CHAPTER 23 – III
After Stievo attained power-parity with Aricame, both Champions knew there would be risks involved with attempting to strike their nemesis. Even putting aside the massive loss of innocent life that would accompany such a strike, they both understood that a level playing field complicated things. The moment one Champion initiates the process, the other will sense it and immediately initiate a counter, thus assuring their mutual destruction.
In Texas, tensions were escalating, conflict inevitable. Once Stievo made another move, Aricame knew he had to respond. His Other had proven himself too cunning to be taken lightly. Stievo had combined his own resources and manpower with Hanci’s. They had also welcomed in the large unofficial force of the local watch, formerly under Aricame’s command. This group was headed by Ko. Their numbers and power were formidable, and Aricame knew that if they were to prevail and extend their influence even further, it would be bad news for him. The Champion of Light was faced with a difficult decision…
Aricame’s meeting with Rae went better than expected. After all that he had been through and stood for, Aricame could not believe that he had just agreed to team up with Rae and his criminal conglomerate. Like Stievo, Aricame was forced to compromise his values in order to do what needed to be done. Aricame offered “logistical support,” but only he knew that meant the use of his Championship powers to tip the scales. As months of fighting passed, Aricame controlled the minds and directed the movements of crooks and culprits, hoodlums and hooligans, scofflaws and scalawags. He broke prisoners out of jail, converting convicted felons into coveted fugitives, adding new soldiers to their side of the battle. None of this sat easy with him, but he comforted himself with the knowledge that once he had won, he would then round up all of his compatriots and jail them. He viewed his temporary deal with the dark side as a short-term necessity to repel the truly Dark powers.
Stievo took none of this lying down. As Aricame’s involvement increased, so too did his own. All the similar superpowers were brought to bear. One side would seem on the verge of victory, only to be rebuffed, and vice versa. The months of fighting turned into years. Neither Champion was willing to directly challenge their Other, yet every clever trick in the book was deployed to gain an advantage through their surrogates.
In 1953, with neither side showing a clear advantage, Rae and Ko met for the first time since their split. Standing in a field at dawn, on the outskirts of town, they were set to duel, an homage to the history of the land upon which they stood. At the chosen moment, both drew and fired. Blood-mist sat in the air as both bodies fell backward to the ground. Staring up to the reassuring light of dawn, both sets of eyes slowly closed.
Rae and Ko survived. They shared the same hospital room for a time before being transferred into Hanci’s care. At home, she placed her sons in separate rooms. Both unconscious, kept alive by machines, it was unlikely that either would ever awaken. Aricame and Stievo never agreed to a truce. Instead, one of them just stopped fighting and the other did the same. Neither is really sure who went first.
Invisible killer, widespread uncertainty
Stay in or step out? Play the probability
Assess the risk; weigh quantity or quality
Beg the question: To thrive, or merely stay alive?