Without warning, the Ashlanders pulled out of the combat with the regiment. The Ordinators paused, expecting a feint. The Ashlanders didn’t swing their charge round, only scrabbling deeper into the canyon like scribs fleeing from a suddenly ignited torch.
“Get out your bows,” said the captain, striding up and down the uneasy ranks. “Get ready to fire, on my mark.”
The Ashlanders retreated all the way back up the canyon, regrouping at its mouth before they turned back. The soft sibilant hiss of a chanting farseer echoed down to them, and the Ordinators tensed.
“Nock and draw,” said the captain, raising his voice. “A second round to whoever bags that farseer! Hurry!”
The farseer’s voice rose in a wailing, hoarse howl. The water of the river danced in a warning vibration.
A string of blasts, each in quick succession to the other, rippled down the canyon walls. Puffs of smoke and light lit up the night sky, blinding and deafening the Ordinators, covering them with a deluge of water from the disturbed river.
“That was no spell,” said one of the Ordinators, voice wavering. “What new devilry is this?”
“Forward rank, draw shields and brace!” shouted the captain frantically. The Ordinators rushed to obey, climbing up the banks on either side of the river. But beyond the clank and rustle of the Ordinators setting their shields in a protective barricade, there was no other sound. The river stilled, and the smoke began to clear.
Out of the gloom, a single figure could be seen making its way back to the Ordinators’ position. It suddenly tripped and went down into the water, sodden robes fouling up its legs.
“Priest!” cried the captain in sudden realization–and anger. “What the fetch did you do? The Ashlanders used your smoke bombs for cover!”
“Yes,” said Shizzal after he spat out a good deal of river water. “They used it to retreat. We’re safe now, sir.”
The captain waited until Shizzal climbed out of the river and had rearranged his robes into some semblance of order before stalking up to him. “You’ve endangered all our lives,” he said in a threatening growl. “We have no idea where the Ashlanders are thanks to your stupid little trick. They could come at us from any direction!”
“They won’t,” said Shizzal. “I spoke with one of them. They don’t want to fight us. They’ve been pushed into this by another of the tribes — thee Tengri, infiltrated by Mephalan cultists? They’re heading home now. That’s preferable, isn’t it? Don’t you think enough blood’s been spilled tonight?”
“Traitor! Fool!” bellowed the captain, and he backhanded Shizzal hard enough to send him reeling to the ground. “I will have you executed for this!”
“No, you won’t,” said Shizzal, slowly getting back to his feet and wiping blood from his face. It hurt more than he cared to admit, but it was the wrong time to show weakness. He fixed his gaze on the captain’s eye-slits. “What I did got our patrol out of this death trap without any further fighting and may have even gotten us an ally against the real Mephalan cultists. I can’t h-heal for scuttle, sera, but I can still save the lives of your men.”
The captain’s hand flashed forward and seized Shizzal by the throat, lifting him off the ground. Shizzal gagged and closed his eyes, fully expecting his life to end there and then. But presently, he felt himself lowered back down. As his feet came under him, the vice grip of the captain loosened enough for him to breathe.
“I will not kill a brother of the faith,” growled the captain in a low voice. “But I will not let you join our patrol again. Turn and leave, and Tribunal help you get home. You have shamed yourself today, Brother.”
Shizzal swallowed hard as the captain called the regiment to order. He glanced back the other way, where a cloud of ash against Secunda marked the path of the retreating Ashlanders. He recalled the farseer’s worrying remarks about Mephala and some Zeketah and he wondered…
The Ordinators silently filed past him, most of them refusing to look at him. The Ordinator he had rescued from the wrong end of a maul stopped briefly, however. “Still a damn good spell,” he told Shizzal in a whisper. “You should work on that.”
“Yeah,” said Shizzal. “Thanks.” When he refused to say more, the Ordinator shrugged and moved on.
When the Ordinators had crested the hill, Shizzal finally turned to leave. “Nice pile of camel dung you’ve landed yourself in, Shizz. First fetching it up with the Grand Commander, and now with this patrol.” He looked back down at his hand, the one he had shot the red lightning from earlier. He frowned at his fingers and concentrated, but as before, not so much as a spark graced his fingertips.
But, as if in answer, he felt the same familiar glow somewhere around his middle. It pulsed three times before fading. “I guess I’ll have to trust you’re with me, old man,” said Shizzal with a sigh, and his mouth tightened. “And I’ll be damned if I’m going to join the Ordination, OR give up my thieving. It’s just not who I am.
“Not a healer, and not an Ordinator. But a bridge? Fetch. So much guar shite.” So muttering, Shizzal picked his own path up the canyon’s side, heading home to Ebonheart.