It took three days for the Agrarians to respond.
The chants echoed far into Lear territory to clash with the shouts of the siren boy as the Lear military scrambled to the bottleneck, lining up in ranks behind each of the doors, stun guns turned to high and braced for attack. And when Airomem arrived with her father, nearly three quarters of their military faced off against the Agrarians, while the remaining quarter had fallen back to wait a the opposite end of the ship in case of a planned Aquarian attack.
Airomem’s breath caught in her throat when she saw the entire force- never before had she witnessed a full attack, but she had heard the stories of their numbers.
The Agrarian ranks stopped just thirty feet from the entry point doorway, the four front men lined with ropy scars across the faces and arms, their eyes hard and their skin tight. Behind them was another row of nearly identical men, and behind that another, dozens of rows that extending back as far as she could see- more warriors in that corridor, it seemed, than the entire population of the Lear.
And together they chanted, their voices forming sounds rather than words. Guttural noises that lashed against the ranks of the Lear in unison, funneled down the hallway to strike like a battering ram.
“Show no fear!” Hissed her father as he walked forward through the ranks of his men, Airomem at his right side, and Tela at his left, “It’s all intimidation. They know that their casualties attacking the entry point would be too costly to merit an initiative. Stand tall, chests outwards, faces stoic. Be proud, for you are the Lear, and as each strong as ten of their men!”
And as he passed, their heads rose, and their expressions steeled, and their stances widened. Then he took his place at the front of the group, their spearhead, his own life first among them.
Then the voices of the Agrarians grew louder, and they stamped their feet until the walls began to shake, their faces turning red as something approached from far behind them. It passed over their heads, supported by a sea of hands as it moved forward, a dark shadow that nearly brushed against the ceiling of the hallway. And as it reached the front of the crowd, Airomem made out its shape.
It was a couch, or rather, couches, lashed together by liberated electrical wires to form a platform. The legs and lower half of the couch were dyed red, the fabric coming away in sheared and dangling strips. Bones jostled from the sides, clacking together as the platform swayed and then was passed down to the front of the Agrarians directly in front of Airomem’s father.
Silence washed over the horde as a figure stood up from the couches, brandishing two stun guns and letting electricity crackle between their prongs, illuminating a long scar than ran down his face and yellowed teeth.
“I am Sitient of the Agrarians, and I hear you have a deal for us, Lear!” He shouted, “A deal for us that may put our troubles with the Aquarians to an end!”
“Indeed,” Responded Airomem’s father, stepping forward, “We come offering you a trade of ten stun guns, for safe passage.”
“And why do you seek this deal, Learman? What have you to gain?”
“The reasons are twofold. First, we seek to explore the ship, and update our records.”
“Lies, Lear lies. But go on.”
“And second, we have been stiffed by the Aquarians for far too long in their dealings. Their water arrives to us tainted and off color, smelling of rot. Should you take their lands, we ask for fair tribute, as they have cheated us in our trades. Furthermore, we find it easier to trade with one unified tribe rather than two, and if that means wiping out the Aquarians through enhanced weaponry, then so be it.”
Sitient smiled, and opened his hands.
“Then so be it! We too know the Aquarians for their treachery. But how should I know that you will make good on the deal? You are old, perhaps only a decade away from death. Perhaps your plan is to die among us, and for the bargain never to be completed? Perhaps this is a Lear trick, a Lear lie?”
His voice rose, and the chanting behind him surged to meet it, rattling the walls for a full two minutes before it subsided and her father was able to respond.
“I assure you, we have no ill intentions. We simply seek for guidance and guardianship. In return, you’ll have your weapons.”
Sitient’s eyes narrowed, and the skin over his cheekbone twitched, his scar dancing.
“Do not take me for a fool! I smell lies better than I smell flesh. No, should this deal be completed, it shall be on my terms.” He cast his gaze around the Lear, the pupils coming to rest on Airomem.
“No, I shall not take you, the aged leader. Instead, I’ll take her, to ensure you make good on the deal!” He said, and pointed, his index finger aimed at Airomem as chills raced down her spine, “Besides, she took one of our own just a few days ago- is it not fitting we take her in return? A fair trade.”