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Chapter 12
The Land of Strongholds

We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.  2 Corinthians  10:4  NLT

     Dawn found the four packing. They were glad to leave the Land of Constructs, but sorry to be leaving Angelique. 
     "I’m ready to get out of here," Leif stated. "You say this is what Back is? All Constructs?” 
     "Mostly,” answered Angelique. “And with the added problems of physical hunger and thirst."
     "No wonder my life seemed so empty and ..." 
     "Wacky?" Angelique added.
     "Yes!" Leif replied.
     "Wacky Land it is," she agreed. “And they try so hard to convince themselves that they are okay.”
     They walked out of the Temple of Longing.
     "Don't worry," Angelique continued. “Agent Lopez will be your contact on the next leg of your journey. You must sharpen your Sensing and flowing, for you’ll be entering the Land of Strongholds. Agent Lopez will tell you more. Try to focus on your Sensing and see if you can find him. If you can't, he will find you. You have been on limited offense, but now you must learn how to fight the enemy better. Greater foes than the Dark Forms exist.
     “But enough of that. You have done well. Even you, Kamiko. You became much stronger than you think when you allowed yourself to come back and resume your journey. Don't think you are weak.”
     "How will we know when we reach this ‘Land of Strongholds?’ " Isabella asked.
     "You’ll know."
     There was a moment of silence. They hugged Angelique, especially Kamiko. Angelique saw them to the door and watched as they walked down the road. She slowly turned and shut the door. The four were struck once again by how difficult it must be to be an agent.
     Leif and Isabella held hands as they walked. They had let their love for each other come out in the open. Now if only they could stop it from becoming a Construct. As each became lost in their thoughts, they knew as they left the Land of Constructs behind that they would never be the same again. They had a new way of looking at things. They could spot Constructs in others as well as in their own lives, hopefully. And they hadn't even finished their journey yet.
     On the second day, a change came over the land. The trees and bushes became stunted. The grass and flowers were withered, the air was heavy and oppressive. What appeared to be a bad thunderstorm could be seen on the horizon. As they traveled farther, the storm appeared to stay the same.
     "Don't thunderstorms move?" Devan asked.
     "I thought so," Leif answered.
     "I sense something bad," Kamiko said as she stopped and peered with a hand shielding her eyes from the sun. Since she had faced some of her worst fears and weaknesses in the Land of Constructs, she had let her Sensing come forth even stronger, for it was always stronger than in the others. “Very, very bad,” she muttered.
     As they approached, they could see it wasn’t a thunderstorm, but rather a clear line beyond which was a perpetual dusk-like state. Dark clouds continually swirled high above, but no rain ever came. Clearly, they had reached the Land of Strongholds, for it was too unnatural to be anything else. One didn't just step from broad daylight to dusk in a few steps, but that is what they did. The temperature seemed to drop, but it could have been their imagination.
     "I guess now we look for Agent Lopez," Isabella stated. "Angelique said to use our Sensing."
     They looked at Kamiko.
     "Oh sure, put it all on me. But if I had to say, I would say he isn’t anywhere near. I assume he would be the only one giving off any true flow, and I don’t sense any."
     "Lead on, my little bloodhound," Leif quipped.
     Kamiko gave him a look as she went past him. Isabella gave him a look, too.  Devan just had a worried look on his face. As they traveled, the land seemed even more oppressive. After several hours, Kamiko held up her hand and stopped.
     "I'm picking up a true flow." She walked on without the others, then back. "It’s strongest right here."
     "Then where is Agent Lopez?" Leif asked.
     A short but well-proportioned man stood up from behind a nearby row of shrubs. He looked to be in his fifties. He had a small, well-trimmed mustache.
     "Agent Lopez at your service," he announced with a flourish and a slight bow. "Welcome to the Land of Strongholds."
     Agent Lopez led the four a short distance to a bunker built into the side of a hill. He lifted a door located behind a bush and said, "Home sweet home.” A single narrow window was camouflaged into the side of the bunker, itself camouflaged into the side of the hill. The bunker was just one room with two sofas and just enough space to set up portable cots. Only someone who truly believes in what they are doing could live like this, Leif thought.
     "I can keep an eye on the road from here, though I can also use my Sensing. In this land, your Sensing grows pretty keen. But I’m forgetting to be a good host. Do you need some rest?"
     They spent the next few hours resting and getting acquainted. The four told Agent Lopez of their experiences in the Land of Constructs and with Angelique, whom he knew well.
     "She's a good agent, none better."
     "But what will we face here?" Isabella asked.
     "A bigger, more powerful version of Dark Forms. Whereas the Dark Forms you have faced thus far were more bird-like than man, here they are more man-like and wingless. They live in towers interspersed throughout the land. These Manforms are horrible. The Pulsing uses them to torture people brought to them from Back and Beyond by the Dark Forms.”
     "Torture them how?" Kamiko asked.
     "The Manforms can dig the most painful memories from a person and cause the person to re-live them in their mind over and over.” 
     "Why?" Leif asked.
     "Whenever a person longs for the Pull or longs to resume their journey,” Agent Lopez replied, “the Dark Forms try to grab the part of the person responding to the Source and fly them to one of the Dark Towers. There they are tortured until they no longer have any longing. Then they are taken back.”
     The four stared at Agent Lopez in disbelief.
     "Why do they do this?" Devan asked, for fear was rearing its ugly head inside him.
     "Don't you know by now? The Pulsing wants you to only sense the false beat and false flow. He hates the Source. He wants to be the one who determines the purpose of your life. Here you will see just how much he hates anyone who tries to go on their journey. Here you must have the mind-frame of a soldier in battle. But it more resembles guerilla warfare. We make forays against the towers, rescue some of the people being tortured, and cause as much disruption as possible.
     “But more on that later. Before you attack a tower, you must become stronger in the Beat and the flowing. That is what you are to learn on this leg of your journey. We will start tomorrow. For now, rest. You will need it."
     “But why didn’t they do this to us when we were in Back? How were we able to let our Longing bring us here?” Isabella asked.
     “They tried,” Agent Lopez replied. “But our agents in Back prevented it, and your Longing was enough to allow them to prevent it. You should thank them if you ever have the chance. While you were happy living with your Constructs, the enemy left you alone. He’s happy to leave you alone as long as you aren’t on your journey.
     "I want to ask you where the painful memories of people come from that the Manforms can use against them in such a horrible way?”
     No one had an answer.
     “They are one of the by-products of the Constructs we hold on to so tightly. Constructs are deadly. They provide the means for the stronghold towers to exist. It’s the price we pay when we are not open to the truth flow. I hope we find a good example of this on our mission against the enemy. Something to mull over as you train to attack them.”
     Agent Lopez helped them set up their cots, bid them goodnight, and went out to conduct what he said was his nightly inspection tour. The four looked at each other. The idea of raids against a tower wasn't so intimidating since they had raided the Dark Forms and survived.
     "I guess if we made it this far we can make it through this," Leif surmised.
     "Yeah, but I sense evil here more than I have ever sensed before," Kamiko added. “Everyone stay open to your truth flow.”
     Devan was silent. Why am I this way? he thought. 
     They were glad to rest. They didn't like the sound of the Manforms.

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