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Duke Fluglaz was savouring his role as conqueror, and it was sweet. His armies had taken possession of the surrounding domains and were reaching farther afield. The domains he now controlled were ancient ones, and most of the living who had n time past come through the portals were as ancient as the cultures they represented and few in numbers. Those reborn to atonement in these domains were, by purgatory’s standards, even fewer.

Most of the conquered domains being ancient lacked vitality. They were neglected. Many of the buildings in their vast cities had fallen into disrepair. While it opened more area for the Fluglaz’s subjects to move into, it didn’t satisfy him. He sought to rule domains brimming with vitality, domains where those atoning could still sustain a culture of growth. Directions were meaningless and mainly arbitrary in purgatory. The younger domains were out there drawing the conqueror and his armies towards Earth’s domain.

Time does not operate the same in purgatory as in the worlds of the living. Fluglaz’s path of conquest and its arrival at earth’s domain was both imminent and distant. Each domain his forces easily conquered required he and his senior officers find and ensconce some useful puppets in positions of power, assign one of his officers to serve as governor, and provide him with a sizeable militia. This may have slowed the thrust of Fluglaz’s ambitions, but with each new conquest, it only encouraged him.

In most instances, there had been little or no resistance. He was not happy. Easy conquest did not appeal to his bloodthirsty, vicious nature. He sent advance groups out to find the easiest domains to claim and had them do so on his behalf. These warrior cadres were large enough to subdue many domains, and capable of overthrowing most others. Like their duke, they were brutal, ferocious beings, fierce fighters and remorseless.

One of these squadrons was making its way towards earth’s domain. One domain they were passing through was experiencing chaos in their part of the multiverse. War and galactic level disaster were exploding the numbers of those reborn to atonement. The domain was expanding at a rapid rate as Fluglaz’s legion was making its way to its outer limits. They had subdued the living refugees and taken control of the domain with little effort. They left a governor and a small group of their fellows to make sure their balance of power was kept. Four more were ordered to return to their home domain to inform their Duke of the success. The rest, like Alexander’s Legion, still plentiful in numbers, pressed on towards earth’s domain.

The expansion of the domain through which they passed delayed their exit. After each night’s encampment, the boundaries had been moved farther. What should have taken a short time was now stretching out into a much longer delay. Earth’s domain continued to grow without infringing on the domain where Fluglaz’s forces found their exit delayed. That part of purgatory was undergoing exponential growth. The delay was a bonus for earth’s purgatory as its champion was very near ready. Soon he’d be waking up on earth with all knowledge of who he was and where he had been for all those nights.

This didn’t trouble Dante while he was in purgatory. His training continued to be taxing and intense. There was little time to think about it. Tauren had some concern. He was aware Dante worried about his worldly relationships and confused about his extreme physical and mental capabilities among his peers. Would it help for him to join with his friends, knowing the fullness of his status and his power?

While this might be a worry for Tauren, it was of the utmost importance for Dante, who would one day return to the earthly plane with full knowledge. This was inevitable because it was from the living earth, he would have to recruit followers. Only the living could provide an adequate defense of the boundaries of earthly purgatory. The atoners could help and many were willing, but they could never invest fully in it. Only living beings could bring that kind of focus.

While in the realm of purgatory, Dante understood the value of developing his physical strength, his speed and dexterity. Dante had learned extreme hand to hand combat of every sort and had become an expert with about every weapon one could name. He was so busy training and Astrada was such a fierce taskmaster; he didn’t have time to meditate on his purpose in doing all this.

Over time Dante understood he had a specific and important role in defending earth’s purgatory and by extension earth itself. He knew that alien warriors were approaching, intent on conquest. Something confused him, however. If these future invaders were from an advanced civilization, why was his training focused on such archaic weapons. It was a question he put to Tauren when he had mastered them all.

Tauren explained to him concussive weapons did not work in purgatory. Any weapon requiring explosive energy was useless there. Gas powered vehicles would not work as they required minor explosions. Electricity was also limited. Storage batteries would work until their charges ran out and there was no way to recharge. The light from the heavenly circle was enough to provide light for all of purgatory, so it was always daytime. It was never the light of the full sun, but was at least as bright as a day with light cloud cover.

Candles or oil lamps provided any needed lighting for indoors and cooking stoves and braziers served for cooking. There was no need for heating. The temperature in purgatory was neither too hot, nor too cold. For the atoners, it went unnoticed, for the living, any extremes in temperature they felt were because of the vagaries of their body. If they stayed too close to a fire, they might feel hot. No one would ever feel cold. The weather, if they could call it such, was always temperate. There was no rain, and any wind was only felt around movement of large things, or when the invisible creatures from either the place of light or the place of darkness were present to bring someone to the next level.

The weapons available to those in purgatory were medieval. Swords and maces, knives and spears, bows and crossbows and any other, slashing, burning, cutting, crushing or stabbing weapon. Hand grenades could be useful according to Tauren if you could throw them hard enough and accurate enough to hit someone. Otherwise, no boom, pull the pin and nothing happens.

“Well,” thought Dante, “I guess that makes sense, purgatory is purgatory.”

It was a fact the living had lost none of the vicious streak that led to war and warriors among beings. The atoners, although they might draw arms to join their living brothers in some circumstances, were little inclined to fight or even debate. Earth born atoners would be ready to defend their domain from hostile invasion, but the domain bound them so they were unable to move beyond its limits. What’s more, their mode of battle would always lack aggression as they could only focus on defense.

The limited tactical usefulness of the atoners was the reason purgatory needed champions, living heroes and warriors to carry the brunt of any warfare. They could range beyond the borders of the domain. They could attack or set an ambush. Unlike some other domains of purgatory where there were few of the living, and the majority of those had solely come seeking refuge and serenity, not war. They might provide some defense, but could never be very committed warriors.

Sometime soon, Dante would have to recruit an army from earth. Since most people there believed purgatory was a fantasy or a metaphysical place, it would not be a simple task. Tauren had not yet broached the subject with Dante, who returned to his days on earth still unaware of his time in the training compound in purgatory.

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