Aurelius Rising: Chiropers
Of all the forms of communication, one of the swifter and most reliable are the services of the chiropers. While well taught in codes and able to swiftly reduce a missive to a carefully written scroll their true art lies in the training and handling of the bats used to transport these messages. A chiroper’s status and reputation in the broader community depends on the number of destinations they can send messages to, and this in turn upon their relationships with their collegues. The chiropers are by necessity a group more heeding of internal than external pressures.
The main tool of the chiropers is, of course, their trained bats. The hermes bat is the near universal animal of choice. No other species so far attempted has matched the hermes for speed, direction sense and tractability. Hermes are a pale grey in colour with darker ears, noses, feet and wingtips. They favour a diet of large winged insects such as moths and crickets and occasionally consume very ripe fruit. Wild colonies roost in caves and the hollows that form in ancient bower trees. As dusk falls the colony will rouse itself and seperate ribbons stream towards favoured hunting grounds before returning at just before dawn.
It is this last trait that the chiropers take advantage of. Young bats imprint strongly on their birth roost and once weaned learn of their colony’s feeding areas by trailing after their elders. A hermes bat taken from its cave when it is less than a month old can be hand reared by a chiroper and imprint upon an artifical roost as home, and upon the human as the elder who shall teach it to find food. The stylized and seemingly impractical shoulder adornments worn by chiropers are designed to assist the pup in imprinting on their handler alone and not all humans.
When a hermes bat begins flying it must be taught how to find the loft of neighbouring chiropers as food sources, so that messages can be passed on. For the first few trips the bat is placed in a cage or basket with widely spaced bars and carried by a chiroper (or apprentice) riding a swift mount. As they ride the chiroper will repeat a specific whistle upon their bone flute. At their destination the bat will be passed through the loft’s flying gate and be met on the other side by that loft’s chiroper, who will feed and handle it. After several hours the bat will be returned the same way.
The next few trips the bat will be tethered via a long cord and encouraged to fly after the riding chiroper. Eventually the bat will be able to make the journey unaccompanied and will soon find swifter and more efficient routes to its destination, no longer encumbered by the need to follow paths that a human can. The goal is to have the bat link the whistle and the loft it is connected to, and to fly there on command.
Some chiropers will focus on a single destination until mastered before moving to another, while others prefer to teach two or three alternating nightly until all are mastered. Most hermes master four or five; an exceptional bat as many as eight. A chiroper in a major city may service over a dozen locations with an extensive personal colony, with each destination being known by several of their bats, but most chiropers restrict themselves to three or four animals at a time with a similar number of connections.
Once fully grown the bats will be trained to carry a cloth or thin leather pouch on a chest harness. Short messages may be sent in plain text but longer onces are generally converted to the chiroper shorthand, for there is a sharp upper limit to the weight the bats can easily carry. Deliveries are not always sent by an outgoing bat; many chiroper’s are happy to host unoccupied bats of their neighbours for an evening so that the returning bats can convey late messages home.
Hermes bats are slow to reproduce in captivity and the pups must be gifted to another chiroper if they are to imprint upon their human handlers and not their parents. Consequently the majority of trained bats are wild-born. Collecting pups from wild colonies is a dangerous undertaking and chiropers rarely do so themselves. (Apprentices seeking to prove themselves and establish their own roost are amongst the few willing to risk it.) A chiroper seeking to expand will pay handsomely for a healthy, uninjured pup of the correct age and each spring the guild will post public notices of the bounties any chiroper is offering for new stock.