Another couple of months passed after the attack on her encampment without incident. Threedak raised her herds of hartden and searched for purer coal to fuel her iron forge, but the surrounding tribes left her in peace. Every Dhajtel she encountered hurriedly ran from her. Occasionally they would beg for mercy from the ‘witch of the swamp.’
She couldn’t really tell whether to be proud or offended by the moniker. On one hand they left her alone. On the other, it was probably meant as some sort of pejorative. Regardless, it was more than a little amusing to watch others flee from her, especially given that most of them were larger than her. As a scavenger, she never had access to the same level of food that warriors and hunters did. Now that she could tap into the humans’ knowledge, she suspected that malnutrition stunted her growth. She was lithe and skinny for a Dhajtel, hardly a threat without her superior weapons.
Finally, one day as she was using a leather and sinew net to sift the eggs of bogfish from the swamp to fill the pond she’d dug next to lament, the moment Threedak had waited all year for arrived. A juvenile Dhajtel, barely up to Threedak’s knees skittered up to her on all six legs. She looked down at the visitor, recognizing her own coloration and scale patterns in her upturned muzzle.
The interloper flicked out a dainty tongue, tasting the air around Threedak. Hesitantly her pouches puffed out, her scales iridescent in the morning light. Threedak brought her nose close to the tiny Dhajtel, nuzzling it gently. It squeaked softly, scurrying back a foot or two before eyeing her up defiantly.
“Mother,” she chirped indignantly, her tiny lungs unable to generate the true bass rumble of an adult Dhajtel. “My memories have awakened, there is no need to treat me like a helpless whelp.”
“But you are helpless, little one,” Threedak chuckled, the rumble from her vibrating neck pouches shaking her daughter. “Soon you will grow into your memories and adult bulk, but until then your teeth are dull and you are too small to wield a knife or spear. A starvok could swoop down and gobble you up in one bite and there’s nothing you could do about it.”
“There is no need to rub it in mother.” She bristled at Threedak, stomping her tiny legs and digging claws into the moist dirt of the swamp. “I may be small now, but I am an adult. There’s no need for you to tease me.”
“Fine,” Threedak responded indulgently, “what should I call you now that your memories have awakened?
“Bekai,” she raised her tiny head up, letting her scales catch the morning light. “Mother, I must ask. I inherited your recollections of Mara Prentice and Mudit Singh. When I see the war with the invaders through their eyes, the sacrifices that they made…” She paused, membranes nictating over her eyes as her nostrils flared in distress.
“Yes my dear,” Threedak nodded somberly at her daughter. “I have the last thoughts of ten more of the humans. Their hopes to survive and carry on their races’ thoughts and culture only to be dashed when the invaders exited the wormhole behind them. I’ve tasted the way their dreams were crushed. I can remember how each of them linked hands and began to pray as the shuttle tried to escape the invaders. None of them truly believed that they would survive the day, but each and every one of them tried to reassure their fellows. It was a beautiful final moment. One that we will memorialize as soon as our new society is stable so that all of our daughters and our daughters’ daughters will be reminded of what came before.”
“I remember,” Bekai lowered her head. “Humanity did nothing to provoke the invaders. Nothing to wrong them or to compete with them. They were peaceful. They didn’t even have many warships, just a handful to ward off piracy. Humanity was never a threat. Do your other memories explain why the invaders attacked?” She gazed up at Threedak, hope on her face as she looked for some sort of reason or order behind the war.
“You are only missing more pain,” Threedak thrummed her throat pouches sadly. “There isn’t any reason behind the attacks. No one on the Ark knew why they came. Maybe there was someone higher up in the human government that knew those secrets, but they didn’t survive the attack. As far as I know, it was senseless.”
“Will we avenge them?” Bekai asked, her membranes flickering as she let out a hum of sorrow. “They sacrificed so much to escape their doom only to fall here. It wouldn’t be right for us to simply take the gifts they offered without seeking to right that wrong.”
“I don’t consider them gone,” Threedak crooned, resting her chin affectionately on her daughter’s head. “Before I consumed the humans, I was barely more than an animal. Their thoughts and personalities have expanded me, and through me my daughters into what we are today. Our forms may be Dhajtel, but in thought, at least partially, we are also human.”
“When we journey into space,” She glanced up at the morning sky wistfully. “It will not be blindly. We won’t make the humans’ mistakes. We will be unified in purpose and prepared for the invaders. I am unsure whether to call what we do vengeance or a simple continuation of the war that the invaders started. Either way, my plan is to end them so that our daughters may live free.”
Bekai hummed agreement, her tail swishing excitedly. Threedak picked up the net and bogfish eggs, guiding Bekai back to Lament. After depositing the eggs in the pond that would hopefully become a fishery, she showed her daughter around the encampment. Quickly the two of them got to work digging clay and drying bricks so that Bekai could make her own home. Given Bekai’s memories of civil and metallurgical engineering, she took to the process like a kithsan to the air. Threedak was hopeful that Bekai’s knack for planning and construction would allow her to take the lead on many of the projects that were slowing Lament’s development. Certainly better bricks and the secret of smelting iron would be appreciated.
Over the coming weeks, three more of her daughters trickled into Lament. Kahtash inherited the memories of Ashley Koenig and Dennis Billings. She was a born soldier and leader with a calculating mind. Kahtash didn’t speak much but as soon as she was introduced to Threedak and her sister she began working on developing lightweight and disposable javelins to aid in hunting and any future war.
Five to six days after Kahtash appeared, Dahlass arrived from out of the desert. She was a bit more furtive than her sisters, but she manifested the memories of Jon Reaves and Stephen Igwe. With a little prodding, Thradeek convinced her shy daughter to take over the crops, fishery and one of the two hartden pastures. With any luck, when their small village developed further Dahlass would be the one to take over management and civil service.
Finally, Pinrakt meandered in. Pinrakt was a dreamer, her personality formed from the memories of Brianna Rivers and Davis Brown, the Ark’s artists. She tried to help with whatever projects were assigned to her, but more often than not she would wander off and observe nearby animals or a particularly interesting geological formation. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to help with Lament’s development, it was just that the mundane but necessary tasks couldn’t hold her attention.
Threedak passed on Rivers and Brown because she knew that a society needed art to glue itself together. Even the martial culture she intended to found would need someone to record the history of humanity for their daughters to learn. As generations passed, the ancestral memories would fade even if the Dhajtel were able to keep their skill sharp. They would need symbols to coalesce. Without them, the Dhajtel wouldn’t be able to maintain the unity of purpose required in order to make the sacrifices it would take to face down the invaders.
That winter was a harsh one, but with the help of her daughters, Lament survived without any great hardship. Kahtash developed a spearthrower, allowing her to bring down larger game at a distance. Dahlass fashioned wicker live traps which they used to capture kithra, smaller game fowl that they began domesticating for their meat and eggs. Through experimentation Bekai figured out the correct mixture of minerals to add to the swamp clay in order to make higher quality bricks. More importantly, she figured out the trick to mortar. In addition to the four one room houses built around the main fire pit to ward off the cold, Bekai was well on her way to building a better forge, one hopefully able to generate the heat needed to smelt iron. Pinrakt? Well Pinrakt helped where she could. She did create some very beautiful sculptures from clay, but even as her mother Threedak was hard pressed to argue that Pinrakt directly helped the enclave’s survival.
The next year was one of great progress. As their foodstocks grew, Threedak and her daughters sought out males, breeding with the animalistic vermin before driving them away from Lament. She knew that if they were allowed to stay they would just laze about and eat all of their food. The tiny creatures were simply unable to process the concept of planning, making their presence an active detriment at all times other than mating season.
Threedak watched on with great joy as her daughters awoke their memories and returned to Lament, causing it to quickly swell in size to 11 individuals. Each of her daughters had a different combination of memories and quickly found a slot in Lament’s society where they could be the most useful. Each and every one of them knew what awaited them beyond the horizon, and that fearful knowledge forced them to work harder than any words of encouragement that Threedak or her daughters could provide.
Despite the number of daughters that began arriving in Lament, Threedak stayed closest with her first born. Bekai slipped into the role of lead builder, in charge of planning, construction and the forge. Kahtash was the lead hunter and soldier, in charge of driving away rival tribes and ensuring that plentiful game flowed into Lament so that a new generation of eggs could be laid. Dahlass led the way on agriculture, occasionally providing guidance to Threedak on matters of governance and dispute resolution. Pinrakt was the village’s only artist, but she finally found a project with which to occupy herself, working long hours in the seclusion of wooden work hut she had attached to her home.
By far the biggest gains however came from Threedak and Bekai experimenting with the new forge. Working the bellows with Bekai, she was finally able to blow enough oxygen onto the impure mountain coal to melt iron. The first thing they made was an anvil and hammer with which to fashion future creations. The second was a pick with which to mine the minerals their growing village would need. Threedak had been able to find some small veins on the surface in her previous explorations, but if they truly intended to develop an industrial society mining deep into the mountains would soon be a necessity.
Another winter came and went. Nothing but joy and satisfaction filled Threedak’s heart as she surveyed the village of Lament. Her daughters had built her a new home from the advanced bricks to honor her knowledge of all human fields as well as her position as Queen of the swamp. That home was two stories with a ramp to the roof allowing her to bask in the sun while gazing down upon the bustling collection of buildings.
Her head perked up as she heard the scraping of legs on the ramp. Behind her, Kahtash exited the ramp onto the roof. Her daughter wore armor of boiled leather with small bars of metal capable of chipping a claw or tooth embedded in it. On her head was an iron helmet, polished until it shone brightly and topped with the rich black plumage of a kithra that flowed in the afternoon wind.
“Mother,” Kahtash said simply, lifting her torso up and removing the helmet with her graspers.
“Kahtash,” Threedak replied, a very human smile on her muzzle as she turned to her daughter. Two years in and Kahtash already outsized her by almost twenty percent. It just went to show how essential proper nourishment was during a Dhajtel’s growth phase. “What brings you here my daughter.”
“Lament is growing,” Kahtash voice was steady and measured. She didn’t speak often, but when she did it was never without reason. “Bekai is providing the hunters with iron weapons but it is becoming harder for our collectors to find the materials she needs to create them. Soon we will need to expand. Let me take some of our sisters and clear out our neighbors. We will make them surrender to your will or bring them here so that you may consume them.”
Threedak only thought for a second. She remembered how the tribeswomen from the swamp tribe and the raiders both attacked her without cause. As much as she would like to call all Dhajtel sisters, that simply wasn’t the case. On this brutal world, there could only be unity through power. Finally, Threedak and her daughters had that power.
“Do as you see fit my daughter,” her smile morphed into a fang filled grin.