The plan had been going swimmingly. Stievo was quite pleased with the degree to which Aricame was engaged against Evan Tim and he sought to bog his enemy down even further in what looked like a years-long struggle. While Aricame spent his time investing in technology and advancing his economic aspirations, Stievo put his own vast resources to work. He redoubled his church’s advocacy against the sins and excesses of the art and culture they found objectionable. He also called back to his law enforcement past to attack the nation’s growing drug epidemic, which he successfully linked to the artwork of Ohrmazd. The third prong of his attack would be government. His decades of connections proved invaluable as he led national politicians in a crusade to censor the art and stifle the businesses related to Aricame.

The unifying message across all fronts of his proxy war were similar: inequality. Stievo’s career was in direct opposition to Aricame’s. According to his own framing (rooted in fact, though wildly exaggerated) he applied the law evenly across all of society to the betterment of everyone, and then he applied the ideals of justice through faith to all who would listen, especially the poor and disenfranchised. Aricame’s work, by contrast, had been to interpret the law through his vigilantism as only he saw fit; to create a counter-culture that only served to divide society; to create a rapidly-growing technological business that preyed upon the most vulnerable. Aricame wanted to lead people toward an uncertain and scary future; Stievo promised to secure their roots in the comfort and safety of the past. Stievo’s salesmanship was quite impressive for someone taking an anti-business stance.

Just as Aricame had made the transition from art to business and technology, Stievo thought it was time to advance beyond the religious realm and into the larger arena of politics. He already had the trust of millions of voters and the ear of hundreds of elected officials. But a run for office himself was out of the question – Stievo knew he could have much more impact pulling the strings from outside of the public eye. Stievo was wildly successful in his early endeavors, proving adept at the art of the backroom deal.

Then he pushed on Hanci one too many times. Ever since he had strong-armed her into cooperating with his Evan Tim scheme, Hanci’s resentment had continued to grow. At last, the compelled favors had piled up too high and she had had enough. She was too old and had seen too much to cower any longer. As Governor of Texas, she claimed sovereignty (metaphorically), stating that she was uninterested in any further help from, or for, Stievo. She drew a line in the sand (literally). Even as these brave words came out of her mouth, her body trembled knowing full well the Dark Champion’s capacity for violent anger. Upon hearing her repudiation, Stievo’s eyes briefly turned black as he dealt with the boiling anger of this affront. But then…a few seconds passed and the Darkness faded. He gave a simple smirk, softly saying, “Very well, then.”

The impulse to tear her to pieces was certainly present in that moment, but he saw no strategic value in doing so – at least not yet. She was no threat to join forces with Aricame, and as long as she did not actively stand in his way, Stievo would let her be.

The bulk of stories that are told
Of heroes who are good and bold
Appeal to all, both young and old
We yearn to do what we are told