The rifts seemed to be coming more frequently. Each new wave tested everything I had ever learned as a Nightblade. I played a quick tune I learned from a bard in Meridian to raise my spirits, just as another skeleton materialized next to me. My mind raced in defensive patterns as my blades cut through the undead. These bastards seemed better prepared than the last group I faced, a testament to the training they had received in life as the foot soldiers of Jakub, the tyrant of Freemarch many centuries past. Eliam had rid the area of him once, but with Regulos's dark magic, nothing is permanent. The warlord and his minions are back with the inexhaustible fury of undeath and the lessons learned from past lives.
I caught a glimpse of two skeletons quickly moving in on both sides. I had been too focused on the necromancer and had dropped my guard for a second too long. One smashed a mace onto my dagger arm, sending the blade flying. Another blow glanced off my hip. I shifted behind the necromancer as my sword decapitated it, using its now limp bones to slightly shield myself from the advancing foes. The pain in my arm was almost unbearable and the nicks and bruises from the lengthy battle were taking their toll. I could hear my heart pounding, laboring as the adrenaline that had sustained me started to wane. I didn’t come back to life just to die on some farmer's field in Freemarch.
Suddenly, the head of one skeleton exploded in bone shards, a glowing mace nearly splitting the abomination in two. The wielder kicked the carcass aside and immediately crouched before whirling to his left. The mace forcefully removed the legs of the remaining skeleton, sending it to the ground flailing. A tall Ethian stood over the skeleton, mumbling what sounded like a prayer. He slowly raised the mace over his head, paying little heed to the skeleton's feeble sword swipes at his mailed boots. The Ethian brought the mace down as he ended his incantation, and I shielded my eyes, not only from the light, but the splinters of what was the ribcage of the now dead creature. As I finally yielded to the throbbing in my head, my last vision was of smoldering bone chips impaling the tree I slumped against.
In the darkness of my unconsciousness, I found myself back on the Kelari Isles. I couldn’t firmly grasp what I was recalling: flowing blood in the city streets, the shrill exhortations of a high priestess pushing Kelari to waiting boats, an armada leaving a doomed homeland to the dragon cults.
I roused from my nightmare to a hand on my shoulder and the bitter taste of sea soup on my lips. The Ethian knelt beside me, whispering more holy words. The pain in my dagger arm was gone, as were the various wounds from the rift invasion. He answered my questions before I asked them.
"The rift is sealed," he said in an accent I had not heard in years. "You left little for me to do except tend your wounds. I am Hirath, righteous justicar of the Eth. I bargained with the spirits, so you live, rogue." A faint smile crossed his lips as he emphasized saving my life. "Your wounds are healed and you should be mobile in a short time. I took the liberty of retrieving your dagger. You will need it where we are going."
"We?" I muttered faintly, shifting my weight to rise.
"I have been tasked with a mission of great importance," Hirath said. "I deem you a worthy partner to assist me as we enter the Iron Fortress. The tyrant Jakub must die once again, and we shall be his executioners."