Sanctuary – Snippet 09

Chapter 4

Achia Pazik

When she reached the open space where the ledge widened, Achia Pazik was frozen for a moment by the bizarre scene in front of her. To her left, now pressed against the side of the mountain in a half-supine position, was Chefer Kolkin. The warrior was being tended by Puah Neff and Zuel Babic. He seemed shaken and perhaps dazed, but she could see no blood or open wounds on him.

In front of those Mrem crouched the Zeg brothers, their spears leveled at an incredible monster. But the creature was paying them no attention at all — neither them nor the badly injured Liskash lying unconscious on the ground. Instead, the huge predator’s attention was fixed entirely on a smaller Liskash kneeling not more than two arm’s-lengths away.

Who, for its past — most bizarre sight of all — was doing nothing more than peering intently at the monster. The Liskash not only had no weapons in its hands, the hands themselves were simply pressed flat to the ground. Its pose was not even one of preparation for sudden flight. More like…

A pose of prayer, almost. Except that was insane.

What was the Liskash doing?

Suddenly, she sensed something familiar. The kneeling Liskash was emanating — if that was the proper term; the power’s nature was unclear to Mrem — the same sort of mental aura that Zilikazi had used to destroy her tribe.

Except… not really. The aura was quite different in some ways. That it was some sort of mental force was certain. But it had very little if any of the sheer will that had suffused Zilikazi’s power. It seemed more like…

She had to grope for a moment before she found the analogy. And then she couldn’t help but choke out a half-laugh, half-cry of surprise.

The Liskash was trying to coax the monster! Yes! Just as you might try to inveigle a nervous and wary pet to let itself be stroked.

Achia Pazik would never have imagined such a thing was possible. And…

After a few moments, she realized that the Liskash was not succeeding in its purpose. The monster was growing restive, its narrow but fierce mind chafing at the restraints being placed upon it.

And if it got loose, it was likely to kill or at least injure more than just the two Liskash before it was finally brought down.

But if she ordered the Zeg brothers to attack, the monster was sure to break free of whatever strange binds the Liskash had placed upon it. At which point anything might happen. The creature was certainly more likely to go after its assailants than the Liskash.

As she’d been wrestling with this immediate quandary, a thought that had been congealing elsewhere in her mind suddenly came into clear focus.

Whatever powers the kneeling Liskash was trying to wield, she now realized that they actually had little in common with the forces Zilikazi had controlled. Instead, oddly, they reminded her more of the mental aura that she and other dancers created in their war dance — which was not a “force” so much as a shield. And not a shield deployed in a way that stops a blow directly, but rather deflects it.

Confuses the blow, befuddles the blow.

Again, she choked down a half-laugh. You could even say, seduces the blow!

Without thinking about it, she’d come to her feet and began the first shuffling steps.

This was madness! Yet…

Who could say? All of these powers were mysterious and poorly understood.

Within seconds, she was into the full rhythm of the dance.

Why not?


Sebetwe had begun to despair when he felt a sudden surge of strength.

No — not strength, so much as a heightened awareness, a better and more acute grasp of the way the gantrak’s mind worked. It was as if he could suddenly understand a language that had formerly been nothing but a half-meaningless argot.

His new understanding was not fluent, but good enough that he could insinuate himself — his mind, his spirit, who knew what it was, exactly? — into the creature’s mind and quell its growing fury.

Again, he had to qualify. He was not quelling the fury so much as he was undermining it. He was persuading the animal that he was neither prey nor enemy, and doing so in the ancient manner common to most predators — by triggering its surrender reflex.

Most predatory species fight amongst themselves, but rarely do those fights result in death or even severe injuries. At a certain point, the animal that felt itself losing would submit to its opponent; who, for its part, would accept the submission and leave off any further battle.

So too, here and now. Steadily, inexorably — Sebetwe had never felt this sure of himself, this filled with mental acuity so great it transcended normal notions of power — he was bringing the monster to an acceptance that it had fought — fought well; fought furiously — but was simply overmatched.

Where this new capacity had come from, he did not know. He was far too preoccupied with the needs of the moment to even give the matter much thought, beyond a passing wonder. The gantrak was on the verge of surrendering, but Sebetwe could still lose the contest if he fumbled even the least because he was distracted.

Achia Pazik

The dancer understood the Liskash better than the Liskash understood itself.

No, himself. By now, and in her own very different way, Achia Pazik had penetrated the thing’s mind.

His spirit, rather. She could grasp no precise concepts, no clear ideas, nothing that could be given a name. Except, perhaps oddly, the thing’s own name. The Liskash called himself Sebetwe.

She was coming to know the Liskash also, far better than she would have ever thought it possible for an Mrem to understand such a creature.

No creature, now. Such a person.

There was great skill here, subtle skill — even sly skill. In its own fashion, Sebetwe’s power was as fearsome as Zilikazi’s. But it simply couldn’t be applied the same way. Sebetwe’s method was based on intuition, understanding — recognition. One being shaping another’s purpose not by forcing its will upon it but by persuasion.

The form of that persuasion was crude, of course, working with the mind — such as it was — of a savage predator. Achia Pazik did not think it would or could work the same way if applied to an intelligent mind. Sebetwe was not causing the gantrak — from somewhere, that name had come to her also — to hallucinate. He was not tricking the monster into thinking that Sebetwe himself was an even greater one of the same kind. Rather, he was…