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After a great deal of time, perhaps years in earth time, or perhaps only a scant few moments, time in purgatory being relative, Astrada reached her goal at last, earth’s domain. There she sought out the local guardian. Every domain had one. Although warriors without peer, a sense of greed had overwhelmed many, making them more interested in gathering wealth and living the good life.

Guardians were native to purgatory and supposedly immortal. They were last to be carried through one or other of the Portals. Most remained faithful to their duty, but the rich and powerful had bought off many, while others were taken by surprise and placed in forms of captivity designed by master scientists from ancient worlds and kept in an imprisonment unimaginable on earth.

Astrada, in her travels across the many domains, had heard of Tauren, the earthly guardian. The word was he was strong and true and possibly one of the most traditional and effective. Being similar in body type to Astrada, although with the normal differences between male and female, she felt he was one with whom she could train and from whom she could learn. One she could go with side-by-side in battle.

She came to the central city of earthly purgatory to find Tauren, who was said to be training acolytes there. They directed her to the Stade Arcanium. The Stade was a rectangular open-air stadium. Stone steps, the seats for spectators, surrounded an expanse of grass and sand. It was perfect for viewing sporting events, but when Astrada arrived there were no spectators and on the field, a few, mostly younger men, were busily engaged in what appeared to be slapping at each other with dull wooden swords.

In their midst, his broadsword resting on his shoulder, stood the most beautiful human being she had ever seen, His snowy hair flicked against the blade of the sword, his face looked as if etched by a classical sculptor. His golden eyes glinting in the reflected light from a series of mirrors scattered around the field’s edge. A well-formed nose neither too big nor too small centered his face. A light smile played across his lips as he surveyed the surrounding swordplay. He was a giant of a man and his leather kilt and crossed bandoliers couldn’t hide the well sculpted musculature of his body. From the top of his silver locks to the soles of his high laced sandals, Astrada could see that he was someone special, a fierce warrior far different from the others. He had to be the guardian.

 She made her way through the battling pairs, neatly sidestepping a wild swing here and a fierce thrust there. When she reached the handsome giant, she put her hand to the dagger at her waist and forthright asked, “Are you Tauren?”

“Ah,” he exclaimed, looking down at her, “you’re here at last! We’ve been expecting you for some time now.”

“Well.” Returned Astrada taken aback by this unexpected greeting, but not to be outdone, “I’m sorry I’m late. I didn’t realize I was expected.”

“Indeed,” smiled the giant.

“And how is it you expected me, and how do you know I’m the one expected?”

“Oh, I have my ways.”

“Which are?”

“If you must know, the Wise Ones contacted me. They told me you would come, a powerful female battle companion, to fight by my side when we wage war on the coming invaders. Something, by the way, they say you precipitated.”

“This so-called invasion I apparently precipitated, when will it occur?”

“Oh, not to worry, it is still a long way off. Plenty of time for you to help me train an army and find our champion.”

Astrada would learn the Wise Ones, to anyone’s understanding, had no other names, were native to purgatory and had knowledge of the present and future. They spoke only to the guardians when they deemed it needful. They remained hidden from sight in the remote forests and swamps that separated the domains.

Astrada knew if any of Davlos’ followers suspected her of his murder, their pursuit would be relentless. She didn’t fear this. She did however have a powerful feeling whoever might replace Grand Duke Davlos would be one of the more ambitious of the lords, someone eager to increase his power through conquest.

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