The Emperor waited with his retinue at the far bank of the Styx. His eight armored assistants held torches to stave off the endless night. Outside their radiance only black glowferns defied the darkness, their intoxicating and deadly flowers illuminated the riverbank. The silhouette of the Boatman emerged from the shadowy mists shrouding the opaque currents, drifting so slowly none could say with certainty when he came into their presence.
There was a wet hiss as the prow of the skiff slid into the muddy bank. The shivering soul curled inside the boat opened his eyes and sat up, craning his neck around the shadow pulling in his oar. The Emperor approached, pulling back his crimson cloak to pull the pouch off his swordbelt as the Boatman drew a skeletal hand from the folds of his ancient cowl.
After the muted clinking of coins in cloth, a bony hand picked up the haggard passenger by the scruff of the neck and tossed him like a waterlogged towel onto the muddy shore.
"If that's how you treat Ereba'i royalty..." growled the Emperor.
"He was difficult," whispered the shadow. "But for his lineage I would have cast him over."
"I apologize," continued the Emperor as two of his guards raised the newcomer to his feet. "But as always, the payment is generous."
"As always..." A push of an oar, and the Boatman again merged into the mists.
The Emperor pulled back his hood. But for the the gray in his temples, he looked exactly like the soul who had just regained his footing.
"Back so soon, Marcus?"
"I hadn't expected..."
"You were floating right at the edge of the Sea of Oblivion when the Boatman found you."
Jeremiah embraced his son. "Nothing can excuse what I did to you, Marcus. But we've got an eternity to rebuild..."
"That remains to be seen..." Marcus wrapped his hand around the hilt of his father's sword, and drew back...