The whinny of a horse shook the still night as the Rocky Mountain wind blistered the face of the young English jockey. Shaken but determined, he mounted his horse Silver Bullet and stroked the thoroughbred’s mane.
“I’ll be damned if that Gyro Zeppeli and that washed up Joestar beat me to the finish.”
Diego Brando looked into the starry night, and grinned at the thought of using his newfound ability to achieve his desires. He had just fended off Johnny Joestar and Gyro Zeppeli, and he was beginning to understand the ability he had been gifted. He was ready to make it his own.
“Bloody hell, I feel spectacular! All my senses are as sharp as knives; I can smell each and every breath of Silver Bullet. No, I can practically sense what it will do. ‘Scary Monsters’...Thank you Dr. Ferdinand. You’ve given me my ticket to a surefire win. I’ll remind these ignorant fucks who ‘reins’ supreme!”.
Pleased by his own joke, Dio began to ease down the path past the cold adobe hut that he, Johnny, and Gyro were to spend the night. Figuring they must have made headway further into the mountains, he decided to not waste any time. Suddenly, his senses caught something.
“*Sniff, sniff*...Someone else is still here. It’s not Joestar or Gyro. Their horse is about 3 years old, a Mustang. It’s moving slowly towards the back of the village.”
Thinking quickly, he tugged the reins, and Silver Bullet turned around and strode back into the village. Suddenly, from behind the corner of one of the houses emerged a shadowy figure.
“Don’t bother, this area’s mine for the night. I suggest you get moving.”
The voice was coarse and cold, yet somehow Diego sensed no violent intent from the stranger. He proceeded to dismount.
“I don’t intend to remain here. Do what you want, but after what I’ve been through I could care less for another fight.” Diego paused, then scoffed, remarking “Although, if it comes down to it, you can be sure that I won’t lose.”
The mysterious rider soon dismounted, and the vibrant pink hair and attire became visible in the pale moonlight. “You’re Diego Brando, aren’t you?” the voice spoke softly. “I’ve been told you were one to watch in this race, and I see you carry yourself haughtily on those expectations.”
Diego sneered. “Who the hell are you? And what do you care of me?”
The stranger’s voice soothed a bit. “You can call me Hot Pants, and I’m a fellow contestant in this race. Truth be told, I was watching the encounter you recently had with Johnny Joestar and Gyro Zeppeli. And I know what it is you carry.”
Diego froze, his debonair manner now cracked in front of the chilling glare of Hot Pants. He was somewhat intimidated, but he glared back at her to put on a façade of resilience. “And? What of it? If you think you’re taking it, then I’m well prepared to fight a woman.”
Now it was Hot Pants who looked stunned. Her attempts to be discreet about her true identity were no match for Diego’s keen instincts. The arrogant British jockey couldn’t help but laugh.
“Of course I knew I wasn’t being approached by a man, I could sense the presence of a woman. Your horse didn’t smell as labored as with the weight of any man, and someone weighing that light would most likely be a woman like yourself.” He tiptoed around the careful subject of her weight so as to not offend her, for he secretly feared her wrath. He stretched his arms out and shrugged. “Ah, well, simply an educated guess, but I can tell I was right.”
She felt a bead of sweat on her forehead, and she reached for the item in her holster. However, her scowl slowly gave way to a smile, and she was rather astounded at his genius. She removed her helmet and approached Dio. With a stern gaze, she spoke to him.
“Fair enough. It seems as though we each have a secret of each other’s to keep. Also, I think it better to not ask you for your Corpse Part. I’ve seen your ability, and quite frankly, fighting you now would be useless (muda da). Right now I’m more concerned with the other parts that Gyro and Johnny made off with anyway. I can afford to let this go for now.”
Diego lowered his guard, although he could tell she was restraining herself. Truly, she wanted the Corpse Part, but she began to realize that perhaps she could let Diego keep it. That way, she figured, he would take care of Johnny and Gyro, and she would take the parts they carried. She smiled at her own brilliance, and Diego stood in the dim light, slightly puzzled.
He kicked one foot at the cold sand beneath him, trying to infer what all this was about. “So...you have no intention of winning this race, Hot Pants?”
Hot Pants’ eyes lowered, and she smirked, her pale face shadowed by her helmet as if make her motives all the more dubious to the young jockey. “Heh. You’re too cunning for your own good. Well, I’m afraid I can’t say much else. But if it makes you feel reassured, no, I won’t be in your way of winning this race. And if you keep my secrets, I’ll make sure Gyro Zeppeli and Johnny Joestar won’t pose a threat to you either.”
Dio wasn’t sure what to think. He now knew there was some other motive to this race, specifically centered around the Corpse Parts. However, he felt something else in his heart. Normally, he’d be thinking of a way to go back on his word and double-cross someone who stood in his way. But this person was different. He felt he could actually trust her. He felt a sense of righteousness in Hot Pants, and for once he felt no immediate resent towards someone he just met.
Collected as he was, he played it off. “So, Hot Pants...what you’re saying is, you wish to be my subordinate?”
Hot Pants began to laugh, something she hadn’t done in a long time. “Oh goodness, of course not! I submit to no one. Especially not to arrogant, younger, and shorter men like yourself.”
Not even the darkness of night could hide how red Dio’s face had turned with embarrassment. Nevertheless, he laughed off the witty retort in unison with her. He stared almost listfully at Hot Pants, and he felt a warmth inside that he had long been missing. He had realized why this stranger made him feel so at ease. She seemed to understand him, and despite how dignified he made himself out to be, she saw right through him. He believed she may even have had compassion for him, as if she was acting so amicably because she saw more in him than met the eye. Maybe she knew something about his own past; he thought for a moment, then broke the brief silence.
“You know, you remind me of someone. I—your determination, your sense of fairness, everything it—“. Diego then lost his words as the blink of an eye loses the trace of a shooting star. Slightly flustered yet unwilling to show it, he shuffled nervously. “Never mind, forget about it”.
Hot Pants looked him in the eyes. Those bright cyan eyes. She too felt something from him. His arrogance was quite blunt, but when she realized he couldn’t support the façade with his actions, at least not towards her, she thought of it as the childish arrogance of a young boy. He was small indeed, a bit shorter than she. Hot Pants got closer to Dio, and she gently caressed his face with her hand. Diego blushed, the sensation of the touch of another seeming so foreign to him. His lips parted and his eyes opened wider.
Hot Pants’ harsh voice became softer, like a cold, hard whiskey leaving a delicate and soothing flavor on the palate.
“You know...you remind me of someone as well, Dio. I—well, it’s personal. But Dio, something tells me that I want to protect you.”
She began to open up to him, realizing she let her emotions take over her typically stoic demeanor. She tried to compose herself again, and she took a small step back.
“Look, just, I—I don’t want you to die. I have something to—ah, now wouldn’t be the time I suppose. But please, promise me you’ll stay alive for my sake.”
Her words failed her. The tension between the two was quite intense. Both were cutthroat competitors in this race, but now at their meeting, it was as if fate had brought them together. Deep in their hearts, it was as if they knew they were fated to meet, and each believed the other had a purpose, a purpose bound to their own destinies.
Dio wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but he equated her feelings to his own for her, and he was willing to make his promise. A gust of wind chilled the skin on his neck. He took a step backwards.
Diego’s thoughts shifted to matters of the race, and he looked upward at the moon. He was losing time, but he hadn’t realized. He was rather enjoying this chance encounter. But he knew he had to leave. He cracked a smile and nodded his head, his soft hair falling down like rays of sunlight against the dark night sky.
“I promise. Now, I hate to be rude, but if I’m to win this stage, I need to be off.”
He mounted Silver Bullet and fastened his helmet. Hot Pants’ face regained its stoic appearance, and she seemed to nod in agreement.
“Do take care, Hot Pants,” Diego said as his horse turned away.
Hot Pants bit her lip, slightly displeased at how brief their encounter was. Suddenly, she remembered something.
Hot Pants called out before Diego could get moving. Diego turned to her once more.
“What? I don’t mean to rush things, but I really must be going.”
She raised her arm and motioned to the adobe hut that he and Johnny were in earlier. Outside the window lay the carcass of the grizzly bear that Diego had slain, while under the influence of Dr. Ferdinand. It had lost its transformation, and it was no longer alive. “Dio...you killed that bear, didn’t you?”
Diego was puzzled, and thought perhaps he did something wrong. There he was, beginning to feel that gut-wrenching intimidation from her. He gulped and gave a nervous answer.
“Yes, I suppose I did.”
Hot Pants looked at him endearingly, a smile forming between her cheeks. This was truly a sign to her, and she thanked her god in her heart. Tears almost welled in her eyes. She quickly suppressed them and regained her composure.
“Ah, I thought as much. That ability of yours is really powerful. Perhaps it’s best I chose not to fight you here. Farewell, Dio.”
She turned and led her Mustang further into the village. Diego galloped out into the wilderness, the howl of coyotes seeing him off. As he rode, he couldn’t imagine why she mentioned the bear. Nevertheless, he felt the need to trust her. He felt she was special, and not only did he want her as an ally, but he even wanted to just be with her again. He clutched his chest and promised himself to stay alive for her. This time, it was a genuine promise.
Meanwhile, Hot Pants prayed aloud, alone in the dead of night in the middle of the sleeping village.
“O, Lord, thank you for having our paths cross. Please protect Diego Brando, and help him in his journey. Perhaps I should have told him what I know about his family, but I just couldn’t find the words. Please let me see him again, so I might be able to do so and give him peace. He reminds me of *him* so much. I take our chance meeting as a sign that this journey is truly a path to righteousness. A path to redemption at last.”
She genuflected as she made the sign of the cross, and she made refuge for the cold night. She would set off for Canon City in a few hours, ready to pursue Johnny and Gyro.