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. He was left with a dark imprint that scared him almost as much as the darkness he saw 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 hangouts and hideouts. At each stop, he entered what was often a gutted edifice whose contents had either been whisked away or whisked aflame. It was evident that Geryman was on the run and scorching the earth in his wake. 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 forms 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 played cat and mouse.

Reasonably certain that Geryman had left Seattle, Stievo drove down to Portland. His searches there 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, Stievo 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 unidentifiables 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 truly ready to supplant the father? Then more 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. It did not matter. They must fight and one must die.

Elsewhere, Janifer Pompea was feeling quite confident. She had run her main rival, Hanci, out of Seattle. Carenf and Glendan were dead and in-hiding, respectively. 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 with Stievo following suit. Janifer had the whole of Seattle, perhaps the whole of the northwest, to herself – if only for the time being. The power she wielded over the masses provided a better high than any of the narcotics she peddled.

One day, everything changed. A letter from an anonymous sender arrived at her home, stating that the more she gained, the more she stood to lose. No matter how rich and powerful she was, there was a new rival to the south that would inevitably come to topple her. The letter provided details that she could not ignore. It was time for her next action. She would take the initiative, capitalize on surprise, and become every bit the “Champion” that Geryman was. Janifer chartered a plane for Los Angeles.

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