Like his rival, Stievo struggled with the outcome of the San Francisco confrontation. Was he not ready to destroy his enemy? Hadn’t he proven himself more powerful by utilizing his piece of the board to harness the sun’s power? “I WILL BURY HIM”…the words he wrote with the warm blood of a man he murdered in cold blood…just recalling those words rang sirens in his ears and flashed spotlights in his eyes. Ever since he had received confirmation that he was the Champion of Dark, he had been struggling to come to terms with this reality. He believed that his human self (his true self?) was just and pure, sanctified. Yes, he harbored an inner demon, but he believed that he was in control – not it – and he was wielding that power like a sword against a society that was corrupt and decaying. To the best of his ability, he was leading people through the force of his example, his power, and his personality. They trusted his authority, and he provided them comfort, answers to their questions. With Operation Ahriman he sought to confirm the primacy of the law. With the Church of Ahriman he sought to confirm the primacy of faith. He led from the top, dispensing instruction down through the ranks of his followers. And then, in Golden Gate Park, he inexplicably walked away.

So it was that when the superhuman creations of the two Champions set about to wage war on each other, he felt doubt. It was then that he instructed his subordinates to stand down and he returned to his home in the east. Since then, he returned again and again to the words he wrote on the wall. He would still work with his inner-evil to bury Aricame, but he would endeavor to do so while retaining his humanity.

Time passed, then one day Stievo received a message from an old pal. Haze “Voila” Cocks, whom Stievo had roughed up in order to gain information on Aricame back in his vigilante days, wanted to pay him a visit. After their dust-up in the interrogation room, Stievo had compulsorily enlisted him to his own side, deploying him as an informant in the underground, the underbelly of society. He was quite useful at relaying various plots and conspiracies that Stievo could use to his own advantage as both a law man and a man of God.

The information that he brought Stievo on that day was useful, indeed. There was a man in the south who had created his own versions of synthetic drugs that surpassed the potency of anything on the market. This man had built a sales network that was modest in size, but national in scope, and held great potential for power because the clients were all in positions of authority. As Stievo listened to the details his eyes widened when he finally heard the name of this psychedelic entrepreneur: Evan Tim.

After relaying all that he knew, “Voila” asked if he had done enough to be set free from Stievo’s service. “Of course,” said Stievo, agreeing that Cocks had done quite a bit for him. But then his smile faded and his eyes blackened. “However, I must ensure that your work for me stays our little secret.” At that moment Cocks felt a twitching pain in his mouth, forcing his tongue out through his lips, except that his tongue was now a snake that rose up before him to look him dead in the eyes. As sweat beaded on his brow and he began to tremble, the snake lashed out toward his face, snapping its fangs shut just close enough to slightly break the skin of Cocks’ cheek. The snake then fell from his mouth to the ground, followed by a single drop of blood from his face, and slithered across the room and out the door. “Voila” was left without a tongue so that he could never speak a word of anything to anyone again, but he had his life, and for that he thankfully ran from the room clutching his mouth.

Stievo sat down and called up Hanci. It was time for a reunion.

Moral clarity
The tonic of youth
The liquor of truth