Curse of the Crimson Throne

In Death - Part III

The Eternal City of Axis serves as the nexus between the Inner and Outer Planes. The personification of universal law, it is a shining example of perfect order and harmony rising out of the Maelstrom of Chaos. Axis is the home of Abadar, and his dealings are expressed here in the massive, perfectly circular city stretches almost infinitely within the golden barrier walls that separate the order from the chaos.

The Rainbow Bridge, spanning the Golden lattice, stretched down from the heavens and into the city. The air here was stale, lacking the warmth and redolent fragrance of the heavens, replaced with the smell of nothing. The plane lacked the soul of the outer planes, the joy of Heaven or the natural beauty of Elysium.

Aerich looked around in wonder. He’d read tales of Axis while cloistered, and immediately admired the architecture on display. Each building was representative of a race who respected law, regardless of their place in the universe. Vast dwarven halls, gnomish enclaves, Drow covens and Elven houses were there, perfect in their creation and maintenance, museum-like in their depiction of their material world analogs.

“We shouldn’t be here,” the Archon said.

“Then leave,” Aerich said, glancing back at the Rainbow Bridge. “This is not your place, then go.”

The Archon seemed to consider that, ceasing its bobbing, hanging still in the air. The various souls in Axis passed them as if they were not there.

“You would not know where to find a tracker,” the Archon said. “Follow me.”

Aerich turned and followed the Archon deeper into the city.

  • * *

The Archon led Aerich into a vast library. The floors were smooth and highly polished, each footfall sounding like a hammer striking an anvil as Aerich strode across them. The room was circular, each wall filled to the ceiling with books. Stepping near the center of the room, Aerich leaned against a stained wood railing and peered over the edge, revealing the room descended as far as he could see, an endless cylinder of knowledge.

The Archon approached an older man. Human. Dressed in the clothing of a commoner, he closed the book he was reading and looked over the Cleric.

“You’re the one,” he said, coughing once to clear his throat.

“The one what?”

“The one who won’t give up,” the old man said, looking from Aerich to the Archon and back.

“Constantly,” Aerich replied.

“Me too,” the old man smiled. “I am also told I don’t really have a cough, either. A vestigal remainder of my past life.” The old man spoke slowly, a clear low drawl of indeterminate origin. “You may hear a lot of things on this side, a lot of information. Don’t let it screw you up.”

Aerich nodded.

“Your wife love you? Is it as strong as yours for her?”

“Yes,” Aerich said.

“We’ll find her. But when you find her, but nothing you can do will make her recognize you. Nothing will break her denial,” the old man said, “It is stronger than her love for you. You can say everything you want to say, including goodbye, even if she can’t understand it, and you’ll have the satisfaction that you fulfilled your oath. That has to be enough.”

“You just get me to her, old man, I’ll decide what’s enough. When do we leave?”

The old man looked at Aerich, his eyes narrowing. “Close your eyes.”

Aerich did, and the world fell away.

  • * *

Aerich opened his eyes. He and the old man were standing in the middle of a vast, fetid swamp. The ground sizzled where Aerich stood, the unholy water striking his celestial form and evaporating immediately. The old man, for his part, hovered in place, his simple leather boots inches above the swamp mud and muck.

“Welcome to Stygia,” the Old Man said gravely. “They say that every lie spoken in the material plane condenses into a drop of poison that corrupts these waters.”

Aerich looked around, his eyes falling on a vast, fetid swamp.

The dead and dying mangrove trees that tried to grow here were mere shadows of the real plants. Standing out amongst them were vast cities, ruins, and temples built to false deities.

Aerich stepped out onto a dilapidated cobblestone street, his steps evaporating the liquid that seemed to coat everything, giving it a dull green sheen. Ahead, an ancient temple stretched into the foreboding sky, black clouds which rolled in place, no wind to turn them.

“She’s in there,” the Old Man announced.

Aerich could see the shadows, the demons, and imps that inhabited this realm stare at them.

“Why aren’t they attacking,” Aerich said, keeping a hand on the pommel of his sword.

“Parlay,” the Old Man sniffed. “I am an agent of Axis, a servant of Abadar. I am an arbiter, a judge that can render their sentences here commuted and they can leave.”

“Has anyone ever left?”

“Ever?”

“None that I am aware,” the Old Man said quietly as they walked the stairs. “Hope can be a powerful illusion.”

Stepping into the temple, Aerich stopped. The temple was a massive ediface, and it reminded him of…

“Wait, this is the Temple of Sarenrae in Korvosa,” Aerich said, looking up at the vaulted ceiling. It was a near perfect recreation, but instead of beautiful, it was dilapidated and disused. Great hunks of moss and lichen had stained the stone, and the wet smell of rot filled the air. Within the worship space, a small house, typical of Korvosa, stood.

“That’s our home,” Aerich said, amazed.

“No,” the Old Man coughed again, “It is false, an illusion she has created here. She had forsworn her faith, something that served as shell for her true love and life, her life with you. This isn’t like the rest of hell. You have no defense against Aiori – if she manages to turn your love into fear, into hate, and you could be lost here forever. Once her reality becomes your reality, you are trapped in her hell, another screw to turn into her soul for eternity. Remember who she was, Cleric, that is your shield and your sword.”

Aerich nodded and approached the house. The door hung open. With a gentle push, Aerich walked inside and closed the door behind him.

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