(All characters of the graichic race are hermaphroditic, and do not have gender-specific pronouns; a singular they has been used in place.)
The waterfalls were deafening, even from so far away; like so many rains happening further below, all thunderous cacophony and deep bass rumbling. It filled Fa with such a peace that the last month’s hardships were slowly ebbed away, and they allowed themselves a few moments of dozing in the early summer sun, surrounded by their raichii who splashed happily in the waters. Fa was nearly asleep by the time they felt a nudging head poke into their abdomen.
“Where is Mo, Fa?” Came the little voice from beside them.
Fa clicked their tongues in annoyance, swinging their massive neck around to investigate which of their children had roused them. Ym, the smallest of their clutch, was perched on a large granite boulder, tail curled around themselves amidst the rushing water; both sets of eyes looked imploringly into Fa’s, and they sighed. This was the fifth time this month that Ym had asked about Mo, and it was beginning to grate on their nerves.
“Mo is elsewhere, little one.” They gestured with a flick of their antennae toward to east. “When we cross that mountain range ahead of us, we’ll see her home. Do you remember the valley she lives in?”
Ym nervously tapped at the rock with their long blue digits, drumming out a frantic beat as they thought. Then, all six of their footpads whacked against the stone as they jumped up, nearly tumbling them into the rapids. “Yi yi yi! She lives in the valley with the trees that stretch like thiiiiis!” Ym recovered from their leap and then arched sideways, mottled foretendrils outstretched towards the sky.
Fa gave a deep hum of amusement. “And what else do you remember, little one?”
Ym stood up tall on their tendril-like toes, their feet resembling large blue and white jellyfish. “She has a…a…trook that makes this noise!” They made a roar with their mouth closed, and vibrated their hollow neck frills to make sounds not dissimilar to a human’s motor-car.
“Truck, Ym. Tr-u-Ck. Now you try.” Fa enunciated with their lower throat, reserved for singing and signaling others of their kind, then gestured with their antennae for Ym to repeat it.
“Tru-cK. TRuc-K.” Ym growled low, their intonations warbling due to their youth. They spent several minutes more mimicking the sound back and forth, until eventually Ym managed to get the sound right.
Fa gave a murmur of approval and twined their fore-tendrils with Ym’s. “Well done, my raichi. Now, do you know where the ichi are? I see Tw and Vq nearer the falls, and I can hear Zr calling to the birds, but I haven’t seen Pl and Pm since we stopped.” They turned their eyes skyward, secondary eyelids lowering over them to block the worst of the light from the sun. “The Star-Prophet does not slow and I would not want to stray behind.”
With barely a sound, Ym dove into the water, their head popping up briefly to shout back. “I’ll find them, Fa!”
Fa gave a trumpeting reply from their own neck frills, not unlike an elephant’s call heard from underwater. They then set about gathering their scattered raichii, having to scale halfway up a tree to get Zr to cease their conversation with the local fauna. Tw and Vq were even harder to coax back to the path, always wandering back towards the falls, daring each other to jump and wrestling in the rapids to see who would yield first.
Eventually, the Star-Prophet’s trail in the sky grew dim, and they left the roaring waterfalls behind as the great plains opened up ahead of them. The mountains, ever distant and watchful, kept vigil over the group as they trod through high grass and over deadfall, their thick footpads leaving large circular indents surrounded by leaf-like imprints from their tendril-toes. The more adventurous twins, Pl and Pm, kept at the head of their pack, while the more scrutinizing Ym stayed apace with Fa, eyes and antennae searching out insects and rocks amid the thick grasses. Zr snoozed between Fa’s frills, and long, sonorous snores echoed from their lower throat; a benign trait their kind called yoirach, or “Singsong-Snore” among some humans. Tw and Vq had wandered off to collect sticks for their games, and Fa had to sing discordantly at them when they fell too far behind.
Though the graichic communicated primarily through song, and so their name was one of many notes in a chorus, most humans called their species “Starfeet” after the tracks they left behind. The first human settlers had been surprised to find not only that the large herbivores were intelligent, but could somewhat mimic human speech, given time. The two races shared enough similarities that they had grown to work in tandem on the planet, carefully avoiding each others’ toes/tendrils. There were growing pains, as with any inhabited planet, but the foundation of peace had been laid nearly three hundred years ago, and any cracks in it were swiftly repaired. The air mixture here was close to what most spaceborn humans breathed aboard their shell-vessels, and respiratory issues were uncommon until late in life; this made it ideal for those who sought a life beyond the confining metal walls of the generation ships, considering most colonies were either dependent on oxygen being shipped in or mined, or had other, more hostile concerns planetside.
However, the disparate lifespans of the two races – one barely over 100, the other ranging from 150 to 230 years at times – meant that friendships between graichic and the first humans were rare, as outliving loved ones is never easy. However, the latest planet-born humans were more accustomed to the graichic, and frequently formed multi-generational relationships with those groups that migrated near their settlements. The human’s raichii and even draichii came to see Fa’s people as distant relations, stopping by once, sometimes twice a year to visit and bed down for a couple of months.
As they neared a good spot in the dense grass to lie down for the evening, the Star-Prophet’s rays were rapidly dimming beyond the mountain range, fading green-blue hues shimmering across the underside of distant iridescent clouds. Fa retrieved a dusty, oiled canvas wrap from their neck and laid its contents out on top of it. While most graichic did not carry more than family trinkets and crafts, those that found themselves “related” to humans were frequently carrying more and more of these items; among Fa’s collection of nick-knacks j oddities were bound pieces of trees (a practice that had apparently originated on the human homeworld), with colours soaked into the dried pulp to form drawings and human lettering.
Fa used this to teach their raichii to recognize human words and phrases, as well as entertain them after a long day’s walk. Their species had been nomadic since before the First Songs were sung, their earliest ancestors following the Star Prophet’s progress across the sky in an endless pilgrimage. However, with every generation born, it took time to accustom the young to walking for over four-fifths of the seasons – sometimes up to thirty or fourty years.
As Fa called out a chirping, enticing song, their disparate kin slowly gathered around. Little Ym began to sing a warm glow into the rocks they had collected, creating a dim light in the shape of a human campfire. So human of them, Fa thought. As they began reading out to the group, requesting that each of them read a paragraph aloud, Fa’s mind began to wander back to the last few weeks.
It had never been an easy trail – of this, Fa’s clutch was taught from the moment they could sing. The Star-Prophet wove a path through the sky, and they were to follow it; the practice had been passed down for so long, most simply took it for granted and found joy in breaking new trail and experiencing their world through the various seasons. However, Fa’s birthclutch lost their hraich early in their fifteenth year, as torrential rainfall had turned the desert just two weeks past into a quicksand-filled maze. Only half of them survived to see their sixteenth winter, and just barely. Those memories burned like starfire in Fa’s mind, only heightened by nearly losing Tw and Pl in the mire. They spent an extra week cautiously weaving between pits, and the anxiety brought on by that was only starting to diminish now that they had left it so far behind.
Painful memories surfaced of Fa’s own brush with death in the very same place twenty springs ago. They had been sucked under for nearly four minutes, and their song could barely be heard by their clutchmates amid the powerful rain. When they were finally rescued, they had a series of sharp gouges all along their abdomen from shale that had been washed into the pits. Wounded for nearly an entire season, their clutchmates had agreed to leave Fa with one of the graichic settlements to heal, as they would surely have died on the trail without care. Fa did not begrudge their clutchmates for leaving them in the care of the elderly, but they still felt the keen sting of abandonment – they were now dotraichi, or “Eggless.”
Among their kind, this was something few sang about, but most had an opinion on, and rarely was it an impassioned or apathetic one. Those who could not rear a new generation were seen as lesser by those who still clung to the old ways. As those graichic saw things, anyone who could not pass down their song would never have it heard by the Star-Prophet in the Time Beyond Time, and so could not be saved from the Void. Others knew that bonds and songs could be based on more than blood, and that songs need not only be passed between traichi and raichii. Fa had met several packs made up of a myriad of different clutches, their odd mix of colours and songs weaving into a beautiful new story.
Fa had grown past their shame about being dotraichi; in this age of enlightened graichic, there were permanent settlements along the trails, where those unable to continue the journey offered services and goods, as well as shelter in harder weather. Among those services were several places where those blessed with excess eggs could deposit them in fertile soil. Under the watchful eye of century-old clutchbearers, these eggs could be fertilized from a wide selection of stored donor samples and inserted into a willing traichic, who would then carry them to term normally. Though in Fa’s situation, a more…spontaneous solution had been found…
“Fa? How do I sing this word?” Zr held the pressed-pulp page up to the light as Ym sang a little louder, and Fa’s eyelids rose back; they realized they must have been drifting off in their thoughts.
“Ah, let’s see…Hy-d-Ra~” Fa sang out the notes carefully, as even they weren’t over-familiar with the word.
Zr mimicked the notes almost perfectly, then carried on at an even pace, their frills and tendril-toes swaying as they read their part. “Here, Ym. You get the last verse!”
Ym gingerly took the book in their tendrils as Fa had taught, then began to recite the last part of the story. Fa gazed upward at the stars around them, listening to Ym’s song and quietly murmuring along with them. This had been the first story they had learned from Mo: the epic tale of the human Hercules, demigod of the Greeks, taking on fearsome creatures that had rampaged across his lands. Fa still got into arguments with Mo about the role so-called “monsters” played in human mythos, especially now that they had met the graichic, but they tried not to let it get too heated.
After all, the graichic still sang the epics of the First Songs, and those were hardly unbiased or applicable to modern behaviours.
Ym finished their verse with a flourish, then began to dance around the glowing embers of the stone “fire”, chanting and singing as they mimicked Hercules’ battle with the Hydra, the rest of their clutch playing along and alternating between singing and reciting their parts of the book in singsong fashion. Fa let them continue until they wore themselves out, and as they bedded down in the trampled grass field, Fa stared upward at the star-speckled nebula that coloured their skies: deep reds and purples strewn from horizon to horizon; the Star-Prophet’s kin, the Four-Sworn, dutifully following in their sibling’s wake; the distant, twinkling glimmer of the human space-settlement, moving around the third of the Four-Sworn.
With a weary head, they allowed themself to sleep, and dreamed of a sunny valley, dappled with flowers and shrubs full of berries, and the song of a voice they hadn’t heard since winter…
This is the first part of a story I decided to start today. While I know I want to continue it, I’m taking a different approach to my usual writing and giving myself time to reflect instead of pushing until I’m burnt out. I plan to get more done when I get time and motivation, but until then, here’s a quick glossary of the terms I used here! (These may or may not be final.):
(A note: All descriptive words from the graichic language contain either a part or all of their species name. Bold sounds are stressed when pronounced.)
graichic (gr-eye–chick): A race of large, nomadic hexapedal herbivores that use song to communicate.
Features: They have two hollow neck-frills (similar in shape to an Axolotl’s) that they can vibrate to create various rattles, roars and other sounds, as well as two throats; while the upper throat functions much like a human’s would, the lower throat allows them to sing in nearly any register, and the two do not normally connect (see yoiraich below). This means they can eat while singing.
Their feet are like an elephant’s, but in place of normal toes, they have feather- or leaf-like tendrils that encircle the footpad; these can be controlled by the graichic but often move of their own accord (autonomically), searching out warmth, water or plant-life, or moving in accordance with the graichic‘s mood, much like a tail. These tendrils also allow them to absorb incredible amounts of water, which are stored in sacs under the skin; these sacs can be emptied or filled to cool or heat themselves, as well as ingested via tubes to the upper throat.
The pattern left by their footprints resembles a blazing sun, and so the humans of this world have taken to calling them Starfeet. Their skin colour is commonly a marbled mix, though solid-colour offspring are not unheard of; they range from a dark slate to a vivid pink, and only rarely have black or blue coloration. All members of the species are hermaphroditic in nature, and there are no specific gender qualifiers or pronouns in their language.
raichi (rye-chi) or raichii (rye-ch-e): Child or Children. Also an affectionate term used by elders towards younger members of their species.
draichi (dry-chi) or draichii (dry-ch-e): Grandchild or Grandchildren. As graichic only tend to have one clutch in their lives, this term was introduced to refer to human grandchildren, as the above term’s distinction was hazy at best.
ichi (e-chi): Twins born from the same egg. All twins share the same primary sound (first letter). There has never been a recorded song of triplets or more being born from the same egg.
yoiraich (yo-e–rye-ch): An uncommon but benign birth defect wherein the upper and lower throats share multiple sphincters, which allows for more precise control of songs but can cause occasional snore-singing. Those born with this defect may occasionally choke if they attempt to sing while eating or drinking, and care must be taken to ward them against this practice.
hraich (h-rye-ch): Clutchbearer, Parent, or Leader of the pack if they did not rear the clutch themselves. They are the primary caretaker and trail-setter for that particular clutch, and nearly all graichic respect a hraich‘s authority in regards to their clutch; a hraich of sufficient age may be consulted for guidance by younger graichic.
dotraichi (dote-try-shi): One-Who-Lays-No-Eggs, or Eggless. Usually a result of serious injury to the lower abdomen, this can also be a very rare birth defect; the egg pouch is either damaged, which results in scar tissues covering the birth canal, or the pouch is incapable of producing eggs but is otherwise healthy. Those who do choose to have eggs fertilized externally and then inserted tend to belong to the latter.
traichic (try-chick): Parent or Clutchbearer. The two definitions (hraich and traichic) are interchangeable in graichic society, though the former is closer to a political title than a descriptive one.
Star-Prophet: The Sun. Believed to be an ancient being of light that races across the world so as to light the way for the graichic to follow. It is unclear in graichic belief systems what species the Star-Prophet is supposed to be, but most agree that it is not their own.
Four-Sworn: The four moons of the graichic homeworld. They are believed to be the kin of the Star-Prophet, forever following in its wake and shedding what little light they can in its absence. Oddly enough, there has only been one recorded event in graichic song-history when all four moons have been “new” (empty): the Silent Void. This is seen as a doomsday event, and though it is commonly understood that the visual of a new moon is not the moon itself disappearing, there is still superstition surrounding the next time this event is supposed to occur.