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Tauren and Astrada could both see Dante was progressing towards his destiny. In any form of contest, with or without weapons, Dante was proving himself superior not only to his fellow trainees but also to the instructors. Astrada was one of the few who could still stand toe to toe with him. As the exchanges grew more intense, Astrada could see it was only a matter of time before the student, as it happened between her and Davlos, would surpass the master.

Back in the daily world, Dante knew he was growing more powerful, more agile, his mind keener and more observant. His thoughts were quicker and his decision making more precise. Knowing this was happening without knowing why bothered him. While at some level he knew it made sense, at a conscious level he couldn’t understand any of it. All he knew was it was affecting his everyday life. He was getting far too much respect from his co-workers, and it was getting to where he was feeling more isolated.

He wasn’t the beloved supervisor of his department anymore; he was the idol. The others no longer turned to him for support with their work problems. When they approached him, it was to seek out his definitive word on some key issue or other. Working together with staff members, something Dante had loved to do, no longer occurred. Staff seemed shy of him, careful and respectful. There was no shared laughter as there had been before. Even Adam and Earl deferred to him, almost shy around their pal Merilee tiptoed around him. Although they liked Dante, the office staff was hesitant to invite him to their social events. If they invited him, they treated him like royalty, serving him, not letting him do things on his own. He didn’t want to be royalty; he wanted to be one of the gang.

No one in the company Dante worked for could deny his department had reached new levels of efficiency and was the most successful. This didn’t go unnoticed by the upper administration. The director whose son Dante saved had been following his work for some time and was pushing the directorship to consider him for a significant promotion. He felt Dante had what it took to join senior management, and most of the other directors on studying Dante’s progress within his department were falling in line with this thinking.

An assistant director’s position would be opening up soon in a distant office. The directors agreed Dante would be perfect for it. The Chief Executive was willing to listen to the opinions of the directors and looked into Dante’s work record. Soon after that, the directors’ choice for assistant director was approved. The directors were given permission to meet with Dante and offer him the position. This procedure was rare. In most cases, senior managers were offered the directorships, or the firm gave the position to someone brought in from another company. In Dante’s case, his profile was rich enough they could bypass the usual procedure and offer him the position.

There was to be a general meeting of all financial staff in two weeks. The directors and senior executives would be there. The directors decided this would be an excellent time to bring Dante in, interview him, and then offer him the position. Until then, Dante could continue to do his work in blissful ignorance. Love the way directors of big companies work!

During the working day, Dante felt very uncomfortable as his coworkers’ behavior towards him had changed so much. This was very difficult for him, and he wasn’t sure why it happened. He still had no significant memory of his night’s in purgatory. Except for brief and indeterminate flashes, his day life and his nights of training were two worlds that didn’t meet.

While on the training court in Purgatory, Dante realized the separation of his nighttime activities from his daytime ones, was not a bad thing. Had he remembered the odd reality of his nights, and said something, he would most likely have been locked away or at least in treatment with a variety of medical and psychological professionals. This dichotomous lifestyle had been going on for a long time, and he was reaching a level of comfort with the reality of its odd and mysterious aspects. Aware of this, he still sought out Tauren to ask if he would permit him to remember his training and purgatory the next day.

Without hesitation, Tauren informed him there was not the slightest chance that would happen before the time was right. He could have added the time might never be right. Tauren knew if anything about Dante’s nights slipped out, people would think he was crazy and it would be more complicated if he had to withdraw his champion from a psychology ward. In the end, what Dante needed to remember was not dependent on Tauren, but on Fluglaz, or some other hostile who might bring war across the boundary of earth’s piece of purgatory. Although it irked Dante, this was the case. He accepted it. He wouldn’t remember in the morning, anyway.

He had grown more comfortable in his role, and his curiosity blossomed. During a brief rest from his intensive training, sitting between Astrada and Tauren, he decided he wanted to know more about the domain for which he was the champion. “So,” he asked to neither one in particular, “If this is the place where those who have died back in the world come to atone and wait to be taken to their ultimate reward, could I visit my grandfather? I only met him once, but he seemed like a nice man.”

“How many centuries do you have?” grinned Tauren, “There are so many things to consider. To begin with, you would have known your grandfather as an older man. He would appear much younger here. Another thing, purgatory keeps expanding with a population of many trillions, and those who waken in purgatory can be much like you when you return to earth. Their specific memories of the lives they lived are vague and uncertain. Often, they could only remember what they needed to atone for.”

Tauren told him the angels and demons carried off very few, so the population grew continuously. This surprised Dante. It seemed to fly in the face of all the understandings of many back on earth. He had to comment, “You’re telling me few souls get taken to their ultimate reward or punishment. I thought for many, the time would be short.”

“Well,” replied Tauren, “atonement appears to be a long and arduous task for most and to tell you the truth, just because one goes into either the darkness or the light doesn’t necessarily mean ultimate reward or final punishment. We really don’t know.”

“Don’t look at me,” said Astrada, “Everyone was a living being where I lived. They had staked out a domain for the living and it was large.”

“You mean they pushed the atoners away?” Dante asked.

“I believe the worlds that part of purgatory served were old, and many had long since been deserted. So, while still in the billions, they were far fewer than here. Purgatory, it seems, only expands, it doesn’t shrink. Ok, let’s get back to it. weapons drill!”

Assuming the stance, Dante had a brief vision. He saw thousands of people crowding the edges of the city and off into the countryside. They were dressed in many styles, ancient and modern. Most seemed to be neither particularly young nor old. He could see them interacting and sensed that only a part of their personality participated in social activity. One could sense some were more, and some were less deep in introspection. He understood they were alone with their thoughts, deep in a personal solitude, yet still aware and participants in their immediate world. They were part the person they had been and part the person they wanted to be. The vision vanished in an instant as Astrada, without an “en garde” lunged toward him, blade extended. He swept his blade up to parry her thrust and she was back at him again.

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