The portrait hung at a place of pride in the main hall, depicting triumph over the long odds of his survival. He survived, he flourished, and there were few indications that this would change for years to come.
He had seen what everyone had seen, and had been unafraid of acting on what most knew.
Most everyone before him had assumed that there was no chance of success, and avoided even trying.
He defied those naysayers and struck out to establish himself in society regardless.
His place and esteem rose rapidly. His bat sanctuary became a fashionable charity, with nearly everyone claiming to contribute at least a little. He had the wisdom to keep his true nature a secret all the while, and the outside experts hired by the charity realized swiftly that talking about the ways these bats differed from the norm was not a good career move.
The commoners seemed to be oblivious to the occasional disappearances and unexplained murders. Seeking explanations could only lead to discovering answers, and everyone had seen what happened to people who learned too much.
The bodies were a little inconvenient when they turned up, drained completely of all blood, but the message was clear.
The chaos was palpable, even though most of the players had departed the stage.
A few large shiny black feathers were a clue to the original sitter. On close inspection, several of them had tiny teeth marks. On even closer inspection, a whisker or two might be found near the feathers.
A lone jawbone hinted that their may have been some props on the table. The rest of the skull, however, was no longer center stage. Feeling that something may be watching, you look away from the empty table and spot the skull off to the side, clearly wishing it has its jawbone from the way it stares wistfully at the table.
There may be a player or two lurking, waiting for a new victim to pounce upon. A rustling noise leads the eye to the top of a tall wardrobe, where a somewhat bedraggled raven sits above its door, feathers in disarray. It is no longer a patient bird, having endured at least one kitten’s attention.
The remaining kitten struts proudly back and forth in front of the wardrobe, then bounds over once it notices that it has an audience.
For a long time, we preyed on just enough travelers to keep us fed and clothed without being greedy.
But lately, the temptation to take more was always there.
And who better than to foment that temptation than the wandering bards and itinerant teachers who filled the heads of our younger members with grand ideals, tempting them to stray from our proven path.
And to think that we had been kind to them in their time of need.
My rule had been absolute. Take only the fat merchants, and then, only their purses and some of their goods. Take as little of their dignity as practical, lest they be motivated to do more than band together for protection.
Then we rescued that teacher from starvation.
And let him repay us in kind.
And now our youths are wondering if we have the right to prey on travelers. If we have the right to live as we have for decades.
The ghost manifested, if it was seen at all, at midnight and stayed no later than dawn. It was seen best by moonlight, with the pallid glow of the moon added to its appearance without drowning it. It did not seem to be a malignant spirit. But it was insistent that it be seen and heard. Being nearly invisible and nearly silent did not help with either condition.
Whatever its mission, it lingered in this world against the normal order of things. The longer it stayed, the higher the stakes became.
Until then, there was something humorous about using the light of a ghost to read by.