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Unlike earth and the other planets bearing sentient life in a variety of dimensions, there was no clear north or south, hence no east or west in purgatory. Each domain instituted its own. The Grand Dukes much earlier than Davlos or Fluglaz had to decide how to name directions. For them, the regal sedes, the Duke’s throne, was the center of the world.

When the Duke sat, his brandished sword was in his right. To the right of the throne became the direction, ‘sword’. He held his dagger with his left hand, so the left side of the throne became the direction, ‘dagger’. When standing or when at peace and walking, his shield rested against his back. So, the direction behind him and behind the throne was ‘shield’ and the direction in front, they called ‘greaves’ for the piece of armor covering his shins. Over time, they had reduced it all to “ord, dak, shye, and gree.”

The older domains of purgatory were found to the dak and to the shye. Their home worlds, even their universes in some cases, had long since collapsed and separated into clouds of the various elements that had once fostered life. Some other domains in these directions were little more than neglected remnants of once rich and ingenious societies. They were now either empty altogether or sparsely populated with a few whose time of atonement wasn’t yet done.

To the ord and the gree were the purgatorial domains of the newer worlds, the still vibrant universes and dimensions. Fluglaz sent armies in each direction. Domains to the dak and shye offered little resistance to the invaders. For the most part, the domains to the ord and gree made every attempt to defend their borders against incursion. Sometimes these defenses were more for show than real, as Fluglaz or his deputies had already bought off the corrupted guardians. In other cases, the defense was intense, but few domains had well-trained champions to lead them along. Fluglaz’ armies were strong in numbers, the warriors brutal and unbending. Few domain defenders could last long against them.

The vast array of warriors in Fluglaz’s invasion forces were all first lifers. They were not in purgatory seeking atonement, and they had no desire to die. Most domains didn’t have anywhere near the numbers of first lifers Fluglaz’s associated domains did, and many first lifers feeling threatened by Fluglaz’s invading legions fled back to their living world before they arrived. Others choosing to remain joined with the atoners or second lifers to help, but in most domains their numbers were inadequate against Fluglaz’s legions.

The atoners were less resistance to the possibility of death. If killed, they knew they would be reanimated and returned to their beginning point. The nature of their existence constrained them from leaving their domain. They might fight to protect their present homeland, but their primary purpose was to seek atonement. For many, the persecution and disruption included in alien domination was just another aspect of it.

With Astrada and Tauren and the stories of the champion, most of the first life population of earth’s purgatory, were prepared to join with atoners to face down any invasion. While not so populous a group as the first lifers of Fluglaz’s domain, they were the closest match to his warriors, and they were training hard. Astrada had full knowledge of the warrior training Davlos and his predecessors went through. She also knew that Fluglaz was by nature too bloodthirsty and combative to have his warriors learn the fine points of combat. She would ensure the warriors she trained learned those fine points.

Earth’s purgatory was many domains distant ord of Fluglaz’s duchy. It was said to be an exceptional domain. Its beautiful metropolis with its stately buildings covered billions of hectares. Outside the vast city, it was well organized and fruitful. Even more fascinating, especially to a geographer, was that its land mass was undergoing rapid expansion along with the growing population on earth. It almost seemed as if each atoner was granted a large parcel of space, space they could never even partially use. There were many billion atoners and many more arriving each day. This meant that even with the colossal population, including the first lifers, there was always plenty of room.

Fluglaz determined to add it to his retinue of domains. Ruling that much of purgatory would mean controlling an empire, enormous beyond imagining. He could see himself exchanging the title of Grand Duke for the title of Emperor. This vision, like his lust for power, was irresistible.

Tauren was aware Fluglaz armies, having conquered those many domains separating earth’s from Fluglaz and his dominion, would soon be at the border. Fluglaz would make his way to join with his armies in the ord. This would be his greatest conquest since he had stepped in to take the place of Davlos. From there he believed he could go on to conquer more domains, ultimately gathering all of purgatory under his rule. This was Fluglaz hubris. To conquer and control all was only an illusion for the great and ever expanding plain of purgatory stretched to infinity in all directions.

Meanwhile, Fluglaz, in his vanity, was prepared to sacrifice vast numbers of first lifers both in his armies and in the many domains he invaded. Unlike the Grand Dukes before him, he had no interest in protecting and preserving the first lifers, even of his own society. His ambition was all-encompassing, and those who would die in battle for his greater glory meant nothing to him.

For Tauren, this was the worst aspect of the invasion of earth’s domain. The countless lives that would be lost. Oh yes, they would return to their own domains, now as atonement seekers, but such a waste of first life. Still, he knew with absolute clarity this bloodthirsty encounter would happen and it was essential he and his champion, Astrada and all the others, needed to do everything they could to protect their realm from the cold brutality of Duke Fluglaz.

Tauren delighted to see Astrada was doing her work well. Earth’s champion was looking like a champion. While the timider of the first lifers had fled back to the earth, most remained, eager to follow Tauren, Astrada and their champion into battle. It saddened Tauren to think it had come to this. He admired their courage, but come victory or defeat, it would try their metal.

Dante had come a long way from the flabby out of shape person who first dropped through the portal of his bed. With Astrada around, however, he never felt that way at the Stade Arcanium. If he believed Astrada, he was weak, his skill mediocre, and his personality uninspiring. Although she would never admit it to him, she was both proud of the work she had done to turn Dante into a champion and pleased with his success.

It was only back among his friends, companions and fellow workers on earth Dante got any props for what he had become.

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