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The activity in the office, in fact, throughout the building was frenzied. It was as if life slipped into fourth gear and the foot pressed down hard on the accelerator. It was a big week coming up for the entire firm. Executives from across the country and around the world were coming in for the annual meeting. Not only were there a massive number of work goals but also, they were making preparations for the big meetings about to take place. There seemed to be more coming this year than ever before. Each arriving executive needed to be welcomed. It seemed like office tours were occurring every few minutes as new arrivals for the meetings showed up.

Much to his chagrin, Dante found himself one of the centerpieces of these executive tours. It was hard to get any work done when every few minutes he was being introduced to some senior director, district coordinator, or vice president. This hadn’t happened to him any other time the senior administrators met.

He recognized the director who brought most of the visitors to his tiny office. It was the father of the boy he saved from the canoe misadventure. Perhaps this was his way of saying thanks, or perhaps he was now aware of Dante’s existence, as he never had been before. That new awareness was likely due to Dante’s rescue of his son. The one time the director came to visit his desk with another of the senior executives, Dante was about to ask if he could tone it down as it was interfering with the time he needed to help his staff. Instead, the director asked Dante to join him and the vice president of resource in one of the smaller conference rooms on the top floor.

The request overawed Dante. The VP accompanying the director was one of the most senior in the company. The president was an illusory figure around the building, this VP was not. Everybody deemed him as the ‘master of the house.’ Had he done something wrong? Although he racked his brain on the elevator ride, he couldn’t think of what he might have done to have messed up enough to have to meet with the ‘master.’

It was all very cordial as they offered Dante one of the comfortable-looking executive chairs to sit in. It was, he discovered, just as comfortable as it looked. He swallowed hard as the two senior executives sat and the VP flipped through some papers in a thick folder. “Your work for us has been excellent, top-notch. I want you to know everyone on the top floor is impressed.”

Dante was about to thank him when the VP cut off his response by adding, “We all feel you are a key member of this firm and we all believe that such excellent work should not go unrewarded.”

“Wow,” thought Dante, “Maybe I’m getting a raise.”

The VP continued, “Your kind of competence and effort is what made this company what it is today, and we want to offer you an assistant director’s portfolio. There is a position opening up in our Vancouver office soon and we would like you to go there to take it on.”

Dante’s jaw dropped. “Think it over, young man. I know it is a lot to take in. The position is there for you. The position will come open in the middle of next month. That would give you some time to wrap up here and make your way out west. Don’t worry about a place to stay. We will cover it until you are settled. Vancouver is quite a beautiful city and has a major professional hockey team, and if you prefer baseball, it’s close to Seattle.”

“You don’t have to answer right away. I’m sure this comes as quite a surprise. You surely know we rarely choose our directorship this way.”

With smiles and back pats, the master and the VPs dismissed him, allowing a bemused Dante to make his way back to his office. He was useless for the rest of the day. His staff could see his mind was elsewhere and left him alone. The director visited Dante one more time, accompanied by a rather austere looking gentleman, whose greying hair and sharp beardless chin made him look like he may have been a leading man in movies not too long back. “Dante,” said the director, “This is Joseph Mantacore, he is vice president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver branch.”

“Sir,” was all Dante could say.

“Nice to meet you, young man. May I call you Dante?” said Mantacore as he extended his hand, “looking forward to working with you. Heard good things.”

“Thank you, sir!” Replied Dante.

The conversation was cut short as the Vancouver chief looked at his watch and exclaimed, “My gosh, gotta run, I have a dinner date with my daughter at four.”

Looking back as he hurried out the door, he half waved at Dante, “Nice to meet you, young man. Hope to be seeing you soon.”

He was out the door before Dante could get out anything more than, “Nice meeting you, too, sir.”

Dante’s head was spinning as he made his way home. He said nothing to Adam, Earl or Merilee and left the office on his own.

“Not a chance,” said Tauren, “We can’t have you working on your champion’s skills and feeling your way around a new job in a new city at the same time. Add to it, the hassle of building a new portal, although that’s the least of it.”

Dante was not so certain. As he had changed, things around him seemed to have changed, too. His sense was that among his staff and with office friends, he was being pushed to the side. They might have seen him through fresh eyes and were reluctant to impose on him, but he didn’t see that. In his mind, he was still the same person, just more physically fit.

He could have excused his friends and staffers from not dropping by. The impending general meetings made everyone much busier than usual, but this avoidance of him had been going on for more than a month. Merilee hadn’t even come by his desk in over three weeks, and Adam and Earl’s visits had slowed right down. If no-one wanted to hang out with him or ask him to join them when they socialized, then a move to Vancouver would at least increase his income and perhaps let him make some new friends, friends who wouldn’t desert him for no known reason.

Now Dante found himself torn. It was not so much between his friends and coworkers and a new job, as a director, in Vancouver, but between that and Tauren’s vaguely remembered urging to turn it down. He wondered why he felt the disconnect. Something was urging him to turn down the plummy promotion and stay where he was, but he didn’t know what that something was. There wasn’t a sense this had anything to do with leaving his friends, but he latched on to the idea it was. It was only when he was back in the training grounds of purgatory; he understood the source of his inner conflict. Back on the job, it once again became all about leaving his now distant friends behind.

In either place, the decision was becoming overwhelming to him. It was easier to duel with Astrada and the others than spend any time thinking about the choice he would soon have to make. Astrada couldn’t help but be impressed by the energy he put into his personal combat training. When he was like that, she was one of the very few who could stand with him. The rest were busy with icepacks, nursing their aches and pains.

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