CHAPTER 11 – II
Upstate New York
The rural cabin in which Stievo grew up never had any uninvited guests. It was quiet and tightly controlled. As a toddler his earliest years – in a cruel irony, the years he retained no memory of – found him surrounded by the most affection he would ever receive. A small, close-knit rotation of caregivers doted over the youngster. They all acted as one, unified in purpose. These men and women were known – only amongst themselves – as the Vicars Salamander (VS); followers of the Man of Gray, Knower of Knowers, Chronicler of Champions: Victor Strife. Victor himself did not spend much time at the cabin during these early years. They were a time of meeting the youngster’s fundamental needs: perfect health and robust growth. But as toddler transformed into child, Victor took on more of a teaching role.
As he had done with his previous protege in New Orleans, Victor taught the classics, both canonical and esoteric. Unlike with his previous pupil, Victor was able to start with a babe, a blank slate. He could take his time; weave a narrative, a tapestry of known dogma and forgotten truths. Victor had devoted his life to finding humanity’s Champions, yet he had a limited number of opportunities because there were but two Champions per generation – one Dark and one Light. Which did he have now? He was not sure. But to find a Champion almost at birth was his greatest aspiration. He could finally make full use of his multi-millenia’s-worth of knowledge.
When Victor took over instruction the focus pivoted from the physical to the mental. A healthy diet combined with the daily requirements of farm life made certain that Stievo would grow to fulfill his (ample) physical potential. To develop social skills, he enlisted his daughter, Victoria, who was three years younger than Stievo. Living in isolation, interacting only with adults, Victor knew he had to introduce more social interaction to build his well-rounded leader. Victoria was precocious, an able teacher even as a child, and she proved a valuable addition to the team of educators.
As Stievo entered his teenage years, he began to buck his elder the way that any good teenager should. A necessary benchmark. Victor knew that Stievo required an outlet for his angst. To maintain control, however, Victor knew that he had to select said outlets carefully. He opted for sport…individual sport. Wrestling and boxing chief among the options. The fighting sports would build the requisite character and fortitude that the young man would require for the battles to come.
My purpose is being fulfilled
Years of doing everything I know as right
Yet I remain confounded by this child
Is he the Champion of Dark or Light?
Revolution in industry
Severed nearly completely
The union since man’s dawn
That of brains and brawn