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When Dante stepped through the portal into purgatory moments after Merilee and her friends, he almost bumped into Mai Ling, who along with the others had frozen in disbelief at what they were seeing. “My god,” shouted Merilee, “It is real!”

“What the hell,” said the one called Carol as Tauren stepped up to her.

“This isn’t hell, its purgatory,” he said, a large smile lighting his face causing a couple of Merilee’s friends to nearly swoon, “We can’t tell you much about hell, but we think that’s its portal,” and he pointed to the circle in the sky with the flickering red and orange light.

Turning to Dante, he let go a roaring laugh, “This is quite interesting. You amaze me with your recruiting skills, champion. I must say, I didn’t expect you to be able to do this so soon.”

“Do this,” groaned Dante, “I have no idea why they’re here.”

“But,” grinned Tauren, “here they are. Your first five recruits.”

Merilee and her friends were still immobilized, gazing wide eyed at the giant in front of them. Merilee was so right, he was gorgeous. And, so was the woman who came to stand beside him. Her body was perfect. Her muscles were obviously toned and well sculpted, but not overpowering. There was no mistaking this gal’s fitness since she seemed dressed in revealing beach wear. Although the knee boots with their attached daggers were a nice touch. The herculean dreamboat introduced her as Astrada. “Is she the one who does the training stuff. I’d go through hell to get a body like hers,” said the one called Joan, speaking to no one in particular.

“Purgatory,” corrected Tauren.

“What,” asked Joan, a puzzled look on her face.

“As I said earlier, this is purgatory. We know nothing about hell, but you won’t have to go through it for Astrada to get you fit. You will go through purgatory, however, and it won’t be easy,” said Tauren, unable to resist grinning at his own bit of humor.

“Come,” said Astrada, “I’ll take you to the armory to get you something appropriate to wear and look over the weapons for what will suit you.”

“Weapons,” giggled one of Merilee’s friends as they followed Astrada through a nearby doorway.

Tauren walked over to Dante and asked him to join him for a little talk as they walked around the grounds of the Stade. He realized the ladies were an unplanned recruitment, but he expected they would hang around, at least until actual blood was drawn. It would be a beautiful dream for them when they returned to their earthly life. He had prepared some portals they could easily find and imprint the way in their minds. They wouldn’t need encouragement. From the looks of them and their eagerness to follow Astrada, certainly suggested they would stick around. Tauren told Dante he had agents around the world recruiting for him, but Dante would have to be responsible for his part of the world.

If he communicated the message clearly, there would be those who would rush to join. Many others would be curious. If they were interested enough to visit, most would commit. It was communicating the possibility that was important. Dante wasn’t sure what it all meant. Was he to buy tv ads, or go out shaking hands? Tauren explained he was only advising him. As champion, Dante should be able to figure out what he needed to do.

He could see Merilee and her friends out on the field, laughing and shouting in sheer joy as Astrada put them through their paces. It was apparent Tauren was right, they would be regulars. He, on the other hand, had much to think about. Although he would have loved to join Astrada and Merilee and her friends in their workout, he had planned to spend some time with his friends Adam and Earl that afternoon, so he had to get back.

“Don’t worry about your lady, Merilee and the others. They will pass through your closet portal, but they will leave straight away with only vague memories of it. When they choose to return here, they can do so through other portals, or if you wish, you can have them pass through yours. You are the champion, on earth as in battle,” smiled Tauren, “I defer to your judgement.”

With Tauren’s words still running through his head, Dante strode back through the portal, stepped out of his closet and got ready for game night with Adam and Earl

Earl had scored tickets to the hockey game. In their part of the country, it was a minor pro league, but the players on the teams were worth watching. Some were on their way up to the next league, the proverbial big time, some were on their way out, and others were perennial stalwarts of their respective teams. The caliber was good and Dante and his buddies, Adam and Earl, never missed a chance to go when they could get tickets. So, it would be a full evening, dinner and drinks in the arena lounge, the game, and then a visit to one of their favorite restaurant, slash, pubs before calling it a night.

Dante was hoping he could interest the two of them in helping him out in his recruiting. Knowing them, they would be happy to follow him, but the sum total of seven recruits would not do much to bolster the defense force. He would turn to them to help him recruit. If they joined the ranks and he expected they would, as long as he could convince them he wasn’t delusional, they would help him.

Adam was the ad guy; hopefully he would have some idea how to drive recruitment. The problem with this, as far as Dante understood, was it would have no relation to any form of traditional recruiting. Convincing someone such a place as purgatory existed would be a chore. Even for those who believed in a purgatory, to claim the living could go there, too, would be a hard concept to get across. That it needed warriors to defend it from other sentient creatures from other purgatories would, to most, border on being an airy fantasy. To others it would seem totally insane. Putting purgatory into a twenty-first century perspective wasn’t easy. Having experienced the reality of purgatory, even to Dante, when he tried to articulate it, it still seemed absurd. His friends would probably think he had plummeted off the deep end, or whatever the current idiom was for being crazy.

Nonetheless, Dante was determined he would give them the full story and spent the rest of the day before meeting up with them, preparing himself for the skepticism and ridicule he would likely meet. Taking a deep breath as he stepped to the door, he thought to himself, “well, here goes nothing.”

He would meet his friends momentarily in front of the arena. The bistros and concessions always opened a little over an hour before ‘puck drop’. He decided to broach the subject over a post meal drink, just before making their way into the stands at game time. Whatever happened, it better be a damn exciting game or it might get darned uncomfortable. How he would explain it still concerned him as he neared the crowd outside the arena complex when he heard a familiar voice call out, “Hey, Wichita, over here.”

Over by the main doors, he saw Earl and Adam furiously waving. “Damn it,” Dante muttered to himself as he waved back, “Why did I choose Wichita?”

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