CHAPTER 33 (Yesterday, and a bit before – Tomorrow, and a bit after) – I

One hundred years of the greatest contest in history
Two combatants, born in the same year…
Igniting America’s entrance onto the global stage…
And Russia’s revolution with global aspirations
Two combatants had pushed each other – and billions more
Becoming the greatest Champions of humanity
Now, a century later
Evolving into something else entirely

Since (prematurely) declaring victory over his rival decades ago, Aricame had been fighting an internal battle. First, he was inhabited by Stievo/Cai-Ream for a decade and placed in convulsive catatonia. Once exorcised, he found himself surrounded by possible and would-be terrors, in a claustrophobic captivity. Then those terrors morphed into voices in his head, further driving him toward cowardly capitulation. He stood – towering yet slouched, powerful yet questioning, unsure of himself. Aricame sat and meditated, clearing out the noise and focusing on the infinite expanses. This practice would become a daily staple and would help rebuild what was broken inside, however it would also separate him, to some extent, from the outside world. This separation would, in time, prove perilous.

Meanwhile, Stievo/Cai-Ream had made the best of a bad situation, playing the hand he was dealt. He had lost the previous war – and his head – yet had fought back valiantly to avoid outright annihilation. He faced the emptiness that lies within a zero – absence and completion – and saw a portal into potential futures. He went from nothingness in defeat…to oneness inside the body of Aricame in a struggle for internal control…to manyness as he spread across the globe…to everywhereness, having morphed into an idea.

The time had come to reverse the dissolution, slowly working his way back to a single being that could take on his Other.

Perpetually at the vicissitudes of the Champions who cast shadows over their lives, the mere mortals of earth were falling ill. Like spectators in the Colosseum, drawn into the competition with a fevered passion, beating at their physical shells and pushing their vocal faculties to their breaking point – they had been infected. Their lives were what had been wagered in the back-and-forth gamesmanship between the great Others. Their lives were also the ones sacrificed to feed and heal their Champions as they prepared for their next engagement. Shit was bad.

Cai-Ream was not yet back to his previous strength (the strength he had enjoyed as Stievo), but he had weakened Aricame so much so that a mid-point could be met – where they could now face each other on equal footing. Shit was gonna get worse.

The stage was set
The countdown was on
Not for the final battle
But for the last time
That human life would be at its forefront

What is true is true
It can’t care what you do
Believe and insist and prefer and amend
Step off of the ledge – what then?