“They’ll come down around that spur of rock before we can get our archers in place,” the captain was saying. “Unless you lily-livers can hustle, we’ll need to post spearmen here and here to cover our rear…”
Shizzal wasn’t listening. He didn’t mean to, but his failure kept running over and over in his head. He had been so sure he had been granted the gift of healing by Vivec. He had felt the warmth spreading through him when he had prayed.
But apparently not. Apparently not.
“I’m placing you here, priest,” said the captain. “…are you listening to me, dress-mer?”
Shizzal blinked and looked down at the makeshift map the captain had constructed out of twigs and pebbles. The position the captain had placed him in was far back in the canyon. It was a position of support, but Shizzal knew as well as the captain knew that his support wouldn’t be needed.
He couldn’t heal. All he could do was fight with the others, and not very well, with the priest robe fouling his movements and his swords’ reach being no match for Ashlander spears. The captain had placed him there to keep him out of the way.
Shizzal didn’t have time to dwell on it. The whole regiment stirred when the eerie wailing battlecries of the Mephalans echoed down the canyon. “To your positions now!” bellowed the captain, and Shizzal and the others scrambled to obey.
Shizzal found himself a nice little nook, where even his red robes would be hard to see in the fading light. A trio of Ordinators formed a tight triangle around him. As the Ashlanders approached, Shizzal couldn’t help but think of Tidras’ words earlier that day:
“We don’t need no fetchin’ support from you. The Ordinators are self sufficient. We are the hands and you are the voice. Stay and hide behind the Archcanon’s skirts, where you belong!”
The Ordinators around him braced as Ashlanders leaked past the forward ranks. Numbly, Shizzal watched, pulling a throwing knife from his robe and twiddling it between his fingers. Knives weren’t an easy thing to throw in the thick of a battle, and several opportunities slipped away before he could take them.
One of the Ordinators next to him cried out as a heavy oaken maul crashed down on his left shoulder. Without thinking, Shizzal spun and threw. His knife bounced off the Ashlander’s heavy weapon, and with a leer, the painted mer leaped towards him instead.
Shizzal’s hands went up. The maul descended. “Nice knowing you, Vivec,” Shizzal murmured wanly.
Something warm and hot rushed through his blood then, starting in his core and radiating outward. Red lightning sprung from Shizzal’s fingers, arcing from him to the wounded Ordinator, then to the Ashlander. The Ordinator cried out again, but in surprise rather than pain, as the Ashlander spasmed and dropped her weapon with an ugly howl of agony. The Ordinator jumped to his feet and crushed the Ashlander’s head in with the cultist’s own maul.
“Nice!” he said to Shizzal. “Do it again, would you? Here comes another!”
But the lightning wouldn’t “do” again, no matter how much Shizzal waved his arms about and called to Vivec and the Three. Instead, red sparks still crackled around the dying Ashlander, pulsing and leaping from body to body each time it flared. It seemed to invigorate the Ordinators, while the Ashlanders screamed at its touch and steadily backed away.
“Surely Vivec has blessed you,” said the Ordinator as he kicked another Ashlander to the ground. “I’ve seen the Path performed before, but not like that. Haha, look! It just used Rilmar to bridge to another one of the s’wits!”
“Bridge,” said Shizzal suddenly, a thought clicking into place as he watched the magic jump from one mer to another. “Wait, what did you say?”
“Eh?” said the Ordinator, for he was already in the thick of another battle. “I said thanks for the support, dress-mer!”
“Support,” breathed Shizzal. “Not support…a bridge! My powerwas never meant to be the Ordinators’ protection against the Ashlanders, but a bridge between the two–!”
He glanced up just in time for his head not to be taken off by a wild swing of an approaching Ashlander. Shizzal ducked beneath the cultist’s blade, jabbing his throwing knife deep into her gut. Hot blood washed over his fingers and splattered his face as he wrenched the blade out. He grimaced as the Ashlander slid to the ground.
“Dress-mer! Get your tailbone up here and get out of there!” shouted the captain from above. “They’re closing in from the other side!”
“Not yet!” shouted Shizzal in return, though he doubted the captain could hear him over the battle. It was time to do things his own way, and that was the way of the rogue-priest he was. He sidestepped as another Ashlander came at him, turning on his feet so he was back to back with the surprised mer. Like a strange dance, he and the Ashlander traded steps, the Ashlander turning to face him and Shizzal turning to stay behind him. The dance ended abruptly as the captain stuck his spear through the Ashlander hard enough to lift him off the ground by a few feet, feet dangling.
“Would you stop fetching around?” snapped the captain. “I didn’t bring you on this patrol to play nanny to your incompetence!”
“Course you didn’t,” Shizzal said brightly. “And I didn’t come here to be dead weight. Look alive, mate!”
The captain ducked, out of instinct, as Shizzal tossed a flash pellet over the mer’s shoulder. The ball of clay made a popping sound as it hit the ground and then exploded into billowing clouds of smoke and light. Shizzal dropped and rolled, out of the clutching hands of the incensed captain, and back behind the melee. He popped up behind Ashlander lines, glancing around.
He was thinking hard now, trying to remember what Drai had told him about Ashlander raiding parties. They were likely led by a gulakhan, who would be in the thick of the melee by now and out of Shizzal’s reach. But often they would also bring along a young farseer, a clairvoyant who helped keep the Ashlanders organized and provide the backbone of magical support to their warriors…
Gazing about the canyon’s ridges, Shizzal spotted her. She was busy casting flame spells down into the feuding warriors below, each ball of fire lighting up the Mephalan war-paint on her face. Shizzal crept up the hill, but the farseer’s attention was so fixed on the battlefield he imagined he could have strode up to her and waved without ever being noticed.
She certainly noticed when he whipped the garrote around her throat, cutting off her air and preventing her from finding breath for her spells. Shizzal didn’t tighten the lethal wire however, using her frantic gasping as the time he needed to tie her hands together. He dragged her down off the hill, away from the battle.
“Now,” he said, drawing on all his impersonation skills, trying to imagine himself as Tidras or Xalorn with one of their ruthless stares. “I’m going to talk, and YOU are going to listen.”
Shizzal had to give the woman credit for her courage when she spat at him, the saliva containing more than a little blood. He wiped the spit away.
“If you do exactly as I say,” he growled, curling his mouth around a menacing Morrowind accent, “We can get both your and my kin out of this battle, and no more people have to die today.”
“Heretic,” snarled the farseer. “Zeketah wants your head!”
“Heretics? I prefer to think of it as brothers and sisters in doubt,” said Shizzal with a sudden grin. He was betting on the farseer to stare at the off-kilter remark, and she obligingly did so. Shizzal took the opportunity to bow his head to her, murmuring the words Drai had taught him long ago for an ancient Ashlander greeting of respect. The farseer looked more and more surprised, and she lowered her hands.
“I know I may look like a Temple mer,” said Shizzal. “But you have to trust me. Call a retreat and don’t return, and I’ll keep the Ordinators from following you. I have an idea. Deal?”
The farseer’s eyes widened, but she didn’t exactly have any other choice. Below her, the Ashlanders were being slaughtered.