THE BAT (FLITTERMOUSE, DARKSINGER)

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOURDIET - MATING - MYTH/LORE

Bats are also known as Cave Bats, Canyon Bats, Flittermice or Darksingers. This small flying mammal has a natural ‘sonar’ system, is a devoted mate, and can eat its weight in insects in one night. It prefers to roost in caves by day and flies by night, using bounced echoes to determine its location in the air. They are favorites of the Thergerim, who have domesticated them and use them as a kind of organic message system (see Morjualerons entry). A group of bats is called a “clowd”.

The Bat
View picture in full size Image description. The Bat in front of a medlarapple tree and the night sky. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.

Appearance. There are several varieties of Bat, as seen in the various names above. The Flittermice, who can be found in residential areas, have tiny thumb-long bodies covered with soft, fine fur. Membranous, delicate wings with tiny bloodvessels and a soft downy flocking can stretch about two to three handspans across. Cave and Canyon Bats are larger; their torsos can range up to a hand in size, and the wingspan about a fore. Hollow, jointed bones with minute, powerful claws at ‘elbow’ and ‘wrist’ hold and structure the membrane of the wings and allow a meticulous folding or a taut expansion of the wing.

All varieties have the same basic body structure, topped by a dog-like little head with large ears. A short muzzle contains both a fine mesh of bony gum (good for trapping and grinding insects) and a few tiny, sharp teeth, often used to pierce the skin of fruit. An equally sharp, tube-like tongue is then projected into the fruit and the juices extracted with a sucking action. Huge light-absorbing eyes seem efficiently designed for night flight, but in fact the Bat can fly in complete darkness (see Special Abilities).

The skull contains several specialized mechanisms which we fail to understand completely, such as an incredible sense of smell, and the ability to send out and receive aural pulses which signal obstacles and the formation of space around the flying Bat.

Short legs at the bottom of its torso with longer claws are used almost exclusively for roosting and sleeping, which the Bat does inverted, hanging from the most minute cracks, crevices, roots, or twigs in its chosen roost. A flap of furry skin between the legs protects the genital aperture and the excretory cloaca just behind it.
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Special Abilities. Bats are loyal mates and devoted mothers, choosing a spouse for life and breeding every half-year with that same spouse. They are able to identify their roostlings (bat babies) upon returning from hunting with the clowd, apparently by smell. They are also able to identify a wide variety of insects and fruit, again by smell, and while omnivorous, apparently have favorites and preferences. Farmers report seeing the small Flittermouse diving through clusters of bugs near their houselantern, seeming to sift out the larger flying beetles from the smaller gnats and flies with a meticulous discrimination. Also, a clowd of Flittermice will settle on one type of fruit tree and drain the juices from every succulent globe, while ignoring other varieties immediately beside it.

Of course the most commonly-known ability, and the one which amazes folk, is their sonic navigation. A bat can send out thousands of aural pulses, or very high-pitched squeaks. These pulses seem to echo back from whatever obstacles are around the Bat - buildings, trees, cliff faces, cave walls - and also from whatever is in the air with it, such as other Bats or flying insects. This ability has been known to the Thergerim for centuries; they have domesticated the larger Cave Bat and with some magical manipulation, careful breeding, and technological assistance from the Brownies, have been able to send and receive simple messages through this aural pulsing. The dwarves, and confusingly enough, also the Bats, who specialize in this skill are both known as Morjualerons, though they translate it into Tharian respectively as “Songspeakers” and “Darksingers”.
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Territory. The bat is dispersed through most warm climates of Caelereth. It can tolerate mild winters by going into hibernation for several months, but prefers a more tropical or moderate weather zone. Flittermice seem to flock in cultivated, agricultural areas, particularly in the fruit-growing parts, and like to roost in abandoned buildings or large hollow trees. Cave Bats, as indicated by their name, prefer deep clefts or crevices in the mountains, and seem to feed primarily upon insects and wild fruits or berries. Canyon Bats are similar, except that they roost on cliff faces and canyon walls, wherever a hollow is deep enough to protect them from the sun and predators during the day.

Bats know their own perches and are very conservative and protective of them, always trying to roost in the same place night after night. As roostlings naturally also want to sleep and feed with their mothers, this means that the average cave roof becomes literally encrusted with shoulder-to-shoulder Bats, all huddled together trying to keep their spot. It also follows that spots are ‘inherited’, not by sentient design but by instinct, as a roostling will remain in his or her mother’s roostspot after her death.
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Habitat/Behaviour. Bats are nocturnal mammals, sleeping by day and venturing out in swarms called ‘clowds’ at dusk. To see a clowd sweep out of a cavemouth with the purple light of the evening behind it is a lovely sight, and their delicate arabesques and curvettings in the air are even more of a delight to watch. When one realizes that they are also destroying multitudes of vexatious insects which would otherwise sting and bite us, such as the mercarto fly and the feylien, the pleasure is multiplied.

Bats groom frequently, the Thergerim tell us, running their wrist claws over their fur to sleek it, and licking with their small tubular tongues, releasing saliva to smooth and dampen their downy bodies. The membrane of the wings likewise receives attention, and any small tears can be repaired by natural healing, just as our human skin renews itself. However, a large rent or injury to the hollow wing bones in the wild is often fatal, as the Bat can no longer fly or hunt and thus dies of starvation. Domesticated Cave Bats can be handfed by their Darksinger, but it is usually more efficient to attempt repair to the wing membrane or bone setting in these cases, and the deft-fingered dwarves report success in more than eighty percent of such injuries.
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Diet. As noted above, Bats are omnivorous, their diet consisting primarily of insects, with a taste for fresh fruit. They will swoop acrobatically through clouds of bugs, unerringly sieving their favorites and never colliding, or huddle over a plum with their tiny heads butting to get their sharp teeth and draining tongue in a good position.

Some fearful peasantry in the Marcogg area put forward the rumour that bats will also drain livestock or unwary humans of their blood, and this, like most rumours, has spread as if winged. However, we have no substantiated reports of this behavior and are forced to ascribe it to superstitious folktales (for more of which, see below).
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Mating. Mated Bats fly and roost in pairs, always in the same place, or as near to it as possible. They frequently show what appears to be affectionate attention to each other, grooming each other’s head and backs, and running their delicate wrist claws around each other’s ears as if scratching. They mate in a variety of positions, usually on some small ledge or horizontal surface, but some human researchers also say that Bats are able to enjoy conjugal relations while suspended upside-down from the roost. Since it is wellnigh impossible to verify this in the wild, and the dwarven Morjualerons aren’t talking, we cannot verify this interesting claim.

The tiny, pinkly hairless babes are born singly and spend most of their infant life clinging to their mother’s front, nursing, or tucked safely in a fold of her warm, membranous wing. Once hair has grown and they are weaned (about two to three months) they can begin roosting on their own, huddled next to their parents, and eventually there is the momentous first flight, where they swoop out of the cave with the whole clowd fluttering anxiously around them.
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Myth/Lore. Since there has been little fact available to the human culture prior to the publication of this compendium entry, a number of superstitious tales have sprung up around the Bat, many dealing with its eerie ability to fly in pitch-black or its habit of draining the fluids of a succulent fruit. A few common myths and misconceptions about the animal which we would like to debunk are given below:

“Bats can fly through rock and wood as easily as through clouds and fog.....” Probably since they can so deftly and quickly avoid any obstacles, the casual watcher in the dusk is easily misled by their darting movements.

“Bats carry messages from Coór to His servants!” This is obviously a muddle of half-understood gossip about the dwarven ‘farspeak’ system and peasant superstition.

“The Bat will suck the juices from your eyes if you sleep in the open!” Bats eat insects and enjoy fruit. They have never attacked, and will never attack, a human, dwarf, elf, Brownie, or any other race or animal.

“When the Bat flies high, tears thou shalt cry / When the Bat flies low, a death it doth sow.” Again, the bat’s movements depend on the insect population it is currently feeding upon and the terrain it is flying through. Unless one panics at the sight of a Bat (which has been known to happen) and runs headlong over a cliff, the likelihood of this particular proverb coming true is about as possible as a curtsey from an orc.

“The Bat is a creature of night and Queprur (or Coór again, or any other local dark deity) watches you through its mind!” Sheer nonsense, we have only to say.
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Researchers. What we know about these fascinating and loving creatures is thanks mostly to the dwarven Singspeakers who have been willing to share their discoveries about their charges. Although reluctant to speak much about their ‘fartalk’ system, which involves magical, genetic, and technological manipulation of the Cave Bat’s natural sonic abilities, they have recorded some cogent and useful general information, as given above.

In the low light of the dwarven caverns, or in the quiet of a Morjualoon (Bat Mews), where the entire rocky ceiling seems carpeted with a thick, softly chittering fur, the devoted Singspeaker teaches his apprentice these things. We were given access to the notes of one such young and eager apprentice, and our thanks must go to Master Singspeaker Bolt Tenguul (Bolt Strongback) and to the Tenthrum Clan for allowing their translation.
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Information provided by Bard Judith View Profile