CHAPTER 25 – III
Aricame had to stop Stievo and Bacu before it was too late. He put out an urgent call to all of his followers, stating that he would be holding a free concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in order to pressure the demonic cult out of the city. Stievo countered by summoning his own followers to descend upon the Bay to stand against the hedonistic onslaught. Los Angeles was on a collision course with both San Francisco and Boston (where the church was headquartered), and partisans all across the country were lining up on one side or the other for what promised to be an epic confrontation – and a helluva show.
The stage was set. Millions flocked to the geographically small city, overrunning the streets and partitioning zones for their respective sides. Festival grounds and big-tent temples were erected for miles surrounding the city, with public address equipment set up so that all could listen to the two greatest cultural leaders of their time. Stievo would give a sermon; Aricame a concert.
The time had come. From their respective stages at opposing ends of a field within the park, the two greatest of Champions physically looked each other in the eye for the first time since Manlius, 17 years earlier. Neither looked as if they had aged a day (one of the benefits of drawing power from the planet’s inhabitants was that it sped up their own healing processes while slowing their aging). Though they were both in their mid-forties, they appeared to be in their early thirties and in peak physical condition.
Having prepared for this moment their entire lives (and through the lives of others for the past twelve thousand years), they began to address each other. With the opening of their mouths, the ground began to quake. As soundless words sprung from their lips, buildings began to crumble and the earth tore away from itself. The peninsula of the city detached from the mainland and drifted out to sea, snapping its two iconic bridges in the process. The vacuum created by the drift swallowed up the surrounding land, submerging it below boiling water, made hot by exposure to the magma that rose from the ripped-open ocean floor.
No one acknowledged what was happening. The tens of thousands in the park were under the control of their leaders. They began to claw closer together, lifting and pulling, supporting then crumbling then replacing, working together as one mind. Melding into one being, they began to take form. Stievo’s followers assembled into a bear; Aricame’s an eagle. Somehow, the eagle was able to take flight, rising above the ground and out of the bear’s reach. As avatars for the men who controlled them, the bear shared Stievo’s size, strength, and power. Aricame’s eagle was swift, agile, and precise. They complimented each other so completely that neither side was able to land a single blow. The humans who made up the talons and claws, beak and teeth, feathers and fur, never once made contact with the other side.
As earth’s newest island continued its westward path across the Pacific, temperatures fell, along with snow, which melted on impact as the water surrounding the land was still fuming from its mixture with the unearthed lava below. Eventually…equilibrium. The movements of the bear and the eagle slowed. The unified armies of individuals broke free of their assigned roles. Both beasts dissolved back into the crowds that they once were. It was over. The movements of earth, water, air, and fire had been reversed.
Aricame and Stievo awoke from their mutual trance, finding themselves alone, standing on their opposing stages but separated by an impenetrable wall of fog. Their followers were gone. The weather/land/life had all been returned to as it once was. Their first battle had ended in stalemate, if it could even be considered a battle at all.
Long since our earliest days, in myriad ways
For tribe, for power, set another’s home ablaze
To live harmoniously with billions would be
The single greatest feat in human history