CHAPTER 26 (1963-1969) – I

The two great Champions had been circling each other for a decade and a half. Each had tremendous ability and the power to lead large populations, to mold the world, to remake it according to their own vision of “the good.” Both of them knew that their Other would eventually stand in their way, that conflict was inescapable, however neither was willing to initiate the clash head-on. In this respect, both cowered from their destiny. The weight and responsibility was too great, the implications too immense to truly grapple with. And neither man, diametrically opposed as they were in most regards, could stomach the potential death of millions.

Twelve thousand years and one hundred thousand Champions had all led to the moment where the bear and the eagle squared off in the park. After shying away from the inevitable battle these past seventeen years, both combatants had finally found the nerve to confront their purpose, to take a stand, to fight (to kill) for what was right. And yet, what came of the confrontation? A draw. The world had never been so populous, meaning the Well of Power from which each drew strength had never been deeper. Not since the initiation of this epic contest had two participants so thoroughly maximized their potential. And yet, a stalemate. The legions of bodies that had formed their avatars were not enough for either to gain an advantage.

These were the thoughts that danced in Aricame’s head as he looked back on the encounter a year later. He had always taken the bottom-up approach. He first learned the importance of building coalitions while watching his parents run Seattle. As Ohrmazd the superhero, he fought against the elites of society from the outside, inspiring others to do the same for themselves. As Ohrmazd the artist, he spread a similar message against the establishment, animating the disaffected to question authority. This guiding principle led him in his battle against Stievo. While he held power over his devoted followers to form into a fighting unit on his behalf, he listened to the signals he was receiving from them that they did not want to die for his cause. It was this message that led to his purely defensive tactics, abandoning offense, and ultimately led to a confrontation without resolution (or casualties). He had listened to their pleas, yes, but the mere fact that he went to battle willing to make the ultimate sacrifice showed his increasing dedication to battle and to victory. The reasoning was the same pragmatic logic used by leaders since time immemorial: many must die so that many more shall live.

Aricame had returned home to Los Angeles after Stievo returned to the east coast, confident that Bacu was no longer a threat. Following the confrontation in San Francisco, Aricame lacked clarity as to what he should do next. One of his friends in the art world had recommended psilocybin mushrooms, which he claimed would provide him with a whole new perspective on life and the universe and could even help guide him toward his next direction. Alone at home one evening, Aricame bit off the cap of his first mushroom and watched in awed wonder as the fat white stem began to mold over the bite mark in maritime shades of green and blue. He shoved the stem in his mouth and devoured two more full mushrooms. He then got comfortable next to a table lamp, as he had virtually every night since Manlius, and began studying his piece of the Victor Strife board.

We beings, well-meaning, thinking and feeling
Demeaning, well-being often sent reeling
You’re not wrong to advance your goal
You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole