Species design by Aleksanteri Nevalainen
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Drimrol are flightless burrowers, like giant hares crossed with Arctic wolves--if wolves were hermaphroditic and hopped like kangaroos across the tundra. Highly social, drimrol live in large clan-burrows. They welcome strangers (unless you look like a tundrabear) but will be nosy about your possessions and want to trade. And bargain hard; drimrol have a nose for business.
Several noses, in fact; two secondary nostrils atop the head let drimrol breathe deep when hopping, and are an insurance policy when digging--a drimrol with its face buried can still breathe comfortably. Their sense of smell is excellent; many city drimrol make a living as perfumiers, florists, herbalists and spice dealers.
But not chefs! "If you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen" isn't an if for the drimrol; temperatures above 20° C (68 F) are intolerably hot to them, even in their short brown summer pelts. This sharply limits their range.
Another limit isn't geographic but technological: drimrol have rather clumsy hands. Their forepaws are specialized for digging and have no opposable thumbs. The hindpaw is a dual-purpose foothand, with two small thumbs and two large padded toes for hopping. For delicate work, a drimrol uses its long, forked, prehensile tongue.
The drimrol are a subpolar species. They evolved in the vast bare tundra-like steppe of southern Continent 3, below the Rummlenchak and Illahoot Ranges. But in recent millennia they've spread southwest over the land bridge to far southern Continent 9; as many as a third of all drimrol now live there.
The drimrol lands aren't true tundra. Pegasia hasn't suffered a recent ice age and its cold subpolar steppes thaw out fully most summers--briefly. The lack of permafrost is what makes the drimrol lifestyle possible. Unlike our tundra plains, burrowing deep into the loose unfrozen soil is easy in summer. Underground houses (indeed, whole villages) are easier to construct than aboveground lodges (good wood is scarce in much of the drimrol heartland). Better-insulated, too.
While winters on the steppe are icy, they're shorter than winter in Germany or Ohio; the Pegasian year is just seven months long, remember. When you're storing food for the cold season, what matters isn't how far below freezing it gets, but the absolute length of the hungry season. The short year and the lack of large polar caps--no Greenland, no Antarctica--both help to make these subpolar steppes livable, if a challenge.
Many drimrol trade clans have branches living in cities outside the Antarctic. Despite their small numbers, they are important to the drimrol as innovators and importers, and to other species as the public face of the Drimrol as a people; few outsiders visit their chilly homelands. These urban drimrol look somewhat different: most trim their digging claws to allow more dexterity in their forepaws, have equally dexterous hind paws (uncallused from not hopping hundreds of km to forage) and have a slender build and short brown pelts, unlike their fluffy white polar cousins. But this subspecies is illusory. A country cousin wintering in the warm city will grow lean and brown, without a winter pelt; a city trader visiting the ancestral burrow in snow country will quickly become a splendid furball. The adaptability that got them through polar cycles of feast and famine serves them well--until the temperature gets above 15-20° C (59-68° F). Even a drimrol shaved to the point of indecency can't take that sweltering heat!
One more minority population: montane drimrol. These live in alpine regions of lower latitudes on Continent 3 and Continent 9. Such clans are again not numerous but highly visible to other species, since they guide caravans of heavy goods through the passes--for, of course (these being drimrol) a sharply negotiated fee.
Drimrols developed from creatures bearing a resemblance to Earth's arctic wolves. Through the aeons they become smaller, big-brained, omnivorous burrowers. How could such a creature develop a civilization on a land so barren? Let's consider the evolutionary pressures on the prehistoric drimrols.
First of all, small animals are more prone to heat loss but also require much less food than bigger creatures. A diet consisting primarily of plants may seem risky in an arctic region, but the Southern Tundra is warmer and richer in plant foods than our Arctic: berries abound, and "spruce" cones full of oilseeds are equally abundant for creatures able to climb up and pick them; creeks are full of fish and freshwater mussels. It isn't all just grass!
But these chilly plains are cut off from temperate Pegasia by high, glaciated mountains. So when sudden climatic change takes place (and Pegasia's poles, like Earth's, fluctuate more than lower latitudes) Antarctic populations can't easily migrate north to the temperate zone. However, the drimrol can survive if not thrive on grass and budding vegetation as it recolonizes barren lands after moss and lichens. So after a catastrophe, whether drought, summer blizzard, flood, eruption or meteor strike, large carnivores are likely to starve to extinction, while smaller plant-eaters, while perhaps decimated, will survive in numbers sufficient to repopulate.
Coastal carnivores like our polar bears whose diet consists mostly of fish are thus the only large predator of the south polar plains, and they're adapted to ice-fishing, not to digging out villages of burrowers. While an individual drimrol is no match for a fisherbear, a whole burrow of well-clawed drimrols could usually discourage a fisherbear, even before drimrols learned to throw rocks and chip wooden bear-pikes. The drimrol thus faced little predation--not from tooth and claw, at least. But the real climax predator in the southlands has fangs of ice: Winter.
Animals like arctic wolves and bears burrow as a way to stay warm through the winter; the soil of the antarctic steppes is often light and sandy, rich in organic matter, and thermally isolated under the winter snow. Burrows need no heating to be livable; drimrol lodges have oil lamps, but not hearths; they're not needed. Unwanted, in fact: the drimrol seek shelter from more than cold! Drimrols are so well insulated, they can get uncomfortably hot during the wide temperature swings of the long Pegasian day. Odd though it seems, drimrol even today will retreat underground for an afternoon siesta. To a Terran the long polar afternoon is the one time of day that's pleasant; but even a drimrol in her short brown summer fur finds temperatures above 20° C (68° F) oppressively hot; her white winter coat makes even 10-15° mildly uncomfortable (50-60° F); while berrying on mild afternoons a drimrol will often wade in a creek, to cool off. In subpolar, multispecies towns, drimrol traders simply never grow a winter coat, which looks very strange indeed to their polar cousins, fostering the idea of two subspecies. But a polar drimrol in the city won't grow a winter coat; temperature, not sun or season, appears to be the trigger.
At first glance, the drimrol are like a blend of ground squirrel and Arctic wolf. The average adult stands about a meter tall. Though they're burrowers, they're not bulky like marmots or badgers--their build is as leggy and sleek as an Arctic wolf. The forelegs are short and muscular, adapted to burrowing and digging tunnels; the hind legs are longer, rather rabbit- or kangaroo-like.
Drimrols bound swiftly for miles in Pegasia's low gravity on their long hind legs, foraging great distances from their burrows and still returning safely by nightfall or as storms approach. Their gait when browsing is quadrupedal, but on the move or in a hurry they hop like giant jackrabbits. The long tail extends behind, acting as a sort of rudder. The forepaws are often folded behind the back, like an ice skater's: better balance.
The casual tourist, seeing such clownish creatures browsing on low verdure and nibbling berries, might think "marmot" or "caribou" or (after seeing them hop) "kangaroo"--but would never guess such animals are intelligent, let alone civilized!
Up a tree, drimrol look more like lemurs--their hindpaws grip branches quite well, the clawed forepaw pulls seed-rich cones to the mouth, and the clever forked tongue ferrets out nuts.
Drimrol forepaws make clumsy hands; they're thumbless scoops with blunt curved claws excellent for digging. It's the rear paws, which we'll call foothands, that they use for most handwork, while sitting prim as a cat, with the weight on the forelegs.
The hind paws have two tough, horny toes designed for running and jumping, flanked by two prehensile "thumbs" a bit up from the pad, like cats' dewclaws. But these aren't vestigial digits; they're large enough to use grasping. Since ancestral drimrol spent much of their time digging with the forelegs, and not using the hind paws as heavily as (say) a human or kangaroo, these foothands aren't as specialized; flexibility is greater than in most jumping animals. Still clumsy by human standards, but better than their heavily clawed forepaws. A drimrol will use forelimbs to carry large items while hopping cross-country--the forepaw is scoop-shaped after all--but not for close handwork. Whether civilized and urban drimrols with relatively uncallused hindpaws will evolve finer motor skills over time is an interesting question.
For truly delicate work, they do have another option: that long, prehensile, forked tongue is a sort of mini-hand, damp and only two-fingered, but strong for its size. This probably evolved to pick berries (and the protein-rich cones and tender growing tips of Pegasian spruce); when up a tree, it's safer to hang on with all four limbs and just browse.
Drimrols are a hermaphroditic species--individuals act both as male and female. I will refer to drimrols with feminine grammatical terms as I believe female qualities should be more evident than male ones for the casual observer of a gendered race. They mate year-round and have a very blurry line between friendship and sexual attraction. The drimrol words for "friendship" and "love" are one and the same.
Drimrols have big brownish eyes; the huge slit pupil can widen enough let in ten times the light of a human eye, though at extreme dilation vision isn't too sharp. But in daylight drimrols have five color receptors, painting unimaginably rich, differentiated images, where the merely trichromatic human eye would see dreary monotony. Subtle color variations in the arctic plain, hinting at food or danger, leap out at a drimrol!
The downside of such visual sensitivity is that alien environments can overwhelm them; drimrols who visit cities are disoriented by the screaming colors and overrich patterns. They call it "north-sickness"; like human seasickness, susceptibility varies and most individuals eventually find their "north-eyes"; but for most drimrol travelers, it's a rough, queasy few weeks... If you must negotiate business with the Drimrol, do not dress to impress, unless you know what you're doing! Half-digested root-stew isn't pleasant stuff to clean off your finery.
Breathing tubes on top of the drimrol head--siphons vaguely similar to insect's tracheal breathing on Earth-–bear an extremely precise sense of smell. That helps to explain the great success drimrols tend to have as perfumiers and chemists in the multicultural, multispecies cities of the cool-temperate zone.
Even though they live underground during the winter months-–and that's up to half the year in their homeland–-drimrols love skygazing. Of course Pegasia offers all its peoples a rich and fascinating panorama upstairs: even naked-eye observers can track Galilea's huge eruptions and Tharn's weather and seasonal changes. And the drimrol colonists on Continent 9 will see huge lurid Zeus, with its swirling paisley storms the size of our moon, floating in the northern sky.
One could argue that harsh conditions generally breed superstitious and orthodox religions, but that's not always the case. Consider Siberian tribes on Earth; their shamans tend to be pragmatic and individualistic. The drimrol, in an equally harsh, chancy environment, similarly favor rationality... and pacifism. Their beliefs are quite Buddhist; they emphasize the painful, uncertain nature of material life and the freedom of an afterlife.
Drimrol also hold the belief that everything in the universe works in harmonic groups--a word translating as "resonance" is central to their philosophy and sociology. That's one reason why family and clans are so important to them.
Despite their fondness for displayable wealth, drimrol don't wear their finery. Clothes interfere with all-important temperature regulation; drimrol like to fluff up or smooth down their fur every few minutes. This isn't just thermal regulation, but emotional. A social signal too--you just don't interrupt a grooming drimrol! Grooming declares a sort of virtual privacy, even in a crowded burrow.
Drimrol don't even wear jewelry or ornaments; they could snag on tunnel walls. Burrowers instinctively dread being encumbered! A drimrol will hand-carry a treasure 100 km rather than wear it. Not that drimrols are averse to fabrics and jewelry; but subtly patterned tapestries and rugs and pillow-piles, beadcurtains and felt thermal baffles are the proper way to display wealth and taste. As urban drimrol put it (with a certain smugness toward other species who like to show off): "Drape the burrow, not your back."
The drimrol are a long-lived race, often living two to three Pegasian centuries (120-180 Earth years). They mature slowly, spending decades as "kids", growing and acquiring strength and knowledge in the hope of forming their own families one day.
Drimrols are acquisitive, capitalistic traders. Other species, judging from the appearance of things, sometimes condemn the drimrol for their lust for wealth. But drimrols do not love money or influence for their own benefit! Their goal is always security for themselves and their families.
One must note that a drimrol without home and family is almost helpless. They can't defend themselves as well as many of Pegasia's bigger races. If a drimrol wants some peace in her life, whether on the tundra or in a city, she needs means to protect herself and the people she loves. She will hope to become a clanlady in the future, defend her mates, children, younger cousins and so on. That takes allies, supplies, and a secure burrow (or above-ground family compound, in some cities).
The love for their own families and clans give meaning to their lives. Huge are the benefits of an outsider if he or she can impress a drimrol clanlady enough to be adopted as a "godchild" of the clan.
The dark side of all this are the (sometimes bloody, though rarely fatal) fights among different clans due to perceived injustices or dishonesty. Do not offend or cheat a drimrol! They bear grudges for centuries and make no secret of it, telling the details of your transgression to the whole clan. They won't just wreck your reputation--they'll be reminding your grandkids that you come from a long, long line of crooks.
As you might expect of a creature that evolved to live in dark burrows half the year, the drimrol like to talk. Everything becomes a story. Words are resonant and multisyllabic; in drimrol song, story and poetry, sound matters as much as meaning.
Drimrol voices and hearing extend into the human ultrasonic, but the range for speech is no higher than that of human children; quite intelligible, and it transliterates more easily than most Pegasian languages. Some place names: Chimlo, Kuritsa, Pitraksho, Pran Shilo, Tukra...
The drimrol claim they have four distinct languages:
Drimrol writing is phonetic. Its curved and dotted forms were probably inspired by driftwood bored by bark-eating spruce-beetles; these look very much like deep-carved inscriptions.
Since drimrol fingers can't easily separate and turn book-pages, scrolls are common. Drimrols do purchase some bound books from the north, and use their tongues. At least books from some publishers--those with good taste. And smell.
The gazetteer: will have a full index of native placenames, with descriptions--once the contests's over and we have natives to name them.
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