Aerich took a deep breath, his eyes popping open. Pain, a searing white hot agony that coursed through his body was gone in an instant. Above him, a massive mountain soared into the skies. The sun shone down on him, warm and carefree as a gentle, warm breeze brushed against his cheek.
Standing, Aerich rubbed at his belly. The pain was a memory, rapidly disappearing. He was dressed as he had last remembered, his armor was still emblazoned with the symbol of his lord, the Archangel Ragathiel, his sword was in its sheath, his shield across his back.
Around him, a martial city spread like a tile floor. Down each perfectly ordered street were strong-points, interconnected towers of silver and gold. The patch of grass upon which he laid was a perfect square, the grass soft and fragrant and gentle to the touch.
“Where am I?”
Each of the buildings were built like a small keep, topped by towers and crenelations, giving defenders perfect, staggered firing arcs down each street. The entire city was built as if a fortress, each block was to be contested, each building ready to withstand an individual siege while protecting its neighbor.
The city was alive with men, women and children of all races. Couples of all ages walked together, smiling. Children laughed and played amongst the buildings, diving between bushes and around trees in complex games of tag. Others worked with paints or charcoals, drawing gorgeous murals and paintings.
“Aerich,” a golden voice called.
Aerich turned and look into the crowds, seeing no source, he scanned the moving and smiling faces. From the skies, a single, golden orb began to settle down in front of him, floating at eye level. The orb emitted a warm glow, dancing as if clouds were gently flowing across its form.
“A lantern archon,” Aerich whispered.
“You died, Aerich,” the archon announced. “You died trying to save your friends, and your sacrifice and service did not go unnoticed. Ragathiel brought you home.”
“You’re in heaven,” the Archon said gently.
Aerich felt his heart slam against his throat. He stepped back, taking a deep, quivering breath.
“Home,” he said, a whisper.
“Yes, Cleric,” the Archon said. “Come, let me show you.”
“Wait,” Aerich said, a feeling of giddiness rising up within him like a spring. “Is she here?”
“Aiori,” Aerich shouted. “My wife, is she here?”
The light of the archon dimmed slightly. “Aerich, I’m…”
“Where is she,” he demanded, feeling the anger welling up, his voice rising. People stopped and stared, their eyes settling on him with a mixture of surprise and pity. “WHERE?”
The archon seemed to look at Aerich with a mixture of pity and concern.
“She was judged, Cleric,” the Archon said quietly. “Her fear was too much at the end. She renounced her oath to Sarenrae before her death.”
The words hit Aerich like a physical blow, his head turning, causing tears to slip down his cheeks.
“Where is she,” he said, his voice a deep growl.
“Stygia,” the archon replied, the seventh plane of hell. “You cannot see her, never. She has been cast out, her broken vows stored deep within the Library of Oaths for eternity.”
Aerich’s lips curled back in a rictus of anger. “I swore an oath as well, Archon. There is nothing that will allow me to break it and make me need her any less.”
“You don’t understand,” The archon said.
“It isn’t about understanding,” Aerich shouted, “it’s about not giving up on her!” He leaned in close to the floating orb of light. “Take me to the boatman.”