The Zarosians spilled over our front lines, mixing dust with blood. Their fervour for battle was insatiable. We were ordered to retreat at first light, but we knew we wouldn't make it to dawn. We needed the Kharidian gods to grace the battlefield now; morale was low and the last embers of their civilisation were flickering out. I weighed my coin-bag and wondered if it was time to abandon the life of a mercenary; to steal a ship and leave.
We were blinded momentarily by a burning light, and the ground began to rumble. A wind came rolling across the plains like a tidal wave, drowning out the cries of war. The light spread like a flame burning through parchment, opening a tear in the very fabric of the world. From that yawning rift a small army marched forth, the ground quaking beneath their feet. A figure held the portal open, the head of a jackal atop its shoulders. Icthlarin had returned, and he had brought reinforcements.
It was a turning point in the Kharidian-Zarosian war. Icthlarin's warriors crashed into the Zarosian forces. Their commanders were terrifying to behold - mighty sorcerers, whose name sounded foreign to our ears. The army gave them a new name: the 'Stern Judges'. They towered over us by some feet, clad in robes, with a ridge on their foreheads. One in particular made an impression on me: his laugh echoing in my ears and his rictus grin etched into my memory. His name was Sliske, and he appeared and disappeared at will. He was feared by the soldiers and distrusted by his own kind. I felt a kinship with him, even as I was awed by his power.
Far away, I could make out the Kharidian gods thundering through the enemy, with the Stern Judges at their backs. But Sliske had a different goal, and he moved in other directions. He moved silently. I was barely able to keep track of him as he shifted between shadows. I gave chase, plunging my sword into hapless soldiers in my path.
As I struggled to keep pace with Sliske, I became lost in darkness, the only illumination coming from torches. I fought onwards, and Sliske materialised in a group of enemies. He did not seem to favour his blade; instead, he placed a hand on their armour, and both he and the enemy disappeared. Moments later, Sliske would return, but his opponent would be gone.
I was struck and knocked to the ground, and found myself on my back with a blade at my throat, staring into the wild eyes of a Zarosian scout. Fear washed over me as I heard steel slicing through flesh...but I felt nothing, save a warm trickle of blood on my chest. The body was tossed aside like a doll, and his face peered down at me instead. I shall never forget that grin - like a skull, covered in a veneer of ridged, grey flesh. My eyes locked with Sliske's as he put his finger to his lips. He smiled, and was gone.
In the months that followed, Icthlarin led the charge northwards across the River Elid. I watched in awe as the Stern Judges overpowered their foes. Despite my obsession with Sliske, I found him nigh-impossible to track; one minute I would be watching from afar, the next he would vanish. He built an entourage of spectral wights - shimmering with blacks and purples -as if the warriors he took in battle were returning to serve him.
We finally reached the mountains, and the forces of Zaros made their stand in a narrow pass. Despite their tactical advantage, we were victorious that day. The dust settled and the blood on our swords boiled in the sun. With the majority of the Kharidian lands reclaimed, Icthlarin demanded that Sliske release his wights to him, so he could guide them to the underworld. When Sliske refused, Icthlarin took them by force. With a swipe of his hand, Icthlarin obliterated their ranks. Sliske narrowed his eyes and smiled. With a gesture he was gone, and Icthlarin never counted Sliske as a friend from that day.