Stievo did not take this latest religious distraction as cerebrally as did his opponent. Shanta’s shenanigans were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Many of Stievo’s religious followers saw the Church’s defectors as evidence that he no longer cared about the gospel he used to preach. Many of his political followers saw the upheaval in his flock as a sign of wavering political clout. And what agitated Stievo the most was that the seceding sect was mostly comprised of deluded burnouts who were victims of the drugs that were introduced by Stievo himself through his negotiations with Evan Tim. None of this was tolerable to Stievo and he quickly decided that she needed to be destroyed, and he would take pleasure in doing so personally.

Stievo had been trekking in the Rocky Mountains for some time in search of Shanta’s ranch, but he was continually at a loss. He tried countless times to track her whereabouts mentally, but found nothing. Not even the strongest of Champions could access the minds of people who took up the proper defenses: in the past, Glendan evaded Geryman through meditation and whiskey; Evan Tim eluded Aricame through hallucination and technology; it seemed Shanta Fagin and her gang could use delusion and psychopathy to create their own telepathic force fields. With each passing day Stievo’s hatred for her grew stronger. He resented that she made him feel weak. He had achieved such power, such prominence, and yet he was bested by some snake oil saleswoman…

…But no!…It wasn’t her own abilities that escaped his detection…She was being aided…by HIM! Stievo finally sensed the involvement of his opposing Champion (an ability that he developed while studying the Victor Strife Board). Aricame had been fortifying Shanta Fagin’s mind to keep her sheltered. Shanta preached a hatred of both Aricame and Stievo, and the dichotomy that they represented – and yet Aricame assisted her! She was clearly an unwitting pawn, moved into position by a brilliant strategist.

The two great Champions were in the fourth decade of their contest to control the world. For most of this time they maintained a laser focus on each other, which meant a general equilibrium since they were so evenly matched. But then there were those occasions where one of them would either underestimate their opponent or get distracted by a lesser rival and their Other would swiftly take advantage. Aricame had fallen victim to this in his pursuit of Evan Tim. Now it was Stievo who realized that he had become too preoccupied with this crazy mountain cult.

Stievo again utilized his telepathic powers, this time to check in with the Ahriman Group. In his absence, Aricame’s business titans had utilized their considerable economic mite to oust Stievo’s puppet pulpits and polities, installing patsy leaders of their own. More and more of the world’s population was falling under the message of Ohrmazd Corp. And those gains came at the expense of Ahriman Group.

As Ohrmazd-brand televisions spread the message that Ahrimanic governments and religions were flawed and fragile, disillusionment spread. The Champion of Dark’s rage grew as never before.

Biting my lip, picking my spot, biding my time
For the moment to give you a piece of my mind
Not listening at all to a word that you say
So sure of myself and my beliefs held today