The idea of developing an alien race by writing them into a short story always appealed to me. The reader is able to see them in their natural habitat, behaving how they naturally would, comparable in context. The Arasae grew from that idea. This page includes both the short story and a handful of notes that developed during the course of creation.
The Night of the Arasae
March 4, 2016
Clouds hung heavy over the western horizon, ablaze with the sun’s last daily fire. The atmosphere burned straight from orange and pink to a deep, charred purple. Even the stars seemed hesitant to shine through the thick darkness, their usual sparkling luster dulled by the blanket that lay over the west. As if drawn like a blanket, as the sun set, the storm passed over the sky and settled. Wind pushed through the leaves, piercing the canopy and shoving aside thick branches.
She held tightly onto the nearest trunk with one four-digit hand. Her long, thin fingers grasped the rough bark. The tree swayed under the storm’s growing force, and this surprised her. This was one of the taller, thicker trees outside of the forest’s oldest. The branches broke the gust around her, but eventually, she would have to climb down.
The storm pushed apart the canopy ahead of her, giving her a clear view of the western valley. Deep green leaves and deeper purple reflections tossed and crested like an ocean in turmoil. Divots like those of a divine hand dug heavy finger trails between the younger trees where the wind found the least resistance.
The window closed as the trees righted themselves, a moment of rest before the next assault. Slinging her bag over one shoulder and her weapon into its sling, she slid from the safe crook and began to clamber and slide down the massive trunk, taking care to keep to its sheltered side.
Her first pair of feet propelled her downwards, while her second set guided and controlled her momentum, keeping her balanced despite the rising wind. Her arms functioned much the same way, though her third and fourth arm were preoccupied keeping her belongings from becoming fly-away debris.
She leapt off the tallest root and landed hard. Her braids fluttered around her face, getting into all four of her eyes. She kept two closed for now, no reason to deal with the aggravation. While she paused and caught her breath, she handed herself a small tie from her bag and tried to tame the crazed mess of locks.
Once satisfied, she took off running, a long, loping gait that took all four of her legs, pushing her through the wide lanes between the gigantic trees and under their roots. Smaller trees had little chance to grow this deep in the forest, though a few tried and were easily pushed aside.
The lights of home burned brightly deep in the center core of the grand old forest, made to flicker by the still-fresh leaves torn free. While she galloped home, she could see other Arasae doing the same, as if home was the lantern and they were the moths drawn in. A child clung to its father’s back as they slowed near the entrance. The youngling had a wide smile that disappeared past the gate.
She, too, slowed to a trot, then a walk, and was waved past by a guard. The tall man had a weapon slung across his back and a pad in his hand, noting every figure that had entered or was approaching. Enough were flooding in at once that they had to stop and check identities. She waved, he returned the gesture. “Chee-cage?”
“Chi-ka-gay. Chikage.” She corrected his pronunciation.
“Ah, right. Sorry, I’m not good at the old-style names. Go on in.”
The gates opened up into a wide plaza, glowing softly gold. A wide, graceful network of golden threads laced from tree to tree, and the energy hummed quietly through each woven knot. From outside, they glowed dully and shivered in the storm’s fury. Inside the gates, the gusts made the lights glimmer and sway overhead, casting a comforting light throughout the public courtyard.
Parents held their children up to see the web’s dance. Two male Arasae lifted their daughter and she held out all four arms, reaching for the golden webs with a cheer. Chikage smiled and passed them by. Everyone, it seemed, had begun to gather in the plazas and the courtyards to watch the storm blow overhead.
Chikage was halfway home when the rain began to fall, succeeding to pierce the tree canopy only to sputter out on the golden web. She passed from one city plaza to another and looked up to see the tiny sparks from the raindrops’ impacts. Cheers and sounds of awe grew from the gathered crowds.
She found her bridge and trotted up it, moving aside to make space for another family. She had to climb high, high enough that she felt she might touch the city’s golden web if she wanted. Her home was as she left it, a well-cared for apartment cemented solidly to the sturdy bark of one of the oldest trees, nestled in one of the lower branches. Her neighbor, an older Arasae, peeked out of his front door.
“Were you up in the trees during this?”
Chikage smiled slightly. “Only near the beginning. I was on the ground before it got too bad.”
He huffed and shook his head, leaning on the doorframe. “Good, good. Word has it this is the precursor to one of the worst storms of the decade.”
“Being a weatherteller is the same as a fortune teller.” She grinned and pushed open her door, hanging her pack on a hook just inside. “It isn’t like the weather net can’t tell us exactly what’s coming anyway.”
“You’re too dependant on the technology.” He sighed at her, much has he had a hundred times before. “Our weather net used to be an actual net.”
“We still use the old ways, Grigodi.” She laughed. “We just use the new ones, too.”
He waved something, chastising her with a good nature, and she was mildly surprised to see that it was a pad reader. “I keep both technologies in hand, young woman. See? I even keep up with the news. Or what you call news.”
“Did your wife get you that?” She took it when he offered it. “Oh, and so it is. Live feeds from the news networks! That’s impressive.”
“It is not so much.” He flushed slightly at her compliment. “I just prefer the old weatherteller, that’s all.”
“Getting your news from vibrations of a thread.” She handed it back, teasing him. “Are you going down to the plaza for the light show?”
“Amongst the crowd? Feh, I can see fine right from here.” He pointed up, and Chikage swore, if he extended his arms just a little further, he could have touched the net. “Then again, to see the glimmer from far away is quite nice, but…” He shrugged.
“Glad we agree on something.” She pulled her weapon from its sheath and moved towards the door. “I’m going to pack up my rifle. If you’d like to go up to the canopy, I wouldn’t mind seeing the storm from there.”
He nodded and waved her off, ducking back into his home, presumably to get his coat. She let the door hang open behind her and carried the rifle into her office. Each room in her apartment had high ceilings, wide doors, and even wider hallways. The Arasae were not made for indoor living, the old ones would grumble, but the evolution of civilization necessitated change.
Chikage liked having a home of her own. Many still lived in communal nests, built up over ages and ages of rebuilding and additions. Only in the past millennium had loners begun to spread out, finding peace in themselves and solitude. Their communal culture was beginning to vary, and, being on the forefront of it, she was comfortable and happy.
Her office lay off the large main room, a holdover from the communal mindset. Her office, library, whatever people wanted to call it, held the only door in the apartment (besides the front door) and was the only one that locked. Inside were her valuables: her technology and her weaponry.
As a hunter, Chikage spent a good amount of time in the treetops out in the greater bulk of the forest. As such, she held a weapon license that, like the guards, allowed her to carry such things as the rifle. She set it on the wall hooks and locked the room behind her again. As an afterthought, she grabbed her coat from the foot of her bed and threw it around her shoulders.
“Are you coming?” Grigodi peeked through her open front door. She closed it behind her, latching it, but again, there was no need for a lock.
“Let’s go.” She hooked her right arms into his left, and they headed up.
The paths and bridges that led up into this tree’s canopy were well-cared for but rarely traversed. They climbed through the small trapdoor that allowed them past the gold net, and continued upwards, buffeted now by the what wind could pierce the thick branches and leaves. Grigodi’s loose grey hair whipped around his face, and he closed all four eyes against it. She handed him a hair tie in sympathy, and he accepted.
The further up they climbed, the worse the wind got, until they reached the canopy tower. Built into and integrated with the tree’s tallest spire, the tower offered lookouts a place to survey the forest, from mountaintop to the far valleys. Back then, they used lights, now they used line-of-sight transmitters. The strongest of the thin webs had remained for many, many years and still tangled in the trees, long since snapped by passing storms.
Here, the storm tore at them, and the tower creaked dangerously with each pummelling gust, but the elder tree’s tallest spire held fast. The entire tree shifted slightly instead, and the tower’s framework tilted under their feet. Grigodi reached out for the railing and peered over. Chikage joined him, using all four legs and her second set of hands to keep her steady.
Looking into the storm was like staring upstream through rapids. The wind drove rain through the tower and howled a guttural wail, tearing through the canopy. Chikage stared in awe. The trees were bending away as if pushed aside by those same gigantic fingers passing through water in a pond. Grigodi ventured to release one hand and pushed her jaw shut.
“It is a storm, Chikage. Do not lose sight of that in your amazement.” He grinned slightly, pulling his lips back to reveal dulled, old teeth.
“Of course, of course.” She waved him off as a fresh gust shook the tower. She glanced behind her at the technology woven into the main spire, encapsulated by a translucent shield. The line-of-sight transceiver hummed low, a steady sound under the howling wind, responsive motors working to keep the lenses matched up with the others nesting in distant trees. Flickers of red let them know the dataweb was still intact, despite the weather’s rage.
“Our old threads would never have been able to survive this. We had to rehang them after every storm, and suffer when they fell.”
She spared the old Arasae a glance. “That is why we have woven braiding around them and run the old threads underground. Backup systems. The storm cannot dig into the earth.”
“In case these newfangled—”
“Grigodi, I swear, if you say contraptions…” She sighed at him. “Yes, in case the transceivers fail.”
He gave her another teasing grin and looked back to the storm. The clouds boiled overhead, flashing with barely contained lightning. They watched as a bolt split the sky, connecting tree and cloud for a flicker of a moment. The wind tore at the leaves, and the scent of ozone traveled with it, but no scent of fire.
“We have lived in these trees for a very long time.” Grigodi spoke quietly, barely over the storm. She glanced at him. As much of an old timer as he was, he mostly just complained about technology while adopting it himself. He rarely actually spoke of the old days. “Before we even had the ability to use our threads and webs for such a thing as information transfer.” He scoffed at the last idea, as if it was still somehow unthinkable. “Now, we do not even use threads.”
“We are still connected, Grigodi. The threads cannot be seen.” She shrugged slightly, readjusting her grip on the railings.
He nodded. “Mmm, indeed we are. Do young ones even still know how to create thread?”
She laughed despite herself. “Yes, everyone can still thread. There are some that cannot, they are born without the ability, but that is such a state that can be repaired with therapies, medicines.”
“What do you use the thread for?” He eyed her from the side, reaching up to wipe the rain from his forehead.
“Many braid it.” She pulled her braids forward, showing him the white web strung and plaited into her hair. “Or sell it to the clothiers and textile artists. It is a good way for the young to make money, earn funds for themselves.”
He nodded again, setting his jaw forward as if in thought. “So not everything has changed.”
That brought a smile to her face and she peered out at the storm with all four eyes open wide. Overhead, the clouds darkened, promising no end in sight. Another crack of lightning split the darkness and the entire forest seemed to shine white. She winced and scrambled to cover her eyes. Her more sensitive nighteyes saw only purple blobs, odd squiggly shapes.
She rolled her eyes, blinking rapidly to try to clear the bits. Grigodi laughed and clapped his hand on her shoulder.
“Perhaps we should head back down?” He grinned, rainwater streaming down his face. She looked the same, rivulets of water flicking off her braids.
“Soon, yes.” She glanced back at the transceiver again, comforted by the low hum. In the steady rain, she could see the red light flicker off the drops. The net would have terrible static and speeds right now…
“Mm, right now.” He took one of her arms and started for the trapdoor. She resisted slightly, confused. Then she smelled the sharp edge of ozone and burnt wood in the air. She twisted, looking back at the railing, and saw the gusts seize thin wisps of smoke almost before she noticed.
They clambered down quickly, far more quickly than before. Chikage quickly took the lead, leaping from foothold to foothold, branch to branch. Grigodi followed steadily, an old hunter himself, but let her rush ahead.
“Tell them!” He yelled ahead, and those that lingered on the walkways and apartments they leapt past caught his words. “Tell them it is the nor-elder tree!”
She didn’t respond, he knew she had heard him. She skidded past a family heading home once the storm had lost its attraction, and the mother scooped her youngest out the way. In fright, he wrapped all four arms and all four legs around her, looking at Chikage with surprise. She continued on, aiming for the nearest guard.
He stood tall at the edge of the first great porch, watching the crowds mill about, starting to break up now that the storm was whipping the golden threads into a tireless frenzy. She galloped towards his recognizable shape, knowing him as the guard that had checked her in earlier in the evening. He heard her coming and turned, the braid he was absentmindedly chewing on falling over his shoulder.
“Chee…er, Chikage, what’s the problem?” He looked past her to see Grigodi slide to a stop, out of breath.
“The nor-elder tree has been struck and may be aflame!” She had been reciting the line in her head the entire climb and run down from the tower. It was strange now that she turned and looked back up, it was a hell of a height they had just overtaken.
The guard galloped off, his datapad in hand. He was already yelling for guards to follow him, and people began to murmur and scatter home. Chikage and Grigodi stood in the quickly emptying porch, messengers suddenly without a purpose. A loud but low tone rumbled through the public areas: the alarm had been raised. The guards never would have done that if there was any question about the danger.
Chikage looked at her companion, and the old man shrugged. They stood quietly as the porch and the plaza below began to empty. The alarm pulsed quietly in the background, lowering to a general alert. It would continue until the fire had been put out.
She shifted restlessly, but despite all her curiosity and instinct, she knew what would end up happening. She would only be in the way. That was what had happened last time she’d raised an alarm, and likely why Grigodi had told her what to say. He laid his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m a hunter. I should be helping.” She grunted.
“You’re a hunter. This is a business for guards.” He chuckled, and this time, the sound frustrated her. “If you wanted to be a guard, why didn’t you enroll as one?”
“Because…” She sighed. “I wanted the freedom of a hunter.”
He squeezed her shoulder. “There is no shame in the melancholy, Chikage. Not anymore.”
During another storm like this long ago, he had confided that fact. The melancholy had been a part of their race for eons, thousands of thousands of years, but those who suffered had been give their freedom to run as far as they wished, as long as they desired, so long as they brought back food. Hunters. Gatherers. That was their fuel, the melancholy: the wish to escape society only to return as their peoples’ suppliers.
A couple passed by them, dressed in the rumpled clothing of medical care. They were both smiling, laughing, and their cheer alleviated her worry.
“I am too old.” Grigodi clapped her shoulder and turned, walking slowly back towards the winding path that would take them home.
She startled. “What do you mean?”
“You were going to ask me if I wanted to leave the planet. On the next trade ship.” He chuckled, moving slowly, stiffly.
“It might have crossed my mind.” She followed.
“Some steps you might have to take on your own.” He pulled himself up and she drew near his side, offering her support. He took it gratefully. “Do not apologize for feel ashamed, Chikage. I have known you wished to leave for many, many years. The change will be sudden and it will be shocking, but you will accept it when it happens.”
She wrinkled her face at his foreknowledge. It was annoying when he jumped ahead of her like that.
“Before you go, make sure I understand that damned reader device thing. I want to know when the next storm comes up.” His levity betrayed him.
They ascended the long path, finding home nestled among the bucking golden web. Through every tree and plaza, the low general alert tone had faded back to silence. The threat had been taken care of quickly enough.
“Because we reacted fast, I know.” She finally got a word in before he could, and his eyes glinted in understanding.
“I am off to bed.” He grunted, pushing aside his apartment’s front curtain. She rested her hand on her own door, rubbing her thumb across the wood while he disappeared behind his fabric.
Once the curtain had fully settled behind him, she pushed her door open and latched it behind her. The tall ceilings disappeared in the darkness. Growing up, she had remembered constant light, a warm glow cast across the whole communal room, broken up by hammocks hanging from the ceiling and walls, over the soft cushions and beds across the floor.
She touched a smooth globe set into the wall. It began to glow, and light slowly filled the room. She had chosen a soft pink tone for her lighting. The orange and yellow flickers reminded her of where she had grown up, surrounded by others without cease. Even though the communal homes were large and airy, hardly cramped, she still felt constricted there. Here, she had less space, but it was hers.
Her office was still locked. For a moment, she entertained the thought of going out again for a hunt, if only to get her a chance to see what, if any, damage the lightning strike had caused. Instead, she settled into a carefully arranged bed of cushions and sprawled. Her knees and shoulders ached in protest. The day had been more ballistic than usual, but the ache was welcome. It meant things were changing.
Notes on the Arasae
The Arasae race may appear arachnid, but they feature an internal skeleton as mammals.
The shape of an Arasae’s skull, if using a human skull as reference, features an elongated, rounded parietal region (dolichocephalic) and a much flatter face with an absence of protruding nasal bones or teeth. The Arasae mandible is sectioned with overlapping plates that function as lips and tongue for the purpose of speaking and can imitate human facial characteristics if needed. Their larger, primary set of eyes are positioned similarly to humans, with the second, smaller pair placed higher on the prominent forehead. This second pair is often left closed to preserve a kind of night-sensitive vision and are opened when navigating the forest in nighttime or other darkened conditions. Both are protected by eyelids and cradled by typically high zygomatic bones. Arasae do not have noses that protrude from their faces, their skulls feature nasal slits instead. Their ancient forms of communication consisted of hummings from their vocal cords and clicks of the tongue against the lip plates. Arasae can speak most other races’ languages, though with a very obvious impediment. Those who interact frequently with outside races speak a bit more slowly and clearly out of habit, even when reverting to their own native language.
What humans might consider hair grows along the high crest of the skull. Traditionally, hunters and warriors of the Arasae tribes would weave long thin braids out with small trophies of their kills. As the race evolved, the practice of braiding remained popular among hunters, guards, and rebellious youth, though to keep ones’ hair short is a symbol of wealth and status. Arasae hair is thick, stiff, and grows very slowly. Arasae skin color ranges from a light dusky grey to matte black, and hair color is generally shades of black and resists bleaching or alternative coloring. To combat this, some will plait fake hair into their braids or use temporary paints. The Arasae do not grow facial hair.
Arasae muscular and skeletal structure is generally slim and built more for climbing, speed, and acrobatics than any sort of pure brute force, though some examples of Arasae biology have managed to achieve high feats of strength. Because of their pure size, Arasae are generally stronger than humans simply because of how much body weight they must be able to support while climbing. Their primary pair of shoulders and arms rest similarly to humans, though their secondary pair are set almost immediately underneath and slightly back, allowing their main arms to imitate most human gestures and have free range of motion. While interacting with humans or humanoids, most Arasae will fold their hands at their waist and tuck their second set of arms into their sides. This second set of arms is integral for climbing and managing their body weight during running and acrobatics. The Arasae spine is thicker and held together by stronger, more flexible tissue than the human spine. It is rare for an Arasae to suffer a broken back, though that may be due to their overall structure rather than just their spinal attributes. When fully extended, the average Arasae spine is approximately twice as long and 150% as thick as an average human’s.
The Arasae skeleton features two ribcages. The upper ribcage functions as a human would expect while the lower, smaller ribcage protects a duplicate set of organs evolved to provide the race with great longevity in times of little. A smaller, second brain, as well as a duplicate heart and vascular and nervous systems, rest underneath and slightly back from the primary pelvis. The second pelvis and spine sit slightly lower to the ground than the primary, and while the second set of legs are arguably more powerful, they are also shorter.
Arasae feet feature three major grasping “toes” that allow them to climb more easily. A rear-facing prehensile “thumb” also aids their ability to manipulate branches and obstacles. Their hands are similarly formed.