Sanctuary – Snippet 17
The Krek began its march two days later. By then, Zilikazi’s army had made its way entirely through Nesudi Pass and had come onto the plateau. Had that army been made up only of warriors, it would have been able to move more quickly. But it was not. For every warrior there were three or four camp followers, most of them females and younglings.
The Krek was not moving much faster. The Kororo also had younglings, elderly and infirm members, some of whom had to be transported if they could not move on their own. In addition, as was true of Zilikazi’s army, they had to bring supplies with them. They could not count on foraging — not enough, certainly — while on the march.
If anything, their burdens were even heavier. Beyond supplies, the invaders were bringing nothing with them except simple yurts. The Kororo, on the other hand, were trying to salvage as much as they could of all their belongings. Even if they were able to return to the eyrie someday, Zilikazi’s warriors and camp followers would plunder everything left behind and burn whatever they could not carry away.
But the Kororo had a greater incentive to move quickly, of course. The situation was another illustration of the old saw that, in a chase, the hunter runs for his lunch and the hunted runs for his life. Every member of the Krek knew full well that if they couldn’t stay far enough ahead of Zilikazi’s army, the noble would shackle their minds. The powers of the tekkutu could shield them to a degree, but that degree depended largely on distance.
Calling tekku a “shield” was misleading, actually. The main effect for a tekkutu of drawing upon the consciousness of a predator was to withdraw, in a sense, from the psychic realm in which the nobles held sway. A predator’s fierce and narrow mind ignored the faculties of the nobles altogether. They simply did not exist for them, any more than such a predator would be swayed or influenced by logical reasoning or argumentation or peroration — or poetry, for that matter.
That made the mind of the tekkutu partnered with the predator something slippery, its presence sensed but its location uncertain, undetected — hidden in a fog, mentally speaking.
But even the thickest fog can be penetrated, if the observer gets close enough. So it was here. Most of the Kororo tekkutu trailed behind the main body of the Krek, using their powers to veil them from Zilikazi’s mindsight. But they could only do so successfully if enough distance was maintained from the oncoming army.
Initially, Meshwe had hopes that Sebetwe’s control of the gantraks might enable them to hold off Zilikazi indefinitely. But that proved not to be true.
For one thing, they could only use one gantrak at a time. They’d found that if they tried to harness both of the adult predators simultaneously and make them leave their younglings behind, the creatures resisted fiercely. The risk of losing control of them entirely became too great.
So, the tekkutu could only use one of them if they left the Krek’s current immediate vicinity. And the strength of just one of the great predator’s spirits was simply not enough to enable Sebetwe — or any tekkutu including Meshwe himself — to withstand Zilikazi’s mind control if the noble got close enough.
That said, by coupling with a gantrak Sebetwe could accomplish two things. First, he could get much closer to Zilikazi than would have been heretofore possible. Not close enough to assassinate him, but still close enough to bring back much more precise information than they could have obtained by spying on the noble’s army from a great distance.
More useful, though, was the second ability Sebetwe gained. He could shield a number of the Krek’s warriors for much longer than he could have without the gantrak. Long enough to enable them to create bigger rockfall traps in Zilikazi’s path than they’d expected to be able to, and traps which could be set off with better accuracy and timing because Sebetwe could stay behind for much longer. They wouldn’t have to rely on mechanical triggers, which were imprecise and susceptible to being discovered by scouts and disarmed.
None of this allowed the Kororo to do anything other than retreat, true enough. But they could retreat in reasonably good order and at a pace that the entire Krek could manage.
What was perhaps most important was that the additional time Sebetwe could provide them would help their own scouting parties, both those ranging ahead seeking the best routes as well as those which were spreading through the mountains in search of other Mrem bands who had also managed to escape Zilikazi’s crushing of their tribe.
The leader of one of those scouting parties was feeling disgruntled, and for a variety of reasons.
First, because the terrain they’d been passing through for the past three days was rough, with little even in the way of animal trails. Secondly, because at this altitude and at this time of year, he and his fellow Liskash warriors were very sluggish in the morning.