CHAPTER 24 – III
They were both startled awake in the middle of the night, fully alert yet still disoriented, like when a muscle spasm jolts the sleeper from the climax of their dream, leaving them with the feeling of having one foot in the waking world and one in an inverse realm. Something was amiss. And while the two Champions sensed that they themselves were not in imminent danger, the disturbance nonetheless required their immediate attention. Each adversary was capable of detecting waves of all sorts, including those emanating from brains other than their own, and a quick scan of such activity yielded some basic facts: someone tangentially associated with Aricame had instigated an attack of some kind on a distant associate of Stievo. At that moment, amidst the darkness between sunset and sunrise, a fire had been set and two Champions wanted it extinguished before it spread to them.
The next day, more details became clear. Along the Tug Fork River, which separates Kentucky and West Virginia, Aleris (the man Aricame briefly crossed paths with at his father’s home) had set fire to a shrine owned by Peg Ty (a woman who was friends with the four Ahriman followers that Stievo had met in Appalachia). Aricame called his father to see if he could intervene in some way, only to be floored by what he heard: Glendan had actually come up with the idea! He thought that if Aleris torched the shrine – with no one inside – while making it look like an inside job by Peg Ty, then she would go to jail and Aleris could step in and rebuild the shrine in accordance with his own beliefs. Aricame was at first livid that his dad would concoct such a preposterous plan in a far away part of the country. Glendan went on to explain that when Moon Tat’s Counsel was dissolved upon his death, the other four members had never forgiven Aleris for siding with Glendan and Carenf. In the years since, those four had tried on numerous occasions to attack Aleris in various ways. Peg Ty had joined their new-fashioned religious order and had accompanied them on several attacks. Glendan and Aleris saw an opportunity to have her eliminated without hurting anyone else and acted.
Qira, Raysi, Audra Abisia, and Pete Sanil had teamed with Peg Ty to form a regional branch of Stievo’s church, calling themselves “The League.” After the move against Peg, the rest of The League wanted blood. From Stievo’s viewpoint, four of his prominent followers were threatening to spread violence that would undoubtedly be tied to his growing church network.
This was all very inconvenient for Aricame and Stievo. “Ohrmazd” was remaking himself into an artist and intellectual. “Ahriman” was growing a network of faith. Even though both Champions were building their own strengths and followings, tactically trying to outmaneuver their opponent, this conflict didn’t serve either of their interests. After some mediation (aided by some super-powered mental persuasion), Aleris/Glendan and The League were convinced to stand down. Peg Ty would rebuild her shrine, and with Stievo’s help, it would be bigger and better than ever.
Once the skirmish was resolved, both Champions were left to think about the battle that was almost fought. Neither had been the instigator, yet both were nearly drawn back into the contest before they were ready. Both were frightened. Aricame reprimanded his father to the point where he said things that he could not take back, altering their relationship forever.
For Stievo, he had just recently killed Gary Hun in a blacked-out rage where his inner self vowed to “bury” their rival. Stievo – the Champion of Dark who also believed in justice and salvation – was left to wonder if that message from his non-human side was aimed at Aricame, or at his own human self.
Eye contact, touch, an expression
Empathy, compassion, well-being
Growth, experience – secession
Juxtaposed, identity, meaning