Clutching his head, Stievo woke up with a hangover, though he imbibed no alcohol. The exhilaration that came from testing his new powers had faded and the dark imprint that was left scared him almost as much as the depth of darkness that lied within Geryman…almost. He had taken innocent life for his own benefit. Was he really ready to become the next Geryman? He shook the thought out of his head. There would be plenty of time to think about that after Geryman was dealt with. For now, Stievo was going to go on the hunt.

He made stops at all of Geryman’s regular hideouts and hangouts. At each stop, he entered a gutted edifice whose contents had either been whisked away or whisked aflame. It was evident that Geryman was on the run. Perhaps for the first time in his life – certainly since Stievo had known him – Geryman was scared. The temperatures in Seattle were dropping. The only break from the rain came in the form of snow or hale. Winter was setting in, nestling into this corner of the country. Geryman must have known that he had his chance, took his shot, and missed. Now the younger, more educated Champion who was used to the frigid northeast winters was in his own element. He would gain strength when others would be struggling to conserve it. Reduced to their most animalistic, they were playing cat and mouse.

Reasonably certain that Geryman had left Seattle, Stievo drove down to Portland. His searches yielded similar results. He was on the right track, but was always a step behind. Then, he came to an old garment factory known as “Outfit”. Throughout his life, he had studied the worst that humans were capable of. History was littered with atrocities. Yet even with that background, what Stievo discovered at Outfit buckled his knees and stole a heartbeat. Countless limbs and torsos and skulls and undefinables were strewn across the factory floor. Burned. Dehydrated. Churned. Obliterated. They weren’t just dead. They had been practiced on. Geryman had been testing his abilities, growing strength, building knowledge, darkening his nature. Stievo’s confidence was shaken. Could Geryman actually turn even darker than he had thought? Was the son ready to supplant the father? Then the feelings started to bubble up. The betrayal/revenge/hatred that the younger Champ had felt toward the older. There was no room for fear. He may be stronger. He may be weaker. No matter, they must fight and one must die.

We have a darker nature than we care to admit
To confront, dig deep, peel away the scabs
May heal, may feel, but fear of the blood sun
Leads us to deny, submit to a fake self, moonlit

Elsewhere, Janifer Pompea was really feeling quite confident. She had run her rival, Hanci, out of Seattle. Potential rivals Carenf and Glendan were dead and in-hiding, respectively. Even her compatriots were out of the picture. Tayli had consolidated as much power as she was likely to ever get (which paled in comparison to Janifer’s) and their fearless ringleader, Geryman, had skipped town. Janifer had the whole of Seattle, perhaps the whole of the northwest, to herself – if only for the time being. The power over the masses was more intoxicating than any of the intoxicants that she peddled to the masses. Then came the fear and doubt. The more she had, the more she had to lose. As long as she had the backing of Geryman, she thought, there was only one person who could bring her down. She would take the initiative, capitalize on surprise, and become as much of a “Champion” as Geryman or Stievo. Janifer boarded a plane for Los Angeles.