It was a low key group of warriors that returned to earth’s purgatory. Their first encounter with Fluglaz’s invaders was a success, but there was no celebration. Ten warriors who had been friends and companions were dead. Yes, they were somewhere out there in the distant parts of earth’s purgatory. Although it was possible, they might see some of them again, as atoners, it would change them. They would have only a smattering of memories regarding their death and the life they lived before.
There was no time for revelry. Some members of the expeditionary force would return to earth’s plane while others would sort through the things they had learned from their encounter with Fluglaz’s warriors. They all knew that whether anyone had carried back the news of the defeat of the advanced troop or not, Fluglaz’s commanders would know a unit that size did not just vanish into the ozone. The element of surprise would never again be as effective.
Besides the military concerns, were some other equally significant ones. Merilee and Carol were concerned about how they would present Joan’s death to her family and explain why there was no corpse. Both Adam and Earl suggested they not tell them, but Dante understood the effect of the silence on the family, the questions and concerns they would have would be more agonizing for them than facing the knowledge someone had been with Joan when she died and that the cause was good. He encouraged Merilee, Carol, and the other friends to carry the news to them. It would take days to construct the story of her death so that the family would have some satisfaction. This was an issue with several others of the deceased as well. It was simply one more burden on the backs of the warriors of earth’s purgatorial domain.
The sheer joy of training, as hard as it was, was gone. It now became a serious business. Astrada made it clear Fluglaz’s legions were relentless. It was unlikely the loss of an advanced team would deter them. For Fluglaz and his commanders, the lives of their warriors meant nothing. Those warriors were the fodder that would help them achieve their goal. That goal was to conquer purgatory. Any defeat, even of an advance party of two or three hundred warriors, would only galvanize them. Their brutal march to conquest would continue. Fluglaz’s invading legion would eventually make its way to Yvax’s domain and if not stopped there, eventually, on to earth’s. The prospect, while hardening the will of earth’s warriors to resist, was also a daunting one.
Whatever the case, earth’s defenders would be prepared. Speed and exceptional skill with all forms of weaponry was essential to success and so the warriors would continue to train under the watchful eye of Astrada, honing the skills and abilities that would give them an advantage over the ruthless and ferocious forces aligned against them.
So it was, with the bulk of the warrior representatives of earth’s population having no need to return home immediately, they stayed on to continue their intense training. Those who needed to return to earth came back to purgatory whenever they could, also to continue training.
Earl, still suffering from the wound he had received in battle, returned to earth to apply and receive a disability leave from work. He then went back to purgatory, where his wound would heal faster. Dante, Adam, and Merilee also went back to earth to, at least for the time being, continue their work for their firm and to continue recruiting.
After some discussion, Adam went back to purgatory and with a small detachment, made his way to Yvax’s domain. There he sought out information, learning that the home world of Yvax and his people had a version of the internet that was showing the rudimentary beginnings of social media.
On learning this, Adam worked with Yvax and his people to set up a recruitment package on their version of the internet. The Guardian of the Yvax domain, while nearly invisible, did help to establish some portals for potential recruits to find their way to the training field. There, Carol and her associates were making some progress refining the volunteers’ warrior skills. It was not a simple task given the peaceful nature of that world’s denizens, but their desire to protect the domain was an excellent motivation.
Dante and Merilee were back at the bistro where Dante first broached the subject of purgatory. He had another subject to discuss, and despite who he was and everything he had gone through, he still broke out in a nervous sweat. Up to that point the conversation flowed smoothly between them, but suddenly the words wouldn’t come. Forcing a deep breath, he finally stuttered out the question that had been nagging him for days now. At first it came out in battle terms, “M-M-Merilee, w-w-would you ride with me as my lieutenant, my right hand, m-m-my c-c-companion… not only in battle, but always?”
Merilee had to laugh. This big, blubbering idiot was earth’s champion. Then she softened and leaned over the table to give him a kiss. “Of course, I’ll ride with you, or walk, or even sit around with you Dante,” she paused, gave him another kiss and added in a diffident tone, with a huge grin and her tongue planted solidly in her cheek, “It would be and honor to be your companion my champion.”
“Please don’t,” groaned Dante, “I’m just Dante and I’m the one who is honored.”
Merilee couldn’t stop laughing, but not at his request. That filled her with joy, but at the ingratiating sweetness of his bashfulness. Not long after, they were back in purgatory at a planning session with Tauren, Astrada. Adam and some other experienced tacticians. Fluglaz legion would soon arrive at the boundary of Yvax domain. They had to do everything they could to be ready.
Although fewer in numbers than earth’s defensive force, Yvax and his domain now had its own well-trained force, well prepared to defend their border with skill and genuine resolve. A large contingent of earth’s warriors would shortly be on their way to bolster Yvax forces.
In a large room, several domains away, the commander of Fluglaz’s legion and his executive officers were meeting to plan their own strategy. “Why,” asked one of them, “have we not received a report from the advance party yet. They should have taken the place and be sending back a messenger by now.”
“The advance troop comprises our most elite warriors,” said the commander, “they have always been very efficient at taking the guardian’s capital in each domain, which is their prime objective. Once they have secured it they immediately send messengers back to tell the legion to proceed,” pausing briefly to express the point, he then added, “Since none have come back to report yet, we need to consider that they have met some opposition.”
“They don’t have the numbers or the equipment for an extended siege,” said another, “they should have sent word back for support by now.”
“Well, then,” said the commander, “we must assume that they are in no position to do that.”
“Yes,” said the commander, “it means they have met serious resistance and have been defeated.”
“But, no one came to inform us.”
“Because,” said the commander, “they are most likely all dead.”
“Then we must send a message back to the emperor to send us more warriors.”
“And, while we do,” added the commander, “We proceed, carefully, in the knowledge there is a worthy enemy out there. We will mobilize as soon as we can and proceed with the understanding we could meet up with a well-prepared force of hostiles at any time and we must be ready for a serious encounter at any moment.”
Fluglaz’s legions were each made up of several thousand warriors, many were out among the citizens of their conquered domain, demonstrating to the residents the brutality and mindless cruelty that was their hallmark. The word went to assemble and be prepared to march. It would take time to get them all back and ready to move, but soon enough it would happen. Scouts from Yvax domain returned to him and his earthly allies with the news the legion threatening them would soon be on the move.
Dante stood, his arm around Merilee’s waist, at the boundary of earth’s purgatory, gazing out into the no-man’s-land between theirs and Yvax domains. Tauren and Astrada stood nearby. “They are coming soon and they are prepared for us. We must be ready.”
Looking over at Tauren and Astrada, Merilee took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, “We will be ready.”
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