CHAPTER 25 (1957-1962) – I

Ahrimanic temples were sprouting up all over the country, yet the vast majority of them stood in the eastern half. Stievo sat in his spacious hotel room in Chicago, contemplating how best to spread his gospel westward. With him was his piece of the Champion’s puzzle that Victor Strife had handed him back in Manlius over a decade earlier. Strife, who knew more about the Champions than anyone else alive, had claimed that the two board pieces, when joined together, would bring about the end of the struggle between Light and Dark. Stievo had spent time every single night since Manlius studying the mysteries of the puzzle. The board was heavy and awkwardly shaped, asymmetrical with jagged borders along each side – to the extent there were sides. On the board lay a perfect grid of horizontal and vertical lines. Dotted all over, in a pattern that seemed utterly random but certainly held some purpose/message, were painted markings of white and black.

Was it a puzzle or a game or a language or an image or or or? After years of entertaining every possible function for this arcane board…finally!…a breakthrough! Stievo had abandoned the possibility it was a game because the markings were painted on. If they didn’t move, then how could they be played? Then he realized that the markings represented the positions of pieces in mid-game, as if it had been contested long ago and was interrupted. His mission was to decipher the rules of the game, and then master the board so completely that he could replicate it in his mind and take over the game there.

At the moment of his realization, Stievo became inflated with the warm sense of power, energy, as if his blood was producing steam, or perhaps smoke. His veins bulged as his muscles swelled. His skeleton elongated and fortified. His senses sharpened further, inching ever closer toward perfection. Time seemed to slow. Stievo had just achieved a heightened level, a realm of being that no person had ever achieved before in history. By reaching this level, he had tapped into another source of power beyond that of life on earth: the sun. He had just upgraded his arsenal and his effectiveness in deploying it.

The board was perfectly reconstructed in his mind’s eye, with each piece available to him to move to future spaces on the board while their previous movements were stored into readily accessible memory banks. Stievo was beginning to play the game. In time, he would have it mastered. Most importantly, Stievo had achieved superiority over Aricame for the first time since their duel began. In due course, he believed, he would subdue his adversary, reunite the two board pieces, and play the game to its conclusion, with victory over planet earth as the prize.

While Stievo basked in the reflective glow of his being, torrential rains began to fall into Lake Michigan. In short order water breached the beach barricades, flooding the streets westward. Most of the city was ignorant of the damage as it raged through the night. Come morning, the newly-formed river had bisected Chicago into north and south as waters continued their charge west toward Manlius. After reaching their destination, a hole opened up in the earth allowing the wall of water to deposit into the rock below, the deepest depths of which were hot enough to evaporate the fluid and send it back up in the form of a steaming hiss, shooting into the sky above the tiny town. The rains over the lake would not relent, nor would the flow of the river, nor would the hissing of the steam. No one knew how long this could possibly last.

Anticipate the next position
Simulate again, again
Strategy, tactics, execution
To play is to play to win