Tall bonfires pushed back against the primal darkness of the deep forest. Large chunks of meat sizzled over burning coals while men and women in their primitive attire danced and sang under a bright spring moon. It was a festival of sorts, though Adamah hadn’t yet come to think of it as traditional. It was merely a celebration, an observance to the last of the snow melting from the ground, the air shifting to something warmer, and the game becoming fat and plentiful.
Aramas stood just at the edge of the flickering firelight, the glow playing along haun black scaled exterior, creating a flecked yellow gleam which broke the inky silhouette free from the shadows. Aramas had come to observe the festivities, but wasn’t one for frolic. On the opposite side of the fire was Eboo, resembling more and more Adamah’s peculiar shape with its long thin limbs and nimble digits, but still with the unmistakable glittery eyes and wings of haun native form, creating a fantastic hybrid, a mesmerizing creature never before seen in nature. Adamah seemed endlessly fascinated by the strange form, which for now was crouched down by a series of large rocks, making primitive drawings with ocher and coal to the delight of children who clamored and shouted for a turn.
“Why do you bother attending the festivals?” Thryy asked, stepping from the darkness to stand beside Aramas. “It’s obvious you don’t enjoy them.”
“I suppose my curiosity got the best of me.”
Thryy’s hide rippled, the blues and greens oscillating with more vibrant hues of orange and yellow, displaying haun amusement, the dermal equivalent of a chuckle. “And it’s hard to say no to Eboo.”
Aramas didn’t respond immediately, absorbed in haun observation as Adamah twirled and pranced around the fires, the deep percussion of the drums and footfalls resounding even beyond the canopy above. Aramas turned haun eyes to Thryy, taking in haun sibling’s smooth, moist skin and large bulging eyes with there singular vertical slits. The form was streamlined and efficient, unlike Adamah who had maintained hair in strange places despite having long evolved beyond the need for its protection, the strange patches of hair on their heads and faces somehow even more offensive to Aramas’ sensibilities than before.
“I think Eboo finds it important that I observe Adamah, being the closest living relative. Perhaps lhe thinks we’ll find some camaraderie given our relative similarities.”
Thryy’s skin pulsed in approval. “Things should be more interesting from this point onward. Adamah is beginning to grasp at the forerunners of science; the relationships between the moon and the tide, the stars and the seasons. Soon you’ll be able to have a real conversation, if a simple one.”
“Perhaps.” Aramas said, noncommittally.
As the two beings spoke, their conversation transitioning to topics in a different echelon of thought, a young woman approached Aramas, carrying with her a small mat like the floor of a woven basket. On the humble plate of reeds were a few small trinkets: a simple carving of some misshapen animal, a stone tool, a small morsel of roasting meat still steaming from its cooking. Stepping gracefully forward and moving to her knees she bowed and held the odd collection high above her head.
With a flare of haun nostrils Aramas pointed toward a crude altar that had been constructed for the festival, a gathering of large flat rocks sitting atop short, neat mounds of smaller stones. The area on and around the altar was piled with similar offerings, which had been slowly accumulating over the course of the evening.
“Are you extracting some form of payment from Adamah?” Thryy asked in distress, haun skin transitioning to a murky puce. “That’s most irregular.”
“No, Thryy.” Aramas replied, haun words thick with annoyance. “Those are for the ancestors.”
“The ancestors?” Thryy asked with great confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“That young one.” Aramas replied, motioning with haun head toward the girl who was now squeezing her bundle neatly onto a small exposed section of the stone altar. “Her grandfather, as they call it, recently died. She wants me to take this gift to him in the afterlife.”
“I’m afraid I still don’t follow. Is he lost somewhere? Is this gift suppose to help us find him? Or maybe she isn’t aware yet that he is dead? We really should say something.” Thryy’s skin was now a dull matt black, belying haun melancholy at the thought.
“No, they are deceased. The body is in a cave on that mountain where the tribe inter their dead. The whole clan was present for the entombment. It is a simple ceremony.”
“So they want to bury these things with their ancestors… as a sort of remembrance? That seems a little sentimental, and maybe not very practical to dispose of so many valuable objects. But I suppose if it brings catharsis then it has value. What I don’t understand is why they want you to deliver the gifts. If they know where the bodies are buried why not just deliver the offerings themselves?”
“Because my friend these gifts aren’t going to the cave. As I said before they are for the afterlife.”
“I see, and where precisely is that?” Thryy’s skin was now rolling with a tone of soft, questioning amber.
Aramas gave a shrug of haun massive obsidian shoulders. “Here, there, everywhere, all around us, far away. It’s hard to pin down, but I am to understand that we spend a lot of time there.”
“Aramas, please, if you’re being intentionally obtuse, I don’t appreciate it. Anyway, it’s not like you.”
Aramas gave a loud sigh. “Apologies, I shouldn’t punish you with my annoyance. Although now that I attempt it, I realize I’ve never actually articulated this thought before. Let me try again.” Aramas turned haun body to more properly face Thryy. “Begin with the idea that an intelligence can be entirely disembodied, without any tangible form.”
“I can’t say I understand, but I’ll humor you for now.” Thryy said, settling into a seated position on the ground.
Aramas gave a nod of thanks. “Now, where would such an entity dwell?”
“That’s quite a puzzle. Would it dwell anywhere? Could it even possibly occupy space as we understand it?”
“Assuming this place can, and does exist, this is the place where the afterlife would occur.”
Thryy’s body transitioned through colors so fast they seemed for a moment to be a kind of strobing rainbow. “One moment Aramas, slow down.”
“Take your time.” Aramas said thoughtfully, watching as Thryy’s changes began to slow and settle as lhe gathered haun thoughts.
“I think I am beginning to understand. Now, tell me again, where exactly are you taking the offerings?”
Aramas shook haun head in exasperation. Aramas had to practice patience. It was not a concept that was easily digested. Aramas themself had found the thought daunting at first. Lhe decided to try a different angle. “You are aware of this creature they call the butterfly?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Adamah believes that lhe is like a simple grub, that haun corpse is like a cocoon, and that some time after death haun intelligence, haun essence, escapes as invisible, incorporeal, immortal, disembodied entities, and that we,” Aramas indicated Thryy, Eboo, and themself with a gesture of haun clawed foot, “somehow have the ability to communicate with these entities and bring them gifts from their friends in the beforelife.”
“What!?” Thryy exclaimed in absolute disbelief, haun skin now an alarming, sickly white. “Is it true? Can Adamah possibly believe such a ludicrous notion?”
Aramas tilted haun head gravely. “Yes.”
Thryy’s large eye stalks twisted to glance both at Adamah and the alter before turning once more to regard Aramas. “...all of Adamah?”
Aramas nodded. “Every tribe, every social structure, of every level of sophistication, on every corner of the globe.”
“Shocking. What can it possibly mean?”
“I’m afraid Thryy, that Adamah is quite ill. It worries me, and frankly I don’t know what to do.”
There was a long pause before Thryy’s next words. “What does Eboo say?”
Aramas’ mouth twisted in a sharp fanged display of open derision. “Eboo has decided to humor them for now and wait in hope that they grow out of it. I find this course of action...unsatisfactory. At this point in Adamah’s evolution, I think it's more likely lhe will continue to degenerate.”
Thryy’s body eased back to a pale blue. “Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to wait a little. If Eboo thinks the action is sound I can’t see any immediate harm.”
Aramas had been afraid of this, that Eboo’s opinion would be valued more than haun own. “Eboo possesses an empathy that overpowers reason. I think it clouds haun judgment. It’s hard for me to understand why lhe finds such a trait worthy of preservation.”
Thryy’s eye stalks waved in a kind of calming motion that Aramas found patronizing. “You are the youngest, you haven't the experience of an older sibling like Eboo. Lhe attended most of us during our youth. I’m sure there are many stories to be told and many lessons that can be learned.”
“I’ve studied all of the records available to me. I know as much as is possible under my circumstances. My theories are sound.” Aramas was surprised at the resistance given the presence of such compelling evidence, but Thryy continued waving about soothingly and Aramas realized there was nothing left to be said.
“I’m sure that’s true. Still, it’s different to see it for yourself. In any case if the sickness becomes too severe evolution will take its natural course. It’s sad, but not all of the siblings survived into adulthood.”
Aramas looked back to Adamah and thought on haun evolution, on the momentum of haun gestation. It came down to one fundamental of Adamah’s existence, the speed of haun development was unprecedented. Despite haun deficiencies, Aramas could not deny haun potential. The scenarios were thus: experience the joy of fostering a gifted intelligence, or suffer the pain of watching a great potential slowly wither and die. Aramas felt compelled to act, but had been encouraged to let nature take its course, to do nothing.
“Very well, if that’s the consensus then I will wait, and watch.”