CHAPTER 22 (1948-1949) – I
It was dubbed “Operation Ahriman.” Stievo’s plan to challenge “Ohrmazd” began with a roundup of known vigilante warriors (or terrorists, as he saw them) all over the northeast, where his unit of the FBI was primarily involved. Dozens were arrested, but only the ones with ties to Aricame were of interest to Stievo. The large numbers of revolutionaries that were inspired by Aricame had formed networks to connect with other parts of the country. Aricame began communicating with the heads of these networks, organizing synchronized actions and terrifying the nation’s elites. It was one such organizer that Stievo interrogated; a man with the ridiculous name of Haze “Voila” Cocks.
At first, Cocks wouldn’t talk. Stievo was trying to play it “by the book,” but it was clear Cocks’ steely resolve is what earned Aricame’s trust. Stievo then decided he was warranted in roughing up his prisoner a bit – nothing too drastic, but not exactly lawful either. He was unable to extract information about Aricame directly (his adversary was far too smart for that), but Stievo did obtain intel on the group’s upcoming plan to unleash millions of dollars in counterfeit currency all over Chicago in order to sow confusion and discontent around the city. “Voila!” snickered Stievo as he left the interrogation room. Stievo did not normally take pleasure in cutting corners, but he was beginning to feel the same rage bubble up inside that he had felt when he took on Geryman. Something deep within began to stir.
The next phase of Op. Ahriman was then set in motion. Stievo’s New York office directed the Chicago branch to detain all those involved right as the plan was about to commence (“Catch the Reds red-handed,” Stievo quipped), while simultaneously unleashing a barrage of anti-Ohrmazd propaganda in Chicago newspapers, along with those on the west coast (to put pressure on Aricame where he lived) and in the northeast (to burnish Stievo’s popularity among the establishment). According to the plan, people would call for Ohrmazd to reveal himself; to turn himself in. Stievo knew damn well that Aricame would do no such thing, but he wanted to rattle him; enrage him and force him into a mistake.
So why provoke the Other? Stievo thought long and hard about this ever since that folder on vigilantism came across his desk with Aricame’s image inside. The two Champions would be forever linked, inexorably drawn to each other, and an opportunity demanded action. Even so, he felt conflicting emotions. First off, Aricame was stronger. He possessed the ultimate weapon – a proven ability to annihilate Stievo and anyone/thing around him in a moment. Why this hadn’t happened yet was another mystery to him. Rather than challenge a stronger opponent, Stievo had spent the last four years post-Manlius focusing on his own path to a better society. But there was also part of him that wasn’t sure his better society was ever truly possible, and that someday, somehow, the Darkness within would take control and cause unimaginable cruelty. Could he really hold that part of himself at bay? Could he keep his oath?
Now that action had been taken, the question was twofold: did he really want to succeed, or did he actually hope he (and his Darkness) would be defeated?
Drawn to you by your confidence and strength
To be like you, I have gone to great lengths
To get to know you, to face the loathsome
Duped! A feeling worse than being lonesome