The walk to Dante’s apartment, right up to his opening the front door, was an evaluation session for Merilee. She kept one eye on Dante most of the way, watching his expressions, listening to his tone, trying to figure out if he was dangerously crazy or totally delusional. She had to admit, in either case, he was doing an excellent job of hiding it. He was charming, funny, and as always, polite and respectful. At his apartment, he unlocked the door and held it open for her to enter. Before crossing the threshold, she gave him a questioning glance, then stepped through.
She stiffened ever so slightly as he shut the door behind them. “Right this way,” he said, “indicating the door to his bedroom.”
“Really, the bedroom?” Merilee couldn’t stop herself.
“Sorry,” Dante smiled diffidently, “I realize this may seem a little personal, and no doubt presumptuous considering our relationship up to now. However, it is a lot better than having to lie down on the bed since Tauren moved the portal into the closet.”
“Yeah, for sure,” Merilee laughed as she stepped into the room, “It is too early for that both figuratively and practically.”
Dante wasn’t exactly sure how to respond, so he pointed at the closet door. “It’s right through there.”
“The closet?” Merilee said with a tight laugh, “I think I read the book. Can we call this a wardrobe and will there be a witch and a lion?”
“Not exactly,” laughed Dante, “and I realize just how silly this must seem. Oh, and you may think you will hit the back wall, but just keep walking,”
He took her hand and guided her through the door. It was a bit of a tight fit. Dante couldn’t remember being this intimate with anyone not wielding a knife. Merilee’s eyes were wide open. Dante was right, it felt silly. There were better and less strange ways to get close. Hanging out in a closet wasn’t her idea of intimacy, but he seemed so intense and serious about it she shrugged and went along. He shoved the few things on the hangers aside and stepped up to the back wall. “This is crazy,” she thought, then she watched his foot and leg pass through the wall and she thought, “This is truly crazy!”
There was no physical sensation as she moved through the wall, but there was a brief moment when she wanted to scream, turn, and run out of there just as fast as she could. Then she was through the portal. She and Dante were hand in hand on the edge of what looked like a large playing field for some unknown sport. She could barely believe her eyes as she gazed out at the large group of people wearing armor who had turned, training swords and daggers in hand, to look at her. They all looked fierce, even the females among them. There was one or two who barely looked human. The handsome giant, standing with them, walked over to her. He looked at Dante and smiled, “I see you’ve done some early recruiting,” and turning to Merilee reached out his hand in an earthly greeting, “I’m Tauren. I’m sure you are feeling confused at the moment, but I want you to know you are welcome.”
“Merilee,” said a wide eyed Merilee as she shook the gorgeous giant’s hand.
His smile won her over immediately. She didn’t know why, but the sight of him made her feel comfortable and safe. He turned and stretched out his hand towards the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. “This is Astrada, our training master, she will help Dante show you around.”
Astrada introduced herself to Merilee, and Merilee made a shy response. Dante grinned. “Astrada is terrific, best swordsman, uh, woman in the domain, maybe in all of purgatory. If you decide to train with her, she will turn you into a super warrior in no time at all.”
Astrada made no response and carefully hid a satisfied smile. The three set off to check out some of the local area. Although the odd variety of building, the well-groomed parkland, the cobbled streets were all fascinating as was Dante’s running commentary, she saw Dante and Astrada seemed comfortable together and although she couldn’t really put her finger on it, something about it bothered her. It didn’t take long for her to realize what she was feeling was a smidgen of jealousy. How could she compete with this absolute knockout of a woman? She appeared to have everything, including a vicious-looking sabre and a razor sharp dagger.
This feeling faded as Dante kept excitedly grabbing her hand and pointing out one landmark or another. While Dante was explaining everything he knew about purgatory, especially earth’s domain, and pointing out the various period dress of the atoners, she was more distracted than the atoners seemed to be. “This is the strangest, most realistic dream I’ve ever had,” kept running through her head.
Purgatory was a strange place with its shadowless light, its curious array of modern and archaic structures and its teaming population of atoners, all so quiet and introspective. Walking the streets around the Stade Arcanium seemed dreamlike. Still, Astrada, the big guy, and the training warriors seemed very real. “I hope I remember this when I wake up,” she said in a quiet voice, “What a story to tell.”
“Well, Merilee,” Astrada turned to her as they came back into the Stade, “If you’re interested, when you come back tomorrow, we can begin your training. You seem to be much fitter than Dante was when he first arrived.”
Merilee had to admit to herself the prospect was intriguing. She would love the opportunity to learn some technics a warrior might use for defense. “Sure,” she said enthusiastically, “I’d love to,” quietly adding, “If only….”
“Time to go home,” Dante took Merilee’s arm and led her to a doorway in the nearest wall.
Moments later, the two were back in Dante’s closet. They didn’t stop until they were in the kitchen. “A coffee before I take you home,” asked Dante, opening a cupboard and taking out a bag of coffee.
Merilee demurred. All she wanted to do was get home, or whatever it might take to wake up in her own bed. Dante offered to walk her, but she said, “no,” she’d call a cab. At home she sat on the edge of her bed for close to an hour before finally laying down and falling asleep. A few hours later, she woke up with no memory of the night before. As she prepared for work, the recollections slowly filtered back. They were indistinct and very much like a half-remembered dream.
Within the framework of the vague remembrances, were brief glimpses of things that hinted of reality. Those brief memories were unsettling, otherwise, she had to admit; it seemed a fascinating dream.