Sanctuary – Snippet 16

Let Zilikazi get close enough… as was bound to happen if Kororo warriors had to fight the noble’s army at close range…

There would be no way to resist him. Not even with the help of the gantrak. Sebetwe could only control one of the creatures, and then only with the assistance of the two Mrem dancers. He could not be certain, of course, without making the attempt. But he didn’t think he could withstand Zilikazi’s power at close range.

If they had more dancers, the situation might be different. Although even with the help of two gantraks, Zilikazi couldn’t be held off indefinitely.

If they had more gantrak… which would require still more dancers…

He came to his reluctant conclusion.

“We must leave the eyrie and retreat through the mountains,” he said. “In the ranges, we can slow down Zilikazi. Even without rock falls prepared ahead of time, we can improvise traps and barriers. On the plateau, we can’t. It’s as simple as that.”

He looked around the circle. “And we need to find more Mrem. Without more dancers, we can’t control enough gantrak to make a big enough difference.”

One of the Krek’s two main war leaders grunted. Logula, that was. “If we can find enough gantrak in the first place. The beasts are not plentiful, and not easy to catch.”

There was that, too. But Sebetwe still didn’t think they had any choice.

“Perhaps Zilikazi will turn back…” That tentative musing came from Nokom, the oldest of the females on the council. There is really nothing here worth his while.”

Meshwe make a sharp gesture of negation. “That’s an idle fancy. If Zilikazi were going to turn back he would have done so already. And there is something here worth his while to destroy — the Krek itself. So long as we exist, he will consider us a threat to his rule.”

He swiveled his head and gazed at the wall on the southeast side of the yurt beyond which, still a considerable distance away, was the Dzundu Sea. There were rumored to be lands on the other side of that sea, but its far shores had never been observed by any of the Kororo scouts who had ventured that far. Their reports only spoke of a large island a fairly short distance from the mainland.

“Fairly short” was an abstract measurement, however. The span of water between the mainland and the island was quite large enough for the huge monsters who swam in the seas. The scouts had them coming to the surface.

Needless to say, no scouts had ever made the attempt to cross over to the island. Swimming would be simple suicide, even if anyone were strong enough to get all the way across, and using a boat wouldn’t be much safer. It might be possible to build a raft big enough to withstand the assault of a sea monster. But no one knew for sure.

With the exception of a few clans, neither Liskash nor Mrem were skilled at sea travel. Whenever they did venture onto the sea — even very large lakes — they generally used simple skiffs and coracles and stayed very close to shore. Marine and aquatic predators were much bigger and more powerful than even the largest land carnivores.

“We will have to hope that one of two things is true,” Meshwe continued. “First, that once we retreat far enough Zilikazi will be satisfied that we no longer constitute a danger to him and will turn back.”

Logula issued another grunt. “Not likely. There is no more persistent noble in the world.”

Meshwe nodded. “Still, he can’t pursue us forever. We can travel faster than he can, with that huge force he has. Which brings me to our second hope, which is that we can continue retreating once we reach the sea.”

Nokom looked up with alarm. “We don’t know?”

“I am afraid not. Our scouts never followed the shore for any distance to the south. We have no idea what might lie in that direction.”

“What about following the shore toward the north?” Asked Logula.

“Not possible,” said Meshwe. “Not for the whole Krek, at any rate. A few particularly hardy individuals might manage to do it. There is a very deep canyon with a swiftly moving river at the bottom. Almost sheer cliffs, according to the scout who discovered the canyon some years ago.”

“Canyons can be crossed, even ones with swift rivers,” said Logula.

“Yes, certainly. But not without building bridges and laying guide ropes — and how long would that take? We can’t move that much faster than Zilikazi. Long before we finished constructing what we’d need to get through the canyon, his army would have arrived — and we’d be completely trapped.”

Again, Logula grunted. The sound, this time, conveyed agreement, if not satisfaction.

Meshwe now turned back to Sebetwe. “And that brings us to the next and perhaps most difficult questions. Can we find more Mrem? And would they agree to help us?”

“I don’t know.”

“Find out.”

Achia Pazik

“I don’t know the answer to either question,” Achia Pazik said to Sebetwe. “But since the answer to the second question depends upon answering the first, we should make plans to that end.”

“Yes, that makes sense,” said Sebetwe. “Where are more Mrem from your tribe most likely to be found?”

Achia Pazik had to restrain herself from throwing up her hands in a gesture of futility. “I don’t know the answer to that question either,” she admitted.

Sebetwe got an expression on his face that resembled a yawn. Achia Pazik thought was the Liskash equivalent of a smile. It was hard to tell. The features of the reptiles were stiffer and less mobile than those of her people.

“So it seems we need to address that one first,” he said. “How many of your people can you send out to accompany our scouts? I think without you to talk to anyone we encounter, they will not be willing to listen to us.”

Achia Pazik chuckled. There wasn’t much humor in the sound. “They’d be much more likely to try to kill you.”