Threedak trilled warmly at her young as they crawled from the moist swamp soil. The first thing they saw while blinking against the bright light of the morning was her form looming over them and offering scraps of hartden meat. Each whelp was barely the size of one of her graspers and just about as intelligent. One by one they darted out and took the meat from her hand, and scurried off into the swamp.
The part of her shaped by human memories and experience screamed that she should care for and rear her young, but that wasn’t the way of the Dhajtel. Until the end of their first year, they were nothing more than animals, unintelligent and ruled by instinct. Protecting and nurturing them would be a labor intensive fool’s errand. Her simple paddocks wouldn’t be able to contain the agile and feraI whelps, especially if they tried to flee from her as a potential predator. She snorted, it wasn’t an entirely illogical response. In times of famine it wasn’t unknown for Dhajtel to eat their males and young.
She smiled toothily at her young as they disappeared off into the swamp. In a year, her daughter’s ancestral memories would awaken and they would realize their purpose. Threedak had no hold over them after their birth, but she was sure that the weight of their human recollections would draw them back. Once they sifted through their inheritance of reflections, her daughters would see that they had no choice but to join Threedak in her crusade to civilize their primative race.
Turning, from the nesting ground she returned to Lament. A grandiose name for what charitably might be called a compound. To date, her encampment consisted of a simple grain farm, two paddocks of hartden, her house, a smoking hut to preserve meat, a storage shed, and a building she planned to turn into a forge.
Threedak sighed, despite all of the skills passed on to her from her human benefactors she still couldn’t get the forge hot enough to melt iron. Whether it was the poor quality of the coal she excavated from the mountains or an inability to blow enough oxygen over the flames the result was nothing more than some slightly charred chunks of iron ore.
Her difficulty in conquering iron made sense. All of her inherited memories came from a society where day to day labor was performed by robots. Even though she had access to the skills and techniques from the greatest that humanity had to offer, their knowledge of the bronze and iron age was purely theoretical or from half hearted hobby projects. From them, Threedak knew what to do, it was the ‘how’ that drove her to frustration.
Still, there had been a lot of progress. After a couple of tries, she was able to make molds and cast a handful of spearheads, an axehead and a knife from bronze to supplement her stone tools, but her inability to work iron was holding her settlement back. The knife and the axe dulled too quickly, forcing her to pound them back into shape and resharpen them so frequently that it slowed her work noticeably.
Luckily, none of the other tribes came to raid the swamp in the intervening time. The needle pistol was almost empty, and once it was out, she would be stuck with her two throwing spears, long spear and handaxe. None of the other Dhajtel really knew how to use weapons other than stone or natural glass, but that didn’t make her hopeful about her odds against an entire tribe. She could only hope that the fear of the swamp tribe would keep the others away long enough for her daughters to grow up. Or for her to figure out iron. Even just iron pauldrons and bracers would go a long way towards keeping her safe.
Threedak hummed to herself as she went to the smoking hut, a squat building made from crude bricks. Outside the hut was a sheltered fire pit where she boiled the leather of the hartden hides to harden them into armor and containers. She threw another log on the fire before using a stick to push out a pile of cherry red coals. One by one she picked them up with a flat rock and brought them into the smoking hut where they joined other embers amongst damp wood chunks from the swamp. She waved a fan made of leaves a couple of times at the smoldering flame to make it flare up a little and then coughed as the wave of smoke assaulted the sensitive membranes of her throat.
The walls of the hut were filled with with poles slotted into the walls, hanging heavy with hartden meat. Unlike humans, the Dhajtel couldn’t subsist on grain so storing food for the winter would be an issue. One that many Dhajtel tribes resolved via ritualistic cannibalism. Until she managed to figure out refrigeration or find salt, this would be her primary method of preserving food. It didn’t taste nearly as good as fresh meat, but she preferred it to starvation.
She exited her hut and stared up into the sky. The sun spent less time in the sky each day and soon winter would come. Her storage shed was filled with grain for her hartden herds, and between their smoked meat and the herds themselves, Threedak was hopeful for the coming winter.
The following months went more smoothly than expected. Winter came and it was a mild one. None of the rival tribes moved during the winter, instead hunkering in place and sacrificing their weak and ill to appease the angels and end the accursed cold. Threedak paced herself, relying on hunting and spear fishing as much as she could on the warmer days and her two herds of hartden survived the winter slightly skinnier but otherwise none the worse for wear.
Spring came, and the swamp shifted from grey and brown to a slightly more green and brown. Threedak hunted enough to lay another two clutches of eggs while adding to her hartden herds. The abundance of grain allowed most of the hartden to give birth during their mating season, and Threedak ensured that only the largest of males mated with the sows. It was a long term plan but eventually selective breeding would increase the size and hardiness of her herd.
During the winter, Threedak wasn’t able to range far enough to search for better coal so she still hadn’t solved her iron problem. Instead whenever she wasn’t hunting she devoted herself to leatherworking. It took some time for her to figure out the correct heat and time to soak the hartden hides so as to layer and harden them, but by the time Spring came she had figured out the trick to it.
The armor she fashioned from the slaughtered hartden was crude and difficult to put on, but it would likely turn aside any weapon used by a rival Dhajtel. Unfortunately, each hartden was a good deal smaller than Threedak, so making the armor consisted of boiling each hide individually and frantically molding it into the shape it would need before stitching them together with sinew and a bone needle. She ruined several of the hides before she learned the trick for stitching them together while still supple just after the boiling. If she sewed too slowly, the leather would harden to the point where her graspers couldn’t force the needle through.
Eventually, she fitted the ugly mess onto herself. She couldn’t twist far enough to get to her rearmost pair of legs and tail, but it loosely fit over her torso, graspers, middle legs and sides. Combined with her shield, a circle of bronze with boiled leather stretched over it and soft worked leather loops for her grasper sewn into the back, she finally felt moderately secure against the hazards of the wilderness. Threedak would be in trouble if she were to be flanked, but so long as she was attacked from the front, she was pretty sure that she could survive an encounter with a starvok, let alone a Dhajtel.
The Spring faded into Summer and Threedak began to have some problems with her neighbors. At first it was nothing much, a sighting of a scouting Dhajtel on the horizon that she would scare away with a full pouched bellow of challenge, but before long they began to arrive in pairs and linger just out of range of a thrown spear, watching her and Lament. Almost begrudgingly, Threedak shifted her efforts from more productive pursuits to building a two story tower and a stave with a leather sling.
None of the scouts came near enough to attack her, but if a tribe were to attack in force she wanted to be able to defend herself at range and with a height advantage. She might be more accurate with a spear than a sling, but rocks were plentiful and cheap in a way that bronze spearheads were not. Of course, her decision to use a sling was helped by the fact that none of the wood from the bog was springy enough to make a proper bow. No matter how much she tried, the wood just splintered and cracked when she tried to bend it.
The tower, little more than a square of crude bricks and mortar with an earthen ramp to the roof progressed quickly. Her plan was to build a low barrier on top that she could fire sling stones over and stock the rooftop with enough stones and smoked meat to last out a siege.
Finally, about a week or so after Threedak finished building and stocking the tower, the attack came. For the last couple of days, a scout had hung around Lament almost constantly so Threedak had taken to sleeping in her armor. While working in her smoking hut, she heard the deep bellows of challenge from outside.
With a sigh she walked out and saw a quartet of Dhajtel standing at the edge of her encampment. Two held spears while another two hefted heavy wooden clubs. Threedak checked to make sure that her handaxe was lashed securely to her armor before picking up her spear and shield. Ignoring the challengers she walked toward her tower.
The other Dhajtel whispered amongst themselves before the largest amongst them stepped forward brandishing a club.
“Why do you not run or fight?” She bellowed at Threedak. “We issue challenge but you do not fight. You do not run. Explain?”
“I mean to fight you,” Threedak replied calmly, bringing her handaxe down on the cord of sinew that held the wooden door to the tower in place. The door crashed down, blocking the only entrance to the tower. It had a handle on the inside, allowing her to exit, but it would prevent any of the attackers from easily accessing her. “I just wanted to choose the place of the fight. Now are you going to carry through with this or did your mothers’ hatch you with weak shells.”
The warrior bellowed back at her in rage, her simple mind unable to process the concept that Threedak might goad her into a trap. She charged, straight into a stone from the sling. Threedak was fairly proud of that shot. She hadn’t had much time to train with the weapon and although she could hit stationary targets with some accuracy, her current siege plan counted more on having a lot of rocks than any sort of real accuracy.
The rock hit the warrior in the shoulder, breaking scales and stunning the Dhajtel that didn’t even see it coming. She paused, staring at the wound in confusion. Another rock embedded itself with a whir into the soft soil right next to her.
Threedak frowned. The weapon was tricky to get the hang of, but she would hardly be able to maintain her self-proclaimed title as queen of the swamp if she let herself be bested at such an early juncture. Steadying herself, she swung the staff again, flicking her graspers to release the stone at just the right moment.
This time the rock hit the confused Dhajtel in the forehead with an audible crack. Her opponent sank to all six legs, dropping her club. Threedak took advantage of her opponent’s apparent concussion to slam another rock into her right mid leg. She stumbled to the ground, letting out a croak of pain.
“Witch!” One of the remaining three raiders blurted out. “She use her magic on Laspek! She hurt her without touching and without spear. We need to leave before she hurt us without touching too!”
“Quiet,” a second attacker silenced the panicking Dhajtel. “The priest put Laspek in charge. We wait until Laspek say what to do.”
Threedak flicked her membranes over her eyes in disgust as she released another rock at the injured Laspek. In that moment she was glad that she had the figments of the humans to keep her company over the last year rather than the rest of her kind. As lonely as she had grown, she suspected that having to deal with the simple-minded tribeswomen would have driven her to madness.
The rest of the bandits turned expectantly to Laspek as Threedak pummeled her with rocks. Laspek had long since lost consciousness, but Threedak simply wanted to make sure that the imposingly large Dhajtel was firmly dead before she shifted her aim.
Finally, sure that the tribeswoman laying outside her storehouse was nothing more than a pile of protein, Threedak shifted her aim to Laspek’s companions. The remaining Dhajtel were debating what to do with the first insisting that they flee. It took Threedak another four throws before one of her rocks hit a survivor due to the long range, but that was all it took.
“Tangog speak truth,” her victim hissed, slapping her grasper over the broken scales that began leaking blood where the rock had hit. “She is witch. She hurt without touching. See?” She gestured at the wound.
With that, the remaining Dhajtel fled, periodically glancing over their shoulders at where Threedak stood triumphant in her tower. She smiled toothily at them. Today they could run away, but soon her daughters would arrive. Together they would wipe away the weak and superstitious locals, consume their memories and capture their males.
Threedak nodded in satisfaction as she climbed down from the tower to collect her prize. Laspek was bulky. Properly smoked she could provide Threedak with enough protein to lay another clutch of eggs and with weeks worth of food.
Satisfaction. That was a new emotion for her. The life of a Dhajtel was always filled with crisis. There was almost never enough food, and if there was, it was time to lay eggs, emptying out your caloric stores. Now, there was planning and purpose. Her handful of buildings was inelegant and crude, but they were a clear stepping stone toward her daughters’ eventual steps into space.
That was something worth being satisfied about.