaimed. “If Kars gets his hands on that Stone, the world is done for!”

 

“I know,” he said, nodding firmly. “Inform the others as soon as you can! Dio and I will delay him as long as we’re able!”

 

Feeling the armored arms of his and Alice’s brother wrapping around him once more, in just such a way that he could still maintain the deep, rhythmic breathing that would allow him to channel Hamon when he would inevitably need it, Jonathan steeled himself for the battle he and Dio were about to engage in. There would be little recourse for them, alone with the Pillar Man – a predator that fed even upon vampires themselves – until and unless Speedwagon was able to summon the remaining forces that had come to support them in this battle of theirs. Even Caesar and Stroheim had ultimately been driven off by some means that Kars had employed.

 

While Dio’s high leaping carried them steadily closer to the three transports that had carried the bulk of their forces to this battleground, Jonathan found himself reflecting back upon the prophesy that Master Tonpetty had given to him. Kars was clearly the wicked old tree that he’d mentioned, and Dio’s habitual nickname for Alice told him plainly who the owl was, but he’d still not managed to parse the phrase that referred to the twisted branches of that selfsame tree. However, with the ground falling away beneath him as Dio’s leap carried them the remaining distance that had formerly stood between them and the transport trucks that had been all but abandoned in the wake of the attacks that Kars’ vampire forces had been so persistently making upon them all, Jonathan knew that he’d no more time to think upon such a thing.

 

There was little time for anything but the Pillar Man he could now see; who was, even as he watched, turning to look up at the pair of them with an amused sort of malice in the bloody crimson eyes that every vampiric being seemed to have inherited from him.

 

“Well, it seems I’ve drawn your attention.”

 

“Kars!” he snarled, his own voice almost blending with Dio’s as the pair of them faced the Pillar Man who had been the ultimate author of so much suffering; even that of Dio and Alice themselves, when the Stone Mask that he created had pierced their brains and transformed them into creatures that could never truly stand under the light of the sun ever again. “For everything that you’ve done to our family – no, to the world as a whole! – I swear that the both of us will end you this very night!”

 

His pronouncement was met with only a coldly amused chuckle from the hooded Pillar Man standing before them. “Really? Just the pair of you? Human and vampire?”

 

Something in the way Kars’ tone twisted would have made the word an insult, if Jonathan had been the type to count the words of a creature such as Kars for anything.

 

A pair of strange, glistening blades – even longer than the Pillar Man’s own forearms themselves – emerged, shimmering in the remaining light from the transport trucks the three of them were currently gathered around. Even through his armor, Jonathan could see the way that Dio tensed.

 

“Jojo, I can hear those blades humming from here,” his brother muttered in his left ear, as the pair of them drew steadily closer to the Pillar Man as he prowled around the three lead transports. “They sound like some kind of chainsaws.”

 

“So, you do know how to use those senses of yours,” Kars said, grinning in that same, arrogant way that Jonathan had seen so many times on the Pillar Man’s face. “I’d been wondering.”

 

The almost feral growl that forced its way out of Dio’s throat prompted Jonathan to bar his and Alice’s brother’s way, before Dio could leap at Kars; that had to be what the Pillar Man had been planning, to bait Dio into a confrontation, and then trap him or devour him outright.

 

=BT=

 

Breathing heavily, Caesar raised his UV rifle and checked the charge on the power-cell: half depleted. It seemed that both his Hamon and his energy was steadily coming to its end, though in the case of his rifle he did have a spare power-cell. A trio of Stroheim’s robotic dinosaurs prowled around him, their metallic finish scuffed and a pair of them showing dents from the battle that had raged all around them. The battle itself had begun to wind down, with most of the vampires that Kars had thrown at them reduced to puffs of ash after the barrages of Hamon, volleys of UV rifle fire, and the glare of the lights that had been installed on the robotic dinosaurs that the Boss had collaborated with Stroheim and his people to create.

 

Still, there was something off about the whole thing; he couldn’t have said what it was, even if the Boss herself had been the one asking him, but it gnawed at him all the same. Shouldering his way through the gathering crowd of soldiers, forming up in ranks according to the training they had been receiving for so long. Caesar was pleased to see it, but didn’t allow himself to be distracted by that kind of thing.

 

The sight of Stroheim, hurrying toward them at a pace that only just missed being a run, prompted Caesar to narrow his eyes even as he turned; there wasn’t much doubt that he was reporting on a bad turn in the battle.

 

“I just received a report from Speedwagon!” the Nazi reported, coming to a stop just short of where Caesar and his gathered forces were reassembling their ranks. “This was all a ruse! Kars was making for the transports just as soon as he managed to drive us off!”

 

So, it wasn’t just me; there was something rotten here, he mused, narrowing his eyes even as he gave the order to his forces to form up on him once more. “Right! We’ll be right behind you.”

 

There was the expected rounds of salutes and acknowledgements from the soldiers all around him, and Caesar quickly fell into step with the Nazi who had been supporting them in all of their battles against the Pillar Men. All of them except one, given what I heard from the Boss, he mused, as they all began moving out.

 

=BT=

 

“Get out of my way,” he said, kicking the left transport at the foolish, male vampire who had dared to challenge him; even with the protection of the brilliantly-made armor that could only have been designed and built by his clever pet, such a thing was the height of foolishness.

 

He knew that the only true place for the Red Stone to have been placed was in the transport that his pet had been riding in; soft she might have been, but no one who’d watched her so long as he had could ever call his pet a fool. So he didn’t bother concerning himself with either of those transports where the scent of humans emanated from most strongly. Glancing over at the male vampire, as the foolish creature actually caught the transport as opposed to doing something sensible such as dodge before such a heavy thing could have fallen upon him, Kars dodged in turn as the vampire tried to throw the transport at him.

 

It was a futile effort, of course, but it seemed that the male vampire had actually learned something from his clever pet’s influence.

 

“Dio!” the Hamon user called to him, actual concern in his tone.

 

He still thought it rather odd, that a Hamon user would find himself in the company of two vampires – perhaps even three, depending on what the relationship between the Hamon user and his pet truly was – but this particular Hamon user seemed to have been tamed quite well by his pet during the course of her work. It was fascinating, the kind of holds his pet seemed to have developed over her inferiors. Still, everything else he’d seen of his pet’s handling of them indicated that she would need the training only he could provide for her.

 

Once he had completed her transformation into the glorious Pillar Woman that she deserved to be, Kars would see to it that his pet was made to understand how to properly deal with her inferiors.

 

=BT=

 

Fuck; fuckity fuck fucking fuck fuck, Alice groused, running at top speed back to the trio of transports that she and hers had traveled out to this battleground of theirs in. She probably should have been expecting Kars to be using these vampires of his as some kind of cover for his actual objective; both since the Pillar Man didn’t seem to have much regard for anyone besides himself, and because it was something that she herself would have done, if in a rather different way. Really, Kars did seem to have an uncomfortably large amount in common with her.

 

It was weird, and troublesome in a lot of ways, but the fact that she could at least make some guesses as to Kars’ next course of action by thinking about what she herself would have done under similar circumstances had its uses; she just had to remember to actually do it.

 

Grabbing a flying transport just before it could have gone over her head, Alice quickly righted the thing, setting it back down on its wheels before she turned her attention to the place where Jonathan and Dio were fighting Kars. It seemed that the Pillar Man had realized just where she’d put the Red Stone. Running her tongue over her top left fang in annoyance, both for the fact that she’d let Elizabeth convince her to bring the stupid thing in the first place – prophesies were nothing but trouble, really – and for the fact that Kars was either the recipient of one hell of a windfall of blind luck, or else he was starting to be able to predict her moves just as well as she could predict him.

 

Either one would be troublesome, but it was the second that would be slightly more difficult to adapt to.

 

Kars, clearly having heard her approach from where he was – having torn the passenger-side door free from the lead transport, and clearly ready to fling it at Dio and Jonathan with the next move that either of the two made – whipped around as she took her first steps onto this new battlefield of theirs.

 

“Pet,” he said, that same annoyingly arrogant grin on his face as every other time he’d seen her; it was getting old, but Alice knew that there was no point in letting herself get riled up by that kind of crap. “I’m glad to see you made it so quickly, but do allow me to take care of these pests for you.”

 

Sighing in a resigned sort of annoyance, as Jonathan and Dio shouted the Pillar Man’s name in what sounded a fair bit more like blind rage – and a nigh-homicidal amount of it, in Dio’s case – than would be good for any of them, Alice dodged around the door that the Pillar Man had flung at her brothers, yanked the flying door out of the air, and sent it blasting right back at Kars. Just as she’d been expecting, Kars back-handed it out of the air, but it did delay him long enough for her to make it over to where Jonathan and Dio were standing.

 

She and Dio moved close enough to lean their cheeks against one another, communicating in the way that the pair of them had spent such a long time developing; one that allowed them to speak privately, even in the presence of other vampires.

 

­“What kind of an alarm did you place on that Stone of ours, sister dear?”

 

“Sonic alarm; if he manages to get that compartment open, you’re going to want to have your eardrums detached.”

 

“Well then, we should see about preventing such a thing, sister dear.”

 

The pair of them separated quickly, moving to reinforce Jonathan before Kars could make another move against them. Jonathan quickly gathered his Hamon, recharging their storage matrices before gathering Hamon to himself so he would be able to fight Kars, as well. The feel of charging feet, carried up through the ground through both of her armored sabatons, obviously drew Kars’ attention as well. Before she, Dio, or Jonathan could make another move – faster than even she or Dio were able to react – Kars leaped through the newly-opened cab of the lead truck.

 

The brain-shattering, shrieking wail of the alarm she’d set on the glove compartment, for the few moments it took for her to neatly disassemble her eardrums, brought an almost involuntary growl from deep in Alice’s throat. Leaping to the top of the transport, Hamon crackling through the scarf still wrapped around her neck, Alice whipped the charged scarf forward, aiming for Kars’ right hand, where the Pillar Man had the Stone. However, Kars was even faster than she’d been expecting, dodging backwards as her Hamon-charged scarf slammed into the rocky ground at his feet.

 

Leaping down from the transport that she had been standing on, Alice caught sight of Dio leaping down right beside her, and the pair of them dashed after Kars. She’d caught a flash of that same, annoyingly cocky grin on the Pillar Man’s face, and as she reassembled her eardrums after having gotten far enough away from the transport that she didn’t have to worry so much about sensory overload anymore, she heard Dio’s sustained, furious wrryy. The sound of Stroheim’s voice, calling out to his robot dinosaurs to command them to attack Kars as the Pillar Man sprinted away from them all, drew her attention back to the fact that it wasn’t just on her, Jonathan, and Dio to fight against Kars.

 

It was a rather pleasant thought, that; still, it wasn’t as though many of them had a chance against Kars, considering just how overmatched she and Dio seemed to be.

 

When Stroheim’s robot dinosaurs dashed off after Kars, their group splitting around her and Dio as they continued on their way, Alice shifted aside to allow them to pass, and then followed swiftly in their wake. If nothing else, they would make good cover for her and Dio to move under. The sound of Jonathan’s familiar footfalls behind her brought the slightest of smiles to her face, and as she heard the crackle of Hamon within the crystal matrix of her armor, Alice signaled to Dio, and the pair of them leaped lightly up onto the back of the robot dinosaurs in front of them.

 

As Stroheim gave the order for his ranks of robotic dinosaurs to fire the UV-lasers that Alice had installed in their mouths, Alice prepared herself to fight again. Once Kars had been frozen in place by the UV beams, she and Dio would be able to smash his stone form to gravel; something Dio was clearly going to revel in, of course. Narrowing her eyes as she watched Kars trying to shield himself from what was coming for him, Alice wondered what Kars’ next move was going to be.

 

He had to have one planned; it was what she would do, after all.

Chapter Text

The familiar feel of the spines of his stone mask, driving themselves into his brain as they hummed with the power of the Hamon that his pet and her forces had so generously given to him, brought a pleased smile right back to his face as he his body began to hum with the new power that his latest iteration of his mask was even at this very moment granting to him. As the mask, its purpose fulfilled, shattered into fragments from the overload of Hamon that the Red Stone had channeled through it, Kars stepped forward to collect his clever pet.

 

She’d leaped onto one of those constructs of hers, riding on its back in a clear effort to attack him when he had been incapacitated by the UV lights that she had mounted within their mouths.

 

Truly, he’d have to remember to congratulate her for such a thing, once he’d polished off the last of his little hawk’s flaws. Dashing forward, through the beam of UV light that was still being projected from that construct she was riding and even over the screams and dismayed cries of the human pets that she had gathered so close around her, Kars opened his arms to scoop her up. Smirking as she leaped backwards, once again willing to concede such a meaningless concept as pride in order to secure something that truly mattered to her, he leaped forward a second time.

 

Such a thing was just one more reason that his little hawk properly belonged with him.

 

=BT=

 

The sight of sunlight gathering at the eastern horizon, a sight that had brought such hope to him during the times when he, Alice, and Dio would hunt wicked vampires during the time the three of them had spent in Tibet during his training under Master Tonpetty, brought no such feelings into Jonathan’s heart on this day. The sight of Kars, his hood torn away by either his own efforts or the spines of the new mask that he had obviously been carrying with him; like as not for just such a situation as this, was not one to grant any of those who stood here against him hope.

 

“Hmm, what a lovely sight,” Kars said, arrogant even in his pleasure. “The light of the sun is a truly wondrous thing,” Kars turned to Alice, a hint of cruel amusement arising on his face as his bloody crimson eyes locked upon her armored form. “I suppose I should apologize to you, pet,” Kars said, raising his arms as though he was going to make another grab for Alice where she was standing, right hand hidden behind the curve of her hip. “But, there’s only room for one ultimate life form in this world!”

 

A wave of blackness – No, those are feathers! – spread down from Kars’ shoulders, all the way up to his hands, which were themselves transforming into what looked like the clawed wings of some immense bird. Kars leaped into the air, making a diving grab for Alice, even as his and Dio’s sister dove out from under him, running as fast as any vampire was capable of. Kars whipped around, following in Alice’s wake with a horribly arrogant cackle.

 

“Mr. Joestar!” Caesar called, drawing his attention before Jonathan himself could have set off after his and Dio’s sister.

 

“What is it, Caesar?” he demanded, feeling the urgency of Alice’s flight from Kars as a vice around his very heart.

 

“I’ve made contact with Straizo,” the young Italian said, a serious expression on his face as the pair of them faced one another. “We need to move quickly, if we’re going to be able to meet up with him.”

 

“But Alice-!”

 

“She’s buying us time!” Caesar shouted, before he could finish so much as a single sentence. “Now, come on! Straizo is going to be here soon!”

 

=BT=

 

Well, this is a hell of a thing, Alice mused, charging across the empty landscape with Kars flapping the shiny black wings that used to be his arms, eating up what distance that she tried to put between the pair of them. It always seemed to be something that she was dealing with; whether it was the oddity of actually being able to intercede in the Civil War, when she’d thought that she and all of her siblings had been born too late for that kind of thing, or running like hell from some crazy birdman that wanted to… Well, she didn’t know what Kars ultimately wanted from her, but she knew enough about the Pillar Man’s personality to know that she wanted nothing to do with it.

 

The sound, and then the scent, of some small animal falling towards her drew Alice’s attention up to… Of all things, a rabid squirrel that was falling down toward her. Shifting slightly, Alice swatted the thing with a high-speed evaporation freeze, shattering it under her foot as she kept running. Pulling a couple loops of her hair through the tremor-sensors that she’d installed on the top and the back of her helmet – for those times when she was operating under the sun, and thus couldn’t really stick her hairs out in order to sense the delicate vibrations in the air that would tell her the locations of things when she couldn’t turn around to see them for whatever reason – Alice narrowed her eyes as she sensed a large collection of wriggling somethings dropping down towards her.

 

Well, at least I have his attention, she mused, chilling her hands as she gathered a jagged handful of frozen needles in both of them, then launching herself into a leaping pirouette as she flung them up into what turned out to be a falling school of what seemed to be rather large piranhas. Really now, hissing softly as she rolled under Kars’ dive, launching herself forward in almost a sprinter’s stance, Alice tugged on her tremor-sensors as she caught the distant sound of a sonic boom. When she leaped the edge of the cliff, Kars slamming into her from behind, Alice smirked, even as she heard the shattering crack of her titanium armor and felt something digging into the back of her skull…

 

=BT=

 

Well done, pet, he mused, grinning as he gripped his clever little hawk in the security of his ribs and pulled her in close to his chest, even as he extended elastic veins from his arms and legs, pulling her limbs in close to his own so that he could fold them properly within his own malleable flesh. As he’d seen before, and come to expect from his pet when she would leave the sanctuaries that she had clearly established for established for herself throughout the length and breadth of the world, there was a secondary layer under the elegant but useless armor that he’d peeled from her insensate form as he drove her into torpor once more.

 

Regaining his position in the air above all of the forces that his clever hawk had brought to this place – forces that he would make a proper assessment of once he’d begun his pet’s transformation into the Pillar Woman that she deserved to be – Kars became aware of that same, sustained scream that he’d heard once before.

 

Turning to confront whatever it was that was making such an annoying racket, Kars found himself confronted by some kind of aircraft.

 

=BT=

 

Shuddering as he beheld the black-winged form of Kars, Jonathan came to understand yet more of the prophecy that Master Tonpetty had granted to him. Kars’ ribs, extending from his chest and wrapping around Alice’s torso like some terrible parody of the clamps that Alice herself would often use when she was constructing something or other, made more than clear just what twisted branches Master Tonpetty had been referring to in his prophecy. Only the top half of Alice’s body was visible; her arms and legs having clearly been hidden away within the folds of the Pillar Man’s flesh. Jonathan could only hope that they were merely hidden, as opposed to being devoured the way Kars had done to Dio.

 

Thoughts of his vampire brother brought Jonathan’s attention firmly back to the present, just in time for the sound of something beating against the shatter-resistant, UV-filtering glass of their plane’s canopy to catch his ear.

 

Kars!” Dio’s snarl, filled with more hatred than he’d ever heard even from his mercurial brother, almost encompassed the hatred that Jonathan himself felt for the Pillar Man who was flying above them even now.

 

Even the fact that he’d clearly refrained from maiming Alice in the same, cruel way that he’d done to Dio was no comfort, since he was clearly taunting them with her unconscious form: an elastic vein of the same kind that Dio, Alice, and Straizo would all use to extend their reach at times was wound around Alice’s right wrist, tensing and relaxing in order to send her right hand rebounding off of the canopy over their heads.

 

“Straizo, open the canopy!” Dio snarled, turning his attention from the cruelly taunting form of Kars in the sky as though such a thing physically pained him to do.

 

“Calm down, Dio,” Caesar said, though there was more of a growl in the young Italian’s voice than Jonathan thought would help any of those present here.

 

The sight of Kars’ grinning face outside the canopy of their plane, leering down in that same, cruel way that he’d seen the Pillar Man do so many times in the past… Jonathan knew that his and Alice’s brother would not be calmed until their sister had been restored to them once more. Neither would he, but Dio’s fury was not to be underestimated.

 

“Straizo, open the bloody canopy!”

 

“Dio!” he called, drawing the attention of his and Alice’s brother, before he could do something mad in the blind fury that was clearly building in him. “That’s Kars’ plan! He wants you to do something mad. If the canopy is opened at this speed, and with the plane this high in the air, we’ll all be thrown free from the aircraft as we’re in motion!”

 

Beyond that, there was also the simple fact that all of the oxygen would be torn loose, suffocating those members of their party that required breathing in order to sustain themselves. However, at the moment Jonathan knew that his and Alice’s brother was not sane enough to truly comprehend that fact, simple as it was. Dio’s anguished scream sounded nearly inhuman, but even with the maddened, helpless fury in his carmine eyes, his and Alice’s brother allowed himself to flop back into the seat he’d been settled in.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing his eyes slightly as he beheld the humans in that aircraft of theirs, Kars dismissed them; confined as they were by that metal coffin of theirs, even those vampires that tailed so obediently after his clever hawk would be helpless to stop him. A moment’s concentration saw him extruding a pair of jets from his back, and Kars turned his flightpath. There was truly only one proper place for his pet’s transformation into the Pillar Woman that she was meant to be to begin: the temple where he and his had consumed the humans who had been foolish enough to attempt to challenge their dominion.

 

=BT=

 

“The Boss used herself to buy us time,” Caesar said, leaning forward to take Dio’s armored hand. “She knows what she’s doing; trust her.”

 

“This plane is armed for combat with vampires,” Straizo said, his steady tone lending some much-needed calm to those aboard the aircraft that Jonathan and all of his people were pursuing the Pillar Man through the air to whatever destination he intended to make for when he’d taken Alice. “We have Starburst, Rattler, and Shrieker rounds,” Straizo continued, and Jonathan could just about see the thoughtful frown upon the other vampire’s face.

 

“We should probably save the Rattlers and Shriekers until we manage to get Alice away from him,” Caesar said thoughtfully. “She won’t be able to protect herself from the sensory-overload they’re designed to cause, considering the state she’s in.”

 

“Yes,” Straizo said, the steady calm in his tone a sharp contrast to the simmering tension in the plane as a whole, and the seething rage he could see on Dio’s face in particular. “Firing Starburst.”

 

Finding himself clenching his fists almost involuntarily, Jonathan forced himself to relax as he watched the Starburst missile streak over Kars’ head, breaking apart into multiple smaller magnesium-flares which then exploded into the kind of horrible, eye-searing light that would incapacitate any vampire who found themselves caught out in it. Their jet thundered over the Pillar Man’s head, turning around to unleash another Starburst missile into Kars’ path, before turning to race out of the way of any possible retaliation.

 

“Caesar, you know this area better than anyone else here,” he said, turning around in his seat as best he could so that he could properly speak to Caesar where he was sitting. “Do you know of any volcanoes close enough to reach?”

 

“Yes, of course!” Caesar exclaimed, a grin breaking out on his face as he turned back to Jonathan. “Isola de Volgano!”

 

“How long do you think we can keep him following us?” Joseph asked, seeming more than a little unsettled by the whole situation; Jonathan could hardly blame him, truly.

 

This was an unsettling situation for all of them.

 

“We’ll keep him following as long as we need to, Jojo,” Caesar said, a note of grim pleasure in his voice.

 

Narrowing his eyes as Straizo jinked the plane around, following Caesar’s directions as Kars righted himself in the air and followed quickly after them. Even from such a distance as their plane was maintaining from the Pillar Man, Jonathan could see the lines of tension and fury in every line of his body. Maintaining the deep, steady breaths that would allow him to channel his Hamon, Jonathan braced himself as Straizo accelerated the plane, turning their path steadily towards Isola de Volgano.

 

Towards a land born of fire…

 

=BT=

 

Snarling as he turned to confront the insolent pests who had dared to attack him with those infuriating weapons of theirs, Kars narrowed his eyes as he focused on the fleeing aircraft that had been harassing him.

 

“My apologies, pet, but it seems that you will have to wait a bit longer to become what you were meant to be,” he said, glancing briefly down at his clever hawk, as he turned once again to confront the infuriating creatures aboard that aircraft of theirs.

 

Redeploying the jets that he’d used to maneuver, Kars set off after that aircraft, and all of the irritating pests riding within it.

 

=BT=

 

Growling under his breath he, Dio, tried to settle himself back into his seat. He knew that his sweet sister would berate him for being so tense as all this, he knew that she would have been able to keep a level-head aside from the cold fury that would make things all the clearer in her eyes, but such a thing had never truly been in him. He knew that his sweet sister was not of a kind to approve of such a thing, but no matter how the pair of them had worked at such a thing, his temper had never seemed one to be tamed.

 

Forcing himself to at least unclench, before any of the others riding in their plane could turn around and see what he was doing he, Dio, turned to look out through the canopy once again.

 

It seemed that they were nearing the volcano that Jojo had been so insistent that they all go to, and he could see the infuriating sight of that bastard Kars through the rear monitor-cameras. He could also see the unconscious form of his sweet sister, hanging like some kind of twisted ornamentation from the ribs that that infuriating bastard of a Pillar Man had wrapped around her. Hissing as he remembered once again the way that Kars had pulled his sweet Alice into the very flesh of his body once he’d grabbed her from the back of the robotic dinosaur that she had been standing upon, he tried to settle himself once more.

 

Their plane bucked as Straizo forced Kars down with a sustained blast from the VTOL jets, and he, Dio, grinned under his helmet as the infuriating creature was pushed ever closer to the caldera of the volcano they had all finally made it to. The coup de grace was a Starburst missile, launched directly into his face as he tried to regain his lost altitude with those ridiculous wings of his.

 

Laughing aloud as he, Dio, watched Kars plummet down toward the volcano that was to be their battleground, he braced himself as Straizo sent their plane into a sharp descent.

 

=BT=

 

Breathing slowly and deeply, both to calm himself and to channel the Hamon that he and his would sorely need once Straizo had forced Kars down to the rocky ground of the volcano, Jonathan shuddered slightly as Straizo fired a last Starburst missile as they all followed Kars as he landed. The rumble of the VTOL engines as they activated, with Straizo’s firm hands guiding them to a smooth landing, not very far from the place where Kars had crashed into the ground, prompted Jonathan to close his eyes briefly.

 

You will meet your death on a land born of fire; to free an owl from the twisted branches of a wicked old tree, you will give your last breath to a young lion on the peak of a blazing mountain. Such had been Master Tonpetty’s last prophecy to him; such had been the warning that Jonathan had carried for such a long time, and it was firmly in his mind as Straizo guided them down to land on the burning ground of the volcano underneath them. Closing his eyes for just a moment, Jonathan rose from his seat at last, making his way out alongside Straizo, Caesar, Joseph, and Dio.

 

The fury that he could still see in every line of Dio’s armored body prompted Jonathan to reach for his and Alice’s brother’s right shoulder, gripping it strongly enough that the vampire would at least be able to feel the pressure through his armor. Before he say so much as a single word, however, their group of five was forced to split apart as a hail of Hamon-charged feathers – of all things – sliced through the vary air where they had just been standing. Even through the heat-distortion in the air, Jonathan could see the vortex of air created by the feathers’ passage.

 

“Get out of the way! That windstorm is as sharp as his blades!” he shouted, warning the members of his family before they could be caught unawares by what he had only just seen.

 

As Kars raised himself back up, black wings slicing through the air as they launched yet another barrage of those lethal feathers of his, Straizo and Dio leaped forward to intercept them. The scarves that the pair of them wore over their armor served to drain the lethal Hamon from the feathers, causing them to burn to harmless cinders in the heat of the volcano where the six of them were battling. The sight of Alice, wrapped in Kars’ exposed ribs, with most of her body hidden by the Pillar Man’s flesh…

 

Jonathan could fully understand, and thoroughly sympathize with, the pure rage that he could both see and hear in his and Alice’s brother’s mien.

 

“We have to get close enough to pull her out of there,” Caesar said, seemingly having to bite down on his own rage to do so.

 

“Yes,” he said, narrowing his eyes as he considered just what they were going to need to do in order to accomplish such a feat; Alice would have known in an instant, but the fact remained that they didn’t have her to guide them in this situation. Thus, it fell to them; to him, in particular. “Dio, Straizo, you two take up guard positions on either side of us; we’re going to need you to keep the air clear of those damnable feathers of his. Joseph, stay close to me; we’re going to need to get Alice out as fast as we can. Dio, how fast can you freeze one of your own kind?”

 

“Fast enough, Jojo,” his and Alice’s brother said, pure determination swiftly taking the place of the helpless fury that he’d earlier been prey to.

 

“Good,” he said; the pair of them both knew that ice acted as a barrier for Hamon, and that a vampire such as Alice could survive freezing without a single jot of harm. “We’ll need a burst of both positive and negative Hamon, in order to force Alice free from Kars’ body. Joseph, that’s where you and I will come in.”

 

“Right, Gramps,” his grandson said, nodding firmly as the four of them all took up their appointed positions. “Let’s go!”

 

With Dio and Straizo to either side, absorbing the Hamon from the feathers that Kars was almost continually launching at them now, he and Joseph were able to weather what would have otherwise have been an impassable storm of lethal, razor-sharp feathers. However, it seemed that Kars was far from the mindless barbarian that Dio was most apt to describe him as, because once it had become clear that the feathers he had been using against them were no longer going to be of any help…

 

“Are those some kind of fish?!” Dio demanded, and Jonathan could not quite tell if his and Alice brother was more incredulous or annoyed.

 

“Piranhas! They’re piranhas!” Joseph exclaimed.

 

“Mind your breathing!” he shouted, though he felt rather off-balance from the whole situation, as well.

 

“Bastard!” Dio snarled, whipping his scarf forward to sever one of the flying piranhas cleanly in half.

 

Dio and Straizo made quick work of the piranhas Kars had launched at them, cutting the creatures down with no more mercy than Kars himself had shown any of them, and Jonathan found that he could feel nothing but relief for the fact of it. Giving Dio something concrete to vent his rage on was also clearly helping his and Alice’s brother; helplessness was not something that any of their family had ever been the kind to accept with grace. Nor should it have been, Jonathan knew.

 

Dio and Straizo pressed their hands against Alice’s head just as soon as the pair of them had managed to reach her, and when he and Joseph were finally able to latch onto Kars’ body just long enough to fill the Pillar Man’s body with their opposing charges of Hamon, Alice’s frozen body was launched free as though it had been fired from a cannon. Feeling all the lighter, as Dio swept their sister up in his armored arms and dashed back from the infuriated form of Kars, Jonathan smiled slightly.

 

“Give me that!” the Pillar Man roared, black wings all but slamming into the ground with their powerful down stroke, as Kars launched himself back into the air.

 

Dio’s only answer was a blast from his Space Ripper Stingy Eyes that seared into Kars’ left shoulder, and a particularly rude gesture as he ran steadily back to the plane that they had all journeyed to this place in. A barrage of Hamon-charged feathers, thick enough to nearly blacken the sky where they passed, slammed into the side of the plane. The Hamon in the feathers was enough to ignite the remaining fuel in the tanks and the jet detonated in a horrifyingly spectacular explosion, scattering the shrapnel of what had been their only means of easy escape from this place.

 

The fact that Jonathan knew that his own life was to end upon these grounds meant little in light of the fact that his family seemed to be trapped.

Chapter Text

“Gramps!”

 

Jonathan felt himself pushed to the side, narrowly dodging another rain of Kars’ Hamon-charged feathers, he then looked over at Joseph. His grandson seemed to either have lost his breath in the effort, or else taken a severe injury. The horrid sight of Joseph’s right arm, or rather the charred stump where his right arm ended – just above the elbow, in fact – struck Jonathan to his very heart.

 

“Glad-” the harsh pants of a man in unspeakable pain cut off whatever it was that Joseph had been intending to say, but his grandson smiled grimly and forced himself to continue on in spite of that. “Glad I managed to make it in time.”

 

“Joseph,” he said, raising a hand, filled with Hamon; it wasn’t as though he could actually manage to do anything aside from easing the pain that Joseph was so clearly in, but he’d do that without a moment’s hesitation at any time.

 

“Thanks, Gramps,” Joseph said, smiling back at him, even as he steadied his breathing and the pair of them returned their attention to the mad Pillar Man that they were all facing.

 

=BT=

 

Watching as his sweet sister began to revive at last, the ice that had preserved her from the Hamon that his sweet puppy and his Little Jojo had used to free her from that bastard of a Pillar Man that had taken her captive beginning to melt at last he, Dio smiled widely under the ingenious, folding helmet that his brilliant Alice had designed and built.

 

“It’s so good to see you again, sister dear,” he said, wishing for a long moment that he could have properly greeted his magnificent Alice, now that she was recovering from this most troublesome of ordeals.

 

“It’s good to be seen, under the circumstances,” his sweet sister said, sitting back up, though there seemed to be a lingering sort of stiffness to the way she moved; he supposed that the last of the ice hadn’t yet melted, even in the heat of such a place as this.

 

It was a troublesome thing, to be sure, but hardly a disaster, considering.

 

“Stay here, sister,” he, Dio, said, reaching out to gently settle his dear Alice back onto the stone of the volcano they were all battling upon the face of. “Let us handle this boorish creature for you.”

 

“Yes,” his sweet sister said, eyes narrowing slightly, before she pulled down the flap of fabric that would act as a means of protection against the sun without the helmet that that bastard of a Pillar Man had deprived her of. “All other considerations aside, I wouldn’t be much help against a Hamon-user without my armor.”

 

Growling deep in his throat as he, Dio, remembered the sight of his dear Alice’s magnificent armor shattering to pieces as that miserable Kars shredded it, he found himself brought swiftly back to his senses at the feel of his sweet sister’s right hand upon his shoulder.

 

“Keep a lid on it, all right?” his sweet sister said, a sharp tone of command to her voice, even as he, Dio, saw her eyes narrowing behind their cloth shield. “The last thing we need is anyone here going in half-cocked.”

 

=BT=

 

Forced to dodge yet another barrage of those damnable devil fish that Kars was launching at them again, since it was clear to even an idiot that the feathers that he’d been previously using weren’t going to work on them anymore, Joseph panted as he looked over at Gramps again. Anyone, even the aforementioned idiot, could tell that the old man was worried about what had happened; or, what could happen to them, after their plane had been destroyed by that bastard of a Pillar Man. Still, there was a lot that had gone wrong during the battle against Kars.

 

For one thing, Aunty Alice had been taken out of the fight entirely; there was no way for her to use Hamon without the crystal-matrix in her armor to channel it, or the scarf that allowed her to fight more effectively.

 

=BT=

 

Glancing back at the form of his and Dio’s sister, sidelined as she was by the fact that that horrid Pillar Man had shattered her armor and thus deprived her of both the crystal-matrix and the scarf that she used to channel and use Hamon safely, Jonathan sighed. Knowing that Alice had already done everything in her power in order to ensure that Kars was trapped in this place alongside them – held down in a single place, so that he would no longer be such a danger to the Earth and all of the people living on her – gave him at least some hope that, even if he himself would not be able to leave this place alive, his family would at least be able to continue on.

 

Kars had regained the air at this point, and was clearly aiming to capture Alice once again, and so Jonathan gathered himself and made his way back over to where Joseph was standing.

 

“Hey, Gramps,” Joseph said, turning to smile at him.

 

“How are your Hamon reserves?” he asked, turning to look over at Kars as the Pillar Man climbed steadily back into the air.

 

“About back to normal,” his grandson said, glaring briefly up at Kars, before he turned back to look at him where he was standing. “Do you think we might have the chance, in our current condition.”

 

“Not in our current condition, no,” he said, sighing as he gathered himself for what he was about to do; it seemed that there was truly no escaping the fate that had been planned for him. “Still, there is something we can do.” Rather; a last thing I can do, he mused, knowing that Joseph would have attempted to stop him if he told his grandson just what it was that he planned to do.

 

Just as Alice, Dio, Elizabeth, and even Erina would have done, if any of them had been able to find out his plan in some fashion or other.

 

“All right, Gramps, sounds good,” Joseph said, nodding in the decisive fashion that he’d come to expect from his willful grandson in such situations as this. “What do we need to do?”

 

“Just give me your hand,” he said, feeling a distinct, sharp pang in his heart as he forced himself not to pluralize the word as he spoke it; it was simply one more reason that the Pillar Man before them needed to be destroyed.

 

Once Joseph’s remaining hand had been sandwiched within his own, Jonathan reached deeply into himself, gathering all of the Hamon that he had managed to generate during all of the years that he had lived in this world. This last had been a technique that Master Tonpetty had given to him, alongside the prophecy that had hung over his head for such a long time that he’d almost become accustomed to such a thing.

 

“Ultimate Deep-Pass Overdrive!” he shouted, feeling all of his remaining Hamon – every last drop of it – draining into his grandson; in the end, all that Jonathan could find it in himself to regret was the fact that he’d not get to meet any of the future generations of his and Erina’s family…

 

=BT=

 

“Whoa!” he exclaimed, as the sudden sensation of Gramps’ Hamon flooded into him, throwing his head back and nearly causing him to stumble to the ground; panting as he tried to regain at least some of his equilibrium after everything that had happened. “Gramps…”

 

Looking down at the poor, sad, old corpse that had once been his dear Gramps, Joseph gathered himself for what he was going to have to do; the first thing, of course, would be to take Gramps’ corpse to Aunty Alice so she would be able to keep it safe while he and the others dealt with that bastard Kars. Once he’d finished with that, Joseph turned his attention back to Dio and Straizo as the pair of them fought a holding action against the bastard Pillar Man who had already taken so much from them as a family.

 

“Welcome back, Little Jojo,” Uncle Dio said, as the three of them all took up their positions in battle again.

 

“Good to be back, Uncle Dio,” he said, bracing himself once again for what he was going to need to do.

 

Winning this fight wasn’t even going to be the most challenging thing he was going to have to do; explaining what had happened to Gramps, particularly to Uncle Dio, that was going to be the real problem that he would face.

 

=BT=

 

Narrowing her eyes as she felt the increased rumbling from the volcano that they were all standing on, Alice stood back up, just as Kars was suddenly launched skyward on a broken piece of the ground. Dio and Joseph had also been dragged along for the ride, but if there was anything she knew about her brother and her grand-nephew both, it was that the pair of them were fully capable of getting out of situations that would have challenged the mettle of anyone else. Making her way over to Straizo as her aide struggled back to his feet, she called out as he started looking up into the sky where the rock was swiftly ascending out of even the enhanced eyesight of a pair of vampires like them.

 

“Come on; the volcano is about to erupt! We need to be out of the caldera when it does!” Watching as Straizo’s gaze began to shift to the corpse that she’d draped over her back, she rapped out her next order in the tone that always drew her fellow vampire’s attention as well as his obedience. “We can discuss things later; but if we don’t clear the area now, we won’t be leaving at all!”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

The pair of them turned quickly, leaping the rim of the caldera and sliding their way down to the sea. Hitting the water, Alice fast-froze a raft under the pair of them just as Straizo’s gaze began to shift back to the air. Once she’d gotten Jonathan’s corpse settled in the center of the raft that she’d constructed, Alice turned her own gaze to see just what it was that her aide was so interested in.

 

“Help me steer this thing,” she said, as the falling forms of Joseph and Dio became clearer amid the mass of broken rock that was falling through the sky toward where she and Straizo were currently standing.

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

Working together, the pair of them were soon able to position the raft close enough to the point where Dio and Joseph were going to be landing that they were able to pull the pair of them out of the water before they could start sinking.

 

“Where is he?” Dio asked, as soon as he’d managed to get his feet back under him.

 

“Back there,” she said, knowing just what it was that her brother would be interested in; particularly after spending enough time with Joseph that he’d probably been informed of the specifics of what had gone on.

 

Pausing for a moment as Joseph slipped his remaining arm around her shoulders, Alice held his hand in both of hers and the pair of them made their way over to the center of the raft where they were all gathered at this point.

 

=BT=

 

“Jojo…” he, Dio, muttered, looking down at the sad, pitiful form that had once been his sweet puppy.

 

True, it was something that he’d known that Jojo was capable of doing – clearly, something that that old Hamon master had taught to him; though if he, Dio, had known about such a thing, he would have given the man such a lecture – if not in the specific, then in general because he’d known the puppy for so long. Jojo had never been the kind of person he could allow such a threat as that bastard Pillar Man to continue to exist in the world, particularly when he had the power to do something about it.

 

Sighing as he, Dio, dove into the water in order to sculpt the bottom of what was to be their transport back to the mainland that they had departed from what seemed to be such a very long time ago, he made his way back up to the surface to climb back into what had become much more of a proper watercraft by this point. Stopping to embrace his sweet sister he, Dio, continued on his way up to the side of the corpse of his and his dear Alice’s sweet puppy.

 

“Uncle Dio,” his Little Jojo greeted him, turning away from the corpse that they had both been watching over ever since his sweet puppy had sacrificed himself in order to ensure the death of that bastard of a Pillar Man who had threatened their family and the world they all lived in.

 

=BT=

 

While Dio and Joseph held their vigil over Jonathan’s corpse, she and Straizo steered their course back to the mainland so that they would be able to let everyone know what had happened to Jonathan. To say nothing of the conclusion of their battle with Kars. Once they’d arrived back in one of her holdings in Italy, Alice stepped down from what had become a makeshift boat made of crafted ice.

 

“Milady, it pleases me greatly to know that you and yours are well,” Bruford said, meeting up with the four of them as they carried their burden back towards the tower that their icy watercraft had arrived at.

 

“Not all of us,” Dio said, a slight growl to his tone as the four of them began making their way into the tower so that they could get Jonathan’s body settled somewhere.

 

There was a brief moment of hesitation in Bruford’s manor, before the old knight seemed to realize just what it was that her brother was getting at.

 

“Ah, so Sir Jonathan has come to the end,” Bruford said, making his way over to the wrapped form at the center of their group as they continued forward.

 

Bruford was quick to join up with them, taking his own position at the center of their group and propping Jonathan’s body up with his right arm. The five of them then continued on their way into the lobby of her Triestina Tower, settling Jonathan’s body down on a nearby couch, while Dio and Bruford set themselves to watch over it, and she went to inform the rest of their group about what had happened on the volcano. And also, what she’d been told of the battle with Kars.

 

=BT=

 

While Aunty Alice went to go tell everyone what had happened to Gramps, Joseph made his way back over to the couch where Uncle Dio and Bruford were sitting with his corpse. Wrapping his arms around Uncle Dio, as the vampire turned to look his way, the pair of them settled down into the plush cushions and allowed themselves to rest for the first time since this whole thing had started.

 

“My Little Jojo,” Uncle Dio muttered, blond hair tickling his chin as the vampire tucked his head against Joseph’s left temple. “Why do you think Jojo didn’t tell me, Dio, what he planned to do?”

 

“I think Gramps was thinking of all of us,” he said, feeling as though something of Gramps – aside from even the Hamon that Gramps had given to him at the very end of his life – lived on in him, even now. “I think he didn’t want any of us to be worried about him, considering what was going to have to happen.”

 

“It had to happen?” Uncle Dio echoed, something fragile in his manor, even for all the bluster he was clearly starting to build up.

 

“Considering what kind of abilities Kars was demonstrating, I don’t think there was any way for all five of us to survive,” he said, shuddering slightly as he recalled the sheer power and abilities that Kars had been demonstrating, even up to the point where he’d managed to overpower the Pillar Man and maneuver him into the place atop the volcano where he’d been able to launch him out of the atmosphere.

 

It almost reminded him of the way Dad had died; though his plane had broken apart in the upper-atmosphere, coming down as a shower of shooting stars while he, Mum, Uncle Speedwagon, and Uncle Dio had all watched in the kind of helpless horror that could only truly be experienced by someone on the ground when they were watching as someone so high in the air died in a blaze of fire and light.

 

Still, at least there was the hope that Kars wouldn’t be coming back from such a thing, just as Dad hadn’t been able to do such a thing, in the end.

 

Still, as the three of them all settled down on the sofa together, each trying to get a handle on what had happened in their own way, Joseph found himself wondering what would happen next.

 

The next couple days, as they got the funeral arrangements made for Gramps and got everyone up to speed on just what had happened to Kars at the conclusion of such, seemed to pass in something of a blur. Everyone seemed to be feeling the same, though, so at least Joseph hadn’t found himself alone in all that.

 

“Little Jojo,” Uncle Dio said, making his way into the room he’d been given within Aunty Alice’s Triestina Tower, draping himself around Joseph’s shoulders as though he was some kind of vampire mink stole, or something.

 

“Hullo, Uncle Dio,” he said, gently pulling the vampire’s arms over his shoulders, so that the pair of them could settle more comfortably into the large chair that had been placed within the large room that had been given to him when he’d gotten settled in the Tower along with the rest of their family,

 

Uncle Dio had been getting a bit more clingy of late, ever since Gramps had died; not as though Joseph didn’t understand why such a thing had happened, but it was something he’d become almost uncomfortably aware of during the duration of their stay. Still, it was clear that Uncle Dio had been cast fairly adrift by being forced to essentially watch as someone he’d loved and cared about for so long as he had Gramps had died while he’d been ultimately helpless to do even a single thing about it. It had to be the worst feeling in the world, especially for someone like Uncle Dio.

 

=BT=

 

“You’re certain about this?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Bruford as he unclipped the clasp of his cloak, and then slipped the cloak itself off.

 

“Aye, milady,” Bruford said, nodding in that way he did when he was certain about something that he’d decided to do. “I feel that I have seen enough for two lifetimes.”

 

“Well, it is your decision,” she said, and then smirked slightly. “Though you’re going to be the one that has to explain this to Tarkus, you know.”

 

Bruford chuckled softly. “Aye, I could hardly do anything less.”

 

=BT=

 

When their family, extended and immediate, had all gathered for Gramps’ funeral, he couldn’t help but notice the fragility in Uncle Dio’s demeanor; even after all this time, it seemed that Uncle Dio hadn’t quite managed to come back to himself. Even with all of the support that he still had from Aunty Alice in particular – to say nothing about Granny Erina, Uncle Speedwagon, and Straizo, Bruford, and Tarkus – Uncle Dio still hadn’t managed to pull himself back together again. It was one of the saddest things that Joseph had ever seen, knowing what kind of person that Uncle Dio had been, and then seeing just what the death of Gramps had done to him.

 

So, even as he was making plans to marry Suzie Q, Joseph was also talking to her about making a place for Uncle Dio to stay in whatever home they managed to establish for themselves when the pair of them were finally able to settle down.

 

=BT=

 

Turning at the sound of a rather familiar voice, grumbling what were clearly the kind of Elizabethan-era flavored obscenities that the man had proven himself to be so fond of – particularly when she’d told him about the terminology that was used to describe the era he came from – Alice raised an eyebrow as she watched Tarkus stomp his way into the room that she’d taken up a position in.

 

“I didn’t know if you were going to show up for this,” she said, stepping slightly to the left so that she could make some space for Tarkus to stand at the window beside her.

 

“Even though he is being a damned fool, he shouldn’t do this kind of thing alone,” Tarkus grumbled, folding his thick arms across his broad chest as he faced the large, UV-filtering picture window that stood before the balcony overlooking the eastern expanse of the Italian city.

 

Without another word, Tarkus knocked on the tempered glass that separated the pair of them from the open balcony where Bruford was standing, looking out toward the still-darkened horizon. Or, at least he had been, before Tarkus’ knocking drew his attention back to the pair of them where they were standing. Watching as Tarkus and Bruford both pressed their hands against the glass that separated them, palms flat against one another’s, Alice smiled slightly as Tarkus glared in response to Bruford’s calm smile.

 

It was rather interesting, watching the interactions of two people who had known each other long enough to be able to communicate without words, in the same way that she and Dio were sometimes able to do when they interacted; still, it seemed as though she wasn’t going to have that kind of a chance for much longer.

 

When the sun finally began to rise, with Bruford opening his arms wide as though he planned to embrace it, Alice narrowed her eyes as she watched the man’s body crumble under the harsh light of the sun as it poured down on him. Tarkus sighed harshly, having clearly inhaled deeply for just such an occasion, and as she flipped the switch that would extend the bulletproof, anti-UV glass shielding around the balcony that Bruford’s armor was now sitting on, Tarkus stomped out onto the balcony to fetch it.

 

“What are you planning to do with that?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as she watched Tarkus carry Bruford’s empty cuirass back into the room where the pair of them had been standing while they stayed with Bruford in his final moments.

 

“If it’s all the same to you, Milady, I’ll be keeping it in my room from now on,” Tarkus said, glancing briefly at her, before returning his attention to the cuirass he was holding.

 

“Very well,” she said, nodding as she turned to make her way back to her office.

 

There was still work to be done, of course; as the CEO of a massive international corporation, there was always work to be done.

 

=BT=

 

As he made his rounds of the Boss’ holdings, searching for Old Man Speedwagon at her behest, Caesar found himself wondering just how the old man was doing. Something had seemed to go out of him, when he’d heard the news that Jonathan had died on Isola de Volgano, and the Boss had asked him to keep an eye on the man while he was rambling about the grounds of her Santa Barbara estate. He didn’t know just what he was going to find, once he’d laid his eyes on the man, but he was going to find him, all the same.

 

Once he’d made his way out to the elegant gardens that the Boss maintained, Caesar caught sight of Old Man Speedwagon, facing the statue of the dog, peacock, and owl that Dio and Jonathan had commissioned as something of a centerpiece of the garden.

 

“So, this is where you ended up, Old Man,” he muttered, making his way over to check the man’s pulse; as he’d almost been expecting, there wasn’t one.

Chapter Text

He, Dio, had been careful to establish a routine with regards to his visits to his sweet puppy’s grave; after all, his sweet sister had often proved that the appearance of normality was often the most unbreakable of shields.

 

“Happy birthday, Jojo,” he, Dio, said as he set down the slice of delicious fudge cake that someone within the ranks of the caretakers had proven to be so fond of, if the note that he had received from them the last time that he, Dio, had made his way to the old Joestar manor was any indication. “It’s so good to be able to see you again.”

 

Left unsaid, of course, was how much better it would have been if he had actually been able to see his sweet little puppy once again. Still, there was a way that he, Dio, would be able to keep at least something of his dear, sweet little puppy close by. And, considering the way that he’d elegantly crafted such an appearance of harmlessness in all of the time that he’d spent in this quiet little graveyard that had been established at the far end of the Joestar estate, the caretakers were more than willing to allow him, Dio, free access to all of the graves that stood within the small plot.

 

As he, Dio, discussed the more prosaic aspects of what had happened during the course of the last year, he was also keeping his tremor senses attuned to detect any of the caretakers who might have been close enough to see what he was truly planning. Once he was certain that he was as completely alone as one could be when one was still within the bounds of a human settlement he, Dio, turned his attention to the matter of the excavation that he’d truly come back to this lonely place to perform. The scent of warm earth all around him would have overwhelmed the scent of the chocolate cake that he, Dio, had brought to this place with him; at least if his senses as a vampire had not been greater than that of any human who had ever lived.

 

Hello again, puppy, he, Dio, mused with a smile as he brought up the ornate coffin that Jojo had been buried in. Now, I have something for you to keep, he reflected, as he extracted the bones from his thighs; he’d spent quite the long time extracting the marrow from them, so that he would be able to bring at least some life back to the dry bones that he, Dio, was bringing up from the very ground beneath him. And now, I’ll have something to keep from you.

 

Settling Jojo’s recovered thigh bones into his own flesh he, Dio, set his own extracted bones into the coffin in just the same place as Jojo’s had once been. Carefully settling the coffin back in its hole and setting the dirt that had once covered it back to rights he, Dio, rolled the turf back over the exposed ground, taking the time to make certain that any of the humans who worked in this place would be able to tell that it had been disturbed in the first place. Standing back up once again he, Dio shifted upon his newly resealed legs.

 

It did feel slightly odd, as he pulled his pants back up and set his clothes firmly back to rights once again, but as he, Dio, began to make his way back out of the Joestar plot and back through the estate that he’d once lived in alongside his sweet Alice and his adorable puppy, he smiled as he set off once more.

 

“I shall see you again next year, Jojo,” he, Dio, said with a bright, calm smile upon his face.

 

Continuing on his way, back to the car that he’d left behind when he’d made his way back to the estate where he, Dio, had stayed for such a long time during the course of his life as a human, he smiled as the door was opened for him.

 

“Vanilla Ice,” he, Dio, said, nodding to the man that had taken the place as his retainer in the same manor that Straizo had appointed himself as the retainer to his sweet sister.

 

“Lord Dio,” the man said, bowing deeply to him as he held the door of the Jaguar open for him.

 

“Take me back to the airport, Enya,” he said, crossing his legs at the ankles as he settled back into the plush seating at the back of the Jaguar he’d had specifically designed with his preferences in mind.

 

“Of course, Lord Dio,” the old woman – well, old compared to most of the other humans that he, Dio, maintained an association with at present – said, and he could see a pleased smile on her face as she took them all back to the holdings that he, Dio, had established within Egypt.

 

He’d be particularly pleased to make his way back, considering the plans he had in mind…

 

=SC=

 

Taking a deep breath of the dry, spicy-scented desert air – such a contrast to her home back in Cardiff, and also to a lot of the other places that Father would find himself travelling to in his capacity as one of the Brando Corporation’s Quality Assurance officers – Loreena McKennitt smiled as she settled back into the chair in the café she was seated at, sipping from the mocha she’d bought for herself. Picking up her sketchpad again, Loreena flipped to an empty page and began working on a picture of the veritable sea of sand dunes that their plane had passed over when their family had made the journey into Egypt in order for Father to make certain that the products that the branches of Brando International were putting out were up to the standards that had been set out in the company’s charter.

 

The sound of a pair of footfalls making their way over to the table where she was sitting drew Loreena’s attention to where a couple of men were standing next to each other; one of them in particular was more than a little familiar to her.

 

“Oi, Mr. Brando!” she called, when it started to become more than a little obvious that the unfamiliar man was starting to wish that Dio Brando was as far away from him. “I didn’t expect to see you here!”

 

“Little Lori!” the man exclaimed, turning his attention to her, and incidentally allowing the man he’d probably been flirting outrageously with to escape from him; which, with a distinctly grateful look in her direction, he did. “How marvelous to see you again, my dear,” he said, wide grin on his face as he sauntered over and practically poured himself into the chair next to her. “How have you been lately?”

 

“Things have been good,” she said, smiling both for Mr. Brando, and for the fact that she’d managed to help that man escape from him.

 

She knew the kind of outrageous flirt that Mr. Brando could be, and also how overbearing the man could also be when he put his mind to it; it wasn’t really the kind of thing that most people liked having to deal with for a long time. In fact, only his twin sister seemed to be able to keep a leash on him with any degree of certainty. Still, as the pair of them discussed her father, his work, and what she herself had been doing while Father was making his rounds in this part of the world, Loreena found herself relaxing as she and Mr. Brando spoke to one another.

 

Even though the man was an outrageous flirt, and more than a little overbearing, but for all that he was ultimately harmless.

 

Once the pair of them had parted company again, Loreena turned back to her sketchpad and began sketching once more. Finishing the last dregs of her mocha, Loreena got up from the table where she had been sitting and began making her way to the park that she’d seen on her way to the street café where she’d got the drink in the first place. Looking for a comfortable bench beneath one of the trees within said park, Loreena smiled as she made her way over to one and settled herself down to continue sketching.

 

=SC=

 

Once he, Dio, had made his way back to the hotel and spa that he’d been establishing for some time, he found himself smiling all the wider. Seeing Little Lori again, even though she wasn’t quite so little as she had been when he, Dio, had last seen her, had been a treat. Even though she had distracted him from speaking to that interesting Egyptian that he’d spotted on his way through the city. He’d seen in her eyes that such had been her intent from the start, but the resulting conversation had been interesting enough that he’d been willing to indulge the girl, if only to satisfy his own curiosity.

 

“Enya,” he called, pitching his voice to carry through the expanse of his home as he removed the elaborate coat that he, Dio, had been wearing in order to shield himself from the sun while he was out and about during the course of the day. “Have you managed to acquire that antique you were searching for?”

 

“That I have, Lord Dio,” the woman who had attached herself to him, Dio, nearly as soon as the pair of them had encountered one another on that long-ago summer’s day said.

 

As he continued over to the rack to hang up his coat he, Dio, heard the familiar sounds of Enya’s footfalls making their way through the hall and into the main room that he was standing in once more. Shedding his shirt and hanging it on the hook next to the jacket that he’d been wearing during his trip through Cairo he, Dio, turned to see Enya making her way back into his main room holding a large bow and what seemed to be an ornate, stone arrow.

 

“So, this is the antique that you’ve been searching for for such a long time,” he, Dio, said, narrowing his eyes as he contemplated the weapons that the withered old woman was presenting to him. “And, you say that this will grant me, Dio, access to even greater power than that which the Stone Mask itself granted.”

 

“Indeed it will, Lord Dio,” Enya said, looking up at him in that worshipful way that a great many people that he’d met during the course of his eternal life tended to do; it was something that his sweet sister had never truly come to approve of, though she tolerated it with an amused sort of good-humor when she found herself confronted with such a thing.

 

“Very well, then,” he, Dio, said as he presented himself before the withered woman who had attached herself to him for such a large proportion of her human lifespan. “I, Dio, invite you to proceed.”

 

As Enya drew back the string of the bow she was holding, aiming the ornate stone arrow squarely at him he, Dio, braced himself for what was about to happen. True, as a vampire he was immune to any form of physical pain, but there were more kinds of pain in this world than strictly the physical. He, Dio, had learned the lesson both painfully and well.

 

He still didn’t like thinking about it.

 

When the arrow struck him he, Dio, felt as though he had been stuck by far more than a simple carved stone… It felt as though he’d been struck by all of the thunderbolts in a storm, each of them woven together into some kind of unimaginable super-bolt of some kind. It had been a long time indeed since he, Dio, had had the urge to breathe in the manner of a human; however, when the arrow struck him he, Dio, had to admit that such a temptation had been present.

 

=SC=

 

The sudden flash of… something startled Alice out of the meditative state that she usually fell into when she found herself with no immediate, pressing obligations, and she sat back up in her seat. The closest she could come to describing what had happened was that it’d felt like some kind of high-voltage electrical jolt had passed through her. It was hardly the strangest thing she’d had happen, but it was at least odd enough that Alice knew she’d probably be best served checking in with Dio.

 

Odd things happening to her with no explanation always did seem to lead back to her capricious twin, in some way or another.

 

Still, there was the matter of her meeting with the contractor to discuss the construction of a new building in the general area of France where her company was looking into expanding toward. That kind of thing seemed like it could wait, at least until she’d managed to settle the matter of the new facility she wanted to establish. Once her private plane had landed in France, Alice got up out of her seat, thanked Straizo for his work as her pilot, and made her way down the folding stairs and into the hangar.

 

=SC=

 

Turning to watch as the figure that he, Dio, had summoned from deep within his very Self – something that was called a Stand; at least according to what Enya had said, so many times that he’d almost found himself struggling not to memorize her spiel – he made his way over to the apparition that he’d named The World. Both for the tarot cards that that handsome stranger Muhammad Avdol had seemed to favor for making his predictions, and for the power that he intended to lay claim to. Because, while it might very well have been true that his sweet sister had brought a great deal of the world as a whole to fawn at her knees, there were still places that stubbornly resisted the gifts she brought.

 

As well, there were… other uses that he could see for such a divine power as a Stand; uses that could not truly be supplanted by even the most ingenious of his dear Alice’s inventions. At present, however, it remained to be determined just what this Stand of his was capable of. It would not do, after all, to be uninformed about what had become such an intrinsic part of his being.  His sweet sister had, after all, impressed upon him the great value of information; truly, it was always better to have as much as one could.

 

=SC=

 

After she’d finished meeting with the contractor – a rather excitable man by the name of Philippe Collins – Alice continued on her rounds about the small, French town where she was looking to build her newest facility. She’d always done this, once she’d settled on a place to begin construction, since making her facilities blend into the landscape and architecture of a place more often than not helped in making them more acceptable to the people she was trying to work with.

 

The sound of a scuffle, far-off enough that whoever was fighting had probably thought they were safe from interference by either the authorities or just people passing by on their way through the town, saw Alice turning her path toward the sounds of the scuffle that was occurring rather far off from where she was currently standing. Narrowing her eyes as she drew close enough to begin seeing what was going on, Alice realized that it wasn’t two people scuffling with one another, but what seemed to be an old man attacking a much younger woman.

 

Folding her arms in annoyance as she hurried her pace, Alice tracked the sound and the sight of the pair of them to a dark alley under the light rain that was falling over the city where she currently was.

 

Lightening her steps, so that she would be able to stalk up to the man without the risk of him hearing her when she drew close enough for human senses to begin registering her presence, Alice closed with the bald man that was now looming over the young woman – little more than a girl, Alice realized, once she had the chance to study the pair of them in more detail – catching the bald man by the back of his shirt collar, and casually tossed him into the wall of the alley they were all presently standing in.

 

“Rude,” she muttered, making her way over to the girl and helping her back to her feet. “Where are your shoes?” she asked, turning her attention to the girl she’d just rescued. “On second thought, give me a moment.”

 

Turning, she kicked the bald man back into the alley wall that he’d clearly stumbled away from, and turned her attention to dealing with the bald man. It seemed as though the girl would keep, at least for long enough that she could deal with this cretin.

 

“I’ll let you off with a warning this time, little man,” she said, narrowing her eyes as she drove her right heel into the bald man’s gut; he was one ugly son of a bitch, too. Uglier than she’d seen in some time, really.

 

Before she could get another word out, however, Alice was forced to whip around, grabbing the extended wrist of a strange, fast-moving figure. Raising an eyebrow as she beheld the figure whose motion her actions had arrested, Alice found that it looked a bit like Altaïr crossed with a Bedouin, oddly enough.

 

“Interesting,” she muttered, studying the figure whose right wrist she’d grabbed hold of; when it tried to lunge at her, under what seemed to be the direction of the ugly son of a bitch she’d originally started out dealing with, she used the figure’s own momentum to twist it around and stab it with what looked like some kind of a retracting knife that stuck out of its wrist. The sharp tang of human blood drew her attention back to the bald man she’d originally started out dealing with. “Very interesting.”

 

A large patch of seeping blood was slowly spreading down from his shoulder; it was an odd mirror of the shoulder of the figure that she’d stabbed with its own blade.

 

Making her way over to the bald man again, she grabbed him – the odd figure in the Assassin / Bedouin garb seemed to have vanished once again – dragged him back to the mouth of the alley, and threw him into a Dumpster by the side of the road.

 

“Well, now that we’re done dealing with that miscreant,” she said, casting an annoyed look back at the mouth of the alley before turning her attention back to the girl she was talking to. “What happened to you?”

 

“He chased me into this alley, miss,” the girl said, fidgeting with her fingers a bit. “I… I don’t think he meant anything good.”

 

“Yes, I expect you’re right,” she said, narrowing her eyes in the bald man’s direction. “Were you headed anywhere in particular, before you were accosted?”

 

“I was going to meet up with my brother, miss,” she said, as Alice made her way over to the girl.

 

“Well, I don’t see you making it very far without shoes,” she said, glancing down at the girl’s bare feet. “Come on,” she continued, holding out her hand to the girl. “I have a car waiting for me; you can catch a ride with me back home, and we’ll pick up your brother on the way.”

 

“Thank you, miss,” the girl said, reaching out to take her offered hand.

 

Gathering the girl up into her arms, Alice made her way out of the alley. Blinking as she felt something go out of her, and saw a flash of muddy shoes being wrapped up in what looked like the kind of rags that she kept in the trunk of her car in order to wipe down her umbrella on rainy days like this one, Alice shook her head as he continued on her way out of the alley where the pair of them had met.

 

“So, what’s your name?” she asked, as the pair of them continued on their way out of the alley; she’d been just about to reach into her pocket to ping Straizo with her car, so he’d know where to meet up with her, when that same something reached into her jacket’s right pocket and did it for her.

 

“Sherry Polnareff, miss,” the girl – Sherry, apparently – said, as the pair of them made their way back to the street just in time for Straizo to pull up to where the pair of them were beginning to make their way down the sidewalk.

 

“It’s good to meet you, Sherry,” she said, as Straizo got out of her silver Jaguar and opened the door for the pair of them. “Did you and your brother arrange to meet anywhere in particular? Or should we just expect to meet him on the way there?”

 

“No, miss,” Sherry said, smiling as the pair of them climbed into the Jaguar and settled themselves down.

 

Glancing down at the wrapped bundle of rags just sitting there on the floor of the car, Alice narrowed her eyes. She was clearly going to have to look deeper into what was going on with her, but that kind of thing would have to wait until she’d gotten Sherry and her brother back to their home. Once she’d gotten Sherry to tell her just where she and her brother Jean Pierre lived together, Alice directed Straizo to follow those directions, and she herself looked out for a man fitting the description that Sherry had given her of her brother, Jean Pierre.

 

=SC=

 

The feel of her stomach rumbling brought a soft laugh from Loreena, prompting her to stand up and begin making her way out of the park where she had been seated under one of the trees working on her sketches of the pyramids that she’d seen while she and her family had been staying in Egypt. Catching sight of an odd, green figure, Loreena turned to study it more closely. It was clearly something inhuman, and the fact that it was standing close to someone in the park… Someone else here has one of these, too?

 

Reaching deep into herself, Loreena felt the power that had always been within her responding just as quickly as it ever had. Petting the head of the creature – if someone had seen it, they might have said it looked like some kind of a robotic cat, or maybe a greyhound crossed with one; though if they’d been at all familiar with exotic animals, that same person might have recognized it as a mechanical-looking Fossa – Loreena sent it out to meet with the redhead who seemed to be connected to that strange, alien-looking green man that she’d seen.

 

=SC=

 

Sighing as he stared out at the park that he’d come to, Noriaki Kakyoin wondered if even a single one of them would be able to understand what he was going through. When he felt something that felt almost like either plastic or body-warmed metal bumping his right hand, almost as though whoever or whatever it was that was standing there was trying to get his attention. Turning to look over at who it was, Noriaki felt it nudge him again, and then looked down.

 

Standing there, wagging its oddly-tipped tail at him… Noriaki didn’t know quite what it was, but it seemed like it was trying to lead him somewhere. Once he’d gotten to where the strange creature was trying to lead him, Noriaki found himself looking down at a girl with long, wavy blonde hair, wearing a long, pink-and-purple striped skirt and a loose, dark red blouse. Finding that his own phantom companion had followed him to this place, Noriaki found that he couldn’t quite think of anything to say, even when she reached out to lace her fingers through those of the phantom that had been following him for as long as he could remember.

Chapter Text

“I’m Noriaki Kakyoin,” he forced out, even as he found himself almost falling to the ground as he sat down so fast.

 

“I’m Loreena McKennitt,” she said, smiling as she gently squeezed the green hand of the phantom that had been with him for so long that it had begun to feel like a part of him, though until today he’d thought that it was a part that no one else would be able to share. “It’s nice to meet you, Noriaki.”

 

Her accent didn’t really sound like she came from anywhere in America, but she was blonde, so Noriaki wasn’t quite sure what to think. Still, it would probably be rude if he asked about something like that, even though the pair of them did seem to have more in common than he’d ever thought he’d find with anyone else. Reaching out to pet the head of the phantom companion that Loreena had been kind enough to show him. Smiling as he moved to sit closer to her, Noriaki reached out to lace his own fingers through the ones on her left hand.

 

He could still feel the muted sensation of Loreena’s fingers on his own, and when he looked over at the strange, green humanoid figure who had been with him for as long as he could remember, he saw that her right hand was still holding its own in the same way that the pair of them were now holding hands; it was something to remember, the way he could feel something when someone touched that strange phantom of his.

 

=SC=

 

When she’d dropped Sherry and Jean Pierre Polnareff back at their small, cozy-looking home deep in the countryside, Alice had found herself swiftly invited over to dinner. Jean Pierre hadn’t been about to take no for an answer, and since she didn’t have any pressing reason to refuse the hospitality that the Polnareffs were offering, both she and Straizo had soon found themselves seated at the small dining room table. Alice quickly found that Jean Pierre was nearly as much of a flirt as Dio, though when lightly rebuffed he did back off without any of her twin’s overblown histrionics, which was a nice change of pace.

 

“It was good to meet the both of you,” she said, once their meal had been finished and she and Straizo could leave without being rude.

 

“Thank you so much for helping my sister when she ran into that horrible man,” Jean Pierre said, just about bounding forward so that he could hug her. “If you ever find yourself in need of a place to stay, Miss Brando, you can feel free to call me any time at all.”

 

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, Jean Pierre,” she said, using the name that the Frenchman had been so insistent that she address him by when the pair of them had first met. “Thanks again for your hospitality.”

 

“Of course,” Jean Pierre said, smiling as he escorted her back to the door so that she and Straizo would be able to leave.

 

“That was rather unexpected,” Straizo said, once the pair of them had taken their leave of the Polnareffs and gotten far enough away that they could speak among themselves without being rude.

 

“Considering Jean Pierre, I was almost expecting something like that,” she said, as Straizo opened the door to her Jaguar and let Alice get herself comfortable. “He does seem like the type.”

 

“I suppose,” Straizo said, shutting his own door and settling down in the driver’s seat once again.

 

The familiar rumble of the Jaguar’s engine helped Alice to focus on the questions that she was going to ask Dio, foremost among them just what he’d gotten up to that had ended up with her gaining access to whatever kind of new power that she’d seen in action while she’d been escorting Sherry Polnareff back to her car. She’d known that he’d been making forays into Egypt, with the goal of eventually opening a resort and spa in Cairo, and so she gave instructions for Straizo to take her to the airport again. She was going to have to make a few arrangements, but she’d be able to make her own way to Cairo soon enough.

 

She’d get her answers, one way or another.

 

=SC=

 

As he and Loreena made their way through the city, both of them talking about the strange spirits that seemed to have been following the both of them around ever since they could remember, Noriaki found himself honestly grateful for the existence of the Brando Corporation for the first time since he’d heard of it. He’d have probably never had the chance to meet Loreena if not for her father having traveled to Cairo on business for the company. Especially since he’d never even thought to look for people like him in Cardiff.

 

He hadn’t even known where Cardiff was, really; he’d never had any reason to think about people who lived in Wales.

 

“So, yours has two forms?” he asked, looking back over his right shoulder as the pair of them followed along in his and Loreena’s wake.

 

“Yours almost seems to, too,” Loreena said, smiling at him in a way that he’d started to find more and more reassuring the more he heard it. “I mean, the way it turns into all of those ropes and streamers.”

 

“Yeah, I guess,” he said, turning to look back at the pair of their phantom companions as they walked along behind the pair of them. “Still, do you think you could show me it?”

 

“Sure,” Loreena said, turning to look back at her mechanical cat. “All right, show us what you’ve got!” she called, grinning widely.

 

The cat nodded back at her, in the same way that his own green phantom would nod at him, those few times when he would ask it to do something for him. As his green phantom took a step back, the cat stood up, front and hind legs shifting and reconfiguring until it stood on two legs like a human; last was its face, which actually opened up like one of those giant robots that he’d seen in Super Sentai, making it almost look like the newly-reconfigured cat was wearing the top of its head as some strange kind of hat. Last of all was the way it pulled what seemed to be a pair of swords from its own arms, whipping them out and looking like it was some kind of dual-wielding ninja, or something.

 

All in all, it was a lot different than the way that his own green-man could transform into those ropes and tendrils.

 

“That’s amazing,” he said, making his way over to look closer at the transformed phantom that Loreena had showed to him. “I didn’t know that they could have weapons like this,” he continued, making his way over to look more closely at the swords that the transformed cat was holding.

 

They looked like some kind of rapiers, but they didn’t seem to have any cross guard, and the blades seemed to have just the slightest curve to them. It did seem kind of strange, but since his own green-man seemed to be able to throw those strange rocks of its, Noriaki wasn’t going to say anything about it. Really, maybe that was just the way these things happened; Noriaki couldn’t have said that he really knew anything about what was going on.

 

He’d never seen anything like this before; he’d never even met another person with the kind of phantom guardian that he himself had before he’d run into Loreena McKennitt and her transforming robotic cat.

 

“Thanks… For showing me that,” he said, smiling at her as her transformed cat stowed away its swords and transformed back into what seemed to be its normal form.

 

“You’re welcome,” Loreena said, smiling as the pair of them fell into step with each other again. “I’m really glad I could have the chance to meet you, Noriaki.”

 

“I’m glad we had the chance to meet, too,” he said, lacing his fingers together with hers as the pair of them continued on their way through the city.

 

“Little Lori, are you on a date?” a man’s voice – one that Noriaki had never heard before, but Loreena seemed to be familiar with if the look on her face was any indication – spoke up, and Noriaki turned to see a blond in a really extravagant-looking suit grinning happily at the pair of them. “That’s wonderful!”

 

“Mr. Brando,” Loreena said, laughing softly in that way that people did when someone they knew had just done something silly, but also something that they’d learned to expect.

 

“Please, Little Lori, call me Dio,” the man said, practically sauntering over to the pair of them, the swing of what seemed to be a folded umbrella of all things drawing all the more attention to the motion of his walk; at least it would have, if Noriaki hadn’t been making a point to keep his eyes on the man’s face. “After all, your father works for my sister, and that just about makes us family.”

 

There was a cheerful smile on the man’s face as he went over to hug Loreena, but there was also something about him… Noriaki couldn’t quite think of the words to describe it, but Dio didn’t really seem to be a normal person at all. Noriaki didn’t know if that kind of thing would be good or bad, but it would clearly be something that he’d have to keep an eye out for.

 

“Now, where are you and your new boyfriend headed, hmm?” Dio asked, smiling invitingly at the pair of them, before he looked up and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, and it seems like we have something else in common, too.”

 

Before Noriaki could wonder if Dio really meant what he seemed to be talking about, a golden figure appeared next to him; this one was just as inhuman as the green-man and the cat who walked beside him and Loreena. The new, golden phantom reached out to pat both of their heads, before stepping behind them to make its way over to where their own phantoms were standing, looking up at the newcomer as it crouched down to scratch under the chin of Loreena’s cat, before standing up and wrapping its left arm around the neck of Noriaki’s own green-man.

 

“Wow, I never knew you had one of these, too, Mr.- I mean, Dio,” Loreena said, and Noriaki could fully understand the surprise she was feeling; considering how well she’d seemed to know Dio, the fact that he’d had a phantom guardian of his own and hadn’t told her…

 

Well, Noriaki didn’t know if he’d have as easy a time forgiving the man as Loreena seemed to be having.

 

=SC=

 

Grinning as he, Dio, ushered Little Lori and her boyfriend – a rather cute little thing by the name of Noriaki Kakyoin; clearly from Japan given his name – into the custom-built limousine that he’d commissioned from his sweet sister’s machine shop before he’d begun his efforts to build the resort and spa that he and his were working to establish on the outskirts of Cairo he, Dio, found himself wondering just how and when it was that Little Lori had managed to obtain her own Stand. And, while he had been planning to talk find Little Lori and invite her to come with him to the spa and resort that – even while it was still under construction – was still one of the most magnificent places in Egypt.

 

At least, those that had been constructed during the modern era, of course.

 

When he’d managed to get Little Lori and her adorable boyfriend settled down in the back of his limousine he, Dio elected to show them some of the improvements that he’d had made to the vehicle when he’d commissioned it for his own, personal use.

 

“You even had a karaoke machine installed?” Noriaki asked, seeming rather confused.

 

“Yes,” he, Dio, said, smiling at the adorable little human still looking around in confusion at the opulence that he and Little Lori had been surrounded by, just as soon as they’d taken his invitation and elected to come with him. “Now, have some sodas and relax. Unless either of you want to sing, of course,” he continued, grinning.

 

Little Lori laughed softly. “I don’t suppose you have cherry soda, do you?”

 

“Would you like black cherry, or normal cherry, my dear Little Lori?” he, Dio, asked as he reached over to open the small refrigerator that he’d had installed, alongside all of his other improvements.

 

Watching as his Little Lori and her boyfriend Noriaki settled themselves down together he, Dio, chuckled softly enough that their human senses wouldn’t be able to detect it. It was a rather amusing thing; Enya had told him that fate drew Stand users together, but he’d never had concrete proof of such a thing before this day. However, seeing that Little Lori and Noriaki had been able to meet up in such a way as they had… Well, something like that was all the proof that he, Dio, truly needed.

 

=SC=

 

In the end, he and Loreena had ended up singing a few songs before they’d gotten to the new resort and spa that Dio and the people who worked for him were setting up on the outskirts of Cairo. Dio had joined in with them, and even sang a few songs on his own; it’d been kind of funny, seeing an important businessman like Dio Brando seemed to be singing karaoke in the back of his own limousine, since that was only something he’d heard of Japanese businessmen doing.

 

And, well… it was obvious that Dio Brando was just about as far from being Japanese as you could get.

 

When the three of them – four, if you counted Dio’s really eccentric personal assistant, Vanilla Ice – arrived at the half-built form of the Desert Rose Spa and Resort, he and Loreena made their way into one of the finished rooms of the resort. It just the kind of place that he’d been thinking of, when Dio had first told him the name of the place where they were all going to be staying in: done in soft shades of golden yellows, soft reds, and even the occasional deep purple, with large windows that looked out on the landscaped grounds, and were even positioned so that whoever was staying in this room would be able to watch the sun as it rose into the sky.

 

All in all, it was a place that Noriaki could easily find himself becoming comfortable in.

 

“So, your father works for his sister?” he asked, once he and Loreena had managed to settle themselves into the room that Dio had given them for as long as they were going to be staying at his resort.

 

“Yeah,” Loreena said, smiling as she settled back onto the large, plush chair that was just opposite the one that Noriaki himself had sat down in. “Dad works for one of Alice Brando’s Quality Assurance teams, so we move around a fair bit.”

 

“That sounds lonely,” he said, thinking back on his own, solitary existence; even though he had been the only one to know about the phantom green-man that followed him, he hadn’t been forced to move from place to place in the wake of his father’s job.

 

Noriaki honestly didn’t know if he could have survived something like that, much less come out as well as Loreena seemed to have done.

 

=SC=

 

When Lord Dio informed her that they were going to be playing host to someone important to him – more important, even, than the little girl and her boyfriend that had paid them a visit when Lord Dio had brought them to the Desert Rose – Enya had quickly set about making preparations to welcome her. Lord Dio had at least told her that it was another woman that they would be welcoming into their midst, though he’d clearly had his own preparations in mind while he was talking, since he hadn’t told her just who it was that would be bringing into their home. Still, those kinds of things were at Lord Dio’s discretion.

 

When she made her way to the foyer, the sound of three, sharp knocks on the door drew Enya’s attention. Well, Lord Dio seems-

 

The sight of that hateful woman, the one who had abused her poor son and then thrown him out as though he were nothing more than trash…! Still, knowing that the hateful creature had been such a fool as to come to this place; oh, Lord Dio would- kiss his way up the column of her neck, softly nuzzle her right ear, and gather her into his arms-! Forcing herself to loosen her clenched fists before Lord Dio could turn around and see her, Enya quickly put her hands behind her back.

 

“Enya, my dear, I don’t suppose I’ve ever introduced you to my sister,” Lord Dio said, and Enya nearly swallowed her own tongue; the thought that the hateful woman who had attacked her poor, dear son could have been related in any way to Lord Dio… “Her name is Alice, but she really doesn’t get to visit much.”

 

“While it is nice to be able to meet one of your retainers, brother dear, but I can walk on my own,” that hateful woman said, and Enya shuddered at the sound of her voice.

 

There was the same, unmistakably regal aura of command that had drawn her to Lord Dio when she’d been a younger woman, and there was no question in Enya’s mind that – if she so much as glanced into that hateful woman’s eyes – she’d fall under the same kind of spell that Lord Dio’s gaze had put her into when she’d first looked into his eyes.

 

The hateful woman’s soft, amused chuckle nearly caused Enya to break that vow just a handful of moments after she’d had the chance to make it. “A woman her age, and she’s shy. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.”

 

“Welcome to our resort, miss,” she forced out, trying not to choke on the words as they threatened to stick in her throat.

 

“Really now, Enya, you call me Lord Dio, and all you can think of to call my sweet sister is miss?” Lord Dio said, cold hand under her chin as he forced her to look directly at him; Enya felt chilled, seeing the coldly amused annoyance in her Lord’s beautiful crimson eyes. “You’ll have to do better than that.”

 

“My apologies, Lady Alice,” she said, once Lord Dio had been kind enough to let her go.

 

Much better,” Lord Dio said, in that tone of his that let those beneath him that they had been granted the only reprieve he was going to allow them, and so had better count themselves fortunate; Enya had never before thought that she would ever end up hearing that tone from her Lord for any reason.

 

Of course, she’d also never thought that the hateful woman who had attacked her poor son to actually be related to Lord Dio; much less that he would care about her so much as he clearly did.

 

=SC=

 

Once the pair of them had left Enya – Alice had had to almost literally bite her tongue to keep from laughing at that one; almost like she’d had to when she’d met up with Loreena McKennitt, but to a somewhat lesser extent, since she hadn’t been quite as much of a fan of Enya’s music as she had been of Loreena McKennitt’s – behind, Alice turned her attention to her brother.

 

“Another of your underlings?” she asked, though she suspected the answer.

 

“Yes, though she’s never reacted so unhelpfully to someone before,” Dio said, a contemplative expression flitting over his face as he glanced back the way the pair of them had come.

 

“Might want to look into that,” she suggested, as the pair of them continued on their way to the living room of the mansion that’d been the first thing her brother had had the construction crew that he was still periodically hiring from one of her firms work on for him.

 

“Yes, I suppose I should,” her brother said, nodding to himself as they made their way into the living room at last.

 

And, incidentally, caught sight of a rather familiar person seated at one of the game tables at the far left side of the room.

 

“N’Doul, hanging around here again, are you?” she asked, chuckling softly as she settled herself down at the same table that the agent of one of her Execution Squads had seated himself at.

 

“Yes,” the blind psychic said, smiling in that contented way he always seemed to do when he was staying Cairo; or, to be more precise, when he was around Dio.

 

Still, a lot of people seemed to have a crush on her brother; she’d gotten used to it, though it was still funny from time to time.

 

“I expect you have a reason for calling upon me, sister dear,” Dio said, grinning at her in that way he had of doing that said he was just as aware of what someone wanted to talk about as they were.

 

“Indeed,” she said, smirking slightly as she summoned Stardust.

 

Given this world’s predilection toward “all music references, all the time” – as well as the fact that what had to be her new Stand looked like it was wearing Ziggy Stardust’s outfit, with Indiana Jones’ hat pulled down far enough that no one would be able to see its eyes, if it even had any in the first place – she’d named her Stand accordingly. She’d also chosen the name of the other Stand that she possessed, the one that could all-too easily be mistaken for a simple, unadorned bracelet around Stardust’s right arm, with an eye to the theme that she’d established for her own Stand. It was thin and white, after all.

 

After she’d spent some time contemplating the two Stands that she’d been granted when Dio had presumably either stabbed himself or had someone shoot him with the Stone Arrow, Alice had realized that her having ended up with two distinct Stands made perfect sense. After all, even though she hadn’t used the name in basically a century, she still had the memories and life experiences of Sarah Williams; it was only natural. Well, insomuch as having superpowers grafted onto her soul by a non-firearm projectile weapon could be considered natural, of course.

 

“A rather interesting Stand you’ve been granted, sister dear,” Dio said, smiling widely as he leaned his chin on his right fist, studying the interplay of both external and internal light across Stardust’s casually standing form; interestingly enough, depending on how the light caught her Stand, one would be able to catch glimpses of what looked like a view of deep space as seen from very far away, another reason why she’d given her Stand its name. “Still, it is rather poor manners to wear a hat not only indoors, but at the table, as well.”

 

When her brother reached out, obviously intending to remove the hat that was probably just as much a part of Stardust’s head as the Egyptian-style crown that The World – or whatever name Dio’s Stand had been given here and now – was wearing, her own Stand smirked as her brother’s reaching fingers passed clean through the brim of the fedora-portion of her Stand’s head.

Chapter Text

“Stardust, a demonstration if you please?” she asked, just as Dio turned to regard her Stand with an expression of frank incredulity.

 

Stardust nodded at her, smirk widening as her Stand casually walked through the table that she, Dio, and N’Doul were all seated around, making for the single unoccupied chair that stood around this particular table; a table that was meant to be used for card games of up to four people. Grabbing the chair with its left arm, Stardust swung it through the table a couple of times, before reversing its grip on the chair and setting it down on top of the table where the three of them were still seated.

 

Quite the interesting power your Stand possesses, sister dear,” Dio said, eyes calmly tracking Stardust as her Stand calmly made its way back through the tabletop to stand at ease behind her chair again.

 

“Yes, I’ll have to consult with the Speedwagon Foundation,” she said, leaning back in her chair as she studied Stardust in her own turn; the Stand itself blew a kiss to her, and Alice got the impression that it was winking at her even without visible eyes. “They’ve probably heard about something like this.”

 

“Hmm, I suppose that I should do so, as well,” Dio said, looking back at The World as the gold-and-green Stand preened behind him. “Still, I expect that you didn’t come here merely to show me your Stand, sister dear.”

 

“No, that’s more your style,” she said, smirking slightly as her capricious twin grinned at her; really, that was all the confirmation she’d needed.

 

Not that she’d really needed it in the first place, considering how long the pair of them had known each other.

 

“Come, I’ve set aside a place for us to determine just what manner of capabilities our Stands possess,” Dio said, leaving N’Doul at the table while the pair of them made their way on through her brother’s house and up to the room that he’d spoken so obliquely of possessing.

 

On their way up, the sound of a familiar set of light footfalls drew her attention to the appearance of someone she’d come to know at least reasonably well – if only in a second-hand sort of way – during the time she’d spent working in the Italian branches of her company.

 

“Enrico,” she said, turning as the young priest made his way up to the pair of them. “Domenico said you’d gotten off somewhere again,” she chuckled softly. “I suppose I should’ve expected a hopeless romantic like you to end up here.”

 

“Yes,” he said, smiling in that gently-abashed way he had. “I know that Domenico hardly approves, but your brother is a precious friend to me.”

 

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” she said, clapping Enrico’s left shoulder as she and Dio made their way past him. “He’s developed quite the following.”

 

The pair of them shared a smile, as she fell back in beside Dio and the pair of them continued on their way deeper into Dio’s Cairo holdings; there were times when she found herself recalling the few events from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure that she’d been aware of Before, with a certain wry amusement for the fact that her capricious twin had still chosen to settle in Cairo for whatever reason. There’d been a theory floating around about that, she remembered, though she couldn’t for the life of her recall anything more about it than the fact that it had existed.

 

Still, the fact that she’d basically thrown JJBA canon into an exploding sun with all of the changes she’d made meant that, whatever the article in question had said, it was a moot point by now.

 

When she found their path taking them through one of the places where Dio seemed to be keeping the odder pieces in his collection, Alice raised an eyebrow as she caught sight of a mostly-full dispenser of brightly-colored super bouncy balls.

 

“You’re still keeping that old thing?” she asked, folding her arms as she turned to her brother.

 

“What? It is a reminder of a rather interesting time,” her brother said, grinning unrepentantly back at her.

 

“You like being reminded that you were banned for life from FAO Schwarz?” she scoffed, folding her arms and giving her impulsive brother a firmly unimpressed look, even as the pair of them continued on their way deeper into Dio’s Cairo holdings.

 

“To be fair, sister dear, Little Jojo was banned for life, as well,” Dio said, unrepentant grin still firmly on his face.

 

“And, I suppose next you’ll be telling me that that had nothing at all to do with your goading him,” she said, giving her twin a Look that could have withered grass.

 

Dio’s only response was a laugh, as the pair of them continued on their way deeper into her twin’s mansion, finally seeming to arrive at their destination. There was, as seemed customary at this point, someone waiting for them there. Raising an eyebrow as she beheld the man’s rather distinctive outfit, Alice turned back to Dio.

 

“So, who’s Peter Pantsless, here?”

 

Dio laughed. “My sweet sister, this is my own retainer,” her twin turned to the large, broad-shouldered, long-haired man standing in front of the double-doors that the pair of them had stopped in front of. “Vanilla Ice, this is my sister.”

 

“My Lord Dio has told me everything about you, My Lady,” Vanilla Ice – Alice firmly bit back a laugh – enfolded her offered right hand in both of his own. “I’m honored.”

 

“Right, then,” she said, nodding as Vanilla Ice opened the door to what seemed to be the same kind of sparring-ring that she’d had installed in all of her own larger holdings – those that had a significant presence of Treadstone agents and agents-in-training within their walls – and the three of them made their way inside at last. The World was the first of their respective Stands to reappear, but Stardust was only a few moments behind in manifesting itself once again, and a third that obviously belonged to Vanilla Ice made its own appearance known not soon after. Vanilla Ice’s Stand… well, pretty much every one of them was unique, so the thing clearly fit the pattern in that regard.

 

But, it was also substantially less humanoid than either Stardust or even The World; really, it resembled a goblin, more than anything else, or possibly someone’s idea of a demon.

 

“So, what; we just send them in the ring to spar?” she asked, figuring she’d at least some idea as to how things were going to go from this point on.

 

“Yes, sister dear,” Dio said, smirking in that way he did when he was particularly pleased.

 

“Very well, then,” she said, gesturing for Stardust to take its own place in the ring alongside The World and whatever the name of Vanilla Ice’s Stand turned out to be.

 

=SC=

 

He, Dio, had found himself wondering just what manner of abilities his sweet sister’s Stand would possess ever since he’d first laid eyes upon the oddly-attired figure that had appeared at dear Alice’s side after he’d given young Enya leave to fire that strange, stone arrow at him. Even knowing that the Stand seemed to have a rather odd way of interacting with the matter all around it he, Dio, still found himself craving to know more about just what manner of divine power had been granted to his dear Alice through the links of blood and Destiny that had been forged about them when the pair of them had been born.

 

And also he, Dio, found himself wondering about the links of Fate that he himself had forged when he’d taken some of his sweet puppy’s bones into his own body; still, that kind of thing was for later.

 

When his World threw the first punch, a blow that would have felt like nothing more than the lightest of taps when it connected with his sweet sister’s Stardust he, Dio, was hard-pressed not to show his startlement as his World’s fist passed cleanly through the lower torso of his dear Alice’s Stand, and then that selfsame Stand all but sauntered right through the body of his World as it stood in the same kind of shock that he, Dio, was feeling as Stardust stepped through his World’s back and out the other side of his Stand.

 

Stardust, then, held out its right arm out and he, Dio, found himself nearly reeling in shock as some kind of white sledgehammer appeared in that same hand.

 

“What is that?” he, Dio, demanded, turning his attention to his sweet sister.

 

“That’s The Duke,” his dear Alice said, a slight, amused smile on her face as the pair of them continued to observe the goings-on between their respective Stands.

 

“Your Stardust possesses a Stand of its own?” he, Dio, asked, turning to his dear Alice in confusion.

 

“Apparently so,” his sweet sister said, folding her arms as she clearly considered the pair of Stands currently before them.

 

“How strange,” he, Dio, said as he himself considered the trio of Stands that the pair of them had been granted by that marvelous Stone Arrow that he had allowed Enya to fire at him.

 

=SC=

 

When she and Noriaki made their way down to the dining room of Mr. Brando’s mansion, the pair of them came across someone that seemed to be another one of the man’s friends.

 

“Good afternoon,” she said, as the blind man tapped his way over to the counter where people were obviously meant to prepare food for themselves, coming to stand beside the pair of them as she looked for something for herself and possibly Noriaki – depending on his own, personal tastes – to eat.

 

The sound of another pair of footsteps behind her drew Loreena’s attention, and she found herself startled for a moment by the sight of Noriaki’s own phantom guardian, before she remembered that Noriaki tended to do that kind of thing when he met new people. Really, it was a big part of the reason the pair of them had ended up staying with Mr. Brando in the first place.

 

Still, there was the simple fact that a blind man wouldn’t react to Noriaki’s phantom guardian in the same way that someone who could actually see it would.

 

“It sounds as though we have something more in common than simply our association with Lord Dio,” the blind man said, a rather enigmatic smile on his face.

 

Loreena almost asked him what he meant, before she found herself all the more startled by the sight of what seemed to be a tendril made of water – of all things – shoot its way up the length of the blind man’s body, before curling around his shoulders.

 

“Wait, you have one of these, too?” Loreena found herself asking.

 

“Yes,” he man said, turning to the pair of them with a kind, though still sort of mysterious smile on his face. “It would seem that fate does indeed draw Stand users together,” he continued, the smile on his face widening just that much more as he seemed to study the pair of them, for all that his eyes clearly didn’t work.

 

“Stand users?” Noriaki asked, making his way over to where the pair of them were standing, phantom guardian following in his wake. “Is that what other people call us?”

 

“Yes,” the man said, smiling kindly at the pair of them, though his expression had changed slightly when he’d seemed to realize that he knew something they didn’t. “Those that follow in our footsteps, that stand by us even when no one else will, are indeed called Stands. Mine goes by the name of Geb,” he said, turning to face the pair of them more squarely, even considering the obvious signs of blindness that she and Noriaki could see all the more clearly, since the man had his eyes open and uncovered for some reason or other. “And, my own name is N’Doul. Might I know your names, and the names of your own Stands, as well?”

 

“Well, my name is Loreena McKennitt, and this is a friend of mine,” she said, turning to look over at Noriaki for a long moment, and while he didn’t actually say anything, she got the feeling from the look on his face that he wouldn’t mind her speaking for him. “His name is Noriaki Kakyoin. Our Stands don’t really have names, though,” she said, as her own Stand appeared, raising itself up into the two-legged, dual-wielding form that made it easier for it to see and interact with people.

 

Or to fight, but she didn’t see that kind of thing happening anytime soon.

 

“Hmm, well that simply won’t do,” N’Doul said, a disapproving expression appearing on his face as he seemed to study the pair of them, even without the use of his eyes. “Every Stand needs a name; I’ll have to speak to Lord Dio about this.”

 

Lord Dio? she wondered, biting back an incredulous sort of smile as N’Doul turned and left the room. “Well, that was kind of strange,” she said, as Noriaki sidled up to her and the pair of them began looking for some food to prepare for themselves.

 

“I didn’t know he had one of these, too,” Noriaki said, looking out the way that N’Doul had gone when he’d left. “And, he called them Stands?”

 

“Yeah,” she said, considering just what it was that N’Doul had said, when he’d been talking to the pair of them. “Still, you could have introduced yourself when we were talking,” she continued, turning to look at Noriaki more squarely, even as the pair of them continued searching for something to eat. “That, back there, well it was a bit awkward.”

 

“I know,” Noriaki said, and Loreena thought she could see a brief shudder run the length of his back; she definitely noticed the increased rigidity of his posture, though. “And, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just not used to meeting new people.”

 

“I guess I can’t argue with that,” she said, reflecting back on the lingering awkwardness of their own first meeting.

 

=SC=

 

When she and Dio had finished testing the capabilities of their own Stands against each other – he’d gained access to time-stop, just as she’d been expecting – she and Dio made their way back up and out of the sparring room where she, Dio, and Vanilla Ice had been working to discover the capabilities of Stardust, The World, and The Duke. Vanilla Ice hadn’t stopped staring at her, in that way that suggested that he didn’t approve of one aspect or another of what she was doing, ever since she’d revealed the extent of The Duke’s shape-shifting capabilities.

 

“I don’t quite think your retainer approves of me,” she said, low enough that only another vampire would have been able to overhear their conversation, as she and Dio continued on their way up through his Cairo holdings.

 

“I don’t think he’d expected that you would be given access to two Stands, sister dear,” Dio said, smiling in that way he had as the pair of them made their way out of the underground sections and back up into the livable, more public areas of his mansion. “Truly, even I hadn’t been expecting such a thing,” her capricious twin continued, chuckling in a reflective sort of way.

 

“I suppose,” she allowed, folding her arms neatly behind her back as she and Dio continued on their way.

 

The sound of familiar footfalls drew her attention as she and Dio lapsed into a comfortable silence once again, and Alice looked up to see the form of N’Doul making his way over to the three of them.

 

“N’Doul,” she greeted, taking note of the way the blind psychic – rather, Stand user – seemed to have something more than simply a greeting on his mind.

 

“Lord Dio, Commander,” he said, nodding to Dio and then to her in turn. “A certain matter has come to my attention.”

 

“Oh?” she asked, giving N’Doul her attention as the agent fell into step with their trio as they all continued on their way. “How much of a concern would you say this is?”

 

“Nothing that would concern the company as a whole,” N’Doul said, sounding as though he wished to reassure her as quickly as he could. “Still, it seems as though the Stands that those children Lord Dio invited into this place along with us have not been granted even names.”

 

“Oh?” Dio asked, turning his own attention to N’Doul. “I’d had the feeling that those two had only truly discovered their abilities when they met, but I’d hardly realized that something like that could be the case,” her capricious twin said, a look of interest on his face. “I shall have to do something about that.”

 

“If you insist,” she said, turning her attention toward the next matter that was going to be of import to their rather eclectic family.

 

There was the matter of getting ready for Jotaro’s birthday, given that it’d be coming up in a couple months – and Dio fully enjoyed springing those kinds of things on every one of their family members, no matter how old they got – and they were clearly going to have at least some kind of elaborate celebration in order to mark the occasion of his fifteenth birthday. It was just the kind of thing her brother did, really. Hell, he was fully willing to pack up and head back over to England to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday at the old Joestar estate.

 

Still, she’d always known that her brother was more than a bit sentimental, particularly in that way.

 

Hell, him having time-stop with his Stand fit just as well with the general mind-set that her twin was operating under: Dio was the kind of person who wanted to have everything stay the way it had been when he was happiest. Really, she’d have been surprised as all hell if he hadn’t been thinking about how he could have saved Jonathan back during their battle with Kars on that volcano, if he’d been in possession of his Stand back during the earlier parts of their lives.

 

Making her way back into the main room of the mansion, Alice continued over to the ornate phone that Dio had clearly bought for himself when he was settling into this place in a long-term sort of way. Picking up the handset, Alice dialed a number that she’d come to know very well during the course of her life.

 

“Good morning!” called a gruffly familiar voice; Alice smiled gently.

 

“It’s coming up on that time of year again,” she said, leaning lightly against the wall nearest to her as she settled in for a conversation of some length or another.

 

Joseph chuckled, wicked grin coming over the line as loud and clear as it would have been if she’d been speaking to her grand-nephew live and in person. “Yes, Aunty, it is.”

 

“I suppose you and Dio have been collaborating?” she asked, smirking slightly as she and Joseph settled into what had become a rather familiar routine over the intervening decades.

 

Something like that,” Joseph said, shades of an unrepentant grin to rival any of Dio’s in his voice.

 

“Well then, I suppose I should come and pick you up soon, then,” she said, feeling rather amused by the implications she was hearing in Joseph’s voice as the pair of them continued their conversation.

 

“Well, you are the only one of us with a private plane,” her grand nephew said, the amused grin that he had to be wearing coming through loud and clear in his voice.

 

“Yes, I suppose that is a better reason than most,” she said, smirking back at Joseph even though the pair of them couldn’t see each other over the phone she was currently using.

 

When the pair of them said their goodbyes for the moment, Alice turned and made her way to where she could hear the voices of Dio and N’Doul as they spoke about what the fact that Loreena McKennitt’s and Noriaki Kakyoin’s Stands didn’t seem to possess names of their own.

 

“A moment?” she called, during a lull in their conversation as the pair of them continued speaking.

 

“What is it, sister dear?” Dio asked, his usual smile appearing on his face as the pair of them turned to regard one another.

 

“I’m going to go and pick up Joseph,” she said.

 

“Oh, of course,” her brother said, grinning widely as he turned to look her way. “Our little Jotaro is going to have another birthday soon; I shall have to do something for the occasion.”

 

“Something besides the big party he’s going to grudgingly tolerate?” she retorted, smirking back at her brother as the pair of them spoke.

 

Dio laughed, and she turned to make her way out of the house to meet up with Straizo, so that the pair of them could begin making their way to New York so that she could pick up Joseph and the pair of them could then make their way to Japan in turn. Once she’d made it back to Straizo and the car where her fellow vampire had seemingly been waiting, Alice gave the man instructions to bring her back to the airport where her private plane had been landed when Straizo had brought her to Cairo in the first place.

 

When she and Straizo made it back to the hangar once again, Alice made her way into the passenger cabin, settling herself down while Straizo prepped the plane itself to lift off.

 

Their journey to New York was just as short as the latest jet engines that her many and varied companies could make it, and Alice was soon able to make her way into the private hangar that she’d ordered built back when she’d first come to properly establish herself within the city.

 

=SC=

 

Humming tunelessly to himself as Roses drove him to the private runway that Aunty Alice would be arriving at – or, given what kind of speed her private planes were capable of, had probably already arrived at – Joseph settled back into the cushy seats in the back of his limo, grinning as the thought of just exactly what he was going to do when he and Uncle Dio were able to start making proper plans for how they were going to celebrate Jotaro’s upcoming birthday. Sure, it might have still been a few months before it actually came up, but there was really no harm in getting things prepared and ready.

 

“Thanks, Roses!” he called, climbing out of the limo and making his way into the hangar proper. “Aunty! Thanks for picking me up like this!”

 

“I’m glad to see you came so promptly,” Aunty Alice said, her soft chuckle echoing in his direction even as he turned at the familiar, light sound of her footsteps.

 

“Well, I’d hardly go and miss something like this,” he said, grinning widely at his aunty as she made her way over to him. “Oi. Suzy! It’s time to get up and go!”

 

“Coming, Jojo!” the bright, chipper voice of his wife of more than half a century preceded her as Suzy made her own way out of the limo to join up with the pair of them. “Oh, our little Jotaro is going to be fifteen soon!”

 

“Right,” Aunty Alice said, smiling at the pair of them as she made her own way over. “Let’s get underway; there’s still a fair bit of ground to cover.”

 

“Right, Aunty!” he called, grinning as he hurried onto the plane behind her, with Suzy following quickly behind him as they all got themselves settled in the cabin.

 

Once they were all in the air, looking down on the city as it seemed to shrink to the size of a model railroad, Joseph popped his ears as they leveled off above the clouds, looking out over the sea as they started crossing over it.

Chapter Text

It was always an interesting sight, watching the ocean as it shrank down through the windows of any plane, since it really did look like something out of one of those model railroads he’d seen around some of Aunty Alice’s holdings when she’d invite him over for one reason or another. Settling further into his seat as they all crossed through whatever time zone they were currently flying through, Joseph chuckled to himself. His sweet little Holly might have married that deadbeat Kujo, but that was no reason for him to go and lose contact with his grandson.

 

When the four of them all made it to the private hangar that Aunty Alice had established for herself in Japan, the sound of someone else’s footsteps drew his attention.

 

“Kosaku, good to see you again,” Aunty Alice said, that same, calm tone to her voice that he’d heard so many times when she spoke to people she knew.

 

“Oi, Kawajiri!” he called, waving to the little porter who started taking out the little bits of luggage that he and Suzy had brought to Japan with them.

 

“Joestar-san,” he said, nodding to him as the four of them made their way out of the plane and continued on to the car that Straizo climbed into first, since he’d probably been the one to drive the thing here in the first place.

 

The rest of them had soon made their own way into the car – not really a limo, but fancy enough to seem like one – and Joseph settled down, grinning as he thought about the kind of elaborate party that he and Uncle Dio were going to throw for Jotaro. Sure, his grandson wasn’t the type to enjoy something like that – not with the kind of I’m-too-cool-for-this attitude that the brat had been developing during the course of his stay in Japan – but he and Uncle Dio would at least be able to have their fun springing the party on him.

 

The ride over to the mansion that he’d helped Holly to buy when she had married that deadbeat bastard Kujo was about as short and simple as he could’ve asked for, and the four of them had soon arrived.

 

=SC=

 

The mingled sounds of Joseph, Suzy, and Holly as the three of them all said their hellos for the first time drew her attention for a moment, before Jotaro’s familiar form emerged from one of the other rooms.

 

“Hey,” Jotaro said, after casting an unimpressed look over at the trio who were reacquainting themselves after their separation.

 

“Good to see you again, Jotaro,” she said, smirking in amusement as Jotaro rolled his eyes in the general direction of his family members as the three of them started making their way into the house so that they could get settled.

 

“You mind?” Jotaro asked, flicking his gaze in the direction of Joseph and the others, his usual economy of words coming to the fore again.

 

“You want me to run interference for you again?” she asked, raising an eyebrow even as she smirked ever so slightly wider.

 

She and Jotaro had seemed to connect fairly well, both of them being fairly low-key kind of people, surrounded by big, bombastic personalities.

 

Jotaro nodded, humming slightly in thought as he began making his way back into the mansion once again.

 

=SC=

 

When she’d been able to beg some time off from Lord Dio, to make her way into the city of Cairo; she’d hated lying to her Lord, but such a thing had clearly been necessary, considering how enamored he was of that hateful woman who, while she had left on some kind of errand or other, was clearly going to return if Enya herself didn’t do something to prevent that. And so, she’d taken to making inquiries, seeking out those who would be willing to hear her out. Those who would be willing to dispose of that horrible, hateful woman.

 

Those who would be able to help her avenge her poor son.

 

It was only a small group that had actually agreed to meet with her, at least for the moment, and as she made her way into the small, darkened café that she had told them all to meet her inside, Enya gathered herself for what she was going to need to do next.

 

=SC=

 

Looking around at all of the people who’d come when that weird old broad had called them up for this little meeting of theirs, Hol Horse looked around at the small gathering he’d just become a part of.

 

“So, where’s this weird old broad we’re s’posed ta meet?” he asked, after a long moment spent studying the milling crowds in the café; no one seemed to quite fit the voice and mannerisms of the old broad who’s voice he’d made a point to memorize as well as he’d been trained to do.

 

“I’m here,” said that same voice that he’d heard over the phone when this whole thing had been set up, and Hol turned to look over at her.

 

She was even older and more decrepit-looking than he’d been expecting when he’d first heard her voice; looked like things were a bit more involved than he’d been given to expect. When she glanced down at the gun that he had in his holster – the Emperor – Hol made a note of the fact that he was dealing with another Stand user. That might complicate things, he mused, as the old broad made her way over to their table.

 

“I’ve gathered you all here because I need you all to help me dispose of someone,” the old broad – the Stand user that he’d been steadily composing a report about as he observed her – said, glaring at him in particular.

 

Looked like there was something else he’d need to take note of in his report.

 

“Who did you call us here to kill?” one of the other men – Dan Steele, maybe? He couldn’t really remember – asked, folding his arms across his chest and glaring out at everyone in the café, before returning his attention to their group where they were seated.

 

“Her,” the old broad said, slapping a photograph down on the table that the eight of them had all gathered together.

 

Pressing the tip of his tongue against his top row of teeth, Hol Horse stared down at the photo of the Boss Lady that had just been placed down on the table; it looked like he was going to have something interesting to report when he reported in.

 

“Are you insane?!” Dan – the only one of the man’s names he could actually remember, at least enough to put in his report – demanded, looking like it was only the presence of everyone else in the café that kept him from leaping out of his seat to yell down at the old broad. “Do you even know what you’re asking?!”

 

“What? Are you afraid of her?” the old broad sneered; Hol Horse forced himself to swallow a laugh.

 

“I happen to enjoy living,” Dan snarled, shuddering badly enough that Hol could see it as clearly as the Commander – or TIM, but he’d never actually met the man behind the moniker – could have when she was the one overseeing her troops.

 

That was, if she herself had ever been able to meet up with any of them in the first place; like the Boss Lady herself said, image was very important to someone like her.

 

“What do you mean?” the old broad demanded, clearly trying to growl, even with most of her teeth missing.

 

“You mean you don’t know?” Dan demanded, eyes darting around the room as he leaned in closer, ironically making it all the more obvious that he was trying to keep something secret. “Alice Brando’s got access to more than just her Treadstone agents; and I’m not just talking about Blackwater,” Dan’s eyes darted around the darkened room again, and Hol Horse firmly bit back a grin. “There’s always been rumors that she has a third level of training; beyond even the Blackwater agents, that do things that even Blackwater wouldn’t be capable of, since they’re still connected to her,” Dan shuddered. “People also say that she has those agents recruited from military prisons; I’ve heard of Fort Leavenworth and places like that mentioned as where she looks for them. They handle things that none of her other agents could be seen doing.”

 

“What are you talking about?” one of the women at the table asked, looking like she didn’t know quite what to believe.

 

“There’s a story going around, that there was some group of corrupt cops somewhere or other,” Dan said, looking around at all of the other people gathered at the table with them. “Alice found out about it, of course, and sent some of those secret agents of hers out,” Dan said, looking at the woman – Mariah, Hol recalled – who’d spoken up just a bit ago. “And then, well…” Dan breathed deeply, shuddering. “The only part of the lead cop anyone found was his skin, hung in a tree near his house.”

 

What?!” the other blond who’d been seated at the table with them – Tennille, Hol recalled, though he had the feeling that that name might have been an alias – demanded, sitting up straight in his seat where he’d previously been slouching easily while he’d seemed to be taking in the other people at the table.

 

Not many of theirs actually knew each other when they didn’t need to work together on a mission or in teams on an operation, but Hol made a mental note to catch up with the man; at least after he’d made his report, of course.

 

=SC=

 

When he’d finally been able to extricate himself from the crazy old woman who had brought up the insane idea of challenging Alice Brando and the power that she held in the world that they all lived in, Steely Dan panted as he hurried back to the hotel room that he’d been staying in when he’d come to Cairo after being called up. Shuddering as he stepped back through the doors of the hotel, Steely Dan kept a careful lookout as he continued on his way back up to his room.

 

There was no telling if he was being stalked by one or more of Alice Brando’s secret agents.

 

When he finally made it back to his room, Dan froze as he saw the mess of shattered glass spread across the floor, seemingly leading to the head of his bed, and the crossbow bolt that had been buried in the wall there. Shuddering as he made his way over to yank out the bolt, he also noticed that there seemed to be a message tied to the shaft of the bolt. Untying the message, he found that it only contained a single line: You have chosen wisely.

 

It had clearly been printed off a computer, or Xeroxed, so he couldn’t tell anything from looking at the style of the writing; anything like who might have written something like that.

 

=SC=

 

“Holly! My little baby Holly!” he, Dio, laughed as he spun his adorable great grand-niece around, as she giggled and squealed.

 

“Uncle Dio, I’m not a baby!” she laughed, as he set her gently down on the floor and the pair of them embraced heartily.

 

“Compared to me you certainly are, baby Holly,” he, Dio, said with a grin; out of the corner of his eye he, Dio, caught sight of his sweet sister and N’Doul with their heads leaned together, seemingly discussing some matter or other.

 

He wondered for a moment about such a thing, but then dismissed it from his mind; there were a great many things that his dear Alice needed to do, considering the fact that she held the highest position possible in the international company that she herself had established and continued to build up to this very day. It was likely simply more corporate matters that he, Dio, had been uninterested in since the first time that his sweet sister had endeavored to explain such things to him.

 

“Uncle Dio, you haven’t forgotten about me, have you?” his Little Jojo wheedled, grabbing him from behind.

 

“Certainly not, my Little Jojo,” he, Dio, laughed as he turned around to firmly embrace his adorable nephew in turn.

 

Narrowing his eyes in amusement as he, Dio, saw their adorable Jotaro attempting to edge his way past them and into the house where he was all-too likely to sequester himself in the room that had been prepared for him when he, Dio, had had the place built in the first place, he turned to confront the youngest member of their happy little family.

 

“Jotaro, wherever are you planning to go?” he, Dio, asked, making his way over to pick up his adorably dour little Jotaro. “And without even giving your dear old Uncle a hug? You naughty boy.”

 

“Fuck off, Uncle Dio,” Jotaro grumbled, seeming to be almost physically restraining himself from squirming in the way that he’d always done before when he, Dio, had done such a thing.

 

“You rude little brat,” he, Dio, laughed as he tugged the brim of Jotaro’s ratty old cap down over his eyes.

 

=SC=

 

When he’d finally managed to get away from Uncle Dio, Gramps, Granny, Mom and all of their collective weirdness, Jotaro settled down in his room. At least it was quieter than anywhere else in the house; and yeah, he knew that he was going to have to deal with those annoying old guys and their equally annoying ideas for celebrating his birthday, but at least he’d have his aunt to keep the old guys from getting too annoying with all their crap. The two of them had seemed to understand each other without words nearly since the day they’d met; something he’d come to appreciate more and more as he found himself dealing with all the weirdness that the Old Man and Uncle Dio brought up with their antics.

 

Even Mom didn’t really seem to understand him the way that Aunt Alice did, even without words.

 

A soft grumble from his stomach prompted Jotaro to sit up, but when he looked over at his nightstand he saw that there was a bag of potato chips and a can of orange soda set neatly down by the table lamp.

 

“What the hell?” he muttered, making his way over to the nightstand and looking around.

 

Sure, he knew that Uncle Dio had a bunch of servants and retainers and crap, but he didn’t think that any of them could have been that quiet. Looking around the room, even as he picked up the chips and soda, Jotaro frowned as he made his way over to the big, squashy chair that had been set in the room, beside an actual table rather than the nightstand that he’d first found the food set out on top of.

 

It was weird as fuck, but he couldn’t see any indications that anyone else had been in the room with him.

 

=SC=

 

Narrowing her eyes as she caught sight of that hateful woman making her way into the house where Lord Dio lived with all of his subjects and retainers, Enya growled under her breath. The sheer cowardice that Steely Dan had displayed when he’d heard who it was that she had gathered them in that café to tell them about – the hateful woman who she wanted dead more than anything – infuriated her more than anything else that she’d experienced since she’d felt the echoes of her poor son’s pain after he’d suffered so much abuse at the hands of that horrible woman. It had to be nonsense, anyway.

 

The fact that that hateful woman hadn’t had the nerve to kill her poor son made believing such wild stories like the ones that coward Dan had been mewling about all but impossible, and convincing the braver members of the mercenary group that she had gathered to her in the café where the eight of them had gathered had become all the more simple when she had reminded them of such a fact.

 

And so, returning to Lord Dio’s mansion had been all the more simple, armed with the knowledge that she had new weapons and allies that that horrible woman would not have a chance against. Even being forced to watch that hateful woman’s interactions with Lord Dio were made more simple when she reflected back upon the meeting that she had arranged, and all of the mercenaries who would soon come down upon her like the iron fist of justice. Even my own Justice will do the same!

 

Narrowing her eyes all the farther as she watched that hateful woman moving through Lord Dio’s holdings as though she owned them, Enya swallowed yet another snarl; she knew that Lord Dio had greater, more powerful senses than any mere human could have been said to possess, and the simple fact was that that hateful woman seemed to possess the same caliber of senses. Enya knew that she would have to act far more carefully, given that the horrible woman seemed to be settling in to stay for some time. And yes, while it would make dealing with her a great deal more simple, Enya hated seeing the horrible woman in such a sacred place.

 

It wasn’t suited to her at all.

 

=SC=

 

“How did you manage to find any of this out, sister dear?” he, Dio, asked as his sweet Alice detailed what she and N’Doul had actually been talking about when the pair of them had met up with each other in the shadow of their little family gathering.

 

“You are aware that I have access to a great deal of resources, yes?” his sweet sister asked, raising an eyebrow as she faced him down over the expanse of the small table the three of them had settled around.

 

“Well, yes, but I’d hardly been expecting you to have spies in the area,” he, Dio, chuckled as the pair of them continued their discussion.

 

“Yes, apparently Enya made that same assumption,” his sweet sister said, a rather amused smile appearing on her face as their conversation continued.

 

“Yes, Enya,” he, Dio, said, narrowing his eyes as he recalled the true reason for his and Alice’s meeting. “Dear little Enya,” he hissed. “I’d thought that there was something odd about the way she’d been looking at you. I shall have to find a way to punish her for such a transgression.”

 

“Not necessarily,” his dear Alice said, folding her arms in a contemplative sort of way. “My agents would be more than able to handle this kind of situation.”

 

“No, there has to be consequences for this,” he, Dio, said, even though he was perfectly aware that his sweet sister and her forces would have been perfectly capable of dealing with any number of troublesome people that that miserable, faithless traitor Enya had gathered to her with her efforts. “Little Enya has to know the true price of betrayal.”

 

“Well, if you’re certain,” his sweet sister said, though it was clear from her demeanor that she didn’t fully approve of the course of action he, Dio, was planning.

 

Still, the only way that a young fool such as Enya would learn her proper lesson was if he and his were there to confront her about her transgressions; it was a lesson that he’d no intention of allowing her to survive.

 

=SC=

 

When he’d actually made his way down to the kitchen, wanting something more than just a bag of potato chips and an orange soda – though hell if he knew where it’d come from in the first place – Jotaro made sure that none of the more annoying members of his family were going to be around, since he wasn’t really in the mood to deal with any of them when there was something so strange going on with him. He might go and talk to Aunt Alice about things, if the weirdness didn’t stop on its own or something, but for the moment he was content to forget about that kind of thing while he went to get his lunch ready.

 

Looking around the empty expanse of the kitchen, Jotaro sighed in relief, even as me made his way over to the large fridges at the far end of the room. Pulling open the doors of the left-side fridge, Jotaro looked into it and tried to decide just what it was that he wanted to have. The sound of clattering dishes drew his attention, and Jotaro looked over at the plate that had just been set out on a nearby countertop. What the hell is going on?

 

The sound of the fridge door that he’d let slip closed being yanked open again caused him to snap his gaze in that direction, just in time to see some packets of food and condiments being set out around the plate that’d just been dumped on the counter a few seconds earlier. Backing up almost against the fridge itself as some kind of invisible thing began shuffling the packets of food through the air even as he watched. Shuddering as he jumped out of the way as that same something pulled the fridge door open, slamming it shut again in just a second. Panting as he made his way over to the plate on the counter, Jotaro narrowed his eyes as he studied the… whatever it was that had been set on the plate.

 

It looked like a normal club sandwich, hell it even smelled like one, and the root beer that had been set down beside the plate looked just the same, but Jotaro still found himself unsettled as he looked down at the sandwich that had been set out in front of him; he’d really have to talk to Aunt Alice about this weird shit that seemed to be happening around him lately. Before things started getting out of hand.

 

=SC=

 

Given everything that had happened with regards to Enya – in particular the mercenaries that the old woman had gathered up in what was to prove a futile effort to kill her for some reason or other – she and Dio had stepped up their respective efforts to gain a working understanding of Stardust, The World, and The Duke. The shapeshifting abilities of her secondary Stand seemed as though they would be one of the most potent assets the pair of them were going to have, at least aside from the time-stopping power of Dio’s own Stand.

 

“Well, it seems as though this is the limit of what our Stands are capable of at present, sister dear,” Dio said, looking at their three Stands as they stood together, The World wrapping its arms almost possessively around Stardust’s shoulders.

 

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “We should make contact with N’Doul.”

 

Dio chuckled. “I still can’t believe that he was one of your agents, as well.”

 

“I have a lot of agents you don’t know about, brother mine,” she said, smirking right back.

 

Her brother chuckled again, as the pair of them paused a moment to allow their Stands to catch up with them and vanish once more, and they made their way deeper into the mansion so that they could meet up with N’Doul again. The three of them had soon joined up again, and then made their way out of the mansion in order to find a battleground that wouldn’t be too badly affected by the destructive abilities of their respective Stands, and whatever the abilities of the mercenary group that Enya had recruited possessed, as well.

 

Narrowing her eyes as her tremor-senses began to pick up the approach of another, distinctly familiar tread, Alice chuckled coldly.

 

“It seems we’re about to have company,” she said, fanning out her hair to get a better picture of just where it was that Enya was currently approaching them from.

 

“Yes,” Dio said, a cold smirk curling his own lips as the pair of them continued on their way forward.

Chapter Text

The sight of Enya herself, just rounding the corner of the building as the footsteps that she and Dio had been tracking ever since she’d first detected them over and above the milling crowds in this part of the city, brought a tight, narrow smile to her face as she, Dio, and N’Doul continued on their way through the quarter of the city where they had been searching for either the woman herself or some of the mercenaries that N’Doul had described in his report.

 

“Why, Enya, how nice to see you out and about,” Dio said, his tone a passable imitation of her own “you are currently knee-deep in shit; good luck extricating yourself”.

 

“Lord Dio!” the woman exclaimed, looking almost starkly terrified to see the pair of them; or rather, probably at the sight of Dio giving her that kind of look.

 

“You know, I’ve been hearing the most troubling rumors, my dear Enya,” Dio said, all but stalking his way over to where the elderly woman – the one who actually looked her age, at least – was standing, stock-still in obvious terror as the pair of them made their way over to her.

 

“How did your meeting go?” she asked, cold smile widening slightly at the terrified expression on Enya’s face as the three of them moved in closer.

 

“I- I don’t-”

 

“Don’t try to lie to me,” she verbally steamrolled, before Enya could work up anything more than a couple words of the no-doubt pitiful excuse she was about to hand over. “I have people everywhere; I know you were meeting with a group of mercenary Stand users, and I know you were planning to have them attempt to kill me. They’d fail, of course, but the collateral damage in a place like this would be troublesome to deal with. Now, since it’s obvious that you’re not going to give up on this pointless little feud you seem intent on instigating with me, we need to arrange a place for it. Somewhere away from any civilians who might otherwise find themselves caught in the crossfire of a Stand battle.”

 

“What makes you think that I would ever agree to do anything you want?!” Enya demanded, just before she was unceremoniously pulled into the ground as Stardust grabbed her ankles and sank downward.

 

“Ah, you must have mistaken that for a request. One wonders how,” she said, in her “explaining the obvious to stupid people” tone. “Though I suppose I can indulge you, if just this once: if you truly are so dimwitted as to refuse, I’ll simply have Stardust let go. Your lungs, which you might have actually realized shouldn’t be working when you’re up to your eyeballs in solid concrete, will fuse permanently with the molecular structure of the sidewalk you’re swimming in. In fact, so will every other one of your other organs; really, the only way anyone would actually be able to find your corpse after that is with ground-penetrating RADAR, or some other comparable system.”

 

Stardust yanked Enya the rest of the way into the sidewalk where she, Dio, and N’Doul were all standing, giving the woman just the slightest taste of what would inevitably happen if she was so unutterably stupid as to keep pressing for a confrontation right here and now. Narrowing her eyes slightly as Stardust yanked Enya back out of the ground, tossing the other woman down and then calmly stepping through her on its way back over to where the three of them were all standing. As Enya gasped for air, shaking badly enough that even someone without the enhanced senses of a vampire would have probably been able to see it, Alice narrowed her eyes slightly.

 

Only time would tell how this would all go down, in the end.

 

=SC=

 

As he, Dio, watched his sweet sister forced his traitorous little Enya to submit to her will – as he’d known that she would, though not ultimately how she would do such a thing – he grinned fit to show all of his fangs. Shivering in anticipation as his dear Alice narrowed her eyes in distain at the pathetically mewling form of Enya upon the sidewalk he, Dio, folded his arms and waited to hear what his sweet sister would say next.

 

“This is my world, little girl; I just let you live in it.”

 

His dear Alice would, like as not, say – as she had said so many times before, when he’d asked her that sort of question – that it was mere theatricality that prompted her to say such a thing, but he, Dio, knew that it was just one more facet of what made his undeclared empress of the world who she ultimately was. In the end, of course, Enya capitulated, and a location was chosen. He and his sweet sister, along with the forces that they would be able to bring to battle, would meet the mercenary forces that dear little Enya had been able to gather up.

 

It would be a rather interesting battle, though hardly a lengthy one, of course.

 

=SC=

 

“Oi, Pucci,” he called, catching sight of the weird priest that hung around Uncle Dio like one of those chattering, annoying girls at high-school. “Have you seen Aunt Alice lately?”

 

He’d been looking around the house for a long time, and more of that weird shit had kept happening all around him: when he’d been feeling a bit thirsty, a bottle of water had appeared in his right hand; when he’d been craving something salty, it’d been neatly-sliced hunks of what had ended up being salami. And now, when he’d wanted to find Aunt Alice so he could talk to her about just what in the hell was going on, he’d found himself led to the one person who seemed to know everything that was going on in this place.

 

Well, the only one who he could actually stand, anyway.

 

“Alice and Dio informed me that they would be out of the house for some time, while they resolve a matter of some import,” Pucci said, studying him with that same, assessing look that Aunt Alice would turn on him whenever she saw that there was something out of place about him. “However, if there is something troubling you, Jotaro, you may feel free to speak to me about such matters.”

 

“I guess,” he said, flicking his own eyes over Pucci; the guy had always seemed a bit weird to him, but he only really acted that way when Uncle Dio was around; not that Uncle Dio really seemed to discourage it, from either him or that pantsless weirdo Vanilla Ice, either. “I think I’m being haunted,” he admitted, knowing that Pucci wasn’t the kind of guy to go sharing something that he’d been told in private.

 

“Haunted?” Pucci asked, his expression looking curious, but not like he was about to call Jotaro a liar or anything.

 

“Yeah,” he said, holding out his right hand and concentrating for a moment on his craving for something salty; in basically the blink of an eye, another neatly-sliced chunk of salami had appeared right there. “Something or other keeps bringing me things like this. It started late yesterday; I wanted a snack, and then there was some potato chips and a soda in my room.”

 

“It sounds rather like this is a positive development, Jotaro,” Pucci said, settling back more comfortably in the chair that he’d found the man seated in when whatever it was that was haunting him had led him into the room .

 

“What, like a guardian angel or something?” he asked, not quite sure how he felt about that kind of thing. “I know you’re a priest, but do you really think that’s what’s going on?”

 

“Given what you’ve told me, that is what sounds the most likely,” Pucci said, calmly as he ever did.

 

Really, when he wasn’t fawning over Uncle Dio like one of those annoying girls back at school, Pucci was like another island of calm in all of the craziness that Jotaro found himself dealing with when he was around the rest of his bizarre family; with the clear exception of Aunt Alice, of course.

 

“I guess,” he said, leaning back in his own chair as he contemplated the salami in his right hand for a moment, before taking a bite.

 

The sound of a clunk on the small end table between the two chairs that he and Pucci were sitting in drew his attention, and Jotaro looked over to see a glass of what seemed to be some kind of fruit juice with ice in it. Lifting it for a sip, he found that it was apple. The best kind of thing to have when you were eating salami, at least as far as he was concerned.

 

“Well, I suppose you have your answer now,” Pucci said, his usual, gentle smile appearing on his face once again.

 

“I guess,” he said, finding that he couldn’t quite muster the will to get into an argument with Pucci, of all people.

 

He was the kind of guy who would let someone keep talking up until they realized that what he was saying actually made sense; really, it was just one more thing that reminded him of Aunt Alice. He still wanted to talk to her when she got back, of course, but it wasn’t like he was panicking about things anymore, or anything.

 

=SC=

 

When she and Dio had made their way to the outskirts of Cairo, Alice made it a point to contact Straizo and have him send over Wham and Tarkus. While she honestly doubted that any of the mercenaries that Enya had hired would be capable of standing up to a pair of vampires like her and Dio, it was always better to have extra forces on and when you were confronting a mostly unknown quantity like Enya and her group of mercenary Stand users. Even N’Doul’s Blackwatch contact hadn’t managed to gather any more information about them than the fact that they existed, and so Alice wasn’t about to go into this kind of scrap without two of her most powerful allies.

 

Besides, she knew very well that the pair of them would enjoy going out in the field again, after so much time just spent sparring with each other.

 

When she had received confirmation that the pair of them would be coming soon – delivered rather enthusiastically by Tarkus himself – she informed Dio and N’Doul, and the three of them made for the LZ that she and Tarkus had agreed on when they’d been arranging for his and Wham’s arrival. The high, harsh whine of VTOL engines as the PX-22 supersonic transport plane appeared in the sky over their heads, lowering itself smoothly back to the ground as the last rays of the setting sun vanished beyond the horizon.

 

“I’m glad you managed to make it so promptly,” she said, raising an eyebrow as she realized it wasn’t Straizo behind the controls. “Though I am surprised to see you, Domenico.”

 

“Yes,” the Italian said, a calm smile on his own face. “I didn’t want you facing a group of Stand users without backup.”

 

“Yes; even considering the time I’ve spent working with mine, I suppose I could use someone else who has more experience with these matters,” she allowed, a slight smile emerging on her own face. “Thank you for coming.”

 

You’ve gained a Stand as well, Boss?”

 

“Not long ago, but yes,” she said, as Wham and Tarkus made their own way out of the plane and joined the rest of them on the ground.

 

“Stands, Milady?” Tarkus asked, turning a look of confusion on her, even as he took out the rocked-powered hammer that he’d had fabricated for himself once he’d really gotten into his sparring with Wham, and hadn’t let out of his sight ever since.

 

“It’s too long a story to get into here, but I’ll try to cover as much as I can while we make our way,” she said, smirking slightly as Tarkus stowed his rocket-hammer on the specially-designed sheath that he’d commissioned once he’d gotten hold of his hammer.

 

=SC=

 

It’d been more than three hours since he’d last seen Aunt Alice, and Jotaro couldn’t make himself wait any longer. Sure, Pucci had said that she and Uncle Dio were out taking care of something or other, but not even calling to tell everyone how long they were going to be out? Something about that just didn’t sit right with him; Aunt Alice wasn’t the type to stay silent for so long, particularly since she knew that people worried about her when she was out. Even with the vampire thing and all, there was no way in hell that Aunt Alice would be out so long without making contact with them, even if Uncle Dio didn’t think that that kind of thing was important.

 

Making his way out of his room and down through the wide hallways, Jotaro continued on his way down to the main room of the mansion; he could hear the Old Man talking to someone who sounded like that Egyptian guy he’d met on one of the other trips down here he’d made, some time or other before.

 

“Oi, Old Man!” he called, once he’d made his way fully into the main room, catching sight of the pair of them sitting on a pair of couches surrounding a low table. “Do you know where Aunt Alice is?”

 

“No,” the old man said, shaking his head; he looked about as worried as Jotaro was starting to feel, so he knew that he wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been contacted by Aunt Alice when she had left the mansion on whatever errand it was that she’d figured that she and Uncle Dio needed to do on their own. “That’s why I called Avdol here: he’s a fortune teller, so he should be able to tell where she went and what she’s doing.”

 

“There’s also something else,” said the Egyptian man who’d come to the mansion to meet up with the Old Man for whatever other reason. “Mr. Joestar has told me that the Stand you possess has no name; he has asked me to help you to choose one for it.”

 

“Stand?” he asked, narrowing his eyes as he wondered just what in the hell this guy was getting at.

 

“I asked Pucci about what was going on with you,” the Old Man said, a slight smile on his face. “He was a bit evasive, considering the whole priest-in-training thing and all, but I got to know at least enough to figure out what was really going on with you.”

 

“All right,” he said, letting himself slump down onto the couch beside the Old Man, though far enough away that the Old Man couldn’t grab him and hug him or anything stupid like that.

 

“First, I wish for you to draw a card,” Avdol said, holding out the deck of oversized cards. “These are Tarot cards; the cards of fate will aid your efforts in finding the name that best suits the Stand you have been granted.”

 

Looking down at the cards that Avdol was holding out to him, Jotaro narrowed his eyes as he reached out with his right hand to take the deck as the Egyptian handed it over to him. He was about to start flipping through the cards themselves, wondering just what kind of cards there actually were in a Tarot deck, since he hadn’t seen any cards that he’d been able to recognize from any of the other kinds of decks that he’d seen before, but Avdol took them back before he could get a look at anything more than the first card at either the top or bottom of the deck.

 

“That will be enough, young man,” Avdol said, smiling kindly at him as he began shuffling the deck again.

 

Jotaro didn’t know just what in the hell the man was doing, but he’d wait and see what was going to happen before he started demanding answers; who knew, he might just end up getting his answers without actually having to do anything.

 

=SC=

 

The scent of old stone and dry sand permeated the air, as she, Dio, Domenico, Wham, Tarkus, and N’Doul all made their way into the abandoned, forgotten cityscape beyond the outskirts of Cairo. Narrowing her eyes as she studied their current surroundings, Alice wondered for a moment what kind of people had been responsible for building this place, back when it had been an actual city rather than just the remains of one. Still, that kind of thing was a concern for later; now, she and her comrades had work to do.

 

Still, Alice made a mental note to let the Speedwagon Foundation know about it, after all of this had been concluded.

 

Scenting the air for any nearby people, Alice signaled for the benefit of the pair of non-vampiric members of their party, and Dio chuckled deep in his throat, grinning widely as the six of them began to move in.

 

“It’s pretty obvious that she’s going to try to split us up,” she said, speaking just loudly enough that Domenico – the only one of them whose lack of experience with these kinds of operations was likely to cause him any kind of problems in the battle they were all about to be heading into – would be able to hear her without difficulties. “Still, she doesn’t really know what she’s dealing with, and it didn’t sound like any of her hired goons would be prepared to deal with anyone but ordinary Stand users or humans.”

 

“Yes,” Dio said, grinning in an amusedly conspiratorial sort of way. “I never did get around to telling dear little Enya just what it was that you and I actually were, sister dear.”

 

“Good; that’s something we have over her,” she said, nodding as the six of them began to draw within sight of what seemed to have been the main square of the empty, abandoned city they were all making their way deeper into. “Everybody ready?” there was a brief chorus of affirmations, after which Alice nodded sharply.

 

=SC=

 

When she caught sight of Lord Dio, along with that hateful woman and what seemed to be some sort of entourage that followed in their wake, Enya found herself smiling for the first time since she had borne witness to the unsettling power of that hateful woman’s Stand. And yes, it had rattled her when she had found herself trapped within lightless stone, but the simple fact that she had not been left to rot within the street where she had suddenly found herself buried proved that the hateful woman’s threats had been little more than empty words, in the end. The simple fact that she hadn’t even been able to find it in herself to kill Enya’s poor, innocent son said everything Enya needed to know about her.

 

Hateful as she was, the woman was too pitiful to pose any kind of true threat.

 

=SC=

 

As the Commander had ordered, N’Doul had allowed himself to be separated from the main force of their group by the efforts of what seemed to be a fellow Stand user. The man was clearly nowhere near as versed in Stands as he had clearly come to think, considering the way that he’d not seemed to be taking account of his surroundings, as well as the fact that N’Doul could feel his approaching footfalls – hasty and ill-considered as his approach clearly was, even against a man he’d seen was blind – and the way that he didn’t even pause to check his approach when he summoned his own Stand.

 

Clearly, this man was not about to survive the lesson that he would soon be given.

 

The Stand that his soon-to-be-dead opponent had brought out seemed to be taller than the man himself – if the length of the stride and the weight of the steps that he could detect were any sort of indication – and N’Doul took brief note of such a fact, even as he prepared his own Geb to strike as soon as the man had come within his range. When the man had come within the lethal range of his Geb, N’Doul drove his blade of water through the man’s head before he had time for more than a surprised sort of breath. The thud of an empty body falling to the ground, as well as the sudden absence of the Stand that the man had summoned to fight for him brought a slight, pleased smile to N’Doul’s face.

 

The Commander is going to want to know about this, he mused. Even beyond the fact that first blood had seemingly gone to him, she would want to know that the enemy’s forces had been cut down in strength. Only four of the five brought here remained, aside from Enya herself.

 

=SC=

 

She’d tagged the man as soon as his eyes had fallen upon her; he was a short man, with an almost excessively stupid-looking hairstyle, even for the world where she’d presently found herself. Really, it looked like someone had taken Dr. Robotnik’s mustache, put a bunch of bells in it, and was trying to pass it off as hair. It had almost been enough to distract her for a moment from the sick, possessive lust in his eyes when he’d looked at her that first time that their respective groups of six had encountered one another.

 

She’d sent Stardust to wait underground as soon as he’d turned his full attention toward her, and allowed him to think he’d been chasing her while she’d separated him from what allies he could claim among the ranks of Enya’s hired goons.

 

“Hello,” she said calmly, smirking ever so slightly, as Stardust leaped out of the ground, wrapping its arms around the man’s waist and hurling him to the dusty ground, dragging him under until his desperately waving arms were the only visible parts that remained; the sudden way they stopped, frozenly clawing at the open air, was the first indication that Stardust had let go. “And goodbye.”

 

Turning to nod at her Stand as it rose back out of the ground, flourishing a cheerful bow, Alice chuckled as she felt Stardust retreating back to wherever it was that Stands rested when they weren’t called upon to fight in one battle or another. She sometimes wondered just where that was, but she had more than enough time to think about that kind of thing when she wasn’t in the middle of an operation.

 

=SC=

 

In the end, Avdol and the Old Man had both needed to work together to find out just where it was that Aunt Alice had gone. And, when it had turned out to be that she, Uncle Dio, and a group of her people had gone out to fight some crazy group of what seemed to be Stand users, he’d insisted on going out to help. According to everything that Avdol had been saying, his own Stand was one of the most powerful that the man had ever seen, and only a Stand user could come out on top in a fight against another of their own kind.

 

Sure, Aunt Alice and Uncle Dio might have been vampires, but even the Old Man had admitted that there was no way of telling how that kind of thing would help them in a battle against people who possessed the same kind of weird-assed powers that he, the Old Man, and Avdol all had right now.

 

In the end, the Old Man had managed to make a map leading them to just where it was that Aunt Alice and Uncle Dio, along with whatever other people had been drawn into the battle with them. The three of them had hopped into one of Aunt Alice’s rugged dune buggies, and set off as quickly as they could. About the only thing that Jotaro could find it in himself to be grateful for was the fact that the sun had set awhile ago.

Chapter Text

Sure, there was a full moon high in the sky, but it wasn’t moonlight that vampires like Aunt Alice and Uncle Dio had to worry about. So, that was at least one good thing that he could see about the situation they were all going to be making their way into, even if he couldn’t think of any others. When the three of them finally made it to the deserted city that Aunt Alice, Uncle Dio, and everyone else who had come with them had gone off to, Jotaro narrowed his eyes just that much farther as he, the Old Man, and Avdol all began making their way into the empty city.

 

Calling Star Platinum, Jotaro focused on the Stand’s enhanced vision.

 

“There’s some kind of fog bank covering part of the city,” he said, wondering if there was someone else with that kind of power, or if Domenico Pucci really had come here to Cairo with whoever else it was that Aunt Alice had seemingly called to her side when she’d gone into battle.

 

More and more, it was starting to seem like this had been one of Aunt Alice’s plans, and not just something she’d been caught up by when whoever it was that had attacked her had made their move; still, Aunt Alice had always said that it was better to have forces that the enemy didn’t know about.

 

“Come on,” he said, having made his decision as he called Star Platinum back again. “Let’s get moving.”

 

=SC=

 

Making his way into the fog-enshrouded part of the empty city, both since he was curious about what could have been causing it and because Jotaro had suggested that it might have been Domenico and his Stand causing this kind of thing, Joseph steadied his breathing and began to channel Hamon in earnest. Before he could take another step, however, the sound of something large exploding drew him up short.

 

“Holy shit!”

 

Following the sounds of metal shrapnel raining to the ground, Joseph stopped short as he saw the remains of what seemed to be some kind of car that looked like someone had strapped a bomb to the front of it. The sight of what seemed to be a young woman running from the sight of the exploded vehicle drew his attention then, and Joseph turned to head her off before she could get too far.

 

“Move it, handsome!” she shouted, just as the pair of them caught sight of each other.

 

“What’s going on?” he asked, adjusting his hat before it could go flying off from the speed that the pair of them had both started moving at.

 

“There’s no-! ”

 

“Joseph Joestar, is that you?” asked a familiar voice, as a very familiar Stand appeared out of the fog next to him.

 

“Domenico!” he exclaimed, grinning as he recognized the form of Weather Report, now standing on his left as it strode calmly out of the thick fog. “Hey, I thought it was you. What’re you doing out here?”

 

“That woman you’re with is one of Enya’s mercenary Stand users,” Weather Report stopped walking, though it was clear that Domenico was ready to act at the slightest hint of hostility from what had turned out to be an enemy Stand user. “However, I have my doubts that she has any true desire to carry this battle to its ultimate conclusion.”

 

“You’re damned right,” the woman snapped, glaring from him to Weather Report, and then turning her attention back to him; Joseph figured it made sense, since Weather Report – or any Stand, it seemed – didn’t quite look human enough for most people to feel comfortable talking to. “I didn’t sign up to try fighting against someone who could control the damned weather; I was just here to knock off some company manager or something. So,” the woman said, seeming to deliberately turn her attention away from everything that had happened, grinning in what seemed to be an overblown, seductive fashion. “What’s say you and I get out of here, handsome?”

 

“I’m married,” he said, feeling like he almost had to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation that he was currently dealing with.

 

“Ms. Mariah, have you already given up on me?” Domenico asked, his tone clearly teasing, and the amused grin on his face becoming plainly visible as Weather Report lifted the fog that had enveloped their battlefield.

 

“You pelted me with hailstones the size of golf balls, tried to explode me with those lightning bolts of yours, and then had me wandering in this stupid fog of yours until lover boy came here to find me!” Mariah growled, pointing fiercely at Domenico as he made his way over to where the pair of them were standing; Joseph couldn’t help but notice that he hadn’t dismissed Weather Report yet. “I don’t care how cute you are! If you take one step closer, you’re going to be facing the full power of my Stand, you bastard!”

 

“I would not advise that you attempt anything of that sort,” Domenico said, the amused grin on his face not having gotten even the slightest bit smaller. A cloud emerged around Weather Report’s right hand, crackling with lightning as the Stand clenched its fist.

 

Mariah growled, and Joseph winced slightly.

 

“Hold up, hold up!” he said, hopping between the pair of them, just before the pair of them could leap back on the attack again. “It sounds like this is all a big misunderstanding! So, why don’t we just, not start smashing each other’s heads in and talk?”

 

“Hmm, I suppose,” Domenico said. “Of course, there is always another option, Ms. Mariah.”

 

“What’re you getting at?” Mariah demanded, narrowing her eyes as Domenico continued facing her, staying carefully just outside of the limit that she had specified as being allegedly beyond the range where she would send her Stand after him.

 

“The woman that you were sent here to attack is always on the lookout for people with talent and dedication to join her organization,” Domenico said, straightening himself up and folding his arms neatly behind his back, standing at ease in a way that couldn’t help but remind Joseph of the way that Aunty Alice stood when she was speaking to someone she’d taken an interest in.

 

He couldn’t help but think things were going to go better, from this point on.

 

=SC=

 

When he, Dio, had caught sight of that handsome stranger Muhammad Avdol and his thoroughly fascinating Stand – resembling a rather magnificent firebird, and going by the name of Magician’s Red – it was all that he could do not to laugh in sheer, amused pleasure. Even though the pair of them had ended up being confronted by a rather annoying, unimportant little man by the name of Rubber Soul, having such a lovely combat-partner as the man standing beside him made things quite a bit more bearable.

 

“Mr. Brando, will you please stop making bedroom eyes at me and focus on the battle?”

 

He, Dio, chuckled at the resigned expression of annoyance that appeared on the Egyptian’s lovely, dusky-skinned face. “I suppose I can indulge you for the moment, my dear Avdol.”

 

“Are you two faggots actually planning to fight me now?” the fool man demanded, grinning in that same way he’d been doing ever since he’d met the pair of them in combat; it was rather adorable, how the imbecile didn’t have even the slightest clue that he only remained breathing by the grace of Dio Brando.

 

And such grace could be taken back just as easily as it had been given.

 

He, Dio, exchanged a single nod with the handsome Egyptian who had been so kind to give him company while he dealt with the annoyance who dared to challenge his dominion. The pair of them nodded to one another and he, Dio, grinned all the wider.

 

“Magician’s Red!”

 

“The World!”

 

“Don’t’ make me laugh! My Yellow Temperance-”

 

“Crossfire Hurricane Special!”

 

Laughing in sheer glee as the fool tried in vain to leap out of the way of the veritable hail of anhk-shaped bolts of blazing fire that rained down upon him he, Dio, focused upon the most unique of powers that his glorious Stand had granted to him.

 

“The World! Time: be still!”

 

For just a single, wonderful moment he, Dio, could see the very air rippling as the gears of time were stopped by the firm hands of his mighty Stand. Grinning all the wider, enough to show his fangs if there had been anyone at all who could have seen a single thing in his world of frozen time he, Dio, moved to confront the fool who had been so arrogant as to place himself in opposition to one of the Twin Vampire Lords of the Earth. Slamming his right fist into the fool’s gut, just hard enough to launch him across the expanse of their battlefield when he, Dio, allowed inertia to have sway once more.

 

“And now, let time resume,” he, Dio, said with a slightly smaller grin.

 

The stupid look of surprise on Rubber Soul’s face as he slammed into the wall of the building on the far side of the empty courtyard that the three of them had been fighting in drew a deep, hearty laugh from him, Dio, as he watched it happen.

 

“Avdol, would you like to do the honors?” he, Dio, asked, knowing that fire was one of the best ways to dispose of trash that had outlived its usefulness.

 

The fact that such a thing was also a truly horrible way to die was not so much a consideration; well, not so much, anyway.

 

“Right,” the handsome Egyptian said, nodding in a way that seemed both decisive and uncomfortable at once. “There is truly nothing redeemable about you, Rubber Soul; burn to a crisp!”

 

The stench of charring meat and hair, even over and above the quickly-silenced screams of the man on the ground before them, made it necessary for him to firmly bite back a grin as he, Dio, watched the imbecile’s rightful sentence be carried out. There was truly something to be said for the proper disposal of such rubbish.

 

=SC=

 

When he’d met that weird scrawny guy with the stupid-looking big arms, Jotaro hadn’t wasted any time in summoning Star Platinum; this new guy’s Stand seemed to have some kind of an ability to possess machines. Or at least cars, since the first place that he’d seen it was in that stupid-looking car that the bastard had tried to hit him with when he’d arrived. Still, the look of shock on his stupid face when Star had launched him out of the car with a single punch had been pretty funny.

 

“Hey! That wasn’t fair!”

 

“Fair?” he scoffed. “You think I give a shit about fair?”

 

This bastard knew what he’d done when he’d thrown in his lot with Enya and all of her mercenaries; when he’d tried to run him over with that Stand-possessed car of his; when he’d decided that whatever kind of money that Enya was offering – or however the hell else the old hag had managed to convince a bunch of mercenaries to go after their family, Aunt Alice in particular – was worth attacking someone he clearly didn’t know, and therefore wouldn’t have anything against.

 

Especially not this kind of idiot, who looked like he’d never done a normal day’s work in his life.

 

“Star Platinum!”

 

His Stand acknowledged him with its usual sharp cry of “ora”, leaping forward to launch a barrage of punches down on the scrawny little bastard as he tried to make another lunge for that Stand-possessed car of his. Moving forward once Star had finished its work, Jotaro kicked the man away from the car, and the sent Star after the thing. There was no point in leaving anything to chance, considering what kind of a Stand user he seemed to be dealing with.

 

Turning back to look at the scrawny guy as he lay twitching on the ground, Jotaro paused for a couple seconds to make sure that the man wasn’t going to be getting up for awhile.

 

Yare yare daze,” he muttered, tugging down the brim of his cap as he turned to leave the site of his battle with the Stand user who’d had that stupid Stand-possessed car.

 

=SC=

 

The sound of panting drew Alice’s attention again, and she nodded to Stardust as her Stand slipped back underground, with The Duke launching itself at the empty window of a nearby building in the form of a spring, before shifting to look like a wind chime as it hung from the top of the empty windowpane. Smirking slightly as she herself leaped up to the top of the empty buildings all around them, Alice paused to watch for the approach of the Stand user that had been stalking her nearly as persistently as that annoying, gross little midget that she’d previously dealt with.

 

It was more than obvious that the pair of them had both taken the same kind of interest in her, the purely kind of physical reaction that she’d seen from more than her fair share of people, and Alice had known just what that particular mercenary wanted from her. She also knew how unlikely it was that she’d be able to come to any kind of accord with this one, anymore than she’d been able to do such a thing with the midget that she’d dealt with some time earlier.

 

Narrowing her eyes as she heard the pounding footfalls of the woman she’d led into this area of the empty city that she and hers had led Enya’s mercenary forces on a merry chase through, Alice smirked as she caught sight of The Duke flapping its tassel in anticipation. The motion itself was subdued enough to pass for the action of the light breeze that was blowing, at least if someone was as careless as the other woman moving along beneath her seemed to be, so Alice wasn’t particularly worried about that.

 

“Damn it, where did that damned woman go now?” the stocky, heavy-set woman demanded of no one and everyone, as she stopped in the middle of the empty street, looking around with sharp, annoyed little darts of her gaze.

 

Leaping lightly back to the ground, once it was clear that the other Stand user was about to make her way out of the area, Alice didn’t bother to suppress a smirk as she leaned against the near side of the building that The Duke had taken up a post on.

 

“You’re really putting a lot of effort into this, Ms. Nena,” she said, carefully positioning herself so that she was far enough away from The Duke that even an astute observer wouldn’t be able to keep the both of them in sight at once.

 

“You-! How the hell did you manage to get away from me?!” the heavy-set woman demanded, a wild-eyed look of fury on her face as the pair of them faced one another.

 

Alice chuckled, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes, smirking. “Well, isn’t that just the sixty-four dollar question.”

 

“You-!” Nena snarled, an expression of tooth-grinding – quite literally so, since she was actually grinding her teeth as the pair of them stared one another down – rage appearing on her face. “You pretty girls are all the same: everything just given to you, while the rest of us have to struggle for even the slightest thing! Well, I’m going to take that pretty face of yours, right now!”

 

Will you, now?” she drawled, smirking all the wider as Nena stared her down, watching as The Duke shifted shape into a sharp-ended spring.

 

“What the hell are you so smug about?!” Nena demanded, actually beginning to look a bit rabid.

 

“You’re in just the right place, Nena dear,” she said, just as Nena opened her mouth again and The Duke launched itself into the back of her head.

 

Stardust leaped back out of the ground, sweeping its right wrist over The Duke, and allowing the secondary Stand to wrap itself back around it, settling back into its default disguise of a thin, white bracelet. Turning away from the corpse, Alice began making her way back to the center of the empty city. She’d been hearing the sound of other Stand battles, on and off, while she had been positioning Nena for the end of this battle of theirs.

 

=SC=

 

Heart hammering in her chest, as she ran through the streets of the necropolis that that hateful woman had lured her and her allies to when she had given Enya that ultimatum and forced her into the streets of this dead city, Enya focused as hard as she could on the powers of Justice, drawing up more of the corpses that she had gathered to herself when she had passed through one of the graveyards on the way to this place. The horrible scream of the rocket that had been attached to the hammer that that horrid giant of a man that that hateful woman had brought to this battle – as distinct from the titan whose form she had only, thankfully, been able to catch the briefest of glimpses of when that hateful woman had brought her forces down upon them all – when Enya had sent those who had been touched by Justice into the streets of this empty city, caused her to shudder in her very footsteps as she listened to the sounds of those Justice’s own being shattered utterly.

 

Shuddering as she saw the severed limbs and shattered bodies that had been left behind by the giant and his infernal rocket-powered hammer, Enya hurried to escape from the necropolis where she had found herself trapped when that hateful woman and her army of horrors had fallen upon here.

 

“Now, Enya dear, wherever are you thinking to go to?”

 

Enya felt almost as though her very blood had frozen in her veins, at the sound of Lord Dio’s beautiful voice; she hadn’t even heard his footsteps approaching!

 

“Lord Dio!” she exclaimed, turning around to see the almost amused smirk on her Lord’s face as he approached her.

 

“Now, you didn’t think you were actually going to escape from this place, did you Enya?” Lord Dio asked, smirk widening into a grin that showed his fangs; there were few enough times that she could remember seeing such things, but each and every time they had served to remind her that, for all of Lord Dio’s power and beauty, he was still a predator in the end.

 

The sight of another man approaching, this one the young Italian that she had caught the briefest of glimpses of when that hateful woman and her forces had first appeared in this dead city alongside her, brought Enya up short, just as she was about to start running for her life. She’d no way of knowing just how she would ever be able to get, but finding herself at the mercy of this newcomer made her realize that such a thing had been a false hope in the first place. The sight of the hateful woman herself, as well as the young man in the long coat walking next to her, caused Enya to shudder in a mix of terror and hatred.

 

“Ah, so this is where you managed to scamper off to,” the hateful woman said, folding her arms as she continued stalking forward.

 

=SC=

 

Narrowing her eyes as she caught sight of Enya herself, Alice turned to look for a moment at Jotaro as the pair of them continued on their way into the center of the empty cityscape. Her great grand-nephew looked like he was trying with not much success to hold himself back from Stand-blitzing Enya until she was little more than a pile of bloody giblets on the ground.

 

“Keep a lid on it for a bit, ‘kay?” she asked, leaning over so that she could speak lowly enough that no one but Jotaro would be able to overhear her.

 

“Yeah,” Jotaro muttered, tugging on the brim of his cap in that same, nervous gesture that she’d seen him do so often.

 

The sound of approaching footfalls, as the rest of her forces converged on the center of the empty city that she had met the mercenary forces that Enya had hired, brought a small smile to her face as she and Jotaro continued on their way forward, closing in on Enya like the proverbial slowly-tightening noose. The sounds – and even the feel, coming up through the ground under her feet – of Wham and Tarkus slaughtering their way through the Stand-possessed corpses that Enya had brought along with her to this battleground let Alice relax just that much more, even as she found herself wondering for a moment just where in the hell she’d gotten those corpses and been able to move them into place pretty much under the respective noses of her and her forces.

 

Still, that kind of thing wasn’t important, so Alice put it out of her mind as she and Jotaro closed with Enya at last.

 

=SC=

 

Smirking as he, Dio, caught sight of his sweet sister and his Littlest Jojo, he chuckled as he called out his glorious Stand once again. There could truly be only one fate for such betrayal as Enya had so willingly committed, and he, Dio, was going to relish delivering it. Just as he’d beheld the gathering forces of his sweet sister – as well as both his Little Jojo and his Littlest Jojo – he, Dio, called out to his glorious Stand once more.

 

“The World: time be still!”

 

The sensation of his glorious Stand halting the gears of time once again brought a wide, pleased grin back to his face as he leaped into the air. There was something special that he, Dio, had prepared for such a moment. Something that would make quite the impact on the foolish woman who had dared to cross him in such a way as that young fool had dared to do.

 

=SC=

 

It seemed like he’d just blinked, when he and Aunt Alice had caught up to that old hag who was trying to attack her for whatever stupid reason that’d come into her head, when-

 

“What the hell?” he found himself almost forced to say. “Where the fuck did Uncle Dio get a steamroller?”

 

Aunt Alice laughed softly. “Well, you know how he likes to prepare for these things.”

 

Turning to look over at his aunt as she seemed to study the sight of the steamroller – seriously, a fucking steamroller – that had been dropped down on her from out of what had looked like a clear sky, Jotaro wondered just what in the hell Uncle Dio had been thinking when he’d picked that thing up. And just where in the hell he’d been able to find the thing in the first place. Still, it wasn’t like Uncle Dio was likely to tell him, so Jotaro tried not to think about that kind of thing.

 

The ten of them – some of the people from Aunt Alice’s company, the Old Man and Avdol, and what seemed to be one of the old hag’s mercenaries who’d actually had the sense to jump ship before Aunt Alice had been forced to deal with her personally – all met up in the center of the city.

 

“Well, I suppose that’s one way of dealing with a troublesome Stand user,” Aunt Alice said, sounding fairly amused; though nowhere near as much as Uncle Dio clearly was.

 

“Of course, sister dear,” Uncle Dio said, grinning in that way of his that told anyone who saw him that he didn’t have a single regret about whatever it was that he’d done. “You’ve never known me to do anything by half-measures, have you?”

 

“No, I suppose not,” Aunt Alice said, giving Uncle Dio that same look she always gave him when he’d done something dumb.

Chapter Text

When she’d sent Wham, Tarkus, and Domenico back to Italy – Tarkus in particular being eager to get back to his seemingly endless sparring with Wham – she’d almost been expecting it when Domenico had asked for a couple days’ leave to reconnect with Enrico at Dio’s mansion, and granting it was a simple matter of contacting Caesar and letting him know that Domenico was going to be away from Italy for at least a few days. She’d also made sure to let him know that Mariah was going to be meeting with him, since she’d taken the offer of employment that Alice had made her when the pair of them had met.

 

Once the remainder of their group had returned to Dio’s mansion again, Alice allowed herself to relax from the state of determined alertness that she’d had to remain in while confronting Enya and her band of mercenary Stand users. Sure, physical tension wasn’t a problem for a vampire like her or Dio, but mental tension was of course a different story. It was good to be back, under the circumstances.

 

Making her way back to the room that Dio had built and furnished for her to use while she stayed in this particular mansion, Alice smiled slightly as she saw the shelf full of model planes and aircraft that Dio had obviously collected for her when he had been decorating the room for her. The shelf itself stretched the length of the wall on the left side of the room, and came up to Alice’s waist when she made her way over to examine it.

 

=SC=

 

When he and the rest of his weird family – and Aunt Alice, of course – had all made their way back to Uncle Dio’s mansion again, Jotaro had found himself feeling a lot more settled about things. Looks like Pucci knew what he was talking about, he mused, smirking as he made his way back to the kitchen to fix himself something to eat. The sound of fluttering wings drew his attention, just as Star tossed a neatly-sliced bit of ham over his left shoulder.

 

Chuckling softly as he glanced over at the perch where Pet Shop had landed, Jotaro turned his attention back to what he was actually going to eat.

 

When he’d finally decided on fixing himself a steak topped with sautéed mushrooms, the sound of hurried footsteps – familiar footsteps – brought Jotaro up short, just as Star had finished bringing him a cutting board, a steak knife, and the wrapped cuts of meat that Uncle Dio had stocked his fridge with.

 

“Jotaro, honey, I’m so glad that you and Uncle Dio had a good time out there,” Mom said, and Jotaro could see her smiling brightly through Star’s eyes as she hugged him from behind. “Now, what- Oh, here, let me fix that for you, sweetie!” she said, gently nudging him aside as she hurried to put on one of the brightly colored aprons hanging from a trio of hooks on the far wall.

 

“Mom, I can-”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it, sweetie,” Mom said, grinning all the wider as she came back with a pink polka dotted apron firmly tied around her waist. “You just let me take care of everything!”

 

Coughing into his right fist to hide a smile, Jotaro left the kitchen; he knew that there was no point in trying to argue with Mom when she was in one of these moods of hers. He’d tried it once, and once was enough to know just how futile that kind of thing was.

 

=SC=

 

Taking a deep breath as she started gathering and preparing all the spices for the sauce that Jotaro liked on his steak, Holly set out the mushrooms that Jotaro had clearly been about to cut up for himself before  he started them sautéing. Tossing them all up into the air, she hit them with a few Hamon-charged taps of her fingers, smiling as the remains of the dirt that had been clinging to them exploded out into the air with a soft poof. Evening out her breathing again, she tossed the mushrooms back into the air, hitting them with precise bursts of Hamon to cut them neatly apart.

 

Making her way over to the large refrigerator at the far end of the kitchen, Holly got out a stick of butter, carried it over to the rack of cookware so that she could pick up a frying pan, set it down near the bowl of mushrooms that she’d previously prepared, sliced it in half, then set that half in the pan so that it could heat up while she put back the butter. Picking up a slotted spoon so that she’d be able to stir both the butter and the mushrooms as they cooked, Holly smiled just that much wider as she made her way back to the stove again.

 

Jotaro was such a good boy, trying to give her a break by cooking for himself.

 

=SC=

 

The sound of fluttering wings drew his attention, and Jotaro glanced over at the perch by the coffee table for a long moment, before a slight tug on the back of his head drew his attention to what Pet Shop was really doing.

 

“Stop trying to preen my hair,” he said, turning so he could give an annoyed glare at the falcon as it perched on the back of the couch he’d been lounging on.

 

Pet Shop gave him his usual unimpressed look, fluffing his feathers up before beginning to preen himself. Rolling his eyes, Jotaro settled back down on the couch. Lifting up his left arm so that the falcon could land on it, Jotaro moved him over to the perch that had been set up in the huge sitting room, beside the coffee table he was sitting at. A lot of places had been set up in the house for Pet Shop, since the falcon was pretty much given the run of anywhere that Uncle Dio lived, or that was what Jotaro had heard from Aunt Alice when he’d asked her about that kind of thing.

 

“My hair just does that,” he said, in response to a disapproving caw from the falcon perching to his left. “I brushed it this morning.”

 

Turning back to the small shelf of books that had been set by the coffee table he was seated at, Jotaro flipped through them and picked out one of the Calvin and Hobbes collection that stuck out from the shelf. Chuckling softly as he opened the book, Jotaro settled back into the couch.

 

=SC=

 

When he, Dio, had seen the control that his adorable Littlest Jojo had demonstrated over the Stand that had been granted to him by the efforts that he had gone to when he’d paid his first visit to his sweet little puppy’s grave, he’d found himself rather pleased by the whole matter. However, there was also something else that he, Dio, could do for his cute Littlest Jojo. To that end, he’d gone in search of Little Lori and her adorable boyfriend.

 

The pair of them, and in particular their Stands, would provide some amusement for the his Littlest Jojo, and perhaps the pair of them, as well.

 

He’d eventually managed to find the pair of them in the shaded balcony that he’d had set up, in preparation for the garden that he’d been setting up for those who would be coming to the spa that he would soon be running, and he, Dio, found himself smiling as he paused for a moment to watch his Little Lori painting while her adorable boyfriend sat next to her with the look of someone who was enthralled by what he was seeing happen. Moving closer he, Dio, found that Little Lori was painting her own interpretation of the garden that he and his underlings were slowly working to create as a place where those who would eventually come to his spa would be able to enjoy alongside those members of his family that would be staying in this mansion of his when the spa of his was up and fully functioning.

 

It was a rather beautiful thing, he had to admit.

 

Pausing to await the completion of the work that Little Lori was pouring so much of her heart and time into, knowing from his own time spent with his sweet sister when she had had the time to paint for her own enjoyment he, Dio, smiled as he continued on his way over to Little Lori’s side.

 

“That’s a wonderful painting, Little Lori,” he, Dio, said as he stepped over to where the pair of them were seated, looking out over the expanse of the freshly-planted garden.

 

He, Dio, had little enough interest in what an average human would have seen when they looked over the expanse, but there was a certain sense of promise about each and every one of the young trees, shrubs, and flowers that had been planted in elegant, sweeping patterns throughout the expanse. He could see what this place would become, given enough time to grow and he, Dio, rather enjoyed the thought.

 

“Thanks,” Little Lori said, pausing for a moment as she recalled just what it was that he, Dio, had said to her so many times before. “Dio. Was there something else you wanted to talk about?”

 

“Indeed,” he said, smiling brightly as he caught sight of the interested expression beginning to appear on the adorable face of her boyfriend. “There is something that I, Dio, wish to speak to the both of you about.”

 

Moving to stand between the pair of them he, Dio, leaned in with a conspiratorial smile on his face.

 

=SC=

 

He’d moved into the dining room when Mom had brought out the steak he’d been about to cook for himself, and the sound of Pet Shop’s fluttering wings had brought a a small half-smile to his face, even though he knew just what it was that the falcon was interested in. Tossing a bit of the steak he was eating to Pet Shop as the falcon fluttered over his head to land on the nearby perch, Jotaro chuckled softly as he cracked open the bottle of root beer that Mom had brought out for him. Before he could take another bite, however, the prickling sense of anticipation began creeping up his spine.

 

Looking around at the room he was seated in, even as Star appeared beside him with his fists raised, Jotaro found that it was just as empty as it was when he’d made his way into the room: just him, Pet Shop, and now Star himself. Though there was still the sense that someone or other was watching him, Jotaro couldn’t tell just what it was that they were planning to do, if anything. Sighing heavily as he called Star back, Jotaro tried to settle himself back down at the table again.

 

There was no point in letting whoever this was ruin the meal that he was eating, since it didn’t really seem like they were going to attack him or anything.

 

Once he’d finished his meal, Jotaro went to put his dishes in the sink, then called Star back to his side as he made his way back through the mansion. There was still that prickle of anticipation that had settled between his shoulder blades – just below his neck – that let Jotaro know that he hadn’t really managed to escape from whoever it was that was stalking him. Well, whoever it was that’d been setting off his nerves while he’d been trying to eat dinner.

 

Making his way out into the garden that Uncle Dio had clearly laid out and had planted, Jotaro jerked in surprise as he felt something slamming into his back. Whipping around as fast as he could, he saw something that looked like some kind of catlike thing – something that was probably another Stand, since it was way too brightly colored to be any kind of cat that he’d ever seen – was standing up in the branches of the closest tree to where he was standing. Narrowing his eyes as he caught sight of just what it was that the other Stand was holding in its mouth-

 

“Give me my hat!” he shouted, even as Star dashed forward to grab the Stand.

 

The damned thing was just that much faster than his own Stand, though, and so it managed to skip out of the range of Star’s arms as he reached for the thing, turning to make a run back into the mansion. Following in Star’s footsteps as the pair of them chased that bastard of a Stand that had stolen his hat, Jotaro found himself being led into one of the unfurnished rooms that had some kind of a purpose that he didn’t really know or care about. There were two other people sitting there; well, only the girl was actually sitting.

 

The bishonen-looking guy in the green school uniform was just leaning casually against the far wall; that catlike thing must have been his Stand, given the smug way the thing had been perching in the tree just before Star had made a lunge for it, curled up next to the girl and just sort of wagging its tail.

 

=SC=

 

The sight of the kid rushing into the room where he’d prepared his Stand – Mr. Brando, who insisted that everyone call him Dio, which still felt a bit too informal for Noriaki so early, had said that he was going to ask someone to help him and Loreena name them – brought a slight smile to his face.

 

“All right, I’ve found you!” Jotaro snarled – actually snarled, which almost made Noriaki chuckle – as he stomped into the room that he and Loreena were staying in. “Now give me back my hat!”

 

Wow, he really does like that hat of his, Noriaki mused, trying as hard as he could not to start snickering; the way Loreena was already doing, prompting Jotaro to glare at her. Jotaro’s own Stand, a big purple barbarian-looking thing with long, waving hair and what looked like some kind of fancy boots, was still trying to grab for Loreena’s Stand as it jumped around on the tendrils that Noriaki’s own Stand had lined the room. It seemed, however, that Jotaro’s Stand was just that much slower than Loreena’s own.

 

It also looked like Loreena’s Stand was also fast enough to make it look like it was doing some kind of ninja trick; almost like there was actually more than one of it.

 

=SC=

 

Grinding his teeth as that damned bishonen’s damned cat Stand dashed out of the range of Star’s fists, the brim of his hat still firmly clenched in the thing’s mouth, Jotaro called Star back to his side. Storming over to the bishonen – who seemed to be on the verge of outright laughing it him, and who as a consequence he really wanted to punch in the face – he narrows his eyes at the small smirk that settles firmly on the annoying bastard’s face.

 

“Give me my damned hat back, already,” he snarls in response to that smirk, and grinds his teeth again when all it prompts in return as a chuckle.

 

“Wow, he really wasn’t kidding about you and that hat of yours,” the annoying bishonen said.

 

And didn’t it just fucking figure that he’d have his hands in this, too. “Uncle Dio put you up to this,” he grumbled, knowing that this was just the kind of stupid thing that either his uncle or the Old Man would have been responsible for.

 

Hell, maybe the both of them had been in on it; it was in character for either of them, and so there was no real way of knowing just who’d been responsible for this pain-in-the-ass plan in the first place.

 

“He’s your uncle?” the girl who’d been sitting on the floor asked, having stood up just as he’d come into the room, the melon-man looking Stand that was probably hers forming the top half of its body out of those green tendrils that had been strung all around the ceiling of the room, looking down at him with that alien face of its.

 

“It’s a long story,” he said. “Now give me back my hat,” he snapped, holding out his right hand as he called Star back to his side again.

 

“All right,” the blonde girl said, laughing softly as she beckoned to- the cat that had been holding the brim of his hat in its mouth for as long as the three of them had been talking.

 

“Wait, that was your Stand?” he asked, looking from the green melon-man to the cat that had just given him his hat back. “You stole my hat?”

 

“I didn’t think you would actually chase me for it,” the girl said, laughing softly as her Stand made its way back over to where she was standing, sitting down next to her and wagging its tail.

 

“Well, I guess we know better now,” the bishonen said, though there was a look on his face that Jotaro didn’t particularly like.

 

Nearly before he could blink, Jotaro found his hat yanked right off his head – again! – this time by that damned melon-man Stand that the bishonen had clearly sent out after him just because he was being a bastard.

 

“Hey!” he snapped, just as the blonde girl yelled what seemed to be the bishonen’s name, sending Star after the melon-man that had grabbed his hat right off of his head, holding it in its hands and looking like it was actually taunting him as it clung to the wall near the ceiling. “Bastard!”

 

=SC=

 

The sound of the phone ringing drew Holly’s attention, just as she’d been making her way to the room that Uncle Dio had directed her to while she and her family were staying with him at his mansion in Cairo, and Holly almost immediately found that same phone right in her hand just as she’d been considering picking it up. Gaping for a moment, as she looked down at the phone in her right hand, Holly sighed briefly and put it to her ear.

 

“Hello?” she paused, waiting for a moment as the familiar voice on the other end of the line answered her. “Oh, Straizo! It’s nice to hear from you again! Did you want to speak to Aunt Alice?” she paused again, nodding. “All right, I’ll go get her!”

 

Hurrying up the stairs, after having gotten confirmation from Straizo as to what Aunt Alice’s retainer wanted from her, Holly laughed softly; Straizo had actually sounded frazzled as he was talking to her. And, while Holly knew that it wasn’t nice to laugh at that kind of thing, but with the way that Straizo was always so calm and collected when he talked, hearing some actual emotion in his voice couldn’t help but be funny. At least a little bit, anyway.

 

=SC=

 

The sound of a familiar set of footsteps making their way up to her door drew Alice’s attention, just as she’d finished examining the well-stocked bookshelves perpendicular to the wall that held the model plane, airship, and spacecraft collection that Dio had assembled for her either before or after he’d gotten himself and Joseph banned for life from FAO Schwarz, and Alice made for the door once again.

 

“Holly,” she greeted, smiling and then raising an eyebrow as she way the expression on the younger woman’s face. “What’s on your mind?”

 

“Straizo is on the phone for you,” Holly said, obviously trying not to burst into outright laughter as the pair of them spoke to each other.

 

“Well, then, I suppose I should go find out what he wants,” she said, though she was beginning to suspect just what it was that had been getting to her retainer; really, there were few enough things that could.

 

Once she’d made her way down to the phone, settled neatly on the table – ornate as everything in Dio’s mansions tended to be – Alice picked it back up.

 

“He’s getting antsy again, isn’t he?” she asked, in a tone that said that she was already fully aware of what was going on.

 

“Yes,” Straizo said, her retainer’s tone actually noticeably tight with tension; it was the kind of thing that no one who didn’t know him as well as she and hers did would likely be able to hear, but it was there all the same. “He’s been getting underfoot to a much greater extent than usual.”

 

“I suppose I should speak to Dio, then,” she said, knowing how her brother felt about dogs in general – and Iggy in particular – but also fully aware that Iggy was devious enough to find his own way to get to her if she didn’t bring him over soon. “Everything else aside, Iggy’s not the patient type.”

 

“Yes,” Straizo said, and she could just see him narrowing his eyes in annoyance; either that, or he was glaring down at Iggy.

 

“Iggy,” she said sharply, in response to the excited barking that she could hear on the other end of the line. “I know this kind of thing isn’t easy for you, but I want you to keep a lid on it until I send for you. Understand?” narrowing her eyes in response to the distinctly wheedling whining coming more clearly over their connection, as Iggy presumably lifted himself up to the level of the receiver with that sand-construct that was presumably his Stand.

 

Glancing down the hall as another set of familiar footfalls began making their way closer to where she currently was, Alice raised an eyebrow as she caught sight of Avdol.

 

“Ms. Brando, it seems as though we will soon be joined by a rather troublesome presence,” said the Egyptian that her capricious twin had set his sights on for the present; though it wasn’t as if she couldn’t see why.

 

“Another of your Tarot readings?” she asked, feeling rather amused; it certainly seemed as though those kind of things had a great deal more sway here and now than they’d had Before.

 

At least, given what she could still remember from Before.

 

“Yes,” Avdol said, smiling gently as he began shuffling those cards of his once more. “However, it also seems as though we will soon be meeting new people, as well.”

 

“Something auspicious, it sounds like,” she said, leaning against the wall beside the table that the phone had been set up on top of.

 

“Indeed,” Avdol nodded, the calm smile on his face growing just that much wider. “The pair of them will be coming to this place in search of answers, but if we welcome them as friends, then we will be able to gain steadfast and dedicated allies for the future.”

 

“That’s good to know,” she said, cradling the phone and wondering for a long moment just who it was that was going to show up at their place next.

 

Still, the fact that it wasn’t going to end up being another one of Enya’s hired goons was a good thing, at least.

 

=SC=

 

“Has the image at the back changed?” his brother asked, as the pair of them pressed on through the streets of Cairo.

 

Flipping to the back of his comic again, Boingo found himself staring at the four-armed goddess that had been on the back-cover of his comic ever since Thoth had first manifested itself. “Yeah; it seems like we’re on the path that Fate wants us to take.”

 

“All right,” his brother said, nodding sharply as he made the decision that Fate was leading them to. “Who are we going to meet when we make it to this mansion?”

 

Flipping back to the next page that had been revealed, Boingo studied it. “A woman is going to be the first one that we see when we get there,” he said, wondering if the flowering vines that he could see wrapped around her arms and behind her head like a halo was her Stand, or just meant that she was a kind person.

Chapter Text

Chapter Note: Dio pretty much reaches Peak Creepy in this chapter, and he has access to timestop.

 

The sound of a couple, sharp knocks at the door drew Holly up short, just as she’d been on her way to the kitchen to start dinner. And, while she did remember that Uncle Dio had… different dietary needs, and didn’t really need to eat, she also knew that he enjoyed having actual meals every once in awhile; particularly when she was the one to cook them. She could remember him saying that every time that she and the rest of her family had been invited to stay with him at one of the mansions that he’d had built, and she was happy to do these little things for him. When she made her way over to the door to answer it she found a pair of strange people standing there.

 

“Good afternoon,” she said, looking over the strange people who’d come to Uncle Dio’s mansion for whatever reason.

 

“Hello,” the tall man with a hat that kind of reminded her of Jotaro’s, at least in a way, though it was a lot taller than her son’s.

 

“Thank you for being so cordial, miss,” the tall man said, as the little boy with the comic clutched in his arms looked shyly up at her. “May we come in?”

 

“I’ll have to talk to my uncle about that,” she said, knowing that while Uncle Dio did enjoy meeting new people, he didn’t like having just anyone being invited into his holdings.

 

=SC=

 

Making his way to the other side of his room he, Dio, looked down at the ornate pocket watch that his sweet sister had bought for him quite a long time ago; one that he’d had repaired more than a few times as the years since his dear Alice had purchased it for him with some of the funds that their company had generated in the early days of its existence. Before it had begun to become the vast, international juggernaut that their company stood as today.

 

It seemed that his World’s current limit for holding the gears of time stood at four seconds; he could only hope that such would be enough time for what he, Dio, had planned.

 

When his World was forced to release the gears of time he, Dio, heard the sounds of hurried footfalls making their way to the room that he had set up for himself when he’d first been laying down the plans for the mansion where he and his lovely family were staying. Making his way over to the door as his World followed in his footsteps he, Dio, opened it, grinning widely as he saw his sweet little baby Holly standing in that same door.

 

“Baby Holly,” he, Dio, greeted. “Is there something you wished to talk to me about?” he asked, catching sight of the expression on her face and wondering just what it was that had drawn her to him at this time and place.

 

“There are people at the door,” baby Holly said, the concern on her face seeming to be more that he, Dio, would not approve of those who had come to visit them than about what those same people might try to do.

 

And truly, with so many of his and Alice’s sweet family now in possession of the glorious power that he, Dio, had been granted by the Stone Arrow that he’d allowed Enya – fool that she’d unfortunately turned out to be – to fire at him when she’d informed him of just what it could do, there was little enough that any of them would need to worry about from this day onward.

 

“Well then, I suppose I should go see just what it is that these newcomers want,” he, Dio, said, grinning cheerfully at baby Holly as he wrapped his left arm around her shoulders and gently guided her back out of his room.

 

Time would tell just what these newcomers had truly come to his Cairo holdings for, but he had to confess to at least a modicum of curiosity about the matter.

 

=SC=

 

Knowing that Mr. Brando would pester him incessantly – or just flirt with him all the more outrageously, which was almost more of an annoyance than simply being pestered by the man – he’d called the three whose Stands had not yet been granted names down to the expansive living room, keeping his deck of Tarot cards close by so that he would be able to give them their proper names. Names that would allow their users to bond all the more closely with the Stands that they had been granted, as well as to make it more simple for those who would be using them in combat to call for them when they needed such aid in battle.

 

Once the three of them – Noriaki Kakyoin, Loreena McKennitt, and his friend’s daughter Holly Kujo – had all made their way over to the table where he was sitting, Muhammad Avdol looked up at them.

 

“It’s good to see that all of you came so promptly,” he said, smiling gently as the three of them all arrayed themselves on a nearby couch, turning to look at him as they finished settling themselves down.

 

“You said you were going to help us find names for our Stands?” Noriaki said, and there was a definite thread of curiosity in the young man’s voice.

 

“Yes,” he said, nodding as he began shuffling the deck in his hands; he had already gotten to know the three of them well enough to determine what kind of people they were.

 

Now, he simply had to find out just what kind of names that the cards of fate would give to their Stands. As he shuffled the deck again, half-closing his eyes as he meditated for a long moment upon the kind of people that he had found these three to be. His gaze settling for a long moment on young Noriaki Kakyoin, Avdol drew the first of his Tarot cards.

 

“The Hierophant,” he said, considering just what such a card said about the young man seated before him. “Therefore, I will give your Stand the name Hierophant Green,” turning his gaze to Loreena, even as Noriaki repeated the name that he had given to his Stand in a thoughtful sort of way. “The Ace of Swords,” he paused for a moment, smiling slightly as he recalled the story of the meeting that had taken place between the two young people seated before him. “I will, hence, grant your Stand the name Crimson Ace,” smiling all the wider as he turned his gaze to Holly Kujo, who was beginning to lean forward with a definite air of anticipation on her face; truly, he was almost entirely certain as to what name the cards of fate would give to her Stand. “The Queen of Cups,” he said.

 

“Oh, that’s a lovely name!” Holly exclaimed, before he could think of a more proper name for the Stand that Mrs. Kujo had been granted.

 

“Well, I suppose we’ll call your Stand Queen of Cups, then,” he said, smiling back at Mrs. Kujo as the four of them all began to rise from their seats.

 

Noriaki Kakyoin and Loreena McKennitt both went off together, just the way he’d been expecting them to do considering how close they’d been when he’d first seen them, and Mrs. Kujo made her own way back up into the upper-storey of the mansion they were all currently staying in.

 

=SC=

 

When all of the members of their lovely family – including his sweet sister, as she’d had nothing to keep her up, no projects or the like that needed attending to for their company – had all settled down for the night, with even the guests that baby Holly had invited over and Little Lori and her adorable boyfriend finding places for themselves to stay he, Dio, knew that the best time to make his move had come. Making his way up into the rafters, where there would be even less chance of someone catching a glimpse of him when they desired a late-night snack, or else to use the facilities. At least, those who had not been granted such amenities in their own rooms.

 

Chuckling as he, Dio, began making his way up a nearby wall to the second-storey of the mansion that he and his were all staying in, he took a moment to regain his composure before he began moving again. There would be no point, after all, in concealing his actions from those around him if he were simply caught by the basest kind of chance. Holding himself still for a long moment, looking down at the door that stood before the room his dear Alice was staying in for the duration of the time she would be able to stay with him.

 

Calling his World back to his side once more he, Dio, whispered a specific instruction into his glorious Stand’s hidden ears.

 

Once the gears of time had been stopped, held firm in their place by the mighty hands of his glorious Stand he, Dio, leaped easily down from the wall and made his way over to the door. Slipping into the room where his sweet sister was resting, untroubled by the affairs of their company or any projects that she might have started during the course of her work for the company that the pair of them had created over the course of their long lives. Making his way over to the bed she was currently laying in, wrapped in the soft cotton sheets and the down comforter that he, Dio, had provided for her, he looked down at the pocket watch that he, Dio, had brought in with him for just this sort of an occasion.

 

One second had passed.

 

Running his tongue over his top two fangs as he opened his overcoat in order to gain access to the tools that he, Dio, had brought to this place for just such an occasion as this – the plans that he, Dio, had been concocting ever since he had discovered the true power of his glorious World – he took out the needle and the vial that he had brough