The Iron Age rolled over all neighboring tribes, crushing them under the weight of historical inevitability. In between conquests, her daughters were outfitted with the same rigid metal armor Threedak wore. Despite Bekai’s greatest efforts, Lament’s smiths still weren’t able to make steel suitable for chainmail, forcing their tribe to choose between wearing the restrictive suits or leather.
The plate made sense for Threedak, she never was able to figure out the trick behind the spearthrowers, but for the rest of the hunters the plate forced them to choose between melee or ranged combat. The plates of the steel armor simply interfered too much with a soldier’s graspers to let them use the weapons properly. Until the smiths could make chain sleeves for their armor, ranged soldiers needed to make due with leather pauldrons and bracers. The tribe’s leatherworkers were able to mould the armor with enough finesse that the ranged weapons could be used even if the soldiers still grumbled about the chafing.
It was better than more injuries. Over the year, Threedak had seen too many of her daughters suffer broken from broken graspers and deep spear wounds in the limited areas uncovered by armor. Kahtash would always tell her that injury and casualties were an inevitability in warfare, but it was different for Threedak. Each and every one of the injured Dhajtel was one of her daughters.
The worst was Talma, one of Kahtash’s original hunters. On their third excursion, while subjugating a tribe dwelling in a mountain valley, she suffered a deep spear wound in her shoulder. Talma shared some blame in the injury, having not secured her barred leather pauldron in place due to ‘chafing,’ but her injury unleashed an anger in Threedak that was utterly alien to her.
For the first and only time, she refused the tribe’s surrender, letting out great booming shouts of rage from her neck pouch as she slew Dhajtel after Dhajtel. Finally she stood, amidst the corpses of the tribe, her blade slick with their blood as her daughters looked on with concern. Tenderly, she approached Talma and staunched the flow of blood from her shoulder while the soldiers collected the dead.
The next day, infection set in. The accursed spear woman had coated her weapon’s head in excrement. Threedak gnashed her teeth, wishing she could kill and devour her once more. Instead, her only option was to stand, crooning, over her daughter’s thrashing form, keeping her cool with a wet rag made from softened leather and feeding her herbal tea made from roots and tree bark.
Over the following days, Threedak cared closely for her daughter. The tea brought down her fever and Threedak fed her by grasper like she was a whelp. Every time she looked down into Talma’s clouded eyes, her hearts ached. Their tribe needed proper medicine. Wang Xinyue’s memories helped Threedak understand germ and virus theory, but Dhajtel and human anatomy were just too different for the human knowledge to truly aid her.
Eventually Talma recovered, but Threedak put her feet down. All expeditions were put on hold until the tribe’s warband could be outfitted in heavier and more robust armor. Conquest was important, but Threedak refused to sacrifice any of her daughters to achieve it. Lament was so much stronger and larger than all of her neighbors that even if they could conceive of banding together, it would almost certainly be insufficient.
Finally, the warriors were ready for their final planned conquest. A mountain tribe, almost two days march from Lament that numbered almost 50 Dhajtel. The tribe managed to reach that number by dwelling in a particularly rich valley, filled with plump, slow game and absent predators other than the Dhajtel themselves. Kahtash and Dahlass wanted to claim the valley for Lament as it had great potential to feed her growing clan.
Threedak’s forces consisted of herself, Kahtash armed with a prototype crossbow, and eighteen other Dhajtel. The remaining Dhajtel were a combination of her daughters, granddaughters, and the slightly confused tribeswomen conquered in previous campaigns. Many of the more skilled members wore the hybrid leather and steel armor so that they could use spearthrowers, but the rest held long steel-tipped spears with thick shafts and wore heavy front line armor that resembled Threedaks
The pressganged Dhajtel were more compliant than Threedak originally expected. More than anything, they were happy to have survived their capture. None of them could make sense of the drive and unity of purpose that fueled Lament, but they were more than willing to do hard labor in exchange for food. As far as Threedak could tell, farming or mining in exchange for food was actually an improvement for their average prisoner given how frequently they would go without when their tribal hunts failed.
The march to the Mountain tribe went relatively smoothly. The only starvok that approached their column was quickly crippled by Kahtash’s crossbow and finished off by the long spears of their infantry. The warband’s teamwork was far from what Threedak’s human memories would find acceptable, but their days of drilling were still evident. A glittering ring of spears surrounded the injured behemoth without flinching as it roared and swung its great paws. Each time it would turn its attention in one direction, a Dhajtel would dart in from another, her four legs propelling her forward as she sunk a spear into the creature’s hide before retreating.
Even if Threedak wasn’t satisfied with their progress, Kahtash was. They ate well that night, the grease and fat from the starvok’s great ursine bulk causing the scales around their muzzles to glisten as they sat about the campfire telling stories from their memories. The newcomers listened in awe as her daughters told them about humanity’s gleaming cities and the end of hunger. Threedak nodded from beside Kahtash. She didn’t hold the same love for her common subjects that she did for her daughters, but they were coming to understand the importance of Lament’s mission.
On the dawn of the third day, her forces stood tall on the steep incline just above the Mountain Tribe’s encampment. With a nod of her head to Kahtash, Threedak’s daughter fired the crossbow into them as they began to stir with the sun’s first light. The first bolt missed everything, instead tearing through the mat of branches one of the tribeswomen was using to keep the sun and rain off of her.
The primitive winch squeaked as Katash reloaded the weapon. No other sound disturbed the morning but the chatter of wildlife and the occasional whuff of an exhaling Dhajtel. The second bolt struck a tribeswoman in her lower back, sinking through her scales in a flash. The wounded Dhajtel screamed in agony, trying to spin and identify where the attack came from. Around her, the other Dhajtel woke up in a hurry and surrounded their injured companion.
A third bolt landed in the camp, pinning another Dhajtel’s leg to the ground. Threedak stepped forward, her pouches billowing as she let out a bellow of challenge. Feeling the gaze of all on her, Threedak climbed atop a nearby rock, addressing the tribe below her.
“Throw aside your weapons,” she shouted down at them. “Surrender now and your lives can be spared. Our tribe will treat you well and together we will rule over this planet. ”
Predictably, the mountain tribe began charging up incline toward their forces. The twelve soldiers from Lament wearing heavy plate and wielding large spears set themselves in front of the hunters. Threedak stood firm behind her soldiers, sword held in both graspers and a smile upon her muzzle. Kahtesh spent most of the previous day picking the site for their battle, and Threedak had to agree with her selection.
The charge was doomed from the beginning. Before the mountain tribe made it halfway up the hill face, another crossbow bolt landed amongst them missing them all. Shortly thereafter, Lament’s hunters launched a volley of spears, dropping two of their enemies. After a matter of seconds, another wave of spears landed amongst them.
Although the spearthrowers didn’t have anywhere near the range of a crossbow, Kahtash prided herself on the speed with which her hunters could throw their spears. The only real limiting factor was the number of light spears they carried. Kahtash ensured that her hunters had no fewer than 30 on hand. More than enough to keep the air filled with spears for the entirety of the battle.
The climb took its toll on the mountain tribe, leaving them puffing for breath, and barely able to move at a jog. Many of them had already fallen to all six legs, dropping their weapons as they struggled for purchase on the steep incline.
The rain of spears killed almost half of the Dhajtel before they reached the crest of the hill, the fallen bodies slowing their companions further. The survivors ran into a semicircle of flashing steel as the spears from the front line darted in and out of their charging foes. Their companions climbed over the dead, frantically trying to reach and silence the spearthrowers that had claimed so many of their kin
One of the mountain tribeswomen made it around the side of the spear line only to meet Threedak’s sword. For the rest, any hope of victory disappeared in another series of spear thrusts that easily split through unprotected scales. The handful of remaining Dhajtel began to surrender, throwing down their crude weapons.
Threedak watched with satisfaction as Kahtash took over the aftermath of the victory. The last true bastion that could stand against Lament had fallen and their society gained nine new members. All without any injury or cost beyond a handful of broken spears.
Together they collected the bodies of the fallen and brought them back to Lament. The journey back took place without interruption, with each day easier than the last as they ate their cargo. Finally the war band returned to Lament, Dhajtel lining the narrow streets, throat sacks expanding and croaking in adulation. Dahless approached Threedak as she led the column of soldiers, wringing her graspers nervously.
“Mother,” she bobbed her head, a short jerky movement. “While you were gone, Pinrakt finished her great work. She asked that we unveil it to celebrate your and Kahtash’s victory. I understand if you are tired-”
“Of course we will see it!” Threedak shouted, throwing her graspers up into the air. “How could I delay the debut of one of my daughters’ creations? Lead the way Dahless, let me see what my sweet Pinrakt has created for Lament.”
Dahless motioned with a grasper. Threedak and the entire village followed her. In front of her home stood Pinrakt and Bekai, flanking something covered in a large mat of woven grass. Bekai noticed their approach and poked Pinrakt with a grasper, awakening her from whatever daydream consumed her.
“Oh,” Pinrakt spoke distractedly. “You’re back Mother.”
“I am,” Threedak replied, chuckling slightly.
“I’ve spent the past years sifting through my memories and dreams,” her Daughter’s eyes were still unfocused. “It took me at least a year to develop the tools I would need to finish the project, but I needed something to capture what it is that we’re trying to accomplish. The melange of our culture and humanity. I’ve started and stopped at least four times, but I think I’ve finally accomplished something worthy of what we hope to accomplish.”
For a second, silence filled the clearing outside of Threedak’s home.
“That’s it,” Pinrakt shrugged her shoulders, motioning a grasper toward Bekai. “That’s the speech. You should unveil it now.”
Bekai pulled at the rope woven from braided plant fiber, causing the mat to fall away. In the clearing stood a pair of figures lovingly crafted from the hard brown stone of the nearby mountain. A human and a Dhajtel, standing side by side with the Dhajtel’s torso in the air, a grasper gently placed on the human’s shoulder. Together they stared up into the sky, the human’s face set in a look of sorrow, a single tear carved delicately from stone rolling down his face. The Dhajtel’s muzzle was carved partially open, wonder filling its eyes.
Threedak circled the carvings, the clearing still. None of Lament’s Dhajtel dared to interrupt her moment. As she took in the carving, she noticed more and more details. Despite his sorrow, the human’s back was straight and his hands were clutched into defiant fists. The Dhajtel’s tail was subtly and protectively curved around the much smaller being.
She stopped, and let out a deep and mournful crooning note, tears flowing freely down her muzzle. A second later, the Dhajtel all joined her. Threedak approached Pinrakt, and placed her hand on her shoulder.
“Daughter,” Threedak’s voice was heavy with emotion. “It’s beautiful. It joins our history, destiny and sense of purpose into one coherent whole. It asks us to not forget humanity’s past while always looking forward to the future. It might have taken you years to craft it, but each stroke of your chisel was worth it to produce this masterpiece. Tell us all, what do you call it?”
For a second, the distance faded from Pinrakt’s eyes. She returned her Mother’s gaze before bobbing her head slightly in appreciation. “Unity” she replied, her voice bright with conviction.