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The shock Adam and Earl felt at first stepping through a portal into purgatory was eased by both the presence of a super-confident Dante at their side, and the sight of Merilee and one of her friends busily engaged in a furious duel with wooden practice swords. “Hey, it’s Merilee,” said Earl, “what’s she doing here?” And he waved, shouting, “Hey Merilee.”

She stopped what she was doing and saluted Earl and Adam with a raised sword. When Astrada made her way over, Earl’s eyes went wide, “My god, you are beautiful, and I mean beautiful.”

“Why, thank you,” smiled Astrada and she took his arm, causing Earl to nearly melt, “I have something I’d like to show you. Come with me.”

Moments later Earl was racing across the large practice field, Astrada loping casually beside him, her ever present sword brandished and waving. She ran with him a few times across the field, then went back to Dante. “Well,” she said, “he’s in somewhat better shape than you were when you first arrived,” and turning to Adam indicated he join her and Earl.

As it had been in the early days with Dante, the intensity of Astrada’s training methods had them staggering around in pain between sessions. This discomfort would continue until their conditioning reached the point where they could move on to self-defense.

Adam’s ad campaign proved successful. Early on the new recruits trickled in, wide eyed and uncertain about what was going on. As they adjusted and grew to enjoy the intense, but productive training, Adam discovered something interesting about his advertisements on social media. Not only were there many more new arrivals as the social media ads were doing what they were designed to do, gather recruits from Dante’s hometown and nearby communities, but Adam discovered he was receiving emails from all across the country, and in fact, all around the world asking about where they might find a nearby portal. Apparently there were lots of folk out there interested in the proposition of learning warrior skills and joining a well-trained defense group.

In response, Tauren and Dante sat down to do some research and found directions to portals worldwide. Adam then set up the information so everyone requesting a local portal could find one. The recruits, mainly men, but a surprising number of women, kept pouring in. Perhaps many came because they were misfits in the world, but felt at home among the living in purgatory, while many others were enthused by the variety in the training regimen. Whatever their reason, most stayed. Those that didn’t stay had come with their guns and were disappointed they wouldn’t fire in this place. The guardian and the champion and their closest associates were happy to see those ones gone as they only came because they were looking for somewhere to legally kill and could not give up their guns.

After a while, time being relative in purgatory, earth’s purgatorial domain had a large and well-trained legion. It was in no way a match for the numbers and viciousness of Fluglaz’s warriors, but in Tauren and Astrada’s view, Astrada having firsthand knowledge of Fluglaz’s warriors, earth’s legion was ready to meet and match them on the battlefield. It was a good thing, too, because word had come from the neighboring domains that a large advance party of Fluglaz’s warriors would soon arrive at their boundary.

Dante and Astrada gathered an expeditionary team composed of some of earth domain’s very best warriors to meet the enemy before they were too close. A tribute to Astrada’s training technique, Merilee and her friends Carol and Joan were, along with Earl, an integral part of the group. The skill they showed with a variety of weapons was amazing, and their hand to hand combat was without peer. Ability wise, Astrada felt no concern for their fighting skills, attacking and defending. They would not be easy opponents for even the fiercest of Fluglaz’s warriors.

With the element of surprise on their side, along with the sheer talent of each and every one of earth’s warriors, the odds of victory, at least against Grand Duke’s advance party, were good. Only Dante had any shadow of doubt. While he knew and admired the capabilities of all the expeditionary group. From personal experience he also knew they were, as yet, unbloodied. How would they react when they needed to take a life? He could only hope that he and Astrada, along with those few warriors who had military experience back on earth, could keep them calm and focused. Let them take the time to work through it after the enemy was eliminated.

It was also possible some having been killed would be back in purgatory among the ranks of the atoners. If they could then make their way back to the Stade Arcanium, they might help defend once a full invasion was underway, Dante realized thinking too much about this was unproductive. Until engagement with the enemy, there would be no useful answers to these concerns.

Meanwhile, Astrada gave them a rundown on what they would fight. “Mostly, the warriors you will meet will be similar enough to yourselves, but physically broader and slightly taller than the average citizen of earth. They are muscular with large heads and prehensile fangs. Most of them will have had their fangs docked as flashing full-fledged fangs are considered crude and unseemly among the populace. Even flattened, they can do serious damage so try to keep clear of their jaws. Other than that, their vital organs are in about the same place. If you’re in close quarters, move fast and stab, don’t slash without a two handed grip. Their skin is leathery.”

The expeditionary corps were preparing to mount up and head towards the edge of the domain, there to await their instructions to proceed against the approaching invaders. The members were experiencing various degrees of anticipatory enthusiasm and trepidation. They were fully aware of their skill and certain in their readiness. It was the waiting for final instructions that made them anxious. So, when the word finally came, they didn’t delay, but mounted their horses right away and were heading for the no-man’s-land separating earth’s domain from its neighbor.

They were ready for anything. The inhospitable terrain between the domains didn’t deter them, and neither did the ever-expanding dimensions of the surrounding land. It just meant their journey would take a little longer. It also told them that like earth, the neighboring domain was still vital. It didn’t deserve to be invaded by Fluglaz in the course of his empire building, not that any domain, new or ancient, did. If Dante’s expeditionary team could help preserve the independence of the neighbors’ domain, it would make the coming fight even more necessary.

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